Saturday, August 29, 2020

Friday, August 28, 2020

In Japan; the end of an era

 TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan will resign because of ill health, the country’s national broadcaster reported on Friday, just four days after he exceeded the record for the longest consecutive run as leader in Japanese history.

Mr. Abe, 65, had been prime minister for nearly eight years, a significant feat in a country accustomed to high turnover in the top job. During his tenure, he oversaw Japan’s recovery from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, restored a semblance of economic health and curried favor with an unpredictable American president, Donald J. Trump.

Yet despite his long hold on power — his second stint as prime minister, having held the post in 2006-7 — Mr. Abe failed to reach some of his signature goals. He was unable to revise the pacifist Constitution installed by postwar American occupiers, or to secure the return of contested islands claimed by both Japan and Russia so that the two countries could sign a peace treaty to officially end World War II.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party will appoint an interim leader who will serve until the party can hold a leadership election. Mr. Abe’s term was set to expire in September 2021.

The Japanese news media had been speculating about Mr. Abe’s health for weeks, particularly after he significantly dialed back public appearances as a new wave of coronavirus infections erupted in clusters throughout the country. When Mr. Abe visited a hospital twice in the span of a week, the rumor mill went into overdrive.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Black Ribbon Day

The anniversary of the infamous Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (August 23, 1939) is recognized in most of the EU and many other countries as a day for commemoration of the victims of Communist and Fascist oppression.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Metal, Money and the Measurable Value of Gold

Buried in an otherwise mind-numbingly boring regulatory filing released recently was a seemingly innocuous line item that most people would not give a second thought. Sometime in the second quarter, Berkshire Hathaway invested a comparatively tiny 0.3% of their total portfolio into just a single new company. No big deal, right?

But it wasn’t just any company. After spending decades as perhaps the most respected and widely-cited critic of gold as an investment, Warren Buffett bought 21 million shares of Barrick Gold — one of the largest gold mining companies in the world. It was so out of character that the financial world immediately did a huge double-take. The headline from Bloomberg pretty much speaks for itself:

Berkshire Makes a Bet on Gold Market That Buffett Once Mocked

As one might expect, investors on both extremes of the gold-appreciating spectrum are furiously debating what this all means. Buffett’s closest gold-averse followers are circling the wagons and dealing with a lot of cognitive dissonance, while gold bugs are enjoying dishing out some playful jabs after years of being on the receiving end. Lost in the middle is a vast sea of normal investors watching the news and searching for actionable information.

This article is for that last group just wanting to know the truth about gold and what it can (and can’t) do for their own portfolios.

For some reason gold often becomes a strangely emotionally-charged topic, and frankly both the gold lovers and haters spread lots of objectively false and misleading information in support of their preferred positions. Unfortunately those flawed arguments are sticky, and gold is so commonly misunderstood that even smart, educated, and otherwise level-headed investors have no idea what they’re talking about. So in honor of the shiny metal again making headlines, I thought I’d consolidate some of the most common questions about gold to help sort the truth from the fiction.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Feds: "Lottery Lawyer" ripped off $107 million from winners

 He called himself the “Lottery Lawyer,” developing a national reputation for helping high-profile lottery winners with their investments.

He promised to secure their wealth for generations and to protect them from scam artists.

But on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused the lawyer, Jason M. Kurland, of working with a mob associate to steal millions of dollars from his clients.

Mr. Kurland, 46, was arrested on Tuesday morning at his home on Long Island alongside three other men — including Christopher Chierchio, 52, who prosecutors said was a reputed soldier for the Genovese crime family.

As part of the scheme, Mr. Kurland tricked three lottery winners who had hired him into putting $107 million into various investments, prosecutors said. The lottery winners lost a total of more than $80 million.

One of them was the winner of last year’s $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot in South Carolina.

Read the rest here.

Monday, August 17, 2020

North Korea: Owners Ordered to Hand Over Pet Dogs Amidst Growing Food Shortages

Kim Jong-un has declared that pet dogs are a symbol of capitalist 'decadence' and ordered that dogs in Pyongyang be rounded up - and owners are fearful that their beloved pets are being used to solve the nation's food shortages.

Dictator Kim announced in July that owning a pet is now against the law, denouncing having a dog at home as 'a tainted trend of bourgeois ideology'.

'Authorities have identified households with pet dogs and are forcing them to give them up or forcefully confiscating them and putting them down', a source told South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

A recent UN report stated that as many as 60 percent of North Korea's 25.5 million people are facing 'widespread food shortages' that have been worsened by international sanctions imposed on the regime for its nuclear missile programmes. 

Dog meat has long been considered a delicacy on the Korean Peninsula, although the tradition of eating dogs is gradually fading out in South Korea. 

Still, an estimated 1 million dogs are reared on farms to be consumed every year in the South.

Man's best friend is still a staple on the menu in the North, however, with a number of dedicated dog restaurants in Pyongyang.

 Read the rest here.

Friday, August 14, 2020

9th Circuit ends California ban on high-capacity magazines

 SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out California’s ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, saying the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the right to bear firearms.

