Monday, June 25, 2018

Activism Without Inner Work Is Impotent

Image via Toshimasa Ishibashi

Have you ever known someone who’s intensely interested in helping people, but is so neurotic and unskillful that they mostly just make things worse?

“Stop!” you’ll find yourself wanting to yell at such people. “Stop helping! Go help yourself!”

That’s how I see most political activism today. So many well-intentioned people who want to help, and are so crazed by mass media psyops and cultural mind viruses that their energy seemingly goes everywhere but where it needs to. I’d like to say a bit about that here, if you’ll indulge me.

Revolution Is An Inside Job #revolution #awakening #evolution

 — @caitoz

It’s really weird how many people in the political circles I move in are still running pretty much the exact same programs they were running in 2016. There are still former Berners acting like Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America despite her being more or less irrelevant in 2018. There are still leftists and anarchists acting as though small neo-Nazi groups present a greater existential threat than the mainstream neoliberal neoconservative Orwellian power establishment. There are still liberals running the same “OMG TRUMP NAZI LITERALLY HITLER WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE” script despite overwhelming evidence showing that the most evil things this administration has done are all extensions of Bush and Obama administration policies. There are still anti-interventionist Trump voters doing everything they can to compartmentalize away from the undeniable fact that this president is continuing and expanding the interventionist policies of his predecessors.

Even if you had a crystal clear understanding of what was happening in US politics in 2016, continuing to perceive through the lens of that same understanding today is blindness. And the more the world continues to change (and change it always will), the more blind you will be if you continue to apply your 2016 worldview to it.

Unless you’ve got a very clear sense for what’s true and what matters and when you’re being manipulated, your conceptual framework for understanding the world is almost a matter of luck of the draw. You were born into a particular family with a particular worldview, you have a set of life experiences which shapes your ideology, and that ideology forms a perceptual filter through which you consume information. That filter dictates what your media consumption habits will look like, what you’ll take in as true, what you’ll reject as false, and what you’ll overlook or omit. You might get very lucky and coincidentally stumble into a worldview which happens to accurately reflect what’s going on in the actual world, but before long that world will change, and your habitual relationship with information will necessarily lead you and reality along diverging paths.

It Is Your Human Duty To Stand Unapologetically In Your Own Authority #propaganda #MSM

 — @caitoz

The only variable in this process, as near as I can tell, is consciousness. Individuals who have done a lot of work bringing consciousness to their mental habits and inner workings are not randomly floating about at the whims of chance in a tornado of information, but are grounded in a clear sense of which way is up. This doesn’t mean that everyone who has done a lot of inner work will necessarily share the same ideology (I often feel like I have more in common with someone on the other end of the political spectrum who has engaged extensively in self-discovery than I have with a fellow socialist who has not). What it does mean is that they have a much better chance of correctly figuring out when they are being told the truth, when they are being manipulated, and whether something is ultimately good or detrimental for the path they’d like to see society walk along. In a culture that is saturated with media propaganda, this is an indispensable asset for understanding the world.

People often ask me where my perspective comes from. What media outlets do I use? What books have I read? Who do I look to to get my finger on the pulse of the world? I usually just list off a few alternative publications I honestly don’t use all that much and a few journalists I mainly enjoy because they sometimes say cool things on Twitter, but I only do this because I don’t expect my real answer would be particularly interesting to the people asking the question.

In all honesty, I actually get my ideas about what’s going on in the world by meandering around between conversations with my husband, conversations and debates I get into with people on social media, random articles and video clips that readers draw my attention to, bits of information I happen to stumble across, and all the while checking in with my guts about the whole mess as I go along. It’s an ongoing and ever-changing process of taking in useful information and discarding unhelpful or harmful information, and it’s guided primarily by the intuition and insight I’ve cultivated through many years of dedicated inner work.

I’ve got a picture of a guy meditating as the feature image for this article (credit to Toshimasa Ishibashi) because that image is a commonly recognized symbol of the pursuit of inner work, but that isn’t to suggest that meditation is the only form that that work can take, or even that it’s necessary. Any method which brings consciousness to one’s inner processes and mental habits is beneficial, including self-inquiry, mindfulness practices, yoga, energy work, and psychotherapy. If you remember that the goal is to no longer be at the whim of preconditioned mental habits in perceiving the world, it’s easy to figure out what practices are useful toward that end by how acutely aware they make you of how little conscious control you have over your own inner processes. Anyone who’s ever tried to still their mind in sitting meditation for the first time knows what I’m talking about.

How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize #propaganda #media #enlightenment

 — @caitoz

This matters politically because activism without inner work is impotent. If you’re beholden to the whims of your unexamined mental habits, any political activism you engage in will be determined by the groupthink of the people you’re surrounded by (who are generally equally unconscious) and leaders who may or may not be guided by truth and compassion.

The difference between the activism of someone who has done a lot of inner work and someone who hasn’t is the difference between a highly trained sniper and someone randomly firing shots in the dark. If you don’t have a finely tuned inner truth compass you won’t know where to push, where to pull, when to stop pulling and start pushing and vice versa, or where pushing or pulling would be a waste of energy. You won’t have a clear sense of what’s a worthy goal or what’s just a politically convenient agenda for someone in power. You won’t be able to see the gaps between the bars in the cage and know when and how to make a break for it.

No matter how well-intentioned you are, your good intentions are useless in this fight unless they are guided by cultivated wisdom. Plenty of well-intentioned people have thrown all their activism and energy into feeding into America’s pernicious two-party system, into fanning the flames of Russia hysteria, into cheering for western interventionism in Syria or Iran.

No matter how intelligent you are, your intelligence is useless in this fight unless it’s guided by cultivated wisdom. Plenty of highly intelligent people have poured all their cleverness into justifying neoconservative agendas, into staging coups to install brutal dictators, into creating engines of genocide.

The only thing that will enable you to use your gifts for the benefit of mankind is the guidance of clear inner wisdom, and the only way to obtain that is by buckling down, going against the grain of your unconscious habitual conditioning, and getting to work. The most compassionate thing you can do for the world is to clear your perceptual lenses of falsehood and delusion so that you can make yourself useful to it.


Internet censorship is getting pretty bad, so best way to keep seeing the stuff I publish is to get on the mailing list for my website, so you’ll get an email notification for everything I publish. My articles and podcasts are entirely reader and listener-funded, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, checking out my podcast, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypal, or buying my book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

For The Deep State, Smearing Julian Assange Is As Good As Killing Him


Authored by Caitlin Johnstone via,

As I write this, demonstrations around the world are taking place in protest of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange's arbitrary detention and silencing by the US-centralized power establishment that has been actively pursuing his destruction for over a decade. The demonstrations will be well-attended, but not a fraction as well-attended as they should be. They will receive international attention, but not a fraction as much attention as they should.

