Dec 012018
 
 December 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1887

 

The Bush Dynasty – The Modern Kennedys (BBC)
America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)
Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace (G.)
US Judge Delays Ruling On Comey’s Request To Quash Republican Subpoena (R.)
Deep Quandaries of The Deep State (Kunstler)
US ‘Could Be Entering Cold War With China’ Over Trade – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Trump-Xi Trade Talks Could Lead To ‘Explosion’ Higher Or A Bear Market (CNBC)
Powell Shouldn’t Follow Greenspan’s Example At Fed – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Finally, Senate Might Force Trump’s Hand On Yemen (R.)
The Khashoggi Effect: Erdogan Inverts the Paradigm (Crooke)
Google Staff Mulled Burying Conservative Media Deep In ‘Legitimate News’ (RT)

 

 

There was just 7 years of age difference between both Jack Kennedy and George Bush. Not enough to be modern anything. Call them the lesser Kennedys. Over-ambitious sociopath dads. And two military careers.

The Bush Dynasty – The Modern Kennedys (BBC)

George Bush Snr’s death underlines that while the Kennedys still remain the premier US political dynasty, the Bush family can also stake a claim to be up there on the top table. With a grandfather who served in the US Senate, a father and son as former occupants of the White House, and a third member a former state governor, the Republicans have a family to match the Democratic Party. George Herbert Walker Bush was born into a wealthy family, the grandson of a steel industrialist, Samuel Prescott Bush, who was named to a national commission on the economy by President Herbert Hoover.

His father, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was a successful investment banker who became partner at his Wall Street firm, and became the first family member to enter politics. He was elected to the Senate in 1952, where he was a staunch supporter of President Dwight Eisenhower. Prescott’s connections and wealth helped his son, George H W Bush, make a fortune in the oil industry before he entered politics in the 1960s and eventually became the 41st president.

Read more …

Thought I’d include this to show you that the Guardian is not just after Assange, and it’s not just Luke Harding writing hit pieces. Here are the editors. They are sort of careful in that they say: what we say is probably not true, but imagine if it were! Wouldn’t that be terrible?!

America’s Compromised Leader (Guardian Op-Ed)

Earlier this week Donald Trump stood on the south lawn of the White House and ridiculed Theresa May’s Brexit agreement as a “great deal for the EU”. He is likely to make the same contemptuous case during the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend, although pointedly there is no planned bilateral. Given the political stakes facing her back home, Mrs May must feel as if 14,000 miles is a long way to travel for the weekend merely to be trashed by supposedly her greatest ally. When this happens, though, who does Mrs May imagine is confronting her? Is it just Mr Trump himself, America First president, sworn enemy of the international order in general and the European Union in particular?

That’s a bad enough reality. But might her accuser also be, at some level, Vladimir Putin, a leader whose interest in weakening the EU and breaking Britain from it as damagingly as possible outdoes even that of Mr Trump? That prospect is even worse. Such speculation would normally seem, and still probably is, a step too far. The idea that a US president is in any way doing the Kremlin’s business as well as his own is the stuff of spy thrillers and of John le Carré TV adaptations. Yet the icy fact is that the conspiracy theory may now also contain an element of truth.

[..] Days before he took office in 2017, Mr Trump said that “the closest I came to Russia” was in selling a Florida property to a Russian oligarch in 2008. If Mr Cohen’s statement is true, Mr Trump was telling his country a lie. What is more, the Russians knew it. Potentially, that raises issues of US national security. If Mr Putin knew that Mr Trump was concealing information about his Russian business interests, this could give Moscow leverage over the US leader. Mr Trump might feel constrained to praise Mr Putin or to avoid conflicts with Russia over policy. All this may indeed be very far-fetched. Yet Russia’s activities in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Mr Trump are not fiction.

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Ok, more Guardian. Note the headline. And realize there never was a deal. Which the article acknowledges of course. Just not in the headline.

Trump Calls Russia Deal ‘Legal And Cool’ As Mueller Inquiry Gathers Pace (G.)

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”. Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016. The surprise admission cast the president himself as a pivotal figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion for the first time. In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks about the tower project ended in January 2016, a lie he said was an act of loyalty to Trump. In fact, the negotiations continued until June that year, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, Cohen admitted. Cohen told Mueller’s prosecutors that he briefed Trump on the project more than three times. He also briefed members of Trump’s family, had direct contact with Kremlin representatives and considered traveling to Moscow to discuss it. Trump condemned Cohen after the plea deal was announced, calling him “a weak person” and a liar. As he departed for Buenos Aires, he acknowledged his business dealings with Russia, telling reporters: “It doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”

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Comey hopes to make it to 2019 without having that hearing. As Jim Kunstler also figured out, in an open setting Comey could plead something about national security. In a closed setting he could not.

US Judge Delays Ruling On Comey’s Request To Quash Republican Subpoena (R.)

A federal judge on Friday delayed a decision on whether to block U.S. House Republicans from compelling former FBI Director James Comey to testify next week in secret about his actions on investigations leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Donald Trump, said he wanted to review the case over the weekend before making a ruling and scheduled a follow-up hearing for Monday at 10 a.m. He also told Comey’s attorney, David Kelley, to submit a follow-up brief to help inform his opinion by Sunday afternoon.

Friday’s hearing came about after Comey’s lawyers this week asked the court to quash a Nov. 21 congressional subpoena ordering him to appear before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for a closed-door deposition and stay the congressional proceedings. Comey’s lawyer argued his client will only agree to appear if his testimony is public, and on Friday Kelley accused the committee of trying to keep the testimony secret so lawmakers could selectively leak it to peddle partisan narratives. “They want to have unfettered access in a closed session,” Kelley said Friday. “They don’t want all the other members asking questions. They want to zero in and gang up.” Republicans had initially ordered Comey to appear on Monday, but Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for the House, said Friday that Comey’s deposition is now being pushed back to Tuesday.

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“If he were questioned about classified matters in an open session, he would do exactly what he did before in open session: decline to answer about “sensitive” matters on the basis of national security.”

Deep Quandaries of The Deep State (Kunstler)

My guess is that this stuff amounts to a potent weapon against his adversaries and he will wait until Mr. Mueller releases a final report before declassifying it. Then, we’ll have a fine constitutional crisis as the two sides vie for some sort of adjudication. Who, for instance, will adjudicate the monkey business that is already on-the-record involving misdeeds in the Department of Justice itself? Will the DOJ split into two contesting camps, each charging the other? How might that work? Does the Acting Attorney General Mr. Whitaker seek indictments against figures such as Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, et al. Will he also rope in intel cowboys John Brennan and James Clapper?

Might Hillary find herself in jeopardy — all the while on the other side Mr. Mueller pursues his targets, characters like Mr. Manafort, Michael Cohen, and the hapless Carter Page? Or might Mr. Mueller, and others, possibly find themselves in trouble, as spearheads of a bad-faith campaign to weaponize government agencies against a sitting president? That might sound outlandish, but the evidence is adding up. In fact the evidence of a Deep State gone rogue is far more compelling than any charges Mr. Mueller has so far produced on Trump-Russia “collusion.” An example of bad faith is former FBI Director James Comey’s current campaign to avoid testifying in closed session before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees — he filed a motion just before Thanksgiving.

Mr. Comey is pretending that an open session would be “transparent.” His claim is mendacious. If he were questioned about classified matters in an open session, he would do exactly what he did before in open session: decline to answer about “sensitive” matters on the basis of national security. He could make no such claims in a closed session. The truth is, his attorneys are trying to run out the clock on the current composition of the house committees, which will come under a Democrat majority in January, so that Mr. Comey can avoid testifying altogether.

