Monday, May 02, 2016
WaPo | Marijuana’s strict scheduling emerges from the cultural and racial apathy felt by Richard Nixon, the activist president who signed the Controlled Substances Act into law. Nixon’s aides suggested the war on marijuana was racially motivated, and Oval Office tapes highlight his contempt for the counterculture movement as well as racial minorities.
The tapes also make it clear that Nixon wanted to link marijuana use and its negative effects to two groups who he held in contempt: African Americans and hippies. Nixon even appointed a commission to look into the ills of marijuana — the Shafer Commission. When the group issued its report entitled, “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding,” which explained that marijuana was not as dangerous or addictive as it had widely been perceived, Nixon called his handpicked chairman, former Republican Pennsylvania governor Ray Shafer, into the Oval Office to be chastised.
So, while marijuana’s placement in Schedule I was not a result of deep scientific expertise, that does not mean that the CSA is to blame for the continuing policy problems. The CSA has avenues to correct error or compensate for new information or data. Rescheduling is one such remedy. Under administrative rescheduling, the attorney general asks the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration to examine whether a substance is properly scheduled. The attorney general takes those recommendations and ultimately makes a determination. If a substance is determined to be improperly scheduled, a rulemaking process commences that ultimately reschedules the substance.
That the rescheduling process exists means that the architects of the CSA understood the need for legal flexibility and thought that avenues for revision should be built into the law. However, due to cultural biases and stigma that have been cemented into society, science and bureaucracy, those avenues have largely failed marijuana. The nearly century-long institutional effort by the U.S. government to paint marijuana as anathema to society, in all forms and under all circumstances, has been devastatingly successful.
How has that effort played out? Beyond promoting propaganda that stoked public, congressional and media fears of marijuana, the government also decided that it was of greater interest to fund research that focused on marijuana’s addictive properties rather than its possible medical efficacy. The government stifled the ability of the scientific community to build knowledge and expertise in as robust a way as research has explored the efficacy of other controlled substances, even as research came to discover the endocannabinoid system and developed an understanding of how cannabinoids impacted certain human systems and cellular processes.
The federal government set up a DEA-mandated monopoly through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse for the growth of research grade marijuana — not for all Schedule I drugs, just marijuana. For decades, the supply from that monopoly was often insufficient to meet clinical researchers’ needs. Until recently, all marijuana research proposals needed to go through an additional, unique review by the Public Health Service that added a bureaucratic layer, hindering research.
WaPo | Congress and President Obama are under pressure to reschedule marijuana. While rescheduling makes sense, it doesn’t solve the state/federal conflict over marijuana (de-scheduling would be better). But more important, it wouldn’t fix the broken scheduling system. Ideally, marijuana reform should be part of a broader bill rewriting the Controlled Substances Act.
The Controlled Substances Act created a five-category scheduling system for most legal and illegal drugs (although alcohol and tobacco were notably omitted). Depending on what category a drug is in, the drug is either subject to varying degrees of regulation and control (Schedules II through V) — or completely prohibited, otherwise unregulated and left to criminals to manufacture and distribute (Schedule I). The scheduling of various drugs was decided largely by Congress and absent a scientific process — with some strange results.
For instance, while methamphetamine and cocaine are Schedule II drugs, making them available for medical use, marijuana is scheduled alongside PCP and heroin as a Schedule I drug, which prohibits any medical use. Making matters worse, the CSA gives law enforcement — not scientists or health officials — the final say on how new drugs should be scheduled and whether or not old drugs should be rescheduled. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement blocks reform.
Starting in 1972, the Drug Enforcement Administration obstructed a formal request to reschedule marijuana for 16 years. After being forced by the courts to make a decision, the agency held two years of hearings. The DEA chief administrative law judge who held the hearings and considered the issue concluded that marijuana in its natural form is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” and should be made available for medical use. Similar hearings on MDMA, a.k.a. ecstasy, concluded that it also has important medical uses. In both cases, the DEA overruled its administrative law judge and kept the drugs in Schedule I, unavailable for medical use.
5 reasons marijuana is not medicine - if you believe in and make your livelihood from prohibition...,
WaPo | Bertha Madras is a professor of psychobiology at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, with a research focus on how drugs affect the brain. She is former deputy director for demand reduction in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Data from 2015 indicate that 30 percent of current cannabis users harbor a use disorder — more Americans are dependent on cannabis than on any other illicit drug. Yet marijuana advocates have relentlessly pressured the federal government to shift marijuana from Schedule I — the most restrictive category of drug — to another schedule or to de-schedule it completely. Their rationale? “States have already approved medical marijuana”; “rescheduling will open the floodgates for research”; and “many people claim that marijuana alone alleviates their symptoms.”
