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Rich Foreigners Are The Best Thing To Happen To New York City | Diane Francis

Rich Foreigners Are The Best Thing To Happen To New York City | Diane Francis.

Posted: 02/25/2014 12:08 pm

My husband and I live in Toronto, but we just bought a condo on 57th Street in a 25 year-old building. I have owned a condo in New York since 2005, and we moved to a bigger place near One57, or Oligarch Arms, and near other controversial sites designed to give wealthy outsiders stunning city views.

To us, New York outshines other capitals such as London or Paris because it’s the world’s biggest shopping mall, complete with 24-hour room service. It’s also a theme park for adults who like theater, art, museums, opera, comedy clubs, food, fashion and dynamic streetscapes. We have invested our after-tax Canadian dollars here rather than buying a place in Florida to golf and mall walk.

We’re not the only ones — figures are imprecise, but estimates are that foreigners like us have been buying roughly one-third of the city’s condos as second or third homes.

But as condo prices climb, along with density and heights, my husband and I have become public enemy No. 1. Populist resentment, new taxes and legislative threats have cast foreign buyers as pied-à-terrorists.

Mayor de Blasio even sideswiped us, along with rich locals, in his “Tale of Two Cities” campaign speech at New School: “One New Yorker is rushing past an attended desk in the lobby of a majestic skyscraper . . . while a few miles away, a single mother is also rushing, holding her two young children by the hands as they hurry down the steps of the subway entrance.”
As we say in Canada: Give me a break.

Attacking New York’s newest, part-time residents like us is fiscally foolish. The facts show that we are the solution, not the problem, to New York’s budget. We are walking wallets — and we just want to have fun.

Robust condo sales to people like us have brought economic development and jobs.
Even better, 63 per cent of us pay cash, a stabilizing effect on an over-leveraged real-estate market, because we can. We contribute to the GDP and are the gift that keeps giving. Every year we stay, we will pay condo fees, cable bills, dry cleaners, utilities and sales taxes. We will buy tons of concert, theater, art show, exhibits and hockey tickets.

My husband and I alone will fork out at least $25,000 a year in property and sales taxes.
Better yet, we don’t cost the city a dime because we don’t dump our kids into public schools or drive cars that damage roads and create potholes. We don’t make political demands, don’t crowd your libraries or hospitals and don’t deduct mortgage interest from our income taxes like New Yorkers do. If we break laws, we get tossed out. If we have broken laws, we cannot get in.

We are an economic fantasy come true. A captive tourism industry, we market the city abroad, like social media platforms on legs, boring to tears our friends and family about how wonderful and safe New York really has become. We support cheesy souvenir shops, park vendors peddling iconic photos of Depression workers on a girder and reworked musicals on Broadway. We bring in relatives and friends who love riding the horse drawn carts through Central Park. We buy the T-shirts and the labels at Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman.

Some locals grumble about the buyers of the lavish “safety deposit boxes in the sky” and whether they are hiding ill-gotten gains.

London and Paris may specialize in catering to despots, potentates, monarchs and questionable characters from former colonies, but New York City is different. Buyers here must submit to a rigorous process that requires us to pay for credit checks, police checks and proving we don’t owe taxes anywhere. Worse yet, we had to disclose on paper, for their perusal, all of our personal and business assets, stock and bond trades, cash and bank accounts worldwide. These figures had to be verified by banks, accountants or lawyers.

Such scrutiny makes us so desirable to America’s economy that Sen. Charles Schumer has proposed a bill to Congress that would grant visas to any foreigner paying more than $500,000 for a residence.

While unlikely, and somewhat daft, the facts show that we deserve a slap on the back, and not one in the face, for buying a slice of the Big Apple.

Appeared in the New York Post Feb. 23

Polar Vortex 2.0? | Zero Hedge

Polar Vortex 2.0? | Zero Hedge.

With California experiencing emergency drought conditions and sun-glass-clad bronzed beauties driving their convertibles around in Lake Tahoe amid not an inch of real snow, the East Coast – just emerging from the cocoon following Polar Vortex 1.0 – is, as we warned, about to be confronted with another chilly blast of “Arctic Cold” weather with temperatures up to 25 degress below average and 8 inches of snow due for New York City tomorrow, and wind chills up to 40 below for the Upper Midwest On the bright side, it will be a BTFD opportunity for all those missed earnings expectations for Q1 retailers.

As MarketWatch notes:

New York City could get up to 8 inches on Tuesday and Tuesday night, while Washington D.C. could get up to 7 inches. In Chicago, up to 5 inches could fall overnight Monday and temperatures Tuesday could be as cold as 13 below zero, including wind chill

Via  National Weather Service,

A strong cold front will dive southward from the Plains and Midwest on Monday to the East Coast and Southeast on Tuesday. Bitter wind chills to 40 degrees below zero will impact the Upper Midwest. At the leading edge of the cold air, a winter storm is forecast to develop on Tuesday that will impact the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Coast with snow and blowing snow.