Read more …

This could last for years.

US ‘Could Be Entering Cold War With China’ Over Trade – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

The U.S. and China could be in the early stages of a Cold War, veteran economist Stephen Roach told CNBC Friday, warning the global trade dispute is likely last for a “long, long time.” His comments come ahead of a high-stakes meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese premier Xi Jinping this week, as world leaders gather at the G-20 summit in Argentina. Simmering trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies are expected to dominate the summit’s agenda, with financial markets closely monitoring the prospect of a potential breakthrough.

“I think the end game is that this is a clash between two systems. And the U.S. is objecting to a state-sponsored ‘market-based socialist system’ that uses the largess of the state to subsidize industrial policy,” Roach, senior fellow at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, told CNBC Friday. “Even though, America has had industrial policy for decades but implements it through the military industrial complex orchestrated by the Pentagon. Japan does it, Germany does it, we are making it sound like China is the only one that does it,” he added. “What Mike Pence said is that these are going to be longstanding issues and that raises the possibility — echoed by a speech that (Former U.S. Treasury Secretary) Hank Paulson gave a couple of weeks ago — that we could be entering a Cold War with China that would last for a long, long time,” Roach said Friday.

Read more …

Covering all bases.

Trump-Xi Trade Talks Could Lead To ‘Explosion’ Higher Or A Bear Market (CNBC)

Wall Street is convinced a ‘deal’ of sorts will be announced after President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping Saturday night to discuss the trade war that is creating issues for both nations’ economies. But the potential outcome could be very different than the truce and ceasefire envisioned by many investors. A desirable deal for stocks would be one where all further tariffs are put on hold while the two sides negotiate an agreement. The best case would be if there is even a roll back of some existing tariffs. International stocks would get the biggest boost, especially those traded in China, the rest of Asia, Australia and Germany, where the DAX index is down almost 13 percent this year, said Peter Boockvar, the chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. Shares of product makers like Apple could also benefit.

“While the U.S. market hopefully will benefit, especially the industrial stocks, it’s goods producing stocks that should benefit the most. That would be Apple, specifically,” Boockvar said. “But I think there’s a potential for overseas markets to benefit most since their economies have softened with these tariffs.” Earlier Friday, there was more negative news for the economy in China, where Shanghai stocks are down about 22 percent year-to-date. China reported factory activity slowed in November to a two-year low. Manufacturing PMI was reported at 50, considered neutral, while a number below 50 shows contraction. Analysts see a range of outcomes this weekend — the trigger for either an “explosion to the upside” or a “bear market.” It could also determine whether the stock market ends the year higher or in the red.

Read more …

Too much attention for Powell, it’s what you get when you have no markets.

Powell Shouldn’t Follow Greenspan’s Example At Fed – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell would be wrong to copy the playbook of his predecessor Alan Greenspan, according to a Yale lecturer and former Morgan Stanley executive. Powell has been criticized by some market players, as well as by Donald Trump, who believe the central banker risks triggering a U.S. economic contraction by enforcing multiple rate rises next year. In the 1990s, then Fed-chair Greenspan took a watch-and-wait policy, keeping rates low to see if inflation would materialize in the face of a growing economy. At the Federal Reserve’s annual retreat to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August, Powell praised Greenspan’s do-nothing stance as sound risk management.

But Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, told CNBC on Friday that Powell would do well to learn from Greenspan’s mistakes. “The Greenspan ‘put’ supported markets a lot, but he also gave us lots of bubbles and crises that were spawned by those bubbles which I think history does not treat kindly at all,” he said. The veteran economist added that it was not “such a bad thing that Jay Powell is not a clone of Alan Greenspan.” Roach said the change in tone from the Fed chair was not an example of Powell bending to markets, or becoming more like Greenspan, but was more indicative that he was doing a real-time assessment of inflation risks. The economist added that should a trade war slow U.S. or global growth, he would expect the Fed to be far less aggressive on raising rates.

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Well, technically speaking, the Senate would force the Senate’s hand. They were there when Yeman started under Obama, Trump was not. And now they demand he clean up the mess they made?

Finally, Senate Might Force Trump’s Hand On Yemen (R.)

The U.S. Senate voted 63 to 37 on Wednesday to clear the way for a debate and final vote on a resolution to end American military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It’s the first time that an anti-war resolution has advanced in Congress since Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in early 2015. The vote, with an unexpectedly wide margin in a Senate typically gridlocked along partisan lines, underscores growing anger over American involvement in a war that is currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the vote, in which 14 Republicans joined all 49 Senate Democrats, was also a rebuke to President Donald Trump for doubling down on his support for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after Saudi agents murdered the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Despite the initial Senate vote, the resolution may not ultimately be approved in its current form. Senators could demand amendments or change their minds before a final vote, and Trump has threatened a veto. Saudi Arabia and its allies are also poised to lobby behind the scenes to curtail the measure. And even if the United States ultimately withdraws its support, the Saudi coalition could continue the war for some time. But the vote was a setback for both Trump and Saudi leaders, who are trying to contain the fallout from Khashoggi’s murder.

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Wonder if Erdogan has more drips up his sleeve.

The Khashoggi Effect: Erdogan Inverts the Paradigm (Crooke)

Yes, as Pepe Escobar, lately was being told in Istanbul: “The Erdogan machine has sensed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity [i.e. l’affaire Khashoggi], to simultaneously bury the House of Saud’s shaky Islamic credibility, while solidifying Turkish neo-Ottomanism, but with an Ikhwan [i.e. with a Muslim Brotherhood – style] framework”. This is heady stuff – maybe the Arab world is not so anxious to welcome back, with open arms, either the Ottomans or the Muslim Brotherhood. But nonetheless, with the Gulf so discredited in terms of its legitimacy, Erdogan is probably right to think that he is pushing at an ‘open door’.

And strategic interests are giving Erdogan a strong tail-wind in his bid. Erdogan has secured – as part of the package to try to get Turkey to ‘lay-off’ with its Khashoggi drip-drip leaks – an end to the Saudi siege on Qatar. It is possible too, as part of the deal, that the Qatari Emir (we are told) might visit Riyadh in the near future, and that some sort of cold – very frigid – reconciliation will be conducted with MbS. The point is that Qatar is greatly beholden to Erdogan for ending the siege (and for the earlier stationing of Turkish troops in the Emirate, to protect it, against any Saudi attack), and like Turkey, the Emir is a generous Muslim Brotherhood patron.

Turkey also enjoys a close strategic relationship with Iran (though they have their differences over Syria). The two states have a strong shared interest in seeing an end to American forces occupying parts of Syria, and putting a stop to the Israeli-sponsored Kurdish ‘project’ in the region. And again the Muslim Brotherhood enters into this equation — the latter’s flirtation with Saudi Arabia is finished, and parts of the movement (it is still fractured from the Gulf-led war against it) are returning to old comrades: Hizbullah and Iran (the Muslim Brotherhood never parted from Turkey). In short, the Muslim Brotherhood seem destined to become Turkey’s Arab foot-soldiers in the battle to take the mantle of Islamic leadership away from Saudi Arabia.

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Break ’em up. Ram through the FBI and CIA and save your democracy.

Google Staff Mulled Burying Conservative Media Deep In ‘Legitimate News’ (RT)

Several Google employees considered manipulating search results to muzzle right-wing voices, calling them a problem that “can and should be fixed,” according to internal conversations obtained by the Daily Caller. Googlers discussed how they could prevent a repeat of Trump’s 2016 victory in the future, weighing the risks and benefits of various forms of censorship. “Let’s make sure that we reverse things in four years – demographics will be on our side,” read one post by engineer Scott Byer. “How many times did you see the Election now card with items from opinion blogs (Breitbart, Daily Caller) elevated next to legitimate news organizations? That’s something that can and should be fixed.”