This is because the manipulators and smear merchants who have made their careers paving the way for oligarchic agendas have been successful in killing off sympathy for the plight of Assange. As we discussed yesterday, sympathy is key for getting narratives to take hold in public consciousness. This is why western corporate media will circulate pictures of dead children all day long when it's in the interests of advancing longstanding imperialist agendas, but never when those children were killed by western weapons. If you can tug at someone's heart strings while telling them a story, the story you tell them will slide right in with minimal scrutiny. And it works the other way, too: if you can prevent someone's heart strings from being plucked while hearing about a legitimately heartbreaking story, you can prevent that story from taking hold.

Kill all sympathy for a dissident journalist and you kill all belief in his side of the story.

And Assange's side of the story is indeed devastating to the preferred narrative of the US-centralized empire. A journalist (yes, journalist, per definition) who publishes 100 percent authentic documents exposing the inner mechanics of power structures all over the world, who was forced to seek political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid extradition by the same government which brutalized Chelsea Manning, is on its face a highly sympathetic story. And it does tremendous damage to the narrative that America and its close network of allies are freedom-loving democracies whose systems of government are nothing like those naughty, oppressive regimes they seek to topple.

So they smear him. As often as possible, using whatever they can, they smear his reputation. Because if they can kill all sympathy for him and his outlet, it's as good for their agendas as actually killing him.

The smears work because the social engineers know how to manipulate people. In America, for example, people are herded into two isolated ideological holding pens and encouraged to identify as much as possible with whichever pen they're in so that narratives can be slipped into their consciousness in a smooth, streamlined way. Are you in the 'R' pen and upset about the hand you've been dealt? You should blame the 'D' pen, and those foreigners who are of no strategic consequence to your rulers. Are you in the 'D' pen and upset about the hand you've been dealt? You should blame the 'R' pen, and those Russians whose downfall would advance the longstanding geopolitical agendas of your rulers.

In the same way, those in the 'R' pen were fed narratives against Julian Assange in 2010 which they lapped up because believing them was easier than believing that the pen they're so tightly identified with had enabled the evils revealed in WikiLeaks releases about US war crimes. And in exactly the same way, those in the 'D' pen were fed narratives against Julian Assange in 2016 which they lapped up because believing them was easier than believing that the pen they're so tightly identified with is pervasively corrupt.

By enforcing a strong sense of identification with a particular ideological tribe, they ensure that the psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance will arise from any revelation which can be spun as detrimental to that tribe. They then create a narrative which alleviates that discomfort, and that narrative always damages the reputation of the enemies of the power establishment. It's a snake oil cure for an ailment that they deliberately caused.

Nobody actually thinks that Julian Assange is a Russian agent, or a rapist, or a "hostile non-state intelligence service", or any of the other absurd smears I've seen circulating about him throughout all political sectors of the US-centralized empire. Those are not ideas that anyone has taken on board because they sincerely believe there's enough evidence for them to outweigh the undeniable fact that many extremely powerful and influential people stand to benefit from tarnishing his reputation on false pretenses. At best, they're just fairy tales people tell themselves because they're easier than believing that their favorite country/political party persecutes journalists for telling the truth and is as corrupt and evil as the various WikiLeaks publications of their communications would indicate. At worst, it's a fairy tale they are deliberately seeding into public consciousness so that people will believe lies instead of truth.

People find all sorts of ways to wiggle their way around the cognitive dissonance that unedited, authentic documents can create in them when it challenges their deeply treasured identity structures. People who present themselves as anti-establishment progressives often say things like "Well, you can be critical of Assange and still support WikiLeaks for providing a valuable service." And sure, that may be technically true, but it's never actually true for the people who say it: look at their writings and social media posts and you won't see them aggressively defending WikiLeaks, you'll only see them smearing Assange as often as they can get away with. They're just trying to retain their anti-establishment cred (another treasured identity structure) while promulgating smear campaigns which advance the agendas of the CIA and the State Department. They pay lip service to the image they're trying to convey, but their actions tell you where they really stand.

People who disrupt dominant narratives will always be attacked and vilified, because those narratives often form the building blocks of people's identity structures, their egos. An ego is just a collection of believed "I" stories; they typically include believed ideas about really basic things like "I am this body," but they also include a bunch of other "I" stories like "I am a Democrat" or "I am a patriotic American" as well. Attacking dominant narratives on a large scale will cause intense cognitive dissonance in everyone who has a lot of identity wrapped up in the power structure which is weakened by that attack, to such an extent that it can feel as though you yourself are being personally attacked. The way Democrats have talked about Assange since 2016 you get the distinct impression they feel like he may as well have walked up and stabbed them.

As this webcomic from The Oatmeal brilliantly explains, the brain is hardwired to protect strongly valued belief systems in the same way it's hardwired to make sure the body protects itself from a physical attack. This serves a useful function in that it gives us a cognitive strategy for making sense of the world that isn't blown to pieces every time you encounter a new idea, but it can also be malformed in a way which does not accurately represent reality. When that happens, it really is worthwhile to tough it out through the brain's distress signals of cognitive dissonance and consciously restructure your sense-making apparatus in a way that accommodates a more accurate perspective.

This is the invitation whenever you're looking at a WikiLeaks drop which challenges your existing worldview. It's just raw information sitting there, and you can choose to believe a story which allows you to comfortably dismiss it, or you can stick it out through the psychological discomfort and allow it to restructure your worldview. You have defense mechanisms in place to prevent random bits of information from tearing apart your sense-making apparatus that haven't been properly audited for reliability, but a publishing outlet with a 100 percent perfect record for releasing authentic documents is as reliable a source of information as you will ever find.

If your goal is psychological comfort, you have plenty of good reasons to loathe Julian Assange and spend all day helping plutocrats and secretive government agencies damage his reputation so that nobody will ever pay attention to him or his publications. If your goal is the truth, however, it is to your benefit to ignore the smears, to accept the reality of how and why Assange is being targeted, and to allow the truths that have been revealed by WikiLeaks publications to reshape your understanding of how the world works.

*  *  *

Internet censorship is getting pretty bad, so best way to keep seeing the stuff I publish is to get on the mailing list for my website, so you’ll get an email notification for everything I publish. My articles and podcasts are entirely reader and listener-funded, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, checking out my podcast, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypalor buying my book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018


"Delete Your Account" Warns Virtual Reality Founding Father


In a new explosive interview, Silicon Valley tech pioneer and creator of the virtual reality 'avatar' Jaron Lanier tells people to delete your social media accounts due to the strong correlation between persistent social media usage and a dramatic societal rise in depression, anger, and anxiety that he says is the result of internet-induced modified forms of behavior.  

