Investing in Greece

The Mediterranean nation is emerging from an unprecedented economic crisis and is looking to pull off a sustained recovery — a prospect that was buoyed by a return to international capital markets. We analyse the challenges and opportunities presented by Greece’s revival

California’s Housing Bubble’s So Bad, 100s Forced To Live On Boats 

California’s housing affordability crisis is getting worse. Affordability in San Francisco is now at 10-year lows, and only one in five households can afford to purchase a median-priced single-family home in the Bay Area. The crisis has driven many people onto the water, living on makeshift boats, outside marinas, and wealthy communities.

The floating homeless population in wealthy Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco, has doubled in the last five years to over 100. The community of 200 barges, sailboats, and other vessels comprise of people who are employed but can’t afford to live on land, jobless folks, the homeless, and some people who are mentally ill. Boat life for them isn’t easy:

“It’s not a free ride. It’s a lot of effort to be out here,” said Kristina Weber, who moved onto a 54-foot vessel she purchased for $15,000 because she couldn’t afford to rent in Sausalito. 

Wealthy people on land warn that the floating homeless community is devastating for their community. Weber and her neighbors told The Wall Street Journal these people have brought crime and poor sanitation to their area.

Residents complain that boats sometimes break away from anchor lines in storms, drift into waterfront homes, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Local authorities have called these seafaring homeless “anchor-outs,” because they permanently anchor their vessels outside marinas and shore communities that is a direct violation of the law. Floating homeless communities have also sprung up in overpriced coastal regions from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Honolulu, Hawaii.

Law enforcement removed 40 boats along the Oakland waterfront in 2013 and nine were taken away last month, said Brock de Lappe, harbor master for five Oakland marinas.

“They are taking over a public resource,” de Lappe said.

Beth Pollard, executive director of the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency, said many of these floating homeless communities started showing up in the waters between the Marin County cities of Sausalito and Belvedere in the last several years.

Pollard and her organization aren’t pushing these folks away from the area, but instead helping them secure their boats to more stable anchors.

Jim Robertson, a homeowner in Marin, said these boats have collided with his shore home 16 times over the last two decades, including one time that cost $20,000 to repair his dock.

“Nobody is looking for special treatment, just the enforcement of laws on the books,” Robertson said.

His neighbor, Connie Strycker, said the homeless would paddle ashore in dinghies asking for food and water. “They’re all filthy, because they have no place to bathe,” said the 86-year-old.

Sausalito Police Chief John Rohrbacher said many of the homeless are inexperienced on the water.

Weber said living on the water is very difficult. The 40-year-old uses a dinghy to travel to shore for supplies.

Greg Baker, who lives alone in a 41-foot sailboat, has been on the water longer than anyone in the Marin area. The former tugboat captain said there are too many homeless people on the bay operating vessels with no experience at all.

Baker is leading an effort through a community association to educate the homeless on how to become better operators on the water.

He said that moving isn’t an option for him.

“There are two ways I’m leaving: in a black body bag or handcuffs,” said the 80-year-old.

While many San Franciscans cannot afford overpriced homes, this latest trend of housing communities springing up on the water with ragtag vessels is a sign of the times: the housing affordability crisis is progressively getting worse.

Will 5G Undermine Weather Prediction?

Via Cliff Mass Weather and Climate blog,

There have been a number of media stories this week about a major threat to weather prediction:  the sale of electromagnetic spectrum for new 5G cellphone service.   The problem is that some of the wavelengths being auctioned off for 5G are critical for an important class of weather satellites, with 5G signals potentially undermining our ability to forecast the weather.

Currently, 4G cellphone technologies provide roughly 100 megabits per second (100 million bits per second) of communication speed, while the proposed 5G service could achieve 10 gigabits per second (10 billion bits per second).  Downloading movies and animations would be much quicker, with hardwired connections becoming less critical for most uses.

