Tagged: ZeroHedge

Plot Holes – The Michael Flynn Affair

Via Robert Gore of Straight Line Logic blog,

The Michael Flynn Affair is one of those movies where you figure out a jumble of things that don’t make sense as you walk out of the theater.

There has been a deluge of articles about the Michael Flynn affair from an array of political and ideological vantage points, and SLL has reposted some of them. What’s lacking are coherent and cohesive explanations for what would be, if this were a novel or movie, gaping plot holes. The upshot of many commentators is that Trump has underestimated the Deep State, he’s floundering, and so on. This article takes the opposite tack, out of innate contrariness and because President Trump has been so consistently underestimated by both friends and foes.

Why was Michael Flynn cashiered? The administration’s story is that he talked with a Russian diplomat and mentioned lifting sanctions, then lied about his conversations to Vice President Pence. What’s become the conventional subtext is that the intelligence agencies have launched a “soft coup” against Trump, he has been significantly weakened, and the Deep State has scored a major victory.

Plot hole: if Trump had wanted to keep Flynn, he could have kept him and rode out the media firestorm. Blogger The_Real_Fly has suggested there was either a prearranged plan for Flynn to make an early exit, or Trump did an about-face, determined Flynn was not a good fit, and decided to get rid of him. A subplot hole: Flynn, an intelligence veteran, undoubtedly knew his phone was tapped. Either he knowingly said what he said to set a trap, or when the Washington Post story surfaced, Trump saw his chance and got rid of Flynn. He has demonstrated a cold-blooded capacity to quickly cut his losses: “Your fired!” It’s telling that Flynn’s replacement, H.R. McMaster, authored Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam. This looks like a classic Trump double down, replacing a maverick the Deep State didn’t like with a bigger one they’ll like even less.

Whatever the real story, Trump has gained valuable leverage on the intelligence agencies. Somebody leaked an intelligence agency transcript of Flynn’s call to the Washington Post, and that’s illegal. Just before he left office, President Obama relaxed limits on the NSA’s dissemination of its information to other intelligence agencies, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Obama probably thought he’d be turning those agencies into a collective sieve of untraceable leaks that would plague Trump, but this may backfire spectacularly. With the new rules, the illegal leak could conceivably come from any agency that has access to NSA data. The Trump Justice Department now has carte blanche to investigate them all, unless the agency responsible coughs up the leaker to protect itself and the other agencies.

A gaping plot hole: the Deep State’s stratagems scream weakness, not the strength so many are attributing to it. The Deep State likes to stay in the shadows, zealously protecting its power by shielding it from public view. Trump has forced it into the open, and it doesn’t adjust well to the light. It has resorted to tissue-thin stories planted in the captive media that speak of assessments and opinions, but don’t offer source material that’s supposedly the basis of those subjective judgments.

The Flynn disclosure was in the same vein; the original transcript on which the Post’s story was based has not been made public. This tees it up for Trump to lambaste the mainstream media and intelligence agencies, which he has done repeatedly and to great effect. He was in rare form at his recent press conference. You only plant stories in media organs nobody trusts, sourced to anonymous operatives within an intelligence community nobody trusts, obviously breaking the law, and setting yourself up for abuse from the president, because that’s all you’ve got.

The whole Russian story reeks of “Desperation.” It is flimsy and flimsier still is the rationale offered for the Deep State’s dogged loyalty to this concoction. Any rapprochement with Russia supposedly threatens the empire and must be quashed, even if that entails ham-handed efforts to depose an elected president. However, it’s child’s play for Trump to beat a tactical retreat, talk out of the other side of his mouth, and take the wind out of his enemies’ sails.

To counter the Putin puppet fairy tale, he could have his ambassador to the UN condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He could continue Obama’s military build up on Russia’s western border. Trump and team could tweet and talk tough about Russia and its allies China and Iran, and reject any joint military operations with Russia in Syria. Oh wait, all this has already happened. So why has the Deep State resorted to repeatedly discredited tactics to propagate its concocted story, ultimately helping the president in his battles with it and its captive press, supposedly in service of a foreign policy criticism of the president that he easily undercuts by adjusting his rhetoric and moving toward their position? What’s going on?

The real story isn’t Russia. Do you mount a “soft coup” over policy differences when, after all the Washington give and take, those policies will, at worst, marginally affect your influence, power, and payola? Doubtful. (Keep in mind Trump wants to increase military budgets.) If, on the other hand, you’re facing complete disgrace and ruin, including a long stretch in a penal institution, there’s nothing you won’t do to save yourself.

It’s not what politicians and bureaucrats do sub rosa that poses the biggest danger to the country and the world, but what they do in broad daylight. However, there’s no denying that Washington is the world capital of sub rosa—the unethical, immoral, and illegal. To use a favorite Trump adjective, it’s a crooked place. Trump knows or suspects where some of the bodies are buried, and the powers that be fear he’ll go after them for everything from garden-variety graft, bribery, theft, and influence peddling to crimes as sordid as child molestation and murder.

He can’t know exactly what he’ll find, but he can turn on the light and watch the cockroaches scuttle. Fishing expeditions for leaks of classified material; a crack team of auditors rooting through accounts and contracts, especially those of the military, the intelligence agencies, and their legions of subcontractors; vigorous prosecution of child pornography and molestation, making deals with small fry in exchange for testimony against bigger fry; Jeffrey Epstein and his Caribbean island; disclosures from intelligence agency archives of deception and illegality stretching back to the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam; disclosure of those 650,000 emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop; pay to play at the Clinton foundation—the list is endless and who knows what they’ll find. This, not the fear that Trump will revise US policy towards Russia, is behind the Deep State’s cold sweat, motivating its hysterical—comical if wasn’t so serious—campaign to depose him. This is the first time it has faced an unfriendly in the White House, with presidential powers to investigate, expose, prosecute, scandalize, and ruin.

Greene shook his head. “The Corleone Family don’t have that much muscle anymore. The Godfather is sick. You’re getting chased out of New York by the other Families and you think you can find easier pickings here. I’ll give you some advice, Mike, don’t try.”

The Godfather, Mario Puzo

Trump may be weak like Michael Corleone was weak, just before he wiped out his enemies, including Moe Greene. Like Corleone, Trump may be trying to further an impression of feebleness and for the same reasons: to make his enemies overconfident and to flush out traitors.

Until the swamp is drained, there is no prospect of making America great again.

Feared, Not Loved.” SLL

The Deep State is trying to kill Trump with a thousand paper cuts. Trump has bazookas, howitzers, and tanks. Don’t bet he won’t use them.


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Demographic Panic: China Considering ‘Birth Rewards’ to Encourage Citizens to Have More Babies

This will be the biggest challenge for developed nations over the next hundred years: depopulation.

Expect strange things to happen in the western world and developed nations in Asia over the next fifty years —  marked by unusual foreign policy moves —  and a craven, almost desperate clamoring for middle eastern, south american and african migrants to replace their withering and decadent societies.

Why?

Credit expansion, or at a minimum, stasis.

Due to one of the lowest birth rates in the world (1.5p per family), thanks to the one child policy, China is now considering offering incentives to its citizens to get out there and ‘screw for China’, a la Denmark.

Source: Reuters

The potential move was revealed by Wang Peian, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission at a social welfare conference on Saturday, the newspaper said on Tuesday.
 
