Republicans Plan to Defeat ISIS With Rhetoric

Last night’s Republican debate was unusual not just because Donald Trump wasn’t there, but for the first Republican debate I can remember this cycle, no one insisted that part of the problem with the U.S. prosecution of the war on terror was President Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islam.”

Nevertheless, most of the Republican candidates continued to mistake rhetoric aimed at a militaristic-minded domestic audience for actual foreign policy. While the U.S. prepares to possibly relaunch military operations in Libya (and, in fact, appears to have already started to try to do so), Libya didn’t get a lot of attention at the debate.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got a question about whether he would deploy U.S. troops to Libya because of the growing influence of the Islamic State (ISIS) there but he didn’t particularly answer it, instead noting, rightly, that Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has consistently skirted any responsibility for her role in destabilizing Libya and creating the current problem. But, as I wrote earlier this week, acknowledging the inability of others to understand the responsibility their policies have for regional instability doesn’t necessarily mean you understand the responsibility your own policies have.

After talking about Clinton, Christie did not return to the specific question of troops in Libya. Instead, he explained that his plan against ISIS would involve a “broader war” that involved European and Sunni Arab countries, talking the fight to ISIS “every place that it is around the world.” The rhetoric is not that different from President Obama’s, who insists he is working with regional allies on a “comprehensive” anti-ISIS plan. The U.S. has troops deployed from Nigeria to Iraq battling elements of ISIS and elements associated with it.

Other candidates did not do much better. Marco Rubio used a response to a response from Rand Paul about whether he should have embraced his father Ron Paul earlier in the campaign to explain that he believed the world was a “safer and a better place when America is the strongest power in the world.” That was also the sum total of his ISIS strategy. If America were stronger (Rubio mentioned rebuilding intelligence capabilities, and elsewhere he and others complained about the shrinking military under Obama), Rubio insisted, it would defeat ISIS. That’s obviously not a strategy, it’s just wishful thinking.

Rubio also said if any ISIS leaders would be captured alive they’d be taken to Guantanamo Bay to “find out everything they know,” but didn’t specify what kind of interrogation techniques he might authorize that would be more effective than present ones, nor did he specify how the military would capture more ISIS leaders than it currently does if he were president.

Ted Cruz, meanwhile, was asked about his sharp rhetoric (he’s mentioned wanting to find out if “sand glows” in supporting carpet bombing of ISIS) and how it squared with his history of voting for smaller defense budgets.

Naturally, Cruz avoided the substance of the question, instead insisting he would “apologize to nobody for the vigorousness with which I will fight terrorism, go after ISIS, hunt them down wherever they are, and utterly and completely destroy ISIS.” Of course, nobody asked him to apologize for that.

Then he said carpet bombing was a “different, fundamental military strategy” than Barack Obama’s, which has also focused largely on mass bombings in Iraq and Syria (so many bombs have been dropped the Pentagon is running out).

Amazingly, Cruz tried to compare the war on ISIS to the first Persian Gulf War, saying that carpet bombing was effective there because “saturation bombing… utterly destroyed the enemy.” Yet that is, very clearly, incorrect. Given what happened in the 25 years after, even claiming the Persian Gulf War was a victory is questionable. But the U.S. certainly didn’t “utterly destroy the enemy” in the Gulf War because Saddam Hussein remained in power for another decade, with the U.S. involved in on-again off-again air campaigns over Iraq throughout that time, until the 2003 invasion of Iraq finally led to Hussein’s toppling.

That war wasn’t a victory either. Among other things, it helped create the space for ISIS. The problem didn’t start with the Persian Gulf War—the U.S. supported Hussein’s Iraq in the 1979-1989 Iran-Iraq war—but ran through it. Pointing to the Gulf War for examples on how to fight ISIS is an incredible display of historical and policy ignorance.

Cruz finished by saying the U.S. needed to define the enemy (but he didn’t say the enemy was radical Islam, so how would we ever know???) and “rebuild the military to defeat the enemy.” Remember, the question was about Cruz supporting tighter budgets for the military in an effort to return fiscal sustainability to the federal government, and how that squared with his tough rhetoric. He didn’t answer that question.

