Merkel’s Approval Continues To Slide: Half Of Germans Are Against Her Serving A Fourth Term

The last time we checked on Angela Merkel’s plunging support in the polls, was in early August, when right after the three most recent terrorist attacks on German soil all conducted by ISIS-affiliated refugees, popular support for the Chancellor had plunged by a whopping 12%, with her approval rating crashing to just 47%. This marked her second-lowest score since she was re-elected in 2013. In April last year, before the migrant crisis erupted she enjoyed backing of 75 percent.

Nearly a month later, with the recent terrorist attacks having subsided from memory, a new Emnid poll reveals that the traditional bounce in Merkel’s popularity has failed to materialize, and instead  50% of Germans are now against her serving a fourth term in office after a federal election next year.

 

According to Reuters, half of the 501 people questioned in the Emnid poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper were against Merkel staying in office beyond the 2017 election, with 42 percent wanting her to remain. In November, the last time Bild am Sonntag commissioned a survey on the issue, 45 percent had been in favor of Merkel serving a fourth term, with 48 percent against.

When asked about her plans for the 2017 election in an interview with public broadcaster ARD on Sunday, Merkel said she would comment on this “in due course”, but did not elaborate. Germany’s political parties are gearing up for next year’s election. Asked in the ARD interview when Germans would get tax relief given that Germany has a budget surplus, Merkel said that would come “in the next legislative period.”

Perhaps Merkel’s lack of enthusiasm is due to the recent calculation by the head of Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) who told Bild am sonntag that he expected a maximum of 300,000 refugees to arrive in Germany this year. While less than the 1 million refugees Germany accepted last year, judging by the recent social mood in Germany, this is about 300,000 too many.

“We’re preparing for 250,000 to 300,000 refugees this year,” BAMF head Frank-Juergen Weise told Bild am Sonntag newspaper in comments due to be published on Sunday.

Germans tend to use the word “refugee” to refer to both refugees and migrants who are seeking protection but do not have refugee status.

Worse, Weise added that if more people were to come than estimated, his office would come under pressure but suggested he was not worried about such a scenario, saying it was instead likely that fewer  than 300,000 would come this year.

Actually, that depends: if the refugee deal that Germany cobbled together with Erdogan in March (and which cost Europe €3 billion) were to fall apart, Germany could face not 300,000 but 3,000,000 refugees in the near future.  It would also mean the end of Merkel and her legacy.

For now, however, there is some optimism: Weise said Germany took in fewer migrants in 2015 than previously thought because some were registered twice and others had moved on to other destinations. “We’ll present the exact number soon but it’s certain that less than one million people came to Germany last year,” he said. Weise said it would take a long time and a lot of money to integrate the newcomers into the labor market.

He said 70 percent of the migrants who had already arrived were fit for employment but added that the majority of them would be dependent on basic social security provision before they manage to get jobs. He estimated that around 10 percent of the new arrivals had university degrees while around 40 percent do not have formal vocational training but do have practical work experience, he said.

Even so, few corporations have been willing to integrate the refugees into their workforce, prompting Merkel to urge Germany‘s largest companies to hire migrants. So far this attempt at “persuasion” has not worked.

Meanwhile, Germany remains on edge, and with every incremental terrorist attack on German soil, not only do Merkel’s re-election chances slip away as her approval plumbs new lows, but the popularity of Germany’s anti-Muslim AfD, whose leader last week urged Germans to arm themselves, surges to new highs,

via http://ift.tt/2bvcdX7 Tyler Durden

Don’t Think Armageddon, Think “A Thousand Balls Of Flame… And Then Crickets!”

Authored by Dmitry Orlov, originally posted at ClubOrlov.com,

A whiff of World War III hangs in the air. In the US, Cold War 2.0 is on, and the anti-Russian rhetoric emanating from the Clinton campaign, echoed by the mass media, hearkens back to McCarthyism and the red scare. In response, many people are starting to think that Armageddon might be nigh – an all-out nuclear exchange, followed by nuclear winter and human extinction. It seems that many people in the US like to think that way. Goodness gracious!

But, you know, this is hardly unreasonable of them. The US is spiraling down into financial, economic and political collapse, losing its standing in the world and turning into a continent-sized ghetto full of drug abuse, violence and decaying infrastructure, its population vice-ridden, poisoned with genetically modified food, morbidly obese, exploited by predatory police departments and city halls, plus a wide assortment of rackets, from medicine to education to real estate… That we know.

We also know how painful it is to realize that the US is damaged beyond repair, or to acquiesce to the fact that most of the damage is self-inflicted: the endless, useless wars, the limitless corruption of money politics, the toxic culture and gender wars, and the imperial hubris and willful ignorance that underlies it all… This level of disconnect between the expected and the observed certainly hurts, but the pain can be avoided, for a time, through mass delusion.

This sort of downward spiral does not automatically spell “Apocalypse,” but the specifics of the state cult of the US – an old-time religiosity overlaid with the secular religion of progress – are such that there can be no other options: either we are on our way up to build colonies on Mars, or we perish in a ball of flame. Since the humiliation of having to ask the Russians for permission to fly the Soyuz to the International Space Station makes the prospect of American space colonies seem dubious, it’s Plan B: balls of flame here we come!

And so, most of the recent American warmongering toward Russia can be explained by the desire to find anyone but oneself to blame for one’s unfolding demise. This is a well-understood psychological move—projecting the shadow—where one takes everything one hates but can’t admit to about oneself and projects it onto another. On a subconscious level (and, in the case of some very stupid people, even a conscious one) the Americans would like to nuke Russia until it glows, but can’t do so because Russia would nuke them right back. But the Americans can project that same desire onto Russia, and since they have to believe that they are good while Russia is evil, this makes the Armageddon scenario appear much more likely.

But this way of thinking involves a break with reality. There is exactly one nation in the world that nukes other countries, and that would be the United States. It gratuitously nuked Japan, which was ready to surrender anyway, just because it could. It prepared to nuke Russia at the start of the Cold War, but was prevented from doing so by a lack of a sufficiently large number of nuclear bombs at the time. And it attempted to render Russia defenseless against nuclear attack, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, but has been prevented from doing so by Russia’s new weapons. These include, among others, long-range supersonic cruise missiles (Kalibr), and suborbital intercontinental missiles carrying multiple nuclear payloads capable of evasive maneuvers as they approach their targets (Sarmat). All of these new weapons are impossible to intercept using any conceivable defensive technology. At the same time, Russia has also developed its own defensive capabilities, and its latest S-500 system will effectively seal off Russia’s airspace, being able to intercept targets both close to the ground and in low Earth orbit.