…Heavy snow for the Mid-Atlantic into Southern New England…

…Temperatures will be 10 to 25 degrees below average from the Mississippi Valley into the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic…

A front moving off the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Coast will develop a wave of low pressure over the Tennessee Valley that will intensify rapidly moving off the North Carolina Coast by Tuesday afternoon/evening.  The storm will continue to deepen Tuesday night into Wednesday morning moving just off the Mid-Atlantic Coast paralleling the Northeast Coast to just off Cape Cod by Wednesday morning.

The system will produce light snow over parts of the Middle Mississippi Valley by Monday evening expanding into parts of the Ohio Valley by early Tuesday morning.  As the storm moves into the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, moisture from the Atlantic will move inland aiding in the development of snow over the Mid-Atlantic to the Ohio Valley/Tennessee Valley.

The system’s dynamics will increase, producing an area of moderate to heavy snow over parts of the Mid-Atlantic by Tuesday evening, moving into Southern New England and Coastal Northern New England by Wednesday morning.

The Fate of a City | KUNSTLER

The Fate of a City | KUNSTLER.

I was born and raised in New York City, on the east side of Manhattan (with a brief intermezzo in the long Island Suburbs (1954 – 1957) though I have lived upstate, two hundred miles north of the city, for decades since. I go back from time to time to see publishers and get some cosmopolitan thrills. One spring morning a couple of years back, toward the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s reign, I was walking across Central Park from my hotel on West 75th Street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I had an epiphany.

Which was that Central Park, and indeed much of the city, had never been in such good condition in my lifetime. The heart of New York had gone through a phenomenal restoration. When I was a child in the 1960s, districts like Tribeca, Soho, and the Bowery were the realms of winos and cockroaches. The brutes who worked in the meatpacking district had never seen a supermodel. Brooklyn was as remote and benighted as Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. The Central Park Zoo was like a set from Riot in Cellblock D, and the park itself was desecrated with the aging detritus of Robert Moses’s awful experiments in chain-link fencing as a decorative motif. Then, of course, came the grafitti-plagued 1970s summed up by the infamous newspaper headline [President] Ford to City: Drop Dead.

Now, the park was sparkling. The sheep’s meadow was lovingly re-sodded, many of Frederick Law Olmsted’s original structures, the dairy, the bow bridge, the Bethesda Fountain, were restored. Million dollar condos were selling on the Bowery. Where trucks once unloaded flyblown cattle carcasses was now the hangout of movie and fashion celebrities. Brooklyn was a New Jerusalem of the lively arts. And my parents could never have afforded the 2BR/2bath apartment (with working fireplace) that I grew up in on East 68th Street.

The catch to all this was that the glorious rebirth of New York City was entirely due to the financialization of the economy. Untold billions had streamed into this special little corner of the USA since the 1980s, into the bank accounts of countless vampire squidlets engaged in the asset-stripping of the rest of the nation. So, in case you were wondering, all the wealth of places like Detroit, Akron, Peoria, Waukegan, Chattanooga, Omaha, Hartford, and scores of other towns that had been gutted and retrofitted for suburban chain-store imperialism, or served up to the racketeers of “Eds and Meds,” or just left for dead — all that action had been converted, abracadabra, into the renovation of a few square miles near the Atlantic Ocean.

Nobody in the lamebrain New York based media really understands this dynamic, nor do they have a clue what will happen next, which is that the wealth-extraction process is now complete and that New York City has moved over the top of the arc of rebirth and is now headed down a steep, nauseating slope of breakdown and deterioration, starting with the reign of soon-to-be hapless Bill de Blasio.

Mayor Bloomberg was celebrated for, among other things, stimulating a new generation of skyscraper building. There is theory which states that an empire puts up its greatest monumental buildings just before it collapses. I think it is truthful. This is what you are now going to see in New York, especially as regards the empire of Wall Street finance, which is all set to blow up. The many new skyscrapers recently constructed for the fabled “one percent”— the Frank Gehry condos and the Robert A.M. Stern hedge fund aeries — are already obsolete. The buyers don’t know it. In the new era of capital scarcity that we are entering, these giant buildings cannot be maintained (and, believe me, such structures require incessant, meticulous, and expensive upkeep). Splitting up the ownership of mega-structures into condominiums under a homeowners’ association (HOA) is an experiment that has never been tried before and now we are going to watch it fail spectacularly. All those towering monuments to the beneficent genius of Michael Bloomberg will very quickly transform from assets to liabilities.

This is only one feature of a breakdown in mega-cities that will astonish those who think the trend of hypergrowth is bound to just continue indefinitely. It will probably be unfair to blame poor Mr. de Blasio (though he surely can make the process worse), even as it would be erroneous to credit Michael Bloomberg for what financialization of the economy accomplished in one small part of America.