Rubio noted the only budget Cruz ever voted for was Rand Paul’s, which balanced the budget by imposing fiscal discipline across the federal government, including on the military. Rubio’s answer also talked about using “overwhelming force,” but didn’t explain how that would translate into victory. And that’s actually the same intellectually bankrupt argument liberals use to justify ever-increasing government spending: that any problem can be solved with more taxpayer money. The opposite, in fact, is often true. Austerity is the best auditor, for the military and any other government program, but requires a commitment to improving results and not spending more money.

Jeb Bush gave a more comprehensive answer if still a wrong one. He scolded the senators on stage for not passing an authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, said he would arm the Kurds, “embed” U.S. troops with Iraqi ones, re-engage Sunni tribal leaders, impose a no-fly zone over Syria, and train a Sunni force in Syria to fight ISIS. He also made a comment about getting “the lawyers off the damn backs of the military once and for all,” which, like Rubio’s Guantanamo comment, could be another example of a weak attempt to dog whistle about torture and other practices President Obama insists the U.S. stopped doing when he came into office.

Kasich also claimed “victory” in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 (which led to years of a no-fly zone, sanctions against Iraq, and finally a full-scale invasion and an intractable eight year war out of which now ISIS has emerged) could be replicated, not just through bombings but by bringing together Arab leaders. That, too, if something the Obama administration has been trying to do. Kasich doesn’t explain how his effort at coalition-building would be more effective than Obama’s, but was confident enough of it to say that the U.S. could leave the area once it had led that coalition to a victory over ISIS.

Christie brought up ISIS in a question about religious liberty, saying he supported fighting ISIS because it was necessary in securing religious liberty at home. “I will take on ISIS,” Christie said, “not only because it keeps us safe, but because it allows us to absolutely conduct our religious affairs the way we find in our heart and in our souls.” He did not articulate the link between ISIS’ attempt at launching terror attacks to the U.S. to religious liberty. One of ISIS’ goals is, indeed, to impose a caliphate on territory it controls, but Christie could’ve explained how a mass shooting at government holiday party comes even close to accomplishing that and, therefore, what makes this bout of terrorism different from previous ones vis a vis religious, or any other kind of liberties other than the ones the government curtails in order to fight terrorism.

Perhaps the most depressing rhetoric on ISIS came from Rand Paul, when he used the threat of ISIS to not only defend the strict border policies he supports but to attack Marco Rubio for not supporting tough border policies and therefore not being serious about fighting ISIS, illustrating that even candidates who embrace ideas of freedom and show and understanding of them aren’t above using scare tactics to curtail it, in this case the freedom of movement.

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Russian-OPEC Production Cut Remains A Long Shot

Submitted by Nick Cunningham via OilPrice.com,

The rumors of a coordinated production cut between OPEC and Russia continue to grow more serious. The latest comes from the Russian energy minister Alexander Novak, who insisted that Russia will hold talks with OPEC in February on a possible agreement to reduce output.

“There are very many questions, on checking cuts, from what base to count from. In order to start working through these issues, we need general agreement, it’s too early to talk about that. That’s the subject of the meeting and discussion (in February),” Novak told reporters, according to TASS.

The headline figure: a 5 percent production cut across the board for all participants. That’s what Saudi Arabia floated last year. When asked if that was still on the table, Novak replied, “That is precisely the subject for debate.” The meeting could tentatively take place in February. It was originally proposed by Venezuela, which has pleaded for emergency measures to stabilize oil prices.

Oil prices skyrocketed on Wednesday and Thursday after the comments from Novak. During intraday trading on January 28, prices shot up by more than 8 percent. By midday, WTI and Brent fell back a bit, but were still up more than 3 percent. That is the highest level since the first week of January.

Coordination on production cuts between OPEC and Russia has always been a long shot, and probably still remains an unlikely development. The big difference this time around, though, is Russia’s change in tone. Saudi Arabia had hinted at its willingness last year to undertake a 5 percent production cut if Russia did the same, but up until now Moscow never really took the idea seriously.

On January 26, however, Russian oil executives met with Russian government officials in Moscow to discuss their predicament. Reuters reported that the meeting resulted in an openness, if not complete agreement, to begin talking with OPEC about cooperation.

"At the meeting there was discussion in particular about the oil price and what steps we should take collectively to change the situation for the better, including negotiations within the framework of OPEC as a whole, and bilaterally," Nikolai Tokarev, chief of state-owned oil pipeline company Transneft, said according to Russian media outlets.

"The main initiative is being shown by, of course, our Saudi partners. They are the main negotiators. That means that they are the ones we need to discuss this with first of all,” Tokarev added.