The warning comes in the wake of his new book which details how the creators of social media and the early engineers behind the internet "foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies."

Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier with a prototype VR kit in 1990. Photograph: Rex Features

Jaron Lanier is best known as a founding father of the field of virtual reality and throughout his polymath career has written extensively on human-computer interaction, including most recently in his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.

Lanier explained in a recent UK Channel 4 interview

When you watch the television the television isn't watching you. When you see the billboard the billboard isn't seeing you... When you use these new designs — social media, search, YouTube — when you see these things, you're being observed constantly and algorithms are taking that information and changing what you see next.

This Silicon Valley 'computer philosopher' says you need to delete your social media.

Jaron Lanier argues we are hooked through a scheme of rewards and punishments - making us 'cranky' and 'jittery' and modifying our behaviour.

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 18, 2018

According to Lanier's bio, he coined the term 'Virtual Reality' (VR) and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products. In the late 1980s he led the team that developed the first implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays, as well as the first "avatars," and developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications. 

As he defiantly asserts on his personal website, Lanier himself has "no social media accounts at all and all purported ones are fake."

He's elsewhere said that most internet and social media pioneers in Silicon Valley "have regrets right now" after perfecting what is essentially mass human behavioral engineering and that that internet addiction is not only ruining people's lives but the political process as well.

This is what I could call almost a stealthy addiction. It's a statistical addiction.

What it says is we will get the broad population to use the services a lot, we'll get them hooked through a scheme of rewards and punishment, and the rewards are when you're retweeted and the punishment is when you're treated badly by others online, and then within that we'll very gradually start to leverage that, to change them.

It's this very kind of stealthy manipulation of the population. -Jaron Lanier to Channel 4

Lanier described this process of manipulation more in-depth in his book, where he puts it like this: “The algorithm is trying to capture the perfect parameters for manipulating a brain, while the brain, in order to seek out deeper meaning, is changing in response to the algorithm’s experiments…Because the stimuli from the algorithm doesn’t mean anything, because they genuinely are random, the brain isn’t responding to anything real, but to a fiction. That process – of becoming hooked on an elusive mirage – is addiction.”

There is a great deal of wisdom here. Depression is clearly up in many countries as part of the internet age, and while correlation isn't causation, it seems clear part of it is causation. The internet promised greater connectedness but in many key ways it produced the opposite:

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 18, 2018

Of the nature of this addiction he described further to Channel 4:

So it's not as dramatic as a heroin addict or a gambling addict, but it is the same principle.

...It's made people jittery and cranky, it's made teens especially depressed, which can be quite severe. 

The scariest example is a correlation between rises in teen suicide and the rise in use of social media.

Concerning practical advice especially to young people who've grown up within a digital and device driven world:

If you're a young person and you've only lived with social media, your first duty is to yourself. You have to know yourself.

You should experience travel, you should experience challenge to yourself... you can't know yourself without perspective,so at least give it six months without social media.

And among the more worrisome results of this process for society as a whole?

Though as Lanier explains in his book the internet was not established with built-in monetized functions, the potential of the architecture to be used wrongly for "global monopolies" whether political or economic has proven explosive: “Everyone knew these functions … would be needed. We figured it would be wiser to let entrepreneurs fill in the blanks than to leave that task to government … We foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies.”

View the full interview below:

* * *

Jaron Lanier's Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now according to his book:

1) You are losing your free will.

2) Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

3) Social media is making you an asshole.

4) Social media is underming truth.

5) Social media is making what you say meaningless.

6) Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

7) Social media is making you unhappy.

8) Social media doesn't want you to have economic dignity.

9) Social media is making politics impossible.

10) Social media hates your soul.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Government Nutrition Policy: A Big, Fat Failure


Authored by Jose Nino via The Mises Institute,

In her book The Big Fat SurpriseNina Teicholz controversially contends that United States nutritional guidelines have largely contributed to rising levels of heart disease and obesity in the American populace.

Since the American Heart Association (AHA) linked the consumption of saturated fat with heart disease in 1961,government bureaucrats and policymakers have embarked on a low-fat crusade.

Despite this zealous campaigning in favor of low-fat dieting, obesity is rising at alarming rates and heart disease remains one of the leading causes of mortality in the United States.

Teicholz's text is very relevant these days now that the Trump administration announced its continuation of Obama-era nutritional policy.

These new policies consist of mandatory calorie labeling on restaurant menus and new “Nutrition Facts” on foods products.

While this article won’t spend much time addressing the scientific merits of the low-fat diet’s impact on health, one crucial question remains: Why does the United States government insist on getting involved in dietary affairs?

From Scientific Findings to Official Food Policy

When nutritionist Ancel Keyes popularized the “diet-heart hypothesis” in the 1950s, governments around the world initiated the first steps in crafting low-fat nutritional guidelines. The watershed moment came in 1961 when the American Heart Association became the first influential and national organization to officiallyrecommend that the public cut back on its consumption of saturated fat in order to prevent cardiovascular disease. Moving forward, bureaucracies like the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) have acted as reliable vehicles for the promotion of low-fat guidelines.

The Bureaucratization of Food Policy: A Rent-Seeker’s Delight

With the on-going presence of government agencies like the FDA and USDA regulating the food industry, the temptation for major food companies to gravitate toward politics to solve its problems remains strong.

American food policy has not only created barriers to entry in certain sectors of the food economy and harmedconsumer welfare, but it has also incentivized entrenched business interests to capture regulatory agencies and push for policies that advance their ends.

This dynamic creates a scenario of institutional inertia. First, scientists publish findings supporting the entrenched interest group’s (Big Sugar in this case) agenda. Then, the government rewards producers who comply by granting them sweetheart subsidies and the government’s seal of approval.

Due to the public’s rational ignorance and the organizational advantages that lobbies like Big Sugar enjoy, this type of nutritional policy continues in effect without much organized resistance.

Public Choice theory in its rawest form.

Moreover, since the US became increasingly involved in diet policy in 1961, obesity rates in American men and women have increased substantially. This doesn’t prove a causal relationship, of course, but it does suggest that the government’s involvement has done nothing to keep obesity rates down.

Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

The Government Still Doesn’t Listen

The Trump administration’s continuation of low-fat dietary policy is no surprise due to the aforementioned institutional inertia. The program features policies encouraging the reduction of salt intake and new government mandates requiring restaurants to implement calorie labeling.

Despite what many experts say, the science on low-fat dieting and salt intake is far from settled. Contrarian analysis from researchers like Nina Teicholz and James DiNicolantonio argue that low-fat and low-salt consumption may actually have detrimental effects on health.

In the same vein, nutritional labeling does very little to change people’s food choice behavior.