Birth rates rose to 17.86 million in 2016, the highest level since 2000, after the country issued new guidelines in late 2015 allowing all parents to have two children amid growing concerns over the costs of supporting an aging population.
 
“That fully met the expectations, but barriers still exist and must be addressed,” Wang was quoted as saying.
 
“To have a second child is the right of each family in China but affordability has become a bottleneck that undermines the decision.”
 
A poll conducted by the commission in 2015 found that 60 percent of families surveyed were reluctant to have a second baby largely due to financial constraints.
 
China’s birth rate, one of the world’s lowest, is fast becoming a worry for authorities, rather than the achievement it was considered at a time when the government feared over-population.
 
China began implementing its controversial “one-child policy” in the 1970s in order to limit population growth, but authorities are now concerned that the country’s dwindling workforce will not be able to support an increasingly aging population.

 
Elon Musk has been an outspoken advocate about depopulation and ‘population implosion’.

Watch:

By 2050, India will surpass China in population — essentially leveling China’s population flat for the next 33 years.

 

The deleterious effect upon China’s demographic trends was predicted by Brookings Institute in 2010 — saying its ‘dividend growth rate’ would erode to the point that by 2013 it would hamper economic growth. This is not only a Chinese problem, mind you, but a developed world problem. Both Japan and Italy is expected to lose half its population over the next 40 years — based on current trends. If this persists, what do you think this will do to global GDP?
 

 
Looks legit to me.
 
Source: Brookings Institute (2010)

By 2013 China’s demographic dividend growth rate will turn negative: That is, the growth rate of net consumers will exceed the growth rate of net producers. Starting in 2013, such a negative growth rate will reduce the country’s economic growth rate by at least half a percentage point per year. Between 2013 and 2050, China will not fare demographically much better than Japan or Taiwan, and will fare much worse than the United States and France.
 
As a result of China’s very low fertility over the past two decades, the abundance of young, inexpensive labor is soon to be history. The number of workers aged 20 to 29 will stay about the same for the next few years, but a precipitous drop will begin in the middle of the coming decade. Over a 10-year period, between 2016 and 2026, the size of the population in this age range will be reduced by about one-quarter, to 150 million from 200 million. For Chinese aged 20 to 24, that decline will come sooner and will be more drastic: Over the next decade, their number will be reduced by nearly 50 percent, to 68 million from 125 million.
 
Such a drastic decline in the young labor force will usher in, for the first time in recent Chinese history, successive shrinking cohorts of labor force entrants. It will also have profound consequences for labor productivity, since the youngest workers are the most recently educated and the most innovative.
 
As the young population declines, domestic demand for consumption may weaken as well, since young people are also the most active consumers of everything from wedding banquets to new cars and housing units. And because China is a major player in the global economy, the impact of the country’s demographic changes will not be limited by its borders.
 
Fragile families, fragile society
 
So far, observers of China’s demographic changes have focused most of their attention on consequences at the aggregate or societal level: the size of the labor force, of the elderly population, and of the number of men who will not be able to marry. Worries at this level of analysis generally relate to the country’s future economic growth and social stability. But the challenges that China will face as a result of its changing demographics go far beyond economic growth and other aggregate concerns.
 
China’s unprecedented population control policy, the one-child policy, turned 30 this year. It has forcefully altered the family and kin structure of hundreds of millions of Chinese families. And families, in addition to their other functions, are first and foremost the primary source of support for dependents, the young and the elderly.
 
Although the full extent of the one-child policy’s societal consequences will not be known until later, it is safe to predict that the social costs that China will need to pay, especially in terms of family support for aging parents, will be exceedingly high. In no small part due to implementation of the one-child policy, China by 2005 had accumulated nearly 160 million only children aged 0 to 30. That number has further grown in the past five years. These figures imply that over 40 percent of Chinese households have only one child.
 
More generally, ever more Chinese parents in the future will not be able to count on their children in their old age. And many parents will face a most unfortunate reality: outliving their children and therefore dying alone. Given the current mortality schedule, the likelihood that an 80-year-old Chinese man will see his 55-year-old son die before he does is 6 percent. Because women live longer, the likelihood that an 80-year-old woman will outlive her 55-year-old son is 17 percent.
 
Because of China’s continued mortality decline, and especially its sustained fertility decline to below replacement levels, the country has effectively entered an era of population decline.China’s current TFR of 1.5 implies that, in the long run, each future generation will be 25 percent smaller than the one preceding it. China’s population is still growing, albeit very slowly, because the country still has a relatively young age structure, which produces more births than deaths, even though on average each couple has fewer than two children. Had it not been for China’s relatively young age structure, the population would have begun declining in the early 1990s, almost two decades ago. The current growth, in other words, is a result of population momentum.
 
The same force of momentum will work in the opposite direction soon. Given current mortality and fertility rates, and with a population age structure that is growing increasingly older, the number of deaths will soon exceed the number of births. China’s population is likely to peak less than 15 years from now, below a maximum of 1.4 billion. After that will come a prolonged, even indefinite, population decline and a period of accelerated aging.
 
Even if China can restore fertility to replacement level within 10 years after the country reaches its population peak, population will still exhibit a decline nearly half a century long, with a net population loss of over 200 million, if not more. The median age of the Chinese population, at its peak, could be as high as 50 years.
 
China is by no means unique in experiencing below-replacement fertility. In the past decade, below-replacement fertility has become a new global reality. Whereas in some parts of the world high fertility rates continue to pose severe challenges to women and children’s health, for more than half of the world’s population, below replacement fertility is now the norm.
 
In Europe, North America, and East Asia, prolonged below-replacement fertility has already set in motion a negative population growth momentum.In the most extreme cases, such as Italy and Japan, population could be reduced by half in as few as 40 years or so if current rates of reproduction persist. A gradual but substantial reduction in population, especially with a concomitant aging of populations in the world’s richest countries, constitutes an unprecedented shift that is redefining the global demographic, economic, and political landscape.
 
What makes China unique, however, is that it still has a state policy, unique in human history, that restricts the majority of Chinese families to one child per couple. At the time the policy was announced 30 years ago, it provoked great controversy both within and outside China; over the years it has extracted great sacrifices from Chinese families and individuals, especially from women. And although the policy was designed as an emergency measure to slow down China’s population growth, and was intended to last for only one generation, the government has not yet shown the willingness, or courage, to phase it out.
 
China’s slow recognition and inaction in the face of its impending demographic crisis—inaction that persists despite appeals by almost all the country’s population experts to phase out the one child policy quickly—reflect policy makers’ lack of understanding of the changing demographic reality. Inertia also results from the resistance of the country’s birth-control bureaucracy, which formally employs half a million people.
 
This exemplifies a characteristic feature of China’s regime—relegating difficult, long-term, structural challenges to the back burner, while giving priority to short-term crisis management and concerns about stability. The looming demographic crisis will largely define China in the twenty-first century. Given that demographic changes take time to develop, and that their ramifications are not only massive but also long-lasting, China’s inaction has already proved costly—and will only grow more so the longer it persists.

 
In the words of the immortal Bill the Butcher, ‘this is a kill.’
 
