Sep 122018
 
 September 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Winslow Homer Salt Kettle, Bermuda 1899

 

In the wake of a number of the Lehman and 9/11 commemorations in America, and as a monster storm is once again threatening to cause outsize damage, we find ourselves at a pivotal point in time, which will decide how the country interacts with its own laws, its legal system, its Constitution, its freedom of speech, and indeed if it has sufficient willpower left to adhere to the Constitution as its no. 1 guiding principle.

The main problem is that it all seems to slip slide straight by the people, who are -kept- busy with completely different issues. That is convenient for those who would like less focus on the Constitution, but it’s also very dangerous for everyone else. Americans should today stand up for freedom of speech, or it will be gone, likely forever.

The way it works is that president Trump is portrayed as the major threat to ‘the rule of law’, which allows other people, as well as companies and organizations, to drop below the radar and devise and work on plans and schemes that threaten the country itself, and its future as a nation ruled by its laws.

Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” and the anonymous op-ed published in the NYT a day later serve as a good reminder of these dynamics. If you succeed in confirming people’s idea that Trump is such an unhinged idiot that an unelected cabal inside the White House is needed to save the nation from the president it elected, you’re well on your way.

Well on your way to separate the country from its own laws, that is. Not on your way to saving it. You can’t save America by suspending its Constitution just because that suits your particular political goals or points of view.

 

Late last night, Michael Tracey wrote on Twitter: “Trump’s preference to pull out of Afghanistan is depicted in the Woodward book as yet another crazy impulse that the “adults in the room” successfully rein in.” “We’re going to save you from yourselves, thank us later!” Nobody voted for those adults in the room anymore than anyone voted for the Afghanistan ‘war’ to enter year 17.

Meanwhile Infowars said: “Several people within Trump’s inner circle know the threat to the mid-terms and his re-election chances that social media censorship poses, including Donald Trump Jr. and Brad Parscale, his 2020 campaign manager. However, older members of the administration are completely unaware of the fact that banning prominent online voices and manipulating algorithms can shift millions of votes and are oblivious to the danger. This ignorance has placed a temporary block on Trump taking action, despite the president repeatedly referring to Big Tech censorship in tweets and speeches over the last few weeks.”

Yes, Infowars, I know, everybody loves to hate Alex Jones. And perhaps for good reasons, at least at times. But does that mean he can be banned from a whole slew of internet platforms without this having been run by and through the US court system? Without even one judge having examined the ‘evidence’, if it even existed, that leads to such banning, blocking and shadowbanning?

Alex Jones is an ‘easy example’ because he’s so popular. Which is also, undoubtedly, why all the social media platforms ban him so easily, and all at the same time. ‘He’s a terrible person’, say so many of their readers. But that’s not good enough, far from it. Twitter and Facebook should never be allowed to ban anyone, using opaque ‘Community Standards’ or ‘Terms and Conditions’ interpreted by kids fresh out of high school.

These platforms have important societal functions. They are for instance the new conduits governments, police, armies use to warn people in case of emergencies and disasters. You can’t ban people from those conduits just because a bunch of geeks don’t like what they say. If you can at all, it will have to be done through the legal system.

That this is not done at present poses an immense threat to that legal system, and to the Constitution itself. But Americans, and indeed Congressmen and Senators, have been trained in a Pavlovian way to believe that it’s not Google and Facebook who threaten the Constitution, but that it’s Trump and his crew.

 

Meanwhile, Trump is being put through Bob Mueller’s Special Counsel legal wringer 24/7, while Alphabet, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg escape any such scrutiny at all. That discrepancy, too, is eating away at the foundations of American law.

And like it or not, Trump had it right when he said “You look at Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants and I made it clear that we as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting and rigged search results..”

America as a country cannot tolerate a few rich companies deciding whose voice can be heard, and whose will be silenced. It is entirely unacceptable. That goes for voices Trump doesn’t want to hear as much as it does for whoever Silicon Valley doesn’t. That’s why neither should be in charge of making such decisions. It kills the Constitution.

None of the above means that everyone should be free to post terrorist sympathies or hate speech on social media platforms. But it does mean that legislative and judicial systems must define what these things mean, that this not be left up to arbitrary ‘Community Standards’ interpreted by legally inept Silicon Valley interns, nor should it be left to secret algorithms to decide what news you see and what not.

America itself hangs in the balance, and so do many other western countries. What exactly is the difference between China’s overt internet censorship and America’s hidden one? That is what needs to be defined, and that can only be done by the legal system, by Congress, by the courts, by judges and juries.

And it’s not something that has to be invented from scratch, it can and must be tested against the Constitution. That is the only way forward. That social media have taken over the country by storm, and nary a soul has any idea what that means, can never be an excuse to leave banning and silencing voices over to private parties, whoever they are.

 

It’s not a unique American problem. In Europe there are all sorts of attempts to ban ‘hate speech’, but there are very few proposals concerning who will define what that is. And since Europe has no Constitution, but instead has 27 different versions of one, it will be harder there. Then again, it will also be easier to get away with all sorts of arbitrary bannings etc.

Hungary will be inclined to ban totally different voices than for instance Denmark and so on. And nobody over there has given any sign of understanding how dangerous that is. Banning ‘hate speech’ doesn’t mean anything if the term hasn’t been properly defined. But that also allows for banning voices someone simply doesn’t like. To prevent that from happening, we have legal systems.

It’s essential, it’s elementary, Watson. But it’s slipping through our fingers because our politicians are either incapable of, or unwilling to, comprehending the consequences. Why stick out your neck when nobody else does? It’s like the anti-thesis of what politics means: stay safe.

So the social media’s industry’s own lobbying has a good shot at getting its way: they tell Washington to let them regulate themselves, and everything will be spic and dandy. That would be the final nail in the Constitution’s coffin, and it’s much closer than you think. Do be wary of that.

 

In the end it comes down to two things i’ve said before. First, there is no-one who’s been as ferociously banned and worse the way Julian Assange has. His ban goes way beyond Silicon Valley, but it does paint a shrill portrait of how far the US, CIA, FBI, is willing to go, and to step beyond the Constitution, to get to someone they really don’t like.

But has Assange ever violated and US law, let alone its Constitution? Not that we know of. Mike Pompeo has called WikiLeaks a ‘hostile intelligence service’, and the DOJ has said the 1st Amendment, and thereby of necessity the entire US Constitution, doesn’t apply to Assange because he’s not an American, but both those things are devoid of any meaning, at least in a court of law.

Bob Woodward has an idea of what Assange faces, and he’d do much better to focus on helping him than trying to put Trump down through anonymous sources. And that also leads me to why I, personally, have at least some sympathy for Alex Jones, other than because he’s being attacked unconstitutionally: Jones ran/runs a petition for Trump to free Julian Assange.

Come to think of it: it’s when that petition started taking off that Jones’s ‘real trouble’ started. Given how closely interwoven Silicon Valley and the FBI and CIA have already become, I’m not going to feign any surprise at that.

And before you feel any wishes and desires coming up to impeach Trump, do realize that he may be the only person standing between you and a complete takeover of America by the FBI/NSA/CIA/DNC and Google/Facebook/Twitter, which will be accompanied by the ritual burial of the Constitution.

Think Trump is scary? Take a step back and survey the territory.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Mar 192018
 
 March 19, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ernest R. Ashton Evening near the Pyramids 1898

 

Facebook And Cambridge Analytica Face Mounting Pressure Over Data Scandal (G.)
Boris Johnson Ramps Up Anti-Russia Rhetoric (G.)
Why Default Rates Are Subdued Even As Corporate Debt Levels Hit Records (MW)
How Seriously is the Treasury Market Taking the Fed? (WS)
65% of Americans Save Little or Nothing (CNBC)
Developing Countries At Risk From US Rate Rise, Debt Charity Warns (G.)
Rising US Interest Rates May Damage Gulf Economies (MEE)
Kim Jong-Un Has Committed To Denuclearisation, Says South Korea (G.)
Kim Jong-Un Caught Off Guard by Trump’s Quick Agreement to Meet (BBG)
Japan: Embattled Shinzo Abe Blames Staff Over Land Sale Scandal (AFP)
Apple Is Secretly Developing Its Own Screens for the First Time (BBG)
Canadian Household Debt Hits Record $1.8 Trillion (CP)
German Interior Minister Wants More Internal EU Border Controls (DW)
Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050 – UN (G.)

 

 

Facebook knows more about you than your friends and family do. No, really. But it can’t figure out -for years- that its data are being downloaded and used?! Yeah, I’ll buy that.

The real issue here should be what Facebook itself uses its -or should that be ‘your’- data for, and what intelligence services do with it.

Facebook And Cambridge Analytica Face Mounting Pressure Over Data Scandal (G.)

Facebook and that worked with Donald Trump’s election team have come under mounting pressure, with calls for investigations and hearings to explain a vast data breach that affected tens of millions of people. In Britain, the head of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news accused Cambridge Analytica and Facebook of misleading MPs after revelations in the Observer that more than 50m Facebook profiles were harvested and used to build a system that may have influenced voters in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Conservative MP Damian Collins said he would call the heads of both companies, Alexander Nix and Mark Zuckerberg, to give further testimony.

His intervention came after a whistleblower spoke to the Observer and described how the profiles, mostly of US voters, were harvested for Cambridge Analytica, in one of Facebook’s biggest ever data breaches. The disclosures caused outrage on both sides of the Atlantic; in the US, a state attorney general has called for investigations and greater accountability and regulation. There have been reports that Cambridge Analytica is trying to stop the broadcast of a Channel 4 News exposé in which Nix is said to talk unguardedly about the company’s practices. According to the Financial Times, reporters posed as prospective clients and secretly filmed a series of meetings, including one with the chief executive. The report is due to air this week.

Read more …

Very little credibility so far. From descriptions of the nerve agent, it would seem impossible that “..at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by it..” and all lived to tell it. Is the whole Novichok story a fabrication? Know what, Boris? Why not show the proof you claim to have?!

Boris Johnson Ramps Up Anti-Russia Rhetoric (G.)

Boris Johnson will today seek to convince the EU foreign affairs council to join him in fresh condemnation of Russia after his explosive claims that Moscow has been creating and stockpiling nerve agent novichok and working out how to use it for assassinations. Scientists from the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive today to analyse samples of the agent used to poison the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The foreign secretary made his claims after Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov issued blanket denials and said British agents might have used their stockpiles at Porton Down.

As the row enters its third week, Johnson dismissed Chizhov’s comments, saying they were “not the response of a country that really believes it’s innocent”. On Sunday, Vladimir Putin, fresh from a profoundly unsurprising electoral victory, denied any such nerve agents existed and said the idea of carrying out such a killing during an election campaign would be “rubbish, drivel, nonsense”. The latest theory to gain prominence is that the Skripals were poisoned via his car’s ventilation system. The report, from ABC news in the US, came as counter-terrorism police renewed their appeal for sightings of Skripal’s burgundy BMW 320D saloon car on 4 March. ABC also reported that at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by the nerve agent.

Read more …

Zero interest rates?!

Why Default Rates Are Subdued Even As Corporate Debt Levels Hit Records (MW)

U.S. corporate debt levels stand above crisis highs even as default rates among the most leveraged firms remain subdued. With an economy hitting its stride, it’s perhaps no surprise that the high-yield bond market is placid. The extent of the divergence between debt levels and defaults, however, is worrying to some analysts who feel rising corporate indebtedness will eventually catch out unwary investors and deflate the junk-bond market. But beyond complacency John Lonski at Moody’s Capital Market Research, argued that globalization and the tendency of U.S. businesses to hoard cash as reasons why corporate debt levels may no longer move in sync with default rates and credit spreads.

The high-yield default rate in the fourth-quarter of 2017 fell to 3.3%, even as U.S. nonfinancial-corporate debt ended in 2017 at 45.4% of GDP. This compares with a much higher default rate of 11.1% in the second quarter of 2009, with corporate debt levels at 45% of GDP. Granted, the current levels come with the economy in the eighth year of an expansion, while the second quarter of 2009 marked the final quarter of the longest and deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression. The yield spread between high-yield bonds and safe government paper, as represented by the 10-year Treasury note narrowed to an average 3.63 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2017, from an average 12.02 percentage points in the second quarter of 2009.

The tight credit spreads reflects that borrowing costs are still close to historic lows, and that investors are demanding minimum compensation for holding arguably the riskiest debt in the bond market. One answer “might be supplied by the ever increasing globalization of U.S. businesses where the more relevant denominator is not U.S. GDP, but world GDP” said Lonski. The fortunes of U.S. companies are now wove into the broader global economy. When commodity prices took a hit in 2015 and early 2016, crimping growth in China and other emerging markets, high-yield bonds were also slammed.

Read more …

If they keep up the forward guidance, everyone will sleep on. But will the yield spread sleep too?

How Seriously is the Treasury Market Taking the Fed? (WS)

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that the Fed could never unload the securities it had acquired during QE. How things have changed! On Friday, the three-month Treasury yield closed at 1.78%, the highest since August 19, 2008. When yields rise, by definition bond prices fall:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that The Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate has been 1.25% to 1.50% since its last rate hike at the December FOMC meeting. In other words, the three-month yield is already above the upper limit of the Fed’s target range after the next rate hike. So the market has fully priced in a rate hike at the FOMC meeting ending March 21. And it’s also starting to price in another rate hike in June. In this rate-hike cycle, the Fed has engaged in policy action only at meetings that are followed by a press conference.

There are four of these press-conference meetings per year. The next two are this week and June. If, in this cycle, the Fed hike rates at an FOMC meeting that is not followed by a press conference – there are also four of them this year – it would be considered a “monetary shock” that the Fed decided to administer to the markets. It would be like a rate hike of 50 basis points instead of the expected 25 basis points. There would be a hue and cry in the markets around the world. But I think the Fed isn’t ready to spring that on the markets just yet. Maybe later. The two-year yield rose to 2.31% on Friday, the highest since August 29, 2008:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that In past rate hike cycles, the two-year yield reacted faster to rate-hike expectations than the 10-year yield. This is happening now as well. The 10-year yield has its own dynamics that are not in lockstep with the Fed’s rate-hike scenario. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.85%, within the same range where it had been since late February, tantalizingly close to 3%:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that [..] After the surge of the two-year yield, the difference between the two-year and the 10-year yield – the “two-10 spread” – has narrowed again. On Friday, it was at 54 basis points. In the chart below, note the narrowing at the end of last year to 50 basis points, then the mini-spike, as the 10-year yield surged faster than the two-year yield, and the recent fallback:

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Always the same braindead question: “What’s keeping Americans from saving?” We still don’t know?!

65% of Americans Save Little or Nothing (CNBC)

Despite a low unemployment rate and increasing wage growth, Americans still aren’t saving much. That’s according to a new survey from Bankrate.com, which found that 20% of Americans don’t save any of their annual income at all and even those who do save aren’t putting away a lot. Only 16% of survey respondents say that they save more than 15% of what they make, which is what experts generally recommend. A quarter of respondents report saving between 6 and 10% of their income and 21% say they sock away 5% or less.

At this rate, many people could be setting themselves up to fall short in retirement, Bankrate warns. “With a steady, significant share of the working population saving nothing or relatively little, it’s virtually guaranteed that they’ll be unable to afford a modest emergency expense or finance retirement,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “That amounts to a financial fail.” The economy might be prospering now, but that won’t last forever: “The party has to stop sometime, and when it does, employers will lay off workers,” the study says. In fact, Bankrate estimates that half of the American population won’t be able to maintain their standard of living once they stop working.

A report from GoBankingRates found similar results: Over 40% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire. What’s keeping Americans from saving? “Expenses” was the No. 1 answer of 39% of respondents. Another 16% say they don’t have a “good enough job” to be able to save, which presumably means they aren’t earning enough. “The average American has less than $5,000 in a financial account, a quarter to a fifth of what you should have, and those aged 55 to 64 who have retirement savings only carry $120,000 — which won’t last long in the absence of paychecks,” the survey reports.

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How strong will this make the dollar?

Developing Countries At Risk From US Rate Rise, Debt Charity Warns (G.)

The expected rise in US interest rates will increase financial pressures on developing countries already struggling with a 60% jump in their debt repayments since 2014, a leading charity has warned. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said a study of 126 developing nations showed that they were devoting more than 10% of their revenues on average to paying the interest on money borrowed – the highest level since before the G7 agreement to write off the debts of the world’s poorest nations at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. Five of the countries on the charity’s list – Angola, Lebanon, Ghana, Chad and Bhutan – were spending more than a third of government revenues on servicing debts.

Developing country debt moved down the international agenda following the Gleneagles agreement in which the G7 industrial countries agreed to spend £30bn writing off the debts owed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank by the 18 poor countries. But developing country debt is now once again being closely monitored by the IMF, which says 30 of the 67 poor countries it assesses are in debt distress or at risk of being so. Lending to developing countries almost doubled between 2008 and 2014 as low interest rates in the west led to a search for higher-yielding investments. A boom in commodity prices meant many poor countries borrowed in anticipation of tax receipts that have not materialised.

But the Jubilee Debt Campaign said the boom–bust in commodity prices was only one factor behind rising debt, pointing out that some countries were paying back money owed by former dictators, while others had been struggling with high debts for many years but had not been eligible for help. The campaign said developing countries were also vulnerable to a rise in global interest rates as central banks withdrew the support they have been providing since 2008. [..] The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates this week – with the financial markets expecting two or three further upward moves during 2018.

Tim Jones, an economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “Debt payments for many countries have risen rapidly as a result of a lending boom and fall in commodity prices. The situation may worsen further as US dollar interest rates rise, and as other central banks reduce monetary stimulus. Debt payments are reducing government budgets when more spending is needed to meet the sustainable development goals.”

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A few economies that have not done well.

Rising US Interest Rates May Damage Gulf Economies (MEE)

[..]The latest available data shows that Oman, for instance, has a debt equivalent to 31.4% of their GDP for 2016, which is up from 4.9% in 2014, according to TradingEconomics.com. That jump in debt coincided with a fall in oil prices from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to a low of $26 in early 2016. Rising rates also tend to increase costs for businesses, says Rosso. And the higher costs of borrowing ultimately means that fewer businesses that request loans from banks will receive the money they need. In short, growth in the available credit in the economy will slow. If we learned nothing else from the financial crisis of 2008-2009, it is that the world of business runs on credit. Slower credit growth usually means slower economic growth.

The base case is that among the countries with the dollar peg such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, the increased interest rates will likely drag on growth for their economies. The timing is really pretty bad for some of the countries involved. For instance, the Saudi economy shrank by 0.43% in the quarter ending September 2017, according to TradingEconomics.com. The prior quarter was worse; the economy sank 1.03%. Two quarters of negative growth is generally seen as a recession. Will the impact of rising rates push Saudi’s economy back into another recession? It’s hard to tell so far, but there is a risk. Similar problems seem likely for some other countries in the dollar-peg group.