According to Julie Downs, the lead author of a 2016 American Journal of Public Health study, putting “calorie labels on menus really has little or no effect on people’s ordering behaviors at all.” Mandatory calorie labeling represents another regulatory cost that will ultimately be passed on to restaurants and consumers. More established food chains will welcome these measures with open arms, but their smaller rivals will greatly lament them.

Free Markets are the Solution

Even if scientific research demonstrates that current government dietary standards have deleterious health effects, the government should stay away from dietary affairs.

Critics will argue that the government must play a proactive role in policing food choices and keeping the public healthy because the private sector is simply incapable of doing so.

But this contention is laden with government conceit.

A cottage industry of dietary alternatives like the Atkins DietThe South Beach Diet Paleo Diet, and the Keto Diet has emerged in the past decade to address supposed failures in conventional nutritional strategies.

We can debate which of these diet strategies are likely to produce more healthy people, but given the federal government’s record on this matter, it’s hard to argue that the status quo offers better options.

Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Incentives matter in these cases. When the government is no longer dictating food policy, civic organizations and business ventures will fill in this nutritional vacuum to provide consumers with the necessary information and resources to make informed choices on nutritional matters.

Crowding out these initiatives through the government’s typical route of subsidizing vested food interests, promoting questionable studies, and erecting massive barriers to entry for potential competitors, hurts society at large.

Donald Trump came to Washington, DC, with the goal of draining the swamp and scrapping many Obama-era policies. However, Trump’s decision to continue Obama’s nutrition policies is a disappointment to say the least.

Trump can still make things right by re-examining these guidelines and bringing in dissenting points of views into these discussions.

At the end of the day, the healthiest nutritional policy the United States can pursue is one of government restraint.

*  *  *

Jose Nino is a Venezuelan-American political activist based in Fort Collins, Colorado.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The 'Real' America: 21.5% Unemployment, 10% Inflation, And Negative Economic Growth


Authored by Michael Snyder via The Economic Collapse blog,

Every time the mainstream media touts some “wonderful new economic numbers” I just want to cringe.  Yes, it is true that the economic numbers have gotten slightly better since Donald Trump entered the White House, but the rosy economic picture that the mainstream media is constantly painting for all of us is completely absurd. 

As you are about to see, if honest numbers were being used all of our major economic numbers would be absolutely terrible.  Of course we can hope for a major economic turnaround for America under Donald Trump, but we certainly are not there yet.  Economist John Williams of has been tracking what our key economic numbers would look like if honest numbers were being used for many years, and he has gained a sterling reputation for being accurate.  And according to him, it looks like the U.S. economy has been in a recession and/or depression for a very long time.

Let’s start by talking about unemployment. 

We are being told that the unemployment rate in the United States is currently “3.8 percent”, which would be the lowest that it has been “in nearly 50 years”.

To support this claim, the mainstream media endlessly runs articles declaring how wonderful everything is.  For example, the following is from a recent New York Times article entitled “We Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are”

The real question in analyzing the May jobs numbers released Friday is whether there are enough synonyms for “good” in an online thesaurus to describe them adequately.

So, for example, “splendid” and “excellent” fit the bill. Those are the kinds of terms that are appropriate when the United States economy adds 223,000 jobs in a month, despite being nine years into an expansion, and when the unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent, a new 18-year low.

Doesn’t that sound great?

It would be great, if the numbers that they were using were honest.

The truth, of course, is that the percentage of the population that is employed has barely budged since the depths of the last recession.  According to John Williams, if honest numbers were being used the unemployment rate would actually be 21.5 percent today.

So what is the reason for the gaping disparity?

As I have explained repeatedly, the government has simply been moving people from the “officially unemployed” category to the “not in the labor force” category for many, many years.

If we use the government’s own numbers, there are nearly 102 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now.  That is higher than it was at any point during the last recession.

We are being conned.  I have a friend down in south Idaho that is a highly trained software engineer that has been out of work for two years.

If the unemployment rate is really “3.8 percent”, why can’t he find a decent job?

By the way, if you live in the Boise area and you know of an opening for a quality software engineer, please let me know and I will get the information to him.

Next, let’s talk about inflation.

According to Williams, the way inflation has been calculated in this country has been repeatedly changed over the decades

Williams argues that U.S. statistical agencies overestimate GDP data by underestimating the inflation deflator they use in the calculation.

Manipulating the inflation rate, Williams argues in Public Comment on Inflation Measurement , also enables the US government to pay out pensioners less than they were promised, by fudging cost of living adjustments.

This manipulation has ironically taken place quite openly over decades, as successive Republican and Democratic administrations made “improvements” in the way they calculated the data.

If inflation was still calculated the way that it was in 1990, the inflation rate would be 6 percent today instead of about 3 percent.

And if inflation was still calculated the way that it was in 1980, the inflation rate would be about 10 percent today.

Doesn’t that “feel” more accurate to you?  We have all seen how prices for housing, food and health care have soared in recent years.  After examining what has happened in your own life, do you believe that the official inflation rates of “2 percent” and “3 percent” that we have been given in recent years are anywhere near accurate?

Because inflation is massively understated, that has a tremendous effect on our GDP numbers as well.

If accurate inflation numbers were being used, we would still be in a recession right now.

In fact, John Williams insists that we would still be in a recession that started back in 2004.

And without a doubt, a whole host of other more independent indicators point in that direction too.  The following comes from an excellent piece by Peter Diekmeyer

Williams’ findings, while controversial, corroborate a variety of other data points. Median wage gains have been stagnant for decades. The U.S. labour force participation rate remains at multi-decade lows. Even our own light-hearted Big Mac deflator suggests that the U.S. economy is in a depression.

Another clue is to evaluate the U.S. economy just as economists would a third world nation whose data they don’t trust. They do this by resorting to figures that are hard to fudge.

There, too, by a variety of measures—ranging from petroleum consumption to consumer goods production to the Cass Freight Index—the U.S. economy appears to have not grown much, if at all, since the turn of the millennium.

In the end, all that any of us really need to do is to just open our eyes and look at what is happening all around us.  We are on pace for the worst year for retail store closings in American history, and this “retail apocalypse” is hitting rural areas harder than anywhere else

This city’s Target store is gone.

So is Kmart, MC Sports, JCPenney, Vanity and soon Herberger’s, a department store.

“The mall is pretty sad,” says Amanda Cain, a teacher and mother. “Once Herberger’s closes, we’ll have no anchors.”

About two-thirds of Ottumwa’s Quincy Place Mall will be empty with Herberger’s loss.

Of course it isn’t just the U.S. economy that is troubled either.

