Real estate, cybersecurity and other risks, economics, & more: links & commentary for June 3, 2019

Before reading Ann Pettifor's article and understanding it, it is required to know that 1) austerity is never the right approach to a deflationary recession (the Great Recession was a deflationary recession) and 2) the neoliberal-touting politicians mostly knew it but used austerity to shrink the cure (fiscal stimulus: government) so the Austerians (Austerian School of Economics and austerity) could grab more of the pie. In other words, austerity was a ruse, a sham, a con game. Were you taken in, or do you think it's a fair game in capitalism, as in all's fair in love and war and capitalism is war: cutthroat competition in which nice guys finish last?

The metaphors of economics and austerity

It is of course not my purpose to criticize the use of metaphor or other rhetorical techniques in economic discourse – especially since, as we have known at least since Lakoff and Johnson opened our eyes to the metaphors we live by, our whole human world is structured by metaphor. But what is important is (a) to work to identify and make public the means of conceptual manipulation used by the powerful to maintain control or denigrate any policy of a progressive character, and (b) ensure that the hidden, or not so hidden, biases or assumptions of economists are made explicit. After all, as Keynes remarked in the General Theory:

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

EDITORIAL — For the neighbors, there is no justice

... Bronnon and others would purchase homes through a “straw” buyer, provide them with down-payment money, give them money to buy insurance, then cause the structures to be destroyed or damaged by fire or water.


Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Puts Hold on Policy Cancellations

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready on May 24 issued a bulletin directing insurance companies to keep coverage in effect for storm victims for the next 30 days.

State of Emergency Declared in Ohio; Insurers Asked to Allow Deferred Payments

The bulletin requests that companies allow their insureds to defer premium payments coming due and extend any and all provisions imposing time constraints within which insureds must take certain action.

Arkansas Imposes 60-Day Insurance Cancellation Moratorium for Flood Victims

... policyholders must request the extension offered by the moratorium from their insurance carrier.

California Commissioner Wants Insurers to Extend Living Expense Coverage for 2017 Wildfire Survivors

The California Department of Insurance issued a notice to insurers requesting they extend additional living expense coverage by a full year to survivors whose additional living expense benefits will expire within months.
... The CDI has received complaints from policyholders who chose to relocate that their insurer deducted the estimated land value of the new home from the overall replacement cost payment, leaving policyholders with less than the full amount of their benefits they would have been due if they rebuilt the home.

The policyholders paid premiums for the limit of insurance. If the insurance companies turn around and also cover the land value, the insurance companies will be taking on an unexpected expense not averaged out across all policyholders and investment earnings (if any) on investments made by the insurance company. If a policyholder wants to relocate, the policyholder can still sell the policyholders existing land (though likely at a loss). If this becomes a trend where Departments of Insurance require land-value coverage, that expense will then be built into the premium. I should think it would be an optional additional coverage. Frankly, I think that would be a good idea to have such an option.

Texas Would Lose Billions if Another Major Storm Hits Coast, Report Says

With a barrier in place, economic losses would be considerably less, the study found. Gross State Product would still be reduced after a 500-year storm, but only by 2%. Housing sales would fall by 2%, while petroleum output would be cut by 3% and chemical output by 5%.

There would also be less environmental damage from oil and chemicals, not that the artificial barriers would be environmentally neutral.

IBHS Chief Wright Urges Congress to Consider Tax Credits for Climate Resilience

... allow a business-related tax credit for a specified portion of the cost of commercial and residential buildings that comply with resilient construction requirements in a federally-declared major disaster area.

The bill defined “resilient construction requirements” as buildings that are designed and constructed to: (1) resist hazards brought on by a major disaster; (2) continue to provide their primary functions after a major disaster; (3) reduce the magnitude or duration of a disruptive event; and (4) have the absorptive capacity, adaptive capacity, and recoverability to withstand a potentially disruptive event.
Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican from a rural Connecticut district, who helped to lead an hours-long filibuster, said some “very credible” scientists dispute the reality of climate change.

I think Anthropogenic Global Warming is a litmus test on scientific credibility. My personal view is that any climate scientist who disputes AGW is not credible by definition. Regardless, certain politicians cite a tiny minority of scientists who are often not even expert in climate science and do so because of donations and other support and promises made by the carbon-fuel industry.