The latest data from Oman is awful as well, although not as recent as that on Saudi Arabia. That economy contracted 14.1% in 2015, followed by another 5.1% decline in 2016. Likewise, the UAE has seen its growth steadily decline in each of the five years through 2016 from 6.9% to 3% most recently. That would not be bad for economic growth, but it is going in the wrong direction.

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That’s quite the statement.

Kim Jong-Un Has Committed To Denuclearisation, Says South Korea (G.)

South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May. Trump has agreed to what would be historic talks after South Korean officials relayed that Kim Jong-un was committed to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and was willing to halt nuclear and missile tests. North Korea hasn’t publicly confirmed the summit plans, and a meeting place isn’t known. South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.” She told the CBS programme Face the Nation that “he’s given his word” and it’s “the first time that the words came directly” from the North’s leader.

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Only include this because it’s exactly what I said last week. Kim still hasn’t publicly agreed to meet.

Kim Jong-Un Caught Off Guard by Trump’s Quick Agreement to Meet (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immediate willingness to meet Kim Jong Un for nuclear talks likely caught the North Korean leader by surprise, forcing him to consider his position before responding publicly, the South Korean foreign minister said. “We were all quite surprised by the readiness of that decision,” South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump. We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock.” Trump agreed to meet with Kim on March 8 after a briefing from South Korean officials.

The summit, expected to take place in a few months, would represent the first time a U.S. president has met a North Korean leader – either Kim or his father or grandfather – and is part of an overall strategy to dismantle that nation’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has already detonated what it described as a hydrogen bomb capable of riding an intercontinental ballistic missile to cities across the U.S., and Kim has threatened to use nuclear arms against Americans. The summit, if it occurs, will likely follow an already-scheduled meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to take place in South Korea, at which denuclearization will also be discussed, Kang said.

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Yeah, Shinzo, the Russians did it.

Tyler earlier: “82% of Asahi poll respondents said Abe bears responsibility for the doctored documents relating to the Moritomo scandal”

Japan: Embattled Shinzo Abe Blames Staff Over Land Sale Scandal (AFP)

Japan’s embattled prime minister has hit back at critics over a favouritism and cover-up scandal that has seen his popularity plunge and loosened his grip on power. In a statement in parliament, Shinzo Abe stressed he had not ordered bureaucrats to alter documents relating to a controversial land sale. “I have never ordered changes,” he said. The scandal surrounds the 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist operator of schools who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie. The sale was clinched at a price well below market value amid allegations that the high-level connections helped grease the deal. The affair first emerged early last year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.

Versions of the original and doctored documents made public by opposition lawmakers appeared to show passing references to Abe were scrubbed, along with several references to his wife Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso. Aso has blamed the alterations on “some staff members” at the ministry. But Jiro Yamaguchi, a politics professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, said the public was “not at all convinced” by this explanation. “Why was the land sold at a discount price? Without any political pressure, this could never happen, and voters are angry about it,” said Yamaguchi. The prime minister repeated an apology, saying he “keenly felt” his responsibility over the scandal that has “shaken people’s confidence in government administration.”

The affair is hitting Abe’s ratings hard, with a new poll in the Asahi Shimbun showing public support nosediving by 13 percentage points from the previous month to 31%. The figure is the lowest approval rating for Abe in the poll since his return to power at the end of 2012.

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A different kind of protectionism.

Apple Is Secretly Developing Its Own Screens for the First Time (BBG)

Apple is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make small numbers of the screens for testing purposes, according to people familiar with the situation. The technology giant is making a significant investment in the development of next-generation MicroLED screens, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. MicroLED screens use different light-emitting compounds than the current OLED displays and promise to make future gadgets slimmer, brighter and less power-hungry. The screens are far more difficult to produce than OLED displays, and the company almost killed the project a year or so ago, the people say.

Engineers have since been making progress and the technology is now at an advanced stage, they say, though consumers will probably have to wait a few years before seeing the results. The ambitious undertaking is the latest example of Apple bringing the design of key components in-house. The company has designed chips powering its mobile devices for several years. Its move into displays has the long-term potential to hurt a range of suppliers, from screen makers like Samsung, Japan Display, Sharp and LG to companies like Synaptics that produce chip-screen interfaces. It may also hurt Universal Display, a leading developer of OLED technology. Display makers in Asia fell after Bloomberg News reported the plans. Japan Display dropped as much as 4.4%, Sharp tumbled as much as 3.3% and Samsung slid 1.4%.

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“$22,837 per person, not including mortgages…”

Canadian Household Debt Hits Record $1.8 Trillion (CP)

Canadians’ collective household debt has climbed to $1.8 trillion as an international financial group sounds an early warning that the country’s banking system is at risk from rising debt levels. Equifax Canada says consumers now owe $1.821 trillion including mortgages as of the fourth-quarter of 2017, marking a 6% increase from a year earlier. Although nearly half of Canadians reduced their personal liabilities, roughly 37% added to their debt to push the average amount up 3.3% to $22,837 per person, not including mortgages.

The fresh numbers come as an international financial group owned by the world’s central banks says Canada’s credit-to-GDP and debt-service ratios show early warning signs of potential risk to the banking system in the coming years. The latest report by the Bank for International Settlements says Canada’s credit-to-GDP gap and debt-service ratios have surpassed critical thresholds and are signalling red, pointing to vulnerabilities. The group, however, cautions that these indicators should not be treated as a formal stress test, but as a first step in a broader analysis.

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From Merkel’s own camp.

German Interior Minister Wants More Internal EU Border Controls (DW)

Germany should consider stepping up its border controls, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Sunday. “Not that many border points in Germany are permanently occupied,” Seehofer told German weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, adding: “We will now discuss whether that needs to change.” Seehofer also appealed for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement within the EU bloc. “Internal border checks [between EU member states] must be in place so long as the EU fails to effectively control the external border,” he said, adding: “I don’t see it being able to do this in the near future.” The reintroduction of border controls is a prerogative of EU member states. Under EU rules they must remain an exception and respect the principle of proportionality.

Germany’s temporarily reintroduced border controls continue until May 12 and have been imposed on the land border with Austria and on flight connections from Greece because of the “security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous secondary movements,” according to the European Commission. Seehofer’s comments follow EU demands in February that Germany and four other Schengen members – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – lift their border controls when the current agreed terms run out in May. [..] Seehofer is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

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Waterwars in waterworld.

Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050 – UN (G.)

More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs. The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.” Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum.

Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year. This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities. [..] By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion.

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Jan 222018
 
 January 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Joan Miró Personnages Rythmiques 1934

 

Richest 1% Took 82% Of New Global Wealth Last Year (Ind.)
42 People Hold Same Wealth As 3.7 Billion Poorest (G.)
Three Charts To Consider Ahead Of Monday’s Post-Government-Shutdown Open (ZH)
Republicans Float Minor Immigration Deal In Bid To End Deadlock (G.)
20 Senators Support Bipartisan Plan To Reopen Government (ZH)
US Shutdown Exposes ‘Chaotic Political System’ – China News Agency (R.)
FBI “Loses” Five Months Of Text Messages Between Anti-Trump Agents (AP)
Fed Scared to Death of Causing Global Financial Crash – Nomi Prins (USAW)
Macron Admits France Would Vote To Leave EU If Referendum Held (ZH)
Apple Leak Reveals Sudden iPhone X Cancellation (F.)
Assange a ‘Problem’, ‘More Than a Nuisance’ – Ecuador President (Sp.)
Opioids: The Big Money Is In Chronic Pain, Which Is Endless (NDN)

 

 

Either we stop this, or it’s pitchforks and guillotines.

Richest 1% Took 82% Of New Global Wealth Last Year (Ind.)

Growing inequality resulted in 82% of new global wealth going to the richest 1% last year, while the poorest half of the world saw their prosperity flatline, a report by Oxfam has shown. It means that of the $9.2tn increase in global wealth between July 2016 and June 2017, around $7.6tn (£6tn) went to 75 million people, while the bottom 3.7 billion saw no increase. It helped spark the sharpest increase in the number of billionaires ever recorded, to 2,043, with one created every two days, according to Oxfam’s report, published ahead of the annual World Economic Forum of global political and business leaders in Swiss ski resort Davos. The wealth of those billionaires increased by $762bn over 12 months, it added.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said the statistics signal that “something is very wrong with the global economy”. “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.” He said a living wage, “decent conditions” and equality for women were essential if work was to be a “genuine route out of poverty”. “If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we – and they – should be willing to pay,” Mr Goldring added, as he pushed for a crackdown on tax avoidance and a revamp of business models that prioritise social benefit over shareholder returns.

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After everything western workers fought hard and often bloody fights for, how did we end up back in the Middle Ages again?

42 People Hold Same Wealth As 3.7 Billion Poorest (G.)

The development charity Oxfam has called for action to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor as it launched a new report showing that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. In a report published on Monday to coincide with the gathering of some of the world’s richest people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam said billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50% of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

The charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers. Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.” Booming global stock markets have been the main reason for the increase in wealth of those holding financial assets during 2017. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth rise by $6bn in the first 10 days of 2017 as a result of a bull market on Wall Street, making him the world’s richest man.

Oxfam said it had made changes to its wealth calculations as a result of new data from the bank Credit Suisse. Under the revised figures, 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009. At the time of last year’s report, Oxfam said that eight billionaires held the same wealth as half the world’s population. The charity added that the wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (£550bn) in 2017 enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It said nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

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What happens when price discovery is murdered.

Three Charts To Consider Ahead Of Monday’s Post-Government-Shutdown Open (ZH)

VALUE: The S&P 500 is trading at a Price-to-Sales ratio of 2.35x… a new record high for valuation…

GREED: The S&P 500 is up 8 of the last 9 weeks, 16 of the last 19 weeks, and 15 of the last 15 months (and 22 of the last 23 months – since The Shanghai Accord). This has pushed The S&P 500 to an RSI of 88.4… a new record high for overbought…

FEAR: The S&P 500 has averaged about four 5% declines – from peak to trough – annually since 1927, but volatility in US stocks has evaporated in recent years. Amid a reportedly robust global economy and still supportive global monetary policy, Friday’s 0.4% gain meant that the S&P 500 extended its streak to 395 days without a 5% reversal… a new a new record for tranquillity…

As The FT notes, the last time the S&P 500 suffered a 5% setback was in the global market carnage that followed the UK’s shock vote in June 2016 to leave the EU, which constitutes the last significant, if brief, bout of volatility in markets. The last time the US stock market suffered an actual correction – typically defined as a drop of over 10% from the recent peak — was in early 2016, when investors’ anxiety grew over the state of China’s economy. Some investors and analysts fear that the tranquillity is encouraging investors to stop buying protection against declines, or to making aggressive “short” bets on volatility staying low through complicated derivatives – which could exacerbate any turbulence that might erupt.

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Who’s going to blink first?

Republicans Float Minor Immigration Deal In Bid To End Deadlock (G.)

The US government shutdown edged closer to a resolution on Sunday night after a minor concession from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said he would allow a vote on immigration reform in February if Democrats agree to fund the government. However, one Democratic source cautioned that no deal had been reached. McConnell’s proposal represented the fruit of a bipartisan effort among moderates in both parties to resolve the shutdown, which began at midnight on Saturday. The shutdown was spurred by the inability of Congress to reach a deal to resolve the status of “Dreamers” – undocumented migrants brought into the United States as children. They had been protected from deportation until September 2017 when the Trump administration ended the Daca program, which had been created by Barack Obama.

Trump allowed a six-month grace period for Congress to give Dreamers permanent legal status through legislation. However, with that expiring in early March, Democrats, facing heavy pressure from immigration advocates, had pledged not to fund the government until a deal was reached. McConnell’s proposal would allow the Senate to debate and vote on an immigration deal if a broader bipartisan compromise was not reached in the next three weeks. Speaking on the floor, the top Senate Republican said he would push for a Monday vote on a short-term deal to fund the government through 8 February, as well as extend a popular health insurance program called Chip that provides healthcare coverage to nine million children for six years.

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Let’s keep it shut till summer, see what happens.

20 Senators Support Bipartisan Plan To Reopen Government (ZH)

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a procedural vote on a senate measure that would keep the federal government running through Feb. 8 to begin at 1 am Monday, a bipartisan group of senators signaled that they’re nearing an agreement to reopen the government following a Sunday afternoon meeting, the Hill reported. Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson said the group had reached a “consensus of understanding” – essentially agreeing to the broad strokes of a plan to satisfy recalcitrant Democrats and Republicans, per the Hill. As they left the meeting in Maine senator Susan Collins’s office, some members expressed optimism that they will reach an understanding, if not a final agreement, that would let them move forward. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham predicted that the group could cobble together a deal before the 1 am vote.

“Yeah because if it doesn’t happen tonight it’s going to be a lot harder,” he said, alluding to the fact that most federal agencies have elected to wait until Monday before implementing the terms of the shutdown (here’s a quick guide to what departments and services will be impacted by the shutdown)… As the BBC pointed out, the closure of many federal services will be felt around the country and hundreds of thousands of federal staff face unpaid leave. According to Politico, the senators took their proposal to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after the 90-minute meeting. The plan would reopen the government through Feb. 8 and have McConnell commit on the Senate floor to holding an immigration vote before that date.

[..] this is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party in this case, the Republicans – controls both Congress and the White House And according to the Associated Press, the 2013 shutdown left 800,000 government workers on temporary leave. The bipartisan group isn’t crafting separate legislation. Instead, senators say the bulk of their talks were about how to get 60 votes for the bill to fund the government through Feb. 8, paired with a commitment that will satisfy Democrats on bringing up an immigration bill. Since before the shutdown even began at 12:01 am ET on Saturday morning, Republicans and Democrats have traded accusations of blame. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he would bring such a bill up for a vote in the House if it passes the Senate.

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Easy pickings.

US Shutdown Exposes ‘Chaotic Political System’ – China News Agency (R.)

The shutdown of the US government exposes “chronic flaws” in the country’s political system, China’s official news agency said on Sunday. Funding for federal agencies ran out at midnight on Friday in Washington after members of Congress failed to agree on a stopgap funding bill. “What’s so ironic is that it came on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency on Saturday, a slap in the face for the leadership in Washington,” the Xinhua news agency’s Liu Chang said in a commentary piece. The article said that the Trump administration had “backtracked” on policies supported by his predecessor, Barack Obama, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and US participation in the Paris climate agreement.

“If there was any legacy that has survived the transfer of power, it was the spirit of non-cooperation across party lines,” the commentary said. While Xinhua commentaries are not official statements, they offer a reflection of Beijing’s thinking. “The western democratic system is hailed by the developed world as near perfect and the most superior political system to run a country,” it said. “However, what’s happening in the United States today will make more people worldwide reflect on the viability and legitimacy of such a chaotic political system.”

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First the NSA a few days ago, now the FBI. Both should be under investigation, but who’s going to do the investigating?

Look, you and I have back-ups of our files. So do NSA and FBI. The only way to lose the info is to deliberately delete it, multiple times.

US intelligence is flipping the country the bird’s middle finger.

FBI “Loses” Five Months Of Text Messages Between Anti-Trump Agents (AP)

The Justice Department has turned over to Congress additional text messages involving an FBI agent who was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team following the discovery of derogatory comments about President Donald Trump. But the department also said in a letter to lawmakers that its record of messages sent to and from the agent, Peter Strzok, was incomplete because the FBI, for technical reasons, had been unable to preserve and retrieve about five months’ worth of communications. New text messages highlighted in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray by Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, are from the spring and summer of 2016 and involve discussion of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

They reference Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision to accept the FBI’s conclusion in that case and a draft statement that former FBI Director James Comey had prepared in anticipation of closing out the Clinton investigation without criminal charges. Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent who also worked the Clinton email case, was reassigned last summer from the team investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s Republican presidential campaign after Mueller learned he had exchanged politically charged text messages — many anti-Trump in nature — with an FBI lawyer also detailed to the group. The lawyer, Lisa Page, left Mueller’s team before the text messages were discovered.

The Justice Department last month produced for reporters and Congress hundreds of text messages that the two had traded before becoming part of the Mueller investigation. Many focused on their observations of the 2016 election and included discussions in often colorful language of their personal feelings about Trump, Clinton and other public figures. Some Republican lawmakers have contended the communication reveals the FBI and the Mueller team to be politically tainted and biased against Trump — assertions Wray has flatly rejected. In addition to the communications already made public, the Justice Department on Friday provided Johnson’s committee with 384 pages of text messages, according to a letter from the Wisconsin lawmaker that was obtained by The Associated Press.

But, according to the letter, the FBI told the department that its system for retaining text messages sent and received on bureau phones had failed to preserve communications between Strzok and Page over a five-month period between Dec. 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017. May 17 was the date that Mueller was appointed as special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. The explanation for the gap was “misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades that conflicted with the FBI’s collection capabilities.”

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Are they really? You don’t think they may have seen this coming, and prepared for it?

Fed Scared to Death of Causing Global Financial Crash – Nomi Prins (USAW)

Two time, best-selling author Nomi Prins says central bankers have no idea how to stop the easy money policies that they started after the financial meltdown of 2008. Prins explains, “So, when the Fed says they are going to remove assets from their $4.5 trillion book by not reinvesting the interest payment . . . the reality is they haven’t really done that. They have reduced their book by about $10 billion off of $4.5 trillion since they mentioned they were going to start ‘tapering.” The media discusses this as a major tightening move. Somehow all of our economies have finally worked because of central bank activity. Growth is real. It’s all positive. The markets are evidence of that because of the levels they are at; and, therefore, these central banks, starting with the Fed, are going to reverse course of these last 10 years.

The reality is if you look at the actual activity of the central banks, beyond the Fed raising rates by a little bit, there hasn’t been and there isn’t being a reversal of course because they are scared to death that too much of a reversal is going to cause a major crash throughout the financial system. Everything is connected. All the banks are connected. Money flows around the world in less than nanoseconds, and all of it has the propensity to collapse if that carpet the central banks have created is dragged from beneath the floor of all this activity.”Prins, who just finished traveling the globe to research her upcoming book, thinks there is one big thing that can take the entire system down. Prins contends, “There hasn’t been any real growth in the real economy. That is an indication of the misfire of this entire plan.

There has been tremendous growth in stock markets and bond markets. If you look at localities or states or governments whose debt to GDP levels are well over 100%, in Japan it’s over 200%, in the United States it over 100%, and this is the same throughout the world. These are levels that they have never been, and they are all at their historic highs. That’s why debt will ultimately be the destructor of the system. In order for that to happen, the cheapness of money that allow states, municipalities and corporations to continue to borrow at these cheap levels has to go away. . . At some point, there will be a mistake. There might be a tiny smidge of an interest rate hike at some central bank, probably the Fed, which ripples throughout the system as a mistake, not because real growth has happened, and that’s why interest rates have been raised. That will incur defaults throughout the system.

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Macron defines European democracy. Straight faced.

