Still No Motive On Anniversary Of Las Vegas Massacre; Strip Goes Dark In Commemoration

One year after the deadliest mass shooting in US history, experts are no closer to determining why the attacker, 64-year-old gambler Stephen Paddock, laid down a hail of bullets at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 concertgoers and injuring over 400 who suffered gunshot wounds

On Monday, the Las Vegas strip will “go dark” at around the same time as Paddock opened fire on the crowd, in commemoration of the dead. 

Marquees along the Strip will go dark at 10:01 p.m. in a tribute that will last several minutes. The iconic signs also went dark on Oct 8, 2017, one week following the horrific tragedy at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. –LA Times

Experts remain puzzled as to Paddock’s motive after the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spent 10 months investigating, interviewing his relatives, girlfriend, ex-wife, doctor and casino hosts, reports the Wall Street Journalwhich notes that “several hypotheses on the Las Vegas gunman’s possible psychopathy and desire for infamy have begun to emerge, but they are tentative and based on limited evidence—a troubling outcome for people whose job it is to look for clues that could help prevent such a deadly incident in the future.”

“People are bewildered by the case—there’s a bewilderment, and there’s a horror,” said UC San Diego forensic psychologist, J. Reid Meloy. “The most troubling cases are those without an answer.” 

Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, head of the Vegas police, said upon the release of the final report in August that Paddock’s gambling losses may have been a factor; his bank accounts dwindled from $2.1 million to $530,000 in the two years before the attack. But the sheriff said investigators weren’t able to “definitively answer the why.” –WSJ

“We wish we knew more about it,” said psychologist and threat-assessment expert John Nicoletti. “With all the missing data, what everybody says, it’s just speculation.” 

FBI criminal profilers, meanwhile, have been working on their own Paddock report that is expected to be released soon. The agency’s top official in Vegas said in a summer radio interview that the report may not deliver “a definitive why.” 

“It’s a puzzling case and a challenging case,” said retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole. “In a lot of ways, he is an outlier.”

From the start, Paddock defied much of what professionals in this grim field have come to expect. Typically, mass shooters are younger men who nurse real or perceived grievances, according to a recent FBI study of 63 such attackers. Four out of five displayed some concerning behavior before an attack, including telling others on social media or in person of their violent intent.

Paddock was more clandestine. Video-surveillance footage shows him calmly gambling, eating and bringing more than 20 pieces of luggage up to his 32nd floor suite in the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in the days before the attack. The luggage contained an arsenal of semiautomatic rifles, and he turned his room into a sniper’s nest to rain bullets down on a defenseless crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Oct. 1, 2017. –WSJ

In the ensuing months, investigators were unable to find any animus which might explain Paddock’s actions. That has left some experts to conclude that his motive was infamy

“Some people kill for notoriety and infamy, and that’s what he did,” said Dr. Russell Palarea, president of the threat-assessment firm Operational Psychology Services. 

Meloy, the UCSD psychologist, thinks that Paddock’s motive is tied to his father – who was a bank robber and con man who was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1969, and determined to be a sociopath. 

“I began to think about psychopathy, Meloy told the WSJ. “when I was struck by the history of the dad and the fact that his biology was rooted in a father who had a diagnosis as a psychopath.

Meloy says that speculation by Paddock’s brother in interviews that “he had done everything in the world he wanted to do and was bored with everything” supports his hypothesis, along with the fact that several other people described Paddock as emotionally detached. Meloy is not alone in this theory. 

The coldblooded and grandiose assault on a crowd of people Paddock had never met also bore characteristics of psychopathy, not of someone having a mental breakdown, said Dr. O’Toole, the retired FBI profiler. “It was a complete lack of empathy for the trauma and damage done to strangers,” she said. –WSJ

That said, the theory does have holes – including Paddock’s lack of a violent past, impulsiveness and lying. Paddock called his mother before the attack to make sure she was safe ahead of Hurricane Irma. He also shared his investments and wealth with family and friends, such as his girlfriend, Marilou Danley. 

Paddock also took prescription medication to control anxiety, typically not a trait seen in those with no conscience. 

“In order to say that Stephen Paddock was a psychopath, you would have to do a posthumous assessment with case materials, you’d have to do interviews, you’d have to go back over years of behavior,” said O’Toole.

One law enforcement official close to the investigation has his own theory: “My opinion is he was pissed over getting his butt kicked gambling, or he wanted to follow in his father’s shoes.” 

via RSS Tyler Durden

Oil Mania Redux

Authored by EconomicPrism’s MN Gordon, annotated by Acting-Man’s Pater Tenebrarum,

Positive Energy

By now, late September of 2018, it has become increasingly evident that something big is about to happen. What exactly that may be is anyone’s guess.  But, whatever it is, we suggest you prepare for it now… before it is too late.

Art auction energizer: Norman Rockwell’s portrait of John Wayne. You can’t go wrong shelling out top dollar for me, pilgrim, can you? [PT]

Several weeks ago, if you haven’t heard, an undisclosed rich guy enthusiastically bid up and then bought Norman Rockwell’s portrait of John Wayne for a cool $1.49 million at the 12th Annual Jackson Hole Art Auction. According to auction coordinator  Madison Webb, “There was a really positive energy in the room.”