Google has tried to turn the embarrassing revelation to its benefit, claiming it only proves the company’s impartiality. “This post shows that far from suppressing Breitbart and Daily Caller, we surfaced these sites regularly in our products,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email, seemingly lacking any sense of irony. “Furthermore, it shows that we value providing people with the full view on stories from a variety of sources.” Indeed, not all Google employees were comfortable with outright manipulation of search results. Another engineer and self-proclaimed Clinton supporter, Uri Dekel, feared that “by ranking ‘legitimacy’ you’ll just introduce more conspiracy theories.”

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May 042018
 
 May 4, 2018  Posted by at 12:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gutzon Borglum Mount Rushmore, Repairing Lincoln’s nose 1962

 

 

Dr. D figured his last missive was a bit heavy handed. So he went for something lighter this time. A penance, a doctor’s guide: “It’s hard enough to find a candidate that will even promise to do something right so it doesn’t help that they do the opposite 90% of the time.”

 

 

Dr. D:

Who wrote “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal”? Jefferson, a slave owner.

Who was one of the most ardent Abolitionists? Alexander Hamilton.

Was he a slave owner? Yes.

Who won the election of 1824? No one, it was decided by the House of Representatives.

So which party lost? None: all four candidates were Democratic-Republicans.

In response, Andrew Jackson, a slave owner, created the Democratic Party.

Jackson created the Democratic Party as an anti-bank, anti-oligarch, states-rights platform the Tea Party would recognize.

Martin Van Buren, a Democrat, created the first concentration camp for Cherokee Indians in 1838.

Those 17,000 Cherokees owned 2,000 slaves.

Did Lincoln create the Republican Party? No, it was an amalgamation of failed parties: Lincoln was their 1st candidate.

What was the Lincoln campaign of 1860? Non-interference in state slavery.

Why? The decision of Dred Scott in 1857, a slave owned by abolitionists in a state he did not reside. Overturning 250 years of history, the case determined that no slave could ever become a citizen, i.e. freed.

Who was the best known Confederate General? Stonewall Jackson.

What did he do when he sided with the Southern cause? Freed his slaves.

Who else was a top Confederate General? William Mahone.

What did he do? He was the creator of the most successful interracial alliance in the post-war South. His name was purged first by Southern Democrats (for integration), then by modern Democrats (for being a Confederate).

 

Woodrow Wilson (D) ran an anti-collectivism, limited government, anti-monopoly, anti-bank campaign in 1912. He created the Federal Reserve and is known for founding the modern welfare state.

Wilson was re-elected on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” He immediately forced the reluctant nation into WWI.

Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce under Calvin Coolidge during the Crash of ’21, demanded economic aid and bailouts, but Coolidge, “the great refrainer,” refused. The market immediately recovered.

Hoover was President during the Crash of ’29. He gave unprecedented bailouts to help the economy recover. It never did.

Roosevelt campaigned against Hoover for being “ the greatest spending Administration in peacetime in all our history.” He outspent Hoover tenfold.

Did Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the greatest stimulus and spending program up to that time, end the Great Depression? No. It was going strong in 1939.

What did Roosevelt campaign on? He promised to keep us out of war in Europe.

Who was Time’s Man of the Year in 1938? Adolf Hitler.

Who was Man of the Year in 1939? Joseph Stalin.

1942? Joseph Stalin.

 

Wars under “anti-war” Democratic Party: 93 years, 46.5%. 625K deaths since 1864.

Wars under “pro-war” “Republican” Party: 107 Years 53.5%. 12K deaths since 1864.

Who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Republicans 80% vs. Democrats 69%.

Who filibustered it? Southern Democrat Strom Thurmond.

Who signed it? Lyndon Johnson, a southern Democrat.

Where did Thurmond go? The GOP, who had voted against him and against southern segregation.

What did Richard Nixon campaign on? “Law and Order” and a “secret plan” to exit Vietnam. He immediately bombed Cambodia and was later impeached for a burglary.

Who said “the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut rates now” and “Every dollar released from taxation that is spent or invested will help create a new job and a new salary” ? John F. Kennedy.

Who gave the greatest modern tax cut? John F. Kennedy (income and capital gains, signed by Johnson).

Who most increased the postwar Federal deficit? Ronald Reagan 186%.

Who most increased taxes? Ronald Reagan, 1982 (as % of GDP, excluding Obamacare and Johnson’s one-year tax).

 

Who called young blacks “Superpredators”? Hillary Clinton, 1996.

Who put the most black men in jail? Bill Clinton, under the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act.

Who cut welfare most? Bill Clinton, 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Act.

Who was called the first “Black President”? Bill Clinton (“white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime.” –Toni Morrison, 1998. I swear this is true).

What was George W. Bush’s platform? Smaller, less-invasive government, lower taxes, and no foreign wars.

Who are the Neoconservatives? “Liberal hawks who became disenchanted with the pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party”.

Where did these Liberal Democrats finally prosper? Under G.W. Bush and on Fox News, e.g. Bill Kristol.

 

Which President won the Nobel Peace Prize? Barack Obama. (As did Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter)

What was his legacy? War every day of all eight years, with +50,000 official strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria and unofficial attacks in Ukraine, Sudan, Niger, Cameroon, Uganda, and elsewhere, as well as 3,000 drone deaths.

Wow, anything else? Due to his intervention, Obama, the first black president, caused the creation of an open-air black slave market in Libya.

Who campaigned advocating a Syrian no-fly zone expected to cause WWIII with Russia? Hillary Clinton (D).

Who campaigned for peace talks and de-escalation with Russia? Donald Trump (R).

Who sent 164 missiles into Russian ally Syria? Donald Trump (R).

Who advocated against the recent attacks? “Far-right” speakers Rand Paul and Tucker Carlson of Fox News.

Who advocated for the attacks? “Left” speakers Fareed Zakaria, and Rachel Maddow with left media Slate and Mother Jones.

What was the actual breakdown? 22% of GOP supported Syrian airstrikes in 2013 vs 86% for the same strikes in 2017.

And on and on. Got it? Know which side you’re on? History, party platforms, personal beliefs, economy, all clear?

 

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

P.S. Mark Twain never said this.

 

 

Mar 172018
 
 March 17, 2018  Posted by at 2:16 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jacobello Alberegno The Beast of the Apocalypse 1360-90

 

The Guardian ran an article yesterday by one of its editors, David Shariatmadari, that both proves and disproves its own theme at the same time: “An Information Apocalypse Is Coming”. Now, I don’t fancy the term apocalypse in a setting like this, it feels too much like going for a cheap thrill, but since he used it, why not.

My first reaction to the headline, and the article, is: what do you mean it’s ‘coming’? Don’t you think we have such an apocalypse already, that we’re living it, we’re smack in the middle of such a thing? If you don’t think so, would that have anything to do with you working at a major newspaper? Or with your views of the world, political and other, that shape how you experience ‘information’?

Shariatmadari starts out convincingly and honestly enough with a description of a speech that JFK was supposed to give in Dallas right after he was murdered, a speech that has been ‘resurrected’ using technology that enables one to make it seem like he did deliver it.

 

An Information Apocalypse Is Coming. How Can We Protect Ourselves?

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason, or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality, and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear.

Yes, Kennedy’s words are lofty ones, and they do possess at least some predictive qualities. But history does play a part too. Would we have read the same in them that we do now, had Kennedy not been shot right before he could deliver them? Hard to tell.

