Tags: Wall Street Journal

Meet Theranos, Inc. – The Blood Testing Company with Henry Kissinger and a Cadre of Military and Political “Elite” on its Board

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 4.46.32 PMKissinger deserves vigorous prosecution for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.

A good liar must have a good memory: Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.

– Christopher Hitchens in The Trial of Henry Kissinger

I first heard of Theranos, Inc. in the fall of 2013, when the Wall Street Journal published a piece titled, Elizabeth Holmes: The Breakthrough of Instant Diagnosis. However, it wasn’t just me. It was the first time pretty much anyone on earth had heard of the company, because despite having been founded a decade earlier in 2003, it maintained a level of secrecy more characteristic of classified military operations.

Here are some excerpts from that original article:

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Credit Mania Update – The Chase for CCC-Rated Bonds

I hadn’t focused on the latest bout of credit market frothiness until the last couple of months, as investor activity has become so preposterous and disturbing that I simply couldn’t ignore it any longer. Before reading the rest of this post, I suggest catching up on two pieces I highlighted recently on the topic, which should help set the stage:

Is the Credit Bubble Popping? Carlyle Group Warns on Frothiness and Junk Bond Deals Get Pulled

Guest Post: Is There a Massive High Yield Credit Bubble?

Moving along to today’s piece from the Wall Street Journal, which focuses on investors’ insatiable appetite for CCC-rated bonds. We learn that:

Large investors are rushing into the riskiest corporate bonds, frustrated by low interest rates on safer investments and convinced that even companies with shaky finances are in little danger of default.

One sign of that rush: Investors have been buying up corporate bonds with a triple-C rating, a grade that analysts and investors consider highly speculative.

That buying is driving up prices on those bonds and pushing down their yields, which this month fell to 8.187% on a closely watched Bank of America Merrill Lynch index—the lowest level on record. 

This embrace of risky bonds and the retreat from risky stocks reflect a world where interest rates are staying much lower, much longer than most had expected, some investors say. “What we’re seeing is the continued search for yield,” says Matthew Rubin, director of investment strategy at Neuberger Berman, which oversees $247 billion.

The 12-month trailing default rate from low-rated corporate borrowers edged up to 1.7% in April, from a six-year low of 1.57% in March, according to Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.

The yield gap between junk bonds and U.S. government debt—a measure of the premium investors receive for taking on the risk of junk bonds—has narrowed. On triple-C-rated debt, that gap recently hit 6.97 percentage points, the lowest since November 2007. The all-time low of 4.14 percentage points was hit earlier that year.

A little too many comparisons to 2007 for my taste.

Just understand that your pension is going to be stuffed completely full like a Thanksgiving Turkey with the most toxic financial shit you can imagine by the time this thing blows sky-high.

Muppets will lose, as always.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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How Facebook Exploits Underage Girls in its Quest for Ad Revenue

Sophie Bean, 14, of Sequim, Wash., said she was thought she was “liking” a Facebook ad related to fashion modeling. Instead, it promoted a Facebook page that recruited adult webcam models.

“I just thought it was for modeling, and I’m interested in that, and I thought it would help me out,” Sophie said.

Sophie wasn’t the only teen connecting with the page, which Facebook statistics show is most popular with users 13 to 17. Clicking on it didn’t pull the teens into nude webcam modeling, but did mean they would receive the page’s updates and could be mentioned in future versions of the ad.

– From the Wall Street Journal’s recent article: Nude Webcams and Diet Drugs: the Facebook Ads Teens Aren’t Supposed to See

This post is my third in recent weeks exploring what exactly is going on with the Facebook business model. The company reported stellar results in its latest earnings report, which has led to many questions as to exactly how they are making all this advertising money. Well the pieces are finally starting to come together, and the answer is not pretty.

For some context, I suggest you first read the previous articles I posted:

How Much of Facebook’s Ad Revenue is From Click Fraud?

