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[Markets] Watch: Sikorsky-Boeing Conduct First Flight Of This Very Unusual Helicopter 

The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter completed its first round of flight tests early Thursday morning (March 21) at Sikorsky's West Palm Beach, Florida location. This advanced aircraft, developed by Sikorsky and Boeing, will be submitted to the U.S. Army's Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program.

"Defiant is designed to fly at nearly twice the speed and has twice the range of conventional helicopters while retaining the very best, if not better low-speed and hover performance of conventional helicopters," said Dan Spoor, vice president, Sikorsky Future Vertical Lift."

"This design provides for exceptional performance in the objective area, where potential enemy activity places a premium on maneuverability, survivability and flexibility. We are thrilled with the results of today's flight and look forward to an exciting flight test program," Spoor added.

With its two coaxial main rotors and rear-mounted pusher propulsion system, Defiant is a new bread of aircraft that could replace the Army's convention helicopters.

The Sikorsky-Boeing team has encountered several delays related to manufacturing difficulties of the aircraft's blades. The original test flight was scheduled for 4Q18 but engineers discovered a series of issues while testing the power-train system.

Before Defiant could fly, the team was required to rigorously test the aircraft for 15 hours on the ground.

The helicopter took off at 7:47 a.m. and flew for more than 30 minutes on Thursday. Defense News said the aircraft performed low-speed maneuvers and hovered around Sikorsky's West Palm Beach location.

"Today’s flight was a tremendous success and a culmination of a lot of work by the men and women of the Sikorsky-Boeing team DEFIANT team," the Sikorsky-Boeing team told Defense News. "So much credit goes to their tireless efforts to get us to where we are today."

The team also said they were "very pleased" with the first test flight and will further examine the flight data next week and prepare for more tests in the near term.

Data from Defiant will allow the Sikorsky-Boeing team to tweak the aircraft to meet the Army's requirements for a new utility helicopter expected to enter service in the next ten years.

Video: Defiant Completes First Flight

 

Published:3/24/2019 7:54:22 AM
[Markets] France Is The Socialist Future We Should Dread

Authored by Veronique de Rugy via The American Institute for Economic Research,

A lot of attention and ink are being poured these days in trying to explain to a generation of voters why socialism always fails. Not only does socialism always fail to deliver the economic goods; it is also a source of massive oppression and pain.

I get why so many are devoting such amounts of energy to this task. First, the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and few others have made the notion of socialism acceptable in some circles and even hip. Also, according to a poll from August, for the first time since Gallup has asked the question, more Democrats approve of socialism than of capitalism.

However, if all we do is talk about how Venezuela is a hellhole and Cuba is a terrible place, I fear that we might end up being the modern equivalent of Don Quixote fighting the windmill.

The Cuban Model

There is a ton of work still to do to help younger Americans understand how Venezuela and Cuba ended up being such horrible places (in some cases, we even have to explain that yes, indeed, these are horrible places). Until Venezuela was in the news on a regular basis because of the approach of its people toward starvation, as well as the expropriation and daily tyranny from Chavez-Maduro regime, there were plenty of intellectuals praising the system. And let’s not forget the praises or lack of condemnation for the oppressive regime that is Cuba coming from many world leaders after Fidel Castro finally died.

So yes, there is a lot of work to be done. However, if that’s all we do in response to AOC and Sanders promising Americans that a socialist regime will produce a world where everyone works less, earns more, gets free healthcare and schooling, and receives generous subsidies from the government even when one decides not to work, no one tempted by socialism will listen.

The Swedish Model

That’s because when Sanders and his ilk talk about socialism, they aren’t talking about expropriating property rights, nationalizing all businesses, or eliminating all but one - the state’s - television channel. They aren’t talking about Venezuela or Cuba. Instead, they are talking about Denmark and Sweden.

It is true that Sanders and his people fail apparently don’t to understand that socialism exists on a spectrum. On one side you have the dictatorships, while on the other side you have the social democracies. Both sides of the spectrum use oppression and compulsory taxation to achieve their goals. But the degree to which they do so varies a great deal.

This variation in socialist methods gives rise also to variation in the legitimacy of different degrees of socialism. No one seriously ever thinks of French president Emmanuel Macron as a despot (even though his own people happen to call him tyrannical on a regular basis) in spite of the gigantic size of the French state and the enormous amount of taxes extracted by the regime. One side allows elections, the other side either forbids them or makes a mockery of the concept.

Yet, it is also true that all varieties of socialism fail to achieve their goals for the same reason: all varieties attempt, to one degree or another, to substitute the decisions of government planners for those of private citizens interacting in competitive markets.

And in doing so, all varieties of socialism suffer from the insurmountable knowledge problem, as beautifully demonstrated by the late economist Don Lavoie in his book 1985 book, National Economic Planning: What is Left?

That said, there is still a vast difference between Venezuela and Denmark in term of how much of the economy planners try to control and, as a result, how much of the economy planners destroy. I worry that if we keep talking as if today’s American Democrats envision controls as extensive as exist in Venezuela, those of us who warn of the dangers that lurk in the schemes of Sanders and AOC won’t get through.

The French Model

In addition to this difficulty is the fact that while they claim that they are talking about Nordic countries, what Sanders and AOC actually have in mind is a regime more like that of France. When Sweden and Denmark each had in place a regime closer to what Sanders is talking about, the results were so bad that each of these countries put in place pretty dramatic free-marketreforms. These two countries are by no means libertarian paradises, but thanks large spending cuts and lower taxes, they aren’t the hot mess that they once were.

France is, though, such a mess. That’s because there is one aspect in particular that the AOCs and Sanderses of the world fail to mention to their followers when they talk about their socialist dream: all of the goodies that they believe the American people are entitled to receive in fact come at a great cost -–and so the only way to pay for these goodies is with oppressive and regressive taxes (i.e., taxes heaped on to the backs of the middle class and the poor).

France was once a role model for what big government can do for its people. But it has become an embarrassing example since “The Gilets Jaunes” took to the streets to demonstrate against the insane amount of taxes they pay. These guys aren’t upper class. They are the people who have until now supported the policies that are inevitable when you have the government providing so many services and involved so deeply in so much of the economy.

Talking about taxes, the WSJ had a good summary of the situation:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its annual Revenue Statistics report this week, and France topped the charts, with a tax take equal to 46.2% of GDP in 2017. That’s more than Denmark (46%), Sweden (44%) and Germany (37.5%), and far more than the OECD average (34.2%) or the U.S. (27.1%, which includes all levels of government).

France doesn’t collect that revenue in the ways you might think. Despite the stereotype of heavy European income taxes on the rich, Paris relies disproportionately on social-insurance, payroll and property taxes. Social taxes account for 37% of French revenue; the OECD average is 26%. Payroll and property taxes contribute 3% and 9%, compared to the OECD averages of 1% and 6%.

As a reminder, the payroll tax is very regressive; it consumes a larger share of low and middle class earners than rich people. In addition:

Then Europe adds a regressive consumption tax, the value-added tax. In France, VAT and other consumption taxes make up 24% of revenue, and that’s on the low side compared to an OECD average of 33%. Consumption taxes often fall hardest on the poor and middle class, who devote a greater proportion of their income to consumption.

To be sure, the spending is also more regressive in France in that the biggest share goes to the middle and low-income earners. But it is a stupid system in which you tax one group to redistribute to that same group.

Add one more increase to an already high (and regressive) gas tax in France to the existing 214 taxes and duties and the people went nuts. They have been protesting continuously since November 17th, 2018. I don’t condone the violence, but I understand why the protestors are so furious.

Regimentation in Labor

Their anger is further fueled by the very rigid labor market. France has all sorts of labor regulations on the books: some preventing firms from firing workers and, hence, creating a disincentive to hire workers in the first place. Other regulations, such as the minimum wage, that make the cost of employing people so high that employers don’t employ people. It is also not surprising that so many fast food restaurants in France have replaced employees with robots.

Like other countries, the French also have all sorts of “generous” family friendly laws that end up backfiring and penalizing female employment. The French government is also very generous to those people who don’t work. All of these policies make the lives of lower and middle-class people harder, unemployment is high (24.5 percent for young French people) and economic growth has been anemic for decades.

The bottom line is this. All those people in America who currently fall for the socialism soup that AOC and Sanders are selling need to realize that if their dream came to pass, they, not the rich – not the bankers and politicians – will be ones suffering the most from the high taxes, high unemployment, and slow growth that go hand in hand with the level of public spending they want.

Everyone would suffer, of course. But those who will be screwed the most are definitely those at the bottom.

Published:3/24/2019 7:26:25 AM
[Markets] Italy Defies West As It Officially Joins China's "Neocolonial Project"

With Brussels and Washington helplessly looking on, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister signed a historic memorandum of understanding Saturday morning in Rome that made Italy the first founding EU  member, and the first G-7 nation, to officially sign on to Beijing's "One Belt, One Road" economic development initiative - one of President Xi Jinping's signature ventures which many have called China's shadow project to re-colonize the world's poorer nations.

Along with the MoU, the two leaders signed development deals covering everything from port management, to science and technology, to e-commerce to soccer that were reportedly worth up to $20 billion.

Though OBOR (or BRI) has promised to strengthen trade links between the West and East, it has been derided in Washington and Europe as "debt trap diplomacy" and a neocolonial project by Vice President Mike Pence, and others.

Xi

Xi's trip to Italy, the first leg on a six-day European tour, coincided with Brussels' decision to take a more hard-line stance against the Chinese. During a review of its China policy last week, the European Union proposed "10 actions" to member states, including requiring "reciprocity" for market access, and highlighting purported national security risks stemming from Chinese investment in "critical assets, technologies and infrastructure."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission and Brussels' unelected bureaucrat-in-chief, described China as a "competitor, a partner, a rival," during remarks on Friday. 

In what appears to be a bid to assuage the growing trepidation in Brussels over China's strengthening ties with Italy, and several eastern and central European states, Xi has reportedly asked Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join him during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron planned for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, to commemorate China's first colonial anchor in continental Europe, during a press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday, Xi said "both countries should strengthen cooperation in infrastructure, ports and logistics, maritime transportation and other areas, so that the great potential can be realized."

Among the 30 or so agreements signed were two port management deals between China Communications Construction and the ports of Trieste, situated in the northern Adriatic Sea, and Genoa, Italy’s biggest seaport. While Genoa is a long-established port, Trieste has the most potential for China, Italian government sources earlier told the South China Morning Post.

The port is strategically important for China because it offers a link from the Mediterranean to landlocked countries such as Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia, all of which are markets Beijing hopes to reach through its belt and road programme.

The Adriatic Sea port of Trieste is strategically critical for China.

According to SCMP, other deals signed cover areas including satellites, e-commerce, agriculture, beef and pork imports, media, culture, banking, natural gas and steel. The two countries also agreed to boost cooperation on innovation and science, increase bilateral trade and set up a finance ministers’ dialogue mechanism.

After the signing, Chinese media celebrated Italy's "pragmatic" decision, and predicted that it wouldn't be the last western power to side with Beijing.

Though Italy is directly defying Washington's warnings about the 'national security threat' endemic to doing business with Chinese state-backed companies, with Italy's economy mired in recession, and the outlook for growth dim, Beijing has offered Rome's ruling populists something that Brussels and the West haven't been willing, or able, to offer: An unprecedented economic boon, as we explained earlier today. Now, the question is, just how hard the US and Brussels will recoil at Italy's ruling populists for allowing Beijing to claim a critical stake in the heart of Europe's continent.

Published:3/24/2019 6:56:39 AM
[Markets] US Completely Invalidates All Of Its Own Arguments About Crimea

Authored by Caitlin Johnstone via Medium.com,

Well the worst Putin Puppet of all time is at it again, this time tweeting that the US must recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel despite the fact that the Israeli occupation of that Syrian land is illegal under international law.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”, Trump’s tweetreads.

Russian parliament member Oleg Morozov made a statement in response to Trump’s proclamation, saying that “Russia will never agree to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan. Trump is damaging the international community and the Arab world”.

Trump’s tweet follows a report last week that his administration has deliberately softened the US government’s language concerning the Golan Heights in a way that is favorable to Israel, referring to the region as “Israeli-controlled” instead of “Israeli-occupied” as it had always previously been. This is just one more of the many, many ways in which the facts demonstrate a virulently anti-Russia posture by the Trump administration in the face of a funhouse mirror mass media narrative which claims the exact opposite, another of those facts being the administration’s sanctions and hawkish posturing over the Russian Federation’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“More red meat for Trump’s Evangelical base,” tweeted journalist Mark Ames in response to Trump’s tweet. “Doubt anyone will care about US hypocrisy since hypocrisy is what defines us?—?rewarding Israel’s armed seizure/colonization/annexation of Golan; yet punishing Russia’s Crimea annexation, which at least had local majority-Russian support.”

“How do the delusional @Maddow #Russiagate peddlers explain that ‘Putin puppet’ @realDonaldTrump still refuses to recognize Russian annexation of Crimea, but just did Netanyahu’s bidding and recognized illegal Israeli annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights?” asked Electric Intifada’s Ali Abunimah.

“Putin will use this as a pretext to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea,” former US ambassador to Israel Martin S. Indyk told the New York Times. “The Israeli right will use it as a pretext for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. It is a truly gratuitous move by Trump.”

“Twaddle,” tweeted the Global Policy Institute’s George Szamuely in response to Indyk’s NYT statement. “Putin doesn’t need any ‘pretext to justify’ anything. The return of Crimea to Russia took place 5 years ago, via a referendum in accordance with the constitution of Crimea. Putin won’t bring up the Golan because the two situations are so different.”

In an excellent article for Strategic Culture titled “US Duplicity over Golan Demolishes Posturing on Crimea” written prior to Trump’s statement, journalist Finian Cunningham breaks down the differences and similarities between Washington’s position on Crimea versus the Golan Heights, and explains how its current push to validate Israel’s annexation completely invalidates its own arguments about Crimea. I highly recommend checking out Cunningham’s article in its entirety for anyone who’s interested in this, as its arguments are largely unassailable, but here are some excerpts:

Israel has occupied the western part of the Golan since 1967 as a spoil from that war. In 1981, Tel Aviv formally annexed the Syrian territory. However, the UN Security Council in 1981, including the US, unanimously condemned the annexation as illegal. The resolution mandates Israel to return the land to Syria which has historical claim to the entire Golan. The area of 1,800 square kilometers is a strategic elevation overlooking the northern Jordan Valley.

If Washington confirms its recent indications of recognizing the Golan as officially part of Israel, the development would mark an egregious flouting of international law.

...

Claims by Washington and the European Union of “illegal annexation” of Crimea by Russia are the central basis for five years of economic sanctions imposed on Moscow. Those sanctions have contributed to ever-worsening tensions with Russia and the build-up of NATO forces along Russia’s borders.

Those claims are, however, highly contestable. The people of Crimea voted in a legally constituted referendum in March 2014 to secede from Ukraine and to join the Russian Federation. That referendum followed an illegal coup in Kiev in February 2014 backed by the US and Europe against a legally elected president, Viktor Yanukovych. Historically, Crimea has centuries of shared cultural heritage with Russia. Its erstwhile position within the state of Ukraine was arguably an anomaly of the Cold War and subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union.

In any case, there is scant comparison between the Golan Heights and Crimea, save, that is, for the latest hypocrisy in Washington. While Crimea and its people are arguably historically part of Russia, the Golan Heights are indisputably a sovereign part of Syria which was forcibly annexed by Israeli military occupation.

The discrepancy between the White House’s positions on Crimea and the Golan Heights can easily be explained by the nature of America’s overarching imperialist agenda. The US-centralized empire, of which Israel is an inseparable part, operates much like the creature in the 1958 movie The Blob: its goal is to absorb as many geostrategic territories into itself as possible, growing larger and stronger with every absorption. The Golan Heights is a resource rich region dominated by plutocratic interests and provides Israel with a third of its water supply, as well as a strategically valuable location for attacking and undermining the unabsorbed nation of Syria and its unabsorbed Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Crimea, meanwhile, is another highly strategically important location, but its control shifted outside the blob of empire when its people chose Moscow over Kiev. The blob of empire is strengthened and enlarged with the addition of the Golan Heights, but weakened and shrunk with the loss of Crimea.

We see this dynamic playing out all over the globe. Bolsonaro’s election in Brazil was a huge victory for the blob, strengthening its ability to attack and absorb other unabsorbed nations like Venezuela. This is why John Bolton recently tweeted that “We’re proud to make Brazil a Major Non-NATO Ally, and look forward to working with them on Venezuela, Iran, and China. A great meeting with a strong new strategic partner!”, and why Bolsonaro refused to deny the possibility of Brazil aiding the US in military action against Venezuela during his press conference with the president the other day.

The tight network of US allies which functions as an empire on foreign policy is constantly attempting to expand roughly eastward and southward, and to undermine the interests of any government which presents an obstacle to that expansion. Many people have grown very rich by the exploitative and frequently violent nature of this expansion, in precisely the way colonialists and conquistadors grew very rich with the exploitative and frequently violent expansion of European power into the rest of the world hundreds of years ago. The alliance of secretive government agencies and thieving plutocrats has been ensuring a concurrent metastasizing of corporate and government power along the waves of that expansion, and it won’t stop until either the empire is overthrown, the world is completely absorbed, or these bastards get us all killed in a nuclear holocaust with their reckless imperialist aggression.

*  *  *

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Published:3/24/2019 6:25:05 AM
[Markets] Trump's CIA Now Unbound And Back To Its Traditional Hijinks

Authored by Wayne Madsen via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

Under the directorship of torture and black site maven Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s Central Intelligence Agency has returned to its traditional roots of conducting “black bag” operations and disrupting electrical grids through cyber-attacks.

The Venezuelan government has accused the Trump administration of giving the green light for a series of crippling power failures in Venezuela, which affected 22 of Venezuela’s 23 states, including the capital of Caracas. The long-duration power failures were cited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a reason for the US withdrawing its diplomats from Caracas. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that an international commission assisted by specialists from Russia, China, Iran, and the United Nations would help his country analyze the sources of the Venezuelan electrical grid cyber-attack. Initial cyber-forensics by Venezuela traced some of the cyber warfare being waged against Venezuela to nodes in Houston and Chicago.

In addition to electricity, water service was disrupted in Venezuela. From Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Maduro tweeted on March 12: “From the Presidential Command Post, we monitored minute-by-minute the progress of the recovery of the National Electric System.”

Cyber-attacks on a country that puts its civilian population in jeopardy might, at first glance, appear to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions on warfare. However, without a Digital Geneva Convention, civilian populations are not covered by the current Geneva Conventions. However, in 2015, the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (UN GGE), which included experts from the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and other nations, agreed that current international law does apply to cyberspace. Most international legal experts agree that the Geneva Conventions require a digital annex to cover the type of cyber-disruption of the Venezuelan electrical grid carried out by the US intelligence services.

Hybrid warfare against Venezuela, which includes economic, diplomatic, and cyber, has the backing of the neo-conservatives who now call the shots for the Trump White House. They include, in addition to Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton; Iran-Contra felon Elliott Abrams, Trump’s special envoy to the US-backed opposition-led rump Venezuelan government of Juan Guaido; Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, the senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council; and Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, who represents the interests of South Florida’s right-wing oligarch exiles from Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

While Trump was preparing for his Hanoi summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump’s second summit with Kim, Haspel’s CIA dug into its old bag of black operations, while also engaging in the more modern form of cyber-attack in targeting North Korea.

On February 22, 2019, ten males, all wearing masks, broke into the North Korean embassy, which is located in the residential suburb of Aravaca, north of Madrid, Spain, and subjected eight embassy staff members to brutal interrogation tactics, including tying up the diplomats, throwing black bags over their heads (a specialty of Ms. Haspel), and subjecting them to beatings. One female diplomat managed to escape through a second-floor window and her screams alerted a neighbor, who promptly called the police. Two embassy employees required medical attention from their injuries.

The Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) linked two of the embassy invaders to the CIA. “El Pais,” a Spanish national newspaper, reported that the CIA issued one of its standard “denials,” however, the paper stated that Spanish authorities found the denial from Langley, Virginia to be “unconvincing.” “El Pais” reported that the invasion of the North Korean embassy by the CIA had severely harmed relations between Madrid and Washington.

The National Police Corps’ General Commissariat of Information (CGI) and CNI concluded that the attack and occupation of the North Korean embassy was not carried out by common criminals but was the work of a “military cell” that stole mobile phones and computers. Two of the embassy invaders were identified as Koreans and, based on CGI’s and CNI’s analysis of security camera video footage, they were further recognized as Koreans linked to the CIA. Spanish authorities did not rule out the possibility that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service assisted the CIA in the embassy invasion. The embassy invaders escaped from the embassy using two North Korean luxury sedans bearing diplomatic plates. The cars were later found abandoned.

The criminal inquiry into the incident is now before the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, which could order the arrests of the embassy attackers and, if they are in the United States or South Korea, have Spain’s INTERPOL national bureau put out a Red Notice for their arrest and extradition to Spain to stand trial.

Spanish authorities believe the CIA’s embassy attackers were looking for information on Kim Hyok Chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Spain, who was declared “persona non grata” by the Spanish government in 2017. Kim Hyok Chol, a career diplomat from one of North Korea’s elite families who studied French at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and speaks fluent English, is now one of Kim Jong Un’s trusted diplomatic advisers on nuclear talks with the Trump administration and he traveled with Chairman Kim to the failed Hanoi summit with Trump.

With certainty, Kim Hyok Chol thoroughly briefed Kim Jong Un on the CIA’s storming of his old diplomatic post in Spain. When Trump and Chairman Kim met in Hanoi on February 27 and if the issue of the CIA’s siege of the North Korean embassy was brought up, that could have been enough to derail the summit. Considering the fact that war hawks like Bolton, Abrams, and Pompeo are now calling the foreign policy shots for the Trump administration, the attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid, just five days prior to the Hanoi summit, may have been ordered by Washington’s neo-con cell with the intention of scuttling the second meeting between Trump and Kim and put on ice any future meetings.

There is further evidence that suggests the neo-cons, in cahoots with Haspel at the CIA, set out to disrupt the Hanoi summit. While Trump was meeting with Kim in Vietnam, the CIA is believed to have launched a cyber-attack on the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC) in New York, an organization with ties to the Pyongyang government. KANCC is a non-governmental organization with offices in the Interchurch Center building, near Columbia University in Manhattan. It champions the dropping of US sanctions against North Korea, a sore point in Hanoi between Trump and Kim.

The Trump-Kim Hanoi summit was reported to have hit a roadblock over North Korea’s request for a partial lifting of US sanctions on North Korea, in return for the continued North Korean moratorium on nuclear testing and a partial freeze on production of fissile material. With the CIA’s attack on the North Korean embassy in Spain still fresh in the minds of the North Korean side and the neo-cons’ insistence, pushed by Bolton and Pompeo, for complete North Korean nuclear disarmament, the Hanoi summit was destined for failure. And, with Bolton, Abrams, Pompeo, and other dangerous neo-cons in charge at the White House and the State Department -- and Haspel dancing to their tune at the CIA - North Korea and Venezuela are not the only countries currently in the gunsights of the Trump administration.

Published:3/23/2019 10:52:24 PM
[Markets] Visualizing 200 Years Of U.S. Population Density

At the moment, there are around 326 million people living in the United States, a country that’s 3.5 million square miles (9.8 million sq km) in land area.

But, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins explains below, throughout the nation’s history, neither of these numbers have stayed constant.

Not only did the population boom as a result of births and immigrants, but the borders of the country kept changing as well – especially in the country’s early years as settlers moved westwards.

U.S. Population Density Over Time

Today’s animated map, which comes to us from Vivid Maps, plots U.S. population density numbers over the time period of 1790-2010 based on U.S. Census data and Jonathan Schroeder’s county-level decadal estimates for population. In essence, it gives a more precise view of who moved where and when over the course of the nation’s history.

Note: While U.S. Census data is granular and dates back to 1790, it comes with certain limitations. One obvious drawback, for example, is that such data is not able to properly account for Native American populations.

“Go West, Young Man”

As you might notice in the animation, there is one anomaly that appears in the late-1800s: the area around modern-day Oklahoma is colored in, but the state itself is an “empty gap” on the map.

The reason for this? The area was originally designated as Indian Territory – land reserved for the forced re-settlement of Native Americans. However, in 1889, the land was opened up to a massive land rush, and approximately 50,000 pioneers lined up to grab a piece of the two million acres (8,000 km²) opened for settlement.

While settlers flocking to Oklahoma is one specific event that ties into this animation, really the map shows the history of a much broader land rush in general: Manifest Destiny.

You can see pioneers landing in Louisiana in the early 1800s, the first settlements in California and Oregon, and the gradual filling up of the states in the middle of the country.

By the mid-20th century, the distribution of the population starts to resemble that of modern America.

Population Density Today

The average population density in the U.S. is now 92 people per square mile, although this changes dramatically based on where you are located:

If you are in Alaska, the state with the lowest population density, there is just one person per square mile – but if you’re in New York City there are 27,000 people per square mile, the highest of any major city in the country.

Published:3/23/2019 10:21:28 PM
[Markets] Russia Gives US Red Line On Venezuela

Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems that Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, President Donald Trump was again bragging that the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with being apprised of Russia’s red line.

The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement. The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.

Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter.

Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal.

The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.

The fact that Washington’s efforts to overthrow the elected President Nicolas Maduro have so far floundered, might suggest that the Americans are intensifying their campaign to destabilize the country, with the objective of installing US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He declared himself “acting president” in January with Washington’s imprimatur.

Given that the nationwide power blackouts seem to have failed in fomenting a revolt by the civilian population or the military against Maduro, the next option tempting Washington could be the military one.

It seems significant that Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the evacuation by saying that having US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s scope for action. Also, American Airlines reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela in the past week. Again, suggesting that the US was considering a military intervention, either directly with its troops or covertly by weaponizing local proxies. The latter certainly falls under Abrams’ purview.

After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly:

“We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand.

“No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters.

“A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

The arrogance of the Americans is staggering. Abrams seems, according to US reporting, to have flown to Rome with the expectation of working out with Ryabkov a “transition” or “compromise” on who gets the “title of president” of Venezuela.

That’s what he no doubt meant when he said after the meeting “there was not a meeting of minds”, but rather he got “a better understanding” of Russia’s position.

Washington’s gambit is a replay of Syria. During the eight-year war in that country, the US continually proffered the demand of a “political transition” which at the end would see President Bashar al Assad standing down. By contrast, Russia’s unflinching position on Syria has always been that it’s not up to any external power to decide Syria’s politics. It is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to determine independently.

Nearly three years after Russia intervened militarily in Syria to salvage the Arab country from a US-backed covert war for regime change, the American side has manifestly given up on its erstwhile imperious demands for “political transition”. The principle of Syrian sovereignty has prevailed, in large part because of Russia’s trenchant defense of its Arab ally.

Likewise, Washington, in its incorrigible arrogance, is getting another lesson from Russia – this time in its own presumed “back yard” of Latin America.

It’s not a question of Russia being inveigled by Washington’s regime-change schemers about who should be president of Venezuela and “how we can manage a transition”. Moscow has reiterated countless times that the legitimate president of Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro whom the people voted for last year by an overwhelming majority in a free and fair election – albeit boycotted by the US-orchestrated opposition.

The framework Washington is attempting to set up of choosing between their desired “interim president” and incumbent Maduro is an entirely spurious one. It is not even worthy to be discussed because it is a gross violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Who is Washington to even dare try to impose its false choice?

On Venezuela, Russia is having to remind the criminal American rulers – again – about international law and respect for national sovereignty, as Moscow earlier did with regard to Syria.

And in case Washington gets into a huff and tries the military option, Moscow this week told regime-change henchman Abrams that that’s a red line. If Washington has any sense of rationale left, it will know from its Syria fiasco that Russia has Venezuela’s back covered.

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

Now, the desperate Americans could still try more sabotage, cyber or financial. But their options are limited, contrary to what Trump thinks.

How the days of American imperialist swagger are numbered. There was a time when it could rampage all over Latin America. Not any more, evidently. Thanks in part to Russia’s global standing and military power.

Published:3/23/2019 9:51:32 PM
[Markets] UK Coup Erupts: Theresa May Cabinet In Revolt, Plotting Her Imminent Overthrow

Theresa May may have days, if not hours, left as prime minister of the UK following a full-blown cabinet coup on Saturday night as senior ministers moved to oust the UK prime minister and replace her with her deputy, David Lidington.

According to the Sunday Times, following a "frantic series of private telephone calls", senior ministers agreed the prime minister must announce she is standing down, warning that she has become a toxic and “erratic” figure whose judgment has "gone haywire."

The plotters reportedly plan to confront May at a cabinet meeting on Sunday and demand that she announces she is quitting. If she refuses, they will threaten mass resignations or publicly demand her head. The "conspirators" were locked in talks late on Saturday to try reach a consensus deal on a new prime minister so there does not have to be a protracted leadership contest.

The Sunday Times, which reported that up to 11 cabinet minister confirmed they wanted the prime minister to make way for someone else, said that at six senior ministers want her deputy, David Lidington, to deliver Brexit and then make way for a full leadership contest in the autumn. Lidington’s supporters include cabinet remainers Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, also believes Lidington should take over if May refuses this week to seek a new consensus deal on Brexit. Sajid Javid, has agreed to put his own leadership ambitions on hold until the autumn to clear the way for Lidington — as long as his main rivals do the same.

The relatively unfamiliar - especially outside the UK - Lidington "is understood not to be pressing for the top job but is prepared to take over if that is the will of cabinet. He would agree not to stand in the contest to find a permanent leader."

A cabinet source said: “David’s job would be to secure an extension with the EU, find a consensus for a new Brexit policy and then arrange an orderly transition to a new leader.”

Lidington’s friends want him to pledge to allow the cabinet to decide Brexit policy in order to get Hunt and Gove on board, urging the three cabinet heavyweights to work together to take control of the government.

Michael Gove, a leading Brexiteer in the 2016 referendum, and Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt also have some support.

Hunt, the foreign secretary, does not support Lidington because he believes he would do a deal with Labour to take Britain into a permanent customs union with the EU, although he has lost confidence in May’s ability to take advice or deliver the deal.

Meanwhile environment secretary Gove has a leadership team in place and a raft of supporters who have been recruited in a series of secret dinners hosted by Mel Stride, the Treasury minister. Gove is said to be ready to support Lidington if others do but is sceptical that agreement will be reached.

* * *

As the Times details, the coup erupted "after a week of mistakes" by May, who delivered a television statement that alienated the MPs whose support she needs for her Brexit deal and then flirted with backing a no deal before performing a U-turn.

One cabinet minister said: “The end is nigh. She won’t be prime minister in 10 days’ time.”

A second said: “Her judgment has started to go haywire. You can’t be a member of the cabinet who just puts your head in the sand.”

Similar to recurring mentions of the 25th Amendment in the US, concerns about May’s mental and physical resilience are widely shared. Officials in parliament were so concerned about May’s welfare they drew up a protocol to extract her from the Commons if she collapsed at the dispatch box.

For now May has refused to comply with the coup's demands, and the Times sources at Downing Street say May has not yet come to the conclusion that she should resign and is still being encouraged by her husband Philip to fight on. But she has also lost the confidence of key allies whose job it is to maintain party discipline. Whether she remains or quits, the current Brexit process remains irreparably broken: Julian Smith, the chief whip, believes there is no prospect of the prime minister winning support for her deal unless she announces that she is standing down so the second phase of Brexit negotiations can be conducted by a new leader.

Smith told May that she should offer to go in the summer. May last night won the backing of Gisela Stuart, the most high-profile Labour supporter of the Vote Leave campaign. Writing in The Sunday Times, Stuart said: “It’s not the deal we want but it is the only deal we have.”

But Smith and other senior Tories believe that May’s resignation is a prerequisite to securing the support of key Brexiteers Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg for the deal — without whom it is doomed to defeat.

In a desperate last ditch move to save her seat, May’s team is said to be working on a plan to secure the support of the Democratic Unionist Party and Labour MPs by granting them a say on the final trade deal, to be negotiated after Brexit.

That appears to be too little, too late: MPs claimed that just one member of the whips’ office, Mike Freer, wants May to carry on.

In an astonishing challenge to her authority one senior whip, Paul Maynard, told May to her face that she should go because she was “betraying Brexit” and “destroying our party”. Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, is “at the end of his chain” and also thinks May should resign.

Another cabinet minister said: “If the prime minister no longer has confidence of the parliamentary party, is badly placed to win over support of other parties and patience with her is almost run out among the EU 27 — then her continuing is a real problem.”

Meanwhile, in bad news for pound bulls, with May’s authority in freefall, Times sources said it is unlikely that the prime minister will hold a third meaningful vote on her Brexit deal this week. Instead she will be a passenger as MPs vote tomorrow on a motion that will let them seize control of Wednesday’s Commons business to host a series of “indicative votes”, where MPs can express a preference for alternatives to May’s Brexit plan. That could lead to pressure for a new referendum or a Norway-style deal that keeps Britain in the single market.

The most likely outcome, however, is even more chaos and confusion as in addition to having no real Brexit plans ahead of the (extended) hard Brexit headline in three weeks, the UK will soon be without a real leader.

* * *

And so with the UK facing a political coup, much remains unsure, with Times deputy political editor Sam Coates tweeting that:

  • are we really sure that it will be left to an “interim” PM to change direction of the county?
  • still clearly disagreement over timetable from different parts of cabinet
  • no contest involving Tory membership means massive row

The report of the political revolt comes, ironically, just hours after hundreds of thousands of Britons poured into the streets of London demanding a second public vote.

Marchers,  accompanied by live performances from noted U.K. musicians including DJ Fatboy Slim, clogged the streets of central London as they walked from Hyde Park to Parliament Square to hear from the opposition Labour Party mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and deputy Labour leader Tom Watson.
Watson promised to back Theresa May’s twice-defeated political deal -- breaking from the party’s position -- in return for her  agreement to put the withdrawal accord to a public vote.

“I will support your deal, I will help you get over the line, to help avoid a disastrous no-deal Brexit, but only if you let the people vote on it,” Watson said.

And while most of the attendees favor Britain staying in the bloc, the rest of the UK reportedly remains sternly against going back to that other vortex of political chaos known as the European Union.

Published:3/23/2019 9:21:24 PM
[Markets] Don't Shoot The Dogs: The Growing Epidemic Of Cops Shooting Family Pets

Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

“In too much of policing today, officer safety has become the highest priority. It trumps the rights and safety of suspects. It trumps the rights and safety of bystanders. It’s so important, in fact, that an officer’s subjective fear of a minor wound from a dog bite is enough to justify using potentially lethal force, in this case at the expense of a 4-year-old girl. And this isn’t the first time. In January, an Iowa cop shot and killed a woman by mistake while trying to kill her dog. Other cops have shot other kidsother bystanderstheir partnerstheir supervisors and even themselves while firing their guns at a dog. That mind-set is then, of course, all the more problematic when it comes to using force against people.

- Journalist Radley Balko

The absurd cruelties of the American police state keep reaching newer heights.

Consider that if you kill a police dog, you could face a longer prison sentence than if you’d murdered someone or abused a child.

If a cop kills your dog, however, there will be little to no consequences for that officer.

Not even a slap on the wrist.

In this, as in so many instances of official misconduct by government officials, the courts have ruled that the cops have qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that incentivizes government officials to engage in lawless behavior without fear of repercussions.

This is the heartless, heartbreaking, hypocritical injustice that passes for law and order in America today.

It is estimated that a dog is shot by a police officer “every 98 minutes.”

The Department of Justice estimates that at least 25 dogs are killed by police every day. ?

The Puppycide Database Project estimates the number of dogs being killed by police to be closer to 500 dogs a day (which translates to 182,000 dogs a year).

In 1 out of 5 cases involving police shooting a family pet, a child was either in the police line of fire or in the immediate area of a shooting. For instance, a 4-year-old girl was accidentally shot in the leg after a police officer opened fire on a dog running towards him, missed and hit the little girl instead.

At a time when police are increasingly inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, it doesn’t take much to provoke a cop into opening fire on an unarmed person guilty of doing nothing more than standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a weapon.

All a cop has to do is cite an alleged “fear” for his safety.

According to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, all it takes for dogs to pose a sufficient threat to police to justify them opening fire is for the dog to move or bark.

Even in the absence of an actual threat, the perception of a threat is enough for qualified immunity to kick in and for the cop to be let off the hook for behavior that would get the rest of us jailed for life.

As journalist Radley Balko points out, “In too much of policing today, officer safety has become the highest priority. It trumps the rights and safety of suspects. It trumps the rights and safety of bystanders. It’s so important, in fact, that an officer’s subjective fear of a minor wound from a dog bite is enough to justify using potentially lethal force.”

The epidemic of cops shooting dogs takes this shameful behavior to a whole new level, though.

It doesn’t take much for a cop to shoot a dog.

Dogs shot and killed by police have been “guilty” of nothing more menacing than wagging their tails, barking in greeting, or merely being in their own yard. 

For instance, Spike, a 70-pound pit bull, was shot by NYPD police when they encountered him in the hallway of an apartment building in the Bronx. Surveillance footage shows the dog, tail wagging, right before an officer shot him in the head at pointblank range.

Arzy, a 14-month-old Newfoundland, Labrador and golden retriever mix, was shot between the eyes by a Louisiana police officer. The dog had been secured on a four-foot leash at the time he was shot. An independent witness testified that the dog never gave the officer any provocation to shoot him.

Seven, a St. Bernard, was shot repeatedly by Connecticut police in the presence of the dog’s 12-year-old owner. Police, investigating an erroneous tip, had entered the property—without a warrant—where the dog and her owner had been playing in the backyard, causing the dog to give chase.

Dutchess, a 2-year-old rescue dog, was shot three times in the head by Florida police as she ran out her front door. The officer had been approaching the house to inform the residents that their car door was open when the dog bounded out to greet him.

Yanna, a 10-year-old boxer, was shot three times by Georgia police after they mistakenly entered the wrong home and opened fire, killing the dog, shooting the homeowner in the leg and wounding an investigating officer.

Payton, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, and 4-year-old Chase, also a black Lab, were shot and killed after a SWAT team mistakenly raided the mayor’s home while searching for drugs. Police shot Payton four times. Chase was shot twice, once from behind as he ran away. “My government blew through my doors and killed my dogs. They thought we were drug dealers, and we were treated as such. I don't think they really ever considered that we weren’t,” recalls Mayor Cheye Calvo, who described being handcuffed and interrogated for hours—wearing only underwear and socks—surrounded by the dogs’ carcasses and pools of the dogs’ blood.

In another instance, a Missouri SWAT team raided a family home, killing a 4-year-old pit bull Kiya. Believe it or not, this time the SWAT raid wasn’t in pursuit of drugs, mistaken or otherwise, but was intended “to check if [the] home had electricity and natural gas service.”

A dog doesn’t even have to be an aggressive breed to be shot by a cop.

Balko has documented countless “dog shootings in which a police officer said he felt ‘threatened’ and had no choice but to use lethal force, including the killing of a Dalmatian (more than once), a yellow Lab , a springer spaniel, a chocolate Lab, a boxer, an Australian cattle dog, a Wheaten terrier, an Akita… a Jack Russell terrier… a 12-pound miniature dachshund… [and] a five-pound chihuahua.”

Chihuahuas, among the smallest breed of dog (known as “purse” dogs), seem to really push cops over the edge.

In Arkansas, for example, a sheriff’s deputy shot an “aggressive” chihuahua for barking repeatedly. The dog, Reese’s, required surgery for a shattered jaw and a feeding tube to eat.

Same thing happened in Texas, except Trixie—who was on the other side of a fence from the officer—didn’t survive the shooting.

Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?

We’re being asked to believe that a police officer, fully armed, trained in combat and equipped to deal with the worst case scenario when it comes to violence, is so threatened by a yipping purse dog weighing less than 10 pounds that the only recourse is to shoot the dog?

If this is the temperament of police officers bred by the police state, we should all be worried.

Clearly, our four-legged friends are suffering at the hands of an inhumane police state in which the police have all the rights, the citizenry have very few rights, and our pets—viewed by the courts as personal property like a car or a house, but far less valuable—have no rights at all.

So what’s to be done?

Essentially, it comes down to training and accountability.

It’s the difference between police officers who rank their personal safety above everyone else’s and police officers who understand that their jobs are to serve and protect.

It’s the difference between police who are trained to shoot to kill and police trained to resolve situations peacefully.

Most of all, it’s the difference between police who believe the law is on their side and police who know that they will be held to account for their actions under the same law as everyone else.

Unfortunately, more and more police are being trained to view themselves as distinct from the citizenry, to view their authority as superior to the citizenry, and to view their lives as more precious than those of their citizen counterparts. Instead of being taught to see themselves as mediators and peacemakers whose lethal weapons are to be used as a last resort, they are being drilled into acting like gunmen with killer instincts who shoot to kill rather than merely incapacitate.

These dog killings are, as Balko recognizes, “a side effect of the new SWAT, paramilitary focus in many police departments, which has supplanted the idea of being an ‘officer of the peace.’”

Thus, whether you’re talking about police shooting dogs or citizens, the mindset is the same: a rush to violence, abuse of power, fear for officer safety, poor training in how to de-escalate a situation, and general carelessness.

It’s time to rein in this abuse of power.

A good place to start is by requiring police to undergo classes annually on how to peacefully resolve and de-escalate situations with the citizenry. While they’re at it, they should be forced to de-militarize. No one outside the battlefield—and barring a foreign invasion, the U.S. should never be considered a domestic battlefield—should be equipped with the kinds of weapons and gear being worn and used by local police forces today. If the politicians are serious about instituting far-reaching gun control measures, let them start by taking the guns and SWAT teams away from the countless civilian agencies that have nothing to do with military defense that are packing lethal heat.

Ultimately, this comes down to better—and constant—training in nonviolent tactics, serious consequences for those who engage in excessive force, and a seismic shift in how law enforcement agencies and the courts deal with those who transgress.

In terms of our four-legged friends, many states are adopting laws to make canine training mandatory for police officers. As dog behavior counselor Brian Kilcommons noted, officers’ inclination to “take command and take control” can cause them to antagonize dogs unnecessarily. Officers “need to realize they’re there to neutralize, not control… If they have enough money to militarize the police with Humvees, they have enough money to train them not to kill family members. And pets are considered family.”

After all, as the Washington Post points out, while “postal workers regularly encounter both vicious and gregarious dogs on their daily rounds… letter carriers don’t kill dogs, even though they are bitten by the thousands every year. Instead, the Postal Service offers its employees training on how to avoid bites.” Journalist Dale Chappell adds, “Using live dogs, handlers and trainers put postal workers through scenarios to teach them how to read a dog’s behavior and calm a dog, or fend it off, if necessary. Meter readers also have benefited from the same training, drastically reducing incidents of dog bites.”

The Rutherford Institute is working on a program aimed at training police to deescalate their interactions with dogs rather than resorting to lethal force, while providing pet owners with legal resources to better protect the four-legged members of their household.

Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there will be no end to the bloodshed - of unarmed Americans or their family pets - until police stop viewing themselves as superior to those whom they are supposed to serve and start acting like the peace officers they’re supposed to be.

Published:3/23/2019 8:50:57 PM
[Markets] Australian Homebuilders Suffering Amid "Sharp Downturn"

Australian homebuilders and housing industry contractors are feeling the effects of a sharp downturn in the country's housing market, according to ABC News

"Builders are just battening down the hatches and looking after their costs," said Greg Zuccala - director at Australian homebuilder Zuccala Homes. 

With Melbourne housing prices falling 9.6% from their 2017 peak and new home building permits down nearly 40%, Zuccala has begun to adapt - laying off four workers amid a push to pinch pennies. 

That huge fall in demand for new home builds meant Mr Zuccala had to find savings.

To do that, he was forced to lay off four workers.

"We've had to adjust things there to meet the market," he said.

"I think a lot of building companies at the moment find themselves in the same situation." -ABC News

It isn't just homebuilders feeling the heat either; electricians such as Ray Sherriff - who employs nine electricians and four apprentices - has noticed the significant slowdown in housing activity. 

Electrician Ray Sherriff

"Two years ago we literally didn't have time to price all the [residential] jobs that were coming in," Sherriff explained. "Now it's rare and there are lots of jobs getting postponed and put back."

Residential work used to make up "probably 50 to 60 percent of our business," according to Sherriff. "Now we're probably looking at 20 to 30 per cent." 

It starts with approvals

According to the Bureau of Statistics, Australian permit approvals were down nearly 29% in January y/y, with the exceptions of Western australia and Tasmania, where building permits are actually rising. 

Right now, the rate of contraction in house construction is the fastest it has been in six and a half years, according to figures by the Australian Industry Group's Performance of Construction Index.

Activity in apartment construction has fallen for 11 months in a row to its lowest point in six years, at a time when the industry was recovering from the GFC.

With national house prices down 6.8 per cent since the 2017 peak, and down 13.2 per cent in Australia's biggest housing market — Sydney — economists say it is no wonder those in construction are feeling the heat too. -ABC News

"When you have house prices falling as they are at the moment, the risks of entering into that are greater," said Shane Garrett, chief economist with the Master Builders Association. 

"That's one of the reasons why activity is starting to move down ... It's a riskier predicament for all concerned."

Work drying up

Meanwhile, demand for the more than 1 million residential construction sector workers is beginning to weaken. Job ads seeking construction workers dropped by 14% in February. 

That said, ABC News would like readers to know that not all is lost... while "there is no denying we are in the midst of a downturn, and that is hurting the construction sector, the numbers are still good in a historical context." 

Nationally, new home building peaked in 2016 with about 230,000 new dwellings.

"We see it bottoming out to about 175,000 over the next few years," notes Garrett. "It's worth emphasising, that 175,000 as a low point would still be the highest ever low point for new home building on record."

Government isn't helping

As we reported in February, with the Labour Party looking to wrest back control of the government during elections later this year, things could get worse for Australian housing. The party has pledged to curb tax breaks for property investors that helped drive up home prices (alongside an influx of foreign capital). 

Labor leader Bill Shorten has promised to scrap tax refunds worth A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) a year for share investors. The benefits are already being seen in the polls, where Labour is seeing a slight advantage.

Meanwhile, as home prices have soared, home ownership rates among younger Australians have plummeted.

To try and combat this, Shorten proposed that a tax break known as negative gearing which allows homeowners to treat costs associated with owning a rental home as a tax deduction (though, to be fair, that certainly sounds like it could have some unintended consequences for the property market). He has also promised to subsidize rents and build homes.

If Australia's progressives are victorious in the May elections, the country's "sharp downturn" in housing could accelerate. 

Published:3/23/2019 8:21:35 PM
[Markets] With RussiaGate Over Where's Hillary?

Authored by Tom Luongo,

During most of the RussiaGate investigation against Donald Trump I kept saying that all roads lead to Hillary Clinton.

Anyone with three working brain cells knew this, including ‘Miss’ Maddow, whose tears of disappointment are particularly delicious.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was designed from the beginning to create something out of nothing. It did this admirably.

It was so effective it paralyzed the country for more than two years, just like Europe has been held hostage by Brexit. And all of this because, in the end, the elites I call The Davos Crowd refused to accept that the people no longer believed their lies about the benefits of their neoliberal, globalist agenda.

Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the Presidency was to be their apotheosis along with the Brexit vote. These were meant to lay to rest, once and for all time, the vaguely libertarian notion that people should rule themselves and not be ruled by philosopher kings in some distant land.

Hillary’s failure was enormous. And the RussiaGate gambit to destroy Trump served a laundry list of purposes to cover it:

  1. Undermine his legitimacy before he even takes office.

  2. Accuse him of what Hillary actually did: collude with Russians and Ukrainians to effect the outcome of the election

  3. Paralyze Trump on his foreign policy desires to scale back the Empire

  4. Give aid and comfort to hurting progressives and radicalize them further undermining our political system

  5. Polarize the electorate over the false choice of Trump’s guilt.

  6. Paralyze the Dept. of Justice and Congress so that they would not uncover the massive corruption in the intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K.

  7. Isolate Trump and take away every ally or potential ally he could have by turning them against him through prosecutor overreach.

Hillary should have been thrown to the wolves after she failed. When you fail the people she failed and cost them the money she cost them, you lose more than just your funding. What this tells you is that Hillary has so much dirt on everyone involved, once this thing started everyone went along with it lest she burn them down as well.

Burnin’ Down da House

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain

She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

And she was willing to tear it down to keep him from having it no matter how much damage it would do. She’s worse than the Joker from The Dark Knight.

Because while the Joker is unfathomable to someone with a conscience there’s little stopping us from excising him from the community completely., even though Batman refuses.

Hillary hates us for who we are and what we won’t give her. And that animus drove her to blackmail the world while putting on the face of its savior.

And that’s what makes what comes next so obvious to me. RussiaGate was never a sustainable narrative. It was ludicrous from the beginning. And now that it has ended with a whimper there are a lot of angry, confused and scared people out there.

Mueller thought all he had to do was lean on corrupt people and threaten them with everything. They would turn on Trump. He would resign in disgrace from the public outcry.

It didn’t work. In the end Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone all held their ground or perjured themselves into the whole thing falling apart.

Andrew Weissman’s resignation last month was your tell there was nothing. Mueller would pursue this to the limit of his personal reputation and no further.

Just like so many other politicians.

Vote Your Pocketbook

With respect to Brexit I’ve been convinced that it would come down to reputations.

Would the British MP’s vote against their own personal best interests to do the bidding of the EU?

Would Theresa May eventually realize her historical reputation would be destroyed if she caves to Brussels and betrays Brexit in the end?

Always bet on the fecklessness of politicians. They will always act selfishly when put to the test. While leading RussiaGate, Mueller was always headed here if he couldn’t get someone to betray Trump.

And now his report is in. There are no new indictments. And by doing so he is saving his reputation for the future. And that is your biggest tell that Hillary’s blackmail is now worthless.

They don’t fear her anymore because RussiaGate outed her as the architect. Anything else she has is irrelevant in the face of trying to oust a sitting president from power.

The progressives that were convinced of Trump’s treason are bereft; their false hope stripped away like standing in front of a sandblaster. They will be raw, angry and looking for blood after they get over their denial.

Everyone else who was blackmailed into going along with this lunacy will begin cutting deals to save their skins. The outrage over this will not end. Trump will be President when he stands for re-election.

The Wolves Beckon

The Democrats do not have a chance against him as of right now. When he was caving on everything back in December it looked like he was done. That there was enough meat on the RussiaGate bones to make Nancy Pelosi brave.

Then she backed off on impeachment talk. Oops.

But the Democrats have a sincere problem. Their candidates have no solutions other than to embrace the crazy and go full Bolshevik. That is not a winning position.

Trump will kill them on ‘socialism.’

The Deep State and The Davos Crowd stand revealed and reviled.

If they don’t do something dramatic then the anger from the rest of the country will also be palpable come election time. Justice is not done simply by saying, “No evidence of collusion.”

It’s clear that RussiaGate is a failure of monumental proportions. Heads will have to roll. But who will be willing to fall on their sword at this point?

Comey? No. McCabe? No.

There is only one answer. And Obama’s people are still in place to protect him. I said last fall that “Hillary would indict herself.” And I meant it. Eventually her blackmail and drive to burn it all down led to this moment.

The circumstances are different than I expected back then, Trump didn’t win the mid-terms. But the end result was always the same. If there is no collusion, if RussiaGate is a scam, then all roads lead back to Hillary as the sacrificial lamb.

Because the bigger project, the erection of a transnational superstate, is bigger than any one person. Hillary is expendable.

Lies are expensive to maintain. The truth is cheap to defend. Think of the billions in opportunity costs associated with this. Once the costs rise above the benefits, change happens fast.

If there is any hope of salvaging the center of this country for the Democrats, the ones that voted against Hillary in 2016, then there is no reason anymore not to indict Hillary as the architect of RussiaGate.

We all know it’s the truth. So, the cheapest way out of this mess for them is to give the MAGApedes what they want, Hillary.

And hope that is enough bread and circuses to distract from the real storm ahead of us.

Published:3/23/2019 7:52:02 PM
[Markets] The White House Declared Victory Over ISIS 15 Times Since December

The White House announced on Friday that all of ISIS caliphate territory in Syria has been “100 percent eliminated” — but it's worth recalling as both Syria and Russia claim Trump's latest declaration is premature and even "a bluff," how many times has Washington proclaimed the defeat of ISIS?   

And perhaps more crucial, how many times has the long promised "full" US troops pullout of Syria been announced, and then reversed? 

President Donald Trump holds up a map as he speaks before departing the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, via AFP.

This is the timeline of the continuing ISIS defeat so far, per South Front below:

On March 21st, the White House announced the defeat of ISIS.

In the video President Trump boasted with "before and after" map showing the caliphate's territorial possessions first on election night in 2016, and then compared to March 20th, 2019.

“This is ISIS on Election Day,” the President said as he held up a side-by-side comparison yesterday. “And this is ISIS now.”

Leading up to the “final” announcement of ISIS defeat, there have been numerous claims by the Trump administration that ISIS was defeated prior to this. Trump’s announcement on December 19th that US troops would withdraw from Syria since ISIS was defeated initiated multiple follow-up announcements.

December 19th, 2018 – Trump declared: “We have won against ISIS,” in a video released by the White House.

December 22nd, 2018 – Trump tweeted that “ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains.” Thus, the announcement 3 days earlier was wrong and ISIS “nearly” defeated, but not exactly.

January 16th, 2019 – Vice President Mike Pence announced that “the caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated” in a speech during the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference “One Team, One Mission, One Future.” Earlier on the same day, 4 US soldiers were killed by an ISIS suicide bomber in Manbij, Syria.

January 30th, 2019 – Donald Trump tweeted praising the “tremendous progress” in Syria and that the ISIS “caliphate will soon be destroyed.”

February 1st, 2019 – Trump repeated that 100% of the caliphate will soon be destroyed. He also took all of the credit for the “defeat” of ISIS:

February 3rd, 2019 – Trump told CBS news that “We will be announcing in the not too distant future 100 percent of the caliphate, which is the area — the land, the area — 100. We’re at 99 percent right now, we’ll be at 100.”

February 6th, 2019 – Trump, in his remarks to the Ministers of the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS, said the achievement “should be formally announced, sometime, probably next week, that we will have 100 per cent of the caliphate.” Continuing with “But I want to wait for the official word. I don’t want to say it too early.” Despite already saying it several times.

February 10th, 2019 – Trump tweeted that the U.S. will control all former IS territory in Syria “soon.”

February 11th, 2019 – At a rally in El Paso, Texas, Trump said that the announcement that 100% of ISIS territory had been captured will be coming “maybe over the next week, maybe less.

February 15th, 2019 – Trump said that the US would be announcing the end of the ISIS caliphate “within the next 24 hours.”

February 16th, 2019 – Trump tweeted “We are pulling back after 100 percent Caliphate victory!”

February 22nd, 2019 – Trump told reporters “In another short period of time, like hours — you’ll be hearing hours and days — you’ll be hearing about the caliphate. It will — it’s 100 percent defeated.”

February 28th, 2019 – Trump said, “We just took over, you know, you kept hearing it was 90 percent, 92 percent, the caliphate in Syria. Now it’s 100 percent we just took over, 100 percent caliphate,” in a speech to troops in Alaska.

March 2nd, 2019 – Trump claimed “As of probably today or tomorrow, we will actually have 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria,” at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Finally, March 20th, 2019 – Trump showed reporters a map that plots the territory still held by the Islamic State in Syria and promises that area “will be gone by tonight.”

In total, the defeat or impending defeat in the next “24 hours” and/or “week” amounts to 15 times.

* * *

The fabled US troop withdrawal from Syria has also gone through many transformations, provided in the following timeline:

December 19th, 2018 – Trump announced that the 2,000 US troops in Syria would be withdrawn immediately, because ISIS was defeated.

Also on December 19th, 2018 – The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders said that troop withdrawal marked the start of the “next phase” in the struggle with Isis, and suggested they could return if necessary. This was also repeated by the Pentagon. No timetable was given.

December 24th, 2018 – The order to withdraw American troops from Syria was signed, according to US officials.

December 30th, 2018 – Senator Lindsey Graham claimed that Trump had agreed to “slow down troop withdrawal” from Syria.

January 11th, 2019 – US withdrawal from Syria begins, but only for equipment, troops remain. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that withdrawal would depend on guarantees for the US’ Kurdish allies.

February 22nd, 2019 – the White House said that it would keep 200 US troops in Syria as a peacekeeping force. Later in the day it turned out that those 200 troops would actually be 400 – 200 troops will remain in the Syrian town of al-Tanf, near the border with Iraq; Another 200 will remain in northern Syria and be part of a “multinational observer force” numbering between 800 and 1,500, mostly European NATO allies, including France and Britain.

Trump also denied that he is “changing course” on his decision and that the withdrawal is still happening.

March 20th, 2019 – When asked if the US is still withdrawing from Syria, Trump said: “No, no. We’re — in Syria, we’re leaving 200 people there, and 200 people in another place in Syria closer to Israel for a period of time.” (still in al-Tanf and northeast Syria).

Changes in the US policy on withdrawal from Syria has changed 7 times since December 19th. According to latest information, there are currently approximately 1,000 US troops remaining in Syria, so a partial withdrawal appears to have actually happened.

Published:3/23/2019 7:20:40 PM
[Markets] Doug Casey On The Year The World Falls Apart

Via CaseyResearch.com,

It’s “Totally Incorrect” week here at Casey Research...

We’ve shared Doug Casey’s uncensored insights – on topics ranging from the climate change hoax to the next 9/11-type event.

But today’s essay may be the most controversial one yet

Doug says a disaster of historic proportions is on the menu for 2019.

And it’s critical to understand what’s happening.

Read on for four specific predictions about what lies ahead. Some of these predictions may seem outlandish... but you owe it to yourself to hear what he has to say...

Prediction 1: The End of Retirement

The average American can forget about retirement. We’ve all heard these stories about how the average American couldn’t lay his hands on $1,000 to save his life. His expenses aren’t going away, however, even if his income does.

It seems like things have reached a critical mass. And if the economy slows down there are going to be a lot of people losing their homes again. They’ll be unable to pay their credit card bills, their car payments, their student loans, or anything else. They aren’t going to be able to buy anything. They wound up in breadlines in the ’30s. But today 40 million Americans have SNAP cards to take away the hunger pains and embarrassment of being penniless. There could be 100 million in a few years.

I know this sounds outrageous because right now everything is running fairly smoothly. The standard of living of the average middle-class American has degraded slowly over decades but hasn’t yet totally collapsed. But that’s the way it is a day before a volcano explodes, or a day before an earthquake, or minutes before an avalanche starts coming down.

This isn’t a theoretical discussion. Most retirement plans are in serious jeopardy. Many pension funds are already seriously underwater, even after a very long boom.

The situation is likely to deteriorate. The stock market is in a bubble. The bond market is in a hyper bubble. A lot of value could disappear very quickly. By the time this depression bottoms, in today’s dollars – I don’t know what the dollars are going to be worth – the Dow could trade at 5,000, or less. We’re going to see interest rates exceed what we saw in the early 1980s, when the U.S. government was paying 15%.

From a retiree’s point of view, things are not going to improve. It’s going to get worse, not better. His savings, if he has any, are going to be attacked from several angles. I don’t see any way out of this. Unless friendly aliens land on the roof of the White House and present Trump with some kind of magic technology.

Prediction 2: A White Male Privilege Tax, and Other Radical Tax Hikes

You’ve got to remember that the prime directive of any organism, whether it’s an amoeba, a person, a corporation, or a government, is to survive. Bankrupt governments – and they’re all bankrupt because of welfare state policies – are going to fight to survive. The only way that they can survive is to tax more and print more money. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do. Of course, don’t discount a war; these fools actually believe that would stimulate the economy – the way only turning lots of cities into smoking ruins can.

I suspect they’ll try to make white males bear most of the burden. That’s partly because they still have most of the money. And partly because it’s become fashionable to hate white males in particular. It’s natural to want to hurt people that they think are the problem – what Marxists would say are the “class enemy.”

We’re going to see much higher taxes, among other unsavory things. There’s no other way to pay for welfare state programs, except sell more debt to the Fed – which they’ll also do, by necessity. Inflation will get out of control as a result.

Of course, you’ve got to remember that as recently as the Eisenhower administration the top marginal tax rate was theoretically 91%. The average person didn’t pay anywhere remotely near that because it was a steeply progressive tax rate. Nobody did, frankly, especially the rich, because there were loads of tax shelters, which no longer exist. Hiding money offshore, among other things, was easy. Now these things are out of the question.

Now there’s no place to hide from the State. And envy is rampant. How bad could it get? In Sweden during the 1970s, the marginal tax rate, including their wealth tax, was something like 102%. So, almost anything is possible.

Of course they’ll raise taxes radically. It’s time to eat the rich.

Prediction 3: Like Venezuela, Socialism Will Conquer the U.S.

Its ideas already have. First, we should define what socialism is: it’s State ownership of the means of production. It was supposed to be a passing stage on the road to communism. Communism is communal ownership of private goods – houses, cars, shops, and consumer items – as well as capital goods. Nobody even talks about that anymore, since capitalism has given most people so much stuff that they don’t even have room to store it all.

Socialism in the U.S. is unlikely. Governments have found it’s much more efficient to simply have the State control capital, as opposed to owning and operating it. It’s so much easier to just take as much as they want of the profits, then blame the capitalists if something goes wrong with delivery of the goods.

Forgetting about North Korea and Cuba, there are no socialist states anywhere in the world. What we have instead are welfare states – where the government provides some degree of free schooling, free medical care, free housing, free food, and so forth. If not free, then subsidized. The next step is a guaranteed annual income.

The word “socialism” today is actually just shorthand for a welfare state, which is what Boobus americanus, the hoi polloi, really want. They don’t really care who owns the factories, the fields, and the mines. What they care about is that somebody gives them a soft life.

When you give people the ability to vote themselves free stuff at somebody else’s expense they’ll do it. But – much worse – they now actually think it’s the right thing to do. Why? Mainly because of the propaganda that they’ve absorbed through college, and the media, the entertainment world, and numerous other places. There’s no question about the fact that the U.S. will turn into a full-fledged welfare state.

Socialism is basically about the forceful control of other people’s lives and property. It isn’t just an intellectual failing. It’s actually a moral failing. Although – perversely – it’s sold as being moral. People buy it because they like to believe they’re doing the right thing.

It will end with an economic collapse. Then a political and – most importantly – a cultural collapse.

Prediction 4: A New 9/11-Type Event – Real or a Contrived False Flag

It’s entirely possible. It’s still completely undetermined what actually happened on 9/11, and who was actually behind it. Notwithstanding that, considering how the U.S. government continues to provoke people all over the world, there’s certainly some group, most likely Mohammedans, who’ll decide to strike out against the great Satan.

And as 9/11 showed, regardless of who was actually responsible, a very small number of people can have a very large effect on things. Especially when the system itself is critically unstable, which it is today.

They might do something like Mumbai in 2008. It took only two dozen fanatics with ordinary guns. They turned the whole city totally on its head for days. That was extremely cheap, low-tech, and easy. Warfare has always been a matter of economics; cheap trumps expensive. There are scores of ways to severely disrupt an advanced society for a trivial investment. On the other hand, it’s extremely expensive to disrupt a primitive society, as the U.S. is discovering in Afghanistan.

Anyway, “terrorism” is an extremely low-cost method of warfare. It will have a gigantic effect, when someone decides to use it in the U.S. 9/11 was just an amuse bouche. You can plan your life around something like that happening again.

The world is evolving at the rate of Moore’s Law in many regards. Let me emphasize that military technology is changing too. Aircraft carriers, B2s, F35s, M1 tanks, and so forth are basically junk. Great for fighting the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. They serve no useful purpose in the kind of battles that are likely in the future.

If someone wants to attack the U.S., they’re not going to use an ICBM; they’re extremely expensive, clunky, and you can see where they come from, guaranteeing retaliation. It’s total idiocy that even a maniac wouldn’t bother with. Not when you can deliver a backpack nuke by FedEx, cheap and on time. Or you could use any commercial aircraft, container ship, or truck.

If you want to blame Iran – and really whip up the U.S. population – there would be nothing like a small nuclear or radiological attack to do it. It’s a pity, since they’re a distant regional power with a failing economy, who present about zero threat to the U.S.

If I were to attempt putting my finger on exactly when the U.S. will go over the edge, I would think the real catalyst might be the next 9/11-type event. I don’t doubt it’s going to happen.

How are we any different than the Germans in the 1920s? They were one of the most civilized, best-educated countries in Europe and they fell into the abyss.

Published:3/23/2019 6:51:43 PM
[Markets] 41% Of New York Residents Say They Can No Longer Afford To Live There

More than a third of New York residents  complaint that they "can't afford to live there" anymore (and yet they do). On top of that, many believe that economic hardships are going to force them to leave the city in five years or less, according to a Quinnipiac poll published Wednesday. The poll surveyed 1,216 voters between March 13 and 18. 

In total, 41% of New York residents say they can't cope with the city's high cost of living. They believe they will be forced to go somewhere where the "economic climate is more welcoming", according to the report.

Ari Buitron, a 49-year-old paralegal from Queens said: “They are making this city a city for the wealthy, and they are really choking out the middle class. A lot of my friends have had to move to Florida, Texas, Oregon. You go to your local shop, and it’s $5 for a gallon of milk and $13 for shampoo. Do you know how much a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is? $1700! What’s wrong with this picture?”

In response to a similar poll in May 2018, only 31% of respondents said they felt as though they would be forced to move, indicating that the outlook among residents is getting much worse - very quickly. 

New York native Dexter Benjamin said: "I am definitely not going to be here five years from now. I will probably move to Florida or Texas where most of my family has moved.”

Many of those who have moved, prompted by New York's tax burden and new Federal law that punishes high tax states, aren't looking back. Robert Carpenter, 50, who moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey told the Post: “Moving to New Jersey has only added 15 minutes to my commute! And I am still working in Downtown Brooklyn. I save about $300 extra a month, which in the long run it matters.”

He continued: "Because of the city tax and the non-deductibility of your real estate taxes, we’re seeing a lot more people with piqued interest."

The poll also found that minorities have an even more pessimistic outlook on things. Non-whites disproportionately ranked their situations as “poor” and “not good” according to the poll.

Clifton Oliver, 43, who is black and lives in Washington Heights, said: "When I moved here there was no H&M, no Shake Shack — it was authentically African-American New York Harlem. Now Neil Patrick Harris lives down the block. People are going down south to Florida, Alabama, Baltimore."

Published:3/23/2019 6:20:10 PM
[Markets] MSNBC's Joy Reid Suggests Cover-Up Underway With Mueller Report

MSNBC host Joy Reid suggested on Saturday that there may be a cover-up underway at the Justice Department now that the Mueller report has been submitted. 

Reid - who engaged in a cover-up campaign of her own when she flat out lied about writing homophobic blog posts between 2007 and 2009 - said that President Trump "essentially controls" Barr, who is now involved in "the seeds of a cover-up" to protect the commander-in-chief. 

In short, Reid is suggesting that Attorney General William Barr - who has faithfully served some of Trump's biggest establishment enemies for most of his  career, and is extremely good friends with special counsel Robert Mueller (who attended the weddings of two of Barr's daughters) - is now involved in "the seeds of a cover-up.' 

Now let's review Reid's actual "cover-up" - when she said her website was the victim of a homophobic hacker who 'inserted' all those anti-gay comments to make her look bad; via the Huffington Post's Hayley Miller: 

After screenshots appearing to capture dozens of her past homophobic blog posts were tweeted the previous week, Reid told Mediaite last Monday that she didn’t author the posts. According to her initial statement, “an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material ... to include offensive and hateful references.” Reid said that the newly revealed content “seems to be part of an effort to taint my character with false information.”

I can state unequivocally that it does not represent the original entries,” she said. “I hope that whoever corrupted the site recognizes the pain they have caused, not just to me, but to my family and communities that I care deeply about: LGBTQ, immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups.”

But the hacking claims fell apart under scrutiny from several media outlets. Documents and statements provided to HuffPost by Reid’s hired cybersecurity consultant, Jonathan Nichols, failed to prove Reid’s blog had been hacked or that the disputed posts were in fact fraudulent. 

Reid issued an apology for her old posts, which included photoshopped image of Sen. John McCain's head over the Virginia Tech gunman

And Saturday's Transcript: 

“That’s the challenge. Unlike the independent counsel, which that statute was allowed to expire after Bill Clinton, which can be a runaway thing of its own — but at least that’s controlled by Congress. In this — which you know it will leak, if it got to Congress it comes out that day. But the fact that this investigation takes place within the Justice Department, which Donald Trump essentially controls and he got rid of the problem Jeff Sessions, who the one decent thing that he did was recuse himself. This guy is not recused, it feels like the seeds of a cover-up are here." 

Published:3/23/2019 5:50:49 PM
[Markets] Goldman Just Put On The Next "Big Short" Trade

At the start of March in a span of just 48 hours, several big names in the American mall industry announced they would be slashing store counts to the tune of over 300 stores. Gap said during its earnings call that it is going to shutter 230 locations over the next two years, just hours after JCPenney said that it would close 18 of its department stores. This news came after L Brands said they were going to close 53 Victoria’s Secret stores in North America this year according to Bloomberg. The icing on the cake was when "disruptor" Tesla recently announced all of its sales would be moving online, which was a nice way to say that almost all of its retail locations - many of which are located in malls - were going to close (since then Musk appears to have flip-flopped and as of this moment, the fate of Tesla's retail operation remains unknown).

These closures followed a number of high profile bankruptcies in the "bricks and mortar" space: Payless Inc. just went bankrupt for the second time in two years, bankrupt Sears was minutes away from liquidation, while perennial mall tenant Brookstone filed for chapter last August, slashing the size of their operations – and once American mall staples like Gymboree, RadioShack, Bon-Ton Shoes and Wet Seal all filed for bankruptcy over the last half decade. Payless is going to be abandoning its 2500 stores, while Things Remembered will also be closing most of its 400 stores.

Overall, since 2016, 35 major retail chains, and countless smaller ones, have filed for Chapter 11.

So, as a result of this ongoing default tsunami, malls are becoming increasingly mere vacant lots, a few scattered fashion retailers, Apple stores and food courts, primarily just feeding Apple employees. And while the idea of imploding malls is not new, as the industry did seem to stabilize at one point as the cost of gas fell and consumer confidence rose, it now appears that the eye of the hurricane may have passed, and the tide is heading out once again, as vacancy rates at US malls jumped to 9% in the fourth quarter of 2018, up from 8.3% the year prior.

And, as we said three weeks ago, this relapse in the sector suggests animal shorting spirits may soon re-emerge. Recall that back in 2017 we, and others, dubbed these U.S. retail store closures as "the next big short". We said that "just like 10 years ago, when the "big short" was putting on the RMBX trade, and to a smaller extent, its cousin the CMBX, some were starting to short CMBS through the CMBX, a CDS index which tracks the values of bonds backed by various commercial properties. We explained our reasoning for putting on this short through CMBX versus stocks:

The trade, as we discussed before, is not so much shorting the equities where a persistent threat of a short squeeze has burned the bears on more than one occasion, but going long default risk via CMBX or otherwise shorting the CMBS complex. Based on fundamentals, the trade indeed appears justified: Sold in 2012, the mortgage bonds have a higher concentration of loans to regional malls and shopping centers than similar securities issued since the financial crisis. And because of the way CMBS are structured, the BBB- and BB rated notes are the first to suffer losses when underlying loans go belly up.

The trade lost some of its vigor in early 2018, when it seemed that the lows in CMBX BBB- may have been hit with the tranche trading in a tight range for the past 2 years.

However, we concluded that "once the new wave of bankruptcies flows through the mall P&L (or rather, does not) and a new wave of distress hits the mall sector, we fully expect new lows to be observed in this trade which is basically an inverse bet on Amazon's continued success in stealing market share from pretty much everyone."

Now, three weeks later, none other than Goldman has decided to echo what we said at the start of the month, and is urging its clients join the "big short" bandwagon  by going short CMBX AAA bonds (while hedging in a pair trade by going long five-year investment-grade corporate CDX).

Noting that US commercial real estate prices have reached expensive levels, with cap rates tight relative to real Treasury rates by historical standards...

... Goldman points out a discrepancy, namely that at the same time, spreads on AAA CMBX indices have moved to historically tight levels: tight vs. other fixed income instruments such as CDX IG, and tight even relative to the spreads on the exact CMBS cash bond underliers referenced by the AAA CMBX products.

And while that means that the highest-rated commercial mortgage loans are paying off on time now, with few default concerns on the horizon, Goldman's credit analysts Marty Young and Lofti Karoui fear that this scenario could easily reverse if commercial real estate prices start to decline.

Citing the bank's recent review of potential areas of financial imbalance across the US corporate and household sectors, Young notes that stretched CRE valuations ranked near the top in terms of risk level; and while a large and immediate commercial property price downturn is not the bank's baseline forecast, "a scenario with falling commercial property prices in the next 1-2 years is one to which we would attach non-negligible probability" the analysts caution.

Of course, there is not just one AAA CMBX series, but rather 7 - from series 6, representing deals issued in 2012, to the on-the-run series 12 which references bonds from deals issued in 2018.

So what index should investors who wish to put on the big commercial real estate "big short", bet on dropping?

According to Goldman, investors looking to hedge near-term CRE distress scenarios may favor buying protection on the older, shorter maturity, series, as spreads are even tighter for these instruments (Exhibit 5). For example, loans in the series 6 deals have 3.3 years remaining maturity on average, and the CMBX 6 AAA spread is just 23bp.

As a reminder, when the "big short" commercial real estate trade first emerged in 2017, investors were originally betting on the Markit CMBX Series 6, that references CMBS bonds from 2012, as the series 6 deals have a high (40%) concentration of loans backed by retail properties, a sector facing secular pressures. Vintages after series 6 have less retail exposure, but these later series necessarily have higher exposure to other property types, many of which also have distinct risks. Series 12 deals, for example, have high shares of single-tenant and suburban office properties, and high shares of mortgages which pay interest-only, with no principal amortization.

To be sure, unlike some aggressive contrarian investors, Goldman hedges, noting that the dovish pivot by the Fed this year makes the bank reluctant to maintain a large outright short positioning; as a result, Goldman recommends putting on a pair trade "expressing the view that AAA CMBX spreads are too tight via a portfolio that sells protection on the on-the-run 5-year CDX IG contract and buys protection on the CMBX 6 AAA index, at a 1:1 notional ratio."

The trade package has positive exposure to corporate credit risk, which we think will continue to benefit from positive momentum in rating actions, as low recession odds and a relatively conservative mindset among BBB corporate issuers keeps downgrade risk idiosyncratic. The long-short portfolio has positive carry; we would recommend implementing the trade with a target return of +2% of notional, and a stop of -2%.

Why is this notable? Because regular readers will recall that the 2007/2008 financial crisis really kicked in only after Goldman's prop desk started aggressively shorting various RMBS tranches, both cash and synthetic, in late 2006 and into 2007 and 2008, with the trade eventually becoming the "big short" that was popularized in the Michael Lewis book.

Will Goldman's reco to short CMBX-6 AAA be the trigger that collapses the house of cards for the second time in a row? While traditionally lightning never strikes twice the same place, the centrally-planned market is now so broken that even conventional idioms have to be redone when it comes to the world's (still) most important trading desk. In any case, keep an eye on commercial real estate prices: while residential markets have already peaked with most MSAs sliding fast, commercial may just be the first domino to drop that unleashes a tsunami of disastrous consequences across the rest of the market.

Published:3/23/2019 5:20:43 PM
[Markets] Study Finds That Overwhelming Majority Of Bitcoin Trading Volume Is Faked

The great bitcoin bull market of 2017 wasn't the first bubble in the pioneering digital currency's brief lifespan, and it might not be the last, but to this day, these losses still hurt, and what's worse, for many of those who had chosen to hold on, coins have been stolen or lost thanks to hackers and con artists, who for years operated with near-impunity (though this is finally beginning to change).

For these (and myriad other) reasons, attempts to legitimize bitcoin have largely floundered. Trading in bitcoin futures has fallen off a cliff, while the SEC has continued to resist the creation of a bitcoin-focused ETF. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all was the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, which allowed anyone with a brokerage account or IRA to gain exposure to bitcoin (but for a massive premium). During the crash, it delivered huge losses.

Yet, since the beginning of the year, desperate bulls have found some justification to keep hanging on. Over the past few months, the digital currency has slowly crept higher. A drumbeat of negative headlines, including one warning that the majority of bitcoin exchanges had likely turned a blind eye to suspicious activity, have had little impact.

BTC

Still, suspicions endure. Whether it's Bitfinex using tether to prop up bitcoin prices, or a handful of 'whales' colluding to push prices in their favor, theories about widespread manipulation in the bitcoin market have festered for years.

And in the latest blow to crypto's credibility, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday - citing data from a research firm that has been closely monitoring trading activity across dozens of exchanges - that the vast majority of bitcoin trading volume is an illusion - likely faked by the exchanges themselves using cunning trading algorithms to give customers the false impression of a deep, liquid market.

Oddly enough, Bitwise Asset Management, the firm that carried out the analysis, sent its findings to the SEC with the hope of convincing the regulator to finally drop its opposition to a bitcoin ETF (the firm is hoping to launch one that would limit trading to exchanges that don't manipulate trading volume).

Jazz

Over the course of four days in March, Bitwise analyzed the trading activity at 81 exchanges, and discovered suspicious patterns that analysts said suggested that much of the activity was being generated by programmatic trades intended solely to the inflate the exchange's perceived volume. This, in turn, helped the exchanges game the rankings on websites like CoinMarketCap (which, in theory, should lead to more business), the analysts concluded.

The San Francisco-based company submitted its research to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with an application to launch a bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund. The study, made public Thursday, is an attempt to alleviate the agency’s longstanding concerns that a bitcoin ETF would leave investors exposed to fraud and market manipulation.

Bitwise’s fund, if approved, would be based upon the 5% of trading it considers legitimate, said Matthew Hougan, Bitwise’s head of global research. That volume comes from 10 regulated exchanges that can verify that their trading data and customers are real. This slice of the market, he said, is well regulated, transparent and efficient.

"I hope everyone sees there is a real market for bitcoin," he said.

When Bitwise ran its analysis, it found that 71 of the 81 exchanges it examined harbored activity that appeared fraudulent. Of the $6 billion that changed hands during the study, Bitwise calculated that only $273 million in volume appeared legitimate. The overwhelming majority of the fraudulent activity appeared to take place on newer, unregulated exchanges like Coinbene and BiBox, two of the examples listed by WSJ.

Some of the suspicious patterns Bitwise identified included a surprising number of trades being executed within the bid-ask spread, buy and sell orders cancelling each other out, and volumes that were steady throughout the day (rather than registering peaks and valleys during normal trading hours).

Bitwise created a program to collect and analyze trading data across 81 exchanges, looking for patterns that exemplified both real and artificial trading. It concluded that 71 of the 81—or 95% of reported volume—are questionable, with patterns that indicated the trading on them appears manufactured.

Of the roughly $6 billion in reported daily volume during four days in March, the firm calculated that about $273 million was legitimate.

On regulated exchanges such as Coinbase, Gemini, BitFlyer and Poloniex, trading followed certain patterns, according to the Bitwise report. Trading volume, for example, rose and fell at predictable times coinciding with working and sleeping hours. Smaller trades were more frequent than larger ones, and many were in round numbers. All those patterns reflect how human traders think and act.

By contrast, the dozens of unregulated exchanges that have cropped up over the past year show different trading patterns. Buy and sell orders appear in pairs, with one neutralizing the other. Trades are almost always executed within bid and ask prices, indicating a lack of the more haphazard decision-making one would expect from human traders. There are very few small or round-number trades. Volume is consistent across the trading day.

The unregulated exchanges also show massive volume. Coinbase, the largest of the regulated exchanges, had average daily volume of around $27 million in the first week of March, when Bitwise collected its data. By comparison, CoinBene, a newer exchange that first appeared in October 2017, reported $480 million in daily volume over the same period. Yet CoinBene’s website attracts far less traffic than Coinbase, which is in 55,097th place by Amazon’s Alexa ranking service, compared with 1,500th for Coinbase.

Of course, if such a large percentage of trading in bitcoin, the oldest cryptocurrency, and the one with the broadest appeal, is fraudulent, just imagine what that means for the alt-coin market.

Published:3/23/2019 4:52:34 PM
[Markets] NewsWatch: Here’s how the Mueller report could roil the stock market The president endorsed the public release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian election meddling. Here’s what it would take for investors to take notice.
Published:3/23/2019 4:24:51 PM
[Markets] Consequences: From Transgenderism To Trans-Whateverism

Authored by Daniel Payne via The College Fix,

How is choosing your age different from choosing your sex? 

A scholar in Finland recently proposed a novel new legal concept: The ability of people to decide their own age.

The academic notes the difference between “chronological age” (how long one has been alive), “biological age” (the physical quality of one’s body), and “emotional age” (the age one actually feels one is). The former one cannot change at all; the middle one can change through healthy living; but the lattermost one would be able to change simply at will, including legally, depending on how one feels.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It is worth pointing out that the author of this theory seems both sincere and well-meaning, the frankly unbelievable proposition notwithstanding. But of course it rings very closely to the phenomenon of transgenderism, in which people are said to be able to choose their own “gender,” e.g. a man can choose to be a woman, and vice versa.

LGBT experts contacted by The College Fix would not comment on the similarities of the two phenomena - perhaps understandably. The silliness of choosing one’s own age is self-evident; but in acknowledging that, one must also note the cosmic absurdity of choosing one’s own sex. Both rely on a solipsistic and metaphysically untenable view of reality, namely that one can simply wish away concrete biological facts in favor of mere desire. Of course this is impossible, no matter the circumstances.

Yet this is what transgenderism has wrought: A world in which obvious truth is being increasingly abandoned in favor of deeply weird, antiscientific ideology. It is likely that we will continue to see more and more strange ideological propositions such as trans-ageism; these sorts of things will surely continue until people start rejecting them, up to and including transgenderism. But that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Published:3/23/2019 4:24:51 PM
[Markets] Greenwald: Coping Strategies For All Russiagate Peddlers Now In Mourning

The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald has some advice for the mainstream media and pundit class, already in mourning — or perhaps in the initial "denial stage" of grief on how to cope after it's now glaringly evident that Mueller is to indict zero Americans for conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

“Special Counsel Mueller is not recommending ANY further indictments am told” — CNN’s Justice Department reporter Laura Jarrett tweeted upon the Friday conclusion of the two year long investigation. 

Greenwald, himself no Trump supporter yet long smeared as a "Russian stooge" for daring to question the whole basis of two years of endless media 'Russiagate' hysteria, has some clear-eyed advice and coping strategies for a mainstream media sure to spend this weekend in shock and denial...

"If you constantly went on TV or wrote things to mislead millions into believing Mueller was coming to arrest Trump, Jr., Jared and a whole slew of others for conspiring with the Russians, just admit it. Save yourselves the embarrassment of all this whitewashing & pretending," Greenwald advised.  

Of Friday's major network reporting, Greenwald noted:

"At least CNN and MSNBC had the decency last night to have a funereal tone."

Greenwald pointed out possible signs of mainstream media baby steps in the grieving process: "There were no admissions of wrongdoing, and it seemed more pained and coerced than voluntary, but at least it was the first step in the coping process. Down that path lies some salvation at least."

Over at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow appeared to grapple with holding back a range of emotions Friday night. 

Funereal tone indeed.

Greenwald continued:

I mean: they didn't even get Carter Page! When I was urging a full investigation in lieu of media leaks & predicting the likely outcome back in March, 2017, even I thought they'd get one low-level person for Russia conspiring. No: they got zero.

With final collapse of the narrative, Greenwald said further, it is crucial to recall the following: "It's absolutely true nobody benefited more from the endless stream of Trump/Russia bullshit than MSNBC. It saved careers & that network. It generated huge ratings."

"It enabled them to sell best-selling books to deluded followers. It turned them into stars. It was a 2-year party," he concluded.

Now the party's over. 

But no doubt the goal posts are already being moved, tweets are being deleted, and we are likely moments away from "Mueller who?" and "now look over there". 

It's likely that most will skip the mourning process altogether and get straight to scrubbing recent history.

They would be wise to heed Greenwald's prudent coping advice: Save yourselves the embarrassment of all this whitewashing & pretending.

Published:3/23/2019 3:49:58 PM
[Markets] Marty Feldstein Warns "The Debt Crisis Is Coming"

Authored by Martin Feldstein, op-ed via The Wall Street Journal,

The most dangerous domestic problem facing America’s federal government is the rapid growth of its budget deficit and national debt.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit this year will be $900 billion, more than 4% of gross domestic product. It will surpass $1 trillion in 2022. The federal debt is now 78% of GDP. By 2028, it is projected to be nearly 100% of GDP and still rising. All this will have very serious economic consequences, and the CBO understates the problem. It has to base its projections on current law—in this case, the levels of spending and the future tax rules and rates that appear in law today.

Those levels don’t match realistic predictions. Current law projects that defense spending will decline as a share of GDP, from a very low 3.1% now to about 2.5% over the next 10 years. None of the military and civilian defense experts with whom I’ve spoken believe that will happen, given America’s global responsibilities and the need to modernize U.S. military equipment. It is likelier that defense spending will stay around 3% of GDP or even increase in the coming decade. And if the outlook for defense spending is increased, the Democratic House majority will insist that the non-defense discretionary spending should rise to match its trajectory.

If defense and other discretionary spending stays steady as a share of GDP, the annual deficit will increase by nearly 1% of GDP—from 4.2% of GDP now to about 5% of GDP 10 years from now. At the same time, the tax increases in current law that the CBO assumes will occur during the next decade as some of the recent cuts are phased out probably won’t happen. Congress will face strong political pressure to avoid a functional tax increase.