Yield on Canadian Government Bonds Rising | CANADIAN MARKET REVIEW

Yield on Canadian Government Bonds Rising | CANADIAN MARKET REVIEW.

About three weeks ago, I speculated that the bottom on interest rates had come and gone, and interest rates were rising.

This now seems more and more certain. Because of Abenomics, yields on Japanese government bonds have shot up and set off an ugly chain reaction. Bond prices are falling and yields are rising. Rather quickly, I might add.

Take a look at these charts of yields for selected Canadian government bonds. Pay extra attention to the longer-term bonds.

First, marketable bonds. The average yield on 1-3 year bonds:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - 1 to 3 year

Now 3-to-5 year bonds:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - 3 to 5 year

5-10 year:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - 5 to 10 year

Here’s the average for 10+ year bonds:

Government of Canada marketable bonds - average yield - over 10 years

Now the benchmark bonds.

First, the 2-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 2 year

The 3-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 3 year

The 5-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 5 year

The 7-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 7 year

The 10-year:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - 10 year

Long-term benchmark bonds:

Government of Canada benchmark bond yields - long-term

Here’s the long-term real return bond yield:

Real return bond - long term

You can draw your own conclusions from this data, I’m sure.


A Year Later, The Bundesbank Has Repatriated Only 37 Tons Of Gold (Of 700 Total) | Zero Hedge

A Year Later, The Bundesbank Has Repatriated Only 37 Tons Of Gold (Of 700 Total) | Zero Hedge.

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser,courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.
The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser, courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

This week, more evidence came in that hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) poses potentially serious risks to drinking water quality and human health.
A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.
The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.
The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.
Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds. It has made previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves economical to tap, and drilling operations have spread rapidly across the country.
The University of Missouri team found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the fracking process are “endocrine disrupters” – compounds that can affect the human hormonal system and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility.
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Dr. Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, in a news release.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
The research team collected samples from ground water and surface water from sites in Garfield County, Colorado, where fracking fluids had accidentally spilled, as well as from the nearby Colorado River, into which local streams and groundwater drain. They also took samples from other areas of Garfield County where little drilling has taken place, as well as from a county in Missouri where there had been no drilling at all.
They found that the samples from the spill site had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and the Colorado River samples had moderate levels.  The other two samples, taken from areas with little or no drilling activity, showed low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity.
The new findings add urgency to calls for moratoriums on fracking until the risks have been fully assessed and regulations and monitoring put in place to safeguard water supplies and public health.
Due to the so-called “Halliburton loophole,” the oil and gas industry is exempt from important requirements under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and states have been slow to fill the regulatory gap.
Colorado, in particular, should exercise the utmost caution.
According to a report by Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit organization that educates investors about corporate environmental risks, 92 percent of Colorado’s shale gas and oil wells are located in “extremely high” water stress regions, defined as areas in which cities, industries and farms are already using 80 percent or more of available water.
Adding contamination risks to the high volume of water fracking wells require – typically 4-6 million gallons per well – argues strongly for a precautionary approach to future development and a pause in existing production until the full range of environmental health risks can be assessed.
But Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has said the state will sue any city that bans fracking within its borders.  Indeed, in July 2012, the state sued the front-range town of Longmont, which had issued such a ban.
A statement about the new findings of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in waters near fracking sites issued by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, and posted here, concludes with this warning:
“These results, which are based on validated cell cultures, demonstrate that public health concerns about fracking are well-founded and extend to our hormone systems. The stakes could not be higher. Exposure to EDCs has been variously linked to breast cancer, infertility, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Scientists have identified no safe threshold of exposure for EDCs, especially for pregnant women, infants, and children.”
And environmental health expert Sandra Steingraber writes in a letter posted at the same site:
“[I]t seems to me, the ethical response on the part of the environmental health community is to reissue a call that many have made already:  hit the pause button via a national moratorium on high volume, horizontal drilling and fracking and commence a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation.”


The Year at the End of the World | Motherboard

The Year at the End of the World | Motherboard.

By Brian Merchant

Zombies were huge again this year. Via The Walking Dead, AMC

I’ve never remembered much of my dreams, and, as far as I know, I’ve never dreamt of the End. But this was an overtly apocalyptic year, and by December, I’d absorbed more than my subconscious could manage. It spat out that first vision of how I might flail while it all falls apart.

New York City was smoldering red and black. Rows of familiar brick apartments were ablaze, and some crumbled in the dichromatic glow. A mountain of jagged city rose up without warning, shuffling concrete like a deck of cards. I was there, somewhere, on the other side of where I needed to be. The sky was pitch dark with smoke, fires tore through the block pixelated and medieval. My girlfriend was beyond that ruin, I had to find her, no choice but through the middle.

