Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Daily Archives: September 5, 2022

Chart: Apple Now Accounts for More Than Half of All U.S. Smartphones

Source : FT

Chart: Global Debt in Q1 Since 2012

Source : Of Two Minds

Chart: China Manufacturing Activities Shrank in August 2022

Source : Caixin

Charts: The Rise of US$ Created Risk for Heavily-in-debt Emerging and Developing Economies

Source : Nikkei

In Pictures: Food of Atomix in New York, USA

Fine Dining Modern Korean Cuisine

No.33 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2022

Video: The Shop Where High-End Classic Cars Go Electric

At Austin, Texas-based Moment Motor Co., beloved vintage cars from Porsches to DeLoreans are converted into electric vehicles, making them cleaner and more reliable while retaining their classic feel.

Watch video at Bloomberg (15:00 minutes) . . . .

Why California Succeeded and New York failed At Turning Hotels into Affordable Housing

Camille Squires wrote . . . . . . . . .

When “shelter-in-place” orders took effect in March 2020, city and state officials in the US scrambled to get unhoused people off the streets and out of crowded shelters during the covid-19 pandemic. One of their core strategies was renting out unused hotel rooms or buying entire hotels and motels for permanent housing.

In their haste, policymakers advanced a long-term homelessness solution advocates have been calling for years: providing people with housing first (pdf) without prerequisites that typically accompany homelessness assistance, like work requirements and substance abuse treatment. Now roughly two years out from the initial crisis, we’re starting to see some initial results from places that have made good on those plans, and others that are still trying to get them off the ground.

Both New York and California dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to their emergency housing programs. Yet only California managed to buy up dozens of buildings and transfer thousands of people without shelter into safe stable housing. New York’s funds remain largely unspent nearly two years later.

New York and California’s programs demonstrate that it’s difficult but not impossible for states to act quickly to create more housing in a crisis, and then codify emergency measures into housing policy. A new analysis of the programs from the University of California Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation show successful attempts to create housing by converting existing hotels needs the political will to quickly amend existing regulation, and long-term investment from state housing budgets to sustain projects after initial emergency funding runs out.

But if carried out over the long term, hotel conversions can be a more cost-effective way to create housing than building from the ground up.

California’s rapid rollout of hotel conversions

As part of an unprecedented level of state funding in homelessness initiatives in 2020, California’s state government issued $800 million in grants for the first round of its Homekey program dedicated to long-term housing for homeless people. California ultimately purchased nearly 100 buildings, the fastest expansion of supportive housing in modern state history, according to the Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

In all, the state has purchased 94 properties since July 2020, creating nearly 6,000 units of housing and housing 8,264 people. The conversions cost roughly $200,000 per unit, which is still less than half of the $500,000 it typically takes to build new low-income housing in California. While not enough to alleviate California’s homelessness crisis—more than 160,000 people were homeless in the state in 2020—state lawmakers (pdf) and the University of California Berkely researchers look to it as a promising strategy for how to create some housing in a cost-effective way.

New York’s stymied plans

By contrast, New York’s state legislature passed a similar measure, the Housing Our Neighbors With Dignity Act, to purchase struggling hotels in New York City last August. The $100 million program was meant to convert the buildings into permanent affordable housing owned and operated by nonprofit organizations. Yet nearly a year later, no new purchases have been made.

The promising program stalled out because of regulatory barriers to buying and converting the properties. Affordable housing developers say they’ve been hampered by restrictive local zoning rules and building codes limiting what can be considered housing that the new legislation has done nothing to change, according to Bloomberg,

State legislators are aware of the issue. New York’s assembly members have said that they will turn their attention to improving this law after passing a new budget on April 1. An earlier draft of the executive state budget submitted by Gov. Kathy Hochul included provisions to make hotel conversions easier.

But regulatory changes are likely to come too late. With New York’s tourism industry on the upswing, affordable housing developers are now competing with investors looking to buy hotels for their original purpose, driving up prices.

