Thursday 30 October 2014

Google Survey: Majority of US Citizens Think US Gives Too Much to Israel

The majority of US citizens, according to a Google Consumer Survey (cited here), think the US gives too much aid to Israel:
Today 6 in 10 Americans believe the U.S. gives too much aid to Israel
Surveying Americans about U.S. aid to Israel requires putting it into proper perspective. Given Israel’s position as the leading single U.S. foreign aid recipient (by a wide margin), as in 1989 asking the foreign aid question requires embedding relevant data to obtain a bona fide response.  When such data is included, the majority of Americans (60.7 percent) believe U.S. aid to Israel is excessive.  The major response, that aid to Israel is “Much too much” is 33.9 percent of Americans.  Some 26.8 percent believe it is “too much” while 25.9 percent believe it is “about right.” Only 13.4 percent of Americans believe U.S. aid to Israel is not enough.
The policy and political implications of this finding are stark.  Elected officials passing ever larger aid packages and supplemental spending for Israel simply cannot claim they are representing the majority interests of their constituents.  American presidents proclaiming the U.S.‐Israel bond is “unbreakable” cannot claim such a bond is willingly underwritten by U.S. taxpayers.  The finding also shines yet more light on Israel lobby organizations as the major factor coming between most constituents and their representatives and quietly working to ensure that Israel’s majority share of the U.S. foreign aid budget continues.
The survey also finds that, in particular, younger US citizens are strongly opposed to the amount of US aid that goes to Israel, and, crucially, finds that “Only the Wealthiest Americans believe U.S. aid is ‘about right’”:

The only category of Americans (47.6 percent) who believed U.S. aid for Israel is “about right” is the segment earning $150,000 or more (although even 42.9 percent in that category thought aid was too high).  The next lower income category, $100,000‐149,000 is the most vehemently opposed to aid, with 79.5 percent believing it is too high (42.9 percent responding “much too much” and 36.6 percent “too much.” )
While the Google report says the findings are “stark”, they are nothing new at all, and are entirely consistent with the findings of the recent study out of Cornell and Northwestern universities, the largest study of its kind to date, that looked at nearly 1,800 individual US policy issues and found that the average US citizen has zero impact on those policies, while the wealthiest citizens essentially get exactly what they want, meaning they dictate US policy (and they largely comprise the US government).

This Google survey simply singles out one of the policy issues, which all illustrate that the USA is in no way a democracy, but simply a society in which people are allowed to choose which of two corporate-backed figureheads they want as the face of an oligarchy that dictates government policy in its own interest.

It is also worth noting here that 1) the top ten recipients of US aid (with Israel as #1) all, like the US itself, have torture regimes, 2) US law “prohibit[s] U.S. foreign aid to nuclear weapons states such as Israel that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”, and 3) Obama, while repeatedly insisting the US is a “nation of laws”, requested more military aid for Israel than any president ever (among many other blatantly illegal acts).


Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself

Today’s news brings us to the Neural Turing Machine, a computer that will combine the way ordinary computers work with the way the human brain learns, enabling it to actually program itself. Perhaps my CS friends should reevaluate their position?

The computer is currently being developed by the London-based DeepMind Technologies, an artificial intelligence firm that was acquired by Google earlier this year. Neural networks — which will enable the computer to invent programs for situations it has not seen before — will make up half of the computer’s architecture. Experts at the firm hope this will equip the machine with the means to create like a human, but still with the number-crunching power of a computer, New Scientist reports.
In two different tests, the NTM was asked to 1) learn to copy blocks of binary data and 2) learn to remember and sort lists of data. The results were compared with a more basic neural network, and it was found that the computer learned faster and produced longer blocks of data with fewer errors. Additionally, the computer’s methods were found to be very similar to the code a human programmer would’ve written to make the computer complete such a task.
These are extremely simple tasks for a computer to accomplish when being told to do so, but computers’ abilities to learn them on their own could mean a lot for the future of AI.