Content originally generated at iBankCoin.com

 


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Here’s How The Deep State Is Trying To Lead Trump Into A Nuclear War

Via Daniel Lang of SHTFplan.com,

Before Donald trump took office, he promised to rebuild the US military by diverting a lot more funding into the armed forces. And when he made that promise, he wasn’t just talking about our conventional forces. He also proposed expanding America’s nuclear capability; a position he recently reiterated in an interview with Reuters. He stated that “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

If Trump is really going to reinvigorate our nuclear program (a decision that many experts fear could spark another arms race), then he needs to be very careful about who he listens to. That’s because some of the high ranking officials in our government have some certifiably insane ideas on what a nuclear arsenal should look like. Recently a Pentagon panel known as The Defense Science Board, told the Trump administration that they need to remake our nuclear arsenal into a force that is capable of engaging in a “limited” nuclear war.

According to the report, “The Defense Science Board … urges the president to consider altering existing and planned U.S. armaments to achieve a greater number of lower-yield weapons that could provide a ‘tailored nuclear option for limited use.’”

 

The strategy behind limited nuclear use sounds deceptively simple. You need to escalate a conflict just enough to end it.

 

As the theory goes, using low-yield nuclear weapons against an adversary’s conventional forces will demonstrate that you mean serious business and might be crazy enough to launch an all out nuclear attack. This will cause the enemy to “blink” and ultimately back down, rather than risk global thermonuclear war or continue conventional hostilities.

There’s only one problem with the idea of engaging in a limited nuclear war. It simply can’t be done. Any limited nuclear war would eventually lead to a full scale nuclear war.

The lynchpin of a limited nuclear war is the tactical nuke. These are nuclear weapons that have a much smaller yield than a strategic nuke. Whereas a strategic nuke might have a yield of half a megaton or more, a tactical nuke is usually somewhere in the ballpark with the atomic weapons that we used on Japan, but usually smaller than that. They’re for use on the battlefield, possibly within close proximity to friendly forces. And there’s a reason why our government has been slowly phasing them out for decades. Just because they make a smaller crater, doesn’t mean they make a smaller impact.

When you use a tactical nuke, you’re still using a nuke. It doesn’t matter that it’s not large enough to destroy an entire city (though some of them can). By using them, you’re telling the enemy that you’re willing to use nukes. You’re saying that you’re willing to rain radioactive fallout on their territory. You’re willing to engage in total war.

The only appropriate response to that is escalation. The enemy has to show you that they can do the same thing. In war, both parties aren’t thinking “gee, how the heck do I get out of this?” They’re thinking, “how do I win” and “how do I get back at the other guy” and “how do I teach my enemy a lesson he won’t forget.” Limited nuclear war doctrine doesn’t burn the bridge between conventional war and full on nuclear holocaust. It builds that bridge.

This should be common sense. All you have to do is imagine what would happen if Russia dropped a relatively small, 10 kiloton nuke on an American military base in Europe. Would the US government respond with capitulation? Nobody in their right mind believes that.

And let’s pretend for a moment that a limited nuclear war is possible. What would that do? It would normalize nuclear warfare. It would make nukes a viable option in every single war. Every conflict would leave behind a trail of radioactive fallout and mass civilian casualties.

Hopefully brighter minds will prevail, because whoever is proposing this notion of limited nuclear conflict, needs to change out their dress uniform for a freaking straight jacket.


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50% Of College Students Believe Their Student Loans Will Be Forgiven By Federal Government

LendEDU, a private firm that connects students and their families with student loans and loan refinancing, has finally revealed a clue that helps us better understand the mystery of why so many college students across the country have become so comfortable haphazardly taking out $100s of thousands of dollars in student loans to  fund their degrees in anthropology.  According to a survey of 500 current college students conducted by LendEDU, apparently 49.8% of America’s entitled youth is convinced that the federal government will simply forgive their student loans upon graduation…call it a nice little taxpayer funded graduation gift.

Of course, as the US Department of Education points out, only a select few students who actually enter into public service jobs, teach in underserved areas or attend schools that shutdown within 120 days of their graduation actually qualify for federal loan forgiveness.

The US Department of Education says that federal direct student loan borrowers can get off the hook if they enter public service jobs for a specified period of time, agree to teach in an underserved area, die or become permanently disabled, or if the school they attended shuts down while they are enrolled or within 120 days after they leave.

 

“The biggest exemption is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and very few students go into public service,“ said Nate Matherson, who co-founded LendEDU in 2014.

 

“With maybe 14 percent of the American workforce in a public service job, the actual numbers of those who may qualify for student loan forgiveness or discharge is maybe below 10 percent.

 

“The fact that many students do not understand this means that they may be significantly underestimating the cost of financing a college education,” he added.

College

 

Of course, maybe these students are just planning on never getting a job after college and thus relying on Obama’s executive actions on “income-driven repayment” (IDR) plans that would repay a portion of their loans if they fail to hit certain income thresholds (see report entitled “Federal Student Loans:  Education Needs to Improve Its Income Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates” from the Government Accountability Office).  In this scenario, the student loans of these 50% of college students would, in fact, fall into the $137 billion bucket that the GAO figures Obama saddled on the backs of taxpayers through his unilateral executive action.   

For the fiscal year 2017 budget, the U.S. Department of Education (Education) estimates that all federally issued Direct Loans in Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans will have government costs of $74 billion, higher than previous budget estimates. IDR plans are designed to help ease student debt burden by setting loan payments as a percentage of borrower income, extending repayment periods from the standard 10 years to up to 25 years, and forgiving remaining balances at the end of that period. While actual costs cannot be known until borrowers repay their loans, GAO found that current IDR plan budget estimates are more than double what was originally expected for loans made in fiscal years 2009 through 2016 (the only years for which original estimates are available). This growth is largely due to the rising volume of loans in IDR plans.

 

Education’s approach to estimating IDR plan costs and quality control practices do not ensure reliable budget estimates. Weaknesses in this approach may cause costs to be over- or understated by billions of dollars.

Student Loans

 

Of course, we still kind of like this guy’s idea for repaying student debt…it’s a novel approach whereby borrowers are encouraged to stop playing video games in their parents’ basements and get a job…it just might be crazy enough to work.


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The Cultural Purge Will Not Be Televised

Via Mark Jeftovic of EasyDNS.com,

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”

– Edward Bernays, Public Relations

I’ve been trying not to write this post, because really, who needs a bunch of shrill, hysterical snowflakes calling you a racist nazi for committing the egregious sin of pointing out the many contradictions in the #deleteshopify boycott and the wider witch hunt mentality that pervades social discourse these days?

The main factor holding me back is not cynicism but actually fear. For the first time in my life I’m afraid to speak my mind. The possible ramifications of exercising my inalienable right to free speech frighten the crap out of me. So much so that I really don’t want to do it. I’ve become known as the type of person who speaks candidly and frankly about some tough issues and I’ve never had a problem doing that in the past. I’ve gone up against some pretty intimidating forces such as the City of London IPCU and the US FDA, but I’ve never been as scared as I am now to speak out.  For that reason I’m just going to have to suck it up and do it.

There is a cultural purge in progress.

It is directed against not only those who are perceived as “pro-Trump” (which as a card carrying Libertarian I am not. I think that he’s no friend to free speech, privacy or the internet), but targeting even those who are not “anti-Trump enough”.