In the meantime, the US has squandered a fantastic sum of money fattening up its notoriously corrupt defense establishment with various versions of “Star Wars,” but none of that money has been particularly well spent. The two installations in Europe of Aegis Ashore (completed in Romania, planned in Poland) won’t help against Kalibr missiles launched from submarines or small ships in the Pacific or the Atlantic, close to US shores, or against intercontinental missiles that can fly around them. The THAAD installation currently going into South Korea (which the locals are currently protesting by shaving their heads) won’t change the picture either.

There is exactly one nuclear aggressor nation on the planet, and it isn’t Russia. But this shouldn’t matter. In spite of American efforts to undermine it, the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) remains in effect. The probability of a nuclear exchange is determined not by anyone’s policy but by the likelihood of it happening by accident. Since there is no winning strategy in a nuclear war, nobody has any reason to try to start one. Under no circumstances is the US ever going to be able to dictate its terms to Russia by threatening it with nuclear annihilation.

If a nuclear war is not in the cards, how about a conventional one? The US has been sabre-rattling by stationing troops and holding drills in the Baltics, right on Russia's western border, installing ABM systems in Romania, Poland and South Korea, supporting anti-Russian Ukrainian Nazis, etc. All of this seems quite provocative; can it result in a war? And what would that war look like?

Here, we have to look at how Russia has responded to previous provocations. These are all the facts that we know, and can use to predict what will happen, as opposed to purely fictional, conjectural statements unrelated to known facts.

When the US or its proxies attack an enclave of Russian citizens outside of Russia's borders, here are the types of responses that we have been able to observe so far:

1. The example of Georgia. During the Summer Olympics in Beijing (a traditional time of peace), the Georgian military, armed and trained by the US and Israel, invaded South Ossetia. This region was part of Georgia in name only, being mostly inhabited by Russian speakers and passport-holders. Georgian troops started shelling its capital, Tskhinval, killing some Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in the region and causing civilian casualties. In response, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, within hours completely eliminating Georgia’s war-making capability. They announced that South Ossetia was de facto no longer part of Georgia, throwing in Abkhazia (another disputed Russian enclave) for good measure, and withdrew. Georgia’s warmongering president Saakashvili was pronounced a “political corpse” and left to molder in place. Eventually he was forced to flee Georgia, where he has been declared a fugitive from justice. The US State Department recently gave him a new job, as Governor of Odessa in the Ukraine. Recently, Russian-Georgian relations have been on the mend.

 

2. The example of Crimea. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, in Russia (a traditional time of peace) there occurred an illegal, violent overthrow of the elected, constitutional government of the Ukraine, followed by the installation of a US-picked puppet administration. In response, the overwhelmingly Russian population of the autonomous region of Crimea held a referendum. Some 95% of them voted to secede from the Ukraine and to once again become part of Russia, which they had been for centuries and until very recently. The Russians then used their troops already stationed in the region under an international agreement to make sure that the results of the referendum were duly enacted. Not a single shot was fired during this perfectly peaceful exercise in direct democracy.

 

3. The example of Crimea again. During the Summer Olympics in Rio (a traditional time of peace) a number of Ukrainian operatives stormed the Crimean border and were swiftly apprehended by Russia's Federal Security Service, together with a cache of weapons and explosives. A number of them were killed in the process, along with two Russians. The survivors immediately confessed to planning to organize terrorist attacks at the ferry terminal that links Crimea with the Russian mainland and a railway station. The ringleader of the group confessed to being promised the princely sum of $140 for carrying out these attacks. All of them are very much looking forward to a warm, dry bunk and three square meals of day, care of the Russian government, which must seem like a slice of heaven compared to the violence, chaos, destitution and desolation that characterizes life in present-day Ukraine. In response, the government in Kiev protested against “Russian provocation,” and put its troops on alert to prepare against “Russian invasion.” Perhaps the next shipment of US aid to the Ukraine should include a supply of chlorpromazine or some other high-potency antipsychotic medication.

 

Note the constant refrain of “during the Olympics.” This is not a coincidence but is indicative of a certain American modus operandi. Yes, waging war during a traditional time of peace is both cynical and stupid. But the American motto seems to be “If we try something repeatedly and it still doesn't work, then we just aren’t trying hard enough.” In the minds of those who plan these events, the reason they never work right can’t possibly have anything to do with it being stupid. This is known as “Level III Stupid”: stupidity so profound that it is unable to comprehend its own stupidity.

 

4. The example of Donbass. After the events described in point 2 above, this populous, industrialized region, which was part of Russia until well into the 20th century and is linguistically and culturally Russian, went into political turmoil, because most of the locals wanted nothing to do with the government that had been installed in Kiev, which they saw as illegitimate. The Kiev government proceeded to make things worse, first by enacting laws infringing on the rights of Russian-speakers, then by actually attacking the region with the army, which they continue to do to this day, with three unsuccessful invasions and continuous shelling of both residential and industrial areas, in the course of which over ten thousand civilians have been murdered and many more wounded. In response, Russia assisted with establishing a local resistance movement supported by a capable military contingent formed of local volunteers. This was done by Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity, and by Russian private citizens donating money to the cause. In spite of Western hysteria over “Russian invasion” and “Russian aggression,” no evidence of it exists. Instead, the Russian government has done just three things: it refused to interfere with the work of its citizens coming to the aid of Donbass; it pursued a diplomatic strategy for resolving the conflict; and it has provided numerous convoys of humanitarian aid to the residents of Donbass. Russia’s diplomatic initiative resulted in two international agreements—Minsk I and Minsk II—which compelled both Kiev and Donbass to pursue a strategy of political resolution of the conflict through cessation of hostilities and the granting to Donbass of full autonomy. Kiev has steadfastly refused to fulfill its obligations under these agreements. The conflict is now frozen, but continuing to bleed because of Ukrainian shelling, waiting for the Ukrainian puppet government to collapse.

 

To complete the picture, let us include Russia’s recent military action in Syria, where it came to the defense of the embattled Syrian government and quickly demolished a large part of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Islamic Caliphate, along with various other terrorist organizations active in the region. The rationale for this action is that Russia saw a foreign-funded terrorist nest in Syria as a direct threat to Russia’s security. Two other notable facts here are that Russia acted in accordance with international law, having been invited by Syria’s legitimate, internationally recognized government and that the military action was scaled back as soon as it seemed possible for all of the legitimate (non-terrorist) parties to the conflict to return to the negotiating table. These three elements—using military force as a reactive security measure, scrupulous adherence to international law, and seeing military action as being in the service of diplomacy—are very important to understanding Russia’s methods and ambitions.