What does that mean for the long-run ratio of the federal debt to GDP? Federal debt will probably surpass 100% much sooner than 2028. If discretionary spending increases, debt growth will jump to 100% even quicker. When America’s creditors at home and abroad realize this, they will push up the interest rate the U.S. government pays on its debt. That will mean still more growth in debt. A 1% increase in the interest rate the government pays on its debt would boost the annual deficit by more than 1%. The higher long-run debt-to-GDP ratio would crowd out business investment and substantially reduce the economy’s growth rate. That in turn would mean lower real incomes and less tax revenue, leading to—you guessed it—an even higher debt-to-GDP ratio.

To avoid economic distress, the government either has to impose higher taxes or reduce future spending. Since raising taxes weakens incentives and further slows economic growth—worsening the debt-to-GDP ratio—the better approach is to slow government spending growth. Defense spending and nondefense discretionary outlays can’t be reduced below the unprecedented and dangerously low shares of GDP that the CBO projects.

Thus the only option is to throw the brakes on entitlements. In particular, the government needs to hold back the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Federal spending on the two major health programs is projected to rise from its current 5.5% of GDP to more than 7.2% by 2029. And it will only keep increasing after that.

The simplest approach is to raise the age of eligibility for Social Security, as Congress did in 1983. Bipartisan legislation then voted to postpone “full” benefits from age 65 to 67, allowing earlier benefits at an actuarially reduced level. Because Congress slowly phased the change in over several decades, it avoided any significant political opposition. In the intervening 35 years, the average life expectancy of Americans in their late 60s has risen about three years. It would be appropriate to increase the age of eligibility for full benefits from 67 to 70 and index it to life expectancy. Exceptions could be made for retirees with low lifetime incomes.

Lawmakers don’t like to cut spending, but they have to do something. Otherwise the exploding national debt will be an increasing burden on our children, economic growth and our future standard of living.

Published:3/23/2019 3:20:00 PM
[Markets] Twitter Bans User For Laughing At Rachel Maddow's Tears Of Despair Over Mueller Report

As left-wing news outlets were forced to cover the completion of the Mueller report sans high-level indictments (Trump Jr., for example), Rachel Maddow had a grand-mal meltdown after having been forced by MSNBC to cancel a fishing trip and drive in to work on a Friday night. 

Maddow fought back tears as she reported on her own collapsing narrative, to which Twitter user 'Karli Bonne' (@kbq2251) posted a video of herself laughing at Maddow's despair

As the video began to go viral, Twitter suspended her account.

Bonne then tweeted the video from another account (@kbq225) which was quickly amplified by actor James Woods, who truly gives zero f*cks now that Hollywood has blacklisted him being openly conservative. 

The reactions to Maddow's meltdown have been hilarious. 

Published:3/23/2019 2:49:32 PM
[Markets] Economic Report: Mortgage rates slide to 13-month low, luring Americans back into the housing market Rates for home loans fell, pushing mortgage applications higher, in a reminder that economic growth is just tepid enough to allow some home buyers to catch a break.
Published:3/23/2019 2:19:26 PM
[Markets] Mike Bloomberg Unloads On "Over-Apologizing" Biden & "Whatever His Name Is" Beto

It seems the left's establishment hammer has fallen once again. With the liberal media and its gaggle of talking heads and billionaires having destroyed Howard Schultz for daring not be an extremist and crushing Tulsi Gabbard's horror-filled anti-war stance, it appears it was the turn of Beto and Biden to face the ugly music.

In a flip-flop that would make Fed chair Jay Powell proud, former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg raged against his machine in a discussion at a Bermuda Executive Forum in New York City on Thursday - slamming the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, and even current golden boy, Beto O'Rourke.

His first swing was implicitly at Joe Biden, as he discussed age of presidents:

To start a four-year job, or maybe an eight-year job, at age 79 may not be the smartest thing to do. But if I think if I thought I could win, I would have,” the 77-year-old billionaire said, adding that  “I just couldn’t see a path to where I could get the nomination...unless I was willing to change all my views and go on what CNN called 'an apology tour'..."

He then lurched at Joe Biden's "apology tour" and the Democrats' seemingly anti-Trump-only policy...

“Joe Biden went out and apologized for being male, over 50, white,” Bloomberg, who funds several anti-gun initiatives, said.

“He apologized for the one piece of legislation which is actually a pretty good anti-crime bill, which if the liberals ever read it, most of the things they like would be in that bill,” he said.

“They should have loved that. But they didn’t even bother to read it. You’re anti-crime, you must be anti-populist,” he said.

But the billionaire was not done, as he 'dared' to unload some honesty on Beto and his endless apologies too:

“And so everybody else, Beto, whatever his name is, he’s apologized for being born,” he said to laughter from the audience.

“I mean, I don’t mean to be unkind. And a lot of people love him and say he’s a smart guy, and some day if he wins I’d certainly support him,” he said.

O’Rourke has recently apologized for joking that his wife raised their kids “sometimes with my help,” and also has accepted criticism that he’s enjoyed white privilege.

So with Democratic candidates being whitewashed left and right, who is the 'chosen one'? It is really going to be Elizabeth Warren?

Published:3/23/2019 2:19:25 PM
[Markets] Does Netflix have a killer problem? With You, Mindhunter and a Ted Bundy show Netflix has doubled down on violent and gory content. That could come at a high social cost. Published:3/23/2019 1:49:08 PM
[Markets] Numbers Don't Lie: Trump's Free Speech Executive Order Could Cost Colleges Billions

Authored by Grace Gottschling via Campus Reform,

In light of President Trump’s executive order directing government agencies to restrict and remove federal research funding from universities that infringe on students’ rights to free speech, Campus Reform compiled existing government data to determine exactly how much federal research money is doled out each year. 

The National Science Foundation, a government agency, produces annual spending reports regarding government-funded research in higher education. Campus Reform analyzed the numerous sets of data from 2017 and created a single report with the most relevant statistics to create a reader-friendly, comprehensive document.

Readers can identify what an individual state spends on “Research & Development” (R&D) and what percentage of that number is comprised of federal, state, and institution dollars, among other categories. 

Each state and American territory can be found in the report along with what public and private colleges in that state receive in total R&D funding versus all federal funding. The report also details which colleges in each state and territory receive federal R&D funding and how much funding was received in 2017.

This Campus Reform report can be viewed below. For an interactive version of the report, click here

Published:3/23/2019 1:49:07 PM
[Markets] UPS To Send Nurses For In-Home Vaccinations

United Parcel Service (UPS) is preparing to test a service which will dispatch nurses to vaccinate adults in their homes, according to Reuters

While UPS did not disclose which vaccines would be used in the project, vaccine manufacturer Merck & Co told Reuters it was exploring a partnership. 

The project, previously unreported, shows how UPS is targeting a larger slice of the $85 billion outsourced healthcare logistics market. Deutsche Post’s DHL Group dominates the market, which is expected to grow to $105 billion by 2021. -Reuters

"Over-the-threshold services is where the world is headed," said UPS global healthcare logistics strategy head, Chris Cassidy - who joined the company last year from GlaxoSmithKline. 

He's how the program will operate, per Reuters

"Workers in UPS’ 1.7 million-square-foot healthcare complex at Worldport will package and ship the vaccine to one of the more 4,700 franchised U.S. UPS stores. A home health nurse contracted by UPS’ clinical trial logistics unit known as Marken will collect the insulated package, transport it the “last mile” to the patient’s home and administer the vaccine, which will target a viral illness in adults."

UPS purchased Marken in 2016. CEO Wes Wheeler, who is overseeing the project, says the aim of the test is to "see if we can connect all these dots." 

The move into healthcare comes as the parcel delivery business prepares for a cooling economy as well as competition from Amazon - which is in the process of rolling out its own logistics network in order to cut costs. 

The UPS project is partially aimed at ways to increase adult vaccination rates, however the project faces hurdles - such as how to get medical insurers to pay for the new service. 

Merck, a major UPS healthcare customer, has a portfolio of vaccines for viral illnesses ranging from shingles and hepatitis B to the flu. Spokeswoman Pamela Eisele said the company is considering the project as it looks for new ways to increase access to its medicines and vaccines and boost adult vaccine rates.

Experts said the UPS project could also save money by having contract home nurses, rather than higher paid doctors, administer the vaccine. But the test, a first for a large U.S. shipper, is not a guaranteed slam dunk for UPS: Marken’s CEO said it must figure out how to get medical insurers to pay for the new service. -Reuters

GoFundMe Battles Anti-Vaxxers

While UPS explores mass vaccinations, GoFundMe has banned anti-Vaxxers from their platform, according to the Daily Beast. 

"Campaigns raising money to promote misinformation about vaccines violate GoFundMe’s terms of service and will be removed from the platform," GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne told the Beast

"We are conducting a thorough review and will remove any campaigns currently on the platform." 

It’s the latest crackdown on fact-challenged activists who believe the medical establishment, the government, and the pharmaceutical industry are engaged in a conspiracy to hurt American children.

The U.S. anti-vax movement has been blamed for two outbreaks of measles that have infected some 300 people—mostly children—in New York and the Pacific Northwest.

Last week, the American Medical Association warned social media giants including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube that they were helping to amplify the propaganda and confuse parents.

But as The Daily Beast has previously reported, anti-vaxxers have also used sites like GoFundMe to underwrite their messaging campaigns. -Daily Beast

Fundraisers benefiting or promoted by anti-vaccination activists - or "vaccine choice" groups raised at least $170,000 over the last four years. Via the Daily Beast: 

  • Prominent anti-vax activist Larry Cook, who spent more money than anyone else boosting his message on Facebook and collected $79,900 on various GoFundMe campaigns.
  • A vaccine exemption attorney’s legal defense fund, which raised $25,220, that was promoted by Health Freedom Idaho and Sarasota for Vaccine Choice.
  • Three campaigns promoted by A Voice for Choice’s Facebook page that raised $39,801.

Vaccine Choice advocate Melissa Sullivan, EVP of Health Choice Connecticut, says that GoFundMe's ban is a "violation of the First Amendment," and suggested that big pharma was behind the decision. 

"Whether you believe it’s true or not, everyone is entitled to their opinion," said Sullivan. "I would hope they would reconsider. This movement needs to be able to get funds in order to fight pharma giants like Merck and other vaccine manufacturers."

$100 Million In Vaccine Injuries YTD

The UPS vaccine push along with GoFundMe's elimination of anti-vaxx voices comes as the US government has paid $100 million in vaccine injuries and deaths year-to-date ($110 million including attorneys' fees) across 240 cases. In total, more than $4 billion has been paid out by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) since 1989. 

Between Nov. 16 of last year and Feb 15 of 2019, 80% of injury awards were for the flu shot

Published:3/23/2019 1:19:21 PM
[Markets] Adam Schiff Rejects Mueller Report, Says Special Counsel Should Testify

Rep. Adam Schiff, the Chairman of House Intelligence Committee, rejected reports that no more Mueller indictments are coming, and suggested he would call the special counsel before a House panel if necessary to learn what is in the report.

Here he is whining on Maddow's show...

And in another interview on CNN, Schiff said...

If necessary, we will call Bob Mueller or others before our committee, I would imagine the judiciary committee may call the attorney general if necessary,”

“At the end of the day, the department is under a statutory obligation to provide our committee with any information regarding significant intelligence activities, including counterintelligence. And it’s hard to imagine anything more significant than what Bob Mueller has been investigating.”

We have a right to be informed, and we will demand to be informed about it.”

Schiff said that during the last Congress, the Justice Department turned over 880,000 pages of evidence from the Hillary Clinton email investigation, even though no one was ever indicted. Mueller's special counsel investigation has already led to 37 indictments, though the final report reportedly does not recommend any additional ones.

“We need to point out to the department it would be establishing a horrendous double standard,” Schiff said.

If the department does not release the report and underlying evidence, Schiff said Democrats would use their authority as the majority party in the House of Representatives to compel the release of Mueller’s findings.

“It should cooperate willingly, but if it doesn’t, we will have to subpoena the evidence, subpoena Mueller or others,” Schiff told CNN.

Schiff did not answer host Wolf Blitzer’s question as to whether or not any potential testimony would be public or behind closed doors.

Published:3/23/2019 12:51:30 PM
[Markets] Most people (of all ages) failed this retirement quiz — here are the answers Knowing this can make a big difference in your lifetime wealth
Published:3/23/2019 12:20:01 PM
[Markets] 'Islamist Attack Plot' Foiled By German Police; 11 Arrested For Planning "To Kill As Many Infidels As Possible"

German police arrested 11 people on Friday during a series of raids on a terror cell planning an "Islamist terrorist attack" using guns and a vehicle, prosecutors said. 

The goal, according to police, was to "kill as many "infidels" as possible."

According to thelocal.de, the plan was foiled by a team of more than 200 police, which carried out simultaneous raids early Friday morning in several German cities near Frankfurt. 

The raids turned up €20,000 ($22,640 US), several knives, narcotic drugs and computer files. The primary suspects are two 31-year-old brothers from Wiesbaden as well as a 21-year-old man from Offenbach. 

The group had allegedly made contact with various arms dealers, according to alarabiya.net, which added that they had rented a large vehicle - ostensibly for the attack. 

The arrrests come one week after two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand were attacked by 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, killing 50. Authorities have been on high alert for both copycat and revenge attacks. 

Germany, meanwhile, has had its share of Islamic terrorist attacks over the past several years. 

In July, 2016, a 17-year-old asylum seeker armed with a knife and hatchet attacked several people on a train near Würzburg - injuring five people. The attacker was shot dead when he tried to attack Special Deployment Commandos with the hatchet. Authorities later discovered that the perpetrator, Riaz Khan Ahmadzai was in contact with suspected Islamic State members and had originally been asked to drive a car into a crowd of people

In December 2016, a 23-year-old Tunisian, Anis Amri, killed 12 people when he stole a truck and drove it into a crowd in a Berlin Christmas market. Amri died in a shootout with police after he pulled a 22 caliber gun from his backpack, shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), and opened fire, injuring an officer. 

Anis Amri

In July 2016, fifteen people were injured when a 27-year-old Syrian suicide bomber identified as Mohammad Daleel killed himself outside a wine bar in Ansbach, Germany. 15 were injured. 

In July 2017, a Palestinian failed asylum seeker, Ahmad Alhaw, stabbed several people in a Hamburg supermarket, killing a 50-year-old German man and injuring six. 

Published:3/23/2019 12:20:00 PM
[Markets] Is Inflation Beginning? Are You Ready?

Authored by EconomicPrism's MN Gordon, annotated by Acting-Man's Pater Tenebrarum,

Extrapolating The Recent Past Can Be Hazardous To Your Wealth

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” remarked George Santayana over 100 years ago.  These words, as strung together in this sequence, certainly sound good.  But how to render them to actionable advice is less certain.

George Santayana – purveyor of eminently quotable wise words by the wagon-load, but what shall one do with them in practice? [PT]

Aren’t some facets of the past – like the floppy disk – not worth remembering?  And aren’t others – like a first taste of romance – worth repeating… if only it were possible?

Where investing is concerned, remembering the past – and discerning what to make of it – can actually be a handicap.  Where does the past begin?  How does it influence the future?  How does one invest one’s capital accordingly?

These are today’s questions.  What follows, with purpose and intent, is an attempt to scratch out an answer.  Where to begin?

Many investment gurus in the early 1980s were predicting the future while projecting the past.  After a decade of raging price inflation, the popular dogma was to pack one’s portfolio with gold coins, fine art, and antiques.  This was the proven, surefire way to preserve hard earned wealth.

The United States, remember, was just a year or two away from going full Weimar Republic circa 1921-23.  The dollar was going to quickly turn to hyper-inflationary ash, like conifer trees in a California wildfire.  Everyone just knew it.  You could darn near count down the days.

Right On The Money 

Conventional wisdom, when it comes to the economy, markets, and investing, eventually leads to trouble.  While everyone is busy watching the status quo unfold with Swiss watch like precision, the conditions that first brought this state of affairs to fruition subtly changes.  Yet almost no one takes notice.

In the late 1970s, A. Gary Shilling had a hunch.  Rather than the consensus view that inflation would persist forever, Shilling suspected that the U.S. was entering a long-term era of lower and lower rates of price inflation – and an equally long-term decline in interest rates.  Under this backdrop, traditional inflation hedges would be disastrous.

Shilling, having conviction and wanting to warn investors, wrote a book about his insight.  The book was first published in the early 1980s, and its title asked two significant questions: Is Inflation Ending?  Are You Ready?

The book’s sales were an utter flop.  No one, save a handful of shrewd individuals, could actually fathom that price inflation was dissipating.  But the book’s forecast was right on the money.

US 30-year treasury bond yield, 1942 – present day. At the height of the late 1970s inflation scare  a great time to buy bonds had arrived.

In September of 1981, 20-year Treasury Note yields peaked at 15.32 percent.  After that, they commenced a 35 year decline that likely ended in July 2016 at just 1.5 percent.

Shilling, in addition to his book, also put his money behind his convictions.  By the mid-1980s Shilling achieved financial independence through aggressive investment in the long bond.  Shilling’s big forecast and financial windfalls were recounted in John Mauldin’s 2006 book, Just One Thing.

Is Inflation Beginning? Are You Ready?

Shilling’s astute call and capital deployment into the long-term decline in interest rates starting in the early 1980s is remarkable.  But what is also remarkable is Shilling’s ability to successfully ride out this trend long after other big investors bailed out.

Bill Gross, the bond king, was also one of the early savants to recognize and exploit this trend.  Employing the total return bond strategy that he pioneered, Gross built Pimco into a $1.7 trillion money manager and amassed his own personal fortune.  But in the decade that followed the Great Financial Crisis, Gross lost his magic touch.

Between a bitter public confrontation with colleague Mohamed El-Erain and emitting cans of fart spray in his ex-wife’s Laguna Beach home (and formerly his home), Gross heavily bet against the price of U.S. government debt. This mistake marked the beginning of the end of Gross’ otherwise notable career, which officially ended last month.

Former “bond king” Bill Gross, lately better known as a vengeful wielder of canned flatulence [PT]

Shilling, however, has continued his propensity for predicting turns in the economy.  And he’s going on record again.  In a recent Bloomberg article, Shilling offered the following:

“I first suggested the U.S. economy was headed toward a recession more than a year ago, and now others are forecasting the same.  I give a business downturn starting this year a two-thirds probability.

“The recessionary indicators are numerous. Tighter monetary policy by the Federal Reserve that the central bank now worries it may have overdone.  The near-inversion in the Treasury yield curve.  The swoon in stocks at the end of last year.  Weaker housing activity.  Soft consumer spending.  The tiny 20,000 increase in February payrolls, compared to the 223,000 monthly average gain last year.  Then there are the effects of the deteriorating European economies and decelerating growth in China as well as President Donald Trump’s ongoing trade war with that country.”

How Shilling derived a two-thirds probability of a business downturn starting this year is a question of methodology.  We put the probability of a business downturn starting this year at three-thirds – or 100 percent.  But it is what comes after which you should keep a watchful eye on.

At the moment, bad news for the economy is good news for stocks. The conventional wisdom is that a weakening economy ensures more stimulative juice from the Fed.  Without question, and as demonstrated by the Fed’s decision this week to hold rates steady, the Fed can be counted on to comply.

But when days darker than the darkest days of a decade ago arrive, and the Fed comes to the rescue with helicopter money drops, something unexpected will happen. Rather than bond yields falling and stock prices rising, the opposite will happen. Stock prices will fall and interest rates will rise, along with consumer prices.

Is Inflation Beginning?  Are you ready?

These questions may seem absurd today. Tomorrow their answers will be obvious. Having a gold coin or two in hand when tomorrow arrives will be of critical importance.

US money supply TMS-2: using the (correct) classical definition of “inflation” as an increase in the money supply, it has arrived long ago. [PT]

Published:3/23/2019 11:49:32 AM
[Markets] As Criminal Probe Advances, Prosecutors Focus On What Boeing Told The FAA

More details about the federal criminal investigation into the FAA's certification process for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 leaked Friday night, appearing in the Wall Street Journal - a news organization that has consistently lead coverage of the investigation, alongside the New York Times and Seattle Times.

Per the latest report, prosecutors are focusing on whether Boeing withheld crucial information from regulators - regulators who, as the NYT reported earlier this month, had delegated much of the approval process to internal units of the Boeing Company.

Here's more from WSJ on the criminal probe, which began late last year after a 737 owned by Indonesia's Lion Air suddenly plunged into the Java Sea a few minutes after takeoff. The probe has only intensified since Ethiopia Airlines flight ET302 crashed under similarly mysterious circumstances just six minutes after takeoff. In the intervening weeks, questions about the plane's new anti-stall system, known as MCAS, which was unique to the 737 Max, having been added to compensate for changes in the plane's design.

Boeing

Additionally, Boeing has also faced scrutiny over "optional" safety features that some say could have prevented the crashes.

Federal investigators are looking into whether Boeing provided incomplete or misleading information about the 737 MAX aircraft to U.S. air-safety regulators and customers, people familiar with the matter said.

The focus on disclosures to regulators, which hasn’t been previously reported, is part of a broader investigation into how the jetliner was developed and certified, some of these people said.

The criminal investigation, which is in early stages, began last year, weeks after a 737 MAX operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia on Oct. 29, according to one of these people. The same model plane, flown by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed less than five months later.
Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s office are working in tandem under the direction of federal prosecutors, the people familiar with the matter said. The agents involved are from offices in Seattle, Chicago and elsewhere, these people added. Boeing is based in Chicago but manufactures the 737 MAX at its facility in Renton, Wash., near Seattle.

Boeing hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.

"The 737 MAX was certified in accordance with the identical FAA requirements and processes that have governed certification of all previous new airplanes and derivatives," Boeing said.

Though the pressure on Boeing's shares has abated, Garuda Indonesia, the country's national airline, helped revive anxieties about the financial fallout from the string of crashes by cancelling a $5 billion order for 50 737 MAX jets, Reuters reported on Friday (and we noted here), becoming the first airline to cancel.

If others follow suit, some $600 billion in Boeing 737 MAX orders could be at risk. Of course, this could all depend on what investigators find, and, more importantly, what they choose to leak to the press.

Moreover, whatever they turn up, the fallout from the probe likely won't be limited to Boeing. As one fund manager pointed in an essay published by Barron's this week, it could have repercussions for the broader autonomous travel industry, which is still in its infancy. If investigators blame Boeing's autonomous technology (the MCAS) for the crashes, it could have "a ripple effect" impacting consumer confidence in driverless cars, which have already struggled with safety mishaps of their own.

Published:3/23/2019 11:24:09 AM
[Markets] Dow Slammed on Weak Global Manufacturing Data; Inverted Yield Curve Hits Banks The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down sharply Friday as weaker-than-expected manufacturing data in the U.S. and Europe renewed fears of slowing global growth. tumbled 6.6% after the sports apparel company posted weaker-than-expected third quarter sales in its key North American market. shares rose 3.2% despite the luxury jewelry retailer missing Wall Street's fourth-quarter sales expectations. Published:3/23/2019 10:49:40 AM
[Markets] No-Deal-Brexit Doomsday-Plan: Soldiers In Nuclear Bunker Ready To Go

Authored by Joshua Rarrick via ValueWalk.com,

The UK is facing tough days ahead as British Prime Minister Theresa May presses forward with Brexit. Citizens have been warned to begin stockpiling basic supplies, such as food and medicine, in the event that no deal is made between the European Union and the UK. While it might seem a bit extreme to those who live in the far western world, many people believe that if no deal is reached there will be widespread civil unrest. A Brexit doomsday plan has been put into action.

Brexit Doomsday Plan Includes Troops

Reuters reports that the UK has activated troops and deployed them to a special nuclear bunker beneath the Ministry of Defence. The action has been dubbed Operation Redfold, and it is a key part of the UK’s Brexit doomsday plan. According to the report, a total of 3,500 troops will be put on standby as the government begins to enter “very high readiness mode.”

Sky News, claiming a government insider as their source, said that key departments that would most likely be disrupted by a no deal Brexit will be manning posts 24 hours a day to try and keep things under control. The departments of Health, Transport, and Defence were among key departments the report listed as being at the ready.

What Is Operation Redfold?

Operation Redfold is the military arm of Operation Yellowhammer, which is a Brexit doomsday contingency plan set in place by Whitehall in case of a no deal exit. The troops involved in this massive effort to help ensure the country continues to operate will provide valuable infrastructure to reduce chaos and panic. They will help drive fuel tankers to deliver much needed fuel and also help provide services like overflow parking lots for trucks when shipments at ports are delayed by customs.

Action Being Taken By The UK Government

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence was quoted as saying, “we are always willing to support wider government planning for any scenario, and we have committed to holding 3,500 troops at readiness to aid contingency plans.” At the moment there is much activity taking place to ensure a Brexit doomsday plan is not only in place, but is also a viable method for controlling and supporting the country in the event a deal is not reached.

The military is also making major preparation for this scenario. They have reportedly stockpiled weapons, fuel, ammunition, and spare parts both overseas and in the UK. In the event that supply lines are interrupted there will still be supplies to carry on daily operations.

Nuclear Bunker Only Used In Emergency Situations

The bunker from which Operation Redfold troops will be activated is called “Pindar.” It is located below the Ministry of Defence and is reportedly used only in times of emergency or all out war. It would seem the UK government is seriously considering that a no deal scenario is indeed serious enough to call for a Brexit doomsday plan to be put into action.

No Deal Could Have Serious Consequences

ValueWalk reported in January that a no deal scenario could paralyze air traffic in the UK, and will no doubt affect other means of travel as well. Mobilization of troops, widespread preparation by government departments, and warnings about civil unrest are all signs that a no deal exit from the EU could be detrimental to the short term health of the UK.

Published:3/23/2019 10:49:40 AM
[Markets] $100 antique discovered at garage sale auctioned off for $2.1 million at Sotheby’s Antique dealers at the garage sale missed the 1,000-year-old gem.
Published:3/23/2019 10:20:01 AM
[Markets] WikiLeaks Raising $1 Million For Leaked Copy Of Mueller Report

DOJ staffers who like money and know where AG Barr keeps the keys to his safe, take note. WikiLeaks has launched a $1 million fundraiser over the next seven days "used to facilitate the full publication" of the long-awaited Mueller report, which was completed on Friday and submitted to Attorney General William Barr for review. 

A summary of key findings is expected to reach Congress this weekend, which is expected to be made public. A release of the full report, however, will be up to Barr, the White House and Congress

And while many on the left - including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer - are calling for the public release of the report so they can pick through its findings for "Gotchas!" to ride into 2020, conservatives are similarly calling for its release so they can finally put the conspiracy theory to rest and expose the investigation as a "witch hunt" once and for all. 

Enter WikiLeaks: 

It is unclear on how the whistleblower organization plans to obtain the report once the million dollars is raised - as it appears they assume someone will step up and claim their golden ticket to the chocolate factory (or prison, if caught). 

On Wednesday, President Trump said he has no problem with the public seeing the report. 

We expect at some point the public will [redacted] a [redacted] copy of the report, which will reveal that [redacted] plotted against [redacted]. And since nobody is watching the watchers, [redacted] will never face justice. 

Published:3/23/2019 10:20:00 AM
[Markets] Deep Dive: Stocks took a big hit Friday, and these shares fell the most Nike led the Dow Jones Industrial Average lower as bond investors sent a clear signal they expect the economic expansion to end.
Published:3/23/2019 9:47:56 AM
[Markets] Caitlin Johnstone Rages: "Mock The Russiagaters. Mock Them Ruthlessly"

Authored by Caitlin Johnstone via Medium.com,

The Robert Mueller investigation which monopolized political discourse for two years has finally concluded, and his anxiously awaited report has been submitted to Attorney General William Barr. The results are in and the debate is over: those advancing the conspiracy theory that the Kremlin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government were wrong, and those of us voicing skepticism of this were right.

The contents of the report are still secret, but CNN’s Justice Department reporter Laura Jarrett has told us all we need to know, tweeting, “Special Counsel Mueller is not recommending ANY further indictments am told.” On top of that, William Barr said in a letter to congressional leaders that there has been no obstruction of Mueller’s investigation by Justice Department officials.

So that’s it, then. A completely unhindered investigation has failed to convict a single American of any kind of conspiracy with the Russian government, and no further indictments are coming. The political/media class which sold rank-and-file Americans on the lie that the Mueller investigation was going to bring down this presidency were liars and frauds, and none of the goalpost-moving that I am sure is already beginning to happen will change that.

It has been obvious from the very beginning that the Maddow Muppets were being sold a lie. In 2017 I wrote an article titled “How We Can Be Certain That Mueller Won’t Prove Trump-Russia Collusion”, saying that Mueller would continue finding evidence of corruption “since corruption is to DC insiders as water is to fish”, but he will not find evidence of collusion. If you care to take a scroll through the angry comments on that article, just on Medium alone, you will see a frozen snapshot of what the expectations were from mainstream liberals at the time. They had swallowed the Russiagate narrative hook, line and sinker, and they believed that the Mueller investigation was going to vindicate them. It did not.

I’ve been saying Russiagate is bullshit from the beginning, and I’ve been called a Trump shill, a Kremlin propagandist, a Nazi and a troll every day for saying so by credulous mass media-consuming dupes who drank the Kool Aid. And I’ve only taken a fraction of the flack more high profile Russiagate skeptics like Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey have been getting for expressing doubt in the Gospel According to Maddow. The insane, maniacal McCarthyite feeding frenzy that these people were plunged into by nonstop mass media propaganda drowned out the important voices who tried to argue that public energy was being sucked into Russia hysteria and used to manufacture support for dangerous cold war escalations with a nuclear superpower.

Just think what we could have done with that energy over the last two years. Think how much public support could have been poured into the sweeping progressive reforms called for by the Sanders movement, for example, instead of constant demands for more sanctions and nuclear posturing against Russia. Think how much more attention could have been drawn to Trump’s actual horrific policies like his facilitation of Saudi butchery in Yemen or his regime change agendas in Iran and Venezuela, his support for ecocide and military expansionism and the barbarism of Jair Bolsonaro and Benjamin Netanyahu. Think how much more energy could have gone into beating back the Republicans in the midterms, reclaiming far more House seats and taking the Senate as well, gathering momentum for a presidential candidacy that truly threatens Trump instead of 9,000 primary candidates who will probably be selected by superdelegates after the first ballot when there’s too many of them to establish a clear majority under the new rules.

We must never let them forget what they did or what they cost us all. We must never let mainstream Democrats forget how crazy they got, how much time and energy they wasted, how very, very wrong they were and how very, very right we were.

Never stop reminding them of this. Never stop mocking them for it. Never stop mocking their idiotic Rachel Maddow worship. Never stop mocking the Robert Mueller prayer candles. Never stop making fun of the way they blamed all their problems on Susan Sarandon. Never stop reminding them of those stupid pink vagina hats. Never stop mocking them for elevating Louise Mensch and Eric Garland. Never stop mocking them for creating the fucking Krassenstein brothers.

Every politician, every media figure, every Twitter pundit and everyone who swallowed this moronic load of bull spunk has officially discredited themselves for life. Going forward, authority and credibility rests solely with those who kept clear eyes and clear heads during the mass media propaganda blitzkrieg, not with those who were stupid enough to believe what they were told about the behaviors of a noncompliant government in a post-Iraq invasion world. The people who steered us into two years of Russiavape insanity are the very last people anyone should ever listen to ever again when determining the future direction of our world.

*  *  *

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Published:3/23/2019 9:47:56 AM
[Markets] The Ratings Game: Micron stock surge leads chips to near record high levels Micron Technology Inc.’s stock surges for its best day in more than a year Thursday to lead chip stocks towards record highs as the memory chip maker took what analysts considered to be a more realistic view of the market and sought to curb production.
Published:3/23/2019 9:18:10 AM
[Markets] The yield curve inverted — here are 5 things investors need to know A closely watched measure of the yield curve inverted Friday, underlining worries about economic growth and rattling the stock market. But investors might be pushing the panic button a bit prematurely. Published:3/23/2019 9:18:10 AM
[Markets] SPLC Implodes: President And Legal Director Resign Amid Sexual Misconduct Scandal

The Southern Poverty Law Center - the "vicious left-wing attack dog" used by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon to identify "hate groups" - is unraveling. 

A week after co-founder Morris Dees was ousted over sexual misconduct claims - with two dozen employees signing a letter of concern over "allegations of mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism," the head of the SPLC, Richard Cohen, as well as the organization's legal director, Rhonda Brownstein, resigned on Friday. 

Morris Dees, Richard Cohen, Rhonda Brownstein

Cohen had been with the organization 33 years and was one of its most prominent figures. 

At 5:03 p.m. Friday, Cohen sent a message to staff, with the subject line “Stepping Down,” announcing that he, too, would be leaving the organization that he and Dees had turned into a research and fundraising juggernaut.

“Whatever problems exist at the SPLC happened on my watch, so I take responsibility for them,” Cohen wrote, while asking the staff to avoid jumping to conclusions before the board completes an internal review of the Montgomery, Ala., organization’s work culture. -LA Times

Earlier this week, the SPLC board of directors appointed Michelle Obama's former chief of staff, Tina Tchen - who, in an unrelated matter, unsuccessfully tried to pull strings and have the Jussie Smollett case transferred from the Chicago PD to the FBI. Tchen is heading up the inquiry into the sexual misconduct claims.

Tina Tchen

Also out on Friday was Rhonda Brownstein - who had worked with the organization for nearly three decades, according to the Montgomery Advertiser's Melissa Brown. 

Inside the SPLC "Scam"

As the Washington Examiner's Beckett Adams writes, the Southern Poverty Law Center is a "scam," which has taken " no care whatsoever for the reputational and personal harm it causes by lumping Christians and anti-extremist activists with actual neo-Nazis."

As it turns out, the SPLC is a cynical money-making scheme, according to a former staffer’s blistering tell-all, published this week in the New Yorker. The center’s chief goal is to bilk naive and wealthy donors who believe it's an earnest effort to combat bigotry.

The only thing worse than a snarling partisan activist is a slimy conman who merely pretends to be one. -Washington Examiner

"“Outside of work," recalls Bob Moser of his days working for the organization, "we spent a lot of time drinking and dishing in Montgomery bars and restaurants about … the hyperbolic fund-raising appeals, and the fact that, though the center claimed to be effective in fighting extremism, ‘hate’ always continued to be on the rise, more dangerous than ever, with each year’s report on hate groups. ‘The S.P.L.C.—making hate pay,’ we’d say."

"[I]t was hard, for many of us, not to feel like we’d become pawns in what was, in many respects, a highly profitable scam," added Moser. 

The way Moser tells it, the center’s chief founder, Morris Dees, who was dismissed unceremoniously last week for unspecified reasons, discovered early on that he could rake in boatloads of cash by convincing “gullible Northern liberals that his group is doing the hard work of fighting “hate.”

But the center’s supposed mission of combating bigotry doesn’t actually matter to its top brass, Moser says. It’s just a business choice and one that has been extremely lucrative throughout the years. Moser’s article reminds readers of the time Dees actually said of the SPLC in an interview with then-Progressive magazine reporter John Egerton, “We just run our business like a business. Whether you’re selling cakes or causes, it’s all the same.” -Washington Examiner

Moser claims that the SPLC's business model centers entirely around keeping its precious donors in constant fear using gimmicks such as "hate maps" and "hate lists." 

"[T]he center continues to take in far more than it spends. And it still tends to emphasize splashy cases that are sure to draw national attention,” he writes adding the group’s “central strategy” involves “taking on cases guaranteed to make headlines and inflame the far right while demonstrating to potential donors that the center has not only all the right enemies but also the grit and know-how to take them down." 

Moser adds there is an inescapable sense of “guilt” that comes with thinking about “the legions of donors who believed that their money was being used, faithfully and well, to do the Lord’s work in the heart of Dixie. We were part of the con, and we knew it.”

Who knew you could make the big bucks simply by lumping Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ben Carson with actual, honest-to-God neo-Nazis? -Washington Examiner

Right wing commentator and Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes is currently suing the SPLC for labeling his right-wing fraternal organization, the Proud Boys, a hate group

The SPLC has gone from a noble institution genuinely dedicated to eradicating hate to a hate group in and of itself that pretends this country is frothing with bigots desperate to foment World War III," McInnes said in a press release. 

McInnes has raised nearly $200,000 out of a goal of $250,000 to continue his lawsuit. From his website Defendgavin.com: 

I'm suing the SPLC. And it's not just because they destroyed my career and shattered my reputation. It's because they could do the same to you. Though this group is often cited as a credible source by the media, nobody who actually knows stuff takes them seriously.

No, being called an extremist by the SPLC does NOT mean you're an extremist. No, being called a Hate Group by the SPLC does NOT make you a Hate Group. And no, being called a racist or an anti-Semite or an Islamophobe or a transphobe or a homophobe by the SPLC does NOT make you any of those things. -Gavin McInnes

We wonder if there will even be an SPLC left to sue by the time it reaches a courtroom. 

Published:3/23/2019 9:18:10 AM
[Markets] Market Extra: Here’s how the Mueller report could roil the stock market The president endorsed the public release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian election meddling. Here’s what it would take for investors to take notice.
Published:3/23/2019 8:48:04 AM
[Markets] "No Thanks, We'll Stick With Rails And Roads": Virginia Bureaucrats Slam Musk's Boring Company

After seeing Elon Musk's demonstration of the Boring Company tunnel in person, Virginia transit officials scoffed at the idea and decided against using the company for planned infrastructure upgrades, the Virginia Mercury reported.

Bureaucrats in Virginia instead decided in favor of using traditional railways and roads. Michael McLaughlin, Virginia’s chief of rail transportation, told members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s public transit subcommittee: "It's a very small tunnel. If one day it's feasible, we'll obviously come back to you."

The board had been discussing major investments in the state's infrastructure, including a $1.3 billion bridge between Virginia and Washington. Questions had arisen about the infrastructure investment, with board members trying to figure out if any investments could become obsolete if Musk's Boring Company and Hyperloop ideas advanced beyond their current stages.

Despite reportedly being skeptical, transit planners in Virginia couldn’t help but notice Musk's announced partnership with the city of Chicago and a proposed plan to link Washington DC and Baltimore, with promises of “autonomous electric skates traveling at 125-150 miles per hour.” It was a far cry from the Model 3 with guidewheels doing 60 mph they saw during their visit. 

Neither of these two projects have made any tangible progress and a Boring Company demo that Musk held earlier this year was widely mocked and ridiculed by the media and on social media. 



Officials from Virginia took a drive through Musk's demonstration tunnel in January and said that "nothing they saw would lead them to change their approach to transit in the near term". The article instead describes Musk's demonstration tunnel as "bumpy", echoing the LA Times, which previously called it "so uneven in places that it felt like riding on a dirt road".

The article also notes that Musk's claims of saving money tunneling doesn’t include research, development, equipment and possibly even labor.

Scott Kasprowicz, a Commonwealth Transportation Board member who made the trip with McLaughlin said: “I think there’s a lot of show going on here. I don’t mean to suggest that they don’t have a serious plan in mind, but I don’t consider the steps they’ve taken to date to be substantive. They’ve purchased a used boring machine. They’ve put a bore in the neighborhood where they developed the SpaceX product, and they’ve taken a Model 3 and put guidewheels on it and they’re running it through the tunnel at 60 miles per hour."

"None of that, I think, is really significant from a standpoint of moving this process forward,” he continued.

Kasprowicz adds to a long line of skepticism about Musk's tunneling ideas. 

"There's no revolution here. Let's be honest here: he's driving a car through a sewer pipe," Ph.D. chemist and video blogger Phil Mason said in a late December he posted to YouTube, destroying Musk's tunnel idea. We reported on his critique of the idea in a late December post here

Published:3/23/2019 8:48:03 AM
[Markets] America’s Next Recession Could Start in Germany Friday morning, the German manufacturing purchasing manager’s index missed projections by a huge margin. Published:3/23/2019 8:18:59 AM
[Markets] Why Italy's Decision To Join 'One Belt, One Road' Makes Economic Sense

Having brushed aside complaints from Brussels and the US, who fear the already heavily indebted and economically faltering NATO member might be walking into another "debt trap", Italian President Sergio Mattarella welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Rome on Friday. And after posing for photos, Mattarella and Xi set the table for the expected signing of a Memorandum of Understanding that will make Italy the first EU member and G7 nation to sign on to Beijing's controversial One Belt, One Road initiative (BRI), the AP reports.

Of course, the populist Italian government, already on thin ice with the globalist powers after defying Brussels and its fiscal rules by blowing out its budget deficit, didn't exactly smooth over European anxieties by insisting that the partnership with platitudes like insisting that the economic partnership be a "two way street". 

Xi

Xi meets Mattarella

But Rome has little incentive to cater to Brussels on this. And Beijing, too, has everything to gain. By the end of his two-day diplomatic visit to Italy, Xi will have achieved a major geopolitical victory - a key vote of confidence in one of his signature initiatives - at a time when his government is struggling with slowing economic growth and a destabilizing trade war.

While Xi and Italy's leaders are expected to sign the memorandum on Friday, the deal is happening against a backdrop of an increasingly adversarial EU, which just last week declared China an economic rival not to be trusted, as Beijing continues to make inroads in Central and Eastern Europe. What's more, Xi is expected to leave Rome with billions of dollars in development deals covering everything from business cooperation to soccer. That is making Washington, which has spent much of the last year warning its allies about the treachery of Chinese firms and the threat that they might open a "back door" to Beijing's spys, even more nervous.

BRI

But even as members of Italy's ruling coalition, not to mention the political opposition, have expressed uneasiness about the deal with China, as the Financial Times pointed out, from a purely economic perspective, closer ties with Beijing could only benefit Rome. The reason? With Italy's economy mired in a recession - one that Europe's central bankers have so far refused to acknowledge - the relationship with Beijing could be an economic boon, at a time when Italy's partners in the EU have offered nothing but disdain.

As it stands, Italy's economic ties with China are relatively week. When it comes to FDI, Italy ranks only 76th worldwide in Chinese greenfield investment.

Screen

Despite being home to the largest Chinese population in Europe, Italy lags many of its major European partners in overall Chinese investment and construction.

Construction

Exports of Italian goods to China totaled a paltry $13 billion last year, a figure that was dwarfed by Germany.

China

Italy isn't well-connected to China by shipping routes, either, which is probably why Xi has cited improving connectivity and building ports as a key objective of BRI in Italy.

According to domestic polling in Italy, most Italians see the deal as an opportunity, while a few still see it as a risk.

China

The deadly bridge collapse in Genoa last year raised alarm about the country's aging infrastructure. Still, infrastructure investment has stalled at roughly 40% of its pre-crisis highs.

FT

In summary, Brussels might not approve of Italy's deal, but they aren't offering any alternatives to lift the Italian economy out of a recession. And with Italy's economy expected to stagnate in 2019, the MoU is Rome's most obvious lifeline.