The secret to housing success

Much of California’s success came from the speed with which it was carried out, argue researchers at the New York University Furman Center who studied the initiative for a white paper on New York’s hotel conversions. Thanks to the urgency of the pandemic, the state streamlined processes for purchasing buildings by working closely with local-level governments and housing authorities, who knew their homeless populations and real estate markets best. The legislative language for Homekey was also structured with regulatory flexibility that allowed city councils to bypass local approval processes and environmental regulations in their purchase of buildings.

The state is now doubling down on its success. In 2022, Homekey has been funded with another $1.45 billion for 2022, the majority of which is derived from funds from the American Rescue Plan of 2021. This money will allow the program to continue to grow over the next several years but will run out in 2026. Once federal money runs out, it will be up to California and its localities to find the budget to continue operating Homekey sites.

Source : QUARTZ

China Central Bank to Cut FX Reserve Ratio to Help Limit Yuan Weakness

China’s central bank said on Monday it will cut the amount of foreign exchange reserves that financial institutions must hold, a move seen as aimed at slowing the yuan’s recent depreciation.

The People’s Bank of China said it would cut the foreign exchange reserve requirement ratio (RRR) to 6% from 8% beginning Sept. 15, according to an online statement.

The PBOC said the reduction aimed to improve “financial institutions’ ability to use foreign exchange capital,” the statement added.

The move came after the Chinese yuan’s recent slide to two-year lows. The yuan has depreciated by 8% against the dollar in the year to date, as a result of broad dollar strength in global markets and China’s worsening economic slowdown.

The reduction in reserve requirements would boost dollar liquidity. Based on end July data, when foreign exchange reserves stood at $953.7 billion, the lower requirements would free up around $19 billion.

“It is not a huge amount compared to cross border receipts,” said Frances Cheung, rate strategist at OCBC Bank.

“Still, the market is mindful of the signal the central bank sends.”

Both onshore and offshore yuan briefly bounced about 200 pips following the PBOC statement and pared some of their earlier losses.

Some traders and analysts said the cut was expected and was partly a signal to the market that rapid declines in the yuan would be unwelcome.

“As recent daily yuan midpoint fixings persistently came in stronger than market expectations, the PBOC’s official action to stabilise the yuan was already within market expectations,” said Ken Cheung, chief Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank.

The PBOC has been setting firmer-than-expected midpoint guidance rates over the past two weeks, with many market participants interpreting it as a sign of official efforts to rein in the yuan’s weakness.

Bruce Pang, chief economist at Jones Lang Lasalle, said Monday’s announcement showed that the authorities have started to adopt appropriate policy tools and macro-prudential tools to iron out excess yuan volatilities.

“It could cool down one-way depreciation bets against the yuan and alleviate the pressure of a fast yuan depreciation,” Pang added.

Major investment houses have cut their yuan forecasts as its fall against the dollar accelerated since mid-August, with some expecting a breach of the 7-per-dollar milestone before next month’s politically sensitive Party Congress despite authorities’ efforts to slow the slide.

The PBOC last cut the FX reserve requirement ratio by 100 basis points in April, in a bid to rein in a sliding yuan and make it less expensive for banks to hold dollars.

Source : Reuters

The American Kleptocracy: A Government of Liars, Thieves and Lawbreakers

John & Nisha Whitehead wrote . . . . . . . . .

“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable.” — H. L. Mencken

The American kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves) continues to suck the American people down a rabbit hole into a parallel universe in which the Constitution is meaningless, the government is all-powerful, and the citizenry is powerless to defend itself against government agents who steal, spy, lie, plunder, kill, abuse and generally inflict mayhem and sow madness on everyone and everything in their sphere.

Think about it.

Almost every tyranny being perpetrated by the U.S. government against the citizenry—purportedly to keep us safe and the nation secure—has come about as a result of some threat manufactured in one way or another by our own government.

Cyberwarfare. Terrorism. Bio-chemical attacks. The nuclear arms race. Surveillance. The drug wars. Domestic extremism. The COVID-19 pandemic.

In almost every instance, the U.S. government (often spearheaded by the FBI) has in its typical Machiavellian fashion sown the seeds of terror domestically and internationally in order to expand its own totalitarian powers.

Who is the biggest black market buyer and stockpiler of cyberweapons (weaponized malware that can be used to hack into computer systems, spy on citizens, and destabilize vast computer networks)? The U.S. government.