But to achieve such service one needs a larger communications highway, which means the use of more of the electromagnetic spectrum.   Electromagnetic energy, such as radio, microwaves, and visible light, are characterized by ranges of wavelength and frequency.  The use of these wavelengths is controlled by our government, which can auction off specific frequency/wavelength bands.

Among the spectrum recently auctioned off by the FCC for 5G is a band of frequencies near 24 GHz (GHz is gigahertz, or a billion cycles per second).   Unfortunately, this is close to 23.8 GHz, a frequency in which water vapor emits microwave radiation and which is used by weather satellites to determine the three-dimension properties of the atmosphere.  And that information is very important for providing the description of the atmosphere that is required for numerical weather prediction.

Why weather satellite information is important for numerical weather prediction

Numerical weather prediction, the foundation of all weather forecasts, depends on securing a comprehensive, three dimensional description of that atmosphere–known as the initialization.  The better this initialization, the better the forecast.

One of the key reasons why modern numerical weather prediction has gotten so good is that weather satellites now provide 3D data over the entire planet.  Even over remote oceans and the polar regions.  Roughly 95% of the total volume of weather information now comes from weather satellites.

Before weather satellites, radiosondes were the main source of weather information above the surface

And the most important source of weather information is from a collection of satellites that contain microwave sounders.  These satellites observe the earth by sensing microwave radiation being emitted by water vapor, liquid water, ice, and the surface.

The amount of radiation being emitted can be related to temperature.  And different wavelengths/frequencies reveal the conditions at different levels of the atmosphere.   To put it another way, by sensing emissions at various wavelengths, one can secure a profile of temperatures at various levels in the atmosphere.  Kind of like have radiosondes (balloon-launched weather observations) everywhere.  Very valuable information

The Microwave Sounder Unit on the AMSU-A satellite

What is the most valuable of all satellite observations?

Satellites with microwave sounders like AMSU-A (see below).  That platform ALONE contributed to a 17% reduction in forecast error in the European Center global model (the world’s best)

AMSU A looks at the atmosphere in 15 wavelength/frequency bands or channels,  including sensing the atmosphere at wavelengths that the atmospheric water vapor has peaks in emission (see below).

Channel 1 is at 23.8 GHz.   The problem is that the FCC has sold off 24 GHz, which is very close to 23.6 GHz.   And if the 5G transmitters aren’t very high quality, with little spread to neighboring frequencies, they could well interfere with the microwave weather satellites.

Why?  Because the weather satellite have very, very sensitive receivers because they are trying to sense the weak microwave emissions of atmospheric water vapor.  These sensors could be overwhelmed by the active TRANSMISSION in nearby wavelengths by thousands of 5G cell tower transmissions or other sources.

And the problem is even worse than that.  The FCC is planning to auction off more wavelengths/frequencies, some of which are close to other wavelength/frequency bands used by the weather satellites.

The potential harm to U.S. and worldwide numerical weather prediction by interfering with the 23.8 GHz band is certainly real, but difficult to quantify exactly. 

First, it will depend on the characteristic of the 5G transmitters and to what degree they will contaminate the nearby weather observation bands.

Second, it depends on how many wavelength bands would be affected.

Third, cell phone coverage does not include the entire planet.  One analysis suggests that only 34% of the earth’s surface has cell phone coverage, suggesting that roughly 90% of the planet would be clean of interference (71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water).  But if plans to establish satellite-based 5G on commercial ships and aviation come to fruition, the problem would be much worse.

NOAA, NASA, and U.S. Navy are quite concerned about this issue, with the Navy writing a strong statement of the potential harm.  On Thursday, NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs warned of a potential loss of  1/3rd of current forecast skill.  These warnings need to be taken seriously.

The key now is to have close coordination between the FCC and NOAA/NASA/DOD, as well as other international players, to ensure that spectra close to the weather observing frequencies are not used and, if there are, investments in high-quality transmitters, with effective filters, are required by law. 

