News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Dec. 31, 2018

Linking ≠ endorsement. News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Dec. 31, 2018

Table of Contents
(Click to sections below.)

1) Minorities held in China sew clothes that can end up in US

2) 29 Magnificent Mudroom Ideas to Enhance Your Home

3) How Much Would a Federal Jobs Guarantee Cost?

4) Clean coal? Hardly.

5) California Regulators Say Utility Falsified Pipeline Safety Records

6) Specialist Encouraging Radon Tests for Homeowners After Alaska Quake

7) Yellow vests and tax justice

8) Manifesto for the democratization of Europe

9) How Germany will turn lights out at last black coal [Bituminous] mine

10) US Federal Reserve raises lending rate, signals slower pace ahead

11) Central bank is US economy's 'only problem': Trump

12) Vertical forests popping up in Chinese concrete jungles

13) Risky mortgages are making a comeback

14) ITEP's 12 Days of Tax Policy

15) Tax bill bonuses: workers only got 2 cents more per hour in bonuses - Vox

16) As the impacts of power outages rise, the US must embrace smart grids

17) Long Island City home prices surge after Amazon HQ2 announcement

18) NYCHA claims top spot on annual list of NYC's worst landlords

19) Massive hailstorm hits Sydney, ICA declares a catastrophe, Australia

20) PG&E accused of falsifying safety records for five years

21) SEC charges more former Woodbridge sales agents tied to alleged massive Ponzi scheme

22) Is there hope for the disappearing Chicago two-flat?

23) 'If boards didn't know about climate change, they do now'

24) India is now a world leader in renewable energy

25) Demand for apartment rentals surges unexpectedly [not on this blog] as home sales slump

26) Over 5 million workers will have higher pay on January 1 thanks to state minimum wage increases

27) More Brexit nonsense from the pro-European dreamers

28) It's now cheaper to build a new wind farm than to keep a coal plant running

29) Wife of Bird Island arsonist pleads guilty to aiding an offender

30) Insurance Scam Causes Skyrocketing Insurance Rates For Florida Home Owners

31) Los Alamos Lab Research Findings Could Lead to Earthquake Early Warning System

32) South Dakota Researcher Developing Fire Risk Estimation Tool

33) Rare Washington State Tornado Strongest Since 1986

34) Florida Man Gets 8 Years for Hurricane Irma Fraud

35) Apartment Fire in West Virginia Kills 1, Leaves Dozens Homeless

36) 70 Mobile Homes Damaged by Mid-December Tornadoes in Central Florida

37) Falling total fertility rate should be welcomed, population expert says

38) US population growth hits 80-year low, capping off a year of demographic stagnation

39) Trump EPA orders rollback of Obama mercury regulations

40) Most insurers to increase payments to wildfire survivors without itemization of possessions following Commissioner Jones' request

41) AI outperformed 20 corporate lawyers at legal work [no surprise here]

42) Carbon Taxes at the Barricades

43) Housing affordability crisis is nationwide

44) Hyperloop promises ultrafast transportation. But what does it mean for the environment?

45) Fight erupts in Seattle over law prohibiting landlords from checking tenants' criminal history

46) Too-High Illinois Levee Flooding Missouri Homes

47) Part of Chinese-Drywall Lawsuit Revs Up in Virginia

48) South Carolina Gov Creates Commission to Tackle State Flooding Problems

49) Death in the Oilfields: Boom Brings Mounting Risk of Death, Injuries

50) Hog feedlot proposal rejected in effort to save Minnesota groundwater

51) The Malaysia Scandal Is Starting to Look Dire for Goldman Sachs

52) Deflation Risk Rises as China's Economy Keeps Faltering

53) Italy budget: Parliament passes budget after EU standoff

54) Trump's China Strategy Isn't Working [wrong]

55) The latest research on the efficacy of raising the minimum wage above $10 in six US cities

56) Why trade deficits aren't so bad

57) Computer scientists study security threats to smart homes

  1.    Minorities held in China sew clothes that can end up in US

    If this account is true, then the tariffs against China should be ramped up until China democratizes in the real sense of the term. Open trade or free trade simply won't do.

    I was quite critical elsewhere that the details as to why people have been accusing China of these concentration camps is missing.