Indeed, it takes a lot of really positive energy – and a healthy bank account – to shell out that sum of money for a painting of “The Duke.”  Still, positive energy, like good weather, can quickly turn negative. Soon enough, we suppose, the purchaser’s excitement will transform into a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

Of course, we could be wrong.  The buyer could have a special liking for old John Wayne movies.  Perhaps he’s a collector of Norman Rockwell paintings.  Or maybe he won the lottery and is compelled to burn through his winnings in odd and outlandish ways.

What this has to do with anything is a bit of a stretch.  But art, if this qualifies as such, offers a rough barometer of social mood (see:  The Bubble in Modern Art). Moreover, when the price for a painting of a 20th century actor pretending to be a 19th century character of American nostalgia sells at nearly a million and a half bucks, we suspect something more is at work.

Sanctions and Bottlenecks

Take oil, for instance.  The price of WTI crude oil is back above $70 a barrel. Brent crude trades at over $80 a barrel.  Aside from a brief price spike at the beginning of summer, oil hasn’t been this high since its price collapsed in late 2014. What gives?

WTIC and Brent, daily (continuous contract charts): note the recent “double divergence” in prices.  This is quite an interesting development, because these are the first price divergences between the two types of crude oil since the rally began in early 2016 from below $30/bbl. Every other interim high was “confirmed”, this is to say a new highs in one oil type always coincided with new highs in the other. Note that there was a non-confirmed new low in the correction that ended in the summer of 2017 – this non-confirmation at a low was immediately followed by the strong rally that is still underway. However: crude oil futures remain in backwardation, a bullish factor that has hitherto kept the uptrend alive, despite speculators holding truly huge net long positions in both WTIC and Brent futures for almost a year (in excess of 600,000 contracts net in WTIC futures). This large one-sided position makes the market vulnerable, but as long as backwardation persists, rolling long positions over remains a profitable proposition. It remains to be seen whether the recent price divergences will actually turn out to be meaningful. [PT]

To begin with, oil markets are notoriously cyclical.  Production and consumption rates often crisscross in short succession.  Oil prices swing wildly to both the upside and the downside as supplies shift from gluts to shortages and back again.  But that’s not all…

In addition to regular supply and demand dynamics, oil markets are also subject to extreme government intervention.  Specifically, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – a 14 nation cartel, which often works in concert with Russia – colludes to fix the price of oil to its liking.

OPEC press conference. It is hard to say how much influence on prices the cartel actually has. After the 1980 oil price peak, oil production in non-OPEC countries was ramped up enormously, which undermined OPEC’s power to such an extent that it had to watch helplessly as prices collapsed by almost 75% over the next 20 odd years. The fact that Russia is cooperating with OPEC these days has strengthened the cartel’s hand somewhat, but the surge in US shale oil production has offset this effect to some extent. [PT]

As far as we can tell, a combination of factors could push the price of oil up much further from here. These factors include U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and bottlenecks in delivering U.S. shale oil to market. In addition, and despite President Trump’s cajoling, OPEC has only hesitantly hinted at increasing its oil production.  Bloomberg reports:

“Major oil trading houses are predicting the return of $100 crude for the first time since 2014 as OPEC and its allies struggle to compensate for U.S. sanctions on Iran’s exports.

“With Brent crude already jumping to an almost four-year high on Monday, that’s exactly the kind of price surge President Donald Trump has been seeking to prevent by pressuring OPEC to raise production.  Yet the cartel and its allies gave mixed signals at a meeting in Algiers on Sunday, ultimately showing little sign they would heed U.S. demands to rapidly push down crude prices.”

Oil Mania Redux

Yet for every opinion there is a counter opinion.  An argument that goes counter to another reasoned argument.  Taken by itself, each argument stands on its own rationale.  Taken together, they contradict each other.

For example, petroleum geologist and oil analyst Art Berman believes rising oil prices will be short-lived.  According to Berman, a metric he calls comparative petroleum inventories, which compares inventory data to the five year average for any given week, crude supplies will soon move back into surplus.  After that, oil prices will fall.

Commitments of traders in WTIC futures: hedgers currently hold a net short position of roughly 600,000 contracts, which is mirrors the speculative net long position (including non-reportable/small spec positions). Large speculators have pulled back a bit recently, from around 700,000 contracts net long to the current 560,000 contracts net long position. It is interesting that this has happened during a rally. We have seen similar behavior in the final stages of major rally legs in a number of commodities (including oil) in the past. Note that the final upward spike into the 2008 top in crude oil was mainly driven by a few commercial hedgers becoming unable to post enough margin to maintain their positions. A large Asian bunker oil storage company eventually went bankrupt when it could no longer keep up – and this bankruptcy effectively top-ticked oil prices at the time, with WTIC futures rallying by around $10 in a single trading day when the positions of the company were closed out by margin clerks. [PT]

Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Is oil going to $100 or $50 a barrel?  Surely, time will tell. Here at the Economic Prism we will refrain from making an oil price forecast.  However, we will offer one constructive anecdote.

If you recall, back in June 2008, Brent crude spiked up to nearly $150 a barrel. At the time, many intelligent people claimed we had hit peak production, and that prices would continue to go up forever. Speculators chased prices higher reinforcing the popular peak production theory.  Then, over the next six months or so, oil prices collapsed along with stocks and real estate.