We are living in the terminal phase of the greatest debt bubble in global history, many nations around the globe are already experiencing a very deep economic downturn, and our planet is literally in the process of dying.

So please don’t believe the hype.

Yes, we definitely hope that things will get better, but the truth is that things have not been “good” for the U.S. economy for a very, very long time.


Career State Department Officer Rages: 5 Media Myths Of Trump-Kim Summit


In the midst of Tuesday's historic Trump-Kim summit and accompanying myriad pundits giving their hot takes on mainstream news networks, 24-year State Department veteran and geopolitics expert Peter Van Buren began an epic rant on twitter with the following: "If you're keeping score at home, every pundit and MSM head who claimed the summit would never happen, or Trump would blow up, is now 100% and forever wrong. Still watching CNN????"

Van Buren is best known as a whistleblower who was ousted from a successful career as a foreign service officer after he chronicled the astronomical amount of US government waste, fraud, criminality and abuse in post-Saddam Iraq based on his experience leading two reconstruction teams for the State Department. 

His 2011 book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, which precipitated a lengthy legal battle with the US government as he stood accused of leaking allegedly sensitive and classified information in the book, initially earned him the ire of beltway bureaucrats, mainstream pundits, fanatical neocons, and liberal interventionists alike. But he was proven right

Career State Department officer and U.S. Envoy to Iraq Peter Van Buren. Image source: We Meant Well

During and after the Trump-Kim meeting Van Buren live tweeted in reaction to the cable news shows repeatedly slamming the whole event as a charade merely meant to score domestic propaganda victories for both leaders.

Here are 5 media myths which persisted throughout the day's wall-to-wall mainstream coverage based on career State Department expert Peter Van Buren's analysis...

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Myth #1: Trump "betrayed" US ally South Korea

The idea that Trump "betrayed" South Korea is limited to the American MSM. Here's the president of South Korea's own positive statement about SIngapore:

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 12, 2018

No, the South Korean's were not "betrayed" or "abandoned" as Vox , MSNBC, and many others claim — the reality is opposite: the peace efforts are being led by the South Koreans, as President Moon Jae-in's own unambiguous words indicate, saying he was very happy with the meeting. 

"I offer my heartfelt congratulations and welcome the success of the historic North Korea-United States summit," Moon's statement begins.

The fact remains that 81% of South Koreans supported the summit, and 88% supported the prior Kim-Moon summit. Moon also has an 86% approval rating. 70% of Americans support the meeting.

The pundits now claiming "betrayal" of South Korea have no clue what they're talking about.

Myth #2: Trump "empowered" and "legitimized" Kim

Keep in mind it was the earlier failures in Korea by the former government officials on TV today criticising the #TrumpKimSummit who made the summit necessary. They're the last people anyone should be listening to at this point.

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 12, 2018

Most government pundits still making the rounds on the cable news shows are either former Obama-era officials or raving necons: as Van Buren points out they were part of the problem to begin with, creating a constant haze of impressions that Washington and Pyongyang must of necessity be on a permanent war footing.

As Van Buren writes in his new Reuters op-ed piece"Trump did not empower Kim. Meeting with one’s enemies is not a concession. Diplomacy is not a magic legitimacy powder the United States can choose to sprinkle on a world leader. The summit acknowledges the like-it-or-not reality of seven decades of Kim-family rule over a country armed with nuclear weapons."

US foreign policy elites have invented a whole slew of meaningless phrases to justify a state of permanent militarism & aggression in the world, then trained people to recite them. That US should avoid negotiating with Bad Guys because it gives them "legitimacy" in a good example

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 12, 2018

Van Buren outlines the failures of those who previously revolted at the State Department due to a claimed "void" at the center of the Trump White House's Korea policy and diplomacy:

Only a few months ago State Department North Korean expert Joseph Yun's retirement triggered a round of dire claims of "a void at [the] head of Trump's Korea diplomacy". Similar predictions were made over the lack of an American ambassador in Seoul. The State Department was decimated. ("The Trump administration has lost the capacity to negotiate with other countries," wrote one journalist.) The Council on Foreign Relations assessed the chances of war on the peninsula at 50 percent.

"They're the last people anyone should be listening to at this point" as it was their "earlier failures" in diplomacy that "made the summit necessary," Van Buren concludes.

Myth #3: The summit marks a "propaganda victory" for North Korea

So anyone please tell me what a "propaganda coup" for Kim entails. Is he running for something? Will his salary increase, get more TV bookings? Party with Beyonce? World leaders who hate him will say, golly, what a nice guy? EXACTLY what does "propaganda coup" mean?

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 11, 2018

Media commentators throughout the day were outraged to see the American and North Korean flags displayed on equal footing.

Van Buren responds by pointing out what is obvious and common protocol for all such historic summits, even the potentially contentious ones, including Obama's trip to Havana to mend US-Cuban relations in 2016:

How freaking stupid are you? Flags are displayed as a symbol of diplomacy, and the side-by-side style is used everywhere in every setting, including during the Cold War (and Obama in Cuba!) So just STFU.

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 12, 2018

FWIW, I think the North Korean flag is a piece of vile filth that stands for the dynastic rule of a racist cult that subjugates, tortures and enslaves it's own people. Ideally it would spontaneously combust when it even touches our flag. But nfw should it stand equal to ours.

— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) June 12, 2018

The Cuban and American flags together: President Obama and President of Cuba Raúl Castro at their joint press conference in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016. Image source: Flickr

Finally, he notes that the US MSM has finally found a new friend: the North Korean propaganda machine.

The MSM has finally found a friend: North Korea's propaganda. MSM outlets are now repeating any NK claims of success as "proof" of Trump's failure. When you're left to RT and Like the NK press you've run out of friends in America. #TrumpKimSummit

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 13, 2018

Myth #4: Trump "gave away the store" with "too many concessions"

Concessions? Kim's ongoing moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing, the return of American prisoners, the closing of a ballistic missile test site, and the shutting down of nuclear test facility without opening a new one.

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 12, 2018

Reminder major US military exercises in Korea have been suspended/postponed before, as far back as Team Spirit in 1990s and recently as January for the Olympics. Can be restarted anytime. Not much of a "concession." Meanwhile, the actual deterrent remains offshore, planes & subs

— Peter Van Buren (@WeMeantWell) June 12, 2018

The ink was barely dry on the Trump-Kim signed agreement when Bloomberg ran this headline: "Trump Gives Away the Store in Singapore".

Nope, says Van Buren. He responds: "What didn’t happen in Singapore is also important. Trump did not give away 'the store.' In fact, there is no store Trump could have given away. The United States agreed to suspend military exercises which have been strategically canceled in the past, and which can be restarted anytime. The real deterrent is off-peninsula anyway: B-2s flying from Missouri, and missile-armed subs forever hidden under the Pacific."