Russia’s oil production hit another post-Soviet record in December, climbing to 10.8 million barrels per day (mb/d).

There seems to be a newfound openness from many different oil producers to look at ways of stabilizing the market. Sub-$30 oil tends to do that. Iraq’s finance minister told Reuters on Wednesday that his country would be willing to participate in talks on production cuts.

However, don’t get too excited. Shortly after the comments made from Russia’s energy minister, some OPEC officials shot down the speculation. Four OPEC officials said that they had no knowledge of a February meeting, insisting that the next OPEC summit was still scheduled for June.

Moreover, even if Russian officials are open to discussion on cuts in output, they face serious obstacles on following through on actual reductions. Russia’s main oil fields are already facing natural decline, and many in the industry would balk at throttling back on production. Also, there are technical obstacles. Russia is largely unable to reduce output in winter months.

Perhaps more important is the fact that Russia’s oil sector is not dominated by one state-owned company like Saudi Aramco. It would be more difficult to corral an array of semi-private companies, many of which are partially owned by international oil companies like BP. Investors may be placing too much faith in the state if they think Russia can adjust production as easily as, say, Saudi Arabia.

Yet another obstacle is Iran. Iran has shown a dogged determination to return to the oil market, with pledges to ramp up output by 500,000 barrels per day in the near-term. It is hard to imagine Iran being willing to slash output just as it finally has reached its goal of ridding itself of sanctions.

To complicate matters even further is how to measure what a 5 percent production cut would look like. What is the baseline? 5 percent below what level? Production levels for OPEC members are constantly shifting, and some have even made significant gains as of late. For example, Iraq managed to increase output by 300,000 barrels per day between October and December, hitting a high of 4.3 mb/d by the end of 2015. A 5 percent cut would merely bring it back to October levels. That would be less painful than, say, a 5 percent cut in Venezuela, which saw a slight erosion of output over the same time period.

In other words, until something more concrete emerges, the speculation of a coordinated production cut between OPEC and Russia is just that: speculation.


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Reason Weekly Contest: Barbie Got a Makeover, Now It’s Ken’s Turn

BarbieWelcome back to the Reason Weekly Contest! This week’s question is:

Forget Malibu Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, and all Barbie’s other jobs and locales—Mattel just unveiled three new shapes of Barbie: tall, petite, and curvy. Time to Play Magazine says that brings the total to 30 new Barbie dolls with 7 skin tones, 4 body types, 30 hair colors, 24 hairstyles, and 22 eye colors. Come up with the next iteration of Ken.

How to enter: Submissions should be e-mailed to contest@reason.com. Please include your name, city, and state. This week, kindly type “KEN” in the subject line. Entries are due by 11 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday, Feb. 1. Winners will appear on Feb. 5. In the case of identical or similar entries, the first one received gets credit. First prize is a one-year digital subscription to Reason magazine, plus bragging rights. While we appreciate kibbitzing in the comments below, you must email your answer to enter the contest. Feel free to enter more than once, and good luck!

And now for the results of last week’s contest: In a surprise move, the government revoked its approval process for use of its “grass-fed” beef marketing label. We asked you to come up with a new food adjective that yuppies (okay, hipsters) will find irresistible.

THE WINNER:

“Grass-fed salmon” — John Logue,   Jacksonville, FL

SECOND PLACE:          

“Privilege-free” — Colin Blake, Boston, MA

THIRD PLACE:

“Whole Foods-fed” — Ray Yee, Clovis, CA

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

“Hand-glazed, free-range, gluten-free, and marinated in a balsamic reduction.”— Joyce Farrell, Wautoma, WI

“Non-traditional “– Tom D, Phoenix, AZ

“Gently-killed” — Richard Bradley, Fredericksburg, VA

“Monsanto Free” — Alex Popovich, Knoxville, TN

“Solar-fed” — James Quigley, San Rafael, CA

“Grass-walked beef”

“Raw milk fed veal” — John Logue (again!),   Jacksonville, FL

“Weed-fed beef: High in protein, high in life” —L. B. Lebin, Mill Hall, PA

AND FROM THE COMMENTS:

“2-D printed beef”

“110% Natural”

“Cut and packaged by guaranteed living-wage employees”

“Made from living-wage cows”

“It’s European!”