Published:3/23/2019 7:50:19 AM
[Markets] How the opioid epidemic has turned these grandparents into America’s unofficial social safety net As the middle generation has been hollowed out by the abuse of opioids and other substances, the older generation has become increasingly responsible for their grandkids, experts say. Published:3/23/2019 7:21:03 AM
[Markets] Crimea's Reunification With Russia - A Landmark Event

Via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

This week the people of Crimea celebrated the fifth anniversary of joining the Russian Federation. People across Russia shared their joy. Centuries of common culture and history made the reunification more like a homecoming. Crimea’s important role in defeating Nazi Germany’s genocidal assault on Mother Russia eight decades ago gives it a cherished place in Russia’s modern history.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and several dignitaries were in attendance of the ceremonies held on the Black Sea peninsula. Two power stations were opened underlining the energy independence of Crimea and its future integral development with Russia.

Earlier this year saw the opening of a 19-kilometer road and rail bridge – the longest in Europe – across the Kerch Strait from Russia’s mainland to Crimea at a cost of nearly $4 billion.

While Russian people celebrated the landmark event this week, there was a strange absence of news on the topic in Western media outlets. There was not even much air given to pejorative Western claims against Russia for “annexing” Crimea. Yet such claims have animated official Western concerns over the past five years. Perhaps negative Western media coverage this week would have appeared bizarre and untenable – given that most of the Crimean population were rejoicing the anniversary. Better to just ignore it then, for the Western media that is.

The United States and European Union governments did, however, introduce new sanctions against Russia to coincide with the anniversary. Nevertheless, those new sanctions seem hollow and lacking in conviction.

Western policy has made itself a hostage of its own irrational position over Crimea. Washington and its European allies insist that Russia “annexed” the peninsula and that Moscow must return the territory to Ukraine. The Western powers have implemented five years of ongoing economic sanctions against Russia and have plunged relations with Moscow back into the permafrost of the erstwhile Cold War years.

But the Western rational is bereft of historical or factual appreciation. It is in denial that Crimea’s relations with Russia long predate its relationship to the state of Ukraine. Crimea, which was handed over to Kiev’s administrative control by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 for political reasons, only ended up in Ukraine as an accident of the Soviet Union’s later dissolution.

The people of Crimea are ethnically Russian and Russian-language speakers. Back in March 2014, they also held a constitutionally organized referendum on the question of joining the Russian Federation. The referendum was passed with an overwhelming majority. Russian troops were present because of a long-held arrangement allowing Moscow to station forces there. There was nothing illegal or malicious about Russian military presence in Crimea at the time of the referendum, as Western media imply.

Western governments and media rarely if ever acknowledge that background history or facts. They also completely ignore another crucial factor – that a month before Crimea’s referendum, Ukraine was violently taken over by an illegal coup d’état. That coup – glossed over in the Western media as a “pro-democracy movement” – overthrew an elected government in Kiev and ushered in a regime packed with Neo-Nazi followers of Stepan Bandera and his World War II collaborators with the Third Reich. Today, the Kiev regime is riven with corruption, gross human rights abuses and paramilitaries glorifying Nazism.

Given that horrific context of turmoil in early 2014, the people of Crimea had every right to repudiate the monstrous events in Kiev – events that the US and European Union were directly responsible in fomenting.

This is why Russia will never relinquish Crimea. The cultural bonds and comradeship are too strong. The peninsula is also a strategically vital location for Black Sea security and protection of Russia’s southern flank. One shudders to think if it had somehow come under the control of the NATO-backed, anti-Russian Kiev regime.

Western demands on Russia over Crimea are futile. Washington and its European allies have chosen to go down a path to nowhere over their spurious and duplicitous position. It is not Russia that has created the conflict over Ukraine, it is the Western powers through their unconscionable meddling. Yet, they seek to address their problem-making by continually sanctioning Russia. Don’t the Europeans in particular realize that they are only shooting themselves in the feet? The sanctions they have implemented are inflicting much greater damage on their own industries, exporters and farmers than they are on Russia’s. Indeed, all signs are that Russia’s economy has become more independent and strong as a result of Western sanctions.

Western powers need to come to their senses and drop their self-defeating charade over Crimea. They need to look in the mirror and realize that they have directly caused much of the conflict and corruption in today’s Ukraine. Russia can’t solve their own problems.

Here’s another reason why Western powers don’t have a leg to stand on over Ukraine. It is their rank hypocrisy and utter unscrupulousness.

This week, the Trump administration announced that it was going to “fully recognize” Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights. The US move is a blatant violation of international law and Syrian sovereignty. Unlike claims about Crimea, Washington’s complicity over Golan is a real, unabashed annexation, as testified by UN resolutions and international law. Presumably, the European allies will meekly acquiesce to the broad-daylight theft of Syria’s land, as they do with so much else their American taskmaster does.

Washington and European vassals have no authority to castigate Russia over Crimea or Ukraine more widely. They have no historical intelligence, no facts and no integrity. And, in light of the unfolding Golan scandal, they have no moral authority either.

Crimea was a landmark event. Yes, it pivoted Western relations with Russia into a fraught condition. But, more significantly, the event has manifested a point of principle on which Russia is not backing down from. Crimea, Syria, Venezuela are proof of Russia’s international principled policy. The Western powers are the ones in disrepute. And they use sanctions to give themselves a veneer of righteousness.

Published:3/23/2019 7:21:01 AM
[Markets] Day Drinking & Sexual Harassment "Are Thriving" At 330-Year-Old Lloyds Of London

Lloyds of London runs a 330-year-old exchange for the worldwide insurance market, not unlike the New York Stock Exchange of old. Most everything at Lloyd's, including the brokers, operates the old fashion way, using things like rubber stamps, pens and paper. In other words, Lloyd’s is keeping it old-school – but this is true in more ways than one, according to a new Bloomberg Businessweek write up.

The report suggests that a deep-seated culture of sexual harassment, inclusive of inappropriate remarks and unwanted touching – all the way to sexual assault - is still commonplace at the company. Bloomberg talked to 18 women who had more than 300 years of combined experience in the insurance market and they described Lloyd's as an "atmosphere of near persistent harassment".



One insider said that it is "basically a meat market", describing an incident where a senior manager drunkenly attacked her in a pub around the corner from Lloyd’s. Her employer had convinced her subsequently not to file a complaint and she, like many other women, now simply just avoid the trading floor at Lloyd’s, which is made up of "a sea of men".

Recent Lloyd's CEO Inga Beale tried to push for modernization of technology, attitudes and behaviors and was said to have "met resistance at every step". Her tenure as CEO lasted not even five years. In fact, some believe that the modest advances achieved under her term are in jeopardy and that Lloyd’s could actually be on the verge of regressing.

Beale, for example, tried to implement rules in early 2017 to stop drinking during the day. “The London market historically had a reputation for daytime drinking, but that has been changing. Drinking alcohol affects individuals differently. A zero limit is therefore simpler,” she said in a note. 

As a result, complaints from inside of Lloyd's began to echo across the industry. Some men compared it to big brother, while others sneered as though Beale was trying to act like their mothers. The ban has been "widely ignored", according to the article.

Some anonymous critics via e-mail and paper told her to "go and die" and others told her to stop speaking openly about her bisexuality. 

The men at Lloyd’s pride themselves on their well tailored dark blue and gray suits, often with stripes. Despite the bank lifting a code mandating suits, it’s clear that "almost everyone" still adheres to it. At the exchange, underwriters have been known to send brokers away from their boxes for not wearing a neck tie.

Women were banned from the Lloyd’s floor until 1973 but, like the dress code, changing the rules didn’t seem to change the culture. Women at the bank continue to be judged by their looks according to Mairi Mallon, an insurance public-relations specialist.

She wrote in 2017: “Women at Lloyd’s boxes [are] still being called a host of names including 'totty' and they’re rated 'from 1-10 on ‘shagability.’?” Traders have been known to still call women at the exchange "box bitches".

Many of the women that Bloomberg spoke to said that going after Lloyd's in the UK courts wasn’t a feasible option given the cost involved. They also were concerned about their reputation in the industry.

One female broker said: “Unless you have a rich father, you aren’t going to be able to afford suing. You’re also going to f---ing destroy your reputation, and you basically have to decide that you will never work in the industry again.”

All of them spoke to Bloomberg under the condition of anonymity, despite working for some of the world's largest insurers and insurance brokers.

John Neal, Lloyd’s new CEO said in a statement: “No one should ever experience harassment of any kind at work, and it is distressing to hear that this is still happening. We take it extremely seriously and will be talking to the Lloyd’s market to ensure that we stamp out these inappropriate behaviors. Lloyd’s has worked really hard to put the broadest inclusion agenda at the center of everything we do.”

You can read Bloomberg’s full longform article here.

Published:3/23/2019 6:47:33 AM
[Markets] Spectacular Violence As A Weapon Of War Against The Yellow Vests

Authored by Gabriel Rockhill via Counterpunch.org,

Violence is a spectacular weapon deployed by the ruling class to discredit movements from below and justify their repression. It is spectacular in the sense of being a great and powerful political tool for governing the masses, and keeping them in their place. In order to do this, however, the weapon of violence is spectacularin a second sense: it creates a carefully orchestrated mise en scène that seeks to render ruling class violence invisible, while simultaneously transforming acts of resistance into prodigious spectacles of criminal violence.

This is how Act 18 of the Yellow Vests is currently being presented by the mass media: at the precise moment at which the government was concluding its democratic consultation of the people via Emmanuel Macron’s “Grand Débat,” the Yellow Vests have unleashed an inordinate amount of violence that now needs to be repressed in the strongest possible terms. The president of the Champs-Elysées Committee, Jean-Noël Reinhardt, declared in an interview in which he is surrounded by the microphones of many of the major press outlets, that the movement is no longer one of the Yellow Vests, but rather of Black Vests that simply “express hatred and the will to destroy.” Proclaiming that this situation cannot be allowed to continue because of its impact on commercial and tourist activity, as well as its defamation of the global symbol of the Champs-Élysées, his statement bleeds seamlessly into the declaration made by the Prime Minster, Édouard Philippe: new measures will be put in place to prohibit protests in certain locations and allow for even more aggressive police crackdowns.

In this moment of the spectacularization of the damage caused to insured private property of the commercial and luxury industry, which is presented as the quintessence of “violence,” it is notable that the General Secretary of the Unsa police union, Philippe Capon, has publicly explained that the police received the order on Saturday to notintervene, because there was an explicit choice to “let a certain number of things be broken.” The timing could not be better because the government has its hands tied. After a few paltry concessions in December, as well as the discursive theatrics of the “Grand Débat,” the Yellow Vests have not gone home and have survived both the winter and the extreme forms of repressive state violence unleashed against them.

This current spectacle of violence thereby serves two purposes.

First and foremost, it dissimulates the structural violence of capitalism and plutocratic oligarchy, which are the primary sources of the current uprisings. Living conditions for the masses are increasingly unacceptable, and the traditional system of party politics and unions is dysfunctional. One of the protest signs that goes to the heart of matters simply states: “Violence is poverty [La violence c’est la pauvreté].” Rather than taking seriously the ubiquitous and quotidian nature of thisviolence, which is the violence of capitalist inequality, spectacular “violence” is constructed precisely in order to distract from the daily destruction of life under capitalist rule. It is understood as a temporary and disturbing interruption of the status quo, which needs to be eradicated. It is the “violence” of burning a bank, rather than that of founding one, or more generally the violence of the banking system in its daily role of securing hegemony for the global ruling class.

Secondly, the spectacle of violence orchestrated by the state and mass media functions in order to attach the scarlet letter of V for Violence to the Yellow Vest movement in order to simultaneously criminalize it and justify its brutal repression. There have been numerous cases where the police have been caught on camera damaging property in order to blame it on protestors, and many officers have been photographed and filmed carrying hammers, presumably for this purpose. At least one member of the riot police has spoken out against the violence deployed against non-violent protestors, which has been encouraged by the Minister of the Interior, as well as against the effort to foment violence in the protests.

Elite circles in France have not been completely successful in this aspect of their propaganda campaign, because even liberal institutions like the United Nations, the European Council, the European Parliamentand Amnesty International have seen through their attempt to render state violence invisible, or at the very least justified. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, prepared a memorandum on February 26ththat summarizes some of the violence, while also criticizing the lack of precision and rigor in the statistics being kept by the state and the media: “According to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds, 1 428 instant tear gas grenades and 4 942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019.” Based on the calculations of an independent journalist cited in the report, there have been “38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye.” Medics and journalists have been regularly attacked, and there have been numerous brutal assaults and a record number of protestors locked up.

Nevertheless, significant sectors of the state, the mass media and the punditocracy have gone to great lengths to cloak this systematic deployment of state violence against non-violent protestors, medics, journalists and bystanders. Emmanuel Macron has distilled the very essence of liberal ideology regarding the state by flatly proclaimingthat we cannot speak of “repression” or of “police violence” in France today because “these words are unacceptable under the rule of law [dans un état de droit].” Strictly speaking, then, there can be no such thing as “state violence” because the state stands in opposition to violence, and the latter can only come from savage and anarchic forces outside it.

Here we see the double movement of spectacular violence in full force. On the one hand, the state strives to dissimulate its spectacular exploitation through capitalist rule and its equally spectacular repression of any resistance to it. On the other hand, it seeks to incite or create spectacular “violence” in the protests in order to simultaneously discredit them and use this spectacle as cover for its own increased exploitation and repression. These are the two primary aspects of the spectacular violence unfolding in France right now.

It is imperative to identify this tactic for what it is, and to find new strategies for struggling against its extremely pernicious effects. Otherwise, we risk succumbing to the ideological inversion diagnosed so presciently by Malcolm X in a lecture given on December 13, 1964, in which he explained that the press is so powerful in its “image-making role” that “it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s a criminal.”

Published:3/23/2019 6:18:33 AM
[Markets] 3 Things Under the Radar This Week Investing.com - Here’s a look at three things that were under the radar this past week. Published:3/23/2019 4:46:48 AM
[Markets] The Moneyist: My dying friend wants to marry me so I can have his Social Security — should I do it? This woman’s friend has Stage IV lung disease and made her a generous offer that she may refuse.
Published:3/23/2019 2:49:02 AM
[Markets] Market Extra: Fund investors flee stocks for bonds even as equities have best quarter in years U.S. equity funds see outflows in eight of the past 12 weeks.
Published:3/23/2019 2:18:03 AM
[Markets] Watergate - The First Deep State Coup

Authored by Peter Brimelow via The Unz Review,

James Fulford writes: 

The Mueller Report, which was supposed to be about alleged “Russian collusion” with Trump, is due out, and many people in the Democrat/Media conglomerate are hoping for a rerun of Watergate, which they think of as a victory for the Rule of Law. It wasn’t, and we need to have one of those famous “conversations” about what it was, and why it mustn’t happen again.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was reelected with 520 electoral votes. He was running on winning the Vietnam War and also fighting a War on Crime. His opponent, George McGovern (17 electoral votes) was running on a plan to lose the Vietnam War, and surrender on the War on Crime.

But by August 1974, Nixon was removed from office, and in April 1975, Vietnamese Communist troops occupied Saigon. What finished off South Vietnam was the “Watergate Congress” which voted to cut off all supplies. For details see James Webb’s Peace? Defeat? What Did the Vietnam War Protesters Want?American Enterprise Institute, May/June 1997.

Who did this? Well, the Democrat-controlled Senate investigated the hell out of a break-and-enter committed by Republicans, which they never did when LBJ, JFK, Truman, and FDR engaged in similar activities. See It Didn’t Start With Watergate , [PDF]by Victor Lasky, published in 1977. On the Senate investigative staff was a young, far-Left Wellesley graduate named Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic media, which hated Nixon with the same kind of hate they now display towards Trump, did the same thing, led by the famous Woodward and Bernstein, who probably get too much “credit” for this.

Finally, in something that VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow speculated about in his 1981 Policy Review article reposted below, the secret figure of “Deep Throat” (Woodward and Bernstein’s name for an source inside the Government) turned out to Mark Felt, second in command of the FBI. [The Myth of Deep Throat | Mark Felt wasn’t out to protect American democracy and the rule of law; he was out to get a promotion, by Max Holland September 10, 2017]

Peter Brimelow described this phenomenon of using lawfare to overturn elections by trying to criminalize the victors in his post Manafort, Marlborough, And Robert E. Lee: Criminalizing Policy/ Personnel, Differences— U.S. Politics Regressing To The Primitive.

Once again, the Establishment is trying, as they did during Watergate, to overturn the results of an election with the aid of a Deep State, and the “foreign policy” establishment. “Deep Throat” Felt thought Nixon was interfering with the “independence” of the FBI, which he thought should be immune to interference by the President of the United States, and apparently James Comey feels the same way.

If this coup succeeds, instead of the Republic of South Vietnam being overrun by foreign invaders and destroyed, the victim will be the Historic American Nation.

Machiavelli Redux

By Peter Brimelow, Policy Review,Winter 1981

GO QUIETLY . . . OR ELSE. By Spiro T. Agnew. (Wm. Morrow, New York, 1980)

THE TERRORS OF JUSTICEBy Maurice Stans. (New York, Everest House, 1978)

WILL: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF G. GORDON LIDDY. By G. Gordon Liddy. (St. Martins Press, New York, 1980)

Machiavelli concluded The Prince by quoting Petrarch in an attempt to inspire the rulers of Italy:

For th’ old Romane valour is not dead
Nor in th’ Italians brests extinguished.

Reading these three books by survivors of the Nixon disaster brings home how totally that Administration, which more than any other in recent history would have welcomed comparisons with Machiavelli, departed from his prescription. The reason was not exactly lack of patriotism, but rather a failure to understand the humane, even idealistic spark that animated Machiavelli’s ironic realism. Indeed, the books raise the broader question of whether American society itself is going through the kind of degeneration Machiavelli decried in Italy, so that it no longer supports what might loosely be called the “Roman” or “military” virtues: courage, loyalty, and personal integrity.

These reflections may seem odd, given that all three authors fought losing bouts with the law. Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice-Presidency and entered a plea of nolo contendere to a charge that he received payments in 1967 which were not expended for political purposes and which were therefore subject to income tax. The prosecution’s statement included forty pages about Mr. Agnew’s alleged bribe-taking while he was Governor of Maryland; Mr. Agnew issued a one-page denial. The judge said, accurately, that both were irrelevant to the case before him, and fined Mr. Agnew $10,000. Maurice Stans, Nixon’s 1972 Finance Chairman, pleaded guilty to two charges of unknowingly accepting illegal contributions and three charges of reporting contributions tardily. He was fined $5,000. Previously Mr. Stans had been found innocent, along with John Mitchell, on ten counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury relating to an alleged attempt by financier Robert Vesco to buy protection from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Gordon Liddy was sentenced to twenty years in prison and fined $40,000 for the Watergate burglary, a year and a half for refusing to talk to the Watergate grand jury, and a (suspended) year for contempt of Congress.

With the exception of Mr. Liddy, who merits separate examination, it will immediately be seen that the infractions that were actually proved were basically technical. The connection between them was a hysterical illusion, and the punishments unusually harsh. This is particularly true for Maurice Stans, who was dealing with a complex law which changed in the course of the campaign, and who was also the victim of a quantum jump in public standards. Mr. Stans makes a convincing case that his CREEP stewardship was at least as respectable as the work of his contemporaries in other campaigns. They too had (less publicized) legal difficulties; Edmund Muskie’s fundraiser even volunteered to testify for Mr. Stans at the Vesco trail.

If Mr. Agnew did accept rake-offs, as the prosecutors claimed, it should be asked in all fairness whether his conduct varied substantially from accepted Maryland standards—particularly since there is no evidence that the money influenced his decisions. As always where Watergate is concerned, the real question becomes: Why did such practices excite such abnormal attention under Nixon, when Congress and press have shrugged off similar standards before and since? The many disparate Nixonian problems combined to produce a mixture that makes free-base cocaine look safe as chewing gum in comparison, under the influence of mysterious forces similar to those that produced the Grande Peur, or Salem’s witch trials. An instructive parallel might well be Britain’s 1962-63 Profumo crisis, which likewise enabled hostile opinion to l ink wildly unrelated charges, and incinerated an unpopular government.

As Mr. Agnew has repeatedly pointed out, of course, allegation is not conviction, although it has been treated as such by the media and the IRS, whose demands for back taxes on bribes Mr. Agnew denied taking caused him a cash-flow crisis from which he was rescued by the remarkable generosity of Frank Sinatra. But the irreducible fact of his resignation overshadows any attempted defense. Mr. Agnew ascribes his surrender to the impossibility of receiving a fair trial because of prejudicial publicity, overheated politics, implacably ambitious prosecutors, and impossible costs; and to his own exhaustion and bitterness at his abandonment by Nixon.

Mr. Agnew also says that Alexander Haig implied he might be killed if he did not “go quietly.” However, this may be the token sensational revelation all Watergate memoirs require, like H.R. Haldeman’ s claim of a mooted partition of China, Gordon Liddy’s contemplated assassinations of Jack Anderson and Howard Hunt, and John Dean’s insinuation that Nixon faked Alger Hiss’ typewriter. Other regular features of this new literary form are dramatic opening scenes, followed by flashbacks; and copious direct speech. On the whole, the results have compared very favorably with other native American genres like Westerns and Perry Mason.

Mr. Agnew’s story rings sincere when he writes of “the emotional reaction that made me physically ill” on reviewing the prosecutors’ files on his case (obtained years later), or of his wife’s dead faint when he told her he was capitulating. But even after that, he assured conservatives he would fight to the end, although his lawyers were already negotiating terms. This unedifying betrayal of his loyal supporters renders consideration of his guilt or innocence ultimately irrelevant.

On the other hand, Mr. Agnew had hardly been given a good example by the Nixon White House. Incredibly, President Nixon apparently hoped to induce Mr. Agnew to resign without even discussing the subject face to face. The picture of Mr. Agnew and his staff waiting in his office until 9 p.m. after Attorney General Richardson had revealed the charges to them—hoping desperately for a call from the President or a summons to Camp David (whence, it emerged, he had fled)—is infinitely pathetic. What they got was a meeting with General Haig and Bryce Harlow, who announced that they thought that the President felt that he should resign. Loyalty to Nixon was a one-way proposition. The White House staff was quick to pounce on any of their number who suffered political injury.

This cult of toughness was naive to the point of stupidity. Even elementary precautions like funding the Watergate burglars’ families were reneged on. It is hardly surprising that the front-line troops mutinied, whereupon the whole structure disintegrated. Machiavelli in a famous passage urged rulers to ensure that the interests of their lieutenants were advanced along with their own; this promoted mutual confidence. This seemingly obvious advice was never more needed. In fact, one of the Administration’s subsequent rationales for its detente policies—that Americans were too engrossed in current gratifications to finance any alternative—can probably best be explained as merely a projection of the leaders’ own short-sighted selfishness.

All three books make the point that the guarantees of equal justice, due process, and presumption of innocence—generally thought to be intrinsic to our system of justice—are simply not operative in a modern bureaucratic state. Mr. Stans spent $400,000 to defend himself against the Vesco charges. The prosecution probably spent over $1 million, but that was taxpayers’ money. That both Mr. Stans and Mr. Agnew could afford no more defense at that price is quite plausible. The IRS even threatened to have Mr. Agnew’s passport revoked if he attempted to resist their demands—an unbreakable hold on a man forced to earn his living in international business because of his Untouchable status at home. The three books also establish that there are few real checks on the legal bureaucracy once it is determined to bring home a conviction. Judge Sirica’s excesses in Mr. Liddy’s trial featured his seating of a juror who could not understand English—a mistake arising because Judge Sirica truncated the voir dire to prevent defense questions about pretrial publicity. (Judge Sirica used his powe r to seal the record about that incident, which remained a secret.) Mr. Liddy was amused: “I really had to hand it to the old goat; neither of us ever hesitated to use power.”

Less amusing were the lengths to which the prosecutors went in the Stans and Agnew cases to induce potential witnesses to co-operate. It should be a matter of some concern that Mr. Agnew was brought down by the testimony of men who themselves were guilty of serious crimes, the consequences of which seem to have been palliated by their cooperation. One witness actually had his conviction overthrown because he was able to show that his guilty plea was induced by illegal promises of leniency, which the trial judges chose to ignore. Having indicted Mr. Stans on the basis of two grand jury appearances—which he made after being assured he was not under investigation—the prosecutors launched an incredible nationwide search for evidence. They hauled President Nixon’s brother in from the West Coast ten times, for example, to “review” his testimony on the single point of whether Mr. Stans had asked for Vesco’s contribution in cash. (Answer: No.)

Worst of all were the constant leaks to the press, from Justice Department and grand jury alike. Maurice Stans found that newspapers routinely printed as fact allegations against him that had been disproved, and that major media outlets like Time refused to carry retractions even when caught in indisputable error. Mr. Stans, whose book is a model of reason and comprehensiveness, suggests thoughtfully that maybe the U.S. media should follow the British system of restricting publicity after indictment, and also that the Supreme Court’s Sullivan ruling went too far in depriving public figures of the means to protect their reputation. He even permits himself to wonder why the media should not (voluntarily) retract untruths in the same way that the Federal Trade Commission compels corporations to correct unsupported advertising claims.

This is the problem in a nutshell. All three books make it depressingly clear that, yes, there is a New Class. And that class makes its own rules in the struggle with rival powers like corporations and elected officials—of either party; previous attorney generals would not have been defeated in attempts to suppress Billygate.

Gordon Liddy’s beautifully written book adds a cultural dimension to this struggle within America, although his factual contribution to the Watergate saga appears limited. Mr. Liddy confines himself narrowly to what he personally saw. He says that he waited until the statute of limitations had expired before speaking, to protect his colleagues. (Actually, he is probably still protecting them.) Although he does reveal that the Nixon administration had CIA technical assistance in some operations, he generally supports the thesis that Watergate was after all a second-rate burglary, not a set-up, as some have speculated. The order came from above, he says, and he believes that the purpose was to find out what derogatory material the Democrats had on their opponents. This version is not likely to satisfy everyone. On closer examination, moreover, Mr. Liddy’s account does leave some questions carefully open. Some of these relate to the details of the burglary; others to the extraordinary circumstances that led to the creation of the White House “Plumbers” unit in the first place: the withdrawal (by J. Edgar Hoover) of the FBI cooperation upon which all previous administrations had relied. Mr. Liddy had been proud to be an FBI agent, and stresses his admiration for Mr. Hoover. But he also prints a memo he wrote in late 1971 urging that Mr. Hoover be removed as Director by the end of the year. Mr. Liddy notes laconically that the President praised the memo, but Mr. Hoover survived. As usual, one is left with an eerie feeling that the Watergate affair has a secret history, untold despite the millions of words.

Mr. Liddy is obviously a cultured man, but his preoccupation with matters of honor, strength, and courage—matters that have been traditional male concerns in almost every society except our own—has rendered him about as comprehensible to the average book reviewer as a Martian. Hence he is ridiculed (by Larry L. King in theNew York Times) or ignored (by the Wall Street Journal, the leading conservative newspaper, which has not reviewed his book—or Mr. Stans’s either, for that matter). The situation is complicated because Mr. Liddy is a cultist, one of the tiny minority of conservatives (and others) who are fascinated by the Third Reich. It is hard to know how serious he is about this. Some of his hints are so blatant (he named the Plumbers group ODESSA, after “a World War II German veterans organization belonged to by some acquaintances of mine”—i.e., the Waffen SS) as to recall his celebrated hand-in-the-flame exhibitions of willpower. Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard picked up all these hints, and wrote an angry review in The New Republicasking how a card-carrying Nazi went so far in anyone’s White House. But in fact cultism often has about as much relevance to contemporary politics as transvestism, which it rather resembles. Mr. Liddy supported the liberal Republican who beat him in the New York 25th district primary in 1968, to the chagrin of the Conservative Party, which had nominated him on its own line. His White House career showed a similar pragmatism, except perhaps when his G-man instincts were engaged. And Mr. Liddy obviously liked the blacks he met in prison, finding their harsh society a satisfying substitute for the Korean War he missed through illness, and possibly a rest after the Nixon White House. He quietly but systematically supplies much other evidence of lack of prejudice.

However repellant Mr. Liddy’s code may be, it has some strengths, notably his evident pride in his handsome family. Men like Mr. Liddy are the falcons of society, to be kept hooded until needed. James E. Mahon, who became Eli Hazeev and died training his gun on the Palestinians ambushing Meir Kahane’s followers in Hebron, was reportedly another example. Both found no place in modern America. We need look no further to explain the fiasco at Desert One.

Published:3/22/2019 11:45:27 PM
[Markets] Civilian Passenger Gets Ejected From A French Two-Seat Rafale Jet

In an unusual accident, a civilian passenger was ejected from a Dassault Rafale fighter jet of the French Air Force as the aircraft was taking off on Wednesday, reported AeroTime.

The fighter jet departed from Saint-Dizier – Robinson Air Base, a French Air Force base located 2.5 miles west of Saint-Dizier in northwestern France, for a training mission, on March 20.

A spokesperson for the French Air Force told the media, the passenger “did not belong to the Ministry of the Armed Forces” and was participating in an “information flight.”

The spokesperson added the passenger's injuries were not life-threatening.

The pilot of the Rafale was able to take control of the aircraft when the canopy snapped off during the ejection process and landed the jet without incident. The pilot sustained injuries to his hands due to glass debris, French newspaper Le Parisien reported.

The passenger, 64, was "hospitalized and is in stable condition," said the French newspaper. The man's back sustained trauma following the hard impact when the ejection seat landed on the ground.

Reuters reported three investigations had opened into the accident, which the spokesperson described as a “rare” incident.

Each investigation will get to the bottom of what exactly happened during the takeoff. Officials want to know if a malfunction triggered the ejection or was it human error.

Ouest-France, a French newspaper, quoted an Air Force spokesperson as saying an ejection seat accident on a Rafale has never happened.

Published:3/22/2019 11:15:58 PM
[Markets] 16 Years After Iraq, The US Has Become A Nation Of Passive Neocons

Authored by Whitney Webb via MintPressNews.com,

After Iraq, the neocons began waging another war, one for America’s soul.

Sixteen years have passed and the memory of the Iraq War is distant for many, save for the millions of people — Iraqi and American alike — who saw their lives destroyed by one of the greatest lies ever sold to the American public.

Yet, while plenty of Americans sleep easy thinking that such an atrocity as the invasion and occupation of Iraq could never happen again, the U.S. government has continuously been involved in many smaller, equally disastrous wars — both seen and unseen — largely thanks to the fact that those who brought us the Iraq War remain both respected and still present in the halls of power.

Indeed, the only thing the domestic outrage over the Iraq War seemed to accomplish has been a massive effort waged by the government and the corporate elite to engineer a public that doesn’t complain and doesn’t care when their government meddles or invades another country.

For many Americans today, much like the war itself, the outrage over the Iraq War is a distant memory and comparable outrage has failed to emerge over any other U.S. government crime committed or contemplated on a similar scale — whether it be the “regime change” invasion of Libya, the ongoing genocide in Yemen, or in response to crimes the government is now setting up.

Our forgetfulness has informed our silence and our silence is our complicity in the crimes — past and present — orchestrated by the neocons, who never left government after Iraq but instead rebranded themselves and helped to culturally engineer our passivity. As a consequence, we have again been hoodwinked by the neocons, who have transformed America in their image, creating a nation of neocon enablers, a nation of passive neocons.

Iraq War lies revisited

Though the lies that led the U.S. to invade Iraq are well-documented, they deserve to be remembered. A summary of the many  lies — including those regarding alleged yet false links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as well as Saddam’s alleged links to the anthrax attacks and Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program — can be found here.

Yet arguably more important than the lies told in the direct lead-up to the war, is the conclusive evidence that key officials in the Bush administration, many of them members of the neoconservative organization known as the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), had planned and called for an invasion of Iraq long before the September 11th attacks had even taken place.

Some researchers say the plan for the Iraq War began decades before with the drafting of the 1992 Defense Policy Guidance (DPG), which was overseen by Paul Wolfowitz, then Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy, who would later become one of the chief architects of the 2003 Iraq War. The DPG spoke of the need to secure “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil.” It also spoke of the need for the U.S. to develop a protocol for unilaterally pursuing interventions abroad, stating that “the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated.”

The DPG would again find prominence among a new group who called themselves the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Founded in 1997 by Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol, its first act was to publish a statement of principles that promoted “a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity.” That statement was signed by several politically prominent neoconservatives — Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld among them.

Bush, center, answers questions from the media while standing with, from left to right, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, about his Iraq War strategy. Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP

PNAC is arguably best known for publishing the document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” in September 2000. That document, which cites the DPG as its inspiration, contains many controversial passages, one of which reads:

The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

After George W. Bush was declared the winner of the 2000 election, many PNAC signatories took prominent positions in his administration, including Cheney and Rumsfeld. Other PNAC signatories — including Dov Zakheim, John Bolton, and Elliott Abrams — would also soon find their way into the Bush administration, where they too would become intimately involved in planning and executing the Iraq War. Notably, Bush’s brother Jeb Bush was also a PNAC signatory.

Once the Bush administration took office, planning for the invasion of Iraq quickly moved ahead, with Saddam’s removal the priority topic during Bush’s inaugural national-security meeting. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill later recalled that the meeting “was all about finding a way to do it. The president saying, ‘Go find me a way to do this.’”

Just two weeks later, Vice President Dick Cheney — former Halliburton CEO — took the helm of a newly formed energy task force that began secretly meeting with top oil executives. In a matter of weeks, by March 2001, the Pentagon produced a document called “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts” for Cheney’s taskforce, which included potential areas of Iraq primed for exploratory drilling. Notably, other top Bush officials, such as Condoleezza Rice, were, like Cheney, former petroleum industry executives.

Then, just hours after the 9/11 attacks, a Rumsfeld aid wrote: “Best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit SH [Saddam Hussein] @ same time. Not only UBL [Usama bin Laden].”

On September 19, 2001, the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, chaired by Richard Perle — another PNAC member — declared that Iraq must be invaded after Afghanistan.

The next day, PNAC, in a letter to Bush, wrote:

Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

It was not until December 2001 that the administration, led by Cheney, had begun to claim that Saddam was linked to Al Qaeda.

Yet, as outlined above, the war plan by then was already well underway.

As the public outrage over the lies and years-old schemes that led to the Iraq war mounted, it was not the exposure of their crimes that riled neoconservatives. Instead, their concern was over the lingering public outrage that severely limited the U.S.’ ability to intervene militarily abroad, leading them to develop more covert operations and other “regime-change” methods aside from outright military intervention. Indeed, Bush had complained that, after Iraq, his “hands were tied,” a reality that prompted him to push the development of secret cyberwarfare programs and the expansion of the drone war, among other new and quieter arrows in the quiver.

In addition to the rise of more covert “regime-change” operations after Iraq, a concerted effort began that aimed to whitewash neoconservatives, particularly the prominent neocons who had been the architects of the Iraq War. These neocons began to rebrand themselves, dumping the now-tainted PNAC in favor of the Foreign Policy Initiative and several other prominent think-tanks that obfuscate their past. Their rebranding has been so successful that PNAC co-founders like Bill Kristol are now considered a part of the Democratic-led “Resistance” to President Donlad Trump.

Jon Lovett, Bill Kristol, Symone Sanders and Jason Miller attend Politicon at The Pasadena Convention Center on Aug. 29, 2017, in Pasadena, Calif. Colin Young-Wolff | Invision | AP

By 2008, the neocons made it clear that rebranding their ideology was the plan, with PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan penning the article “Neocon Nation,” in which, in an effort to whitewash the ideology’s bloodsoaked legacy, he claimed that neoconservatism is “deeply rooted in American history and widely shared by Americans.”

Of course, Kagan’s claim was ironic given that he once criticized Colin Powell for not believing that “the United States should enter conflicts without strong public support,” revealing Kagan’s own disdain for the opinion of the American public. However, his 2008 article shows how, after Iraq, the neocons began waging another war, one for America’s soul.

Obama and “The World the Kagans Made”

After Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, many Americans felt that the days of “wars for oil” and wars built on lies would end, particularly after then-President-elect Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his warm rhetoric about the need for world peace. Sadly, to this day, many who viscerally opposed the Bush administration’s Iraq War either fail or refuse to acknowledge that Obama was every bit as murderous as his predecessor, though he did so with smooth words, charm and a media-generated personality cult.

While neoconservatives, particularly those who brought us the Iraq War under Bush, are often associated with the Republican Party, the Obama administration — particularly the Hillary Clinton-led State Department — was plugged directly into the same network of neoconservative actors responsible for the destruction of Iraq.

Indeed, upon becoming secretary of state, Clinton quickly appointed Robert Kagan to her 25-member Foreign Affairs Policy Board, a position he continued to hold after John Kerry took over the State Department. Kagan’s book “The World America Made,” was particularly influential on Obama, who cited the book as having inspired his 2012 State of the Union address as well as his 2012 re-election campaign.

Kagan, one of the most influential and prominent neocons of all, served as a State Department official in the Reagan administration and later went on to co-found PNAC in 1997. As early as 1998, Kagan was calling for the U.S. government to “remove Mr. Hussein and his regime from power.” In 2002, Kagan — along with fellow PNAC member Bill Kristol — claimed that Saddam was supporting “a terrorist training camp in Iraq, complete with a Boeing 707 for practicing hijackings, and filled with non-Iraqi radical Muslims.” He also assertedthat alleged 9/11 “mastermind” Mohammad Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence just months before September 11. Both allegations were extremely influential in promoting the Iraq War, and both are completely false.

However, Kagan’s troubling track record didn’t stop the Obama administration from giving both Kagan and his wife considerable influence over government policy. In 2011, the Obama administration brought on Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, to serve as State Department spokesperson. Nuland was subsequently given the post of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in 2013, which she used to engineer the 2014 “regime change” coup in Ukraine — an event that continues to have deadly consequences in that country and has even helped bolster Neo-Nazi elements in the United States.

Nuland is a textbook example of the continuity of the neocons from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. From 2003 to 2005, during the Iraq War and subsequent occupation, Nuland was Dick Cheney’s deputy national security advisor. Cheney, thrilled with her performance, recommended she be appointed to serve as U.S. ambassador to NATO. As the executive branch changed management in 2008, Nuland became the special envoy for conventional armed forces in Europe before becoming the Obama state department spokesperson just three years later.

Trump: “Against” the Iraq War But Willingly Surrounded By Iraq War Criminals

Though Donald Trump blasted the Iraq War, and the Bush administration’s role in creating it, on the campaign trail, he — like Obama before him — has invited neocons into his administration since its inception.

Trump’s first secretary of defense, Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, as well as his first national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, were close to Iraq War architect and influential neocon Paul Wolfowitz — so much so that Wolfowitz was covertly guiding their policy through email correspondence in the early days of the Trump administration.

Mattis’ nomination by Trump was particularly strange given the latter’s frequent criticism of the Iraq War, where Mattis earned his nickname “Mad Dog” after overseeing the 2004 sieges of Fallujah, in which the U.S. military illegally used white phosphorus, a chemical weapon, as well as depleted uranium in the densely populated Iraqi city. As a consequence of the U.S.’ attack over a decade ago, Fallujah’s children continue to be born with horrific birth defects.

While Mattis and McMaster have since departed, the neocons are more powerful than ever in the Trump administration, as seen in the appointment of another PNAC signatory, John Bolton, to the role of national security advisor. In addition, PNAC signatory, Elliot Abrams, was recently named special representative for Venezuela, despite his role in the Iran-Contra affair and in arming Latin American death squads that slaughtered thousands of civilians, and also despite the fact that Abrams is a convicted felon.

A Nation of Enablers

Though they have done their best to hide it, the United States has become a nation governed by and for the neoconservatives and their various corporate clients. The outrage voiced over their crimes in Iraq — to them — was not a call for change but merely an indicator that such outrage must be reduced and silenced, a task since accomplished through cultural engineering and, more recently, censorship.

The bodies of four children killed after their family car came under fire from U.S. troops in Fallujah, Iraq, Sept. 30, 2004. Bilal Hussein | AP

Since the Iraq War, neocons and their allies have used every tool at their disposal to mold us in their image, creating an uncaring nation that feels little or no empathy for the millions murdered and maimed in their name; a nation that is not repulsed by the fact that many of its top public officials are convicted war criminals; a nation that worships war and death and mocks anti-war voices — even when they are themselves war veterans — as “apologists” for foreign leaders who want to keep their countries out of the Pentagon’s crosshairs.

With millions set to die in Yemen from a man-made famine supported by the U.S. and a war being planned for Venezuela, a country that is twice the size of Iraq, our silence and noninterest in these matters is our complicity.

How many millions must neocons and their ilk murder before we say enough is enough? The “War on Terror” alone has already taken an estimated 8 million lives. How many nations will we allow its architects to destroy? We have already laid waste to Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia; engineered the war in South Sudan; supported the war in Yemen and the destruction of Palestine. Would Venezuela be the “last straw” that finally rouses us to action? It seems unlikely.

The hard truth is that, while the Iraq War may be publicly remembered as an “embarrassment” for the neocons, it was the true beginning of our transformation into a nation of their passive enablers. Regular Americans may not plan and plot forever wars or the destruction of nations and innocent lives, but most certainly go along with it, especially when we are told that “Leader X” kills his own people and “Leader Y” represents a threat to “national security.” Our consent to be governed and guided by madmen has led us to become a nation of passive neocons.

The neocons are still in power and still the public face of American policy only because we allow it. That simple fact means that they will remain in power until we say we have had enough. How many years after the Iraq War will it be before that moment finally arrives?.

Published:3/22/2019 10:45:14 PM
[Markets] Your Volvo Will Soon Call The Cops On You If It Thinks You've Been Drinking

Call it a mix between an auto pilot and big brother.

Volvo has always been synonymous with safety in the automobile world. Now, the Swedish automaker is taking drastic steps to push the borders between "safety" and "big brother" with proactive safety systems in its vehicles. These systems will soon take control of your car if the notice what they "judge" to be an impaired or distracted driver. 

To achieve this control over incapacitated drivers, Volvo soon equip its cars with cameras to monitor and evaluate the responsiveness of drivers, in what the automaker is positioning as a hope to combat against drunk and distracted drivers. If a driver is deemed impaired, the vehicle's autonomous safety systems will intervene on various levels and also "call the authorities", according to Motor 1

Henrik Green, senior vice president for research and development at Volvo said: “When it comes to safety, our aim is to avoid accidents altogether rather than limit the impact when an accident is imminent and unavoidable. In this case, cameras will monitor for behaviour that may lead to serious injury or death.”

The company hasn't released specific details on how the cameras will work yet. The vehicle will also "monitor steering input and recognize excessive weaving or wandering." If the vehicle senses a distracted or impaired driver, it could limit the car’s speed and even bring the car to a stop in a safe manner autonomously.

Interior facing cameras are currently only available on a couple of vehicles, including Teslas and select vehicles by Mazda and Subaru, among a few others. The data from cameras is generally run through image recognition software to try and determine whether or not a driver is paying attention, looking at their cell phone, or perhaps even getting sleepy.

Volvo has plans to implement the cameras on its cars in the early 2020s. 

