Tagged: ZeroHedge

Whats really driving the price of Bitcoin through the roof

Although Bitcoin is electronic and moves quickly, the real world doesn’t.  Since Bitcoin (which is colloquially BTC/USD) has been in the news, millions have decided to put their own money into the Crypto world and press their luck.  So here’s what’s driving the price.  Let’s say you want to buy Golem, it’s not offered on Coinbase, you need to first get an account at Bittrex or Cryptopia which are only fundable in Crypto.  That means if you are not a hacker or computer expert, you need to first connect your Coinbase account to your bank account at Wells or BOFA and then buy BTC paying the egregious 7% fee (which ironically is similar to an FX transaction).  Then, and only then, you can fund your Bittrex with BTC and buy XRP or whatever.  So this is driving the price of BTC higher, as there is precious little supply of BTC.  We call this in FX ‘real money flows’ – as DB noted recently, Japanese men have become ‘crypto day traders’ – but the real upward pressure is by using BTC as a base/funding currency, which is only beginning.  Crypto exchanges are experiencing huge bottlenecks, which means this squeeze has only started.  This week the price of BTC/USD can run up 100% or more due to this demand.  

That means, millions of people investing thousands of dollars, is driving the price of BTC up, and will likely continue to do so, until there are viable alternatives, which there will be.  Currently BTC is really the only choice for many – although it is slow, inefficient, and feature poor.


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Moody’s Considers Municipal Ratings Changes That Could Push Illinois Into Junk Territory

A few weeks ago, we expressed some level of astonishment that the rating agencies, in their infinite wisdom, decided to bestow an investment grade rating upon a new $3 billion bond issuance by the City of Chicago.  Of course, this wouldn’t be such a big deal but for the fact that the state of Illinois is a financial disaster that will undoubtedly be forced into bankruptcy at some point in the future courtesy of a staggering ~$150 billion funding gap on its public pensions, a mountain of debt and $16.4 billion in accrued AP because they can’t even afford to pay their bills on a timely basis.  Here are just a couple of our recent posts on these topics:

Alas, as Capitol Fax notes this morning, it seems as though Moody’s may finally be waking up to the farce that is their own municipal ratings system and is currently in the process of seeking comments from market participants on proposed changes for states’ general obligation credit ratings, which would include an increased emphasis on debt and pension obligations.  Of course, with their GO rating just one notch above junk, all of those long-only bond funds that have scooped up billions in ‘juicy’ 4% Illinois paper over the past couple of months should probably take notice.

Under the proposed changes, debt and pension obligations will have a 25% weight on state credit ratings, up from 20% currently. The individual state’s economy, another factor in Moody’s ratings, will also have a 25% weight, up from 20%. Governance will fall to 20% from 30% and finances will be maintained at 30%.

 

The debt and pension factor “is critical because debt and pension obligations are the primary long-term liabilities that states have,” Moody’s said in an announcement on the proposed changes Tuesday. “As these liabilities grow, states face rising expenses to pay debt and pension benefits. High fixed debt service and pension costs can crowd out other budgetary priorities and force states to raise taxes in order to meet them. Debt and pensions can curtail a state’s budgetary flexibility and heighten the risk that it will seek to deleverage through a debt restructuring.”

Illinois

Of course, the proposed changes come just after Fitch put out their 2017 State Pension Update which showed that Illinois’ pension crisis is the worst in the nation with an underfunding of more than $151 billion…or $60 billion more than second worst state: New Jersey.

“Six states have long-term liability burdens that Fitch considers elevated [in excess of 20 percent of personal income],” the report said, “with Illinois carrying the highest liability burden at 28.5 percent of personal income.”

 

Fitch Senior Director Doug Offerman said taxpayers should care because the burden takes up more than 28 percent of all personal income in Illinois, “which is essentially a proxy for the wealth level, the resource base of a given government.”

 

“For the last several years the [pension] increases did grow faster, and I would say do crowd out other spending that might have otherwise taken up organic revenue growth,” [Fitch Ratings Senior Director Karen Krop] said.

Meanwhile, State Senator Dan McConchie (R) noted, as have we on multiple occasions, that people are already fleeing Illinois in droves because of its financial crisis and resulting tax burdens.  “Whether it’s through their property taxes or because of the recent income tax increase, they just can’t afford to [stay here],” McConchie said. “This day of reckoning is fast approaching us. I don’t think we want to wait until the absolute last minute to try and do everything we can to really right the ship.”

Unfortunately, Mr. McConchie, we’re afraid your proverbial ship is taking on so much water at this point that it hasn’t a hope of surviving the crushing weight of your state’s mounting debts…perhaps it’s better at this point to simply seek a life raft and follow your constituents to Texas.


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Goldman Sachs: 2017 In 100 Charts

Goldman Sachs' Sumana Manoghar, Hugo Scott-Gall, and Navreen Sandhu wax lyrical in their introduction to the 100 most interesting charts of 2017…

In this very special edition, straight from our hearts, We pro?le 100 of our best and most compelling charts. They tell the story of a changing world; and below it starts. But for now we’ll quickly run you through the major parts.