    This is the first more in-depth narrative on it I've seen. I'm not suggesting that one should simply buy everything in the article as established fact, but the accounting is certainly serious enough that the US government should be duty bound to determine the facts.

    If Xi refuses the US direct access to all of these "facilities," the US, EU, Russia, India, and the whole rest of the world should shutdown trading with China.

    Money is not the issue. Human rights is.

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  2.    29 Magnificent Mudroom Ideas to Enhance Your Home News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Dec. 31, 2018

    In the right areas, these are great.

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  3.    How Much Would a Federal Jobs Guarantee Cost?

    A full-scale federal jobs guarantee would likely attract millions of participants and cost hundreds of billions annually, while dramatically reducing unemployment and underemployment for American workers.

    Would it provide more than it would "cost"? I say it would.

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  4.    Clean coal? Hardly.

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  5.    California Regulators Say Utility Falsified Pipeline Safety Records

    One thing is for sure, deregulation would only make matters worse, much, much worse. The answer lies in better regulations and enforcement.

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  6.    Specialist Encouraging Radon Tests for Homeowners After Alaska Quake

    ... when the ground is disturbed, it can create fissures that allow radon to escape into the air.

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  7.    Yellow vests and tax justice

    It is undeniable that the United States and the United Kingdom launched a process of dismantling fiscal progressivity in the 1980s and that this movement was partly followed in Europe in the 1990s and at the beginning of the years 2000 — for example with the suspension of the wealth tax in Germany and Sweden (and as a bonus that of the inheritance tax in the latter case).

    But are we really so sure that these policies produced the effects expected? Since the crisis in 2008, and even more so since Trump, Brexit and the explosion of the xenophobe vote all over Europe, there is a better appreciation of the dangers posed by the rise in inequality and the sense of abandonment in the working classes, so that many now understand the need for a new social regulation of capitalism. In these conditions, adding a further measure in favour of the richest in 2018 was not really very clever. If Macron wants to be the president of the 2020s and not the 1990s, he is going to have to adapt quickly.

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  8.    Manifesto for the democratization of Europe

    Economic democracy is the future.

    We, European citizens, from different backgrounds and countries, are today launching this appeal for the in-depth transformation of the European institutions and policies. This Manifesto contains concrete proposals, in particular a project for a Democratization Treaty and a Budget Project which can be adopted and applied as it stands by the countries who so wish, with no single country being able to block those who want to advance.

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  9.    How Germany will turn lights out at last black coal [Bituminous] mine

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  10.    US Federal Reserve raises lending rate, signals slower pace ahead

    They are being pro-cyclical, which is not smart. Also, please notice the complete absence of mentioning the corporate-tax cuts. Those pro-cyclical cuts are more the reason for a slowing economy than anything else.

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  11.    Central bank is US economy's 'only problem': Trump

    Sure, the Fed isn't a good putter; however, the corporate-tax cuts were pro-cyclical, and you never, never, never want pro-cyclical economic policies and practices unless you want to ruin the economy for the shortest-term, even false, benefit of the richest of the rich.

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  12.    Vertical forests popping up in Chinese concrete jungles

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  13.    Risky mortgages are making a comeback

    To boost profits, some lenders have turned to non-qualifying loans, or loans that do not meet Consumer Financial Protection Bureau standards, according to a recent article published in The New York Times.

    "Lenders are starting to push the loans on borrowers, who are using them to get into homes that may be bigger and more expensive than what they could otherwise afford," author Paul Sullivan wrote.

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  14.    ITEP's 12 Days of Tax Policy

    ... we're taking time over the next 12 days to reflect on some of the most significant federal and state tax policy developments and/or tax policy analyses that happened this year.

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  15.    Tax bill bonuses: workers only got 2 cents more per hour in bonuses - Vox

    On December 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, shrinking the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent and cutting taxes on private businesses by about 20 percent.

    When Trump signed the bill that morning in the Oval Office, he boasted about the gains it would provide for all Americans. He claimed that corporations were already "giving billions and billions of dollars away to their workers" as a result of the $1.5 trillion tax cut package and pointed to a handful of big companies that promised to raise wages and give employees $1,000 cash bonuses — among them Walmart, Bank of America, and Comcast.

