Sep 17

Today’s News 17th September 2017

  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Self-Defense Part 4: Inexpensive Self-Defense Tools

    Preface: Also take a look at the BulletProof Shirt and Knife-Resistant Clothing.

     

    Here's a quick round-up of inexpensive but effective self-defense tools …

     

    Hoffner Folding Knife

    In many "blue" states like mine, it's illegal to carry switchblades or even assisted-opening knives …

    A reader suggested a Hoffner knife. Made by a top firearm and knife trainer to U.S police departments – law enforcement officer Brian Hoffner – the Hoffner folding knife is incredible.

    It is legal in my blue state, because it does not have a spring-assisted opening. However, the Hoffer cleverly uses gravity to easily open with one hand. So even with my tendinitis (I injured my wrists lifting way too much at the gym), I can easily open the Hoffner one-handed with a quick flick of my wrist.

    Bottom line: Even in my big brotherish anti-self-defense state, I can legally carry a knife with which I can handily protect myself with quick-deploying, one-handed action.

    Purpleheart Armoury Hickory Cane

    If you'd like to carry a baseball bat around – but don't want to look so conspicuous – you can carry an elegant, all-hickory cane with a beefy metal handle. This thing is incredibly well-made, solid hickory, and as elegant as they come:

    Cane 1 Cane 3

    (My pictures don't do it justice.)

    It is built like a tank – one whack on the noggin and the bad guy is going night-nite – and as classy as any cane in the world.

    You can leave it in the car, in your bedroom, or take it with you. 

    $85 from Purpleheart Armoury.

    Nitecore P12GT 1,000 Lumen Flashlight

    I conducted hours of research to find a small, portable, tactical flashlight which would actually work to blind an attacker long enough to mount a defense or get away.

    It turns out that there are 4 criteria for an effective self-defense flashlight:

    (1) It has to be really bright

    (2) It has to have a "strobe" mode. Specifically, it is very hard for a thug's eyes to adjust to a bright strobe than a constant bright light. It is also disorienting af.

    (3) It has to be a great "thrower". That is, it has to shine really far, as opposed to casting a wide arc. Thinking of being able to reach the bad guy's eyes, and (metaphorically) have the light basically hit the back of their head.

    (4) It has to be small enough to easily fit in your pocket.

    When I started looking, nothing met all 4 criteria …

    But recently, Nitecore released the P12GT, and it passes all 4 tests with flying color.

    At 1,000 lumens, this is crazily bright (there are also 3 other settings for normal household uses).

    It has a good strobe. And you can program the button on the thumb-end of the flashlight to "remember" the last setting you used. So you can auto-program the main button to go straight to the self-defense strobe setting.

    It is a crazy good thrower … the light shines 401 yards. (That's more than 3 football fields!)

    And at only 1 inch in diameter and 5.5 inches at length, it can easily fit in your front or back pocket.

    I haven't received a cent for writing these reviews. I received a test sample of one of the above-described tools … but not the other two. I vouch for all three of them.

  • The Russia-China Plan For North Korea: Stability & Connectivity

    Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

    Moscow has been busy building agreements that would extend Eurasian connectivity eastward. The question is how to convince the DPRK to play along…

    Chinese President Xi Jinping (centre) and his wife Peng Liyuan welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a banquet dinner during the BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, on September 4, 2017

    The United Nations Security Council’s 15-0 vote to impose a new set of sanctions on North Korea somewhat disguises the critical role played by the Russia-China strategic partnership, the “RC” at the core of the BRICS group.

    The new sanctions are pretty harsh. They include a 30% reduction on crude and refined oil exports to the DPRK; a ban on exports of natural gas; a ban on all North Korean textile exports (which have brought in US$760 million on average over the past three years); and a worldwide ban on new work permits for DPRK citizens (there are over 90,000 currently working abroad.)

    But this is far from what US President Donald Trump’s administration was aiming at, according to the draft Security Council resolution leaked last week. That included an asset freeze and travel ban on Kim Jong-un and other designated DPRK officials, and covered additional “WMD-related items,” Iraqi sanctions-style. It also authorized UN member states to interdict and inspect North Korean vessels in international waters (which amounts to a declaration of war); and, last but not least, a total oil embargo.

    “RC” made it clear it would veto the resolution under these terms. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the US’ diminishing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Moscow would only accept language related to “political and diplomatic tools to seek peaceful ways of resolution.” On the oil embargo, President Vladimir Putin said, “cutting off the oil supply to North Korea may harm people in hospitals or other ordinary citizens.”