“Peak Oil” – a Club of Rome scarcity meme that is revived every time nominal oil prices rise – which usually happens in concert with periods of excessive money printing. Then it is time to write and sell books about the impending catastrophe, which has the same record of predictive accuracy as the original Malthusian thesis on overpopulation, or the countless predictions made by climate scaremongers since the late 19th century, namely zero. Note: Malthus’ belly-aching about overpopulation may have had some merit in pre-capitalistic times, but with the adoption of capitalist modes of production it has not just become obsolete, it has actually become the opposite of the truth. We like the “Peak Everything” book title best, as a marker of “peak hysteria”. What the scarcity scaremongers never take into account are the economics of resource extraction and human ingenuity – and these are decisive oversights. [PT]   

The point is, sometimes prices move according to the fundamentals of supply and demand. At other times they become disconnected from the fundamentals entirely. During a speculative mania, decisions are guided by emotions rather than logic.

At the moment, the markets seem poised for something big. You can sense it. The Fed continues to tighten the federal funds rate. The yield on the 10-Year Treasury note is holding above 3 percent. Emotions continue to strengthen their grip on the markets.

Certainly, the time seems right.  Markets are ripe.  What better vehicle than oil to provide an epic parabolic price spike and crash?

via RSS Tyler Durden

Iran Airs Video Of US Carrier Chased By Iranian Speedboats In Straits Of Hormuz

As was widely expected, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s pleas for the US to “honor its international commitments” and “return to the negotiating table” during a speech at the UN General Assembly last week were promptly ignored. And with the full implementation of US oil sanctions in November rapidly approaching, Iran is already antagonizing the US as the regime hopes to spin the inevitable economic toll into a propaganda victory – if only to stave off another round of disruptive street protests that shook the country during the first weeks of 2018.

As tensions between the US and North Korea flared last summer, the media largely ignored several confrontations between Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops and US carriers, including a USS Nimitz-class carrier. The Trump Administration, of course, was eager to play down these incidents because they ran counter to its preferred narrative that the president’s tough rhetoric had cowed the Iranians into reducing their ballistic missile tests and rolling back other generally disruptive behavior. 

But in the Iranian regime’s latest attempt to undercut this idea, a domestic television station has aired footage of an until-now unreported incident that occurred in March – a time when the Trump administration had insisted that these encounters had ceased – depicting IRGC ships and drones menacing a US carrier group centered around the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the all-important Strait of Hormuz. The footage was intended to be part of a documentary about the encounter set to air on Iranian television.

Here’s RT with more:

Iranian TV aired footage showing a March encounter when the USS Theodore Roosevelt was shadowed by a pack of fast attack craft apparently manned by the Islamic Republic’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

The camera, said to be installed on a nearby Iranian vessel, captures the USS Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as well as her escort ship traversing waters of the Strait of Hormuz. Multiple Revolutionary Guard speedboats are seen closing in on the US carrier while an American helicopter is seen cruising over the area.

Some activity may be spotted on Roosevelt’s upper deck, with another helicopter preparing to take off. The video was part of an Iranian documentary on the encounter that took place on March 21 in Persian Gulf waters.

According to RT, the USS Roosevelt, which carries up to 130 aircraft and a crew of more than 5,000, had been stationed in the Gulf since 2017:

The 100,000-ton USS Roosevelt has been deployed to the Gulf since last year. Aside from a 5,000-strong crew, she usually carries up to 130 aircraft, including F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets as well as E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning planes.

Mid-sea encounters between US and Iranian ships are not uncommon. The latest encounter took place in August last year, when an Iranian drone shadowed the USS Nimitz carrier overnight and came close enough to capture F-18 fighter jets on the flight deck. US Navy claimed the drone operator did not respond to repeated radio calls and represented a danger for the sailors.

According to a Stratfor analysis of publicly available information about the location of US carrier groups, the Theodore Roosevelt has since returned home. Presently, only one Marine Expeditionary Unit remain in the Strait.


In the video, Iranian sailors warn the Americans in a radio transmission to “keep well clear” of the Guard patrol boats and to “refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner.”

The footage of the incident, which shows several IRGC speedboats powering toward the USS Theodore Roosevelt as drones and a US helicopter fly overhead, is available below:

Later that month, another Iranian drone came within 200 feet of a F/A-18E Super Hornet while it was on its final approach to a Nimitz-class ship, forcing the pilot to change course. This inspired unnamed Pentagon officials accused Iran of acting in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner. At the time, Tehran demanded a formal apology from US Secretary of State for its purported breach of sovereignty.

The encounter is reminiscent of a notorious incident in 2016 when Iran seized 10 US soldiers and two ships after they became stranded and drifted into Iranian waters. President Trump brought up this incident during his address before the Republican National Convention in 2016, where he cited images of the captured seamen as examples of American weakness.

Given the Strait of Hormuz’s strategic importance to Iran’s oil-export business – which the US is hoping to crush by reimposing sanctions – it will be interesting to watch if Iran’s decision to release the footage now is a harbinger of further “close encounters” set to take place in this critical naval zone. After all, with Iran – whose economy is deteriorating at an accelerating pace – now rapidly approaching a state of having little to lose, a military escalation may be just the “irrational” act that provides a nationalistic exhaust valve to the troubled – some say doomed – regime.

via RSS Tyler Durden

White House Denies It Is “Micromanaging” Kavanaugh Probe

In response to NBC News and Wall Street Journal stories claiming that the White House Counsel’s office, led by Don McGahn, has been “micromanaging” the FBI’s “limited” background check probe into Trump SCOTUS pick Brett Kavanaugh, two White House spokeswomen disputed the reports, claiming that the Senate and the FBI – not the White House – have full discretion over the probe, and that the FBI will investigate whatever “credible” allegations arise.

As Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway took to the Sunday Shows, Trump denied the NBC and WSJ reports, saying on Twitter that he wanted the FBI to interview anyone they deemed appropriate.

As a reminder, on Saturday lawyer Michael Avenatti complained that the FBI had not contacted his client, Julie Swetnick, over her allegations that federal judge Brett Kavanaugh participated in the “gang rape” of girls at drunken high school parties, and shortly thereafter reports surfaced that the White House had asked FBI investigators to focus on only the first two named women who came forward with allegations against Kavanaugh.

According to the New York Times, the FBI is also planning to question Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge, as well as Leland Keyser and P.J. Smyth, who Ford alleged also attended the party where Kavanaugh allegedly pinned her down, tried to remove her clothes and covered her mouth when she tried to scream for help, per Reuters.

The White House has reportedly asked the FBI to share its findings after it interviews Ramirez and Ford and Kavanaugh’s high school associates. After that, the president and his advisers will decide whether the accusations should be investigated further.

During an interview with Fox News Sunday, Sanders said the Senate is dictating the terms of the probe:

“The White House is not micromanaging this process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.”

“The Senate is dictating the terms,” she said. “The FBI, this is what they do. And we’re out of the way and letting them do exactly that.”

Meanwhile, Conway said on CNN’s State of the Union that the investigation is “not meant to be a fishing expedition” but that investigators should be looking at anything “credible”.

“The White House is not getting involved in the FBI investigation in that way,” she said. “They should be looking at anything they think is credible within this limited scope.”

Watch clips from the interview with Sarah Huckabee Sanders…

…and the full interview with Kellyanne Conway on SOTU, during which she also shocks Jake Tapper by revealing that she was a victim of sexual assault:

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham on on ABC’s “This Week” that the three Republican senators who pushed for the probe specifically asked that it be “limited in scope” and focus on the “credible allegations” from those who haven’t testified (which suggests that Ford will largely be left out of it).

To be sure, investigators in the background check probe aren’t obligated to share their findings with the public, but it’s possible that Trump or members of the Senate Judiciary Committee could openly share them (or more likely leak them) to the press. Despite the White House’s denials, we imagine the Senate, wary of perceptions that the probe is a sham so close to the midterms, will come forward with its own denial, saying that the FBI is free to conduct its investigation as it sees fit.

via RSS Tyler Durden

Fasanara Capital: “Nobody Cares About Market Valuations These Days”

Submitted by Francesco Filia of Fasanara Capital

How Expensive Is The Equity Market In The US

The biggest equity bubble out there is in the US: the Nasdaq and the S&P. This is no news, few disagree in market chatters. Nobody is positioned for it, though. Looking at valuation metrics, there is not the shadow of a doubt: Shiller P/E, Hussman P/E, P/Sales, P/Book, EV/EBITDA, Cash Flow Yield, Forward P/E.

At Fasanara, we add to the list the ‘Peak PEG Ratio’ (read here a full working definition), a measure of how expensive a stock is relative to its ability to generate earnings. In single stocks, the PEG ratio is commonly used, as is rationale for investors to have the will to pay higher multiples for stocks capable of generating high growth. Yet, for indexes, this is rarely done. If and when you do, this is the incontrovertible result:

We consider cyclically-adjusted earnings, like Prof Shiller institutionalized (and won a Nobel doing). To counter one of its most frequent critics, to have included non-normal conditions during the Lehman crisis, we just consider the two top quarters in earnings in the last 40. In spite of that, the resulting pic is still a NASA Space Shuttle that left the orbit.

The cartel of ZIRP, 5trn US QE, 5trn US Buybacks, and now late-cycle 1.4trn tax cuts sugar-rush did not go unnoticed in markets. The S&P qualifies as the most expensive in history and pre-history. When compared to potential economic growth, multiples on the S&P500 exceed even those seen during the Tech Bubble in 2000. When measured against potential growth, even against its peak earnings in 10 years, the S&P has never before been this expensive before. It is approx. 60% above its historical average fair value.

How Expensive Is The Bond Market In Europe

The biggest bond bubble out there is in Europe, where real and nominal rates are still negative in spite of ebullient global equities. Bond yields are historically aligned with growth and inflation rates, according to basic valuation models. Why not, then, draw their historical simple relationship to them, in ratio format. This is what the ‘Real Rate to Growth Ratio’ does (read here a full definition), no more no less. And this is the self-explanatory Chart that results:

When compared to trend growth, government bonds in core Europe have rarely been as expensive as they are today. They are 250/300 basis point away from equilibrium.

How Much More Expensive Can They Get

Not much further, perhaps. This is what we find out in our studies on market structure and what we call the Tipping Points Analysis (‘TPA’). Our analysis is available in this e-Book, and is further discussed in slides 16 and 17 in this presentation.