This cultural purge has a two-pronged approach, from one side, from elements within the corridors of power (or those recently ejected from it) who have successfully floated the concept that free speech is not inviolable and that it would be a good thing for “truth” to be curated by “somebody” who knows better:

“We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to… There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world…That is hard to do, but I think it’s going to be necessary, it’s going to be possible,”

— Barack Obama in speech at Frontiers Conference, Pittsburgh, PA, Oct 13, 2016 (emphasis added)

The other half comes from the trenches, comprised of manic flashmobs directing enmity against, literally, anything remotely connected to those deemed responsible for the greatest political upset of our time.

The mainstream media, outlets like Washington Post and the New York Times, among others, are complicit, providing the glue or the lubricant between this pincer movement and its chilling effects. The combination gels into an echo chamber drowning out all rationality and renders differing philosophies and legitimate dissent as blasphemous.

Let me explain my choice of title for this post and how it captures what I see going on here:

This post title is obviously a riff on Gil Scott-Heron’s song ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, and the backstory behind this song is quite instructive to times like these:

Gil Scott-Heron saw first hand how altruistically motivated social activism can turn ugly when a campus protest action he initiated went horribly overboard. After the death of one of Gil-Heron’s schoolmates, he started a grass roots movement with the goal of improving the medial conditions on his campus, including making the college infirmary operate 24×7, something he felt would have saved his friend’s life.

The laudable aim of improving conditions on campus with the possibility of saving future lives derailed into a menacing fracas. A mob congregated on the front lawn of the infirmary’s doctor’s home where they proceeded to burn him in effigy:

“The protest grew angry, culminating with some students hanging the doctor in effigy from a tree in his front yard and setting it on fire. The doctor came out of his house and swore that he wasn’t responsible for the deaths. As he proclaimed his innocence, he had tears in his eyes.

 

When Gil arrived at the protest, he stood between the students and the doctor, looking at the doctor’s children staring out the window in fear. ‘A cold flash scampered across the back of my neck, ‘ wrote Gil later to describe his sudden fear that events could spiral out of control into violence, a fear which was allayed only when the students went back to their dorms.

 

The realization that radical action sometimes leads to unintended consequences and violent overreactions haunted Gil, and that image of a distraught Dr. Davies lingered in his mind for months to come. The experience reinforced Gil’s instinct to avoid violence and militant action in the struggle for social change.”

One should easily concede that today there are many reasons to petition for change. Our governments still have us all under wholesale surveillance, we are still involved in numerous unsanctioned wars, continue to provoke toward new ones, and the government continues to methodically destroy the economy via financial repression.

But we should all take Gil Scott-Heron’s lesson to heart and try to keep in mind that we are all human beings. We all have rights, we should all be secure in our ability to speak and associate freely.

But that isn’t what’s happening.

Today, the mainstream media, rather than objectively and rationally report on facts, are instead complicit in a sustained, wide-ranging campaign of demonization of “all things non-Democrat”. There is blanket categorical denial of any valid basis for why the citizenry worldwide are rejecting what they increasingly see as an “Establishment Elite” agenda.

Greece, Brexit, Trump and quite possibly soon, Marine Le Pen in France are all continuations of a theme. These events are referendums unto themselves and those “Global Elites” are on a losing streak. Instead of trying to understand the basis of these rejections (that the populace are sick and tired of having a two-tiered society in which their civil rights are eroded and they get saddled with all the debt, while the elites get to operate under a different set of rules and gobble up all the assets); they have mounted a concerted campaign of outright propaganda and mind-numbingly nonsensical narratives to dismiss away these acts of “defiance”.

As alt-market.com’s Brandon Smith commentary  observes:

“One of the most favored propaganda tactics of establishment elites and [those] they employ … is to relabel or redefine an opponent before they can solidly define themselves. In other words, elites [and their media] will seek to “brand” you (just as corporations use branding) in the minds of the masses so that they can take away your ability to define yourself as anything else.” (emphasis added)

And this is exactly what’s happening. For example, when you say “Breitbart”, your average person is so inculcated from the repetition of the words “white supremacist”, “racist”, and “ nazi” that people just assume that’s what it is. From there people think that it’s ok to #boycottshopify simply for supplying basic online ecommerce services to them (where does it stop? Btw, Breitbart derives 100% of it’s revenues from the internet, perhaps everybody in a twist about it should do us all a favour and boycott that too).

Is Breitbart really white supremacist, racist nazi hate site? Actually, no it isn’t. Most people think it is however, because they’ve been conditioned to believe it, and they’ve never actually gone there to see for themselves.

How do I know that Breitbart isn’t really the white supremacist, neo-nazi hate-site that we are incessantly brainwashed  to believe it is? Well for one thing, I’ve seen the real deal. They look like this:

This place is called “Shitskin Plantation”. They wound up on easyDNS (my company’s system ) for about a week by the time we kicked them. The fact that we did eject a real honest to god racist, neo-nazi hate site doesn’t bolster the #boycottshopify movement for three reasons:

#1) Shitskin is clearly racist and contains actual language condoning violence toward an identifiable group. It was right there for anybody to see. Here in Canada such material is codified into law as “hate speech” under the Criminal Code.

 

#2) We chose. We assessed our AUP, found them in violation and kicked them. Specifically we found them in violation of “the Non-Aggression Principle” in our plain english Terms of Service. The NAP has grey areas and subjective rabbit holes. Libertarians debate it relentlessly. But the important thing is that nobody else forced us to do it in the absence of due process. We made our own determination, and that’s important. Sacrosanct, in fact.

 

And #3) Breitbart is an ultra-conservative, hard-right political opinion site. That’s all. They seem also have a penchant for inflammatory, click-bait headlines (who doesn’t these days?) You may not like it, I may not like it, but they absolutely have the right to be online and to publish.

That anybody who has even the most tenuous affiliation with them is fair game for having their rights curtailed, their livelihood sanctioned or sabotaged is indefensible. The only legitimate mechanism for these people to suffer in their fortunes is through the failure of their ideas in the marketplace of thought. By being rejected, not through being repressed (see below).

It is entirely reasonable for Shopify, or  any other vendor to keep supplying services to Breitbart (at present they have no services with easyDNS)

It is also reasonable for any of those vendors to choose not to supply services to them of their own volition (you can’t have it both ways folks, you can’t force Shopify to dump Breitbart and simultaneously force some Bible-thumping redneck to bake a cake for a gay wedding).

What isn’t reasonable is to coerce or compel anybody else to take any action they would not themselves take under their own judgement. It’s truly frightening that there is a growing sentiment that this is acceptable behaviour.

Do you really want to live in a world where people sever business and personal relationships because a literal flash mob demands it? Where mobs get to pick and choose who you are allowed to associate with?

Shopify has over 300,000 customers. You honestly expect them to sort through those and kick out the ones that you think are morally objectionable?

In 2010, when easyDNS was itself embroiled in the Wikileaks debacle I was absolutely appalled when ranking politicians applauded the vendors for severing ties with them. Senator Lieberman congratulated Amazon and Paypal by name for “breaking their contracts”, he literally used those words. A ranking politician applauding behaviour that should rightly get you sued. The public backlash then was huge and pro-Wikileaks. In our own small way, we stood up for Wikileaks then, we maintain a congruent position now. I applaud Shopify for standing firm and refusing to sever their ties for the same reason.