New Hampshire Sues 3M, DuPont, Other Chemical Companies

New Hampshire has sued eight companies including 3M and the DuPont Co. for damage it says has been caused by a class of potentially toxic chemicals found in pizza boxes, fast-food wrappers and drinking water.

The substances – known collectively as PFAS – have been used in coatings meant to protect consumer goods and are commonplace in households across the United States.
“We are taking a big first step on behalf of the country,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said of the lawsuits.

Los Angeles County Files Suit Against Bayer’s Monsanto over PCBs

The most populous U.S. county, which has about 10.1 million people, said the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in products sold by Monsanto many decades ago has caused widespread environmental contamination, forcing it to spend money to retrofit its stormwater systems and prevent further damage.

Fire Suppression, Drought Increasing Mortality Among Trees

... junipers on the High Desert have become more fragile in recent decades, thanks to fire suppression policy. Periodic fires thin forests and improve the health of existing trees. When fires do not occur, forest density increases, resulting in more competition for water and space to grow.
... “If nothing is done, such as prescribed burns, this will be compounded in the future according to climate change models.”

Critical Vulnerability Patched in Popular Convert Plus Plugin

Vulnerability disclosures are an unfortunate necessity, and it’s important that they’re handled appropriately by all parties involved. In recent disclosures, we’ve seen a variety of responses from the developers we’ve reached out to. For example, in January we received no response at all from a disclosure regarding the Total Donations plugin. More recently was this week’s Slick Popup vulnerability, which had been acknowledged by the developers but remains unpatched.

Conversely, the response from Convert Plus’s team was an excellent example of how to handle a vulnerability disclosure. They responded quickly to our contact, and issued a patch for the flaw within just a few days. Once the patch went live, they published their own blog post alerting their users that an important update was available. They even highlighted the update on the plugin’s CodeCanyon page.

We the People have been paying rich bondholders for nothing of value in return. It's been a scam all along and needs to be ended.

The Bankers’ “Power Revolution”: How the Government Got Shackled by Debt

When the Fed holds government securities, it returns the interest to the government after deducting its costs; but the private buyers of these securities will be pocketing the interest, adding to the taxpayers’ bill.

This issue goes way, way back.

Risk management naturally covers political risk. Political-risk management is often concerned with the relative safety individuals may or may not have within a given jurisdiction or political area. Places where press freedom is severely limited are typically vastly riskier. It is with that in mind that I include the following link.

Tide of Public Opinion is Turning in Assange’s Favor

Since the Trump administration has crossed the red line criminalizing what establishment journalists do all the time, establishment journalists have come full-square against the indictment and behind Assange.

Someone must hold governments accountable. In order to even begin to do that, we must know what those governments are up to. If governments can simply deem everything they do a state secret, those governments can then do whatever they want no matter how immoral or unethical and do so while feigning democracy and transparency.

Rental market is heating up, so say goodbye to all those freebies and perks [in some places]

Rent prices are gaining steam in 36 of the nation's 50 largest metropolitan housing markets. Austin, Texas, showed the highest gains, followed by Phoenix and San Jose, California.

But some rental markets are offering more perks than a year ago, for a variety of reasons. Concessions have more than tripled in Orlando, Florida, and more than doubled in Atlanta, Boston and San Jose.

Which Core to Believe? Trimmed Mean Versus Ex-Food-and-Energy Inflation

Since 2005—when real-time trimmed mean data were first calculated—quarterly headline PCE inflation has averaged 1.77 percent, while real-time quarterly trimmed mean inflation has averaged 1.78 percent. Real-time quarterly ex-food-and-energy inflation has averaged 1.61 percent.

Malspam Campaigns Use HawkEye Keylogger to Target Businesses

The malspam campaigns which disseminate the keylogger are actively targeting business users in an effort to steal both accounts credentials and sensitive data that could be later put to use as part of account takeover or business email compromise attacks.

1 Million Windows Systems Remain Vulnerable to 'Wormable' Flaw

A security update addressing CVE-2019-0708 was released on May 14 2019, but recent public reports indicate nearly one million computers are still vulnerable.