 

We begin with rising capex: Who is spending to defend? Is disruption overrated? Who else can Amazon upend? The potential in India? Can China’s overcapacity mend? Are people eating healthier? How do millennials spend?

 

We explore each of these themes and tell you how they link. We have some fun charts in here too. And surprises. Wink wink. We hope they join the thematic dots as you see them in sync, But most of all we hope that these charts make you think.

 

There are quotes, stats, and a crossword also in here, Plus a thematic poster to spread the holiday cheer. Let us know what you think and if anything is unclear, We’ll be back soon with more. Until then, Happy New Year.

The over-arching theme appears to be that of disruption… and survival.

The Empire Strikes Back: 2017 has been a year of incumbents defending against disruption

The Force Awakens: Seeking a revival in global capex

Disruptive new entrants…

…often trigger a response from incumbents

Innovation to disruption: Tracking tech cost curves

The Last Jedi: Japan remains a unique opportunity

Attack of the Clones: Automation and the future of jobs

Who is disrupted by automation? Labour

Can the pricing power of brands be restored?

The Phantom Menace: Obesity and deconstructing the notion of healthier eating

A New Hope: The deregulatory wave

Where does China stand out?

On a parting note, some charts that surprised us

 

Source: Goldman Sachs

 

 


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The Media’s Reign Of Error Exposed

Authored by Mark Hemingway via WeeklyStandard.com,

Covering the Trump presidency has not always been the media’s finest hour, but even grading on that curve, the month of December has brought astonishing screwups.

Professor and venerable political observer Walter Russell Mead tweeted on December 8, “I remember Watergate pretty well, and I don’t remember anything like this level of journalistic carelessness back then. The constant stream of ‘bombshells’ that turn into duds is doing much more to damage the media than anything Trump could manage.”

On December 1, ABC News correspondent Brian Ross went on air and made a remarkable claim. For months, the media have been furiously trying to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Ross reported that former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had just pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, was prepared to testify that President Trump had instructed him to contact Russian officials before the 2016 election, while Trump was still a candidate. If true, it would have been a gamechanger. But Ross’s claim was inaccurate. Flynn’s documented attempts to contact the Russians came after Trump was president-elect, allegedly trying to lay diplomatic groundwork for the new administration. Ross was suspended by ABC for four weeks without pay for the error.

 

Later that same weekend, the New York Times ran a story about Trump transition official K. T. McFarland, charging that she had lied to congressional investigators about knowledge of the Trump transition team’s contacts with Russia. The article went through four headline changes and extensive edits after it was first published, substantially softening and backing away from claims made in the original version. The first headline made a definitive claim: “McFarland Contradicted Herself on Russia Contacts, Congressional Testimony Shows.” The headline now reads “Former Aide’s Testimony on Russia Is Questioned.” The website Newsdiffs, which tracks edits of articles after publication, shows nearly the entire body of the article was rewritten. (The Times website makes no mention of the changes.)

 

Still in that first weekend of December, Senator Orrin Hatch criticized the excesses of federal welfare programs, saying, “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves.” The quote was taken wildly out of context. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough as well as journalists from Mic, Newsweek, and the Los Angeles Times reported that Hatch was directly criticizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, with some suggesting Hatch thought children should be put to work to pay for subsidized health care. Not only was Hatch not criticizing the CHIP program, he cowrote the recent bill to extend its funding.

 

On December 5, Reuters and Bloomberg reported that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank account records of President Trump and family members, possibly related to business done in Russia. The report was later corrected to say Mueller was subpoenaing “people or entities close to Mr. Trump.”

 

Then on December 8, another Russia bombshell turned into a dud. CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb reported Donald Trump Jr. had been sent an email on September 4, 2016, with a decryption key to a WikiLeaks trove of hacked emails from Clinton confidant and Democratic operative John Podesta—that is, before the hacked emails were made public. (WikiLeaks is widely surmised to act as a front for Russian intelligence.) MSNBC and CBS quickly claimed to have confirmed CNN’s scoop. Within hours, though, CNN’s report was discredited. The email was sent on September 14, after the hacked Podesta emails had been made publicly available. CNN later admitted it never saw the email it was reporting the contents of.

This is just eight days’ worth of blundering.

Since October of last year, when Franklin Foer at Slate filed an erroneous report on a computer server in Trump Tower communicating with a Russian bank, there have been an unprecedented number of media faceplants, most of them directly related to the Russia-collusion theory.

The errors always run in the same direction—they report or imply that the Trump campaign was in league with Moscow.

For a politicized and overwhelmingly liberal press corps, the wish that this story be true is obviously the father to the errors. Just as obviously, there are precedents for such high-profile embarrassments in the past. (Remember Dan Rather’s “scoop” on George W. Bush’s National Guard service?) But flawed reporting in the Trump era is becoming more the norm than the exception, suggesting the media have become far too willing to abandon some pretty basic journalistic standards.