    A year later, economic data shows that the tax bill's benefit to workers was largely a mirage. ...
    ...
    Instead, US companies have spent a record amount of money this year buying back shares of company stock — an effort to inflate their value for shareholders. US corporations have announced spending $1 trillion on stock buybacks so far this year. That's a 64 percent increase from 2017, according to CNN Business. So it's no mystery why the savings from the GOP tax bill didn't trickle down to workers. Only a handful of companies (34 from the Fortune 500) said they are using the tax savings to invest in US operations.

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  16.    As the impacts of power outages rise, the US must embrace smart grids

    They want to rely upon the IoT. They better make sure that network is secure.

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  17.    Long Island City home prices surge after Amazon HQ2 announcement News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Dec. 31, 2018

    In the wake of the company's November announcement that it would open a second campus in Long Island City, prices have stopped falling and started rising in the Queens waterfront enclave, while neighborhoods as far afield as Forest Hills have started being advertised for their proximity to the forthcoming campus.

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  18.    NYCHA claims top spot on annual list of NYC's worst landlords

    ... currently 174,488 units with 240,120 open work orders. These amount to more than $25 billion in necessary repairs.

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  19.    Massive hailstorm hits Sydney, ICA declares a catastrophe, Australia

    ... hail up to 8 cm (3.14 inches) in diameter accompanied heavy rain and strong winds.

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  20.    PG&E accused of falsifying safety records for five years

    According to the order CPUC issued last week calling for an investigation into the allegations, SF-based PG&E faked thousands of safety records from 2012 through 2017, leaving gas pipelines throughout Northern California inadequately marked and creating a danger that construction could damage pipes and lead to disaster.

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  21.    SEC charges more former Woodbridge sales agents tied to alleged massive Ponzi scheme

    "The SEC has now charged 18 of Woodbridge's highest-earning unregistered sales agents who sold more than $400 million of its securities to retail investors," the SEC's Eric Bustillo said in a statement.

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  22.    Is there hope for the disappearing Chicago two-flat? News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Dec. 31, 2018

    Two- to four-flats form the backbone of Chicago's naturally occurring affordable housing, those rented or sold at affordable prices without subsidies. According to a 2017 Chicago Magazine article, the average monthly rent in buildings with more than one, but fewer than 10 units, was $760 compared to $860 and up for everything else.

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  23.    'If boards didn't know about climate change, they do now'

    ... the mainstream corporate governance community is coming to understand that climate change as a board issue, and we expect to see increased uptake from corporate directors themselves as we work toward a breakthrough in 2019. In the coming year, the business case for climate action will become even more clear as companies are forced to respond to the ever-intensifying impacts of extreme weather events ....

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  24.    India is now a world leader in renewable energy

    India's second position represents a climb of three spots from the 5th position it held last year. In comparison, China ranked 7th, down from the top position last year.

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  25.    Demand for apartment rentals surges unexpectedly [not on this blog] as home sales slump

    Where did you hear that we weren't overbuilding? Right here on this blog. Now, others have caught on.

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  26.    Over 5 million workers will have higher pay on January 1 thanks to state minimum wage increases

    Raising the minimum wage is one of the most straightforward ways to lift pay for the lowest-paid workers in the economy. After decades of policy choices that have suppressed wage growth for the most workers, it is encouraging that policymakers and voters have increasingly embraced this simple and effective policy tool. The flurry of state minimum wage increases that have taken effect in recent years have led to sizable gains in wages for millions of workers across the country. Yet there are 21 states that still use the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

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  27.    More Brexit nonsense from the pro-European dreamers

    This is a strong article for why many progressives are pro-Brexit.

    My view has always been that democracy comes first. If the EU won't become democratic right away, then progressives would be better off breaking it up and trying again.

    That said, I am definitely not against DiEM25 giving it a try at democratizing the EU.

    ... a no deal Brexit is nothing to fear and would be better than staying in the EU.

    But as I indicated at the outset of this debate back in 2016, Brexit might be disastrous if the Tories retain office and continue their nasty policies.

    However, given that Labour is likely to take office at the next general election, Brexit gives then space to implement a truly progressive reform agenda within Britain that will be a game changer into terms of ruling paradigms.