Improved forecast skill derived from weather satellites has had huge positive impact on saving lives and property, and in fostering economic growth.  Reasonable actions must be taken to protect the value of weather observations from space.

Despite “The Greatest Economy Ever,” 40% Of American Families Still Struggling 

With the economic expansion almost a decade old, the unemployment rate has fallen to five-decade lows, and real wage growth has modestly expanded.

President Trump has touted today’s economic environment as “the greatest economy ever,” despite a new study showing 40% of Americans struggle to afford housing, utilities, food and or health care.

The findings from the Urban Institute highlight the vast amounts of wealth inequality that has developed across the country since the Great Recession.

The Federal Reserve’s monetary policies of the past ten years attempted to generate the wealth effect: by driving the valuations of stock, bonds, and real estate higher, so that people would feel wealthier.

However, 58% of people don’t own stocks, and another 35% don’t own real estate – which means many Americans didn’t fully participate in the sextupling of the stock market and the doubling of real estate prices.

Forty percent of Americans (ages 18 to 65) experienced two or more financial hardships in 2018, statistically the same from 2017. The study concentrated on the first two years of the Trump administration, as well as trying to understand if the debt-fuelled tax cuts would benefit the working class.

The study noted Trump’s economic policies hardly alleviated financial stresses experienced by middle/lower-class households last year.

“The modest declines in hardship during the current favorable economic environment suggest further progress will require additional policies to raise and stabilize incomes, offset the cost of essential expenses and protect families against adverse financial shocks,” the study said.

The Washington D.C.-based think tank surveyed more than 7,500 adults over the last several years about whether they had difficulties paying for housing, utilities, food or health care.

The difficulties encountered by households were related to stagnating personal incomes, the think tank said. “It is also important to consider the cost of major expenses such as housing, utilities, child care, transportation and health care” on household budgets, it noted.

About 20% of households had food insecurity and medical expense challenges over the last year.

Almost 33% of households that earned at least twice the federal poverty level (annual income of $50,200 for a family of four) warned they struggled with affording basic items. Households complained that medical and food costs were the most significant strains on their wallets. About 14% of households said they struggled with medical bills or couldn’t afford health insurance because of the surging cost.

The study said, families, earning less than twice the federal poverty level (annual income of $50,100 for a family of four) are enduring the most financial hardships today. Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they could hardly pay their bills, with 53% reporting more than half their income was spent on housing expenses.

So while the “greatest economy ever” could be true for the top 10% of households that own a majority of the financial assets, a large swath of households with limited to no assets have been left behind and are currently struggling to survive. 

Friend, Foe, Or Unknown Force Flying Overhead? Congress Should Find Out

Authored by Christopher Mellon, op-ed via The Hill,

Since 2015, dozens of Navy F-18 fighter jets have encountered Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAPs) – once commonly referred to as UFOs – off the East Coast of the United States, some not far from the nation’s capital. Encounters have been reported by other military aircraft and civilian airliners elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad, too, including videos shot by airline passengers.

What these UAPs were and who was flying them – whether friends, foes or unknown forces – remains a mystery. Yet careful examination of the data inevitably leads to one possible, disturbing conclusion: A potential adversary of the United States has mastered technologies we do not yet understand, to achieve capabilities we cannot yet match.

It is long past time for Congress to discover the answers to those questions, and to share at least some of its conclusions with the public.

The U.S. government came a large step closer to confirming the reality of UAPs when the U.S. Navy acknowledged in late April that:

There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated airspace in recent years.”

But first, members of Congress and the public need to become familiar with the facts.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to gauge the overall level of UAP activity, since military personnel rarely report their encounters for fear of damage to their careers. Even when reports are filed, the information generally is ignored because nobody “owns” the UAP issue, and the various commands and agencies involved have not shared information on UAPs.