Editors at top news organizations once treated anonymous sourcing as a necessary evil, a tool to be used sparingly. Now anonymous sources dominate Trump coverage.

It’s not just a problem for readers, who should rightly be skeptical of information someone isn’t willing to vouch for by name. It’s a problem for reporters, too, because anonymous sources are less likely to be cautious and diligent in providing information. According to CNN, the sources behind the busted report on Trump Jr.’s contact with WikiLeaks didn’t intend to deceive and had been reliable in the past. Maybe so, but given the network’s repeated errors it’s difficult to just take CNN’s word for it.

But it’s one thing to use anonymous sources; it’s quite another to be entirely trusting of them. CNN decided to report the contents of an email to Donald Trump Jr. based only on the say-so of two anonymous sources and without seeing the emails. “I remember when I was [a staffer] on the Ways and Means committee and I would try and give reporters stories, and I remember the Wall Street Journal demanded to see a document,” former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer tells The Weekly Standard. “They wouldn’t take it from me if I didn’t give them the document, and I thought, ‘Good for them!’ ”

What makes the botched story of the WikiLeaks email more troubling is how quickly MSNBC and CBS ran with CNN’s scoop. “It’s hard to imagine how independent people could repeatedly misread a date on an email and do so for three different networks,” says Fleischer. “Whose eyesight is that bad?”

This points to an additional problem with the sourcing on these unfounded reports. The only way three networks could claim to have verified the same specious story is if they were all relying on the very same sources. Many of the flawed Trump reports appear to be sourced from a very narrow circle of people, who no doubt share partisan motivations or personal animus.

Certainly, it appears a number of recent spurious stories have originated as leaks from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. In Raju and Herb’s report, they revealed that Trump Jr. had been asked about the WikiLeaks email in closed-door testimony before the committee. After CNN’s scoop imploded, a spokesman for Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, issued a classic non-denial denial, telling Politico “that neither he nor his staff leaked any ‘non-public information’ ” about Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony.

Meanwhile, the Russia investigation has been very good for raising Schiff’s profile. A December 13 press release from the Republican National Committee notes the congressman has at that point spent 20 hours, 44 minutes, and 49 seconds on television since Trump took office, talking mostly about the investigation (pity the low-level staffer who must have had to do the research for that release). During that time, Schiff has always declined to discuss the particulars of the intel committee’s work. Nonetheless, consideration of his sensitive position hasn’t stopped him from offering all manner of innuendo to national TV audiences about evidence suggesting Russia collusion.

For their part, the media don’t seem to be coming to grips with the damage they’re doing to their own credibility. CNN, which calls itself “the most trusted name in news,” didn’t retract their WikiLeaks report but rewrote it in such a way as to render the story meaningless. They also came to the defense of Raju and Herb, saying the reporters acted in accordance with the network’s editorial policies. And of course they didn’t out their sources—the ultimate punishment news organizations can mete out to anonymous tipsters who steer them wrong.

It understandably infuriates the media that President Trump remains unwilling to own up to his own glaring errors and untruths, while news organizations run correction after correction. And it also understandably upsets the media to watch the president actively attack and seek to undermine their work, which remains vital to ensuring accountability in American governance.

What they haven’t grasped is how perversely helpful to him they are being: On a very basic level, President Trump’s repeated salvos against “fake news” have resonance because, well, there does indeed appear to be a lot of fake news.

“There is nothing wrong with holding powerful people accountable. There’s nothing wrong with investigating whether or not collusion took place. But there’s a lot wrong when because you want to believe in the story so much you suspend skepticism,” says Fleischer.

 

“You let your guard down. You abandon the normal filters that protect journalistic integrity. And you fail to also hold to account powerful leakers, or powerful members of Congress who themselves have an anti-Trump agenda. It’s called putting your thumb on the scale.”


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Sessions Balks At Second Special Counsel: Says Recent FBI Bombshell May Have “Innocent Explanation”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has once again balked at questions over the need for a second special counsel to investigate the Justice Department, telling reporters at a Friday press conference that while he's concerned about recent allegations of bias within the FBI, "sometimes things that might appear to be bad in the press have more innocent explanations, so fairness and justice should also be provided to our personnel." 

Last week Sessions responded to mounting pressure to launch a second special counsel, stating "I've put a Senior Attorney, with the resources he may need, to review cases in our office and make a recommendation to me, if things aren't being pursued that need to be pursued, if cases may need more resources to complete in a proper manner, and to recommend to me if the standards for a special counsel are met." 

In November. Sessions pushed back on the need for a special counsel to investigate a salacious anti-Trump dossier paid for in part by Hillary Clinton and the DNC, and whether or not the FBI used the largely unverified dossier to launch the Russia investigation. Sessions told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that it would take "a factual basis that meets the standard of a special counsel," adding "You can have your idea but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standards it requires. I would say, 'looks like' is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel."  