Macron Admits France Would Vote To Leave EU If Referendum Held (ZH)

When Marine Le Pen lost last year’s French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron in what appeared to be a landslide, the establishment breathed a sigh of relief because not only was the notorious Eurosceptic populist defeated, but also the wind appeared to be turning, and after a tumultuous 2016, 2017 started off with a bang for the unelected Eurocrats in Brussels. After all, the people had spoken and they wanted more Europe (and Euro), not less. Or maybe not. The French president sent shockwaves across Europe after he conceded that French voters would quit the EU if France held an in/out referendum on continued membership in the Brussels-led bloc. Not surprisingly no other EU country has risked putting membership of the bloc to a public vote since Britain shocked member-states by voting to leave the bloc in 2016, despite polls which showed virtually no possibility of such an outcome.

In an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr, Emmanuel Macron admitted that he would lose a French referendum on EU membership. Asked about the Brexit vote, the candid president told Marr: “I am not the one to judge or comment on the decision of your people.” But, he added “my interpretation is that a lot of the losers of globalisation suddenly decided it was no more for them.” Marr then pushed the French president, regarded by many as the EU’s new leader, on whether Britain’s decision was a one-off. Quoted by Express, the BBC journalist asked: “If France had had the same referendum, it might have had the same result?” Macron responded: “Yes, probably, probably. Yes. In a similar context. But we have a very different context in France” although he said he would not make it easy: “I wouldn’t take any bet though – I would have fought very hard to win.

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Got to admire the efforts to turn this into a positive story.

Apple Leak Reveals Sudden iPhone X Cancellation (F.)

It may be the smartphone of the moment, but a new leak reveals Apple AAPL -0.45% will soon cancel the iPhone X. And the source could not be more credible… In a new report obtained by AppleInsider, acclaimed KGI Securities’ analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says disappointing sales of the iPhone X will lead to the cancellation of the model “with production ceasing in the summer”. This would be the first time Apple has cancelled an iPhone model after just one generation since the iPhone 5C in 2014. Kuo, who has a long track record successfully revealing Apple’s plans, said disinterest in China is the main reason. In China big screens are king and the iPhone X’s polarising ‘notch’ is seen by Chinese consumers as removing too much usable space. Especially when the cheaper iPhone 8 Plus actually delivers slightly more.

The news also follows a new survey from Cowan which claims interest in new iPhones has hit an historic low. That said it is not all doom and gloom. While the iPhone X will not bring Apple the much anticipated sales ‘Super Cycle’, Kuo states Apple will see modest 5% growth in the first half of 2018. This comes from Apple having three premium models (iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X) on sale for the first time. Furthermore Kuo believes Apple will enjoy a better end to 2018 with 10% growth as the outgoing iPhone X will be replaced by a total of three new iPhone X-inspired designs: a second generation 5.8-inch iPhone X, 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus and a “$650-750” 6.1-inch iPhone SE replacement which will be fitted with Face ID. Apple hopes it will be the latter two which once again excite the Chinese market.

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Ecuador requires countries to stand with it.

Assange a ‘Problem’, ‘More Than a Nuisance’ – Ecuador President (Sp.)

In an interview the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, stated that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is an “inherited problem” that has created “more than a nuisance” for his government. “We hope to have a positive result in the short term,” Lenin Moreno said in an interview with television networks. Ecuador wanted to resolve the Assange issue, so the Australian whistleblower was “granted Ecuadorian citizenship and a diplomatic rank so that he could leave the territory of the embassy” in London, Moreno said. “The problem persists,” the Ecuadorian president said, pointing out that the country’s Foreign Ministry intends to solve it “using the mediation of important people.” The head of state assured that their names will soon be made public.

The Ecuadorian government wants to see a “positive result” with Assange in a short time, Moreno added. Earlier, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador officially confirmed that the authorities granted citizenship to Julian Assange. According to El Universo, the number of his passport is listed in the relevant databases. This is confirmed on the website of the Internal Revenue Service, where the specified number corresponds to a person named Julian Paul Assange. According to the publication, citizenship was granted to him on December 21. Ecuador’s foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said that she fears that third party states may threaten Julian Assange’s life. She added that Assange won’t leave Ecuador’s Embassy in UK because there are no security guaranties.

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“The big money was not in acute pain, which goes away, or cancer pain, where patients die quickly..”

Opioids: The Big Money Is In Chronic Pain, Which Is Endless (NDN)

Opioids affect us in complex and mysterious ways . They don’t stop sensation, like local anesthetics. Instead, these drugs work by activating natural opioid receptors in our brains. They change our experience of pain. They replace pain, in part, with pleasure. Pain thresholds are built into us for powerful evolutionary reasons. Opioids make us feel good in the short term, but they also distort essential mechanisms necessary for survival in a Darwinian world. Tolerance is the body’s natural attempt to restore those mechanisms. We become less sensitive to opioids, and need higher doses for the same effect. Tolerance is the first step toward physical addiction; the two are linked. As tolerance rises, the risk of overdose and death follows closely behind. The time it takes for this process to occur is the key to understanding the opioid epidemic. A week or two of opioids may cause euphoria and pleasure, but it will rarely create physical addiction. Given a few months, however, anyone can be made into an opioid addict.

[..] In 1996 a single company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, introduced a patented new opioid compound into the market with FDA approval. They called it OxyContin, and marketed it as a new drug. OxyContin wasn’t a new drug. It was simply a new pill designed to release an old drug — oxycodone — more slowly. Oxycodone was first synthesized in 1916, and is closely related to heroin. Since it releases oxycodone more slowly, OxyContin doesn’t have to be taken as often to relieve pain. That slower release also allowed Purdue to put higher doses of oxycodone into each pill. Purdue Pharma used this distinction as a pretext for claims that OxyContin was safer and less addictive than other opioids and therefore should be widely prescribed for pain of all kinds.

The FDA enabled this assertion, and the FDA examiner who approved OxyContin’s initial application took a job with Purdue shortly thereafter. Once the FDA approved the drug, Purdue unleashed a fraudulent marketing campaign designed to generate as many new OxyContin consumers as possible. A critical element of their strategy was to expand the traditional indications for opioid prescriptions beyond acute pain into the far more controversial category of chronic pain. Chronic pain is so broadly defined that tens of millions of patients became potential customers. This was hugely consequential. When drugs are approved by the FDA, health insurance pays for them. The big money was not in acute pain, which goes away, or cancer pain, where patients die quickly, but in chronic pain, which is endless.

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Jan 202018
 
 January 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Lane near Arles 1888

 

US Government Shutdown Begins As Spending Bill Fails In Senate (R.)
Trump To Tout US Economy, Urge Fair Trade At Elite Davos Forum (R.)
What Will Rising Mortgage Rates Do to Housing Bubble 2? (WS)
Fever Pitch (Jim Kunstler)
NSA Deleted Surveillance Data Court Had Ordered It To Preserve (Pol.)
Russia Accuses US Of “Carving Out Alternative Government” In Syria (ZH)
Europe Must Wake Up To Drastic Consequences Of A Hard Brexit (Joris Luyendijk)
UK Banks Turn Off Lending Taps To Households (G.)
The Carillion Whitewash (Coppola)
Hundreds Of UK MPs Call On Supermarkets To Scrap Plastic Packaging (G.)
The Untreatable: The Centenary of Spanish Flu (LRB)

 

 

Maybe it’s better this way: expose the failing systems. Bring out your dead.

US Government Shutdown Begins As Spending Bill Fails In Senate (R.)

The U.S. government shut down at midnight on Friday after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a last-minute deal to fund its operations, divided in a bitter dispute over immigration and border security. In a dramatic late-night session, senators blocked a bill to extend government funding through Feb. 16. The bill needed 60 votes in the 100-member Senate but fell short, with only 50 supporting it. Most Democrats opposed the bill because their efforts to include protections for hundreds of thousands of mostly young immigrants known as Dreamers failed. Huddled negotiations by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in the last minutes before midnight were unsuccessful, and the U.S. government technically ran out of money at midnight.

The shutdown formally began on Saturday, the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump immediately sought to blame Democrats. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans,” the White House said in a statement. It also said it would not discuss immigration until the government is up and running again. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators.” In return, Schumer pointed the finger directly at Trump. “It’s almost as if you were rooting for a shutdown and now we’ll have one and the blame should crash entirely on President Trump’s shoulders,” he said.

Until a funding deal is worked out, scores of federal agencies across the country will be unable to operate, and hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal workers will be put on temporary unpaid leave. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding measure on Thursday. But Republicans then needed the support of at least 10 Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate. While five Democrats ended up voting for the measure, five Republicans voted against it. Democratic leaders demanded that the measure include protections from deportation for about 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers who arrived in the United States as children.

Despite bipartisan negotiations, Republican leaders refused to include those protections, and neither side was willing to back down. McConnell and Schumer insisted they were still committed to finding an agreement that restores government funding as soon as possible. Trump, who had made strict measures on immigration a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, last week rejected a bipartisan proposal, saying he wanted to include any deal for Dreamers in a bigger legislative package that also boosts funding for a border wall and tighter security at the U.S. border with Mexico.

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A lion’s den indeed.

Trump To Tout US Economy, Urge Fair Trade At Elite Davos Forum (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump will be entering something of a lion’s den when he visits the elitist enclave of Davos next week, rubbing shoulders with the same “globalists” that he campaigned against in winning the 2016 election. Aides said some of Trump’s advisers had argued against him attending the World Economic Forum in order to steer clear of the event, which brings together political leaders, CEOs and top bankers. But in the end, they said, Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the forum since Bill Clinton in 2000, wanted to go to call attention to growth in the U.S. economy and the soaring stock market. A senior administration official said Trump is expected to take a double-edged message to the forum in Switzerland, where he is to deliver a speech and meet some world leaders.

In his speech, Trump is expected to urge the world to invest in the United States to take advantage of his deregulatory and tax cut policies, stress his “America First” agenda and call for fairer, more reciprocal trade, the official said. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump blamed globalization for ravaging American manufacturing jobs as companies sought to reduce labor costs by relocating to Mexico and elsewhere. “Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache,” he said on June 28, 2016, in Pennsylvania. Trump retains the same anti-globalist beliefs but has struggled to rewrite trade deals that he sees as benefiting other countries.

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This is going to hurt.

What Will Rising Mortgage Rates Do to Housing Bubble 2? (WS)

The US government bond market has further soured this week, with Treasuries selling off across the spectrum. When bond prices fall, yields rise. For example, the two-year Treasury yield rose to 2.06% on Friday, the highest since September 2008. In the chart, note the determined spike of 79 basis points since September 8, 2017. That was the month when the Fed announced the highly telegraphed details of its QE Unwind. September as month of the QE-Unwind announcement keeps cropping up. All kinds of things began to happen, at first quietly, without drawing much attention. But then the trajectory just kept going.

The three-year yield, which had gone nowhere for the first eight months of 2017, rose to 2.20% on Friday, the highest since October 1, 2008. It has spiked 82 basis points since September 8:

The ten-year yield – the benchmark for financial markets that most influences US mortgage rates – jumped to 2.66% late Friday. This is particularly interesting because the 10-year yield had declined from March 2017 into August despite the Fed’s three rate hikes last year, and rising short-term yields. At 2.66%, the 10-year yield has reached its highest level since April 2014, when the “Taper Tantrum” was winding down. That Taper Tantrum was the bond market’s way of saying “we’re shocked and appalled,” when Chairman Bernanke dropped hints the Fed might eventually begin tapering what the market had called “QE Infinity.” The 10-year yield has now doubled since the historic intraday low on July 7, 2016 of 1.32% (it closed that day at 1.37%, a historic closing low):

Friday capped four weeks of pain in the Treasury market. But it has not impacted yet the corporate bond market, and the spread in yields between Treasuries and corporate bonds, and particularly junk bonds, has further narrowed. And it has not yet impacted the stock market, and there has been no adjustment in the market’s risk pricing yet. But it has impacted the mortgage market. On Friday, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) for top-tier borrowers, according to Mortgage News Daily, ended at 4.23%, the highest in nine months. But historically, 4.25% is still very low. And likely just the beginning of a long, uneven climb higher. And the impact on mortgage payments can be sizable. When rates rise for example from 3.5% to 4.5%, the payment for a $250,000 mortgage jumps by $144 to $1,267 a month. This can move the payment out of reach for households that have trouble making ends meet.

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Rising markets and fever as flu symptoms.

Fever Pitch (Jim Kunstler)

In case you’re worked up about the looming federal government shut-down, this is exactly how we’re supposed to roll in the long emergency: everything organized at the gigantic scale is going to wobble and fail. It’s nature’s way of saying, “get smaller, get realer, scale down, and get local.” The catch is, we probably won’t listen to nature. Instead, we’ll just behave like bystanders and do nothing until the full force of failure is upon us, just as we’re doing with climate change — the tragedy of the commons at planetary scale. The failure of national party politics is deep and systemic, as you would expect from activities nurtured in a shit-hole called Washington, corruption being the manifestation of sepsis. The lethal vector of this illness is money.

There’s the money flowing into the “campaign funds” (so-called) of congressmen and senators, of course, but there’s also the “money” that is flowing in and out of the leviathan government — a whole lot of it is not really there. It’s a figment of promises to pay back loans on top of a monumental heap of past promises that will never be kept. The threatened government shutdown is just a symptom of the illness: a society doing things out of scale, trying to run its excessive activities by check-kiting and accounting fraud. What could go wrong? Not the stock and bond markets, I’m sure. Though… wait a minute… that hockey-stick surge in equities looks a little bit like the action of a thermometer measuring the rising body temperature of a very sick patient.

From 25,000 to 26,000 on the Dow — in what? seven days? — is kind of like the flu victim going from 98.6 to 105 after onset. And we know what happens to humans up around the 105 Fahrenheit body temperature level: the brain starts to sputter and smoke. Soon, it’s lights out and don’t let your karma smack you on the butt going through the exit.

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State within the state. F*ck the courts.

NSA Deleted Surveillance Data Court Had Ordered It To Preserve (Pol.)

The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed, according to recent court filings. Word of the NSA’s foul-up is emerging just as Congress has extended for six years the legal authority the agency uses for much of its surveillance work conducted through U.S. internet providers and tech firms. President Donald Trump signed that measure into law Friday. Since 2007, the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties. However, the NSA told U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in a filing on Thursday night and another little-noticed submission last year that the agency did not preserve the content of internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the program Bush ordered. To make matters worse, backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, the NSA said. “The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” NSA’s deputy director of capabilities, identified publicly as “Elizabeth B.,” wrote in a declaration filed in October. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”

In the update Thursday, another NSA official said the data were deleted during a broad, housecleaning effort aimed at making space for incoming information. “The NSA’s review to date reveals that this [Presidential Surveillance Program] Internet content data was not specifically targeted for deletion,” wrote the official, identified as “Dr. Mark O,” “but rather the PSP Internet content data matched criteria that were broadly used to delete data of a certain type … in response to mission requirements to free-up space and improve performance of the [redacted] back-up system. The NSA is still investigating how these deletions came about given the preservation obligations extant at the time. The NSA, however, has no reason to believe at this time that PSP Internet content data was specifically targeted for deletion.”

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With Turkey starting an extensive bombing campaign, Syria could explode once again.

Russia Accuses US Of “Carving Out Alternative Government” In Syria (ZH)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the United States of working to carve out “an alternative government” on Syrian soil in statements made at a UN press briefing related to the recent Turkish military build-up poised to assault Syrian Kurdish areas of Northern Syria. Lavrov’s words come after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged in a speech on Wednesday that US military forces would remain in Syria indefinitely until various objectives are met, which include Syrian government transition and the curtailing of Iran’s influence. Lavrov said “It’s a fact that US forces are seriously involved in creating alternative government bodies on vast part of the Syrian territory. And this, of course, absolutely contradicts their own obligations, which they committed to on numerous occasions, including at the UN Security Council, on maintaining the sovereignty and the territorial integrity on Syria.”

The Russian FM further accused the US of contradicting its previous claim that US troops – which number at least 2,000 according to recent Pentagon statements – were only in Syria to fight the Islamic State and not wage a proxy war against the Syrian government and its allies. The prior US policy of regime change in Syria, which began under the Obama administration and intensified under a CIA program, was something many analysts perceived that President Trump had abandoned – consistent with earlier campaign promises. In the summer of last year Trump shut down the CIA program – widely reported to be the agency’s largest covert program – even while boosting support for the Pentagon program to arm and train the predominately Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“Rex Tillerson told me many times that the only reason for their presence there [in Syria] is defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISL). Now they have some much more long-standing plans,” Lavrov said further of the inconsistency in US policy. “We will have to take this into account and look for solutions that won’t allow the destruction of Syrian sovereignty.”

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Bit late, perhaps?

Europe Must Wake Up To Drastic Consequences Of A Hard Brexit (Joris Luyendijk)

Because it is such a riveting clown show with new crazy episodes almost every day, Europeans can be forgiven for ignoring the fact that Brexit is going to hurt them too. But as the date of Britain’s departure comes closer and Theresa May’s government continues its kamikaze policy of demanding the politically unthinkable from the EU, it is time for Europeans to wake and begin preparing for the worst. On Thursday the Dutch government published a report drawn up by the consultancy firm KPMG analysing the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit in which the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 29 March 2019.

Here are the practical implications and cold numbers behind the hot-headed rhetoric about no deal with the EU being “better than a bad deal” for Britain: should the UK “crash” out of the EU by late March 2019 the Dutch companies trading with the UK will have to secure a total of no less than 4.2m exporting and 750,000 importing licences. If by this time both states have a functioning customs system in place – a big if for this consistently incompetent UK government – costs for companies are between €80 and €130. That is per licence. The price tag for all this new red tape is €600m for the Dutch side alone. This excludes the costs of new export and import tariffs, VAT and other new “sector-specific” barriers for trading with the UK.

The 35,000 small and medium-sized businesses unused to trading with non-EU countries also face an estimated cost of €20,000-€50,000 to adapt their IT systems. Added to this, warns the report, must be the likely effects of the inevitable economic slowdown, or worse, in Britain. When the country leaves without a deal it must “fall back” on the minimal WTO rules for trade. But financial services and aviation fall outside the WTO regime, meaning that after a British no-deal departure both sectors must stop trading with the EU overnight. Between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and London alone there are currently 60 flights a day – one every 15 minutes.

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“The richest 10% spent more on wine per week (£9.40) than the poorest 10% spent on water..”

UK Banks Turn Off Lending Taps To Households (G.)

There is little for the average household to cheer these days as inflation crushes paltry earnings increases. Inflation is running at 3% while wage rises can manage no more than 2.5%. Worse for the average household, the banks are beginning to turn off the lending taps that have allowed them to boost their incomes with cheap debt. Things were better in the year to April 2017, according to the number crunchers at the Office for National Statistics, who have lifted the lid on Britain’s spending habits in their annual family spending report. It shows that average weekly household spending clawed its way back from the depths of the 2009 recession to exceed the pre-crisis level for the first time.

