IBM and MIT pen 10-year, $240M AI research partnership

 IBM and MIT came together today to sign a 10-year, $240 million partnership agreement that establishes the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab at the prestigious Cambridge, MA academic institution. The lab will be co-chaired by Dario Gil, IBM Research VP of AI and Anantha P. Chandrakasan, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering. Big Blue intends to invest $240 million into the lab where IBM researchers… Read More

What Country Is This? Forced Blood Draws, Cavity Searches, And Colonoscopies

Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

– Herman Schwartz, The Nation

Our freedoms – especially the Fourth Amendment – are being choked out by a prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, shoot, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.

Such is life in America today that Americans are being made to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are – our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.) – in order to clear the nearly insurmountable hurdle that increasingly defines life in the United States: we are now guilty until proven innocent.

Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases: these are just a few ways in which Americans are being forced to accept that we have no control over our bodies, our lives and our property, especially when it comes to interactions with the government.

Consider, for example, what happened to Utah nurse Alex Wubbels after a police detective demanded to take blood from a badly injured, unconscious patient without a warrant.

Wubbels refused, citing hospital policy that requires police to either have a warrant or permission from the patient in order to draw blood. The detective had neither. Irate, the detective threatened to have Wubbels arrested if she didn’t comply. Backed up by her supervisors, Wubbels respectfully stood her ground only to be roughly grabbed, shoved out of the hospital, handcuffed and forced into an unmarked car while hospital police looked on and failed to intervene (take a look at the police body camera footage, which has gone viral, and see for yourself).

Michael Chorosky didn’t have an advocate like Wubbels to stand guard over his Fourth Amendment rights. Chorosky was surrounded by police, strapped to a gurney and then had his blood forcibly drawn after refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. “What country is this? What country is this?” cried Chorosky during the forced blood draw.

What country is this indeed?

Unfortunately, forced blood draws are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the indignities and abuses being heaped on Americans in the so-called name of “national security.”

Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies and forced roadside strip searches are also becoming par for the course in an age in which police are taught to have no respect for the citizenry’s bodily integrity whether or not a person has done anything wrong.

For example, 21-year-old Charnesia Corley was allegedly being pulled over by Texas police in 2015 for “rolling” through a stop sign. Claiming they smelled marijuana, police handcuffed Corley, forced her to strip off her pants, threw her to the ground, forced her legs apart and then probed her vagina. The cavity search lasted 11 minutes. This practice is referred to as “rape by cop.”

David Eckert was forced to undergo an anal cavity search, three enemas, and a colonoscopy after allegedly failing to yield to a stop sign at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Cops justified the searches on the grounds that they suspected Eckert was carrying drugs because his “posture [was] erect” and “he kept his legs together.” No drugs were found.

During a routine traffic stop, Leila Tarantino was subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic, while her two children—ages 1 and 4—waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino. No contraband or anything illegal was found.

Thirty-eight-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. Insisting that he smelled marijuana, the trooper proceeded to interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.

Meanwhile, four Milwaukee police officers were charged with carrying out rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of several years. One of the officers was accused of conducting searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums and leaving some of his victims with bleeding rectums.

It’s gotten so bad that you don’t even have to be suspected of possessing drugs to be subjected to a strip search.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Florence v. Burlison, any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials without reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband.

As technology advances, police searches are becoming more invasive on a cellular level, as well, with passive alcohol sensors, DNA collection roadblocks, iris scans and facial recognition software—to name just a few methods—used to assault our bodily integrity.

America’s founders could scarcely have imagined a world in which we needed protection against widespread government breaches of our privacy, including on a cellular level.

Yet that’s exactly what we so desperately need.

Unfortunately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the indignities being heaped upon us by the architects and agents of the American police state—whether or not we’ve done anything wrong—are just a foretaste of what is to come.

NYC Commercial Real Estate Sales Plunge Over 50% As Owners Lever Up In The Absence Of Buyers

So what do you do when the bubbly market for your exorbitantly priced New York City commercial real estate collapses by over 50% in two years?  Well, you lever up, of course. 

As Bloomberg notes this morning, the ‘smart money’ at U.S. banking institutions are tripping over themselves to throw money at commercial real estate projects all while ‘dumb money’ buyers have completely dried up.