The “Right Side” of History

Whenever I hear a lot of activists whining about the current situation I frequently hear references to being “on the right side of history”. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of that. Actually that’s a nonsensical statement since history is amoral, or as Winston Churchill famously observed, “One damned thing after another”.

However there is one rule of thumb I’ve formulated over the years which I think can keep one onside of the grand currents sweeping through time and society and helped me understand my sympathy with Libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism. That is to know the fine line between rejecting an idea that one finds immoral, unethical, obsolete or otherwise objectionable and repressing it.

Morality is largely subjective. Very few people act in a way they themselves consider immoral. Almost everybody thinks that whatever they’re doing, they’re on the side of the angels. The tiny sliver of participants who are fully cognizant of their own immoral action and proceed anyway are criminals and sociopaths (the majority of them gravitate into politics).

When enough people’s ethical compasses align you get a cultural or societal norm. One of the cultural norms that we fought hard for over the ages was that people have a right to free speech and free association. You can disagree with what I have to say but respect my right to say it.

These rights were so hard won that they were codified into universal laws and into the very Constitutions that govern most civilized nations. I believe one of the more well-known words for it was “inalienable”.

Until now. Now people are putting conditions around “free speech” and “free association”.

The idea that free speech has its limits somewhere around the point where it hurts somebody’s feelings is beyond idiotic and dangerous.

Tweet of person exercising her free speech to encourage economic harm to others…

The world is not one big foam insulated, bubble wrapped safe space. This may come as a shock to you but there is a widespread sentiment, a backlash dare I say, against the idea that a Saviour State should watch over everything and smooth out all the world’s sharp edges.

Besides…

Boycotts usually backfire.

Back in the mid-90’s, Bob Rae was the Premiere of Ontario and I was in a failed metal band out of London, Ontario. Mr. Rae wrote a nice song about multiculturalism called “Same Boat Now” and submitted it to various record labels who promptly rejected it and told him not to quit his day job. My band recorded a power-pop version of his song and released it on 7” vinyl. Our label  put an open letter to Mr. Rae on the back sleeve that was highly critical of his socialist political platform (albeit quite tame by today’s standards). I was mortified, fearing a media backlash but felt trapped. I called Jack Richardson, my former college prof from Fanshawe College’s Music Industry Arts program and widely credited with having single-handedly created the Canadian music industry and asked his advice.

Before I finished relaying the details he was laughing. “Mark”, he said, “The only thing that truly matters is that they spell ‘Landslide’ right. That’s it”.

This has been bourne out countless times since that event. I could list them here but the point is, boycotts usually invoke The Streisand Effect and actually bolster the target of the boycott. We can cite a couple brief examples:

  • During the Bob Parsons era of Godaddy, when he shot the elephant, or when he aired some super-sexist Super Bowl commercial, Godaddy numbers, in terms of net-new domains-in or registered usually  went up not down, in the face of consumer outrage and boycotts.

  • Wikileaks, again – when we did help their mirror sites get back online there was a counter-reaction against that. Every once in awhile I check the emails from the customers who sent me extremely hostile emails telling me they were leaving, and almost all of them remained (and some still do) customers to this day.

  • Shopify itself, who is publicly traded, has been on a tear in share price for most of the year, and it’s continued unabated since  #deleteShopify began.

So what can you do?

You can only govern yourself. Your only recourse is whether to associate or disassociate with somebody. Yes, you are perfectly within your rights to #boycottshopify but as I’ve outlined, you’re being naive doing so and will likely have the exact opposite effect if you’re enough of a loudmouth about it .

But if this Cultural Purge proceeds we will actually, for real, lose what used to be inalienable rights. Our right to free speech, our right to free association and our rights to our own minds. If something you say is considered “hurtful” (which will more closely resemble dissent or criticism of the Official Narrative than anything else) you will be sanctioned. You will tow the line or you will be penalized – contracts severed, vendors disassociate themselves, boycotts ensue. Whatever you do, just don’t say or think the wrong thing, because not going along with the crowd will make you a pariah.

If you want to prevent that:

1) you have the duty to look at the issue first hand and decide for yourself if it has any merit. Don’t ever come to me and tell me “XYZ is white supremacist, neo-nazi hate speech” unless you can show me an article that has the hate speech in it. Show me the white supremacist rhetoric. If you tell me you believe it simply because that’s what Wapo told you then you are a fool. You are Wapo’s useful idiot. A Wapobot.

2) you have to be prepared to call b/s whenever some whining snowflake demands safety from any contrary opinion, whenever some pundit robotically repeats the “white supremacist, hate speech, homophobe, Russian hackers” mantra, and whenever you’re asked to jump on some witchunt bandwagon against someone who dares to dispute the Official Narrative.

3) you have to be able to take the heat. Guess what? You’ll be next. Speak out against this nonsense and you’ll be subjected to hysterionics, character assassination, guilt by the most tenuous of associations, distortions of fact and a co-ordinated piling on by mobs of unquestioning ideological berserkers.

  • You’ll be Peter Thiel (there was a popular outcry to remove him from Facebook’s board, why? Because he endorsed Trump.)

  • You’ll be Scott Adams (his crime? Correctly predicting that Trump was going to win)

  • You’ll be Ivanka Trump (facing a co-ordinated attack on her livelihood for her transgression of being born a Trump).

That is a cultural purge.

Hell, I’m probably next just for writing this piece. So be it. My credibility as a non-racist, free-speech Libertarian are unassailable and am categorically unaffiliated with Russian intelligence. My duty is to speak out precisely because it is becoming more dangerous to speak out.

“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. — Unknown


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BofAML Explains Why The Ag Economy Isn’t Likely To Get Much Better In 2017

The fact that farm incomes have come under increasing pressure over the past couple of years should come as little surprise to our readers (for those who missed our latest update, see: “Midwest Farm Bubble Continues Collapse As Farm Incomes Expected To Crash In 2017“).  Unfortunately, at least according to Bank of America’s Global Ag Chemical team led by Steve Byrne, farmers shouldn’t expect a reprieve any time in the near future.

As BAML points out, the grain commodity farmers of the U.S. are locked in a vicious cycle, the result of which is a perpetually oversupplied market.  To summarize the key takeaways, farmers continue to plant so long as cash profits are positive (because depreciation isn’t a real cost and who cares about returns on capital anyway…silly finance people) while yield growth continues to outpace demand growth which leaves markets perpetually oversupplied and commodity prices well below what would be required to provide a normalized profit level for farmers.  Meanwhile, since farmers seem to be incapable of unilaterally reducing supply, an external supply shock (e.g. a weather-related event) seems to be the only hope of the industry ever normalizing again.

With that, here is a little more detail on the vicious ag cycle per BAML…

Yield growth per acre continues to average 1-2% per annum…

Yields continue to improve with no sign of abatement as seed technology improves and farmers utilize better information technology (precision ag) to gain better understanding of acreage and maximize yield potential. While weather can disrupt yields year-to-year, directionally yields have improved at a 1-2% CAGR for corn, soy and wheat since 2000. In our view, this will continue to place deflationary pressure on crop prices longer-term, particularly given the extent to which global yields trail yields in more developed ag economies.

Farms

 

…which continues to drive new record highs in production despite an already weak pricing environment.

