Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Radioactive debris sunk in Russian Arctic

Russian officials update maps of radioactive debris sunk in Arctic
Russian scientists have said that radioactive waste sunk in the Arctic by the Soviet Navy has not leaked any contamination, but have urged Moscow to continue funding observation of the underwater nuclear wrecks.

15 October, 2018

Russian scientists have said that radioactive waste sunk in the Arctic by the Soviet Navy has not leaked any contamination, but have urged Moscow to continue funding observation of the underwater nuclear wrecks.

Data on the scuttled cargoes –– which includes several thousand containers of radioactive waste, as well as an entire nuclear submarine –– come from a month-and-a-half-long expedition in the Kara Sea conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oceanology.

Mikhail Flint, the institute’s head, told reporters last week that scientists on the expedition had managed to significantly improve their maps of where the sunken waste lies, especially in the area of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, a former Soviet nuclear bomb testing site.

From Novaya Zemlya’s craggy coast, the expedition conducted additional research mapping radioactive hazards in the White Sea, and then progressed to the Laptev Sea some 2000 nautical miles to the east.

Since the first decades of the 2000s, these mapping and measuring expeditions have taken place on an annual basis. Environmentalists fear the waste could eventually rupture and spoil thousands of square kilometers of fertile Arctic fishing grounds.

Beginning in 1955 and continuing until the early 1990s, the Russian Navy dumped enormous amounts of irradiated debris — and it one case an entire nuclear submarine — into the waters of the Arctic. It was not, however, until 2011 that the Russian government admitted this on an international level.

That year, Moscow shared with Norwegian nuclear officials the full scope of the problem. The list of sunken objects was far more than had initially been thought, and included 17,000 containers of radioactive waste; 19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; the K-27 nuclear submarine with its two reactors loaded with nuclear fuel, and 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery.

Moscow routinely promises to lift the submarine, but actual plans to do have yet to materialize.

You have no rghts at the NZ border

These International Borders Have Become "No Rights Zones"

17 October, 2018

On June 15, 1215, King John sat in a field in Runnymede, England, surrounded by angry nobles.

His Barons - the big landowners throughout England - had rebelled and seized London, forcing King John to sign an agreement guaranteeing certain rights to the people of England... and restrictions of his power.

This agreement was called the Magna Carta. And it would become one of the most important documents in history.

Centuries later in 1678, Charles II was King of England. Like many kings, Charles was terrible with money.

And when he ran out of it, he started demanding extra taxes from his knights, and imprisoning those who refused to pay.

The King was once again surrounded by angry nobles, this time in the Parliament building. There he signed the writ of Habeas Corpus in exchange for more money.

Best tax dollars ever spent. Habeas Corpus said that government officials could not imprison people for no good reason. Prisoners had the right to go before a judge to determine if their imprisonment was justified.

Just because the government accused you of something didn’t mean they could do whatever they wanted to you.

About a hundred years later, American colonists got fed up with the King of England once again.

The government exists to serve the people, they said. If the government wants to accuse, search, or arrest you, they better have a good reason. And they better allow you every opportunity to clear your name.

In 1791, the Bill of Rights enshrined into law the right to speak out against officials, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.

These concepts of individual rights were shaped in the UK and US. But they apply universally.

Unfortunately, some governments seem determined to erase all this progress.

If you’re traveling to New Zealand, you should be aware of the Customs and Excise Act of 2018. It just went into effect at the beginning of October.

New Zealand Customs and Border agents can now demand passwords for any electronic devices you bring into the country. They can download the entire contents of your phone or laptop, and search through it for evidence of a crime.

Agents could always search phones and laptops at the border. But now they can fine you up to $5,000 ($3,300 USD) for refusing to hand over the passwords, codes, and encryption keys to your devices.

The new law also allows Customs agents to collect biometric data from anyone entering the country. That means they can take your fingerprints, photo, or iris scans, store them, and share them.

And even worse, New Zealand’s Customs website explains:
Making an arrest without a warrant can now be done with no limitation to timeframe.”

So now you officially have no rights at the New Zealand border.

Agents can search your electronics without cause, and fine you for refusing to give out your password. They can collect, store, and share any of your biometric data they want.

They can arrest you without a court order, and hold you for as long as they like.

It’s not like New Zealand is some third world country... They actually adopted the Habeas Corpus Act in 1881 while under British rule.

Along with the the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada, New Zealand’s legal system is part of the Western tradition. This is the legal basis, starting with the Magna Carta, that protects common people’s rights against overreaching authorities.

These countries also make up the Five Eyes intelligence alliance… They have all agreed to share secrets from their spy agencies with one another.