Yet unlike drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, “dispensary marijuana” has no quality control, no standardized composition or dosage for specific medical conditions. It has no prescribing information or no high-quality studies of effectiveness or long-term safety. While the FDA is not averse to approving cannabinoids as medicines and has approved two cannabinoid medications, the decision to keep marijuana in Schedule I was reaffirmed in a 2015 federal court ruling. That ruling was correct.
NYTimes | It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of heroin users have used marijuana (and many other drugs) not only long before they used heroin but while they are using heroin. Like nearly all people with substance abuse problems, most heroin users initiated their drug use early in their teens, usually beginning with alcohol and marijuana. There is ample evidence that early initiation of drug use primes the brain for enhanced later responses to other drugs. These facts underscore the need for effective prevention to reduce adolescent use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana in order to turn back the heroin and opioid epidemic and to reduce burdens addiction in this country.
Marijuana use is positively correlated with alcohol use and cigarette use, as well as illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. This does not mean that everyone who uses marijuana will transition to using heroin or other drugs, but it does mean that people who use marijuana also consume more, not less, legal and illegal drugs than do people who do not use marijuana.
People who are addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to be addicted to heroin.
The legalization of marijuana increases availability of the drug and acceptability of its use. This is bad for public health and safety not only because marijuana use increases the risk of heroin use.
A better drug policy is one that actively discourages marijuana use as well as other recreational drug use, especially for youth.
Sunday, May 01, 2016
foreignpolicy | To evangelists of asteroid mining, the heavens are not just a frontier but a vast and resource-rich place teeming with opportunity. According to NASA, there are potentially 100,000 near-Earth objects — including asteroids and comets — in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars.
Kfir pitched me on the long-term plan. First, a fleet of satellites will be dispatched to outer space, fitted with probes that can measure the quality and quantity of water and minerals in nearby asteroids and comets. Later, armed with that information, mining companies like DSI will send out vessels to mechanically remove and refine the material extracted. In some cases, the take will be returned to Earth. But most of the time, it will be processed in space — for instance, to produce rocket fuel — and stored in container vessels that will serve as the equivalent of gas stations for outbound spacecraft.
This possibility isn’t so unrealistic, Kfir said. Consider the recent and seismic growth of the space industry, he suggested, as we climbed the stairs to DSI’s second-floor suite. Every year, the private spaceflight sector grows larger, and every year the goals become grander. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the space exploration company Blue Origin, has spoken of the day “when millions of people are living and working in space”; Elon Musk’s SpaceX is expected to reveal a Mars colonization plan this year.
“But how are they going to sustain this new space economy?” Kfir asked rhetorically. He nudged open DSI’s office door. “Easy: by mining asteroids.” Bezos, Musk, and the other billionaires who plan to be cruising around space in the near future won’t be able to do so without celestial pit stops.
In his book, Asteroid Mining 101: Wealth for the New Space Economy, John S. Lewis, professor emeritus of Cosmochemistry and Planetary Atmospheres at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and DSI’s chief scientist, envisions a future where “ever more remote and ever more massive reservoirs of resources” take astronauts farther and farther from our planet. “First to the Near Earth Asteroids and the moons of Mars, then to the asteroid belt, then to…[the] Trojan asteroids and the outer moons of Jupiter, then to the Saturn system and the Centaurs,” and so on, to infinity.
thebulletin | Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper sent shock waves through the national security and biotechnology communities with his assertion, in his Worldwide Threat Assessment testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, that genome editing had become a global danger. He went so far as to include it in the report’s weapons of mass destruction section, alongside threats from North Korea, China’s nuclear modernization, and chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq. The new technology, he said, could open the door to “potentially harmful biological agents or products,” with “far-reaching economic and national security implications.”
So what has warranted this warning, and what can be done to mitigate the threat?
Since the discovery of the double helix in 1953, biotechnology has made progress exceeding that of arguably any other technology in human history. Genome editing is not a new process; it was the subject of the 1975 Asilomar Conference, convened to establish standards that would allow geneticists to conduct cutting-edge research without endangering public health. Since then, advances like the polymerase chain reaction process, the human genome project, and the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements project have fueled our understanding of the human genome, accelerated through advances in computing power, data storage, and big data algorithm development. Landmark results include the first synthesis of a virus in 2002 and the first synthetic cell in 2010. Now along comes clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats—Crispr for short—which is changing everything.
Other editing techniques have been around for more than a decade but they are laborious, less accurate, and quite expensive. Before that, previous traditional methods required generations to see results. While some techniques can recognize longer DNA sequences and have better specificity than Crispr, they are costly ($5,000 for each order versus $30 for Crispr) and difficult to engineer, sometimes requiring several tries to identify a sequence that works. Hence the rise of Crispr, which, along with Crispr associated proteins (Cas), provides a precise way to target, snip, and insert exact pieces of a genome. (The Crispr-Cas9 protein has received the most attention in this recent discussion, yet other enzymatic proteins such as the Crispr-Cpf1 use a different type of “scissors” and might be just as effective.)