A growing chasm between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers think their properties are worth has put the brakes on deals. In New York City, the largest U.S. market for offices, apartments and other commercial buildings, transactions in the first half of the year tumbled about 50 percent from the same period in 2016, to $15.4 billion, the slowest start since 2012, according to research firm Real Capital Analytics Inc.

 

At the same time, the market for debt on commercial properties is booming. Investors of all stripes — from banks and insurance companies to hedge funds and private equity firms — are plowing into real estate loans as an alternative to lower-yielding bonds. That’s giving building owners another option to cash in if their plans to sell don’t work out.

 

“Sellers have a number in mind, and the market is not there right now,” said Aaron Appel, a managing director at brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. who arranges commercial real estate debt. “Owners are pulling out capital” by refinancing loans instead of finding buyers, he said.

 

But don’t concern yourself with talk of bubbles because Scott Rechler of RXR would like for you to rest assured that the lack of buyers is not at all concerning…they’ve just “hit the pause button” while they wander out in search of the ever elusive “price discovery.”  

At 237 Park Ave., Walton Street Capital hired a broker in March to sell its stake in the midtown Manhattan tower, acquired in a partnership with RXR Realty for $810 million in 2013. After several months of marketing, the Chicago-based firm opted instead for $850 million in loans that value the 21-story building at more than $1.3 billion, according to financing documents. The owners kept about $23.4 million.

 

“The basic trend is you have a really strong debt market and a sales market that has hit the pause button while it seeks to find price discovery,” said Scott Rechler, chief executive officer of RXR.

 

The debt market has become so appealing that landlords are looking at mortgage options while simultaneously putting out feelers for buyers, said Rechler, whose company owns $15 billion of real estate throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. That’s a departure for Manhattan’s property owners, who in prior years would pursue one track at a time, he said.

Of course, this isn’t just a NYC phenomenon as sales of office towers, apartment buildings, hotels and shopping centers across the U.S. have been plunging since reaching $262 billion nationally in 2015, just behind the record $311 billion of real estate that changed hands in 2007, according to Real Capital. Property investors are on the sidelines amid concern that rising interest rates will hurt values that have jumped as much as 85 percent in big cities like New York, compounded by overbuilding and a pullback of the foreign capital that helped power the recent property boom.

The tough sales market has put some property owners in a bind — most notably Kushner Cos., which has struggled to find partners for 666 Fifth Ave., the Midtown tower it bought for a record price in 2007. The mortgage on the building will need to be refinanced in 18 months.

Thankfully, at least someone interviewed by Bloomberg seemed to be grounded in reality with Jeff Nicholson of CreditFi saying that it just might be a “red flag” that buyers have completely abandoned the commercial real estate market at the same time that owners are massively levering up to take cash out of projects.

Some lenders view seeking a loan to take money off the table as a red flag, according to Jeff Nicholson, a senior analyst at CrediFi, a firm that collects and analyzes data on real estate loans. It may signal the borrower is less committed to the project, and makes it easier to walk away from the mortgage if something goes wrong, he said.

But, it’s probably nothing…

Escobar Exposes Real BRICS Bombshell: Putin’s “Fair Multipolar World” Where Oil Trade Bypasses The Dollar

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

Putin reveals 'fair multipolar world' concept in which oil contracts could bypass the US dollar and be traded with oil, yuan and gold…

The annual BRICS summit in Xiamen – where President Xi Jinping was once mayor – could not intervene in a more incandescent geopolitical context.

Once again, it’s essential to keep in mind that the current core of BRICS is “RC”; the Russia-China strategic partnership. So in the Korean peninsula chessboard, RC context – with both nations sharing borders with the DPRK – is primordial.

Beijing has imposed a definitive veto on war – of which the Pentagon is very much aware.

Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, although planned way in advance, happened only three days after two nuclear-capable US B-1B strategic bombers conducted their own “test” alongside four F-35Bs and a few Japanese F-15s.

Everyone familiar with the Korean peninsula chessboard knew there would be a DPRK response to these barely disguised “decapitation” tests.

So it’s back to the only sound proposition on the table: the RC “double freeze”. Freeze on US/Japan/South Korea military drills; freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program; diplomacy takes over.

