Apr 192019
 
 April 19, 2019  Posted by at 1:18 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn A woman bathing in a stream 1654

 

A dear friend the other day accused me of defending Trump. I don’t, and never have, but it made me think that if she says it, probably others say and think the same; I’ve written a lot about him. So let me explain once again. Though I think perhaps this has reached a “you’re either with us or against us’ level.

What I noticed, and have written a lot about, during and since the 2016 US presidential campaign, is that the media, both in the US and abroad, started making up accusations against Trump from scratch. This included the collusion with Russia accusation that led to the Mueller probe.

There was never any proof of the accusation, which is why the conclusion of the probe was No Collusion. I started writing this yesterday while awaiting the presentation of the Mueller report, but it wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other: the accusation was clear, and so was the conclusion.

Even if some proof were found though other means going forward, it would still make no difference: US media published over half a million articles on the topic, and not one of them was based on any proof. If that proof had existed, Mueller would have found and used it.

And sure, Trump may not be a straight shooter, there may be all kinds of illegal activity going on in his organization, but that doesn’t justify using the collusion accusation for a 2-year long probe. If Trump is guilty of criminal acts, he should be investigated for that, not for some made-up narrative. It’s dangerous.

 

Axios report[ed] that since May 2017, exactly 533,074 web articles have been published about Russia and Trump-Mueller, which in turn have generated “245 million interactions – including likes, comments and shares – on Twitter and Facebook.” “From January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day) through March 21, 2019 (the last night before special counsel Robert Mueller sent his report to the attorney general), the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts produced a combined 2,284 minutes of ‘collusion’ coverage, most of it (1,909 minutes) following Mueller’s appointment on May 17, 2017,” MRC reports

What the Mueller report says is that 500,000 articles about collusion, and 245 million social media interactions in their wake, were written without any proof whatsoever (or Mueller would have used that proof). That doesn’t mean they may not have been true, or that they can’t be found to be true in the future, it means there was no proof when they were published. They Were All Lying.

The same goes for the Steele dossier. It holds zero proof of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia. Or Mueller would have used that proof. New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, CNN: they all had zero proof when they published, not a thing. Or Mueller would have used that proof. Rachel Maddow’s near nightly collusion rants: no proof. Or Mueller would have used that proof.

That there is no proof also means there has never been any proof. Why that is important, and how important it is, is something we’re very clearly seeing in the case concerning Julian Assange. That, too, is based on made-up stories.

I suggested a few days ago in the Automatic Earth comment section that the advent of the internet, and social media in particular, has greatly facilitated the power of repetition: say something often enough and few people will be able to resist the idea that it must be true. Or at least some of it.

If you look at the amount of time people spend in ‘their’ Facebook, the power of repetition becomes obvious. 245 million social media interactions. On top of half a million articles. How were people supposed to believe, in the face of such a barrage, that there never was any collusion?

Or that Assange is squeaky clean, both in person and in his alleged involvement in the collusion? There is only one way to counter all this: for people like me to keep pointing it out, and to hope that at least a few people pick it up.

That has nothing to do with defending Trump. It has to do with defending my own sanity and that of my readers. Of course it would have been easier, and undoubtedly more profitable, to go with the flow and load on more suspicions, allegations and accusations.

All those media made a mint doing it, and the Automatic Earth might have too. But that is not why we are here.

 

The Democrats, and the media sympathetic to them, now have seamlessly shifted their attention from Collusion to Obstruction. Which leads to a bit of both interesting and humorous logic: No Collusion? No Obstruction.

The Mueller probe would never have happened if it had been clear there was no collusion. But everyone and their pet hamster were saying there was. And there was the Steele dossier, heavily promoted by John McCain and John Brennan. Neither of whom had any proof of collusion.

The obstruction the anti-Trumpers are now aiming their arrows at consists of Trump allegedly wanting to fire Mueller and/or stopping an investigation that should never have been instigated into a collusion that never existed and was based on a smear campaign.

And now they want to impeach him for that? For attempting to stop the country wasting its resources and halt an investigation into nothing at all?

Know what I hope? That they’ll call on Mueller to testify in a joint session of Senate and Congress and that Rand Paul gets to ask him to address this tweet of his:

“Rand Paul: BREAKING: A high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report… Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”

And why Mueller refused to go talk to Assange, who offered actual evidence that no Russians were involved. Or how about these stonkers:

“Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Adam Schiff said. “We will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised? … It doesn’t appear that was any part of Mueller’s report.”


Preet Bharara: “It’s clear that Bob Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.”

There’ll never be such a joint session, the Democrats want to play a home game in Congress. So there will have to be a separate session in the Senate. No doubt that will happen. Trump was right about one thing (well, two): 1) A special Counsel fcuks up a presidency, and 2) this should never happen to another president again.

Not that I have any faith in Capitol Hill, mind you. Because they will agree, and they will agree on one thing only, as Philip Giraldi stipulates once more:

Rumors of War – Washington Is Looking for a Fight

[..] even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people. A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189.


It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.”

And that brings us back to Robert Mueller’s investigation into hot air, which, while it entirely eviscerates even the notion of collusion, still contains accusations against Julian Assange and ‘the Russians’.

Why does he leave those in, when there was no collusion? It’s dead simple. Because unlike accusations against Trump, he doesn’t have to prove them. Which is why I will not stop saying, as I first did some 10 weeks ago, that Robert Mueller Is A Coward And A Liar.

Again, this has nothing to do with defending Trump, it’s about defending and maintaining my own sanity and yours, and the rule of law.

As I said back then about Mueller refusing to talk to Assange, and James Comey in 2017 making sure the DOJ didn’t either :

Every single American should be alarmed by this perversion of justice. Nothing to do with what you think of Trump, or of Assange. The very principles of the system are being perverted, including, but certainly not limited to, its deepest core, that of every individual’s right to defend themselves. Just so Robert Mueller can continue his already failed investigation into collusion that has shown no such thing, and which wouldn’t have been started 20 months ago if we knew then what we know now.

Get off your Trump collusion hobby-horse, that quest has already died regardless, and start defending the legal system and the Constitution. Because if you don’t, what’s to keep the next Robert Mueller from going after you, or someone you like or love? It’s in everyone’s interest to demand that these proceedings – like all legal proceedings- are conducted according to the law, but in Mueller’s hands, they are not.

And that should be a much bigger worry than whether or not you like or dislike a former game-show host.

I’ve said this before as well: I’ll always defend Julian Assange, but I won’t defend Donald Trump. Is that clear now?

 

 

Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

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


Edvard Munch Spring in Johan Karl Street 1944

 

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

 

 

Goldilocks and Frankenstein.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

37 State Attorneys General Demand Answers From Zuckerberg (ZH)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

Read more …

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

Brexit Referendum Won Through Fraud – Whistleblower (G.)

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

7 billion people do, too.

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

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

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

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

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Magic Muskroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jun 282017
 
 June 28, 2017  Posted by at 6:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Willem de Kooning Police Gazette 1955

 

The best comment on the June 13 Jeff Sessions Senate testimony, and I’m sorry I forgot who made it, was that it looked like an episode of Seinfeld. A show about nothing. Still, an awful lot of voices tried to make it look like it was something life- and game-changing. It was not. Not anymore than Comey’s testimony was, at least not in the sense that those eager to have these testimonies take place would have liked it to be.

Comey shone more of an awkward light on himself rather than on Donald Trump, by admitting that he had leaked info on a private conversation with the president he served at the time. Not quite nothing, but very little to satisfy the anti-Trump crowd. It’s just that there’s so many in that crowd, and most in denial, that you wouldn’t know it unless you paid attention.

To cut to the chase of the issue, it’s no longer possible -or at least increasingly difficult- to find coverage in the US -and European- press of anything related to either Trump or Russia that doesn’t come solidly baked in a partisan opinionated sauce.

For instance, I have a Google News page, somewhat personalized, and I haven’t been able to open it for quite some time without the top news articles focusing on Trump and/or Russia, and all the ones at the very top are invariably from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, The Hill, Politico et al.

But I am not interested in those articles. These ‘news’ outlets -and you really must ask whether using the word ‘news’ is appropriate here- dislike anything Trump and Putin so much, for some reason, that all they do is write ‘stuff’ in a 24/7 staccato beat based on innuendo and allegations, quoted from anonymous sources that may or may not actually exist.

In the case of Russia, this attitude is many years old; in the case of Trump, it dates back to him announcing his candidacy. And that’s funny, because when you think back to who else was a GOP candidate, how can you not wonder if Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush would really have been better presidents than Trump? The Trump presidency is not an indictment of the man himself, but of the entire US political system.

You only need to think back of the Republican hopefuls who got beaten in the primaries, or the Democratic candidates on the other side of the isle. There are 320 million Americans, and that was the cream of the crop? What does that say about the state of the union? That’s very much true about Trump as well: is that the best you can do?