The benefits of such technology are obvious. Because preferred traits can rapidly enter a species, test animals like mice can be designed more efficiently for biomedical experiments, mosquitoes can be engineered so they cannot reproduce (and therefore cannot spread malaria), plants can be developed for drought resistance and higher yields, and diseases can be eliminated by deactivating the responsible genes in a given host. The bioengineer and author Robert Carlson notes that genome editing shows great promise for next-generation plastics, agricultural products, bioremediation organisms, carbon-neutral fuels, novel enzymes, and better vaccines.
Saturday, April 30, 2016
scientificamerican | It happens hundreds of times a day: We press snooze on the alarm clock, we pick a shirt out of the closet, we reach for a beer in the fridge. In each case, we conceive of ourselves as free agents, consciously guiding our bodies in purposeful ways. But what does science have to say about the true source of this experience?
In a classic paper published almost 20 years ago, the psychologists Dan Wegner and Thalia Wheatley made a revolutionary proposal: The experience of intentionally willing an action, they suggested, is often nothing more than a post hoc causal inference that our thoughts caused some behavior. The feeling itself, however, plays no causal role in producing that behavior. This could sometimes lead us to think we made a choice when we actually didn’t or think we made a different choice than we actually did.
But there’s a mystery here. Suppose, as Wegner and Wheatley propose, that we observe ourselves (unconsciously) perform some action, like picking out a box of cereal in the grocery store, and then only afterwards come to infer that we did this intentionally. If this is the true sequence of events, how could we be deceived into believing that we had intentionally made our choice before the consequences of this action were observed? This explanation for how we think of our agency would seem to require supernatural backwards causation, with our experience of conscious will being both a product and an apparent cause of behavior.
In a study just published in Psychological Science, Paul Bloom and I explore a radical—but non-magical—solution to this puzzle. Perhaps in the very moments that we experience a choice, our minds are rewriting history, fooling us into thinking that this choice—that was actually completed after its consequences were subconsciously perceived—was a choice that we had made all along.
wsj | The human brain is a living word cloud, turning spoken language into intricate neural patterns of meaning that we all appear to share, new research suggests.
In research reported Wednesday in Nature, neuroscientists at the University of California at Berkeley created a comprehensive atlas of these patterns, showing how shades of meaning in natural speech stir the brain.
To make it, the researchers employed an imaging method known as functional MRI to identify places throughout the brain stirred by the meaning of words in stories told aloud. In the pulsed patterns of neural blood flow monitored by the imaging device, they found a tapestry of responses with narrative threads reaching into more than 100 areas in the cerebral cortex. This crinkled outer layer of the brain, containing about 20 billion neurons, plays a key role in memory, perception and awareness.
“These are maps of the meaning in language, not the words themselves,” said UC Berkeley neuroscientist Jack Gallant, a senior researcher in the study. “The brain somehow represents the concepts in this smooth gradient distributed across the brain.”
patternsofmeaning | Your mind is being controlled by distant strangers who don’t have your best interests at heart. If that sounds like a paranoid fantasy, brace yourself and read on. These are the findings of a series of scientific studies that show how a few dominant institutions have the power to affect how you feel, how you act, and even how you vote – without you ever knowing about it.
Deliberate mind manipulation of the masses is, by itself, nothing new. Nearly a hundred years ago, our global mania for consumption was unleashed by the malevolent brilliance of Edward Bernays, known as the “father of public relations.” Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and used his uncle’s insights into the subconscious to develop his new methods of mind control, designed to create the modern American consumer.
“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture,” declared Bernays’ business partner, Paul Mazur. “People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” In 1928, Bernays proudly described how his techniques for mental manipulation had permitted a small elite to control the minds of the American population:
[T]he conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government that is the true ruling power of this country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of… In almost every act of our daily lives… we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons … who pull the wires which control the public mind.
Bernays set in motion what we have all come to know as an essential part of our capitalist ecosystem: the use of mass media to promote roles, desires and status symbols that rake in profits for corporations. The chilling words of Wayne Chilicki, chief executive of General Mills, show how faithfully Bernays’ vision has been followed: “When it comes to targeting kid consumers, we at General Mills follow the Procter & Gamble model of ‘cradle to grave.’ We believe in getting them early and having them for life.” 
Friday, April 29, 2016
thearchdruidreport | The conflict between the wage class and the investment class—determines the distribution of wealth and privilege in society. In the former, by contrast, it makes more economic sense to offshore the production of goods and services to other countries, and to use the profits of global exploitation rather than domestic savings to provide capital for industry; thus the wage class and the investment class both suffer, while the salary class—the class of managers, marketers, bankers, bureaucrats, and corporate flunkies, all those professions that make their livings by manipulating the wealth produced by others—prospers as never before.