What is buffer overflow, an old vulnerability that’s causing new problems?

Crafty hackers find subtle ways to cause buffer overflow errors and use them to manipulate the behavior of applications for malicious purposes. For instance, a hacker might be able to exploit a buffer overflow vulnerability to alter a sensitive piece of memory, such as user privileges or the address of the recipient of a payment.
A well-placed stack buffer overflow attack can alter return addresses, effectively enabling the attacker to force a program to jump to an arbitrary sequence of instructions, such as a set of commands that download and install a malicious app on the device.

How a quantum computer could break 2048-bit RSA encryption in 8 hours

These guys have found a more efficient way for quantum computers to perform the code-breaking calculations, reducing the resources they require by orders of magnitude.
Quantum code cracking

Consequently, these machines are significantly closer to reality than anyone suspected. The result will make uncomfortable reading for governments, military and security organizations, banks, and anyone else who needs to secure data for 25 years or longer. ...
... security experts have developed post-quantum codes that even a quantum computer will not be able to crack. So it is already possible to safeguard data today against future attack by quantum computers. But these codes are not yet used as standard.

The following is right or almost right?

Thus, my modest proposal is that unless someone wants to advocate government ownership of the means of production, it's more productive to drop "socialism" from the conversation. Instead, talk about the specific issue and the mixture of market and government actions rules that might address it, based on whatever evidence is available on costs and benefits.

Why Call it "Socialism"?

The term government also requires defining. Where, for example, does employee ownership fit in? When does it actually constitute "government"? Personally, I define employee ownership of a dollar-market enterprise in an otherwise dollar-market national economy as collective capitalism and not general government, per se. Frankly, the absence of a "dollar-market economy" is a better definition of socialism. The dollar is replaced by one-person, one vote in deciding what gets produced or served up.

[gone] Shocking News About Beans, Peas and Potatoes

Genetically engineered foods are not the only source of glyphosate in your diet. Most conventional, non-GE crops are also contaminated, as are some organics, as glyphosate is widely used as a desiccant or drying agent to speed up harvesting.
As for how it ends up in many organic products is anyone’s guess. Drift from nearby conventional and/or GE crop fields is one possibility. Contamination during processing is another. Outright fraud, where a nonorganic crop is sold as organic is also a possibility.

The following is not an endorsement of Bernie Sanders for President. I include the link here because AGW is real, as are all the other issues raised in the linked article. We can and must tackle all of them. We do not have the luxury of endless time. We must act decisively and now.

Bernie Joins the Regeneration Revolution

In the last presidential election cycle in 2016 there was little or no discussion of what has now metasticized into a climate emergency. Nor was there any serious discussion of the industrial, corporate-controlled food, farming and land-use practices that are major drivers of global warming, deteriorating public health, environmental destruction, species extinction and increasingly toxic air and water.

Fortunately, the conversation is evolving. The climate crisis now ranks as a leading concern among registered voters. ...
For the first time in decades we will have the opportunity in 2020 to elect a president and a Congress that support family farms and organic, regenerative climate-friendly food and farm practices. For the first time ever we can elect a majority, at all levels of government—local, state, and federal—who recognize that we must stop and reverse global warming before our Climate Emergency morphs into climate catastrophe. The situation is dire, but there is still time to turn things around.

Climate Change Is Intensifying Food Shocks

The rain and floods that have plagued the Midwest since March have wreaked havoc on agriculture. In Nebraska alone, farmers lost an estimated $440 million of cattle. They’re still recovering from the blizzard–flood combination, as well as the sand left behind once the waters subsided—up to 10 feet deep in some areas. The effects weren’t limited to the region: Washed-out infrastructure meant that feed wasn’t making it to California farmers, causing an increase in local feed prices. The rain has also put many farmers far behind their planting schedules (see the #NoPlant19 hashtag on Twitter), which could further affect the ag market and rural economies.