It’s the story behind the multiple veils, the -political- policy choices of the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, that is perhaps the most interesting part of this. Their anti-Trump stories are certainly not. They’re utterly boring repetitive propaganda material. Still, there are also reasons behind this that have little to do with politics.

With the advent of the interwebs, the MSM were always going to have a challenging time. As time passed, it became clear they were going to have to compete with 100 million other voices. And while the established media have clear advantages, it was never going to be an easy task. For one thing because unlike most of these 100 million voices, the traditional media have a lot of overhead, fixed costs etc.

They can establish their own web presence, but not much about that is obvious. Some have moved behind a paywall to manage costs, others focus on ads. But none of that really works well. Ad revenue is not enough to keep the vast machinery going, and a paywall limits readership.

Ergo, the MSM has to focus on both 1) what makes it strong, and on 2) what sets it apart from the ‘new competition’. That does seem evident, and it’s therefore surprising that they have elected to do the opposite. A choice that will inevitably hasten their demise.

I’ve long thought that the only way the MSM can survive in the age of the interwebs, for as long as they can indeed survive, is to be uncompromisingly objective, perhaps even to stay away from opinionating, period. Because all other areas, everything that is subjective, will be taken over, and often already is, by the millions who write and post their own opinions on social media.

And no-one will be able to make up their mind any longer about what’s real or not if they can’t figure out from reading between all these lines what is true or not. That is a battle the media establishment cannot win. So it’s more than a bit surprising that it is exactly that which they have elected to pin their futures on.

Media organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post have over a long time built the contacts, the revenue (for now) and the resources to do what newer media can not: that is for instance, to assign a team of good and smart researchers and/or writers to difficult topics that may take months to cover satisfactorily. It just so happens that is what their entire business model was always based on.

But they’ve thrown it away. They’ve chosen to compete with the entire world, who can all write and all have opinions, in the shadowy realm of fake news, anonymity and mud-slinging. But the opinion of a Washington Post writer, or even its editorial staff, is just another opinion. That’s not where they can stand out. That they can only do in truth-finding. And then they choose not to.

Mainstream media are not short on content, but they ARE short on news. What they do is opinion, propaganda, and that’s not what they’re there for. Both they themselves and their readers should be very worried about that. Because news gathering and dissemination is a vital function in any democratic nation. Taking it away leaves a big hole.

And they’re pouring out so much of the same stuff that even if inside the echo chamber the audience just can’t get enough of it, those on the outside get pushed ever further away. The distance between these groups of people keeps growing, and that’s not what media should be doing, let alone aim for.

There comes a point when people will say: we get it, you don’t like Trump, but we don’t need to see that repeated 100 times a day, and certainly not if you don’t provide facts to base your preferences on. Outside the echo chamber that has already happened. I haven’t read anything in the New York Times or Washington Post forever. If I can’t trust them to write facts on Trump, I can’t trust them, period.

They already have so much going against them. Sales of paper copies are under relentless pressure, because they’re a day old when they’re published, and nobody needs to wait for their news that long anymore. Another kind of pressure comes from the fact that a huge part of their subscribers are older, and the younger stay away from print.

The Hill, a smaller member of the MSM, ran a story over the weekend which said CNN, one of its “brethren in crime”, is clamping down on stories about Russia. All stories have to go through the senior editors now. CNN the next day fired 3 people over one of the many stories. How about the rest? Did they all meet those ‘rigorous editorial standards?

With that Hill piece, you think: someone’s trying to save face… But The Hill would have to come clean about its own coverage of the topic to regain any credibility. As for CNN, have you watched those guys on TV lately? They’re like a firing-squad. Henchmen don’t ask questions either.

Before I forget: Does anyone think there would have been a Special Counsel appointed if the anti-Trump echo chamber press had not incessantly came up, and still does, with new narratives about President Trump, his campaign, his advisers, his staff, and all of the above’s links to Russia? For which to this day no proof has been revealed?!

I find it hard to fathom. I even think it is possible that the feeding frenzy will cost Trump his presidency, not because of evidence but because of neverending innuendo. The frenzy has shown no signs of letting up, and it can continue because it feeds on itself.

While it’s strange that the MSM should risk their own credibility and even survival to be competing, as I said, with a 100 million other ‘sources’, a fight that it can never win, in the short term they have established a loyal echo chamber following that has even ‘miraculously’ increased their subscription numbers.

The flipside of that is they have lost half of their potential readers, but they got so many more from inside the chamber in return that the bottom line looked good. But at some point you will have to prove something, if you want to live. And very little of the ‘material’ on both Trump and Russia has turned out to actually be wearing clothes.

Then again, once you’re inside the chamber, it’s hard to leave. Which is a disgrace for America in all its facets, but there’s not easy way back out. There’s only one, and it’s more out of reach than perhaps ever before: that of the truth, which only the MSM have the resources to provide on a consistent and wide-ranging basis. But they’ve rejected the truth.

They will find out soon enough that the echo chambers are all booked full, with nutjobs and snake oil salesmen. Why they would want to be thrown in with that crowd, who knows? Sure, a quick profit can work miracles. But then you die.

The entire drama has caused an enormous impoverishment of the American media landscape. And it never had much, if anything, to do with news.

The best way to illustrate what’s really going on is probably in these graphs. The negative ‘reporting’ about Trump is off the scale (don’t miss German TV network ARD’s 98% score):

 

 

But when it comes to bombing the Middle East, all the ducks get in line. As ducks do. As behooves ducks. Even when it comes to Trump, they can’t hide their true nature.

We’re done here.

 

 

 

 

Dec 302016
 
 December 30, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Memphis, Mississippi River landing, Belle of the Bends and Belle of Calhoun 1906

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)
Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)
Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)
“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)
Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)
Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)
The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)
Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)
China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan
China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)
Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)
The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)
A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

 

 

Can’t find a good western source on this all too obvious theme. Typical. The underlying idea seems to be that Obama should have tried to create even more chaos, deliver more weapons to the ‘rebels’. The US should have never toppled Saddam, nor Gaddafi, and we should be glad that Putin called a halt to the mayhem. Now get the US out of there, and on the double.

America over the past decades -in which it was a superpower- could have been, and should have been, a force for good, and for peace. It has instead been nothing but the exact opposite.

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)

Russia and Turkey announced early Thursday they had secured a cease-fire agreement for the civil war in Syria, potentially clearing the way to a peace deal and leaving little, if any, role for the U.S. to play in the future of the war-torn country. The American failure to find a diplomatic or military solution to the conflict, which rages adjacent to an extraordinarily complicated international effort to defeat the Islamic State group, has left some traditional allies in the region worried about what leverage the U.S. has left to protect their interests in the Middle East. Very few details have emerged about the agreement, which was organized by Moscow and Ankara and backed the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reuters reported Wednesday that the plan could involve splitting the county into semi-autonomous Russian, Turkish and Iranian zones of influence within Assad’s government.

Perhaps the most notable question centers on the involvement of the Free Syrian Army, the U.S.-backed umbrella organization of the opposition movement which has fractured in recent months. It denies having participated in the cease-fire talks. Moscow’s leadership on the agreement, however, follows its deep involvement in Syria over the last year that has successfully shirked American calls for Assad to step down. So it’s also unclear how the U.S. could exercise any leverage over the events in Syria in the future or encourage any of the actors involved to consider American interests, including issuing humanitarian aid to the 8 million displaced Syrians displaced from their homes, supporting willing partners on the ground to fight the Islamic State group, and creating a unity government.

“If the cease-fire does spread to the point where any settlement begins, we’re going to find ourselves in the very awkward position of being the largest single aid donor to Syria and having somehow to deal in humanitarian and recovery terms with a government and structure we had no hand in creating,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior adviser to the departments of State and Defense, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘That’s certainly going to create future problems.”

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“Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team..”, “.. a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership..” But kind words for Kerry.

Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has posted a scathing Facebook comment on US President Barack Obama’s approval of new anti-Russian measures, arguing Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team did a disfavor to the White House’s reputation. Zakharova wrote that the outgoing president did not manage to leave “any” major foreign policy achievements as part of his legacy and instead of “putting an elegant period” to his two presidential terms has “made a huge blot” with his latest decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two diplomatic compounds in the US.

“Today America, the American people were humiliated by their own president. Not by international terrorists, not by [the] enemy’s troops. This time Washington was slapped by own master, who has complicated the urgent tasks for the incoming team in the extreme,” Zakharova wrote, labeling the current administration “a group of foreign policy losers, bitter and narrow-minded.” “Today, Obama officially admitted it,” she wrote. Zakharova then offered her sympathy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who, she argued, had also suffered under the current administration as he was unable to do his job properly, being constantly “mocked” and “let down” by his own colleagues. “Mr. Kerry, in this difficult moment for the United States, let me convey you the words of sympathy – you have done all what was possible to avert your country’s collapse in foreign policy,” she said, giving credit to Kerry’s diplomatic skills.

