Sep 032015
 

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Sep 032015
 

Submitted by Thad Beversdorf via FirstRebuttal.com,

I wanted to start with The Bad and then move on to The Ugly so that I can end on a positive note with The Good.

So over the past couple days I’ve read several articles in which someone who is publicly an adamant proponent of righteous behaviour was exposed as being a complete hypocrite (think essentially any politician).  And this really got me to thinking about the epidemic that has befallen America.  We no longer have anyone in positions of trust acting with any sense of integrity.  Our policymakers, bankers, corporations, unions, etc., all of these institutions have become nothing but a mechanism to enhance the personal positions of those who have the ability to directly or indirectly control the actions of those institutions.

By the late 1990’s the world was in the most prolonged period of global peace since WWII.  Accordingly, military budgets around the world were being slashed.  And so those with the powers that be decided the world therefore required some new wars to ensure peace continued (not kidding that is exactly what they argued), as I evidenced in an article last year, The Most Essential Lessons of History that No One Wants to Admit.  Now the thing is, it’s not just politicians and policymakers that are devoid of any common decency these days but those who can manipulate every facet of our society.

Let’s look at central bankers for instance.  The other day David Stockman wrote a great article highlighting the ridiculousness of statements by the Fed Vice Chair, Stanley Fischer.  The point is Fischer is either out of touch, out of his mind or lying to us.  But it’s not just at the highest levels that we see this type of human decay.  Not at all.  Let’s look to an area that so many of us know intimately, the financial services sector.  Now there are a lot of examples we could use here but let’s look at a particularly interesting firm infamous for its culture of indiscretions.  Jefferies LLC, which used to be Jefferies & Company Inc., is a mid tier investment bank, similar to Goldman Sachs in that it has no retail branches.

In 2012 Richard Handler, CEO of Jefferies, was actually the highest paid banker on Wall Street.  And not to be left out in the cold, Handler’s number two, Brian Friedman also topped the charts as discussed in a Bloomberg article from 2013 which explored the credit risk such payouts create.  Now making absurd amounts of money may or may not be ethical but what I find more interesting is the blatant hypocrisy of guys like Richard and Brian.  As has been written about many times (e.g. here and here) is the fact that Richard and Brian put out a monthly company wide letter with words of ‘wisdom’ that are to guide and encourage their employees to rise above the fray.  They look something like this from a recent monthly letter…

“…By the way, the capitalism concept really never took hold in Russia because the only way lasting, open markets work is through transparency, a culture of integrity and rule-following, and a true legal system.”

Now that sounds admirable on the surface, however, the reality when we look at the culture at Jefferies is anything but above the fray.

Remember Jesse Litvak?  He’s the only banker that has been personally prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison for fraud related to TARP and was a Jefferies Managing Director at the time.  Now for those of you that don’t remember, Litvak was caught lying to a customer when an employee of his accidentally sent that client an email exposing the lie.  In the end, Litvak tried to explain away his actions to the court by saying it was common practice at Jefferies.  The government agreed according to a quote from a bloomberg report, “Litvak wasn’t the only employee who lied to his customers, the government said.

Now some might feel well one example doesn’t prove a corrupt culture, right?  And I only wish it were but a fleeting example, unfortunately though isn’t.  Perhaps the most outrageous banking scandal of all time was Sage Kelly, Head of Global Health Care Investment Banking, for Jefferies.  Sage Kelly is the real deal.  He is Wall Street anthropomorphized in all its glory as depicted in a classic article by the boys at ZeroHedge.  And again it appears that it wasn’t just poor behaviour by one man but a culture taken on by several top investment bankers at Jefferies.  And surely the severely outlandish culture adopted by these bankers is not the type of behaviour that goes unnoticed.  For unlike artists, legends in banking are known, not in death, but in the here and now.

What is less known is that Jefferies was actually sued by UBS for the way in which they acquired Sage and his Investment banking group from UBS, as this article by the NYT describes.  But it appears that for Richard Handler and his executive officers, being called out for inappropriate behaviour is not a deterrent as some 3 years later Jefferies was sued by Newedge for the very same thing, as described in this FT article.  It’s beginning to seem that despite Richard and Brian’s monthly words of moral and ethical enlightenment to their employees, it is them that have failed to live up to the benchmark they preach.

