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Your secret permanent records that are up for sale every day | Deseret News

Your secret permanent records that are up for sale every day | Deseret News.

By , Deseret News National Edition

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 4:00 a.m. MST

Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 4:44 p.m. MST

Targeted junk mail marketing is just one way data brokers may affect people’s lives.

Devonyu, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Summary

Data brokers are gathering more information on people and packaging the data in ways that may surprise consumers.

This story is part of theDeseret News National Edition, which focuses on the issues that resonate with American families.

Which marketing list are you on?

Is it the list of seniors with dementia? Are you on the list of impulse buyers? Maybe you are on the list of people with “newly activated credit cards” or “obese and morbidly obese consumers.”

Maybe you show up on “badcustomer” or on people with “mental health problems.” There are even marketing lists of rape victims, people with addictive behaviors, people suffering from AIDS, and lists of police officers, according to testimony given before the U.S. Senate by World Privacy Forum’s executive director, Pam Dixon.

These are just a few of the many lists created by data brokers, companies that scour the Internet and other public and private records to compile everything from your age to what you bought, when you bought it, what you responded to, what you posted on Facebook, and on and on — anything that will give companies an edge when they try to sell you things.

The records data brokers create are permanent and under virtually no regulation.

Julia Angwin, author of the forthcoming book, “Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance,” tried to find out from multiple data brokers what kind of information they had about her.

It used to be that data brokers had limited information, Angwin says. They gathered home addresses, telephone numbers, car records and other public information such as property records. “But now they can put together a comprehensive picture of your life,” Angwin says. “And once you know everything about me, you have a lot of leverage on me. They are going to have an edge.”

Imagine walking in to buy a car, she says, and the salesman knows how much you make, how much you paid on your last car, even how often you make purchases.

Gathering data

Dixon, in her testimony in Washington, said even if people are careful with their information, “they will still have detailed information about their private and in some cases professional lives collected, bundled, bought, trade, sold … and used in various ways to target or to deny goods, services and opportunities.”

When Angwin gathered some reports from data brokers, she says she was horrified. “They knew I had bought underwear the week before,” she says. “Does anybody really need to know that? But it is in the report, and it is never going to be out of there.”

The use of data is illustrated by a New York Times article from 2012 that explained how Target was able to predict which female customers were pregnant by looking at their purchases. Women who switched to scent-free lotions and soaps and followed other patterns of sequenced buying behavior indicated they were expecting. Target then sent mailers to those women that included baby products.

But part of the problem isn’t just that data brokers get personal information about what type of underwear you are buying or that they can use patterns and data to predict your interest in various products but that they can get it wrong.

Sometimes they get bad information. As Dixon told Congress, sometimes thieves steal somebody’s identity and then their purchases and other illicit actions can get on their victims’ permanent data broker records.

Other times, data brokers make unwarranted assumptions about people based on what they know about those people.

For example, Angwin lives in Harlem, N.Y. — which makes some data brokers assume she is a single mother and has no college degree, neither of which are true.

“(The brokers’ data base) says more about what the list makers think about people who live in Harlem than it does about me,” she says. “I am almost as disturbed by what data brokers get wrong as when they get it right.”

As technology and improved algorithms help the data brokers improve their results, Angwin worries that the resulting lists will become more precise and personal. They aren’t just doing this to find the most accurate target market, she says. They are learning what people’s vulnerabilities are so they can exploit them.

The price we pay

Data brokers, for their part, say they are providing information that helps marketers target their products and services more accurately. The information they gather is available to anyone willing to do the research or pay for the access to private records such as those gathered by websites. Websites, in their “Terms of Service” or privacy policy statements, usually explain how the data they gather will be used.

Jeff Atwood, a blogger in El Cerrito, Calif., who co-founded the programmers website stackoverflow.com, says giving up personal information is the price people pay to do things on the Internet.

“I consider it standard practice,” he says. “So much that we do is free. That is the cost of free.”

Opt out

Angwin tried to get her data removed from various data brokers’ records. “I was not very successful,” she says. “They are not required by law to remove your data.”

She was only able to find information on less than half of the data brokers. Only about half of those offered opt out — 92 out of the 212 she identified.

