Obama, Senate Republicans United: Trans-Pacific Partnership Lurches On

May 24th, 2015

Via: Washington Post:

President Obama won a big victory for his trade agenda Friday with the Senate’s approval of fast-track legislation that could make it easier for him to complete a wide-ranging trade deal that would include 11 Pacific Rim nations.

A coalition of 48 Senate Republicans and 14 Democrats voted for Trade Promotion Authority late Friday, sending the legislation to a difficult fight in the House, where it faces more entrenched opposition from Democrats.

The Senate coalition fought off several attempts by opponents to undermine the legislation, defeating amendments that were politically popular but potentially poisonous to Obama’s bid to secure the trade deal.

“This is an important bill, likely the most important bill we will pass this year. It’s important to President Obama,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and primary author of the bill, said at the close of debate.

TPA’s fast-track provisions would allow Congress, under strict timelines, to consider trade deals with a simple up-or-down vote without any amendments or requirements of a Senate super-majority to end debate. That would help Obama complete the final details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with the other 11 nations, a bloc that represents about 40 percent of the global economy.


America’s Trailer Parks: The Residents May Be Poor But The Owners Are Getting Rich

May 24th, 2015

It’s harvest time.

Via: Guardian:

It’s an unusual but potentially lucrative investment: billionaire Warren Buffett is heavily invested, and his and others’ success is prompting ordinary people to attend Mobile Home University, a ‘boot camp’ in trailer park ownership.

Related: Wall Street’s Hot New Financial Product: Your Rent Check


Leaked Report Profiles Military, Police Members of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

May 23rd, 2015

Via: First Look:

Nuclear power plant technicians, senior military officers, FBI contractors and an employee of “a highly-secretive Department of Defense agency” with a Top Secret clearance. Those are just a few of the more than 100 people with sensitive military and government connections that law enforcement is tracking because they are linked to “outlaw motorcycle gangs.”

A year before the deadly Texas shootout that killed nine people on May 17, a lengthy report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detailed the involvement of U.S. military personnel and government employees in outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs. A copy of the report was obtained by The Intercept.

The report lays out, in almost obsessive detail, the extent to which OMG members are represented in nearly every part of the military, and in federal and local government, from police and fire departments to state utility agencies. Specific examples from the report include dozens of Defense Department contractors with Secret or Top Secret clearances; multiple FBI contractors; radiological technicians with security clearances; U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees; Army, Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, including from the special operations force community; and police officers.

“The OMG community continues to spread its tentacles throughout all facets of government,” the report says.


Apple and Google Just Attended a Confidential Spy Summit in a Remote English Mansion

May 23rd, 2015

Via: First Look:

At an 18th-century mansion in England’s countryside last week, current and former spy chiefs from seven countries faced off with representatives from tech giants Apple and Google to discuss government surveillance in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The three-day conference, which took place behind closed doors and under strict rules about confidentiality, was aimed at debating the line between privacy and security.

Among an extraordinary list of attendees were a host of current or former heads from spy agencies such as the CIA and British electronic surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. Other current or former top spooks from Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Sweden were also in attendance. Google, Apple, and telecommunications company Vodafone sent some of their senior policy and legal staff to the discussions. And a handful of academics and journalists were also present.


Banks Fined $5.7 Billion Over Foreign Exchange Market Rigging

May 23rd, 2015

And nobody goes to jail.

Via: Evening Standard:

Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland were among six banks to be fined a total of $5.7 billion (£3.8 billion) by British and US regulators over allegations that they rigged the $5.3 trillion-a-day foreign exchange market.

The settlement, which also involved US banks JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citi, as well as Switzerland’s UBS, means banks have handed authorities around $10 billion to deal with the scandal.

Barclays, Citi, JPMorgan and RBS also all pleaded guilty to a US antitrust violation.

The affair follows a series of scandals, including the fixing of benchmark interest rate Libor, that have severely damaged the public’s perception of the banking industry.

FX traders were said to have come together in chatrooms with names like “The Cartel” or “The Bandits Club” to organise methods to influence the value of major currencies in the hope of inflating their profits.

“If you aint cheating, you aint trying,” one Barclays trader said in a chatroom.