Myth #5: The agreement will fail for lack of details and its vagueness

The more Trump talks about the deal, the worse it sounds. U.S. stops exercises, pledges to remove troops, no new sanctions, all in exchange for vague promises of denuclearization. #trumpkim

— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) June 12, 2018

Stopping exercises, removing troops, and no more sanctions? The horror! The horror!

— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) June 12, 2018

Van Buren writes: "It is easy to announce a morning-after defeat for Trump: to criticize the agreement as vague and lacking in specific commitments regarding denuclearization. But those critics ignore Kim's moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing, the return of American prisoners, the closing of a ballistic missile test site, and the shutting down of a major nuclear test facility without opening a new one."

And he points out just how close the world was to major war a mere months ago: "It is easy to forget that a few months ago North Korea was still testing nuclear devices to spark fears of a dark war. Calling the Singapore summit a failure in light of more detailed agreements and different efforts from the past ignores the reality that all of those past agreements failed."

And finally, Van Buren says there's reason to be cautiously optimistic after Tuesday's summit:

Success on the Korean peninsula, as in the Cold War, will be measured by the continued sense that war is increasingly unlikely.

...The summit created the platform. The key to what happens next is how Trump, Moon and Kim work to resolve that issue.

#BREAKING Kim accepts Trump's invitation to visit US, says KCNA

— AFP news agency (@AFP) June 12, 2018

We wholeheartedly agree: this week has brought many reasons to be hopeful for the future of US-North Korean relations. 


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Beware Former Central Bankers Telling You To Work More


Authored by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

I’m not the only one of course. The financial crisis of 2008/09 similarly shattered the worldview of tens, if not hundreds of millions of people across the globe. I believe that the old manner of doing things as far as organizing an economy and society died for good during that crisis and its aftermath. Sure it’s been shadily and undemocratically propped up ever since, and we haven’t yet transitioned to what’s next, but for all intents and purposes it’s dead. It’s dead because it has no credibility.

– From last year’s post: The Generational Wheels Are Turning

Hard work is fundamental to our continued existence and advancement as a species. I would never devalue the importance of hard work, particularly when combined with intense passion and drive, which leads to extraordinary technological progress and soaring artistic creations. Nevertheless, my ears perk up whenever I hear an older person lecture millennials about how they need to work more just to have a reasonable chance at a retirement compared to generations that came became before.

Yet that’s exactly what happened when I read an article published at Politico by 75-year old Alicia Munnell, an academic who also worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the U.S. Treasury Department under Bill Clinton.

She seems to understand the problem. She notes:

A comparison of millennials (adults currently ages 25 to 35) with earlier cohorts (Gen-Xers and late baby boomers) when they were the same age shows that even though a higher percentage of both millennial men and women have college degrees, they are behind in almost every economic dimension.

One reason is that millennials entered the labor market during tough times. Most turned 21 between 2002 and 2012, which meant that they were graduating from college during a period that included both the bursting of the bubble and the Great Recession. This experience appears to have been particularly hard on millennial men, who have labor-force participation rates below earlier cohorts.

That’s all true, it’s her unimaginative, and quite frankly, offensive conclusion about what’s to be done that I take issue with. She writes:

My research suggests that those concerns are real, and millennials really are building wealth more slowly than the other working generations. But they are not insurmountable - as long as millennials are willing and able to work longer than their parents and grandparents did.

Let’s take a step back and dig deeper. She accurately acknowledges millennials were screwed by being born at the wrong time in history. To summarize, an entire generation graduated from college as indentured debt servants and were then thrust into a Hunger Games economy characterized by stagnant real wage growth. Worse, whenever systemic forces resulted in periodic crashes in our fundamentally unstable ponzi economy (which millennials played no role in creating), older generations responded by focusing their energy on ensuring their stock and bond portfolios were inflated back to life.

Remarkably, this basic reality that younger generations were handicapped due to the short-sighted decision making of older generations seems to have no bearing on her analysis of what’s to be done. While millennials may in fact need to work to 70, this doesn’t address the current situation, nor does it deal with the fact that the contemporary social/economic paradigm is dominated by rent-seeking activities more accurately defined as corruption and fraud, which leads to unimaginable wealth for an unscrupulous few, and scraps off the table debt serfdom for everyone else.

Older generations can’t provide solutions for the youth because that’s the sort of lazy thing they come up with: work more. Moreover, successful academics with stints in government and central banking are almost always status quo loyalists and will never concede that paradigm level change is in order. Young people must actively help shape the world they’ll be living in longest, yet when you look at Congress it looks like an assisted living facility.

This is a serious problem, because older people who’ve benefited from the status quo their entire lives will naturally support a propagation of the status quo. That’s the last thing we need right now. I don’t mean to pick on Alicia specifically, I highlight her article to demonstrate a larger point. That the policy solutions being offered for our ills are just repackaged versions of the same old stale solutions that’ve been recycled over and over again for the past 50 years. This is partly why it feels like nothing really changes no matter who you elect. It’s because those who have the power and money to influence policy tend to be comfortable, unimaginative types who strongly support the status quo.

Nevertheless, it remains a total certainly that younger generations will ultimately define the future based on their values and life experiences. Considering how poorly the current paradigm worked for them, it’s a nearly a lock that the manner by which our society and economy work will be fundamentally altered in the not too distant future. The millennial embrace of Bitcoin and crypto assets is merely a preview of the sort of earth-shattering changes coming as an entirely new generation starts to dominate culture.

“Work till you’re 70 and things could turn out ok” doesn’t resonate or inspire anyone. Our current paradigm is a corrupt carcass of a social and economic system kept on life support by those who benefit from it, and no one’s more aware of this fact than the youth.

It’s impossible to know exactly what will come next, but it’s a safe bet we’re on the precipice of enormous change based on an imminent turning of the generational cycle. Whether it leads to a better or worse world will depend on the level of consciousness we bring to it. The world is ours to create, let’s not screw it up.

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Why It’s Right To Warn About A Bubble For 10 Years

"C'mon, We All Know Where This Must Go... We Just Don't Want To Admit It..."


Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog,

All US Homes Are Overvalued...

My long time pal Jesse Colombo, now at Real Investment Advice, recently linked on Twitter to a Zero Hedge article, which quoted CoreLogic as saying more than half of American homes are overvalued. CoreLogic calls itself “a leading provider of consumer, financial and property data, analytics and services to business and government.”

Well, CoreLogic is way off. All American homes are overvalued. How can we tell? It’s easy. It’s so easy it’s perhaps no wonder that people overlook the reasons why. But we all know them: The Fed has pushed some $20 trillion down the throats of the financial system. It has also lowered interest rates to near zero Kelvin. Then the government added a “relaxation” of lending standards and an upward tweak of credit scores. And Bob’s your uncle.