“Out of this group of spoilers, I pity only Kerry. He was not an ally. But he tried to be a professional and maintain his human dignity.” Zakharova also said that with its incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s administration has inadvertently debunked a long-cherished myth of America’s exceptionalism that claims a special place in the world. “This is it, [the] curtain [has dropped]. The bad performance is over. The whole world, from the front row to the balcony, is watching a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership, dealt by Barack Obama and his semi-literate foreign policy team, which has exposed its main secret to the world – exceptionalism was a masked helplessness.” “No enemy of the United States could have done worse,” Zakharova concluded. She promised that the US won’t have to wait too long for Moscow’s response. “Tomorrow there will be official statements, countermeasures, and much more,” she wrote.

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Smooth transition.

Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)

Barack Obama ends his Presidency with the announcement of yet more sanctions against Russia. These target Russia’s two intelligence agencies which were supposedly concerned with the alleged cyber attacks during the US election – the FSB and the GRU – and what appear to be three institutions involved in IT work – the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, the Special Technology Centre, and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor. In addition to these five entities four high ranking officials of the GRU have also been added to the sanctions list. Obama has also announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, giving them just 72 hours to leave, and has closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

He has also said that he will provide Congress with a report on Russian cyber activity during this and previous US election cycles. Like many of Obama’s other recent moves, this one is not really targeted at Russia. The additional sanctions will hardly affect Russia, though the wholesale expulsion of Russian diplomats will undoubtedly complicate the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US. The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump. By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth. If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.

If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge. It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force. Like so many of Obama’s other moves in the last weeks of his Presidency, it is an ugly and small minded act, seeking to undermine his successor as President in a way that is completely contrary to US tradition.

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You’re looking for -finally!- proof, and what you get is a disclaimer.

“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)

As part of the “evidence” meant to substantiate the unprecedented act of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and locking down two Russian compounds without a major concurrent political or diplomatic incident, or an act of war, and which simply provides an outlets for the Democrats to justify the loss of their candidate in the US presidential election (sorry, Putin did not tell the rust belt how to vote), the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page “report” on the Russian action done “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election”, i.e., hack it.

As the DHS writes, “this document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.” Where things get awkward, however, is at the very start of the report, which prefaced by a broad disclaimer, according to which nothing in the report is to be relied upon and that everything contained in it may be completely false. No really: “this report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.”

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US intelligence looks hell-bent on founding its credibility exclusively on gossip and propaganda.

Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)

The attack against U.S. democracy began in the summer of 2015 with a simple trick: Hackers working for Russia’s civilian intelligence service sent e-mails with hidden malware to more than 1,000 people working for the American government and political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies say that was the modest start of “Grizzly Steppe,” their name for what they say developed into a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with this year’s presidential election. Prodded to produce evidence by Russia, which has denied a role in hacking – and by an openly skeptical President-elect Donald Trump – the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did so Thursday. They issued a 13-page joint analysis just as President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian government organizations and individuals and expelled 35 Russian operatives.

While Trump said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said he “will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” As president-elect he’s entitled to see the classified details behind the public report. The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the “spearphishing” e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee – although the party organization wasn’t identified by name in the report – and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, rejected the U.S. conclusions. “We categorically disagree with any of the groundless allegations or charges against Russia,” he said on a conference call. “These actions by the current administration in Washington are unfortunately a manifestation of an unpredictable and you could even say aggressive policy.”

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Are they going to threaten him?

Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll meet next week with U.S. intelligence officials to discuss their findings that Russia hacked Democratic Party e-mails to meddle in the 2016 election, signaling a possible shift from his previous dismissals of Russian involvement. In his first statement following President Barack Obama’s action on Thursday to sanction Russian intelligence officials and agencies for the hacking, Trump released a statement, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Trump, who has pledged to seek better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails from DNC and party officials in order to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He once said the hacking could have been the work of “somebody sitting in a bed someplace” and told reporters Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” instead of rehashing the cyberattack. Obama’s actions put Trump in a bind less than a month before his inauguration. He will have to decide whether to reverse course when he takes office Jan. 20, which would effectively reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and put him at odds with the Republican leaders in Congress who called the sanctions a necessary step.

The Russian government said it would announce on Friday its response to Obama’s move and emphasized that it soon will be dealing with Trump. “Right now we just are not in a position to sit here and respond to all of these details before we have a full-blown intelligence report on this particular matter,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointee as chief of staff, said on Fox News Thursday night. “We just need to get to a point ourselves where we can talk to all of these intelligence agencies and find out once and for all what evidence is there, how bad is it.”

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Not terribly strong, but it’s Stone. Think he could get a movie financed on the theme?

The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)

As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. – the Times has added the issue of ‘fake news’ to reassert its problematic role as the dominant voice for the Washington establishment. Certainly this is true in the case of Russia’s ‘hacking’ the 2016 election and putting into office its Manchurian Candidate in Donald Trump.

Apparently the CIA (via various unnamed intelligence officials), and the FBI, NSA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who notoriously lied to Congress in the Snowden affair), President Obama, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Congress agree that Russia, and Mr. Putin predominantly, is responsible. Certainly the psychotic, war-loving Senator John McCain is right up there alongside these patriots, calling President Putin a “thug, bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He actually said this — the man whose sound judgment chose Sarah Palin as his VP nominee in ’08. And the Times followed by printing the story in its full glory on page one, clearly agreeing with McCain’s point of view.

I don’t remember Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, in the darkest days of the 1950s/80s, ever singling out a Russian President like this. The invective was aimed at the Soviet regime, but never were Khrushchev or Brezhnev the target of this bile. I guess this is a new form of American diplomacy. If a black youth in our inner cities were killed or a Pakistani wedding party were murdered by our drones, would President Obama be singled out as a murderer, bully, thug? Such personalization is a sign of sickness in our thinking and way beneath what should be our standards.

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We’ll have to wait for the -gruesome- proof on this too. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)

Russian military forces have discovered mass graves in eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with many of the bodies reportedly showing signs of torture. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, announced the horrifying discovery on Monday. “Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head,” he said, according to RT. Until recently, the eastern portion of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and industrial and financial center, was under the control of so-called “moderate” rebels, many of whom have received both intelligence and material support from the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Last week, Russian and Syrian military forces oversaw the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Prior to that, the rebel-held portion of the city had been controlled by two main factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham, another extremist group that receives U.S. support despite being designated a terrorist organization. In an apparent attempt to court the U.S. government by distancing itself from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front recently attempted to “rebrand” itself. Despite efforts to market themselves as kinder, gentler terrorists, the group has continued to commit atrocities, including burning buses intended to be used in the evacuation and even blocking food aid from reaching Aleppo’s starving residents.

WikiLeaks’ archive of diplomatic cables reveals that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have sought to overthrow the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad since at least 2006, and support for extremist fighters remains a key part of that strategy. Konashenkov promised a full investigation into the war crimes of rebel forces in Aleppo, suggesting in his statement that the results would surprise many people who receive their news from Western mainstream media sources. He said: “The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians. The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

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Good luck with that: “The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading..”

China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan

China took another step to degrade the dollar in defining the value of its currency, in an effort that cuts against its rival’s stubbornly strong hold on the global financial system. An arm of the People’s Bank of China, which last year started setting the yuan against a basket of currencies, on Thursday said it’s adding 11 units to that reference group. The move lowers the dollar’s weighting by 4 percentage points, to 22.4% – little more than twice the share for South Korea’s won, a new entrant. While the logic of determining the yuan’s value against the currencies of its trading partners is clear, the problem is that the dollar is still the dominant reference in the perception of the public and the market. The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading. “The dollar-yuan rate will still be the benchmark that determines sentiment,” said Hao Hong at Communications International Holdings.

“The basket is just a reference, so the change in the index’s composition and the efforts of keeping it stable will do little to boost confidence.” The yuan’s retreat against the CFETS RMB Index, the basket set by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, has been more moderate this year than against the dollar, as the currencies of China’s trading partners have also declined. In recent weeks it’s even advanced. That offers an image of stability that would appeal to a Communist leadership that’s striving to maintain economic growth in excess of 6.5% and reduce leverage, all while heading off any exodus of domestic capital. The challenge is that China’s swelling middle class, along with its ultra-wealthy, are looking to diversify some of their increasing pool of savings overseas. Prospects for higher U.S. interest rates only increase the allure of the dollar.

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They need money, bad.

China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)

China will focus on freeing up foreign investment in banking, insurance, securities and futures market trading firms as part of a wider opening up of the services sector, the country’s state planner said in a document released on Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) did not give any details or time frame on relaxing restrictions for foreign investment in the financial services sector. At a press conference held after the release of the document, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the NDRC, said that the government will maintain “some controls”, but did not elaborate. Businesses that the NDRC earmarked for opening up in the manufacturing sector included rail transportation equipment, motorcycles, edible fats and oils, and fuel ethanol.