On the other side of the globe, northern Queensland’s seven-year drought was broken by welcome rain—which quickly turned into epic flooding. Rainfall in the region measured 50 inches in 10 days, and with high winds and low temperatures. Across the area, loss estimates have totaled nearly 700,000 cattle, 48,000 sheep, 10,000 kilometers of fence, and 15,500 kilometers of private roads. The financial total is eventually expected to reach AUS$2 billion (about U.S.$1.4 billion).
... Food shocks can occur because of political unrest, policy change, and mismanagement, but the biggest factor is extreme weather.
Regenerative farming, rotational and mob grazing, reducing tillage, agroforestry, and soil improvements are all means to help mitigate the effects of extreme weather, and the resulting food shocks. These techniques all help create resilience against climate change. Healthier soil, for example, recovers quicker from droughts and floods. Rotational grazing gives pasture areas the opportunity to recuperate while animals are feeding elsewhere, and agroforestry blends the benefits of carbon sequestration with shade cover for crops and animals and nitrogen enrichment.

Thousands of seabirds starved to death in the Bering Sea — and scientists see evidence of climate change

... 2018 marked the third year in a row that scientists documented “massive” seabird die-offs in the Bering Sea region, according to the National Park Service. It was the fifth consecutive season of mass mortality events in the North Pacific, the fourth consecutive year of these die-offs in Alaska, Parrish said.

World's rivers 'awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics'

The research team is now planning to assess the environmental impacts of antibiotic pollution on wildlife including fish, invertebrates and algae. They expect severe effects. The drug levels in some Kenyan rivers were so high that no fish could survive. “There was a total population crash,” Boxall said.

5 Reasons THIS Market Is an Ideal Place to Invest in 2019

There's an old saying that by the time it makes the headlines, it's too late. However, the pattern of planning is what to watch for before it makes the headlines. You won't recognize the pattern unless you read about it after the fact to start with. However, is it really too late already in Thornton, Colorado? I doubt it.

Chrome and Firefox are going in opposite directions. Chrome is going to block ad blockers. Firefox is building ad blocking and anti-tracking into Firefox's core software. Disclosure: Firefox is my workhorse browser. I'm not opposed to ads but tracking.

Google quietly ruined Chrome, and we almost missed it

How many of your tenants have trouble making rent because the IRS makes things too difficult for them and even withholds money due?

It’s Getting Worse: The IRS Now Audits Poor Americans at About the Same Rate as the Top 1%

Recession or not, there will be pain: Coping with corporate bonds

... there will be pain.

A large and growing share of corporate debt is “speculative debt”—either leveraged loans used to acquire target companies and burden them with high debt levels or high risk junk bonds. Many companies with high levels of speculative debt on their books were acquired by private equity in a leveraged buyout, meaning the PE firm used high amounts of debt to buy them. This is debt the target companies, not their private equity owners, are obligated to repay.
... Long term, the solution lies in limiting the ability of private equity firms to load the target companies they acquire with excessive amounts of debt and strip them of resources.

It should not be legal to load an operating company with debt in excess of six times earnings, whatever the source of the loans—banks, private equity firms, hedge funds or real estate investment trusts. A company’s private equity owners should not be allowed to take dividends from the company for several years after acquiring it. The private equity firm should be required to make public the monitoring and transaction fees it charges the companies it owns so that investors in its funds and creditors considering lending the company money can judge the risks to the company’s viability of this transfer of resources. At the moment, the PE firm has no obligation to inform either its PE fund investors or its creditors about the amount of money it extracts annually from the company.
Bankruptcy reform, so that workers actually collect what is owed them, is also critical. At present, workers are at the end of the line in a bankruptcy when it comes to collecting back pay, vacation pay, WARN Act payments or other money the company owes them. Legislation introduced in 2017 would define workers’ claims as administrative expenses, moving workers to the front of the line in a bankruptcy and assuring that they would be paid in full, just like the investment bankers, consultants, lawyers and others hired to advise the company through the bankruptcy process.

Summer of Fear May Push U.S. Yield to 1.5%, Ignite Yen Rally

The lower the yield, the lower the interest rate. Lower interest rates are dis-inflationary and can help to ramp up demand. Trump wanted lower rates. He's forcing what will cause them.

A Green New Deal for the UK

Just as the US GI Bill gave education, housing and income support to every unemployed veteran returning from the Second World War, the next Labour Government will guarantee that all energy workers are offered retraining, a new job on equivalent terms and conditions covered by collective agreements, and fully supported in their housing and income needs through transition.