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: Reuters
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: Reuters

    “RC” priorities are clear: “stability” in Pyongyang; no regime change; no drastic alteration of the geopolitical chessboard; no massive refugee crisis.

    That does not preclude Beijing from applying pressure on Pyongyang. Branch offices of the Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China in the northeastern border city of Yanji have banned DPRK citizens from opening new accounts. Current accounts are not frozen yet, but deposits and remittances have been suspended.

    To get to the heart of the matter, though, we need to examine what happened last week at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok – which happens to be only a little over 300 km away from the DPRK’s Punggye-ri missile test site.

    It’s all about the Trans-Korean Railway

    In sharp contrast to the Trump administration and the Beltway’s bellicose rhetoric, what “RC” proposes are essentially 5+1 talks (North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, plus the US) on neutral territory, as confirmed by Russian diplomats. In Vladivostok, Putin went out of his way to defuse military hysteria and warn that stepping beyond sanctions would be an “invitation to the graveyard.” Instead, he proposed business deals.

    Largely unreported by Western corporate media, what happened in Vladivostok is really ground-breaking. Moscow and Seoul agreed on a trilateral trade platform, crucially involving Pyongyang, to ultimately invest in connectivity between the whole Korean peninsula and the Russian Far East.

    South Korean Prime Minister Moon Jae-in proposed to Moscow to build no less than “nine bridges” of cooperation: “Nine bridges mean the bridges of gas, railways, the Northern Sea Route, shipbuilding, the creation of working groups, agriculture and other types of cooperation.”

    Crucially, Moon added that the trilateral cooperation would aim at joint projects in the Russian Far East. He knows that “the development of that area will promote the prosperity of our two countries and will also help change North Korea and create the basis for the implementation of the trilateral agreements.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in visit the Far East Street exhibition at Russky Island in Vladivostok. Photo: Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in visit the Far East Street exhibition at Russky Island in Vladivostok. Photo: Sputnik / Mikhail Klimentyev

    Adding to the entente, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha both stressed “strategic cooperation” with “RC”.

    Geo-economics complements geo-politics. Moscow has also approached Tokyo with the idea of building a bridge between the nations. That would physically link Japan to Eurasia – and the vast trade and investment carousel offered by the New Silk Roads, aka, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). It would also complement the daring plan to link a Trans-Korean Railway to the Trans-Siberian one.

    Seoul wants a rail network that will physically connect it with the vast Eurasian land bridge, which makes perfect business sense for the fifth largest export economy in the world. Handicapped by North Korea’s isolation, South Korea is in effect cut off from Eurasia by land. The answer is the Trans-Korean Railway.

    Moscow is very much for it, with Putin noting how “we could deliver Russian pipeline gas to Korea and integrate the power lines and railway systems of Russia, the Republic of Korea and North Korea. The implementation of these initiatives will be not only economically beneficial, but will also help build up trust and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

    Moscow’s strategy, like Beijing’s, is connectivity: the only way to integrate Pyongyang is to keep it involved in economic cooperation via the Trans-Korean-Trans-Siberian connection, pipelines and the development of North Korean ports.

    The DPRK’s delegation in Vladivostok seemed to agree. But not yet. According to North Korea’s Minister for External Economic Affairs, Kim Yong Jae: “We are not opposed to the trilateral cooperation [with Russia and South Korea], but this is not an appropriate situation for this to be implemented.” That implies that for the DPRK the priority is the 5+1 negotiation table.

    Still, the crucial point is that both Seoul and Pyongyang went to Vladivostok, and talked to Moscow. Arguably the key question – the armistice that did not end the Korean War – has to be broached by Putin and the Koreans, without the Americans.

    While the sanctions game ebb and flows, the larger strategy of “RC” is clear – a drive aimed at Eurasian connectivity. The question is how to convince the DPRK to play along.

  • North Korea's Nuclear Tests Could Trigger "Supervolcano" Eruption

    After North Korea’s latest nuclear test, scientists are worried that more underground explosions in the isolated country’s rocky north could set the stage for a deadly volcanic eruption not unlike the one that NASA fears could be brewing in the Yellowstone caldera.

    Following the North’s sixth nuclear test, which produced a blast that, by some estimates, was as powerful as 300 kilo hertz, Chinese authorities have stepped up radiation monitoring and even closed part of their border with North Korea as fallout fears have intensified.