“Safe-space raised”

“Sustainably slaughtered”

“Allowed to graze freely on federal land by ranchers who have all the proper permits, paid all their taxes and land-use fees, never set any fires, and never occupied a federal buildings.”

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The Disturbing Reasons Why The Bank Of Japan Stunned Everyone With Negative Rates

As we noted earlier, in a paradoxical U-turn, one which caught everyone by surprise as a result of Kuroda’s own promise just one week ago not to engage in NIRP

 

… and two months after the ECB’s December 3 disappointing announcement led to a historic surge in the EUR, today countless macro hedge funds have been left reeling with huge losses once again, as many had recently turned bullish on the Yen…

… only to be eviscerated by the BOJ’s negative rates announcement.

So what happened? Reuters has one amusing take, one which we doubt many macro HFs will find quite entertaining:

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda used classic shock tactics on Friday to push through his latest unconventional monetary policy of negative rates: deny, then strike.

The paradox, of course, is that by “striking”, Kuroda slammed precisely those who were meant to benefit the most from the BOJ’s action: financial institutions. To be sure, it is not just hedge funds who will be left reeling but Japanese banks themselves, because as a result of negative rates, their NIM will go even further negative and lead to even more pronounced losses, something European banks have discovered the hard way over the past year and a half.

There are other problems with the BOJ’s seemingly chaotic, if not panicked, decision: as Reuters adds, “a razor-thin 5-4 vote underscores the difficulty Kuroda had in winning enough board backing for his shock tactic, and illustrates the doubts among board members about the governor’s line that by sticking to a 2 percent inflation goal the BOJ can make people believe prices will rise.”

In a note released this morning, Goldman itself warns that it has “concerns” about Kuroda’s act:

… we do have concerns about the policy transmission channel. Policy Board Member Koji Ishida, who voted against the new measures, said that “a further decline in JGB yields would not have significantly positive effects on economy activity.” We concur with this sentiment, particularly for capex. The key determinants of capex in Japan are the expected growth rate and uncertainty about the future as seen by corporate management according to our analysis, while the impact of real long-term rates has weakened markedly in recent years.

 

Of interest to us was the growth and inflation forecasts in the Outlook for Economic Activity and Prices (Outlook Report) also released on January 29. As we expected, the BOJ cut the FY2016 core CPI outlook to +0.8%, from +1.4% in October, but other growth rate and price outlooks were largely unchanged. The future benefits of changing to this historical policy regime (i.e., introducing a negative interest rate) were hardly factored in by the Policy Board despite the above explanation of the policy transmission channels made by Governor Kuroda.

 

In our view, this suggests that the BOJ intended to affect the expectations of forex market participants with a bold and surprising announcement. As we mentioned above, Governor Kuroda had continuously rejected the possibility of cutting interest rates in the Diet and other public forums until only recently. Governor Kuroda may have spotted a chance to surprise at the January 29 MPM having seen a substantial decline in market expectations for an interest rate cut as a result of this. He declared that the BOJ is prepared to lower the interest rate further into negative territory if it decided this was necessary, and introduced examples of countries with large negative interest rates such as Switzerland (-0.75%) and Sweden (-1.1%). We believe this was also intended to keep expectations alive in the forex market going forward.

Translated, this means that just like China’s central bank, which in recent weeks has been panicking over how to scare currency speculators away from shorting its currency too far, and thus unleashing a surge in capital outflows (which as we wrote yesterday are estimated to have hit a near record $185 billion in January), the BOJ is likewise scrambling to prevent aggressive shorting of the JPY, and now that it has unleashed NIRP will use it as the “backstop bazooka” that can be used at any given moment when the USDJPY gets too low, spooking speculators and other hedge funds who have ironically been the biggest beneficiaries from BOJ policies.

But how did Draghi get the idea to engage in NIRP specifically as the? Reuters writes that it all started precisely a week ago: on Jan. 21, a day before flying out for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Kuroda told Japan’s parliament he was not considering negative interest rates. But he quietly told his staff to come up with several options in case the BOJ eased.

Of course, our staff knew that several central banks have adopted negative interest rates, so they’ve been analyzing the step for some time,” Kuroda said at a news conference on Friday. “They raised it as one of the options, which we discussed at today’s meeting.”

 

By the time Kuroda returned from Davos, BOJ staff were ready to propose negative rates, taking a leaf from the European Central Bank’s book. “The ECB showed that combining QE and negative interest rates can work,” one BOJ official said. “It was just a question of overcoming some technical difficulties.”

