2 Giuliani Associates Tied to Ukraine Scandal Arrested on Campaign Finance Charges

The two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, believed to be important witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump, were arrested on campaign finance charges. The arrests and charges were first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Two other men, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, were also indicted.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman aided Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to gin up investigations in Ukraine into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, among other potentially politically beneficial investigations for Mr. Trump. Mr. Parnas had been scheduled to participate in a deposition with House impeachment investigators on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and Mr. Fruman on Friday. Neither had been expected to show up voluntarily. House Democrats were preparing to issue subpoenas to force them to do so.

Read  the complete article on the New York Times here.

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In the Pancreas, Common Fungi May Drive Cancer

 

By now, you’ve probably heard that your body is teeming with bacteria. Some 100 trillion of them live on your skin, in your mouth and in the coils of your intestines. Some protect against infections and help you digest food, while others can make you seriously ill.

Fungi, viruses and protozoa call your body their home, too. Your fungal residents are less numerous than your bacteria by orders of magnitude, but as researchers are learning, these overlooked organisms play an important physiological role — and when their numbers get out of whack, they can modify your immune system and even influence the development of cancer.

A new study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, found that fungi can make their way deep into the pancreas, which sits behind your stomach and secretes digestive enzymes into your small intestine. In mice and human patients with pancreatic cancer, the fungi proliferate 3,000-fold compared to healthy tissue — and one fungus in particular may make pancreatic tumors grow bigger.

One particular fungus was the most abundant in the pancreas: a genus of Basidiomycota called Malassezia, which is typically found on the skin and scalp of animals and humans, and can cause skin irritation and dandruff. A few studies have also linked the yeast to inflammatory bowel diseases, but the new finding is the first to link it to cancer.

The results show that Malassezia was not only abundant in mice that got pancreatic tumors, it was also present in extremely high numbers in samples from pancreatic cancer patients, said Dr. Berk Aykut, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Miller’s lab.

Nearly 57,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States this year, but their prognosis will be poor. Three-fourths die within a year of diagnosis, and only about 1 in 10 live longer than five years. 

Read the complete article in the New York Times here.

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The rise of the financial machines

The job of capital markets is to process information so that savings flow to the best projects and firms. That makes high finance sound simple; in reality it is dynamic and intoxicating. It reflects a changing world. Today’s markets, for instance, are grappling with a trade war and low interest rates. But it also reflects changes within finance, which constantly reinvents itself in a perpetual struggle to gain a competitive edge. As our Briefing reports, the latest revolution is in full swing. Machines are taking control of investing—not just the humdrum buying and selling of securities, but also the commanding heights of monitoring the economy and allocating capital.

Funds run by computers that follow rules set by humans account for 35% of America’s stockmarket, 60% of institutional equity assets and 60% of trading activity. New artificial-intelligence programs are also writing their own investing rules, in ways their human masters only partly understand. Industries from pizza-delivery to Hollywood are being changed by technology, but finance is unique because it can exert voting power over firms, redistribute wealth and cause mayhem in the economy.

In the past decade computers have graduated to running portfolios. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds automatically track indices of shares and bonds. Last month these vehicles had $4.3trn invested in American equities, exceeding the sums actively run by humans for the first time. A strategy known as smart-beta isolates a statistical characteristic—volatility, say—and loads up on securities that exhibit it. An elite of quantitative hedge funds, most of them on America’s east coast, uses complex black-box mathematics to invest some $1trn. As machines prove themselves in equities and derivatives, they are growing in debt markets, too.

All the while, computers are gaining autonomy. Software programs using AI devise their own strategies without needing human guidance. Some hedge-funders are skeptical about AI but, as processing power grows, so do its abilities. And consider the flow of information, the lifeblood of markets. Human fund managers read reports and meet firms under strict insider-trading and disclosure laws. These are designed to control what is in the public domain and ensure everyone has equal access to it. Now an almost infinite supply of new data and processing power is creating novel ways to assess investments. For example, some funds try to use satellites to track retailers’ car parks, and scrape inflation data from e-commerce sites. Eventually they could have fresher information about firms than even their boards do.

Hey Siri, can you invest my life savings?

The greatest innovations in finance are unstoppable, but often lead to crises as they find their feet. In the 18th century the joint-stock company created bubbles, before going on to make large-scale business possible in the 19th century. Securitisation caused the subprime debacle, but is today an important tool for laying off risk. The broad principles of market regulation are eternal: equal treatment of all customers, equal access to information and the promotion of competition. However, the computing revolution looks as if it will make today’s rules look horribly out of date. Human investors are about to discover that they are no longer the smartest guys in the room.