Turning now to US military/diplomatic adventures, we see a situation that is quite different. US military spending is responsible for over half of all federal discretionary spending, dwarfing most other vitally important sectors, such as infrastructure, public medicine and public education. It serves several objectives. Most importantly, it is a public jobs program: a way of employing people who are not employable in any actually productive capacity due to lack of intelligence, education and training. Second, it is a way for politicians and defense contractors to synergistically enrich themselves and each other at the public’s expense. Third, it is an advertising program for weapons sales, the US being the top purveyor of lethal technology in the world. Last of all, it is a way of projecting force around the world, bombing into submission any country that dares oppose Washington’s global hegemonic ambitions, often in total disregard of international law. Nowhere on this list is the actual goal of defending the US.

None of these justifications works vis-à-vis Russia. In dollar terms, the US outspends Russia on defense hands down. However, viewed in terms of purchasing parity, Russia manages to buy as much as ten times more defensive capability per unit national wealth than the US, largely negating this advantage. Also, what the US gets for its money is inferior: the Russian military gets the weapons it wants; the US military gets what the corrupt political establishment and their accomplices in the military-industrial complex want in order to enrich themselves. In terms of being an advertising campaign for weapons sales, watching Russian weaponry in action in Syria, effectively wiping out terrorists in short order through a relentless bombing campaign using scant resources, then seeing US weaponry used by the Saudis in Yemen, with much support and advice from the US, being continuously defeated by lightly armed insurgents, is unlikely to generate too many additional sales leads. Lastly, the project of maintaining US global hegemony seems to be on the rocks as well. Russia and China are now in a de facto military union. Russia’s superior weaponry, coupled with China’s almost infinitely huge infantry, make it an undefeatable combination. Russia now has a permanent air base in Syria, has made a deal with Iran to use Iranian military bases, and is in the process of prying Turkey away from NATO. As the US military, with its numerous useless bases around the world and piles of useless gadgets, turns into an international embarrassment, it remains, for the time being, a public jobs program for employing incompetents, and a rich source of graft.

In all, it is important to understand how actually circumscribed American military capabilities are. The US is very good at attacking vastly inferior adversaries. The action against Nazi Germany only succeeded because it was by then effectively defeated by the Red Army—all except for the final mop-up, which is when the US came out of its timid isolation and joined the fray. Even North Korea and Vietnam proved too tough for it, and even there its poor performance would have been much poorer were it not for the draft, which had the effect of adding non-incompetents to the ranks, but produced the unpleasant side-effect of enlisted men shooting their incompetent officers—a much underreported chapter of American military history. And now, with the addition of LGBTQ people to the ranks, the US military is on its way to becoming an international laughing stock. Previously, terms like “faggot” and “pussy” were in widespread use in the US military’s basic training. Drill sergeants used such terminology to exhort the “numb-nuts” placed in their charge to start acting like men. I wonder what words drill sergeants use now that they’ve been tasked with training those they previously referred to as “faggots” and “pussies”? The comedic potential of this nuance isn’t lost on Russia’s military men.

This comedy can continue as long as the US military continues to shy away from attacking any serious adversary, because if it did, comedy would turn to tragedy rather quickly.

  • If, for instance, US forces tried to attack Russian territory by lobbing missiles across the border, they would be neutralized in instantaneous retaliation by Russia’s vastly superior artillery.
  • If Americans or their proxies provoked Russians living outside of Russia (and there are millions of them) to the point of open rebellion, Russian volunteers, acting in an unofficial capacity and using private funds, would quickly train, outfit and arm them, creating a popular insurgency that would continue for years, if necessary, until Americans and their proxies capitulate.
  • If the Americans do the ultimately foolish thing and invade Russian territory, they would be kettled and annihilated, as repeatedly happened to the Ukrainian forces in Donbass.
  • Any attempt to attack Russia using the US aircraft carrier fleet would result in its instantaneous sinking using any of several weapons: ballistic anti-ship missiles, supercavitating torpedos or supersonic cruise missiles.
  • Strategic bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles would be eliminated by Russia’s advanced new air defense systems.

So much for attack; but what about defense? Well it turns out that there is an entire separate dimension to engaging Russia militarily. You see, Russia lost a huge number of civilian lives while fighting off Nazi Germany. Many people, including old people, women and children, died of starvation and disease, or from German shelling, or from the abuse they suffered at the hands of German soldiers. On the other hand, Soviet military casualties were on par with those of the Germans. This incredible calamity befell Russia because it had been invaded, and it has conditioned Russian military thinking ever since. The next large-scale war, if there ever is one, will be fought on enemy territory. Thus, if the US attacks Russia, Russia will counterattack the US mainland. Keeping in mind that the US hasn’t fought a war on its own territory in over 150 years, this would come as quite a shock.

Of course, this would be done in ways that are consistent with Russian military thinking. Most importantly, the attack must be such that the possibility of triggering a nuclear exchange remains minimized. Second, the use of force would be kept to the minimum required to secure a cessation of hostilities and a return to the negotiating table on terms favorable to Russia. Third, every effort would be made to make good use of internal popular revolts to create long-lasting insurgencies, letting volunteers provide the necessary arms and training. Lastly, winning the peace is just as important as winning the war, and every effort would be made to inform the American public that what they are experiencing is just retribution for certain illegal acts. From a diplomatic perspective, it would be much more tidy to treat the problem of war criminals running the US as an internal, American political problem, to be solved by Americans themselves, with an absolute minimum of outside help. This would best be accomplished through a bit of friendly, neighborly intelligence-sharing, letting all interested parties within the US know who exactly should be held responsible for these war crimes, what they and their family members look like, and where they live.

The question then is, What is the absolute minimum of military action—what I am calling “a thousand balls of fire,” named after George Bush Senior’s “a thousand points of light”—to restore peace on terms favorable to Russia? It seems to me that 1000 “balls of fire” is just about the right number. These would be smallish explosions—enough to demolish a building or an industrial installation, with almost no casualties. This last point is extremely important, because the goal is to destroy the system without actually directly hurting any of the people. It wouldn’t be anyone else’s fault if people in the US suffer because they refuse to do as their own FEMA asks them to do: stockpile a month’s worth of food and water and put together an emergency evacuation plan. In addition, given the direction in which the US is heading, getting a second passport, expatriating your savings, and getting some firearms training just in case you end up sticking around are all good ideas.