She posted lists of the data broker information on her website, www.JuliaAngwin.com, identifying those who gave her information about what they knew about her and those that allowed her to opt out.

Some wanted money to remove the information. One wanted a copy of her driver’s license. Some required a mail form or fax. Others wanted too much information — such as a credit card number.

“They don’t make it easy to get out,” she says.

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

Facebook: facebook.com/madegroote

The European Debt Crisis Visualized | Zero Hedge

The European Debt Crisis Visualized | Zero Hedge.

At the heart of the European debt crisis is the euro, the currency that ties together 17 countries in an intimate manner. So when one country teeters on the brink of financial collapse, the entire continent is at risk. The following excellent mini-documentary visually explains how such a flawed system came to be… and what’s next?

RIGZONE – Robust Demand Tightening Oil Market, IEA Says

RIGZONE – Robust Demand Tightening Oil Market, IEA Says.

by  Reuters
Christopher Johnson and David Sheppard
Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reuters

LONDON, Feb 13 (Reuters) – Stronger-than-expected demand has drained oil inventories to the lowest level since 2008, tightening the market and defying predictions of a glut, the West’s energy watchdog said on Thursday.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said oil inventories in the developed world plummeted by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in the last three months of 2013, the steepest quarterly decline since 1999.

The IEA, which advises most of the largest energy-consuming countries on energy policy, becomes the third major forecaster this week to predict higher oil use as economic growth picks up in Europe and the United States.

“Far from drowning in oil, markets have had to dig deeply into inventories to meet unexpectedly strong demand,” the IEA said in its monthly oil market report.

The IEA raised its forecast for global oil demand growth this year by 50,000 bpd to 1.3 million bpd.

That was boosted by a rebound in demand in North America and Europe after several years of declining consumption.

The Paris-based agency increased its estimate of the demand for oil from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from last month’s report by 100,000 bpd to 29.6 million bpd .

“Demand has been stronger than expected, and we’re operating with low stock levels right now, which has been supportive for prices,” Antoine Halff, head of the IEA’s oil industry and markets division, told Reuters.

“Demand for OPEC crude looks stronger.”

Both OPEC and the U.S. Energy Information Administration raised their forecasts for 2014 demand in monthly reports this week.

NO GLUT

Growing oil production in North America had led some to predict international crude prices would fall in 2014, after averaging around $110 a barrel in each of the past three years.

But robust demand and supply problems in a number of OPEC countries have kept prices supported, the IEA said.

While output from Libya recovered in January to 500,000 bpd, Iraqi output fell by 140,000 bpd to 2.99 million bpd, the IEA said, and warned that exports from Libya were likely to continue to be constrained by political unrest in the country.

Output in Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest producer, fell by 60,000 bpd in January to 9.76 million bpd, the IEA said.

Halff said demand for OPEC crude oil could be even stronger in the coming months as companies moved to rebuild oil inventories to a more comfortable level.

The IEA kept its estimate for supply growth from countries outside of OPEC unchanged from last month, forecasting an increase of 1.7 million bpd this year.

“We’re going into a period of lower demand as refineries start maintenance after the winter,” Halff said.

“We need to rebuild stocks.”

Benchmark Brent crude oil prices were down about 0.5 percent on Thursday at $108.24 a barrel, slipping after hitting a month-high of $109.75 at the start of the week.

(Reporting by Christopher Johnson and David Sheppard; editing by Jason Neely)

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : America and the Arab Awakening: Déjà Vu?

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity : America and the Arab Awakening: Déjà Vu?.

wednesday february 12, 2014
Arabspringegypt

Three years ago, Washington experienced its own dose of “shock and awe” — the PR phrase used to sanitise its brutal invasion of Iraq — when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ordinary Arabs took to the streets to demand the overthrow of leaders more interested in Washington’s approval than that of their own peoples. But American policy elites’ professed surprise was primarily a function of their own self-imposed amnesia and delusion.

No one in Washington seemed to realise or care that Egyptians forced their pro-American dictator from power on February 11, 2011 — 32 years to the day after the Shah of Iran’s military conceded to the will of the Iranian people, giving birth to the Islamic Republic of Iran and bringing down a pillar of American dominance in the region. On the eve of Iran’s revolution, as a deep and abiding thirst for independence was sweeping through Iran, President Jimmy Carter toasted the shah, in “great tribute…to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.”