Back in January, we wrote an article saying that cars would "soon be monitoring their drivers and selling the data they collect". 

A report by Reuters noted that at CES in Las Vegas this year, start up companies were looking to demonstrate to automakers how their technology gathers data on drivers – all in the name of enhanced safety purposes.

It is unclear if demand for Volvos will collapse as a result of big brother watching over every move, or if potential customers will welcome this latest incursion of their privacy, boosting sales.

Published:3/22/2019 10:15:20 PM
[Markets] Hotel Guests Secretly Filmed For 'Hidden Camera' Voyeur Website

Over 1,600 guests in 42 hotel rooms across 10 cities in South Korea were secretly filmed and livestreamed by a voyeur website with ove 4,000 members - 97 of whom paid $44.95 per month to access extra features, such as being able to replay streams, according to Stuff. 30 hotels were affected, however police say there is no indication the businesses were involved. 

Guests were filmed between November 24, 2018 and March 2 of this year, while the website brought in over $6,200 for those running the site. Four people have been arrested in the scheme.

One of the main culprits allegedly installed the cameras after entering the hotels as a guest.

The other was accused of being responsible for launching and managing the now-shuttered website.

The other two were allegedly involved in buying the spy cameras or funding the internet site's operation, according to police. -Stuff

The cameras were hidden inside wall sockets, hair dryer holders and digital TV boxes, according to the Cyber Investigation Department at the National Police Agency. 

"There was a similar case in the past where illegal cameras were (secretly installed) and were consistently and secretly watched, but this is the first time the police caught where videos were broadcast live on the internet," said the police. 

South Korea has a serious problem with spy cameras and illicit filming. In 2017, more than 6,400 cases of illegal filming were reported to police, compared to around 2,400 in 2012.

Last year, tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Seoul and other cities to protest against the practice and demand action, under the slogan "My Life is Not Your Porn." -CNN

The two main perpetrators face up to seven years in prison and a penalty of 30 million won ($26,581 US). 

"The police agency strictly deals with criminals who post and share illegal videos as they severely harm human dignity," said a Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency cyber investigation unit, via the Korea Herald

"There was a similar case in the past where illegal cameras were installed in (hotels) and were consistently and secretly watched, but this is the first time the police caught where videos were broadcast live on the internet," said the police agency. 

Published:3/22/2019 9:45:27 PM
[Markets] US Army Major: America Is Exceptional...In All The Wrong Ways

Authored by Major Danny Sjursen (ret.) via TruthDig.com,

I was born and raised in an America far more Orwellian than many now remember.

Matters have gone so far off the rails since 9/11 that few seem to recall the madness of the 1980s. The U.S. had a celebrity actor for president, who railed about America’s ostensibly existential adversary—the Soviet “evil empire.” Back then, Ronald Reagan nearly started a nuclear war during the all-too-real Able Archer war game. He also secretly sold missiles to Iran, and then laundered the windfall to the Contras’ Central American hit squads, resulting in some 100,000 dead.

Looking back from 2019, at least as the contemporary media tell it, those were the good old days. Heck, even Barack Obama—faux liberal that he was—proudly and publicly admired Reagan. Oh, and one of Reagan’s favorite campaign slogans: “Make America Great Again.”

Today, matters seem to be coming farcically full circle, what with Elliott Abrams—convicted in the aforementioned Iran-Contra scandal—being appointed special envoy to Venezuela, and Uncle Sam again bullying a Latin American country. Welcome to America’s own grisly ’80s foreign affairs theme party! Which all got me thinking, again, about the whole notion of American exceptionalism. Only a country that truly, deeply believes in its own special mission could repeat the hideous policies of the 1980s and hardly notice.

Perhaps one expects this absurd messianism from the likes of The Donald, but the real proof is that America’s supposed progressives—like Obama—also obediently pray at the temple of exceptionalism. “Orwellian” is the only word for a nation whose leaders and commentariat were absolutely aghast when candidate Obama was seen without (gasp!) an American flag pin on his lapel. Even more disturbing was how quickly he folded and dutifully adorned his mandatory flair. This sort of nonsense is dangerous, folks: It’s hypernationalism—the very philosophy that brought us World War I.

So it was this week, while sitting on a plane reading my oh-so-bourgeois Economist, and getting infuriated about seeing Elliott Abrams’ war-criminal face, that my thoughts again turned to good old American exceptionalism. My opinions on the topic have waxed and waned over the course of a career spent waging illegal war. First, as a young cadet at West Point, I bought it hook, line and sinker; then, as an Iraq War vet and dissenter, I rejected the entire notion. Only now, observing the world as it is, have I begun to think that America really is exceptional after all—only in all the wrong ways.

Humor me, please, while I run through a brief laundry list of the ways the US of A is wildly and disconcertingly different from all the other “big-boy countries” in the developed world. Let’s start with domestic policy:

  • The U.S. has been the site of exponentially more mass shootings than any other nation. And unlike in New Zealand—where officials took immediate steps to tighten gun control in the wake of its recent tragedy—American politicians won’t do a thing about it. We also own more guns per capita than any other country in the world. In second place is Yemen.

  • The U.S. is essentially alone in the Western world in not guaranteeing health care as a basic human right. It spends much more cash, yet achieves worse health outcomes than its near-peer countries.

  • America is home to some of the starkest income inequality on the globe—right up there with Turkey and South Africa.

  • The U.S. keeps migrant kids in cages at the border, or did until recently. Even more exceptional is that Washington is largely responsible for the very unrest in Central America that generates the refugees, all while American conservatives proudly wear their “Christianity” as badge of honor—but wasn’t Jesus a refugee child? Maybe I read the wrong Bible.

  • America is alone among 41 Western nations in not guaranteeing paid family leave. How’s that for “family values?”

  • As for representative democracy, only the U.S. has an Electoral College. This fun 18th-century gimmick ensures that here in America—in 40 percent of its elections since 2000—the presidential candidate with fewer votes actually won. Furthermore, our peculiar system ensures that a rural Wyoming resident has—proportionally—several times more representative power in Washington than someone who lives in California.

  • Similarly, America counts several non-state “territories”—think Guam, Samoa, Puerto Rico—that don’t even get to vote for the president that it can legally send  to war. But hey, why should we grant them statehood? It’s not as though some of them have higher military enlistment ratesthan any U.S. state … oh, wait.

  • The U.S. is essentially solo in defining corporations as “people,” and thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, has lifted limits on money in politics. Buying elections is officially as American as apple pie.

  • The USA locks up its own people at the highest rate in the world and is nearly alone among developed nations in maintaining the death penalty. Last year, the U.S. was the only country in the Americas to conduct executions and the only Western democracy to do so. But our friends the Saudis still execute folks, so it’s got to be OK. Dostoyevsky famously claimed that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” How are we doing there?

Then there’s the foreign policy of the great American empire:

  • The U.S. spends exponentially more on military defense than anyone else, and more than the next seven competitors (most of which are allies) combined.

  • America’s bloated military is all by itself in dotting the globe with hundreds of foreign military bases—by some estimates more than any country or empire in world history. As for our two biggest rivals,  Russia has 21 (mostly close to home); China has maybe three.

  • Benevolent, peaceful, freedom-loving America is also the world’s top arms dealer—even selling death-dealing weapons to famous human rights abusers.

  • After Syria signed on, the U.S. became the last nation on earth not party to the Paris Climate Accord. Heck, the occupant of the Oval Office doesn’t even believe in man-made climate change.

  • Then there’s the discomfiting fact that the U.S.—along with Russia—won’t even make a “no-first-use” pledge regarding nuclear weapons. And that’s reality, not “Dr. Strangelove.”

  • The U.S. was first and, until recently, alone in flying its drone fleet through sovereign national airspace and executing “terrorists” from the sky at will. I wonder how Washington will respond when other countries cite that American precedent and do the same?

  • Only the U.S. Navy patrols all the world’s oceans in force and expects to maintain superiority everywhere. And only the U.S. boasts near total control of the goings-on in two whole continents—unflinchingly asserting that North and South America fall in its “sphere of influence.” Crimea abuts Russia and the people speak Russian—still, the U.S. denies Moscow any sphere of influence there or anywhere else. Ah, consistency.

Of course there is so, so much more, but let’s end our tour of American “exceptionalism” there in the interest of time.

What’s so staggeringly unique about the United States is ultimately this: It stands alone among historical hegemons in denying the very existence of its empire. This, truly, is something new. Kids in 19th-century Great Britain knewthey had an empire—they even colored their colonies red on school maps. Not so here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. No, Washington seems to believe its own lie—and has its people convinced—that the U.S. is no empire at all, but rather a benevolent “democratic” gentle giant.

American colonies were founded from the outset as mini-empires wrested from the natives. Next, the nascent U.S. grew up enough to take what was left of the continent from the Mexicans. Since then, Washington has been trolling the world’s oceans and spreading the gospel of its own hyper-late-stage capitalism and bullying others in order to get its way. Sure, there are countries where worse human-rights abusers and worse authoritarian regimes are in power. But do we really want to be competing for last place? Especially if we’re supposedly so exceptional and indispensable?

Me, I’m sick of patriotism, of exceptionalism, of nationalism. I’ve seen where all those ideologies inevitably lead: to aggressive war, military occupations and, ultimately, dead children. So count me as over hegemony—it’s so 20th-century, anyway—and bring on the inevitable decline of U.S. pretense and power. Britain had to give up most of an empire to gain a social safety net. That was the humane thing to do.

Published:3/22/2019 9:15:12 PM
[Markets] The Fed Has Given Up: Get Ready For More QE

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

The Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to keep the federal funds rate unchanged. Overall, the FOMC signaled it has made a dovish turn away from the promised normalization of monetary policy which the Fed has promised will be implemented "some day" for a decade. Although the Fed began to slowly raise rates in late 2016 — after nearly a decade of near-zero rates — the target rate never returned to even three percent, and thus remains well below what would have been a more normal rate of the sort seen prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

Much of the Fed's continued reluctance to upset the easy-money apple cart comes from growing concerns over the strength of the economy. Although job growth numbers have been high in recent years — and this has been assumed to be proof of a robust economy — other indicators point toward less strength. Workforce participation numbers, wage growth, net worth numbers, auto-loan delinquencies and other indicators suggest many Americans are in a more precarious position than headlines might suggest.

The Fed's refusal to follow through on raising rates, however, has highlighted this economic weakness, and today's front-page headline in the Wall Street Journal reads: "Growth Fears to Keep Fed on Hold"

Abandoning Plans to Reduce the Balance Sheet

For similar reasons, the Fed has also signaled it won't be doing much about it's enormous balance sheet which ballooned to over four trillion dollars in the wake of the financial crisis. Faced with enormous amounts of unwanted assets such as mortgage-backed securities, the Fed began buying up these assets both to prop up — and bail out — banks and to produce an artificially high price for debt of all sort.

This kept market interest rates low while increasing asset inflation — all of which is great for both Wall Street and for the US government which pays hundreds of billions in interest on federal debt.

At best, "total balance sheet will be around $3.8 trillion, down from $4.5 trillion at its peak." Moreover, "the Fed will soon be a net buyer of Treasurys once again," analysts said, and some estimate "the Fed is on course to be buying $200 billion of net new Treasurys by the second half of 2020."

Put simply: the days of quantitative easing are back, and we're not even in a recession yet.

Some observers might simply respond with "big deal, the economy's growing, and better yet, the Fed has given us both growth and little inflation."

But things are not all as pleasant as they seem.

Problems with Easy-Money Policy

First of all, even by the Fed's own measures, inflation isn't as subdued as the headline "core inflation" or CPI measure suggests. According to the Fed's "Underlying Inflation Gauge" which takes a broader view beyond the small basket of consumer goods used for the CPI, inflation growth over the past year has returned to the elevated levels found back in 2005 and 2006.

This hasn't been great for consumers, and it's been especially problematic when coupled with ultra-low interest rates. The low interest rates are a problem because people of ordinary means — i.e., the non-wealthy — don't have the ability to access the high yield investments that wealthier investors do.

Rising Inequality

Earlier this week, finance researcher Karen Petrou explained the problem that comes from ultra-low rates which lead to yield-chasing for the wealthy:

When interest rates are ultra-low, wealthy households with asset managers acting on their behalf can play the stock market to beat zero or even negative returns. We’ve shown in several recent blog posts how wide the wealth inequality gap is and how disparate wealth sources help to make it so. However, even where low-and-moderate income households can get into the market, their investment advisers should not and often cannot chase yields. As a result, ultra-low rates mean negligible or even negative return.

Thus, ordinary people are faced with rising asset prices — driven in part by the Fed's balance sheet purchases — while also finding themselves unable to save in way that keeps up with inflation.

Meanwhile, the wealthy reap the most benefits from Fed policy as they're able to more effectively engage in yield-chasing.

Ordinary people get the short end of the stick from Fed policy in other ways. Petrou continues:

Historically, pension funds and insurance companies have invested only in the safest assets. These are now in scarce supply due in large part to QE andcomparable programs by central banks around the world . Pension plans and life-insurance companies increasingly have two terrible choices: to play it safe and become increasingly unable to honor benefit obligations or to make big bets and hope for the best. Under-funded pension plans are so great a concern in the U.S. that the agency established to protect pensioners from this risk, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, faces its own financial challenges . Yield-chasing life insurers are also a prime source of potential systemic risk.

Middle class people who have been told for decades to rely on pensions are now imperiled by Fed policy as well.

Not surprisingly, this has led to rising income inequality. While some free-market advocates tend to dismiss inequality as an unimportant metric, this is not a good approach when we're talking about public policy. Fed policy — and resulting inequality — does not reflect natural trends arising from market transactions. Monetary policy is something imposed on markets by policymakers. And that's what's going on when we witness rising inequality due to the Fed's monetary policy.

This has been going on since the late 1980s when Alan Greenspan relentlessly opened the easy-money spigot to spur economic growth throughout the 1990s. But, there were problems that resulted, as noted by Daniell DiMartino-Booth:

[A]t the National Association for Business Economics recent annual conference, University of California-Berkeley economics professor Gabriel Zucman presented his findings on the widening divide between the “haves” and “have nots” in the U.S. His conclusion: “Both surveys and tax data show that wealth inequality has increased dramatically since the 1980s, with a top 1 percent wealth share around 40 percent in 2016 vs. 25 – 30 percent in the 1980s.” Zucman also noted that increased wealth concentration has become a global phenomenon, albeit one that is trickier to monitor given the globalization and increased opacity of the financial system.

Defenders of ultra-low policy tend to claim low rates aren't the real culprit here because even middle-class buyers can take advantage of easy money.

But experience suggests this hasn't been the case. Part of the problem is that banking regulations handed down by the Fed and other federal regulators make loaning to smaller enterprises and lower-income households less attractive. Writes Petrou:

But, wasn’t there a burst of lower-rate mortgage refinancings that allowed households to reduce their debt burden and thus accumulate wealth? Did low rates allow higher-risk households at least to reduce their mortgage debt through refinancings? Again, low-and-moderate income households were left behind. They continued to seek refis after the financial crisis ebbed, but subprime borrowers current on their loans regardless of loan-to-value (LTV) ratios were less likely than prime or super-prime borrowers to receive refi loans even though higher-scored borrowers may or may not have been current and lower rates enhance repayment potential.

The overall effect suggests the accelerating reliance on quantitative easing and near-zero interest rates has been great for some Wall Street hedge fund managers — but for those at the low end of the lending and saving apparatus, things are even more constraining than ever. It's hard to get a loan, and it's also hard to save.

But at least the aggregate numbers are great, right?

Well, the Fed can't brag about even that. A policy that favors billionaires might work on paper, of course, so long as the aggregate numbers point toward sizable growth. But even those numbers are so iffy as to prompt growth fears at the FOMC, and to ensure that the Fed puts an end to its promises to return policy to something that might be called normal.

As it is, it looks like we should expect a continuation of the policies which have coincided with both an unimpressive economy and rising inequality.

If that's not evidence of the Fed's failure, it's hard to imagine what is.

Published:3/22/2019 8:45:12 PM
[Markets] Not-So-Superfood? Pesticide Residue Found In 70% Of US Produce & 92% Of Kale

Roughly 70% of all produce sold in the U.S. has pesticide residue in it, even after it is washed, according to a new report from the Guardian. According to data from the US Department of Agriculture and analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, strawberries, spinach and kale have the heaviest pesticide presence, while sweetcorn, avocados and pineapples had the lowest presence.

In news likely to send anxiety attacks across vegan circles, more than 92% of kale that was tested had two or more pesticide residues in it. A sample of any conventionally farmed kale could contain "up to 18 different pesticides", according to the report.

Dacthal was the most common pesticide found. It was detected in about 60% of kale samples and is banned in Europe and classified as a possible carcinogen in the U.S.

Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist working with the EWG, said:

 “We definitely acknowledge and support that everybody should be eating healthy fruits and vegetables as part of their diet regardless of if they’re conventional or organic. But what we try to highlight with the Shopper’s Guide to Produce is building on a body of evidence that shows mixtures of pesticides can have adverse effects.”

Other foods that the group warns about include grapes, cherries, apples, tomatoes and potatoes. Foods like avocados, onions and cauliflower were found to be "clean". 

Leonardo Trasande, an environmental medicine specialist at the New York University medical school, told the Guardian that the report was "widely respected" and that "it can inform shoppers who want to buy some organic fruits and vegetables, but would like to know which ones they could prioritize."

A recent French study showed that people who ate organic foods were at a significantly lower risk of developing cancer, although it also said that underlying factors needed additional research. Experts at Harvard cautioned that the study did not "analyze residue levels in participants’ bodies to confirm exposure levels."

The study said: “...the health consequences of consuming pesticide residues from conventionally grown foods are unknown, as are the effects of choosing organic foods or conventionally grown foods known to have fewer pesticide residues.”

Another Harvard study showed that for women undergoing fertility treatment, higher pesticide levels meant a lower chance of a live birth. 

The CDC has said that “a wide range of health effects, acute and chronic, are associated with exposures to some pesticides.”

90% of Americans have detectable pesticide levels in their urine and blood. 

Published:3/22/2019 8:15:14 PM
[Markets] MarketWatch First Take: Pinterest’s IPO filing: 5 things investors should know Pinterest filed the first documents in its much anticipated initial public offering on Friday, and the 184-plus page S-1 had a surprise or two about the online image discovery company.
Published:3/22/2019 7:44:54 PM
[Markets] Pompeo: God May Have Sent Trump To Save Israel From Iran

Is an apocalyptic war on Iran by the US and Israel coming, driven by American Evangelical "rapture" theology of end times prophecy? Pompeo's latest suggestion that God "raised Trump for such a time as this" doesn't bode well for the region, or at least for those who hope to avoid a WWIII scenario. Apparently, Pompeo truly believes that Trump was sent by God to save Israel, and that the Golan is to be the first US bestowed "gift" bringing the world closer to "end times" fulfillment. 

While on his multi-country tour of the Middle East on Thursday, the US secretary of state responded to a question from the Christian Broadcast Network's Chris Mitchell during a press conference in Jerusalem, who asked, "could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?"

Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman touch the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Thursday, accompanies by Israeli PM Netanyahu, via Reuters.

Pompeo responded, "As a Christian, I certainly believe that's possible" in agreement with the bizarre question. Crucially, this came the same day Trump tweeted his intention for the US to formally recognize full Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This after Syria previously warned Israel its continued unlawful occupation of the long disputed territory would lead to war. 

Pompeo added that he's "confident that the Lord is at work here" in viewing firsthand the "remarkable history of the faith in this place and the work that our administration's done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains."

Pompeo was referencing in part the Trump administration's deeply controversial recognition of Jerusalem as the permanent capital of Israel last year, and related decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv. 

Remarking on "the work that our administration's done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains," the secretary of state added: "I am confident that the Lord is at work here." — NBC

All of this makes the following a serious question: is the White House's Middle East policy being driven by some kind of Evangelical apocalyptic desire to usher in biblical prophecy? 

As explained in a prior backgrounder by Quartz:

Belief in the Rapture, also known as millenarianism or eschatology, has multiple variations, but the core view is that there will an apocalyptic war, Jesus will return, and true Christians will be “raptured” or ascend to heaven, with the rest of the earth’s inhabitants punished. Rapture believers are split about the order of events, but they are united in the belief that only Christians will be saved.

Preachers of this scenario include the recently-deceased Billy Graham, mega-church founder Pat Robertson (who says Trump is implementing “God’s plan“) and many lesser-known “end is nigh” prophets around the country.

And "rapture"-inspired preachers have been leading group studies at the White House for a while now, though it should be noted that it's not the first administration to host such preachers. 

Quartz observes further: 

In the Trump White House, a weekly bible study group calls its brand of faith “historical evangelicalism.” Biblical scholars say the group shares the “end of times” message of “Rapture” theologians in its statement of faith and founder Ralph Drollinger’s own published lessons.

But again addressing the original question of whether US policy is now being driven by "rapture theology" — we do have the Secretary of State in his own words not long prior to the Trump administration's taking the White House.

In 2015 he said at a church event, 

"We will continue to fight these battles, it is a never ending struggle... until the Rapture."

As Pompeo is now in Lebanon on Friday, continuing his Middle East tour, he's already received a somewhat icy reception from President Michel Aoun and other Lebanese officials. 

In his remarks in Beirut, Pompeo urged the Lebanese people to stand up to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group he said was “committed to spreading destruction.”

Published:3/22/2019 7:44:53 PM
[Markets] The Dow Drops 347 Points as Bonds Throw Market a Curve The yield-curve inversion might not be signaling a recession yet, but there are other reasons to worry, says one strategist. Published:3/22/2019 7:15:05 PM
[Markets] Will The "Little Red App" Destroy Democracy?

Authored by Katusa Research via InternationalMan.com,

You are probably familiar with the most printed book in the world: the Bible.

But you’ve probably never even heard of the second-most printed book. It’s known as the “Little Red Book.”

It’s a collection of statements from the speeches and writings of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China.

Mao, who once said that “to read too many books is harmful,” had more than one billion copies of this single book printed and distributed.

Its purpose was to force people to internalize Mao’s ideals. This elevated him to the status of deity within China.

The book remained an icon of Mao Zedong’s cult of personality and a mainstay in Chinese culture through the ‘70s.

As a result, an entire generation of Chinese have grown up not knowing anything better than what the Party has to offer them.

And now, the Chinese government is doubling down their efforts to control the thoughts of its 1.4 billion citizens...

The Little Red App - Redefining Propaganda in the Information Age

It’s been called the “Little Red App”.

But the impact it’s having is far from little.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has created a platform much like Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Its purpose is to indoctrinate people with the Party’s ideologies.

The app was released in January 2019. Its official name is “????.” (And pronounced shu-yue--hee--qi-ung--gu-wo).

The title contains a clever pun on Xi Jinping’s name: It can mean either “Study the Great Nation,” or “Learn Xi [Jinping’s] Great Nation.”

And right now, it’s the most-downloaded app in China – but for all the wrong reasons.

Regular usage of this app rewards you with “Xi study points.”

  • Reading an article or watching a video earns you 0.1 points.

  • Commenting earns you 0.1 points, to a maximum of 0.2 points a day.

  • Spending half an hour on the app nets you an entire 1 point.

There are even certain times of day in which your point gain is doubled. For example, if you’re on the app between 8:30-10:00 p.m. on weekdays. This way, you can ensure Xi Jinping’s rhetoric is fresh in your head before going to bed.

Above: Xi Jinping’s Eight Absolutes, from the Study the Strong Nation website.
Note the Little Red Book motif.

If you think you can just open up an article and leave the app open for a few minutes, you’d be wrong.

The app tracks your activity too, like whether or not you’re scrolling through the articles. This ensures that people are actually engaging with the content. And not just faking lip service to the Party.

Scores are shared publicly, and people with low scores are shamed by their friends.

It’s Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” come to life. Only now it’s gamified, and everyone is competing to get a higher score than everyone else.

The Chinese government is using a classic carrot-and-stick treatment. For now, Xi study points are supposed to get you small gifts in future versions of the app.

But you can bet it’s only a matter of time before the study points are tied to Social Credit Scores.

Want to Stay Employed - You Better be on the Little Red App…

Many government departments and workplaces are already making sure employees hit a daily target of Xi study points.

The government is exercising special oversight into how the app is used by Party members and by teachers. Basically, anyone who can ensure the next generation does not step out of line.

It would have been easy to ignore the book form. Or left to collect dust on a shelf somewhere.

It’s an app whose daily use is required in order to keep your job. It means you need to be on it to keep a roof over your head, and food on your table.

Xi Jinping has not only introduced a vehicle for brainwashing the masses…

He’s also created a means to ensure no citizen will ever be able turn a blind eye to it.

The entire Chinese populace will have no choice but to absorb its content.

This is powerful and well thought out. And it has an incredible shot at working.

Brought to You by the Country That Banned Winnie the Pooh

The question of whether such an app – or even its content – is good or bad is not the issue.

The issue is the fact that China, of all countries, is the one implementing it.

And no one is talking about this in the Western world… yet.

Here are a couple of other ways China is “teaching” its citizens:

  • An estimated 1-3 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being held in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang.

  • The recent Christopher Robin movie was banned. Not because of disagreeable material. Because of joke images circulating on the internet comparing Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping to Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, respectively.

Above: the image that caused the movie “Christopher Robin” to get banned in China.

The long-term consequences of forcing more than a billion people to study the same material – no exceptions – should send shivers down anyone’s spine.

The fact that this is happening via the hands of a government like China’s is nothing short of terrifying.

It marks the complete transition of China from an authoritarian government to a very well organized and powerful totalitarian government.

It’s no longer just required submission to the Party line. It’s governmental control over every single aspect of public and private life.

China Will Become the World’s Largest Economy – But is it Ready for Center Stage?

Of course, China is not the only country in the world where the government attempts to influence the people.

The Political parties in control within the U.S. or Canada try. But they have never created a platform that has the potential to succeed at the goal such as what China has created.

The difference is – China is the world’s second largest economy…

Its GDP is projected to surpass the United States’ sometime in the 2020s.

The Chinese Yuan has the third largest weighting in the IMF’s world reserve currency basket.

In 2012, it was the thirteenth-most-used currency. In 2015, it was fourth.

China’s economic might is massive. It has been trying to build its soft power for years.

It both produces and consumes the most food of any country in the world.

Likewise, it tops or is near the top for both production and consumption of resources like gold, coal, copper, aluminum and iron ore.

It’s the world’s largest exporter of goods, ranging from clothing to industrial machinery to consumer electronics.

In the rapidly escalating trade war, it has gone toe-to-toe with the U.S. Every threat of tariffs has been met with another threat of tariffs.

And when Canada drew China’s ire through the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, China responded in a familiar manner.

Recently, China shut down imports of canola from one of Canada’s largest exporters.

Even so, the U.S. and Canadian governments refuse to back down.

The other countries of the world aren’t quite ready to roll over and play dead. Especially not for China.

But this is all part of the Chinese government’s long-term plan. They want the Yuan to be seen as an alternative to the U.S. Dollar as the global currency.

This move wouldn’t just give them greater global clout or support the economic reforms. It would allow them to spread their authoritarianism to the rest of the world… including the U.S.

China is doing many things right and nobody should underestimate their political ability.

More importantly, China has launched what may be the most powerful app ever created.

Are you prepared for a Little Red App in America?

The two blue apps – Facebook and Twitter – already have years of your data and behaviour on their servers.

You wouldn’t want to be influenced or indoctrinated unknowingly, would you?

*  *  *

Clearly, there are many strange things afoot in the world. Distortions of markets, distortions of culture. It’s wise to wonder what’s going to happen, and to take advantage of growth while also being prepared for crisis. How will you protect yourself in the next crisis? See our PDF guide that will show you exactly how. Click here to download it now.

Published:3/22/2019 7:15:05 PM
[Markets] Scientists From Around The World Call For Immediate Halt To Gene-Editing Of Humans

Authored by Derrick Broze via TheMindUnleashed.com,

Scientists and ethicists from around the world are warning of the consequences of failing to implement a temporary global halt on gene editing of human eggs, embryos, and sperm. 

In a letter to the journal Nature, 18 scientists and ethicists from seven countries called for a global moratorium on the type of gene editing that can result in genetically altered babies. The letter was prompted by a 2018 announcement by a Chinese scientist declaring the birth of the world’s first gene-edited twin babies.

The 18 signatories of this call include scientists and ethicists who are citizens of 7 countries. Many of us have been involved in the gene-editing field by developing and applying the technology, organizing and speaking at international summits, serving on national advisory committees and studying the ethical issues raised.”

Fears of “designer babies” have been on the rise in the last decade as scientists move closer to producing embryos which have been genetically modified to produce children with specific, desirable characteristics. This vision was once the exclusive domain of Hollywood movies like Gattaca, but now, a future where parents are able to pick and choose exactly how their child’s genes express themselves is eerily close.

Specifically, the group is calling for a moratorium on germline cells—in this case egg or sperm cells—that can then be inherited and “could have permanent and possibly harmful effects on the species.”

To begin with, there should be a fixed period during which no clinical uses of germline editing whatsoever are allowed,” the scientists write. “As well as allowing for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be considered before germline editing is permitted, this period would provide time to establish an international framework.”

From that point on, individual nations will choose their own paths. The scientists predict that some nations may choose to continue a moratorium indefinitely or a permanent ban. They also call on any nation that chooses to allow specific applications of germline editing to first give public notice and engage in an “international consideration about the wisdom of doing so.” The group also calls for a “transparent evaluation” to determine if germline editing is justified and for a nation to gain a “broad societal consensus” over the appropriateness of the editing.

No clinical application of germline editing should be considered unless its long-term biological consequences are sufficiently understood—both for individuals and for the human species,” the group urges.

In a separate letter to the journal Nature, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), stated that the NIH strongly agrees that a moratorium should begin immediately and last until nations commit to international rules to determine “whether and under what conditions such research should ever proceed.”

This is a crucial moment in the history of science: a new technology offers the potential to rewrite the script of human life. We think that human gene editing for reproductive purposes carries very serious consequences—social, ethical, philosophical and theological,” Collins wrote.

Such great consequences deserve deep reflection. A substantive debate about benefits and risks that provides opportunities for multiple segments of the world’s diverse population to take part has not yet happened. Societies, after those deeper discussions, might decide this is a line that should not be crossed. It would be unwise and unethical for the scientific community to foreclose that possibility.”

In a response to both letters, the editors of Nature released an editorial describing their viewpoint. “Whether or not a moratorium receives more widespread support, several things need to be done to ensure that germline gene-editing studies, done for the purposes of research only, are on a safe and sensible path,” the editors wrote. The editors called for all proposals and basic research studies using gene-editing tools in human embryos to be deposited in an open registry. Certain countries will have lax laws which could be exploited by “would-be mavericks” and thus there is a need for global laws to prevent and penalize unacceptable research, the editors state.

The right decisions on human germline modification can be reached only through frank and open discussion, followed by swift action. With so much at stake, that must happen now.”

Published:3/22/2019 6:44:29 PM
[Markets] Mueller is not recommending any further indictments, Justice official says Mueller is not recommending any further indictments, Justice official says Published:3/22/2019 6:14:51 PM
[Markets] Enron 2.0? Jeff Skilling And Lou Pai Are Back With A "New Energy Venture"

Former Enron Chief Executive Jeff Skilling is out of prison after 12 years. And he’s getting the old gang back together again.

Just when you thought the world of business couldn’t get more anymore ethically sound, and just when you thought you weren't going to get any more surefire signs of a market top, Jeff Skilling is recruiting his old friends and colleagues and "looking to get back in the energy business", according to a WSJ report.

But that isn’t even the best part - according to the report, Skilling has already landed an investment from former Enron executive and local strip club rewards member Lou Pai who, after selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Enron stock before the company collapsed, somehow avoided jail time or any kind of major legal repercussions, outside of a paltry $31.5 million settlement.

Pai was formerly the head of Enron's energy services unit and has already pledged to invest in the venturePai is reportedly reintroducing Skilling to the business world as a "friendly courtesy" after remaining in touch with Skilling following Enron’s demise and speaking to him while he was in prison, the report says. 



Skilling's new project is said to be a digital platform that connects investors to oil and gas projects. Skilling has also reportedly met with individuals who specialize in cryptocurrency and blockchain because - well, because of course he has.

As the WSJ notes, the exact nature of the project is "something of a mystery", with the people briefed saying it was at an early stage. What is known, and probably will not come as a surprise considering Skilling's background, he "has met with individuals who specialize in cryptocurrency, blockchain and software development in recent weeks."

Perhaps Skilling is hoping to hold California electricity as ransom in exchange for a bitcoin payment made to an unknown address?

But we digress. The former Enron executive is situated in a new office in Houston and nondisclosure agreements have been signed between him and potential partners in his new project. Skilling is said to have began working on his new project while serving six months at a Texas halfway house, before being set free again. He has met with more than two dozen former Enron executives, according to the report, which says he has been met with a "warm reception". 

As part of a judgement with the SEC, Skilling is permanently barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company. Pai, who was referred to as "the invisible CEO" in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room has no such bar.

We’re sure that bankers, hedge funds and anybody else who can be complicit in this new venture are eager to line up and collect their fees from what is likely going to be a "disruptive" presence in the energy industry. We can't wait to see how it turns out.

Published:3/22/2019 6:14:50 PM
[Markets] Stocks Close Lower on Friday After Selloff S&P 500 down 1.90% Published:3/22/2019 5:45:59 PM
[Markets] Houston Chemical Fire Reignites After Dangerous Benzene Spill

After five days of the nation being captivated by dramatic images of flames and smoke plumes hovering above the Houston area from the Deer Park petrochemical fire, which had initially triggered an emergency shelter-in-place order from city authorities when it began last Sunday, firefighters had finally extinguished the raging inferno on Thursday. 

But the Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC) chemical storage complex has again reignited late Friday afternoon, which once more sent a massive black cloud into the sky, reportedly visible from 20 miles away, and again potentially exposing residents to dangerous airborne chemicals as well as leaks into nearby waterways.

Image via KPRC Click2Houston

Harris Country officials now say multiple tank fires are once again raging uncontrolled, at two separate sections of the Houston area disaster site. Deer Park's office of emergency management called the new smoke plume a "flare up" as part of "a developing incident."

"The City of Deer Park is not issuing a Shelter-in-Place order at this time but we are monitoring the situation," the emergency management official said.

Nearby schools had already been closed for days due to the original fire and parts of the Houston Ship Channel remained closed after a prior dangerous benzene leak at the plant due to the fire. Benzene is a known carcinogen which can cause devastating health effects based on various levels of exposure. 

Residents have become increasingly anxious over what the Houston Chronicle describes as "volatile compounds sitting in damaged tanks at the petroleum storage facility or streaming into nearby waterways."

The Deer Park fire on March 19, via Bloomberg

Just when the nearly week-long emergency appeared to be under control, things could fast be getting worse again as containment crews are fighting back threats on multiple fronts, per Bloomberg:

The new blaze erupted just hours after a wall holding back almost a million gallons of toxic, flammable liquids collapsed, and just two days after the original conflagration was suppressed. Intercontinental Terminals Co., which owns the storage facility in suburban Deer Park, said the tank involved in the new blaze contained xylene, a toxic byproduct of the oil-refining process.

Area residents have told local media they've been extremely frustrated at ITC's slowness at informing the public as to true extent and nature of the chemical leaks during their press conferences.

As of early Friday afternoon firefighters thought the blaze had been finally extinguished before it flared up again.

That anger was on display this week after ITC and city officials attempted to calm the public with messages of "everything is fine" as a blackened toxic cloud dominated the skyline for miles.  

ITC did confirm one of the first takes to catch fire had held 4.4 million gallons of pyrolysis gas, which is fuel blend containing benzene, xylene and toluene, and additional compounds. 

According to prior local reports

Officials said the components are in gas blend stocks used in the production of finished gasoline and base oil used for machine lubrication. 

NAPHTHA can cause irritation to eyes and the respiratory system. It affects the central nervous system and is harmful and even fatal if it is swallowed. 

XYLENE may also be fatal if it is swallowed and enters the airway. It can cause skin irritation.

City and environmental officials have throughout the ordeal assured residents that Harris County Pollution Control was conducing air quality monitoring tests of the area, but still cautioned residents to stay indoors throughout the ordeal if at all possible.

developing...

Published:3/22/2019 5:45:59 PM
[Markets] Pinterest files IPO, losses narrow as revenue rises 60% Pinterest Inc. losses are narrowing as revenue nearly doubled, according to the company’s initial public offering documents filed late Friday.
Published:3/22/2019 5:15:20 PM
[Markets] The Yield Curve Just Inverted. That’s Not as Scary as You Think. A key recession indicator has started to flash red for the first time since 2007. But it may not spell trouble for the economy—at least not yet. Published:3/22/2019 5:15:19 PM
[Markets] Ralph Nader: Greedy Boeing's Avoidable Design And Software Time-Bombs

Authored by Ralph Nader via Counterpunch.org,

As internal and external pressures mount to hold Boeing responsible for its criminal negligence, the giant company is exerting its immense influence to limit both its past and future accountability. Boeing whistleblowers and outside aviation safety experts are coming forward to reveal the serial, criminal negligence of Boeing’s handling of its dangerous Boeing 737 Max airplanes, grounded in the aftermath of two deadly crashes that took 346 lives. Boeing, is used to having its way in Washington, D.C. For decades, Boeing and some of its airline allies have greased the wheels for chronic inaction related to the additional protection and comfort of airline passengers and airline workers.

Most notoriously, the airlines, after the hijacks to Cuba in the late Sixties and early Seventies, made sure that Congress and the FAA did not require hardened cockpit doors and stronger latches on all aircraft, costing a modest $3000 per plane. Then the 9/11 massacre happened, a grisly consequence of non-regulation, pushed by right wing corporatist advocacy centers.

Year after year, Flyers Rights – the airline passenger consumer group –proposed a real passengers bill of rights. Year after year the industry’s toadies in Congress said no. A slim version passed last year — requiring regulations creating minimum seat standards, regulations regarding prompt refunds for ancillary services not provided or on a flight not taken, and a variety of small improvements for consumers.

Boeing is all over Capitol Hill. They have 100 full time lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Over 300 members of Congress regularly take campaign cash from Boeing. The airlines lather the politicians with complimentary ticket upgrades, amenities, waivers of fees for reservation changes, priority boarding, and VIP escorts. Twice, we sent surveys about these special freebies to every member of Congress with not a single response. (See my letterand survey .)

That is the corrupt backdrop that at least two Congressional Committees have to overcome in holding public hearings into the causes of the Indonesian’s Lion Air crash last October and the Ethiopian Airline crash on March 10, 2019.

Will the Senate and House Committee invite the technical dissenters to testify against Boeing’s sequential corner cutting on its single sensor software that miscued and took control of the 737 Max 8 from its pilots, pulling down on the plane’s nose? Boeing’s sales-driven avoidance of producing effective manuals with upgraded pilot training was courting disaster as was outrageously leaving many of the pilots in the dark.

The Congressional Committees must issue subpoenas to critics of Boeing and the FAA in order to protect them from corporate and agency retaliation.

Moreover, the Committees must get rid of the grotesque self-regulation that allows Boeing to control the aircraft certification process for the FAA. This dangerous delegation has worsened in recent years because Trump and Republicans in Congress have cut the FAA’s budget.

Brace yourself. Here is how the Washington Post described this abandonment of regulation by FAA, endorsed by Boeing’s Congress:

“In practice, one Boeing engineer would conduct a test of a particular system on the Max 8, while another Boeing engineer would act as the FAA’s representative, signing on behalf of the U.S. government that the technology complied with federal safety regulations…”

“Hundreds of Boeing engineers would have played out this scenario thousands of times as the company sought to verify the performance of mechanical systems, hardware installation and massive amounts of computer code…”

So, citizens, watch out for bloviating Congressional Committee members castigating Boeing executives at the witness table before the television cameras and then doing nothing once the television broadcasts fade away.

Boeing’s 737 series started in 1967 and has had a good engineering safety record in this country. But Boeing was in a rush with its Boeing 737 Max 8. They had to catch up with the growing orders for a similar-sized passenger jet built by Airbus. Being in a rush meant a modification that added more seats (a key motivation), that led to larger engines that affected the aerodynamics of the plane that led to the inadequate, mostly uncommunicated software fix to the pilots. Step by step, top management pushed the engineers in ways that compromised their professional expertise and each slide set the stage for a deeper slide. Now, the press is reporting a criminal probe by the Justice Department. The Inspector General of the Department of Transportation is also investigating the FAA’s certification of 737 Max 8.

Years ago, aviation experts say, Boeing should have developed a brand new aircraft design for such intermediate distances. But Boeing dug in and compliant FAA officials dropped the ball. And President Trump has failed to fill three top slots at the FAA since January 2017.

That is why, after flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa, both Boeing and the FAA kept issuing statements filled with gibberish saying that the 737 Max 8 was safe, safe, safe—the malfunction-prone software time bomb to the contrary. A brand new plane, crashing twice and taking hundreds of lives, can’t be blamed on pilot error.

Caution: the grounding of the planes may receive a whitewash unless the media keeps light and heat on this corporate-government collusion.

Installing artificial intelligence replacing or overpowering human intelligence in ever more complex machines, such as modern aircraft or weapons systems or medical technology is the harbinger of what’s to come.  In a 2014 BBC interview Stephen Hawking, the famed theoretical physicist, said:  “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And in 2018 Elon Musk said: “If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings.”

At the wreckage near Bishoftu in a small pastoral farm field and in the Java Sea off Indonesia lie the remains of the early victims of arrogant, algorithm-driven corner cutting, by reckless corporate executives and their captive government regulators.

Published:3/22/2019 5:15:19 PM
[Markets] Mueller has delivered Russia report to Attorney General Barr: reports Mueller has delivered Russia report to Attorney General Barr: reports Published:3/22/2019 4:46:51 PM
[Markets] Capitol Report: Trump’s reversal of North Korea sanctions is ‘a scandal,’ former Treasury official says President Donald Trump’s reveral of North Korea sanctions imposed by his administration is ‘a scandal,’ said a former OFAC director.
Published:3/22/2019 4:46:51 PM
[Markets] Barr tells lawmakers he may tell them Mueller conclusions this weekend In a letter to House and Senate committee chairmen, Attorney General William Barr said he may be able to tell them this weekend Special Counsel Robert Mueller's "principal conclusions." Mueller delivered his report to Barr Friday. He has been investigating whether Donald Trump's presidential campaign aided Russia in interfering with the 2016 election. Trump has denied the allegation. Published:3/22/2019 4:46:51 PM
[Markets] UCLA Men's Soccer Coach Resigns After Accepting $200,000 In Bribes In College Admissions Scandal

UCLA's head men’s soccer coach, who was among those charged in the biggest college admissions fraud scheme in history, resigned on Thursday, according to Reuters. Jorge Salcedo was one of nine college coaches who were charged by federal prosecutors on March 12 in connection with the admissions scandal.

Salcedo is a former player for the US Men's national soccer team who played professionally in both Mexico and in the United States. He had managed the UCLA Bruins as their head coach since 2004. 