Which at least superficially makes sense: one can be wrong, but if the right intentions are good – it can be excused. But the punchline that should leave everyone speechless is that it wasn’t even the right intention. Instead, it was this:

People close to Kuroda say that Davos – where he mingled with central bankers such as ECB President Mario Draghi and leading company executives – likely prompted him to pull the trigger. “Davos is really important. Many central bank governors change their perception of things there,” said one central bank policymaker who has regular interaction with Kuroda.

It was peer pressure by other central banks that forced Kuroda to act!

Actually, it’s even worse than that, because that is just half of the story. Here is the other half, again thanks to Reuters:

When stocks are falling this much, it’s hard to justify not acting,” said one of the individuals, who has occasional contact with Kuroda.

And there you have it: stocks are dropping, so central banks must intervene, just as they have done from day one. Just as Draghi did most recently on December 4 when asked if his speech was meant to talk up markets: recall the exchange: “was today’s speech deliberately designed to try offset some of the reaction yesterday?” to which Draghi’s response was legendary: “Not really… well, of course.

This was followed by loud laughter, and why not: Draghi had succeeded in pushing stocks higher, if only for the time being.

Just like Kuroda has done today. Alas, just like in December, the laughter won’t last. First, as MarketWatch notes, “The move does speak to a certain degree of desperation.”

Finally, there’s this disturbing bit from Goldman’s take of the BOJ’s decision:

Regarding the Introduction of Supplementary Measures for Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing announced at the December 2015 MPM, we believe the BOJ thinks that JGB purchases will have reached their technical limit in quantitative terms eventually, and it is highly likely it was a last-ditch measure to somehow maintain the current pace of purchases for some time. If not, we would have expected the BOJ not to introduce a negative interest rate this time either and to have opted instead to further increase JGB purchases.

And when none other than Goldman Sachs says the Bank of Japan engaged in a “last-ditch measure” it may be time to panic.


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The Podcast Awakens: The best kept secret in finance

This week I’ve been down in Southern Chile with the Board of Directors of our agricultural company.

It’s summertime right now, and the weather is absolutely gorgeous.

Last night, after a long day visiting one of the farms I had a chance to sit down with Tim Price to share a bottle of our very own Sovereign Valley wine and record a podcast.

It’s been about two months now since the last episode, so I invite you to listen to our comeback with the Podcast Awakens.

Over the course of a few glasses we dive into discussion about oil prices, financial markets, and an entire investment class that most people haven’t even heard of. One that’s likely to do VERY well this year.

We invite you to clink glasses with us and listen in as we share the best kept secret in finance.

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Latest Twist In The Stock Market’s Wild 2016 Ride

Via Dana Lyons Tumblr,

The Dow Jones Industrial Average just alternated 1% moves up and down for 4 days in a row – just the 17th such stretch in the last 70 years.

The stock market’s wild ride to begin the year continues, with the latest twist reminiscent of a roller coaster. Over the past 4 days, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) has moved at least 1%, with each day alternating up and down. Since 1900, this is the 68th such streak and just the 17th in the past 70 years (actually, today narrowly missed making it 5 days in a row which would have been just the 3rd occurrence in the last 84 years).

Now, with most studies that we undertake, we’re at least hopeful of finding some kind of an edge in guiding our investment decisions. After all, this effort is not merely an academic exercise – we are trying to make some money. However, concerning the phenomenon that is the subject of this post, we did not realistically expect to find anything too instructive in navigating the market going forward. That said, there are a few interesting tidbits contained herein.

First of all, let’s look at a chart of all of the occurrences since 1900.

 

image

 

As you can see, in the early part of the 20th century, it was not all that uncommon to see these 4-day streaks of alternating 1% up and down moves in the DJIA. In fact, during the epic 1929-1932 bear market, these events were so prevalent that the chart markers cover the entire DJIA line over that period. Now, as we mentioned in yesterday’s post, also on the extreme January volatility, it is common to see elevated volatility near the depths of a bear market. However, the frequency of the events in the 1930′s is still pretty eye-opening to look at.