Thirty-two years later, US foreign policy elites seemed to have learned little. When similar revolutionary fervour threatened another pillar of US dominance in the Middle East — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — the Obama administration appeared to be following the example of its 1970s predecessor. Vice President Joe Biden proclaimed that Mubarak wasn’t “a dictator” because he was an American ally and a friend of Israel — thereby highlighting that the only way an Arab leader can be those things is by being a dictator. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had already declared “President and Mrs Mubarak to be friends of my family.”

But with security forces marauding through Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, killing nearly 1,000 people by the time Mubarak finally resigned — and drawing more people to protest, instead of repelling them — alarm set in among Washington’s foreign policy elite. Could the US really lose the Egyptian pillar it had so assiduously co-opted after its Iranian pillar was tossed out in 1979?

When Washington finally understood that Mubarak’s days were numbered, as Carter had finally understood with the shah, the Obama administration tried to orchestrate a “transition” to Mubarak’s reviled intelligence chief. Omar Suleiman was the man responsible for “rendering” Egyptians to be tortured for the CIA and for collaborating with Israel to keep the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza under siege. When that did not work, Washington set out to co-opt and then abort what it termed the Arab Spring — a Western phrase meant to depict movement toward secular liberalism rather than toward participatory Islamist governance.

Unchanging foreign policy

Mubarak’s departure brought into uncomfortably stark relief a reality that US policymakers had denied since the overthrow of the shah thirty-two years before. US efforts to use cooperative autocrats — autocrats willing to facilitate US military aggression, to torture alleged “terrorists” (their own citizens) for the CIA’s benefit, and to tolerate a militarily dominant Israel engaged in open-ended occupation of Arab populations — to promote American hegemony over the Middle East were unacceptable to the vast majority of people there.

As protests unfolded in Egypt, large numbers of demonstrators in Yemen demanded that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh — a major US counter-terror collaborator — resign. Three days after Mubarak’s removal, large-scale protests paralysed Bahrain — home of the US Fifth Fleet — underscoring the threat to America’s regional hegemony even more dramatically.

US foreign policy elites were not just concerned about a precipitous erosion of the US strategic position in the Middle East. They also worried about what the spread of popular demand for leaderships accountable to their peoples, not to Washington, would mean for the hegemonic house of cards the US had imposed on the region.

It was clear — and has become ever clearer over the past three years — that the majority of population in the Middle East want to vote for their leaders and to have a voice in decision-making on issues affecting their daily lives and social identities. But they also want that to happen in an explicitly Islamic framework — not in some secular, liberal “Spring” context, divorced from their identities and ability to assert real independence.

When given the chance to express preferences about their political futures, Middle Eastern Muslims do not embrace the sort of secular liberalism that America might be able to countenance as an alternative to pro-Western autocracy. Rather, they vote for Islamists espousing the integration of participatory politics and elections with Islamic principles — and with a commitment to foreign policy independence.

Thus, in early 2011, Washington was anxious that the Arab Awakening would ultimately benefit the Islamic Republic of Iran. For the Islamic Republic is the Middle East’s only political system that, since 1979, has actually tried to integrate participatory politics and elections with principles and institutions of Islamic governance. It has also been an exemplar of foreign policy independence, embodied in its consistent refusal to submit to the imperatives of a pro-US regional order.

Three US goals in the Middle East

Faced with these risks to its hegemonic ambitions, the US could not simply declare its opposition to popular sovereignty in the Middle East. Instead, the Obama administration crafted a policy response to the Arab Awakening that had three major goals. In the course of pursuing these goals, the administration — with strong bipartisan backing in Congress — has imposed even more instability and violence on the region. It has also set the stage for further erosion of the credibility and effectiveness of US policy in a vital part of the world.

The Obama administration’s first goal was to prevent the Arab Awakening from taking down any more US allies. To that end, the administration tacitly (but happily) acquiesced to the Saudi-led military intervention in Bahrain on March 14, 2011 to sustain the Khalifa monarchy. As a result, the monarchy continues to hold on to power (for now) and US naval forces continue operating out of Bahrain.

