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  • There's a startling difference between what men want in a wife and in a daughter

    mother daughter

    The patriarchy can't get its house in order. 

    Because according to a new online survey of 818 men conducted by Hart Research Associates, men want startlingly different things in potential wives and daughters. 

    As in: 

    • Wives should be attractive, daughters should not. 

    • Daughters should be independent, wives should not.

    We originally spotted the survey, titled "the Shriver Report Snapshot: An Insight Into the 21st Century Man" on the Wall Street Journal

    "Reading the survey as a whole, the qualities that men want most in a daughter – intelligent, independent, strong, and principled – are the qualities that help women thrive in the workplace," writes Hart Research Associates vice president Jeff Horwitt at the Journal.

    But evidently, those qualities aren't entirely what heterosexual guys want in their wives.

    Here are the full details:

    BI_graphics_DaughterWifeChart

     

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  • Senior aide to prominent Mississippi senator arrested over alleged meth-for-sex scheme

    Thad Cochran

    A staffer to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) was charged with possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, The Washington Post reported Friday.

    The Post reported that Fred Pagan served as Cochran's personal assistant and office manager, and earned $160,000 last year.

    Special Agent Mark Waugh of the Department of Homeland Security reportedly said police raided Pagan's Washington home on Thursday and found 181.5 grams "of a substance that tested positive for methamphetamine." Waugh said Waugh said Pagan also copped to receiving shipments of another drug, GBL, which he said he would trade for sex.

    "Pagan stated that he intended to distribute both the GBL and methamphetamine in exchange for sexual favors," the agent said. 

    Pagan couldn't be reached for comment and Cochran didn't have any immediate comment on the incident, The Post reported.

    "The senator is traveling to Mississippi right now and has not seen the details included in the documents you provided," Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos said. "Our office is in the process of consulting with Senate legal counsel."

    Cochran, 77, is a veteran lawmaker who chairs the influential Senate Committee on Appropriations. He was first elected to Congress in 1972, according to his official biography.

    Last updated with additional context 4:29 p.m.

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  • Here are the most common math errors the IRS catches when people file their taxes

    The IRS reports that it caught 2.3 million math errors on 1.7 million tax returns in 2014 (that's returns for tax year 2013). That actually seems pretty good, since the IRS received almost 250 million tax returns in 2014.

    Most people calculated how much they owed wrong. Here's how those errors broke down:

    Math errors IRS taxes

    Here's the IRS databook for 2014.

    SEE ALSO: The US has a National Raisin Reserve, and its existence is being threatened by a Supreme Court case

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  • What the global footprint of US special operations looks like

    green beret chad training

    US special operations forces are becoming an increasingly important and flexible tool in enacting US foreign policy. 

    Over the past year, special operators have engaged in missions in every corner of the planet, according to Michael M. Phillips of the Wall Street Journal report.

    Generally serving in training roles, these elite units embed with foreign militaries with the goal of increasing the capabilities of the host countries soldiers. 

    In the past year, special operators "have landed in 81 countries, most of them training local commandos to fight so American troops don’t have to," Phillips notes. "From Honduras to Mongolia, Estonia to Djibouti, U.S. special operators teach local soldiers diplomatic skills to shield their countries against extremist ideologies, as well as combat skills to fight militants who break through." 

    special operations scope

    As the scope of special operations increases, so does the command's overall funding. In the previous fiscal year, Special Operations Command received $10 billion in funding with 70,000 personnel, up from a budget of $2.2 billion and 33,000 in fiscal year 2001.

    This extensive increase in the budget has allowed special operators, with further funding from the various branches of the military, to increase their scope worldwide. Green Berets, for example, have been training Chadian soldiers against Boko Haram while the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was involved in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to free journalist James Foley in Syria from ISIS. 

    The increased use of special operators throughout the world has allowed the US to maintain a military presence throughout the world without the consequences of having to commit to a large-scale military intervention abroad. Through the use of training operations of allied militaries and surgical strikes, special operations are intended to give allied militaries the tools to fight possible threats such as terrorism and insurgencies. 