Since 1946, however, there have been just 17 of these streaks now. In fact, the DJIA went from 1946 to 1973 without recording a single instance of these streaks. Similarly, another long drought in signals took place from 1980 to 2002. What makes these streaks so interesting is that they each skipped over the entirety of respective secular bull markets (from 1949-1966 and 1982-2000). Indeed, like yesterday’s post, these bouts of volatility tended to be products of secular bear markets, with this one being even more skewed. Consider the following:

Every one of the DJIA’s 68 streaks of 4 straight alternating 1% up and down moves occurred within the confines of a secular bear market.

Again, as we mentioned in yesterday’s post, we still consider the market to be in the post-2000 secular bear market (though, that is surely not the popular stance). Thus, we would include the 3 occurrences since 2010 in the secular bear category. Technically, the only ones that did not occur within a secular bear were 2 occurrences in April 1929. However, those did occur close enough to the onset of the crash later that year that we’ll include them with the secular bear events.

One more thing to note is that, like we mentioned before, it is more common to see elevated volatility after considerable market weakness. Although, it certainly can appear after just a short, but sharp decline, as in our present case. That said, we take a bit more interest in those streaks that occurred after relatively small declines as extreme volatility is less typical at those times. Our current streak has the DJIA just under 13% from its 52-week high. Thus, we looked at all instances occurring within 13% of the DJIA’s 52-week high.

There have been 16 streaks now meeting this condition, with half of those occurring since 1973. Again, we’re not placing a whole lot of confidence in prior events serving as a guide to our present circumstances. However, the performance of the DJIA following the 15 previous occurrences is somewhat interesting at least.

image

In the short-term, the DJIA showed a tendency to bounce, in particular over the following 2 weeks. 12 of the 15 occurrences saw higher prices (1 was unchanged), with the median return at +2.7%. In the longer-term, it was a different story, however. 1 year later, 10 of the 15 were lower. The 2/2/2015 event has yet to record a 1-year return, but barring just about the biggest 3-day rally ever, by next Tuesday it will be 11 out of 15 that were lower 1 year later.

One more time, we do not put a ton of stock in these results. They surely will not dictate much of our thinking in terms of executing our investment approach. However, again, perhaps the most relevant takeaway is that bad stuff tends to happen in bad markets. This includes volatility spikes. Thus, the presence of this recent 4-day roller coaster is perhaps a clue that our present market landscape is not a healthy one.

*  *  *

More from Dana Lyons, JLFMI and My401kPro.


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Houston PD Releases Highly Redacted Use of Force Policy to Black Lives Matter, Says It Was AG Decision

As part of its efforts to support police reform, activists associated with Black Lives Matter have been collecting use of force policies from around the country, and posting them online as part of the broader Campaign Zero effort.

However, one particular use of force policy, from the HPD, came highly redacted when it was requested by Deray McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist. When the Houston Press requested the same document, they received a copy that wasn’t.

A spokesperson for the HPD, Victor Senties, told the Press the redactions were to protect officer safety and police tactics. Among the redactions were that officers are required to carry batons when responding to disturbance calls and when working major events, that cops must get immediate medical attention to victims they’ve pepper sprayed and call a supervisor immediately, and that cops are prohibited from firing warning shoots or shooting at fleeing or suicidal suspects who don’t pose an imminent threat to anyone other than themselves.

The Press reached out to HPD for comment, and was told that all record requests go through the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and that decision was therefore made by them. “I’m not going to speak to the policy and explain what’s redacted and what’s not redacted,” Senties told the Press. “It goes up to the AG. They’re ones who make those determinations.”

Reason filed an open records request for any records related to a request made by Deray McKesson to the Houston Police Department for the use of policy, including any correspondence between HPD and OAG or OAG and McKesson, since McKesson said he had never received a letter from OAG explaining the redaction decisions, which would have been standard operating procedure.

Today, the OAG told Reason that while they have requests from McKesson during the relevant time period, none involve HPD. Senties reiterated to Reason that all requests for records go through the attorney general, and that HPD open records division receives up to 800 requests a month. According to McKesson, HPD responded to his request with the heavily redacted copy just a week after he made it. OAG responded to our request for relevant records in a little over 24 hours. 

In the meantime, a Texas assistant attorney general offered the most likely explanation—that the HPD may have already had a previous determination from OAG about how to redact the use of force document. In that case, they would have been able to use the previous ruling and redact the document the same way for Mckesson. That doesn’t explain how the Press received a different copy, but those are questions for HPD, not OAG, to answer.