At the same time, Washington’s support for suppressing popular demands for political change there through Saudi Arabia’s armed intervention has helped fuel a dangerous resurgence of sectarian tensions across the Middle East. This, in turn, has given new life to al-Qaeda and similar jihadi movements around the region.

The Obama administration’s second goal was to co-opt the Arab Awakening for US purposes, by showing that, somewhere in the Middle East, the US could put itself on the “right” side of history. So, when Saudi Arabia offered the Arab League “cover” to intervene in Libya and arm anti-Gaddafi rebels, President Barack Obama overrode objections by his defence secretary and military leaders to order US forces into action.

On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council narrowly adopted a resolution authorising use of force to protect civilian populations in Libya. In short order, Team Obama distorted it to turn civilian protection into coercive regime change. The results have been disastrous for US interests and for the region: Worsening violence in Libya, a growing jihadi threat in North Africa, a dead US ambassador, and more polarised US relations with Russia and China.

The Obama administration’s third goal was to show that, after the loss of pro-Western regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and near-misses in Bahrain and Yemen, it wasn’t just authoritarian regimes willing to subordinate their foreign policies to the US that were at risk from popular discontent. In particular, Washington wanted to demonstrate that it was also possible to bring down regimes with clear commitments to foreign policy independence — and, in the process, weaken not just Iran’s strategic position but that of Islamists across the region promoting participatory Islamist governance.

Soon after unrest started in Syria in March 2011, the Obama administration saw an opening, declaring that President Bashar al-Assad “must go” and goading an externally supported “opposition” to undermine him — if not bring him down. It was clear from the start that arming a deeply divided opposition would not bring down the Syrian government. Nevertheless, Washington joined with its so-called allies in Riyadh, Paris, and London in an almost desperate attempt to roll back Iran’s rising power.

Almost three years on, Iraq, as well as Iran, have been hurt by this misadventure — but the American and the Syrian people have paid a much higher price. Washington has paid in terms of its regional standing, intensification of the regional resurgence of violent extremists, and further polarisation of relations with Russia and China; Syria, of course, has paid with over 100,000 Syrians killed (so far) and millions more displaced.

More recently, the Obama administration’s tacit backing for the military coup that overthrew Egypt’s democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president in July 2013 has removed any residual doubt that the US, intent on clinging to its hegemonic prerogatives in the Middle East, can endorse moves toward real democracy in the region. Putting US strategy in the Middle East on a more positive and productive trajectory will require Washington to accept the region on its own terms, to deal straightforwardly with all relevant (and authentic) actors, and to admit that trying to coercively micromanage political outcomes in Muslim-majority societies isn’t just incompatible with claims to respect popular sovereignty — it is unsustainable and counter-productive for long-term US interests.

Reprinted with permission from author’s Going to Tehran blog.

Flickr/AK Rockefeller

The Limits of Stock Chart Reading – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada

The Limits of Stock Chart Reading – Ludwig von Mises Institute Canada.

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 by  posted in Economics.

Any time people are compelled to decipher the future, strange methods and theories are sure to abound. The stock market has long been a haven of such folly.  Among the diviners in that arena, there are believers in the notion that planetary movements affect share values, that stock prices move in predictable wave sequences, and that certain geometric patterns on stock charts presage a change in trend. Nor are these habits of thought restricted to tiny corners of the stock exchange. Such is the eagerness to gain a clue into the future that there’ll always be numerous takers for far-fetched prognostications.

Scary Parallel

Source: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/scary-1929-market-chart-gains-traction-2014-02-11

The latest example of this is a chart (see above) that is getting wide dissemination on Wall Street. The chart depicts two prices series, one of the Dow Jones Industrial Average between 1928-1929 and the other of that same index from mid-2012 to the present day. The two lines are strikingly similar in their undulations. Indeed, since the resemblance first caught people’s attention this past November, the correlation has persisted. What this is supposed to portend, of course, is a crash along the lines of October 1929.