Source: The Economist magazine article here.

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Trump is unfit for Presidency

Besides his demolishing America’s political reputation throughout the world Trump still hasn’t learned he can’t run the U.S. government as he did his business. Bullying and threatening other politicians does not belong in the White House (Trump was involved in over 4,000 litigation matters in business – many with his subcontractors.)

A 2017 post titled “Trump presidency is in a hole” explains more.

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2019 Big Mac Index

The Big Mac index is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), which states that currencies should adjust until the price of an identical basket of goods—or in this case, a Big Mac—costs the same everywhere. By this metric most exchange rates are well off the mark. In Russia, for example, a Big Mac costs 110 roubles ($1.65), compared with $5.58 in America. That suggests the rouble is undervalued by 70% against the greenback. In Switzerland McDonald’s customers have to fork out SFr6.50 ($6.62), which implies that the Swiss franc is overvalued by 19%.

Such deviations from burger parity may persist in 2019. Exchange rates can depart from fundamentals owing to monetary policy or changes in investors’ appetite for risk. In 2018 higher interest rates and tax cuts made American assets more attractive, boosting the greenback’s value. That was bad news for emerging-market economies with dollar-denominated debts. Their currencies weakened as investors grew jittery. At the end of the year American yields began to fall as the global economy decelerated and investors anticipated a more doveish Federal Reserve. But the dollar has so far remained strong.

To see how your country rates this year view an interactive 2019 Big Mac Index here.

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NRA acted as ‘foreign asset’ to Russia before 2016 election, says Senate report

NRA and Russia

The report also alleges that the NRA may have broken tax laws by using donated funds to further its officers’ business interests. Photograph: Julie Dermansky/The Guardian

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has acted as a “foreign asset” in providing Russian officials access to US political organizations, according to an investigation by Senate Democrats.

The results of the investigation were published by the Oregon senator Ron Wyden on Friday. The report also alleges that the NRA may have broken tax laws by using donated funds to further its officers’ business interests.

Wyden and other Democrats on the Senate finance committee found that a delegation of NRA officials traveled to Moscow in December 2015.

The trip was coordinated with Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin, who are both Russian. Butina is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence after she tried to infiltrate US conservative groups and the NRA to promote Russian political interests around the 2016 election.

While in Russia the NRA met with “a host of senior level Kremlin officials”, Wyden said. Those officials included Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who oversaw defense and munitions industries.

After the trip to Russia, the NRA allowed Butina to bring a delegation from Russia to its influential annual meeting. Wyden said the NRA also “provided access” to other conservative political organizations, including the National Prayer Breakfast and the Council for National Policy.

The investigation also found that the then vice-president of the NRA, Pete Brownell, had agreed to go on the trip in exchange for business opportunities in Russia. At least part of the trip was paid for by the NRA, according to the report. Brownell was the vice-president of the organization, which has tax-exempt status, from May 2017 to May 2018.

The NRA is being investigated by the attorney general in New York, Letitia James, where the organization is chartered, over its tax-exempt status, and by the Washington DC attorney general, Karl Racine. Washington authorities are questioning whether its operations are in violation of its not-for-profit status.

“NRA officers’ apparent use of the NRA for personal gain fits a larger pattern of reported self-dealing and raises serious questions about whether the NRA broke US tax laws,” Wyden said.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper website here.

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Health Insurance That Doesn’t Cover the Bills Has Flooded the Market Under Trump

Early one Friday morning two years ago, David Diaz woke up his wife, Marisia, and told her he didn’t feel right. He asked her to pray with him. Their son called 911, and within minutes, Marisia was tailing an ambulance down the dirt road away from the couple’s house on the outskirts of Phoenix to a hospital in the city. David had had a massive heart attack.

Before being wheeled into surgery, he whispered the PIN for his bank card to Marisia, just in case. But the double-bypass operation was successful, and two weeks later he was discharged.

On her way out, Marisia gave the billing clerk David’s health insurance card. It looked like any other, listing a copay of $30 for doctor visits and $50 for “wellness.” She’d bought the plan a year earlier from a company called Health Insurance Innovations Inc., with the understanding that it would be comprehensive. She hadn’t noticed a phrase near the top of the card, though: “Short-Term Medical Insurance.”