What’s more, not long before JFK was elected president America had been in the tight and severe grip of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign, in which lots of reality was replaced with rhetoric, something Kennedy undoubtedly had in mind while writing the speech. JFK was not just addressing future threats, he was talking about the past as well.

But the writer slips into a much bigger faux pas right after: injecting Trump into the picture. It’s fine if someone doesn’t like Trump, but naming him there and then, in an article about ‘information apocalypse’, also means confusing objectivity with regards to your topic with subjectivity concerning your political ideas. While the Kennedy speech item relates to -advancing(?)- technology, a valid part of the apocalypse, mentioning Trump has nothing to do with that apocalypse, at least not objectively. Back to David Shariatmadari:

The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation. The result is pretty convincing, although there’s a machine-like ring to some of the syllables, a synthetic stutter. Enough to recognise, if you already know, that this is a feat of technology, not oratory.

We like to think of innovation as morally neutral. We empower scientists and engineers to range freely in the hope they might discover things that save labour and lives. The ends to which these are put aren’t the responsibility of the researchers. The agile robots produced by Boston Dynamics might look like they could cheerfully pin you up against a wall and snap your neck, but do we really want to close off this avenue of research? After all, they might equally be capable of performing life-saving surgery. The methods used to resurrect JFK can also help people with illnesses such as motor neurone disease – like the late Stephen Hawking – that affect their ability to speak.

It’s certainly true that we are so ‘geared’ towards progress, we ‘conveniently’ forget and ignore that every next step carries its own shadow side, every yin comes with its yang. ‘Progress’ and ‘innovation’ – and related terms- ring so positive in our eyes and ears it borders on -wilful- blindness. That blindness is set to play a major role in our future, and in our acceptance as gospel of a lot of ‘information’.

“Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump.

Ouch! See, he does it again. This is not an objective discourse on ‘information disinformation’, but a way to make people think -through a method he’s supposed to be exposing- that ‘fake news’ led to Brexit and Trump. That’s a political view, not a neutral one. Yes, there are many voices out there who connect ‘fake news’ directly to things they don’t like, but that’s just a trap.

And as I said, it may have to do with the fact that the writer works for a major newspaper, which of course he wants to, and wishes to, see as some kind of beacon against fake news, but if he lets his own personal views slip into an objective treatment of a topic this easily, it automatically becomes self-defeating.

There is no proof that Trump and Brexit’s success are down to fake news more than their opposite sides, ‘fake news’ is everywhere, and that very much includes the Guardian. The coverage of the UK government accusations against Russia in the poisoning case proves that more than ever.

You can be anti-Trump, anti-Brexit and anti-Putin all you want, but they don’t define fake news or an information apocalypse, any more than ‘commies’ did in the days of Hoover and McCarthy.

We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.

That is am almost bewildering line. Does the writer really think ‘ordinary people’ can today tell apart what’s real and what’s not? If his paper had honestly covered his country’s, and his government’s, involvement in the wars all over the Middle East and North Africa over the past decades, would his readers still be supportive of the politicians that today inhabit Westminster?

Or does the paper prefer supporting the incumbents over Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, because it owes its reputation and position and revenues to supporting the likes of Theresa May and Tony Blair? Yeah, I know, with a critical view, yada yada, but when has the Guardian labeled any UK politician a war criminal? Much easier to go after Farage, isn’t it? The question is: what part of this is fake, and what is not?

What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them?

This appears to make sense, but it does not really. We are way past that. ‘Ordinary people’ have already lost their capacity to tell truth from fiction. Newspapers and TV stations have long disseminated the views of their owners, it’s just that they now have -newfound- competition from a million other sources: the blessings of social media.

The core issue here is that 1984 is not some point in the future, as we for some reason prefer to think. We are living 1984. Perhaps the fact that we are now 34 years past it should give us a clue about that? People tend to think that perhaps Orwell was right, but his predictions were way early. Were they, though?

Also: Orwell may not have foreseen the blessings and trappings of social media, but he did foresee how governments and their media sympathizers would react to them: with more disinformation.

Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously.

This is a full-blown time warp. If it is true that people only now take the potential for an “information apocalypse” seriously, they are so far behind the curve ball that one must question the role of the media in that. Why didn’t people know about that potential when it was an actual issue? Why did nobody tell them?

The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.

Yes, we do have an idea about that, because we see it around us 24/7. Maybe not with images as fully fabricated as the JFK speech, but the essence is manipulation itself, not the means by which it’s delivered.

Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing.

David, we ARE all bullshitters, we all lie all the time, for a myriad of reasons, to look better, to feel better, to seem better, to get rich, to get laid. It’s who we are. We lie to ourselves most of all. A sixth sense against bullshit and propaganda is the very last thing we will ever develop, because it would force us to face our own bullshit.

But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.

We are not “on the cusp of a new and scary age”, we are in the smack middle of it. We haven’t been able to separate rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, for ages. What’s different from 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, is that now we are faced with an information overload so severe that this in itself makes us less capable of separating chaff from wheat.

So yes, that perhaps is new. But bullshit and propaganda are not. And labeling Trump and Brexit the main threats misses your own topic by miles. You could make an equally valid point that they are the results of many years of bullshit and propaganda by old-style politics and old-style media.

Maybe they’re what happens when ‘ordinary people’ switch off from an overload of bullshit and propaganda forced upon them by people and institutions they grew up to trust. And then feel they were betrayed by. A sixth sense after all.

 

 

Oct 222017
 
 October 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Edmund Melzl The Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan 1958

 

Political Economics (Snider)
Smart Money And Dumb Money Are Moving In Opposite Directions (MW)
Beijing Is The Covert Buyer Of A Quarter Of All Chinese Real Estate (ZH)
The Mathematics of Inequality (TuftsNow)
New Zealand’s New Prime Minister Brands Capitalism A ‘Blatant Failure’ (Ind.)
Euroskeptic Billionaire on Route to Czech Election Victory (BBG)
US Immigrant Population Climbed To Record 43.7 Million In 2016 (F.)
After 54 Years America Deserves To Know Everything (PP)
Into the Cold and Dark (Jim Kunstler)
Google’s Plan To Revolutionise Cities Is A Takeover In All But Name (O.)
Put Drivers In Control (NEF)
“Success, Greeks No Longer Seek Food In Garbage Bins” (KTG)
5 Year Old Syrian Girl Dies In ‘Concentration Camp’ Funded By UK Taxpayers (RT)

 

 

“How can anyone claim the Fed under Yellen or Bernanke performed even minimally well?”

Political Economics (Snider)

The political winds are changing, and the parties themselves are being realigned in different directions (which is not something new; there have been several re-alignments throughout American history even though the two major parties have been entrenched since the 1850’s when Republicans first appeared). Who the next Fed Chair is could tell us something about how far along we are in this evolution. What Krugman wants, meaning, it is safe to assume, what all those like him want, is simple: success. He believes that the central bank has given us exactly that, therefore it is stupid to upset what works.

“In particular, both Bernanke and Yellen responded effectively to a once-in-three-generations economic crisis despite constant heckling from back-seat drivers in Congress and on the political right in general. And their intellectual and moral courage has been completely vindicated by events.” This is right here is the very central point of political difference that is pulling the world slowly apart. Krugman offers no evidence for his assertion, that the Fed has performed admirably and successfully, he just states it as if it was so (a common tactic in the mainstream, the fallacy of authority). Whenever challenged on this contention, the argument will always go back to “jobs saved.”