The NDRC also said China will lift restrictions on foreign investment in unconventional oil and gas production, which usually refers to development of shale deposits. Industry experts noted China has already allowed foreign companies such as Shell and BP to explore and develop shale oil and gas in joint ventures with Chinese firms. China will also “orderly” open up sensitive areas such as telecoms, education, internet to foreign investment, as well as relaxing foreign investment restrictions on credit-rating services, the NDRC document said. The new list of areas marked for liberalization differ slightly from draft foreign investment guidelines that China published earlier this month.

In the draft, restrictions in critical banking and securities sectors remained largely unchanged, though a reference to 49 percent foreign investment caps on some types of securities companies appeared to have been removed. Beijing is facing mounting criticism from foreign governments over its closed markets. Despite repeated pledges to increase access for foreign firms, critics say it has not followed through on its reform agenda.

Read more …

A bit confusing, but do watch Poland.

Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)

This past year of 2016 set a new record for the export history of Gazprom, Russia’s biggest gas company. Its chairman, Alexey Miller, has claimed that by the end of the year Gazprom will have shipped a total of 180 billion cubic meters to non-CIS countries. Gazprom had only planned to export between 166 and 170 billion cubic meters of gas in 2016 (in 2015, 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to non-CIS countries). But even this new high is not the limit. Gazprom’s latest calculations envision a further uptick in shipments in 2017, and those will primarily be to the EU. The key factors here are, first and foremost, the weather conditions (this winter promises to be a more severe one in Europe than last year), and second – the jump in demand for gas in Europe that has been seen in recent months in the face of lower domestic production in EU countries.

The biggest consumers of Russian gas are still Germany (47.4 billion cubic meters in 2015), Turkey (27 billion), Italy (24.4 billion), Great Britain (22.5 billion), and France (10.5 billion). And Russian gas shipments play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of Southeastern Europe. In 2015 Bulgaria purchased 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from the companies that make up the Gazprom Group, while Greece bought 2 billion cubic meters, Serbia – 1.9 billion cubic meters, and Croatia – 0.6 billion cubic meters. The market price for Russian gas has taken some interesting twists and turns. It is worth noting that that figure has risen right along with the increase in supply. This proves once again that the close interdependence of European consumers and Russian energy suppliers is «overriding» the market formula: simultaneous growth in both supply and price is an atypical phenomenon in a market environment.

However, it proves once again that any moves aimed at «replacing» Russian gas or «displacing» Russia from the EU gas market might be disruptive for Europe’s energy sector. The attempts by some countries to block Russian gas supplies look particularly irrational in this context. This primarily applies to Poland, which rushed to the European Court to appeal the European Commission’s decision to allow Gazprom greater access to the OPAL pipeline that links Nord Stream with the gas-transit system of Central and Western Europe. The Polish media cites the official spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Finance, Joanna Wajda, in its reports that Warsaw has already asked the EU to suspend the implementation of the European Commission decision. The EC’s official reaction to this proposal is still unknown, but it will be interesting to see.

Read more …

Athens is bloody cold as we speak. That map is pretty clear.

The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)

A deep freeze is about to descend on North America, Europe and Asia thanks to record high temperatures across the Arctic. How’s that? “Think of it like a seesaw,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland. If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.” Meteorologists theorize the phenomenon works this way: Warmth in the northern polar region helps lock in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south and sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex, the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. So, warm Arctic, cold continents.

Forecasts show how drastic it could be. For example, Chicago’s high on Monday is expected to be 43 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 Celsius) and its low 33, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. By Friday, the high is predicted to be 18 and the low just 5. Climate change and the recently ended El Nino conspired over the last three years to heat the planet to record levels. The ice cap dwindled. In September it was the smallest in scope since 2007; its winter growth has been the slowest in chronicled history. Sea ice keeps the air above it cold, and in November in the Arctic it hit a record low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For several weeks, as as consequence, a large part of the Arctic has been hotter than normal.

“We have a buoy north of Alaska that went over to freezing around the 10th of December, which is about a month later than it normally happens,” said Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the U.S. Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, who made his first trips to Arctic ice in the 60s.

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Flowers grow at the weirdest places.

A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

The scene was hardly conducive to romance: she was a sick Iraqi in a wave of refugees trying to enter Serbia, while he belonged to the stern Macedonian police force keeping guard. But Noora Arkavazi, a Kurdish Muslim, and Orthodox Christian Bobi Dodevski quickly fell in love after they met at the muddy border in early March – and celebrated their wedding four months later. Bobi recalls the rainy day he first saw Noora in no man’s land between the two Balkan countries, when he was working only by chance after swapping shifts with a colleague. “It was destiny,” the affable 35-year-old tells AFP over tea in his small apartment in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, where he now lives happily with his young wife.

Noora, 20, hails from Diyala, an eastern province plagued with violence in the Iraqi conflict. She says at one point Islamic State jihadists kidnapped her father, an engineer, and demanded thousands of dollars for his return. Early in 2016, Noora and her brother, sister and parents abandoned their home and began a long journey west, crossing the border into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and eventually entering Macedonia. Their path was one well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of people escaping war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and like many of their fellow travellers, the Arkavazis had set their sights on Germany. While her family continued on their odyssey, Noora stayed put in Macedonia after Cupid’s arrow struck. “I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany,” she says. “I didn’t imagine a big surprise for me here.”

Read more …

Jul 172016
 
 July 17, 2016  Posted by at 4:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ben Shahn Daughter of Virgil Thaxton, farmer, near Mechanicsburg, Ohio 1938

Recently, I posted a two-tear old article on facebook.com/TheAutomaticEarth that was shared so many times it seems to make sense to use it for an Automatic Earth article as well. The article asks how toxic the wheat we eat is – or Americans, more specifically-, and why that is.

But first I would like to touch on a closely connected issue, which is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ‘war’ on GMOs. Taleb, of Black Swans fame, has been at it for a while, but he’s stepped up his efforts off late.

In 2014, with co-authors Rupert Read, Raphael Douady, Joseph Norman and Yaneer Bar-Yam, he published The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms), an attempt to look at GMOs through a ‘solidly scientific’ prism of probability and complex systems. From the abstract:

The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it. PP is intended to deal with uncertainty and risk in cases where the absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge carries profound implications and in the presence of risks of “black swans”, unforeseen and unforeseable events of extreme consequence.

[..] We believe that the PP should be evoked only in extreme situations: when the potential harm is systemic (rather than localized) and the consequences can involve total irreversible ruin, such as the extinction of human beings or all life on the planet. The aim of this paper is to place the concept of precaution within a formal statistical and risk-analysis structure, grounding it in probability theory and the properties of complex systems. Our aim is to allow decision makers to discern which circumstances require the use of the PP and in which cases evoking the PP is inappropriate.

This puts into perspective the claims made by Monsanto et al that since no harm has ever been proven to arise from the use of GMOs, they should therefore be considered safe. Which is the approach largely taken over by American politics, and increasingly also in Europe and other parts of the world. In their paper, Taleb et al say the approach does not meet proper scientific standards.

This is very close to my personal opinion, expressed in many articles in the past, that GMOs pose such risks on such a wide scale to the food supply of every human being on earth -as well as a much wider selection of organisms- that they should not be legalized before perhaps 100 years of tests have been done by large and independent teams of specialists.

Note that if you, as an individual farmer, as a community or even as a nation, want to ban GMOs but your neighbors do not, you will in the case of many crops not stand a chance of keeping your plants GMO free. For which you can subsequently be sued by the ‘owner’ of the genetically altered plants and seeds.

Also, I think it is irresponsibly dangerous to give a handful of companies (Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta), who all happen to be chemical giants dating back to the 20th century interbellum, and all with questionable pasts, a quasi-monopoly over the -future of- world’s food. Because that is where things will go unless proper principles are applied, both scientific and legal.

One of the main arguments proponents of GMOs use is that through thousand of years mankind has altered crops through selection ‘anyway’, so talking about anything ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ in this regard is not relevant. Taleb put the difference between altering a staple through this ‘generational’ selection on the one hand and the modifying of genes in a lab into a sketch:

The sketch was later annotated by Rahul Goswami, approved and shared by Taleb:

I think it is obvious that ‘generational’ selection through breeding is localized, can be rejected by nature. Genetic modification is something completely different, it takes a much bigger step (a giant leap) and forces itself -as a more or less alien body- onto a much larger eco-system.

It’s not about trying to figure out what works, but about forcing itself upon the world and its inhabitants regardless of the consequences. The precautionary principle is missing where it is most needed.

A few examples of Taleb’s tweets on the topic in the past few days make his stance abundantly clear.

“GMO issue is ignorance of the properties of complex systems/fattails (Monsanto’s 107 Nobels, 80 y.o. are 50 y behind)”

“Anyone pro-GMOs on “scientific” grounds is 50 years behind, ignorant of complexity, or just stupid”

“Monsanto pulled no stop trying to discredit me: 1000 mails to Univ (!),>1000 shill posts. Nada. F***you money works.”