The Diazes’ plan was nothing like the ones consumers have come to expect under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which bars insurers from capping coverage, canceling it retroactively, or turning away people with preexisting conditions. But the law includes an exemption for short-term plans that serve as a stopgap for people between jobs. The Trump administration, thwarted in its attempts to overturn the ACA, has widened that loophole by stretching the definition of “short-term” from three months to a year, with the option of renewing for as long as three years.

Fewer than 100,000 people had such plans at the end of last year, according to state insurance regulators, but the Trump administration says that number will jump by 600,000 in 2019 as a result of the changes. Some brokers are taking advantage, selling plans so skimpy that they offer no meaningful coverage. And Health Insurance Innovations is at the center of the market. In interviews, lawsuits, and complaints to regulators, dozens of its customers say they were tricked into buying plans they didn’t realize were substandard until they were stuck with surprise bills. The company denies responsibility for any such incidents, saying it’s a technology platform that helps people find affordable policies through reputable agents.

Six months after David’s surgery, the Diaz family got a particularly big surprise bill—an error, Marisia thought when she saw the invoice. But when she called her insurer, she was told she’d have to pay the full amount: $244,447.91.

The ACA was designed around a fundamental economic bargain: Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people who were already sick, and policies would have to cover a broad set of benefits, including prescription drugs, maternity care, and hospitalization. In return insurers were guaranteed that consumers would buy coverage or face tax penalties, and that subsidies would be available for people who needed them. The approach spread the financial risk of getting sick and aimed to guarantee that no one with insurance would have to worry about being bankrupted by necessary care. Preserving the bargain was essential, though; too many exceptions, and the edifice would crumble.

When the Republican-controlled Senate failed in 2017 to pass Trump-backed legislation that would have gutted the ACA, the administration instead seized on the loophole allowing consumers to buy certain noncompliant plans. Trump used an executive order to extend the time limit for temporary plans, which he and other Republicans talked up as a potential solution for cash-strapped consumers. Healthy people, they argued, could save money by buying policies that didn’t cover perceived nonessentials. “These plans aren’t for everyone, but they can provide a much more affordable option for millions of the forgotten men and women left out by the current system,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in August 2018.

By then, the ACA system was already wobbling. Aetna Inc. and some other big insurers had been dropping off the state exchanges created for consumers to buy compliant plans, leaving a void that “junk insurers,” as critics tagged them, rushed to fill. A recent study by Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, showed that ads for such plans often appeared at the top of internet searches for the government-run marketplaces. Health insurance also became the most common product pitched in robocalls—responsible, according to call-blocking service YouMail, for 387 million calls this April alone.

One company that moved nimbly to capitalize on the uncertainty was Health Insurance Innovations, known by its stock ticker, HIIQ. Founded in Tampa in 2008 by Michael Kosloske, whose father and grandfather both ran health insurance brokerages, the company sought to provide a clearinghouse for brokers who sold cheap insurance to individuals. It worked with insurers to devise a menu of plans, designed software for the brokers, and ran a call center to handle customer service.

After the ACA passed in March 2010, HIIQ continued promoting short-term plans and other limited forms of insurance that didn’t have to comply with the new rules for comprehensive plans. In an interview with Fox News a few years later, Kosloske argued that these policies offered the same benefits at half the cost. “There’s challenges with the Affordable Care Act, and we think our products provide a solution,” he said.

Read the complete article on Bloomberg here.

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‘E’ wordsearch puzzle

Here is a small word search you should be able to play/solve on cellphones and tablets. Click on your browsers Reload Page button and words in puzzle will be rearranged for you. Click on Title to open page with puzzle.
Click on first or last letter of a word in word find puzzle. Move mouse across letters until the beginning or end of the word and click to highlight word in puzzle. Words may be in any direction and thus Hard level, unless specified otherwise.

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Arrow shot by feet earns Guinness record

Right on target: Brittany Walsh shooting an arrow using only her feet. Photograph: James Ellerker/Guinness World Records

It started as a dare. Flicking through an old book of pictures taken in the circus, we saw this woman firing an arrow with her feet. My friend dared me to try it and we went straight to a sporting goods store, bought a bow and arrow, and I realised: “Yeah, I could probably do this!” What can I say? We didn’t have Netflix at the time. You make your own fun.