For a visualization of the Five Eyes Alliance, just look at a map of Oceania from George Orwell’s 1984—the dystopian classic portraying the ultimate authoritarian police state.

And unfortunately, New Zealand isn’t the only Five Eyes government acting like Big Brotherthe embodiment of the omnipresent surveillance state in 1984.

Since 9/11 the US has also been searching travelers’ electronics at the border. But they kept the practice small scale for a while.

With the 9/11 terrorist attacks fresh, it didn’t really bother anyone. Anything in the name of national security…

But by 2015 Customs and Border Protection searched the electronic devices of 8,503 airline passengers throughout the year.

In 2016 it escalated to 19,033 searches.

And in 2017 Customs Agents searched the phones and laptops of 30,200 travelers.

Just like in New Zealand, agents didn’t get warrants for these searches. They didn’t even require probable cause.

In January of this year, US Customs sent out new guidance about phone and laptop searches at the border.

It says they can search anyone’s electronic devices “with or without suspicion.”

It says passengers are “obligated” to turn over their devices as well as passcodes for examination. If you refuse agents can seize the device.

That is all considered a “basic search.” No suspicion needed.

To add insult to injury, the January guidance starts, “CBP will protect the rights of individuals against unreasonable search and seizure and ensure privacy protection while accomplishing its enforcement mission.”

This is another page taken from Orwell. Doublethink. They want us to believe two contradictory ideas at the same time.

They treat everyone like a criminal, they say, to protect the innocent.
They search the innocent to protect their rights.

Habeas Corpus, the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, the rights of the accused… these are quickly becoming lost to the memory hole of history.

Bloomberg warns of financial crisis

Global Markets Continue To Fall As Bloomberg Warns “The Next Financial Crisis Is Staring Us In The Face”…

16 October, 2018

It looks like it could be another tough week for global financial markets.  As the week began, markets were down all over the world, and relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia have taken a sudden turn for the worse.  That could potentially mean much, much higher oil prices, and needless to say that would be a very bad thing for the U.S. economy.  It has really surprised many of us how dramatically events have begun to accelerate here in the month of October, and the mood on Wall Street has taken a decidedly negative turn.  Yes, U.S. stocks did bounce back a bit on Friday (as I correctly anticipated), but it was much less of a bounce than many investors were hoping for.  And this week got off to a rough start with all of the major markets in Asia down significantly

In the Greater China region, the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell by around 0.9 percent in early trade. The Shanghai composite also slipped by 0.33 percent while the Shenzhen composite bucked the overall trend to edge up by 0.4 percent.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 fell by 1.48 percent in morning trade, while the Topix index slipped by 1.17 percent, with most sectors trending lower.

But what happened in Asia was nothing compared to what we witnessed in Saudi Arabia.

At one point the stock market in Saudi Arabia had plummeted 7 percent after news broke that President Trump warned that the Saudis could face “severe punishment” for the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudis are denying doing anything wrong, but everyone agrees that he is missing, and everyone agrees that he was last spotted entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd.

And it is being reported that U.S. intelligence had previously intercepted communications which indicated that the Saudis planned to abduct Khashoggi.
It is believed that Khashoggi was dismembered after being abducted by the Saudis, and all of the major western powers have expressed major concern about his fate.  But the Saudis insist that they didn’t have anything to do with his disappearance, and they are threatening “greater action” if any sanctions are imposed upon them.  The following comes from USA Today

Saudi Arabia denied any involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post contributing journalist Jamal Khashoggi and warned Sunday that any sanctions against the oil-rich kingdom would be met with “greater action” and possibly exploding oil prices.
The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,” the government said  in a statement released to Saudi media. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.”

So what might that “greater action” look like?

Well, one Saudi official is warning that the price of oil could rise to “$100, or $200, or even double that figure”

In a column published just after the SPA statement, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s General Manager Turki Aldakhil warned that imposing sanctions on the world’s largest oil exporter could spark global economic disaster.

It would lead to Saudi Arabia’s failure to commit to producing 7.5 million barrels. If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure,” he wrote.

If the price of oil did shoot up to $200 a barrel, that would be absolutely crippling for the U.S. economy.

You see, it wouldn’t just cost a whole lot more to fill up your gas tank.  Virtually everything that we buy has to be transported vast distances, and so the price of gasoline must be factored into all of those products.

The price of food is already ridiculously high, and so I don’t even want to imagine what a trip to the grocery store might look like if the Saudis follow through on their threats.