By all rights, 2013 should have been a gauzy hangover from all things apocalypse. A year we awkwardly and painfully came to grips with still being here-ness. We were fresh off the heels of dire old 2012, when the Mayans’ supposed doomsday, that campy apotheosis of pop cultural end times, failed to doom us. Post-apocalyptic films were starting to drag like a legless undead corpse. 2012 saw the worst drought in decades; the New York Times declared it the US’s hottest year ever. An East Coast-swallowing super storm looked apocalyptic, but instead left a country reeling—and a slew of humanitarian, civic, and environmental concerns in its wake.

If ever there was a time to sober up, get humanity’s house in order, and stop wishing disaster on ourselves, 2013 was it. Instead we doubled down on apocalyptic fantasy. Armageddon was everywhere: It was a banner year for films, music, books, television, sci-fi, and cultural obsession about the end of the world. The most-watched cable TV drama of all time aired this year, and it was about the zombie apocalypse. The highest-charting rock song of the year—and third best-selling single, period—is explicitly apocalypse-themed. And I can’t think of a year where our cinematic world was so thoroughly destroyed, overrun, ruined, or obliterated than it was in 2013.

I watched the destruction in multiplexes and at home, on pay-per-view apps like Vudu and iTunes. So many two-dimensional earthlike environs exploded on so many screens. Thank Hollywood for greenlighting so many towering epic films to titillate we apocalypse-hungry masses. I for one wanted to watch as earth was overrun and obliterated not just by zombies, but social strife, alien-controlled drones, and Satan himself. I was so tired this year, and there was something disarmingly easy about seeing the switch get flipped. I doubted I was alone.

World War Z, the year’s token star-powered zombie movie, reiterated for the umpteenth time our fear of a modern mutant plague, our latent desire to empty our rage into dull-eyed semi-humans with blunt weapons. Elysium raised a futuristic dystopian world, ruined by avarice and inequality. The super rich, safely cloistered on a toroidal pleasure barge, lived it up. The poor toiled in earthbound factories, got radiation poisoning from the blighted environment, and biohacked each other in dusty labs.

In Elysium, the world ended because humans let it; we couldn’t figure out how to restrain corporations or protect the environment or distribute resources evenly or be kind to each other—pressing real-world pre-apocalypse themes, of course—so it all failed. The film was supposed to be part social critique, like director Neill Blomkamp’s previous effort, District 9, and it made no attempt to conceal its bleeding-heart allegiance to the 99 percent. In fact it was mostly filmed inthat fateful fall of 2011. In reality, however, the film couldn’t get its act together: it was mostly a grating gunblazer. But it was one of the few movies to put forward a solution to impending planetary doom: universal health care. In Elysium, the rich have heal-all tech—we just need to get them to share it with the poor.

Oblivion was more interesting, as far as total destruction scenarios go. An alien nemesis attacked earth, but not with ray guns—its giant motherships somehow dragged the moon out of orbit, loosing the tides and flooding our cities. The unseen drone-steering aliens had the gall to stick around, drawing fusion power from our oceans and using an army of cloned humans to harass the subterranean survivors.

What began as an effort to trade in on the growing cultural import of drones—the new zombies, maybe—and our fears of them, ended as pure Hollywood sci-fi; action-obsessed and metaphorically confused. Still, there’s a palpable fear here; that technology will enslave us under our noses, while we let the earth go to ruin and become mindless clones.

The world wasn’t exactly over in Pacific Rim, a cheery robo-gladiator flick, but rampaging aliens had thrashed much of it, and doom was immanent—if not for a pan-military effort to bash their skulls in with the steely fists of giant DARPA bots. The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, is dystopian fiction for young adults—the world has gone to hell, reality TV is out of control, and wealthy elites oppress the poor, forcing them to provide their resources with backbreaking manual labor. After Earth was a Scientology-infused far-future despoiled Earth story, and it was terrible, so nobody saw it.

None of that mass death was overtly serious, but this year’s apocalypse was built for laughs, too. In the summer comedy This Is The End A-list comedian hipster bros mined the biblical end of days for jokes; Satan’s army, road warriors, and copious amounts of fire set the backdrop for gags about exorcisms, strained friendships, and demon penises. Demon penises mostly.

The year’s best apocalyptic film was marketed as comedy, too: The World’s End, the final installment of the so-called Cornetto trilogy that began with another stab at apocalyptica, Shaun of the Dead. I watched the comedies with my girlfriend on the weekends; one in bed in Brooklyn, one on the couch in Philadelphia. New jobs had forced us into a long distance relationship after years of living together, we had the weekends. We’d seen Oblivion together too, the soundtrack’s synths washing over us in a cheap Philadelphia theater with sticky floors. I got into the Walking Dead and watched it on the bus rides through the gloaming to Philly.

The World’s End was a surprisingly potent film. It cannily wielded its apocalypse on multiple narrative dimensions: there was the actual apocalypse, yes, where small towns around the world have been infiltrated and destroyed by robots, but all that flair was sneakily deployed in service of a more personal apocalypse.