New ‘Deep Learning’ Technique Enables Robot Mastery of Skills Via Trial and Error

May 22nd, 2015

I mainly posted this because of the Comedy Gold juxtaposition below. haha

Via: UC Berkeley:

The work is part of a new People and Robots Initiative at UC’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). The new multi-campus, multidisciplinary research initiative seeks to keep the dizzying advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and automation aligned to human needs.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Office of Naval Research, U.S. Army Research Laboratory and National Science Foundation helped support this research.


40 Percent of Unemployed Have Quit Looking for Jobs

May 21st, 2015

Via: CNBC:

At a time when 8.5 million Americans still don’t have jobs, some 40 percent have given up even looking.

The revelation, contained in a new survey Wednesday showing how much work needs to be done yet in the U.S. labor market, comes as the labor force participation rate remains mired near 37-year lows.

A tight jobs market, the skills gap between what employers want and what prospective employees have to offer, and a benefits program that, while curtailed from its recession level, still remains obliging have combined to keep workers on the sidelines, according to a Harris poll of 1,553 working-age Americans conducted for Express Employment Professionals.

On the bright side, the number is actually better than 2014, the survey’s inaugural year, when 47 percent of the jobless said they had given up.


Britain: 1,400 Investigated in Child Sex Abuse Inquiry, Including 261 High-Profile Individuals

May 21st, 2015

Via: Guardian:

Police across the country are investigating more than 1,400 men – including 261 high-profile individuals – over allegations of child abuse in the past, a senior officer running the national operation has revealed.

The scale of alleged child abuse across society – both recent and non-recent – was stark, said Ch Const Simon Bailey, who runs Operation Hydrant, the national coordinating team overseeing the various inquiries.

Figures from police forces in England and Wales published on Wednesday reveal that 1,433 men have been identified in reports of alleged abuse by victims, since the operation was set up in 2014.

Of these 216 are dead, 76 are politicians, both national and local figures, 43 are from the music industry, 135 from TV, film or radio and seven from the world of sport. The cases include recent high-profile convictions, including Rolf Harris, Gary Glitter and Max Clifford.

Hundreds of institutions have been identified by victims of non-recent abuse as places where their abuse took place. These include 154 schools, 75 children’s homes, 40 religious institutions, 14 medical establishments, 11 community groups, nine prisons or young offender institutions, nine sports venues and 28 other places including military establishments.

Bailey warned that the number of victims could run into the hundreds of thousands, and called for much more support for survivors of child abuse.


State of Emergency Declared for Oil Spill Off Santa Barbara Coast

May 20th, 2015

More oil drilling for New Zealand?

Look and learn.

Via: NBC:

California Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday issued an emergency proclamation for Santa Barbara County due to the effects of an oil spill near Refugio State Beach.

Oil floating off the Southern California coast after a spill from a broken oil pipe now stretches about 9 miles, an overnight expansion that was “more than we anticipated last night,” a U.S. Coast Guard captain said Wednesday.

The spill along the coast near Santa Barbara dumped possibly as much as 105,000 gallons of oil from a 2-foot pipeline onto the Refugio State Beach shore, creating miles-long slicks in the ocean after leaking for several hours before it was shut off.

The spill shut down popular El Capitan Beach and campground just days before the unofficial kick-off to the summer season, Memorial Day weekend, according to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.


Wall Street’s Hot New Financial Product: Your Rent Check

May 20th, 2015

Via: Mother Jones:

Over the last two years, private equity firms and hedge funds have amassed an unprecedented real estate empire, snapping up Spanish revivals in Phoenix, adobes in Los Angeles, Queen Anne Victorians in Atlanta, and brick-faced bungalows in Chicago. In total, Wall Street investors have bought more than 200,000 cheap, mostly foreclosed houses in some of the cities hardest hit by the economic meltdown. But they’re not simply flipping these houses. Instead, they’ve started bundling some of them into a new kind of financial product that could blow up the housing market all over again.

No company has bought more houses than the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. (Its many investments include Hilton Hotels, the Weather Channel, and SeaWorld. Among its institutional investors are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and JPMorgan Chase.) Through its subsidiary, Invitation Homes, Blackstone has picked up houses through local brokers, at foreclosure auctions, and in bulk purchases. Last April, it bought 1,400 houses in Atlanta in a single day. In Phoenix, some neighborhoods have a Blackstone-owned home on just about every block. As of November, Blackstone had acquired 40,000 houses, most of them foreclosures, worth $7.5 billion. Today, it is the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the nation.

Research Credit: ottilie


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