Yet this presumes that patterns from the past can be reliably expected to recur in the future. It is, as Ludwig von Mises might have put it, to assume that there are constant relations in economic life — that the fact that events of type B have previously followed events of type A means that B will recur whenever A happens to arise. But there are no constant relations in human affairs. For, unlike natural objects, human beings are continually exposed to novel  experiences, from which they learn and orient their actions accordingly in unforeseeable ways.

Even the original purveyor of the above chart, Tom McClellan (publisher of the McClellan Market Report), concedes that: “Every pattern analog I have ever studied breaks correlation eventually, and often at the point when I am most counting on it to continue working”. Undaunted by this realization that the past is no certain guide to the future, he nevertheless persists in warning us to be wary about the market.

The only historical pattern with any semblance of predictive significance is the proclivity of the stock market to trend in the same direction for a significant period of time. These trends are commonly known as bull and bear markets. Why these exist is actually something of a puzzle. Stock prices, being time-discounted estimates of future company dividends, ought to gyrate randomly in response to new information. To the extent one ought to expect a trend, it should be a very gently rising one mirroring the long-term rate of economic growth.  The reason why this does not occur, however,  is that the central bank generates booms and busts with its monetary policies, booms and busts that the stock market ends up reflecting in bull and bear markets.

All that can be usefully gleaned, then, from a stock chart is the prevailing trend. To gauge that one need not draw precise historical parallels with past price movements. A simple moving average — like a 10 month — might do.  In other words, if a major index like the S&P 500 is above its 10 month moving average, the trend is up. Conversely, if the index is below the average, the trend is down. Even then, there is no guarantee that the indicated trend will continue for any specific amount of time.

Tomas Salamanca is a Canadian Scholar.

A Tale Of Two Extremes: Global Inflation In One Chart | Zero Hedge

A Tale Of Two Extremes: Global Inflation In One Chart | Zero Hedge.

While Europe, and the bulk of the Developed World is struggling to dig out of its unprecedented credit crunch (in which central banks are the only source of credit money which instead of entering the economy is stuck in the capital markets via the reserve pathway) and resulting deflation, the rest of the Emerging Market world is doing just fine. If by fine one means inflation at what Goldman calls, bordering on “extreme levels.” This is shown in the chart below which breaks down the Y/Y change in broad prices across the main DM and EM countries, and which shows that when talking about inflation there are two worlds: the Emerging, where inflation is scorching, and Developing, where inflation is in a state of deep freeze.

What is notable here is that despite hopes for a convergence between the inflationary trends in the Developed (downside extremes) and Emerging (upside extremes) world for the past year, what has happened instead is an acceleration of the process especially in recent weeks as EMs have been forced to devalue their currencies at an ever faster pace in order to offset the impact of the taper, leading to surging inflation as Turkey, Argentina, and Venezuela among many others, have found out the hard way in just the past month.

And as inflation in EM nations continues to roil ever higher not only does the implicit exporting of deflation to the DM accelerate, but it means that their societies approach ever closert to the tipping point when the citizens decide they have had just about enough with their government and/or their currency and decide to change one and/or the other. Hopefully, in a peaceful matter.

Despite “Absolute Calm” Claim, Venezuela Appears Just A Little Out Of Control | Zero Hedge

Despite “Absolute Calm” Claim, Venezuela Appears Just A Little Out Of Control | Zero Hedge.

President Maduro and his ministers have stated (fully supported by Argentina):

  • *PEOPLE BEHIND YESTERDAY’S VIOLENCE WILL BE PUNISHED: ORTEGA
  • *VENEZUELA ISSUED ARREST ORDER FOR LEOPOLDO LOPEZ: VOLUNTAD
  • *VENEZUELA IN ABSOLUTE CALM, ORTEGA SAYS
  • *ARGENTINA SAYS IT FIRMLY SUPPORTS VENEZUELA’S GOVERNMENT

However, between armed groups reportedly firing shots (see clip below) into the Students Assembly and the disappearance of the protest leader, the protests appear to be anything but “calm.”