    And now, as Newsweek reports, China has limited access to a nature reserve on its border with North Korea after a mysterious series of seismic shakes at the rogue nation's nuclear test site were detected less than 10 minutes after it conducted its latest test, which also triggered a sizable tremor. The severity of the tremors prompted Beijing to close the site over fears that underground detonations by the North Koreans at a facility near Punggye-ri could lead to rockslides, or worse, trigger an eruption of the active "super volcano" Mount Paektu, according to Disclose.tv.

     

    According to Disclose.tv, the magma and sulfur booms during a supervolcano eruption could kill millions of people in the surrounding area, and potentially endangering all of humanity.

    The volcano, which is sacred to North Korea, is located right on its border with China. China’s closure is in effect for a 70-mile-radius around the detonation site. A blast from a super volcano could be catastrophic, with ash traveling thousands of miles, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of deaths

    "For the safety and convenience of travelers, we have temporarily closed the southern tourist zone of Changbai Mountain," read the message from Chinese authorities, translated by UPI. "Officials are thoroughly investigating the safety of the tourist area." The area will remain closed to the public until "the potential risks disappear," it said.

    But besides radioactive risks, scientists are worried that North Korea’s nuclear tests could disturb could disturb mountains in the Changbai range, along with the still-active Mt. Paektu, triggering the first eruption since 1903.

    A new article in scientific journal Nature’s Scientific Reports states that “an underground nuclear explosion test near an active volcano constitutes a direct threat."

    Scientists wrote that it could “disturb the magma chamber of a volcano, thus accelerating the volcanic activity,” scientists argue.

    “This is an interesting mystery at this point,” Göran Ekström, a seismologist at Columbia University in New York City, told Nature.

    The US Geological Survey estimated the second burst of seismic energy, only eight and a half minutes after the detonation, had a magnitude of 4.1; the detonation itself registered at 6.3. While satellite images do show signs of structural collapse, the movement of rock more closely resembles a landslide.

    North Korea is hardly alone in facing a potentially deadly eruption. Recently, NASA scientists have spoken out about the threat of super volcanoes and the risky methods that could be used to prevent a devastating eruption.

    Lying beneath the tranquil and beautiful settings of Yellowstone National Park in the US is an enormous magma chamber called a caldera. It’s responsible for the geysers and hot springs for which the area is known, but for scientists at NASA, it’s also one of the greatest natural threats to human civilization as we know it.

    Following an article published by BBC about super volcanoes last month, a group of NASA researchers got in touch with the media to share a report previously unseen outside the space agency about the threat Yellowstone poses, and what they hypothesize could possibly be done about it. As one researcher described it, the threat from super volcanos is much higher than the risk from asteroids

    “I was a member of the NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for NASA to defend the planet from asteroids and comets,” explains Brian Wilcox of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology.  

     

    “I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.”

    So, the agency has devised a plan that could ameliorate the volcano threat. The plan, which has yet to be authorized or implemented, would drill up to 10km down into the super volcano and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F). Thus, slowly day by day, extracting heat from the volcano. And while such a project would come at an estimated cost of around $3.46 billion, it comes with an enticing catch which could convince politicians (taxpayers) to make the investment.

    “Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” Wilcox says. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh. You would have to give the geothermal companies incentives to drill somewhat deeper and use hotter water than they usually would, but you would pay back your initial investment, and get electricity which can power the surrounding area for a period of potentially tens of thousands of years. And the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption which would devastate humanity.”

    Of course, drilling into a super volcano comes with its own risks – in fact, it could inadvertently cause the eruption scientists are trying to prevent.

    Talk about a volcanic irony…

  • The Race For Deir Ezzor: Russian Jets Strike US-Backed Forces In Syria

    One week ago we wrote that in “The Race For Deir Ezzor: US And Syrian Forces Are About To Collide“, explaining that “as ISIS continues to rapidly collapse in its last two strongholds (Raqqa and Deir Ezzor cities), the competition for recovery of territory seems in full gear between the US-SDF and Syria-Russia alliances.” More importantly, “Deir Ezzor province happens to be Syria’s most oil-rich territory, which means the future of some of Syria’s largest oil fields remains up for grabs.”

