US Marines Testing Drone-Killing Future Weapons And Combat Exoskeletons

Nearly 200 US Marines gathered at Southern California’s Camp Pendleton to test out an array of the military’s most advanced new weaponry – including several devices to disable or destroy Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and combat exoskeleton designed by Lockheed Martin which allows soldiers to carry loads of up to 200 lbs. over long distances.

US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Briar Purty, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division tests Drone Killer Counter-UAS Technology during Urban Advanced Naval Technology Exercise 2018 (ANTX-18) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. on March 21, 2018. US Marine Corps Photo

Other weapons include “bomb-bearing and swarm-capable drones” already deployed against Russian military bases in Syria in January.

(DoD demonstration video, Oct. 2016)

“103 Perdix micro-drones launched from three U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. It demonstrated advanced swarm behaviors such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing. “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” said Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) Director William Roper. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.” 

LaWS Laser Weapon System which shoots 30kw photon beam capable of burning holes in UAVs and confusing enemy vessel navigation systems

Captain Ben Brewster’s rifle company would fight and operate under a “protective bubble” created by layering offensive and defensive UAVs – both “organic to the company” and from the larger Marine air-ground task force which would include systems and equipment designed to kill or neutralize enemy drones – reports U.S. Naval Institute News.

PHASR (Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response) rifle fires blinding green laser to dazzle the enemy. 
s

“Drone swarm” prototypes

I’ve never had to deal with IEDs that can attack me…from quadcopters,” said Brewster, commander of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines.

Three drones flitted overhead at the Range 131 Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) facility here, and an “enemy” drone – a bat-wing-shaped UAS – sliced through the air as Third Platoon moved among buildings around a town square.

“Anyone of these could have a two-pound IED (improvised explosive device)” or act as a spotter or command-and-control for an enemy force, he said.

“I need the ability for my Marines to be able to jam these drones,” he added. –USNI

US Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division test unmanned vehicle at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. on March 21, 2018. US Marine Corps Photo

 

And with the expected crowded urban skies, he noted, Marines will need systems to help sort friend from foe in the air, along with counter-UAS technology with directional jamming capabilities. “Trying to figure out that part is what we’re experimenting” during U5G, he added.

Several naval warfare centers and military laboratories joined 48 companies for U5G, showcasing 79 technologies that included sensors that see through walls, facial recognition software, “smart” networked radio, micro drones and an enhanced thermal imager with displayed information, as well as vehicles, weapons and munitions.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation are hosting U5G, the latest in a series of Advanced Naval Technology Exercises (ANTX) where military research and development organizations join with industry to demonstrate rapidly-emerging technologies and concepts. It follows on last year’s Ship-to-Shore Maneuver Exploration and Experimentation Advanced Naval Technology Exercise at Camp Pendleton that solicited and examined dozens of concepts like drones, mobile networks and unmanned boats to support Marines operating at sea and landing ashore. –USNI.org

 Read more here

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Not So Happy Motoring

Authored by James Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

It hasn’t been a great month for America’s electric car fantasy.

Elon Musk’s Tesla company — the symbolic beating heart of the fantasy — is whirling around the drain with its share price plummeting 22 percent, its bonds downgraded by Moody’s to junk status, a failure to produce its “affordable” ($36,000 — Ha!) Model 3 at commercial scale, a massive recall of earlier S Model sedans for a steering defect, and the spectacular fiery crash in Silicon Valley last week of an X model that may have been operating in automatic mode (the authorities can’t determine that based on what’s left), and which killed the driver.

Oh, and an experimental self-driving Uber car (Volvo brand) ran over and killed a lady crossing the street with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, two weeks ago.

Don’t blame Elon for that.

There’s a lot to like about electric cars, of course, if, say, you’re a Google executive floating through life in a techno-narcissism bubble, or a Hollywood actor with wooly grandiose notions of saving the planet while simultaneously signaling your wealth and your “green” virtue cred.

Teslas supposedly handle beautifully, ride very quietly, have great low-end power, and decent range of over 200 miles. The engine has something like twenty moving parts, is very long-lasting, and is easy to repair or change out if necessary.

Are they actually “green and clean?” Bwaahaaaaa….! Are you kidding?

First, there’s the energy embedded in producing the car: mining and smelting the ores, manufacturing the plastics, running the assembly line, etc. That embedded energy amounts to about 22 percent of the energy consumed by the car over a ten-year lifetime. Then there’s the cost of actually powering the car day-by-day. The electricity around the USA is produced mostly by burning coal, natural gas, or by nuclear fission, all of which produce harmful emissions or byproducts. But the illusion that the power just comes out of a plug in the wall (for just pennies a day!) is a powerful one for the credulous public. The cherry-on-top is the fantasy that before much longer all that electric power will come from “renewables,” solar and wind, and we can leave the whole fossil fuel mess behind us. We say that to ourselves as a sort of prayer, and it has exactly that value.

There are at least a couple of other holes in story, big-picture wise.

One is that electric mass motoring — switching out the whole liquid fuel fleet for an all-electric fleet — won’t pencil out economically. We probably started the project forty years too late to even be able to test it at scale, because economic events are now moving so quickly in the direction of global austerity that the putative middle-class customer base for electric cars will barely exist in the near future. Americans especially nowadays are so financially stressed that they can’t qualify for car loans — and that is mainly how cars are bought in this land. The industry has strained mightily to bend the rules so that these days it’s even possible to get a seven-year loan for a used car whose collateral value will dissipate long before the loan is paid back. Hard to see how they can take that much further.