Nobody Cares

Let’s be clear: nobody cares about valuations these days in markets. The lack of care is visible across the spectrum of investable assets, public and private: Equities, Bonds, High Yield, Emerging Markets, Venture Capital, Private Equity, Real Estate. It seems that we live through the apotheosis of what Nassim Taleb calls the ‘Bob Rubin trade’: my profit, your losses. A perverse incentive scheme is heavily skewed for money managers to not care, and moral hazard to disseminate across. Regulators, more strangely but not uncommonly to history, turn a blind eye, as ‘you cannot know a bubble, except in retrospect’, they lament. There is crowding in Academics too, Rob Arnott would probably say. Or worse, the ‘Portfolio Balance Channel Theory’ of Ben Bernanke actively goal-sought this out, as output to the experimental model. Call it the key to kick-off ‘animal spirit’ or ‘trickle-down economics’, elegantly.

As sober investors though, we should care that nobody does. Tail Risk badly needs complacency as a basic ingredient to assert itself, and compound Systemic Risks.

In Complexity Science parlance, complacency is the lack of the negative feedback loop keeping systems at bay, in stable state. Complacency is instead propelling them further out, in thin air stratosphere, where far-from-equilibrium dynamics apply.

The Critical Transformation Hypothesis

Our thoughts are expanded upon in this video slideshow. In a big long nutshell, we believe that Systemic Risk in financial markets are best analyzed through the prism of Complexity Science, using the analytical tools available to non-linear socio-ecological systems, where a shift in positive loops comes in anticipation of a dramatic transformation.

Chaos theory and Catastrophe Theory can then help shed light on the current set-up in markets. Years of monumental Quantitative Easing / Negative Interest Rates monetary policy affected the behavioral patterns of investors and changed the structure itself of the market, in what accounts as self-amplifying positive feedbacks. The structure of the market moved into a low-diversity trap, where concentration risks of various nature intersect and compound: approx. 90% of daily equity flows in the US is today passive or quasi-passive, approx. 90% of investment strategies is doing the same thing in being either trend-linked or volatility-linked, a massive concentration in managers sees the first 3 asset managers globally controlling a mind-blowing USD 15 trillions (at more than 20 times the entire market cap of several G20 countries), approx. 80% of index performance in 2018 is due to 3 stocks only, a handful of tech stocks – so-called ‘market darlings’ – are disseminated across the vast majority of passive and active investment instruments. 

The morphing structure of the market, under the unequivocal push of QE/ZIRP new-age ideologism, is the driver of a simultaneous overvaluation for Bonds and Equities (Twin Bubbles) which has no match in modern financial history, so measured against most valuation metrics ever deemed reputable; a condition which further compounds potential systemic damages.

The market has lost its key function of price-discovery, its ability to learn and evolve, its inherent buffers and redundancy mechanisms: in a word, the market lost its ‘resilience’. It is, therefore, prone to the dynamics of criticality, as described by Complexity Science in copious details.

This is the under-explored, unintended consequence of extreme experimental monetary policymaking. A far-from-equilibrium status for markets is reached, a so-called unstable equilibrium, where System Resilience weakens and Market Fragility approaches Critical Tipping Points.

A small disturbance is then able to provoke a large adjustment, pushing into another basin of attraction altogether, where a whole new equilibrium is found. In market parlance, more prosaically, a market crash is incubating – and has been so for a while.

While it is impossible to determine the precise threshold for such critical transitioning within a stochastic world, it is very possible to say that we are already in such phase transition zone, where markets got inherently fragile, poised at criticality for small disturbances, and where it is increasingly probable to see severe regime shifts.

Fragile markets now sit on the edge of chaos. This is the magic zone, theorized by complexity scientists, where rare events become typical.

via RSS Tyler Durden

WSJ Can’t Corroborate Kavanaugh Accuser’s “Gang Bang” Account After “Dozens” Contacted

After the FBI was instructed by the White House to interview two of the women who claim Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them – ignoring a third accuser represented by lawyer Michael Avenatti, The Wall Street Journal attempted to independently corroborate the 3rd accuser’s story. 

Julie Swetnick – whose checkered past has called her character into question, alleges that Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, ran a date-rape “gang bang” operation at 10 high school parties she attended as an adult (yet never reported to the authorities). 

The allegations were posted by Avenatti over Twitter, which assert that Kavanaugh and Judge made efforts to cause girls “to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be “gang raped” in a side room or bedroom by a “train” of numerous boys.” 

To try and corroborate the story, the Wall Street Journal contacted “dozens of former classmates and colleagues,” yet couldn’t find anyone who knew about the rape parties. 

The Wall Street Journal has attempted to corroborate Ms. Swetnick’s account, contacting dozens of former classmates and colleagues, but couldn’t reach anyone with knowledge of her allegations. No friends have come forward to publicly support her claims. –WSJ

Soon after Swetnick’s story went public, her character immediately fell under scrutiny – after Politico reports that Swetnick’s ex-boyfriend, Richard Vinneccy – a registered Democrat, took out a restraining order against her, and says he has evidence that she’s lying. 

“Right after I broke up with her, she was threatening my family, threatening my wife and threatening to do harm to my baby at that time,” Vinneccy said in a telephone interview with POLITICO. “I know a lot about her.” –Politico

I have a lot of facts, evidence, that what she’s saying is not true at all,” he said. “I would rather speak to my attorney first before saying more.” Avenatti called the claims “outrageous” and hilariously accused the press of “digging into the past” of a woman levying a claim against Kavanaugh from over 35 years ago. 

Swetnick will appear Sunday night in a TV interview with Showtime’s The Circus – the first woman to levy claims against the Supreme Court nominee to do so. NBC’s Morning Joe teased a clip of the interview Thursday, in which Swetnick calls for an investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. 