The transition from an economy focused on domestic production to an economy focused on global exploitation takes plenty of time. In the case of the United States, it took a hundred years, from the first wave of American imperial expansion in 1898 to the temporary triumph of globalization in the 1980s. The transition the other way, though, happens a good deal more quickly, as a faltering hegemon generally gets shoved aside by rising powers rather than being allowed to decay slowly in peace. The aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse is a good working model here: once the Soviet system imploded, Russia suddenly had to do without the large subsidies it received from the rest of the Eastern bloc, and most of a decade of raw economic chaos followed as the Russian economy struggled to adapt to the task of meeting its own needs domestically. Soviet Russia, it bears noting, was much less dependent on overseas imports for goods and services than today’s America, so the post-Soviet experience should be considered a lower bound for what we’re in for.
The other pillar has similar implications. An economy based on the breakneck consumption of natural resources tends to concentrate influence in the hands of those who control resource flows directly or indirectly, and in today’s America, once again, these tend to be disproportionately members of the salary class. An economy based on the conservation of natural resources tends to concentrate influence instead in the hands of those who own sustainable resources such as land, or those who work directly with those resources; again, the conflict between owners and laborers determines the distribution of wealth and privilege in such societies. Transitioning from a conserver economy to a consumer economy takes plenty of time—in the case of the United States, the better part of two hundred years—while the transition the other way tends, once more, to be much more rapid once the resources run short.
It’s in this context, finally, that we can understand the unexpected revolt of the wage class that’s having so dramatic a role in shaping this years US presidential race. Hillary Clinton, like her already-forgotten Republican equivalents, is a perfect salary class candidate; she speaks for the privileged, and her entire campaign consists of waving around sound bites that signal to the privileged that they don’t need to worry about significant change if she moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump, and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders, are appealing instead to the wage class. I doubt either one expected to get anything like as far as he has, but both seem perfectly willing to ride the wave of popular discontent just as far as it will take them—and in Trump’s case, it seems likely to take him straight to the White House this autumn.
That is to say, what was supposed to be an ordinary contest among the champions of the affluent has suddenly taken on a very different shape. To shift metaphors a bit, the affluent are beginning to notice that their jockeying for position resembles nothing so much as bickering over the arrangement of deck chairs aboard the Titanic. The revolt of the wage class shows that the structure of power and privilege in today’s America is already beginning to shift, and two weeks from now we’ll take a hard look at some of the ways that shift is unfolding and some of the factors that are driving it.
npr | Zhongjin is one of three Chinese financial firms to collapse in the past year. In February, Ezubao, a peer-to-peer lending company, was exposed as a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Police took over the headquarters of the Fanya Metal Exchange, a trading platform for nonferrous metals, late in 2015 and are investigating an alleged multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme involving more than 200,000 investors.
Wealth management firms like Zhongjin emerged in China in the mid-2000s to provide more financing to private businesses and better returns for Chinese investors frustrated by low interest rates at government banks. But as China's economy has weakened in recent years, lending has continued to boom.
Logan Wright, who oversees China markets research for the Rhodium Group in New York, says that's a recipe for trouble.
"You have a slowing real economy, growing financial services sector and as a result, there's an increasing use of speculative strategies and riskier and riskier instruments and in some cases, outright Ponzi" schemes, Wright says.
Shanghai now has more than 100,000 wealth management companies and the country has more than a million, says Iris Pang, a senior economist for greater China with Natixis, a French investment bank. She says China's government hasn't been able to keep up with the explosion in the number of firms.
"The wealth management sector is very new in China," she says. "The regulations are loose and not very well defined."
Customers say they invested in Zhongjin because there weren't better options, given last year's collapse of China's stock markets, a real estate property bubble and capital controls that severely limit how much money Chinese can move overseas.
Zhongjin's investors say police have told them that only 10 percent of their deposits remain. The company's collapse has wrought havoc on families who benefited from China's three decades of extraordinary growth, but now are at risk of losing most of their savings.
One investor, who asked not to be named, said her family is furious with her for persuading them to invest. She has since offered to divorce her husband. She has no money and is down to eating one meal a day.
"I have a family problem, a financial problem and survival problem," she says, weeping. "Every time I take a bite of food, I feel very guilty. I feel I am wasting money."
reuters | China's securities regulator on Friday urged commodity futures exchanges to curb excessive speculation following a surge in prices that has sparked fears markets were heading for a dangerous boom-and-bust cycle.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said it would not allow the futures market to become a "hot-bed" for speculators.
The CSRC comments confirmed a Reuters story earlier on Friday that the regulator had asked commodity futures exchanges in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou to bring speculative trading activity under control.
Investors, including hedge funds and retail investors, have placed big bets on Chinese commodities futures this year, driving up contracts including in iron ore, rebar, cotton and even eggs. The rally has prompted many analysts to warn of similarities with a boom in the country's stock markets, which reversed into a sharp crash last summer.