//players.brightcove.net/1077863425/HyenjoxZ3b_default/index.html?videoId=5646148989001

A flood of GOP lawmakers along with President Trump's outside counsel Jay Sekulow have renewed calls for a separate special counsel investigation of the Department of Justice and the FBI amid revelations that top FBI officials conspired to tone down former FBI Director James Comey's statement exonerating Hillary Clinton – altering or removing key language which effectively "decriminalized" Clinton's beahvior. The officials implicated are former FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Strzok's supervisor E.W. "Bill" Priestap, Jonathan Moffa, and DOJ Deputy General Counsel Trisha Anderson

Also under recent scrutiny are a trove of text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok to his mistress, FBI attorney Lisa Page showing extreme bias against then-candidate Trump, while both of them were actively engaged in the Clinton email investigation and the Trump-Russia investigation. GOP lawmakers claim the FBI launched its investigation into Russian collusion based on the 34-page dossier created by opposition research firm Fusion GPS – which hired the CIA wife of a senior DOJ official to assist in digging up damaging information on 5then-candidate Trump

A particularly disturbing text message between Strzok and Page was leaked to the press last week referencing an "insurance policy" in case Trump were to be elected President. Strzok wrote to Page: "I want to believe the path you threw out to consideration in Andy's office — that there's no way he gets elected — but I'm afraid we can't take that risk." It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40…."

House and Senate Committees are also trying to get to the bottom of a report last Monday by Fox News which revealed that recently demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr's wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPSthe firm behind the Trump-Russia dossier. It was also later uncovered by internet sleuths that Nellie Ohr represented the CIA's "Open Source Works" group at a 2010 working group on organized crime, which she participated in along with her husband Bruce and Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS

Bruce and Nellie Ohr

Last Tuesday, FBI Deputy Director McCabe unexpectedly cancelled a scheduled testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee – thought to be related to the Fox report on Bruce and Nellie Ohr. Text messages between Strzok and Page were released the same day

So with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying things may have "more innocent explanations" here are some specific questions for the AG to answer:

  • Did Peter Strzok innocently tell his mistress that there was an "insurance policy" against a Trump win, which likely referenced the Russia investigation which GOP lawmakers think was based on an unverified dossier?
  • Was Peter Strzok innocently texting Lisa Page "F Trump" while he was the lead investigator on the Clinton email case? 
  • Was Peter Strzok's edit of the phrase "Gross negligence" to "extremely careless" innocent? It very innocently changed the entire legal standing of the case from criminal conduct to a layman's opinion of carelessness. 

18 U.S. Code ' 793 "Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information" specifically uses the phrase "gross negligence." Had Comey used the phrase, he would have essentially declared that Hillary had broken the law. 

  • Was Peter Strzok innocently calling Trump "a f*cking idiot" and a "loathsome human" before investigating him?
  • Did FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's "damage control team" innocently change their conclusion that Hillary Clinton's server was "possibly" hacked, rather than "reasonably likely" – language which significantly altered the seriousness of Clinton's mishandling of classified information? 
  • Were all references to the FBI working with other members of the intelligence community on Clinton's private server innocently scrubbed from Comey's exoneration statement – making it look like a much smaller investigation?
  • Before he was demoted for doing so – did senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr innocently meet with MI6 spy Christopher Steele who assembled the salacious 'Trump-Russia' dossier, and then also innocently meet with Glenn Simpson, co-founder of opposition research firm Fusion GPS? Fusion commissioned Steele to create the dossier, which relied on senior Russian officials. 
  • Did Fusion GPS innocently hire Bruce Ohr's CIA wife, Nellie Ohr, to gather damaging information on President Trump? If there weren't such innocent explanations for everything, one might think Nellie Ohr could have possibly passed information from the DOJ to Fusion GPS and vice versa. 
  • Did Hillary Clinton and the DNC innocently pay Fusion GPS $1,024,408 through law firm Perkins Coie, which then paid Steele $168,000? 
  • In addition to the 'Trump-Russia' dossier, did Fusion GPS innocently arrange the Trump Tower "setup" meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian Attorney? Or attempt to link Donald Trump to billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein? Or try to push the debunked claim that a secret email server existed between Trump Tower and Moscow's Alfa bank – which Alfa bank executives are suing Fusion GPS over? 

The list goes on and on, but hey: sometimes things that might appear to be bad in the press have more innocent explanations… 


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Doug Casey On What Happens After The Next 9/11

Authored by Doug Casey via InternationalMan.com,

Is a police state in the US possible? Absolutely.

That’s because people are essentially the same the world over, regardless of their culture, religion, race, or what-have-you. A certain percentage of them are sociopaths.

There is a standard distribution of sociopaths across time and space. It’s a function of Pareto’s Law, better known as the 80-20 rule. 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Another 20% are responsible for 80% of the crime. 20% of the population always winds up with 80% of the wealth. And so forth, through all areas of human endeavor. This observation can be represented by a bell-shaped curve—a “standard distribution”—with a small minority at each extreme, but the large majority in the middle. The people who will take us to a police state are sociopaths—criminal personalities who don’t respect the liberty or property of others. And sociopaths gravitate towards government, and eventually come to control it.