On Saturday, Mr. Avenatti, Ms. Swetnick’s lawyer, said on Twitter that he and his client hadn’t yet heard from the FBI, despite their repeated requests for an interview. Ms. Swetnick alleged earlier this week that Judge Kavanaugh attended a party in the early 1980s where she was gang-raped and that he tried to get women drunk at several gatherings so they could be targeted for sexual assault. –WSJ

“It is critically important that the public be informed of any hidden effort to limit the scope of the FBI investigation,” said Avenatti. “The scope should be unlimited and the FBI should be tasked with determining whether an allegation is credible—as they do every day in this country.”

Kavanaugh’s first two accusers, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, have accused Kavanugh of groping and exposing himself respectively. 

On Friday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake attempted to stall a Judiciary Committee vote on Kavanaugh pending an FBI investigation, only to have Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) cut him off and call a snap vote, advancing the nomination to the full Senate floor. Flake then vowed to vote no on the full floor decision, and was joined by GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, just one day after Dianne Feinstein cornered her in a hallway for an apparent “talking to.” 

While walking into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a key vote, said “yes,” when asked if she supports Sen. Jeff Flake’s proposal for a delay.

CNN asked: And do you think it should be limited to Ford’s accusations or should it include an investigation into other allegations?

Murkowski responded: “I support the FBI having an opportunity to bring some closure to this.” –CNN

An official with the Trump administration said the reopening of Kavanaugh’s FBI background check was being handled “as any update to a background investigation would be handled if new, derogatory information is introduced.” 

“The FBI field agents will investigate this as they typically do under the constraints of there being new, derogatory information,” the official said. “They’re not going to go on a fishing expedition.”

Trump told reporders on Saturday that the White House gave the FBI “free reign” in the Kavanaugh inquiry to “do whatever they had to do, whatever it is that they do.” 

“Having them do a thorough investigation, I actually think it will be a blessing in disguise,” Trump said. “It will be a good thing.”

“The White House is not micromanaging this process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an interview with Fox News Sunday

That said, the Journal notes that just because the FBI wasn’t granted the authority to interview Swetnick doesn’t mean they can’t ask other witnesses about her allegations. 

Former FBI officials say they are confident an investgation can be conducted by next Friday, according to the Journal, which adds that background checks for presidential appointees or judicial nominees often need to be done within a matter of weeks. That said, “background investigations are different from criminal investigations in that they are done at the request of a “client”—in this case the White House—and investigators are unable to deploy search warrants or grand jury subpoenas. Potential witnesses are allowed to decline requests to be interviewed,” the Journal adds. 

The limitations on what the FBI will be able to investigate differed from what former officials said would be the best approach, given the level of public scrutiny and likelihood that the bureau could be accused of not chasing down every lead. –WSJ

“If I was in charge of this, I would tell [FBI] Director [Chris] Wray, we need to call up every single person on this,” Mr. Danik said. “You don’t want anyone out there who can say in a week or two, ‘They never talked to us, they never heard from us.’” 

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Higher Mortgage Rates Are Starting To Bite The Housing Market

Authored by Bryce Coward via Knowledge Leaders Capital blog,

Sooner or later, higher mortgage rates (which are keyed off of the 10-year treasury yield) were always bound to start slowing the housing market. It was more a matter of what level of rates would be necessary to take the first bites out of housing. We think the answer is playing out right in front of us. With mortgage rates recently breaching the highest level since 2011, housing data has been coming in on the weak side all year long, and may be set to get even worse in the coming months. Let’s explain…

In the first chart below we show pending home sales (blue line, left axis) overlaid on the 30 year fixed mortgage rate (red line, right axis, inverted, leading by 2 quarters). As we can see, pending home sales are closely inversely related to the level of mortgage rates, and rates lead pending home sales by about two quarters. The breakout in mortgage rates we’ve seen over the last few months portend more weakness in pending sales.

The next chart compares mortgage applications (blue line, left axis) to the 30 year fixed mortgage rate (red line, right axis, inverted) and shows that these two series are also closely inversely related. Higher rates are slowing demand for financing and demand for overall housing. Not exactly a heroic observation, but an important one nonetheless.

The home builders seem to have caught on, as we would expect. In the next chart we show the 1 year change in private residential construction including improvements  (blue line, left axis) compared to the 30 year fixed mortgage rate (red line, right axis, inverted, leading by 2 quarters). As rates have moved higher this year, new home construction growth has slowed to just 2.5% YoY. If rates are any indication, new home construction growth may turn negative in the months just ahead.

To be fair, everything housing related isn’t that bad. Inventory levels, even though they have moved up a lot over the last several years, are still at reasonable levels and well shy of peak bubble levels of 2005-2007. Even so inventory levels may no longer be supportive of housing action.

And these moderate levels of inventory have helped keep prices stable, for now.

But, housing affordability is taking a nosedive. Here we show the National Association of Realtors housing affordability index (blue line, left axis) against mortgage rates (red line, right axis, inverted, leading by 1 quarter). Up until a few months ago housing affordability was well above trend. But now we’ve moved back to into the range which prevailed from 1991-2004.