The White House, instead, has evoked ominous “nuclear capabilities” as a conflict resolution mechanism.

Gold mining in the Amazon, anyone?

On the Doklam plateau front, at least New Delhi and Beijing decided, after two tense months, on “expeditious disengagement” of their border troops. This decision was directly linked to the approaching BRICS summit – where both India and China were set to lose face big time.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already tried a similar disruption gambit prior to the BRICS Goa summit last year. Then, he was adamant that Pakistan should be declared a “terrorist state”. The RC duly vetoed it.

Modi also ostensively boycotted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Hangzhou last May, essentially because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

India and Japan are dreaming of countering BRI with a semblance of connectivity project; the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). To believe that the AAGC – with a fraction of the reach, breath, scope and funds available to BRI – may steal its thunder, is to enter prime wishful-thinking territory.

Still, Modi emitted some positive signs in Xiamen; “We are in mission-mode to eradicate poverty; to ensure health, sanitation, skills, food security, gender equality, energy, education.” Without this mammoth effort, India’s lofty geopolitical dreams are D.O.A.

Brazil, for its part, is immersed in a larger-than-life socio-political tragedy, “led” by a Dracula-esque, corrupt non-entity; Temer The Usurper. Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, hit Xiamen eager to peddle “his” 57 major, ongoing privatizations to Chinese investors – complete with corporate gold mining in an Amazon nature reserve the size of Denmark. Add to it massive social spending austerity and hardcore anti-labor legislation, and one’s got the picture of Brazil currently being run by Wall Street. The name of the game is to profit from the loot, fast.

The BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) – a counterpart to the World Bank – is predictably derided all across the Beltway. Xiamen showed how the NDB is only starting to finance BRICS projects. It’s misguided to compare it with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). They will be investing in different types of projects – with the AIIB more focused on BRI. Their aim is complementary.

‘BRICS Plus’ or bust

On the global stage, the BRICS are already a major nuisance to the unipolar order. Xi politely put it in Xiamen as “we five countries [should] play a more active part in global governance”.

And right on cue Xiamen introduced “dialogues” with Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, Guinea and Tajikistan; that’s part of the road map for  “BRICS Plus” – Beijing’s conceptualization, proposed last March by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for expanding partnership/cooperation.

A further instance of “BRICS Plus” can be detected in the possible launch, before the end of 2017, of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – in the wake of the death of TPP.

Contrary to a torrent of Western spin, RCEP is not “led” by China.

Japan is part of it – and so is India and Australia alongside the 10 ASEAN members. The burning question is what kind of games New Delhi may be playing to stall RCEP in parallel to boycotting BRI.

Patrick Bond in Johannesburg has developed an important critique, arguing that “centrifugal economic forces” are breaking up the BRICS, thanks to over-production, excessive debt and de-globalization. He interprets the process as “the failure of Xi’s desired centripetal capitalism.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Never underestimate the power of Chinese centripetal capitalism – especially when BRI hits a higher gear.

Meet the oil/yuan/gold triad

It’s when President Putin starts talking that the BRICS reveal their true bombshell. Geopolitically and geo-economically, Putin’s emphasis is on a “fair multipolar world”, and “against protectionism and new barriers in global trade.” The message is straight to the point.

The Syria game-changer – where Beijing silently but firmly supported Moscow – had to be evoked; “It was largely thanks to the efforts of Russia and other concerned countries that conditions have been created to improve the situation in Syria.”

On the Korean peninsula, it’s clear how RC think in unison; “The situation is balancing on the brink of a large-scale conflict.”

Putin’s judgment is as scathing as the – RC-proposed – possible solution is sound; “Putting pressure on Pyongyang to stop its nuclear missile program is misguided and futile. The region’s problems should only be settled through a direct dialogue of all the parties concerned without any preconditions.”

Putin’s – and Xi’s – concept of multilateral order is clearly visible in the wide-ranging Xiamen Declaration, which proposes an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace and national reconciliation process, “including the Moscow Format of consultations” and the “Heart of Asia-Istanbul process”.

That’s code for an all-Asian (and not Western) Afghan solution brokered by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), led by RC, and of which Afghanistan is an observer and future full member.