Salcedo was charged for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for designating admissions candidates as recruited athletes in order to help their chances of getting into the University. UCLA placed him on leave last week after learning he was charged with accepting up to $200,000 in order to help to students gain admission by posing them as recruited competitive soccer players.

According to the Daily Mail, he took a $100,000 bribe in order to get a woman named Lauren Isackson on the women's soccer team roster. 

Isackson was given jersey No. 41 in 2017 on a team of all star players and required to stay on the side for at least one year, according to the report. Isackson's father is the President of a real estate firm and reportedly spent more than $600,000 to get Lauren and her sister into both UCLA and USC. 

Isackson

They reportedly handed over 2,000 Facebook shares, worth about $250,000, in addition to donations, to scheme mastermind Rick Singer. 

The US has been fascinating with the admissions scandal ever since it first broke earlier this month as it demonstrated just how bifurcated the college applications process has become, segregating between the rich and powerful, and those who are not; it has also showed to what lengths Americans will go to cheat the system. Most recently, we wrote about how students were being encouraged to fake learning disabilities in order to cheat on college entrance exams. 

We also profiled one Harvard test-taking "whiz" that was responsible for helping students at the center of the scandal get high scores on admissions tests. Prior to that, we reported on the tipster who gave the SEC the lead on the admissions scandal. He was in the midst of being investigated for a pump and dump scam at the time. 

We also reported that the universities involved were now facing class action lawsuits from their students. Additionally, we reported on major tax implications that could be waiting for the parents involved - including potential civil tax fraud penalties and interest charges on any bribe amounts they wrote off. 

After the scandal was reported, we unveiled that William Rick Singer was the man who brokered and facilitated many of the bribes. 

Our original take on the entire scandal can be read here

Published:3/22/2019 4:46:50 PM
[Markets] This robot can make 100 barista-quality cups of coffee an hour The food industry is adjusting to an influx of robots. The latest example is Briggo, a fully automated, robotic coffee machine that gives customers control over ingredients, espresso shots, flavorings and temperature without any human interaction. Published:3/22/2019 4:04:20 PM
[Markets] Pinterest files for IPO, will trade under ticker "PINS" on NYSE Pinterest files for IPO, will trade under ticker "PINS" on NYSE Published:3/22/2019 4:04:19 PM
[Markets] NewsWatch: S&P 500 could fall 40% as yield curve inverts, says analyst of one of 2018’s best hedge-fund returns A macro hedge fund says investors should monitor the growing number of yield curve inversions in the U.S. Treasurys market
Published:3/22/2019 4:04:19 PM
[Markets] Google Influenced Midterm Elections, May Have Cost Republicans Seats: Study

New research reveals that Google built biases into its search results that influenced the 2018 midterm elections - possibly costing Republicans three congressional districts

First things first - the study was conducted by Dr. Robert Epstein - a San Diego-based Harvard Ph.D. who founded the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He's also a Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT), a UCSD visiting scholar, and served as editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. 

He also supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 (just like Google!).

Down to the findings: 

Epstein and AIBRT analyzed Google searches linked to three highly competitive southern California congressional races in which Democrats won, and found that Google's "clear democrat bias" may have flipped the seats away from Republican candidates. According to the study, at least 35,455 undecided voters within the three California districts may have been persuaded to vote Democrat due to the biased Google search results. 

Epstein says that in the days leading up to the 2018 midterms, he was able to preserve “more than 47,000 election-related searches on Google, Bing, and Yahoo, along with the nearly 400,000 web pages to which the search results linked.”

Analysis of this data showed a clear pro-Democrat bias in election-related Google search results as compared to competing search engines. Users performing Google searches related to the three congressional races the study focused on were significantly more likely to see pro-Democrat stories and links at the top of their results.

As Epstein’s previous studies have shown, this can have a huge impact on the decisions of undecided voters, who often assume that their search results are unbiased. Epstein has called this the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME). -Breitbart

Google executives and Democrats have disputed Epstein's findings, apparently unaware that we can simply google documented instances of the Silicon Valley search giant's overt bias surrounding elections, their ability to influence them, and their other efforts to hobble conservatives

"These are new forms of manipulation people can’t see," said Epstein, who added that technology "can have an enormous impact on voters who are undecided. … People have no awareness the influence is being exerted."

Reporting extensively on the work of Epstein is Breitbart News' senior tech reporter, Allum Bokhari, who notes that the latest findings "are based on modest assumptions, such as the assumption that voters conduct one election-related search per week." In other words, the bias could be much more pronounced in reality. 

Published:3/22/2019 4:04:19 PM
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Published:3/21/2019 11:03:06 AM
[Markets] Forget 'Obamaphones', Vote Andrew Yang In 2020 & Get $1000/Month For Free

As the horde of Democratic Presidential candidates continue to try to outdo one another in how much 'free shit' they can give away, one man in the crowd just turned up the idiocy to '11'...

Forget about small things like 'Obamaphones', Sara Carter reports that Andrew Yang, the Democratic presidential hopeful is promising to pay $1000 once a month to every American if he is elected in 2020.

A supporter of universal basic income, Yang already launched a pilot program for free cash payments known as the Freedom Dividend.

He selected a family in Goffstown, New Hampshire, who he says will be receiving $12,000 cash for the year.

In 2018, According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 127.59 million households in the United States. So if you do the math, and if Andrew Yang’s little project just target every household in America, this would cost $1.5 Trillion every year.

But that is a drop in the ocean, as Mr. Yang has quite the array of 'free' offerings for Americans in his platform...

Published:3/21/2019 11:03:05 AM
[Markets] Dow Rises Solidly Despite Fed's Warning on Slowing Economic Growth The Dow Jones Industrial Average was higher despite Federal Reserve concerns over slowing global growth. tumbled 28.8% after the biotech company dropped a late-stage trial for aducanumab, an Alzheimer's disease drug. soared 34.4% to $22.85 as the clothing company opened for trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. Published:3/21/2019 11:03:05 AM
[Markets] White economic anxiety evaporated after the 2016 election. Black anxiety is on the rise. These trends suggest that people’s perceptions of their economic experiences are shaped by who holds power as much as economic realities, one economist says. Published:3/21/2019 10:01:46 AM
[Markets] Biogen stock plummets 28% after Alzheimer’s trial halt Biogen stock plummets 28% after Alzheimer’s trial halt Published:3/21/2019 10:01:46 AM
[Markets] Television commercials featuring perfect people could be making us miserable ‘Forget Occupy Wall Street, maybe Occupy Madison Avenue is a better idea.’
Published:3/21/2019 10:01:46 AM
[Markets] Stock Market News: Biogen Bombs, but Micron Moves Higher Markets rose to start Thursday's session. Published:3/21/2019 10:01:45 AM
[Markets] Doomed Boeing 737s Lacked 'Optional Safety Features'; Ethiopian Air Captain Skipped Training

The two doomed Boeing 737s which crashed under similar conditions lacked optional safety features that the aircraft manufacturer will now make standard, according to the New York Times

For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons.

Sometimes these optional features involve aesthetics or comfort, like premium seating, fancy lighting or extra bathrooms. But other features involve communication, navigation or safety systems, and are more fundamental to the plane’s operations.

Many airlines, especially low-cost carriers like Indonesia’s Lion Air, have opted not to buy them — and regulators don’t require them. -New York Times

Investigators are still sifting through what caused the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10 and Lion Air Flight 610 last October - however they are focusing on whether a new stall-avoidance software system may have been partly to blame. 

The system, known as MCAS, takes readings from two vanelike "angle of attack" sensors which measure how much the plane's nose is pointing up or down. If MCAS believes that the plane is pointing up at a dangerous angle, it can immediately push the nose of the plane down to try and stop it from stalling. 

Optional features could have helped pilots determine if MCAS was malfunctioning

One of them - an angle-of-attack indicator, displays the readings from the sensors which feed the MCAS system. The other, called a "disagree light," will activate if those two sensors are at odds with each other. 

"They’re critical, and cost almost nothing for the airlines to install," said aviation analyst Bjorn Fehrm - who adds "Boeing charges for them because it can. But they’re vital for safety."

Neither feature has been mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration for the now-grounded 737 Max jets. Of note, Southwest Airlines - which ordered 280 737 Max 8s, purchased the disagree alert option and also installed an angle-of-attack indicator above the pilots' heads. Following the Lion Air crash, the airline said it would place the sensor on the pilots' main computer screens. 

United Airlines - which has taken delivery of 14 our of the 137 Max 8s it has ordered, did not select the indicators or disagree light. The airline says that pilots use other data to fly the plane. 

"There are so many things that should not be optional, and many airlines want the cheapest airplane you can get," said aviation lawyer and former engineering test pilot Mark Goodrich. "And Boeing is able to say, ‘Hey, it was available.’" 

But what Boeing doesn’t say, he added, is that it has become “a great profit center” for the manufacturer.

Both Boeing and its airline customers have taken pains to keep these options, and prices, out of the public eye. Airlines frequently redact details of the features they opt to pay for — or exclude — from their filings with financial regulators. Boeing declined to disclose the full menu of safety features it offers as options on the 737 Max, or how much they cost. 

But one unredacted filing from 2003 for a previous version of the 737 shows that Gol Airlines, a Brazilian carrier, paid $6,700 extra for oxygen masks for its crew, and $11,900 for an advanced weather radar system control panel. Gol did not immediately respond to a request for comment. -New York Times

In response to the crashes, Boeing has committed to making the 737 Max safer. 

"As part of our standard practice following any accident, we examine our aircraft design and operation, and when appropriate, institute product updates to further improve safety," said CEO Dennis Muilenburg. 

Lack of training, information

Another factor which investigators are focusing on is a lack of training on the technically sophisticated Max 8Reuters reports that the captain of the doomed Ethiopian air crash did not practice on a new simulator before the March 10 crash that killed 157

Yared Getachew, 29, was due for refresher training at the end of March, his colleague told Reuters, two months after Ethiopian Airlines had received one of the first such simulators being distributed. -Reuters

In both Max 8 crashes, pilots lost control of the plane shortly after take-off, and fought with the planes to stop them from plunging

Disturbingly, "Boeing did not send manuals on MCAS," according to an Ethiopian Airlines pilot who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Actually we know more about the MCAS system from the media than from Boeing." 

Ethiopian airlines (lawyers') pushed back on Thursday, saying its pilots had completed training recommended by Boeing and approved by the FAA on differences between the previous 737 NG model and the 737 Max version. 

"We urge all concerned to refrain from making such uninformed, incorrect, irresponsible and misleading statements during the period of the accident investigation," the airline said in a statement. 

That said, the training itself has now fallen under scrutiny. 

In the Ethiopian crash, it was not clear if Yared’s colleague - First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed, 25, who also died in the crash - had used the new simulator.

It was also not clear if Yared or Ahmednur would have been trained on that simulator or an older one for 737s that their airline also owned.

“I think that the differences between the 737 NG and the MAX were underplayed by Boeing,” said John Cox, an aviation safety consultant, former U.S. Airways pilot and former air safety chairman of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association.

“Consequently the simulator manufacturers were not pushing it either. The operators didn’t realize the magnitude of the differences,” he told Reuters in a communication over the Ethiopian pilot’s remarks. -Reuters

As we noted earlier this month, several pilots repeatedly warned federal authorities of safety concerns over the now-grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 for months - with one calling the Max 8s flight manual "inadequate and almost criminally insufficient," adding "The fact that this airplane requires such jury-rigging to fly is a red flag."

Meanwhile Indonesian investigators are interviewing an off-duty pilot who saved a 737 Max8 from a nosedive just one day before the same plane crashed. 

On the day before the crash, the crew on the same Lion Air plane correctly diagnosed a problem and saved the 737 Max 8 with the help from an off-duty pilot who happened to be riding in the cockpit, people familiar with the matter have said. The extra pilot, who was seated in the cockpit jumpseat, correctly diagnosed the problem and told the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system, according to the people. -Bloomberg

The pilot's intervention the day before the October crash was not mentioned in Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee’s Nov. 28 report on the crash which killed all 189 people aboard. 

Published:3/21/2019 10:01:45 AM
[Markets] Earnings Results: Micron stock rises despite weak outlook, company plans to cut spending Micron Technology Inc.’s stock gained in the extended session Wednesday after the memory-chip predicted a return to growth later in the year, but a continuing downturn in the current quarter.
Published:3/20/2019 4:31:53 PM
[Markets] How major US stock indexes fared Wednesday Stocks got a brief bump from news that the Federal Reserve doesn't plan to raise rates this year, but still ended mostly lower Wednesday after those gains faded. Bond prices rose sharply after the Fed forecast slower economic growth. Published:3/20/2019 4:31:53 PM
[Markets] Will Washington State's Plan To Ban Trump From The 2020 Ballot Backfire?

Authored by Jeff Charles via LibertyNation.com,

Dems getting creative in amending federal election laws, but will it backfire?

Well, you’ve got to hand it to them. The progressive left continues to find new and creative ways to ensure that President Donald Trump is not re-elected in 2020. At the state level, Democratic politicians are taking actions, such as passing legislation supporting the National Popular Vote compact, that are designed to prevent Republicans from maintaining control of the White House.

The Washington state senate has passed a measure that could keep the president off the ballot if the house also passes the bill. Illinois is also considering similar legislation. But will it succeed?

Washington Seeks To Bar Trump From Ballot

Recently, the Washington state senate passed a bill that would remove President Trump’s name from the presidential ballot if he does not release his tax returns. The legislation also would require future presidential candidates to make five years of tax returns public before running in a primary or general election.

Washington’s attorney general and solicitor wrote a letter to state lawmakers stating that the measure is “likely Constitutional” but that it “would definitely be challenged in court.” State Sen. Patty Kuderer (D) argued that the proposed law is designed to return presidential races to a sense of normalcy. “Although releasing tax returns has been the norm for about the last 40 years in presidential elections, unfortunately we’ve seen that norm broken,” she told CBS.

While her argument might seem legitimate, it would sound much different translated into progressivese, more like, “Look, we’re just doing this because we’re desperate. I mean, have you seen the field of potential Democratic nominees for 2020?”

Naturally, state Republicans are taking issue with the proposed measure. Sen. Hans Zeiger told CBS, “We’re on really risky ground when we’re trying to place conditions on a federal election.”

Washington isn’t the only state considering such a proposal. Both Illinois and New Jersey are attempting to pass similar bills.

Are They Getting Desperate?

Progressives have been melting down over the president’s tax returns since the 2016 campaign. Democrats in the House of Representatives have threatened to investigate Trump’s tax records, hoping to find — or manufacture — a scandal involving criminal activity. And nobody can forget MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow’s epic snafu when she revealed a leaked copy of one year of the president’s tax returns that showed a whole lotta nothing.

Richard Nixon

But there is a problem: No law exists mandating that presidential candidates release their tax records. Indeed, it has been a tradition only since President Richard Nixon decided to release his returns during his campaign. The constitutionality of such legislation would certainly be in question given the fact that it could be seen as an attempt to prevent voters from choosing the candidate they want. Moreover, anyone can see that this is motivated by politics and not by a desire for normalcy.

Either way, this action is not likely to do much harm to Trump’s campaign and could backfire on the Democrats. Only staunch leftists would believe that these proposals are not cynical ploys designed to influence the general election. If the Democrats wish to defeat President Trump, they will have to do it the old-fashioned way — through better campaigning and superior policy arguments.

Published:3/20/2019 4:31:53 PM
[Markets] Wall Street Advances on Fed's Decision General Mills gains on revenue growth Published:3/20/2019 4:02:40 PM
[Markets] "Kicking And Screaming" Traders Are Forced To Become Quants, CIO Claims

Yesterday we presented the sad story of one quant whose algos had stopped working as a result of massive overcrowding in a handful of trading strategies. There was a silver lining: despite having to change his strategies, he was - well - a quant. Which is great, considering that life for "old school" fundamental traders is orders of magnitude worse these days.

Consider what Sandy Rattray, CIO of London-based quant giant Man Group, said at the AI and Data Science in Trading conference Tuesday in New York, who slammed the legacy asset management industry, which he said is "kicking and screaming" as it’s forced to adapt to quantitative trading while managers who ignore it face irrelevance.

Rattray also compared traditional money managers with taxi drivers who are facing the threat of Uber and automated vehicles.

"You can either protest and block all the streets, like they do a lot in Europe, or you can say, ‘What the heck am I going to do about this change’ and get on with it and incorporate these new technologies,” said Rattray, 49, whose firm uses quantitative techniques on about two-thirds of its assets, although he appeared to gloss over his own glass house in that quants themselves recently suffered their worst performance since the February 2018 VIXtermination event, the August 2015 ETFlash Crash and the summer of 2007 "quant qollapse."

Still in a time when traditional, fundamental analysis no longer works in a world where central banks dominate stock election, he may have a point: the best human money managers are figuring out how to prevent themselves from being redundant and are incorporating natural language processing in the way they run their money, the CIO said, and as Bloomberg notes, "Point72 Asset Management and Coatue Management are among hedge funds that have been hiring scientists and adopting quant strategies."

So what was the quant's advice to upstart traders? Why become part of the Borg collective of course: Rattray said executing buy and sell orders is one of the easiest places to apply machine learning. Armed with huge amounts of data, traders can find clear patterns showing them the best banks to handle their orders.

In short:

  1. Apply machine language to buy and sell orders
  2. ???
  3. Profit

Since Man trades about $6 trillion to $7 trillion a year and uses machine learning to execute almost all of those wagers, one can't help but wonder if he is just talking his book. Incidentally, the book is big to quite big, at least for now: the London-listed firm, which also uses quant methods in its discretionary business having made most humans obsolete, oversaw $108.5 billion as of the end of last year.

“One of the things that I spotted in the past was that traders would favor those banks that had given them nice lunches, and I thought that was a really bad way of making trading decisions,” he added as a complete non-sequitur, while pissing off most of the people in the audience.

But the piece de resistance was when Rattray said that "some asset managers harbor a sense of exceptionalism, believing that algorithms can play an important role in health care and transportation but not in managing money", arguably envisioning himself as some silicon prophet of profit. 

We wish Rattray nothing but success, however we hope he remembers that when his strategy blows up like all other quant/algo strategies eventually do, and he blows tens of billions in investor funds once BTFD stops working - which for all the fancy lingo is the only real "machine learning" strategy - those who will be quite eager to make an appointment with the all too "insightful" manager armed with tar, feathers, pitchforks and whatever else the populist equipment du jour is, will be all too ordinary beings made of flash, blood and topped off with lots of furious anger.

Published:3/20/2019 4:02:38 PM
[Markets] Boeing stock drops after report FBI is joining investigation into 737 Max Boeing stock drops after report FBI is joining investigation into 737 Max Published:3/20/2019 3:30:19 PM
[Markets] US STOCKS SNAPSHOT-Financials weigh down Wall St as Fed stays dovish The S&P 500 and the Dow ended lower on Wednesday as interest rate-sensitive financial stocks dragged down the indexes after the U.S. Federal Reserve affirmed a dovish monetary policy stance. The Dow Jones ... Published:3/20/2019 3:30:19 PM
[Markets] Boeing Tumbles After FBI Joins Criminal Probe Into 737 MAX Approval

While it should not come as a surprise following news that a grand jury subpoena - which listed the Justice Department’s criminal division listed as a contact - had been sent to Boeing and the FAA, scrutinizing the development of Boeing 737 MAX jetliners and in particular whether corners had been cut with its anti-stall (MCAS) system, moments ago Boeing stuck tumbled when the Seattle Times reported that the FBI has joined the criminal investigation into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX, "lending its considerable resources to an inquiry already being conducted by U.S. Department of Transportation agents."

The federal grand jury investigation, based in Washington, D.C., is looking into the certification process that approved the safety of the new Boeing plane, two of which have crashed since October, the Seattle Times reported.

Conveniently, the FBI’s Seattle field office is located close to Boeing’s 737 manufacturing plant in Renton, as well as nearby offices of Boeing and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials involved in the certification of the plane, which means that the probe should be rather quick.

The investigation, which is being overseen by the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division and carried out by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General, began in response to information obtained after a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta on Oct. 29, killing 189 people, Bloomberg reported earlier this week, citing an unnamed source.

It has widened since then, with the grand jury issuing a subpoena on March 11 for information from someone involved in the plane’s development, one day after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX 8 near Addis Ababa that killed 157 people, The Associated Press reported this week.


A story by the Seattle Times over the weekend detailed how FAA managers pushed its engineers to delegate more of the certification process to Boeing itself, sparking confusion just what the FAA's role actually is, and whether it delegated its own duties to the "supervised" company in exchange for kickbacks. The Times story also detailed flaws in an original safety analysis that Boeing delivered to the FAA.

As the newspaper adds, "criminal investigations into the federal oversight of airplane manufacturing and flight are rare, in part because of the longstanding belief  that a civil-enforcement system better promotes candid reporting of concerns without fear of criminal repercussions."

Criminal investigations into the federal oversight of airplane manufacturing and flight are rare, in part because of the longstanding belief  that a civil-enforcement system better promotes candid reporting of concerns without fear of criminal repercussions. Those criminal cases that have occurred have focused on false entries and misrepresenations.

In 1998, Transportation Department and FBI agents, acting on a whistleblower’s allegations, served a criminal search warrant on Alaska Airlines, seeking evidence of maintenance irregularities.

The report, which hit moments after market close, sent Boeing stock tumbling further in the after hours.

 

Published:3/20/2019 3:30:18 PM
[Markets] What’s really at stake as the Federal Reserve unwinds its balance sheet The central bank is trying to resuscitate the credit multiplier effect and return the financial system to more normal ways of operation.
Published:3/20/2019 3:01:44 PM
[Markets] Why the Dow Jones Industrial Average Got Spooked by the Federal Reserve A dovish Fed should be good news for the market. Instead the Dow is off more than 100 points. Here are some possible reasons why. Published:3/20/2019 3:01:44 PM
[Markets] Not The Onion: Scholar Makes "Moral Case" For Letting People Decide Their Own Age

Authored by Edyta Wolk via The College Fix,

Says recognition of ‘trans-ageism’ would prevent ‘severe discrimination’

A recent article published in The Journal of Medical Ethics by a Finnish bio-ethicist made a moral case for the legal change of a person’s age to correspond with that person’s “experienced age.”

The piece, by Joona Räsänen of the University of Oslo in Norway, titled “A Moral Case for Legal Age Change,” concludes that there are three scenarios when a change to one’s legal age should be allowed:

When “the person genuinely feels his age differs significantly from his chronological age,” when “the person’s biological age is recognized to be significantly different from his chronological age,” and when “age change would likely prevent, stop or reduce ageism, discrimination due to age, he would otherwise face.”

Räsänen differentiates between “chronological” age, or how long the person has actually lived; “biological age,” or the state of one’s body; and “emotional” age, the age as which one identifies.

“Legal age is a cause of severe discrimination for some people whose biological and emotional age do not match their chronological age,” he argues.

In an interview with The College Fix, Räsänen said:

“Age is (for some people at least) an important part of their identity. People can identify themselves as older or younger than they actually (chronologically) are…I do not deny people’s own experiences.”

When asked by The Fix how biological age might be distinguished from chronological age, Räsänen was unable to clarify. “I am not a biologist or medical doctor so I cannot give a definite answer here. I believe this is something biologists and medical doctors should consider and decide together with philosophers and bioethicists.”

Psychologists and psychiatrists should be consulted when a person wants to change her age, such as they are consulted when a person wants to change her sex. How exactly this should be done? I am not sure … but for now, I would say that similar psychological tests should be done when (someone) wants to change her sex,” he said.

When asked, Räsänen also explained how he thinks certain potential abuses, such as a pedophile’s changing his legal age to get around statutory rape laws, could be avoided.

“Children cannot consent to sex, and that explains why sex with a child is wrong. But if an eight-year-old cannot consent to have sex with a 18-year-old or with a 80-year-old it seems that she cannot consent to have sex with another 8-year-old either.”

“If a paedophile changes his age into eight to molest children, it is still unethical for him to have sex with someone who chronologically is eight (because it is unethical for two eight-year-olds to have sex with each other).”

He said that another way to avoid such abuses is “to propose upper and lower limits for age change.”

“For example, perhaps age change should be allowed only when the new age of a person is going to be something between 18-60,” he said. “Maybe there also should be an age limit for the age change, so that a child could not change her age.”

Räsänen acknowledged that his argument was a moral one and that “there are some practical problems … on how to implement the idea of age change into practice.”

“I believe that these problems can be solved. I believe that legal age change could be, in some cases, beneficial for the age change candidate and, for example, changing age could offer an additional way to fight against discrimination of the elderly. Perhaps it does not work eventually, but maybe it is worth to try.”

The Fix reached out to multiple LGBT experts and campus centers at U.S. universities, inquiring as to whether trans-ageism as outlined by Räsänen is considered a comparable phenomenon to transgenderism, in which individuals born as men and women declare themselves women and men, respectively. None of the centers or experts responded.

Published:3/20/2019 3:01:44 PM
[Markets] The Number One: The $100 billion club saw its membership double overnight Bill Gates has yet to reclaim the title of world’s richest man he lost last year, but the Microsoft co-founder, now global philanthropist, did just manage to join Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in the elite 12-figure club.
Published:3/20/2019 2:31:10 PM
[Markets] The Dow Erased Its Losses Because the Federal Reserve Can Still Surprise the Market The Dow has dropped 12.10 points, or 0.1%, to 25,899.48, the S&P 500 has risen 0.3% to 2840.70, and the Nasdaq Composite has gained 0.6% to 7772.17. The Fed left rates unchanged, while its dot plot signals no rate hikes in 2019. The Fed also said that the mortgage-backed securities on its balance sheet could be reinvested in Treasuries. Published:3/20/2019 2:31:10 PM
[Markets] Too Good To Be True? Novogratz-Backed Startup Offering 6.2% Interest Rate On Crypto Deposits

After losing more than $100 million in 2018, former Goldman trader and bitcoin permabull Mike Novogratz's Galaxy Capital is backing a fintech startup that is luring crypto depositors by promising what some critics have warned is an unrealistic interest rate.

BlockFi

BlockFi CEO Zac Prince

BlockFi - its name an obvious riff on Silicon Valley loan refinancing service SoFi (which brought us the zero-fee ETF) - is offering crypto investors interest rates as high as 6.2% annualized (roughly 3x higher than 120 JPM CDs) to park their bitcoin and ether with the firm. BlockFi hopes to generate returns on those deposits by offering high-interest crypto loans in the "institutional crypto borrowing market," Bloomberg reported.

Clients can deposit either Bitcoin or Ether (the only coins currently accepted) and the company lends the funds to crypto investors for arbitrage, short-selling or market-making trades at rates ranging as high as 12 percent. BlockFi’s interest rate is nearly three and a half times higher than the next-nearest rate of 2.5 percent from Customers Bank online savings accounts or three and a half times times higher than that offered on 120-month JPMorgan Chase certificates of deposit.

If the advertised rate seems high, that's because - as one critic was quick to point out - it is: customers who read the fine print will quickly see the BlockFi has total discretion to change the offered interest rate from month to month, despite claiming that it expects the rate to move inversely to the price of bitcoin (as prices rise, the rate would fall, and as prices fall, the rate would rise) because "demand [for loans] is driven by market sentiment".

BlockFi’s interest rate is set on a month-to-month basis and is based on a combination of rates BlockFi sees in the institutional cryptocurrency borrowing market, as well as a budget it set for customer acquisitions, Zac Prince, chief executive of New York-based BlockFi, said in an interview.

"We expect the interest rate in the account to be higher in times when prices are falling, and lower when prices are rising because demand to borrow Bitcoin is partially driven by market sentiment," said Prince. "We are bullish on the cryptocurrency market and on Bitcoin long term," he said, which would ultimately result in lower interest rates.

But so far at least, BlockFi has lured 10,000 customers, mostly comprising large-dollar accounts, with a total of $35 million in deposits, and an average account size above $40,000.

But that doesn't mean the company will adhere to its 'promise' not to cut interest rates to zero - or even taken them negative. BlockFi's response to these criticisms was simple: Breaking users' trust would be "bad for business."

The accounts have attracted push back in a world that already lacks expansive regulatory oversight and suffers from a pandemic of scams and unanticipated meltdowns such as the recent shuttering of the digital-asset exchange Quadriga CX following the death of its founder. BlockFi’s critics point to the terms and conditions that state the company can determine the interest rate each month at its sole discretion.

"A superficial review of their splash page and their terms and conditions shows that their advertising is not necessarily what they’re guaranteeing," said David Silver, founder of the Silver Miller law firm in Coral Springs, Florida. "As a securities fraud lawyer, my job is to protect people who are misled into misrepresented investments; and it’s understandable why people would be confused if they didn’t receive their 6.2 percent because BlockFi’s advertising makes it seem like that’s a guaranteed rate of return."

BlockFi has been open about this and the rate will “definitely” change in the future, said Prince. "The way that it works is we will announce rate changes in advance of the change happening and they won’t go into effect immediately," he said. "We didn’t launch with a 6 percent rate with the intention of changing it one month later and pulling a big gotcha on everybody. That would be really bad business."

Plus, as the collapse of QuadrigaCX reminded crypto traders, just because somebody has a good reputation, doesn't mean your coins are 'safe' with them (though it's worth noting that the Winklevoss-backed Gemini is purportedly offering secure custody services for institutional crypto firms).

With BlockFi, depositors would have no recourse if the firm's borrowers default or if it is the victim of a hack. Though these risks aren't exactly spelled out for its customers.

"It struck me that it could be misconstrued by unsophisticated retail investors," said Tim Swanson, founder and head of research at PostOak Labs. "In order to use some of this cryptocurrency technology, you have to be a little bit tech savvy."

But BlockFi says risks related to its products are obvious - and have been part of the crypto market for a while. "It’s systemic risks," like failure in the Bitcoin blockchain that could push prices down an order of magnitude more than it previously has, said Prince. "In our terms and conditions, we have thorough, bold print sections on risk disclosures."

But as bitcoin continues to erase more of last year's drop (it's up nearly 10% since the start of the year), the need for crypto holders to squeeze out every point of additional return is waning. But that doesn't mean more long-term crypto bulls, seeing an opportunity to maximize returns on their holdings, might find the prospect of a market-beating rate, in a world where, thanks to the Fed's 
"pause", interest rates more broadly appear set to remain lower for longer, too irresistible to ignore. 

Published:3/20/2019 2:31:10 PM
[Markets] The Dow has joined other stock indexes in posting gains after Fed no-hike stance The Dow has joined other stock indexes in posting gains after Fed no-hike stance Published:3/20/2019 2:03:54 PM
[Markets] Currencies: Dollar drops to six-week low on dovish Fed update The U.S. dollar turns negative, dropping to its lowest level since early February, on Wednesday as the Federal Reserve reaffirms its dovish policy stance.
Published:3/20/2019 2:03:54 PM
[Markets] "Sitting Ambassadors" Participated In Plot To 'Take Trump Down': Meadows

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) revealed that "sitting ambassadors" were involved in a plot to "take down" President Trump. 

Sitting down with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Sara Carter and Gregg Jarrett, Meadows said that the release of new documents will "show" that US ambassadors conspired with the DOJ, reports the Washington Examiner

"It's additional information that is coming out that will show not only was there no collusion, but there was a coordinated effort to take this president down," said Meadows. 

"We talk about the 'Deep State.' There are players now, even ambassadors, that are sitting ambassadors that were involved in part of this with the FBI-DOJ." 

"As we look at this, it's time to show that we show the American people what's out there, declassify some of those documents," Meadows added. "I think when the American people see what I've seen, they will judge for themselves and know that this has all been a hoax."

Watch: 

 

Published:3/20/2019 2:03:54 PM
[Markets] The Dow Joined the Market Party Because the Federal Reserve ‘Outdoved’ the Doves The Dow has dropped 12.10 points, or 0.1%, to 25,899.48, the S&P 500 has risen 0.3% to 2840.70, and the Nasdaq Composite has gained 0.6% to 7772.17. The Fed left rates unchanged, while its dot plot signals no rate hikes in 2019. The Fed also said that the mortgage-backed securities on its balance sheet could be reinvested in Treasuries. Published:3/20/2019 2:03:54 PM
[Markets] 2 of 3 major stock indexes move into positive territory following Fed decision 2 of 3 major stock indexes move into positive territory following Fed decision Published:3/20/2019 1:32:20 PM
[Markets] The Fed: Fed, seeing slower growth and softer inflation, now projects no rate hikes this year With growth slowing and inflation soft, Federal Reserve officials now expect to raise its benchmark interest rates once over the next three years, according to a forecast and policy statement released Wednesday.
Published:3/20/2019 1:32:20 PM
[Markets] US STOCKS-S&P 500, Nasdaq reverse losses after Fed says no further hikes in 2019 The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq reversed earlier losses, gaining ground after the U.S. Federal Reserve concluded its two-day policy meeting by holding a key interest rate steady and affirming its dovish monetary ... Published:3/20/2019 1:32:19 PM
[Markets] Curve Crushed: 2Y, 3Y And 5Y Treasury Yields Plummet Below The Fed Funds Rate

Some were convinced there was no way Powell could surprise markets dovishly. They were wrong.

And to get a sense of just how dovish the Fed's statement was, look no further than the yield curve where everything to the left of the 7Y Treasury (and even that is in danger), is now inverted to the effective Fed Funds rate (2.40%), with 2Y and 3Y yields tumbling to 2.326%, and 5Y 2.3858%.

Needless to say this is a nightmare for banks, whose Net Interest Margin just got crushed. It also means that indeed as some were worried, the Fed may indeed know something about the economy that nobody else does, at least judging by the panicked bid for safety.

Published:3/20/2019 1:32:19 PM
[Markets] Upgrade: The No. 1 happiest country in the world The world’s happiest, and most miserable, countries, according to new U.N. report
Published:3/20/2019 1:03:55 PM
[Markets] Fed 'dot plot' shows just 1 interest-rate hike in 2019, none in 2020 Fed 'dot plot' shows just 1 interest-rate hike in 2019, none in 2020 Published:3/20/2019 1:03:55 PM
[Markets] March Madness: Half Of Americans Admit Being Distracted By Sports At Work

According to a survey by human resources consultancy Robert Half, around half of U.S. employees are potentially distracted by the March Madness colleague basketball tournament starting this week. 49 percent of employees admitted in a survey to being distracted at work by sports in general.

Surprisingly, as Statista's Katharina Buchholz notes, managers are not extremely worried about this kind of behavior during March Madness, when many workplaces organize their own bracket competitions.

More than half thought that college football improved productivity and 72 percent said it improved employee morale.

Infographic: March Madness Has Workers Distracted | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

The most common way to celebrate March Madness was to engage in bracket and other competitions, followed by the wearing of team apparel. Fewer managers said their employees were decorating or watching games during working hours.

Published:3/20/2019 1:03:55 PM
[Markets] Stock market keeps rising, so why is nobody cheering? As the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq move higher and technicals strengthen, investors say “meh”. Published:3/20/2019 1:03:55 PM
[Markets] The Tell: Here are signs the ‘worst is behind us’ when it comes to global economic gloom Clouds are lifting on the global economic outlook, but stock-market bulls can’t yet say “hello to blue skies,” says one economist.
Published:3/20/2019 12:30:39 PM
[Markets] Trump: 'Let People See' Mueller Report When It's Released

President Trump on Wednesday said that he does not mind if the public is allowed to see Special Counsel Robert Mueller's upcoming report following nearly two years of investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

Mueller is expected to send the report to Attorney General William Barr soon, according to Reuters, though Trump told reporters while leaving for his trip to Ohio that he has no idea when it will be released. 

Pivoting to geopolitics, Trump whipped out a before-and-after map of ISIS in Syria, telling reporters "ISIS...on my election day and ISIS now," adding that the last red dot on the map will be gone later today. 

Published:3/20/2019 12:30:39 PM
[Markets] US STOCKS-Wall St drops on FedEx outlook, trade worries; all eyes on Fed Wall Street's main indexes slipped on Wednesday following a weak profit outlook from economic bellwether FedEx Corp and on trade concerns, while investors waited for more clarity regarding the Federal Reserve's interest rate forecast. In a knee-jerk reaction, stocks hit session lows after President Donald Trump said tariffs could be left on China for a long period of time, but pared some of the losses soon after. Trump also said a trade deal with Beijing was coming along, with U.S. trade negotiators going to China soon. Published:3/20/2019 12:30:39 PM
[Markets] The ultimate buy and hold strategy: 2019 update Historically, these investments produced higher returns with little or no additional risk.
Published:3/20/2019 12:02:25 PM
[Markets] The Dow Has Dropped 185 Points Because the Federal Reserve Is Not the Only Worry President Trump said tariffs on Chinese goods might not go away until China complies the terms of the deal. Published:3/20/2019 12:02:25 PM
[Markets] The Neutered Fed Is Politically Trapped

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

Everyone now knows that the only meaningful goal of Fed policy is propping up the world's greatest credit-asset bubble.

In this era of fake news and deep-fake digital recordings and images, it's important to use unedited images. With this firmly in mind, here is an unedited photo of Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell and former Fed Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke from their recent unprecedented appearance on 60 Minutes:

The purpose of the Fed chiefs' dog-and-pony show was to promote the notion that the Fed really really really (try not to laugh out loud) "cares" about the average American, even though 85% of the $30 trillion in gains generated by the Fed's policies flowed to the top 10% and roughly two-thirds of the gains flowed to the top few percent.

The bottom 80% got essentially nothing except a drastic reduction in the purchasing power of their stagnating wages. If this is how the Fed "cares" about average Americans, I wonder what they'd do if they chose to impoverish average Americans. Oh wait a minute, they already did.

I've covered this in recent essays:

The Fed's "Wealth Effect" Has Enriched the Haves at the Expense of the Young

What Killed the Middle Class?

It's All About Who Reaps the Gains (Asset Bubbles) and Who Eats the Losses (Stagnating Wages)

What triggered the unprecedented propaganda-fest of the three Fed monkeys? The realization that the Fed is evil is seeping into public awareness, and the Fed honchos are awakening to the reality I've spoken to here many times: the Fed is now constrained politically in terms of how far it can go to bail out the banks and the super-wealthy again.

Speak no evil (Jay Powell), see no evil (Janet Yellen) and hear no evil ("I saved the fortunes of the super-rich, oops I mean the world" Ben Bernanke) were trotted out to deny the Fed is evil, which only confirms that the Fed is in fact evil. Why else line up the Fed Chairs like school kids giving their book reports?

The Fed is now trapped by three dynamics:

1. It has been neutered by the stock market--nobody believes the Fed is "independent" or that it "cares" about anything but the market and the financial aristocracy who own it.

2. It can't force people to borrow and spend or lenders to lend to poor credit risks.

3. It is finally being recognized as the key driver of widening wealth and income inequality.

Some may claim the December stock market swoon "tutored" the Fed, but it was actually neutered: Fed credibility is a bad joke as everyone now knows the Fed is the stock market's slave. And since the top 10% own the vast majority of stocks, the Fed is the slave of the financial aristocracy. Everything else is fancy footwork, obfuscation and propaganda.

Everyone now knows that the only meaningful goal of Fed policy is propping up the world's greatest credit-asset bubble because the Fed has elevated the stock market to the benchmark for the entire economy. Nothing else matters, and oh, by the way, the trillions created out of thin air by the bubble belong to the already wealthy.

While the Nation Fragments Socially, the Financial Aristocracy Rules Unimpeded

As noted in The Coming Crisis the Fed Can't Fix: Credit Exhaustion, the Fed can't force households or corporations to further burden themselves with additional debt, nor can it force lenders to give "free money" to borrowers who are guaranteed to default. Rather than possessing godlike powers, the Fed is toothless. The only power it has is to inflate asset bubbles that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

This chart shows the precise effect of Fed policies since 2008: a vast, unprecedented expansion in the wealth and income of the financial aristocracy at the expense of everyone below.

Any questions about why the Fed is politically trapped? How much more of this will the American public be able to stomach before a populist from the left or right or heck, even the center, publicly call out the Fed's backstopping of the stock market as the driver of soaring wealth-income inequality and demands the Fed be stripped of its power to protect and reward the banks, financiers and the super-wealthy?

*  *  *

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 ebook, $12 print, $13.08 audiobook): Read the first section for free in PDF format. My new mystery The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake is a ridiculously affordable $1.29 (Kindle) or $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF). My book Money and Work Unchained is now $6.95 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition. Read the first section for free in PDF format. If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

Published:3/20/2019 12:02:25 PM
[Markets] Upgrade: The 10 best cities for first-time home buyers San Francisco is most definitely not on this real estate list.
Published:3/20/2019 11:33:52 AM
[Markets] Bears Doze Ahead Of Fed, Boeing Up; This Dow Jones Stock Faces Critical Test The Dow Jones Industrial Average is making a stingy loss ahead of a new Federal Reserve announcement. More stocks in the IBD 50 are crafting bases. Published:3/20/2019 11:33:52 AM
[Markets] This Is What The FOMC Statement Will Say

Earlier today, we published a complete preview of what to expect from today's FOMC announcement, and how to trade it. Now courtesy of Goldman, here is a proposed red-line statement that lays out what the Fed is most likely to say today (see bottom of post).

But first, recall that in order to justify its "powerful dovish pivot", the Fed will have to trim its economic outlook for 2019 and perhaps 2020 (while naturally blaming "external factors"), but not too much, lest traders panic about the economy. As a result, Goldman said that it expects only modest changes to the Committee’s economic projections, and believes the 2019 growth forecast will decline two-tenths to 2.1%, and the 2020 forecast is likely to decline one-tenth to 1.9%. The bank's unemployment rate forecast for 2019 is likely to move up a tenth to 3.6%, while the longer run unemployment rate is likely to once again move down a tenth to 4.3%, narrowing the projected peak labor market overshoot by two-tenths.

Then there are the dots: as we explained this weekend in "For The Fed, Humiliation Arrives At 2pm On Wednesday", with much of the Fed’s dovish shift coming at the non-SEP January meeting, the dots have quite a bit of catching up to do. The December dots showed a median projection of 2 hikes in 2019, 1 hike in 2020, and no hikes in 2021, for a terminal funds rate of 3-3.25%. In March, Goldman expects the median dot to show just one hike over the forecast horizon, most likely in 2020, for a terminal funds rate of 2.5-2.75% (note that only one participant would have to shift for the median to instead show an alternative path for rate hikes in 2019-2021 such as 1-0-0 or 0-1-1).

Meanwhile, the market has already priced in significant odds of a rate cut in 2019 and even higher odds in 2020, suggesting that even a slightly hawkish bias to today's statement could lead to a prompt plunge in markets as traders are once again forced to trigger the Powell Put, which will only happen with the December lows getting revisited.

Putting this all together, and reflecting all these changes in the data, Goldman expects several notable changes to the first paragraph of the FOMC statement, as follows:

  • The statement is likely to downgrade the growth pace to “moderate” and note that job gains slowed last month.
  • The description of consumption will likely be downgraded to “moderated” too in recognition of the weak December retail sales data.
  • Finally, the Committee will likely note that market-based measures of inflation compensation “moved up but remain low.”