FBI agents cut internet access, pose as repairmen to perform warrantless search


LAS VEGAS, NV — To investigate a purported case of untaxed sports betting, federal agents turned off internet access to three luxury hotel suites then impersonated repair technicians to covertly get inside and collect evidence. The FBI contends that this ploy is sufficient “consent” to perform warrantless searches in private residences.
* * * * *
In June 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation suspected that a wealthy Malaysian real estate developer and a few of his associates were betting on FIFA World Cup games. The bureau believed that 50-year-old Wei Seng “Paul” Phua and his son Darren Phua had accessed “online sports books” on their laptops as part of the unpermitted betting operation taking place at the Ceasar’s Palace Hotel and Casino.
Defendant Paul Phau during a televised poker tournament.  (Photo: YouTube)
Defendant Paul Phau during a televised poker tournament. (Photo: YouTube)
The FBI was in need of an articulate reason to acquire a warrant on the Phuas. To obtain one, agents devised a plan to sneak into three hotel suites masquerading as helpful computer technicians, arriving to solve a problem with the internet service.
To create a disturbance, the scheme involved flickering the internet connection to the suspects’ villas over the course of two days, with the help of hotel computer contractors. Agents disguised as technicians responded to the villas with laptops to attempt to “fix” the problem. The plan was derailed when a butler refused to allow them to enter.
“I just want to make sure they can connect before I leave,” one FBI agent said, his hidden camera revealed. “Can we just make sure they can connect, OK?”
“The thing is, you can’t go in there right now,” the butler responded.
Later, the internet connection was completely shut off and the faux technicians were poised to come and “fix” it. According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Paul Phua, on June 22, 2014, agents then covertly searched the villas and took secret recordings — all before obtaining a warrant.
The recordings were presented in a criminal complaint, which described what was seen in the villa:
J.A. stated that he/she saw several work stations with extra monitors attached. J.A. saw one of the computer screens, which was displaying what he/she believed to be words in the Chinese language and also included several columns which appeared to be numbers. J.A. stated it looked like betting odds displayed on a computer screen, similar to what J.A. has seen in sports betting in the casinos.
Along with observing spreadsheets of numbers and foreign words, the complaint stated that the luxury suite contained several televisions which were “tuned to the World Cup.” This evidence was enough to secure an official warrant and perform an exhaustive search.
“We’ll dress up as technicians, we’ll come inside, we’ll claim to be fixing the Internet connection — even though we can’t, ’cause we broke it from outside — and then we’ll just look around and see what we see,” attorney Tom Goldstein narrated.
Defense attorneys faulted the complaint for concealing from the judge the fact that agents had intentionally arranged for the internet service to be disrupted as a pretext for their entry.
Since the government enforces a legal monopoly on gambling, agents take it very seriously when individuals voluntarily associate, place bets, and exchange money without permission. Enforcers go to great lengths to ensure that no one gambles their money unless a cut is given to both the government and a designated gaming corporation.
The investigation eventually led to 8 arrests. Besides Mr. Phua and his son, the other individuals suspected of gambling without government permission included Malaysian junketeer Seng Chen “Richard” Yong, 56, his son Wai Kin Yong, 22, Hong Kong real estate executive Hui Tang, 44, Yan Zhang, 40, Yung Kueng Fan, 46, and Herman Chun Sang Yueng, 36. The Associated Press reported that all eight defendants face charges of transmission of wagering information, operating an illegal gambling business, and aiding and abetting.
Several wealthy professional poker players bailed out the high-rolling defendants, whose bonds ranged from $500,000 to $2,000,000.
Tom Goldstein, representing Paul Phua, described to NPR how deceitful tactics were not only used on the suspects, but also to the judge and legal defense team:
Defense lawyer Goldstein contends that not only was the search illegal, but the government knew it was and tried to cover it up. He contends that the materials submitted to a federal magistrate judge in seeking a warrant later carefully eliminated all indications that the federal agents had themselves cut the Internet line so that the villa occupants would ask for repairmen to come to the villa to fix the problem.

“They just managed not to tell the magistrate what it is they had actually done,” says Goldstein.

Indeed, Goldstein notes that he and his clients never would have known that it was the FBI agents who cut the line were it not for one slip of the tongue that the agents made — recorded on tape — when talking among themselves. He adds that when the defense asked for further recordings, the FBI provided two blank CDs, claiming the recording devices malfunctioned.

“There’s no real way of looking at this other than to say that it is a cover-up,” contends Goldstein.
The lawsuit named two of the government conspirators as Nevada Gaming Commission Board (NVGCB) Agent Ricardo Lopez and FBI Special Agent Mike Kung.
If the government is allowed to stretch the definition of “consent to search” to mean allowing apparent technicians fix an artificially-created problem without a warrant, the implications on privacy rights and 4th Amendment would be devastating.
Defense attorneys for the accused gamblers made a compelling argument in a written motion to the federal magistrate judge regarding the suppression of the warrantless search. They said:
The notion that an individual “consents” to such searches—so that the government is free to ignore the Fourth Amendment’s explicit warrant requirement—is, in a word, absurd. Our lives cannot be private—and our personal relationships intimate—if each physical connection that links our homes to the outside world doubles as a ready-made excuse for the government to conduct a secret, suspicionless, warrantless search. Only a few remote log cabins lack any Internet, electric, gas, water, cable, or telephone service. But the Constitution does not require us to sever all those connections—and live as hermitic luddites—to protect ourselves from the government’s prying eyes and secret cameras. A ruling upholding these intrusions would cause innocent Americans to live their daily lives burdened with the palpable sense that their government is regularly scheming to spy on them in their homes.
The defense added: “If this Court authorizes this duplicity, the government will be free to employ similar schemes in virtually every context to enter the homes of perfectly innocent people. Agents will frequently have no incentive to follow the warrant procedure required by the Constitution.”

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Why in the World are They Spraying? VIDEO

Binyamin Netanyahu ‘chickenshit’, say US officials in explosive interview

US relations with Israel have plunged to new depths of bitterness and hostility as senior officials in the Obama administration decried Binyamin Netanyahu as a “chickenshit prime minister”, “coward” and a man more interested in his own political survival than peace.
The furious assessment delivered in anonymous but no-holds barred commentsin an interview with the American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic underline a state of anger with Netanyahu that is characterised as “red hot”.
The remarks are particularly telling in having been made to Goldberg, a Washington insider who has interviewed both Obama and Netanyahu, and who warned US-Israeli relations were in a “full-blown crisis” that could only get worse after the midterm elections.
Speaking to the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – a few hours after the comments were revealed, Netanyahu angrily insisted he was “under attack simply for defending Israel”, adding that he “cherished” Israel’s relationship with the US.


Was The Swedish Hunt for The ‘Russian’ Sub Complete BS?

There was no Russian distress call. That’s the opinion of a Swedish signal intelligence (SIGINT) source after a massive $2.8mn military and media sub-hunt consumed the country for a week.
Reports of a Russian distress signal and a grainy-picture were enough to deploy the navy while the media widely concluded the vessel had to be a Russian submarine spooking Stockholm.
The proof of this was an alleged comms intercept, at distress call frequency, between the supposed sub and Kaliningrad base.
But the Dagens Nyheter daily cited a Swedish Intel source who confessed there was no distress call.
Citing freedom of information requests and its own sources, the paper said Sweden’s signal intelligence agency knows nothing about the alleged distress calls, and registered no spikes in communication with Kaliningrad at the time.
“I’d be glad to read about that emergency call myself. But it didn’t happen, this information is incorrect,” the newspaper cites a source as saying.
Russia has denied sending any subs to spy on Sweden, or having one suffer an emergency in Sweden’s waters. Sources in the Russian military suggested that the fuss was caused by a sighting of a Norwegian U-boat participating in a joint NATO drill in the Baltics.