These measures haven’t influenced just half of US homes, they’ve hit every single one of them. Some more than others, not every bubble is as big as San Francisco’s, but the suggestion that nearly half of homes are not overvalued is simply misleading. It falsely suggests that if you buy a home in the ‘right’ place, you’ll be fine. You won’t be. The Washington-induced bubble will and must pop, and precious few homes will be ‘worth’ what they are ‘worth’ today.

Here’s what Jesse tweeted along with his link to the Zero Hedge article:

“Almost half of the US housing market is overvalued” – this is why U.S. household wealth is also overvalued/in an unsustainable bubble.

He followed up with:

U.S. household wealth is in a bubble thanks to Fed-inflated asset prices. This is creating a “wealth effect” that is helping to drive our spurious economic recovery. This economy is nothing but a sham. It’s smoke and mirrors. Wake the F up, everyone!!!

My reaction to this:

Sorry, my friend Jesse, but every single US home is overvalued. It just depends on the vantage point you look from. All prices have been distorted by the Fed’s policies, not just half of them. Arguably some more than others, but can that be the core argument here?

Jesse’s reply:

Yes, that’s a good point.

Another long time pal, Dave Collum, chimed in with a good observation:

I think even us bunker monkeys start recalibrating, no matter how hard we try to maintain what we believe to be perspective.

Yes, we’ve been at this for a while. Even if Jesse was still a student when he started out. We’ve been doing it so long that he recently wrote an article named: Why It’s Right To Warn About A Bubble For 10 Years. And he’s right on that too.

Let’s get to the article the conversation started with:

More Than Half Of American Homes Are Overvalued, CoreLogic Warns

CoreLogic reports that residential real estate prices nationwide increased 6.9% year over year from April 2017 to April 2018. The firm’s Home Price Index (HPI) also shows a 1.2% rise on the month-over-month basis from March to April 2018. This has certainly sparked the debate of housing affordability across the nation with many millennials struggling to achieve the American dream.

CoreLogic Market Condition Indicators showed that 40% of the 100 largest metropolitan areas were overvalued in April, compared to 28% undervalued, and 32% in line with valuations. The report uncovers a shocking discovery that of the nation’s top 50 largest residential real estate markets, 52% were overvalued in April.

CoreLogic’s methodology behind overvalued housing markets “as one in which home prices are at least 10% higher than the long-term, sustainable level, while an undervalued housing market is one in which home prices are at least 10% below the sustainable level.”

The CoreLogic people probably mean well, but they also probably don’t want to rattle the cage. It’s not really important. As soon as someone starts talking about a ‘sustainable level’ for home prices, you can tune out. Because no such thing exists. Unless you first take those $20 trillion out of the ‘market’, free up interest rates, tighten lending standards and lower credit scores. Only then MAY you find a ‘sustainable level’ for prices.

Historically a house in the US cost around 3 to 4 times the median annual income. During the housing bubble of 2007 the ratio surpassed 5 – in other words, the median price for a single-family home in the United States cost more than 5 times the US median annual household income. According to Mike Maloney, this ratio is heavily influenced by interest rates. When interest rates go down the affordability of a house goes up, so people spend more money on a house. Interest rates have now been falling since 1981 when they peaked at 15.32% (for a 10-year US treasury bond).

Mike Maloney, another longtime friend of the Automatic Earth, is dead on. Price to income is a useless point unless you include interest rates in the calculation. And then you can get large differences. Since interest rates have been falling for 37 years, count on them to rise. And see what that does to your model.

“The best antidote for rising home prices is additional supply,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “New construction has failed to keep up with and meet new housing growth or replace existing inventory. More construction of for-sale and rental housing will alleviate housing cost pressures,” Nothaft added.

Right, yeah. Now we know the CoreLogic mindset. The more you build, the better home prices will be. Just one of many problems with that is that if you really expect prices to fall once you build, people will build fewer houses, because profit margins fall too. The whole idea that we can save housing markets by simply building ever more has never rung very true. But that’s for another day.

In a recent op-ed piece via The Wall Street Journal, Paul Kupiec and Edward Pinto place the blame on the government for creating another real estate bubble through “loose mortgage terms pushing home prices up.” They claim that mortgage underwriters need to tighten standards.

“Home prices are booming. So far, 2018 has posted the strongest growth since 2005. “About 60% of all U.S. metros saw an acceleration in the rate of price increases through February this year,” according to Housing Wire. Since mid-2012, real home prices have increased 28%, according to data from the American Enterprise Institute. Entry-level home prices are up about double that rate. In contrast, over the same period household income has barely kept pace with inflation. The current pace of home-price inflation is increasing the risk of another housing bubble.

The Fed is raising rates -finally- and home prices grow at the fastest rate in 13 years. Over the past 6 years prices are up 28%. Entry level homes are up more than 50% in that time frame. That is just profoundly scary. It’s like Dante’s descent into hell. And no, it’s not true that “The current pace of home-price inflation is increasing the risk of another housing bubble”. We’re already caught up head first in a new housing bubble.

“The root of the problem is declining underwriting standards. In April Freddie Mac announced an expansion of its 3% down-payment mortgage, the better to compete with the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae . Such moves propel home prices upward. Because government agencies guarantee about 80% of all home-purchase mortgages, their underwriting standards guide the market.

Making lending even more dangerous, CNBC recently reported that “credit scores may go up” because new regulatory guidance allows delinquent taxes to be excluded when calculating credit scores. These are only some of the measures that “expand the credit box” and qualify ever-shakier borrowers for mortgages.”

As I said before: if you lower lending -and underwriting- standards and artificially raise credit scores, then yes, you can keep the bubble going for a while longer. But it overvalues properties. You’re just moving goalposts.

“During the last crisis, easy credit led home prices to rise at an unsustainable pace, leading marginally qualified borrowers to stretch themselves thin. Millions of Americans’ dreams became nightmares when the housing market turned. The lax underwriting terms that helped borrowers qualify for a mortgage haunted many households for the next decade.”

No, it’s not just homes. Stocks and bonds as just as overvalued. Because of a behemoth attempt at making the economy look good, even though it’s entirely fake. No price discovery, no market, just central banks and tweaking standards and surveys. C’mon, we all know where this must go. We just don’t want to know. So this Marketwatch piece gets a wry smile at best:

America Is House-Rich But Cash-Poor

The housing market has not only recovered from the Great Recession, it’s heated up. According to an analysis from Attom Data, nearly 14 million Americans are now “equity rich” – meaning they have at least 50% equity in their homes. It bears repeating that many owners and communities are not so lucky: over a million Americans are underwater, and some cities and towns are still reeling under the weight of abandoned and vacant homes and stagnant micro-economies. But for most of the country, rapidly rising home prices and a dearth of anything else to buy means people are staying in their homes longer, allowing them to accrue more and more equity: $15 trillion worth, to be exact.