Who is the largest weapons manufacturer and exporter in the world, such that they are literally arming the world? The U.S. government.

Which country has a history of secretly testing out dangerous weapons and technologies on its own citizens? The U.S. government.

Which country has conducted secret experiments on an unsuspecting populace—citizens and noncitizens alike—making healthy people sick by spraying them with chemicals, injecting them with infectious diseases and exposing them to airborne toxins? The U.S. government.

What country has a pattern and practice of entrapment that involves targeting vulnerable individuals, feeding them with the propaganda, know-how and weapons intended to turn them into terrorists, and then arresting them as part of an elaborately orchestrated counterterrorism sting? The U.S. government.

Are you getting the picture yet?

The U.S. government isn’t protecting us from terrorism.

The U.S. government is creating the terror. It is, in fact, the source of the terror.

Consider that this very same government has taken every bit of technology sold to us as being in our best interests—GPS devices, surveillance, nonlethal weapons, etc.—and used it against us, to track, control and trap us.

So why is the government doing this? Money, power and total domination.

We’re not dealing with a government that exists to serve its people, protect their liberties and ensure their happiness. Rather, these are the diabolical machinations of a make-works program carried out on an epic scale whose only purpose is to keep the powers-that-be permanently (and profitably) employed.

Case in point: the FBI.

The government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused. Indeed, far from being tough on crime, FBI agents are also among the nation’s most notorious lawbreakers.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.

It’s a diabolical plot with far-reaching consequences for every segment of the population, no matter what one’s political leanings.

As Rozina Ali writes for The New York Times Magazine, “The government’s approach to counterterrorism erodes constitutional protections for everyone, by blurring the lines between speech and action and by broadening the scope of who is classified as a threat.”

This is not an agency that appears to understand, let alone respect, the limits of the Constitution.

For instance, the FBI has been secretly carrying out an entrapment scheme in which it used a front company, ANOM, to sell purportedly hack-proof phones to organized crime syndicates and then used those phones to spy on them as they planned illegal drug shipments, plotted robberies and put out contracts for killings using those boobytrapped phones.

All told, the FBI intercepted 27 million messages over the course of 18 months.

What this means is that the FBI was also illegally spying on individuals using those encrypted phones who may not have been involved in any criminal activity whatsoever.

Even reading a newspaper article is now enough to get you flagged for surveillance by the FBI. The agency served a subpoena on USA Today / Gannett to provide the internet addresses and mobile phone information for everyone who read a news story online on a particular day and time about the deadly shooting of FBI agents.

This is the danger of allowing the government to carry out widespread surveillance, sting and entrapment operations using dubious tactics that sidestep the rule of law: “we the people” become suspects and potential criminals, while government agents, empowered to fight crime using all means at their disposal, become indistinguishable from the corrupt forces they seek to vanquish.

To go after terrorists, they become terrorists. To go after drug smugglers, they become drug smugglers. To go after thieves, they become thieves.

It’s hard to say whether we’re dealing with a kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves), a kakistocracy (a government run by unprincipled career politicians, corporations and thieves that panders to the worst vices in our nature and has little regard for the rights of American citizens), or if we’ve gone straight to an idiocracy.

This certainly isn’t a constitutional republic, however.

Some days, it feels like the government is running its own crime syndicate complete with mob rule and mafia-style justice.

In addition to creating certain crimes in order to then “solve” them, the FBI—the government’s law enforcement agency—also gives certain informants permission to break the law, “including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies,” in exchange for their cooperation on other fronts.

USA Today estimates that government agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day (5600 crimes a year). Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums: one particularly unsavory fellow, later arrested for attempting to run over a police officer, was actually paid $85,000 for his help laying the trap for an entrapment scheme.

In addition to procedural misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, the FBI’s laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, and harassment.

For example, the Associated Press lodged a complaint with the Dept. of Justice after learning that FBI agents created a fake AP news story and emailed it, along with a clickable link, to a bomb threat suspect in order to implant tracking technology onto his computer and identify his location. Lambasting the agency, AP attorney Karen Kaiser railed, “The FBI may have intended this false story as a trap for only one person. However, the individual could easily have reposted this story to social networks, distributing to thousands of people, under our name, what was essentially a piece of government disinformation.”