Globalization = Permanent Instability

Globalization continually creates imbalances that fuel a perpetual instability that gradually impoverishes every sector other than global capital.

Globalization has two guaranteed consequences: permanent instability and endless boom-and-bust cycles. As noted in Forget "Free Trade"--Focus on Capital Flows, the key engine of globalization is mobile capital: capital that can borrow money for next to nothing in one nation and then move that capital to other nations where yields are higher and opportunities for exploitation riper.

This mobility of capital is an enormous benefit to the owners of the capital, but it creates extraordinary instability for those who are not as mobile. When mobile capital encounters anything that reduces profits--higher taxes and rising labor costs, competition or restrictive regulations--it closes factories and fires its workers in that locale and shifts to another locale with greater opportunities for high returns.

The workers left behind have limited means to replace the lost wages, and the local government often has few resources to repair any damage left by the exploitation of resources. The advantage of mobility is reserved for capital, and to the relatively limited cohort of workers who can immigrate to other nations to find work.

This illustrates two key ontological characteristics of financialized globalization: perpetual instability and a never-ending cycle of boom and bust as capital sparks rapid development in one locale and then moves elsewhere once profits decline.

The scale of global capital is difficult to grasp; trillions of central bank-issued dollars, euros, yen and renminbi are sloshing around the global economy, seeking low-risk profits.

Capital has no loyalty to anything but its own expansion, and the damage it leaves in its wake is of no concern to the owners of capital.

There are even less visible consequences to the globalization of markets, capital and labor. Once goods and services are priced globally, local supply and demand no longer set the local price. As my colleague Mark G. has observed, consumer prices can rise even if there are deflationary surpluses in the local economy because price is set by global supply and demand. As a result, measuring inflation and deflation locally is meaningless in a globalized economy.

This financialized globalization of goods, services, credit and currencies continually creates imbalances that fuel a perpetual instability that gradually impoverishes every sector other than global capital, which being mobile, can exploit the imbalances for its own profit.

Correspondent Mark G. recommended a recent article by China-based economist Michael Pettis, How to link Australian iron with Marine le Pen:

"In a 'globalized' world, no country, not even the US, can protect itself from the consequences of imbalances elsewhere. The global economy is a system in which certain types of imbalances are impossible. I especially focus on the requirement that global savings and global investment always balance, but there are others. Because an imbalance at the global level is impossible. if there are imbalances in one country or region, there necessarily must be the opposite imbalances in another, and the more open an economy, the more likely it is to respond to imbalances elsewhere.

It is impossible, in other words, to understand any non-autarchic economy in the world except in the context of global imbalances.

As I say in my book, The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy, in a globalized world anything that affects the relationship between savings and investment in one country--and nearly everything affects that relationship -- must have the opposite effect on the rest of the world. There is no way of escaping the fact that imbalances generated in one country become a problem for everyone."

Here is Mark's commentary:

The logically following converse of Pettis' point is that only economies enjoying autarchy in any category of economic activity can ever hope to reach reasonable price stability in those activities, and then only if these activities are also made non-tradable by local practice. Restated, "free trade" between large central states is a prescription for perpetual instability at all levels.

Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage is only advantageous if you enjoy an advantage in a particular field. Otherwise it is merely a road map to rapid impoverishment. The only localized response--even at continental level--is to embark on a series of successive financial bubbles. This is pretty much what we've seen everywhere in the world for the last three decades.

Thank you, Mark, for summarizing the consequence of central bank-funded mobile capital and the imbalances and boom-bust cycles this free money for financiers generates globally.

The American Dream Gone Bust


The quintessential ingredient in the stew that makes up a thriving housing market has been evaporating in America. And a recent phenomenon has taken over: private equity firms, REITs, and other Wall-Street funded institutional investors have plowed the nearly free money the Fed has graciously made available to them since 2008 into tens of thousands of vacant single-family homes to rent them out. And an apartment building boom has offered alternatives too.

Since the Fed has done its handiwork, institutional investors have driven up home prices and pushed them out of reach for many first-time buyers, and these potential first-time buyers are now renting homes from investors instead. Given the high home prices, in many cases it may be a better deal. And apartments are often centrally located, rather than in some distant suburb, cutting transportation time and expenses, and allowing people to live where the urban excitement is. Millennials have figured it out too, as America is gradually converting to a country of renters.

So in its inexorable manner, homeownership has continued to slide in the third quarter, according to the Commerce Department. Seasonally adjusted, the rate dropped to 64.3% from 64.7 in the prior quarter. It was the lowest rate in the data series, going back to 1995 (not seasonally adjusted, the rate dropped to 64.4%, the lowest since Q1 1995).

This is what that relentless slide looks like:


Homeownership since 2008 dropped across all age groups. But the largest drops occurred in the youngest age groups. In the under-35 age group, where first-time buyers are typically concentrated, home ownership has plunged from 41.3% in 2008 to 36.0%; and in the 35-44 age group, from 66.7% to 59.1%, with a drop of over a full percentage point just in the last quarter – by far the steepest.

Homeownership, however, didn’t peak at the end of the last housing bubble just before the financial crisis, but in 2004 when it reached 69.2%. Already during the housing bubble, speculative buying drove prices beyond the reach of many potential buyers who were still clinging by their fingernails to the status of the American middle class … unless lenders pushed them into liar loans, a convenient solution many lenders perfected to an art.

It was during these early stages of the housing bubble that the concept of “home” transitioned from a place where people lived and thrived or fought with each other and dealt with onerous expenses and responsibilities to a highly leveraged asset for speculators inebriated with optimism, an asset to be flipped willy-nilly and laddered ad infinitum with endless amounts of cheaply borrowed money.