 

Stunning collage of clips from the last two days…

 

and some additional images…

Plaza de la republica en estos momentos pic.twitter.com/RAXcwwHx54

— Maria Paola Gonzalez (@_MariaPaola9) February 13, 2014

#Venezuela: Bandas armadas los #Tupamaros Guerrilla Urbana pic.twitter.com/Lc27OMMVE2

— Radio11FM® Panama (@radio11fm) February 13, 2014

Hace minutos plaza la república #13FVnzlaEnlaCalleNicolásPaElCoñoTeVas #Resistencia #Venezuela #lasalida #lacalle pic.twitter.com/P9PXS7vTmu

— Maru Garcia (@MaruGarcia) February 13, 2014

Plaza de la república MARACAIBO 01:38pm pic.twitter.com/6Xm0gfk9rQ

— Armando Vílchez (@armandovilchezr) February 13, 2014

Amnistía Internacional pide a #Venezuela que investigue tres muertes durante unas protestas >http://t.co/JRIgeW2g6p pic.twitter.com/XaHlPBin3S

— Diario El Mundo (@Diario_ElMundo) February 13, 2014

Estudiantes frente a parque cristal trancando camino Plaza Altamira #Venezuela pic.twitter.com/dQ7ZTl0FDg

— Alberto Andreo (@andreoalberto) February 13, 2014

The Tanks Are Rolling In Post-Devaluation Kazakhstan | Zero Hedge

The Tanks Are Rolling In Post-Devaluation Kazakhstan | Zero Hedge.

Following the 20% devaluation of Kazakhstan’s currency on Tuesday, the nation has quietly drifted into a very un-safe scenario. As the following clip shows, tanks and Humvees are lining the streets around Almaty as stores are closed and food is running desperately short. Local accounts note that the people are growing increasingly indignant. At a mere 192bps, the cost of protecting Kazakhstan sovereign debt from default (or further devaluation) seems cheap in light of this.

Tanks and Humvees lining the streets around the largest city in Kazakhstan…

Kazakhstan CDS remain notably cheap…

“The Vampire Squid Strikes Again”- Matt Taibbi Takes On Blythe Masters And The Banker Commodity Cartel | Zero Hedge

“The Vampire Squid Strikes Again”- Matt Taibbi Takes On Blythe Masters And The Banker Commodity Cartel | Zero Hedge.

The story of how JPMorgan, Goldman and the rest of the Too Big To Fails and Prosecutes, cornered, monopolized and became a full-blown cartel – with the Fed’s explicit blessing – in the physical commodity market is nothing new to regular readers: to those new to this story, we suggest reading of our story from June 2011 (over two and a half years ago),  “Goldman, JP Morgan Have Now Become A Commodity Cartel As They Slowly Recreate De Beers’ Diamond Monopoly.” That, or Matt Taibbi’s latest article written in his usual florid and accessible style, in which he explains how the “Vampire Squid strikes again” courtesy of the “loophole that destroyed the world” to wit: “it would take half a generation – till now, basically – to understand the most explosive part of the bill, which additionally legalized new forms of monopoly, allowing banks to merge with heavy industry. A tiny provision in the bill also permitted commercial banks to delve into any activity that is “complementary to a financial activity and does not pose a substantial risk to the safety or soundness of depository institutions or the financial system generally.” Complementary to a financial activity. What the hell did that mean?… Fifteen years later, in fact, it now looks like Wall Street and its lawyers took the term to be a synonym for ruthless campaigns of world domination.

Some key excerpts:

Today, banks like Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs own oil tankers, run airports and control huge quantities of coal, natural gas, heating oil, electric power and precious metals. They likewise can now be found exerting direct control over the supply of a whole galaxy of raw materials crucial to world industry and to society in general, including everything from food products to metals like zinc, copper, tin, nickel and, most infamously thanks to a recent high-profile scandal, aluminum. And they’re doing it not just here but abroad as well: In Denmark, thousands took to the streets in protest in recent weeks, vampire-squid banners in hand, when news came out that Goldman Sachs was about to buy a 19 percent stake in Dong Energy, a national electric provider. The furor inspired mass resignations of ministers from the government’s ruling coalition, as the Danish public wondered how an American investment bank could possibly hold so much influence over the state energy grid.

The motive for the Kochs, or anyone else, to hoard a commodity like oil can be almost beautiful in its simplicity. Basically, a bank or a trading company wants to buy commodities cheap in the present and sell them for a premium as futures. This trade, sometimes called “arbitraging the contango,” works best if the cost of storing your oil or metals or whatever you’re dealing with is negligible – you make more money off the futures trade if you don’t have to pay rent while you wait to deliver.