In sum, the effects of higher long-term interest rates are starting to be squarely felt in the housing space. Pending sales, mortgage applications and new construction have all been weak and look set to get even weaker in the quarters to come as the lagged effects of higher mortgage rates set in. Home prices have yet to respond since inventory levels are still moderate, but inventories aren’t the support they were just two years ago. Meanwhile, affordability levels are no longer very supportive. All this suggests that the housing sector, which has been a bright spot of this recovery over the last five or six years, may not be the same source of wealth accumulation and growth over the next few years, or as long as higher mortgage rates continue to take the juice out of this sector.

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US Hints At Naval Blockade Of Russian Energy Exports Which Moscow Warns Would Be “An Act Of War”

In a interview about fracking and the implications of making the United States less dependent on foreign sources of energy, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the Washington Examiner that the US Navy has the ability to blockade Russia from controlling energy supplies in the Middle East. 

“The United States has that ability, with our Navy, to make sure the sea lanes are open, and, if necessary, to blockade… to make sure that their energy does not go to market,” Zinke said on Friday at a Consumer Energy Alliance event in Pittsburg. 

The comments came as Russia, Germany and other European partners move forward on the Nord Stream II pipeline — something President Trump has vehemently opposed because of the leverage it gives Russia over Europe, and something which US officials have discussed sanctions over if Russia decides to play dirty with the pipeline. 

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaking at an industry event on Friday. Image source: State Impact Pennsylvania

Zinke continued, “Russia is a one trick pony,” and explained Russia’s ability to sell energy is paramount to its economic survival: “I believe the reason they are in the Middle East is they want to broker energy just like they do in eastern Europe, the southern belly of Europe,” he said. 

While Russia has been engaged in military action in Syria since 2015 at the request of the Syrian government, the West has long accused Moscow of seeking a permanent presence in the Middle East to ensure oil and gas access. 

In the process, Moscow and Tehran have grown closer as the two come under aggressive US sanctions and gained international pariah status. Secretary of the Interior Zinke explained of the Iran situation: “National security-wise, how are you going to deal with Iran?” Zinke asked. “Well, there are two ways.”

“There is the military option, which I would rather not. And there is the economic option,” he said. “The economic option on Iran and Russia is, more or less, leveraging and replacing fuels.”

He added, “We can do that because… the United States is the largest producer of oil and gas.”

Understandably, Zinke’s statements provoked an angry response from Moscow, which equated a potential maritime blockade to an “act of war,” while calling the internal secretary’s assumptions “nonsense.”

“A US blockade of Russia would be equal to a declaration of war under international law,” Russian Senator Aleksey Pushkov said, commenting on Zinke’s words. Russia does not currently export any energy to the Middle East, which itself is a major oil exporting region. The whole idea is an “absolute nonsense,” the Senator argued.

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Meanwhile such US Naval jostling to keep sea lanes open in contested regions is already happening in the South China Sea, where China’s series of man made islands are being used of Beijing to expand and claim territory. 

According to Reuters the latest incident occurred early Sunday:

A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Sunday, a U.S. official told Reuters, potentially angering Beijing at a time of tense relations between the two countries.

And just last week Beijing denounced recent US-B52 bomber flyovers of the South China Sea and East China Sea, calling the military maneuvers “provocative”.

The UN estimates that one-third of global shipping passes through the expansive area claimed by China — and crucially there’s thought to exist significant untapped oil and natural gas reserves.

There’s been a series of incidents over the summer involving US aircraft and ships, as well as that of regional powers like the Philippines, which have involved Chinese military warning off the foreign vessels and aircraft. 

Also last week China denied a US warship’s planned port visit to Hong Kong in what was a stunning symbolic rebuke in response to new tariffs enacted by the Trump White House.

With Russia now maintaining its own naval build-up in the Mediterranean after repeat US threats to attack Syria over the past month, we could soon see more confrontation over shipping lanes in the region and the West seeks to disrupt Moscow’s access to Middle East energy markets. 

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“Women For Kavanaugh” March On Washington In Support Of Supreme Court Nominee

As liberal groups plan mass “pussy hat” protests in the event of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court, a group of women has come out in support of the nominee. 

“Women for Kavanaugh” appeared on Capitol Hill during last week’s Senate testimony by Kavanaugh and a woman accusing him of sexual assault at a high school party 30 years ago – one of several women to crop up right before his confirmation, sending the proceedings into disarray. 

To Hannah King, a college senior from Bristol, Tennessee, Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of a drunken attack by Kavanaugh at a 1982 party when both were in high school were jarring and scary. But while King expressed empathy for Ford, she also said she’s concerned about the timing of Ford’s allegations, which surfaced publicly only after Kavanaugh — already a federal judge — was nominated to the Supreme Court. –AP

It was too timely and strategic,” said King, 21. “Anything like that makes you question how true it is.” 

“someone’s promotion isn’t something that should prompt someone to come forward.” 

The group has even made an advertisement conveying their cause: 

43-year-old Tammy Ring told the Daily Beast that she had been both sexually harassed and assaulted, and that she supports Kavanaugh despite believing that Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford believes her account. 

“I thought she seemed credible,” said Tammy Ring, a 43-year-old Kavanaugh supporter from Cocoa, Florida, who told The Daily Beast she had been both sexually harassed and assaulted. “I don’t know that I believe that Judge Kavanaugh assaulted her, but I think that she believes that he did. She didn’t come across as somebody that was making this up or coming forward with a lie.” –Daily Beast

Other women backing Kavanaugh have noted that old memories over a lifetime of experiences can become muddied, and some people must question the power of their own recollections. 