Meanwhile, warnings from the mainstream media of a new crisis on Wall Street continue to become even more dramatic.  For example, the following comes from a Bloomberg article entitled “The Next Financial Crisis Is Staring Us in the Face”
The financial crisis ripped through Wall Street 10 years ago, pushing the global economy to the edge of the abyss. One might think those searing experiences would have created a learning opportunity — for managing risk better, understanding structural imbalances in the financial markets, even learning a bit about how our own cognitive processes malfunction.
Instead, we have little new wisdom or self-awareness to show for that traumatic event.

And this is how that Bloomberg article ended
As memories of the crisis fade as the economy recovers, we find the seeds of the next crisis are already being planted. They are the exact same issues of debt and mismanaging risk and not understanding our own limitations. Failing to learn from our prior experiences, we seem doomed to repeat them. We only have ourselves to blame.
That sounds like it could have been ripped right out of The Economic Collapse Blog.

Of course the author of that Bloomberg article is right on the money.  We never learned the very hard lessons that we should have learned from the crisis of 2008.  Instead, we simply reinflated all of the old bubbles and made them bigger than ever before.

Now America is 68 trillion dollars in debt, and our day of reckoning is so close that even the mainstream media is sounding the alarm.

It should be another very interesting week.  Monday may set the tone for the entire week, and so hopefully U.S. markets will bounce back some more.  If they don’t, it could set off another round of panic…

10 years after 2008 sub-prime mortgages are back

Zero-Down Subprime Mortgages Are Back, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

17 October, 2018

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, banks are once again taking bets on the same type of loans that nearly collapsed the economy amid a flurry of emergency bailouts and unprecedented consolidations. 

Bank of America has backed a $10 billion program from Boston-based brokerage Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), to offer zero-down mortgages to low-income borrowers with poor credit scores, according to CNBC. NACA has been conducting four-day events in cities across America to educate subprime borrowers and then lend them money - with a 90% approval rate and interest rates around 4.5%

"It's total upside," said AJ Barkley, senior vice president of consumer lending at BofA. "We have seen significant wins in this partnership. Just to be clear, when we get those loans with all the heavy lifting here, we're over a 90 percent approval, meaning 90 percent of the people who go through this program that we actually underwrite the loans."

Borrowers can have low credit scores, but have to go through an education session about the program and submit all necessary documents, from income statements to phone bills. Then they go through counseling to understand their monthly budget and ensure they can afford the mortgage payment. The loans are 15- or 30-year fixed with interest rates below market, about 4.5 percent. -CNBC

"That's what's going to help people who've been locked out of homeownership to really become homeowners and to build wealth," said Bruce Marks, CEO of NACA. "It's a national disgrace about the low amount of homeownership, mortgages for low- and moderate-income people and for minority homebuyers." 

NACA founder Bruce Marks

To participate in the NACA lending scheme, borrowers can  have credit scores - but will need to go through the education course and submit all necessary documents, "from income statements to phone bills," reports CNBC. Then they undergo budget counseling to ensure they can afford the mortgage. 
Following the financial crisis, lenders locked up, requiring much higher credit scores and at least 3 percent down payments. The subprime mortgage crisis was precipitated by lenders offering no-down payment loans with short-term "teaser" rates as low as zero. They asked for no documentation, and sometimes tacked interest onto later years of the loan, so-called, negative amortization loans. The NACA loans are all fixed rate with full documentation. -CNBC

The NACA / BofA subprime roadshow is nothing new to Marks, who held mass mortgage modification events across America during the financial crisis in order to help financially strained borrowers try to salvage their real estate. 
Critics argue that without a down payment, borrowers can simply toss a financial grenade at the bank and walk away from their obligations - which is exactly what happened a decade ago. Marks argues back that the only people walking away from mortgages are real estate investors who "look to homeownership as an investment, just like buying stocks and bonds," and that people participating in his program must actually live in the homes. 
Lining up around the block

So far there have been over 10,000 potential borrowers who have attended NACA events in cities such as North Carolina, Atlanta and Charlotte, according to Marks, who has more events planned. NACA receives a $3,000 commission per loan issued. 
While the Veterans Administration offers a similar no-down payment loan to veterans and their families, there aren't many other programs available to the general public like the one NACA offers. 
Across the pond

While subprime loans are once again becoming all the rage in the United States, UK mortgage lender, Belmont Green, has closed on over $1.3 billion of mortgages to investors with high risk appetites - and there's a Lehman connection
Those linked to this effort have included former bosses from failed bank Northern Rock, Adam Applegarth, and Lesley Sewell. Guy Batchelor, former senior vice president at Lehman’s european mortgage division, is also now director of sales and marketing for Vida Homeloans, the trading name of Belmont. The lender is controlled by US private equity firm Pine Brook. -Telegraph

Vida bills itself as "the modern mortgage lender" for "customers who may not fit the criteria currently demanded by high street banks." 
What could possibly go wrong?