The futures market should stick to its fundamental purpose of serving the real economy, and regulators will "adamantly prevent the futures market from becoming a hotbed for short-term speculators," the CSRC said in a statement on its official microblog.
"We will continue to guide the exchanges to take appropriate actions against excessive speculation and illegal behaviors," the regulator said.
Three people with direct knowledge of the situation said the CSRC had issued its order to the exchanges to bring speculative trading under control on Monday.
In response, the exchanges ordered major institutional investors that lack a commodities background to rein in their trading, the people said. They didn't define what was meant by a lack of background in commodities.
"Many local media and researchers mentioned the huge volume and volatility," said one of the people. "The regulator felt nervous. They hope to keep stability."
A spokesman at the Dalian Commodity Exchange declined to comment on the CSRC order, but said the exchange would further improve its mechanism for controlling risks.
The Shanghai Futures Exchange did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange could not be reached for comment.
The sources said the latest measures were partly aimed at cracking down on high-frequency trading, although they did not provide further details.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
the greatest employer is war, not only does it put people to work, it reduces and controls population
thebulletin | Nuclear doctrinal change with conventional implications. The policy of ensuring a survivable strategic nuclear threat allows for the continued militarization of the Chinese state and for its expansion of influence in the Pacific. This expanded influence is made further possible by a post-Cold War, casualty-averse environment in which even the largest of nuclear arsenals can be deterred by a truly “lean and effective” force. Ballistic missile submarines are the realization of China’s dream of a nuclear force that protects China not only from nuclear exchange, but also from conventional coercion: Finally, a true minimum deterrence will be reached—the quality and quantity of Chinese nuclear weapons will be enough to deter its adversaries from initiating a first strike. It is a level of deterrence that is recognized not only by the rest of the world but also by China itself. Some Chinese nuclear developments—such as the continued modernization of the DF-5 A and B missiles, whose silo locations are widely known and would not survive a first strike—are questionable on strategic ground, but the deployment of ballistic missile submarines on deterrent patrols is nothing but a logical progression for a nuclear armed state.
At the same time, however, this deployment weighs against the evidence supporting a Chinese policy of “No First Use.”
Unfortunately, the threat from below has repercussions that are larger and more tangible than its implications for "No First Use." China is refusing to separate its nuclear forces from its growing conventional forces—not only continuing to obscure the nature of China’s nuclear arsenal, but also guaranteeing the utility of its conventional weapons. China’s 260 nuclear warheads should now be looked upon as having a real military function, rather than dismissed as a small force developed for political purposes only.
fortune | Legendary investor George Soros recently delivered new warnings on China, saying that the world’s second largest economy is facing a financial crisis similar to the U.S. in 2008. His remarks double down on his earlier comment that a hard landing for China is inevitable. Soros definitely has a point, but China’s economy is not as doomed as he suggests.
Let me acknowledge that my views are not entirely unbiased because as someone who lives in China I am aboard what some, like Soros, say is a sinking ship; if the ship goes down I will definitely be hurt. The statistics Soros recently gave are undeniable facts. China’s new credit increased by more than expected last month. The overall debt level has reached historic highs. GDP growth is slowing down. And yes, there is a serious overcapacity issue for certain industries. However, I do not agree with Soros’ gloomy prediction of a hard landing for China’s economy in the near future or the debt being comparable to what happened in the U.S. in 2008.
First, China’s credit-to-GDP ratio is about 240%, only slightly higher than the 233% level in the U.S. That’s still far lower than Japan’s 400% and the U.K.’s 252% levels. If we break down China’s 240% credit-to-GDP ratio, government, households, and non-financial corporations respectively contribute 56%, 40%, and 144%. China’s non-financial corporations’ high leverage ratio indicates that the country is relying on indirect rather than direct financing due to its under-developed stock and bond markets, which have only been around for the last 30 years.
Meanwhile, the leverage level for government and households is much lower than that in the U.S. As we have learned, the 2008 financial crisis was largely triggered by the over-leveraging of the average American household. Today, China remains the country with the world’s highest saving rate at 50%, compared to 16% in the U.S. The country has accumulated more than 120 trillion renminbi of financial assets. Of that amount, 55 trillion renminbi is in bank deposits, which is relatively easy to convert into cash. So the average Chinese household’s balance sheet is much healthier than that in the U.S. It provides enough reserves and confidence to weather an economic storm.
Soros, and many others who are bearish on China, often point to an increase in investors’ capital leaving China as signs of the country’s impending doom. What’s important to note, however, is that the outflow of capital accelerated on investors’ expectations that the value of China’s currency would weaken. Investors’ outlook changed when the U.S. Federal Reserve did not announce interest rate hikes after meetings in January and March. China has recently seen net capital inflow. The foreign reserve is still at very high levels, $3.3 trillion, which does not include the sovereign fund of $0.85 trillion. At the same time, there is still a surplus in the current account. And despite the non-performing loan ratio recently increasing to 2%, it still looks trivial compared to the 25% China had in 1997. The share of non-performing loans relative to GDP ranges between 7% to 14%, compared to 35% to 40% in 1997. The current capital adequacy ratio is 13.5%. And the required reserve rate (RRR) is 17.5%. Therefore, China’s banking sector is much healthier than it was in 1997.
reason | The House voted unanimously, 419-0, this afternoon to update old tech federal technology laws to provide better privacy protections for Americans' old emails from unwarranted government searches.