    The focus on special operations teams and drone strikes is part and parcel of President Obama's light footprint strategy of counter-terrorism which believes in having US allies, backed and trained by Special Operations Command, playing the key role in security operations.

    The increasing reach since 9/11 has raised issues about the "dark side" of secret missions in foreign countries.

    Check out WSJ's report >

    SEE ALSO: In 2013 President Obama Reportedly Told His Aides That He's 'Really Good At Killing People'

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  • Big state university considers 'college bankruptcy,' showing liberal arts schools aren't the only ones in trouble

    LSU

    Proving it's not only small, private, liberal-arts colleges that are susceptible to financial distress, Louisiana State University (LSU) announced that it's in the midst of drawing up a financial exigency plan.

    Bloomberg News, which reported the development, called the plan "equivalent to a college bankruptcy" and noted that it would let LSU fire tenured faculty and restructure its finances.

    The Baton Rouge-based university with over 30,000 students is drafting the plan, in part, because the most recently proposed budgetary cuts by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal threaten to severely impact the higher-education system in the state. The governor's plans would cut the budgets for Louisiana's colleges and universities to the tune of 82%, according to Bloomberg.

    The president and chancellor of LSU, F. King Alexander, stressed the bankruptcy plan was essential since there has been little movement in the state's legislature to make updates to the budget.

    "We don't say that to scare people," Alexander was quoted as saying in The Times-Picayune. "Basically, it is how we are going to survive."

    The news comes as a stark reminder that many institutions of higher education aren't safe from financial distress. Recently, the discussion has centered around small, private colleges that have faced financial distress and have had to either shutter their doors or ramp up tuition spending.

    Sweet Briar College, an all-women's private college in Virginia, shocked the higher education community in March with the announcement that it would be closing their doors for good after the spring semester. Vocal opponents have banded together to fight the decision, but it's still unclear whether the school will be around to see the fall semester.

    The larger debate over the future of small colleges has been ramping up over the past few years, with Mark Cuban as a vocal participant in the conversation warning of a "student loan bubble." After Sweet Briar's announcement, Cuban tweeted: "This is just the beginning of the college implosion."

    Cuban points to the rising cost of college tuition, and the ability of students to take out loans in excess of what they can reasonably be expected to repay. "There's a growing education bubble, with rising tuition and students taking out loans they might not be able to pay back," Cuban told Business Insider in March.

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  • High school in America is creating a mental-health crisis — and these numbers prove it

    sad teen

    In America, high school is supposed to be about learning. 

    But as historian and cultural critic Rebecca Solnit argues in an article titled "Abolish High School" in the April issue of Harper's, it's mostly an education in status issues and gender norms.

    "You get acculturated that it’s terrible to be gay," she tells Business Insider, "that it's important for girls to be popular with boys, that it's important for boys to be masculine according to certain rules, that being good at athletic things greatly increases your social standing, that being good at academic things may in fact decrease your social standing."

    In her piece, Solnit argues that in many high schools, life is often a "parade of clichés" — jocks and cheerleaders stand in the popular center of student life, with anyone queer, artistic, or otherwise exile-able pushed to the periphery.

    It's an argument worth looking into. 

    Especially in regard to teen depression and suicide:

    • According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.

    • According to the American Psychological Association, 20% of high-school students consider suicide every year, with 8% making a suicide attempt each year.

    According to the American Psychological Associationabout 1,700 teens die to suicide every year.

    According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the rate of teen suicide tripled between 1950 and 1980

    While it's easy to blow that statistic off with a swift Welp, the teen years are hard!' it would be more responsible to see if American high schools are especially — and unnecessarily — rough on students' well-being.

    In a telling 2011 paper titled "Back to school blues: Seasonality of youth suicide and the academic calendar," economists Benjamin Hansen and Matthew Lang tracked state suicide rates among teens from 1980 to 2004.

    They found that teen suicide rates go up during the school year — and fall off during the summer. 