ZH: How does it end? Badly, of course, as Paul Kupiec and Edward J. Pinto recently noted, the current unsustainable pace of home-price inflation can be stopped only by damming the flood of government mortgage credit.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Bayer to ditch Monsanto name after mega-merger | Daily Mail Online

Bayer to ditch Monsanto name after mega-merger | Daily Mail Online:

'via Blog this'

Council on Foreign Relations Tells Gov't They "Have To" Use Propaganda on Americans

Council on Foreign Relations Tells Gov't They "Have To" Use Propaganda on Americans: "Council on Foreign Relations Tells Gov’t They “Have To” Use Propaganda on Americans"

'via Blog this'

In Latest Privacy Scandal, Facebook Gave Apple, Amazon And Others Unprecedented Access To User Data


Facebook has been giving user data to at least 60 major device manufacturers over the last decade - including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung - as part of a data-sharing partnership program which allowed the companies to integrate various features such as messaging and "like" buttons into their products.

The data-sharing agreement, reported Sunday evening by the New York Times, allowed manufacturers to access information on relationship status, calendar events, political affiliations and religion, among other things. An Apple spokesman, for example, said that the company relied on private access to Facebook data to allow users to post on the social network without opening the Facebook app, among other things.

What's more, the manufacturers were able to access the data of users' friends without their explicit consent, despite Facebook declaring they would not let outside companies access user data. The catch? The NYT explains.

Facebook’s view that the device makers are not outsiders lets the partners go even further, The Times found: They can obtain data about a user’s Facebook friends, even those who have denied Facebook permission to share information with any third parties.

In interviews, several former Facebook software engineers and security experts said they were surprised at the ability to override sharing restrictions. -NYT

It’s like having door locks installed, only to find out that the locksmith also gave keys to all of his friends so they can come in and rifle through your stuff without having to ask you for permission,” said Ashkan Soltani, a research and privacy consultant and former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

To test one partner’s access to Facebook’s private data channels, The Times used a reporter’s Facebook account — with about 550 friends — and a 2013 BlackBerry device, monitoring what data the device requested and received. (More recent BlackBerry devices, which run Google’s Android operating system, do not use the same private channels, BlackBerry officials said.)

Immediately after the reporter connected the device to his Facebook account, it requested some of his profile data, including user ID, name, picture, “about” information, location, email and cellphone number. The device then retrieved the reporter’s private messages and the responses to them, along with the name and user ID of each person with whom he was communicating.

The data flowed to a BlackBerry app known as the Hub, which was designed to let BlackBerry users view all of their messages and social media accounts in one place.

The Hub also requested — and received — data that Facebook’s policy appears to prohibit. Since 2015, Facebook has said that apps can request only the names of friends using the same app. But the BlackBerry app had access to all of the reporter’s Facebook friends and, for most of them, returned information such as user ID, birthday, work and education history and whether they were currently online.

The BlackBerry device was also able to retrieve identifying information for nearly 295,000 Facebook users. Most of them were second-degree Facebook friends of the reporter, or friends of friends.

In all, Facebook empowers BlackBerry devices to access more than 50 types of information about users and their friends, The Times found. -NYT

Despite winding down the partnerships in April - including the posting capabilities used by Apple, Facebook has defended the data-sharing agreements, saying they comply with the company's privacy policies and a 2011 consent decree issued by the FTC. Facebook officials say they don't know of any cases where user information has been misused. 

These partnerships work very differently from the way in which app developers use our platform,” said Ime Archibong, a Facebook vice president. Unlike developers that provide games and services to Facebook users, the device partners can use Facebook data only to provide versions of “the Facebook experience,” the officials said.

“These contracts and partnerships are entirely consistent with Facebook’s F.T.C. consent decree,” said Archibong.

Former FTC official Jessica Rich, however, disagreed with that assessment.

“Under Facebook’s interpretation, the exception swallows the rule,” said Ms. Rich, now employed by the Consumers Union. “They could argue that any sharing of data with third parties is part of the Facebook experience. And this is not at all how the public interpreted their 2014 announcement that they would limit third-party app access to friend data.”

And because Facebook does not consider the device makers to be outsidersthe data sharing partnerships go even furtherThe Times discovered, which is what allows the companies to access user data of a Facebook user's friends even if they've denied Facebook permission to share information with third parties

The discovery of the manufacturer data-sharing agreements comes on the heels of a massive data harvesting scandal in which the social media giant allowed third party apps to gather massive quantities of user information for various political and marketing purposes. In March, political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was revealed to have misused the private information of tens of millions of Facebook users.  The Cambridge Analytica ordeal shed light on the pervasive collection of data which has come under growing scrutiny since the scandal began in March. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed how loosely Facebook had policed the bustling ecosystem of developers building apps on its platform. They ranged from well-known players like Zynga, the maker of the FarmVille game, to smaller ones, like a Cambridge contractor who used a quiz taken by about 300,000 Facebook users to gain access to the profiles of as many as 87 million of their friends.

Apparently Facebook discussed the issue as early as 2012 and simply decided not to change the arrangements, despite the data-sharing agreements being flagged as a privacy issue. 

But the device partnerships provoked discussion even within Facebook as early as 2012, according to Sandy Parakilas, who at the time led third-party advertising and privacy compliance for Facebook’s platform.

This was flagged internally as a privacy issue,” said Parakilas, who left Facebook in 2012 and has emerged as a new voice against the company's data handling policies. “It is shocking that this practice may still continue six years later, and it appears to contradict Facebook’s testimony to Congress that all friend permissions were disabled.

As for the various answers given by the device manufacturers (via The Times)

  • Samsung declined to respond to questions about whether it had any data-sharing partnerships with Facebook. Amazon also declined to respond to questions.
  • Usher Lieberman, a BlackBerry spokesman, said in a statement that the company used Facebook data only to give its own customers access to their Facebook networks and messages. Mr. Lieberman said that the company “did not collect or mine the Facebook data of our customers,” adding that “BlackBerry has always been in the business of protecting, not monetizing, customer data.”
  • Microsoft entered a partnership with Facebook in 2008 that allowed Microsoft-powered devices to do things like add contacts and friends and receive notifications, according to a spokesman. He added that the data was stored locally on the phone and was not synced to Microsoft’s servers.
  • Facebook acknowledged that some partners did store users’ data — including friends’ data — on their own servers. A Facebook official said that regardless of where the data was kept, it was governed by strict agreements between the companies.