 

So when financial firms suddenly start buying oil tankers or warehouses, they could be doing so to make bets pay off, as part of a speculative strategy – which is why the banks’ sudden acquisitions of metals-storage companies in 2010 is so noteworthy.

 

These were not minor projects. The firms put high-ranking executives in charge of these operations. Goldman’s acquisition of Metro was the project of Isabelle Ealet, the bank’s then-global commodities chief. (In a curious coincidence commented upon by several sources for this story, many of Goldman’s most senior officials, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein and president Gary Cohn, started their careers in Goldman’s commodities division.)

Then there are the political connections:

In 2010, a decade after the Rich pardon, Holder was attorney general, but under Barack Obama, and two Rich-created firms, along with two banks that have been major donors to the Democratic Party, all made moves to buy up metals warehouses. In near simultaneous fashion, Goldman, Chase, Glencore and Trafigura bought companies that control warehouses all over the world for the LME, or London Metals Exchange. The LME is a privately owned exchange for world metals trading. It’s the world’s primary hub for determining metals prices and also for trading metals-based futures, options, swaps and other instruments.

 

“If they were just interested in collecting rent for metals storage, they’d have bought all kinds of warehouses,” says Manal Mehta, the founder of Sunesis Capital, a hedge fund that has done extensive research on the banks’ forays into the commodities markets. “But they seemed to focus on these official LME facilities.”

 

The JPMorgan deal seemed to be in direct violation of an order sent to the bank by the Fed in 2005, which declared the bank was not authorized to “own, operate, or invest in facilities for the extraction, transportation, storage, or distribution of commodities.” The way the Fed later explained this to the Senate was that the purchase of Henry Bath was OK because it considered the acquisition of this commodities company kosher within the context of a larger sale that the Fed was cool with – “If the bulk of the acquisition is a permissible activity, they’re allowed to include a small amount of impermissible activities.”

 

What’s more, according to LME regulations, no warehouse company can also own metal or make trades on the exchange. While they may have been following the letter of the law, they were certainly violating the spirit: Goldman preposterously seems to have engaged in all three activities simultaneously, changing a hat every time it wanted to switch roles. It conducted its metal trades through its commodities subsidiary J. Aron, and then put Metro, its warehouse company, in charge of the storage, and according to industry experts, Goldman most likely owned some metal, though the company has remained vague on the subject.

 

If you’re wondering why the LME would permit a seemingly blatant violation of its own rules, a good place to start would be to look at who owned the LME at the time. Although it eventual­ly sold itself to a Hong Kong company in 2012, in 2010 the LME was owned by a consortium of banks and financial companies. The two largest shareholders? Goldman and JPMorgan Chase.

 

Humorously, another was Koch Metals (2.32 percent), a commodities concern that’s part of the Koch brothers’ empire. The Kochs have been caught up in their own commodity-manipulation schemes, including an episode in 2008, in which they rented out huge tankers and sed them to store excess oil offshore essentially as floating warehouses, taking cheap oil out of available supply and thereby helping to drive up energy prices. Additionally, some banks have been accused of similar oil-hoarding schemes.

And then there is of course Blythe, who is now looking for a new job precisely as a result of the cartel story:

Chase’s own head of commodities operations, Blythe Masters – an even more famed Wall Street figure, sometimes described as the inventor of the credit default swap – admitted that her company’s warehouse interests weren’t just a casual thing. “Just being able to trade financial commodities is a serious limitation because financial commodities represent only a tiny fraction of the reality of the real commodity exposure picture,” she said in 2010.

 

Loosely translated, Masters was saying that there was a limited amount of money to be made simply trading commodities in the traditional legal manner. The solution? “We need to be active in the underlying physical commodity markets,” she said, “in order to understand and make prices.”

 

We need to make prices. The head of Chase’s commodities division actually said this, out loud, and it speaks to both the general unlikelihood of God’s existence and the consistently low level of competence of America’s regulators that she was not immediately zapped between the eyebrows with a thunderbolt upon doing so. Instead, the government sat by and watched as a curious phenomenon developed at all of these new bank-owned warehouses, in the aluminum markets in particular.