The usual answer for that is that you won’t need to own a car because the nation will be served by self-driving electric Uber-style cars-on-demand, which will supposedly require far fewer cars in all. That really doesn’t answer some big questions, such as: how might commuting work in our big metroplex cities? Even if you posit multiple occupancy vehicles, it still represents a whole lot of car trips. Oh, you say, everybody will just work from home. Really? I don’t think so — though I wouldn’t rule out an end to corporate organization of work as we’ve known it, and if that happens, we will be a nation of farmers and artisans again, that is, a World Made By Hand. Also consider, if the car companies only need to make and sell a fraction of the vehicles they sell now, the whole industry will collapse.

Another hole in the story is the universal assumption that the USA must remain a land of mandatory car dependency, hostage to the fiasco of our suburban infrastructure. I understand why we’re attached to it. We spent most of the 20th century building all that shit, and squandered most our wealth on it. It’s comfortably familiar, even if it’s actually a miserable environment for everyday life. But none of those monetary and psychological investments negate the fact that suburbia has outlived its limited and rather perverse usefulness.

We’re so far from having any intelligent public debate about these issues that the events now spooling out will completely blindside the nation.

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Gartman Covers His Short Despite “Watershed” Call For Market Top

On Tuesday, just days after Gartman made what he called a “watershed call“, in which he confidently declared that “equity markets have hit a multi-year top”, Gartman’s confidence was suddenly crushed, or as he put it “shaken” after the recent spike in volatility which in addition to the sharp down moves, saw one of the biggest point surges in the Dow in history.

We note then that the CNN Fear & Greed Index has fallen back to ‘single digits” and  that is as good a measure as we can find to show how enormously over-sold the market had become. But even still, weakness is not to be bought and strength is still to be sold into. Again, we trust we are clear.

Just as clearly, however, we were wrong; the seriousness of the market’s over-sold condition and the change in psychology as the trade protection/tariff talks moderated over the weekend and into yesterday morning with Mr. Mnuchin’s comments to that effect was such that a massive “relief” rally was unleased [sic].

Still, despite the occasional eruptions in the US equity markets, Gartman – for once – did not flip flop immediately in response to a market that proved far more volatile, and was reluctant to instantly go Gartman’s way, even though, according to Gartman’s “watershed” read of events, it was all downhill from here, save the occasional sharp bear-market short squeeze:

To that end, we are remaining short of the equity market here in the US with stops on our positions drawn down materially to make certain that our once material profits are not turned into losses, but we are otherwise holding to our thesis that stocks have entered into a global bear market; that the high made by our International Index on January 29th shall not be violated and that the proper course of action by those who are long of equities is certainly to avail themselves of this opportunity to reduce the exposure one more time before that opportunity is lost.

… And yet, as we reported last week, Gartman left himself a loophole: a short-covering stop once the S&P hits 2710.

The futures closed last evening at $2660. We shall hold our stop at $2710 on a closing basis here in North America… hopefully protecting a once material profit from becoming a loss.

Well, scratch all of that, because the stoic patience which we applauded Gartman for just a few days ago was dead and buried overnight, when – even though the S&P was far below his stop-out level – the “world-renowned commodities guru” decided to close out his short anyway… and yes, despite his so-called “watershed” market top call, in which he clearly no longer has any confidence. Here’s what happened, allegedly, in Gartman’s infamous “retirement account:”

THE S&P: Well, It Does Appear that the Trend Line’s Held, Doesn’t It? The “hedgers” are long and the “specs”… both large and small… are net short while history tells us that betting with the Hedgers is the better cousre of action. Having been short we are heading for the sidelines… at least for a short while anyway.

And the explanation:

We are, and we have been, short of equities for the past several weeks and we are nicely ahead on the trade for even with Thursday’s strength we are still ahead by a bit more than 3%; however, in the very short term perhaps stocks are oversold enough to warrant a material bounce. We note, for example, that the CNN Fear & Greed Index is… and has been… mired in “single digits” for the past several weeks and was 8 on Thursday compared to 7 on
Wednesday. Drawing attention then to the longer-term chart of CNN’s index we note the apparent similarity between what is happening now and what was happening back in mid-to-late 2015 when the S&P rallied from approximately 1810 to 2100, having fallen earlier in the year from 2100 to 1810!

We are still convinced that a bear market of some long-term consequence is upon us, and therefore we are to have one of three possible positions: Very short; modestly short and neutral. We cannot be long of shares for as stated we are convinced that the highs of late January are inviolate, but perhaps for a short while as the usual vicious, short term short covering rally obtains it might be better to be demonstrably less short, covering in all of that which we are short of and hiving off to the sidelines for a short while.

On Friday we did very little in our retirement account, but we shall be covering in a goodly portion of our short derivatives position on Monday, barring some unforeseen geopolitical problem that might evolve over the long weekend that might serve to change our analysis. As we cover in our short derivatives position we shall be adding to long positions sufficient to tip our position as quickly as we are able to neutrality.

And with that, Gartman’s “watershed call”, not to mention his “reputation” have once again been jettisoned into the flip-flopper’s ether where momentum chasing “experts” are a dime a dozen.