    Furthermore, we added that “it looks increasingly like US-backed SDF forces and the Syrian Army could be set to clash as both roll back ISIS lines from either side of the Euphrates. The SDF’s surprisingly rapid advance Friday and Saturday was assisted by US and coalition airstrikes and was further made possible by the Syrian Army’s weakening of ISIS defenses on the southeast side of the river. The airspace over Deir Ezzor is potentially growing even more dangerous as there are substantial rumors that the US coalition has declared a no fly zone (NFZ) over the north side of the Euphrates. In the meantime, Syrian and Russian air operations in the area will only increase with Deir Ezzor military airport’s returning to full service.”

    One week later, that’s precisely what happened, and overnight we got the first glimpse of just what this next stage of the Syria proxy war, now largely devoid of ISIS, will look like, when according to Reuters “U.S.-backed militias”, which have included various and assorted Al-Qaeda offshots, spinoffs and reverse mergers, said they came under attack on Saturday from Russian jets and Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor province.

    The Syrian Democratic Forces – an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting with the U.S.-led military coalition –  said the strikes wounded six of its fighters. In a statement carried by Reuters, the SDF said that “our forces east of the Euphrates were hit with an attack from the Russian aircraft and Syrian regime forces, targeting our units in the industrial zone.”

    A Deir Ezzor military council fighter which fights under the SDF holds the council’s flag.

    And, as has been the case for years now, ISIS was used as the strawman to justify escalation on both sides. The SDF accused Damascus of trying to obstruct its battle against Islamic State. Such attacks “waste energies that should be used against terrorism … and open the door to side conflicts,” it said. Right… terrorism. Meanwhile, the real reason for the scramble for Deir Ezzor, imposing one’s influence on this key resources rich region, remains unmentioned even as assaults by the Russian-backed Syrian army and the U.S.-backed SDF have at times raised fears of clashes that could stoke tensions between the competing world powers.

    With Russian and Iran-backed Syrian troops closing in from the west, while US-backed SDF forces operating mostly on the east side, the two factions have mostly stayed out of each other’s way in their “fight against ISIS” with the Euphrates acting as a dividing line.

    And while talks have been under way to extend a formal demarcation line, there has been little progress on the issue. Meanwhile, as Deir Ezzor is set to fall shortly to either government or SDF forces, and any imaginary demarcation line is voided, the simmering proxy war may once again suffer an explosive breakout.

    Ahmed Abu Khawla, the commander of the SDF’s Deir al-Zor military council, said Russian or Syrian fighter jets flew in from government-held territory before dawn.

     

    The warplanes struck as the SDF waged “heated and bloody battles” in the industrial zone on the eastern bank, seizing factories from Islamic State militants, he said.

     

    ”We have requested explanations from the Russian government,“ he told Reuters. ”We have asked for explanations from the coalition … and necessary action to stop these jets.

    There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government or Moscow, and there certainly has been no comment from the US-led coalition on action to stop Russian jets. Incidentally, if anyone wants a sign from Trump that he has truly turned his back on Putin, it won’t come from the confiscation of some unneeded Russian assets or confiscation of Russian diplomatic buildings in the US, but from the US launching a firm Russian counter-offensive in Syria.

    Also on Saturday, a senior aide to President Bashar al-Assad said the government would fight any force, including the U.S.-backed militias, to recapture the entire country. ”I‘m not saying this will happen tomorrow … but this is the strategic intent,” Bouthaina Shaaban said in a TV interview according to Reuters.

    Ironically, The U.S.-led coalition said last week that the SDF did not plan to enter Deir Ezzor city, where Syrian troops recently broke an Islamic State siege that had lasted three years. Just a few days later, however, they appears to have changed their mind.

    Meanwhile, seeking to maintain the offensive momentum, a pro-Damascus military alliance launched attacks on Saturday from the southern corner of Deir Ezzor province to drive Islamic State from the Iraqi border. The last local vestige of the Islamic State is also coming under attack by U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces just over the border from Syria’s Deir Ezzor inside Iraq.

    With the fate of Deir Ezzor – and much of the oil in the region – set to be sealed in the coming days, the Syrian war which has gradually disappeared from both the front pages and the public consciouness, may make a strong comeback, especially if it is Syria/Russia/Iran that first gains control of this key regional outpost.

  • Here's What Your Identity Sells For On The Dark Web

    Millions of Americans who trusted Equifax with sensitive personal and financial data, including social security numbers and credit-card information, are now nervously wondering whether they will be among the unlucky minority of affected customers whose identities are successfully “repurposed” by online criminal groups.