A worse counterfactual downside is not a rational standard for evaluation in any discipline or context. The only benchmark that should matter is recovery, as any economy facing recession, even an unusually severe one, has to make it back to the prior condition. On that score the Fed has utterly and unambiguously failed. One reason for it is the one thing Economists like Krugman never bring up; the 2008 panic. How can anyone claim the Fed under Yellen or Bernanke performed even minimally well? The very fact that the panic happened at all is a direct indictment on monetary policy and the people who were there during it (you had one job to do!).

[..] The irrational, emotional defense for the ideology is what is driving political upheaval, including Donald Trump’s occupying the White House. To most people, Krugman’s ideas and assertions are nonsense. They don’t have to know anything about QE’s effect on the TBA market and dollar rolls, how exactly McDonald’s was borrowing from FRBNY, or what it was that AIG did that ultimately made the Federal Reserve profits. People know the Fed did a bunch of stuff that didn’t work because they can tell there is something very wrong with the economy.

Read more …

Short, long, smart, dumb.

Smart Money And Dumb Money Are Moving In Opposite Directions (MW)

While all seems calm in the U.S. equity markets, with stocks continuing to hit all-time highs, an interesting trend has emerged beneath the surface. Combing through the latest Commitments of Traders report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), we found that commercial traders (“smart money”) have a record number of short positions in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. At the same time, noncommercial traders (“dumb money”) have a record number of long positions. You may be thinking “one group thinks stocks will go up, and the other thinks stocks will go down. What’s the big deal?” Here’s the big deal. There’s a strong negative correlation between commercial traders’ short positions and the Dow Jones Industrial Average, as the below chart shows. When short positions increase, the DJIA usually falls … perfect timing!

The opposite also is true. When noncommercial traders increase their long positions, the market usually drops shortly thereafter. It seems they have a habit of buying the market at exactly the wrong time.

Given that the “smart money” usually wins this tug of war, let’s focus on the reasons behind their negative outlook for stocks. Here’s some of the reasons professional money managers may be growing cautious about stocks today. Findings from Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) show that by just about every measure, stocks are expensive today. But it’s not only U.S. stocks that are trading at all-time highs. This chart from Deutsche Bank shows that, in their own words, “we’re in a period of very elevated global asset prices — possibly the most elevated in history.”

Lofty valuations are likely a big factor in Warren Buffett’s and Seth Klarman’s reasoning for holding record levels of cash in their portfolios. In September, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway had $99.7 billion in cash on the sidelines. Klarman’s Baupost Group held 42% of its portfolio in cash, the largest single position. So U.S. stocks are expensive by most measures. But they have been expensive for quite some time. High valuations don’t mean a crash is imminent. They do, however, tell us something about future returns.

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Absolutely nuts. But then, the Fed buys mortgage backed securities…

Beijing Is The Covert Buyer Of A Quarter Of All Chinese Real Estate (ZH)

According to a fascinating new WSJ report, China’s housing downturn is likely far worse than meets the eye, as under Beijing’s direction more than 200 cities across China for the last three years have been buying surplus apartments from property developers and moving in families from condemned city blocks and nearby villages. China’s Housing Ministry, which is behind the purchases, said it plans to continue the program through 2020. The strategy, supported by central-government bank lending, has rescued housing developers and lifted the property market, As the WSJ notes, this latest backdoor bailout “It is a sharp illustration of China’s economy under President Xi Jinping and the economic challenges he will face as he renews his 5-year term at a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress that opens on Wednesday.”

Rosealea Yao from Gavekal Dragonomics, who was also quoted above, wrote that “the government’s creativity in coming up with new ways of supporting the housing market is impressive—but it’s also an indication that it still depends on housing for growth.” While traditionally, China’s government used to build homes for families who lost theirs to development or decay, last year, local governments, from the northeast rust belt to the city of Bengbu with 3.7 million amid the croplands of central Anhui province, spent more than $100 billion to buy housing from developers or subsidize purchases, according to Gavekal Dragonomics. In other words, the reason why China no longer has ghost cities is because the government is buying them in just as concerning, “ghostly” transcations.

The underlying structure is yet another typically-Chinese ponzi scheme: “Underpinning the strategy is a cycle of debt. Cities borrow from state banks for purchases and subsidies, then sell more land to developers to repay the loans. As developers build more housing, they, too, accrue more debt, setting up the state to bail them out again. The burden on the state rises, as does the risk of collapse.” [..] Beijing is now the (covert) marginal buyer of a quarter of all Chinese real estate. That, in itself, is a mindblowing statistic. What is scarier, is that despite this implicit backstop, property sales are once again declining after 30 months of increases. One can only imagine the epic crash that would ensue at this moment, if – for some reason – the government bid were to be pulled, and just how spectacular the ensuing global depression would be as the rug is pulled from below the middle class of the world’s fastest growing economy.

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“..And even if a society does redistribute wealth, if it’s too small an amount, “a partial oligarchy will result..”

The Mathematics of Inequality (TuftsNow)

Seven years ago, the combined wealth of 388 billionaires equaled that of the poorest half of humanity, according to Oxfam International. This past January the equation was even more unbalanced: it took only eight billionaires, marking an unmistakable march toward increased concentration of wealth. Today that number has been reduced to five billionaires. Trying to understand such growing inequality is usually the purview of economists, but Bruce Boghosian, a professor of mathematics, thinks he has found another explanation—and a warning. Using a mathematical model devised to mimic a simplified version of the free market, he and colleagues are finding that, without redistribution, wealth becomes increasingly more concentrated, and inequality grows until almost all assets are held by an extremely small% of people.

“Our work refutes the idea that free markets, by virtually leaving people up to their own devices, will be fair,” he said. “Our model, which is able to explain the form of the actual wealth distribution with remarkable accuracy, also shows that free markets cannot be stable without redistribution mechanisms. The reality is precisely the opposite of what so-called ‘market fundamentalists’ would have us believe.” While economists use math for their models, they seek to show that an economy governed by supply and demand will result in a steady state or equilibrium, while Boghosian’s efforts “don’t try to engineer a supply-demand equilibrium, and we don’t find one,” he said. [..] The model tracks the data with remarkable accuracy, he said. He and his team will soon publish a paper on how it relates to U.S. wealth data from 1989 to 2013.

“We have also begun to apply it to wealth data from the ECB, and so far it seems to work very well for certain European countries as well,” he said [..] It turns out that when agents do well in early transactions, the odds are so increasingly stacked in their favor that—without redistribution from taxes or other wealth-transfer mechanisms—they will get more money, and keep accruing wealth inevitably. “Without redistribution of wealth, our market economy would not be stable,” said Boghosian. “One person would run away with all the wealth, and it would keep going until it came to complete oligarchy.” And even if a society does redistribute wealth, if it’s too small an amount, “a partial oligarchy will result,” Boghosian said.

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Well that’s clear enough.

New Zealand’s New Prime Minister Brands Capitalism A ‘Blatant Failure’ (Ind.)

New Zealand’s new prime minister called capitalism a “blatant failure”, before citing levels of homelessness and low wages as evidence that “the market has failed” her country’s poor. Jacinda Ardern, who is to become the nation’s youngest leader since 1856, said measures used to gauge economic success “have to change” to take into account “people’s ability to actually have a meaningful life”. The 37-year-old will take office next month after the populist New Zealand First party agreed to form a centre-left coalition with her Labour Party. They will be supported by the liberal Greens. New Zealanders had been waiting since 23 September to find out who would govern their country after national elections ended without a clear winner. Ms Ardern has pledged her government will increase the minimum wage, write child poverty reduction targets into law, and build thousands of affordable homes.