Global corn production is similarly heading for a new record high in 2016/17, up 7% YoY and driven mostly by an almost equally big rise in yields. The US 2016/17 crop that was just harvested looks especially strong. Concerns over whether ear filling was impeded by the hot and dry summer weather are now fading as the harvest is done and the USDA revised up its yield estimate by 1% to 11.01mt/ha in November. Meanwhile, in LatAm farmers are currently planting for the 2016/17 harvest and production looks even stronger, up 26% on presumed yield normalization and exacerbated by a 7% increase in acreage.

Farms

 

Meanwhile, global corn demand is expected to recover somewhat in 2016/2017 but no where near the expected 7% supply increase.

Global corn demand growth slowed to just 2% per annum in the past two years, due to a drop in global pork production. Corn is the staple diet of the word’s more than 1bn pigs. The decline in pork production was mainly caused by an environmental crackdown in the Chinese farming sector, and the country’s pork production fell by 3% in 2015 and another 5% likely in 2016.

 

Then in March 2016, China ended its domestic corn price floor, giving relief to pig farmers, and corn demand started picking up again. Corn demand from pig production will continue to rise structurally in the years to come on the ramp-up of new modern mega farms in Northern China. Overall global corn demand can recover to 3% growth this market year (2016/17) and hold up at 2-3% growth annually in the years to come, in our view. However, we have started to see signs of slowing feed demand as elevated corn prices have led to substitution to other feeds, in some instances. Global feed demand levels will be key in determining the aggregate corn demand picture.

Corn

 

All of which is expected to keep global grain stocks at all time highs for the foreseeable future…

World carryout corn stocks are likely to finish 2016/17 at a record high, with stock-to-use ratios up marginally from the year prior. There is debate over the level of Chinese stocks, with estimates ranging from China’s corn reserve estimate of 270Mmt vs USDA estimate of ~110mn mt. The USDA expects Chinese corn production to decline by ~3% in 2016/17, and inventory levels to decline by ~8% in 2016/17 after swelling from 81mn mt in 2013/14 to 110mn mt in 2015/16. Recent policy aimed at reducing production out of lower-yielding regions could also help alleviate China’s elevated inventory position. Media reports have also indicated more than 900 companies have applied for import quotas for 2017, which could be supportive of global prices. USDA data suggests soybean inventories in China remain elevated as well and account for over 20% of global stocks (Chinese stocks to use ration remains well over 100%). China accounts for over 60% of global soybean imports, and thus inventory levels in China are a key factor in gauging global demand expectations. A clear indication of a drawdown in Chinese soybean stocks could provide price support, in our view. Nonetheless, China’s inventory levels, trade data and policy direction will remain key components of corn and soybean prices in the coming year.

Farms

Farms

 

And, of course, as long as cash margins remain positive then farmers keep planting…which doesn’t do much for that weak pricing environment.

Farm income, planted acres of row crops, and commodity prices all peaked in 2012 following the prior decade long super-cycle. Prior periods of ag credit cycle downturns lasted 5 years (68-72) and 9 years (83-91) while ag business cycle downturns have averaged 2 years since 1960. Inflation adjusted crop prices have been declining for over 100 years as gains in productivity (+1-2%) and acreage expansion (0-1%) outpace gains in demand (1-2%). New technologies such as precision agriculture and gene editing could accelerate productivity gains in the medium term. Cyclical upside could occur from increased demand for protein, reduced supply from marginal acres, or a weather event.

 

We expect cash margins for corn, soybeans and wheat to collectively be slightly higher than the prior year, but well below the ~2007-2014 profitability boom amidst elevated prices. We expect crop commodity prices for each to remain low amid elevated global stocks. Profitability will also likely remain a challenge and at similar levels to prior year levels exacerbated by elevated leverage, with US farm debt to net cash income at its highest level since 1984.

 

In our view, cash margins may have room to fall before seeing a rational supply response. Margins are still above breakeven levels that occurred 15 years ago (1999-2003) and not at levels that could drive meaningful changes in farmer behavior, such as walking away from land rent or simply not planting acres in a given year.

Farms

 

But, at least farmers have that whole trade war with Mexico to look forward to…luckily Mexico is just our second largest corn importer…

In our view, the risk of a trade war with key importers of US crops remains a key risk for the US ag economy. Trade with China (14.8%) and Mexico (13.6%) represent top destinations for US ag export demand. Additionally, a potential border adjustment tax could significantly inflate fertilizer prices and together with lower grain prices could further impair farmer margins. Potential reform to the Renewable Fuel Standard is also a downside risk for US growers given 40% of domestic corn demand is derived from ethanol. A stronger USD resulting from proposed policies would also be a headwind for US growers. Washington will remain critical for agriculture with upside risks being the status quo and downside risks being more meaningful.

Farms

Farms

 

It’s pretty rough when your only hope of making money in your chosen profession will come only after a devastating weather event that may or may not force you into bankruptcy.


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Up-Ending The Fed – Can Trump Reshape The Most Powerful Central Bank In The World?

Via Danielle DiMartino Booth of DiMartinoBooth.com,

“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Wiser words were never spoken on the big screen than those of The Shawshank Redemption’s main character Andy Dufrense. We are none of us beyond redemption, so we are taught by this banker from Maine, even when we are punished for crimes we did not commit. In briefly researching the movie, one comes to learn that it is based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. No doubt, Hayworth’s role in the movie stands out in all our minds, which is saying something as the superstar was no longer with us.

Dig deeper and you learn that King’s longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel, was part of a series called, Different Seasons, subtitled Hope Springs Eternal. How reassuring if enigmatic. More perplexing still is this master of the horror genre’s inspiration — Leo Tolstoy’s God Sees the Truth, But Waits. It would seem that Carrie has met Anna Karenina.

Clearly, it’s easier to judge those who write books by their most famous covers. But why not set such preconceived notions aside. You too can bask in King’s gorgeous prose from Shawshank and even Tolstoy’s beautiful words of inspiration: “If you want to be happy, be.” And redemption: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

These words resonate so against the backdrop of a country that remains intent on fomenting division, on splitting itself at the seams, bent on self-destruction. Perhaps it will have to come down to one man and his ability to change himself, to draw in more than his avid followers but his doubters as well.

For yours truly, it has thus been curious, nay fascinating that on matters of the Federal Reserve one Donald J. Trump has been silent as a mouse whose paws cannot bang out 140-character rants. Perhaps, just maybe, he is busy doing late night reading on the foundations of this venerable institution. If that’s the case, maybe he came across this little gem that was passed along recently:

“In selecting the members of the Board, not more than one of whom shall be selected from any one Federal Reserve district, the President shall have due regard to a fair representation of the financial, agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests, and geographical divisions of the country.”

Maybe that’s why the media has begun to dispense with the labels “hawk” and “dove” and is beginning to replace the aviary with simple human beings who have been there and done that, who have been on the receiving end of Fed policy for their entire careers. Take this from Kate Davidson at the Wall Street Journal:

“After his campaign criticism of the central bank’s low-interest-rate policies, many observers speculated he would seek more “hawkish” candidates who would favor higher borrowing costs. But his choices may be driven less by these issues and more by their practical experience, judging from his early picks for other top economic policy posts in the administration—drawn from investment banking, private equity and business—and the pool of early contenders for the Fed jobs.” 

