Category Archives: Economy and Meltdown

Israel Says Iran Behind Blast On Israeli-Owned Ship In ‘Initial Assessment’

Israel Says Iran Behind Blast On Israeli-Owned Ship In ‘Initial Assessment’

Israel is blaming Iran for the Thursday incident in the Gulf of Oman wherein a cargo vessel owned by an Israeli businessman was hit by a ‘mystery’ explosion, forcing it to divert to the nearest port after sustaining severe damage.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has announced as part of an “initial assessment” that Tel Aviv believes Iran was behind a bomb attack on the car-carrier vessel, identified as the Helios Ray. Suspicion of Iran’s involvement has been rampant in Israeli media since the blast. However, there’s yet to be definitive proof or evidence that either a state actor or terrorist elements were involved, much less any specific details released to the public. 

Iran is looking to hit Israeli infrastructure and Israeli citizens. The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the notion, the assessment, that it is the Iranians,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday, according to Reuters.

Gantz appears to be speculating to a large degree, likely with an intelligence investigation still pending. He added: “Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context – that is my assessment.”

No crew were reported harmed in the blast which struck the hull of the Bahamian flag vessel as it traveled through the Gulf of Oman from Saudi Arabia to Singapore. It’s now reported to be docked in Dubai as the damaged is assessed, some photos of which circulated online in the past two days.

Pentagon sources confirmed the damage yet without specifying blame. “A U.S. defense official in Washington said the blast left holes above the waterline in both sides of the hull. The cause was not immediately clear and no casualties were reported,” Reuters noted.

During the summer 2019 ‘tanker war’ involving Iran and the West, the Islamic Republic was blamed for limpet mine attacks on commercial vessels in the region; however, Tehran vehemently denied these attacks, which many speculated was ‘retaliation’ for the UK seizing and temporarily detaining the Iranian oil tanker ‘Grace 1’ off Gibraltar, citing compliance with US-led sanctions.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 02/27/2021 – 20:00

Minimum Wage, Maximum Discrimination

Minimum Wage, Maximum Discrimination

Authored by Caleb Fuller via The Mises Institute,

Since the days of Adam Smith, economists have sought a set of social institutions which permit “neither dominion, nor discrimination,” to use Nobel Prize–winning economist James Buchanan’s phrase. In this, economists are joined by all people of goodwill—including those in the Biden administration, which has enshrined equity and inclusion as cornerstones of how they’ll govern.

What separates the economist from other social do-gooders, however, is an unflinching focus on the means used to achieve noble goals. It’s therefore with alarm that I consider the Biden administration’s dual focus on “diversity and equity” and its doubling down on the “fight for $15.” I’m alarmed because the minimum wage impedes our ability to foster a society genuinely built on “diversity and equity.”

Here’s the straight talk on the minimum wage that you probably didn’t learn in school: the minimum wage has been a powerful weapon in the arsenal of racists and bigots. Economists have illuminated the devastating effects of the minimum wage on minorities with empirical evidence and entire books on the subject, but to see one reason why the policy targets minorities, first consider a little basic economics.

Consider the demand side of the labor market.

Firms will hire fewer workers if the government criminalizes voluntary agreements to work for less than $15 per hour. This is an uncontroversial point to make about virtually any other market. If the price of apples doubles, people buy fewer apples. They buy more oranges instead. Employers do the same thing. Under the minimum wage, they start buying more machinery, like the kiosks you see in Panera. The upshot: fewer jobs.

Now let’s consider the supply side of the labor market, where the higher minimum wage attracts new workers to the labor market—those, like college students, who might have sat on the sidelines otherwise. The upshot: more job seekers.

Fewer jobs plus more job seekers means that more people will be searching for jobs than there are jobs available—a labor surplus. In other words, the minimum wage creates a “buyer’s market” in labor, because it causes job seekers to line up in front of employers who have limited jobs to offer.

Suppose an employer receives a hundred applicants for a job opening. How does he choose whom to hire?

Without the minimum wage, whoever wants the job most will outcompete other jobseekers by offering to work for less.