This Man’s $600,000 Facebook Disaster is a Warning For All Small Businesses

With all that in mind, let’s move on to the third piece of the puzzle. The routine exploitation of the weakness and most gullible members of society, teenage girls.

The crazy thing here is not that some random selection of underage girls are being led to click on ads that direct them to adult video cam sites and dangerous dietary supplements, but that they represent the primary demographic clicking on these ads.

This story from the Wall Street Journal is sure to make your blood boil no matter who you are, but particularly if you are a parent with young children.

From the WSJ:

“Who do you like?” asked recent ads on Facebook, featuring young women in alluring poses.

Some of the ads were configured to reach young teens, who were invited to join an app called Ilikeq that let others rate their attractiveness, comment on their photos and say if they would like to date them.

That’s how 14-year-old Erica Lowder’s picture ended up on display to adult men online. Users of Ilikeq, one of Facebook’s fastest-growing “lifestyle” apps, were able to click through to the Indianapolis girl’s Facebook page. 

The case offers a glimpse into how young Facebook users are sometimes exposed to ads inappropriate for them. A 14-year-old girl in Washington state said she “liked” an ad that led to the Facebook page of a nude webcam-modeling site.
Facebook said it approved the ads for young teens because it hadn’t categorized Ilikeq as a dating site. It said it has now done so and has disabled Ilikeq ads for those below its minimum age for dating-site ads, 18. 

Advertisers on Facebook can set their ads to reach all users or narrow the focus. Facebook’s website says it can help advertisers target consumers based on an array of user information it collects, such as age, gender, relationship status, politics and type of phone owned.

“We take the quality of ads on Facebook very seriously,” Facebook said in a statement. 

Really? You could’ve fooled me.

Facebook used to limit ads to users 18 and older by default. An advertiser who wanted to reach younger people had to change the setting.

In 2011, it eliminated this restriction for some advertisers, so their ads could be shown to all unless specified. That change was extended to all advertisers in 2012, around the time of Facebook’s initial public offering.

Just a coincidence I’m sure…

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May The Farce Be With You – Janet Yellen Compares Bernanke to Obi-Wan Kenobi

Just in case you had any lingering doubt about how hopelessly screwed the world’s monetary and financial system really is, all you have to do is learn that in a series of ceremonies (because that is so appropriate with a record number Americans on food stamps) celebrating Ben Bernanke in recent days incoming Fed head Janet Yellen likened Bernanke to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise, experienced Jedi Knight mentor to his protégé Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” movies.

There’s nothing that makes you feel more warm and fuzzy inside than the recognition that the soon to be most powerful person in the world thinks that printing trillions of dollars and giving it to criminals at zero interest qualifies as attributes of a intergalactic Jedi Master.

On the flip-side, this right here is what 95% of Americans think of Bernanke and his criminal cartel.

Not from The Onion, but from the Wall Street Journal we learn that:

Officials held a series of ceremonies honoring Mr. Bernanke in the past few days. At a dinner Tuesday evening among senior officials, Ms. Yellen likened Mr. Bernanke to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise, experienced Jedi Knight mentor to his protégé Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” movies. She jokingly imagined Mr. Bernanke advising her to trust in the Fed’s statement of objectives, a document that lays out its goals for inflation and jobs, according to someone familiar with the event.

Mr. Bernanke received a standing ovation from Fed officials at the FOMC meeting in its boardroom earlier Tuesday. And he was toasted Thursday by hundreds of Fed staff packed into an atrium at the Fed’s Eccles Building, where they were served peanuts, popcorn and crackerjacks in honor of Mr. Bernanke’s love of baseball.

Kill. Me.

Full article here.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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How the U.S. Government Lobotomized 2,000 Veterans During and After World War II

I’m sure if you informed people that the Veterans Administration (VA) had lobotomized thousands of decorated World War II vets you’d quickly be labeled a quack, or even worse, some crazy conspiracy theorist. Unfortunately, it’s just another hard-to-believe but true fact about how government operates. How they always have and always will. Global connectivity but political decentralization is one of the main ways out of the mess we are in.