Gary King, our pathetic leather jacket-clad protagonist hasn’t, can’t, won’t grow up and join dull, ordered society; he’d actually rather embrace the end than evolve beyond his high school glory days. In the film’s postscript, this pointed absurdity is laid bare as our hero relishes a new life of wandering the a post-apocalyptic wasteland with robo-copies of his childhood friends, beating up naysayers. It was a poignant moment that accomplished what most apocalyptic cinema fails to do: raise the question of why it is we want to see the world crumbling around us.

Why indeed. There’s got to be a reason it’s fun for us to watch the bodies pile up and for a band of survivors—stand-ins for ourselves—struggle to make good with what’s left. Part of this is also that we rarely consider the bodies.

“All of this uncertainty and all of this fear comes together and people think maybe life would be better” after a society-annihilating disaster, the child psychologist and zombie fiction author Steven Schlozman told Scientific American.

Mass disaster offers a shot at a clean slate, maybe, both for a societal reboot and, more importantly, a personal one. We might have flocked to the theaters this year to watch the world unravel, vicariously—subconsciously even—imagining what we’d do with that fresh start amidst the rubble.

Schlozman notes that we don’t ever fantasize about rebuilding infrastructure, or living without access to clean water; we romanticize the freedom from obligation but fail to process the misery inherent in the ending world. The narrative inevitably abets this tendency—aside from establishing ‘world-is-dead’ shots of fallen monuments and errant corpses, we’re given little chance to empathize with what was lost. Which is the point: These are action movie playgrounds, abstractions—apocalyptic in an aesthetic sense only. Few of us actually relate to the dead in these films, or the zombies, the impostor aliens, the image of death incarnate. In 2013, I did, mostly against my will.

Image: Flickr

Last year, as in the year before the apocalypse, I administered CPR to a man in the middle of the highway who was almost certainly already dead. He’d crashed his motorcycle, and we were the first ones on the scene, there seconds later. One wheel was still spinning.

My friend is a doctor, and he yelled out some imperatives I don’t remember now; I just remember trying to move a fat purple tongue out of the way of an airway, blowing in, while my friend gave chest compressions. The inner-mouth smell where there was no breath was fetid, his skin was sallow. That was the face of death, the real face of death pressed close up to mine.

The face would show up when I didn’t want it to, but not until months, a year after the fact. Out of nowhere, briefly, in a stray thought or a daydream. No joke, sometimes it would populate whatever apocalypse porn I was watching, against my will, shuffling among the corpse-painted actors like a phantasmic extra. I was reminding myself, maybe, that while I was so gleefully participating in this carnival of fabricated death, buying tickets to films where billions of humans are dispatched without a thought, using it as a perverse source of comfort—that there is feeling to real death that must be remembered, that doesn’t translate to this spectacle, because it doesn’t look all that different than the death on the screen.

That seems important to consider, because mass death was incredibly popular this year.The Walking Dead is probably the best example. The zombie drama is currently the highest-rated program on television. Period. As in, higher rated than Monday Night Football, higher rated than the top network show, The Big Bang Theory. Twenty million people watched its season 4 premiere in October, and ratings continue to climb. Entertainment Weekly crunched the numbers, and found that you have to go back five years to find another program with a higher rating: a cresting American Idol. It’s officially the most-watched cable series in history.

But it doesn’t stop there; 2013’s music was also plenty apocalyptic. Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” a ham-fisted song about the end days, was, according to Billboard, “the biggest rock hit of the year.” Its YouTube video has over 109 million views. Only “Blurred Lines” and Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” charted higher—”Radioactive” beat out anything Miley Cyrus did by a mile. The song is about breathing in radiated air, my apocalypse, and a new age, ostensibly of revolution. Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires in the City, the winner of the coveted #1 slot on Pitchfork’s best album of the year list, is just as universally bleak, if more subtly so. The album cover shows a dystopian New York covered in a thick shroud of pollution.

“The image looks old, but also seems like it might be a rendering of some kind of future,” Rostam Batmanglij, the band’s “musical architect and de-facto aesthetic director,” said in an interview. The record itself is full of moments that reflect that prognosis; much of it plays like Ivy Leaguers meeting The Road. I listened to plenty of it.

There were books, both fiction, 100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses, and nonfiction, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive Mass ExtinctionThere were video games, too, though I didn’t play many of them. But State of Decay had players manage not just their own survival in the face of a zombie apocalypse, but an entire community’s. Gameplay focused on providing resources, finding survivors, as well as battling off the undead hordes. It sold over a million copies, and landed itself on the New Yorker‘s Best Video Games of 2013 list. A new installment in the critically acclaimed and wildly popular The Walking Dead game series debuted too, and was downloaded millions of times. It was all pretty overwhelming.

Rarely has the End been so casual, so serialized, so mediated as it was this year. Everything dying is officially not just a genre, but a wide cartoonish palette. So much is highly experimental, and nothing resonates. I sat in a hot tub and watched a 3D printer create and destroy a city made of salt; the artist who built it was eager for nature to wipe us out. He figured he’d survive. You can’t drive motorcycles through tiny salt cities. Neither of us knew what we were talking about, we can’t begin to imagine.