Then again, to those familiar with COINTELPRO, an FBI program created to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” groups and individuals the government considers politically objectionable, it should come as no surprise that the agency has mastered the art of government disinformation.

The FBI has been particularly criticized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for targeting vulnerable individuals and not only luring them into fake terror plots but actually equipping them with the organization, money, weapons and motivation to carry out the plots—entrapment—and then jailing them for their so-called terrorist plotting. This is what the FBI characterizes as “forward leaning—preventative—prosecutions.”

Another fallout from 9/11, National Security Letters, one of the many illicit powers authorized by the USA Patriot Act, allows the FBI to secretly demand that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands. An internal audit of the agency found that the FBI practice of issuing tens of thousands of NSLs every year for sensitive information such as phone and financial records, often in non-emergency cases, is riddled with widespread violations.

The FBI’s surveillance capabilities, on a par with the National Security Agency, boast a nasty collection of spy tools ranging from Stingray devices that can track the location of cell phones to Triggerfish devices which allow agents to eavesdrop on phone calls.

In one case, the FBI actually managed to remotely reprogram a “suspect’s” wireless internet card so that it would send “real-time cell-site location data to Verizon, which forwarded the data to the FBI.”

The FBI has also repeatedly sought to expand its invasive hacking powers to allow agents to hack into any computer, anywhere in the world.

Indeed, for years now, the U.S. government has been creating what one intelligence insider referred to as a cyber-army capable of offensive attacks. As part of this cyberweapons programs, government agencies such as the NSA have been stockpiling all kinds of nasty malware, viruses and hacking tools that can “steal financial account passwords, turn an iPhone into a listening device, or, in the case of Stuxnet, sabotage a nuclear facility.”

In fact, the NSA was responsible for the threat posed by the “WannaCry” or “Wanna Decryptor” malware worm which—as a result of hackers accessing the government’s arsenal—hijacked more than 57,000 computers and crippled health care, communications infrastructure, logistics, and government entities in more than 70 countries.

Mind you, the government was repeatedly warned about the dangers of using criminal tactics to wage its own cyberwars. It was warned about the consequences of blowback should its cyberweapons get into the wrong hands.

The government chose to ignore the warnings.

That’s exactly how the 9/11 attacks unfolded.

First, the government helped to create the menace that was al-Qaida and then, when bin Laden had left the nation reeling in shock (despite countless warnings that fell on tone-deaf ears), it demanded—and was given—immense new powers in the form of the USA Patriot Act in order to fight the very danger it had created.

This has become the shadow government’s modus operandi regardless of which party controls the White House: the government creates a menace—knowing full well the ramifications such a danger might pose to the public—then without ever owning up to the part it played in unleashing that particular menace on an unsuspecting populace, it demands additional powers in order to protect “we the people” from the threat.

Yet the powers-that-be don’t really want us to feel safe.

They want us cowering and afraid and willing to relinquish every last one of our freedoms in exchange for their phantom promises of security.

As a result, it’s the American people who pay the price for the government’s insatiable greed and quest for power.

Suffice it to say that when and if a true history of the United States is ever written, it will not only track the rise of the American police state but it will also chart the decline of freedom in America: how a nation that once abided by the rule of law and held the government accountable for its actions has steadily devolved into a police state where justice is one-sided, a corporate elite runs the show, representative government is a mockery, police are extensions of the military, surveillance is rampant, privacy is extinct, and the law is little more than a tool for the government to browbeat the people into compliance.

Somewhere over the course of the past 240-plus years, democracy has given way to kleptocracy, and representative government has been rejected in favor of rule by career politicians, corporations and thieves—individuals and entities with little regard for the rights of American citizens.

This dissolution of that sacred covenant between the citizenry and the government—establishing “we the people” as the masters and the government as the servant—didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen because of one particular incident or one particular president. It is a process, one that began long ago and continues in the present day, aided and abetted by politicians who have mastered the polarizing art of how to “divide and conquer.”

Source : The Rutherford Institute