Naturally, all of this is great news for the bears.

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Register for FreedomFest Today and Save $200!

If you’re planning on going to FreedomFest, the gathering of libertarians and free-marketers held in Las Vegas each July, you might want to register today and save $200 off the regular fee. From an email that just arrived in my inbox:

Today, March 31 is the LAST DAY for the early bird rate for FreedomFest 2018. This price is the LOWEST you will see for this year’s big show, which will take place July 11 – 14, 2018 at the beautiful Paris Resort in fun-filled Las Vegas.

Pay $200 less than our regular rate, if you register within the next two days. I urge you to call our team now. Don’t wait till the last minute. Your FreedomFest registration is $495 per person, and just $795 with a guest (that’s ANOTHER $200 off!) if you register now.

Your FreedomFest registration includes:

  • 3 1/2 days of general sessions & breakout sessions, debates, panels, and speeches

  • Welcome Cocktail Reception and Grand Opening of the Exhibit Hall

  • All conference materials

  • Unlimited entrance to our Exhibit Hall, the “Tradeshow for Liberty”

  • Unlimited access to the Pitch Tank business competition

  • Access to the full “Fast Money Summit”

  • Entrance to the Special Emergency Meetings (off-the-record, must be in the room to participate)

  • Full access to all Anthem Film Festival screenings, just steps away from the Exhibit Hall

  • Complimentary light breakfast every morning and coffee breaks in the Exhibit Hall

  • Access to the FreedomFest Virtual Clubhouse Group (Facebook Group)

  • Conversation circles, VIP clubbing at local venues, Anthem movies, karaoke, and more in the evenings

But wait, there’s more! Reason is celebrating its 50th anniversary this entire year and we will be out in force during FreedomFest, hosting six panels on Friday and Saturday, July 13 and 14, plus a special mainstage presentation featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, and myself. We’ll also be hosting the Reason Media Awards, which honor great libertarian writing and videos, to close out the event on Saturday night.

Conference director Valerie Dunham promises:

The FreedomFest Team is working hard on creating the best FreedomFest ever. To see what we’ve already lined up for SPEAKERS, DEBATES, PANELS, and more, click here to see our PROGRAM.

Register now to come to FreedomFest, July 11 – 14, 2018. And don’t miss the Saturday Night Banquet with the Reason Media Awards.

Please visit our website or call our friendly registration team at 855-850-3733 ext 202.

Last year’s FreedomFest featured William Shatner as the keynote speaker and the deubt of the ongoing video series Stossel on Reason. Here’s a piece that John Stossel made after sitting down with the Star Trek actor at the event:

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“Huge Caravan” Of Central Americans Is Headed For The U.S. Border In Hopes Of Asylum

Over 1,500 Central Americans are on a crusade across Mexico in the hopes of being granted asylum at the U.S. border – a move which is set to pose an enormous challenge to the Trump administration’s much campaigned about immigration policies, while reminding Trump’s base that they still don’t have the wall they elected him to build 14 months into his presidency. 

“We want to become one, supporting us shoulder to shoulder and show that together we can break down borders,” say the caravan’s organizers.

Luc Forsyth for BuzzFeed News

Setting out six days ago and marching under the slogan “Migrantes en la lucha” (“Migrants in the Fight”) during holy week, the caravan comprised mostly of Hondurans was organized roughly a month ago by the mysterious group Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People Without Borders) – which solicited donations via Facebook and encouraged volunteers to contact them. 

”Our mission is to provide shelter and safety to migrants and refugees in transit, accompany them in their journey, and together demand respect for our human rights,” reads the group’s mission statement.

The Central American migrants, mostly Hondurans and Guatemalans, flee their countries because of insecurity and because they are threatened by gang members, also because of the economic and political situation in the region. –proceso.hn (translated)

The crime rate is horrible, you can’t live there,” a migrant named “Karen” told BuzzFeed News on the side of a highway near the Southern Mexico town of Huixtla. “After the president [was sworn in] it got worse. There were deaths, mobs, robbed homes, adults and kids were beaten up.”

“They want to reach the border and ask for asylum, the majority flee from gang violence, extortion and police abuses,” says one of the organizers named Garibo.

a

Before setting out on the journey, the migrants were organized into groups of 10 to 15 people, and a leader was designated for each group. Five groups were then banded together in what organizers call a sector. While there are organizers from Pueblos Sin Fronteras leading the way, much of the effort to get to the US border is in the hands of the migrants themselves. –BuzzFeed

Migrants gathered for the march in the southern Mexico border town of Tapachula in advance of the march – where Pueblo Sin Fronteras conducted introductory workshops to help the Central Americans best navigate the United States once they arrive – including security drills in which male refugees are to form a wall around any threats to the women and children.

Help along the way

Despite a majority of the Hondurans being in Mexico illegally – which Mexican authorities have historically been stringent about, the caravan has not been stopped on its journey, and people from Mexican towns along the way have been helping the migrants. 

The group is also planning to take “the Train of Death” in Arriaga in order to expedite the journey north, and several towns have provided buses to help the migrants along.

a

“La Bestia,” Train of Death (Luc Forsyth for BuzzFeed News)

…children, women, and men, most of them from Honduras — have boldly crossed immigration checkpoints, military bases, and police in a desperate, sometimes chaotic march toward the United States. Despite their being in Mexico without authorization, no one has made any effort to stop them. –BuzzFeed


 

Here the migrants are seen boarding covered hopper freight railcars.