It didn’t come completely out of the blue. I had competed in gymnastics as a kid, but I was very studious, I was very shy, quiet, not spontaneous at all. I felt like I had my life mapped out. Go to medical school. Become a doctor. Then I saw an advertisement for a local physical theatre company looking for tumblers. I went for an audition and they accepted me. I spoke to my parents about it and they were surprisingly supportive. They told me: “School will always be there.’” I learned stilt-walking and trapeze. It really helped me find myself. And I did go back to school afterwards, too, so I’ve had the best of both worlds.

There was part of me that always wanted to try new stuff. I was so scared as a kid. Scared of looking stupid in front of people or failing, but the older you get the more you realise that stuff just doesn’t matter. What matters is being happy, growing as a person and learning who you are. I’ve realised that I’m a thrill seeker. I like the excitement of doing new things. I’d like to learn how to fly a small plane. Life offers so much stuff to do; why not dive right in?

Read the complete article on Guinness record holders of weird awards here.

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Study of French postmen’s testicles is an Ig Nobel winner

punzhupuzzles.com

The researchers taped thermometers to men’s testicles to try to work out if both are the same temperature. Photograph: Dan Tuffs/Rex

There comes a time in a scientist’s life when the surest route to global fame involves a bevy of naked French postmen with thermometers taped to their testicles.

At least that is the case for Roger Mieusset, a fertility specialist at the University of Toulouse, whose unlikely studies have earned him one of the most coveted awards in academia: an Ig Nobel prize.

Unlike the more famous – and rather more prestigious – Nobel prizes, which will be announced in Scandinavia next month, the Ig Nobels honour work that “first makes people laugh, and then makes them think”.

Ten awards were handed out on Thursday at the annual ceremony at Harvard University in the US, where an eight-year-old girl was on duty to enforce the one-minute rule on winners’ speeches with the devastating line: “Please stop, I’m bored.”

Now in their 29th year, the awards included a chemistry prize for Japanese scientists who calculated how much saliva a typical five-year-old produces in one day (half a litre); an engineering prize for an Iranian inventor’s nappy-changing machine; and an economics prize for Dutch researchers who discovered that banknotes can spread infectious microbes, and none more so than the Romanian leu.

Italian scientists won the medicine prize for pursuing the idea that pizzas offer protection against death, a question they never quite managed to answer.

Mieusset and his accomplice, Bourras Bengoudifa, recruited French postmen to settle a mystery that has received precious little attention: whether a man’s testicles are both the same temperature. Having crunched the numbers from delicately placed sensors, Mieusset only deepened the mystery. According to his studies, the left one is warmer, but only when a man has his clothes on. Mieusset has invented heated pants for men to wear as an aid to contraception – he appears to be the sole purveyor of the unorthodox intervention.

Britain’s pride was upheld by Francis McGlone, a researcher at Liverpool John Moores University, who shared the Ig Nobel peace prize. As part of an international team, McGlone helped map out which parts of the body are most pleasurable to scratch. The ankles ranked highest, the researchers found, and then the back and forearm.

As is standard for the annual event, winners pay their own way to Harvard, where the prizes are handed out by bona fide Nobel laureates. The winners each receive a cash prize: a now-obsolete $10tn bill from Zimbabwe.

Patricia Yang and David Hu, both engineers at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, celebrated their second Ig Nobel prize at the ceremony. The researchers bagged their first in 2015 for discovering the “law of urination”, which states that all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds. This year, as part of a larger team, the two share the physics prize for working out how wombats make cube-shaped faeces. The feat, thought to be unique in the animal world, helps them construct stable piles of dung to mark their territory. Contacted about the prize, Yang said: “It solidifies my belief that curiosity brings joy and surprise in science.”

Source: Ian Sample in The Guardian. Read complete article here.

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Fossil DNA Reveals New Twists in Modern Human Origins

Humans today are mosaics, our genomes rich tapestries of interwoven ancestries. With every fossil discovered, with every DNA analysis performed, the story gets more complex: We, the sole survivors of the genus Homo, harbor genetic fragments from other closely related but long-extinct lineages. Modern humans are the products of a sprawling history of shifts and dispersals, separations and reunions — a history characterized by far more diversity, movement and mixture than seemed imaginable a mere decade ago.

But it’s one thing to say that Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of modern Europeans, or that the recently discovered Denisovans interbred with some older mystery group, or that they all interbred with each other. It’s another to provide concrete details about when and where those couplings occurred. “We’ve got this picture where these events are happening all over the place,” said Aylwyn Scally, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Cambridge. “But it’s very hard for us to pin down any particular single event and say, yeah, we’re really confident that that one happened — unless we have ancient DNA.”