And then, Putin delivers the clincher;

“Russia shares the BRICS countries’ concerns over the unfairness of the global financial and economic architecture, which does not give due regard to the growing weight of the emerging economies. We are ready to work together with our partners to promote international financial regulation reforms and to overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies.”

“To overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies” is the politest way of stating what the BRICS have been discussing for years now; how to bypass the US dollar, as well as the petrodollar.

Beijing is ready to step up the game. Soon China will launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold.

This means that Russia – as well as Iran, the other key node of Eurasia integration – may bypass US sanctions by trading energy in their own currencies, or in yuan.

Inbuilt in the move is a true Chinese win-win; the yuan will be fully convertible into gold on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges.

The new triad of oil, yuan and gold is actually a win-win-win. No problem at all if energy providers prefer to be paid in physical gold instead of yuan. The key message is the US dollar being bypassed.

RC – via the Russian Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China – have been developing ruble-yuan swaps for quite a while now.

Once that moves beyond the BRICS to aspiring “BRICS Plus” members and then all across the Global South, Washington’s reaction is bound to be nuclear (hopefully, not literally).

Washington’s strategic doctrine rules RC should not be allowed by any means to be preponderant along the Eurasian landmass. Yet what the BRICS have in store geo-economically does not concern only Eurasia – but the whole Global South.

Sections of the War Party in Washington bent on instrumentalizing  India against China – or against RC – may be in for a rude awakening. As much as the BRICS may be currently facing varied waves of economic turmoil, the daring long-term road map, way beyond the Xiamen Declaration, is very much in place.

Australia Mortgage Market Is Now A $1.7 Trillion “House Of Cards”

Over a decade ago, the U.S. residential housing market was revealed to be perhaps the biggest ponzi scheme ever created as easy financing enabled people to buy/build countless investment properties, that they were in no way adequately capitalized to own, with no money down all based on the premise that the house could be ‘flipped’ before the first mortgage payment even came due.  It was a classic ponzi that worked great for a while but inevitably turned south when home prices suddenly soured and their was no cash equity backing the trillions of dollars in outstanding mortgage debt.

But, if a new report from LF Economics is even directionally accurate, then the bubble currently percolating in Australia could take the residential housing ponzi game to a whole new level courtesy of a ‘creative’ little product called “cross-collateralized residential mortgages.”

The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns.

 

The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”.

 

“The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says.

 

“This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.

 

“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.”

Yes, you read that correctly…Australian housing speculators can literally use unrealized gains in investment properties as a ‘cash substitute’ for down payments on other investment properties.  Of course, we’re not experts at ‘the mathematics,’ but if you constantly take every dollar worth of equity you accrue and pledge it as collateral toward a new purchase then doesn’t that mean the entire system is built on debt and no actual equity at all?

As LF Economics points out, just like the American mortgage bubble, the current ponzi scheme in Australia is also completely dependent on constantly rising prices.

The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows.

 

“Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.”

Australia

 

And, just like the American bubble, much of the madness is being funded by unsuspecting foreign investors.

LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.

 

“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of ‘success stories’ from people who make next to no money doing their ‘day jobs’ but have been able to acquire dozens of investment properties with nothing but debt.

Last month, a young Sydney couple revealed how they had racked up $1.2 million in debt on a portfolio of five properties in just two years.

 

Roy Palleson and Rowena Ebona, appearing on the ABC’s Four Corners, said they had no concerns about their debt — nearly 10 times their combined income of $135,000 — and were hoping to expand their portfolio to 20 investment properties “initially”.

 

Prominent Sydney property investor Nathan Birch, who accumulated more than 200 properties worth an estimated $55 million by channelling the equity from capital gains into deposits for new purchases, earlier this year announced he was selling off some of his portfolio.

 

Mr Birch blamed the move on tougher loan serviceability restrictions by the banks. “Anytime you withdraw equity, you need to show income to service that new loan,” he said. “Sadly, the banks don’t value rental income as highly as they once did.”

 

Eddie Dilleen, a young investor with 10 properties worth about $2 million, last month said he was not fazed by tightening lending environment or talks of a housing bubble.

 

Mr Dilleen said the majority of his portfolio was positively geared, largely because he avoided borrowing against existing properties, instead saving up for each new deposit by working several jobs.

Conclusion: “Short everything that guy has touched.”