    One researcher from security firm SecureWorks shared some details about today’s burgeoning marketplace for stolen data with Bloomberg, and the conclusion is clear: It is now easier – and cheaper – for criminals to access and abuse illicit data than ever before. In fact, a high-limit American express card with a high chance of working can be purchased online for less than $20. Criminals can buy files with thousands of low-limit card numbers for pennies on the dollar.

    According to Bloomberg, “verified” high-limit credit cards from developed countries like the US, Japan, and South Korea are selling on the dark web for the bitcoin equivalent of about $10 to $20.

    “Verified” means the seller has tested out transactions on the card and found it hasn’t been canceled yet. For scammers on a budget, there’s unverified stolen credit card data, which comes out to pennies a card when bought in bulk.

    Here’s a screengrab from one dark-web marketplace.

    Luckily for criminals, cards generally aren’t selling any cheaper on the dark web these days, said Alex Tilley, a researcher at Secureworks. Today’s buyers are more likely to get higher-quality cards, ones with sizable limits that can be used fraudulently with ease. It isn’t as hit-or-miss as it used to be, a welcome change for criminals, chilling news for most of us.

    Criminals have even set up sophisticated “rating systems” to help value the data. Business cards are preferred, Tilley said, because they don’t have a limit. Those and high-end personal cards—say, a Platinum American Express that has been verified and has an 85 percent rating (judged by the seller to have an 85 percent chance of being successfully used in a fraud)—will go for $15 to $20. A regular Mastercard that doesn’t have a high limit might go for $9.

    One underground hacker market inexplicably called Trump’s Dumps is selling full identities of individuals just like you for as little as $10 apiece. They’re called fullz, “dossiers that provide enough financial, geographic and biographical information on a victim to facilitate identity theft or other impersonation-based fraud.” Fullz can help a criminal get past those irritating “secret questions” that sites ask to verify your identity.

    Recently, Secureworks’ researchers have seen more offers of bulk pre-verified card details, along with more identifying information about the owners. In some cases, offers even include the cardholder’s mother’s maiden name. Still, they cost just $10 to $12. Below is a fullz offer with a lot of personal identification on a Korean consumer.

    In a massive breach like Equifax, hackers can easily walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from selling the data. Meanwhile, the identity thieves who purchased it can reap their own fortune running their scams.

    Congress, the FTC and Equifax customers – enraged by both the company’s reluctance to initially disclose the breach and its carelessness (some would say tight-fistedness) concerning its cybersecurity defenses – have buried the company in lawsuits and official inquiries.

    As USA Today revealed yesterday, hackers took advantage of an Equifax security vulnerability two months after an industry group discovered the coding flaw and shared a fix for it, raising questions about why Equifax didn't update its software successfully when the danger became known.

    We’re looking forward to hearing the whole story from CEO Rick Smith when he testifies before Congress early next month. Whether Smith manages to hang on to his job remains to be seen – calls for his resignation after a 12-year-long scandal-free tenure are mounting. CNBC's Jim Cramer said last night that Smith "should be fired today."

    But perhaps more worrying for Smith and his C-Suite companions are calls from North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who has demanded a criminal investigation into whether the company's executives – several of whom sold stock during the period between when the company first learned about the hack and when it disclosed it to the public – commited securities fraud.

    "If that happened, then somebody needs to go to jail," she said.

     

  • How Does Your State Measure Up On Student Free Speech?

    Authored by Casey Mattox via Alliance Defending Freedom,

    More than four decades ago, the Supreme Court made it clear that public college students do not sacrifice their constitutional rights when they arrive on campus, finding “no room for the view that … First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large.”

    Yet the reality of most students does not reflect the promise of the “marketplace of ideas.” Universities are regulating what students may say, when and where they can say it, and even who will speak for them. Increasingly, state legislatures are responding by enacting laws to protect student free speech.

    We are pleased to release today a review of these state laws – highlighting the states that have protected free speech on their state-funded campuses … and those that have a lot of work to do.

    The Problem

    For decades, universities have enacted “speech codes” to regulate student expression. These policies limit what students may say and often take the form of “harassment,” “civility,” or similar policies that lump constitutionally protected speech in with true threats, harassment, and other unprotected speech. For instance, just last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) successfully challenged an Iowa State policy that deemed speech “harassment” if other students thought it was not “legitimate” or “necessary” or “lacked a constructive purpose.” Despite these policies being clearly unconstitutional, they are very common.