From the Army Times:

The U.S. government lobotomized roughly 2,000 mentally ill veterans — and likely hundreds more — during and after World War II, according to a cache of forgotten memos, letters and government reports unearthed by The Wall Street Journal.

“They got the notion they were going to come to give me a lobotomy,” Roman Tritz, a World War II bomber pilot, told the newspaper in a report published Wednesday. “To hell with them.”

Tritz said the orderlies at the veterans hospital pinned him to the floor, and he initially fought them off. A few weeks later, just before his 30th birthday, he was lobotomized.

Tritz by the way flew a B-17 Flying Fortress on 34 combat missions over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. That’s how we thanked him for his service.

The VA’s use of lobotomy, in which doctors severed connections between parts of the brain then thought to control emotions, was known in medical circles in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and is occasionally cited in medical texts. But the VA’s practice, never widely publicized, long ago slipped from public view. Even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it possesses no records detailing the creation and breadth of its lobotomy program.

Guess they went down the Memory Hole.

The Wall Street Journal’s reporting series began with Wednesday’s Forgotten Soldiers and included a documentary, archived photos, maps and medical records.

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Phone Companies are Now Selling Your Personal Information

The Constitution, privacy, civil liberties, that’s all so…20th Century. Who wants privacy when your personal smartphone habits such as location and web-browsing information can be sold by your service provider without offering any compensation to the user. At least Google let’s you use their search engine for free while they spy on you.  The phone companies charge you for that privilege. Now that’s what I call economic progress!

In light of this, let’s not forget what the ACLU recently received from the U.S. government when they filed a Freedom of Information Act request about text message surveillance policy.  They got 15 pages of blacked out, redacted text.  Now, from the Wall Street Journal we discover:

Big phone companies have begun to sell the vast troves of data they gather about their subscribers’ locations, travels and Web-browsing habits.

The information provides a powerful tool for marketers but raises new privacy concerns. Even as Americans browsing the Internet grow more accustomed to having every move tracked, combining that information with a detailed accounting of their movements in the real world has long been considered particularly sensitive.

The new offerings are also evidence of a shift in the relationship between carriers and their subscribers. Instead of merely offering customers a trusted conduit for communication, carriers are coming to see subscribers as sources of data that can be mined for profit, a practice more common among providers of free online services like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc.

When a Verizon Wireless customer navigates to a website on her smartphone today, information about that website, her location and her demographic background may end up as a data point in a product called Precision Market Insights. The product, which Verizon launched in October 2012 after trial runs, offers businesses like malls, stadiums and billboard owners statistics about the activities and backgrounds of cellphone users in particular locations.

Carriers acknowledge the sensitivity of the data. But as advertisers and marketers seek more detailed information about potential customers and the telecom industry seeks new streams of revenue amid a maturing cellphone market, big phone companies have started to tiptoe in.

So they clearly understand the negative privacy implications, but after careful consideration (of the bottom line) they decided to sell the information anyway.  How thoughtful.

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Jeep Dealer in Kansas Now Accepts Bitcoin

Norman Vialle is leading the way as far as merchants beginning to accept Bitcoin for big ticket items.  The owner of Overland Park Jeep Dodge Ram Chrysler in Kansas City has become the first car dealer in the United States to accept Bitcoin.  Despite the recent price volatility, stories of more mainstream adoption continue to come in at a rapid clip.  From a New York property developer’s decision to accept them as rent payment, to popular online dating site OK Cupid announcing acceptance.  Now we can add car dealerships to the list.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Norman Vialle, a 53-year-old car dealer in Kansas, invested in his share of winners and losers during the Internet bubble of the 1990s. Now he is clinging to a stash of Bitcoin, even though the fledgling virtual currency has lost about 70% of its value in the past week.