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  28.    It's now cheaper to build a new wind farm than to keep a coal plant running

    I've covered this before, but it doesn't hurt to drill it in.

    The article doesn't discuss the environmental costs of keeping a coal plant running. Those costs are astronomical right now. They are always underestimated. We always find out after the damage has been done. What do the insiders really know about how bad coal burning is?

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  29.    Wife of Bird Island arsonist pleads guilty to aiding an offender

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  30.    Insurance Scam Causes Skyrocketing Insurance Rates For Florida Home Owners

    ... shady contractors and their attorneys have abused AOB to submit inflated bills and threaten a lawsuit if the insurer doesn't pay immediately.

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  31.    Los Alamos Lab Research Findings Could Lead to Earthquake Early Warning System

    We discovered a highly predictable sound pattern that indicates slippage and fault failure," said Los Alamos scientist Paul Johnson. "We also found a precise link between the fragility of the fault and the signal's strength ....

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  32.    South Dakota Researcher Developing Fire Risk Estimation Tool

    The tool analyzes drought, high-resolution fuel and precipitation conditions to produce a fire-danger assessment map that land managers and firefighters can monitor daily.

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  33.    Rare Washington State Tornado Strongest Since 1986

    In five minutes Tuesday afternoon, the twister's 1.4 mile-path (2.3 kilometers) tore roofs off homes, shattered windows and toppled large fir trees, but no injuries have been reported.

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  34.    Florida Man Gets 8 Years for Hurricane Irma Fraud

    ... convicted of two counts of contracting without a license during a state of emergency, one count of grand theft and two counts of violation of probation.

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  35.    Apartment Fire in West Virginia Kills 1, Leaves Dozens Homeless

    He said three people had to be rescued from windows, but no injuries were reported.

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  36.    70 Mobile Homes Damaged by Mid-December Tornadoes in Central Florida

    A tornado damaged more than 70 homes in a mobile home park and a 90-year-old woman was taken to a hospital after a roof fell on her head after a day of wild weather in central Florida ....

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  37.    Falling total fertility rate should be welcomed, population expert says

    I completely agree with Sarah Harper.

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  38.    US population growth hits 80-year low, capping off a year of demographic stagnation

    Here's the flipside of Sarah Harper's view.

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  39.    Trump EPA orders rollback of Obama mercury regulations

    The Trump administration has targeted an Obama-era regulation credited with helping dramatically reduce toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, saying the benefits to human health and the environment may not be worth the cost of the regulation.
    ...
    Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities and other birth defects in children, among other harm. Coal power plants in this country are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants, which enters the food chain through fish and other items that people consume.

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  40.    Most insurers to increase payments to wildfire survivors without itemization of possessions following Commissioner Jones' request

    While Jones requested all carriers accommodate their insureds and his request by paying at least 75 percent and up to 100 percent of personal property limits without requiring a complete inventory list, the Legislature has not passed a law requiring insurers to waive the inventory or given the insurance commissioner the authority to order a waiver. Recognizing the important benefits of this consumer protection measure, the department sponsored Senate Bill 897 (McGuire) this past session that would have required insurers to permit their insureds, who suffer total losses in a declared disaster, to receive 80 percent of contents coverage without a detailed and burdensome inventory. However, that bill was opposed by the insurance industry and did not pass the Legislature.

    I'm not opposed to the legislation, provided insurance companies would be backstopped by the government while the companies price in the feature.

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  41.    AI outperformed 20 corporate lawyers at legal work [no surprise here]

    After AI gets better at everything humans do to make money, just remember all the naysayers. I bet AI will even be better at admitting when it's wrong.

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  42.    Carbon Taxes at the Barricades

    I've never seen a stupid article by Adair Turner. He's one of the most thoughtful intellectuals out there. To me, he's highly underappreciated.

    Experts and policymaking elites must avoid repeating in relation to climate change the mistakes that distorted their approach to globalization. Economic models told us that freer trade and immigration would increase global economic efficiency and per capita income. But sound economics should also have told us that there were bound to be losers as well as winners, with the losers — and potential populist voters — often concentrated in the same smaller towns and rural areas that form the backbone of the gilets jaunes movement.