In her first full interview since becoming prime minister-elect, she told current affairs programme The Nation that capitalism had “failed our people”. “If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure,” she said. “What else could you describe it as?” Incumbent prime minister Bill English, whose National Party has held power for nine years, has said his party grew the economy and produced increasing budget surpluses which benefited the nation. But Ms Ardern said: “When you have a market economy, it all comes down to whether or not you acknowledge where the market has failed and where intervention is required. Has it failed our people in recent times? Yes. “How can you claim you’ve been successful when you have growth roughly three per cent, but you’ve got the worst homelessness in the developed world?”

Read more …

He won by a landslide. An even more far-right and anti-EU party also won. More problems in the heart of the Union.

Euroskeptic Billionaire on Route to Czech Election Victory (BBG)

A Czech billionaire looks set to win parliamentary elections Saturday, overcoming traditional political parties on a pledge to run the state like a business, fight Muslim immigration and oppose deeper integration with the European Union. Andrej Babis, who has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi, had a wide lead in opinion polls before two days of voting started Friday. With a chemical, food and media empire employing 34,000 in 18 countries, the Slovak-born businessman – and second-richest Czech – increased his popularity while serving as finance minister before he was fired by his coalition partner, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. Taking credit for the EU’s lowest unemployment, one of its fastest rates of economic growth, and a budget surplus, Babis has portrayed himself as a competent manager struggling against traditional parties.

That’s lifted his ANO party’s support, while his attacks against Muslim immigration and criticism of the EU have helped fuel the rise of anti-establishment political forces similar to Germany’s AfD and Austria’s Freedom Party. It’s also raised concern that a Babis victory may add another source of tension within the EU, which has clashed with Poland and Hungary over democratic values. “Babis has managed to take advantage of the crisis of traditional parties and offer something new,” Josef Mlejnek, a political scientist at Charles University in Prague, said by phone. “He has depicted his rivals as an incompetent, corrupt bunch and he is presenting himself as the only one who can get things in order.” [..] Sobotka dismissed Babis in May in a conflict over his past business dealings.

The premier’s Social Democrats later teamed up with the opposition to strip the billionaire of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution to make way for an investigation into fraud allegations. Police have since charged Babis, 63, in the case of a 50 million-koruna ($2.3 million) in EU subsidies transferred to his Stork Nest recreation complex. Babis denies wrongdoing and says the allegations are an attempt to sideline him from politics. Despite the scandal, he’s held on to support siphoned from both the Social Democrats and other traditional parties. He has boasted of streamlining government operations and, via a law requiring retailers to link their cash registers to the Finance Ministry, boosting budget revenue and cracking down on tax evasion. At the same time, he’s railed against EU “meddling,” a stance that resonates with voters in the bloc’s most euroskeptic member.

Read more …

What about the time when almost all Americans were immigrants?

US Immigrant Population Climbed To Record 43.7 Million In 2016 (F.)

According to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s immigrant population, both legal and illegal, climbed to a record 43.7 million in July 2016. That’s an increase of half a million since 2015 and 12.6 million since the turn of the century. Immigrants now comprise 13.5% of the U.S. population, roughly one out of eight residents, the highest share in 106 years. The all-time highest immigrant share of the U.S. population was 14.7%, recorded in 1910 when the country had 13.5 million immigrants. According to the Census Bureau, that will be eclipsed by 2030 when the immigrant share reaches 15.8% or 56.9 million people. Up to 2050, the influx is expected to continue its upward trajectory, with the number of immigrants projected to reach 72.3 million and account for an 18.2% share of the population.

Currently, Mexico has the highest share of America’s foreign-born population by far with over 11.5 million people. Despite also being the top sending nation with a grand total of 1.1 million new arrivals between 2010 and 2016, the Mexican-born population has not grown in the past six years due to return migration and natural mortality. During the same time frame, the sending countries with the highest increases were Saudi Arabia (122%), Nepal (86%) and Afghanistan (74%). Out of all states, Texas recorded the greatest numeric increase in immigrants (587,889) between 2010 and 2016, ahead of Florida (578,468) and California (527,234).

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There won’t be much left.

After 54 Years America Deserves To Know Everything (PP)

President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general in the Army before his presidency, upon departing the White House in January 1961, issued a bone-chilling warning about the dangers of the Deep State to President John F. Kennedy before Kennedy took office. Eisenhower warned Kennedy that the “military industrial complex created an imperative for development… It was compelled to create a permanent armaments industry.” Kennedy stood up against the military-industrial complex. Did that lead to Kennedy’s assassination? Did Kennedy’s assassination trigger the Deep State’s birth of a baby vampire squid with tentacles spread throughout many industries? We did have the Warren Commission, but did that commission provide any reasonable explanation as to how President Kennedy was assassinated?

Given what we know today, it’s likely that the truth has been withheld from the American public and the world. For example, doubt remains widespread about the Warren Commission’s conclusions since several trajectory analyses show that one bullet could not have caused all the damage that occurred. Are the CIA and the Deep State colluding to keep this information secret? In one set of recently declassified CIA documents, the American people learned that JFK’s assassination led to the CIA creating the highly derogatory term “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorists”. This was the beginning of Deep State psychological operations used to malign, slander, discredit, and undermine the credibility of anyone who dared to voice dissent towards the government. The CIA called this branch the Clandestine Services unit and its aim was to ruin anyone who wanted to take on the establishment and the military industrial complex.

The military-industrial complex has garnered far too much power in Washington since World War II, and it now presents the biggest threat to democracy and liberty in America. And it has only gotten bigger since George W. Bush entered office and declared “a war on terror”. Just take a look at the stock prices of military-industrial complex participants — they have skyrocketed over 1000% (e.g. Northrop Grumman). The presence of a Deep State became very clear and even more pronounced during the 2016 presidential election cycle, which unearthed Washington’s culture of pay-to-play and cover-ups. This led to the December 2016 proclamation to America by President-elect Trump that he was going to “drain the swamp.” In response, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer went on The Rachel Maddow Show in January 2017 and delivered the following warning to President Trump: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community—they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,”

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“The revolution to come out of this frozen swamp of irresponsibility will be the messiest and most incoherent in world history.”

Into the Cold and Dark (Jim Kunstler)

Many, including yours truly, have expected the distortions and perversions on the money side of life to express themselves in money itself: the dollar. So far, it has only wobbled down about ten percent. This is due perhaps to the calibrated disinformation known as “forward guidance” issued by this country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, which has been threatening — pretty idly so far — to raise interest rates and shrink down its vault of hoarded securities — a lot of it janky paper left over from the misadventures of 2007-2009. I guess the lesson is that when you have a pervasively false and corrupt financial system, it is always subject to a little additional accounting fraud — until it’s not.

And the next thing you know, you’re sitting in the rubble of what used to be your civilization. The ever more immiserated schnooks who make up the former middle-class know that their lives are crumbling, and may feel that they’re subject to the utterly overwhelming forces of a cruel destiny generated by a leviathan state that hates and despises them. And of course that is exactly why they turned to the Golden Golem of Greatness for salvation. Alas, Mr. Trump has not constructed a coherent strategy for defeating the colossus of fakery that drives the nation ever-deeper toward the cold and dark. He has a talent for distraction and disruption, though, and so far that gave cover to a whole lot of other people in power who have been able to stand around with their hands in their pockets doing nothing about the sinking state of the nation.

Now, the vaudeville act is coming to a spectacular conclusion as the trappings of Halloween go back in the closet and the pulsating, LED-studded Santas go up on the rooftops. Every ceremony of American life seems drained of meaning now, including the machinations of government over the budget and taxes. The revolution to come out of this frozen swamp of irresponsibility will be the messiest and most incoherent in world history. Nobody will have any idea what is going on outside the geo-storm of failure. About the only thing one can say for sure is that the American life which emerges from this maelstrom will not look a whole lot like what we’re living in today. I remain serenely convinced that when it finally passes, the air will be fresh again and the sun will shine, and a lot more people will know what is real and what is not.