This slice of good news, albeit five or six years later than many economists thought it would happen, disguises how the better off have thrived compared to those on the bottom rung of the income ladder. For instance the richest 10% spent more on wine per week (£9.40) than the poorest 10% spent on water (£7.30). In the same vein, the richest 10% spent £59.40 on “furniture and furnishings, carpets and other floor coverings” to almost match how much the poorest 10% spent on rent (£62.70). Challenging the idea that the poorest waste their money on booze and cigarettes, the survey found that the richest 10% devote twice as much of the weekly shop (£17.50) to “alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics” as the poorest. But it is the new rich, the 65- to 74-year-olds that really catch the eye.

Their spending might not match that of the top 10%, yet it significantly powers ahead of anything the average 20-something can muster on areas like entertainment and recreation. The figures show that people in the 10 years from their 65th birthday go on a spending binge that means devoting nearly a fifth of their total expenditure on recreation and culture, double the 10% spent by the under-30s. This is the final salary pension bonanza that can only be described as a once in a generation spending boost. The same applies to those of all ages on below average incomes. They increased their spending by a startling 7% on the previous year, far more than the 1% increase across the richest half of households. Unfortunately they managed this largely by running down savings and taking on extra debt.

As banks, under instruction from the financial regulator, rein in their lending, debt-fuelled spending should be considered a one-off boon, just like the final salary payout. However, that seems unlikely. Banks remain dependent for profit on lending.

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Another bunch of lies that will go unpunished.

The Carillion Whitewash (Coppola)

The Carillion whitewash has begun. Carillion’s interim CEO, Keith Cochrane, is spinning the line that had banks not pulled funding, its collapse could have been averted. And the Financial Times has released details of a letter Carillion sent to the Government at the beginning of January, in which it asked for short-term advances to tide it over while it underwent restructuring. Labour MP Pat McFadden has written to the Treasury Secretary asking whether it would have been more cost-effective for the U.K. Government to support Carillion, rather than allowing it to collapse. This looks to me like a campaign to deflect blame from Carillion’s management to its lenders and customers. We are being led to believe that it wasn’t insolvent, it was just illiquid, and depriving it of short-term funds caused a completely unnecessary collapse.

Deliciously, the bank Cochrane principally accuses of precipitating Carillion’s collapse by depriving it of funds is RBS, which was rescued at taxpayer expense in the 2008 financial crisis. Something tells me Cochrane’s fingering of RBS is no accident. For a bailed-out bank to refuse to provide a major Government contractor with short-term funds looks at best ungrateful and at worst insulting. Of course, RBS is itself a past master at playing the “we’re not insolvent, we are just illiquid” game. On the day that RBS failed, in September 2008, RBS’s CEO, Fred Goodwin, insisted that the bank was solvent. “We don’t have a capital problem,” he said. “We have a liquidity problem. All we need is short-term cash”.* But in fact, RBS was deeply insolvent. Rescuing it cost the U.K. Government £45bn, and RBS has lost a further £58bn since. Nearly ten years after the crisis, it is still in majority public ownership.

The similarity to RBS’s collapse is striking. Less than a week after Carillion’s failure, we now know that it is deeply insolvent. A couple of days after it filed for compulsory liquidation, Carillion’s unsecured bonds were trading at only 2.4% of par: This is an extraordinary writedown. It implies that bondholders expect to get back almost none of their investment. And this is senior unsecured debt, not subordinated debt or equity. The holders of anything more junior have already been wiped.

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All of a sudden everyone wakes up at the same time. But why have supermarkets and Coca Cola never done anything about it? And what are the odds they will once the atttention dies down?

Hundreds Of UK MPs Call On Supermarkets To Scrap Plastic Packaging (G.)

Two hundred cross-party MPs are calling on heads of the major supermarkets to eliminate plastic packaging from their products by 2023. The MPs, who are from seven political parties, have written to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Budgens and Marks & Spencer urging them to scrap plastic packaging. They wrote after the Guardian revealed this week the major supermarkets in the UK create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste – well over half the household plastic waste – each year. Six of the major supermarkets refused to reveal the amount of plastic packaging they put on to the market, saying the information was commercially sensitive. Analysis by Eunomia environmental consultants used figures provided by Aldi and the Co-op – the only chains to release public figures on their plastic tonnage – and the market share of each supermarket to estimate how much plastic packaging the chains produce each year.

This week, Iceland announced it would stop plastic packaging on its own brand products by 2023. Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, who is behind the letter, said: “Vast amounts of plastic are ‘used’ for merely a few seconds before being discarded. “We have a moral duty to tackle this disposable culture. As such, I welcome the recent announcement from Iceland supermarkets … and I’m delighted that MPs from all parties are supporting my call for other retailers to follow suit.” Waitrose announced on Friday it would no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, and that all Waitrose products would be free of black plastic by the end of 2019. Black plastic cannot be recycled under current UK systems.

Each year it is estimated that more than 300m tonnes of plastic are produced globally. The Guardian revealed recently that plastic production is set to soar over the next 10 years. On Friday Coca-Cola announced a new goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the packaging it sells globally by 2030. Coca-Cola said: “Given the size and scope of this challenge, we expect to invest in new packaging innovations and local collection and recycling systems, as well as consumer education and awareness programs.”

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Good to know your history. Society would be at least as helpless now as 100 years ago, Better medicine, but also 100 times more mobility. And that’s what kills.

The Untreatable: The Centenary of Spanish Flu (LRB)

This year marks the centenary of Spanish flu, the most deadly pandemic in human history. It is estimated that five hundred million people contracted it – a third of the global population in 1918 – and that between fifty and a hundred million of them died. Asians were thirty times more likely to die than Europeans. The pandemic had some influence on the lives of everyone alive today. Donald Trump’s grandfather Friedrich died from it in New York City. He was 49. His early death meant that his fortune passed to his son Fred, who used it to start a New York property empire. My wife’s great-grandmother died from it in Verona; her grandfather, aged eight, had to leave school and find work to support the family. Emilio died in 2011 aged 101.

When I told a friend, the writer Andrew Greig, that I was writing this piece, he told me that his father, born in 1899, came down with Spanish flu while on leave from the war in France. ‘His convalescence delayed his return to the front, where his battalion was all but wiped out,’ Andrew said. ‘He always insisted Spanish flu saved his life, and without it, I suppose I wouldn’t be alive either.’ Laura Spinney’s book attempts to collate what is known about the pandemic, and takes a stab at examining its legacy: ‘The flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death,’ she writes. ‘It influenced the course of the First World War and, arguably, contributed to the second. It pushed India closer to independence, South Africa closer to apartheid, and Switzerland to the brink of civil war. It ushered in universal healthcare and alternative medicine, our love of fresh air and our passion for sport.’

The majority of deaths came in the three months between September and December 1918. The war probably didn’t spawn it, but certainly helped it spread: the US lost more soldiers to flu than to the war in part because so many of them spent weeks coughing together in barracks and transports on their way to Europe. Britain and Italy suffered between two and three times more deaths from the war than from the flu, while Germany’s war deaths outnumbered flu deaths six to one. Spinney quotes historians who claim that flu struck Germany harder than Britain or France; Erich Ludendorff was convinced it had robbed Germany of victory. The spread of Spanish flu was quickened by the railway and steamer lines that girdled the planet, starkly illuminating global inequalities in security, nutrition and access to medical care.

In India 6% of the population died; in Fiji 5%; in Tonga 10%. In Western Samoa, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, more than 20% of the population died. Even harder hit were the Alaskan Inuit, with a death rate between 25 and 50%: in some small Alaskan communities everybody died. Koreans and Japanese were infected at the same rate, but the Koreans, subject to chronic malnutrition, were twice as likely to die. In the US, Italian immigrants died at twice the background rate (the Italian neighbourhoods of New York had a density of five hundred per acre, ten to a room), while black populations were the least affected. ‘As far as the “Flu” is concerned the whites have the whole big show to themselves,’ J. Franklin Johnson wrote to the Baltimore Afro-American.

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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.

 

 

May 262017
 
 May 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Le Bonheur de Vivre 1906

 

Trump Directly Scolds NATO Allies, Says They Owe ‘Massive’ Sums (R.)
Trump Joins New-Look G7 Amid Trade, Climate Discord (AFP)
US Appeals Court Refuses To Reinstate Travel Ban (R.)
NSA Under Obama Secretly Spied On Americans For Years (Circa)
UK Labour Party Slashes Tory Lead To Just Five Points In Latest Poll (Ind.)
UK Election Campaign Resumes After Manchester Attack (AFP)
Not A Little List: EU Draws Up Brexit Bill (R.)
China’s Reforms Not Enough To Arrest Mounting Debt – Moody’s (R.)
Toronto Area Home Sales Sink After Cooling Measures (G&M)
World Bank Star Economist Paul Romer Sidelined in War Over Words (BBG)
Fed Faces A ‘Surprise’ Problem On US Inflation (R.)
No-Nonsense Finns Ready to Rain on Franco-German Euro Parade (BBG)
Greece Debt Talks Remain Fraught Despite IMF Optimism (AFP)
Unease On Greek Island of Chios Over New Migrant Detention Center (K.)

 

 

It’s an anti-Trump love fest.

Spending $1 billion on a new building that you will never be able to visit tells you what these people think of you. But the, NATO is the ideal vehicle for the arms industry: no democracy anywhere in sight.

Trump Directly Scolds NATO Allies, Says They Owe ‘Massive’ Sums (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday intensified his accusations that NATO allies were not spending enough on defense and warned of more attacks like this week’s Manchester bombing unless the alliance did more to stop militants. In unexpectedly abrupt remarks as NATO leaders stood alongside him, Trump said certain member countries owed “massive amounts of money” to the United States and NATO – even though allied contributions are voluntary, with multiple budgets. His scripted comments contrasted with NATO’s choreographed efforts to play up the West’s unity by inviting Trump to unveil a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States at the new NATO headquarters building in Brussels.

“Terrorism must be stopped in its tracks, or the horror you saw in Manchester and so many other places will continue forever,” Trump said, referring to Monday’s suicide bombing in the English city that killed 22 people, including children. “These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct … in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share,” Trump said. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg defended Trump, saying that although he was “blunt” he had “a very plain and clear message on the expectations” of allies. But one senior diplomat said Trump, who left the leaders’ dinner before it ended to fly to Italy for Friday’s Group of Seven summit, said the remarks did not go down well at all. “This was not the right place or time,” the diplomat said of the very public harangue. “We are left with nothing else but trying to put a brave face on it.”

In another unexpected twist, Trump called on NATO, an organization founded on collective defense against the Soviet threat, to include limiting immigration in its tasks. And Trump did say that the United States “will never forsake the friends who stood by our side” but NATO leaders had hoped he would more explicitly support the mutual defense rules of a military alliance’s he called “obsolete” during his campaign. Instead, he returned to a grievance about Europe’s drop in defense spending since the end of the Cold War and failed to publicly commit to NATO’s founding Article V rule which stipulates that an attack on one ally is an attack against all. “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying for their defense,” Trump said, standing by a piece of the wreckage of the Twin Towers. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States, and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years,” Trump said as the other leaders watched.

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It’ll give the press some more material to talk about on handshakes; it’s all they do these days anyway.

Trump Joins New-Look G7 Amid Trade, Climate Discord (AFP)

G7 leaders meet Friday determined to put on a display of united resolve in the fight against jihadist terrorism, despite deep divisions on trade and global warming. The two-day summit in Sicily’s ancient hilltop resort of Taormina kicks off four days after children were among 22 people killed in a concert bomb attack in Manchester. British Prime Minister Theresa May will lead a discussion on terrorism in one of Friday’s working sessions and is expected to issue a call for G7 countries to put more pressure on internet companies to remove extremist content. “The fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet,” a senior British official said ahead of the talks.

With May and Donald Trump among four new faces in the club of the world’s major democracies, the gathering in Italy is being billed as a key test of how serious the new US administration is about implementing its radical policy agenda, particularly on climate change. Senior officials are preparing to work through the night of Friday-Saturday in a bid to bridge what appear to be irreconcilable differences over Trump’s declared intention of ditching the US commitment to the landmark Paris according on curbing carbon emissions. Officials acknowledge the summit, one of the shortest in the body’s history, is effectively about damage limitation against a backdrop of fears among US partners that the Trump presidency, with its ‘America First’ rhetoric, could undermine the architecture of the post-World War II world. Summit host Paolo Gentiloni, a caretaker Italian prime minister also making his G7 debut, acknowledged as much on the eve of the meeting.

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Long dead. It was supposed to be for 30 days only anyway, and those are long gone.

US Appeals Court Refuses To Reinstate Travel Ban (R.)

In a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump, a U.S. appeals court refused on Thursday to reinstate his travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations, calling it discriminatory and setting the stage for a showdown in the Supreme Court. The decision, written by Chief Judge Roger Gregory, described Trump’s executive order in forceful terms, saying it uses “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the government, which says the temporary travel ban is needed to guard against terrorist attacks, would seek a review of the case at the Supreme Court. “These clearly are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and committing acts of bloodshed and violence,” said Michael Short, a White House spokesman.

He added that the White House was confident the order would ultimately be upheld by the judiciary. In its 10-3 ruling, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said those challenging the ban, including refugee groups and individuals, were likely to succeed on their claim that the order violates the U.S. Constitution’s bar against favoring one religion over another. Gregory cited statements by Trump during the 2016 presidential election calling for a Muslim ban. During the race, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslim’s entering the United States” in a statement on his website. The judge wrote that a reasonable observer would likely conclude the order’s “primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

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Where’s the anger?

NSA Under Obama Secretly Spied On Americans For Years (Circa)

The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community. More than 5%, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa. The Obama administration self-disclosed the problems at a closed-door hearing Oct. 26 before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that set off alarm.

Trump was elected less than two weeks later. The normally supportive court censured administration officials, saying the failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” according to a recently unsealed court document dated April 26, 2017. The admitted violations undercut one of the primary defenses that the intelligence community and Obama officials have used in recent weeks to justify their snooping into incidental NSA intercepts about Americans. Circa has reported that there was a three-fold increase in NSA data searches about Americans and a rise in the unmasking of U.S. person’s identities in intelligence reports after Obama loosened the privacy rules in 2011. Officials like former National Security Adviser Susan Rice have argued their activities were legal under the so-called minimization rule changes Obama made, and that the intelligence agencies were strictly monitored to avoid abuses.

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May was losing a lot of votes before AMnchester.

UK Labour Party Slashes Tory Lead To Just Five Points In Latest Poll (Ind.)

Labour has slashed the Conservatives’ lead in the polls to just five points, the latest YouGov/Times results show. The party has made consistent gains in recent weeks as leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed his message was finally getting through to voters. The results show a four point change since last week when the Tories were leading by 9 percentage points – the first time Labour had narrowed the gap to single figures since Theresa May called the snap election on 18 April. The latest poll comes after the Prime Minister made an unprecedented U-turn over her “dementia tax” plans, just four days after making them the centrepiece of her election manifesto.

A separate poll, conducted after the Tory manifesto launch, found 28% of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package. It comes as Mr Corbyn prepares to take the hugely controversial step of blaming Britain’s foreign wars for terror attacks such as the Manchester suicide bombing. The Labour leader will claim a link between “wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home”, as he relaunches his party’s election campaign on Friday after the three-day pause. Mr Corbyn will stress his assessment is shared by the intelligence and security services and “in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children”. The Independent understands Mr Corbyn wishes to draw attention to his March 2011 vote against the Libya bombing – when he was one of just 13 MPs to oppose David Cameron.

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May will use Manchester and fear for all she can suck out of it. Corbyn will be portrayed as incapable leader for the country, in the same way he has been called unfit to lead his party. He would have been way ahead in the polls if his own party had not turned on him. Re: Bernie.

UK Election Campaign Resumes After Manchester Attack (AFP)

Britain’s politicians resume campaigning in earnest on Friday with national security in the spotlight, as police scramble to bust a Libya-linked jihadist network thought to be behind the Manchester terror attack. Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had suspended campaigning after Monday’s bombing at a Manchester pop concert, which killed 22 people, including many teenagers, and wounded dozens more. Eight suspects are currently in detention on UK soil in connection with the blast, for which the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, while police in Libya have detained the father and brother of 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Washington’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson is due to visit London on Friday in an expression of solidarity, after Britain reacted furiously to leaks of sensitive details about the investigation to US media.

Opposition leader Corbyn in a speech in London later on Friday is expected to say it is the “responsibility” of governments to minimise the risk of terror by giving police the funding they need. A YouGov poll published in Friday’s edition of The Times put Conservatives on 43% compared to Labour on 38%, far better for Labour than the double-digit margin that had previously separately it from the ruling party. YouGov polled 2,052 people on Wednesday and Thursday. But analysts said that the Conservative prime minister – who previously served as interior minister for six years – could benefit at the polls from the shift in focus ahead of the general election on June 8. “If security and terrorism become more prominent then I can only see one winner from this – Theresa May,” said Steven Fielding, a professor of politics at the University of Nottingham. The YouGov poll also found that 41% of respondents said that the Conservatives would handle defence and security best, compared to 18% who said the same of Labour.

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Will May be part of these discussions?

Not A Little List: EU Draws Up Brexit Bill (R.)

The EU will next month demand Britain agree to pay a fixed percentage of the EU’s outstanding obligations on the day it leaves the bloc, in defiance of a British rejection of that logic as “preposterous”. A draft EU negotiating paper, seen by Reuters, that will be put to London when Brexit talks begin following a national election in Britain on June 8 makes clear that suggestions from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government that the Union might end up owing rather than getting money cut no ice in Brussels. The paper on principles of the financial settlement that the EU wants from London on departure in March 2019 sets no figure, and chief negotiator Michel Barnier has made clear it cannot be calculated until the end as it depends on the EU’s spending.

However, he wants an agreement on how the “Brexit bill” will be calculated, perhaps by late this year, before the Europeans agree to launch talks that May wants on a free trade agreement. EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker has said Britain may have to pay its 27 allies some €60 billion on departure and some experts estimated the up-front cost, before later refunds, could be nearly double that – suggestions May’s foreign minister Boris Johnson called “absolutely preposterous”. The paper to be discussed among diplomats next week before Barnier presents the opening demands to London in the week of June 19, spells out that while Britain will get some credit – notably its €39 billion share of the capital of the European Investment Bank.

But the list of what it must pay, and go paying for some years after Brexit, is much longer. Four pages of appendix details list more than 70 EU bodies and funds to which Britain has committed payment in a budget set out to 2020. Yet the three-page main document made no mention of Britain getting credit for a share of, say, EU buildings, as British ministers have said it should have. EU officials argue Britain was not asked to pay extra for existing infrastructure in Brussels when it first joined the bloc in 1973. Among obligations Britain will be asked to cover are the funding until summer 2021 of British teachers seconded to schools catering to the EU’s staff and diplomats.

Other payments include promises to fund Syrian refugees in Turkey, aid for the Central African Republic, the EU aviation safety agency and the European Institute for Gender Equality. “The United Kingdom obligations should be fixed as a percentage of the EU obligations calculated at the date of withdrawal in accordance with a methodology to be agreed in the first phase of the negotiations,” the paper states. It adds that people, businesses and organizations in Britain would continue to benefit from some EU funds for some time after Brexit. Britain has about 13% of the EU’s 507 million population and accounts for some 16% of its economy. Its net contribution to the EU’s €140 billion annual budget has typically been roughly €10 billion in recent years.