My view is that 80% of human beings are basically decent, get along, go along types. 20% are what you might call potential trouble sources, that can go either way. But then you take 20% of that 20% and you’re dealing with the sociopaths.

When social conditions reach a certain stage these really bad guys come out from under their rocks and take advantage of the situation. We’re seeing that right now in the US, across the political spectrum. Just as we’ve seen in the past in hundreds of places throughout history.

A major tipping point occurred sixteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, with the attacks in New York and Washington. They were disastrous. But not nearly as disastrous as the government’s reaction to them.

Among them the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Anybody that speaks German knows that a reasonable translation of Homeland Security is Geheime Staatspolizei, which is usually abbreviated to Gestapo. Anybody that goes through airline security these days should ask themselves, “Where the hell did they find these people? Didn’t they have jobs before they went to work for this moronic agency?” The answer is that there are people out there who like wearing costumes, are willing to boss, herd, interrogate, and go through the dirty laundry of their fellow citizens. They take their jobs seriously and you better not even look at them sideways. There’s no reason to believe it’s going to get better as they groove into their jobs, and their employer cements itself into place. More likely the trend will accelerate.

Is America currently a police state? Well, let’s see. You can still get in your car and go anywhere, although you might be stopped by the police and you might be detained if your papers aren’t in order. Or the officer thinks you’re not properly respectful. Or you have “too much” cash.

Was there any particular day that Germany became a police state in the 1930s? I’m not sure you can put your finger on any one particular day, even after Hitler was legally and democratically elected. It was a progression, with new laws, new regulations, new taxes every day. While more fear and hysteria were worked up among the populace. Kristallnacht didn’t occur the day after the National Socialists took power.

It’s a case of the frog being put in a kettle of water where the temperature is gradually raised to a boil. That’s what’s occurring in the US. After 9/11, in addition to Homeland Security, we got the Patriot Act, with, among other things, its suspension of habeas corpus. That means that the government can lock anybody up for any reason and not even have to tell them why. Accuse them of being an “enemy combatant”—a neologism that justifies anything, and is robotically and thoughtlessly accepted by Boobus americanus—and anything is possible. Including a trip to a CIA black site in some Third World hellhole. This is something I thought was settled in Western Civilization with the Magna Carta and King John. But we’re going backwards in most areas of personal freedom. And America, of all places, is leading the way—even while falling behind economically.

I don’t know if I can put my finger on exactly when we’re going to go over the edge, but if I was going to guess I would think the real catalyst is going to be the next 9/11-type event. And I don’t doubt it’s going to happen.

How are we any different than the Germans in the 1930s? This was one of the most civilized, best educated countries in Europe and they fell into the abyss. I suppose we’re a bit different. Americans are addicted to welfare, anti-depressant drugs, food, and electronic devices. That should certainly give us a better outcome…

There’s a joke I like to tell. Let me ask you this: Which is the gravest danger? Is it the ignorance, or is it the apathy of the average American today? Stumped? Here’s the answer: I don’t know and I don’t care.

*  *  *

When we do tumble over the political edge—which will likely happen sooner rather than later—complete economic collapse is sure to follow. That’s why we’re sharing our field guide to Surviving and Thriving During an Economic Collapse. Click here to download your free PDF copy now.

 


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Mueller Obtained “Tens of Thousands” Of Trump Transition Emails

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has taken possession of “many tens of thousands” of emails from the Trump transition team, obtained through the General Services Administration – the government agency responsible for hosting the transition email system which used a “ptt.gov” address. The trove of documents, which includes sensitive emails to and from Trump son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner, comprise 12 email accounts – one of which reportedly contains around 7,000 emails. Mueller’s team has reportedly been using the emails as the basis for witness interviews, sources tell Axios

The transition emails are said to include sensitive exchanges on matters that include potential appointments, gossip about the views of particular senators involved in the confirmation process, speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes. –Axios

Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads,” a transition source adds.


FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller III

Transition officials had reportedly pre-sorted emails in anticipation of Mueller’s investigation, separating “privileged” communications from the rest of the cache, and sources say they were surprised to learn of Mueller’s use of the emails – as they have been fully cooperative with the special counsel investigation. “They ask us to waive NDAs [nondisclosure agreements] and things like that,” a second source said. “We have never said ‘no’ to anything.

Tranistion team lawyer Kory Langhofer says the Special Counsel obtained the documents through “unlawful conduct” by the General Services Administration, reports Fox News

In a letter obtained by Fox News and sent to House and Senate committees on Saturday, the transition team’s attorney alleges “unlawful conduct” by the career staff at the General Services Administration in handing over transition documents to the special counsel’s office.

 

Kory Langhofer, the counsel to Trump for America, wrote in the letter that the special counsel’s office is aware that the GSA “did not own or control the records in question.”

 

But, Langhofer says, Mueller’s team has “extensively used the materials in question, including portions that are susceptible to claims of privilege.