The events that do get pinned down therefore tend to be relatively recent, starting with the migration of modern humans out of Africa 60,000 years ago, during which they interacted with hominin relatives (like the Neanderthals and Denisovans) they met along the way. Evidence of interbreeding during any migrations before then, or during events that transpired earlier within Africa, has been elusive.

Now that’s starting to change. In part because of greater computational power, “we’re starting to see the next wave of methods development,” said Joshua Akey, a professor of genomics at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University. “And that’s allowing us to start making new inferences from the data … that the previous generation of methods couldn’t make.”

Read the complete article on Quantamagazine.org here.

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Benefits of farming vertically

MANY FOODIES pin the blame for farming’s ills on “unnatural” industrial agriculture. Agribusinesses create mono-cultures that destroy habitat and eliminate historic varieties. Farmers douse their crops with fertilizer and insecticide, which poison streams and rivers—and possibly human beings. Intensive farms soak up scarce water and fly their produce around the world in airplanes that spew out carbon dioxide. The answer, foodies say, is to go back to a better, gentler age, when farmers worked with nature and did not try to dominate it.

However, for those who fancy some purple-ruffles basil and mizuna with their lamb’s leaf lettuce, there is an alternative to nostalgia. And it involves more intensive agriculture, not less.

A vast selection of fresh salads, vegetables and fruit is on the way, courtesy of a technology called vertical farming. Instead of growing crops in a field or a greenhouse, a vertical farm creates an artificial indoor environment in which crops are cultivated on trays stacked on top of each other (see article). From inside shipping containers in Brooklyn, New York, to a disused air-raid shelter under London’s streets and an innocuous warehouse on a Dubai industrial estate, vertical farms are sprouting up in all sorts of places, nourished by investment in the business from the likes of Japan’s SoftBank and Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos.

This should cheer anyone who wants organic produce that has been grown without pesticides and other chemicals, and which has not been driven hundreds of miles in refrigerated lorries or flown thousands of miles in the belly of a plane. Such farms can greatly reduce the space needed for cultivation, which is useful in urban areas where land is in short supply and expensive. Inside, climatic conditions are carefully controlled with hydroponic systems supplying all the nutrients a plant needs to grow and recycling all but 5% of their water—which is incorporated in the crop itself. Specially tuned LED lighting generates only the wavelengths that the plants require to prosper, saving energy. Bugs are kept out, so pesticides are not needed. Foliage and fruit can be turned out in immaculate condition. And the harvests last all year round.

There is more. As they will remain safe and snug inside a vertical farm, long-forgotten varieties of fruit and vegetables can stage a comeback. Most of these old-timers have been passed over by varieties bred to withstand the rigors of intensive farming systems. A cornucopia of unfamiliar shapes, colors and flavors could arrive on the dinner table.

This glimpse of Eden is still some way off. The electricity bill remains high, principally because of the cost of powering the huge number of LEDs required to simulate sunlight. That means vertical farming can, for the time being, be profitable only for high-value, perishable produce, such as salad leaves and fancy herbs.

But research is set to bring the bill down and the costs of renewable energy are falling, too. In a hot climate such as Dubai’s extensive solar power could make vertical farms a valuable food resource, particularly where water is scarce. In a cold climate thermal, wind or hydroelectric power could play a similar role.

Some field crops, including staples such as rice and wheat, are unlikely ever to be suitable for growing in vast stacks. But as its costs fall thanks to further research, vertical farming will compete more keenly with old-fashioned greenhouses and conventional, horizontal farms where crops grow in the earth. As an extra form of food production, vertical farming deserves to be welcomed, especially by the people whose impulse is to turn their back on the future.

Source: The Economist magazine.This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Plant power”

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The World’s Wealthiest Family Gets $4 Million Richer Every Hour.

From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Jim’s wife Lynne McNabb Walton, Rob Walton’s wife Melani Lowman Walton and Rob Walton. Photograph: Rick T. Wilking / Stringer

The numbers are mind-boggling: $70,000 per minute, $4 million per hour, $100 million per day.

That’s how quickly the fortune of the Waltons, the clan behind Walmart Inc., has been growing since last year’s Bloomberg ranking of the world’s richest families.

At that rate, their wealth would’ve expanded about $23,000 since you began reading this. A new Walmart associate in the U.S. would’ve made about 6 cents in that time, on the way to an $11 hourly minimum.