The Email Privacy Act, HB 699, updates the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to correct a significant gap in Fourth Amendment protections of citizens' communications. The old law determined that emails or stored communications held by a third-party provider (like Google) were no longer subject to warrants in order for authorities to access their contents after 180 days. Law enforcement or investigatory agencies could just get subpoenas and go directly to the third-party storage systems to demand copies of the contents.
The legislation that passed today closes that loophole and requires actual warrants, but it's still not going to be quite the same as when a law enforcement agency runs out to get a warrant to search your house. HB 699 gives law enforcement agencies 10 days (and other government entities three days) to inform the person whose e-mails or communications they had collected that they had done so. And authorities may request even further delays. So, when the police come and search your house, you know it right then. When they serve a warrant to a third-party email service, you might not find out for a few days. This was a carve-out in response to law enforcement and government agency fears that suspects would delete emails when the warrant was administered. It does also permit authorities, for a limited time, to gag the third-party providers from telling anybody (like the suspect) about the warrant.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
thenation | Drugs aren’t what we think they are; the Drug War isn’t what we think it is; addiction isn’t what we think it is; and the alternatives aren’t what we’ve been told they are.
LF: Let’s start with going back 100 years; I was sort of entranced to read your descriptions of Mrs. Winslow’s Syrup, and the situation with respect to drugs before Prohibition.
JH: It’s fascinating. Drugs were legal in the United States, in Britain, everywhere in the world. If you wanted to buy opiates, you go to a local store, the equivalent to CVS; it was mostly sold in the form of something called Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which was a kind of cough mixture. You could buy cocaine-based teas; you could buy cocaine-based drinks; and it’s important to understand there were some problems related to that. There was of course some addiction just like we have addiction to alcohol; it was not that big a deal. The vast majority of addicts had jobs; they were no more likely to be poor than anyone else; and really what you see, I tell it through the story of this extraordinary doctor in California at the birth of the Drug War called Henry Smith Williams, who really saw that as soon as drugs were banned all sorts of problems started to metastasize.
They’re transferred from pharmacies to armed, criminal gangs who suddenly have to be terrifying; they start having fights; suddenly the price goes massively up so addicts are driven into everything from prostitution to property crime. You suddenly see this huge outbreak of all sorts of crime that wasn’t there when they were legal.
LF: Now, Dr. Williams was up against quite an opponent, that’s this Harry Anslinger guy. Can you tell us, what can you tell us about him, and why was he so obsessed with Billie Holiday? JH: Harry Anslinger I think is the most influential person who almost no one’s ever heard of. He’s the inventor of the modern War on Drugs. He takes over the Department of Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition is ending; so he’s got this huge department with basically nothing to do, and he wants to find a purpose, and he’s always been driven all his life by two really strong hatreds: One is of addicts, and the other is of African Americans.
He was regarded as a racist in the 1930s by racists, to give a sense of how extreme he was, and he really became fixated on Billie Holiday, as I learned from his archives and from interviewing Billie Holiday’s surviving friends; and, you know, 1939, Billie Holiday stands on stage and sings “Strange Fruit,” a song against lynching, and that night the Federal Bureau of Narcotics tells her to stop, and she refuses. Billie Holiday was a tough person. She had promised herself, when she was growing up in the slums of Baltimore, she would never bow her head to any white man; and she told them to basically go screw themselves, and that’s when the stalking of her began.
He first of all sends this guy called Jimmy Fletcher to kind of stalk her, and the first agent that he sends falls in love with her because she was so amazing. He sends her to prison; she said at the trial, you know, it was called “the United States versus Billie Holiday,” and that’s how it felt. She gets out, she can’t perform anywhere because you needed a license to perform, and you know the thing she loved is taken away from her, but still Anslinger is not finished with her.
Princeton Study finds that ALL net employment growth in the US from 2005-2015 was in "Alternative Work Arrangements"
reddit | In case anyone is wondering (from the article)alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers.
The point is, companies are not hiring employees. They are filling roles with subcontractors from temp agencies (which have been exploding in size). These temporary workers have no job security, often no benefits (having to buy health insurance out of their pay for example), no way in hell they are getting stuff like stock options. And on average they get paid substantially less than the employees they replace.