A video shows the migrants marching on the tracks and preparing to board the train in Arriaga.

In the train boarding video, a DJI Mavic Pro drone worth $1,000 to $1,300 USD was spotted. The march is depicted as a grassroots effort, but perhaps, there is some big money behind the movement.

BuzzFeed reporter Adolfo Flores has been embedded with the caravan, providing updates over Twitter:






About 80% of them are from Honduras. Many said they are fleeing poverty, but also political unrest and violence that followed the swearing in of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández after a highly contested election last year. The group often breaks into chants of “out with JOH.” They also chant “we aren’t immigrants, we’re international workers” and “the people united will never be defeated.

Still, there are no guarantees on the route or assurances that once they reach the US border they’ll be able to cross undetected or be allowed to stay under some type of protection like asylum.

Alex Mensing, another organizer with Pueblos Sin Fronteras, made that point clear to the migrants before the group started out. He also stressed that everyone is responsible for their own food, water, and payment for vans or buses. Still, it’s far cheaper than being assaulted or falling into the hands of unscrupulous smugglers. –BuzzFeed

Here they come! 

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David Rosenberg: These Five Indicators Signal That We’ve Hit A Cyclical Peak

Authored by John Mauldin via MauldinEconomics.com,

The FAANG stocks have ruled the technology sector the last few years and have had a heavy influence on the entire stock market. Apple is the world’s most valuable company by market capitalization, with Amazon and Google not far behind. So anyone indexing US large-cap equities—which means almost anyone with investment capital—simply must own them.

Here’s a chart that Dave Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff shared at SIC 2018. It shows 2017 price returns for some selected asset classes. Last year, pretty much everything went up, but FAANG stocks did most.

Source: Gluskin Sheff

The FAANG stocks outperformed other stock benchmarks as well as gold’s price, oil, and bonds. And not just by a little. If you are an equity portfolio manager who didn’t own the FAANGs last year, you probably had some explaining to do. But at SIC 2018, Dave went on to demonstrate why 2018 or 2019 could be quite different.

Extreme Overvaluation

Dave Rosenberg used four different S&P 500 valuation metrics:

  • Forward Price to Earnings Ratio
  • Price to Sales Ratio
  • Price to Book Value Ratio
  • Enterprise Value to EBITDA Ratio

He then calculated the percentage of time that each of these had been at its present level or below. Here’s the result for P/E ratio.

Source: Gluskin Sheff

The S&P 500 forward P/E ratio has been below its present level 83% of the time since 1990. Repeating that exercise for the other three metrics and then averaging them, Dave found the index is presently at a 92ndpercentile valuation event.

Here’s Dave, from the transcript, with my bold added:

In other words, only 8% of the time in the past has the stock market in the United States been as richly priced as it is today. And if you want to come up with reasons why that’s the case, that’s fine. But just understand that we are extremely pricey. We’re more than just a one standard deviation event versus the historical average.

Dave then showed this surprising table, comparing historic bull markets with GDP change during the same period.

Source: Gluskin Sheff

The 2009–2018 bull market from trough to peak averaged 17.3% annually. Nominal GDP rose 3.6% annually during that time, and real GDP rose 2.1%. Go up the table to the 1982–1990 bull run. It reached a similar magnitude at 17.5%, but nominal GDP rose 7.6% and real GDP 4.2%.

Yes, GDP has its flaws. Today’s economy isn’t like the 1980s. Nonetheless, how is it that stocks rose the same amount on half as much economic growth? Dave said that if the stock-GDP ratio today had remained what it was back then, the S&P 500 would be around 1,550 today.

That’s how excessive valuations are now.

The Net Worth/Income Ratio at Pre-Crisis Levels

Here’s another way Dave looked at it: household net worth as a percentage of disposable income. The higher that ratio, the more wealthy and confident you probably feel if you are anywhere near average (and many aren’t, of course).

In 1999–2000 and again in 2006–2007, the ratio was near a peak, and people felt good. The good feelings didn’t last. Both times the ratio corrected back below its long-term average.

Source: Gluskin Sheff

And now? The net worth/income ratio is above where it was at those last two cyclical peaks. It could go even higher, too—but not by much, I suspect—and the move down probably won’t be fun.

Whenever it happens, the next downturn will be something new: the first socially networked recession and bear market. It’s hard to believe now, but Facebook and Twitter were both just infants in 2007. Smartphones were still a high-end luxury item, too.

We are now tied together in ways we were not back then. Those connections will make the experience quite different, so it’s worth talking about networks.

* * *

Since 2001, investors have turned to his Thoughts from the Frontline to be informed about what’s really going on in the economy. Join thousands of readers, and get it free in your inbox every week.

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US Power Grid Vulnerable To “Devastating” Attack, NERC Finds

Just as tensions between the US and North Korea are finally beginning to cool (while animosity between the US and Russia intensifies), a recent industry report argues the US government isn’t doing nearly enough to safeguard the US electric grid from a potentially devastating attack.

In its report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) revealed that much of the US electricity grid is vulnerable to attack – and neither the industry or the government are doing anything about it. NERC is the organization responsible for overseeing the US’s massive electric grid, which is subdivided into eight regional entities.