The reason it is very important for this military action to not kill anyone is this: there are some three million Russians currently residing in the US, and killing any of them is definitely not on strategy. There is an even larger number of people from populous countries friendly to Russia, such as China and India, who should also remain unharmed. Thus, a strategy that would result in massive loss of life would simply not be acceptable. A much better scenario would involve producing a crisis that would quickly convince the Russians living in the US (along with all the other foreign nationals and first-generation immigrants, and quite a few of the second-generation immigrants too) that the US is no longer a good place to live. Then all of these people could be repatriated—a process that would no doubt take a few years. Currently, Russia is the number three destination worldwide for people looking for a better place to live, after the US and Germany. Germany is now on the verge of open revolt against Angela Merkel’s insane pro-immigration policies. The US is not far behind, and won’t remain an attractive destination for much longer. And that leaves Russia as the number one go-to place on the whole planet. That’s a lot of pressure, even for a country that is 11 time zones wide and has plenty of everything except tropical fruit and people.

We must also keep in mind that Israel—which is, let’s face it, a US protectorate temporarily parked on Palestinian land—wouldn’t last long without massive US support. Fully a third of Israeli population happens to be Russian. The moment Project Israel starts looking defunct, most of these Russian Jews, clever people that they are, will no doubt decide to stage an exodus and go right back to Russia, as is their right. This will create quite a headache for Russia’s Federal Migration Service, because it will have to sift through them all, letting in all the normal Russian Jews while keeping out the Zionist zealots, the war criminals and the ultra-religious nutcases. This will also take considerable time.

But actions that risk major loss of life also turn out to be entirely unnecessary, because an effective alternative strategy is available: destroy key pieces of government and corporate infrastructure, then fold your arms and wait for the other side to crawl back to the negotiating table waving a white rag. You see, there are just a few magic ingredients that allow the US to continue to exist as a stable, developed country capable of projecting military force overseas. They are: the electric grid; the financial system; the interstate highway system; rail and ocean freight; the airlines; and oil and gas pipelines. Disable all of the above, and it’s pretty much game over. How many “balls of flame” would that take? Probably well under a thousand.

Disabling the electric grid is almost ridiculously easy, because the system is very highly integrated and interdependent, consisting of just three sub-grids, called “interconnects”: western, eastern and Texas. The most vulnerable parts of the system are the Large Power Transformers (LPTs) which step up voltages to millions of volts for transmission, and step them down again for distribution. These units are big as houses, custom-built, cost millions of dollars and a few years to replace, and are mostly manufactured outside the US. Also, along with the rest of the infrastructure in the US, most of them are quite old and prone to failure. There are several thousand of these key pieces of equipment, but because the electric grid in the US is working at close to capacity, with several critical choke points, it would be completely disabled if even a handful of the particularly strategic LPTs were destroyed. In the US, any extended power outage in any of the larger urban centers automatically triggers large-scale looting and mayhem. Some estimate that just a two week long outage would push the situation to a point of no return, where the damage would become too extensive to ever be repaired.

Disabling the financial system is likewise relatively trivial. There are just a few choke points, including the Federal Reserve, a few major banks, debit and credit card company data centers, etc. They can be disabled using a variety of methods, such as a cruise missile strike, a cyberattack, electric supply disruption or even civil unrest. It bears noting that the financial system in the US is rigged to blow even without foreign intervention. The combination of runaway debt, a gigantic bond bubble, the Federal Reserve trapped into ever-lower interest rates, underfunded pensions and other obligations, hugely overpriced real estate and a ridiculously frothy stock market will eventually detonate it from the inside.

A few more surgical strikes can take out the oil and gas pipelines, import terminals, highway bridges and tunnels, railroads and airlines. A few months without access to money and financial services, electricity, gasoline, diesel, natural gas, air transport or imported spare parts needed to repair the damage should be enough to force the US to capitulate. If it makes any efforts to restore any of these services, an additional strike or two would quickly negate them.

The number of “balls of flame” can be optimized by taking advantage of destructive synergies: a GPS jammer deployed near the site of an attack can prevent responders from navigating to it; taking out a supply depot together with the facility it serves, coupled with transportation system disruptions, can delay repairs by many months; a simple bomb threat can immobilize a transportation hub, making it a sitting duck instead of a large number of moving targets; etc.

You may think that executing such a fine-tuned attack would require a great deal of intelligence, which would be difficult to gather, but this is not the case. First, a great deal of tactically useful information is constantly being leaked by insiders, who often consider themselves “patriots.” Second, what hasn’t been leaked can be hacked, because of the pitiable state of cybersecurity in the US. Remember, Russia is where anti-virus software is made—and a few of the viruses too. The National Security Agency was recently hacked, and its crown jewels stolen; if it can be hacked, what about all those whose security it supposedly protects?

You might also think that the US, if attacked in this manner, could effectively retaliate in kind, but this scenario is rather difficult to imagine. Many Russians don’t find English too difficult, are generally familiar with the US through exposure to US media, and the specialists among them, especially those who have studied or taught at universities in the US, can navigate their field of expertise in the US almost as easily as in Russia. Most Americans, on the other hand, can barely find Russia on a map, can’t get past the Cyrillic alphabet and find Russian utterly incomprehensible.

Also consider that Russia’s defense establishment is mainly focused on… defense. Offending people in foreign lands is not generally seen as strategically important. “A hundred friends is better than a hundred rubles” is a popular saying. And so Russia manages to be friends with India and Pakistan at the same time, and with China and Vietnam. In the Middle East, it maintains cordial relations with Turkey, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Iran, also all at the same time. Russian diplomats are required to keep channels of communication open with friends and adversaries alike, at all times. Yes, being inexplicably adversarial toward Russia can be excruciatingly painful, but you can make it stop any time! All it takes is a phone call.

Add to this the fact that the vicissitudes of Russian history have conditioned Russia’s population to expect the worst, and simply deal with it. “They can’t kill us all!” is another favorite saying. If Americans manage to make them suffer, the Russian people would no doubt find great solace in the fact they are making the Americans suffer even worse, and many among them would think that this achievement, in itself, is already a victory. Nor will they remain without help; it is no accident that Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, previously ran the Emergencies Ministry, and his performance at his job there won him much adulation and praise. In short, if attacked, the Russians will simply take their lumps—as they always have—and then go on to conquer and win, as they always have.