No changes to the other paragraphs are expected, and the blacklined result will look as follows.

Published:3/20/2019 11:33:51 AM
[Markets] Why Hilton wants to get its hands on your used soap The latest sustainable moves that brands are making include hotels recycling soap from guest rooms, or toiletries and ice cream being sold in reusable packaging.
Published:3/20/2019 11:03:06 AM
[Markets] US STOCKS-FedEx outlook weighs on Wall St ahead of Fed policy decision U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday after economic bellwether FedEx Corp's downbeat profit outlook raised concerns about global growth, while investors waited for more clarity on the Federal Reserve's interest rate forecasts for the rest of the year. The policy statement will also shed light on long-awaited details regarding the Fed's plans to stop reducing its holdings of Treasury bonds. "With the Fed, investors will be focusing on the growth outlook for 2019. Published:3/20/2019 11:03:06 AM
[Markets] Gold Tumbles Back Below $1300 As Someone Suddenly Dumps $1 Billion Of 'Precious Paper'

As Europe closed, it seems someone decided now was a great opportunity to puke over $1 billion notional of paper gold into the futures market to send the precious metal back below the key $1300 level...

Huge volume spike...

 

Spot gold broke back below its 50DMA...

But we note that buyers did step in and lift gold futures back above $1300...

Well it is Fed Day after all.

Published:3/20/2019 11:03:05 AM
[Markets] Starbucks shares set sights on eighth all-time-high close of 2019 Starbucks shares set sights on eighth all-time-high close of 2019 Published:3/20/2019 10:38:48 AM
[Markets] Netflix just dropped the ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3 trailer, and it’s already been watched 3.1 million times ‘We’re not kids anymore’ the new ‘Stranger Things’ trailer warns.
Published:3/20/2019 10:38:48 AM
[Markets] Exposing The Fed's 'H-Curve'

Authored by Guy Haselmann, Macro Strategist

Is it possible that there exists a specific threshold that when exceeded central bank accommodation becomes counter-productive and begins to restrict growth? ...A level beyond which material long-run financial costs exceed short-term economic benefits.

Let’s picture a graph, where the x variable is a central bank’s official interest rate and the y variable is the resulting economic benefit. Let’s call the graph “The H-Curve”. 

The line is curved, or non-linear, because the ‘economic benefits’ slope will differ at every point along the curve. This is somewhat obvious as a slope measures the rate of change and central bankers admit that their effectiveness weakens over time and with each successive ease.

This admission though suggests that marginally declining utility will eventually cause the slope to flatten to a point at which further accommodation will simply provide no economic benefit. However, the broader truth more likely is that central bank stimulus is actually a parabolic function, whereby the slope goes negative at a certain point. The parabola’s vertex peak point signifies the optimal level of stimulus and anything further is a cost or negative benefit.

Central banks seem to be operating by a different function. It’s rhetoric and ideology suggests belief in a perpetually positively sloped line, whose worst-case slope is simply one that is less positive (flatter) over time. In other words, a belief that accommodation always helps but in lesser amounts over time.  Such simplistic and narrow-mindedness ignores too many variables.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that too much accommodation can cause long-run damage and risks to financial stability. Certainly, history is riddled with fed-induced boom-to-bust cycles. Quantitative Easing (QE) was intended to distort asset prices higher, but what’s exceptionally troublingly is that in the process it destroyed price discovery and the ability to access risk.

One reasonable way to visualize the ‘H-curve’ might be to picture the Laffer Curve. This upside-down U-shaped curve represents the relationship between rates of taxation and the resulting level of government revenue. Bear with me. The curve simply shows how taxable income changes in response to changes in the rate of taxation. It theorizes that no income would be raised at the extreme tax rates of 0% and 100%. The optimal tax rate, therefore, is the one that maximizes revenues and is found at the hump of the curve.

Unlike on the Laffer Curve, however, the H-curve y-axis can fall well below zero.  In other words, negative economic benefits can occur with the wrong amount of central bank stimulus, i.e., when there is too much.  In other words, there is a level of accommodation beyond which the Fed itself becomes a source of financial instability.

Certainly, savers, pension funds, and insurance companies have been punished since 2008 by low interest rates. In addition, speculation has run amok, asset prices have soared arguably to bubble valuations, debt levels have ballooned, and unproductive zombie companies have been propped-up.

Interest rates below a certain level also hurts lending, because low margins dis-incentivizes lenders who might feel margins do not adequately compensate them for the risks. It is likely one reason why the velocity of money has collapsed and the economic recovery has been tepid.

Central bank policy is supposed to work on a long lag, yet markets have come to expect Fed action for every ebb in economic activity, or with each dip in the stock market.

Central banks have self-created these dangerous expectations and its new mantra of 'patience' and 'data dependency make it worse. The ‘Fed put’ is alive and well.  Fed officials should stop promising more than they can deliver. After all, the H-curve, if correct, suggests a negative impact whenever interest rates fall too far below the Wicksellian Natural Rate.

Following the debt-induced financial crisis, Fed officials frequently said, “we are the only game in town”. This arrogant proclamation encouraged political polarization. Since elected officials are primarily reactive, aggressive Fed actions took away any urgency of targeted fiscal action.

Monetary policy does not have the proper tools. Prolonged negative real rates and central bank asset purchases and market manipulation provides some short-term financial market relief, but it is at the expense of long-run costs that continue to aggregate over time.

Why the letter “H”?  Because in order to implement such aggressive unproven policy experimentation requires great hubris. The H-curve is short for ‘Hubris-Curve’.

The Fed is at war against economic and financial market weakness. In the movie “War Games”, the military super-computer was programed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war by playing tic-tac-toe against itself. In the end, it learned that not only are there no winners, but “the only winning move is not to play”.  Zero and negative rates and further QE could be the Fed’s nuclear war.  Let’s hope hubris stays in check at FOMC meetings in 2019 and beyond.

Published:3/20/2019 10:38:47 AM
[Markets] Stock Market News: Starbucks Heats Up; Twitter Climbs Despite Lawsuits The overall market gave up ground Wednesday morning. Published:3/20/2019 10:38:47 AM
[Markets] Odds of a perfect March Madness bracket: 1 in 9.2 quintillion Odds of a perfect March Madness bracket: 1 in 9.2 quintillion Published:3/20/2019 10:00:53 AM
[Markets] Cannabis Watch: Cannabis stocks lower after Green Organic Dutchman’s earnings disappoint Cannabis stocks fall, as investors scrutinize earnings from Green Organic Dutchman Holdings Ltd. and await a U.S. congressional committee vote next week on protecting banks that serve the sector.
Published:3/20/2019 10:00:53 AM
[Markets] Stocks edge lower as investors await Fed decision Stocks edge slightly lower as investors await the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting Wednesday afternoon. Published:3/20/2019 10:00:52 AM
[Markets] Who Is Right - Stocks Or Bonds?

Authored by Steve Englander via Standard Chartered,

  • Fed funds futures price the Fed to ease in the next two years; equities are at their highest so far in 2019

  • The Fed reaction function reconciles the apparent contradiction

  • With inflation risk low, investors expect the Fed to act to stabilise growth

  • We think this will support equity-market expectations if there is any sign of activity slowing

Put a little love in the Fed’s heart

Several clients and commentators have noted the apparent contradiction in robust equity markets and expectations of Fed easing in money markets. Equity markets appear to be pricing in vigorous activity, while money markets are pricing in a slump (Figure 1). Our view is that equity and money-market pricing reflects a probability-weighted combination of the three most likely scenarios anticipated by investors: (1) stable growth, flat rates, strong equities; (2) softer growth, aggressive Fed easing; and (3) stronger growth, inflation slightly overshoots 2%, Fed reacts slowly. We see no contradiction, as investors anticipate low inflation and a vigorous Fed reaction to signs of slowing growth, and a slow reaction to a small inflation overshoot of 2%.

This supports our expectation of low rates (see 10Y UST yield – Downside on double death-cross?), though we are less convinced on equity pricing. Our reconciliation explains some of the investor ambivalence to the USD – the above scenarios would not generate much foreign buying of USD assets, except for a relatively low-probability one. We list below our key assumptions and outline the scenarios we think underlie asset-market pricing:

  • No inflation worries. The Phillips curve is flat, so upside inflation surprises are likely to be modest – 5Y5Y breakevens are slightly over 2% and imply medium-term expected core inflation of 1.6% or 1.7%.

  • The Fed’s discussion of alternative monetary policy targets makes investors think it is tolerant of higher inflation, even in this cycle – why discuss bars if you are not interested in having a drink?

Figure 1: S&P and money markets diverge

S&P index (LHS); expected Fed Funds, end-2020, % (RHS)

The three market scenarios

Scenario 1: Growth is stable (near trend), policy rates are flat and equities do well on normal profits growth Our subjective assessment is that investors assign a 50% probability to this scenario. This is a pretty much ‘steady as she goes’ scenario without too much excitement but no sharp negative surprises either.

Scenario 2: Growth softens somewhat and the Fed comes to the rescue with aggressive easing. The logic is that the Fed would not want to risk allowing the softening trend to become entrenched and risk reducing already-low inflation and inflation expectations. So, the Fed moves fast on any sign of a slump. The consequence is lower rates, but an equity market that knows the Fed is supportive (we think investors assign this a roughly 35% probability).

Scenario 3: Growth is more robust, the profits trajectory somewhat higher, and inflation overshoots slightly over 2% but remains within an acceptable range, given previous undershooting. The Fed might hike mildly in response, but would not feel the need for an aggressive new round of hikes, given the shortfall over the last decade (20% subjective probability).

We think the remaining risk is divided between a boom scenario, which would drive significant Fed tightening, and a bust that would lead to significant easing. Given how low implied volatility is across asset markets, investors do not appear to be assigning much probability to these more dramatic outcomes. 

Consider the three above scenarios where we think probability is concentrated. The highest-probability scenarios imply flat policy rates or significant easing, and the lowest-probability scenario implies modest hikes. We think they net out to the modest easing now priced into money markets.

From the equities perspective, 70% of the probability is concentrated in the first and third scenarios in which trend growth or better should support equity prices. The second scenario has an incipient growth slump but also aggressive Fed easing, which should support both growth and asset prices (with asset prices responding sooner). Whenever equities are under pressure, there is a policy response that pushes back. 

What can go wrong?

Low inflation generally forces central banks to help asset markets when activity or asset-market dynamics go wrong. We think global central banks would not want to risk falling further below their inflation targets (see Asset prices run on shrunken inflation). If inflation surprised to the upside, central banks would likely be ambivalent on asset-market strength and less quick to set a floor below equities. In this case, both money-market and equity pricing would be caught leaning the wrong way.

The Fed is also cognisant that inflation may reflect as an asset-market bubble, as was seen among internet stocks in the late 90s and housing in the mid-2000s. If the Fed’s dovishness encourages investors to move out on the risk-return curve, thus raising concerns about another asset-market bubble, the Fed may change rates even if goods and services inflation remains under control.

Equity investors may misunderstand the nature of the Fed’s apparent affection. If growth slows roughly to trend and a tight labor market pushes up wages and narrows profit margins, the Fed is likely to sit on its hands. If market pressures prevent a pass-through of cost increases, keeping inflation steady, the Fed rescue may be long in coming or at least delayed long enough to cause pain in equity markets.

Equity prices may also reflect wishful thinking, in our view. The Fed has turned dovish relative to last December; Q4-2018 earnings came in somewhat better than expectations; the government shutdown ended and another is unlikely because of the political cost; and US-China trade negotiations are largely on track. It is also possible that current equity prices reflect a string of good luck that may not persist. 

Our conclusion is that asset market pricing is consistent given the scenarios that investors see as the most likely. That asset market pricing is consistent doesn’t mean that it is right. In particular, if investors are too optimistic in equity pricing, the unwind will probably put downward pressure on the dollar along with equities.

Published:3/20/2019 10:00:52 AM
[Markets] For first time, more people fault discrimination than motivation for white-black prosperity gap The biennial General Social Survey found 41 percent of nonblack Americans in 2018 said discrimination was the main reason blacks “have worse jobs, income and housing” on average than white people. Published:3/20/2019 9:34:16 AM
[Markets] AMD’s stock moves into risky territory on Google gaming hype The momentum crowd is running up AMD’s stock too fast.
Published:3/20/2019 9:34:16 AM
[Markets] US STOCKS-Wall St drops after weak FedEx outlook; Fed on tap U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday after economic bellwether FedEx issued a downbeat profit outlook and as investors waited for more clarity on the Federal Reserve's interest rate forecasts for the rest of the year. The policy statement will also shed light on long-awaited details regarding the Fed's plans to stop reducing its holdings of Treasury bonds. Hopes of a dovish stance from the Fed hit the rate-sensitive financial stocks, which fell 0.35 percent, while the bank subsector slipped 0.28 percent. Published:3/20/2019 9:34:15 AM
[Markets] All You Need To Know About Today's FOMC Decision, And How To Trade It

Welcome to the Fed's "day of humiliation."

Today's FOMC policy decision is eagerly anticipated by investors who, as Bloomberg notes, are "looking for further details about what the pivot to patience on rates means, how the new "dot plot" will look and how policy makers will approach inflation-targeting and balance-sheet runoff." Said otherwise, what investors are really looking for is whether the Fed will be humiliated even more when, somehow, it pivots even more dovishly after its stunning dovish reversal in January, by cutting the dot plot to just 1+1 for 2019/2020 (or even 0+0 hence on hold indefinitely), while slashing its forecasts and announcing the end of the Fed's balance sheet runoff, yet claiming that all is well and that it's not just a case of "the Fed sees a recession that the rest don't", even though just three months ago the Fed was especially euphoric and the balance sheet was on autopilot.

Apparently "so much" can change so much in three months when the Fed is willing to throw away its last shred of credibility just to pump up the market.

So with that in mind, there are three key themes the market expects to see today, as per RanSquawk:

  1. The statement may see dovish tweaks, with a reiteration it will remain ‘patient’ and data-dependent in adjusting policy.
  2. The Fed’s projections for rates, growth and inflation are likely to be cut.
  3. The central bank is likely to signal the end of QT this year. 

Here is a breakdown of the key topics that Powell may address today:

RATES: The markets are priced for an unchanged 2.25- 2.50%, and looking ahead, no further rate hikes are priced; in fact, there is roughly a 25% chance that rates will be cut this year, according to Fed Funds.

POSSIBLE STATEMENT TWEAK – labour market: Deutsche Bank argues that the FOMC will need to acknowledge the volatility in the recent data releases, as well as some signs that growth momentum is cooling, though will likely note that the underlying tone of the economy remains supportive. The recent employment situation report’s headline was weak, and this might see the Fed amend its current view that “labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a solid rate”, perhaps to “despite recent volatility job gains remain strong on average,” Deutsche suggests, while noting that the jobless rate has
moved lower.

POSSIBLE STATEMENT TWEAK – compensation inflation: Deutsche says the opening paragraph on compensation inflation (“although market-based measures of inflation compensation have moved lower in recent months, survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed”) might see the Fed mark-to-market the inflation expectations language to state that market-based measures of inflation compensation ‘have moved up but remain low’, reflecting Vice Chair Clarida's recent acknowledgement of break evens’ tentative move higher since January. Powell also recently remarked that inflation was muted, and accordingly, the FOMC was not minded to adjust rates while inflation and growth aren’t presenting a threat.

POSSIBLE STATEMENT TWEAK – household spending/business investment: The line that “household spending has continued to grow strongly, while growth of business fixed investment has moderated from its rapid pace earlier last year” might be tweaked, with the word “strongly” being replaced by “moderating,” Deutsche says.

SUMMARY ECONOMIC PROJECTIONS: Goldman Sachs says the main question for the March meeting is just how far Fed officials will take the new theme of patience and the new perspective on inflation in their next set of projections.

The Fed has currently pencilled in two 2019 hikes, and one in 2020 (a configuration of 2-1-0), while the median longer-run dot is between 2.75-3.00%, which GS thinks is likely to remain in that bracket, despite the mean dot falling. The bank sees modest downward revisions to the 2019 growth view (currently 2.3%), as well as a small reduction in the longer-run growth view (currently 1.9%), and therefore believes the rate dots are likely to retain an upward tilt, despite the elimination of the iking bias from the FOMC statement, with a  number of participants (but not the median participant) showing a hike in

BALANCE SHEET: The minutes from the January meeting stated that the Fed will fix the size of its balance sheet by the end of 2019, stopping QT sooner than it previously guided (in 2020). The mechanics, HSBC explains, means that the Fed will buy Treasuries from the market with the principal payments from its mortgage holdings, then rolling over all of the principal from maturing Treasuries. The growth in currency in circulation will shrink the Fed’s excess reserve position over time.

BALANCE SHEET SCENARIOS: JPMorgan notes that the balance sheet peaked at USD 4.5Tn, and is now around USD 4Tn; the bank says that the best case for the market would be that the Fed provides formal and specific balance sheet guidance at the March meeting, including a tapering in the normalisation pace (from the current USD 50bln ceiling) with an objective to leave the balance sheet at between USD 3.6-3.8trln by Q4 this year, with excess reserves at between around USD 1.3-1.4trln+. JPM's base case, however, is that the Fed will tell us to expect normalisation to conclude with a terminal size of between USD 3.5-3.6trln by late 2019, leaving excess reserves at between USD 1.1-1.25trln. The worst-case, would be that the Fed only provided vague guidance and pushed back against expectations for the process to conclude by the end of 2019; in that scenario, that pace of normalisation would likely be left unchanged and a balance sheet size of around USD 3.5trln might be described as being more of a floor rather than a ceiling. Meanwhile, Goldman expects the Committee to announce that runoff will conclude at the end of Q3 or—based on Chair Powell’s speech last Friday—perhaps in Q4. Recent comments from Fed officials suggest that the size of the balance sheet will then likely be held constant in nominal terms for some period to further reduce reserves at a more gradual pace through the growth of non-reserve liabilities such as currency. During that period, maturing MBS will be reinvested in Treasury securities, an option noted in the January minutes. While the Fed is expected to shift its Treasury portfolio toward greater holdings of shorter-term securities eventually, Governor Brainard’s comment last week that this issue will not be addressed “for some time” suggests a decision is unlikely at the March meeting.

FED NOT DONE HIKING: Echoing Morgan Stanley, which expects 4 more rate hikes by the end of 2020, Goldman said that despite the FOMC’s elimination of the hiking bias from its statement, it does not think the hiking cycle is over or that the dots will show a flat path. With the median participant still likely to put neutral at about 2.75%, a funds rate of 2.25-2.5% seems like a premature stopping point for a business cycle in which the unemployment rate will likely again reach its lowest level in half a century. Most FOMC participants would feel more comfortable adopting a true “no lean” stance after another hike or two. And while Goldman does not expect the median dot to show another rate hike until 2020, its own forecast continues to call for a rate hike later this year, and expects a December hike as the most likely outcome under its forecast of growth modestly above trend and core inflation modestly above 2%.

* * *

So while there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding what the Fed will unveil, markets have been absolutely giddy as shown by the rally in stocks and collapse in cross-asset volatility with bond vol hitting new all time lows yesterday, a sentiment that has been only boosted by other central banks following in the Fed's dovish footsteps.

The question is will the calmness continue going out of the Fed meeting tonight? To be sure, one event that would instantly end the market's complacent slumber and send the VIX shooting higher is if Powell makes a second U-turn in 3 months, reverses from dovish to hawkish, and hints that its next move will be a hike. To be sure, the higher the S&P - now back to near all time highs - rises, as bond yields plunge, the greater the possibility of such an outcome.

Steeping away from what may happen, to what has happened, Deutsche Bank conveniently summarizes that on Powell’s first seven FOMC meetings, the S&P 500 ended up lower on the day of the policy announcement. However, this trend reversed in January when the S&P 500 rallied +1.55% on the dovish pivot.

If Fed chairs kept score, Powell would still trail his predecessors, since the S&P 500 has fallen on average -0.25% on FOMC meeting days under his leadership. The averages for Yellen (+0.17%), Bernanke (+0.55%), and Greenspan (+0.18%) all make for happier reading. Incidentally, Deutsche Bank economists expect few surprises in the statement or Powell’s rhetoric: they anticipate the median rate expectation for 2019 will fall to one hike, and will be monitoring for any signals about balance sheet policy or what conditions are needed to allow for another hike.

Yet while few outright surprises are expected - unless Powell wants to throw in the towel - Wall Street analysts, desperate for some commissions, are already out with their favorite trade recos for today's kneejerk response. Courtesy of Bloomberg, here is what some of the more prominent desks expect:

  • UBS, Stuart Kaiser et al.

The euro has larger average and absolute moves -- 0.9 percent and +/- 1.2 percent, respectively -- than assets like the S&P 500 or 10-year Treasury yields when dots are lowered, strategists led by Kaiser wrote in a note Monday. The yen has also responded to lower dots, but to a lesser extent: "FX moves suggest a global risk-on dynamic, so low FX implied volatility offers attractive optionality for the FOMC,” UBS said.

Don't expect a major move in stocks: most of the impact on stocks from the Fed meeting will come before the announcement, UBS said. The S&P 500 has moved +/- 0.6 percent on days of Federal Open Market Committee statements since 2012. However, on the five occasions dots were lowered, the gauge rallied an average 1.8 percent in the week before the meeting, “suggesting the moves were well-telegraphed." And yet, S&P 500 returns were negative on average in the following week, UBS said.

  • Goldman Sachs, Zach Pandl, Ian Wright

Goldman is looking for confirmation that the FOMC’s move away from trying to tighten financial conditions will last for some time, which is one of the key points in the company’s medium-term bearish U.S. dollar view, strategists led by Pandl wrote March 15. “Focus on a potential shift by the Fed to an average inflation target remains, and is likely contributing to U.S. break-even inflation and real rates moving in opposite directions recently,” strategists led by Wright wrote March 18.

During four periods since 1980 when the Fed held rates relatively high for an extended time, “at face value we find equities tended to do relatively well, although toward the end or the beginning of each period performance appears more mixed,” Wright said, adding that the tech bubble influences some of the observations.

  • Natixis, Joseph Lavorgna

Investors may be overly optimistic about the Fed’s ability to deliver fully on both the interest-rate and balance-sheet fronts, Lavorgna wrote in a note Tuesday, noting that the futures market now expects the next move on rates to be a decline. “The size of the Fed’s portfolio is currently $3.79 trillion, down from a peak of $4.25 trillion in February 2017. The consensus assumes it will stop shrinking at $3.50 trillion,” Lavorgna wrote. “If the Fed does not confirm these expectations, a renewed bout of market turbulence could begin. Stay tuned.”

  • BMO Capital Markets, Jon Hill, Ian Lyngen

The Fed decision has a strong possibility of being a “buy the news, sell the fact” event given extremely dovish expectations, Hill and Lyngen wrote in a March 18 note. They’re watching the 2s/10s curve, “particularly if the set-up for Wednesday corresponded to price movements probing multi-week lows,” they said. “This would indicate that momentum going into the decision is clearly leaning toward a flattening bias, at least in this benchmark curve, and open the door for a quick steepening back toward 20 basis points were the median 2019 dot to imply zero additional hikes.”

“The Fed’s aim is certain to be a continuing of the peaceful low-vol regime,” the strategists wrote. “Although the FOMC represents a potential risk event,” they said, “any resulting vol spike would likely be interpreted as a Powell-produced policy error.”

  • BNY Mellon, John Velis

Currencies are unlikely to react heavily to the FOMC statement, according to Velis: "With central banks around the world seemingly simultaneously warning of downside risks and setting policy to the dovish side of the spectrum, it would require the Fed to come out and practically assure us that rate cuts will be seen in the future (or conversely, suddenly rediscover their previous tightening bias) to upset the stability (some might say dead calm) currently observed in the currency markets,” Velis wrote in a note Tuesday. “We view this as a low-probability risk."

  • Evercore ISI, Krishna Guha

While the Fed’s plan to conclude its balance-sheet reduction is likely to come in the second half of the year, “when the reinvestment plan comes, it will skew towards bills and other shorter-dated Treasuries, favoring a slightly steeper yield curve,” according to Guha. Any comments from Powell in the press conference on reinvestment should be consistent with that, he said.

  • Mizuho Bank, Vishnu Varathan

“A pure short on the long end may be also on the cards, if one believes that ‘patient’ has been too stretched as of now, and so long-end yields may have to go a little higher (or at least adjust off the lows),” Varathan, the head of economics and strategy, said.

Published:3/20/2019 9:34:15 AM
[Markets] Dow industrials saddled with triple-digit loss as investors await Fed decision Dow industrials saddled with triple-digit loss as investors await Fed decision Published:3/20/2019 9:01:14 AM
[Markets] Dow drifts 122 points lower as investors await a key policy update from Fed's Powell; FedEx's stock sinks U.S. stock benchmarks on Wednesday retreated slightly at the open ahead of a Federal Reserve meeting and news conference expected to reaffirm the central bank's dovish policy stance. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off by about 122 points, or 0.5%, at 25,764, while the S&P 500 index was slipping 0.3% at 2,823, while the Nasdaq Composite Index was off by 0.2% at 7,708. Later Wednesday, the Jerome Powell-run central bank will release its economic forecasts at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, and Powell will host a news conference a half-hour later. Meanwhile, investors are watching developments in U.S.-China trade talks after Tuesday reports by the Wall Street Journal indicated Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin planned to go to Beijing next week, in an effort to complete a tariff agreement. In corporate news, shares of FedEx Corp. , often viewed as a barometer of global growth prospects, were down sharply after the logistics company missed Wall Street forecasts for its fiscal third quarter, partly due to higher costs for its FedEx Ground business. Published:3/20/2019 9:01:14 AM
[Markets] Dow Dumps To One-Week Lows, 30 Yield Hits 3.00%

Powell is in trouble. With markets already pricing in 16bps of rate-cuts in 2019, he will have to fully 'throw in the towell' to be dovish enough to support equity's decoupling from reality... judging by stocks and bonds today, investors aren't sure.

Stocks are sliding notably in the early going...

Trannies are tanking...

And bond yields continue to slide...

 

 

 

 

 

Published:3/20/2019 9:01:14 AM
[Markets] Day 2 of Fed interest-rate-setting meeting underway Day 2 of Fed interest-rate-setting meeting underway Published:3/20/2019 8:31:03 AM
[Markets] FedEx's stock tumble set to shave about 69 points off the Dow transports Shares of FedEx Corp. tumbled 6.2% in premarket trade Wednesday, and were set to be a big drag on the Dow Jones Transportation Average , in the wake of the package delivery service's disappointing fiscal third-quarter report. The implied price decline would shave about 69 points off the price of the Dow transports, which would represent about 0.7% of Tuesday's closing price. J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Ossenbeck downgraded FedEx to neutral, after being at overweight since at least December 2016, and slashed his price target to $202 from $227. Ossenbeck said he is increasingly concerned that margins will be pressured even if FedEx's ground business can lower costs fast enough to growth profit. Shares of rival United Parcel Service Inc. fell 1.9% ahead of the open in sympathy. Meanwhile, futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 8 points. Published:3/20/2019 8:31:02 AM
[Markets] Cockpit Voice Recorder From Doomed Lion Air 737 Reveals Frantic Struggle To Stop Nosedive

A doomed Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 that crashed shortly after takeoff on March 10 had "clear similarities" to an October 2018 crash of the same type of airplane, according to Ethiopia's transport minister. Today, Reuters sheds light on exactly what happened that fateful day. 

Lion Air Boeing 737-8 MAX

According to a new report, the cockpit voice recorder of the October crash which killed all 189 people onboard reveals that the pilots were scouring the plane's manual to understand why the plane kept lurching downwards - only to run out of time before it hit the water, reports Reuters, citing three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents. 

The captain was at the controls of Lion Air flight JT610 when the nearly new jet took off from Jakarta, and the first officer was handling the radio, according to a preliminary report issued in November.

Just two minutes into the flight, the first officer reported a “flight control problem” to air traffic control and said the pilots intended to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet, the November report said.

The first officer did not specify the problem, but one source said airspeed was mentioned on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said an indicator showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.

The captain asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook, which contains checklists for abnormal events, the first source said.

For the next nine minutes, the jet warned pilots it was in a stall and pushed the nose down in response, the report showed. A stall is when the airflow over a plane’s wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.

The captain fought to climb, but the computer, still incorrectly sensing a stall, continued to push the nose down using the plane’s trim system. Normally, trim adjusts an aircraft’s control surfaces to ensure it flies straight and level.

They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the third source said. “They thought only about airspeed and altitude. That was the only thing they talked about.”

-Reuters

FILE PHOTO: Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) of a Lion Air JT610 that crashed into Tanjung Karawang sea is seen inside a special container after it was found under the sea, during a press conference at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo

The pilots of the doomed Lion Air flight remained calm for most of the flight according to the report, however near the end "Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.

As we reported Tuesday night, the same plane was saved by a 'dead-head' pilot the day before. 

According to Bloomberg, an off-duty pilot hitching a ride from Bali to Jakarta was able to explain to the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system by cutting power to a motor driving the nose of the plane down. 

The previously undisclosed detail supports the suggestion that a lack of training is may be at least partially to blame in the March 10 crash of another 727 Max 8

The previously undisclosed detail on the earlier Lion Air flight represents a new clue in the mystery of how some 737 Max pilots faced with the malfunction have been able to avert disaster while the others lost control of their planes and crashed. The presence of a third pilot in the cockpit wasn’t contained in Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee’s Nov. 28 report on the crash and hasn’t previously been reported. -Bloomberg

***

As we noted last week, several pilots had repeatedly warned federal authorities of the Max 8's shortcomings, with one pilot describing the plane's flight manual as "inadequate and almost criminally insufficient." 

"The fact that this airplane requires such jury-rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we know the systems employed are error-prone — even if the pilots aren't sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in place and failure modes. I am left to wonder: what else don't I know?" wrote the captain. 

After the Lion Air crash, two U.S. pilots’ unions said the potential risks of the system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, hadn’t been sufficiently spelled out in their manuals or training. None of the documentation for the Max aircraft included an explanation, the union leaders said. -Bloomberg

"We don’t like that we weren’t notified," said Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Jon Weaks in November. "It makes us question, ‘Is that everything, guys?’ I would hope there are no more surprises out there.

In the Lion Air crash, a malfunctioning sensor is believed to have tricked the plane's computers to force the nose of the plane down to avoid a stall. Following the March 10 crash less than six months later - which followed a "very similar" track to the Lion Air flight, All Boeing 737 Max 8s were grounded by US regulators following dozens of countries and airlines doing so first. 

"After this horrific Lion Air accident, you’d think that everyone flying this airplane would know that’s how you turn this off," said former FAA accident investigation division director Steve Wallace. 

Meanwhile, investigators are now looking into how the new 737 model was approved. The Transportation Department's inspector general has begun an inquiry into the plane's certification, while a grand jury under the US DOJ is also seeking records in a possible criminal investigation of the plane's certification

"We will fully cooperate in the review in the Department of Transportation’s audit," said Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers. 

Published:3/20/2019 8:31:02 AM
[Markets] Need to Know: Ignore FedEx CFO's cautionary words at your own risk Need to Know: Ignore FedEx CFO's cautionary words at your own risk Published:3/20/2019 7:59:50 AM
[Markets] Market Snapshot: Stock futures struggle for direction as investors await Fed decision Stock-index futures trade on either side of unchanged as investors await the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Published:3/20/2019 7:59:50 AM
[Markets] Trump: George Conway Is "Stone Cold LOSER & Husband From Hell" 

President Trump continued dropping Twitter bombs on aide Kellyanne Conway's Husband George on Wednesday - suggesting that the D.C. power-lawyer is "VERY jealous of his wife's success & angry that I, with her help, didn't give him the job he so desperately wanted." 

"I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!"

Conway responded in several tweets: "You seem determined to prove my point.  Good for you!   #NarcissisticPersonalityDisorder," adding in a later tweet: "The President of the United States," and "You. Are. Nuts." 

While Trump says he denied Conway a role in the DOJ, Politico reported in June 2017 that Conway - who was the front-runner to head the Justice Department's Civil Division - reportedly pulled out of consideration after he was never formally nominated to the post, saying: "I have reluctantly concluded, however, that, for me and my family, this is not the right time for me to leave the private sector and take on a new role in the federal government," adding "Kellyanne and I continue to support the President and his Administration." 

George Conway's repeated public jabs at Trump suggest that was a lie. 

While Trump has remained largely quiet over the insults, Conway took it a step too far on Monday when he suggested that President Trump has a mental disorder - tweeting out a photo of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, along with the pages that describe narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. 

Hitting back was Trump 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale - who said: "We all know that @realDonaldTrump turned down Mr. Kellyanne Conway for a job he desperately wanted," adding "Now he hurts his wife because he is jealous of her success."

To which President Trump replied on Tuesday: "A Total Loser!"

Conway responded on Tuesday, telling the Washington Post in an interview: "I thought it was a perfect example of the point I was making," adding "He can’t concern himself with affairs of state. He’s more concerned about what people say about him and waging little battles with everyone and everything."

He told the Post that he turned down the DOJ job.

"I’m thinking to myself, this guy is going to be at war with the Justice Department for the next two years," adding "I’m not doing this."

Published:3/20/2019 7:59:50 AM
[Markets] Stock futures struggle for direction as investors await Fed decision Stock-index futures trade on either side of unchanged as investors await the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting Wednesday afternoon. Published:3/20/2019 7:59:49 AM
[Markets] Need to Know: FedEx fires off a warning investors won’t be able to ignore Welcome to Fed decision day. Our call of the day, from FedEx’s chief financial officer, offers up some fresh evidence that the global economy may be in for a bumpy patch. Will investors brush him aside?
Published:3/20/2019 7:31:23 AM
[Markets] Stock futures edge lower as investors await Fed decision Stock-index futures trade on either side of unchanged as investors await the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting Wednesday afternoon. Published:3/20/2019 7:31:22 AM
[Markets] "It's A F**king Mess": Pound Slides As May Requests Brexit Extension

Having submitted her request for a three-month Article 50 extension to European Council President Donald Tusk, Prime Minister Theresa May has settled in to what's bound to be another contentious session of PMQs - where, rumor has it, frustrated Tories might demand May's resignation from the floor of the Commons. Cable has drifted to its lows of the session on the news, a sign that traders apparently haven't finished processing the fact that a no-deal Brexit looks more likely than ever (a stark departure from the mood late last week, when many hoped that May's threat of 'no Brexit at all' might just become the reality). But just because the currency is moving, doesn't mean anybody can say for sure exactly what's going on, or what traders should expect.

TWO

In her letter to Tusk, May writes that she is "confident" the UK would leave the EU in an orderly fashion according to the terms of her Withdrawal agreement (which the speaker has already ruled cannot be brought for a third vote without substantial changes), if only they had a little more time...

...But if anything has been learned from the past two weeks of unmitigated Brexit chaos, it's that this is probably the one scenario that we can conclusively rule out.

Unfortunately for traders (UK bears like Steve Eisman excepted) who have been hoping for some kind of breakthrough at this weekend's summit in Brussels, one MP, purportedly a May loyalist, no less, offered a frank description of the government's approach - which, at this point, is beginning to look like political masochism.

Per the FT's Henry Mace:

“All we know is it’s a f****** mess. That’s the only universal truth... But what else could she do [than request an extension until June 30]?”

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is doubling down on Labour's push for a second Brexit referendum, presumably hoping to capitalize on the chaos.

Published:3/20/2019 7:31:22 AM
[Markets] Bond Report: Treasury yields tick lower as traders wait for Fed meeting to conclude Treasury yields fall Wednesday as traders wait for the Federal Reserve to wrap up a two-day meeting that could highlight the positives in an economy showing signs of weakness in the first-quarter.
Published:3/20/2019 7:02:03 AM
[Markets] Twitter Blocks Account Of Julian Assange's Mother

Authored by Joe Lauria via ConsortiumNews.com,

The social media giant has given no reason to Christine Assange who had turned to Twitter to campaign for the liberty of her son...

Christine Assange with Ecuador chancellor Ricardo Patiño in Quito, July 30, 2012. (Flickr)

The Twitter account of Christine Assange, the mother of the arbitrarily detained founder of WikiLeaks, has been restricted, she told Consortium News on Tuesday.

“My Twitter account has been ‘blocked due to ‘unusual activity,'” Ms. Assange wrote in a text message. Twitter, however, has provided her no reason for its action.

Ms. Assange is a prolific user of Twitter in her campaign to free her son who has been a refugee in the Ecuador embassy in London since 2012.

Twitter has posted the following message on her page:

While a user can access her page by agreeing to view her profile, Ms. Assange told Consortium Newsshe is unable to post new Tweets to her account.

Her last post, at 11:55 am on Tuesday in Australia, where she lives, is a retweet of an article published about her son. She posted 12 tweets in the past 24 hours.

“Interesting that it followed on from a day of my tweets about free speech and calling on journalists globally to stand up for Julian,” Ms. Assange said in a text message.

Clinton and Bolton

In the past ten days, Ms. Assange tweeted direct replies to Hillary Clinton and John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser. Bolton had tweeted on March 9: “US military should use #Wikileaks for cyber warfare target practice. Take down their capabilities & prevent further harm to nat’l security.”

Ms. Assange’s reply to Bolton is no longer visible under his tweet.  Nine replies to Bolton are now “unavailable.” Ms. Assange said in a text message that her reply began by calling Bolton’s tweet, “Fascist talk.”

Twitter uses algorithms unknown to the public to remove, block, suspend or restrict accounts of its users. Like other social media companies, Twitter has come under intense U.S. congressional pressure to censor accounts deemed hostile to U.S. interests. 

Julian Assange has remained in the embassy to avoid arrest by British authorities for skipping bail from an investigation by Sweden that has since been dropped. Has not been charged with a crime by either Sweden or Britain.

Assange was granted political asylum by the previous government of Ecuador seven years ago. The current government, however, has made it known it wants him to leave and has made various moves to force him out.  His contact with the outside world has been restricted.  Twitter deleted his account on March 28, 2018. British authorities have not permitted him to leave the embassy for urgent medical treatment without being arrested.  

Assange fears that if he is arrested by London police once he leaves the embassy that he will be extradited to the United States where a secret grand jury is preparing an indictment against him, most likely under the Espionage Act. Grand jury proceedings are still underway in an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom. 

Published:3/20/2019 7:02:03 AM
[Markets] E.W. Scripps stock jumps on news to acquire 8 TV stations from Nexstar-Tribune E.W. Scripps stock jumps on news to acquire 8 TV stations from Nexstar-Tribune Published:3/20/2019 6:29:23 AM
[Markets] Bayer Battered After Suffering "Major Blow" From Second RoundUp Cancer-Trial Loss

Bayer AG shares are down over 12% in European trading - the biggest drop since 2003 - after a U.S. jury found the RoundUp weed killer was a substantial factor in a California man's cancer. This is the second case that has gone against manufacturer Monsanto, acquired by Bayer last year.

On Tuesday, a federal court jury in San Francisco ruled unanimously in a lawsuit against Monsanto. Attorneys say the trial, which will determine in a second phase whether the company is liable and if so, for how much, could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar lawsuits.

The plaintiff's attorneys said he developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after 26 years of regularly using Roundup to tackle weeds and poison oak, according to the Wall Street Journal. The active ingredient in Roundup and Ranger Pro is glyphosate, a herbicide.

Hardeman’s case is considered a “bellwether” trial for hundreds of other plaintiffs in the US with similar claims, which means the verdict could affect future litigation and other cancer patients and families. Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits across the US.

The decision strikes another blow to the German pharmaceuticals group. In August, a jury ordered its Monsanto unit to pay $289 millionafter determining it failed to warn customers of the potential cancer risks of two of its weedkillers, Roundup and Ranger Pro. The verdict was cut to $78.5 million on appeal.

Analysts are broadly negative on the news, BUT appear to be buyers of any dip... and today's a big dip.

News is a “major blow,” according to Baader (buy, PT EU123), which says Bayer shares might move towards EU60 in the short-term. If stock falls toward 2018 lows, probability of Bayer becoming a target for activists or a takeover will increase.

Morgan Stanley (overweight, PT EU82) says there was “budding enthusiasm” among investors for either a potential “surprise” verdict in favor, or a hung jury, given multiple days elapsing during deliberations.

Overhang on Bayer shares “could be significant” as outcome was considered by some investors to be a potential bellwether for ~765 outstanding glyphosate cases, Goldman Sachs analyst Keyur Parekh (buy, PT EU78) writes.

Citi says “steady heads required” as >EU20b of litigation risk is already priced into the shares. Says legal checks instruct bank to be more focused on the upcoming Hall vs Monsanto trial being held in St Louis from April 1. St Louis result will better determine whether the estimate of a potential settlement liability of $1-6b needs to be refined

Any extreme weakness is an opportunity to buy, according to Bernstein (outperform, PT EU86) as an ultimate liability well above the $5b is already “baked-in”

Monsanto says studies have established that Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe. It has appealed a separate U.S. court decision last year in favor of a man who used Roundup.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer said in a press release.

"Bayer stands behind these products and will vigorously defend them."

Published:3/20/2019 6:29:23 AM
[Markets] Pfizer acquires option to buy Vivet Therapeutics for equivalent of $635.8 million Pfizer Inc. said Wednesday it has paid 45 million euro, or the equivalent of $51 million to acquire a 15% equity stake in privately held gene therapy company Vivet Therapeutics, and has acquired an option to buy the rest of Vivet shares for EUR560 million ($635.8 million). Pfizer's stock rose 0.2% in premarket trade. Pfizer and Vivet will collaborate on developing VTX-801, Vivet's treatment for Wilson disease, a life-threatening liver disorder of impaired copper transport. Under terms of the deal, Pfizer can exercise its option to buy 100% of Vivet after the company's delivery of certain data from the phase 1/2 trial for VTX-801. Monika Vnuk, vice president of worldwide business development at Pfizer, will join Vivet's board of directors. Pfizer's stock has gained 16.4% over the past 12 months through Tuesday, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has tacked on 4.7%. Published:3/20/2019 6:29:23 AM
[Markets] UBS Warns Q1 "One Of The Worst" In Recent History As IBanking Revenue Implodes

Just as it appeared that European stocks, whose shorts are supposedly the "most crowded trade" on Wall Street, were set for a major breakout, here comes UBS.

After a painful close to 2018 for most banks, when despite a surge in volatility most flow and prop desks suffered major losses, investors had great hopes for the start of 2019, if for no other reason than the 20% surge in the S&P500 in the past three months.

Alas, at least for the largest Swiss bank it was not meant to be.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley London European Financials conference, UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti gave a dismal outlook for his bank's prospects, saying conditions in the first three months have been among the most difficult in recent years.

The investment bank had “one of the worst first-quarter environments in recent history,” Ermotti said Wednesday, blaming it on the lack of merger or IPO activity outside of the U.S. As a result, UBS investment banking revenues were down about one third compared with a year ago. The bank is slowing hiring and some IT projects as it seeks to make up for weak markets.