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CHina is not in good shape. Moody’s diagnosis came late.

China’s Reforms Not Enough To Arrest Mounting Debt – Moody’s (R.)

China’s structural reforms will slow the pace of its debt build-up but will not be enough to arrest it, and another credit rating cut for the country is possible down the road unless it gets its ballooning credit in check, officials at Moody’s said. The comments came two days after Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign ratings by one notch to A1, saying it expects the financial strength of the world’s second-largest economy to erode in coming years as growth slows and debt continues to mount. In announcing the downgrade, Moody’s Investors Service also changed its outlook on China from “negative” to “stable”, suggesting no further ratings changes for some time.

China has strongly criticized the downgrade, asserting it was based on “inappropriate methodology”, exaggerating difficulties facing the economy and underestimating the government’s reform efforts. In response, senior Moody’s official Marie Diron said on Friday that the ratings agency has been encouraged by the “vast reform agenda” undertaken by the Chinese authorities to contain risks from the rapid rise in debt. However, while Moody’s believes the reforms may slow the pace at which debt is rising, they will not be enough to arrest the trend and levels will not drop dramatically, Diron said. Diron said China’s economic recovery since late last year was mainly thanks to policy stimulus, and expects Beijing will continue to rely on pump-priming to meet its official economic growth targets, adding to the debt overhang.

Moody’s also is waiting to see how some of the announced measures, such as reining in local government finances, are actually implemented, Diron, associate managing director of Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group, told reporters in a webcast. China may no longer get an A1 rating if there are signs that debt is growing at a pace that exceeds Moody’s expectations, Li Xiujun, vice president of credit strategy and standards at the ratings agency, said in the same webcast. “If in the future China’s structural reforms can prevent its leverage from rising more effectively without increasing risks in the banking and shadow banking sector, then it will have a positive impact on China’s rating,” Li said. But Li added: “If there are signs that China’s debt will keep rising and the rate of growth is beyond our expectations, leading to serious capital misallocation, then it will continue to weigh on economic growth in the medium term and impact the sovereign rating negatively.”

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Down 26% yoy.

Toronto Area Home Sales Sink After Cooling Measures (G&M)

House sales fell 26% in the Toronto region in the month following the Ontario government’s introduction of a foreign-buyer’s tax as many potential purchasers stepped back and waited to assess the market impact. In the 30 days after the province announced the immediate introduction of a 15-per-cent foreign-buyer’s tax on April 20, the number of houses sold in the Greater Toronto Area fell 26% compared with the same period last year, according to data compiled by Toronto realtor John Pasalis, president of Realosophy Realty Inc. Communities north of Toronto saw the greatest declines between April 20 and May 20, with sales falling 61% in Richmond Hill, 46% in Markham and 44% in Newmarket. The City of Toronto recorded a 23% drop in the number of homes sold, while Brampton and Mississauga west of Toronto had sales declines of 16% and 27%, respectively.

The sales review looked only at freehold homes, including detached and semi-detached houses, but did not include condominiums. The drop in selling activity is part of a broad cooling in the Toronto region market that began in April as buyers moved to the sidelines while home owners rushed to list their houses to try to cash in before the market peaked. In the first two weeks of May alone, sales of all types of homes in the GTA fell 16% compared with the same period in May last year, while the number of new listings soared 47%, according to data compiled by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The average GTA home sold for $890,284 in the first two weeks of May, a 17-per-cent increase from a year earlier, primarily because of large gains earlier this year. But the price was down 3% compared with April, when the average sale price for all types of GTA homes was $920,791.

Mr. Pasalis said he does not believe the new foreign-buyer’s tax is directly responsible for much of the drop in sales since April 20 because foreign buyers were not a large enough part of the market to cause such a significant decline, and many foreign buyers will qualify for rebates of the tax. Instead, he believes the drop is a result, in part, to a decline in demand from domestic investors who were purchasing second properties to rent or flip. Most investors have stopped buying as they wait to see the impact of a suite of new measures announced by the province in April, including the foreign-buyer’s tax, he said. “They disappeared – no one is talking about buying money-losing rental properties any more,” Mr. Pasalis said. “The whole excitement and euphoria is kind of gone right now.”

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The fight over conventional economic theories.

World Bank Star Economist Paul Romer Sidelined in War Over Words (BBG)

The World Bank’s chief economist has been stripped of his management duties after researchers rebelled against his efforts to make them communicate more clearly, including curbs on the written use of “and.” Paul Romer is relinquishing oversight of the Development Economics Group, the research hub of the Washington-based development lender, according to an internal staff announcement seen by Bloomberg. Kristalina Georgieva, the chief executive for the bank’s biggest fund, will take over management of the unit July 1. Romer will remain chief economist, providing management with “timely thought leadership on trends directly affecting our client countries, including the ‘future of work,’” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in the note to staff dated May 9.

Romer said he met resistance from staff when he tried to refine the way they communicate. “I was in the position of being the bearer of bad news,” he said in an interview. “It’s possible that I was focusing too much on the precision of the communications and not enough on the feelings my messages would invoke.” [..] But in recent years, his attacks on the credibility of macroeconomic models irritated many of his peers. His combativeness didn’t endear him to some of the more than 600 economists who work in DEC, according to people familiar with the matter. Romer wanted DEC to set the intellectual agenda among those who think deeply about how to help the world’s poorest countries, said one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The World Bank is already considered a major source of development research, ranking first among institutions in terms of the number of times its work is cited, ahead of Brown University, the London School of Economics and Harvard University. But Romer expressed to those around him that the department should communicate more clearly, dive right into public debates, and align its work with the institution’s goals of ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality. It didn’t take him long to shake things up. He declared several positions redundant and enforced term limits on senior managers. In the interview, Romer said he cut more than $1 million in annual expenses from the group’s budget.

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A fight between fabricated numbers.

Fed Faces A ‘Surprise’ Problem On US Inflation (R.)

Recent data on the performance of the U.S. economy has been generally on the soft side, a sore point discussed at length by Federal Reserve officials at their latest meeting, minutes of the gathering released on Wednesday showed. In fact, measures developed by Citigroup economists to track how incoming economic data stacks up against market expectations show the latest numbers from the United States have been falling persistently short of forecasts. Meanwhile, Citi’s comparable “economic surprise” indexes for other regions show just the opposite: upside surprises. Of particular concern for the Fed are recent undershoots on key gauges of inflation that have been lagging the central bank’s stated target of 2% annualized consumer price growth.

Market-based measures of long-term inflation expectations have also weakened substantially, enough so that Fed policymakers agreed at their last meeting that before raising rates again they would need stronger data to confirm recent weakness was not a new trend. With doubts rising over U.S. President Donald Trump’s ability to deliver policies to promote faster economic growth, many of these gauges have fallen back to near Election Day levels. Citi’s inflation surprise indexes underscore the Fed’s anxiety. [..] recent U.S. inflation readings have returned to their long-term trend of underperforming against forecasts after a brief run of upside surprises earlier this year.

Meanwhile, inflation reports from Europe have topped expectations by the widest margin on record. The rest of the so-called Group of 10 largest developed economies are meanwhile beating forecasts by the most since the financial crisis nearly a decade ago, even after taking into account the drag from U.S. numbers. Even Japan, notorious for its decades-long struggles against deflation, is posting inflation data notably above forecasts.

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Will France and Germany push through a closer union despite the protests? They could….

No-Nonsense Finns Ready to Rain on Franco-German Euro Parade (BBG)

The euro area should focus on implementing its banking union and consigning bailouts to the history books, rather than exploring ambitious ideas such as a common budget or shared liabilities, according to Finland’s finance minister. “We’re willing to engage in a discussion on different scenarios on the future of European Monetary Union,” Petteri Orpo said in an emailed response to questions Wednesday. “I would be cautious about proposals that aren’t consistent with the current stage of political union in Europe, such as eurobonds.” The debate over the future of the EU has received new impetus following the U.K.’s decision to leave, with the European Commission outlining five possible scenarios.

Those hoping for a re-start in the integration drive in response to populist criticisms have drawn new energy from the lovefest on display in Berlin when German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted a first meeting with Emmanuel Macron, the new French president. Italy and Spain, meanwhile, are renewing their push for mutually-backed debt. The priorities of Finland’s finance minister are not as lofty. “The banking union is by far the most important element,” Orpo said. “Risk reduction must come before risk sharing.” Finland may have a special interest in boosting the banking union now that the largest Nordic lender, Nordea Bank, is considering relocating its headquarters to Helsinki from Stockholm.

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My long-term point exactly: “Greece cannot grow while maintaining such a high surplus,” Rice said.”

Greece Debt Talks Remain Fraught Despite IMF Optimism (AFP)

Critical talks on easing Greece’s massive debt burden remain fraught with conflict, despite assurances from the IMF on Thursday that the sides are closer to an agreement. A deal to secure debt relief for Athens from the eurozone is the missing piece to unlocking loans the country needs to make debt payments and begin to recover from the years-long crisis. But transcripts of part of the recent discussions between the IMF, the ECB and eurozone finance ministers published by Greek financial website Euro2day on Thursday show many disputes remain and few of the participants are satisfied, least of all Greece Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. He slammed one of the proposals floated in the discussions the “worst of all worlds” for Greece. “I don’t think anyone here can say that is a good deal for us, who have negotiated in good faith.”

This seems to contradict comments from an IMF official Thursday, who said the differences are narrowing even though the fund needs more specifics on a debt relief plan before it can agree to release more financing. “Everyone is optimistic that agreement can be reached and hopefully can be reached at the next Eurogroup meeting” in mid-June, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters. In contrast, the IMF’s main negotiator, Poul Thomsen, said he was “very far away from being able to tell our board that we are close to a strategy we can agree to” on debt relief, according to the transcripts. [..] Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem floated the possibility of the IMF approving a loan for Greece, but withholding disbursement of the funds until it had sufficient details on the debt relief — something virtually unheard of in IMF aid programs.

Thomsen said it was an “interesting proposal” that he could raise with the management, even while Tsakalotos slammed the idea. One advantage to the unusual arrangement, were the IMF to agree, is that it would take the discussion of Greek debt relief out of play in Germany’s election in September. The German public is hostile to more financial support for Athens. Rice vehemently denied doing any political favors for Germany. “We are exploring all options within our existing practices and rules,” he said. IMF lending depends on each country’s circumstances “but we try to be as flexible as we can,” he added. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called the lack of a deal at Monday’s talks “a major failure,” and said “I’m not very optimistic that things will improve.”

The IMF also disagrees with Europe’s forecasts for Greek growth and primary fiscal surplus which are key to the debt discussions, Rice said. Europe continues to forecast a surplus excluding debt payments of 3.5% of GDP even after 2022, which the IMF believes is not sustainable and would impose undue hardship on the country. Athens could better use its budget to fuel growth and “Greece cannot grow while maintaining such a high surplus,” Rice said. “It does not help anyone to have assumptions that are overly optimistic.”

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Detention centers for people fleeing western-induced misery and chaos breaks so many international laws that these laws are invalidated in one fell swoop.

Unease On Greek Island of Chios Over New Migrant Detention Center (K.)

People living near the location of a new migrant detention center on the island of Chios say they will fight its construction. The facility will be used as a holding center for those who have had their asylum requests rejected and are due to be deported. A high-ranking police official, Nikolaos Zisimopoulos, informed authorities on Chios that construction of the new center would begin immediately, and containers carrying building materials arrived on the island Thursday. The municipal council called an emergency meeting last night to discuss the matter, as residents say their patience is reaching breaking point and that they will take action to fight the center’s construction.

Chios Mayor Manolis Vournous has asked for more time to allow the island’s residents to discuss the location of the new center. The Hellenic Police (ELAS), however, says there is no more time for any further discussion as the situation on the island’s existing camps is dire. ELAS also notes that a shift in the main flow of migrants toward Chios and away from Lesvos is adding fuel to the fire. Authorities say this shift can be attributed to the migrants knowing Chios does not have a closed facility like Lesvos does. So far this month more than half of all refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece have come to Chios.

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May 152017
 
 May 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Ballfield NY 1946

 

Global Property Bubble Is Ready To Pop (MF)
3 Cities Push Canada To Another Record On House Prices (HPo)
Cyber Attack Aftershocks Disrupt Devices Across Asia on Monday (R.)
Lessons From Last Week’s Cyberattack (Microsoft)
The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? (NYT)
Peak China: Chinese Data Misses Across The Board (ZH)
Why India Is Cool Towards China’s Belt And Road (SCMP)
China’s Silk Road Summit: India Skips, Warns Of “Unsustainable Debt” (ZH)
Number of Chinese Tourists Visiting Greece to Rise 10-Fold (BBG)
New Zealand Slashes Chinese Tourism Forecast, Denting Outlook (BBG)
Fed Officials Test New Argument for Tightening: Protect the Poor (BBG)
Marc Cohodes, The Scourge Of Home Capital, Reveals His Latest Short (ZH)
Eyes on Euro Fighter Macron (K.)
Germany Will Not Rush Into Euro Area Fiscal Union (CNBC)
What Germany Owes Namibia For Genocide (Econ)

 

 

Only real question: will they all fall together like dominoes?

Global Property Bubble Is Ready To Pop (MF)

Ever since interest rates were slashed to near zero in the wake of the financial crisis, the world has gone property mad. Residential house prices from Abu Dhabi to Zurich have spiralled as hot money travelled the world looking for a home. For those who got in early it has been incredibly rewarding, even if – whisper it – stock markets have actually done far better. The global property bubble cannot blow much bigger. The best we can hope is that it deflates slowly… but it could burst. Property is still going crazy in China, where prices have been pumped up by yet another bout of government stimulus. Guangzhou, close to Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland, leapt a whopping 36% in the past 12 months, according to Knight Frank. Prices rose around 20% in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as in Toronto, Canada.

Seoul in South Korea continues to boom, as does Sydney and Stockholm, both up 10.7% over the last year. Berlin (8.7%), Melbourne (8.6%) and Vancouver (7.9%) are also performing strongly. In most other global cities, property is finally starting to slow. Hong Kong rose a relatively modest 5.3% while Singapore grew 4%, and thereafter price hikes trail away. Half of the 41 countries in the report grew by less than 2%, while nearly one in three saw prices fall, by up to 8.3%. Prime central London was the world’s raciest property market but is now leading the charge in the other direction, falling 6.4%. Former hotspots Zurich, Moscow and Istanbul fell 7% or more over the last 12 months. Cheap money has driven prices ever higher for eight years but is finally losing traction, as affordability is stretched again. Interest rates cannot go any lower and could start rising if the US Federal Reserve continues to tighten. Regulatory authorities are looking to rein in overheated markets, with China only the latest to tighten borrowing requirements. The glory days are over.

Investing in property has one major benefit over stocks and shares – you can leverage up borrowing money to fund your purchase. Thereafter, the advantages are all one way. First, you can trade stocks online within seconds, whereas offloading property can take months (longer in a market crash). You can invest small amounts, rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds, euros, yen or renminbi you need to buy a decent property these days. If you buy an investment property you have the effort of doing up and maintaining it, finding tenants, and paying a host of local taxes. You don’t have any of that nonsense with stocks. Best of all, you can invest quickly and easily in a wide spread global stocks, sectors and markets.

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Greater fools and empty bags.

3 Cities Push Canada To Another Record On House Prices (HPo)

Home prices in Canada rose for the 15th straight month in a row in April, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index, which once again hit its highest levels ever. But virtually all the strength seen over the past year came from just three cities — Toronto, Hamilton and Victoria. The index, which tracks repeat sales of single-family homes over time, found Toronto led the way, with the price index rising 2.6% in April. The city has seen prices jump 7.3% since the start of the year, and 26.3% in the past 12 months. Nearby Hamilton, which is experiencing spillover from Toronto’s housing boom, saw its price index rise 2% in April and 23% over the past year. Vancouver, which as recently as a year ago was showing the fastest price growth in the country, is now showing signs of slowing.

The price index fell 0.1% in April, and compared to a year ago, prices are up 9.7%, slower than the national average of 13.4%. Many market experts say Vancouver’s foreign buyer tax has pushed buyers to other cities, including to Victoria, where the price index rose 1.5% in April, and 19% over the past year. “Based on the cooldown in home sales that began early last year, we expect the Vancouver growth rate to fall much lower over the next few months,” wrote David Madani, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics. But Madani expects Toronto to experience a similar cooling. He noted that the city saw a sudden, 30% spike in new home listings in April. That’s “further evidence that the surge in house price inflation is close to a peak and will drop back sharply before the end of this year,” he wrote in a client note.

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So far not so bad. But if the next generation of the attack has no killswitch that can be triggered, anything is possible.

Cyber Attack Aftershocks Disrupt Devices Across Asia (R.)

Asian governments and businesses reported some disruptions from the WannaCry ransomware worm on Monday but cybersecurity experts warned of a wider impact as more employees turned on their computers and checked e-mails. The ransomware that has locked up hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries has been mainly spread by e-mail, hitting factories, hospitals, shops and schools worldwide. While the effect on Asian entities appeared to be contained on Monday, industry professionals flagged potential risks as more systems came online across the region. Companies that were hit by the worm may be wary of making it public, they added.

“We’re looking at our victims’ profiles, we’re still seeing a lot of victims in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is a global campaign, it’s not targeted,” said Tim Wellsmore, Director of Threat Intelligence, Asia Pacific at cybersecurity firm FireEye. “But I don’t think we can say it hasn’t impacted this region to the extent it has some other regions.” Michael Gazeley, managing director of Network Box, a Hong Kong-based cybersecurity firm, said there were still “many ‘landmines’ waiting in people’s in-boxes” in the region, with most of the attacks having arrived via e-mail.

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Microsoft blames the NSA, and for good reason, but…

Lessons From Last Week’s Cyberattack (Microsoft)

[..] this attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action.

The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits. This is one reason we called in February for a new “Digital Geneva Convention” to govern these issues, including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them. And it’s why we’ve pledged our support for defending every customer everywhere in the face of cyberattacks, regardless of their nationality. This weekend, whether it’s in London, New York, Moscow, Delhi, Sao Paulo, or Beijing, we’re putting this principle into action and working with customers around the world.

We should take from this recent attack a renewed determination for more urgent collective action. We need the tech sector, customers, and governments to work together to protect against cybersecurity attacks. More action is needed, and it’s needed now. In this sense, the WannaCrypt attack is a wake-up call for all of us. We recognize our responsibility to help answer this call, and Microsoft is committed to doing its part.

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…Microsoft itself carries part of the blame as well. It doesn’t support XP, but does ask for a lot of money for patches.

The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? (NYT)

The attack was halted by a stroke of luck: the ransomware had a kill switch that a British employee in a cybersecurity firm managed to activate. Shortly after, Microsoft finally released for free the patch that they had been withholding from users that had not signed up for expensive custom support agreements. But the crisis is far from over. This particular vulnerability still lives in unpatched systems, and the next one may not have a convenient kill switch. While it is inevitable that software will have bugs, there are ways to make operating systems much more secure — but that costs real money.