It doesn’t help matters that most of what little Americans have been told about Russia by their political leaders and mass media is almost entirely wrong. They keep hearing about Putin and the “Russian bear,” and so they are probably imagining Russia to be a vast wasteland where Vladimir Putin keeps company with a chess-playing, internet server-hacking, nuclear physicist, rocket scientist, Ebola vaccine-inventing, polyglot, polymath bear. Bears are wonderful, Russians love bears, but let’s not overstate things. Yes, Russian bears can ride bicycles and are sometimes even good with children, but they are still just wild animals and/or pets (many Russians can’t draw that distinction). And so when the Americans growl about the “Russian bear,” the Russians wonder, Which one?

In short, Russia is to most Americans a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and there simply isn’t a large enough pool of intelligent Americans with good knowledge of Russia to draw upon, whereas to many Russians the US is an open book. As far as the actual American “intelligence” and “security” services, they are all bloated bureaucratic boondoggles mired in political opportunism and groupthink that excel at just two things: unquestioningly following idiotic procedures, and creatively fitting the facts to the politics du jour. “Proving” that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction”—no problem! Telling Islamist terrorists apart from elderly midwestern grandmothers at an airport security checkpoint—no can do!

Russia will not resort to military measures against the US unless sorely provoked. Time and patience are on Russia’s side. With each passing year, the US grows weaker and loses friends and allies, while Russia grows stronger and gains friends and allies. The US, with its political dysfunction, runaway debt, decaying infrastructure and spreading civil unrest, is a dead nation walking. It will take time for each of the United States to neatly demolish themselves into their own footprints, like those three New York skyscrapers did on 9/11 (WTC #1, #2 and #7) but Russia is very patient. Russia is ready to respond to any provocation, but the last thing the Russians want is another war. And that, if you like good news, is the best news you are going to hear. But if you still think that there is going to be a war with Russia, don’t think “Armageddon”; think “a thousand balls of flame,” and then—crickets!

via http://ift.tt/2bSDTcW Tyler Durden

Why The Fed Will Never Reduce Its $4.5 Trillion Balance Sheet Again

Back in early April, one of the foremost experts on the practical applications of QE (there are many more “experts” on the discredited theoretical framework of QE, most of whom are career economists), Credit Suisse’s Zoltan Pozsar wrote a note titled “What Excess Reserves”, in which the former NY Fed analyst made a very clear case for why the Fed’s balance sheet will never shrink again (particularly in the context of the broken Fed Funds market). Some of the note’s highlights:

Instead of asking when the Fed will shrink its balance sheet, it’s about time the market gets used to the idea that we are witnessing a structural shift in the amount of reserves the U.S. banks will be required to hold, where reserves replace bonds as the primary source of banks’ liquidity. And that this shift will underwrite demand for a large Fed balance sheet.

 

Back in April, ge also laid out the role of the Fed’s massively expanded balance sheet in the context of the prime money fund shrinkage as a result of the October 14 money market reform deadline:

[W]e are witnessing a structural shift in the amount of reserves held by foreign banks as well. Gone are the days when foreign banks settled their Eurodollar transactions with deposits held at correspondent money center banks in New York. Under the new rules, interbank deposits do not count as HQLA, and foreign banks are increasingly settling Eurodollar transactions with reserve balances at the Fed. Foreign banks’ demand for reserves as HQLA to back Eurodollar deposits and as ultimate means of settlement for Eurodollar transactions will underwrite the need for a large Fed balance sheet as  well. Prime money fund reform is a very important yet grossly under-appreciated aspect of this, one with geo-strategic relevance for the United States.

 

Prime money funds have been providing the overwhelming portion of funding for foreign banks’ reserve balances. If the prime money fund complex shrinks dramatically after the October 14th reform deadline, funding these reserve balancees will become structurally more expensive. This in turn means that for foreign banks across the globe running Eurodollar businesses – lending Eurodollars and taking Eurodollar deposits – will become structurally more expensive. Why? Because if the LCR requires banks to hold more reserves as the preferred medium for settling Eurodollar transactions and the funding ofthese balances become more expensive, funding the liquidity portfolio corresponding to Eurodollar books may become a negative trade. Will that somewhat diminish the dollar’s pre-eminence as the global reserve currency and play into China’s hand? You bet

Naturally, the loss of the dollar’s reserve status has to be avoided. But Pozsar’s conclusion was simple: the size of the Fed’s balance sheet isn’t going down, and the Fed will have to accept and admit it:

with the private sector’s ability to issue money market claims sharply limited by Basel III, money can only find a home on the sovereign’s balance sheet: either through the Treasury bill market or through the Fed’s o/n RRP facility. Either option will mean that demand for a large Fed balance sheet will remain: reserves will not be eliminated, but swapped into other liabilities – larger cash balances for the U.S. Treasury (and on the flipside more bills for institutional cash pools) and more o/n RRPs for money funds (and on the flipside safer money funds for institutional cash pools).

 

Oddly, however, the Fed keeps emphasizing that the o/n RRP is not there for the long haul or to meet money funds’ demand for safe assets, but to put a floor under interest rates.

We disagree. Quantities matter again, in ways the Fed has yet to appreciate.

Well, after this weekend’s Jackson Hole symposium it is clear that quite a few of the Fed members have read the Pozsar piece and are now appreciating that it is very unlikely that the Fed’s balance sheet will ever shrink again.

To be sure, that’s not quite framed as policy just yet. In a presentation by the head of the NY Fed’s capital markets head, Simon Potter, he projected that the Fed’s SOMA Holdings of domestic securities would begin declining between 2018 and 2020. Granted, this is long after the December 2014 forecast, which anticipated that the Fed’s balance sheet would have declined substantially by now.  It did not.

The head of the PPT then said the following prepared remarks:

Today, many advanced economy central banks find themselves in a situation where their policy rate is at or close to zero, and policy accommodation is being added or maintained by asset purchases and forward guidance. For example, the FOMC has indicated that it will continue reinvestment of principal payments on its portfolio until normalization of the fed funds rate is well underway. As can be seen in Figure 7, market estimates of when the SOMA portfolio will start to normalize have moved out from the end 2015 to the middle of 2018 or even later.

In retrospect, this appears to be merely padding to a Fed which realizes it will never be able to unwind its balance sheet again.  As Reuters commented overnight, “policymakers think new tools might be needed in an era of slower economic growth and a potentially giant and long-lasting trove of assets held by the Fed. And they are convinced the time to vet them is now, while rates look to be heading up.”

“Central banking is in a brave new world,” Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

At the center of the Fed’s discussions is its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, built up by bond-buying sprees to combat the 2007-09 recession but which has been criticized by many lawmakers.