It remains to be seen whether the Navy’s new UAP reporting process will be emulated throughout our massive, almost feudal security apparatus in which the barons sometimes spend more time protecting bureaucratic turf from rivals than protecting U.S. territory from adversaries. Thus, any genuine solution to the UAP issue must address the issue of interagency coordination and collaboration.

The good news is that America already possesses vast sensor networks, ranging from the depths of the oceans to the harsh bleakness of space, capable of collecting the requisite information. All that Congress need do at this juncture is to require the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to review the UAP issue and deliver a report providing a comprehensive assessment. This report should include not only an estimate of the situation but a description of the structure and processes required to ensure effective collection and analysis going forward.  

The Trump administration should be free to provide the report at whatever level of classification it deems appropriate. One entity with which I am involved — To the Stars Academy (TTSA), an organization of former U.S. intelligence and national security experts analyzing the UAP phenomenon — has placed notional legislative language on its website to facilitate this discussion. While some modest manpower costs might be incurred, the TTSA proposal does not require new Defense Department funding. It also averts the spectacle of public hearings and the attendant risk of injecting partisanship or grandstanding into the process.

Why should Congress act? In the first instance because it is Congress’s job to raise, organize and fund the military. It can hardly do so without being fully aware of the threats we face. Indeed, that is why we have a law requiring written notice to Congress of serious intelligence failures. Most Americans would no doubt agree that our inability to identify scores of mysterious aircraft repeatedly violating restricted U.S. military airspace in recent years is a shocking failure. But there is no need to wrangle over compliance with intelligence oversight laws. The Navy’s recent admissions regarding UAP intrusions provide more than adequate grounds for requiring a written report to Congress.  

Perhaps we’ll learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not idly boasting when he bragged, more than a decade ago, that Russia’s “newest technical systems will be capable of destroying targets at an intercontinental distance with hypersonic speed and extreme maneuverability.” While it seems unlikely that Russia — or China — has pulled that far ahead of the U.S., there is no reason to leave this to chance. And while the Navy’s announcement seems to eliminate the prospect that these vehicles are secret U.S. military aircraft, perhaps we’ll find that Elon Musk has some amazing new toys.

It is not just that the UAPs which military pilots are encountering are strange — no paint, rivets, wings, antenna, safety lights, transponders or exhaust — they sometimes are so fast and maneuverable that they defy our understanding of physics. For example, some of these vehicles appear to withstand forces of acceleration far greater than maximum design limits of any man-made aircraft. No wonder some military witnesses — often, pilots who are scientists or engineers themselves — actually lean towards the hypothesis that they are not from this world. Like all good scientists, these pilots recognize that our theories must adjust to facts and new information, however daunting, not the other way around.

If our best minds were brought to bear to study the technology confronting us, much as the Japanese did in the 1850s when confronted by Admiral Perry’s fleet, then unprecedented technological breakthroughs could occur in short order. For example, the fact that these craft do not seem to produce exhaust, yet fly vast distances at immense speeds, could provide technical solutions to our energy crisis.

Some of America’s finest aviators and air defense personnel are trying to get our attention. They are not panicked — but they are right to be concerned. It seems clear the facts demand further action. In light of the facts, a mere report requirement seems a very modest response to potentially disturbing new national security information.

If UAPs turn out to be toys of Elon Musk’s making, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief. If they are Russian, we’ll be glad we took action now rather than kicking the can down the road. If we learn that someone else’s more advanced version of our Voyager spacecraft has reached Earth, then this humble measure will forever transform our understanding of the universe and man’s place within it.  

By any measure, the effort required to prepare a report for Congress seems to be a bargain.

*  *  *

Christopher Mellon served 20 years in the federal government and was deputy assistant Defense secretary for intelligence from 1999 to 2002, and for security and information operations from 1998 to 1999. From 2002 to 2004, he was minority staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). He is a national security affairs adviser for To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science and a consultant to HISTORY’s nonfiction series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation,” which premieres May 31.