Though the report didn’t include a “comprehensive” assessment of the myriad physical threats to the US’s energy infrastructure, worries that North Korean could execute a massive electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) attack have been intensifying as the prospect of a nuclear showdown with the restive communist state looms large (Kim Jong Un’s recent actions aside). The research was also inspired by a series of gun attacks on transformers, including a rifle attack on a transformer in Utah that occurred in September 2016, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

EMP

Many organizations, including recently the National Academy of Sciences, have warned of the catastrophic consequences should a malicious actor – be it a state or a terrorist organization – manage to take down the US energy grid.

“There is widespread belief that bulk power critical assets are vulnerable to physical attack, that such an attack potentially could have catastrophic consequences, and that the risks of such attacks are growing,” according to the report. “But the exact nature of such potential attacks and the capability of perpetrators to successfully execute them are uncertain.”

“Although the electric power sector seems to be moving in the overall direction of greater physical security for critical assets, many measures have yet to be implemented and the process of corporate realignment around physical security is still underway,” according to the report, which omitted a comprehensive overview of all the pressing threats due to national security concerns.

“The September 2016 rifle attack on a 69 kV transformer substation in Utah—which reportedly left 13,000 rural customers without power for up to eight hours—showed that similar incidents could occur almost anywhere on the grid,” the report warns.

To be sure, the Edison Electric Institute has highlighted the fact that it would be nearly impossible to completely secure the grid (the costs would be immeasurable). However, the US could be doing a lot more than it’s doing.

Electric

A massive attack on the US energy grid could leave large swaths of the country without power without weeks or months. The end result would resemble Puerto Rico following last year’s devastating hurricane season – but on a much larger and deadlier scale.

In this scenario, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Americans – could die.

“While to date there have been only minor attacks on the power system in the United States, large-scale physical destruction of key parts of the power system by terrorists is a real danger,” the academy warned. “Some physical attacks could cause disruption in system operations that last for weeks or months.”

But unfortunately for the US citizens whose security is predicated on a functioning power grid, the power industry and US government have failed to organize a cohesive response to these threats. Because of the industry’s utter lack of preparation, even crude attacks could have devastating consequences.

And while this month’s volatility in equity markets was deeply unsettling for millions of Americans, imagine what would happen to markets if the entire Atlantic seaboard lost power in an instant.

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Boobs & Board Meetings: Tokyo ‘Hooters’ Now Offers Rental Work-Spaces

While it is well known that ‘space’ in Tokyo is hard to come by, with locals resorting to coffin-like capsules to sleep, it seems the ever-efficient Japanese have managed to combine two of life’s more important factors – boobs and business.

As SoraNews24 reports, one of Tokyo’s better known ‘Hooters’ bars now offers rental workspaces for mobile workers (and they’re free for students).

Walk into just about any Starbucks in the Tokyo area on a weekday afternoon, and you’re likely to see at least one mobile professional with a laptop who’s simultaneously hard at work and sipping on a relaxing cup of coffee. But what if you don’t like coffee, or even delicious Japan-exclusive Frappuccinos? What if you prefer, say, breasts?

Then you’ll be happy to know that as of this month, you can also telecommute from the Hooters branch in Tokyo’s Ginza neighborhood. The restaurant chain, which professedly chaste regulars insist serves really tasty chicken wings, has teamed up with Spacee, a Japanese company which partners with Tokyo eateries to offer rentable work areas during the restaurants’ downtime.

In touting the service, Spacee boasts that “Working in a different environment from an ordinary office can boost productivity, and well as promote the development of new ideas.” Several of those ideas are likely to be breast-related, but that might not really be a problem, considering that breasts are practically their own subsector of the Japanese economy.

Spacee users under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a guardian, though, so we might see some Tokyo fathers suddenly taking an active interest in their children’s education by volunteering to take them to Hooters to cram for upcoming tests.

Sadly, with Japan’s wedding and birth rates plunging, young people stopping having sex, and many men turning to robots for ‘companionship’, we wonder if the idea of breasts at the board meeting will catch on… still the next time we are in Japan, we are willing to give it a try.

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‘They’re More Conscious and More Awake than My Generation Was’

“We’re going to reinvent the supermarket business as we know it,” says John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, about his company’s recent, controversial merger with online retailer Amazon.

If that happens, it means that Mackey will have reinvented the supermarket business twice in his own lifetime, as no individual has done more to revolutionize how Americans shop for groceries than he has since co-founding Whole Foods in 1980. Gone are the days of dreary, heavily processed, and strictly limited choices when it came to bread, produce, meats, and service. If we demand variety, freshness, and a sense of morality when we go shopping for dinner these days, it’s in large part due to the triumph of Mackey’s explicitly libertarian re-imagining of the great American supermarket.

Reason‘s Nick Gillespie caught up with him at LibertyCon, the annual conference of Students for Liberty, and talked with him about Whole Foods’ recent, controversial merger with the online retailer Amazon, his belief that young Americans are more “conscious” about life and morality than past generations were, and his take on Donald Trump’s presidency so far. “I will say that there are some things President Trump has done that I like and some things that I don’t,” says Mackey, the co-author of the 2013 best-seller Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business and last year’s The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longevity. “I’m not a huge optimist about government solving our problems.”

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(Disclosure: Both Mackey and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are donors to Reason Foundation, the 501(c)3 nonprofit that publishes Reason.)