 While policymakers have maintained the Fed should eventually reduce its bond holdings, Lockhart said some officials were closer to accepting that they needed to learn to live with them.  “I suspect there are colleagues who are contemplating at least maybe a statically large balance sheet is just going to be a fact of life and be central to the toolkit,” he said.

So far the official narrative has been that the balance sheet will shrink only very slowly, a process that would take years and would not begin until interest rate increases are well underway. Progress could be made only in a very long-lived economic expansion. “I am sure everyone in the audience would be happy if this were the reality. I certainly would be,” Simon Potter, the New York Fed’s markets chief, said during the conference.

Instead of expecting balance sheet shrinkage, think more QE: Yellen, in her speech on Friday, said balance sheets would likely swell again in future recessions as the Fed snaps up assets to stimulate the economy.

But whether or not the Fed’s balance sheet ever srhinks again (it won’t), there are bigger issues, as noted earlier: the conference presented a menu of more exotic proposals. This included a Fed takeover of short-term debt markets and abolishing cash in order to charge negative interest rates.

Many of the more radical proposals, including one to abandon monetary policy altogether and focus on urging runaway deficit-spending, were seen as ivory tower musings. Most policymakers, including Yellen, said it was likely the tools the Fed used to fight the last crisis, including rate cuts, bond purchases and jawboning on rate expectations, will be adequate.

Still, she said, “future policymakers might choose to consider some additional tools that have been employed by other central banks,” including buying a wider range of assets or raising the inflation target. She also cited the possibility of targeting the average level of prices in the economy rather than their rate of change.

Her laundry list of possible tools did not include negative rates, an idea that has been nearly universally panned by Fed officials. She said the Fed is not actively considering additional policy tools but participants at the conference suggested the process is already well underway. “You are seeing an exploration of how are we going to operate in a quite different world than before the crisis,” Lockhart said.

A world, incidentally, where the Fed’s $4.5 trillion holdings of government debt are seen as perfectly normal. Which is why our advice for anyone who is asking how the Fed continues to spin the current monetary policy as tightening when it still is pregnant with trillions in debt which will never be reduced (and can barely muster a 25 bps rate hike every year), is to stop asking silly questions and move on.

 

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The Moment Of Maximum Peril – Clinton Vs. Trump

Submitted by Matthew Jamison via Strategic-Culture.org,

With the conclusion of the summer political conventions in America and Labor Day approaching in the States, the race for the White House is entering its final phase. The Republican and Democrat gatherings in Cleveland and Philadelphia respectively where poles apart and presented two starkly different visions of America.

Mr Trump’s Republican Convention painted a portrait of America like something straight out of the book of Revelations and the End of Days. Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric attempted to caricature the US under the Obama administration as a country on the brink of civil breakdown, characterized by death and destruction, widespread political corruption, economic malaise and a country full of fear and anger, in steep decline which Trump promises will be reversed with his slogan of «Make America Great Again». 

Indeed, the slogan encapsulates a deeper problem which is emerging in the United States and the rise of Trump is merely a symptom of this and perhaps even a forerunner of what is to come. Even if Donald Trump loses the November 8th Presidential election, what he stands for and his devoted followers are not going away and will become an entrenched and even more aggrieved and aggressive feature of American society and politics. 

Last autumn while attending the Georgetown University Leadership Seminar of which I am member we were treated to a fantastic lunch at the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC. The guest speaker was the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton and Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve, Ms Alicia Rivlin. I posed a question to her on a subject I had been thinking about regarding all the talk of American decline. For over half a century Americans have been raised on a discourse of American greatness and exceptionalism. Every American over the last 60 odd years is constantly told by their media, business leaders, politicians, military generals et al how the United States is the greatest country on Earth and is the number one Superpower on the planet. No other country, so the discourse runs, comes close to American strength, greatness and dominance. Rivals and challengers of the past whether it be the British Empire, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union have all fall by the way side in the titanic struggle of nation states and Great Powers. 

So I asked Ms Rivlin, hypothetically, how she thought Americans would react if in a couple of decades to come a significant and visible economic gap opened up between the USA and China? Unfortunately, she didn’t really answer the question and became needlessly defensive. Rivlin started off by making a false analogy with how Britain in her opinion adjusted rather well to its diminished role after the Second World War and the loss of Empire. Clearly she was unaware about the never ending debate in Britain regarding its place and role in the world and position in Europe. As the former Secretary of State Dean Acheson said of the UK in 1962: «Britain has lost an Empire and yet to find a role». After the EU referendum and Brexit I think that comment is just as apt in 2016 as it was in 1962. So she was wrong on that point and then dismissed the talk of American decline and the Rise of China in a blasé manner as just «silly». She failed to see, whether intentionally or not, that whatever one thinks about the merits of seriousness or silliness of such talk and concerns, a lot of people in America believe it is happening as encapsulated in Mr Trump’s campaign slogan: «Make America Great Again». Clearly, a great deal of people in America think the country is in terminal decline and want something radical to reverse such decline. Hence their messenger Donald Trump and his rhetoric of America First. 

Now, America in 2016 is still the number one economy in the world and the strongest military power on the planet. Yet quite a lot of Americans are suffering economically especially after the Wall St induced global financial crisis and Great Recession. I personally think America still has many great days ahead, but that does not negate the fact, that for many people in America they don’t feel America is still preeminent, they worry that the country is losing its dominant Superpower status and even if it is preeminent, many of its citizens do not feel they are getting any return in their own lives from this global primacy. So if the rhetoric and politics of Trump can flourish in 2016 just imagine what could emerge from this group of disaffected if say come 2036 and China has over taken the US to become the world’s number one economy, how then would the «Trumpers» behave and what politically would they embrace? 

Over on the other end of the political spectrum the Democrat Convention could not have been more different. Whereas Cleveland was all doom and gloom, Philadelphia was sunshine and love. The Democratic Party successfully replicated the themes and optics of Ronald Reagan’s uplifting 1984 «It’s morning in America» Convention and wrapped themselves in the flag with a parade of Hollywood celebrities, optimistic pop singers, military veterans and Generals and a powerful speech from a Gold Star father Mr Khan.

The central message of the Philadelphia gathering was that America is back from the brink of 2008-09 and the foundations have been laid for a boom with a more prosperous and egalitarian society in the making and the best days are still yet to come.