Despite low and skidding homeownership rates, home prices have been skyrocketing in recent years, and new home prices have reached ever more unaffordable all-time highs. Housing Bubble 2 came into full bloom, but now it too popped. Mess ensues. Read…New Home Prices Plunge the Worst EVER (in One Ugly Chart)

How about a Google suppository?

Via: Wired:

Google is attempting to develop a pill that would send microscopic particles into the bloodstream in an effort to identify cancers, imminent heart attacks, and other diseases.

Andrew Conrad, the head of life sciences inside the company’s Google X research lab, revealed the project on Tuesday morning at a conference here in Southern California. According to Conrad, the company is fashioning nanoparticles—particles about one billionth of a meter in width—that combine a magnetic material with antibodies or proteins that can attach to and detect other molecules inside the body. The idea is that patients will swallow a pill that contains these particles, and after they enter the bloodstream—attempting to identify molecules that would indicate certain health problems—a wearable device could use their magnetic cores to gather them back together and read what they’ve found. 

Glasses Will Be A Thing Of The Past Soon If FDA Approves It!

KAMRA Featured
Presently, there are millions of Americans who live with glasses. Some of them find them a worthwhile accessory fitting of their personality and style, while others consider glasses a hassle. Over the years, inventions and procedures have been introduced to relieve people of glasses, from contact lenses to the latest method of LASIK eye surgery. The Inquisitrreported on another invention/operation that would free people from the burden of glasses known as the Symfony Lens, a corneal implant.
However, the Symfony Lens isn’t the only corneal implant available. There are many others on the market outside of the United States, and the companies behind them are trying to get them into the United States. That will only happen if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows it, though.
According to Medical Xpress and followed-up by The Examiner, Dr. John Vuchick of the American Academy of Ophthalmology said at their annual meeting in Chicago that a small ring put in the eye eliminates the need for reading glasses. This invention known as the KAMRA cornea inlay device corrects presbyopia without interfering with distance vision.
The initial study of the KAMRA cornea inlay included over 500 people between the ages of 45 and 60. All of them had presbyopia, a vision change condition that occurs as people age. Over the course of three years, researchers took note that vision improved for 80 percent of the participants to 20/40. Those numbers are enough for driving and reading without glasses.
Dr. John Vulchick commented on the favorable result on what they may provide for people.
“This is a solution that truly delivers near vision that transitions smoothly to far distance vision. Corneal inlays represent a great opportunity to improve vision with a safety net of removability.”
However, the corneal inlays need to be approved by the FDA before they can be used, according to Voices of Liberty. An advisory panel reviewing the product gave their opinion to the FDA about the procedure, and they were convinced of the device’s efficacy, but voted against the inlay on the question of reasonable assurance of safety. Still, the panel found the benefits of KAMRA to outweigh the possible risks. In conclusion, the panel still recommended the FDA to approve the KARMA inlay, and at this moment, the device is still waiting for said approval.
Now that you’ve read the article on the future of vision correction being a corneal inlay and that the FDA is considering approving the device, what are your views on it? For those who have vision problems, do you prefer this procedure over others like LASIK surgery or contact lenses?

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Canadian Gov introduces new anti-terrorism bill

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that his government's anti-terrorist legislation would be "expedited" in light of last Wednesday's shooting at Ottawa's War Memorial and inside Parliament, as well as the attack on a soldier last Monday south of Montreal.

 Canada's new anti-terrorism legislation gives the country's domestic spy agency the explicit power to carry out its activities around the world.

The Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act, introduced by the public safety minister Monday, also gives legal protection to sources who give or want to give evidence to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said his bill also gives the government the right to "seek earlier implementation of the citizenship revocation provisions" of the immigration law that was passed in June.

Blaney said that in light of new terrorist threats from inside and outside the country, Canada's spy agencies needed to be better able to share intelligence with allies and to track terrorist suspects who leave Canada to fight oversees.

"With this bill...CSIS can now work with our allies to chase information, and in the same time we will also be able to rely on our sources, because we will give confidentiality and privacy," Blaney said.

Blaney added that more legislation is forthcoming; Monday's bill was meant to "clarify" existing laws.

CSIS is not a law enforcement agency; it doesn't make arrests but, rather, gathers intelligence which it passes to other agencies, such as the RCMP, whose officers can detain and arrests suspects.

Read More... 

15 Signs That We Live During A Time Of Rampant Government Paranoia

15 Signs That We Live During A Time Of Rampant Government Paranoia

Monday 27 October 2014

Can the War on Terror ever be won?

US and British troops end combat operations in Afghanistan even as conflicts elsewhere escalate.

The US-led military coalition has officially ended combat operations in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province.

US marines and British troops handed over their joint bases of Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion to Afghan security forces as the protracted mission winded down.

The operation began in October 2001. US and British forces were dispatched to Afghanistan less than a month after the September 11 attack on New York's World Trade Centre.

The beginning of then US President George Bush's so-called War on Terror. The supposed aims at that time: To defeat the Taliban, deprive Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda a safe haven, and to cut opium production.

The success or otherwise of that campaign is still the subject of much debate. And 13 years on, the War on Terror is still being waged on multiple fronts.

But what is the underlying justification, the rationale behind a largely military strategy, and is it a fight that can ever be won?

Payment Wars: How Merchants And Carriers Are Trying To Block Payment Systems They Can't Track

Over the weekend, it came out that two giant pharmacy chains, Rite Aid and CVS, had started blocking Apple Pay, the massively hyped new payment system from Apple that has received much praise for its ease of use. The product had worked for about a week before the two companies started blocking such near field communication (NFC) payments (which also takes out other NFC payment options like Google Wallet). While Rite Aid gave a vague and slightly ridiculous explanation -- that it is "still in the process of evaluating our mobile payment options" -- pretty much everyone knows the truth. A bunch of retailers, led by Walmart, have been creating their own mobile payment system called CurrentC, which cuts out the credit card companies. But, it also builds in all the tracking and spying features of store loyalty cards, expanded across all merchant partners. Apple Pay lets people remain anonymous.