Now when a CEO is making $58M a year he should be held to a higher standard of accountability.  But what we find is quite the opposite, as we regularly see now in America those in positions of notable status are exempt from consequences.  The Rich Handlers, Donald Rumsfelds, Hilary Clintons of the world reap all the upside and zero downside.  Similar to the market having a Fed put, members of America’s upper class have a legal put.  They simply are not held to the same standard to which the rest of us are held.  And so if Litvak had the letters CEO in front of his name surely he would have been spared any prison time.  Instead a large fine would have been paid into the Treasury’s General Fund and all would have been forgiven.

And so the consequences are worn by the non-elites, that is, the rest of us.  The Rumsfeld lies that took us to Iraq and all of the subsequent continued fallout (now ISIS) are worn by soldiers fighting a synthetic enemy created in a social laboratory to perpetually expand defense industry contracts.  The selling of favours and foreign policy deals by Hillary are worn by the families that lost loved ones in Benghazi.  The multiple failures of Handler to properly manage risk and culture inside his firm led to rising legal and regulatory costs and declining business further leading him to shut down, only three years after purchasing, Pru Bache, a 130 year old company that had weathered the worst of storms.  His failures are worn by thousands of non-six-figure income financial services sector employees that lost their jobs when he closed the doors on the 130 year old company but while he continues to receive his 8 figure compensation.

We can all think of literally a hundred examples of the legal put provided to those in the American upper class.  And while any single example has a story of tragedy behind it, it is the assumed immunity we give across the board to those with a notable status that perpetuates their self serving indifference to those for which their duties are naturally responsible but now unaccountable.   Yet we give them immunity, in part, because they do a fantastic job of portraying themselves as having concern for right and wrong and falling on wrong only due to circumstances outside of their control.

This really pinpoints the issue.  While we listen to politicians, central bankers and CEO’s preach publicly about doing what’s right, ensuring economic stability, protecting the middle class and watching out for our employees and customers, it’s all absolute bullshit now isn’t it.  That is, while guys like Rich and Brian pretend to be angelic proponents of good behaviour their firm is clearly an absolute disgrace in an industry already known for its lack of integrity.  And it’s surely not just Jefferies but the general corporate and political culture in this nation that suffers from a lack of accountability and a lack of character.  Apologies and fines are great but they don’t deter the bad behaviour that always lands on the rest of us, that much is clear.

This nation has become a land where character and integrity are secondary to profits for the few and self serving interests of the powerful.  And as we are seeing already for the third time in this millennium’s infancy, stability and prosperity can be but short lived for even the highest paid CEO’s in such a world.

In Part II, I am going to expose The Ugly by releasing a recorded conversation of perhaps, contextually, the ugliest example of just how callous and inhumane our banking executives have become.  Watch for it.

Sep 032015
 

For those wondering why Chinese futures aren’t crashing as of this moment, only to surge in the last hour of trading like plunge protected clockwork, the reason (and also the patriotic alibi behind China’s “National Team” valiant, if failed, attempts to get a green Shanghai Composite close the past three days) is shown below: this is what Tiananmen Square looked like moments ago before the start of China’s “historic” 70th V-day parade celebrating the anniversary of the end of the second world war as well as China’s victory over Japan, not necessarily in that order (it is still unclear if those five Chinese ships parked off of Alaska are in any way related to today’s festivities).