From all the post-Convention opinion polls and further surveys taken through August thus far, it would appear Mrs Clinton has successfully unified the Democratic Party behind her and her policy platform and vision is resonating successfully with the majority of American voters in contrast to Mr Trump’s imploding campaign and negative poll numbers. Part of what Trump represents is not only a deep seated anxiety that America is on a downward trajectory this century, hence his China bashing and protectionist rhetoric, his candidacy also represents a white backlash against the increasing and rapid demographic changes in America society. America is on course by the 2050s to no longer be a white majority country. The population growth of non-white ethnic minorities is over taking that of white Americans. Thus Trump’s dog whistle racism with lines such as: «We speak English in this country, not Spanish!» 

Mr Trump may have had an appalling August but he is not to be underestimated. There is still a long way to go before November 8th. Who could have thought a majority of the British people would have been so ignorant to endorse the lies and bigotry of the Leave campaign and opt to plunge the UK into its greatest existential identity crisis since WWII. For Mrs Clinton paradoxically this is her moment of maximum peril. It is always at the moment when she is doing best and riding high in the polls that the US national media turn on her and attempt to burst her bubble.

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New Evidence Reveals Iran Evaded Sanctions, Continued Nuclear Weapon Development With Venezuela

By Lisa Daftari of Foreign Desk News

New evidence suggests Iran received help from Venezuela with its nuclear program despite a decade of U.N.-mandated sanctions aimed at curbing the rouge regime’s controversial nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

A 2009 document obtained by Brazil’s leading weekly, Veja magazine, shows late dictator President Hugo Chavez signing off on the release of funds to help Iran with its nuclear ambitions.

Specifically, the document states the funds were to be designated for the import of equipment for a gunpowder factory and the development of production plants for nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose, elements used in rocket propulsion for Iran’s government. There is also the suggestion that Chavez may have helped Iran produce rocket motors.

The document provides written proof that Iran successfully continued with its weapons-building program, circumventing what were perceived as ‘watertight’ sanctions.

The revelation comes as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is currently touring South America visiting Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador Nicaragua and Venezuela, in what Iranian officials have billed as a “new chapter” in strengthening political and economic ties between Iran and South American countries.

“In my line of work, I can’t believe in coincidences. I can’t believe that $400 million was given to Iran in cash and now Zarif is running through Latin America. The Iranian regime understands that in Latin America corruption can be used to their advantage,” said Joseph M. Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, who points to the long-standing relationship between Venezuela and Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy.

Humire is also the co-editor of Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America.

“Latin America is Hezbollah’s biggest cash cow. It would make sense that this is a very strategic visit by Zarif to continue some of Iran’s previous activities which were challenged because of sanctions,” Humire said, adding that Hezbollah has been deeply involved in drug trafficking in Latin America to offset any financial hardship brought about by the sanctions.

As a member state of the United Nations, Venezuela was obliged to cooperate with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 that unanimously called for a ban on arm sales to the Islamic republic.

But uncertainties were already high in 2009 when Turkey intercepted a suspicious shipment from Iran to Venezuela containing 22 containers of lab equipment capable of producing explosives but was labelled as “tractor parts.”

Humire, who has long analyzed Iran’s involvement in Latin America has studied twenty different transactions between the two countries in several areas, finding that even those dealings considered legal, were problematic due to the "dual use" that they could present.

“Iran’s secretive military programs go far beyond violating sanctions. It has to do with providing military and industrial support in these countries,” Humire said.

“At the far end of that, you can begin to speculate they are beginning to develop military assets.”

In a 2011 hearing at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, then head of U.S. Southern command General Douglas Fraser told the committee that the U.S. was concerned about weekly flights between Venezuela and Iran dubbed the “Axis of Evil Express,” that could potentially be used to transport terrorists and weapons.

"My concern, as I look at it, is the fact that there are flights between Iran and Venezuela on a weekly basis, and visas are not required for entrance into Venezuela or Bolivia or Nicaragua," Fraser told the hearing.

Another discrepancy in Iran’s investments in Venezuela, according to Humire, is considering that if the Iranian regime was after economic growth, they would go to "viable countries like Brazil, Colombia, not the ones that are broke, particularly with the heavy instability in Venezuela.”

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Hedge Funds Are “All In” Again

As noted earlier this week, the market hit a new high (or is that low) in complacency earlier this week when we reported that August has seen the least volatility since 1995. Goldman’s David Kostin picks up on this theme in his latest letter and writes that “the current streak of market stability represents the longest period without a 1%+/- daily move since the summer of 2014. Volatility has been similarly subdued with the VIX at 14.”

What is more interesting is that according to Kostin, the current environment makes “stock-picking” virtually impossible: 

Stock picking has been challenging with three-month S&P 500 return dispersion ranking in the 4th percentile in 30 years indicating a tight distribution of company returns.

To be sure, he writes that some strategies have worked:” Cyclicals outperformed Defensives by 500 bp during the last month, Information Technology returned 4% while Telecom and Utilities both fell by 5%”, even as Goldman’s Hedge Fund VIP basket rallied by 3% (for reasons which as we explained last week, were mostly a short squeeze and a surge in leverage).

 

And yet, perhaps it is a function of the low dispersion that hedge funds, which at least on paper are supposed to generate the best risk-adjusted returns, are now dead last in the Sharpe ratio (risk adjusted return) league table.

So with volatility at near record low levels, stock-picking virtually impossible, and hedge funds underperforming every other asset class, what do they do?

Why go all in, of course: recall that year-end bonuses are due in just 4 months, and as of this moment they are not looking good.

The chart above shows the Goldman sentiment Indicator, which ranks net futures positioning versus the past 12 months. Readings below 10 or above 90 indicate extreme positions that are significant in predicting future returns. With the current 90 print, “predicted future returns” are sharply negative.

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49ers Fans Burn Kaepernik Jerseys After ‘Black-Oppression’-Protesting QB Refuses To Stand For National Anthem

The $120 Million-earning, 'black' quarterback (raised by 2 white parents) of the San Fransisco 49ers decided yesterday that in order to protest "a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he would refuse to stand during the national anthem. Colin Kaepernick's "sit in" has not gone down well with some of his 'fans' (or non-fans or other NFL players) with 49ers supporters burning his shirt and others demanding he be banned from playing in The NFL.

Kaepernick has an African American father but, after being put up for adoption, was raised by a white couple alongside their two children.

 

As The Mail reports, Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem on Friday as part of a protest against 'the oppression of black people'. Kaepernick, 28, sat on the team's bench during the anthem before the Niners played host to the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition game.

Explaining his decision, Kaepernick said he refuses to feel pride for a country that mistreats minorities. He told NFL Media:

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.

 

There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

 

To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way".

