Transparency

Guest Post: The Snowden Time-Bomb

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, world leaders repeated a soothing mantra. There could be no repeat of the Great Depression, not only because monetary policy was much better (it was), but also because international cooperation was better institutionalized. And yet one man, the American former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, has shown how far removed from reality that claim remains. Prolonged periods of strain tend to weaken the fabric of institutional cooperation. The two institutions that seemed most dynamic and effective in 2008-2009 were the International Monetary Fund and the G-20; the credibility of both has been steadily eroded over the long course of the crisis. The Snowden affair has blown up any illusion about trust between leaders – and also about leaders’ competence.

Guest Post: China’s Housing - Living In A Bubble

Rising home prices, especially in major cities, are prompting a growing chorus of discontent among ordinary Chinese. Our Japanese friends would no doubt feel more than hint of nostalgia should they visit Beijing. For just like the famous Japanese “bubble economy” of the late 1980s, Beijing has been virtually turned into one big construction site with constantly changing streetscapes. The real estate industry may have played a role in China’s economic development, but it appears to have been for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. In the long term, the trade-off seems poor. For that, not just the general manager, but the premier too needs to take responsibility.

NSA Admits: 'We Do Store All Your Data But We Don't Look At It All'

The Director of National Intelligence released three declassified "in the interests of transparency" documents this morning that authorized and explained the bulk collection of phone data - one of the secret surveillance programs that Snowden revealed. As Reuters reports, much of what is contained in the documents has already been divulged in public hearings by intelligence officials but the National Security Agency's "Bulk Collection Program," carried out under the U.S. Patriot Act, is now in the open. Have no fear though, "Although the programs collect a large amount of information, the vast majority of that information is never reviewed by anyone in the government," the report said. As Senator Patrick Leahy commented, "what has to be of more concern in a democracy is whether the trust of the American people is beginning to wear thin."

Obama Erases Campaign Promises from Election Website

President Transparency, in the interest of protecting his Administration’s spotless record of least transparent ever, has decided to erase sections of his original campaign website so that inconvenient and broken promises (i.e., every single thing he said) can’t be so easily exposed. The section in question... 'Protect Whistleblowers'...

The NSA's Version Of "The Dog Ate My Homework"

When it comes to the conversion of the US into a totalitarian state, few things are quite as symbolic as the construction of the NSA's Bluffdale, Utah Data Canter, which was revealed last year by Wired, yet which did not get much prominence until June's revelations by Edward Snowden. Costing billions in taxpayer money, the facility is simply the largest hard disk ever built, designed to store every current and future electronic communication, both foreign and domestic, to be made available at a moment's notice following the "permission" of the secret FISA court. Which is why one would think that if there is one thing the NSA would excel in (and once can certainly not blame the NSA for being budget-friendly - recall that the The Pentagon has requested $4.7 billion for “cyberspace operations,” even as the budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies could fall by $4.4 billion) is being able to identify and isolate any particular signal among a veritable mountain of noise. One would be very wrong.

Most Transparent Administration Ever Discloses The US Will Continue Telephone Surveillance Program

It wasn't exactly like rubbing salt into the wounds of a US population that over the past month has learned it has no electronic communication privacy left, but it was close, when last night the US government's Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced that it was granting the secret FISA court - the same 11 people who decide behind closed doors whose email, phone or browser history is of national interest and thus subject to further "examination" - an extension of its telephone surveillance program. This is one of the two data surveillance efforts by the US (in conjunction with all major private telecom and internet companies) that Snowden leaked about. Why do we know this? Because the Obama administration is suddenly serious about being the most transparent ever: "The ODNI said in a statement it was disclosing the renewal as part of an effort at greater transparency following Snowden's disclosure of the telephone data collection and email surveillance programs." In short: "we will continue spying, but at least we are fully transparent about it."

Guest Post: Is America's Social Contract Broken?

The Social Contract is broken not by wealth inequality per se but by the illegitimate process of wealth acquisition, i.e. the state has tipped the scales in favor of the few behind closed doors and routinely ignores or bypasses the intent of the law even as the state claims to be following the narrower letter of the law. By this definition, the Social Contract in America has been completely smashed. The honest taxpayer is a chump, a mark who foolishly ponies up the swag that's looted by the smart operators. When scammers large and small live better than those creating value in the real economy, the Social Contract has ceased to exist. Once the chumps and marks realize there is no way they can ever escape their exploited banana-republic status as neofeudal debt-serfs, the scammers, cheats and grifters large and small will be at risk of losing their perquisites. As Voltaire observed, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible": every claim, every game of the system, every political favor purchased is "fair and legal," of course. This is precisely how empires collapse.

