China Is Crashing (Again)

It appears – as opposed to what the world’s asset-gathering commission-takers would have one believe – that huge illiquid spikes in bond markets are not good for stocks. As the bond carnage continues to careen throughout Asia, Chinese stock investors appear to have decided enough is enough at doubling their money in a mere few months. After early weakness out of the gate, the ubiquitous dip-buyer-of-last-resort failed to appear as the afternoon session arrived and Chinese stock indices are down between 5% (Shanghai Comp – which never took out its previous highs) and 7% (CHINEXT which was up over 16% in the last 3 days) overnight. Everybody better be hoping for a disastrous jobs number on Friday or this drop may suddenly become the long lost ‘healthy’ correction in global stocks so many have called for.

Free Speech, Facebook & The NSA: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Submitted by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

“A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy.”—Writers Against Mass Surveillance

THE GOOD NEWS: Americans have a right to freely express themselves on the Internet, including making threatening—even violent—statements on Facebook, provided that they don’t intend to actually inflict harm.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Elonis v. United States threw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular rap lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page. It’s a ruling that has First Amendment implications for where the government can draw the line when it comes to provocative and controversial speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent.

That same day, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the legal justification allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to carry out warrantless surveillance on Americans, officially expired. Over the course of nearly a decade, if not more, the NSA had covertly spied on millions of Americans, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than using a telephone, and stored their records in government databases. For those who have been fighting the uphill battle against the NSA’s domestic spying program, it was a small but symbolic victory.

THE BAD NEWS: Congress’ legislative “fix,” intended to mollify critics of the NSA, will ensure that the agency is not in any way hindered in its ability to keep spying on Americans’ communications.

The USA FREEDOM Act could do more damage than good by creating a false impression that Congress has taken steps to prevent the government from spying on the telephone calls of citizens, while in fact ensuring the NSA’s ability to continue invading the privacy and security of Americans.

For instance, the USA FREEDOM Act not only reauthorizes Section 215 of the Patriot Act for a period of time, but it also delegates to telecommunications companies the responsibility of carrying out phone surveillance on American citizens.

AND NOW FOR THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY NEWS: Nothing is going to change.

As journalist Conor Friedersdorf warns, “Americans concerned by mass surveillance and the national security state’s combination of power and secrecy should keep worrying.”

In other words, telephone surveillance by the NSA is the least of our worries.

Even with restrictions on its ability to collect mass quantities of telephone metadata, the government and its various spy agencies, from the NSA to the FBI, can still employ an endless number of methods for carrying out warrantless surveillance on Americans, all of which are far more invasive than the bulk collection program.

As I point out in my new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people. Just recently, for example, it was revealed that the FBI has been employing a small fleet of low-flying planes to carry out video and cell phone surveillance over American cities.

Then there are the fusion and counterterrorism centers that gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power.

And of course that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine. Indeed, Facebook, Amazon and Google are among the government’s closest competitors when it comes to carrying out surveillance on Americans, monitoring the content of your emails, tracking your purchases and exploiting your social media posts.

“Few consumers understand what data are being shared, with whom, or how the information is being used,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Most Americans emit a stream of personal digital exhaust — what they search for, what they buy, who they communicate with, where they are — that is captured and exploited in a largely unregulated fashion.”

It’s not just what we say, where we go and what we buy that is being tracked. We’re being surveilled right down to our genes, thanks to a potent combination of hardware, software and data collection that scans our biometrics—our faces, irises, voices, genetics, even our gait—runs them through computer programs that can break the data down into unique “identifiers,” and then offers them up to the government and its corporate allies for their respective uses.

All of those internet-connected gadgets we just have to have (Forbes refers to them as “(data) pipelines to our intimate bodily processes”)—the smart watches that can monitor our blood pressure and the smart phones that let us pay for purchases with our fingerprints and iris scans—are setting us up for a brave new world where there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

For instance, imagine what the NSA could do (and is likely already doing) with voiceprint technology, which has been likened to a fingerprint. Described as “the next frontline in the battle against overweening public surveillance,” the collection of voiceprints is a booming industry for governments and businesses alike. As The Guardian reports, “voice biometrics could be used to pinpoint the location of individuals. There is already discussion about placing voice sensors in public spaces, and [Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation] said that multiple sensors could be triangulated to identify individuals and specify their location within very small areas.”

Suddenly the NSA’s telephone metadata program seems like child’s play compared to what’s coming down the pike.

That, of course, is the point.

Whatever recent victories we’ve enjoyed—the Second Circuit ruling declaring the NSA’s metadata program to be illegal, Congress’ inability to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, even the Supreme Court’s recognition that free speech on the internet may be protected—amount to little in the face of the government’s willful disregard of every constitutional safeguard put in place to protect us from abusive, intrusive government agencies out to control the populace.

