On October 16, units of the Syrian Army entered the city of Raqqah for the first time since 2014. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has controlled the city since 2017, when they with help from the United States seized…
Investors managed to push gold higher Thursday instead of completely embracing risk, as doubts remained about whether the U.K. will get parliament ratification for its Brexit deal, but Turkey agreed to a ceasefire in Syria.
How private is your personal life? If you answered, “not very,” you would still be far from the truth. The fact is, with the invention of the internet and social media platforms, privacy is almost extinct. Some of this is because we put all of our personal information out there for the world to see. Going on vacation? Sure, let’s tell all our 300-plus friends on Facebook and broadcast it to burglars that our home will be vacant while we sip Mai Tais and catch some sun rays. But, constitutionally, by way of the Fourth Amendment, we do have a right to privacy, and according to the courts, Big Brother has been taking advantage of that.
Just in case we need a little reminder on the Fourth Amendment:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In 2018, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court ruling found that the FBI had been searching records that had been collected by the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program. The now recently redacted documents say American citizens’ constitutional rights may have been violated because the FBI searched millions of records without warrants.
The NSA’s program, which has been in play since 2008 (and made known to the world by Edward Snowden in 2013), was supposed to capture communications between Americans and foreigners, but only as long as the foreigners are the main ones under scrutiny. The agency is supposed to target data once it leaves the country, but in so doing much of our domestic communication is captured as well.
An update in 2018 to the act makes it so that the FBI is required to obtain a warrant whenever it wishes to use data in connection with a criminal investigation, as that apparently hasn’t been happening. In 2017, the FBI ran approximately 3.1 million searches on American citizens and foreign nationals residing in the US, and then the NSA and CIA conducted 7,500 searches.
To make matters worse, many of the searches were not even related to ongoing criminal investigations.In fact, in one example, the agency apparently searched for data associated to 70,000 people related to the FBI, which essentially means spies were spying on each other. Another instance claims an agency contractor actually conducted a search on himself and relatives, and at other times, staff routinely searched for potential witnesses and informants who were not even involved in any criminal cases.
The FBI doesn’t appear to agree that what they are doing is considered abusing the system and refer to the actions as “fundamental misunderstandings” of the FISA. It also claimed that having to justify each warrantless search would “hinder the FBI’s ability to perform its national security and public safety missions.”
The ruling suggests that the FBI was using the NSA’s database to spy on people first to see if they wanted or needed to get a warrant to get the information they already have as well as look deeper. To most, this isn’t really surprising; there’s a reason the government is referred to as Big Brother. The deeper question is: Now that the courts have ruled and apparently found them guilty of violating the Fourth Amendment, will anything be done about it?
Schwab Will Soon Allow Investors To Buy And Sell Fractions Of Stocks
When the discount brokerage houses announced a few weeks back that one after another they would take their brokerage fees to zero, some — this website included — suggested that this is not merely the latest deflationary side-effect of chasing market share at all costs (even zero costs), but an indication that demand for stock ownership among the retail class was tumbling whether due to loss of faith in capital markets, or simply an inability to participate in a pastime that is increasingly dominated by the 1%.
Today, we received another confirmation that retail investors are getting priced out of the stock market when Schwab announced that it would let investors buy and sell fractionsof shares in what, the official explanation goes, is an effort to attract younger clients.
Chairman Charles Schwab told The Wall Street Journal Thursday that “fractional share trading would soon be introduced, along with several other new programs, as the online brokerage looks ahead after it eliminated trading commissions earlier this month.”
It would appear that the kneejerk response to the elimination of trading fees did not result in a favorable response among the investing public that was anywhere close to what the company was anticipating, and so it was forced to come up with even more creative ways of suckering in the greatest fool.
“I wanted to take commissions out of the formula,” Schwab said. “We’ve been on that path for 40 years,” he said, reflecting back on the company’s start as one of the first discount brokerages. Now, he said, Schwab is focusing on efforts to win business from young people.
While the ability to buy fractions of cryptocurrencies has been available for years, Schwab’s move would be the first by a major online brokerage to allow investors to buy and sell fractions of stocks.To be sure, there is some merit to Schwab’s argument: shares of Berkshire Class A aside, some of the most popular companies — which refuse to pursue stock splits — have very high price tags, making owning even one shareimpossible for poorer wannabe investors. One share of Amazon.com, for example, costs $1,792.
Then again, if one can’t afford to buy even one whole share of Amazon, is investing in the stock market really something that person should be considering? Clearly, to the brokerages the answer is yes.
And now that Schwab has broken the seal, expect everyone else to follow. Zero cost startups such as Robinhood helped popularize the zero-commission model in the online-brokerage business, which has now been adopted by virtually all online brokers; others have already allowed for fractional share trading: among them is M1 Finance, a Chicago-based online brokerage that splits every share into one-one hundred thousandth of a share.
One final point: while we applaud the brokerages desire to get virtually everyonehooked to the stock market, it’s not out of some altruistic, capitalist motive for everyone to get rich. The true motivation is simple: to sell the data of as many “traders” as possible to HFT shops, just so that the CEO of frontrunning giants such as Citadel, can buy even more $100+ million houses.