    In addition to restricting what students may say, many universities have also strictly limited when and where students may speak – often combining these limits with requirements that administrators approve student speech or literature distribution in advance. North Carolina State required students to notify the administration five days in advance of any oral or written communication anywhere on campus until we sued and a federal court ordered the policy changed. And one school has even arrested Young Americans for Liberty members for distributing the Constitution on their campus.

    Finally, free speech is only free if students decide who speaks for them. Students regularly join together with like-minded students to advocate for any number of religious, political, or other causes, building community with one another and enriching the campus environment through their advocacy. Like all student groups, they seek to elect leaders who actually share the views that the group intends to promote. But some universities have tried to prevent religious and political student organizations from having that choice.

    Why It Matters

    Free speech on campus affects all of us. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s legislators, judges, teachers, and voters.

    The lessons they are learning about how the First Amendment works will impact our future because what happens on campus will not stay on campus.

    Indeed, the Supreme Court has even warned that if we do not protect free speech on campus, “our civilization will stagnate and die.” As dramatic as that sounds, when two-thirds of all Americans now attend college it is only natural that our broader culture will be shaped by what we learn about the value of free speech and religious freedom in those formative years.

    How States Are Responding

    While the First Amendment protects free speech, universities continue to violate these core constitutional freedoms. The ADF Center for Academic Freedom has litigated federal lawsuits against over a dozen colleges and universities in the last year alone. And we have a 90 percent success rate in challenging these violations of students’ First Amendment rights. If you’re a student, you should know your rights, exercise them, and ensure that your campus is respecting the First Amendment.

    Appalled that their public institutions are suppressing rather than supporting free speech and association, states are increasingly enacting legislation to ensure that public universities affirm and protect those values. There are a number of model bills – all of which have their merits. But the American Legislative Exchange Council’s new “FORUM Act” would address all three of these threats to student free speech: ending speech codes, speech zones, and violations of students’ freedom of association. The legislation would also allow students to pursue legal action in state or federal court when their rights are violated.

    As state legislatures consider ways to address the threats to free speech on their tax-funded campuses, we are pleased to provide this guide to current state laws protecting the rights of free speech and association on public university campuses. It is our hope that we will have to update this information frequently as more states join the fight to defend the First Amendment on our campuses, teaching students to know their own constitutional rights and respect the constitutional rights of others.

  • The 30 US Metros With The Highest And Lowest Incomes

    Authored by Wolf Richter via WolfStreet.com,

    Breath-taking differences in a vast country.

    The Census Bureau released another data trove this week for 2016, based on the American Community Survey. Among many other data points, the survey details median household incomes by geographic location, such as by metro area, county, or state. And they show just how enormous the income differences in the US are from city to city.

    Of the 382 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) that the US government recognizes, the median income of $110,000 in Silicon Valley is over three times the median income of $35,600 in Laredo, TX.

    These MSAs can be large. For example, the extended San Francisco Bay Area is divided in several metros including the two biggest:

    • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, which is the southern portion of Silicon Valley and includes Palo Alto.
    • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, which includes five counties (San Francisco, Alameda, Marin, Contra Costa, and San Mateo) that make up the northern part of Silicon Valley, San Francisco, parts of the East Bay, and a part of the North Bay.

    These two are also the metros that had the highest median household incomes in the US in 2016, of $110,040 and $96,677 respectively.

    “Household income” is income by all household members and from all sources of money, including “earnings” (wages, salaries, and the like) and investment income such as interest, dividends, and rents (#11-#13):

    1. Earnings
    2. Unemployment compensation
    3. Workers’ compensation
    4. Social security
    5. Supplemental security income
    6. Public assistance
    7. Veterans’ payments
    8. Survivor benefits
    9. Disability benefits
    10. Pension or retirement income
    11. Interest
    12. Dividends
    13. Rents, royalties, and estates and trusts
    14. Educational assistance
    15. Alimony
    16. Child support
    17. Financial assistance from outside of the household
    18. Other income

    Below are the 30 metros in the US with the highest household incomes. Those in California are color-coded: bright red for the extended Bay Area, burgundy (sort of) for Southern California, and neon-pink for the Central Coast.