Here, via Xinhua, is a list of China’s contributions in the war effort:

  • 1 million — Since the July 7 Incident in 1937, when full-scale war against Japanese aggression broke out, the Chinese battlefield tied up about 1 million Japanese troops, or two thirds of the total Japanese army.
  • This allowed the Soviet Union to deploy more than half a million troops from the Far East to the country’s major battlefield with the German Nazis, thus accelerating its victory against Germany.
  • 1.5 million — As the major battlefield of the Pacific War, China inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese aggressors, costing them 1.5 million troops, which makes up more than 70 percent of total Japanese military casualties in the war.
  • 1.28 million — After the war, more than 1.28 million Japanese troops surrendered their weapons to China, accounting for about 50 percent of those who surrendered overseas.
  • 35 million — China was one of the crucial fighters in WWII and made tremendous sacrifices during the war. According to incomplete statistics, Chinese military and civilian casualties added up to approximately 35 million.
  • That accounts for one third of the total casualties suffered by all countries during WWII.

What makes this year’s parade unique is that for the first time in addition to the countless participants from the People’s Liberation Army, nearly 1000 troops from 17 countries will participate in the parade.

The preparations started early as this video of downtown Beijing confirms. Alternatively, this is what China’s capital will look like once the SHCOMP is back to 2000:

China’s #VDay parade military vehicles move to downtown Beijing. pic.twitter.com/Px67g3bJoJ

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 3, 2015

Then the troops starting arriving:

Video: Troops gather near Tian’anmen Square, ready for China #Vday parade that marks 70th anniv of WWII end pic.twitter.com/3DeEcNXJvQ

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 3, 2015

Troops are all lined up along Chang’an Street in #Beijing, all prepared for the grand #VDay parade. pic.twitter.com/EwC2dFCxS2

— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) September 2, 2015

All Set to Go: Troops are standing by near #Tiananmen Square for the kick off of the #VDay parade. pic.twitter.com/K7TWIPnfpm

— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) September 2, 2015

… then the foreign soldiers:

Replay: Foreign soldiers from 17 countries train in Beijing for today’s #VDay parade http://t.co/AfkAauzNfV pic.twitter.com/5GMS6GZbsU

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 3, 2015

… and the people:

Audience are arriving at the scene for the grand #VDay military parade, which is starting in an hour and a half. pic.twitter.com/W8LAyKJS0L

— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) September 3, 2015

… the occasional celebrity:

Kungfu star @EyeOfJackieChan is seen at the scene of #Beijing #Vday military parade among other spectators pic.twitter.com/xhU1Eh4uLd

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 3, 2015

… then the generals:

Chinese troops and foreign military are preparing for the kick off of the #VDay parade in #Beijing. pic.twitter.com/yHOkjm9mBi

— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) September 3, 2015

Until finally Xi himself showed up:

#VDay President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan take photo with heads of foreign delegations and their spouses. pic.twitter.com/U9r2IRDwBm

— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) September 3, 2015

Chinese President #XiJinping and his wife welcome S. Korean President #ParkGeun-hye ahead of #VDay parade. pic.twitter.com/tcRwpCV9p6

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 3, 2015

And, naturally, the guests of honor among which none other than Vladimir Putin:

Live: President #XiJinping & first lady Peng Liyuan greet #Putin ahead of China’s #VDay parade @KremlinRussia_E pic.twitter.com/5lifr4SU7H

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 3, 2015

 

Finally, for those sitting in front of their computer in Chinese stock market rollercoaster withdrawal, here is a live feed from Beijing to fill the transitory void in your lives:

Sep 032015
 

Markets have “reached some kind of a tipping point,” warns Marc Faber in this brief Bloomberg TV interview. Simply put, he explains, “because of modern central banking and repeated interventions with monetary policy, in other words, with QE, all around the world by central banks – there is no safe asset anymore.” The purchasing power of money is going down, and Faber “would rather focus on precious metals because they do not depend on the industrial demand as much as base metals or industrial commodities,” as it’s now “obvious that the Chinese economy is growing at nowhere near what the Ministry of Truth is publishing.”

 

Faber explains more… “I have to laugh when someone like you tries to lecture me what creates prosperity”

 

Some key exceprts…

On what central banks hath wrought…

I think that because of modern central banking and repeated interventions with monetary policy, in other words, with QE, all around the world by central banks there is no safe asset anymore. When I grew up in the ’50s it was safe to put your money in the bank on deposit. The yields were low, but it was safe.