Photo Credit: LINDSEY WASSON/REUTERS/Newscom. Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/Newscom.

Music: Massive by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License.

The interview has been edited for clarity. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. For an audio version, subscribe to the Reason Podcast.

Nick Gillespie: Are you optimistic about young people in general, or is it that there’s a certain percentage … Because it seems when you listen to young people talk or the way that they vote, etc., there’s a certain amount of libertarian [inaudible] there, which is like, “We like capitalism,” or, “We like freedom because it allows us to express our purpose in peaceful ways.” But then there is a really resurgent or insurgent group of young people on college campuses and elsewhere who are kind of in a Bernie Sanders camp. How do you think that plays out?

John Mackey: It’s a good question. And I think there’s two trends that are going on. I definitely think there’s a… Young people are idealistic. You know, the old saying that, “If you’re not a socialist when you’re 21, you’ve got no heart, and if you’re not a capitalist by the time you’re 30, you have no brains.” And I still think that plays out. Young people, they came of age, they look around, they take for granted the prosperity, they take for granted the ethical moral progress that humanity’s made. They look around and they say, “By God, it’s not perfect. There’s still racism. There’s still poverty. There’s still inequality. The whole thing is unfair.”

So, they are susceptible to the siren call of any type of utopian answer that promises to fix it and make things better. But because they’re not very experienced and they don’t know history very well and they don’t understand how, “The bad get on top.” It’s like I said, that utopian impulse of perfectionism is usually the enemy of the good. Usually they grow out of that, so I’m not going to be too disturbed when I hear utopian young people because I was one, and I grew out of it. And you’re probably one, and you’re probably going to grow out of it someday.

Gillespie: I’ll grow out of this mustache first, but …

Mackey: No, in all seriousness. But I also think people are … Young people … When I compare myself at the same age, if I go back a long time ago, 40-plus years, in a lot of ways they’re more conscious and more awake than my generation was at the same period of time. So, I think there’s reason for optimism, but of course … I’ve seen the polls, too, and 51% said they think socialism is better than capitalism. That is a very disturbing statistic. Although, I tend to be somewhat skeptical of pretty much anything I read in the news because there’s so much hunger for sensationalism, and headlines, and click bait, and things like that. Plus, I get so many lies told about me, it’s hard for me to believe anything I read.

Gillespie: This seems like a good point to talk about the merger with Amazon. So, Whole Foods has merged with Amazon. Are you excited about that? And should consumers be excited about it?

Mackey: I’m super excited about. I’ll tell you a brief story, and I know that some people will be cynical about what I’m about to say, but I honestly believe it’s a good metaphor for it. Whole Foods was being harassed by shareholder activists who were trying to take over our board, and they had anti-campaign against me in the media. And they were doing other things, which if I had more time, and off the record I’ll someday tell you about … But they were putting a lot of pressure on our company to go up for sale. We didn’t really want to sell it necessarily, but if we were going to be forced into a sale, I wanted to find the absolute best possible partner and not just be taken over by a supermarket company that wouldn’t necessarily share our values and our views, and wouldn’t help us, to be honest.

So, a mutual friend kind of introduced us, and I had three executives fly out with me to Seattle. We met with Jeff Bezos and three of his senior executives. And you know when you have the experience of falling in love, there comes a point where you have what I call, “The conversation,” where you may stay up all night and you just have this real connection; this “meeting of the soul,” so to speak. That happened on our first conversation. We were thunderstruck. They were so smart, and they were so authentic, and we were just almost finishing each other’s sentences by the time we left there a few hours later. And our executive team went to a restaurant, and we were sitting around, and just like, “Those guys are incredible. Do you think they liked us, too?” It turned out they did. Amazon felt the same way. And they had a whole group of executives come down four days later to Austin. And then literally six weeks after that first meeting, we signed merger papers. It went that fast. We were married or merged two months after that.

Gillespie: What was the common ground that clicked?

Mackey: The common ground is the following: Both companies are very committed to … Our most important stakeholder in both companies is customers. We’re about, “Customers are our most important stakeholder.” And Amazon even goes beyond. They’re like … Their top core value is they’re obsessed with customers. They always care about and put the customers first. So, we synced up on that almost immediately. And then, both companies are very innovative. Whole Foods, in the food retailing business is very innovative. We’re doing amazing things all the time. And Amazon, of course, admires us for that. And I don’t know of a more innovative company than Amazon. What they’ve done and what they’re doing is great. So, we thought, “If we could get together, we could reinvent a supermarket together.”

Gillespie: You’re going to have beautiful children.

Mackey: Yes. We’re going to reinvent the supermarket business as we know it. We’re going to get food to people less expensively. And also, both companies are really dedicated to the longterm view. But Whole Foods, having pressure from shareholder activists, we were having to focus more and more and more on the very short-term quarterly to quarterly earnings, something I swore we would never do. But I felt like maybe the company wasn’t going to survive. Amazon has given us the freedom to think longterm again.

Gillespie: Talk about … When you open a store … And I realize it might change under the new arrangement, but, typically, when you would open a store, how long were you thinking that that store would be there for? And how much money went into a typical new store?

Mackey: Well, we usually sign a 20-year lease, and then there’s other options on that up to another 10 to 20 years on top of that. So, 30 to 40 years is what we’re usually thinking. But we’re locked in, usually, for 20 years. You got to take a longterm view when you’re investing in a store.