Even in this era of extreme wealth and brutal inequality, the contrast is jarring. The heirs of Sam Walton, Walmart’s notoriously frugal founder, are amassing wealth on a near-unprecedented scale — and they’re hardly alone.

The Walton fortune has swelled by $39 billion, to $191 billion, since topping the June 2018 ranking of the world’s richest families.

America’s richest 0.1% today control more wealth than at any time since 1929, but their counterparts in Asia and Europe are gaining too. Worldwide, the 25 richest families now control almost $1.4 trillion in wealth, up 24% from last year.

To some critics, such figures are evidence that capitalism needs fixing. Inequality has become an explosive political issue, from Paris to Seattle to Hong Kong. But how to shrink the growing gap between the rich and the poor?

As the tension increases, even some billionaire heirs are backing steps such as wealth taxes.

“If we don’t do something like this, what are we doing, just hoarding this wealth in a country that’s falling apart at the seams?” Liesel Pritzker Simmons, whose family ranks 17th on the Bloomberg list, said in June. “That’s not the America we want to live in.”

Tallying dynastic dollars isn’t an exact science. Fortunes backed by decades and sometimes centuries of assets and dividends can obfuscate the true extent of a family’s holdings. The net worth of the Rothschilds or Rockefellers, for instance, is too diffuse to value. Clans whose wealth is currently unverifiable are also absent.

But of those we can track, most are reaping the rewards of ultra-low interest rates, tax cuts, deregulation and innovation. Koch Industries, for instance, has a venture-capital arm. The latest generation of Waltons is establishing its own enterprises.

Other big gainers include the owners of fashion house Chanel and Italy’s Ferrero family, whose brands include Nutella spread and Tic Tac mints. In India, the fortune of the Ambani family swelled $7 billion, to $50 billion.

In all, the world’s 25 richest families have $250 billion more wealth, compared to last year.

See more detail on the top richest families and read more the the Bloomberg article here.

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The Wartime Spies Who Used Knitting as an Espionage Tool

A woman knitting, Washington DC, 1941. Photo from the Library of Congress/LC-USF34-014621-D.

During World War I, a grandmother in Belgium knitted at her window, watching the passing trains. As one train chugged by, she made a bumpy stitch in the fabric with her two needles. Another passed, and she dropped a stitch from the fabric, making an intentional hole. Later, she would risk her life by handing the fabric to a soldier—a fellow spy in the Belgian resistance, working to defeat the occupying German force.

Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. “Spies have been known to work code messages into knitting, embroidery, hooked rugs, etc,” according to the 1942 book A Guide to Codes and Signals. During wartime, where there were knitters, there were often spies; a pair of eyes, watching between the click of two needles.

When knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of steganography, a way to hide a message physically (which includes, for example, hiding morse code somewhere on a postcard, or digitally disguising one image within another). If the message must be low-tech, knitting is great for this; every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a knit stitch, which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. By making a specific combination of knits and purls in a predetermined pattern, spies could pass on a custom piece of fabric and read the secret message, buried in the innocent warmth of a scarf or hat.

A knitting pattern, to non-knitters, may look undecipherable, and not unlike a secret code to begin with. This could cause paranoia around what knitting patterns might mean. Lucy Adlington, in her book Stitches in Time, writes about one article that appeared in UK Pearson’s Magazine in October 1918, which reported that Germans were knitting whole sweaters to send messages—perhaps an exaggeration.

Read the complete article on Abstract Obscura here.

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Why Was Trumponomics a Flop?

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates, even though the unemployment rate is low and overall economic growth remains decent, though not great. According to Jay Powell, the Fed’s chairman, the goal was to take out some insurance against worrying hints of a future slowdown — in particular, weakness in business investment, which fell in the most recent quarter, and manufacturing, which has been declining since the beginning of the year.

Obviously Powell couldn’t say in so many words that Trumponomics has been a big flop, but that was the subtext of his remarks. And Trump’s frantic efforts to bully the Fed into bigger cuts are an implicit admission of the same thing.

But why has Trumponomics failed to deliver much besides trillion-dollar budget deficits? The answer is that both the tax cuts and the trade war were based on false views about how the world works.

Republican faith in the magic of tax cuts — and, correspondingly, belief that tax increases will doom the economy — is the ultimate policy zombie, a view that should have been killed by evidence decades ago but keeps shambling along, eating G.O.P. brains.