Then, on to the article I started talking about above. As I said, it was written some two years ago by Sarah at the Healthy Home Economist. From the reactions to my posting it on Facebook -a huge number of shares- I surmise that many people A) had no idea that what Sarah describes is common practice, and B) have a profound interest in the topic.

Note: while a fair number of people said they had never heard of this, and/or doubted it was true at all, quite a few confirmed it as common where they live, and not just stateside, but in Scotland, Argentina etc.

Let’s see how we get through this. I don’t want to just post the whole thing, but I’ll need large portions of it.

The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic

The stories became far too frequent to ignore. Emails from folks with allergic or digestive issues to wheat in the United States experienced no symptoms whatsoever when they tried eating pasta on vacation in Italy. Confused parents wondering why wheat consumption sometimes triggered autoimmune reactions in their children but not at other times.

In my own home, I’ve long pondered why my husband can eat the wheat I prepare at home, but he experiences negative digestive effects eating even a single roll in a restaurant. There is clearly something going on with wheat that is not well known by the general public. It goes far and beyond organic versus nonorganic, gluten or hybridization because even conventional wheat triggers no symptoms for some who eat wheat in other parts of the world.

What indeed is going on with wheat? For quite some time, I secretly harbored the notion that wheat in the United States must, in fact, be genetically modified. GMO wheat secretly invading the North American food supply seemed the only thing that made sense and could account for the varied experiences I was hearing about. I reasoned that it couldn’t be the gluten or wheat hybridization. Gluten and wheat hybrids have been consumed for thousands of years.

It just didn’t make sense that this could be the reason for so many people suddenly having problems with wheat and gluten in general in the past 5-10 years.

Finally, the answer came over dinner a couple of months ago with a friend who was well versed in the wheat production process. I started researching the issue for myself, and was, quite frankly, horrified at what I discovered. The good news is that the reason wheat has become so toxic in the United States is not because it is secretly GMO as I had feared (thank goodness!).

The bad news is that the problem lies with the manner in which wheat is grown and harvested by conventional wheat farmers. You’re going to want to sit down for this one. I’ve had some folks burst into tears in horror when I passed along this information before.

Common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as the practice allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest

Pre-harvest application of the herbicide Roundup or other herbicides containing the deadly active ingredient glyphosate to wheat and barley as a desiccant was suggested as early as 1980. It has since become routine over the past 15 years and is used as a drying agent 7-10 days before harvest within the conventional farming community.USDA pesticides applied to wheat.

According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff of MIT who has studied the issue in depth and who I recently saw present on the subject at a nutritional Conference in Indianapolis, desiccating non-organic wheat crops with glyphosate just before harvest came into vogue late in the 1990’s with the result that most of the non-organic wheat in the United States is now contaminated with it.

Seneff explains that when you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds resulting in a slightly greater yield: “It ‘goes to seed’ as it dies. At its last gasp, it releases the seed” says Dr. Seneff. According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat has been treated with herbicides. This is an increase from 88% for durum wheat, 91% for spring wheat and 47% for winter wheat since 1998.

Wheat farmer Keith Lewis: “I have been a wheat farmer for 50 yrs and one wheat production practice that is very common is applying the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) just prior to harvest. Roundup is licensed for preharvest weed control. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup claims that application to plants at over 30% kernel moisture result in roundup uptake by the plant into the kernels. Farmers like this practice because Roundup kills the wheat plant allowing an earlier harvest.

A wheat field often ripens unevenly, thus applying Roundup preharvest evens up the greener parts of the field with the more mature. The result is on the less mature areas Roundup is translocated into the kernels and eventually harvested as such. This practice is not licensed. Farmers mistakenly call it “dessication.”

Consumers eating products made from wheat flour are undoubtedly consuming minute amounts of Roundup. An interesting aside, malt barley which is made into beer is not acceptable in the marketplace if it has been sprayed with preharvest Roundup. Lentils and peas are not accepted in the market place if it was sprayed with preharvest roundup….. but wheat is ok.. This farming practice greatly concerns me and it should further concern consumers of wheat products.”

This practice is not just widespread in the United States either. The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom reports that use of Roundup as a wheat desiccant results in glyphosate residues regularly showing up in bread samples. Other European countries are waking up to to the danger, however. In the Netherlands, use of Roundup is completely banned with France likely soon to follow.

Using Roundup on wheat crops throughout the entire growing season and even as a desiccant just prior to harvest may save the farmer money and increase profits, but it is devastating to the health of the consumer who ultimately consumes the glyphosate residue laden wheat kernels.

The chart below of skyrocketing applications of glyphosate to US wheat crops since 1990 and the incidence of celiac disease is from a December 2013 study published in the Journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology examining glyphosate pathways to autoimmune disease. Remember that wheat is not currently GMO or “Roundup Ready” meaning it is not resistant to its withering effects like GMO corn or GMO soy, so application of glyphosate to wheat would actually kill it.

While the herbicide industry maintains that glyphosate is minimally toxic to humans, research published in the Journal Entropy strongly argues otherwise by shedding light on exactly how glyphosate disrupts mammalian physiology. Authored by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff of MIT, the paper investigates glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, an overlooked component of lethal toxicity to mammals.

The currently accepted view is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or any mammals. This flawed view is so pervasive in the conventional farming community that Roundup salesmen have been known to foolishly drink it during presentations! However, just because Roundup doesn’t kill you immediately doesn’t make it nontoxic. In fact, the active ingredient in Roundup lethally disrupts the all important shikimate pathway found in beneficial gut microbes which is responsible for synthesis of critical amino acids.

Friendly gut bacteria, also called probiotics, play a critical role in human health. Gut bacteria aid digestion, prevent permeability of the gastrointestinal tract (which discourages the development of autoimmune disease), synthesize vitamins and provide the foundation for robust immunity. In essence:

Roundup significantly disrupts the functioning of beneficial bacteria in the gut and contributes to permeability of the intestinal wall and consequent expression of autoimmune disease symptoms

In synergy with disruption of the biosynthesis of important amino acids via the shikimate pathway, glyphosate inhibits the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes produced by the gut microbiome. CYP enzymes are critical to human biology because they detoxify the multitude of foreign chemical compounds, xenobiotics, that we are exposed to in our modern environment today.

As a result, humans exposed to glyphosate through use of Roundup in their community or through ingestion of its residues on industrialized food products become even more vulnerable to the damaging effects of other chemicals and environmental toxins they encounter! What’s worse is that the negative impact of glyphosate exposure is slow and insidious over months and years as inflammation gradually gains a foothold in the cellular systems of the body.

The consequences of this systemic inflammation are most of the diseases and conditions associated with the Western lifestyle: Gastrointestinal disorders, Obesity ,Diabetes, Heart Disease, Depression, Autism, Infertility, Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc.

In a nutshell, Dr. Seneff’s study of Roundup’s ghastly glyphosate which the wheat crop in the United States is doused with uncovers the manner in which this lethal toxin harms the human body by decimating beneficial gut microbes with the tragic end result of disease, degeneration, and widespread suffering

[..] The bottom line is that avoidance of conventional wheat in the United States is absolutely imperative even if you don’t currently have a gluten allergy or wheat sensitivity. The increase in the amount of glyphosate applied to wheat closely correlates with the rise of celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Dr. Seneff points out that the increases in these diseases are not just genetic in nature, but also have an environmental cause as not all patient symptoms are alleviated by eliminating gluten from the diet. The effects of deadly glyphosate on your biology are so insidious that lack of symptoms today means literally nothing. If you don’t have problems with wheat now, you will in the future if you keep eating conventionally produced, toxic wheat!

I guess we can leave it at that for now. Do go to the original article for more. Whether you look at it from a scientific viewpoint, as Taleb et al do, or from a common sense one, as Sarah does, the common thread seems obvious: Monsanto and other rich chemical giants seek to be the sole providers -even owners- of the world’s food, handed to us for free by nature and generations of our ancestors.

And to achieve that magnitude of power -and riches- they are more than willing to literally drive over sick and dead bodies. Once again, Taleb:

The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it.

That is not what’s happening, and there’s not much time left to start applying it before it’s too late. Because GMOs, once they’ve been introduced in a large enough environment, are near impossible to get rid of.

To end on a somewhat happier note, Taleb thinks that Monsanto is doing quite poorly these days, financially. Then again, that’s why Bayer wants to buy them, and that would only mean a continuation or even increase of the present practices.

What we need is decision makers who understand the science of complex systems, probability and the precautionary principle. And I don’t know about you, but when I look at who’s vying to be the leaders of the US, UK and many other nations, I think we’re a long way away from that.

Only Putin seems to get it. His stated goal is to make Russia the largest producer of organic food in the world. So maybe there is still hope.