In short: CurrentC lets merchants (1) cut out credit card transaction fees and (2) get more and more data on shoppers. No wonder they want to block out other options.

But this isn't the start of such fights. Last year, mobile carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T sought to block Google Wallet in favor of a similar consortium of mobile operators, looking to create their own NFC payment system, which was unfortunately named ISIS until world events led the consortium to change its name to Softcard.

All of these moves should be concerning. They're clearly not being done with the consumer in mind. Nearly everyone who's played with Apple Pay has agreed that the system is a huge leap ahead for mobile payments in terms of ease of use. Instead, we're seeing giant organizations looking to team up to keep competitors out of the market. At the very least, this should raise serious antitrust issues. But it also demonstrates, in a different sphere, why net neutrality is such a concern. When you have large companies that can effectively collude to block or kill certain powerful and useful apps and services, it hinders and blocks important innovations, leaving consumers significantly worse off. Not only are they left with fewer choices and lower quality apps and services, but it also pushes consumers into services -- like CurrentC -- that take away their privacy.


25 EU banks fail stress test


Nearly one in five leading European banks have failed the stress test conducted by the European Central Bank, which revealed a $31.2 billion (€24.6 billion) capital gap in 25 banks showing they’re not ready to withstand a three-year recession.The results of the EU-wide stress test were reported on Sunday by the European Banking Authority (EAB) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

With nine banks failing the test, Italy represented more than €10 billion of the capital shortfall. Other balance sheets that weren’t up to snuff were three banks in Greece, three in Cyprus, two in Slovenia, two in Belgium, and one each in Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

Of the total 25 banks that failed the test, 12 have since come up with the necessary additional capital to pass.

The other 13 have two weeks to submit a blueprint of how they plan to boost their capital, to be presented to the ECB for approval in early November. Approved banks will then have nine months to fix their capital holes.

The main goal of the stress test was to identify which banks need to boost core equity capital out of the 123 top lenders. The assessment weight a lender’s key risks, including liquidity, leverage and funding, as well as asset quality and the ability of banks’ balance sheet to resist stress scenarios.

“The Comprehensive Assessment allowed us to compare banks across borders and business models,” ECB Supervisory Board Chair Daniele Nouy said in a statement. “The findings will enable us to draw insights and conclusions for supervision going forward.”

Ten banks have taken measures to brush up their finances from their balance sheets at the end of 2013. The worst affected was the Italian bank Monte dei Paschi, which had a capital shortfall of €2.1billion.

The Monte dei Paschi bank headquarters is pictured in Siena August 16, 2013.
“This unprecedented in-depth review of the largest banks’ positions will boost public confidence in the banking sector,”said ECB Vice-President Vitor Constancio, adding that “this should facilitate more lending in Europe, which will help economic growth.”

The asset quality review was conducted is the European Central Bank prepares to become the official supervisor of Europe’s top 130 lenders in a banking union, due to begin in on November 4.

Eight banks failed a similar stress test examination in 2011 with a combined deficit of €2.5 billion ($3.2 billion).

NV Cops In Black Ski-Masks Swarm Uber Driver For 'Transporting People Without A License'

Hours after Uber launched their hugely popular and beloved ride-sharing service in Nevada, black ski-masked police responded by hunting down new Uber drivers and impounding their vehicles.

Five unmarked white Nevada Taxicab Authority vehicles surrounded his blue Ford Focus as he was driving east on Fashion Show Drive about 3:30 p.m. He was pulled over while trying to drop off two passengers. Two undercover officers wore black ski masks.

Government regulators accused the Uber drivers of "transporting people without a license," though Uber says they don't need a license as they're not operating a transportation company but merely facilitating ride sharing.

Of course, it shouldn't matter what they're technically offering, people want their services and are willing to pay for them.

It's the taxi-state racketeers who are against them providing a superior service as it would cause them to actually compete in the market rather than continue their protectionist extortionist racket.

California Cops Passed Around Explicit Photos Harvested From Arrestees' Phones


Another argument for default phone encryption: to keep criminals from accessing your personal photos and sharing them with others.

CHP Officer Sean Harrington, 35, of Martinez… confessed to stealing explicit photos from the cellphone of a second Contra Costa County DUI suspect in August and forwarding those images to at least two CHP colleagues. The five-year CHP veteran called it a "game" among officers, according to an Oct. 14 search warrant affidavit.
That this criminal (and his criminal cohorts) happened to wear a uniform makes him no less of a criminal. The difference here is that the phone containing the photos wasn't stolen by a criminal but rather seized during a DUI arrest and accessed during booking.
[T]he investigation began with a single incident: Harrington's conduct during the Aug. 29 arrest of the San Ramon woman. The woman discovered that photos had been stolen from her phone five days after her release, when she noticed on her iPad that the photos had been sent to an unknown number. A record of the messages had been deleted from her iPhone, but the phone had been synced to the iPad.

In his investigation, Holcombe compared video surveillance and time-stamped text messages from the woman's phone and determined Harrington was in possession of the woman's phone at the moment the photos were forwarded. The woman -- who registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.29 percent, more than three times the legal limit -- was being processed in the Martinez County Jail when the photos were stolen, according to court records.
Not an isolated incident. Officer Shawn Harrington called it a "game." Harrington says other officers at the Dublin precinct routinely distributed pictures from phones of female arrestees. Images were forwarded to other officers and "non-CHP individuals." Court documents also describe a second incident in which Harrington forwarded images from a DUI arrestee's phone while she was being x-rayed.

Encryption by default keeps criminals out of people's phones, even the criminals that hide behind uniforms and the color of law. The same goes for the warrant requirement recently ordered by the US Supreme Court. In a typical DUI arrest, there's really no reason for a cop to be going through the suspect's phone. Evidence of drunk driving is usually contained within the arrestees themselves, not their phones. At best, any time a cop does this, it's a fishing expedition for bigger charges. At worst, it's Harrington and his complicit bro cops, passing around nudie pics just because they can. Access and ability are the worst enablers.