Maybe we’re trying. Maybe all of this apocalypse culture is a totem, a proactive tool and a hedge against real-life calamity.

“Apocalyptic beliefs make existential threats—the fear of our mortality—predictable,” the neuroscientist Shmuel Lissek told Scientific American. There is science to back that up.According to SciAm, Lissek “has found that when an unpleasant or painful experience, such as an electric shock, is predictable, we relax. The anxiety produced by uncertainty is gone. Knowing when the end will come doesn’t appeal equally to everyone, of course—but for many of us it’s paradoxically a reason to stop worrying.”

That’s a problem, though. It’s why the media critic Douglas Rushkoff laments our obsession with the apocalypse: by convincing ourselves that it’s hopeless, we’re removing the burden of action. There’s plenty to be worried about, little of it having to do with the planet dying tomorrow, but we’re less likely to participate in political systems, engage in activism, or stay engaged with current events if we think it is. “How do you get the good of a zombie apocalypse without the zombies?” he wondered at the time of Occupy. Starting over, really changing things, requires action on the part of the walking living. That goes for all sorts of anti-apocalyptic things, things we really want to fix instead of end.

Image: Flickr

It doesn’t exactly explain the government shutdown, an event couched in apocalyptic terminology and imagery in its own right, but it helps. The apocalypse isn’t just total death, it isn’t just stillborn teenage dreaming or a gritty aesthetic, it’s a collective exasperated white flag; it’s us giving up. It’s tempting to consider it, and easy to see why we’d want to. The challenges that confront us seem insurmountable, our bandwith is limited.

But real-world apocalypse seeds are being sewn. Climate change is scorching the planet—scientists think it may have fueled the typhoon that devastated the Philippines last month, and the hurricane that slammed New York the year before. Many are still recovering, many are ruined. The planet again suffered through one of the top ten hottest years ever recorded. Income inequality is fueling malcontent and insurrection the world over—this year the gap between rich and poor compelled protesters in Turkey, Brazil, and the Ukraine, among others, to rise up. Pollution is swallowing the skies in China. War is ceaseless in Syria, everywhere. Drones drop bombs on foreign lands, on wedding processions.

No wonder we’re dreaming of the apocalypse, no wonder we turn to fiction to simplify it all, to end it once and for all, no wonder my memory of the real dead doesn’t really let me.

In my dream, I didn’t give up. I waded through the tongues of flame and the molten brownstones and found her on the other side. There, plants were already starting to grow out of the cracked cement. There was hope. A few days later, in real life, we figured out a plan—where and how we’d meet up in the event of a disaster. Who would wait for who.


NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly Joins Council On Foreign Relations | Zero Hedge

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly Joins Council On Foreign Relations | Zero Hedge.

A month ago, the press was aflutter with rumors that NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, spurned by mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, would join JPMorgan in a “top security” position. The rumor was since denied and the fate of Kelly was unclear, until today, when the Council on Foreign Relations announced that the NYPD top man would join the CFR as a “distinguished visiting fellow” in turn opening the doors wide for a world of financial opportunities to Kelly. Considering his tenure, where Kelly served as senior managing director of global corporate security at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. from 2000 to 2001, he seems like a perfect fit for the CFR.

From CFR:

NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to Join CFR as Distinguished Visiting Fellow

Raymond W. Kelly, commissioner for the New York Police Department (NYPD), will join the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) as a distinguished visiting fellow. Kelly will be joining CFR in early January and will be based at the organization’s headquarters in New York. He will focus on counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and other national security issues.

“Ray Kelly spearheaded the modernization of the New York Police Department. The result is that crime is down and the NYPD’s counterterrorism capabilities are second to none. We are excited and proud to have his experience, expertise, and judgment at the Council,” said CFR President Richard N. Haass.

As the first and only police commissioner to serve under New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, from 2002 to 2014, Kelly presided over the country’s largest municipal police force, seeing violent crime decrease from 2001 levels by 40 percent. He created the first counterterrorism bureau of any municipal police department in the country, as well as a global intelligence program that operates in eleven foreign cities.

Kelly will leave the NYPD as the longest-serving police commissioner in the city’s history. He also served as New York City police commissioner from 1992 to 1994, under then mayor David N. Dinkins, and is the first person to serve in two nonconsecutive mayoral administrations. Kelly served in twenty-five different commands before being named commissioner, spanning a forty-three–year career with the NYPD.

Previously, Kelly served as senior managing director of global corporate security at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. from 2000 to 2001. From 1998 to 2001, he was commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service. He also served as undersecretary for enforcement at the U.S. Treasury Department, the third–highest ranking position in Treasury at the time. From 1996 to 2001, Kelly was vice president on the board of the international police organization Interpol.