Jul 212014
 
 July 21, 2014  Posted by at 8:54 pm Finance Tagged with: , ,  


NPC Confiscated still, Washington, DC 1922

I’m sorry, or I guess I am, but I find it hard not to constantly read up on the news about flight MH17 these days, and I let it drown out other things. Obviously, there’s plenty of it available in Dutch media, with much more to drown even that out in the English language press.

For a country the size of Holland, losing 193 people in one go evokes the six degrees of separation. And that makes sense, grief must be shared in order to heal. I just – or think that I should – wish I had more confidence in today’s people’s abilities to make that experience real, instead of to a large extent mass media induced.

And besides, closely connected, who would want to talk about yen and interest rates when lighting strikes so close to home? Which reminds me of why I talk about those things all the time: to try and make as many people as I possible can think about the difference between what they’re being told, and what is actually happening to them and to the world around them.

The aftermath of the plane crash reveals once more, as if there was a need, what an uphill struggle that is. The pre-fab picture of what is supposed to be perceived as ‘them’ and as ‘evil’ goes down hook line and sinker, without hardly anyone asking for a shred of proof; it doesn’t seem to matter one bit.

The enemy is given a face, and a carefully crafted storyline, and we’re off to the horses. You could be excused for being inclined to wonder why they bother to teach people how to read. Perhaps the idea is that it makes the story go down faster.

Accusations, allegations, insinuations, suspicions, we’re being treated to a boxful of chocolates and some of us know exactly what we’re going to get, but then they’re not our treats, they’re for the others, the ones with the sugar addiction.

The best thing I can hope for, and perhaps all of us can, is that a few people will see in a sliver of light shining through the present parade of fighting innuendo, what it is they’re being told, and have been told for many years now, about their economies, their savings, their pensions, and the future of their children.

That those stories have as much truth and proof in them as the ones about who started the battles in Iraq, and Kiev, and East Ukraine. That this is an MO: to tell people what you want them to believe, clad in carefully crafted spin, so they’ll support whatever power games your twisted minds are playing, power over a county, a country, a planet.

That’s really the best to hope for: a few more people who hear the metal click of the coin drop, whether it’s about plane crashes or economic crashes; a few more who would like to see at least a shred of proof before their minds are made up for them.

The Grave Future Of British Public And Private Debt (Guardian)

When interest rates begin to rise, we’re told they will top out at 3%. Don’t worry, homeowners, say the rate-setters, crippling monthly payments are a thing of the past. Charlie Bean, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England and one of the rate-setters until last month, made it clear that the scale of household debts made it impossible to return to something like normal within the next 10 years. Almost casually, this picture painted by Bean has become generally accepted: that monetary policy will be determined largely by how long it takes to nurse homeowners back to health. Not just this year and next, when the recovery is sustainable, but for much longer, by which he means until their finances are considerably more robust. There are several critics of this view, including Boris Johnson’s economic adviser Gerard Lyons, who said last week that rates should canter towards 6%.

Lyons, a former City analyst, is among a minority in the Square Mile who subscribe to a more optimistic outlook for the nation’s economic health and the consumer’s ability to shop and pay their debts at the same time. Yet this possibly London-centric view underestimates the sheer scale of debts already accumulated and, after a brief period of repayment, the need to feed consumption with debt. There is also the government balance sheet to consider. With increasing burdens on its spending, the ability of governments to support consumer spending – as they have done in recent years with a constant diet of tax credits and tax cuts – will become limited. A report published this month by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) mapped out how Whitehall faces a massive squeeze on its finances over the next 45 years just to cope with an ageing society. The report said this would amount to 4.8% of GDP, or £79bn a year in today’s terms.

It’s a guesstimate, yet it is only a partial view of the total mismatch between income and expenditure. In recent months, anti-poverty campaigners have grown agitated about the broader legacy of debt. Since its inception, private finance initiatives have created about £239bn of liabilities for the taxpayer, with costs being carried forward over the next 20 to 30 years. The university tuition-fee reforms, which allowed the government to transfer almost the entire cost to undergraduates, also kicked the repayments well into the future. Earlier this year, the House of Commons public accounts committee reported current outstanding student debt of £46bn on the government’s books, a figure set to rise to £200bn by 2042 with an estimate attached that shows more than £70bn will never be repaid. Costs for the National Health Service are also growing rapidly and a £30bn shortfall on current spending is predicted by health chiefs as early as 2020.

Read more …

Sovereign Debt Back At Square One (Guardian)

Argentina and its bankers have been barred from making payments to fulfil debt-restructuring agreements reached with the country’s creditors, unless the 7% of creditors who rejected the agreements are paid in full – a judgment that is likely to stick, now that the US supreme court has upheld it. Though it is hard to cry for Argentina, the ruling in favour of the holdouts is bad news for the global financial system and sets back the evolution of the international regime for restructuring sovereign debt. Why is it so hard to feel sympathy for a developing country that is unable pay its debts? For starters, in 2001 Argentina took the unusual step of unilaterally defaulting on its entire $100bn debt, rather than negotiating new terms with its creditors. When the government finally got round to negotiating a debt swap in 2005, it could almost dictate the terms – a 70% “haircut”.

In the intervening decade, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, have pursued a variety of spectacularly bad economic policies. The independence of the central bank and the statistical agency has been severely compromised, with Fernández forcing the adoption, for example, of a consumer price index that grossly understates the inflation rate. Contracts have been violated, foreign-owned companies have been nationalised, and when soaring global prices for Argentina’s leading agricultural commodities provided a golden opportunity to boost output and raise chronically insufficient foreign-currency earnings, Fernández imposed heavy tariffs and quotas on exports of soy, wheat and beef.

Some might counter that the holdout hedge funds that sued Argentina deserve no sympathy either. Many are called “vulture funds”, because they bought the debt at a steep discount from the original creditors, hoping to profit subsequently through court decisions. The problem with the Argentine debt case has little to do with the moral failings of either the plaintiffs or the defendant. It lies in the precedent it establishes for resolving future international debt crises.

Read more …

So, where to now?

A Junk-Bond Warning: Investors Exit As Yields Rise (MarketWatch)

Weeks of falling junk bond prices have started to spook some bond investors, signalling that the record run for the riskiest part of corporate debt may be ending. Bond investors have been piling into high-yield debt for years as they search for income in a low-rate environment, but yields had dropped so much that even the Federal Reserve, normally not one to comment on asset prices, has raised concerns. “Those valuations are very, very lofty right now. We’re talking to clients about taking everything they own and paring back credit risk from the weakest part of the credit universe,” said Richard Sega, chief investment officer at investment manager Conning, which manages $92 billion in assets.

Investors may be taking all that advice to heart. In the week ended Wednesday, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that invest in high yield bonds saw a total of $1.68 billion in redemptions, marking the largest outflow since August 2013, according to data from Lipper. However, the selloff hasn’t extended to other parts of the bond market. While investors have been pulling money out of junk bonds, they actually increased exposure to investment-grade corporate debt. The outflow from the junk-bond part of the market comes amid a decline in price and corresponding rise in yields over the past month. The Barclays High Yield Bond index, which is tracked by the SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF, has seen yields rise from a record low of 4.83% on June 20th to 5.17% on Wednesday. That’s still low by historical standards, but a sign that valuations have softened.

Read more …

If only they did. Or we did, for that matter.

Smart Countries Create And Shape Their Own Markets (Observer)

Last week in Fortaleza, Brazil, the five Brics nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – finally signed a deal to create a $50bn new development bank and a $100bn contingent reserve arrangement. The new financial institutions are seen by many as nothing less than a challenge to the existing financial world order led by the IMF and the World Bank. These new institutions have many hurdles to overcome before they can be established, but perhaps their greatest challenge is the one they pose to entrenched thinking. Why have any intervention of this scale if growth, as many argue, is mainly driven by private finance and privatebusiness?

Economist Joseph Schumpeter, known for his cutting-edge work on the effect of technological change in transforming capitalist economies, and who brought the term “creative destruction” to prominence, got one thing wrong: he called financial markets the ephors (Spartan leaders) of capitalism. He believed finance to be so powerful because innovation must be financed: without new financial instruments willing to fund activities outside the current status quo, entrepreneurs will not be able to bring their ideas to market. The reason he got it wrong is that he did not realise what would happen later: finance not funding investment or innovation in the “real economy” but finance funding… well, finance.

Indeed, the origins of the financial crisis and the massive and disproportionate growth of the financial sector originated in the 1970s, as finance became increasingly de-linked from the real economy. Things became worse in the early 2000s when banks began increasingly to lend to other financial institutions, via wholesale markets, to make loans not matched by deposits. They lent mainly to hedge funds, private equity, and subprime mortgages, as well as to derivatives built on these, because the returns were higher than lending to industry or government. We all know what happened next. The result was that banks’ assets ballooned, but were increasingly based on thin air. When asset prices fell, and bank equity wiped out, they were so highly leveraged it required only a 3% fall for the major bust to occur.