When cops complain about falling behind in the tech race while arguing against warrant requirements and encryption, one wonders whether this isn't part of the "problem." It's not so much that the criminals have gotten smarter than the cops. It's that the phones have. The incidents leading to Officer Harrington's arrest both created digital paper trails leading back to the California Highway Patrol. The minimal effort made to cover his tracks wasn't enough. Maybe this is why some cops fear the relentless forward march of technology: covering up misconduct has never been harder.

Going beyond the relation of these incidents to both search warrants and encryption-by-default, this episode of casual power abuse also implicates another hot button topic located at the intersection of policework and technology: revenge porn.

Scott Greenfield points out a couple of flaws in the plan to criminalize revenge porn, both highlighted by Officer Harrington and his coworkers' abuse of arrested citizens.
An aspect of the push for new laws criminalizing intimate conduct that hasn’t been given much attention is the underlying assumption that if such laws are enacted, they will not only be enforced, but they will be enforced by law enforcement with a level of trust and respect for the delicate subject matter and the sensibilities of the victims.
Well, these CHP officers sort of ruined that.
Not to paint cops with too broad a brush, but, ahem, some of them aren’t a whole lot better than those “frat boys” or MRAs you think so poorly of. In fact, some are pretty awful when it comes to respecting the physical integrity of female suspects, trading off sex acts for arrest because they can.

And so your grand scheme to save the internet from angry males bent on revealing the private, intimate images of women, is to turn to the guys who steal private, intimate images of women and share them amongst themselves?
So, there's that. And that's on top of the nearly-universal complaint that police officers don't take sexual assualt complaints seriously enough. Incidents like these aren't going to encourage more victims to step forward or give them the confidence needed to pursue wrongdoers. At his point, the local PD look like just another place to be victimized.

Going beyond the misconduct and abuse, there's the blind spot advocates of criminalizing revenge porn continue to induldge: the assumption that turning something into a crime will be a massive deterrent.
The idea that creating a crime will serve as a disincentive for people to post intimate images on the internet may make a lot more sense in theory than it does in practice. Of course, maybe you trust that the “new professionalism” will protect you from the ravages of improper distribution of images. But then again, it didn’t stop the California Highway Patrol cops from doing so, even though it was clearly illegal for them to steal the images off suspects’ cellphones to pass around as part of their game.
If those on the inside are not appreciably "better" than those on the outside, then incentives and deterrents mean nothing. This abuse may be limited to a few California peace officers, or it may be far more common that any law enforcement agency would like to admit. (The CHP has already issued a statement basically declaring this to be completely isolated to its Dublic precinct, rather than the more widespread "game" Officer Harrington alleges it to be.) The underlying number of abusive incidents doesn't matter (much). This incident -- isolated or not -- just provides more ammo for those pushing encryption and warrant requirements. Law enforcement should need to make an effort before obtaining access, preferably an effort that creates a paper trail.

For those pushing revenge porn laws, this incident should temper expectations. Chances are it won't, not because it may not be indicative of the general law enforcement mentality, but because many of those advocating this sort of legislation tend to value emotional arguments over pragmatic reasoning. A deterrent is only as solid as those enforcing it. And if the enforcers are willing to casually violate existing laws as part of a "game," there can be little hope that they're the best equipped to pursue revenge porn law violators.

Payment Wars: How Merchants And Carriers Are Trying To Block Payment Systems They Can't Track


Over the weekend, it came out that two giant pharmacy chains, Rite Aid and CVS, had started blocking Apple Pay, the massively hyped new payment system from Apple that has received much praise for its ease of use. The product had worked for about a week before the two companies started blocking such near field communication (NFC) payments (which also takes out other NFC payment options like Google Wallet). While Rite Aid gave a vague and slightly ridiculous explanation -- that it is "still in the process of evaluating our mobile payment options" -- pretty much everyone knows the truth. A bunch of retailers, led by Walmart, have been creating their own mobile payment system called CurrentC, which cuts out the credit card companies. But, it also builds in all the tracking and spying features of store loyalty cards, expanded across all merchant partners. Apple Pay lets people remain anonymous.

In short: CurrentC lets merchants (1) cut out credit card transaction fees and (2) get more and more data on shoppers. No wonder they want to block out other options.

But this isn't the start of such fights. Last year, mobile carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T sought to block Google Wallet in favor of a similar consortium of mobile operators, looking to create their own NFC payment system, which was unfortunately named ISIS until world events led the consortium to change its name to Softcard.

All of these moves should be concerning. They're clearly not being done with the consumer in mind. Nearly everyone who's played with Apple Pay has agreed that the system is a huge leap ahead for mobile payments in terms of ease of use. Instead, we're seeing giant organizations looking to team up to keep competitors out of the market. At the very least, this should raise serious antitrust issues. But it also demonstrates, in a different sphere, why net neutrality is such a concern. When you have large companies that can effectively collude to block or kill certain powerful and useful apps and services, it hinders and blocks important innovations, leaving consumers significantly worse off. Not only are they left with fewer choices and lower quality apps and services, but it also pushes consumers into services -- like CurrentC -- that take away their privacy.

Sunday 26 October 2014

BITCOIN Is it real money?