With a minimum wage, the employer can’t say: “Who will work for $14.95?” If he does, he’s a criminal; he literally violates the law.

Since he can’t just pick the most eager job seekers, he needs some alternative way to select from his hundred applicants. When you have a surplus of labor in a market with a minimum wage, prices aren’t allowed to adjust, so the employer picks from that surplus based on personal preferences. These may include race, sex, gender, religion, or other personal characteristics that have little to do with productivity. In fact, in the past, it has included just that. Faced with more job seekers than there are jobs available, a bigoted employer bears little cost when he refuses to hire a member of a group he dislikes. He knows someone else in the applicant pool will be from his preferred group.

In a market without a minimum wage, when an employer turns down an applicant to satisfy his bigoted tastes, he doesn’t have ninety-nine other job seekers to choose from. There’s no labor surplus. If he chooses to indulge his bigoted tastes, the job remains unfilled for longer, which means less money for our racist employer. Consider that in the United States the African American teenage male unemployment rate was lower than the white teenage male unemployment rate through the late 1940s. The 1950s saw the single largest increase (in percentage terms) of the minimum wage. The reasoning I just gave explains why the African American teen joblessness rate then soared above that of whites. That gap remains to the present day. Like Adam Smith, James Buchanan, and the Biden administration, I too desire a society where the power of bad people to exercise “dominion or discrimination” is constrained, even eliminated. Presumably, my fellow Pennsylvanians do too. The fact that nearly two-thirds of them (and 89 percent of liberals) support a $15/hour minimum wage is therefore troubling. My fellow citizens should consider whether this policy facilitates or impedes the ability of bad men to do harm. Economics says it facilitates.

So does history. As Princeton’s Thomas Leonard has demonstrated in his book Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era, the early minimum wage advocates saw it as a prime tool to exercise “dominion and discrimination” over those they deemed ill-suited to reproduction. The minimum wage was well suited to perform the Progressives’ dirty work of discriminating against (what they considered) the least productive by making them unemployable.

It has been over a hundred years since the Progressive Era. But the laws of economics haven’t changed. The only question is: Have we?

Tyler Durden
Sat, 02/27/2021 – 19:30

FDA Clears JNJ Covid-19 Shot For Use In The US, Giving Americans 3rd Vaccine Choice

FDA Clears JNJ Covid-19 Shot For Use In The US, Giving Americans 3rd Vaccine Choice

Late on Friday afternoon, when an FDA panel unanimously endorsed the J&J Covid vaccine finding that its benefits outweigh any risks, we wrote that the “FDA could now give the green light to the single-dose vaccine as early as Saturday, and it probably will.” And just after 6pm on Saturday, that’s precisely what happened when the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot, non-mRNA Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use for people 18 and older beginning the rollout of millions of doses of a third effective vaccine that could reach Americans by early next week.

The announcement come following weeks of steep declines in coronavirus cases (which however may have stabilizied in recent days) and millions of Americans are on waiting lists for shots.

The FDA’s decision comes after a Wednesday report according to which the J&J shot is highly effective at preventing severe Covid-19, with no serious side effects.

On Sunday, a committee of vaccine experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to discuss whether certain population groups should be prioritized for the vaccine, guidance that state health officials have been eagerly awaiting in anticipation of the F.D.A.’s authorization.

Joe Biden hailed the vaccine’s authorization, calling it “exciting news” in a statement on Saturday.

“Thanks to the brilliance of our scientists, the resilience of our people, and the eagerness of Americans in every community to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated, we are moving in the right direction,”

That said, we are confident that Trump – under whose watch operation WarpSpeed was launched – could say the exactly same thing and have more credit.

Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the United States with 100 million doses by the end of June. When combined with the 600 million doses from the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna scheduled to arrive by the end of July, there will be more than enough shots to cover any American adult who wants one.

But federal and state health officials are concerned that even with strong data to support it, some people may perceive Johnson & Johnson’s shot as an inferior option. That’s because the new vaccine’s 72% efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial site falls short of the roughly 95% rate found in studies testing the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Across all trial sites, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalization and death from the virus.