The significance of these words was to commit Labour to putting the needs of workers front and center in making the radical transformations needed to achieve our low-carbon future.

Rent cap bill approved in California Assembly

The Mercury News reports that “because of an 11th-hour handshake deal” with the California Association of Realtors, the rent caps proposed under Assembly Bill 1482 are now higher: 7 percent, plus the rate of inflation, which averages about 2.5 percent in California.

Trade Groups Pressure Congress on NFIP Extension

A coalition of housing, insurance and mortgage industry trade associations is pushing Congress to override objections from two members of the House of Representatives and move forward with legislation that would extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through September.

Settlement in Downtown LA homeless property rights case limits city’s ability to seize items on sidewalks

The settlement, which had already been approved by the Los Angeles City Council earlier this year on a contentious 10-2 vote, stems from a 2016 lawsuit brought by homeless residents who claimed that police officers had confiscated and destroyed their personal possessions, including blankets, tents, and medication.

I've always opposed kicking the poor. Some people simply want them out of sight. I'd rather house them in truly decent housing. The cycle of sustaining poverty, which is a deliberate public policy, is nothing short of pure evil done for the sake of the insatiable egos of the hyper greedy.

Tacoma’s housing market is now the hottest in U.S. — and Seattle knows why

... 49.7% of homes sold in Tacoma in May went for more than the asking price, compared to 37.8% in Seattle and 23.8% nationally, according to a Redfin analysis of local data from the Multiple Listing Service.

The median home in Tacoma was on the market just eight days — the shortest period of any U.S. metro — while the supply of homes for sale is just 1.3 months, the lowest in the United States.

Not sustainable: ... Southern California home prices rising 4 times faster than wages

Top reasons to invest in single and small-family rentals

5 steps that could end the plastic pollution crisis – and save our ocean

... the New Plastics Economy, which advocates shifting from a take-make-dispose model to a circular economy in which nothing that’s made becomes waste.

What Property Owners Should Know About Rental Losses

Putting money over human rights:

People's Republic of China

Until the accession of the PRC to the World Trade Organization in December 2001 the PRC was covered by the provisions of Jackson-Vanik. Although the President of the United States, starting in the late 1970s, used the waiver provisions of the amendment to grant normal trade relations trade status, the existence of the amendment meant that there was a congressional effort to overturn this waiver each year, creating a yearly controversy especially during the 1990s after the Tiananmen protests of 1989. Congress specifically removed the PRC from coverage by Jackson-Vanik in the late 1990s as part of its entry into the World Trade Organization, as the provisions of Jackson-Vanik were inconsistent with WTO rules.

Microsoft Azure Being Used to Host Malware and C2 Servers

“It's evident that Azure is not currently detecting the malicious software residing on Microsoft's servers,” says David Pickett of AppRiver.

One of the samples, ‘searchfile.exe,’ was indexed by VirusTotal scanning service on April 26, and Windows Defender detects it.

4 Tips to Decrease Tenant Turnover in Your Rentals

Tenants who cause extensive damage, disrupt other tenants on the property, or fail to report important maintenance issues will end up costing you more money if they continually renew their leases. The best way to find and keep quality tenants is by properly screening potential tenants ....

Smart move:

Colorado city to become one of the first in US to run completely on renewable energy

Glenwood Springs will join six other cities that are already running on 100 percent renewable energy. The cities include Aspen, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kansas; Rock Port, Mo.; and Kodiak Island, Alaska, according to the Sierra Club.

The following misses the point perhaps intentionally.

130 Percent of Trump’s China-Tariff Revenue Is Now Going to Angry Farmers

China tariffs, meanwhile, have so far brought in just over $19 billion in tax payments from U.S. importers—$6 billion less than authorized farmer payments.

Going forward, Trump’s tariff deficit shows no sign of shrinking—quite the reverse. Just this week, China announced it will, once again, halt purchases of U.S. soybeans—a move that will further devastate the U.S. farm sector. This move, in turn, is likely to trigger further farm bailouts.

If, as the president claimed in 2018, “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” this one is being badly generaled.