Gillespie: Yeah, because this is to go back to the people who take capitalism or profit for granted. It’s always like, well of course all you have to do is put up a Whole Foods and then people start backing up Brink’s trucks to you full of money. But it’s a longterm investment of your money at that point.

Mackey: It is. And there’s no guarantee the store is going to be successful. And all of our stores haven’t been successful. And we have competition that comes in and maybe gets a better location, or opens a bigger store, or undercuts you in price, or … It’s very competitive out there. And your customers … You don’t have a gun to their heads. They trade with you because it’s in their interest to do so. And by the way, if a better store comes along, then they will desert you in droves. So you have to make a longterm commitment. You have to tie your capital up for a long, long time. You asked how much we invest in the store. It depends on the size of the store, but generally anywhere from eight to 20-plus million dollars for a new store.

Gillespie: You mentioned that Whole Foods and Amazon have a fixation on customer satisfaction, customer experience. Do you think that, in part, explains the kind of attacks on both companies? And there’s a lot going on, but it seems that the fixation on customers has got to be really threatening to firms or to businesses that have a pretty good deal going on, because having to … When somebody comes in and is like, “I’m going to give your customers a better deal, better services, better prices,” that’s got to be threatening to people.

Mackey: I think the companies have been attacked for different reasons. I think Whole Foods is attacked because we appeal to a better educated, generally more affluent customer base. And because we’re selling the highest quality food, it’s certainly been more expensive. So, some people feel like they’re not invited to the party. They’re not allowed to participate. And they are invited and they are welcome to participate, but they still resent it. And I remember … Because particularly when Whole Foods started out, we were really a counterculture company and we were … One venture capitalist chose not to invest in us and said, “I think you guys are just a bunch of hippies selling food to other hippies and I’m not going to invest.”

And it turned out the hippies became yuppies. And they still shopped with us, but they started driving BMWs, and now they drive Teslas and things like that. And that caused a lot of resentment from people who were a little less affluent. And they tend to blame us. We also created very beautiful stores, so … And we were … It’s an aspirational store. We’re calling people to change their diet, eat higher quality food. Most people don’t want to change their diet. They feel like we’re judging them. That we’re saying that something’s wrong with them. We’re not, but that’s how they experience it. So, I think those are the reasons Whole Foods is attacked.

Amazon is attacked for a completely different reason. Nobody can accuse Amazon of having high prices because they’re very, very competitive and they get … It’s two day delivery if you’re a prime member. I think Amazon is attacked because Amazon disrupts industries. They scare industries that are fat and comfortable, and they shake them up.

Gillespie: They did that with books. They’re threatening to do it with medicine now.

Mackey: They did it with books, they did it with music. They’ve done it with …

Gillespie: Video.

Mackey: Video. Now all types of retailing in general … Now with Whole Foods they’ve threatened food. I can’t read the paper any day where I don’t read about some new business Amazon is going to disrupt.

Gillespie: It’s an interesting question, given you’re a retail guy and Amazon is an e-commerce giant. At e-commerce still … I mean, when you look at various ways to cut it, but it accounts for maybe one out of ten sales in a given year. Maybe 90% of commerce is still done with people still walking into a store and walking out with something. Is traditional retail dead, or is it dying?

Mackey: It is dying.

Gillespie: Is there a way that the retail space can still flourish? And is it that is has to be more of a destination for the shopper? More of an experience or is it just kind of [crosstalk]?

Mackey: Here is where I think people … I get asked, “Where are we heading?” Here’s where I think we’re heading. We’re heading to, people can get anything they want, at any time they want it, anywhere they want it, at a price that they’re willing to pay. And that’s where we’re heading.

Gillespie: That sounds like a pretty good place, actually.

Mackey: It is. It’s a consumer utopia. But that means a lot of established businesses are going to fail, and that’s very scary. And Amazon is identified as the villain in the tale. Not the villain as far as the customers are concerned, or consumers. They’re making our lives better. But the economic powers that have political clout, they don’t want to be disrupted. And they will go to the government and scream for protection, or, “Stop this merger,” or, “Prevent this.” “Amazon needs to be investigated and need to be looked into.” That’s all just vested economic interest trying to use the coercive power of government to protect themselves from competition.

Gillespie: In the run-up to Election 2016 you were a big Rand Paul guy. You’re friendly towards Gary Johnson, or at least to the ideas.

Mackey: Still am. Yup.

Gillespie: But what about Trump? I guess two questions. One, do you think Trump, year-plus in, is better than Hilary would have been? And how is he … Not as a person … I mean, he’s exactly who we knew him to be. But from a business point of view, are things … Is he doing good things for business?

Mackey: Well, the joke is that there are like five things that I don’t want to talk about in public. I don’t want to talk about religion, I don’t want to talk about politics, I don’t want to talk about abortion, I don’t want to talk about sex, and I don’t want to talk about Donald Trump because whatever you say, I’m going to get attacked. I’m going to get hate mail from one side … And probably from both sides. I will say that there are some things President Trump has done that I like and there are some things I don’t like. Obviously, I like those tax cuts. I think they’re good for the economy and good for business. On the other hand, now we’re doing tariffs on steel and aluminum.