 

The Trump transition team lawyer argued the actions “impair the ability of future presidential transition teams to candidly discuss policy and internal matters that benefit the country as a whole.” 

The emails could shed light on the details leading up to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s communications with Rusian ambassador Sergey Kislyak – with whom Flynn had several call to discuss sanctions, as well as an upcoming UN Security Council vote on whether or not to condemn Israel’s building of settlements, which the Obama administration was preparing to allow to go through. The New York Times reported in early December that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel asked the Trump transition team to lobby other countries to help Israel. 

According to prosecutors, on Dec. 22, Mr. Flynn discussed with Mr. Kislyak an upcoming United Nations Security Council vote on whether to condemn Israel’s building of settlements. At the time, the Obama administration was preparing to allow a Security Council vote on the matter.

 

Investigators have learned that Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kushner took the lead in those efforts. Mr. Mueller’s team has emails that show Mr. Flynn saying he would work to kill the vote, the people briefed on the matter said. –NYT

In September, Politico reported that Jared Kushner continued to use a private email account that had been set up during the transition to communicate with fellow administration officials during Trump’s first nine months in office – however it was used to send “less than 100 emails” which mostly consisted of “quips about news items and minor commentary.” 

“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement Sunday. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

Politico also noted that Kushner’s use of a private email account was part of a larger pattern of Trump administration aides using personal email accounts for government business. Kushner allegedly used the private account to communicate with Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn and Josh Raffel. Buried deep within the report, however, that that There is no indication that Kushner has shared any sensitive or classified material on his private account, or that he relies on his private email account more than his official White House account to conduct government business. Aides say he prefers to call or text over using email.


Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner

As ZeroHedge reported at the time, Politico said Kushner and Ivanka Trump set up their private family domain late last year before moving to Washington from New York, according to people with knowledge of events as well as publicly available internet registration records. At the time, Kushner, who served as a senior campaign adviser, was expected to be named to a White House role, while Ivanka Trump was publicly saying she didn’t plan to work in her father’s administration, though she ended up taking an unpaid role with an office in the West Wing. People familiar with the account say it was primarily set up for personal use, but that Kushner has used it to communicate with acquaintances outside the White House about matters relating to Trump and the administration, according to people who have received messages.

In November, the Senate Judiciary Committee said Kushner failed to turn over relevant documents pertaining to a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” as well as emails received from WikiLeaks. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a letter to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell: “We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete.”

According to leaked information, Kushner allegedly neglected to disclose that Aleksander Torshin, a powerful Russian central banker and former senator with ties to both President Vladimir Putin and Russian organized crime, had reached out to the campaign with a “dinner invite” and an offer to connect Trump with Putin. Kushner, who was on the email chain, reportedly instructed junior campaign aides to rebuff the meeting. As reported by NBC, “Kushner rebuffed the request after receiving a lengthy email exchange about it between a West Virginia man and Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn, the sources said.”

Grassley and Feinstein’s letter point to several omissions, and addresses concerns raised by Kushner’s attorney over “Executive Privilege” by creating a “privilege log” to segregate communications. 

If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the letter reads, asking Kushner to turn over all responsive documents by Nov 27. As Politico reported at the time: 

According to the lawmakers, Kushner’s attorney suggested providing some documents might “implicate the president’s Executive Privilege.” In their letter, they asked Lowell to resolve those issues and produce the documents or create a “privilege log” to detail over which documents the president is asserting executive privilege.

 

Grassley and Feinstein also said Kushner declined to produce documents connected to his security clearance application, citing their confidentiality. The lawmakers said they intend to take Lowell up on a separate request to visit his office to review the documents in person, but they said the committee would not waive its request to obtain its own copies.

Lowell responded, stating that they had “provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request,” adding that Kushner had told the committee they would be open to additional requests for information. 

And according to Transition team attorney Kory Langhofer, Mueller’s team ignored any sort of “privilege log” and obtained the emails through “unlawful conduct,” after which they “extensively used the materials in question, including portions that are susceptible to claims of privilege.” 

Given the reported use of private email accounts by Jared Kushner other transition team members, it stands to reason that if Robert Mueller’s team finds anything ‘of interest,’ sent to or from said accounts, they will become subject to a full review as part of the ever-expanding investigation.


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Austria’s Anti-Immigrant Freedom Party Enters Government; Wins Key Ministry Posts

Two months ago, in Europe’s latest shocking, anti-establishment outcome, Austria’s 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz became the world’s youngest leader after his conservative People’s Party won the Austrian National Council elections, making him Austria’s youngest Chancellor in history, while the establishment Social Democrat party suffered its “worst result since Hitler rule.”


Sebastian Kurz and his girlfriend Susanne Thier

And now, two months later, in a double whammy for Europe’s outraged liberal establishment, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) – which finished third in October’s elections with 26% of the vote, less than a percent behind the Social Democrats, has joined a coalition government with Sebastian Kurz and his People’s Party (OVP). The agreement between the People’s Party and the Freedom Party, which is returning to government after more than a decade’s absence, was struck on Friday, the two parties’ leaders, Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache announced in a joint news conference.