When money doesn't develop as a commodity, it gives one pause to wonder why.  Is it real money?  Is it viable in a free market?  How did it come into existence if it didn't develop as a good with uses other than money?  Today we observe persistent thievery of goods (e.g. land, cars, gold, and silver) by the state.  Individuals are often on the lookout for mechanisms that reduce the chance that their property will be forcefully appropriated.   The possible reduction of state theft risk is one of the main selling points of Bitcoin.
Money has historically been a tangible good that was desired by people on its own merits as a good.   Salt had uses and could be traded and divided and lasts longer than a chicken. Eventually, the link to a good was lost as pieces of paper with no connection to anything prevailed when the state had its way – via legal tender laws – at concocting new and improved methods of theft via inflation and banking cronyism.  But, paper is still tangible and is seized frequently as well.
In the 1990s, I remember seeing little deed certificates for micro-acres of ranch land that could be traded like money.  That concept seems like it might be a workable idea for money if you don’t consider the state factor.  What if the state doesn’t like the idea of mini paper titles to ownership of micro-acres of a large Texas ranch?   The state can steal the whole ranch.  Or, the state can add a new confiscatory tax to the land that varies vastly from the original agricultural tax scheme thereby reducing the exchange value of the asset-connected paper deeds.  The state can proclaim the whole idea to be a money-laundering operation.  The state can see the link to something tangible and seize all the assets pertaining to the persons who implemented the idea as was done with the Liberty Dollar which had a connection to real precious metals redeemable on demand.
Those real acres can be confiscated by the state just as gold and silver are; just as “real” paper and virtual fractional reserve computer digits can and are confiscated by the state.
So, if Bitcoin didn’t follow the normal route for money origination as a good in the market, why did it develop and can it survive in a free market?
The principle marketed features of Bitcoin are its limited supply and its resistance to state predation when being held and transferred.  The limited supply is a mathematical reality.  That, plus the hoped-for resistance to state thievery supposedly overcome the fact that it didn’t originate as a good on the market.  It has no link to something real that can be taxed, seized, or plundered.  But does this benefit really overcome its non-good status?