Read more …

We bring you: Mortgage backed securities. The 21st century’s biggest success story.

China’s First Mortgage Debt Since Crisis Shows Li Concern (Bloomberg)

China will revive mortgage-backed debt sales this week after a six-year hiatus, as the government extends help to homebuyers in a flagging property market. Postal Savings Bank of China, which has 39,000 branches in the country, plans to sell 6.8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) of the notes backed by residential mortgages tomorrow, according to a July 15 statement on the website of Chinabond. The last such security in the nation was sold by China Construction Bank in 2007, Bloomberg-compiled data show. Premier Li Keqiang is seeking to avert a collapse of the real-estate market after data last week showed new home prices dropped in a record number of cities in the world’s second-largest economy. The central bank in May called on the nation’s biggest lenders to accelerate the granting of mortgages to first-home buyers, and cities including Nanning, Hohhot and Jinan eased property restrictions.

“The government has eased its attitude toward the property market since property demand plunged this year,” said Wang Ying, an analyst in Shanghai at Fitch Ratings Ltd. “The policy measures it has taken this year have conveyed a message that property curbs will not be as strong as before.” Selling mortgage-backed securities can help banks free up space on their balance sheets for more lending by transferring the risk of the loans to buyers of the products. Authorities are allowing the revival of such offerings after housing prices fell in 55 of the 70 cities last month from May, the National Bureau of Statistics said on July 18, the most since January 2011 when the government changed the way it compiles the statistics. New mortgages in Shanghai, China’s financial center, declined 2.2% in the first half, according to a statement posted on the central bank’s Shanghai head office website last week.

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China GDP is what they say it is. Until it isn’t.

China’s Meaningless GDP Figures (MarketWatch)

Last week, China again matched its GDP forecast on the button. But this didn’t really tell us much, other than that Beijing will keep credit rolling to make its number. If we are going to start with the numbers as a given, we really need another way of making some sense of this giant economy. What would help is to remember the starting point. Think of China’s economy as a large, overweight person who just can’t commit to a new, healthier lifestyle. Instead of embarking on much debated reform, China just can’t resist another helping of easy money. In such circumstances, we should not be monitoring an enlarged waistline every quarter as a sign of progress, but rather as sign of further fragility as more debt is piled on.

There is plenty evidence China’s giant size is unhealthy. For starters, there is the degree of overcapacity in industries ranging from steel to aluminium to the infamous ghost cities of uninhabited apartment blocks. Then there are the unpleasant side effects of this growth, such as degradation of the environment and food sources, and some of the choking pollution that has seen whole cities grind to halt. The problem is that China keeps growing as long as the money keeps flowing. No one has ever said, “No! You have had enough.” When more money is needed, loans are rolled over not repaid. When state banks ran low on funds, a whole new backstreet-shadow-banking industry mushroomed, where money came with fewer questions asked.

You can take your pick of evidence that China’s growth has relied on overindulging on unhealthy levels of debt. But one new statistic that caught my eye — and puts China’s size and debt in perspective — comes in author Joe Zhang’s new book on China’s state capitalism. Zhang calculates that despite having an economy about half the size of the U.S. at current exchange rates, money supply (on a broad measure) is already about 61% bigger. And there is little sign of belt-tightening, with China’s credit balance still compounding at an annual rate of 13%-14%. This credit path might seem self-destructive, but it also comes with a salutary side effect: an enormous property boom. This did not just inflate GDP numbers, but also brought feel-good asset wealth through rocketing land values.

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I don’t like where this is leading. Nor should anyone else.

Bank of Japan’s Bazooka Increasingly Felt Around Asia (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) unprecedented monetary stimulus is increasingly being felt around Asia, with the central bank’s liquidity set to provide an important buffer against the Federal Reserve’s impending tightening, says HSBC. “With inflation [in Japan] still far from target, we expect the BoJ to keep financial conditions extraordinarily loose for some time. Asia will increasingly feel the impact of Japanese capital,” Izumi Devalier, economist at HSBC wrote in a report. In April 2013, the central bank launched an aggressive easing program to pull the world’s third largest economy out of two decades of deflation and sluggish growth.

It has since been injecting $60-80 billion per month into the financial system via purchases of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) and risk assets. The availability of cheap Japanese funding will rise in importance as the Fed takes monetary policy in the opposite direction of the BoJ, Devalier said. The U.S. central bank has steadily scaled back its monthly asset purchases over the course of the year to $35 billion per month, down from a peak of $85 billion in 2013. It is expected to begin raising interest rates as early as the second quarter of next year. “That evokes concerns of a sudden drought of liquidity in Asia, where aggressive easing by the Fed has increased the availability of dollar funding, encouraging portfolio flows from overseas investors,” Devalier said.

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We have a global corruption competition going.

Alibaba’s IPO Could Be a Bonanza for the Scions of Chinese Leaders (NY Times)

It was billed as the biggest private financing deal in the history of China. In September 2012, the Alibaba Group announced that it had completed a $7.6 billion deal to buy back half of Yahoo’s stake in it. The giant e-commerce company raised part of the money by selling shares to select investors, notably China’s sovereign wealth fund and three prominent Chinese investment firms. What Alibaba did not detail was the deep political connections of the investment firms, Boyu Capital, Citic Capital Holdings and CDB Capital, the China Development Bank’s private investment arm. Their senior executive ranks included sons or grandsons of the most powerful members of the ruling Communist Party, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Documents reviewed by The Times also show that a fourth investor bought Alibaba shares that month: New Horizon Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by the son of China’s prime minister at the time, Wen Jiabao.

The new revelations only demonstrate the paucity of information about existing shareholders in what is poised to be the biggest initial public offering of this year. As part of its regular filings for the offering, Alibaba disclosed the owners of about 70 percent of its shares. The group includes big foreign investors like Yahoo and the Japanese communications company SoftBank, as well as top executives such as Alibaba’s chairman, Jack Ma, and its vice chairman, Joe Tsai. But less is known about other shareholders, whose sway may be significant even if their stakes are not. The situation raises questions about the transparency and operations of Alibaba, which is set to go public in the United States in the coming months. “It would take, at this point, a seismic effort to topple an Alibaba,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, a co-founder of the Beijing firm J Capital Research, which specializes in detailed analyses of Chinese companies. “They’ve got so many different allies across so many different ministries.”

Such politically connected investors will most likely reap a bonanza when Alibaba goes public, an offering that analysts estimate could value the company at more than $200 billion. At that level, even a 1 percent stake would be worth $2 billion. Already, their investments have performed spectacularly well. New Horizon Capital reported that at the end of 2013 the value of its Alibaba stake stood at 3.73 times the cost of its initial investment, according to the documents — financial statements from one of New Horizon’s investors, the Cayman Islands-registered partnership Legacy Capital. By that measure, the $400 million investment in Alibaba made by a subsidiary of Boyu Capital gained more than $1 billion in the same time period. Boyu counts former President Jiang Zemin’s Harvard-educated grandson Alvin Jiang as a partner.

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And what are the chances they’ll comply?

UK Banks Urged To Warn Mortgage Borrowers On Rate Rises (Observer)

Millions of mortgage borrowers are at risk of financial hardship when the Bank of England begins to raise interest rates, a major study of household debt will report this week. According to the study by the Resolution Foundation, around 2 million UK borrowers who took out risky loans in the years before the financial crash, or who still have high loan-to-value mortgages, may be unprepared for the financial burden of higher interest rates. The Bank is set to raise base rates gradually to 3% over the next couple of years, after keeping them at a historically low 0.5% since 2009. The report will warn that borrowers across the UK need to brace themselves for the end of this unprecedented “holiday period”.

Matthew Whittaker, chief economist at the thinktank and co-author of the study, said: “We need to act now to ensure that all lenders seek out those customers who are just about keeping their heads above water in the current era of low interest rates in order to help them prepare for a future of higher repayments. Some lenders are already doing this, but it’s crucial that the whole industry wakes up to the need to identify and engage with these at-risk customers.” The report recommends that the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, should require lenders to undertake a financial health check of all vulnerable customers to judge how they would cope with higher repayments. Lenders should also point them to sources of independent financial advice, it will say.

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Where would we be without our dark pools?

Barclays Dark Pool Drew Early Alarms (WSJ)

Trading firms and employees raised concerns about high-speed traders at Barclays’ dark pool months before the New York attorney general alleged in June that the firm lied to clients about the extent of predatory trading activity on the electronic trading venue, according to people familiar with the firms. Some big trading outfits noticed their orders weren’t getting the best treatment on the dark pool, said people familiar with the trading. The firms began to grow concerned that the poor results resulted from high-frequency trading, the people said. In response, at least two firms – RBC Capital Markets and T. Rowe Price Group – boosted the minimum number of shares they would trade on the dark pool, letting them dodge high-speed traders, who often trade in small chunks of 100 or 200 shares, the people said.