Read more …

Pay attention.

Google’s Plan To Revolutionise Cities Is A Takeover In All But Name (O.)

Last June Volume, a leading magazine on architecture and design, published an article on the GoogleUrbanism project. Conceived at a renowned design institute in Moscow, the project charts a plausible urban future based on cities acting as important sites for “data extractivism” – the conversion of data harvested from individuals into artificial intelligence technologies, allowing companies such as Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to act as providers of sophisticated and comprehensive services. The cities themselves, the project insisted, would get a share of revenue from the data. Cities surely wouldn’t mind but what about Alphabet? The company does take cities seriously. Its executives have floated the idea of taking some struggling city – Detroit? – and reinventing it around Alphabet services, with no annoying regulations blocking this march of progress.

All of this might have looked counter-intuitive several decades ago, but today, when institutions such as the World Bank preach the virtues of privately run cities and bigwigs in Silicon Valley aspire to build sea-based micronations liberated from conventional bureaucracy, it does not seem so far-fetched. Alphabet already operates many urban services: city maps, real-time traffic information, free wifi (in New York), self-driving cars. In 2015 it launched a dedicated city unit, Sidewalk Labs, run by Daniel Doctoroff, former deputy mayor of New York and a veteran of Wall Street. Doctoroff’s background hints at what the actual Google Urbanism – as opposed to its theoretical formulations – portends: using Alphabet’s data prowess to build profitable alliances with other powerful forces behind contemporary cities, from property developers to institutional investors.

On this view, Google Urbanism is anything but revolutionary. Yes, it thrives on data and sensors, but they only play a secondary role in determining what gets built, why, and at what cost. One might as well call it Blackstone Urbanism – in homage to one of the largest financial players in the property market. [..] Alphabet’s weapons are impressive. Cheap, modular buildings to be assembled quickly; sensors monitoring air quality and building conditions; adaptive traffic lights prioritising pedestrians and cyclists; parking systems directing cars to available slots. Not to mention delivery robots, advanced energy grids, automated waste sorting, and, of course, ubiquitous self-driving cars.

Alphabet essentially wants to be the default platform for other municipal services. Cities, it says, have always been platforms; now they are simply going digital. “The world’s great cities are all hubs of growth and innovation because they leveraged platforms put in place by visionary leaders,” states the proposal. “Rome had aqueducts, London the Underground, Manhattan the street grid.” Toronto, led by its own visionary leaders, will have Alphabet. Amid all this platformaphoria, one could easily forget that the street grid is not typically the property of a private entity, capable of excluding some and indulging others. Would we want Trump Inc to own it? Probably not. So why hurry to give its digital equivalent to Alphabet?

Read more …

Sort of the opposite of what Google wants.

Put Drivers In Control (NEF)

Last weekend, Jeremy Corbyn raised an intriguing possibility. “Imagine an Uber,” he said, “run co-operatively by their drivers, collectively controlling their futures, agreeing their own pay and conditions, with profits shared or re-invested.” Many have since dismissed this idea as wishful thinking. First, there is Uber’s undoubted popularity among its users – hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition protesting against Transport for London’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence. Then there is its market dominance, which only ever seems to intensify. How can any rival hope to compete in the increasingly monopolistic world of private hire? Finally there is the factor which underpins both its popularity and its dominance. And that’s its price point. When Uber came on the scene, it undercut other taxi services by a huge margin.

And it appeared to do so by spending vast amounts of venture capital in a bid to achieve global dominance of the market. Any co-operative, driver-owned alternative to Uber has to be competitive on price or it will never break through Uber’s grip on the market. How can they do that without spending vast amounts of capital? Where would that money come from? None of these arguments holds water. At the New Economics Foundation we recently called for ‘Khan’s Cars’, a mutually owned taxi platform for London which would give drivers real control over their working lives while still providing people with the cheap and convenient transport they need. We believe a driver-owned alternative could genuinely compete with Uber on price and convenience, especially if supported by the Mayor of London.

In fact, Uber isn’t as cheap as it seems. The company’s use of surge pricing, which inflates prices during periods of high demand, allows it to present cheaper prices at other times. Partly as a result of this, Uber makes a profit in the UK – suggesting the basic pricing model is financially viable without vast capital resources. So the gap to close isn’t as wide as it may look at first glance. Furthermore, Uber takes between 20-25% of the fares it charges. Khan’s Cars could reduce that %age since it will not have shareholders looking to extract profit.

Read more …

Delusionary.

“Success, Greeks No Longer Seek Food In Garbage Bins” (KTG)

“There are no people seeking food in the garbage bins as in 2014,” Culture Minister Elena Kountoura said adding that citizens congratulate the government for its social policies. People are congratulating the government because “in 2014 there were people struggling to have a meal on their table. It is a success that people do not eat from the garbage anymore, “Kountoura from junior coalition partner Independent Greeks claimed speaking to private Skai TV on Saturday morning. “Despite the difficulties, people manage it.” “At least, Greeks are now living in dignity,” she said further adding “we brought growth.” She claimed further that “no minister cuts pensions, no minister introduces taxes.” The Culture Minister said further that “we have ten difficult months ahead” until the Greek program ends in August 2018. She said that also this year was an unprecedented success for the tourism industry saying that “90% of the capacity” was fully booked.

PS no taxes, no pension cuts? I propose, Minister Kountoura to take a fresh look into the 2015 bailout agreement and the additional agreement the coalition government signed last May in order to enable the conclusion of the second review. As for the meals from garbage bins… well… I wonder why neighbors still leave bags with food on the street, bags that quickly disappear. Probably they didn’t hear of the growth and the government success story.

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“Their daughter had just died and they were left there. They had nothing. No visit from a psychiatrist. The mother was silent. They were in shock and the children were saying ‘my sister died – she died just here.’”

5 Year Old Syrian Girl Dies In ‘Concentration Camp’ Funded By UK Taxpayers (RT)

British aid money is propping up a European migrant camp routinely likened to a prison. In just one appalling example, a Syrian girl who survived war, smugglers and the Aegean Sea, died last week in a cold, damp tent in Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos. She was five. The girl, her parents and her five siblings had been offered a freezing tent in the squalid camp when they arrived in search of safety a week earlier. Her body was discovered last Sunday by her father and pregnant mother, who just hours before were denied extra blankets to keep their daughter warm and given just paracetamol to treat her medical issues. “I crawled inside and the blankets on the floor were wet, it was so cold and dirty and damp,” Daliah, a volunteer and former protection team employee who visited the family, told RT UK.

Their daughter had just died and they were left there. They had nothing. No visit from a psychiatrist. The mother was silent. They were in shock and the children were saying ‘my sister died – she died just here.’ “There was a volunteer there in tears. He told me they just pulled her out like a dog and took her away. There was no dignity.” Following her “unexplained” death, her tiny body was buried without an Islamic funeral and without her mother being present. “She became nothing but a number – she didn’t even get her last respect,” Daliah said. The child, whose parents did not wish to be identified, is yet another victim of the migration crisis Europe has mishandled and misjudged. With grotesque irony, European Union ministers who advocate saving refugees from war zones enjoy worldwide praise for funding camps like these.


The grave of a five-year-old girl who died on Lesbos © Zoie O’Brien / RT

Read more …

Feb 272017
 
 February 27, 2017  Posted by at 2:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Bruce Davidson Iran 1964

 

Let’s see. On February 18, I wrote an essay called “Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing”, in which I said “..the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s”.