    Similarly, analysis tells us that the costs of achieving a zero-carbon economy by 2060 will be less than 1% of global GDP, and that the average impact on consumer prices will be trivial. But within that aggregate global total and those price averages, important distributive and transition effects will require careful management.

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  43.    Housing affordability crisis is nationwide

    More than half of respondents believe government should ease regulatory requirements and/or provide incentives to build more housing. Fifty-five percent believe it would be effective for their city or county to lower development and construction fees builders must pay so that more affordable units can be built, and 53 percent believe it would be effective to increase government subsidies to builders to produce more affordable units.

    Easing regulatory requirements is not a solution at all. Regulations, per se, are a good thing. Regulations should be regularly revisited solely in terms of whether the standards are good, not whether they cost more. That's why I'm in favor of subsidizing builders to produce more affordable units. We need better, stronger building codes. However, putting those in place while leaving builders no option but to increase their prices is foolish. We need qualified builders to be able to make a decent profit building better housing for all. The only way to do that short of government builders is via subsidies. We can subsidize the builders, ore we can subsidize the buyers and renters.

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  44.    Hyperloop promises ultrafast transportation. But what does it mean for the environment? News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Dec. 31, 2018

    Fascinating future ...

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  45.    Fight erupts in Seattle over law prohibiting landlords from checking tenants' criminal history

    My view is that the law puts the burden on landlords and managers when it should be on government.

    Here's what I mean. The government should focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment and mere incarceration-time. The government should also provide quality halfway-housing as part of that rehabilitation process. Once the process has been deemed a success on a case-by-case basis, then the law could block landlords and managers from using criminal records in their decision-making process. On top of that, those landlords and managers should be held harmless by the government for any and all subsequent acts by those the government signs off on as fully rehabilitated.

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  46.    Too-High Illinois Levee Flooding Missouri Homes

    "These levees have a maximum height because in some instances they're supposed to be topped," said David Stokes, executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance. "You don't want to sacrifice a city to keep the farmland dry."

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  47.    Part of Chinese-Drywall Lawsuit Revs Up in Virginia

    ... the Chinese-made drywall contained hydrogen sulfide, which destroyed electrical wiring and sickened residents.

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  48.    South Carolina Gov Creates Commission to Tackle State Flooding Problems

    Environmental attorney Tom Mullikin is chairman of the commission and created 10 task forces that will study issues ranging from how artificial reefs could decrease coastal flooding to building better culverts and drainage ditches to stop neighborhood nuisance flooding.

    The smaller groups will also tackle getting federal funding for projects to stop flooding, encouraging better landscaping and permeable asphalt in cities, the role of safety of dams on rivers and how to protect critical infrastructure like bridges and power plants from floodwaters.

    It sounds like they are very, very serious about this issue. Read the article.

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  49.    Death in the Oilfields: Boom Brings Mounting Risk of Death, Injuries

    Wow, this isn't a real-estate article, per se, but it's amazing just how dangerous drilling and fracking are.

    Drilling is an inherently dangerous undertaking, with a fatality rate nearly five times that of all industries in the United States combined in 2014, the last year such rates on oil and gas extraction were published by the government. Production pressures — and the temptation to cut corners — intensify during boom times, as America is experiencing now due to a rush of fossil-fuel exports.

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  50.    Hog feedlot proposal rejected in effort to save Minnesota groundwater

    ... the Ag Department knows which areas in Minnesota have the groundwater most vulnerable to pollution by nitrates -- a compound found in, among other things, fertilizers and animal wastes. It can be dangerous, especially for infants and older adults.

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  51.    The Malaysia Scandal Is Starting to Look Dire for Goldman Sachs

    I learned more about this scandal from this one Matt Taibbi article then everything I'd read previously combined about it.

    Over the course of three major bond issues, 1MDB raised about $6.5 billion from investors around the world. According to the U.S. government, about $2.7 billion of that money was misappropriated and "distributed, in part, as bribes and kickbacks" to help keep the scheme going.

    Other monies reportedly ended up in the hands of a small group of corrupt insiders close to Najib, who then laundered the cash via one of the great spending sprees of our time.
    ...
    Brown said recent events only bring what was obvious some time ago into greater focus. "Basically, anyone with any knowledge of the markets and banking could see this deal was fishy as hell," she says, adding, "What is absolutely clear is there is no way the bosses of the bank could have failed to see what a mere onlooker like myself was calling out back in 2013. They ALL HAD TO KNOW."
    ...
    Goldman has survived many scandals in recent years. The bank paid $550 million to settle the infamous "Abacus" affair, in which Goldman helped hedge fund investors create a born-to-lose mortgage investment product to bet against.