While this particular bug affected both new and old versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, the older ones like XP have more critical vulnerabilities. This is partly because our understanding of how to make secure software has advanced over the years, and partly because of the incentives in the software business. Since most software is sold with an “as is” license, meaning the company is not legally liable for any issues with it even on day one, it has not made much sense to spend the extra money and time required to make software more secure quickly. Indeed, for many years, Facebook’s mantra for its programmers was “move fast and break things.”

[..] If I have painted a bleak picture, it is because things are bleak. Our software evolves by layering new systems on old, and that means we have constructed entire cities upon crumbling swamps. And we live on the fault lines where more earthquakes are inevitable. All the key actors have to work together, and fast. First, companies like Microsoft should discard the idea that they can abandon people using older software. The money they made from these customers hasn’t expired; neither has their responsibility to fix defects. Besides, Microsoft is sitting on a cash hoard estimated at more than $100 billion (the result of how little tax modern corporations pay and how profitable it is to sell a dominant operating system under monopolistic dynamics with no liability for defects).

At a minimum, Microsoft clearly should have provided the critical update in March to all its users, not just those paying extra. Indeed, “pay extra money to us or we will withhold critical security updates” can be seen as its own form of ransomware. In its defense, Microsoft probably could point out that its operating systems have come a long way in security since Windows XP, and it has spent a lot of money updating old software, even above industry norms. However, industry norms are lousy to horrible, and it is reasonable to expect a company with a dominant market position, that made so much money selling software that runs critical infrastructure, to do more.

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tick tick tick.

Peak China: Chinese Data Misses Across The Board (ZH)

Following months of warnings that China’s economy is slowing down as a result of not only a collapse in China’s credit impulse but also tighter monetary conditions, as well as rolling over loan growth which has pressured both CPI and PPI – i.e., the global “reflation trade” – as the following chart from Bloomberg’s David Ingels shows…

… and culminating over the weekend with a warning in no uncertain terms from Citi, which said that at least four key economic indicators are “starting to wave red flags” among which:
• The Markit PMI is starting to turn over
• China’s Inflation Surprise Index – a leading indicator to global inflation metric – has posted a recent sharp drop
• China’s import trade has likewise tumbled after surging recently
• Chinese Iron Ore imports into Qingado port have plunged

… moments ago China’s National Bureau of Statistics validated the mounting fears, when it reported misses across all key economic categories for the month of April, as follows:
• Retail Sales 10.7% Y/Y, Exp. 10.8%, Last 10.9%
• Fixed Asset Investment 8.9% Y/Y, Exp. 9.1%, Last 9.2%
• Industrial Output 6.5% Y/Y, Exp. 7.0%, Last 7.6%
• Industrial Production YTD 6.7% Y/Y, Exp. 6.9%, Last 6.8%

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Big meeting, Putin, Erdogan et al, but not India, US, Germany and more. Shaky.

Why India Is Cool Towards China’s Belt And Road (SCMP)

It is one of the most imaginative and ambitious programmes ever to be rolled out by a government. It represents a broad strategy for China’s economic cooperation and expanded presence in Asia, Africa and Europe, and has been presented as a win-win initiative for all participating nations. But for India, the connotations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative” are somewhat different. A flagship programme and the most advanced component of the initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a region that belongs to India and is under the control of Pakistan. As a country acutely conscious of its own sovereignty-related claims, China should have no difficulty in appreciating India’s sensitivities in this regard.

While investment in the Gwadar port, roads and energy projects is reported to have increased from US$46 billion to US$55 billion, CPEC lacks economic justification for China and its geopolitical drivers cause legitimate anxieties in India. The Belt and Road plan is a practical economic strategy for China’s objectives to connect the region, seek new growth engines for its slowing economy, utilise its surplus capacity, and develop and stabilise its western regions. It may also bring benefits to partner countries. However, it also has a strategic and political agenda which remains opaque. Apart from the CPEC, India also has misgivings about the manner in which the Belt and Road Initiative is being pursued in its neighbourhood. For instance, the development of ports under Chinese operational control as part of the Maritime Silk Road strategy has raised concerns in India which need to be addressed.

India has repeatedly conveyed its strong objections regarding the CPEC to China. The Belt and Road plan is a Chinese initiative rather than a multilateral enterprise undertaken after prior consultation with potential partner countries, and India has not endorsed it. There is an expectation in India that China will take India’s sensitivities into account while formulating its plans. Clearly, there is room for closer consultations between China and India on the objectives, contours and future directions of the Belt and Road. However, India has considered synergy-based cooperation on a case-by-case basis, where its interests for regional development converge with that of other countries, including China.

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India’s right, the Silk road is financed with Monopoly money.

China’s Silk Road Summit: India Skips, Warns Of “Unsustainable Debt” (ZH)

Alas, the meticulously scripted plan to showcase China’s growing economic and trade dominance did not go off quite as smoothly as Xi had planned. First, just hours before the summit opened, North Korea launched its latest ballistic missile, provoking Beijing and further testing the patience of China, its chief ally. Ironically, the United States had complained to China on Friday over the inclusion of a North Korean delegation at the event. Then, in a sign that China’s rampant, credit-fuelled growth is making some just a little uncomfortable, some Western diplomats expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally according to Reuters. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign firms to the scheme.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said Canberra was receptive to exploring commercial opportunities China’s new Silk Road presented, but any decisions would remain incumbent on national interest. Responding to criticism, Xi said that “China is willing to share its development experience with all countries” and added “we will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society and development model, and even more will not impose our views on others.” But the biggest surprise was India, the world’s fastest growing nation and the second most populous in the world, which did not even bother to send an official delegation to Beijing and instead criticised China’s global initiative, warning of an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, asked whether New Delhi was participating in the summit, said “India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty.” India is incensed that one of the key Belt and Road projects passes through Kashmir and Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region, Reuters notes. “No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Baglay said. Furthermore, he also warned of the danger of debt. One of the criticisms of the Silk Road plan is that host countries may struggle to pay back loans for huge infrastructure projects being carried out and funded by Chinese companies and banks. “Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

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Really, Brussels, Washington, you think it’s a good idea to let China buy up Greece? No security jiggers at all?

Number of Chinese Tourists Visiting Greece to Rise 10-Fold (BBG)

Fosun International, the Chinese conglomerate that’s part of a venture to transform the former Athens airport site into one of the biggest real-estate projects in Europe, is now turning its attention to Greek tourism. Fosun wants to use its stake in tour operator Thomas Cook to start building vacation packages specifically for the vast Chinese market, Senior Vice President Jim Jiannong Qian said in a May 4 interview in Athens. The Chinese government predicts 1.5 million of its citizens will start vacationing in Greece in the medium term. Tourism accounted for over one-quarter of Greece’s GDP in 2016, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation. Visitor numbers in 2016 reached 28.1 million, up 7.6% from 2015. Tourists generated €13.2 billion in travel receipts, according to the Bank of Greece. Of these travelers, 150,000 came from China, Beijing says.

“Greece is a very safe place for visitors,” said Qian who is also president of Fosun’s Tourism and Commercial Group. There are also good opportunities for tourism investments in Greece, he said. Fosun is in discussions to buy existing hotels and resorts, or for the construction of new ones, in Greece by its fully owned portfolio company Club Med. An increase in Chinese visitors to Greece would eventually lead to direct flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Athens, Qian said. The 54 year-old Qian said the situation in Greece has changed since the company first invested in Athens-based luxury goods retailer Folli Follie Group in 2011. “Greece’s economy is recovering now and can also deliver very good opportunities for foreign investors,” he said. “We look at the figures from retail sales and of the tourism sector,” and see the improvement.

Fosun, which manages €64.3 billion in total assets globally, has invested more than €200 million in Greece through its direct holding in Folli Follie and indirectly through Thomas Cook and Club Med, Qian said. “If you can help the economy grow, for example if we have the package product for Greece, then we create more jobs for restaurants, for retail stores, for taxi drivers.” The company, the biggest private Chinese company that invests in Europe, owns German lender Hauck & Aufhaeuser and Portuguese insurance company Fidelidade, and doesn’t rule out an investment in the Greek banking sector if an opportunity arises in the future, Qian said, refuting reports that the group has already made a bid to acquire shares in Greek banks. Fosun has already placed a bid for the acquisition of National Bank of Greece’s insurance unit National Insurance, and according to Qian, has no money ceiling when it comes to investments, as long as the opportunity is worth it.

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Rerouted trips to Greece?

New Zealand Slashes Chinese Tourism Forecast, Denting Outlook (BBG)

New Zealand has slashed its forecast for Chinese tourist spending over the next six years, denting growth expectations for its biggest foreign-exchange earner. Spending by Chinese tourists will rise to NZ$3.73 billion ($2.5 billion) by 2022 from NZ$1.65 billion last year, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s latest annual forecasts. That’s 30% less than the NZ$5.32 billion expected in last year’s projections. “There is significant geopolitical risk around the China market,” the ministry said in the report, published Friday, adding that indicators like early-2017 visa approvals were “suggesting a short-term slowing in the market.” The downward revision indicates overall revenue from tourists won’t grow as quickly as previously expected, and that Australia will remain the biggest source of tourist dollars until 2021. Last year, officials forecast China would take the top ranking in 2017.

Tourism, which last year overtook dairy as New Zealand’s top export, has been growing faster than expected. Visitor numbers surged to 3.5 million in 2016, four years sooner than had been envisaged in 2014, and are projected to jump to 4.9 million by 2023. Still, the uncertainty around China “adds some risk to both China’s and the national forecast numbers,” the ministry said in its latest report. The slower forecast trajectory for Chinese spending growth reflects fewer visitors and less spending per day than projected 12 months ago. Arrivals from China are expected to reach 812,000 in 2022. That’s less than the 921,000 estimated in last year’s report. Average spending per day is forecast to be NZ$343 in 2022 rather than the NZ$394 estimated a year ago. As a result, total foreign visitor spending will rise to NZ$15.3 billion in 2023, according to the forecasts. The 2016 prediction was that spending would rise to NZ$16 billion by 2022.

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As if we needed any more evidence that credibility is the least of their worries.

Fed Officials Test New Argument for Tightening: Protect the Poor (BBG)

To protect the poorest Americans, should central bankers raise interest rates faster? At least one of them is making that argument. During a speech last month, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George said she was “not as enthusiastic or encouraged as some when I see inflation moving higher” because “inflation is a tax and those least able to afford it generally suffer the most.” She was referring in particular to rental inflation, which she said could continue rising if the Fed doesn’t take steps to tighten monetary conditions. And while the idea of inflation as a tax that hits the poor the hardest is not a new one, its role in the current debate over what to do with interest rates marks a bit of a twist from recent years.

Widening disparities in income and wealth have over the past several years permeated national politics and helped fuel the rise of populist movements around the developed world. Against this backdrop, there has been a growing body of research, some of it produced by economists at central banks, backing the idea that easier monetary policy tends to be more progressive. That work, set against the notion that a stricter approach toward containing inflation has the best interests of the lowest-income members of society at heart, is thrusting Fed policy makers toward the center of a debate they usually like to leave to politicians. It’s becoming more contentious as Fed officials seek to declare victory on their goal of maximum employment even while the percentage of prime working-age Americans who currently have jobs is still nowhere close to the peaks of the previous two economic expansions.

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“The company, with the unfortunate Toronto Ticker “BAD”..”

Marc Cohodes, The Scourge Of Home Capital, Reveals His Latest Short (ZH)

Having single-handedly hounded Home Capital Group – the company which we predicted in 2015 would be “ground zero” for any potential Canadian financial crisis, and has emerged as the Canada’s equivalent to the infamous New Century which in 2007 presaged the upcoming global financial crisis – into near oblivion, noted chicken-farmer and short-seller, Marc Cohodes, over the weekend revealed the full details behind his latest short thesis: Canadian oil and gas service provider, Badger Daylighting. Badger, for those unfamiliar, is a company which uses a technique called hydrovac excavation, in which pressurized water and a powerful vacuum are used to expose buried pipes and cables. The company, with the unfortunate Toronto Ticker “BAD”, already had a bad day on Friday when it revealed earnings and revenues that badly missed consensus expectations.

Insult was added to injury after Cohodes, who most recently gained prominence for his short bet on Home Capital Group, previewed pages of a negative presentation on Badger to his Twitter feed Friday, saying that the shares are overvalued and that there are low barriers to entry. As a result, BAD shares plunged as much as 28% to C$22 in Toronto, the biggest intraday decline since November 2006, after previously dropping 4.8% YTD. To be sure, on Friday Badger CEO Paul Vanderberg, without in depth knowledge of Cohodes’ thesis, responded to Cohodes saying “my focus on that is really not to focus on it” during the earnings call and adding that “I don’t agree with the thesis.” Obviously, especially since neither he nor anyone else had seen or read it.

Chief Financial Officer Jerry Schiefelbein also responded, saying Badger is working to train new workers and managers on how to operate more efficiently, which should help reduce costs. He said the company’s first-quarter sales were “pretty good” following a couple of tough years. As for Cohodes’ criticism about low barriers to entry, Schiefelbein was quoted by Bloomberg saying tat Badger’s size gives it an advantage over mom-and-pop shops that would seek to compete with the company. Badger can tackle bigger projects for municipalities, has safety systems that larger customers require and it can move assets to markets where there is more demand, he said. “It’s not just digging holes in the ground.”

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Only interesting if his French backers want something Germany doesn’t. But then they all want the eurozone.

Eyes on Euro Fighter Macron (K.)

Macron has taken over from Francois Hollande hoping to reform not just his own country but the euro as well. “We must collectively recognize that the euro is incomplete and cannot last without major reforms,” he said during a speech at Humboldt University in Berlin this January. “It has not provided Europe with a full international sovereignty against the dollar on its rules, it has not provided Europe with a natural convergence between the different member-states.” The centrist politician warned that without reform the euro may be obsolete in 10 years. He has proposed a series of changes to improve the single currency, with the centerpiece being a budget for the eurozone that will be monitored by the European Parliament and backed by borrowing capacity so that it can finance investments, provide emergency loans via the European Stability Mechanism and help eurozone members if they suffer significant economic shocks.

Macron has also suggested the pooling of debt in the eurozone through the issuing of eurobonds, which are anathema to German conservatives. “The establishment of this budget will have to come with a convergence agenda for the eurozone, an anti-dumping agenda that will set common rules for fiscal and social matters,” added Macron in a message to his German hosts that proceeded to become clearer during his speech. “In a monetary union, a country’s success cannot be sustainably achieved to the detriment of another, which is a limit of the competitiveness approach, because competitiveness is always about comparing yourself with a neighbor,” he said. “The difficulties of one are always the problems of all.” Although Macron admits that France must carry out its own labor, market and education reforms and respect fiscal targets, his words are a direct attempt to overturn the logic and policy that has dictated the eurozone’s response to its crises since 2010 and to shape how its overall approach will evolve from this point onward.

In doing so, Macron is taking the fight to Germany, which previous French presidents failed to do. “When you look at the situation, the dysfunctioning of the euro is good news for Germany, I have to say. You benefit from this dysfunctioning,” he told his audience in Berlin. “[The] euro today is a sort of weak Deutschmark, which favors the German industry,” he added. These are views that have rarely been aired publicly by key players in the eurozone and it is little surprise that the initial response from Berlin was to suggest that Macron has enough on his plate at home to be focusing on euro reform. “German support cannot replace French policymaking,” was Merkel’s first comment on the subject after Macron comfortably won last Sunday’s vote in France.

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But Schäuble on Friday said transfers were needed. You need a fiscal union to make that work.

Germany Will Not Rush Into Euro Area Fiscal Union (CNBC)

Now what? “More Europe” say those who believe that problems were caused by an inadequate integration process that allowed policy mistakes by incompetent national governments. To avoid similar mistakes in the future, they are now urging a unified fiscal policy to complete the monetary union. That is what the French call the “fuite en avant” – a semiotic delight roughly translated as fleeing from an unsolvable problem. Here is what that problem looks like: The fiscal union implies a euro area federal state with a common management of public finances. The area’s budget, public debt financing, tax policies, transfer payments, etc. would be managed by a euro area finance ministry. That would also require harmonization of labor, health care and education policies, and a whole range of other social welfare programs. Institutionally, this integration drive cannot stop at the finance ministry. There would also have to be a euro area executive and legislative authority to exercise administrative and democratic controls over tax and spend decisions.

[..] How could Germany, with a budget surplus last year of 0.8% of GDP and the public debt of 68.3% of GDP, accept a fiscal union with Spain running the euro area’s largest budget deficit of 4.5% of GDP and a public debt of 100% of GDP? France and Italy have similar public finance profiles. Last year, France had a second-largest euro area budget deficit of 3.4% of GDP and a public debt of 96% of GDP. During the same period, Italy ran a budget deficit of 2.4% of GDP and a public debt of 133% of GDP. This means that half of the euro area economy (France, Italy and Spain), with serious structural problems of public finances, would become part of a de-facto federal state with a fiscally sound Germany. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? And yet, that’s the program that the new French President Emmanuel Macron will apparently discuss Monday when he visits German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

France, Italy and Spain already know the answer. Chancellor Merkel is relieved and delighted that the most dangerous anti-EU parties in France and The Netherlands lost the recent elections, but her government is firmly opposed to the euro area fiscal union. German public opinion fully shares that position. And German media of all political stripes are having a field day lampooning the idea that German taxpayers should be asked to pay for countries that cannot control their debts and deficits. This is also an awkward moment to even talk about the call on the German public purse while the country is gearing up for general elections on Sept. 24, 2017. The best that Germany can offer, under these circumstances, is a strict enforcement of existing euro area fiscal rules: Budget deficits limited to 3% of GDP and the gross public debt to 60% of GDP. About half of the euro area members are now falling far short of these criteria.

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Will the rich world ever come clean? No.

What Germany Owes Namibia For Genocide (Econ)

On October 2nd 1904 General Lothar von Trotha issued what is now notorious as “the extermination order” to wipe out the Herero tribe in what was then German South West Africa, now Namibia. “Within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot,” his edict read. During the next few months it was just about carried out. Probably four-fifths of the Herero people, women and children included, perished one way or another, though the survivors’ descendants now number 200,000-plus in a total Namibian population, scattered across a vast and mainly arid land, of 2.3m. The smaller Nama tribe, which also rose up against the Germans, was sorely afflicted too, losing perhaps a third of its people, in prison camps or in the desert into which they had been chased.

A variety of German politicians have since acknowledged their country’s burden of guilt, even uttering the dread word “genocide”, especially in the wake of the centenary in 2004. But recent negotiations between the two countries’ governments over how to settle the matter, the wording of an apology and material compensation are becoming fraught. Namibia’s 16,000 or so ethnic Germans, still prominent if not as dominant as they once were in business and farming, are twitchy. The matter is becoming even more messy because, while the German and Namibian governments set about negotiation, some prominent Herero and Nama figures say they should be directly and separately involved—and have embarked on a class-action case in New York under the Alien Tort Statute, which lets a person of any nationality sue in an American court for violations of international law, such as genocide and expropriation of property without compensation.