“Don’t get caught up, necessarily, on the number game, because it’s a really good vaccine, and what we need is as many good vaccines as possible,” Anthony Fauci said in an interview with the NYT on Saturday. “Rather than parsing the difference between 94 and 72, accept the fact that now you have three highly effective vaccines. Period.” And when it comes to pitching “ballpark” figures who better than the person who admitted to lying about herd immunity to trick Americans into getting the vaccine.

If Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would have been the first to be authorized in the United States instead of the third, “everybody would be doing handstands and back flips and high-fives,” said Dr. James T. McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine.

As a reminder, unlike Pfizer and Moderna, J&J’s vaccine is made from a common cold virus that doesn’t replicate in the body but triggers an immune response to fight off infection. In the U.S. portion of a more than 43,000-person global trial, it was found to be 72% effective at preventing moderate to severe Covid.

To create this vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson team took a harmless adenovirus – the viral vector – and replaced a small piece of its genetic instructions with coronavirus genes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

After this modified adenovirus is injected into someone’s arm, it enters the person’s cells. The cells then read the genetic instructions needed to make the spike protein and the vaccinated cells make and present the spike protein on their own surface. The person’s immune system then notices these foreign proteins and makes antibodies against them that will protect the person if they are ever exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the future.

The adenovirus vector vaccine is safe because the adenovirus can’t replicate in human cells or cause disease, and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein can’t cause COVID–19 without the rest of the coronavirus.

Policy makers claim they have been eager to get more people immunized before virus mutations can take firmer hold in the U.S. J&J’s vaccine provided less protection against the new variants, trial data suggested. In Brazil, the shot was 68% effective against moderate-to-severe disease 28 days after vaccination, while in South Africa it was 64% effective. But across the globe, including in countries with emerging variants, the shot successfully prevented all hospitalizations and deaths.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Mathai Mammen, the head of global research and development for J&J’s pharmaceutical division, said in an interview last month that it’s impossible to compare overall efficacy levels between the vaccines, given that the trials were carried out in different locations at different times in the course of the pandemic.

“What people fear is getting sick, so sick they have to go to an emergency room, or hospital, and even die,” he said “This vaccine, in a single shot, protects completely from that kind of fear.”

J&J is still testing a two-shot regimen in a large, global trial that is expected to produce results before year-end. Like Pfizer and Moderna, the company is working on boosters tailored to the variants. And it plans studies soon in children, pregnant women and the immunocompromised. J&J executives have said the company will charge no more than $10 a dose for the vaccine during the pandemic — a price at which it won’t profit. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine costs the U.S. $39 for the full regimen, and the Moderna vaccine costs $33 for both doses.

* * *

In any case, Johnson & Johnson has said it will ship nearly four million doses as soon as the F.D.A. authorizes distribution and another 16 million or so doses by the end of March. That is far fewer than the 37 million doses called for in its $1 billion federal contract, but the contract says that deliveries that are 30 days late will still be considered timely. The federal government is paying the firm $10 a dose for a total of 100 million doses to be ready by the end of June, substantially less per dose than it agreed to pay Moderna and Pfizer.

More importantly, Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine might allow states to rapidly increase the number of people who have been fully inoculated. Unlike the other two vaccines, it can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures for at least three months.

Dr. Danny Avula, the vaccine coordinator for Virginia, said the Johnson & Johnson shipments would increase the state’s allotment of vaccine next week by nearly one-fifth. “I’m super-pumped about this,” he said. “A 100 percent efficacy against deaths and hospitalizations? That’s all I need to hear.”

He said the state was planning mass vaccination events specifically for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, partly to quell any suspicion that it is a lesser product targeted to specific groups.

“It will be super clear that this is Johnson & Johnson — here’s what you need to know about it,” he said. “If you want to do this, you’re coming in with eyes wide open. If not, you will keep your place on the list.”