Furious San Francisco 49ers fans did not take well to the mediocre quarterback's actions. One fan even played The Star-Spangled Banner as he set light to the Number 7 shirt.

Watching with his hand on his chest as it was reduced to ash.

Another, who uploaded a video to Instagram under the handle Nate3914, called the $19million-per-year athlete an 'ignorant son of a b****.'

"People die every single day defending that flag you refuse to stand for and I won’t stand for that.

 

 

This jersey was the worst $50 investment I have ever had … you should never play in the NFL again, move to Canada."

This is not the first time that athletes have brought political discussions into the sporting arena. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem, saying the United States had a history of tyranny and doing so would conflict with his Islamist beliefs. The NBA initially suspended Abdul-Rauf for his stance before it was lifted when he said he would stand and pray silently during the song.

Kaepernick said he is not worried about any potential fallout from his protest. "This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL Media. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."

Kaepernick is in competition to win back the starting quarterback job in San Francisco that he lost to Blaine Gabbert last season. He made his first appearance of the preseason on Friday night after missing two games with a tired shoulder. He finished 2 for 6 for 14 yards and added 18 yards on four runs. Kelly said Kaepernick is still in the running to win the starting job and his protest won't impact the decision.

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HBO’s Great Sunday Night Lineup Is a Tribute To Economic Freedom

Don’t even think about bothering me between 9 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. tonight.

I’ll be parked on my couch, staying up way too late watching HBO‘s great Sunday night lineup: The Night Of, Ballers, Vice Principals, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. These shows perfectly capture why the premium cable channel remains about the last redoubt of “appointment television” in a world of endlessly proliferating on-demand options. Years after shows such as Oz, Sex & the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and other programs set new standards for TV, HBO still manages to produce politically, culturally, and sexually charged content that makes us want to drop whatever we’re doing and watch on a network’s schedule rather than our own.

The main reason for this is one of the least-appreciated: Because you pay for it, HBO is free to engage issues and perspectives that other cable channels shy away from out of fear of alienating advertisers, viewers, and government or industry buttinskies. No matter how racy or edgy, say, Comedy Central, FX, TBS, or Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim can get (which is plenty, thank god), they’re all still bounded by appeals to common decency if not necessarily appeals to the lowest common denominator. Something tells me that Mike Lindell, the ubiquitous-on-cable inventor of My Pillow, doesn’t want his spots to be bookended by the profanity, nudity, and seriously adult situations Girls serves up on a regular basis. The broadcast networks might be freer than ever from governmental content regulation, but they still lag far behind even basic cable in terms of serving up shows that actually cater to adult sensibilities without flinching.

Charging a cover means that HBO’s shows can use adult language and situations not simply to titillate but to reflect how we actually live, talk, and think in the 21st century—and whatever century Game of Thrones is set in. Real Time with Bill Maher sets the standard for political gabfests not simply because he routinely pulls in guests from all over the political spectrum but because you can freely curse on the show. Seriously, how can anybody with half a brain discuss the 2016 election without going full Tourette’s sooner or later? (Disclosure: Matt Welch and I appear on the show.)

But HBO’s expressive freedom consists of much more than blue language and nude scenes. Back in the 1980s, HBO’s awful anthology show The Hitchhiker defined the appeal of premium cable. Each half-hour episode revolved around not just a terrible, Twilight Zone-style plot twist but a single strategically bared breast. Indeed, the real dramatic tension was when and to what ridiculous lengths the producers would go to provide a pretext for a flash of skin.

That was then. The police procedural The Night Of, which closes out its eight-episode season on Sunday, plumbs the intersection of race, class, and law with a grit and unsettling violence that is seen nowhere else on small screen. Starting off as a shaggy-dog story involving a Pakistani-American college kid boosting his father’s cab and picking up a seeming dream girl, the first episode ends with a night of drug-fueled sex, murder, and arrests. As the plot unfolds, we navigate a world that is filled with overlapping and contradictory ethnic enmities, well-intentioned but blinkered law enforcement, and less and less moral clarity. Ballers is superficially a bawdy dramedy about a former football star turned financial manager (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) whose ambition is outstripped by his talents. True to its locker-room roots, there’s more than a little rough talk but there’s also a frank and compelling tension between typically white agents and black clients. It’s also one of the few shows that talks frankly about making money and the power that flows directly from having gobs of it.

Vice Principals sprouts from the dark, twisted, and brutally funny mind of actor and writer Danny McBride, whose previous HBO series, Eastbound and Down, plunged to new depths of tastelessness and black humor. There is no one to root for in this tale of two idiotic school administrators who are endlessly thwarted in their attempts to advance their careers. It takes place in a moral universe where God is either dead or actively shitting on humanity, a comic version of Seneca’s Thyestes, in which two brothers brutalize each other beyond description. I virtually never agree with the substance of John Oliver’s soliloquies on the news of the week—his recent, ill-informed take on charter schools provides an example why—but he’s always intellectually challenging in a way that extends his Daily Show roots into new and more complicated areas. In this, he’s paralleling what Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm did with Seinfeld, spinning platinum from a show that was already solid gold.

None of this is to suggest that HBO, any more than its less-accomplished competitor, Showtime, is infallible (Vinyl, anyone?) or that it’s series aren’t open to criticism. But HBO uses its economic freedom from advertisers and its aesthetic and intellectual freedom from the FCC and cable-operator bureaucrats to produce TV for literate and literary viewers who want complex plots, relevant and highly charged themes, and adult situations (which is so much than mere nudity and sex scenes).

In an era where free speech is under attack on college campuses, in politics, and the workplace, HBO isn’t afraid to crank out shows that warrant trigger warnings longer than your arm and to engage politics more directly than a Saudi Arabian Clinton Foundation donor. The result is programming that we’re willing to pay extra for, build our Sunday nights around, and wake up on Mondays at 6.30 A.M totally sleep-deprived.

If only the rest of life was so bankable.

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New Johnson/Weld Ad: “no insults, no threats, no bluffs…this is a HUGE oportunity, don’t you see?”

The Gary Johnson/Bill Weld Libertarian Party ticket has a new ad out that I first came across on Facebook.

It’s a graphic-heavy, upbeat pitch that hits many of the candidates’ stances on hot-button issues. It calls for keeping government “out of my bedroom and out of my pocketbook” and for being for immigration, marijuana legalization, and marriage equality. The ad also says that the United States will have an “invincible” military that will only be used for defensive purposes and that taxes need to be simpler and lower.

“This is a huge opportunity, don’t you see?” Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, asks near the end.

Take a look below, on Facebook, or Twitter.

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