Look, 10% on some products was a beginning. 25% on all goods is perhaps also only a stepping stone. China is hurting more from the tariff fight than is the US, and it will remain that way.

Why are all the neoliberal globalists running down the effort? The question answers itself. Neoliberal globalists have their own agenda, and it's not about the USA but their own personal estates. They want to make money and don't care whether the bottom in the US survives.

I'm not saying that Trump is focused on the bottom in the US. He's clearly not. However, slowing or stopping China's Xi is a good thing for the bottom in the US regardless of Trump's motives or even the exact outcome of his tariff war. After all, we don't know exactly where or when he'll end it. He could stop well short of what really needs to be done.

What is that, what really needs to be done? China needs to be rolled back to before it was accepted into the WTO. In fact, China never should have received any waivers from any US President under the Jackson–Vanik Amendment, which Amendment never should have be accepted.

The US made a huge error moving to neoliberal-globalist economics. It was the dumbest economic move the US ever made. The more it is rolled back, the better.

I'm not saying I'm against bilateral or multilateral economic agreements, far from it. I'm simply totally opposed to the neoliberal variety. Any agreement the US enters into should be 100% progressive for both or all sides. Also, whether a nation is or isn't a non-market economy should be completely irrelevant.

Concerning this next one, I don't link it with China at all. It's a completely different matter and is not surprising. Trump is using tariffs as a form of sanctions. The US has been sanctioning nations left and right for quite some time now. Trump's just widened the reasons.

My personal position is that the US should do everything possible to help the nations that are bleeding refugees so those leaving will rather stay for all the right reasons. I'm confident Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is completely in sync with me on that.

I like Obrador, always have. I remember him as the Mayor of Mexico City. His politics were good then and are good now. He's not perfect, but who is?

Am I for open borders? I've addressed that before. I am for open borders that come as a result of healing everywhere. Our goals should be tackled in the right order. First we should help fix problems where they are rather then simply opening the doors to anyone and everyone with no questions asked.

Emergencies are different. We can't refuse people fleeing wars, devastation, persecution, and such. That's already international law. We should abide by it. It's good law.

Mexican president says confident that US will negotiate on tariffs

How Monsanto manipulates journalists and academics

Over the past year, evidence of Monsanto’s deceptive efforts to defend the safety of its top-selling Roundup herbicide have been laid bare for all to see. Through three civil trials, the public release of internal corporate communications has revealed conduct that all three juries have found so unethical as to warrant punishing punitive damage awards.

Controlled burns not only help forest health but human health, study finds

California’s efforts to prevent dangerous wildfires through controlled burning have long stumbled on the issue of smoke, with residents, doctors and pollution regulators worried that such burns create too much unhealthy air.

A first-of-its kind study published Thursday, however, suggests this may not be the case. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine report that the health impacts of controlled fires are less than those of wildfires that rage out of control.


'It’s a miracle': Helsinki's radical solution to homelessness

“We had to get rid of the night shelters and short-term hostels we still had back then. They had a very long history in Finland, and everyone could see they were not getting people out of homelessness. We decided to reverse the assumptions.”

As in many countries, homelessness in Finland had long been tackled using a staircase model: you were supposed to move through different stages of temporary accommodation as you got your life back on track, with an apartment as the ultimate reward.

“We decided to make the housing unconditional,” says Kaakinen. “To say, look, you don’t need to solve your problems before you get a home. Instead, a home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”

Massive Google Outage Turned Smart Homes Into Zombies

Sometimes clunky tech even becomes a human rights issue. In May, elderly residents in a Manhattan apartment building won a settlement in a lawsuit against landlords who installed smartphone-enabled smart locks in the building. Some residents, including a 93-year-old, said they almost never left home after the locks were installed, because they did not own smartphones. Others objected to an 84-page smart lock contract that surrendered all the residents’ smart lock data to the landlords.

Explainer: Why Google has a target on its back in Washington

It is rare to break up a company but not unheard of, with Standard Oil and AT&T being the two biggest examples.

Perhaps the most famous case is the government’s effort to break up Microsoft Corp. The Justice Department won a preliminary victory in 2000 but was reversed on appeal. The case settled with Microsoft intact.