Tyler Durden
Sat, 02/27/2021 – 19:26

‘The Governor Wanted To Sleep With Me’: Cuomo Accused Of Sexually Harassing Second Former Aide

‘The Governor Wanted To Sleep With Me’: Cuomo Accused Of Sexually Harassing Second Former Aide

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been accused of sexual harassment by a second former aide, according to the New York Times.

Charlotte Bennett, a former executive assistant and health policy adviser to the Cuomo administration up until November of last year, told the Times that Cuomo had asked her sever questions about her sex life – including whether she ever had sex with older men, and whether she was monogamous in her relationships.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Charlotte Bennett

He also allegedly told her during a June, 2020 encounter that the 63-year-old governor complained about being ‘lonely during the pandemic,’ and that he “can’t even hug anyone.”

Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship. –New York Times

 Cuomo told The Times on Saturday that he thought he was acting as a mentor, and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate, before asking for an independent review of the matter – and imploring New Yorkers to await the results “before making any judgements.”

Bennett related an exchange in which she felt Cuomo made clear he wanted to sleep with her.

Ms. Bennett said that during the June encounter, the governor, 63, also complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”

Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.

Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her. –New York Times

I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Bennett says she reported the interaction to Cuomo’s chief-of-staff, Jill DesRosiers, less than a week later – and was subsequently transferred to another job as a health policy adviser, where her office was located on the other side of the Capitol. Bennett also says she reported the incident to a special counsel to the governor, Judith Mogul, towards the end of last June – after which she chose not to insist on an investigation because she “wanted to move on” with her new job.

Cuomo, in his statement, called Bennett a “hard-working and valued member” of his staff who had “every right to speak out,” revealing that she had opened up to him about being a survivor of sexual assault.

“The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported,” said Cuomo, who did not deny asking Bennett personal questions.

Bennett’s accusation comes less than a week after a woman accused Cuomo of sexually harassing her several times between 2016 and 2018, at one point allegedly giving her an unsolicited kiss on the lips at his Manhattan office.

Lindsey Boylan has accused Mr. Cuomo of harassing her on several occasions while she was employed by the state government.Credit…Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Cuomo says Boylan is lying. 

In response to the allegations against Cuomo – and in light of recent revelations that he withheld nursing home death data in order to avoid prosecution by the Trump DOJ, a top New York state lawmaker, Tim Kennedy (D), said that there’s a ‘need to get more information,” adding “And I believe we’re going to be looking for that in the coming days.” 

Tyler Durden
Sat, 02/27/2021 – 18:53

War Mongering For Artificial Intelligence

War Mongering For Artificial Intelligence

Authored by Dr. Binoy Kampmark via,

The ghost of Edward Teller must have been doing the rounds between members of the National Commission on Artificial Intelligence.  The father of the hydrogen bomb was never one too bothered by the ethical niggles that came with inventing murderous technology.  It was not, for instance, “the scientist’s job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be constructed, whether it should be used, or how it should be used.”  Responsibility, however exercised, rested with the American people and their elected officials.

The application of AI in military systems has plagued the ethicist but excited certain leaders and inventors.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has grandiloquently asserted that “it would be impossible to secure the future of our civilization” without a mastery of artificial intelligence, genetics, unmanned weapons systems and hypersonic weapons.

Campaigners against the use of autonomous weapons systems in war have been growing in number.  The UN Secretary-General António Guterres is one of them. 

“Autonomous machines with the power and discretion to select targets and take lives without human involvement,” he wrote on Twitter in March 2019, “are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law.” 

The International Committee for Robot Arms Control, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and Human Rights Watch are also dedicated to banning lethal autonomous weapons systems.  Weapons analysts such as Zachary Kallenborn see that absolute position as untenable, preferring a more modest ban on “the highest-risk weapons: drone swarms and autonomous chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons”.