    But that trend doesn't hold for adults.

    teen suicide rates

    The cause?

    Hansen and Lang reason that the "negative social interactions" (like bullying) drop off during the summer.

    "If negative social interactions are more likely when school is in session, then summer break could lead to a time period in which we expect the frequency of total negative social interactions to decline," they write. "This is in part because total social interactions are likely lower in summer months, and because youth have more latitude during the summer to select the peers with whom they spend their vacation months."

    Bullying

    Bullying — a part of high-school life made light of in shows like "The Simpsons" — is more prevalent than you might think. Solnit reports that 28% of public high schoolers report being bullied and 21% of private schoolers, with the numbers going up in nonurban areas.

    The bullying has real effects on mental well-being. According to a 2008 Yale meta-analysis of the psychological research on bullying, children who have been bullied are "two to nine times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children were."

    Kids who are bullied aren't just affected in high school. In a 2013 study, researchers tracked 1,273 people every year from ages 11 to 13 to age 16, then again from ages 19 to 26. The kids who were chronically bullied in childhood were poorer, less educated, and felt more socially isolated as young adults.

    What makes American high schools such fertile ground for toxic behavior? 

    To Solnit, it's that for American teens, high school is so all-encompassing — sports, theater, all these things happen at school, making one's social standing there an incredibly high stakes game.

    It doesn't have to be this way

    There are other models than the American system. In Europe, for instance, sports happen in a club system, so they're not so closely associated with schools, and the accompanying status symbols of pep rallies and trophy cases are kept out. While they have their own problems, schooling in other advanced economies tends to be more about learning intellectual skills that will serve students later in their lives.

    Whereas in the US, high school is largely a matter of learning and mandating norms. 

    Solnit quotes Rutgers education scholar Catherine Lugg, who argues that American public high schools have historically had the role of "enforcer of expected norms regarding gender, heteronormativity, and homophobia."

    As America becomes more demographically diverse both ethnically and sexually, high school is a system that will have to change, or we'll risk psychologically wounding our increasingly kaleidoscopic population of young people — for the rest of their lives.

    SEE ALSO: The biggest difference between being a single woman and a single man

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  • African migrants are using an asylum loophole in Hungary to get EU papers

    Thousands of refugees from Africa are making a long trek through the Balkans in hopes of a better life in the European Union. These migrants are headed to Hungary, an EU member that offers asylum due to a loophole in immigration law. Once granted asylum in Hungary, most of the migrants leave for France or Germany.

    Produced by Jason Gaines. Video courtesy of Associated Press.

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  • Chris Christie's wife is leaving Wall Street ahead of his likely 2016 campaign

    RTR4O1WG

    In what may be the clearest sign yet that he intends to run for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) just left her job on Wall Street. 

    Multiple media outlets reported Friday that Mary Pat Christie has dropped her lucrative position at investment fund Angelo Gordon, where she earned $500,000 last year. 

    Christie's office told reporters than his wife only took a "hiatus" to "spend more time with her family and young children."

    However, Fox Business Network's Charles Gasparino, who first reported the news, said Mary Pat Christie told people at the firm that the departure was due to her husband's expected 2016 campaign.

    "She did tell the people there that it's because he's likely imminently to announce that he's running for president," Gasparino said. "Christie is running for president."

    Heidi Cruz, the wife of another presidential contender, also left her finance job on about the same time Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) officially announced his campaign. Heidi Cruz had been managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Houston. 

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  • The billionaire linked to the 'Clinton Cash' scandals once said something amazing about doing business with Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton Frank Giustra

    Billionaire Canadian mining executive Frank Giustra is at the center of a blockbuster series of New York Times reports that raise troubling questions about the finances of the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

    One of the stories detailed how a company Giustra was involved with secured the rights to uranium deposits in Kazakhstan days after a September 2005 meeting between the billionaire, former President Bill Clinton, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Giustra donated over $30 million to the Clinton Foundation after the Kazakhstan trip.