“It’s volatile because it’s new, but it’s still a lot higher than it was a month ago,” Mr. Vialle says.

In addition to investing in the currency, Mr. Vialle recently began accepting bitcoins for payment at Overland Park Jeep Dodge Ram Chrysler. One of his customers is planning to pay for a $40,000 Jeep with the currency next month.

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Just Keep Dancing: Introducing the 97-Month Auto Loan

While many of us have been shouting about this from the rooftops for years now, with each passing day it becomes more clear what a terrifyingly gigantic powder keg we have created.  There is no debate that this will end in a compete financial holocaust, the only question is when and how.  As time progresses, the practices and desperation of the status quo to keep the sheeple in debt and consuming is getting increasingly insane.  We learn from the Wall Street Journal that:

The average price of a new car is now $31,000, up $3,000 in the past four years. But at the same time, the average monthly car payment edged down, to $460 from $465—the result of longer loan terms and lower interest rates.

In the final quarter of 2012, the average term of a new car note stretched out to 65 months, the longest ever, according to Experian Information Solutions Inc. Experian said that 17% of all new car loans in the past quarter were between 73 and 84 months and there were even a few as long as 97 months. Four years ago, only 11% of loans fell into this category.

Such long term loans can present consumers and lenders with heightened risk. With a six- or seven-year loan, it takes car-buyers longer to reach the point where they owe less on the car than it is worth. Having “negative equity” or being “upside down” in a car makes it harder to trade or sell the vehicle if the owner can’t make payments.

Hmmm, sound familiar?

Car makers have mixed feelings about long-term loans. They allow consumers to buy more expensive—and profitable—cars. But long loans may keep some people from replacing their cars, cutting into future sales.

I love how THAT is what they are concerned about.

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It Never Ends: Top Obama Housing Advisor Jumps Ship to Wells Fargo

No one should be surprised by this, particularly since Wells Fargo is the favored financial vehicle for America’s top crony capitalist – Warren “I’m just like you because I drink cherry coke and eat hamburgers” Buffett.  The person in question in the latest payoff revolving door move is Bob Ryan who is currently a senior advisor to Shaun Donovan, the secretary for Housing and Urban Development.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Ryan is currently a senior advisor to Shaun Donovan, the secretary for Housing and Urban Development. He joined HUD in 2009 as the first ever chief risk officer at the Federal Housing Administration and served briefly last year as the agency’s acting FHA commissioner. He previously spent 26 years at Freddie Mac.

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What It’s Like to Fight a National Security Letter

Here’s a very quick and interesting article from the WSJ.  I mean this case is once again a perfect microcosm for what is going on in America today.  These are the types of folks that the Department of Injustice and the FBI are chasing after, while there are thousands of financial criminals running around free after destroying the entire U.S. economy.  Just like they charged modern American heroes like senior NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, under the Espionage Act (unsuccessfully at the expense of millions of taxpayer dollars).

So here is the story of Nicholas Merrill, who received a National Security Letter in 2004, and was so scared to tell anyone about it that during his trial his father developed cancer and passed away without him ever being able to share his story…

Key Quotes:
Mr. Merrill is one of only a few people in the U.S. who can talk publicly about what it’s like to receive a national security letter, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to seek financial, phone and Internet records about companies’ customers.


Later that year, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Victor Marrero found that the law behind national security letters was unconstitutional, in part because it lacked a provision allowing for challenges.

Appeals and settlement negotiations continued in the case until 2010.

The FBI eventually dropped its request for information, but Mr. Merrill remained under the full secrecy order until the case was settled.

He said that during that time, he was unable to explain to people why he was missing important events or tell them when he was emotional about a ruling. During the trial, Mr. Merrill’s father developed cancer; just before he died, Mr. Merrill says, he thought about telling him of the case, but eventually he decided against it.

The American Gestapo at work ladies and gentleman.

Full article here.