 

But nowadays, you don’t know what will happen next in terms of purchasing power of money. What we know is that it’s going down.

On the idiocy of QE…

in my humble book of economics, wealth is being created through, essentially, a mixture of capital spending, and land and labor. And if these three production factors are used efficiently, it then creates a prosperous society, as America became prosperous from its humble beginnings in 1800, or thereabout, to the 1960s, ’70s. But it’s ludicrous to believe that you will create prosperity in a system by printing money. That is economic sophism at its best.

On the causes of iunequality…

unfortunately the money that was made in U.S. stocks wasn’t distributed evenly. And we have precise statistics, by the way published by the Federal Reserve, who actually benefited from the stock market boom post-2009. This is not even one percent of the population. It’s 0.01 percent. They took the bulk.

 

And the majority of Americans, roughly 50 percent, they don’t own any shares anyway. And in other countries, 90 percent of the population do not own any shares. So the printing of money has a very limited impact on creating wealth.

On China’s lies… and its commodity contagion…

I indicated on this program already a year ago, the Chinese economy was decelerating already then. It’s just that the fund managers didn’t want to accept it.

 

And now it’s obvious that the Chinese economy is growing at nowhere near what the Ministry of Truth is publishing in China, but more likely either no growth at all or maybe around two percent, but no more than that.

 

So that has a huge impact on commodity prices, and in turn it has a huge impact on the economies of all the raw material producers around the world from Latin America, to Australasia, Russia, Middle East, Africa and so forth. And these countries then with falling commodity prices have less money to buy, also less money to buy American goods.

On Asian currency devaluation… and a Chinese economic collapse…

Yes. These countries just followed the example of what Mr. Draghi and Kuroda tried to achieve with lowering the value of their currencies, which is actually to create a depression in real incomes and a contraction of world GDP in dollar terms, and a contraction of world trade in dollar terms, which is of course negative for economic growth around the world.

 

Well, I mean, we have to put the achievements of China and also of President Xi in the context of what China was 20, 30 years ago, and what it is today. And it’s a remarkable change. Now will China have a very serious setback? And don’t forget, the U.S. after 1800 had numerous financial crises, and depressions, and the Civil War, and went through World War I, and through the depression years, and World War II and so forth. And the country continued to grow.

 

I think China is, from a cyclical point of view now, in a very serious downturn, serious. And from a secular point of view, I think there is still tremendous growth opportunity in China in the long run. But, as I said, cyclically I think they’re going to have a tough time

On where to invest…

I would rather focus on precious metals, gold, silver, platinum because they do not depend on the industrial demand as much as base metals, as industrial commodities.

 

If I had to turn anywhere, where, as you say, the opportunity for large capital gains exists, and the downside risk is in my opinion, limited, it would be the mining sector, specifically precious metals, mining companies, in other words, gold shares.

 

I would buy mining stocks. I am not saying they will go up, but I think they will go down less than a lot of other shares. And by the way, if you ask me about relative value, I think emerging markets are not yet cheap, cheap, but I think the return expectation I would have over the next seven to 10 years by investing in emerging markets would be much higher than, say, in U.S. stocks. The U.S. market is overhyped and is expensive in terms of valuations from a historical perspective. Emerging markets are no longer terribly expensive.
 

Sep 032015
 

For those unaware, China is conducting a massive military parade on Wednesday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The event – which is accompanied by a three-day public holiday – is important for Xi Jinping, who is keen to project China’s strength to the world, especially in the wake of the country’s economic deceleration and highly publicized stock market meltdown. 

Of course the parade also comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.

China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea – where the PLA has constructed nearly 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory atop reefs – has regional US allies on edge. The dispute came to a head earlier this year when China effectively threatened to shoot down a US spy plane carrying a CNN crew over the Spratlys. 

It’s against this backdrop that we recently brought you infographics demonstrating China’s South China Sea naval superiority on the way to asking who would win a maritime conflict. Below, courtesy of CNN, is a simple infographic which puts the militaries of the US and China side by side on the way to making a comparison that may well become increasingly relevant in the new bipolarity.