    In 2006, Giustra appeared in the New Yorker where he was quoted making a comment about his dealings with Clinton that's extremely interesting in light of the various allegations:

    "All of my chips, almost, are on Bill Clinton," Giustra reportedly said. "He’s a brand, a worldwide brand, and he can do things and ask for things that no one else can."

    This brash remark is far different than statements Giustra made after his relationship with Clinton first came under scrutiny.

    When the Times initially reported on this in 2008, representatives for both Clinton and Giustra denied the ex-president did anything to help the billionaire with his deal-making during their time together in Kazakhstan.

    "A spokesman for Mr. Clinton said the former president knew that Mr. Giustra had mining interests in Kazakhstan but was unaware of 'any particular efforts' and did nothing to help," wrote Times reporters Jo Becker and Don Van Natta. "Mr. Giustra said [the president] was there as an 'observer only' and there was 'no discussion' of the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev or Mr. Clinton."

    Giustra's comment about Clinton being able to "do things and ask for things" came in a New Yorker article by David Remnick that was published the week of September 18, 2006. Giustra reportedly made the remark about Clinton while they were on a charitable trip to Africa together.

    According to Remnick, the pair made the journey on board Giustra's jet. Remnick wrote that he encountered Giustra at an event in South Africa that Clinton also attended.

    Here is how Remnick described some of his conversation with Giustra.

    "Giustra told me that he was still heavily involved in business — he travels frequently to Kazakhstan, to check on mining interests he has there — but that his wife had been pushing him to give away more of his money," Remnick wrote.

    The New Yorker article included no further mention of Giustra.

    Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev greets former U.S. president Bill Clinton

    On Thursday, the Times followed its 2008 story with another report that noted Giustra's company, which became Uranium One, was eventually acquired by Russia's state-owned nuclear corporation.

    This process began when Hillary Clinton led the State Department, which had to approve the deal along with other government entities. In addition to Giustra, the Times said other executives linked to Uranium One gave millions to the Clinton Foundation.

    The story about Uranium One's Russian deal included information from the upcoming book "Clinton Cash," which investigates the Clinton family's finances. It was one of several reports based on the book that came out on Thursday.

    These articles have cast a shadow over Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, which launched earlier this month. Clinton's team and its allies have released multiple statements about the various issues detailed in "Clinton Cash."

    They have pointed out that the book's author, Peter Schweizer, has worked with conservative groups and characterized "Clinton Cash" as a partisan smear. A Clinton campaign spokesperson also responded to Thursday's Times article with a post on the website Medium that claimed Clinton played no part in the Uranium One deal and that the State Department was one of many agencies that approved it.

    clinton GiustraGiustra also released a statement on Thursday wherein he said he sold his interest in Uranium One before Clinton led the State Department. He also reiterated his past comments that President Clinton did not conduct business with him when they were in Kazakhstan together.

    "In late 2005, I went to Kazakhstan to finish the negotiations of the sale. Bill Clinton flew to Almaty a few days after I arrived in the country on another person’s plane, not on my plane," Giustra said. "Bill Clinton had nothing to do with the purchase of private mining stakes by a Canadian company."

    Spokespeople for Giustra and the Clinton Foundation did not respond to requests for comment on this story. President Clinton and Giustra cofounded the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, in 2007.

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  • The one issue Elizabeth Warren and some of Wall Street can agree on

    Elizabeth Warren pointing

    It doesn't sound very sexy, but stock buybacks could become the next big issue in Congress – and on the Street.

    Some Democratic senators have started pointing to buybacks, in which publicly traded companies repurchase some of their stock from shareholders, as a new rallying point in the populist wing's ongoing battle to bolster bank regulation.

    Here's what Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) wrote in a letter to SEC chair Mary Jo White earlier this week, urging her to start regulating the practice:

    Stock buybacks use profits to purchase a company's own stock instead of investing in the worker training, research, or innovation necessary to promote long-term growth. ... In the past, this money went to productive investments in the form of higher wages, research and development, training, or new equipment. Today, cash is being extracted from companies and placed on the sidelines. Buybacks are now undermining the stock market's role in capital formation.