Ermotti’s comments mean the quarter has deteriorated even more than the bank suggested last week, when it said clients remained cautious in the first months of this year. Similar to Deutsche Bank, UBS has cut thousands of investment banking jobs over the last decade as it tilted to private banking. While the procyclical strategy has become a blueprint for rivals including Credit Suisse, it has left the bank open to revenue dips after market corrections and when clients trade less, like right now.

Ermotti also warned that global wealth management revenue is down about 9% from a year ago, but was hopeful that new money should be positive, and the bank aims to offset the drop in revenue with a 5 percent reduction in costs, he said.

But the biggest pain was for the UBS investment bank division, where Q1 continues a slide first observed in the final months of last year, when it posted a $47 million loss because clients, particularly in Asia, stayed on the sidelines. That, according to Bloomberg, was a stark contrast to the prior year, when the investment bank was a bright spot that consistently beat analyst expectations under former boss Andrea Orcel who in September accepted an offer to become CEO of Banco Santander, though the offer was later rescinded in a dispute over pay and appears headed for litigation.

Meanwhile, his successor, Ermotti, like most European bank CEOs, has been struggling to persuade investors that he can further extend UBS’s position in European banking. The stock lost a third of its value last year, and continued the slump on Wednesday following the dismal warning, as UBS shares fell 1.7% at 9:54 a.m. in Zurich trading, the second-worst performer in the Bloomberg Europe 500 Bank and Financial Services Index.

In retrospect, perhaps all those shorts were right...

Published:3/20/2019 5:59:47 AM
[Markets] MarketWatch First Take: Google and Nvidia display competing views of the future of streaming videogames On different ends of the Bay Area, the CEOs of two tech giants espoused different visions for a streaming future for videogames on Tuesday.
Published:3/20/2019 5:28:46 AM
[Markets] Bayer leads Europe markets down after U.S. court finds cancer link Markets in Europe slumped modestly as pressure increased on Bayer AG over Roundup weedkiller
Published:3/20/2019 4:59:55 AM
[Markets] Stocks Mixed Ahead of Fed Decision; FedEx Profit Warning Clouds Sentiment Global stocks weaker ahead of today's Fed rate decision, with sentiment clouded by reports of tension in U.S.-China trade talks and a profit warning from Federal Express. Global oil prices were little-changed, with support coming from API data showing a surprise 2.15 million drawdown in domestic crude stocks and yesterday's move from OPEC to scrap its April meeting, raising the prospect of extending production cuts into the second half of the year. Dow futures suggest a modest opening gain slip ahead of the Fed rate decision at 2:00 pm Eastern Time and Chairman Jerome Powell's press conference 30 minutes later. Published:3/20/2019 4:59:55 AM
[Markets] Outside the Box: When the U.S. falls into a recession, a credit bubble will explode The U.S. economy, at its own peril, has been driven by cheap credit.
Published:3/20/2019 4:28:58 AM
[Markets] EU Dilemma: How To Deal With China's Rising Influence

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

Beijing is, little by little, extending its influence not only inside the EU but inside the NATO space...

Facing China’s irresistible rise all across the chessboard, and under relentless US pressure, the not-exactly-democratic EU leadership is on a backbreaking exercise to position itself between a geopolitical/geoeconomic rock and a hard place.

The 28-member EU holds a crucial meeting next week in Brussels where it may adopt a 10-point action plan detailing, in a thesis, the terms of an equitable economic relationship with China going forward.

This will happen as Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Italy and then France – ahead of the very important, annual China-EU summit in Brussels on April 9, to be co-chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

That’s the crucial context under which the European Commission (EC) has recommended what it describes as 10 concrete “actions” to the EU Heads of State for their debate at the European Council in March 21 and 22.

The full report, EU-China – A Strategic Outlook, is here.

The EC shows how in 2017 – the latest available figures – the EU was “China’s largest partner with a share of 13% of imports of goods in China and a share of 16% of exports of goods from China.” At the same time, the EC stresses that China is an “economic competitor” and “a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”

Yet the EC’s “contribution” to the European Council debate next week is far from confrontational. It is a balancing act couched in Eurocratic terminology attempting to shape common “resolve” among the 28 member-states.

Predictable real problem

Coming from the EC/EU, support for “effective multilateralism with the United Nations at its core” is the norm – with China fully integrated.

Beijing is praised for its support for the Iran nuclear deal, its role in the denuclearization of North Korea, its upcoming role in the peace process in Afghanistan and tackling the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. The real problem, predictably, is China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Virtually no one apart from Brussels Eurocrats knows about the existence of an “EU Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia.”  That’s one of those joint communiqués that no one reads, issued late last year, “enabling the Union to seek synergies between the EU and third countries, including China, in transport, energy and digital connectivity, on the basis of international norms and standards.”

Curiously, in the EC report, there’s no mention whatsoever of the New Silk Road, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which happens to be China’s synergy masterplan for the whole of Eurasia. We could define it as Globalization 3.0.

On the other hand, Made in China 2025 is duly referenced – and not demonized, Trump administration-style.

From the EU perspective, the key problem remains “lack of reciprocal market access.” The EU wants greater access for European companies, less Chinese subsidies for Chinese companies and curtailment of technology transfer from European firms to their state-owned joint venture partners in China.

All this should be part of a deal on investment rules to be clinched by 2020.

Action 9 in the EC report is quite revealing: “To safeguard against potential serious security implications for critical digital infrastructure, a common EU approach to the security of 5G networks is needed.” To deal with it, the EC will issue – what else – another “recommendation.”

A hefty degree of Eurocratic puzzlement seems to be in the cards; one cannot disassociate BRI from Made in China, 5G and Huawei technology; it’s all part of the same package. Yet the EU is under heavy pressure from Washington to ban Huawei and forget about joining BRI, even as nearly 20 EU member-states are already linked or interested in linking to BRI, and a majority are also interested in Chinese 5G technology.

Brussels diplomats confirmed to Asia Times that the EC report was basically authored by Berlin and Paris. And yes, they had to deal with heavy Washington pressure.

The report harbors a subtle, inbuilt element of “Chinese threat” – perhaps not as overtly as in a Pentagon report. This stance is how the Franco-German alliance believes it may influence “recalcitrants” such as the 16+1 group of Central and Eastern European nations doing business with China, as well as soon to be BRI-linked Italy.

Yet that’s already a done deal – as I detailed in the case of Italy.

‘Existential threat’

Beijing is accomplishing, little by little, something that is unbearable for the Beltway; extending its influence not only inside the EU but inside the NATO space.

The US Deep State may have lumped BRI – along with Made in China 2025 and Huawei’s 5G – as part of an “existential threat”; but that’s not the case for most EU latitudes, from Greece and Portugal to German industrialists and the new Lega/Five Stars administration in Rome.

Brussels very well knows that Washington will punish any “ally” who gets too close to Beijing. It’s never enough to be reminded that the list of economic “threats” to the US features, in that order, China, Russia and Germany. And Italy is now caught in the crossfire – because it is committed to good economic relations with both China and Russia.

Rome has already sent a clear message to Brussels; beyond any EU common “resolve” facing China, what matters is the Italian national economic interest in, for instance, linking the ports of Venice, Trieste and Genoa to the New Silk Road. Alarmed Atlanticists are essentially warning that Italians cannot cross a red line; they need to ask permission to act independently. That’s not going to happen – whatever the EC decides to “recommend.”

Published:3/20/2019 4:28:58 AM
[Markets] Stocks Slip Ahead of Fed Decision; FedEx Profit Warning Clouds Sentiment Global stocks weaker ahead of today's Fed rate decision, with sentiment clouded by reports of tension in U.S.-China trade talks and a profit warning from Federal Express. Global oil prices were little-changed, with support coming from API data showing a surprise 2.15 million drawdown in domestic crude stocks and yesterday's move from OPEC to scrap its April meeting, raising the prospect of extending production cuts into the second half of the year. Dow futures suggest a modestly opening bell slip ahead of the Fed rate decision at 2:00 pm Eastern Time and Chairman Jerome Powell's press conference 30 minutes later. Published:3/20/2019 3:30:08 AM
[Markets] Brexit, Yellow Vest Chaos Chilled French Champagne Sales

The economic toll of Britain's Brexit and France's "yellow vest" movement cooled French champagne sales in 2018 to its lowest level since 2004, private trade data revealed.

According to the figures published Sunday, March 17, by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) at the Prowein show in Düsseldorf, Germany, champagne bottles sold globally declined by 1.8% to 302 million in 2018, though revenue moved higher by .3% to a record $5.6 billion as per bottle prices were inflated.

"The fall in volume is becoming a bit worrying, with the slowdown in France and Britain not compensated by higher sales outside the European Union," CIVC co-president Jean-Marie Barillere told Reuters.

France and Britain are about 60% of total sales by volume. French sales dropped 4.2% to 147 million bottles, with more bottles exported than consumed in France for the first time in a century. In Britain, sales dropped to $460 million, compared with $470 million a year earlier. 

Barillere said yellow vest protests had crushed tourism in Paris, and an economic slowdown in the country is hurting demand.

"In view of Brexit's uncertainties, houses have exported more than the needs of the market generating stocks. In France, the effect 'yellow vests' end of the year has occurred in a more global climate of uncertainties," Barillere explained.

Total French Champagne export sales moved up .6% to 155 million bottles, while total export revenue increased by 1.8% to $3.3 billion as big-name champagne companies, such as LVMH's Moët & Chandon and Pernod Ricard's Mumm, were hot sellers in Asia and the United States.

In Britain, sales declined for the third consecutive year, mainly due to uncertainties surrounding the country's planned exit from the European Union. Volumes fell 3.6% to 26.8 million bottles with a total revenue of $460 million. Volumes had already collapsed by 11% in 2017 and 9% in 2016.

Sales to the United States increased by 2.7% to 23.7 million bottles with revenues of $654 million. Sales to Japan were up 5.5% to 13.6 million bottles, while sales to Hong Kong and China, each accounting for 2 million bottles, were up 12% and 10.1% respectively. The most significant sales increase was seen in South Africa, where volume was up more than 38% to 1.1 million bottles.

CIVC warned that Italian prosecco, which is three to four times cheaper, has been a strong competitor to champagne.

While Brexit and yellow vest protestors have caused many economic uncertainties across the Eurozone, the champagne crisis in France and Britain is just another example of how the regional economy is headed for disaster.

 

Published:3/20/2019 3:30:08 AM
[Markets] Stocks in Asia falter amid US-China trade uncertainty Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve is set to announce its decision on interest rates later on Wednesday following its two-day monetary policy meeting. Shares in major Asian stock markets mostly slipped on Wednesday following a series of conflicting reports on U.S.-China trade that surfaced overnight. The mainland Chinese markets recovered partially from their earlier losses but still ended their trading day lower, with the Shenzhen component declining 0.398 percent to 9,800.60 and the Shenzhen composite shedding 0.248 percent to 1,684.57. Published:3/20/2019 2:58:50 AM
[Markets] Was UK Paying White Helmets To Produce Syria "Chemical Weapon" PR As Cover For Jaish Al Islam?

Authored by Vanessa Beeley,

As controversy rages over the alleged April 2018 Douma “chemical weapon attacks” that signaled the end of Jaish Al Islam’s occupation, life in the Syrian city gradually returns to peace and stability.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) interim report and final report have thrown the Western media community into disarray. Already scrambling to salvage their loss of face after the “no sarin” conclusions were drawn by the OPCW in July 2018, they are now trying to convert an inconclusive OPCW report into a definitive claim regarding chlorine use, in order to reassert their declining narrative supremacy.

A “chemical weapon” narrative that has effectively sustained the criminalization of the Syrian government and thus the continued unlawful aggression, direct and through Takfiri proxies, by the US coalition against Syria.

Reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place” is transformed into “OPCW confirms chlorine gas used in attack on Douma by Syrian government” by the state media revisionists across the Western media echo chambers.

A retraction for the Western media’s earlier certainty that Sarin was used is above their pay grade, presumably. An apology to the Syrian people for enabling the unlawful bombing of Syrian territory by a rapacious FUKUS alliance is clearly not within their moral remit.

Putting aside the almost unassailable evidence that the NATO-member-state-financed White Helmets staged the now notorious hospital scenes that were universally distributed by NATO-aligned media outlets and incredulity that a yellow cylinder could be dropped from a helicopter through the roof of an apartment and then bounce from the floor and onto an undamaged bed, what is largely being ignored by the West and the OPCW is the context of the attack.

Who was in charge in Douma? How had they treated civilians leading up to the attack? To what degree should we rely upon the dubious testimony of organizations collaborating with the extremist regime ruling Douma with a rod of iron?

When we start to examine these and other questions, we can begin to comprehend the extent to which the OPCW report has failed to take into account the conditions on the ground and the relevance of these for understanding the alleged attack on April 7, 2018.

I returned to Douma on the March 9, 2019. I had previously visited a week after the alleged “chemical attack” in April 2018 and interviewed hospital staff who had already informed me that the White Helmet hospital scenes had been staged.

I revisited a Douma brimming with life, and markets overflowing with fruit, vegetables, meat and even fish – something that had not been available for ordinary civilians when Douma was occupied by one of the most extremist, sectarian armed groups in Syria, Jaish Al Islam (JAI).

One stall-holder described life under JAI. The most important thing was hunger, people were starving, there was no food, no drink, no medicine, no medical care, people were starving.”

Douma market overflowing with fruits, vegetables, meat and even fish. March 2019. ©  Vanessa Beeley

Another vegetable seller told me: “Now things became better thanks to God, as you can see, everything is functioning and we are happy, everything is very good, thank God. The situation was very bad, we wouldn’t feel safe to sit here the way we are sitting now. Now, thank God, it’s safe and secure, we go to Damascus, purchase our goods from there and come back here

Children in one of the now-flourishing markets in Douma. ©  Vanessa Beeley

A thorough examination of what happened in Douma during April 2018 requires history and context including the Adra massacre of December 2013. At this time, Adra Al Balad (Adra City) and Adra Al-Ummaliyyeh (Adra’s industrial zone) were attacked by Jaish Al Islam and Nusra Front.

According to witness testimony, a bloodbath ensued that was barely reported by Western media. An official at the Syrian Information Ministry told me recently that only one mainstream media report on this heinous massacre was published at the time.

Workers in a bakery were executed and their bodies incinerated in the bread furnaces. Many of the predominantly Alawite civilians were executed and their severed heads suspended from trees according to reports from survivors. Many were kidnapped and transported to Tawba Jail in Douma (Repentance prison) where they were incarcerated for the next five years.

These civilians were subjected to terrible torture and humiliation during this time. Children were forced to dig the labyrinthine tunnels that snaked underground, connecting buildings of the prison complex.

In January 2019 I had the opportunity to interview three survivors from Tawba Jail. Their testimony has a particular bearing upon the April 2018 alleged chemical attack. I have focused on two of the interviews in this article:

Hassan Al-Othman was kidnapped from Adra Al-Ummaliyyeh on December 11, 2013 and he was held in a prison cell in the area by JAI and Nusra Front. He was systematically tortured for one month before being transferred to work in a building where JAI would bring civilians for execution.

Al-Othman told me:

They (JAI) used to take me into the building at 11pm and say to me: ‘you have to take the bodies out.’ I used to keep taking bodies out until 5am and put them in the bulldozer bucket. We used to take them out, and start burying them at 9 or 10 in the morning, I kept doing this job for two and a half or three months, burying bodies.”

Al-Othman told me that JAI took control of the police station in the area. One day they brought civilians to the station and executed them with a sword. Al-Othman was ordered to dispose of the decapitated bodies.

Standing at one of the entrances to the underground jails in Tawba, Douma. ©  Vanessa Beeley

After five months of enduring the inhumane treatment of the JAI and Nusra Front gangs, Al-Othman was taken to Tawba Jail in Douma. There, he was detained in solitary confinement for three years, beaten every day and hung by his wrists from the wall for long periods of time.

After three years, Al Othman was allowed access to a “communal cell” where he was joined by one other prisoner. The campaign of torture continued if JAI decided that Al-Othman had violated their “rules”. When Al-Othman refused to persuade his own brother, former president of Adra City Council, to “repent” and join the armed groups, the torture intensified.

One of the solitary confinement cells in Tawba Jail in Douma. ©  Vanessa Beeley

Al-Othman described the last moments before liberation by the Syrian Arab Army as terrifying. He had overheard JAI fighters discussing a plan to blow up the prison and blame it on the SAA. The Tawba Jail complex comprised roughly twelve buildings all housing hundreds if not thousands of kidnapped victims.

The massacre that began in Adra in December 2013 would have ended with the deaths of all survivors in Tawba Jail had the SAA not put enough pressure on JAI to flee the area and leave many prisoners alive or to take others with them to Idlib as part of the Russian brokered reconciliation deal.

Al-Othman told me: “If the Syrian Army hadn’t tightened the noose on them, they wouldn’t have released us […] They wanted to send us to Idlib. When we arrived to the Syrian Arab Army checkpoint in al-Mukhayyam, I turned myself in to the Army.”

Al-Othman explained that the SAA took him in and treated him well. He also told me that many of the JAI fighters were foreigners from Jordan, Somalia and Saudi Arabia among other countries.

He apologised frequently for “babbling”, for talking so much, but for many years he had endured terrible torture and abuse, he never expected to return home and now he needed to talk about his experiences.

One of the many underground tunnels dug by the prisoners in Tawba Jail. ©  Vanessa Beeley

Al-Othman also described the other prisons established by JAI. Al Batoun Prison (the concrete prison), also called Al-Khandaq (trench prison), was another site where prisoners were tortured and interrogated. Women were imprisoned separately to the men - their prisons were known as the 16th and 28th prison. 

When I asked Al-Othman about the role played by the White Helmets in Douma, he became even more animated. He told me that he often saw them receive large amounts of dollars – “new notes in sealed packages” – and, according to Al-Othman, cash was their sole motivation.

He said:

Regarding the White Helmets, they are part of the terrorists, and they are the ones who are responsible for the misleading about the crimes that the terrorists are committing […] the West is very deluded by them, they are terrorists and Takfiris […] when they used to see an injured civilian, the White helmets would finish him […] for example, he would be still alive, and then they would slaughter him, or he would be choking and they would finish him, those were the White Helmets.”

One of the main tunnel entrances to the underground Tawba prison cells. ©  Vanessa Beeley

Another of the Tawba Jail survivors spoke to me in Adra Al Balad. Kidnapped on December 14, 2013, Yasser Ali Al-Hweish was held for one year inside Al Batoun where he was interrogated and tortured on a daily basis before being transferred to Tawba Jail.

Al-Hweish told me that the prisoners were regularly used to stage alleged attacks by the SAA. The White Helmets would bring them outside and make them act out an attack, they would be filmed and then taken back inside the prison.

Hweish also claimed they would be taken out and told to rescue dead bodies from under the rubble, the White Helmets would film them and then film themselves taking credit for the rescue.

He said: For example if someone was dead under the rubble, we would dig and take him out, and after we finish, they (White Helmets) would film themselves as if it was them who have done the work, but in the end, we were doing it, not them.

Al-Hweish believes that the White Helmets were “subordinate” to JAI and were responsible for the PR and media campaigns to secure further financial support for the terrorist group. This claim is made more plausible by the fact that the UK Foreign Office was reported to be funding the PR for JAI via an international communications consultancy called Incostrat.

The UK FCO and intelligence agencies were also involved in the creation of the White Helmets in 2013 and their continued funding via the same Conflict Stability and Security Fund that siphoned money to Incostrat. Therefore it is no great leap of logic to make the connection between the UK FCO, the White Helmets and the PR campaign for JAI to whitewash their murderous, extremist reputation in Syria.

It is worth noting that these testimonies were not isolated. I interviewed many civilians from Eastern Ghouta after liberation both in Ghouta and outside in the camps for the internally displaced in the Damascus suburbs. Most of them echoed much of what Hweish and Al-Othman told me regarding the White Helmets and their collaboration with the armed extremist groups.

JAI had a reputation as one of the most savage and barbaric armed groups in the region. They had a history of suspected chemical attacks carried out against the Kurdish community in Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo in April 2016.

JAI had imprisoned Alawite kidnap victims in metal cages and used them as human shields to deter SAA military campaigns or aerial bombardments. Of the thousands of kidnap victims taken from Adra or from other areas of Eastern Ghouta, only an estimated 200 emerged alive when JAI finally evacuated their fighters to Idlib on the green buses.

One of the outdoor caged areas where prisoners were allowed to see the sky and get some air. ©  Vanessa Beeley

I explored the Tawba Jail complex, it was a harrowing experience. I was accompanied by SAA soldiers for my own security as there is still a high risk of terrorist sleeper cells in Douma. One young soldier was entering the prison for the first time. He was shocked when we stumbled upon the heartbreaking graffiti on the walls of the cells and the caged outdoor spaces where prisoners were allowed short periods of sky and fresh air, seen through the bars of an iron cage.

He was photographing the scrawled messages, muttering “haram, haram” under his breath “shame, shame.

Often we saw that prisoners were recording the number of days they had spent in prison but most of the messages were personal cries for respite and relief, sorrow at being parted from loved ones. Despair and hope expressed in poetry and verse.

One message was translated for me: “Please God help Maya and heal her. God we have nobody but you to help us. My daughter is very sick and I can’t bear to see her suffering. Please help us.

BBC producer, Riam Dalati, who recently tweeted that the Douma “chemical attack” hospital scenes had been faked also alluded to the “brute and shifty” JAI-affiliated doctor, Dr Abu Bakr Hanan, who had been filming the media scenes.

Dalati further confirmed that JAI ruled the district with an “iron fist.” Dalati had also previously accused JAI-partisan “activists” of rearranging the bodies of children into a more appealing hug scenario when the alleged attack actually occurred. All of these elements must surely lead to questions over the role JAI played in the possible staging of the Douma “chemical attack” and indeed to what extent previous such attacks were staged or manipulated.

This article is by no means intended to be an in depth analysis of the OPCW report or of the events on the April 7, 2018. I hope it raises questions about the FFM (Fact Finding Mission) methodology which evaluates evidence only for one conclusion – a chemical attack. The possibility of staging or the possible use of civilian prisoners as props in the production is not taken into consideration even though, as I have shown here, there is ample reason to believe JAI to have been capable of such actions.

Professor Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda told me:

The FFM final report for the OPCW fails to clearly establish the cause of death for the deceased civilians filmed and photographed by ‘media activists’ on the ground; it fails to account for the release of chlorine from yellow cylinders found at the two sites, and it presents a highly unlikely if not impossible scenario regarding the cylinder found at location 4. The report is anonymous, cites anonymous ‘experts’ and provides little clarity with respect to the information sources it relies upon. It also appears to downgrade and ignore Hassan Diab who was filmed having water poured over him in a hospital scene and famously testified that these scenes were staged. This FFM report, even more than previous ones, discredits OPCW as a source of impartial investigation and undermines it as an international institution.

In fact the FFM final report arguably raises more questions than it has answered. The missing kidnap victims who were not released during the final stages of negotiation before the liberation of Douma are still unaccounted for. The bodies of alleged victims of the “chemical attacks”  have not been exhumed or identified as far as we know.

JAI were a tyrannical organisation that routinely executed, abused, tortured and murdered civilians in the areas they occupied in Syria. It is well within the realms of possibility that JAI used prisoners to stage a “chemical attack” to delay the inevitable SAA victory in Douma.

It is also feasible that the White Helmets were fulfilling their media and PR role for JAI when staging the hospital scenes as part of an attempt to buy JAI time and international sympathy. Until all these alternative theories are fully explored, the Douma “chemical attack” case must remain open and the Western media rush to judgement and desire to circle their wagons around an increasingly shaky narrative must be condemned.

Published:3/20/2019 2:58:49 AM
[Markets] Trump's Beijing Blockade Backfires: Not A Single European Country Has Banned Huawei

For the past year, as part of Trump's escalating trade war against China, the Trump administration has been waging a parallel campaign to convince America's European "allies" (at least until the White House unleashes auto tariffs against Brussles in retaliation for China annexing Italy to the Belt and Road initiative) to bar China’s Huawei Technologies from their telecom networks, a process which so far has culminated with the arrest of the Chinese telecom giant's CFO in Canada. Bolstered by the success of similar efforts in Australia and New Zealand, the White House sent envoys to European capitals with warnings that Huawei’s gear would open a backdoor for Chinese spies. Last week, the U.S. even threatened to cut off intelligence sharing if Germany ignored its advice.

So far, the gamble to pressure Europe has backfired: not a single European country has banned Huawei.

Confirming that Europe and the US are now allies only on paper, was the scathing commentary by Angela Merkel at a Berlin conference on Tuesday: "There are two things I don’t believe in,” Merkel said: "First, to discuss these very sensitive security questions publicly, and second, to exclude a company simply because it’s from a certain country."

And just like that, Europe took its place in the grand superpower race: right next to China (and Russia) against the US.

As Bloomberg notes, Europe, and especially Germany, both of which are extremely reliant on continued open trade with, Beijing has been caught in the middle of the U.S.-China trade war. Trying to remain impartial, Europe has been seeking to balance concerns about growing Chinese influence with a desire to increase business with Trump's trade nemesis. And in a grand quid pro quo, with no ban in the works so far, Huawei is a budget frontrunner for contracts to build Europe's 5G phone networks, the ultra-fast wireless technology the continent's leaders hope will fuel the growth of a data-based economy, while building goodwill and hopefully receiving a few billion in Chinese investments in the process.

The first salvo against Trump's diplomatic effort took place last month when the U.K.’s spy agency indicated that a ban on Huawei is unlikely, citing a lack of viable alternatives to upgrade British telecom networks. Next, Italy’s government also dismissed U.S. warnings as it seeks to boost trade with China. In Germany, authorities have proposed tighter security rules for data networks rather than outlawing Huawei. France is doing the same after initially flirting with the idea of restrictions on Huawei.

“The 5G rollout is one of the most complex and expensive technology projects ever undertaken,” said Paul Triolo, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “The challenge for Europe is to find a way that minimizes the security risks linked to Chinese suppliers but not delay 5G, which is so important to the region.”

Governments have also listened to domestic phone companies such as Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, and Orange, all of whom have warned that sidelining Huawei would delay the implementation of 5G by years and add billions of euros in cost.

“We’ve not seen any evidence of backdoors into the network,” said Helen Lamprell, Vodafone’s top lawyer and chief lobbyist in the U.K. “If the Americans have evidence, please put it out on the table.”

Predictably, the US did not take the rebuke sitting down.

In February, the White House dispatched representatives to MWC Barcelona, the industry’s top annual trade show, who urged executives and politicians to avoid Huawei and its Chinese peers. At the same time, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin wrote a letter to the German government saying it should drop Huawei or risk throttling U.S. intelligence sharing (Germany's response was not  exactly calm, cool and collected).

Then there is the matter of value, and here China beats everyone hands down.

As Bloomberg notes, while "carriers can also buy equipment from the likes of Ericsson AB, Nokia Oyj, and Samsung Electronics Co., industry consultants say Huawei’s quality is high, and the company last year filed 5,405 global patents, more than double the filings by Ericsson and Nokia combined."

The biggest irony: while the US accuses China of back door spying, the world already knows that the US is guilty of just that, thanks to Edward Snowden's revelation. As a result, European lawmakers have been wary of Cisco, Huawei’s American rival, ever since it was revealed that the National Security Agency’s used U.S.-made telecom equipment for spying on, well, everyone. This is one of the reasons why between 2013 and 2018, Huawei increased its telecom market share by 8 percentage points:

Still, neither China, nor Huawei are safe yet. Since China has indeed been walking in the US' footsteps and has been using its own backdoors to spy on both foes and friends, German hard-liners in the intelligence community realize that the push-pull against Huawei is only there to score political points again Washington. They also admit the company isn’t trustworthy, and updated security rules the government is drafting will make it harder for Huawei to win contracts. Denmark’s biggest phone company, TDC A/S, declined to renew a contract with Huawei and instead picked Ericsson as strategic partner to develop its 5G network. Even as Europe refuses to block Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant has been under increasing pressure to allow greater scrutiny of its technology and increase assurances its equipment can’t be accessed by Chinese spies.

In response, Huawei told Bloomberg it has “placed cyber security and user privacy protection at the very top of its priorities" adding that safeguarding networks is the joint responsibility of vendors, telecom companies, and regulators.

But most importantly, despite US insistence, so far there’s little evidence to suggest Europe will shun Huawei. In fact, as Bloomberg adds, the national railway companies in Germany and Austria have bought the company’s equipment, and carriers such as Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica are running 5G test projects with its products.

As a result of Europe's rebellion against the US, Huawei’s global revenue growth accelerated in the first two months of the year, climbing by more than a third, founder Ren Zhengfei said last week. And the company says sales of its smartphones doubled in Germany during the same period.

“We don’t know what the U.S.’s next move is, so it’s not over yet,” said Bengt Nordstrom, CEO of telecom consultancy Northstream. “But whatever market share Huawei may lose in Europe, they’ll win back in China.”

Meanwhile, the question of how Trump takes defeat in diplomatic pressure with Europe remains open, not to mention how this would translate from mere diplomacy to global economics and capital markets: one thing is certain, should Europe's rebuke of Washington be overly publicized, tariffs on Europe's exports - such as automobiles - to the US would appear inevitable, as would the next global recession as globalization takes it next big step backward.

Published:3/20/2019 1:58:45 AM
[Markets] Turkey: Putin's Ally In NATO?

Authored by Burak Bekdil via The Gatestone Institute,

  • On March 7, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would never turn back from the S-400 missile deal with Russia. He even added that Ankara may subsequently look into buying the more advanced S-500 systems now under construction in Russia.

  • With the S-400 deal, Turkey is simply telling its theoretical Western allies that it views "them," and "not Russia," as a security threat. Given that Russia is widely considered a security threat to NATO, Turkey's odd-one-out position inevitably calls for questioning its official NATO identity.

  • Turkey has NATO's second biggest army, and its military love affair with Russia may be in its infancy now, but it undermines NATO's military deterrence against Russia.

Turkey has NATO's second biggest army, and its military love affair with Russia may be in its infancy now, but it undermines NATO's military deterrence against Russia. Pictured: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, on March 10, 2017. (Image source: kremlin.ru)

On September 17, 1950, more than 68 years ago, the first Turkish brigade left the port of Mersin on the Mediterranean coast, arriving, 26 days later, at Busan in Korea. Turkey was the first country, after the United States, to answer the United Nations' call for military aid to South Korea after the North attacked that year. Turkey sent four brigades (a total of 21,212 soldiers) to a country that is 7,785 km away. By the end of the Korean War, Turkey had lost 741 soldiers killed in action. The U.N. Memorial Cemetery in Busan embraces 462 Turkish soldiers.

All that Turkish effort was aimed at membership in NATO, a seat that Turkey eventually won in February 18, 1952. During the Cold War, Turkey remained a staunch U.S. and NATO ally, defending the alliance's southeastern flank. Nevertheless, events have changed dramatically since the Islamist government of Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power in November 2002. The "Turkish retreat" did not happen overnight.

In April 2009, military teams from Turkey and its neighbor, President Bashar al-Assad's Syria, crossed the border and visited outposts during joint military drills. That was the first time a NATO army had exercised with Syria's military.

In September 2010, Turkish and Chinese air force jets conducted joint exercises in Turkish airspace. That, too, was the first time a NATO air force had military exercises with China's.

In 2011, a Transatlantic Trends survey revealed that Turkey was the NATO member with the lowest support for the alliance: just 37% (down from 53% in 2004).

In 2012, Turkey joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, whose members are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) as a dialogue partner.

In 2017, a senior Chinese diplomat said that Beijing was ready to discuss Turkey's membership in the SCO.

In September 2013, Turkey announced that it had selected a Chinese company (CPMIEC) for the construction of its first long-range air and anti-missile defense system under the then $3.5 billion T-LORAMIDS program. That contract was later scrapped, but Erdogan then turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin for a replacement: the S-400 long-range air and anti-missile defense system.

Despite increasing U.S., Western and NATO pressure, Erdogan since that time has refused to give up the Russian air defense architecture and instead has boldly defended "Turkey's sovereign decision." Most recently, on March 7, Erdogan saidTurkey would never turn back from the S-400 missile deal. He even added that Ankara may subsequently look into buying the more advanced S-500 systems now under construction in Russia.

Washington is still warning its part-time NATO ally that the Russian deal would have its "grave consequences." According to CNN:

"If Turkey takes the S-400s there will be grave consequences," acting chief Pentagon spokesperson Charles Summers told reporters Friday [March 8], saying it would undermine America's military relationship with Ankara.

Summers said those consequences would include the US not allowing Turkey to acquire the F-35 jet and the Patriot missile defense system.

Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led, multinational consortium that builds the new generation fighter, the F-35 Lightening II, had committed to buy more than 100 of the aircraft.

Turkey's choice in favor of Russia (and against NATO) will surely have repercussions on several wavelengths. The U.S. may or may not fully retaliate by expelling Turkey from the Joint Strike Fighter group that builds the F-35. That will be a decision carrying with it economic considerations in addition to military and political ones. Turkey, if expelled, may turn further to Russia for a next-generation fighter solution, which Putin would only be too happy to offer -- and create further cracks within the NATO bloc, a move Erdogan probably believes the U.S. administration (and NATO) cannot afford to risk. Erdogan's gambit, however, has a more important message to NATO than just procuring military gear: Turkey's geo-strategic identity.

The S-400 is an advanced air defense architecture, especially if it is utilized against Western (NATO) aerial assets and firepower. It is an elementary military software fact that Turkey cannot use this system against Russian aggression or Russian-made weapons. With the S-400 deal, Turkey is simply telling its theoretical Western allies that it views "them," and "not Russia," as a security threat. Given that Russia is widely considered a security threat to NATO, Turkey's odd-one-out position inevitably calls for questioning its official NATO identity.

Turkey has NATO's second biggest army, and its military love affair with Russia may be in its infancy now, but it undermines NATO's military deterrence against Russia. Russia, however, would doubtless like nothing better than to see the break-up of a military alliance which ensures that an "armed attack against one" NATO member "shall be considered an attack against them all".

Published:3/20/2019 1:29:46 AM
[Markets] Asia stocks falter amid US-China trade uncertainty The broad MSCI Asia ex-Japan index slipped 0.45 percent to 528.10, as of 12:32 p.m. HK/SIN. Overnight in U.S. markets, stocks were hit by a new wave of uncertainty on the U.S.-China trade front following a series of conflicting reports. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve is set to announce its decision on interest rates later on Wednesday following its two-day monetary policy meeting. Published:3/20/2019 12:57:59 AM
[Markets] Kale joins list of ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and vegetables most likely to contain pesticides Almost 70% of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues.
Published:3/19/2019 11:29:01 PM
[Markets] Asia Markets: Asian markets largely down as investors take wait-and-see approach Asian markets were mostly down in lackluster trading early Wednesday, as investors processed mixed signals on U.S.-China trade talks and awaited the Fed’s meeting later in the day.
Published:3/19/2019 10:58:33 PM
[Markets] Empire Of Absurdity: Recycled Neocons, Recycled Enemies

Authored by Major Danny Sjursen (ret.) via AntiWar.com,

There are times when I wish that the United States would just drop the charade and declare itself a global empire.

As a veteran of two imperial wars, a witness to the dark underside of America’s empire-denial, I’ve grown tired of the equivocation and denials from senior policymakers. The U.S. can’t be an empire, we’re told, because – unlike the Brits and Romans – America doesn’t annex territories outright, and our school children don’t color its colonies in red-white-and-blue on cute educational maps.

But this distinction, at root, is rather superficial. Conquest, colonization, and annexation are so 19th century – Washington has moved beyond the overt and engages in the (not-so) subtle modern form of imperialism. America’s empire over the last two decades – under Democrats and Republicans – has used a range of tools: economic, military, political, to topple regimes, instigate coups, and starve "enemy" civilians. Heck, it didn’t even start with 9/11 – bullying foreigners and overturning uncooperative regimes is as American as apple pie.

Still, observing post-9/11, post-Iraq/Afghanistan defeat, Washington play imperialism these days is tragicomically absurd. The emperor has no clothes, folks. Sure, America (for a few more fleeting years) boasts the world’s dominant economy, sure its dotted the globe with a few hundred military bases, and sure it’s military still outspends the next seven competitors combined. Nonetheless, what’s remarkable, what constitutes the real story of 2019, is this: the US empire can’t seem to accomplish anything anymore, can’t seem to bend anybody to its will. It’s almost sad to watch. America, the big-hulking has-been on the block, still struts its stuff, but most of the world simply ignores it.

Make no mistake, Washington isn’t done trying; it’s happy to keep throwing good money (and blood) at bad: to the tune of a cool $6 trillion, 7,000 troop deaths, and 500,000 foreign deaths – including maybe 240,000 civilians. But what’s it all been for? The world is no safer, global terror attacks have only increased, and Uncle Sam just can’t seem to achieve any of its preferred policy goals.

Think on it for a second: Russia and Iran "won" in Syria; the Taliban and Pakistan are about ready to "win" in Afghanistan; Iran is more influential than ever in Iraq; the Houthis won’t quit in Yemen; Moscow is keeping Crimea; Libya remains unstable; North Korea ain’t giving up its nukes; and China’s power continues to grow in its version of the Caribbean – the South China Sea. No amount of American cash, no volume of our soldiers’ blood, no escalation in drone strikes or the conventional bombing of brown folks, has favorably changed the calculus in any of these regional conflicts.

What does this tell us? Quite a lot, I’d argue – but not what the neoliberal/neoconservative alliance of pundits and policymakers are selling. See for these unrepentant militarists the problem is always the same: Washington didn’t use enough force, didn’t spend enough blood and treasure. So is the solution: more defense spending, more CIA operations, more saber-rattling, and more global military interventions.

No, the inconvenient truth is as simple as it is disturbing to red-blooded patriots. To wit, the United States – or any wannabe hegemon – simply doesn’t possess the capability to shape the world in its own image. See those pesky locals – Arabs, Asians, Muslims, Slavs – don’t know what’s good for them, don’t understand that (obviously) there is a secret American zipped inside each of their very bodies, ready to burst out if given a little push!

It turns out that low-tech, cheap insurgent tactics, when combined with impassioned nationalism, can bog down the "world’s best military" indefinitely. It seems, too, that other regional heavyweights – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea – stand ready to call America’s nuclear bluff. That they know the US all-volunteer military and consumerist economy can’t ultimately absorb the potential losses a conventional war would demand. Even scarier for the military-industrial-congressional-media establishment is the logical extension of all this accumulated failure: the questionable efficacy of military force in the 21st century.

Rather than recognize the limits of American military, economic, and political power, Bush II, Obama, and now Trump, have simply dusted off the old playbook. It’s reached the level of absurdity under the unhinged regime of Mr. Trump. Proverbially blasting Springsteen’s "Glory Days," as its foreign policy soundtrack, the Donald and company have doubled down. Heck, if Washington can’t get its way in Africa, Europe, Asia, or the Mideast, well why not clamp down in our own hemisphere, our traditional sphere of influence – South and Central America.

Enter the lunacy of the current Venezuela controversy. Trump’s team saw a golden opportunity in this socialist, backwater petrostate. Surely here, in nearby Monroe Doctrine country, Uncle Sam could get his way, topple the Maduro regime, and coronate the insurgent (though questionably legitimate) Juan Guaido. It’s early 20th century Yankee imperialism reborn. Everything seemed perfect. Trump could recall the specter of America’s tried and true enemy – "evil" socialism – cynically (and absurdly) equating Venezuelan populism with some absurd Cold-War-era existential threat to the nation. The idea that Venezuela presents a challenge on the scale of Soviet Russia is actually farcical. What’s more, and this is my favorite bit of irrationality, we were all recently treated to a game of "I know you are but what am I?" from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who (with a straight face) claimed Cuba, tiny island Cuba, was the real "imperialist" in Venezuela.

Next, in a move reminiscent of some sort of macabre 1980’s theme party, Trump resuscitated Elliot Abrams – you know, the convicted felon of Iran-Contra infamy, to serve as Washington’s special envoy to embattled Venezuela. Who better to act as "fair arbiter" in that country than a war-criminal with the blood of a few hundred thousand Central Americans (remember the Contras?!?) on his hands back in the the good old (Reagan) days.

Despite all this: America’s military threats, bellicose speechifying, brutal sanctions, and Cold War-style conflict-framing, the incumbent Maduro seems firmly in control. This isn’t to say that Venezuelans don’t have genuine grievances with the Maduro government (they do), but for now at least, it appears the military is staying loyal to the president, Russia/China are filling in the humanitarian aid gaps, and Uncle Sam is about to chalk up another loss on the world scene. Ultimately, whatever the outcome, the crisis will only end with a Venezuelan solution.

America’s impotence would almost be sad to watch, if, and only if, it wasn’t all so tragic for the Venezuelan people.

So Trump and his recycled neocons will continue to rant and rave and threaten Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and so on and so forth. America will still flex its aging, sagging muscles – a reflexive habit at this point.

Only now it’ll seem sad. Because no one is paying attention anymore.

The opposite of love is isn’t hate – it’s indifference.

*  *  *

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.comHe served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Published:3/19/2019 10:58:32 PM
[Markets] Facebook agrees to overhaul targeted advertising system for some ads after bias complaints The change, while unlikely to deal a major blow to Facebook, is likely to make the platform less valuable to certain advertisers. Published:3/19/2019 10:28:28 PM
[Markets] Women with twin brothers make less money than women with twin sisters A new study analyzed data on all children born in Norway from 1967 to 1978.
Published:3/19/2019 10:28:28 PM
[Markets] Visualizing How Americans Make And Spend Their Money

How do you spend your hard-earned money?

Whether you are extremely frugal, or you’re known to indulge in the finer things in life, how you allocate your spending is partially a function of how much cash you have coming in the door.

Simply put, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins writes, the more income a household generates, the higher the portion that can be spent on items other than the usual necessities (housing, food, clothing, etc), and the more that can be saved or invested for the future.

Earning and Spending, by Income Group

Today’s visuals come to us from Engaging Data, and they use Sankey diagrams to display data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that helps to paint a picture of how different household income groups make and spend their money.

We’ll show you three charts below for the following income groups:

  1. The Average American

  2. The Lowest Income Quintile (Bottom 20%)

  3. The Highest Income Quintile (Highest 20%)

Let’s start by taking a look at the flows of the average American household:

The Average American Household – $53,708 in spending (73% of total income)

The average U.S. household has 2.5 people (1.3 income earners, 0.6 children, and 0.4 seniors)

As you can see above the average household generates $73,574 of total inflows, with 84.4% of that coming from salary, and smaller portions coming from social security (11.3%), dividends and property (2.6%), and other income (1.7%).

In terms of money going out, the highest allocation goes to housing (22.1% of spending), while gas and insurance (9.0%), household (7.7%), and vehicles (7.5%) make up the next largest categories.

Interestingly, the average U.S. household also says it is saving just short of $10,000 per year.

The Bottom 20% – $25,525 in spending (100% of total income)

These contain an average of 1.6 people (0.5 income earners, 0.3 children, and 0.4 seniors)