Meanwhile, the Financial Times’ Gavyn Davies had this to say:

“The last four Fed Chairs have all been clearly on the economist side of the line, and because they have all bought into the Fed’s economic orthodoxy, their actions have been considered somewhat predictable by the markets. A business person or banker might be less predictable, at least initially, and more prone to shake up the Fed’s orthodoxies, for good or ill.”

With deference to Mr. Davies, there can be no ‘for ill’ in shaking up the Fed’s orthodoxies, if you can call them that. Orthodoxy, from the Greek word orthodoxia, implies officials are cleaving to a correct creed. But what if policymaking has devolved from correct to simply accepted?

That would imply a good dose of heterodoxy, also Greek from heterodoxos, was in order, as in a departure from the official position. To be crystal clear, heterodoxy does not equate to heretical, from the Greek hairetikos, (pardon the digression but who gave the Greeks a monopoly on multisyllabic, cool words?). Even so, a bit of heresy would also do the Fed a world of wonders. The literal Greek translation means ‘able to choose.’

A recent study determined the study of economics in academia had itself become incestuous with a great preponderance of students being trained in the same school of thought. This determination was not only disturbing and dangerous, it demands politicians introduce a bit of heresy into our nation’s central bank.

Perhaps President Trump, his administration and all members of Congress should sit down for a tutorial on Heterodox Economics (nope, not making that one up), which refers to schools of economic thought which fall outside of mainstream — read Keynesian – economics, which is predictably referred to as orthodox economics. Maybe, just maybe, it’s high time a variety of schools are incorporated, as in the post-Keynesian, Georgist, social, behavioral and dare say, Austrian approaches.

That last one, the Von Mises-inspired Austrian school of economics is apparently public enemy number one. The FT’s Davies goes on to warn that some candidates up for those open and opening positions on the Fed’s Board of Governors are ‘Austrian’ economists, a school that has apparently influenced Vice President Pence. An “Austrian” candidate would certainly alarm the markets.”

Davies has apparently done his homework. Back in 2010, one Mike Pence was serving in Congress as a representative of Indiana. In response to the Fed’s insistence on launching a second round of asset purchases, which the markets adoringly embraced as QE2, he blasted back that, “Printing money is no substitute for pro-growth fiscal policy.”

Pence’s words certainly ring Austrian, as the school considers malinvestment to be a menace, as well any rational person would. Malinvestment (we can finally score one for the Latins!) is defined as a mistaken investment in wrong lines of production, which inevitably lead to wasted capital and economic losses, subsequently requiring the reallocation of resources to more productive uses.

And we wonder why we’ve had such a long run of jobless recoveries that happens to coincide with the post-Greenspan era. Why would the markets abhor an Austrian? Clearly, we would not have starved productivity by overbuilding residential real estate in the years prior to the crisis. Nor would companies have gorged on record share buybacks in the years that followed. Agreed, these phenomena juiced returns. But to what end aside from protecting the legacy of the mythological ‘wealth effect’?

As my dear friend Peter Boockvar wrote of the wealth effect in response to the Fed’s meeting minutes from its January meeting: “The concept, invented by Alan Greenspan, and carried on by Mr. Bernanke and Mrs. Yellen, is the unspoken third?mandate of the Fed. Well Fed, you certainly got what you wanted in terms of a dramatic rise in asset prices over the past 8 years (just look at the value of equities relative to the underlying US economy) but a wealth effect did not happen if the pace of personal spending in this expansion is any indication. For many, it’s the wages they earn and the savings they keep that drive spending decisions, not the value of their stock portfolios.”

For taxpayers’ money, because they will pay in the end, it would seem we need Peter to fill one of those vacancies on the Fed’s Board. Just sayin’. Would the man who coined the term, ‘monetary constipation’ to describe the, “constant hemming and hawing over a rate hike…even in the face of a world that clearly changed on November 8th? and as we approach the 8th ?year of this expansion.”

President Trump, can you hear Peter?? This is not the time to be obtuse. This is the time to bring back the good things in life, beginning with the best – hope. Dig as deep as you can and ask yourself some probing questions. Can you stand up to the orthodoxy that’s robbed the business cycle of its very cyclicality? Are you man enough to populate the Fed with leaders who are so strong there’s no need to audit the out-of-control institution? Pray God, does Mike Pence have your ear? You may be a debt kind of a guy, you’ve said so yourself. But you’re also beholden to no one and have a once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape the world’s most powerful central bank and in doing so safeguard the sanctity of the U.S. dollar.

As Andy Dufrense explained to us all, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” It’s time we got back to the business of living in this country, every single one of us. Who are we to question if it takes a heretic to get us back to where we need to be?


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Gas Taxes Set To Surge In Roughly A Dozen States

Nearly 20 states have raised gas taxes or recalculated gas-tax formulas in recent years to generate additional revenues.  Which, of course, is an extremely politically expedient way to raise taxes on the unsuspecting masses since when gas prices soar later those price increases can simply be blamed on those evil oil corporations.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, the ease with which higher gas taxes have been passed through state governments over the past two years have emboldened at least a dozen more states, all of which are now actively considering additional gas taxes.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is putting his fellow Republican lawmakers to the test, with a plan to raise the state’s gas taxes for the first time in nearly three decades.

 

In Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, proposed tripling the state’s gas tax to 24 cents a gallon by 2018. The state has the lowest gas tax in the country and hasn’t raised it since 1970. In his recent state of the state address, Mr. Walker said he is trying to deal with a $3 billion fiscal gap, after state revenues collapsed by more than 80% from four years ago due in large part to the drop in oil and natural-gas prices.

 

New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie raised the state’s gasoline tax last year by 23 cents a gallon, his first tax hike in two terms as governor, which he offset with some other tax reductions.

 

On Thursday, the Republican-dominated Indiana House voted 61 to 36 in favor of increasing the state gas tax from 18 cents a gallon to 28 cents with annual adjustment increases possible through 2024. The bill now goes to the state Senate.

In yet another map that looks eerily similar to the 2016 electoral college map, here is where states currently stand on gas taxes.  Of course, the irony here is that the ultra-liberal states of the Northeast and West coast have the highest gas taxes…and while that might play well with their global warming narrative, gas taxes are among the most regressive forms of tax as they disproportionately impact lower-income families.  And unfortunately, unlike the cost of other goods and services that are driven to artificially high levels by misinformed government policies (did someone say Obamacare?), we suspect you’ll never see the leftist states of America subsidizing gasoline for poor people.

Gas Taxes

 

Despite serving as an easy scapegoat, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes, only 48% of the price that Americans pay at the pump actually goes to the evil oil companies for crude production.  Meanwhile, on average, nearly 20% of gas costs get sent to various federal, state and local government entities with the highest taxed states like PA, WA, NY and CA collecting even more.

Gas Tax

 

But, higher gas problems aren’t a significant long-term threat because everyone will just buy an $80,000 Tesla, right?  And, for those reading this post from the state of California please continue to ignore the fact that your Tesla is fueled by coal…


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Boston Dynamics Unveils Its Latest “Nightmare-Inducing” Robot

One year ago, when we showed readers the SkyNet-like robots produced by Boston Dynamics, a company acquired by Google in 2013 (which then tried to flip it to Toyota last year but reportedly failed)  we called the robotic creations “terrifying.” Little did we know that compared to Boston Dynamics’ next spawn, that particular batch was downright Johnny 5-friendly by comparison. Because after being briefly shown off at an event early this month, the robotic designed has officially revealed its latest creation, “Handle,” which the company’s founder previously described as “nightmare-inducing.”