We’re awaiting a call from the HPD open records division for an explanation of discrepancies—if that happens, it will appear in a future post.

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FBI to Muslim Immigrants: Snoop for Us or Get Deported

They've sure got some strange names over there in the Congo.Those who have followed the frustrating stories about the secretive operations of the federally controlled “no-fly” lists may have read about the accusations that some individuals who were on the list were told they would be removed if they served the government as informants. Those who followed the scandal over the New York Police Department secretly snooping on Muslim schools and mosques (not just in New York but New Jersey) may also have read about their reliance on paid informants who sometimes tried to actually bait people into saying inflammatory things. And those who have closely followed cases where the FBi has busted up potential terror plots here within the United States have noticed that these often seem to be rather not-very-smart (or even mentally troubled) individuals who were being fed plans, ideas, and even being provided fake bombs and weapons by undercover FBI agents.

The post-Sept. 11 need to track down potential terrorist threats within the United States has created incentives where the determinant of “success” is that terror plots are actually stopped. This has created some pretty twisted mentalities among officials to find those successes even if they aren’t out there (and can cause them to miss the ones that actually are). And the victims of these twisted incentives can be anybody a federal official thinks might possibly be able to help them find these plots, even if these people don’t know any (or if there aren’t even any plots). It is dangerous to be the reason why a government official can’t sit in front of a congressional hearing to say that their agency has stopped X terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

As such, BuzzFeed reporters Talal Ansari and Siraj Datoo have a new lengthy investigation that shows how the FBI is interfering and threatening the immigration efforts of Muslims who want to remain as residents in the United States unless they serve as informants. If they don’t have any useful information, the message is clear: They better go find some:

When he got the last call to come meet with the FBI agents, A.M. allowed himself an uncharacteristic bit of optimism. An immigrant from Pakistan, he had spent the last seven years trying to get a green card, a process that had so far included a series of interviews, three encounters with the FBI, and unexplained bureaucratic delays. Maybe this meeting would bring some resolution?

But when the 37-year-old software programmer arrived at the Homeland Security offices in Dallas that day in August 2014, the conversation quickly swerved. One of the two agents placed a piece of paper on the table and told him to write down the names of all the people he knew who he thought were terrorists.

Bewildered, he said he didn’t know any terrorists. He said he didn’t know about any suspicious activity at all. “We think you do,” the agents replied.

A.M. was quickly becoming alarmed. (Like almost all other immigrants interviewed for this story, he said he did not feel safe allowing his name to be published. A.M. are his initials.) He was a family man, with a highly skilled 9-to-5 job. He had lived in America for nearly two decades. He went to college in America. Why would the FBI see him as a link to terrorism? And weren’t they supposed to be discussing his green card application?

As it turned out, that’s precisely what they were discussing. “We know about your immigration problems,” he recalls one of the agents telling him. “And we can help you with that.” If, they said, he agreed to start making secret reports on his community, his friends, even his family.

The FBI is not supposed to be doing this, BuzzFeed notes. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales forbid the practice of FBI agents offering immigration assistance in exchange for cooperation, and those policies are still officially in place. But in practice, immigration officials are dragging their feet on green cards, and then FBI is swooping in and using the situation to browbeat people into becoming informants.

A.M. kept insisting that he didn’t know anybody. They wanted him to wear a wire, go to his mosque, and try to get folks to talk about jihad. He refused. His work visa was revoked. He and his family were kicked out of the country after living here for 17 years.

Read more about his case and others here at BuzzFeed. Former FBI agent Michael German told BuzzFeed that this outcome is a result of the push for agents to develop and Muslim sources they could get their hands on: “Rather than use all their energy to focus on the very small number of terrorists, they try to find anybody that they have a lever over to compel them to be an informants.” And they don’t seem to care what happens to them if they prove to not be useful.

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China’s Biggest Drop “Since Lehman” Is Worst.January.Ever

Thanks to BoJ’s global “float all boats” NIRP-tard-ness, Chinese stocks avoided the headline of “worst month in 21 years” by rallying above the crucial 2,667 level (for SHCOMP). However, January’s 23% pluinge is the worst month since October 2008 and is officially the worst start to a year in the history of Chinese stocks.

 

While Shanghia Composite was ugly, the higher beta Shenzhen and ChiNext indices were a disaster…

 

Making it the worst January ever…

 

So February is a buying opportunity?


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