US population in 2006 was ~300M and in 2014 about ~320M. People above 65 years of age was 12.4% and 14.4% respectively - which comes to 37.2M and 46.08M old people respectively. (Source http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.65UP.TO.ZS/countries/US?display=graph)
US labor figures for age 65+ group seems to be 5.325M in 2006 and 7.971M in 2014 (Source http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNU02000097)
So the employment rate of 65+ group has gone from 14.31% in 2006 to 17.29% in 2014.
The old people's 'no-option-but-have-to-continue-working' rate has gone up by 3% from 2006 to 2014. Maybe people are finding it more difficult to retire in this hard-to-save economy and maybe this will only worsen as we move more away from the baby-boomer generation and move further deep into this bubble economy.
EDIT relevant data - life expectancy in 2006 was 77.9 and peaked at 78.8 in 2012.
thenation | At first, she used Facebook in that cute, ho-hum way that most people do: selfies vamping new hairstyles, jocular shots with her sisters and mom—nothing special. Not until just after Christmas of 2014, and the debut of Selma. Within weeks of seeing that electrifying portrayal of the civil-rights era, she transformed her Facebook page. “I’m here to change history,” she declaimed in a smartphone video posted in January 2015.
She apologized that she was about to go to bed. In a T-shirt and with her hair pinned in rollers, she could not have seemed more unself-conscious. Her face glowed with the smile that everyone who knew her loved, and her voice was rich and friendly. “It’s time for me to do God’s work,” she said. She called her new project #SandySpeaks.
In the next few months, she would post over two dozen videos. Typically, they began with that smile and the greeting “Good morning, my beautiful kings and queens!” Her links took readers to articles about black history. (“No, this is American history!” she corrected.) She posted about the economic crisis burdening young African Americans. She suggested that white people get black friends and that blacks befriend whites. That might be hard for African Americans to do, she said, but God was testing their ability “to show love to somebody who can hate you for no very reason.”
In the days after she died, #SandySpeaks went viral. Her videos made her the first black casualty of police brutality whom the world could know and deeply love postmortem. She’s been gone now for almost a year, and we are still asking: #WhatHappenedtoSandraBland? Too often, that question has been merely a call to conspiracy theory: about monstrous jail guards murdering her, perfectly hiding the evidence, even taping her eyes open after death to take a convincing mug shot. The obsession over what transpired during three days at the end of her life has left little room for considering the 28 years before. Black lives matter—and hers was one of them, in its length, complication, and black pain.
cbpp | Across the country, food banks and other organizations that serve the needy are preparing for long lines as childless adults begin losing SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits due to the return in over 20 states of a three-month time limit for able-bodied adults. Federal law limits adults aged 18-49 who aren’t raising minor children to three months of SNAP out of every three years unless they’re working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a job training program at least 20 hours a week. More than half a million people will lose SNAP over the course of the year due to the time limit.
The time limit is “going to increase hunger among some of the most vulnerable Mississippians,” says Matt Williams of the Mississippi Center for Justice. “I think it will further stress service providers who are already trying to fill a gap in the available food assistance programs, and I think we will see their resources stretched to the max with increased demand.” In Mississippi alone, 50,000 people may lose benefits this year due to the time limit, the state estimates.
In New York State, Erica Santiago of the Food Bank for Westchester predicts, “We're not going to run out of food, but it may mean that people get three days’ worth instead of seven days’ worth. . . . This will also impact people who aren't losing their benefits — there's a trickle down effect.”
Under the time limit, people can lose benefits even if they are looking for and can’t find work, or if no spots are available in a job training program. The time limit “was based on the assumption that there are work programs to help these people and there are no programs. They cost too much,” Lucy Potter of Greater Hartford Legal Aid in Connecticut says.
The time limit is especially difficult for people with barriers to work, such as limited education and skills. Most childless adults aren’t eligible for other forms of government assistance, and their incomes while receiving SNAP average less than one-third of the poverty line.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
WaPo | McRaven retired from the Navy in 2014 and now serves as chancellor of the University of Texas system. He and others in the Navy saw Losey’s case very differently than the Senate and seethed at the intervention by lawmakers. In his op-ed, McRaven dismissed the whistleblowers as lazy employees who abused the inspector-general system to seek revenge on Losey. He also ripped the inspector general as an agency run amok, calling it “apparently accountable to no one, dismissing the recommendations of the services and ruining officer’s careers.”
Had he stopped there, McRaven’s comments probably would not have attracted much public attention. Instead, he went on to slam lawmakers and question whether a fundamental underpinning of the American system of government — civilian control of the military — was frayed or at risk.
“The greater concern for America is the continued attack on leadership in the military,” he wrote.
“During my past several years in uniform, I watched in disbelief how lawmakers treated the chairman, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders and other senior officers during Congressional testimony. These officers were men of incredible integrity, and yet some lawmakers showed no respect for their decades of service.”
While it is not uncommon for retired military brass to exercise their First Amendment rights, what was remarkable about McRaven’s comments was how he apparently had the backing and encouragement of active-duty Navy leaders to sound off in public.