The record is actually awesomely consistent. Bill Clinton’s tax hike didn’t cause a depression, George W. Bush’s tax cuts didn’t deliver a boom, Jerry Brown’s California tax increase wasn’t “economic suicide,” Sam Brownback’s Kansas tax-cut “experiment” (his term) was a failure.

What went wrong? Business investment depends on many factors, with tax rates way down the list. While a casual look at the facts might suggest that corporations invest a lot in countries with low taxes, like Ireland, this is mainly an illusion: Companies use accounting tricks to report huge profits and hence big investments in tax havens, but these don’t correspond to anything real.

There was never any reason to believe that cutting corporate taxes here would lead to a surge in capital spending and jobs, and sure enough, it didn’t.

Read the complete article by Paul Krugman on the New York Times here.

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Trump’s racist Cummings attack

In its response to Donald Trump’s racist attack on congressman Elijah Cummings, the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun said it “would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner”.

But it did enumerate some of the president’s failings in office and liken him to a creature he said “infested” Cummings’ congressional district: a rat.

“We,” the board wrote, “would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity.

“Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

The editorial was one of a number of powerful and widely shared responses to Trump’s attack on Cummings, including an emotional address to camera by Victor Blackwell, a weekend CNN anchor.

Trump attacked the House oversight chairman, a powerful political foe, early on Saturday morning. Without offering evidence, he accused him of neglecting his district, Maryland’s seventh, and of unspecified corruption which the president said should be investigated. He returned to the theme on Sunday, broadening the attack to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California representative but also a Maryland native.

The attack on Cummings, who is African American, struck a familiar note, coming two weeks after Trump told four non-white Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the places they came from, regardless of the fact three were born in the US and all are American citizens.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper here.

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Leak Reveals How Mauritius Siphons Tax From Poor Nations to Benefit Elites

Bob Geldof’s firm wanted to buy a chicken farm in Uganda, one of the poorest countries on earth. But first, an errand.

After soaring to fame in the 1980s for organizing Live Aid and other anti-famine efforts, the former Boomtown Rats rocker had shifted to the high-powered world of international finance. He founded a U.K.-based private equity firm that aimed to generate a 20% return by buying stakes in African businesses, according to a memorandum from an investor.

The fund’s investments would all be on the African continent. Yet its London-based legal advisers asked that one of its headquarters be set up more than 2,000 miles away on Mauritius, according to a new trove of leaked documents.

The tiny Indian Ocean island has become a destination for the rich and powerful to avoid taxes with discretion and a financial powerhouse in its own right.

One of the discussion points in the firm’s decision: “tax reasons,” according to the email sent from London lawyers to Mauritius.

Geldof’s investment firm won Mauritius government approval to take advantage of obscure international agreements that allow companies to pay rock-bottom tax rates on the island tax haven and less to the desperately poor African nations where the companies do business.

In 2012, American philanthropist Craig Cogut and his multibillion-dollar private equity firm, Pegasus Capital Advisors, looked 9,217 miles from the firm’s home base in Stamford, Conn., for a place to locate the management headquarters of one of its new investments. What unfolded is a textbook case of the way businesses can prosper by using Mauritius’ offshore tools.

A Pegasus fund had bought Six Senses, a luxury spa and hotel brand with more than 30 operations on four continents. Frequented by Hollywood stars and other global glitterati, Six Senses drips in luxury. Villas on private islands in the Seychelles, off East Africa, cost as much as $15,000 a night. The Al Bustan Palace spa in Oman, one of the less affluent countries on the Arabian Peninsula, offers private men- and women-only beaches and personalized face scrubs made with locally grown clove and myrrh.

As a “resident” firm of Mauritius, Sustainable Luxury could take advantage of the country’s super-low, effective maximum corporate tax rate: 3%. Sustainable Luxury also applied for — and received — special legal status from the government of Mauritius, allowing it to benefit from tax treaties between Mauritius and countries where Six Senses had spas and hotels. Treaties allow companies to reduce or entirely avoid common taxes received on cross-border payments, including interest, dividends and royalties.

Sustainable Luxury listed Oman among 11 countries where the company had investments and wished to apply for a special status and document issued by the government of Mauritius, according to company board meeting minutes. That document would allow the company to cut taxes paid to countries around the world that signed treaties with Mauritius. The leaked files don’t say whether the company ever received the document.

Read the complete article on ICU here.

 

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