    In total, nine of the 30 metros with the highest median incomes are in California. There are many up and down the East Coast and a number of them in the middle of the country. Hawaii has two metros on the list, as has Alaska. But even within the top 30, the median household income of Number One is 57% higher than that of Number 30:

    Below here are the 30 of the 382 metros with the lowest median household incomes. Note these lists represent the extremes in the US. There are 322 MSAs in between the two lists, and their income levels cluster closely around the national median household income:

    The comparison shows just how vast the income differences by geographical regions are in a vast country, and it also explains a host of other differences, such as home prices and rents, where $1.2 million, for example, buys a median condo in San Francisco (these are nothing special) or a palatial house in Laredo, TX.

    But “median household income” is an aggregate number that hides as much as it reveals. Here are some details. Read…  The Chilling Fact “Record Median Household Income” is Hiding

  • S&P On The Verge Of History

    U.S. stocks have risen more in the past eight years than in almost any other post-World War II time of economic growth, as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    The logic here is that economic expansions fuel bull markets and so it’s reasonable to measure market recoveries after a period of macro contraction ends.

    Using that definition, let’s review how the S&P 500 has performed during the last ten economic recoveries. To be precise, the birth of the stock market’s bull market is dated as the first day after an NBER-defined recession has ended. The market run continues through the peak.

    The S&P 500 Index jumped 172 percent from July 2009, when the current expansion started, through Wednesday. The biggest advance was about 300 percent and occurred from April 1991 to March 2001, when Internet-related stocks soared.

    As Capital Speculator blog's James Picerno notes, the question before the house: Will the momentum of late endure long enough to overtake the 1991-2001 record in duration and/or magnitude?

    If so, the bull market in the here and now has to last another 463 trading days, which translates into a market rally that goes deep into 2019.

    There's just one thing wrong…

    Remember – the 'market' is not the 'economy'… or maybe it is in the new normal?

  • Is the Difference Now Permanent?

    From the Slope of Hope: I will start off with a chart that, in a sea of tens of thousands of charts, stood out as shocking:

    0916-drawdown

    What the chart represents is the percentage drop from whatever the record high was. In other words, it shows the percentage loss a person would have had if they had bought at the highest point in the history of the market.

    What stunned me about the chart was how for nearly half a decade stocks have been absolutely “pinned” to the top. There was a tiny dip in late 2015, but since that time, there hasn’t been a single drop in the market of even 5%, and even those tiny 1% and 2% drops have been utterly healed.

    In other words, hell on earth for an equity bear. Absolute. Living. Hell.

    Of course, equity bulls are doing fine, and those who didn’t trade the market prior to 2012 must figure this is the easiest thing in the known universe. Indeed, they probably feel like geniuses. Because all you do is deposit some money, pick a few random stocks, and voila, you have more money than before.

    Why should anybody even bother working, with such easy money out there?

    Of course, those of us who study markets for a living know that there’s a pretty simple reason for this unidirectional “market” of ours……

    0916-correla

    Hell, it even applies right down to the individual stocks!

    So the question I ponder with increasing frequency now – – and it’s a question whose potential answer chills me to the bone – – is this: what if it really is different this time? And, more important, what if this difference is permanent?

    What if, in the relatively brief history of public equity markets, it simply took this much progress in technology, central bank knowledge, and economic scholarship to finally figure out how to completely control the market without serious price inflation?

    What if, as recent history shows, equities will merely increase in price in perpetuity? They might not move that swiftly, but they will, more or less, become more valuable, with a sprinkling of tiny drops here and there to make sure people don’t go completely hog wild.

    Let’s think of this from a different angle: as you probably know, the market for diamonds is tightly controlled. De Beers has mastered the art of the cartel. If diamonds were simply in a huge global open market, with price discovery fully allowed, there is no doubt prices would be far lower (albeit more volatile), because they actually are NOT that rare or precious.

    As it is, though, De Beers has balanced massive marketing (“a diamond is forever“………”how can you make two months’ salary last forever?”) with artificially-controlled supply to yield a market with pretty much zero volatility and a steadily increasing price.

    Maybe the chart above is the future of stocks. I really don’t know.

    But do you notice there’s no active public market for buying and selling diamond as a commodity? And that there aren’t any technical analysts for diamond charts? Or that there’s no national network devoted to news related to diamonds? It’s because all of that stuff would be drop-dead boring, because prices are controlled, and predictable, and not worthy of examination. Someone figured out how to control the market. And thus the “market” no longer exists.

    God help us all…………us chartists especially………..if this is the new world order for equities.

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