Prison Economics
Thin cylindrically-shaped food packages may develop so that food may be passed to an inmate through a rat-hole in the wall of a concentration camp, but such a device – devised and utilized to get around a state-caused hardship – would probably not survive with its original state-caused value intact when, and if, the economy reverts to a free market because of the extra cost involved in shaping food into thin cylindrical packages.  The exchanged value of an item whose primary beneficial feature is state avoidance would be lower in a freer society than an innovation whose primary value is to serve the other preferences of a freer people.  Such a weird-shaped food is not an outgrowth of an entrepreneur’s efforts to satisfy the free market preferences of people outside of state confines.  It is an innovation to circumvent state predation.  If the suffering imposed by the state is ever lifted or escaped from, the anti-state innovation has less utility and less desirability than an innovation inspired by the desire to enhance the exchanges of value and the lifestyle of a freer people.
Medical tourism to foreign countries may be a booming business during a time – like our present time – when the state is restricting the free market for medical services in the U.S., but would that mechanism be a big success if you lived in an area and in a time that had an unhindered free market for medical services?  I advise people on medical options in foreign countries, but if I created a medical tourism business and shuttled people around for that purpose, that business may suffer if medicine reverted to free market principles in the U.S.
Some things develop in a time and place because of horrendous state intrusions into or restrictions on the free market.  But if liberty prevails in the future in that area, will the state- circumventing innovations survive if that is one of their primary claims to value?  Would they be needed and desired and valued if there was more freedom?
Bitcoin is Anti-State Money and State-Caused Money
Bitcoin’s coming into prominence was mainly due to a desire to avoid confiscation, tracking, and inflation; all things that are hallmarks of the state’s dedication to the principle of stealing value from you.   It has the benefit of being something with no link to something real that can be confiscated.  So, Bitcoin has the ironic dual honor of being anti-state money and state-caused money.  The anti-state aspect is one of its main claims to fame.  The innovations that may possibly circumvent the state’s main methods of taking value are considered to be its main features.  The fact that it is devoid of any tangible value is portrayed as a good thing in a statist environment.  Gold’s primary claim to fame isn’t a claimed ability to avoid theft, tracking, or inflation although its high value-to-size ratio and relative scarcity assist with those things.
Without state predations, adaptations to avoid those predations possess less utility, less desirability, and possibly no value at all; especially, as in the case of Bitcoin, when there never was any tangible value.
Will There Never be Freedom?
So, could Bitcoin survive in an unhindered free market even if it is largely a state-caused medium of exchange that has no status as a commodity good?  Would an alternative that was related to a good be preferred by users if there was no state predation or reduced state predation?  And, is it logical to assume that the level of state predation will never go down?  Will state theft risk be so pervasive in most every transaction or savings action from now into eternity that the lack of connection to anything seizable in a purely virtual money will be the paramount consideration from now on over actual value offered by a tradable money that is also a saleable, usable, tangible commodity?
Virtual currencies are an interesting idea.  But, if they lack an inherent connection to the tangible world, a doubt is created about their value and there will be similar assumed-value pitfalls as exist with supposed “intellectual property” which also has no claim on anything tangible.  One or more currencies with a “virtual” aspect may persist and survive.  Only the market will determine that.  The real long-term test, however, may be their ability to pass over into a freer society without a big loss of value.
I am optimistic that freedom will prevail, if not universally, then at least in pockets competing against the state to which people will migrate so as to preserve their wealth and personal freedom.  In those pockets of relatively higher freedom, the thin, cylindrical, labor-intensive prison food packages would probably fetch a lower price than real ham sandwiches or real pizzas.  They would likely be competed out of existence.  People would probably eat normal food and rarely invest resources into squishing it into odd, thin, narrow, “state-caused” tubes that would be required when passing it through a secretive conduit in a state-imposed wall.  Innovations that get around state-imposed harms are good things, but would they be preferred and exist otherwise without other features?
To go a bit further, is Bitcoin really the equivalent of a squished-up ham sandwich?  Bitcoins don’t actually contain any ham.  They are claims that a person hopes to trade – though they represent nothing tangible – for a ham sandwich.  The hope is that the ham sandwich trader will perceive the risk of state theft also and agree to hold value in nothingness, so that his value can’t be stolen by vigilant Leviathan during the process of storing and transferring wealth used to buy and sell ham sandwiches.  So, there needs to be a universally accepted disconnect of tangible value during transactions and between transactions (savings) in order for bitcoin to be viable in the long term.  An understood suspension of real goods-for-goods must happen every time a money transaction occurs, with pretty much the sole intent being of avoiding state predations that may intervene in those transactions.  And this doesn’t even address the issue of whether Bitcoin is really immune to state plunder.
So, can real capital be moved in a stable manner between people and across generations this way?  Real ham sandwiches cannot be received by a starving inmate through a hole in a prison wall in this manner.  Can a secret number passed through the hole in the wall be traded inside the concentration camp to other prisoners for ham sandwiches?  Possibly, for a while, if everyone agrees in that context that secret numbers not originating with any otherwise usable traits equate to ham sandwiches, but a prisoner that has access to a friend on the outside who can smuggle in real things, for example eggs, will probably get more ham sandwiches in exchange for his real contraband items since the real things meet tangible preferences and represent the free market breaking into the restricted statist market.
So, if state seizure action is partly or completely negated in a freer society – thereby degrading the value of Bitcoin – the only other value left to Bitcoin is the limitation on its supply.
Robinson and Friday Try a Trendy Limited Supply Virtual Money
On that point, here is a little thought experiment involving Robinson Crusoe and Friday on an island.  Assume that the two live in a voluntary society with each other and, consequently, all exchanges are mutually agreed upon and maximize value from the viewpoint of each party.  They decide to use a trendy virtual currency instead of salt which they previously used.  They choose an agreed-upon finite number of planets as their currency.  They agree that no new planets can ever be added to the money supply even if more are detected.   They decide that their money supply will consist of eight planets.  They both like Pluto as a planet, but they decide to not use it so that they can each start out with an even number of planets; four and four.  They like the idea that their medium of exchange has a limited supply and that a state, if one should ever descend upon them, would not be able to pluck the virtual planets out of their brains.
One day, on the verge of the short tropical winter, Robinson notices that Friday has accumulated a lot of macadamia nuts.  Robinson had been concentrating more on bananas.  Robinson proposes to Friday that he will exchange half of Jupiter for ten pounds of macadamia nuts.  Friday declines the offer.  Then Robinson offers all of Jupiter for ten pounds of macadamia nuts.  Friday declines again.  Then, Robinson offers all of his planets for any amount of macadamia nuts.  Friday declines, but proposes that he will exchange macadamia nuts to Robinson at the rate of three nuts for every banana that Robinson gives him.  Friday reminds Robinson that winter is around the corner and that Friday cannot eat virtual planets.  Friday also sees no imminent risk of a state stealing his possessions.
So in this case, both Robinson and Friday know that the planets as a medium of exchange are not deliverable to the other as a tangible good to satisfy the other’s real preferences because neither Friday nor Robinson has a spaceship or other means of obtaining possession of real tangible planets for physical delivery to satisfy the other’s wants.  The virtual planets are merely a mutually understood method of describing a finite amount of money in a non-good form that has the advantage that it cannot be stolen by the state.  The planet names used by Robinson and Friday only serve to specify an intellectually-defined scarcity of something imaginary.  So, in this example we can see that the whole virtual solar system cannot be exchanged for a handful of real macadamia nuts.  Even though the agreed-upon number of planets that are possessed in a virtual sense represents a finite supply, those virtual planets can never meet any physical needs or tangible preferences in the free market context where Robinson and Friday reside.
In this situation, real bananas and real macadamia nuts trump a completely virtual currency, even one that has a limited supply.
Moral Hazard of Bitcoin
Competing currencies are wonderful, but we still can speculate about how each one would function in a free society or a non-free society and which ones would out-compete the others under different circumstances.  Bitcoinesque currencies may or may not have a role in a surveilled, concentration camp society, where prisoners’ possessions and incoming care packages are continually plundered by the prison guards, but they may be lacking utility in a free economy.  Non-good virtual currencies have the “shortfall” that they don’t have legal tender laws to force their wide acceptance with guns as do imaginary state monies.  Modern man may have become used to these state plunder laws to the point that he may contemplate that non-good items can and do function as money, since he sees the state forcing this to happen around him.  But economic reality is different when people are allowed to function without the state mandates and threats, improving their lives in the process.
If society as a whole gets freer, or when pockets of freedom develop, there may also be a moral hazard that will affect Bitcoin holders.  They may begin to favor some level of statism that will preserve the value of Bitcoins by maintaining some of the perceived state plunder risk involved when dealing with real commodity exchanges in a free society.  The pressure of freedom on Bitcoin may reduce its value and motivate some intelligent holders to value state seizure actions that made this non-good currency so enticing in the first place.  There is a risk that Bitcoin holders may become tacit or vocal advocates of barriers to entry for commodity monies as those competing monies may reduce the value of their Bitcoin holdings in a freer or “opt-out” economy where people aren’t baring their souls to a plundering system.  Bitcoin holders – seeing their “wealth” dissipate in that context – may militate against the idea of real goods dominating as a medium of exchange.
[[State caused phenomena often have warped aspects to them because they are the outgrowths of, or response to, an evolving coercive or bubble-causing process.  But those things, which sometimes appear as a small previously unneeded detour around the state or as a larger widespread degradation in the human condition don’t always, or even usually, or possibly ever contribute to the long-term benefit of mankind when the specific state pressure ends or decreases.
And when the topic is money, it is one of utmost importance since money is one-half of most daily transactions and one of the primary means by which men express preferences and honor commitments during their lifetimes and across generations.  A temporary non-good mechanism that does not pass any real tangible value is a doubtful way to plan one’s future or to convey wealth to one’s heirs.
The doubts on long-term viability of Bitcoin become more relevant when more and more people opt out of state structures – as is common in Latin America – and begin to deal directly with each other without allowing a predatory third party to monitor and intervene in every transaction.