In 1995, President Clinton appointed Kelly director of the State Department’s International Police Monitors mission, tasked to restore order in Haiti following the return of then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Kelly received his undergraduate degree from Manhattan College. He is also a lawyer and holds a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law and a masters of laws from New York University School of Law. Kelly also holds a masters of public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Kelly served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Reserve for thirty years and is a combat veteran of Vietnam. He retired with the rank of colonel.


Chinese Investments In US Commercial Property Soar By 500% | Zero Hedge

Chinese Investments In US Commercial Property Soar By 500% | Zero Hedge.

Investors from multi-billion dollar hedge funds to individuals buying as few as 10 properties have acquired more than 1 million homes across the U.S. in the past three years, transforming a mom-and-pop business into one of Wall Street’s hottest investments. As we noted here, Blackstone Group LP alone has acquired more than 40,000 properties in 14 cities to become the largest single-family landlord in the country. As Bloomberg notes, the new landlords are transforming the way Americans live and accumulate wealth. But while Wall Street is becoming America’s largest residential landlord, it appears China wants to get paid for commercial properties… and Detroit.

Via Reuters,

Chinese investors, the second-biggest overseas buyers of U.S. residential real estate, are building up portfolios of U.S. commercial property as they look for new avenues of diversification.

Chinese entities announced more than $5.89 billion in projects in January-October, nearly six times the $996 million for all of 2011 and 2012 combined, showed data from New York-based consultancy Rhodium Group.

“There is a lot of upside,” said Thilo Hanemann, Rhodium’s research director. “We are at the beginning of a structural increase of Chinese investment in U.S. commercial real estate.”

China’s push into U.S. property is underpinned by declining investment returns at home, a growing desire by wealthy individuals and developers to diversify their holdings overseas, and property companies looking to capitalize on offshore migration.

Chinese nationals bought more than $8.1 billion worth of real estate in the year ended March 31, representing 12 percent of the estimated $68.2 billion of domestic property purchased by overseas nationals

Not everyone is convinced that Chinese investment in the U.S. property market will continue uninterrupted. Other options for expansion include Europe, Australia and Singapore, which account for about two-thirds of offshore Chinese real estate investment, according to Jones Lang Lasalle.

Zhang Xin, the chief executive of SOHO China Ltd, who paid $700 million through her family trust to buy a stake in the General Motors Building in Manhattan, said that while the U.S. regulatory and legal environment remained attractive, valuations were getting expensive.

I would not feel as comfortable today putting in money as I did a few years ago,” Zhang said.

So reform and liberalization in China sees hot money flowing not just into Bitcoin but now commercial property in America.

While Wall Street becoming America’s largest residential landlord, it appears China wants to get paid for commercial properties… and Detroit.


Today’s technology, tomorrow’s trash? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English

Today’s technology, tomorrow’s trash? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.


Today’s technology, tomorrow’s trash?

As a UN report warns of the hazards of electronic waste, we ask if the world is ready to tackle technology trash.

 Last updated: 16 Dec 2013 11:24
The number of electronic and electrical gadgets being dumped around the world is set to soar, raising concerns about the impact on the environment and human health.

Rapid advances in technology are giving rise to what is being described as a buy-it-and-bin-it generation. People are throwing away everything from TVs to toys, computers to cameras, and mobile phones to motorised toothbrushes.

The fact is some of the [e-waste] supply chains are very long. In the UK there are many sub-contractors who get involved in the supply chain and divert the e-waste on to the black market rather than go into the proper recycling facility.

Julian Newman, Campaigns Director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, UK

Now, a new UN study is forecasting that the amount of global e-waste, as it is called, will rise by one-third by 2017.

The report says 48.9 million metric tons of e-waste was produced last year. That is expected to rise by 33 percent by 2017 bringing total global e-waste to 65.4 million tons.

That is enough to fill a line of 40-ton trucks that, end-to-end, would stretch three-quarters of the way around the world.

The largest producers are the US and China. They generated 10 million tons and 11.1 million tons respectively last year.

Each American is said to be responsible for an average 29.8kg of hi-tech trash a year that is almost six times higher than China’s per capita figure of 5.4kg.

Keep the laws aside, the people in general are treating this [electronic] waste in their own way. And it is not a very wrong way because they isolate the entire reusable things …. You won’t find any heaps [of e-waste] in Pakistan.

Sami Uz Zaman, an industrial research scientist, Pakistan

“There are laws in Europe, quite strong laws, about the rules what we can export or what we cannot export yet we see these laws are disregarded often and we see the evidence in places like Ghana, Nigeria, India and China where we can go to the dump sites and see computers from Europe openly being broken down illegally,” explains Julian Newman, the campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK.

The UN study has been carried out by StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem), a coalition of UN organisations, industry, governments, NGOs and science bodies.

“Some countries are moving towards safe recycling and reuse of e-waste. But it’s feared the increasing demand for electronics, will overwhelm existing facilities. This could see millions of tonnes of waste dumped into landfills,” Ruediger Kuehr, the executive secretary of StEP told Al Jazeera.