That provoked a wonderfully written reaction from long-time Automatic Earth reader Ken Latta, which I published on February 23 as “When Was America’s Peak Wealth?”. Ken put peak wealth sometime in the late ’50s to early 60’s. As I said then, I really liked his definition of ‘wealth’ as being “best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”. The article spawned a series of nice comments, for some reason largely by people in his age bracket (Ken’s 73).

Which is nice, but it poses as many questions as it provides answers. Like: why does the Automatic Earth have so many ‘older’ readers? Should that be a reason for worry? And also: why don’t the young react in equal numbers? Don’t younger Americans have as many ideas as the generation(s) before them about when America’s peak wealth might have occurred?

Must one have been an eye-witness to the decline to know that it happened? Do only old farts ponder these things? Are there lessons to be learned, be they personal or history-wide? Interesting, all of it, if you ask me. Do younger people not acknowledge that peak wealth is behind us, and perhaps occurred before they were even born? Me, I like history lessons, and Ken’s for sure.

Tomorrow, I’ll have another take on all this written by Charles A. Hall, Emeritus Professor at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. Charlie thinks neither Ken nor myself have given nearly enough attention to the role energy plays in wealth, and the peak thereof.

But first, here’s Ken Latta’s response to the comments on his article.

 

 

Ken Latta: The responses to my article on peak wealth were so thought-provoking that a follow-up article seemed appropriate. You can’t cover the history of the world in one blog post and I appreciate the additional ideas from the commentariat.

John Day: I remember 1969 as better than 1970. That first moon landing was a real high point for all of us. Everybody thought 1971 sucked. Things were different after November 1963. LBJ was a “sonofabitch”, as he put it. It’s hard to nail a year down, but after we lost our president, things were never the same.

John Day: Reminded us of a substantial breaking point the assassination of John Kennedy represented to the flow of history. But, history has its own problems. The finer details are oh so often swamped by a popular narrative. JFK was way more beloved dead than alive. Like Trump he could draw big crowds, but he very narrowly beat Nixon. Detractors favored referring to him as weak on foreign affairs.

I clearly recall were I was when the news came in about him being shot in Dallas. I was hanging out with some of my squadron mates in our team office when our Captain came by to inform us. He was African-American and clearly disturbed by it. It was much less concerning to the enlisted ranks. He had not been popular with most of us. It was a divided nation even then. I think his mourners should not forget that JFK presided over the early stages of the Viet-Nam adventure. With Green Berets and meddling in the South Viet-Nam government’s affairs, as is our custom.

It was just another case of his bad luck really. The American War on Viet-Nam could have happened to Eisenhower. My older brother was staged in a Korean Port waiting for orders to board a troop ship for transport to what was then still usually known as French Indo-China to support the French Army in their losing battle against the Viet Minh. But, Ike was a fairly sensible man and called it off.

 

 

V. Arnold: Wow, great thread. I’m 72 and was there also; I remember it pretty much as you tell it. I’d agree with your time-line also as to when peak wealth occurred. The beginning of the downturn was very late in the 50’s/early 60’s with our war in Vietnam and then; Nixon going off the gold standard. That allowed the next chapter of crony capitalism.

I attribute an accelerating deterioration to Friedman and his Chicago School of Economics and the age of the neo-liberal. Don’t forget Reagan; I felt the effects of his union busting first hand with stagnant wages until I retired over seas in 2007. I hope to read more of your writings from time to time. Cheers.

V. Arnold: Wrote very derogatory words about Uncle Miltie Friedman and the Chicago School of Terror. For that I salute him or her. Hell is too good for Milton and his apostles.

Forget Reagan? Not as long as I live. I also remember where I was when he was declared the next president. Sitting in the nicest bar in the little mountain town of Boulder Creek, Ca, nursing a drink. The bar was crowded and broke into loud celebration at the news. All I could think of was how f**king doomed we were. How I wish I had been wrong.

 

 

Hotrod: Thank you for your thought provoking article. I sometimes look at the health of the surviving car companies after WWII as a bellwether to the shape of the economy. Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Packard all were struggling mightily by the mid 50’s. For the farming community the peak was about 1952. After the post war demand had been met, and greatly exceeded, farming declined into a real recession during the middle and late 50’s and never was quite the same.

Since then, machinery and technology, mostly purchased on credit, has kept production up and prices down for farmers, typically at or below the cost of production. Many of these labor saving and production enhancing tools stand unused, but are still being paid for. The only exception to this situation is massive drought, or massive flooding which can temporarily insert profitability to those not affected.

Hotrod: Reminisced on the tribulations of many car makers [Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Packard], some of them long established, in the early 1950’s. I remember that too. I think a substantial part of their problems probably stemmed from not having enough dealerships. People were traveling more and wanted reassurance that a dealer with parts and experienced mechanics would be available in the next town. I think it actually surprising that those companies lasted as long as they did. Actually Nash and I think it was Packard merged to become American Motors and lasted another three decades.

He (my assumption) also mentioned farming and its trials. Farming is not the easy route to riches. The compensation has always been that if you hadn’t pledged your feal to the Lord of a Manor or signed up to be a share cropper, you were your own boss.

The late 40’s thru early 50’s were pretty good on our farm. When I was a little tike, we had an already ancient Macormick-Deering 10-20 tractor and a team of draught horses. My eldest brother having been told of his tour of northern and central Europe under the guidance of a man named Patton, wrote to dad asking him to take the money he had been sending home and buy a new tractor. All dad could find at a local dealer was a Minneapolis-Moline as they were about the only company allowed to build tractors during the war.

Many of them were shipped to England to help the British increase their food production. That was the only brand new tractor our family has ever owned right up to this day. My nephew still has it, but it’s in bits and pieces now. By around 1950 we were fully mechanised. Shortly after dad died in 1959, my brother rented out the land got himself a factory job. The prices of equipment steadily increased. The value of crops did not.

Crop prices did increase substantially about a decade ago, but not nearly enough to pay for new equipment unless you operated a very large farm. And more recently crops have declined in value again. I think a lot of farmers are in trouble.

 

 

Patricia: I am worried. Everybody who comments here is in their 70s as I am. Is that because we have more time to reflect and write down our thoughts or is it because the youth of today aren’t interested in anything except Facebook? If that is the case then I am so glad I am at the end of my life but what about my darling grandchildren.

Patricia: Expressed concern over whether the prevalence here of geezers was due to us having too much time on our hands or the youth having no time for anything except Facebook. Based on my own family, I can say that their devotion to Facebook is tempered by addiction to gaming. I mean video not casino. I think we can say that Patricia is right on both counts.

I too feel a certain gratitude for having been born during the war years with the expectation that I may be expired before the ordure collides with the air circulator. We oldies do have a psychological quandary with regard to our descendants. Knowing as we do that it’s coming. I too have grandchildren and a great grandchild. I desperately wanted to make them aware and try to offer some guidance.

What I learned was that they are at least vaguely aware of the looming threats and don’t want to hear more about it. They know there isn’t really much they can do about it. I think they believe that when it happens they will just do what they can to deal with it. All things considered (apologies to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, I wonder if that program is still on) that is probably about the best attitude any of us can have.

What bothers me most about our youth is what they don’t seem to know. I’m talking about the kinds of knowledge that will likely be very useful when things get stinky. Larding debt onto the kids so they could go to college and learn computer science, physics, art history and how to be a social justice warrior was probably to their detriment.

I don’t exactly know what would be absolutely best for them to know, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t those kinds of things. I tend to believe that it will be good to know, as examples, how to shoot, how to fish, how to tell the difference between weeds and food, how to loosen rusted bolts and how to turn hemp into rope in addition to dope.