Mulvaney Revises His Statement, Says There Was “Never” Any Quid Pro Quo For Ukraine Aid
After earlier on Thursday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney set off a media firestorm when in a press briefing he said that the the Trump administration held up military assistance to Ukraine in part because Trump wanted Kiev to investigate allegations about Ukraine’s involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee server in 2016, later on Thursday Mulvaney revised his remarks, maintaining that there had never been any quid pro quo between the hold the administration put on aid to Ukraine and Ukraine’s cooperation on an investigation into allegations surrounding the DNC server.
In a statement late on Thursday afternoon, Mulvaney accused the media of “misconstruing” his earlier remarks to the press at the White House “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump”, and explained that the aid was held over concerns about a lack of financial support from other nations, especially in Europe, for Ukraine: the “only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption.” He had cited that rationale in the earlier briefing before adding that the server was an issue that the president wanted investigated before aid was forthcoming.
“Multiple times during the more-than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to President Trump’s interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately,” Mulvaney said in the statement.
“There was never any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server,” Mulvaney said in the later statement, which is reposted below:
Mulvaney’s earlier comments represented the first official acknowledgement of a link by the White House between the aid and investigations the president wanted Ukraine to pursue. He said then that Trump’s concerns about corruption in Ukraine— including an unfounded suspicion the president has expressed that the hacked DNC server from the 2016 U.S. election has since been hidden in Ukraine — were partly responsible for Mr. Trump’s order to withhold nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in July.
“Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that was it. That’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney told reporters at the earlier afternoon briefing.
Another factor in the decision to withhold the aid, Mulvaney said in his earlier comments, was whether Ukraine was cooperating in a Justice Department review of the origins of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, a probe that was later taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the things that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate,” Mulvaney continued, suggesting Trump wanted assistance with an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department.
However, according to the WSJ, a senior DOJ official said the department wasn’t aware of any effort to hold up aid in return for better cooperation by Kiev in its review. If the White House was withholding aid for that reason, “that is news to us,” the official said. The official declined to say whether the DNC’s computer server is a focus of the review.
And in another outburst of truthiness, Mulvaney also told reporters that there would be “political influence in foreign policy” and that they needed to “get over it.” Needless to say, that comment did not go over well:
The “it” in “get over it” is the U.S. Constitution. Just so we’re all clear about the stakes here.
Mulvaney’s earlier comments surprised senior aides in the White House, where officials said they had never heard Mulvaney describe Trump’s decision to suspend military aid as conditioned on new investigations by Ukraine. Mulvaney had been tasked by Trump with halting that aid.
A media firestorm erupted on Monday afternoon, after Mulvaney’s initial claim that the held aid was explicitly linked to investigations came in stark contrast to Trump’s repeated denial of any quid pro quo — a central focus of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. In recent days, several U.S. diplomats have testified to House committees that they believed it was necessary for Ukraine to commit to certain investigations before Mr. Trump would agree to meet with Ukraine’s president.
Trump’s personal legal team also distanced itself from Mulvaney’s remarks on Thursday: according to the WSJ, Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said: “The president’s legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing.”
Trump has repeatedly said that the driving force behind his decision to hold up the aid was that he felt European nations weren’t doing enough to help Ukraine, a concern that Mulvaney repeated on Thursday. The Europeans are “really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid,” Mulvaney said.
That said, Mulvaney also noted that Mr. Trump’s desire for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden wasn’t related to the hold on aid. That call prompted House Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry last month.
Mulvaney’s backtracking was prompted by the vocal response by Democrats to his original comments. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the de factoleader of the impeachment inquiry, said Mulvaney’s comments on Thursday indicated that “things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse.”
In addition to denying the existence of a quid pro quo publicly, Trump also did so in at least two private conversations. He told Sen. Ron Johnson in August that there was no link between the hold on aid and new probes by Kiev regarding U.S. elections, Johnson told The Wall Street Journal. Johnson said Mr. Trump told him: “No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?”
Trump also told Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that there was no link between investigations and aid, Mr. Sondland told House committees Thursday. He said he asked the president: “What do you want from Ukraine?” Mr. Trump responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo,” Mr. Sondland said.
At the same time, Mulvaney said that quid pro quos and political considerations are a standard practice in foreign policy. “We do that all of the time with foreign policy,” he said. “I have news for everybody: Get over it,” he added. “There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
Mulvaney also defended the administration’s right to discuss the president’s political opponents with foreign leaders, and said that the White House in no way tried to cover up Mr. Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s president.
Attention also turned to Rudy Giuliani, as several diplomats in House committees have raised concern about the former NYC mayor’s efforts to conduct “shadow diplomacy” and cut out the State Department, National Security Council and the Department of Defense in dealing with Ukraine.
Mulvaney said the president is free to appoint anyone he wants to conduct foreign policy. He noted that Mr. Trump never asked him personally to work with Giuliani, but confirmed that the president asked Energy Secretary Rick Perry to work with Giuliani. On Thursday, Rick Perry officially handed in his resignation.
Also on Thursday, Sondland, in his testimony to House committees, criticized Mr. Trump over his efforts to enlist Ukraine in investigating a political rival and said he and other U.S. officials were “disappointed” by the president’s directive to work with Giuliani on Ukraine matters.