ECB Eases Collateral Rules Requirements In Bid To Unclog European Lending

As Welt reported overnight, the ECB just announced a change to its collateral framework, changing the haircuts and acceptability rules for ABS and covered bonds in an attempt to boost moribund and stalled European lending. As part of its announcement, the ECB reduced haircuts applicable to ABS rated A- or higher to 10% from 16% and to 22% from 26%. The bank also cut the minimum rating for ABS subject to loan level reporting requirements to 2 "A" ratings from 2 "AAA" ratings as more and more credit in Europe sinks into the quicksand of NPL-ness. Draghi also announced he would tighten risk control measures for covered bonds and that all the announced changes would have an overall neutral effect on amount of collateral available. Will this latest Hail Mary attempt work to boost lending in Europe? Of course not: Europe's issue is not credit supply constraints but a deterioration in asset quality and an explosion in NPLs, which has lead to an acceleration in overall deleveraging at both the bank and consumer level, and which is unlikely to end any time soon and certainly not before more widespread liability liquidations a la Cyprus.

New York Fed's Head Of Communications Resigns

It is somewhat ironic that a Federal Reserve which is now more committed to "forward guidance", transparency and communication than ever in history, just announced the resignation of Krishna Guha, the head of NY Fed's Communications Group, aka the head PR contact for all media. More importantly, the resignation took place without a handy substitute ready. Our advice to the Fed, if unable to find a worthy replacement: just hire Jon Hilsenrath - after all he already is effectively the Fed's mouthpiece.

Microsoft: "We Don't Provide Any Government With Direct Access...We Need The Attorney General To Uphold The Constitution"

A few days ago, Edward Snowden made even fewers friends in the corporate tech community with his Guardian disclosures that "Microsoft Helped The NSA Bypass Its Own Encryption Software, Spy On Its Clients." This promptly got the legal team the MSFT scrambling, and moments ago, the firm's General Counsel Brad Smith posted on MSFT's blog that, guess what, the world's biggest desktop OS maker doesn't give government data encryption keys or customer data. Well... what else were they going to say? Oh yes, repeat "direct acces" 6 times in a blog post, making it all too clear the whole issue is merely about semantics.

Frontrunning: July 16

  • India Joins Brazil to China in Efforts to Tighten Liquidity (BBG)
  • Seven dead as police and protesters clash in Egypt (Reuters)
  • U.S. senators fail to cut deal, head for showdown on filibuster (Reuters)
  • Gasoline Tankers Beating Crude for First Time on Record (BBG)
  • Smithfield's China bidders plan Hong Kong IPO after deal (Reuters)
  • Bitcoin ETF plan struggles to find support (FT)
  • Big Home Builders Gobble Up Rivals Starved for Cash (WSJ)
  • Putin wants Snowden to go, but asylum not ruled out (Reuters)
  • Zimmerman's lawyer calls prosecutors 'disgrace' to profession (Reuters)
  • McDonald’s to bring Big Mac to Vietnam (FT)
  • Korean Pilots Avoided Manual Flying, Former Trainers Say (BBG)

Guest Post: Get Ready For The Next Great Stock Market Exodus

In the years 2006 and 2007, the underlying stability of the global economy and the U.S. credit base in particular was experiencing intense scrutiny by alternative economic analysts. A crash was coming, it was coming soon, and most of our society was either too stupid to recognize the problem or too frightened to accept the reality they knew was just over the horizon. Why did 2008 creep up on so many people? Weren’t there plenty of economists out there “preaching to the choir” at that time? Weren’t there plenty of signals? Weren’t there plenty of practical conclusions being made about the future? And yet, the world was left stunned. The truth is, human beings have a nasty habit of ignoring the cold hard facts of the present in the hopes of using apathy as a magical elixir for future prosperity. They want to believe that disaster is a mindset, that it is a boogeyman under their bed that can be defeated through blind optimism. Collapse, from a historical perspective, seems to occur when the searchlights of the individual mind are dimmest, when the threat is the greatest, and when we are most comfortable in our ignorance.