The main force behind the New York case, Vekuii Rukoro, a former Namibian attorney-general, demands that any compensation should go directly to the Herero and Nama peoples, whereas the Namibian government, dominated by the far more numerous Ovambo people in northern Namibia, who were barely touched by the wars of 1904-07 and lost no land, says it should be handled by the government on behalf of all Namibians. The Namibian government’s amiable chief negotiator, Zedekia Ngavirue, himself a Nama, has been castigated by some of Mr Rukoro’s team as a sell-out. “Tribalism is rearing its ugly head,” says the finance minister, who happens to be an ethnic German.

The German government says it cannot be sued in court for crimes committed more than a century ago because the UN’s genocide convention was signed only in 1948. “Bullshit,” says Jürgen Zimmerer, a Hamburg historian who backs the genocide claim and says the German government is making a mess of things. “They think only like lawyers, not about the moral and political question.” “None of the then existing laws was broken,” says a senior German official. “Maybe that’s morally unsatisfactory but it’s the legal position,” he adds.

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May 132017
 
 May 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Subway Steps New York 1943

 

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)
UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)
Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)
$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)
The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)
US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)
Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)
EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)
A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)
Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)
Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)
Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)
China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)
Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)
IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

 

 

Edward Snowden @Snowden: “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.”

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)

Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain’s public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere. The attacks amounted to an audacious global blackmail attempt spread by the internet and underscored the vulnerabilities of the digital age. Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in – with a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met.

By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, according to security firms tracking the spread. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa.[..] The hackers’ weapon of choice on Friday was Wanna Decryptor, a new variant of the WannaCry ransomware, which encrypts victims’ data, locks them out of their systems and demands ransoms. Researchers said the impact and speed of Friday’s attacks had not been seen in nearly a decade, when the Conficker computer worm infected millions of government, business and personal computers in more than 190 countries, threatening to overpower the computer networks that controlled health care, air traffic and banking systems over the course of several weeks.

One reason the ransomware on Friday was able to spread so quickly was that the stolen N.S.A. hacking tool, known as “Eternal Blue,” affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Hours after the Shadow Brokers released the tool last month, Microsoft assured users that it had already included a patch for the underlying vulnerability in a software update in March. But Microsoft, which regularly credits researchers who discover holes in its products, curiously would not say who had tipped the company off to the issue. Many suspected that the United States government itself had told Microsoft, after the N.S.A. realized that its hacking method exploiting the vulnerability had been stolen.

Privacy activists said if that were the case, the government would be to blame for the fact that so many companies were left vulnerable to Friday’s attacks. It takes time for companies to roll out systemwide patches, and by notifying Microsoft of the hole only after the N.S.A.’s hacking tool was stolen, activists say the government would have left many hospitals, businesses and governments susceptible. “It would be deeply troubling if the N.S.A. knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Friday. “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.”

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Don’t just blame the hospitals. Blame the government that squeezes them so dry they have to choose patients over computers.

UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)

Britain’s National Health Service ignored numerous warnings over the last year that many of its computer systems were outdated and unprotected from the type of devastating cyberattack it suffered on Friday. The attack caused some hospitals to stop accepting patients, doctor’s offices to shut down, emergency rooms to divert patients, and critical operations to be canceled as a decentralized system struggled to cope. At some hospitals, nurses could not even print out name tags for newborn babies. At the Royal London Hospital, in east London, George Popescu, a 23-year-old hotel cook, showed up with a forehead injury. “My head is pounding and they say they can’t see me,” he said. “They said their computers weren’t working. You don’t expect this in a big city like London.”

In a statement on Friday, the N.H.S. said its inquiry into the attack was in its early phases but that “at this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.” Many of the N.H.S. computers still run Windows XP, an out-of-date software that no longer gets security updates from its maker, Microsoft. A government contract with Microsoft to update the software for the N.H.S. expired two years ago. Microsoft discontinued the security updates for Windows XP in 2014. It made a patch, or fix, available in newer versions of Windows for the flaws that were exploited in Friday’s cyberattacks. But the health service does not seem to have installed either the newer version of Windows or the patch.

“Historically, we’ve known that N.H.S. uses computers running old versions of Windows that Microsoft itself no longer supports and says is a security risk,” said Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert in Oxford, England. “And even on the newest computers, they would have needed to apply the patch released in March. Clearly that did not happen, or the malware wouldn’t have spread this fast.” Just this month, a parliamentary research briefing noted that cyberattacks were viewed as one of the top threats facing Britain. The push to make medical records systems more interconnected might also make the system more vulnerable to attack. Britain plans to digitize all patient records by 2020.

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The anti-Trump battle will be fought with financial weapons. And the Donald is walking into that trap.

Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)

Yesterday I said the Donald was absolutely right in canning the insufferable James Comey, but that he has also has stepped on a terminal political land-mine. And he did. That’s because the entire Russian meddling and collusion narrative is a ridiculous, evidence-free attempt to re-litigate the last election. And now that the powers that be have all the justification they need. And what is already an irrational witch-hunt will be quickly turned into a scorched-earth assault on a sitting president. I have no idea how this will play out, but as a youthful witness to history back in 1973-1974 I observed Tricky Dick’s demise in daily slow motion. But the most memorable part of the saga was how incredibly invincible Nixon seemed in early 1973. Nixon started his second term, in fact, with a massive electoral landslide, strong public opinion polls and a completely functioning government and cabinet.

Even more importantly, he was still basking in the afterglow of his smashing 1972 foreign policy successes in negotiating detente and the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty with Brezhnev and then the historic opening to China on his Beijing trip. So I’ll take the unders from anyone who gives the Donald even the 19 months that Nixon survived. After all, Trump lost the popular vote, is loathed by official Washington, barely has a functioning cabinet and is a whirling dervish of disorder, indiscipline and unpredictability. To be sure, the terms of the Donald’s eventual exit from the Imperial City will ultimately by finalized by the 46th President in waiting, Mike Pence. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: Between now and then, there is not a snow ball’s chance in the hot place that Donald’s severance package will include the ballyhooed Trump Tax Cut and Fiscal Stimulus.

Markets slipped today because of carnage in the retail sector (which I’ve been warning readers about). But these fantasies are apparently still “priced-in” to a market that has now become just plain stupid. What is surely coming down the pike after the Comey firing, however, is just the opposite. That is, Washington will soon become a three-ring circus of investigations of Russia-gate and the “hidden” reasons for Trump’s action. The Imperial City will get embroiled in bitter partisan warfare and the splintering of the GOP between its populist and establishment wings. In that context, what passes for “governance” will be reduced to a moveable Fiscal Bloodbath that cycles between debt ceiling showdowns and short-term continuing resolution extensions.

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The swamp that can’t be drained without causing explosions.

$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)

Economists at the New York Fed included this gem in their report on a two-day conference on “Derivatives and Regulatory Changes” since the Financial Crisis: “Though the notional amount [of derivatives] outstanding has declined in recent years, at more than $500 trillion outstanding, OTC derivatives remain an important asset class.” An important asset class. A hilarious understatement. Let’s see… the “notional amount” of $500 trillion is 25 times the GDP of the US and about 7 times global GDP. Derivatives are not just an “important asset class,” like bonds; they’re the largest “financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003.

Derivatives are used for hedging economic risks. And they’re used as “speculative directional exposures” – very risky one-sided bets. It’s all tied together in an immense and opaque market interwoven with the banks. The New York Fed: The 2007-09 financial crisis highlighted weaknesses in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets and the increased risk of contagion due to the interconnectedness of market participants in these markets. This chart from the New York Fed shows how derivatives ballooned 150% – or by $360 trillion – in less than four years before the Financial Crisis. They ticked down during the Financial Crisis, then rose again during the Fed’s QE to peak at $700 trillion. After the end of QE, they declined, but recently ticked up again to $500 trillion. I added in red the Warren Buffett moment:

The vast majority of the derivatives are interest rate and credit contracts (dark blue). Banks specialize in that. For example, according to the OCC’s Q4 2016 Report on Derivatives, JPMorgan Chase holds $47.5 trillion of derivatives at notional value and Citibank $43.9 trillion. The top 25 US banks hold $164.7 trillion, or 8.5 times US GDP. So even a minor squiggle could trigger some serious heartburn.

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Try use “normal” and “derivatives” in one sentence and put on a straight face.

The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)

Since 2009, there has been ongoing discussion of the size & composition of major central bank balance sheets (I’m focusing on the Federal Reserve Bank, European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan) but little discussion of why these institutions felt (and continue to feel) compelled to “buy” assets. The chart below highlights the ongoing collective explosion of these bank “assets” since 2009 after a previous period of relative stability. These institutions clearly have the capability and willingness to digitally conjure “money” from nothing and have felt compelled to remove over $10 trillion worth of assets from the markets since 2009. This swap of illiquid assets for liquid cash had (and continues to have) the effect of squeezing the prices of the remaining assets higher (more money chasing fewer assets=price appreciation).

A prime example of that squeeze, the US stock market total valuation (represented by the Wilshire 5000, below) is $10 trillion higher than the “bubble” peak of 2008…and $11 trillion higher than the 2001 “bubble” peak. Likewise, US federal debt since 2008 has increased by…you guessed it, $10 trillion. The narrative seems to be that 2009 was a one off event and that the central banks role was and still is to “stabilize” the situation until things “normalize”. But right there…that idea that 2009 was a “one-off” or “abnormal” couldn’t be more wrong. So what is “normal” growth, at least from a consumption standpoint? Normal is never the same twice…it is ever changing and must be constantly rediscovered.

To determine “normal” growth in consumption, all we need do is figure the change in the quantity of consumers (annual population growth) and the quality of those consumers (their earnings, savings, and utilization of credit). The chart below details the ever changing “normal” that is the annual change in the under 65yr/old global population broken down by wealthy consuming nations (blue line) and the rest of the (generally poor) world (red line). The natural rate of growth in consumption has been declining ever since 1988 (persistently less growth in the population on a year over year basis)…but central banks and central governments have substituted interest rate cuts and un-repayable debt to maintain an unnaturally high consumption growth rate.

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If we don’t put a stop to this, we have no chance. This is where it all begins and ends.

US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh. The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. “We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit. The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs. The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.” The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

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How many executives in jail, you said?

Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)

Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts, far more than previously estimated, according to lawyers seeking approval of a $142 million settlement over the practice. The new estimate was provided in a filing late Thursday night in the federal court in San Francisco, and is 1.4 million accounts higher than previously reported by federal regulators, in what became a national scandal. Keller Rohrback, a law firm for the plaintiff customers, said the higher estimate reflects “public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery.” The Seattle-based firm also said the number “may well be over-inclusive, but provides a reasonable basis on which to estimate a maximum recovery.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez in an email said the new estimate was “based on a hypothetical scenario” and unverified, and did not reflect “actual unauthorized accounts.” Nonetheless, it could complicate Wells Fargo’s ability to win approval for the settlement, which has drawn opposition from some customers and lawyers who consider it too small. “This adds more credence to the fact there is not enough information to assess whether the settlement is fair and adequate,” Lewis Garrison, a partner at Heninger Garrison Davis in Birmingham, Alabama who represents some objecting customers, said in an interview. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco is scheduled to consider preliminary approval at a May 18 hearing. The accounts scandal mushroomed after Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million in penalties to settle charges by authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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They better be thorough, or individual countries must each formulate their own responses.

EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice on May 11 could prevent people from using or working for services such as Uber and Airbnb. The opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice follows a case that has been brought by Spanish taxi drivers against the ride sharing service Uber. It found that Uber should be regulated like a transportation company, not as an “information society service”. If the opinion is upheld, these services could be required to apply for specific licences or be restricted in number as is the case with taxis in various European cities in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

The court is slated to deliver a final ruling on whether Uber should be classified as a transport company or as a passive internet intermediary, in the coming months. Usually, the judges follow the opinion of the Advocate General. It remains to be seen whether the case will impact other so-called sharing economy services as Airbnb. Speaking after the opinion was issued, Dan Dalton, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) spokesman on the EU internal market said: “The opinion given today has huge implications for innovative, consumer driven digital services all across Europe… It is right that there are safeguards for consumers, but applying analogue era regulation to the digital world only strangles innovation and entrenches privileged monopolies.”

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Beppe always had one goal first: get rid of corruption. The WSJ can talk all it wants about M5S teething problems, but there are bigger issues here.

A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)

Europe’s establishment breathed a sigh of relief after the pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president this week. But another populist storm is brewing in Italy, where the euroskeptic 5 Star Movement has remained strong. Fueled by discontent with slow growth, high unemployment and disillusionment with mainstream politicians, 5-Star has won local elections in Rome, Turin and elsewhere, partly on the strength of its leaders’ call for a referendum on Italy’s use of the European single currency. Pollsters say about 30% of Italian voters support the movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, a level of popularity that has stood firm despite a series of high-profile stumbles, especially by its mayor in Rome.

The self-described association of free citizens has replaced the center-left Democratic Party at the top of most polls ahead of national elections to be held by May 2018. Now, the group that has flouted the rules of the game for establishment parties in Italy is experiencing growing pains as it prepares for the possibility of taking power. The prospect of Mr. Grillo and his supporters winning and forming a government has made investors nervous and pushed up yields on Italian bonds in recent months. On Friday, the spread between Italian and German 10-year sovereign bond yields was 1.85 percentage points, nearly five times the corresponding spread between French and German bonds.

Mr. Grillo and 5 Star waged a successful campaign to block constitutional changes sought by former Democratic Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, effectively forcing him from office in December. Since then, a caretaker government has run Italy. The movement has vowed to institute tougher anticorruption laws and deliver a minimum guaranteed income for all working-age and retired Italians if it emerges from upcoming elections as head of a minority government or in a governing coalition with other euroskeptic parties.

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There is no support for a beefed up EU or eurozone. Besides, Macron will be fighting the unions over the summer.

Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France. After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip. The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said. Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions. He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office. Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.

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Jim waxes nostalgic on Nixon.

Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)

I remember that sweaty August day that he threw in the towel. (I was a young newspaper reporter when newspapers still mattered.) It was pretty much a national orgasm. “NIXON RESIGNS!” the headlines screamed. A moment later he was on the gangway into the helicopter for the last time. Enter, stage right, the genial Gerald Ford…. Forgive me for getting caught up in the very nostalgia I castigate. And now here we are in the mere early months of Trumptopia about to hit the replay button on a televised inquisition. In my humble opinion, Donald Trump is a far more troubling personality than Tricky Dick ever was, infantile, narcissistic, at times verging on psychotic, but the RussiaGate story looks pretty flimsy. At this point, after about ten months of NSA-FBI investigation, nothing conclusive has turned up about Trump’s people “colluding” with Russia to gain unfair advantage in the election against You-Know-Who.

Former NSA chief James Clapper has publicly stated twice in no uncertain terms that there’s no evidence to support the allegations (so far). And there remains the specter of the actual content of the “collusion” — conveniently ignored by the so-called “Resistance” and its water-carriers at The New York Times — the hacked emails that evince all kinds of actual misbehavior by Secretary of State HRC and the DNC. The General Mike Flynn episode seems especially squishy, since it is the routine duty of incoming foreign affairs officials to check in with the ambassador corps in Washington. Why do you think nations send ambassadors to other countries? The upshot of all this will be a political circus for the rest of the year and the abandonment of any real business in government, at a moment in history when some very weighty black swans circle above the clouds waiting to crash land. Enjoy the histrionics if you dare, and pay no attention to collapsing economy as it all plays out.

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Draghi need to buy Greek bonds, and bring down those rates.

Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)

Greece is considering tapping the capital markets for the first time in three years. Let’s hope its second attempt to regain market access goes more smoothly for investors than its first. A bond sale in July or September is being considered – if a deal on debt relief is reached, and the ECB adds Greek debt to the shopping list of securities it can buy through its quantitative easing program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The news comes as the U.S. presses European officials to ease Greece’s debt burden at informal talks during the Group of Seven gathering currently taking place in Italy.Investors can be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu.In April 2014, Greece sold €3 billion of 4.75% bonds repayable in 2019 in its first issue for almost four years.

The country had sought to raise €2.5 billion; orders from more than 550 investors, though, exceeded €20 billion, and, five months later, the bond was increased by a further €1 billion. The then PM Antonis Samaras called the sale “one more decisive step toward exiting the crisis.”Except … it turned out Greece was about to get worse, not better. The day after the sale, the price of the bonds slipped by a bit more than half a point. By the end of the year, they’d lost almost 20% of their value. And by the middle of 2015, they slumped to as low as 40% of face value as the government was forced to introduce capital controls in an effort to stanch the flood of money leaving the country’s banking system. The bond price recovered as the Greek government dropped its defiance against the terms demanded by its lenders, implemented pension and labor market reforms and accelerated the sale of government assets.

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Does Brussels really want China to buy up Greece?

China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the prime minister of deeply indebted Greece strong support on Saturday, saying the two countries should expand cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. Xi told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece was an important part in China’s new Silk Road strategy. “At present, China and Greece’s traditional friendship and cooperation continues to glow with new dynamism,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying. Cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications should be “deep and solid”, Xi added, without giving details. Tsipras is in Beijing to attend a summit to promote Xi’s vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment called the Belt and Road initiative.

Greek infrastructure development group Copelouzos has signed a deal with China’s Shenhua Group to cooperate in green energy projects and the upgrade of power plants in Greece and other countries, the Greek company said on Friday. The deal will involve total investment of €3 billion, Copelouzos said in a statement, without providing further details. China has been investing heavily in Greece in recent years. Its biggest shipping company, COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority last year under a plan to turn Greece into a transhipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Asia and Eastern Europe. Xi said China and Greece should focus their efforts on turning the Piraeus port into an important international transhipment hub and key part of the new Silk Road, the Chinese ministry said.

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Yanis says Greece’s future is Kosovo, Steve Keen said Somalia. They’re both right.

Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)

In an interview Friday on Skai TV, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit out at his erstwhile government colleagues, accusing both his successor Euclid Tsakalotos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of giving in to the country’s international creditors. “There is no new agreement, just a new surrender,” he said of the latest deal with Greece’s lenders. “The first memorandum burned Papandreou, the second Samaras, the third Tsipras. The fourth will require a new prime minister,” he said. As for Greece’s prospects, his prediction was bleak. “We will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Never seen a more broken record.

IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

The IMF and eurozone government lenders need more time to reach an agreement on debt relief for Greece because the eurozone is still not sufficiently clear in its intentions, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday. Top eurozone officials and Lagarde met on Friday morning to discuss debt relief for Athens which eurozone finance ministers, or the Eurogroup, promised in May 2016, but under strict conditions. “We will carry on working on this debt relief package. There is not enough clarity yet. Our European partners need to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an imperative,” Lagarde told reporters in the city of Bari in Italy. German Finance Ministers Wolfgang Schaeuble, also at the meeting of the G7 advanced economies in Bari, asked if he would be prepared to ease the conditions for debt relief, said: “We are prepared to stick to what we have agreed in May 2016. That is the basis on which we are working … I am still in favor of getting a solution, at least a political solution, in the Eurogroup on the 22nd of May.”