Finally, the big picture:

[T]he potential for wide-scale manipulation and/or new financial disasters is only part of the nightmare that this new merger of banking and industry has created. The other, perhaps even darker problem involves the new existential dangers both to the environment and to the stability of the financial system. Long before Goldman and Chase started buying up metals warehouses, for instance, Morgan Stanley had already bought up a substantial empire of physical businesses – electricity plants in a number of states, a firm that trades in heating oil, jet fuels, fertilizers, asphalt, chemicals, pipelines and a global operator of oil tankers.

 

How long before one of these fully loaded monster ships capsizes, and Morgan Stanley becomes the next BP, not only killing a gazillion birds and sea mammals off some unlucky country’s shores but also taking the financial system down with them, as lawsuits plunge the company into bankruptcy with Lehman-style repercussions? Morgan Stanley’s CEO, James Gorman, even admitted how risky his firm’s new acquisitions were last year, when he reportedly told staff that a hypothetical oil spill was “a risk we just can’t take.”

 

The regulators are almost worse. Remember the 2008 collapse happened when government bodies like the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision – whose entire expertise supposedly revolves around monitoring the safety and soundness of financial companies – somehow missed that half of Wall Street was functionally bankrupt.

 

Now that many of those financial companies have been bailed out, those same regulators who couldn’t or wouldn’t smell smoke in a raging fire last time around are suddenly in charge of deciding if companies like Morgan Stanley are taking out enough insurance on their oil tankers, or if banks like Goldman Sachs are properly handling their uranium deposits.

 

“The Fed isn’t the most enthusiastic regulator in the best of times,” says Brown. “And now we’re asking them to take this on?”

Read the full story here (Rolling Stone link), or alternatively for those curious, here is a presentation highlighting all the key aspects of the aluminum price manipulation story by the big banks.

US/UN Fears Assad Win in Free Syrian Election? – LewRockwell.com

US/UN Fears Assad Win in Free Syrian Election? – LewRockwell.com.

Every now and then we have a chance to peek through a tiny window to see how “diplomacy” is done behind closed doors. Last week the leaked conversation between US diplomatsplotting the overthrow of Ukraine’s government was one such dramatic moment.

Another came Tuesday, in an interview with Iran’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, which appeared in the respected Lebanese Daily Star newspaper. In a sweeping interview, the Ambassador discussed the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut and the regional threat of the growing number of jihadist groups in Syria.

Then he let loose with this bombshell. Roknabadi told the Daily Star that the Iranian government had been under pressure to convince Syrian president Bashar al-Assad not to run again for president. As Syria’s only regional ally, Iran presumably has a good deal of influence with the Assad government.

Ambassador Roknabadi:

[U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey] Feltman, during a visit to Iran last summer, asked officials to convince Assad not to run in the elections. The Iranian officials asked him: ‘What’s the problem if he runs,’ to which Feltman responded: ‘If he runs, he will win the elections.’

Feltman is not just any UN bureaucrat. In the revolving door between the UN and US government, he previously served as US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from August 2009 to June 2012 and as United States Ambassador to Lebanon from July 2004 to January 2008. Before that he served in post-”liberation” Iraq.

More recently, Feltman was an important cast member in the above-mentioned “Ukraine-gate” phone call between US undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt. In the Ukraine drama, his former State Department colleagues agreed that Feltman could be trusted to appoint a UN official to “glue” together the deal they were cooking up.

If Ambassador Roknabadi is accurate in his account, this confirms much about the US government’s cynical regime-change ploy in Syria. Not that it is any surprise to those paying attention. It is in keeping with US ambivalence toward actual electoral democracy in those places which it purports to democratize. From Gaza to Egypt to Afghanistan to Libya to Iraq, it seems what US democratization efforts fear most is actual democracy.

No wonder Secretary Kerry keeps desperately clinging to the US misread of the “Geneva I” communiqué, claiming without evidence that it is a regime-change agreement among signatories. Assad must be kept out of the picture, because the US is terrified of his popularityin Syria.

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11:09 pm on February 12, 2014Email Daniel McAdams

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