McRaven showed his column to senior Navy brass before publication. It prompted an effusive public statement from Adm. John M. Richardson, the chief of naval operations and the highest ranking officer in the Navy.
“Brian Losey is an outstanding officer who has sacrificed much for our Navy and nation,” Richardson said. “I read Admiral McRaven’s piece with great interest; he raises a number of important issues that deserve additional consideration, and I welcome that conversation.”
McRaven’s attack on federal whistleblower-protection laws and the Pentagon’s inspector general didn’t mention how rare it actually is for officers such as Losey to get into trouble for violating them.
In comparison with other federal employees, whistleblowers working in the military or national security agencies must meet a higher burden of proof to win their cases. Of the more than 1,000 whistleblower complaints that are filed each year with the Pentagon’s inspector general, about 97 percent are dismissed, or categorized as “unsubstantiated,” records show. For three separate complaints to be upheld against a single officer is almost unheard of.
progressives too ignorant and emotional to function as anything other than useful idiots for the .0001%
paulcraigroberts | Have you noticed that it is not only the presstitute media and the two establishment political parties that are beating up on Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump but also the progressive left? Sometimes the messages overlap so much that the progressive left sounds like the One Percent. But mainly the progressive left is down on Sanders because he is “not pure,” and they don’t like Trump because he hurts people’s feelings and doesn’t apologize.
This is astounding. Here we are faced with the corrupt media and the corrupt party establishments determined to put in the Oval Office a tried and proven agent of the One Percent, and the progressive left is beating up on the only two alternatives!
I doubt that Sanders or Trump would be able to achieve much for the American people except to reduce the flow of official lies that the presstitutes turn into truths by constant repetition. The Oligarchy is too strong. It was more than a half century ago that President Eisenhower warned us of the threat to American democracy from the military-security complex. That complex is much stronger today, and, in addition, we have Wall Street and the mega-banks that control the US Treasury and Federal Reserve, the Israel Lobby that has the US Congress wrapped around its little finger, the extractive industries (energy, mining, timber) that prevails over the environment and preservation, and agribusiness that poisons our food, exterminates honey bees and butterflies and produces chemical fertilizer runoff into waters that result in massive fish kills from algea. None of these powerful interests will permit the welfare of the American people to get in the way of their agendas and profits.
Nevertheless, the election of Sanders or Trump is important, because it demonstrates that American citizens are emerging from The Matrix and have no confidence in the two corrupt political parties that betrayed them. The message would go out to the world as well that the American people have no confidence in the Washington Establishment. These messages are very important and can only have beneficial effects.
So why is the progressive left helping the One Percent keep the lid on the rest of us? Has the progressive left sold out or is the progressive left putting its emotional needs above the general welfare?
charleshughsmith | Our status quo is not only failing to solve humanity’s six core problems-- it has become the problem.
To explain why this is so, I wrote Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform, a new book that's focused (90 pages) and affordable, i.e. the cost of a latte ($3.95 Kindle ebook, $8.95 print edition).
Why can’t our status quo be reformed? There are two primary reasons:
1) Those benefiting from the current arrangement will resist any reforms that threaten their share of the pie--and meaningful reforms will necessarily threaten everyone’s slice of the pie.
2) Reforms that actually address the structural flaws will bring the system down, as the status quo can only continue if its engine (permanent expansion of debt and consumption) is running at full speed. Once the engine stalls or even slows, the system collapses.
This is unwelcome news not just to privileged insiders--and the harsh reality is that our status quo exists to protect the privileges of the few at the expense of the many--but to everyone who hopes to benefit in some way from our status quo's cornucopia of promises.
So we cling to the dangerous hope that all the promises can be met by some future magic, and cocoon ourselves in an equally dangerous denial that collapse is inevitable. We don't just want to avoid the decay and collapse of all the happy promises--we want to avoid the responsibility of taking part in shaping the replacement system.
libertyblitzkrieg | But I digress. The main thrust of this article is to highlight some new revelations from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh. Last May, he published a blockbuster article challenging the entire government story surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden, something I highlighted in the post: U.S. Officials Panic About Seymour Hersh Story; Then Deny His Claims Using Jedi Mind Tricks.
Well he’s back, and he recently shared more groundbreaking information in a fascinating interview with AlterNet. Here are some choice excerpts:
Ken Klippenstein: In the book you describe Saudi financial support for the compound in which Osama Bin Laden was being kept in Pakistan. Was that Saudi government officials, private individuals or both?
Seymour Hersh: The Saudis bribed the Pakistanis not to tell us [that the Pakistani government had Bin Laden] because they didn’t want us interrogating Bin Laden (that’s my best guess), because he would’ve talked to us, probably. My guess is, we don’t know anything really about 9/11. We just don’t know. We don’t know what role was played by whom.
Bingo. We don’t know anything, except that the U.S. government has been lying to the public for 15 years.