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Apr 152017
 
 April 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Copenhagen 1965

 

US Urges China to Open Trade After Sparing It Manipulator Tag (BBG)
US: China, Germany Must Do More To Cut Trade Surpluses (AFP)
China Shadow Banking Rebounds In March, Household Loans Surge (R.)
Record High US Multi-Family Construction Set To Wreak Havoc On Rents (ZH)
Falling US Retail Sales Cast Doubt On Further Fed Interest Rate Rise (G.)
Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around The World (IC)
Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Hacked SWIFT, Global Bank Transfers (R.)
The ‘Smoking-Gun’ Quote On The Recent Syrian Gas-Attack (Zuesse)
US Insurers Sue Saudis for $4.2 Billion Over 9/11 (TAM)
Understanding Land Value Taxation (Walker)
Le Pen Ready to Be ‘Crucified’ for France (BBG)
French Prosecutors Seek To Lift Le Pen Immunity Over Expenses Inquiry (AFP)
More Than 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Dramatic Day In Mediterranean (R.)

 

 

Step away from the confrontation and still get what you want. Maybe not that stupid.

US Urges China to Open Trade After Sparing It Manipulator Tag (BBG)

The U.S. stopped short of branding China a currency manipulator, but urged the world’s second-largest economy to let the yuan rise with market forces and embrace more trade. No major trading partner is manipulating its currency for an unfair trade advantage, according to the first foreign-currency report released by the Treasury Department under President Donald Trump on Friday. It kept China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland on its foreign-exchange monitoring list. “China currently has an extremely large and persistent bilateral trade surplus with the United States, which underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services,” as well as quicker reforms to boost household consumption, according to the Treasury report.

Trump declared on Wednesday that he’ll back away from a campaign promise to name China a currency manipulator, a move that would have created friction between the world’s largest economies as they try to boost trade cooperation and address North Korea’s nuclear threat. Trump, in a Wall Street Journal interview, said China hasn’t manipulated the yuan for months, while accusing nations that he didn’t identify of devaluing their currencies and saying the dollar is getting too strong.

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Germany must increase domestic demand? How? Housing bubble?

US: China, Germany Must Do More To Cut Trade Surpluses (AFP)

Even though China has not moved to keep its currency weak in the past three years, the country “has a long track record of engaging in persistent, large-scale, one-way foreign exchange intervention, doing so for roughly a decade,” the Treasury Department said. That “distortion in the global trading system… imposed significant and long-lasting hardship on American workers and companies.” With a trade surplus in goods with the United States of $347 billion last year, and continued policies that restrict free trade and foreign investment, “Treasury will be scrutinizing China’s trade and currency practices very closely.” The large goods surplus “underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services, as well as faster reform to rebalance the Chinese economy toward greater household consumption.” Beijing also will need to prove that the recent stance of not trying to weaken the currency is “a durable policy shift,” even if the renminbi begins to appreciate again.

The Treasury Department said Germany should take steps, notably spending policies, “to encourage stronger domestic demand growth,” something the country’s trading partners and the IMF have been urging for some time. Increased demand “would place upward pressure on the euro… and help reduce its large external imbalances,” increasing domestic consumption, including of imported goods. Those imbalances include its $65 billion goods trade surplus with the United States last year, and what the department calls “the world?s largest current account surplus at close to $300 billion.” The report also called on Japan to do more “to revive domestic demand and combat low inflation while avoiding a return to export-led growth.” This would include more “flexible” government spending policies, and continued reforms to boost the labor market and increase productivity of the Japanese economy.

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“Social financing”. Sure. Sounds good, right? But it‘s all shadows.

China Shadow Banking Rebounds In March, Household Loans Surge (R.)

China’s banks unexpectedly extended less credit in March than in the previous month as the government tries to contain the risks from an explosive build-up in debt and an overheating housing market. But aggregate financing, which includes bank loans as well as off-balance sheet lending, surged in March and was a record in the first quarter, raising doubts about the effectiveness of official efforts so far to clamp down on risks in the financial system. A surge in household lending in March also added to worries about whether authorities will be able to get the frenzied property market under control, even as cities roll out increasingly stringent curbs on home buying.

The central bank has raised interest rates on money market instruments and special short- and mid-term loans several times in recent months, most recently in mid-March, to contain debt risks and discourage speculation, though it is treading cautiously to avoid hurting economic growth. Outstanding bank loans grew at the slowest pace since July 2002 in March at 12.4%, while M2 money supply growth hit a more than 6-month low, reflecting the moderately tighter policy stance by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC). On the surface, the level of March new loans fell, also suggesting authorities are making some headway in weaning borrowers off endless cheap credit and coaxing debt-laden companies to deleverage.

China’s banks made 1.02 trillion yuan ($148.15 billion) in new loans in March, data showed on Friday, down from 1.17 trillion yuan in February and well below the 1.25 trillion yuan that analysts had predicted in a Reuters poll. However, banks still extended the third highest loans on record for a single quarter, totaling 4.22 trillion yuan in January-March. The first quarter is usually the busiest of the year for Chinese banks, when they have a fresh annual quota and look to lock up key clients. Loans to households surged to 797.7 billion yuan in March, according to Reuters calculations using PBOC data, accounting for 78% of all new loans in the month. That was much higher than either January or February and even the 50% of new loans in 2016.

[..] China’s total social financing (TSF), a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy, rocketed to 2.12 trillion yuan in March from 1.15 trillion yuan in February. For the first quarter, TSF reached a record 6.93 trillion yuan – roughly equivalent to the size of Mexico’s economy – and well above last year’s first quarter total. For analysts, that suggests a surge in off-balance sheet lending, likely in the less regulated shadow banking system, despite repeated attempts by authorities to target riskier lending in past years. Loans to companies totaled 368.6 billion yuan in March, less than half the amount of household lending, PBOC data showed. That could be an ominous signal for the economy, unless firms were finding other sources of funding.

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Bubble dynamics.

Record High US Multi-Family Construction Set To Wreak Havoc On Rents (ZH)

Softening apartment rents, particularly in the massively over-priced, millennial safe-spaces of New York City and San Francisco, have been a frequent topic of conversation for us over the past several quarters…Now, a new report from Goldman’s Credit Strategy Team, led by Marty Young, helps to highlight some of the key data points that suggest that sinking rent will likely not be just an ephemeral problem. To start, an just like almost any bubble, sinking rents are the symptom of a massive, multi-year supply bubble in multi-family housing units sparked by, among other things, cheap borrowing costs for commercial builders. Per the chart below, multi-family units under construction is now at record highs and have eclipsed the previous bubble peak by nearly 40%.

Rents have already started to rollover but we suspect the correction has only just begun.

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Consumer spending falls = money velocity goes down = deflation.

Falling US Retail Sales Cast Doubt On Further Fed Interest Rate Rise (G.)

Falling retail sales and lower inflation in the US have added to signs that the world’s biggest economy has lost momentum in recent months, casting doubt over how many more times the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. Stronger takings at clothing and electronics stores in March were not enough to offset a continued drop in demand for cars, according to figures from the US government (pdf). As a result, retail sales fell for the second month running. The 0.2% drop was deeper than forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists and followed a bigger than previously reported decline of 0.3% in February. Sales were also hurt by lower demand for building materials in March, chiming with a sharp slowdown in construction hiring as parts of the US were hit by severe snowstorms. Petrol station takings also dipped in March as fuel prices fell.

The few bright spots were a 2.6% rise in takings at electronics and appliance stores and a 1% rise in clothing sales. The drop in fuel prices in March echoed a pattern seen in the UK following a fall in global oil prices last month. Cheaper pump prices were also a key factor in softer US inflation. A measure of prices in the US fell for the first time in more than a year, dipping 0.3% in March, according to figures from the Labor Department. It said falling fuel prices and mobile phone charges drove the decline in the consumer price index (CPI) and were only partially offset by rising food prices. As a result, inflation – or the pace of price changes over a year – eased to 2.4% in March from 2.7% in February. Core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, eased to 2% from 2.2% in February and was the weakest since November 2015.

The retail sales and inflation data follow news of a sharp slowdown in job creation in the US in March as the poor weather, a government hiring freeze and a faltering retail sector all appeared to put a chill on President Donald Trump’s promise to boost hiring. But the unemployment rate declined to 4.5%, the lowest rate in a decade. The latest indications that the economy slowed in the opening months of the year will give policymakers at the US central bank more to debate as they decide when to next raise interest rates.

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“Hacker Fantastic @hackerfantastic: This is really bad, in about an hour or so any attacker can download simple toolkit to hack into Microsoft based computers around the globe.”

Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around The World (IC)

The ShadowBrokers, an entity previously confirmed by The Intercept to have leaked authentic malware used by the NSA to attack computers around the world, today released another cache of what appears to be extremely potent (and previously unknown) software capable of breaking into systems running Windows. The software could give nearly anyone with sufficient technical knowledge the ability to wreak havoc on millions of Microsoft users. The leak includes a litany of typically codenamed software “implants” with names like ODDJOB, ZIPPYBEER, and ESTEEMAUDIT, capable of breaking into — and in some cases seizing control of — computers running version of the Windows operating system earlier than the most recent Windows 10.

The vulnerable Windows versions ran more than 65% of desktop computers surfing the web last month, according to estimates from the tracking firm Net Market Share. The crown jewel of the implant collection appears to be a program named FUZZBUNCH, which essentially automates the deployment of NSA malware, and would allow a member of agency’s Tailored Access Operations group to more easily infect a target from their desk. According to security researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, the significance of what’s now publicly available, including “zero day” attacks on previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, cannot be overstated:

“I don’t think I have ever seen so much exploits and 0day [exploits] released at one time in my entire life,” he told The Intercept via Twitter DM, “and I have been involved in computer hacking and security for 20 years.” Affected computers will remain vulnerable until Microsoft releases patches for the zero-day vulnerabilities and, more crucially, until their owners then apply those patches. “This is as big as it gets,” Hickey said. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyberweapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”

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Russia and China are close to launching their own competitor to SWIFT. Good timing. This is nuts.

Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Hacked SWIFT, Global Bank Transfers (R.)

Hackers released documents and files on Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks. The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cyber security consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems. The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity. Also published were many programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft, maker of Windows, said it had not been warned by any part of the U.S. government that such files existed or had been stolen. “Other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers,” the company said. The absence of warning is significant because the NSA knew for months about the Shadow Brokers breach, officials previously told Reuters. Under a White House process established by former President Barack Obama’s staff, companies were usually warned about dangerous flaws. Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released on Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank. “The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shook said. The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day.

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“..if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward.”

The ‘Smoking-Gun’ Quote On The Recent Syrian Gas-Attack (Zuesse)

After detailed decimation of President Trump’s ‘intelligence’ ‘justifying’ his invasion of Syria, the MIT specialist on such intelligence-analysis, Dr. Theodore Postol, concludes:

“I have worked with the intelligence community in the past, and I have grave concerns about the politicization of intelligence that seems to be occurring with more frequency in recent times – but I know that the intelligence community has highly capable analysts in it. And if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward. I am available to expand on these comments substantially. I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report.

But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct, and it also appears that this report was not properly vetted by the intelligence community. This is a very serious matter. President Obama was initially misinformed about supposed intelligence evidence that Syria was the perpetrator of the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus. This is a matter of public record. President Obama stated that his initially false understanding was that the intelligence clearly showed that Syria was the source of the nerve agent attack.

This false information was corrected when the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, interrupted the President while he was in an intelligence briefing. According to President Obama, Mr. Clapper told the President that the intelligence that Syria was the perpetrator of the attack was “not a slamdunk.” The question that needs to be answered by our nation is how was the president initially misled about such a profoundly important intelligence finding?

The U.S. ‘news’media hid from the public Dr. Postol’s disproof of the Obama regime’s still-continuing assertions that the 21 August 2013 sarin attack was from Syria’s government instead of from the ‘moderate rebels’ (jihadists) whom the U.S. supported. Will they hide from the U.S. public his disproof of the U.S. regime’s latest such scam backing the actual perpetrators of a war-crime — will they do now as they did then?

This issue presents a challenge to the U.S. ‘news’ media, to finally show some integrity, some honor, and expose the operations of the gang at the U.S. government’s top, instead of simply continuing to pump that gang’s propaganda. Without the continuing cooperation of America’s ‘news’media, we would not now be heading toward World War III — global nuclear war. What would be the time when these ‘news’media will do their job, instead of do what they’re being paid to do, if that time is not now.

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Even more lobbyists needed?!

US Insurers Sue Saudis for $4.2 Billion Over 9/11 (TAM)

Last year’s Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill which allowed Americans to sue Saudi Arabia in US court over their involvement in 9/11, has yielded another major lawsuit yesterday, a $4.2 billion suit filed by over two dozen US insurers related to losses sustained because of the 2001 attack. The lawsuit is targeting a pair of Saudi banks, and a number of Saudi companies with ties to the bin Laden family, accusing them of various activities in support of al-Qaeda in the years ahead of 9/11, and subsequently having “aided and abetted” the attack. The biggest target is the Saudi National Commercial Bank, which is majority state-owned.

The Saudi government heavily pressured the Obama Administration to block the JASTA last year, threatening to crash the US treasury market if it led to lawsuits, but overwhelming Congressional support still got it passed into law. While there were more than a few lawsuits already filed in the past several weeks related to JASTA, this is by far the biggest, and most previous lawsuits are still in limbo as the court and lawyers try to combine them into various class action groups. Historically, US sovereign immunity laws have prevented suits against the Saudi government related to overseas terrorism. With the release of the Saudi-related portions of the 9/11 Report last year, however, such suits were inevitable, and the federal government could no longer protect the Saudis from litigation.

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Everybody should know this.

Understanding Land Value Taxation (Walker)

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, economists took a dim view of landowners. Influential theorists like Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill saw them as a drag on economic activity, primarily because they reduced the value of other people’s economic activity (through rent) without any incentive to make an economic contribution themselves. In the late 1800s, American social theorist and economist Henry George started a movement arguing for a single land value tax (LVT) – on the unimproved value of land – to replace other forms of taxation. It was rooted in the idea that if economic activity (labour, trade etc.) is the source of tax revenues, tax inevitably becomes a drag on the very thing that creates it. And while productive members of society earn money to pay their taxes, landowners are unproductive earners who pay their taxes through land rent, which is paid by people who generate economic activity.

Rent and taxes are a ‘double whammy’ on productive people. While productive members of society earn money to pay their taxes, landowners are unproductive earners who pay their taxes through land rent, which is paid by people who generate economic activity. That means rent – like taxes – is a drag on the economy. But unlike taxes, which can be used to stimulate economic activity through public spending, rent disappears into landlords’ pockets. So apart from the relatively small economic impact from landlords’ spending, their rent takes value out of the economy and delivers little value back to it. Understandably, the Georgists (Henry George’s LVT supporters) are still going strong today.

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The Vichy comment looks odd; why go there? But do remember: French polls are meaningless by now.

Le Pen Ready to Be ‘Crucified’ for France (BBG)

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen pulled all the stops to stem her slide in the polls, saying she’s willing to be “crucified” for her stance on absolving France for the wartime deportation of Jews, and pledging to protect the country from Islamic fundamentalists. In a wide-ranging interview Friday on France Info radio nine days before the first round of the presidential vote, the 48-year-old anti-immigration candidate expressed disappointment at what she said was U.S. President Donald Trump going back on campaign promises, while focusing mainly on well-worn themes that most strike a chord with her electorate: Islam, immigration, national identity and terrorism.

“I don’t want France to be damaged, to be humiliated, that it be held responsible when it is not responsible,” Le Pen said. “People can crucify me, I will not change my mind, I will always defend France.” The National Front candidate’s lead in the polls has been whittled away over the last few weeks, leaving her struggling to regain momentum. First-round support for both Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron slipped 0.5 points to respectively 23.5% and 22.5%, according to a daily rolling poll by Ifop on Thursday. Le Pen was at 26.5% in mid-March. [..] In the radio interview, Le Pen maintained her contention that France had no responsibility for the 1942 roundup of Jews in and around Paris by French police at the request of the German occupying forces to be sent to concentration camps.

The candidate, who first made that comment on April 9, was reverting to the long-established party line that shuns any hint of repentance. Le Pen said she is “extremely sensitive to the martyrdom of the Jews,” adding that the only issue was “juridical,” whether the Vichy regime was France or not. “I consider that Vichy was not France. French people can commit crimes without France being criminal.” In the interview, Le Pen criticized Trump for changing his mind on the U.S.’s global role after he said on Wednesday that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was “no longer obsolete” in fighting terrorism. “Undeniably he is in contradiction with the commitments he had made,” Le Pen said. Trump had said in January that NATO was “obsolete.” Among her key proposals is for France to quit the alliance.

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9 days before an election. They’re trying to make her win?!

French Prosecutors Seek To Lift Le Pen Immunity Over Expenses Inquiry (AFP)

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election. The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote, with Le Pen – who heads the Eurosceptic Front National (FN) – one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round. The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates. The prosecutors also made a similar request regarding another MEP from Le Pen’s party, Marie-Christine Boutonnet, who also avoided questioning.

Le Pen, who has denied misusing parliamentary funds, shrugged off the move. “It’s totally normal procedure, I’m not surprised,” she told France Info radio. The case was triggered by a complaint from the European parliament, which accuses the FN of defrauding it to the tune of about €340,000 (£290,000). The parliament believes the party used funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff for party work in France. In February, it said it would start docking Le Pen’s pay unless she paid the money back. The allegations appear to have had little impact on Le Pen’s campaign, dwarfed by the bigger scandal engulfing her conservative rival François Fillon.

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A day like so many others.

More Than 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Dramatic Day In Mediterranean (R.)

More than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean on Friday in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead, officials and witnesses said. An Italian coast guard spokesman said 19 rescue operations by the coast guard or ships operated by non-governmental organizations had saved a total of 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three small wooden boats. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a tweet that one teenager was found dead in a rubber boat whose passengers were rescued by its ship Aquarius. “The sea continues to be a graveyard,” MSF said in a Tweet. The coast guard spokesman confirmed that one person had died but gave no details. MSF said two of their ships, Aquarius and Prudence, had rescued about 1,000 people in nine boats.

Desperate refugees struggled to stay afloat after they slid off their rubber boat during a rescue operation by the Phoenix, a ship of the rescue group Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Video footage showed rescuers jumping into the water off the coast of Libya to help them. “In 19 years of covering the migration story, I have never experienced anything like today,” said Reuters photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi, who was aboard the Phoenix. In one operation, the Phoenix rescued 134 people, all from sub-Saharan counties, he said. Those rescued by the MOAS and MSF ships were transferred to Italian coast guard ships, which had rescued other migrants, to be taken to Italian ports. According to the International Organisation for Migration, nearly 32,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. More than 650 have died or are missing.

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