Austria’s president approved the new coalition on Saturday, two months after inconclusive elections. According to BBC, the coalition government makes Austria the only country in Western Europe to have a far-right party in power.


Sebastian Kurz and Freedom Party chair Heinz-Christian Strache

Introducing the new government, and the 180-page document setting out its agenda, Mr Kurz said the two parties had agreed “on a clear pro-European outlook”. Meanwhile, Strache, who in January advocated a law similar to the ban on Nazi practices to be introduced against “fascist Islam,” spoke about “mutual appreciation” with Kurz, adding that they share “the responsibility for our homeland Austria and for the people in this country.”

While the two parties have yet to unveil the details of the coalition agreement, some of the key points that will shape the next government have already been discussed: among them is a further crackdown on migration

“We want to reduce the burden on taxpayers … and above all we want to ensure greater security in our country, including through the fight against illegal immigration,” Kurz said.

And while the FPO will be the junior coalition partner, it has already secured several critical posts in the new cabinet. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache will be vice-chancellor, while his party colleagues will run the ministries of the interior, defense and health and social security. Specifically, Herbert Kickl, will be the new iterior minister: the party’s general secretary and campaign director, 49, was a speechwriter for the late party leader Jorg Haider and is a close confidant of the current leader, Hans-Christian Strache.

For one, the sweep assures that any and all benefits for migrants will be eliminated. To be sure, the opposition has expressed concern that the police and the security apparatus are now all firmly in the hands of the Freedom Party.

Separately, the new foreign minister will be Middle East expert and writer Karin Kneissl, who is not a Freedom Party member but was nominated by the party, which to some suggests that the Freedom Party now effectively runs Austria.  At the request of Austria’s president, the posts of justice minister and interior minister would not be held by the same party, Mr Kurz said.

Today’s crowning success of the far-right Freedom Party, which gained 7 percentage points on the previous elections, come amid a backlash to the immigrant wave that swept Europe in 2015 in the aftermath of Angela Merkel’s now defunct “open door” policy. The party’s hardline anti-immigrant stance emerged after Austria was overwhelmed by a wave of refugees fleeing the US-stoked proxy war in Syria.

Since 2015, the Alpine country took in some 150,000 asylum seekers, which accounts for over 1 percent of its population, one of the largest shares per capita alongside Sweden. The signs of the growing popularity of the far-right was evident in December last year, when Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer’s bid to become modern Austria’s first far-right president was only narrowly defeated in a neck-and-neck contest with centrist Van der Bellen.

And so, with Austria set to form a right-wing government, institutionalized opposition to Europe’s liberal “open door” policies on migrants is no longer restricted to the EU’s eastern territories. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with their own conservative governments, remain staunchly opposed to the EU relocation scheme and refuse to take in a single refugee. Now, with Austria joining the “resistance”, the anti-migrant wave have officially broken into central Europe.

And now, we await Europe’s response: when the Freedom Party last entered a coalition in Austria in 2000, the country’s fellow EU member states froze bilateral diplomatic relations in response. While they were lifted months later, such measures are unlikely to happen again, as resurgent populist groups have been promoting anti-immigration and eurosceptic agendas across much of the EU, and the last thing any other establishment party wants is to experience a similar revolution in the top political echelons.


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WTF Chart Of The Week

Authored by Jeffrey Snider via Alhambra Investment Partners,

Back in early October, I noted that repo fails had jumped above $250 billion (combined “to receive” and “to deliver”) for three weeks straight. That wasn’t an auspicious result, as sustained collateral problems like that don’t correlate to happy things. It all began the week of September 5, in what seemed like a minor one-day nuisance over the 4-week bill yield.

October was something of lull in repo and other things, too. Nothing ever goes in a straight line, of course, so it wasn’t surprising to find by mid-November a resumption of concerns based so much in repo. The week of Thanksgiving, fails totaled again more than $400 billion, similar in scale to that week of September 5. Then they spiked by 50% more to $600 billion the week after.

FRBNY records $523 billion in repo fails now for the first week of December. That’s three straight more than $400 billion, two in a row better than half a trillion.

The 8-week average is even just shy of $350 billion. You can get rich being a collateral owner under these terms, raising the question where are they all?

While these are good charts, important charts, neither is our Chart of the Week. What we are looking for in this context of really another burgeoning “dollar shortage” episode is, as always, escalation.

I’m going to go out on a limb and claim there is something seriously wrong in repo.

 

All jokes aside, I know it sounds like a broken record but the dimension that matters is not intermittent collateral problems so much as the greater intensity to them and in a condensing timeframe. Escalation is a description you really don’t want to fit the circumstances.

Just as raging wildfires have a horrific tendency to jump fire-lines and even whole valleys given enough energy, funding issues can jump markets. The global “dollar” market is not a monolithic whole and never has been. It may be (very likely is) more fragmented today than at any point in the past owing to persistent balance sheet capacity problems (therefore the breakdown of covered interest parity that used to keep various funding markets working together in what sure seemed like a seamless whole). It would be a clear point of magnification, then, to find serious problems in one part of the eurodollar system spilling over into another one.