The report warns that e-waste is being dumped illegally in developing countries. It says the garbage contains toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which can seep into landfills, contaminating the ground, water and air.

The study adds that devices are often dismantled in dangerous conditions, harming the health of those involved.

StEP is calling for better monitoring of e-waste exports, and more effective rules for the treatment of electrical junk.

So why is today’s technology destined to become tomorrow’s trash? And what is being done to tackle the growing global crisis of e-waste?

Inside Story presenter Sohail Rahman discusses with guests: Sami Uz Zaman, a consultant for Global Environmental Management Services, an environmental court judge, and an industrial research scientist in Pakistan; Julian Newman, the campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency in the UK; and Akshat Ghiya, the co-founder and director of Karma Recycling, specialising in electronic waste in India.

“[In India], 95 percent of all e-waste ends up in slums … A shift in mentality is so difficult to achieve and that is what we are working on. Out in the UK they have developed that mentality and you have consumers who are weary and know about the hazards of electronic waste management done in an improper way. India has the capacity to tackle massive amounts of [electronic] waste but it does not have the capacity to tackle it scientifically and responsibly.”

Akshat Ghiya, the co-founder and director of Karma Recycling


Gaza Flooding Drives 40,000 From Their Homes » The Epoch Times

Gaza Flooding Drives 40,000 From Their Homes » The Epoch Times.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip— Flooding from heavy rains forced some 40,000 Gaza Strip residents from their homes, including thousands who were taken to safety in boats and military trucks, officials said Saturday.

The downpour that began late Wednesday was part of a storm that covered parts of Israel and the West Bank with snow, paralyzed Jerusalem and left thousands in Israel without power. Israeli TV stations showed footage of armored personnel carriers rescuing motorists and said it was the most severe snow storm in decades.

Even Gaza with its milder coastal climate saw some snow, though lower-lying areas were mainly hit by flooding.

Rescue efforts were hampered by fuel shortages and rolling power cuts that have become more severe in recent months, since Egypt tightened a border blockade of the territory, ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas since 2007.

Israel has also restricted access to Gaza since the Hamas takeover, though it sent diesel fuel for heating and four water pumps during the weekend storm.

Once the storm is over, “the world community needs to bring effective pressure to end the blockade of Gaza,” said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the main U.N aid agency in the territory. Gaza residents “must be freed from these man-made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this,” he added.

In the low-lying areas of Gaza, water has been rising since heavy rains began late Wednesday, flooding streets and homes.

One of the hardest hit areas was Nafak Street in Gaza City’s Sheik Radwan neighborhood, close to a rainwater reservoir.

Said Halawa, an area resident, said the reservoir overflowed Wednesday evening. By Thursday, water had poured into the ground floor of his two-story home where he and he and 41 other members of his extended family live, Halawa said.

The family called for help and was evacuated by boat from the upper floor. Halawa said he and his family were taken to a makeshift shelter in a neighborhood school. “We got some assistance, some blankets and some food, but I didn’t save any of my belongings,” said the 52-year-old taxi driver.

At another neighbor school, 30 families found shelter. Children slept on desks and on mattresses on the floor. Some of those at the shelter huddled around wood fires in open-air walkways outside the classrooms to stay warm.

In all, the flooding forced about 40,000 people from their homes, including more than 5,200 who were taken to safety in boats, military trucks or heavy construction vehicles, government officials said.

Another hard-hit area was the refugee camp of Jebaliya in northern Gaza. The local Al Aqsa TV station, run by Hamas, showed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, both of Hamas, touring Jebaliya in a boat.

Housing Minister Yousef Jhariz, who headed the government’s crisis team, said the storm caused at least $64 million in damages. One man died from smoke inhalation after burning coal for warmth in his house, health officials said.

By Saturday afternoon, teams were fixing downed power lines and piled up sandbags in some areas to protect homes from flooding.

The storm hit Gaza at a time when it is buckling under the tightened border closure by Egypt. Over the summer, Egypt’s military intensified its blockade after ousting Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, a Hamas ally.

Jerusalem and several West Bank towns, meanwhile, were crippled by snow for a third day Saturday. About 28,000 homes in Israel were still without electricity on Saturday, officials said.

Soldiers moved from house to house in some areas of Jerusalem to check on residents. Highways in and out of Jerusalem remained closed to private cars and residents were advised to stay off the roads.

The only way out of Jerusalem on Saturday was by train.

Sietvanit Tzirnishki had boarded the train headed from Jerusalem to snow-free Tel Aviv, Israel’s coastal metropolis.

“I’ve been stuck here in Jerusalem for two days at my sister’s apartment that did not have electricity,” she said. “We have been going from one apartment to the other to get some heat and some food and I’m glad to get back to Tel Aviv now.”

Schools in Jerusalem and the West Bank were to remain closed Sunday, the start of the work week in the region.


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