Meanwhile, a number of Barclays employees privately expressed concerns to top stock-trading executives that the firm was giving high-frequency traders too much access to its dark pool without fully informing clients, according to people familiar with the complaints. Investment firms worry that high-speed traders can detect their orders in dark pools and trade elsewhere using the information, moving the price against the companies. Such concerns, expressed privately by clients and employees, now have become a public embarrassment for the London-based bank, which has been making efforts to clean up its image after its involvement in an interest-rate-manipulation scandal.

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Oh wait, there’s still a few poor sods left to squeeze ..

In Subprime Bubble for Used Cars, Borrowers Pay Sky-High Rates (NY Times)

Rodney Durham stopped working in 1991, declared bankruptcy and lives on Social Security. Nonetheless, Wells Fargo lent him $15,197 to buy a used Mitsubishi sedan. “I am not sure how I got the loan,” Mr. Durham, age 60, said. Mr. Durham’s application said that he made $35,000 as a technician at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, N.Y., according to a copy of the loan document. But he says he told the dealer he hadn’t worked at the hospital for more than three decades. Now, after months of Wells Fargo pressing him over missed payments, the bank has repossessed his car.

This is the face of the new subprime boom. Mr. Durham is one of millions of Americans with shoddy credit who are easily obtaining auto loans from used-car dealers, including some who fabricate or ignore borrowers’ abilities to repay. The loans often come with terms that take advantage of the most desperate, least financially sophisticated customers. The surge in lending and the lack of caution resemble the frenzied subprime mortgage market before its implosion set off the 2008 financial crisis. Auto loans to people with tarnished credit have risen more than 130% in the five years since the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, with roughly one in four new auto loans last year going to borrowers considered subprime — people with credit scores at or below 640.

The explosive growth is being driven by some of the same dynamics that were at work in subprime mortgages. A wave of money is pouring into subprime autos, as the high rates and steady profits of the loans attract investors. Just as Wall Street stoked the boom in mortgages, some of the nation’s biggest banks and private equity firms are feeding the growth in subprime auto loans by investing in lenders and making money available for loans. And, like subprime mortgages before the financial crisis, many subprime auto loans are bundled into complex bonds and sold as securities by banks to insurance companies, mutual funds and public pension funds — a process that creates ever-greater demand for loans.

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Might as well make the last bits fun …

Mississippi Pension Fund Heads For Final ‘Jeopardy’ (Watchdog.org)

We’ll take pension reform for a thousand. Make no mistake, Mississippi is playing “Jeopardy” with its public employee retirement fund. Failing to take steps toward reform might prove disastrous for retirees who depend on their benefits from the Public Employees’ Retirement System and the state’s budget. Mississippi, it’s becoming apparent, is making promises about its pension fund it surely can’t keep, according to a new study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Let’s make it a true “Double Jeopardy, Alex.” The state’s unfunded liability with PERS as a%age of the state’s gross domestic product was third worst behind New Mexico and Illinois, according to the study by Robert Sarvis. The state’s unfunded liability is more than $15 billion, the state’s most recent report — in 2013 — says. That’s an increase of more than 50% since 2007, when the state’s unfunded liability was more than $7 billion.

Sarvis found that states are using accounting gimmicks, such as an overly optimistic discount rate — the interest rate used to determine the present value of future cash flow — that tend to decrease the amount of unfunded liability. He argues that the discount rate on state pension funds should be equivalent to that on 10- and 20-year Treasury bonds, which ranges in the 3% to 4% range. The discount rate most state pension funds use is 7% or 8%. “The state government needs to start putting more money into the pension system and make the necessary adjustments to the discount rate,” said Joe Luppino-Esposito, the editor and general counsel of State Budget Solutions. “And it needs to happen immediately. As time passes, the liability grows. It’s simple math. “Unfortunately, too many state officials are only watching the short-term goals of government. But that does not make the future liabilities any less daunting — in fact, it makes them worse.”

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“… UK citizens and UK intelligence platforms are used as a testing ground …”

‘Test It On Brits:’ Snowden Says GCHQ Even Worse Than NSA (RT)

“And what that means is UK citizens and UK intelligence platforms are used as a testing ground for all of the other Five Eyes partners,” he said. In May, a group of British MPs called for more accountability on the part of the country’s intelligence. They said the confidential files, leaked by Edward Snowden revealed the “embarrassing” state of legal oversight into the British surveillance system. Snowden recalled a raid on the Guardian’s offices a year ago to obtain and destroyed hard drives with leaked files as another example of the country’s intelligence going too far in its activity. “It seemed like a clear intent to intimidate the press into pulling back and not reporting,” Snowden said. “And I think that was why it was inappropriate, but tremendously beneficial for the public conversation because they gave everyone who was concerned about the abuses of power a clear and specific example.”

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UK, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand.

Edward Snowden Interview – The Edited Transcript (Guardian)

Their respect for the privacy right, their respect for individual citizens, their ability to communicate and associate without monitoring and interference is not strongly encoded in law or policy. And the result of that is that citizens in the United Kingdom and citizens around the world who are targeted by the United Kingdom, by the UK government, by UK systems, by UK authorities, they’re at a much greater risk than they are in the United States. You’ve got their own admission in their own documents that “we’ve got a much lighter oversight regime than we should have”, full stop. That’s what they’re talking about. They enjoy authorities that they really shouldn’t be entitled to. And the problem with that is, when you have an unrestrained intelligence agency that’s not being well overseen, that’s not accountable to the public, they’re going to go further than they need to.

They’re going to overreach. They’re going to implement systems and policies and target people who are not necessary to target. Tempora [GCHQ’s internet surveillance program] is really proof … that GCHQ has much less strict legal restrictions than other western government intelligence. The UK government may publicly say, “We have very strict regulations. There’s a broad oversight. There’s intense accountability for all of these officials operating these programs”. Their own private documents, classified documents they never expect the public to see, say something very different, which is, “We have a very light oversight regime compared to all other western countries”. And what that means is UK citizens and UK intelligence platforms are used as a testing ground for all of the other five eyes partners – that’s the UK, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand.

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“It will be really pretty ugly … ”

Great Barrier Reef ‘In Worst State Since Records Began’ (AAP)

The Great Barrier Reef is in the worst state it’s been in since records began and will be “pretty ugly” within 40 years, Australian scientists say. A Senate committee is investigating how the Australian and Queensland governments have managed the reef, with Unesco to decide next year whether to list it as a world heritage site in danger. Scientists have told the committee the reef is facing threats from coastal development, such as a massive port-related dredging project at Abbot Point, farm runoff and poor water quality. The reef cannot rejuvenate after times of stress as it once did, the scientists say. The Australian Coral Reef Society – the oldest organisation in the world that studies coral reefs – says coral cover has halved since the 1980s, when the reef was listed as a world heritage asset.

By 2050 there will be fewer fish and large swaths of seaweed where complex coral structures once thrived, society president Peter Mumby said. “It will be really pretty ugly,” Mumby told the committee. “And the ability to earn a livelihood will be vastly diminished. “The reef is in the worse state it’s ever been in since records began. There is so much scope to improve governance.” The committee was told funding for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had been cut, and the commonwealth was set to devolve its environmental approval powers to the states, meaning big projects would only be assessed once. The director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, said current efforts to help the reef were inadequate. “The threats are escalating,” he told the hearing. “It is time for a rethink. We are living in a fantasy land.”

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Huh?

Territories Free of ObamaCare (WSJ)

Last week’s burst of world disorder was ideal for a news dump, and the White House didn’t disappoint: On no legal basis, all 4.5 million residents of the five U.S. territories were quietly released from ObamaCare. Where does everybody else apply? The original House and Senate bills that became the Affordable Care Act included funding for insurance exchanges in these territories, as President Obama promised when as a Senator he campaigned in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and other 2008 Democratic primaries. But the $14.5 billion in subsidies for the territories were dumped in 2010 as ballast when Democrats needed to claim the law reduced the deficit. As a consolation, Democrats opened several public-health programs to the territories and bestowed most of ObamaCare’s insurance regulations, which liberals euphemize as “consumer protections,” such as requiring insurers to accept all comers and charge the same premiums regardless of patient health.

“After a careful review of the law,” said Health and Human Services in a 2012 letter, HHS granted the territories’ request to apply these rules “to the maximum extent permitted by law.” These uneconomic mandates promptly caused insurance rates to soar and many insurers to flee the territorial markets. You can’t buy any policy at any price in the Mariana Islands. So the territories have spent the last two years beseeching HHS for a regulatory exemption. As recently as last year, HHS instructed the territories that they “have enjoyed the benefits of the applicable consumer protections” and HHS “has no legal authority to exclude the territories” from ObamaCare. HHS said the law adopted an explicit definition of “state” that includes the territories for the purpose of the mandates and the public-health programs, and another explicit definition that excludes the territories for the purpose of the subsidies. Thus there is “no statutory authority . . . to selectively exempt the territories from certain provisions, unless specified by law.”

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