Leading us to our Chart of the Week:

The 3-month €/$ cross currency basis swap has plunged this week, a descent that really started the week after Thanksgiving. It has reached a level today last seen during the 2011 crisis. And this latest detour clearly marks its inflection where else but the week of September 5. In other words, you rarely find an exact match like the one we have here repo to €/$ swaps.

This particular instrument isn’t alone among XCurrBasisSwaps, either, it is merely the tenor and counterpart currency that right now is at the most extreme.

Because these are two very different funding mechanisms, repo and FX (Footnote dollars), there can be little doubt what is really at issue – “dollar” shortage as a matter of supply and therefore balance sheet capacity.

That’s the one common element linking collateral flow with the severe unwillingness (broken covered interest parity) to make a killing lending FX dollars to euro counterparties.

 

This doesn’t mean there is a crash right ahead. It does, however, suggest coming difficulties in various markets and more than that the global economy.

You can blame regulations all you want, as the mainstream has already rushed to do, being forced by such a huge move in €/$ cross to at least report on it, but there is no way this comes out as anything other than an escalating warning.

As a reminder, what negative premiums on XCurrBasisSwaps mean:

The cross currency basis swap is somewhat unique in that by fixing exchange values at both the outset and back end, it reveals purely financial perceptions in its values and changing values about the differences in interest payments. For example, in the 1990’s the basis swap for Japanese banks (again, not companies) was structurally negative, meaning that they had to pay a premium to swap into dollar funding because of negative perceptions of creditworthiness. This is the legacy of the downside of the “global dollar short”, as Japanese banks had accumulated large dollar asset positions (long US$ assets, short US$ funding) leaving them susceptible to such vagaries in dollar funding, whether repo or basis swaps or anything else someone on Wall Street or in London might dream up that wasn’t gold or actual cash…

 

The negative yen basis swap acts like leverage where even yields on the interim “investment” are negative. Any speculator or bank with spare “dollars” could lend them in a yen basis swap meaning an exchange into yen. Because you end up with yen you are forced into some really bad investment choices such as slightly negative 5-year government bonds, but that is just part of the cost of keeping risk on your yen side low. Instead, the real money is made in the basis swap itself since it now trades so highly negative. The very fact of that basis swap spread means a huge premium on spare dollars; which is another way of saying there is a “dollar” shortage.

 

Because of the shortage and its premium, you can swap into yen and invest in negative yielding JGB’s in size and still make out handsomely. There has been, in fact, a rush of foreign “money” into Japan to take advantage of this dollar shortage; the fact that there has been such enthusiasm and it still has not alleviated the imbalance proves scale and intractability.


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Somebody Hacked Starbucks’ WiFi To Mine Cryptocurrencies

As the values of the largest cryptocurrencies have multiplied this year, so too have reports of digital-currency miners stealing resources to amplify the profitability of their operations.

In Venezuela, where electricity is heavily subsidized by the (crumbling) government, the government’s intelligence agents are ferreting out and jailing people caught mining bitcoin or other digital currencies.

Yesterday, we reported that the world’s largest oil-pipeline company discovered unauthorized digital-currency mining taking place on the company’s hardware.

And today, Cryptocoinsnews pointed out that a Starbucks in Buenos Aires had its wi-fi hacked to force a 10 second delay when connecting so it could mine Monero – currently the world’s 11th largest cryptocurrency – with people’s laptops.

The presence of the CoinHive code was discovered by the chief executive of a New York-based tech company, Noah Dinkin, who noticed something was off when he was connecting to the service. He then used Twitter to share what he found:

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

Initially, Dinkin believed his laptop was being forced to mine bitcoin, users noted Coinhive only works with Monero, a cryptocurrency optimized for CPU mining that recently hit a new all-time high above $300, and has surged over 1,500% this year so far, according to data from CoinMarketCap.

A few days after Dinkin shared his findings on Twitter, Starbucks responded. The company acknowledged the issue and announced that it’s been resolved.

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

A spokesperson later on clarified that this wasn’t an isolated incident, and that the problem stemmed from the internet service provider, not Starbucks. Speaking to Motherboard, the spokesperson added that Starbucks hoped to ensure its customers are “able to search the internet over Wi-Fi securely,” and that it’s working with its service provider to remedy the issue.

Earlier this year, CCN reported the Pirate Bay’s efforts to use visitor CPU to mine Monero in order to monetize its traffic and replace the ads on its pages. The torrent index website used Coinhive, a JavaScript code that allows website admins to mine the anonymity-centric cryptocurrency with visitor’s CPUs.

Ever since the Pirate Bay tested Coinhive on its website, various actors started using the code to access other CPUs. The code was even placed on Google Chrome extensions, and on a subscription streaming service called Fight Pass, which exists to stream UFC matches.
 


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