Four weeks ago, Boston Dynamics – which is best known for its bipedal and quadrupedal robots – revealed it had been experimenting with some radical new tech: the wheel. The company named its new wheeled, upright robot is named Handle (“because it’s supposed to handle objects”) and looks like a cross between a Segway and the two-legged Atlas bot according to the Verge. Handle, which had not been officially unviled yet, was shown off by company founder Marc Raibert in a presentation to investors. Footage of the presentation was uploaded to YouTube by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson.

Creating a more efficient robot that can, pardon the pun, handle basic tasks like moving objects around a warehouse would certainly be of benefit for Boston Dynamics. Although the company has consistently wowed the public with its robots, it’s struggled to produce a commercial product that’s ready for the real world. That may soon change.

Raibert described Handle as an “experiment in combining wheels with legs, with a very dynamic system that is balancing itself all the time and has a lot of knowledge of how to throw its weight around.” He added that using wheels is more efficient than legs, although there’s obviously a trade-off in terms of maneuvering over uneven ground.

“This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot,” said Raibert.

He wasn’t kidding: as the video below reveals, Handle is officially about 6 foot 5, weights about 100lbs, and can roll around at around 9 mph, while preserving perfect balance and even engaging in complex aerial acrobatics: Handle can keep its balance over rough terrain, and can even jump 4 feet in the air, as well as going down stairs without an issue.

While we are confident Amazon will promptly order a few thousands of these to bring even more streamline automation and efficiency to its behemoth warehouses while putting countless part-time workers out of work, we don’t know if to dread or yearn for the moment when RoboHandle emerges in a quiet patrol of your neighborhood street, armed and ready to use lethal force, and gradually replacing the local police force around the country.


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Trump To States With Recreational Pot: Drop Dead

Via Ryan McMaken of The Mises Institute,

In the days following the 2016 election, there were already worrying signs that the Trump administration didn't merely view the War on Drugs as a useful source of rhetoric to please some Conservatives. With the appointment of Jeff Sessions — who appears to be a true believer in the War on Drugs — the threat to federalism, states's rights, and local control was all too real. 

The fears continue to be stoked by the administration itself, and yesterday White House spokesman Sean Spicer announcing that "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of [federal law against marijuana]." 

So, in an administration where Trump's promised health care reforms are anything but a done deal — and which is plagued with leaks and conflict with the US intelligence establishment — Spicer suggests the administration has enough extra time to ramp up prosecutions of American citizens for smoking a joint. The fact that 81 percent of all drug arrests are for simple possession means that yes, increasing federal enforcement is about arresting and prosecuting small-time users. 

Spicer justifies this with the well-worn claim often made by Conservatives that "There is still a federal law that we need to abide by … when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."

At the core of this statement is the same hypocrisy that infects much of the right wing on the Drug War issue. 

Conservatives like to talk a good game about states's rights and local control when it comes to issues like gun laws and Obamacare, but federalism and the Constitution go right out the window on the drug issue. 

This has long been obvious, and was solidified in federal court when Trump's nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, sued Colorado in federal court when he was attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt and the GOP attorney general from Nebraska both attempted to get the federal court to render Colorado's drug laws null and void — which would have essentially destroyed what's left of federalism and states's rights down to its foundations. Pruitt, however, was making this same argument at the very same time he was arguing that the states had the right to override Obamacare mandates. 

But the hypocrisy does not stop there. Conservatives love to talk about following the "original intent" of the US Constitution and demanding the federal government do nothing that is not authorized by the Constitution. That, of course, is then conveniently forgotten on the drug issue. 

Although Sean Spicer certainly won't admit it, the "federal law we need to abide by" is not some federal statute passed by Congress about drugs. The law we need to abide by is found in the US Constitution — specifically the Tenth Amendment — where it clearly states that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

So does the Constitution delegate to the United States government the power to regulate what sort of plants people eat, smoke, or grow? Here's a hint: No, it doesn't. 

This refrain of Drug Warriors that those who don't like the Drug War need to "change the law" before they can complain requires a willful ignorance of the law contained in the US Constitution itself. 

Indeed, in more honest times, everyone knew the Constitution did not allow federal control of such matters which is why most everyone accepted that a Constitutional amendment was necessary to authorize federal prohibition of alcohol. It was only later that politicians realized they could just forget about all that Constitution stuff and pass federal statutes banning various substances at will. 

Of course even if the Constitution did authorize such things, it would be worthy of being ignored, just as federal laws and Constitutional provisions protecting slavery were always worthless and should have been ignored by everyone everywhere.

Spicer then went on to make other fact-free claims in his attempt to connect marijuana use to recent surges in opioid deaths. Lizzy Acker in The Oregonian reports

"I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country," Spicer said, "the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people."

 

Though Spicer drew a connection between opioid use and marijuana, there is no known connection between the two. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2015 more than 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses, which includes both heroin and prescription painkillers, "more than any year on record."

The CDC reported that "nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid."

 

Marijuana overdoses account for no deaths, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In fact, a study reported in "Time" in 2016, said that "when states legalized medical marijuana, prescriptions dropped significantly for painkillers."

As Mark Thornton shows, the problem of opioid deaths can be traced back to the mainstream medical profession's frequent use of prescription painkillers, and has nothing at all to do with marijuana: 

One class of prescription drugs is directly related to the heroin epidemic, on which I have recently reported. To recap, drug companies that make opiate pain killers have influenced the American Academy of Pain Medicine to change their guidelines for prescribing pain killers. The changes in the guidelines have made it much more likely for doctors to prescribe pain killing opiate drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin for things like ordinary injuries and surgeries. The DEA, FDA, and the AMA monitor prescribing behavior of doctors, so they are more likely to follow such guidelines to avoid risk of sanction.

 

These drugs are highly effective for pain, but can be addictive and deadly themselves (16,000 deaths in 2015 alone). When the injuries heal, addicted patients can no longer get refills for the drugs. For those who have become addicted their choices are going cold turkey, enter an addiction treatment program, or obtain the drugs on the black market. In other words, they have no good choices.

And, while Spicer suggests arresting some pot users might somehow miraculously do something to cut down opioid use, the FDA is approving opioid use for 11 to 16 year olds, thus encouraging greater use on children. If the Trump administration is in the mood to crack down on somebody connected to the opioid addiction problem, there's no need to go out to Colorado or Oregon to do it. Trump can just drive over to the FDA headquarters in Maryland. 

And finally, this is just the latest indication that the Trump administration's priorities are not where they need to be. Earlier this month, David Stockman complained that Trump is letting himself get sidetracked from the important business of freeing up the economy. Stockman was apparently more right than he knew. 

When asked about drug issues in far-off states that have legalized recreational marijuana, Spicer could have simply said "we're concentrating on repealing Obamacare right now" or "we're really focused on helping small business people make a living" or "we're focused on finding peaceful solutions to pressing international issues right now, as in Syria." All of those issues require immense focus, time and effort from Trump himself and his advisors. But no, the administration decided to declare war on seven US states instead. 

There are only so many hours in the day. Trump might want to take a closer look at how he uses them.

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Update: This afternoon, AG Sessions noted:  THERE'S 'VIOLENCE' AROUND POT SMOKING

 


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