“I remember things that happened to me as a child that I talked to my sisters about, and they remembered it totally different than I did,” said Maryland resident Debby Leach, 65, who says she was sexually abused as a child. “How I remember it versus how they remember it are two entirely different things. So I think that after a number of years go by, you believe a certain thing. You convince yourself of a certain thing.”

Others have suggested Ford’s recollection could be a case of mistaken identity – a theory floated by GOP attorney and former Scalia clerk, Ed Whelan, who posted a lengthy theory over Twitter that Kavanaugh’s high school doppelganger may in fact be responsible for Ford’s memory. Whelan has since deleted the thread. 

“It feels mistaken identity to me,” said Sonia Souza, a San Diego resident who said she experienced in her past something “slightly less serious” than the attack Ford described. “I haven’t seen these pictures, but I hear there are a couple people who look like [Kavanaugh]… It’s definitely open to misidentification.” 

Souza was also struck by a specific detail in Ford’s account: that six or eight weeks later, she had spotted the man who allegedly helped Kavanaugh attack her—and she waved at him.

“I was like, “What? Why would you say hi to him?’” Souza said, citing her own experience as a survivor of sexual misconduct. –Daily Beast

There’s definitely a tactic here to just delay because they don’t like [Kavanaugh], or because of whatever they think is going to vote on Roe v Wade,” Souza said, referring to the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide. “There’s some left side that is definitely pushing this.

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How Do We Change Our Lives In A System That’s Broken?

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

Rather than fight a system designed to thwart us, we need a model for our own lives that bypasses the perverse tides and obsoletes the impediments in our path.

Everyone wants to change their lives for the better (or preserve what’s positive), and this is relatively straightforward in a healthy system with positive incentives and a transparent, productive set of rules and feedbacks.

But what if the system is broken? How do we change our lives for the better in a dysfunctional system of unearned privilege and perverse incentives? Needless to say, it’s difficult, and this is why we see a rise in inward-directed solutions.

If we can’t change the external world we inhabit, then the “solution” is to nurture an inner tranquility. It’s no wonder that Taoism–perhaps the ultimate inner-directed philosophy–arose during the Warring States era in China, when social unrest and conflict were endemic.

But what about real-world changes such as improving our health, fitness, resilience, work/career satisfaction, income security and psychological well-being? When it comes to affecting real-world changes in a broken system, it often feels like we’re swimming against the tide: the system doesn’t make positive improvements easy, despite an abundance of lip service to individual goals such as losing weight, improving our career options, etc.

There are number of reasons for this; here are a few:

1. The economy, society and systems of governance are all changing in fundamental ways. I’ve written a lot about these forces– AI, robotics, globalization, financialization, the concentration of wealth and power at the top, etc. –and how we can respond positively, particularly in my books A Radically Beneficial World and Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

The point here is that even if our system was fair and functional, the structural dynamics are generating uncertainty, instability and a diminishing number of winners and an expanding multitude of losers.

2. But we don’t inhabit a fair and functional system; the status quo is dysfunctional, dominated by self-serving insiders, the Protected Class and various elites. Actual inflation (loss of purchasing power) is under-reported, and other metrics are gamed or distorted to improve the optics–that is, the perception.

Markets have been grossly distorted to reward the already-wealthy; stocks and housing are been transformed into signals of economic strength when in reality they are signals of excess and asset bubbles that increase wealth and income inequality.

3. Maximizing profit and convenience via marketing is the core of our economy now. Unfortunately, what’s highly profitable and heavily marketed is often unhealthy or deleterious to our physical, mental and financial health: fast food, packaged food, social media, high-cost, low-utility higher education, medications with serious side-effects, and so on.

Accomplishing changes often requires declaring war on convenience, as convenience is the enemy of everything required to swim against the tide:discipline, sustained effort, sacrifice, etc.

So how can individuals and households manage positive changes in a destructive, perverse and broken system?

One place to start is to eliminate as much marketing as possible, and as many negative, deranging distractions as possible. This means limiting media and social media exposure to a bare minimum.

Another is to focus on value rather than convenience. This goes against the tide not just of marketing but of “progress,” which is implicitly defined as an increase in convenience and a decline in drudgery, effort and discipline.

Ironically, most of life’s most rewarding things are not convenient at all:fitness, real food prepared at home, acquiring skills with steep learning curves, etc. These are all terribly, horribly, irrevocably inconvenient.

Third, look outside the mainstream and status quo “solutions.” Solutions outside the mainstream status quo tend to be inconvenient, wrenching and difficult, and there is very little institutional support for anything outside the mainstream. Rather, the entire weight and force of the status quo is put to bear in support of passive compliance with the approved “solutions.”

For example, the approved “solution” to ill health is surgery or costly medications that haven’t even been tested for interactions with other powerful medications.

The “solution” to the high cost of housing in desirable cities is to surrender the household income for the next 30 years and buy a decaying bungalow for $800,000 or more (or $1.8 million in bubble-mania neighborhoods).

These are simulacrum solutions; they only worsen the initial problem, not solve it.

As Bucky Fuller noted in his famous dictum, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

This is as true of our individual lives as it is of systems. Rather than fight a system designed to thwart us, we need a model for our own lives that bypasses the perverse tides and obsoletes the impediments in our path.

*  *  *

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 25. The Musings Reports are emailed to subscribers and patrons weekly.

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