    Then they agreed to pay another $5 billion to settle claims of improper "packaging, securitization, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities" between 2005 and 2007. [Huge negative impact upon the real-estate industry]

    But 1MDB is both a financial and existential threat to the bank. In its most recent quarterly filing, Goldman said it expected to face "significant fines, penalties, and other sanctions," as individuals and nations alike will be scrambling to recover pilfered funds.
    ...
    What's kept the financial system together since 2008 is a widespread belief that even if bankers at places like Goldman are greedy or amoral, they're at least sharp in a self-interested way, "the smartest guys in the room." We'r e now finding out that even that last part might not be so true. Greedy, amoral and not too bright: Welcome to the modern financial system.

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  52.    Deflation Risk Rises as China's Economy Keeps Faltering

    ... true fiscal stimulus has never been attempted, and government spending distributed via state banks ends up being akin to monetary accommodation, which is what the Chinese authorities insisted would not happen again under their watch.

    If they enter a deflationary recession, they won't have a choice.

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  53.    Italy budget: Parliament passes budget after EU standoff

    A new income support scheme known as the "citizens' wage" will pay €780 ($890; £700) a month to 1.7 million of Italy's poorest families. ....
    ...
    More than a million self-employed workers earning under €65,000 a year will see their taxes cut to 15%.

    Those are anti-cyclical measures aimed at giving those with a greater propensity to spend a break. That's Keynesianism and will work. Of course, there may be pro-cyclical errors in the budget.

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  54.    Trump's China Strategy Isn't Working [wrong]

    I think the article is completely wrong.

    Imports from China were up over the Holidays, but there were tariffs on Chinese goods. That means China made less money per product and the US economy kept the difference. It's really that simple.

    China imported less from the US, but that's all the more reason for Trump to increase the tariffs to more than offset the difference.

    Lastly, the longer it goes on, the more US companies will be willing and desirous to make things in the US. Of course, how good doing that will be depends upon the rest of Trump's bilateral trading strategy with each nation.

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  55.    The latest research on the efficacy of raising the minimum wage above $10 in six U.S. cities

    ... report breaks important ground in calculating positive earnings and unclear employment effects as a result of minimum wage increases beyond $10 an hour. Although their finding of varying employment effects provides suggestive evidence that minimum wage increases do not necessarily entail efficiency losses, Equitable Growth grantee and New School economist David Howell argues that "no job losses" should not be the standard for evaluating minimum wage increases as such reforms can be implemented in conjunction with other employment programs and work incentives.

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  56.    Why trade deficits aren't so bad

    The following is wrong:

    ... while it is always important to consider the consequences of international trade for inequality and the distribution of the gains from trade — there are no guarantees that those gains will be evenly distributed — the end result is higher overall global economic growth.

    Trade deficits can be a problem when those deficits are due to government borrowing in countries with weak economic and political institutions, or in smaller countries where free capital flows might be destabilizing.

    But for well-functioning economies like the U.S., trade deficits are not an inherent problem. In fact, we're better off having trade deficits than imposing tariffs and restrictive trade policies to prevent them.

    Trade deficits make America great.

    The reason it's wrong is that it's amoral at best. Trade for trade sake is not a good thing. Global economic growth is also in the eye of the beholder. There are negatives to what some consider "positive" growth. The carbon-fuel industry and its current, dramatic negative impact on the climate and weather is a perfect case in point. Also, why should we look the other way concerning trading with a totalitarian regime? Does might make right and a good trading partner? I don't think so.

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  57.    Computer scientists study security threats to smart homes

    Your tenants using insecure IoT devices can be a security issue for you too. Hackers could damage your property or harm your other tenants or your management and staff and also other visitors to the premises. Don't take it lightly.

    They blame the vulnerabilities on consumer demand and the headlong rush to meet it.

    "Manufacturers race to release these systems without having a good understanding of how they will be used in the wild," Poshyvanyk said.

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