Developments in the Khashoggi case

Saudi Arabia To Admit Khashoggi Killed During "Botched Interrogation"

17 October, 2018

Update (5:00 pm ET): As the Saudis prepare to pin Khashoggi's murder on "rogue killers", just as President Trump had advised, the office of Turkey's attorney general has leaked the first findings from Turkish prosecutors' search of the Saudi consulate to Al Jazeera (a news organization that his financed by Qatar, a geopolitical nemesis of the Kingdom, which took place on Monday, nearly two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared.

In addition to reportedly discovering evidence that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate, Turkish investigators also found "evidence of tampering" - suggesting that the Saudis tried to cover up the crime. Though it may have been a coincidence, a team of professional cleaners was spotted entering the consulate early Monday. 
A source at the Attorney General's office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera "they have found evidence that supports their suspicions that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate," our correspondent Jamal Elshayyal reported from Istanbul.
"This is a significant step forward after several days of an impasse," he said.
The Attorney General's office also said their team inside the consulate found evidence of "tampering", Elshayyal added.
Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that Saudi Arabia is preparing to admit that Khashoggi was killed as the result of an interrogation that went wrong, citing two unnamed sources.
One source cautioned that a report was still being prepared and could change, CNN said. The other source said the report would likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and that those involved will be held responsible, the news outlet said.
Considering that Saudi Arabia is effectively a Medieval Theocracy that still beheads hundreds of people every year via sword, we imagine the men who actually killed Khashoggi (and according to Turkish flight records, they were almost certainly men) must be feeling pretty anxious right about now.
* * *
If you anticipated that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman - having been backed into a corner by Turkish spooks who had bugged the kingdom's Istanbul consulate - would swiftly seek to blame the death of regime insider-turned-critic Jamal Khashoggi on some unfortunate underling, then congratulations. You were right.

Just hours after a spokesman for the regime revealed that the ailing King Salman had ordered an independent investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance - a revelation that was effectively the first hint that the Saudis might soon be forced to admit that they played a role in it after repeatedly insisting on their story that he had left the consulate shortly after he arrived on Oct. 2 - CNN is reporting that the kingdom is planning to announce that Khashoggi's death was "an accident" and that he died during an interrogation at the consulate as Saudi officials had been attempting to rendition him back to Saudi Arabia.
BREAKING — 2 sources tell @clarissaward and @TimListerCNN that the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.
BREAKING — 2 sources tell @clarissaward and @TimListerCNN that the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.
Of course, Trump had warned that there would be "severe consequences" if the Saudi government was found to have ordered Khashoggi's killing - a claim that immediately elicited a threatening response from the kingdom, which hinted that it could "weaponize" oil prices if the US dares to pursue sanctions against it. 

Pinning the killing on a negligent underling (despite numerous reports that the order had been handed down by MbS himself) is probably the easiest way to defuse what has metastasized over the past week into a full-blown diplomatic crisis. We imagine MbS is also hoping to nip speculation that the Khashoggi incident could lead to him being removed as Crown Prince - though it's never been clear who is even in a position to remove MbS, as the Crown Prince has spent the last two years consolidating power and marginalizing (or eliminating) rivals. And if the leaked details of the killing, details that have reportedly been culled from a clandestine recording made by Turkish intelligence, are, in fact, accurate, then it's difficult to imagine how Khashoggi being dragged out of an interrogation room, murdered and then chopped into pieces could have happened by accident. CNN added that, while the report hasn't been finished, according to a draft, those who were responsible for the killing will be "held accountable."

While Saudi Arabia has already threatened to "weaponize" oil (via an editorial published by House of Saud-aligned Al Arabia) CNN felt it important to ask, could they also "weaponize" their Treasury holdings?

The answer: Probably not. While Saudi Arabia owns more Treasury debt than economies like France and India (an almost inevitable result of oil wealth) it's still only the tenth largest holding, with just under $167 billion.

Saudi stocks slumped on the report:
Earlier on Monday, President Trump had dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh to get to the bottom of the situation. He probably hasn't arrived yet. We imagine we'll hear more about the Saudis' position shortly after he arrives, if not before. Of course, the notion that "rogue killers" (or "rogue operatives" as the WSJ described them) were responsible for killing Khashoggi was first floated this morning by President Trump, who clarified that this theory was merely speculation on his part. The fact that this now appears to be the story that the Saudis are going with is certainly interesting, to say the least.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Turkish police left Saudi Arabian Consulate General in Istanbul after having conducted a probe of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the TRT broadcaster reported on Tuesday.