The critics of such weapons systems were far away in the Commission’s draft report for Congress.  The document has more than a touch of the mad scientist in the bloody service of a master.  This stood to reason, given its chairman was Eric Schmidt, technical advisor to Alphabet Inc., parent company of Google, which he was formerly CEO of.  With Schmidt holding the reins, we would be guaranteed a show shorn of moral restraint.  “The AI promise – that a machine can perceive, decide, and act more quickly, in a more complex environment, with more accuracy than a human – represents a competitive advantage in any field.  It will be employed for military ends, by governments and non-state groups.”

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 23, Schmidt was all about “fundamentals” in keeping the US ascendant.  This involved preserving national competitiveness and shaping the military with those fundamentals in mind.  But to do so required keeping the eyes of the security establishment wide open for any dangerous competitor.  (Schmidt understands Congress well enough to know that spikes in funding and outlays tend to be attached to the promotion of threats.)  He sees “the threat of Chinese leadership in key technology areas” as “a national crisis”.  In terms of AI, “only the United States and China” had the necessary “resources, commercial might, talent pool, and innovation ecosystem to lead the world”.  Within the next decade, Beijing could even “surpass the United States as the world’s AI superpower.”

The testimony is generously spiked with the China threat thesis.  “Never before in my lifetime,” he claimed, “have I been more worried that we will soon be displaced by a rival or more aware of what second place means for our economy, our security, and the future of our nation.”  He feared that such worries were not being shared by officials, with the DoD treating “software as a low priority”.  Here, he could give advice on lessons learned in the spawning enterprises of Silicon Valley, where the principled live short lives.  Those dedicated to defence could “form smart teams, drive hard deliverables, and move quickly.”  Missiles, he argued, should be built “the way we now build cars: use a design studio to develop and simulate in software.”

This all meant necessarily praising a less repressible form of AI to the heavens, notably in its military applications.  Two days of public discussion saw the panel’s vice chairman Robert Work extol the virtues of AI in battle.  “It is a moral imperative to at least pursue this hypothesis” claiming that “autonomous weapons will not be indiscriminate unless we design them that way.”  The devil is in the human, as it has always been.

In a manner reminiscent of the debates about sharing atomic technology in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Committee urges that the US “pursue a comprehensive strategy in close coordination with our allies and partners for artificial intelligence (AI) innovation and adoption that promotes values critical to free and open societies.”  A proposed Emerging Technology Coalition of likeminded powers and partners would focus on the role of “emerging technologies according to democratic norms and values” and “coordinate policies to counter the malign use of these technologies by authoritarian regimes”.  Fast forgotten is the fact that distinctions such as authoritarianism and democracy have little meaning at the end of a weapon.

Internal changes are also suggested to ruffle a few feathers.  The US State Department comes in for special mention as needing reforms.  “There is currently no clear lead for emerging technology policy or diplomacy within the State Department, which hinders the Department’s ability to make strategic technology decisions.”  Allies and partners were confused when approaching the State Department as to “which senior official would be their primary point of contact” for a range of topics, be they AI, quantum computing, 5G, biotechnology or new emerging technologies.

Overall, the US government comes in for a battering, reproached for operating “at human speed not machine speed.”  It was lagging relative to commercial development of AI.  It suffered from “technical deficits that range from digital workforce shortages to inadequate acquisition policies, insufficient network architecture, and weak data practices.”

The official Pentagon policy, as it stands, is that autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems should be “designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”  In October 2019, the Department of Defence adopted various ethical principles regarding the military use of AI, making the DoD Artificial Intelligence Centre the focal point.  These include the provision that, “DoD personnel will exercise appropriate levels of judgment and care, while remaining responsible for the development, deployment, and use of AI capabilities.”  The “traceable” principle is also shot through with the principle of human control, with personnel needing to “possess an appropriate understanding of the technology, development processes, and operational methods applicable to AI capabilities”.

The National Commission pays lip service to such protocols, acknowledging that operators, organisations and “the American people” would not support AI machines not “designed with predictability” and “clear principles” in mind.  But the note of warning in not being too morally shackled becomes a screech.  Risk was “inescapable” and not using AI “to solve real national security challenges risks putting the United States at a disadvantage”.  Especially when it comes to China.

Tyler Durden
Sat, 02/27/2021 – 18:30