“Even well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster,” appellate Judge Kenneth Lee wrote for the panel’s majority. California’s ban on magazines holding more than 10 bullets “strikes at the core of the Second Amendment — the right to armed self-defense.”

He noted that California passed the law “in the wake of heart-wrenching and highly publicized mass shootings,” but said that isn’t enough to justify a ban whose scope “is so sweeping that half of all magazines in America are now unlawful to own in California.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said it is reviewing the decision.

“Until further proceedings in the courts, the stay on the injunction issued by the district court remains in place,” his office said in a statement. “The Attorney General remains committed to using every tool possible to defend California’s gun safety laws and keep our communities safe.”

Becerra did not immediately say if he would ask a larger 11-judge appellate panel to reconsider the ruling by the three judges, or if he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He also did not immediately say if the state would seek a delay of the ruling to prevent an immediate buying spree if the lower court lifts its stay.

 Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Trump Announces Historic Peace Agreement Between Israel and the UAE

President Trump on Thursday announced what he called a “Historic Peace Agreement” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, saying they agreed to “full normalization of relations.”

“HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

The president, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed released a joint statement Thursday, after the three spoke “and agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.” The statement said that the “diplomatic breakthrough” was at “the request of President Trump,” and that Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world.”

Read the rest here.

Greek military put on high alert as tensions with Turkey rise

Greece has placed its military forces on high alert, recalling its naval and air force officers from holiday, as tensions with Turkey over exploration of potentially lucrative offshore energy reserves escalate in the eastern Mediterranean.

With Ankara dispatching the Oruç Reis, a drillship escorted by gunboats, to conduct seismic research in contested waters, Athens stepped up calls for Turkey to stop the “illegal” activities, intensifying a diplomatic offensive that has prompted the US, EU, France and Israel to express growing anxiety over the situation.

“Our country does not threaten [anyone], but nor can it be blackmailed,” the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told the country on Wednesday night. “Let it be known to all: the risk of an accident lies in wait when so many military forces gather in a limited area.”

Amid the mounting international concern, Mitsotakis on Thursday thanked Emmanuel Macron, calling him a “true friend of Greece and fervent protector of European values and international law” after the French president demanded Turkey halt its explorations and said he would reinforce France’s military presence in the area

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

New York Sues the NRA for fraud

Obviously this is a politically motivated lawsuit. But that doesn't automatically mean it is w/o merit. The NRA has had some well publicized issues involving money and high living on the part of its leadership for a while now. It will be interesting to watch this play out in the courts. Someone pass the popcorn.


Manhattan real estate gets hammered

  • The number of signed contracts for co-ops and condos in Manhattan dropped 57% in July compared with a year ago, according to a report from Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman.
  • The high-end of the market is getting especially hard hit, with co-ops priced at $4 million to $10 million down over 75%.
  • The number of unsold apartments is now at the highest level in almost a decade, according to Jonathan Miller, CEO of Miller Samuel.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Report: The Federal Reserve to adopt multi-year pro-inflation policy

In the next few months, the Federal Reserve will be solidifying a policy outline that would commit it to low rates for years as it pursues an agenda of higher inflation and a return to the full employment picture that vanished as the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Recent statements from Fed officials and analysis from market veterans and economists point to a move to “average inflation” targeting in which inflation above the central bank’s usual 2% target would be tolerated and even desired.

To achieve that goal, officials would pledge not to raise interest rates until both the inflation and employment targets are hit. With inflation now closer to 1% and the jobless rate higher than it’s been since the Great Depression, the likelihood is that the Fed could need years to hit its targets.

The policy initiatives could be announced as soon as September. Addressing the issue last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said only that a year-long examination of policy communication and implementation would be wrapped “in the near future.” The culmination of that process, which included public meetings and extensive discussions among Fed officials, is expected to be announced at or around the Federal Open Market Committee’s meeting.

Read the rest here.

Meanwhile gold hit a new record high today, closing up more than 2% at $2036/oz.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Manhattan DA filing suggests Trump investigation involves fraud

The Manhattan district attorney’s office suggested on Monday that it had been investigating President Trump and his company for possible bank and insurance fraud, a significantly broader inquiry than the prosecutors have acknowledged in the past.

The suggestion by the office of the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., came in a new federal court filing arguing that Mr. Trump’s accountants should have to comply with a grand jury subpoena seeking eight years of his personal and corporate tax returns. Mr. Trump has asked a judge to declare the subpoena invalid.

Until now, the district attorney’s inquiry had appeared largely focused on hush-money payments made in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

In the new filing, the prosecutors did not directly identify the matters under scrutiny in the grand jury inquiry, which by law is conducted in secret. But they said that “undisputed” assertions in earlier court papers and several news reports about Mr. Trump’s business practices showed that the office had a wide legal basis for the subpoena.

Read the rest here.

Former King Juan Carlos of Spain to go into exile

The former King of Spain has announced that he will move abroad after a series of embarrassing revelations regarding his personal life and finances. In an official statement, the former King is said to have made the decision so as not to be a distraction from his son's duties as the current sovereign.


Report: Pope (E) Benedict XVI in poor health

Details here.

Benedict, 93, has been widely reported to be frail and in generally declining health. His brother recently reposed and the former pope is now said to be suffering from shingles.