Already the American people are starting to lose interest in the spectacle of Congress wrangling, debating and negotiating over the NSA and the Patriot Act.

Already the media outlets are being seduced by other, more titillating news: Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy announcement, and the new Fifty Shades of Grey book told from Christian’s perspective.

What remains to be seen is whether, when all is said and done, the powers-that-be succeed in distracting us from the fact that the government’s unauthorized and unwarranted surveillance powers go far beyond anything thus far debated by Congress or the courts.


Who Are Washington’s Most Expensive Speakers?

Recently, we’ve taken a look at some of the details surrounding speeches made by Bill and Hillary Clinton. As discussed in April, Goldman Sachs paid Bill Clinton nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a speaking engagement before lobbying Hillary’s State Department in an effort to secure $75 million in financing for a Chinese company that would later purchase aircraft from a Goldman-owned manufacturer.

Seperately, we outlined Hillary Clinton’s keynote speech

It’s Official: The USA Freedom Act Is Just As Destructive As The USA Patriot Act

Submitted by Simon Black via Sovereign Man blog,

My general rule of thumb when it comes to legislation is that the more high-sounding the name, the more insidious the law.

Exhibit A: the just-passed USA FREEDOM Act.

“Freedom”. It sounds great.

So great, in fact, that they stuck it in the title and built an absurd acronym around it– the real name of the law is “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2015″.

U-S-A-F-R-E-E-D-O-M. Hooray!

And without fail, the media has bought in to the myth, praising the government for heralding in a new era of liberty with headlines like “Congress Reins In NSA’s Spying Powers” and “NSA phone program doomed as Senate passes USA Freedom Act”.

Unfortunately this is simply not the case. And shame on the mainstream media for making such thinly-researched, fallacious assertions.

If anyone had actually taken the time to read the legislation, they’d see that most of the ‘concessions’ made by the government are entirely hollow.

Secret FISA courts still exist. Lone wolf surveillance authority and roving wiretaps still exist. They can still grab oodles of other data like medical and business records.

And the US Attorney General has even been awarded new ’emergency powers’ to use in his/her sole discretion… just in case the secret courts might be uncooperative.

The big victory being cheered by the media pertains to the collection of phone records. This one is actually hilarious.

The USA FREEDOM Act prevents the government from seizing and storing ‘call detail records’, the so-called meta-data information like your phone number, the other caller’s phone number, the length of the call, etc.

But section 107(k)(3)(B) of the new law specifically states that ‘call detail records’ do NOT include the *actual content* of the call itself. Or your name. Address. Financial data. Cell-site location. Etc.

So basically they can’t archive your phone number. But everything else is fair game. Congratulations on your freedom.

Lawmakers also managed to sprinkle all sorts of other worthless provisions into the USA FREEDOM Act.

For example, the Inspector General (IG) of the United States is required to issue a report discussing what civil liberty violations may have occurred over the last few years.

Great. Except that IG reports are just that– reports. They have no teeth. And Congress can do with this one precisely what they do with every other IG report that gets issued: nothing.

(Seriously, when was the last time you heard any ruckus about an IG report? Probably never.)

They also stated that a panel of ‘advocates’ (whoever they may be) would attend and observe any secret FISA court hearing in which profound legal issues might be at stake.

Again, sounds great. Except that, like the IG report, a panel of advocates has no teeth… no power to stop the court or spy agencies.

Bottom line, these concessions may look good on paper, but they don’t amount to any real concession.

This is a classic negotiation tactic. When working out a contentious deal, the stronger side will invariably offer some irrelevant concession that has no material impact on what they want.

We did this several months ago for our Chilean agriculture fund, pushing through a substantial price reduction on a 2,000 acre property by ‘conceding’ to let the seller stay in the farm house for a few months.

He felt like he got something, but for us the concession was pointless and ceremonial.

The same thing happened here. And the American people just got played.

The government has spent the last 14 years turning up the heat on the boiling frog. They increased the temperature by 100 degrees over that time… and have now turned it down 1 degree.

Yet people are treating this like it’s some sort of victory.

It’s not. And this is a sad reflection of how low people’s expectations have become of their own government and liberty.

America’s Discouraged, Underpaid Workforce Turns To Drugs

It’s not a fantastic time to be a job hunter in America. The US economic “recovery” officially stalled in Q1 no matter what Steve Liesman, The San Francisco Fed, and/or the BEA say after double-adjusting the numbers, and as we’ve shown, those who are highly skilled at delivering beer and wings to restaurant patrons are far better off than highly skilled factory workers or, indeed, than those with freshly-minted master’s degrees in today’s marketplace.