As protectionism, I know that’s bad for the economy, so I’m not cheering that one on. I can’t say whether Hilary would’ve been better or worse because we don’t know. We don’t get to do the controlled experiment. But I can say that it’s better when power alternates if you only got two parties. When one party stays in power too long, more bad things happen. And so, shifting around … I’m a great believer in split government where they just squabble with each other and nothing ever gets done, because if nothing ever gets done then nothing bad ever happens and people can go about their lives. I’m not a huge optimist about government solving our problems.

Gillespie: Well, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much. We’ve been talking with John Mackey, the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods. John, thanks for talking to Reason.

Mackey: Thanks, Nick.

Gillespie: For Reason, I’m Nick Gillespie.

……

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Russia Has 14 Questions On “Fabricated” Skripal Case

Submitted by The Duran

Russia’s embassy in London has sent a list of questions, 14 to be specific, to the British Foreign Ministry on the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal – which include a demand to clarify whether samples of the nerve agent “Novichok” have ever been developed in the UK.

The Russian embassy’s statement calls the incident that started the recent diplomatic row a “fabricated case against Russia.”

The questions published by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website have been translated below:

  1. Why has Russia been denied the right of consular access to the two Russian citizens, who came to harm on British territory?
  2. What specific antidotes and in what form were the victims injected with? How did such antidotes come into the possession of British doctors at the scene of the incident?
  3. On what grounds was France involved in technical cooperation in the investigation of the incident, in which Russian citizens were injured?
  4. Did the UK notify the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) of France’s involvement in the investigation of the Salisbury incident?
  5. What does France have to do with the incident, involving two Russian citizens in the UK?
  6. What rules of UK procedural legislation allow for the involvement of a foreign state in an internal investigation?
  7. What evidence was handed over to France to be studied and for the investigation to be conducted?
  8. Were the French experts present during the sampling of biomaterial from Sergey and Yulia Skripal?
  9. Was the study of biomaterials from Sergey and Yulia Skripal conducted by the French experts and, if so, in which specific laboratories?
  10. Does the UK have the materials involved in the investigation carried out by France?
  11. Have the results of the French investigation been presented to the OPCW Technical Secretariat?
  12. Based on what attributes was the alleged “Russian origin” of the substance used in Salisbury established?
  13. Does the UK have control samples of the chemical warfare agent, which British representatives refer to as “Novichok”?
  14. Have the samples of a chemical warfare agent of the same type as “Novichok” (in accordance to British terminology) or its analogues been developed in the UK?

The Duran’s Alexander Mercouris added some necessary points to the growing mystery and confusion of the Skripal poisoning:

These theories have included claims that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were (1) sprayed with the supposedly deadly chemical by a passer-by; (2) sprayed with the supposedly deadly chemical by an aerial drone; (3) contaminated by the supposedly deadly chemical which was brought from Russia in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase where it had been hidden by some third party; and (4) were poisoned by having the supposedly deadly chemical somehow inserted into Sergey Skripal’s car.

The British and other critics of Russia have recently taken to citing as ‘proof’ of Russian guilt the fact that the Russians have supposedly been proposing various theories about who might have poisoned Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

The British – who unlike the Russians have control of the crime scene and samples of the poison – have however been at least as busy proposing various theories about how Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned.

In both cases the fact that the Russian media and the British media – though not it should be stressed the Russian or British governments – have been busy engaging in their respective speculations about who who and how Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned is not proof of guilt.

Rather it suggests ignorance, which if anything (especially in Russia’s case) is an indicator of innocence.

As I have said on many occasions, it is the guilty who so far from engaging in a variety of different speculations tend to come up with a single alternative narrative to explain away the facts, which they then pass off as the truth in order to provide themselves with an alibi.

As to the present theory – that Sergey and Yulia Skripal came into contact with the chemical agent on their front door – note the following:

(1) The British police have not said whether the chemical agent was smeared on the outside of the door or on the inside of the door.

If it was smeared on the outside of the door, then it was an extremely reckless act which might have easily poisoned a delivery person to the house such as a postman.

If it was smeared on the inside of the door, then whilst it might have been placed there by a burglar, the greater probability must be that it was placed there by a visitor.

If so then it is likely that either Sergey or Yulia Skripal or possibly both of them have some knowledge of the identity of this person.  That might make the fact that Yulia Skripal is said to be recovering and is now conscious a matter of great importance for the solution of this mystery.

(2) If Sergey and Yulia Skripal really were poisoned with the chemical agent by coming into contact with it because it was smeared on their front door, then that would mean that the chemical agent took 7 hours to take effect.

Russian ambassador to Britain Alexander Yakovenko has claimed that the British authorities have told him that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by nerve agent A-234, a Novichok type agent which is supposedly “as toxic as VX, as resistant to treatment as soman, and more difficult to detect and easier to manufacture than VX”.

I am not a chemist or a chemical weapons expert, but such a slow acting poison seems at variance with the descriptions of A-234 and VX which I have read.

(3) The suggestion that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by coming into contact with the chemical agent on their front door must for the moment be treated as no more than a theory.  It does however appear to confirm the presence of the chemical agent in the house.

If the latest theory that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by coming into contact with a chemical agent smeared on their front door begs many questions, then the news that Yulia Skripal is apparently recovering well from the effect of her poisoning, and is now conscious and speaking and is no longer in intensive care, though extremely welcome, in some ways adds further to the mystery.

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