    In writing the letter, Baldwin reportedly partnered with a University of Massachusetts, Lowell, researcher named William Lazonick, whose work has also been cited by – you guessed it – Elizabeth Warren.

    Here's Sen. Warren referencing Lazonick in a speech about income inequality last year (via the International Business Times):


    But leftist senators are not the only ones talking about buybacks.

    Earlier this month, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink sent a letter to all the CEOs of S&P 500 companies, asking them to put an end to stock buybacks and dividend payments.

    "Corporate leaders’ duty of care and loyalty is not to every investor or trader who owns their companies’ shares at any moment in time, but to the company and its long-term owners," wrote Fink, who proposed taxing any investments held for less than three years as regular income instead of at the long-term capital gains rate in order to shift investor focus from short-term to long-term investments.

    (Remember that BlackRock tends to hold investments for years – sometimes decades. So Fink has a direct interest in shifting tax policy to favor longer-term investments.)

    Fink and others argue that buybacks are becoming so common (a record $1 trillion was returned to shareholders last year via buybacks and dividends, according to The New York Times) because of shareholder activists who use their clout to bully and push for capital returns.

    As for Congress, it's unclear what exactly sparked the sudden interest in buybacks, but for Elizabeth Warren it could prove a more fruitful pursuit — one where she could actually team up with some of Wall Street and the business community — than other recent battles.

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  • Here's Hezbollah's game-changing secret drone base

    Hezbollah Parade Beirut Lebanon

    For years, the Lebanese Shi'ite militant organization Hezbollah has incorporated unmanned aerial vehicles into their arsenal, developing perhaps the most sophisticated aerial capabilities of any non-state armed group on earth.

    IHS Jane's has now used Google Maps to locate their airbase in northern Lebanon, according to an analysis published on April 23rd. 

    Hezbollah is arguably the Arab world's most capable military force. The group is a direct proxy of the revolutionary regime in Iran, which sends the group perhaps as much as $350 million in aid a year, according to Matthew Levitt's Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God.

    Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets — an arsenal that likely includes Russian-made precision-guided missiles. Its infusion of fighters is largely responsible for the survival of Syria's Assad regime after four years of war against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and secular armed groups. Hezbollah has operated cells and smuggling networks on every continent, and it's the only Arab military force that can plausibly claim a battlefield victory against Israel. 

    The airbase is alarming evidence of the group's vaunted operational capabilities — as well as the depth of its relationship with Tehran.

    The airstrip includes a 2200-foot unpaved runway, several outbuildings, and an antenna that "could potentially be used to extend the range of a UAV ground control station." (It can be found at 34.3109624, 36.3492857 on Google Maps).

    Hezbollah airfield

    It's located a few miles south of the town of Hermel in northern Lebanon, and about 10 miles to the west of the border wt ih Syria.

    As the Jane's report notes, the airstrip is too short to accommodate most manned aircraft, while its unpaved surface and mountainous surrounding terrain make it largely off-limits to planes that technically capable of landing on a runway of its length. That means there's a strong possibility it was "built for Iranian-made UAVs, including the Ababil-3, which has been employed over Syria by forces allied to the Syrian regime, and possibly the newer and larger Shahed-129."

    The Ababil-3 is a small reconnaissance drone with limited range and flight endurance; it's also been deployed by the Sudanese armed forces in the former Iranian ally's various civil conflicts. But as The Aviationist notes, the Shahed-129 is superficially similar in design to the US's Reaper and Predator platforms, and Iranian military officials claim that the drone can carry as many as 8 Sadid missiles.'Ababil-3 Iranian drone

    If Hezbollah is in fact operating these drones from the airstrip, its highly likely that Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps or other Iranian personnel are assisting them.

    The airstrip demonstrates not only Hezbollah's impressive air capabilities, but the depth of Iranian cooperation in developing them: Hezbollah's primary sponsors clearly see the urgency of the group developing an aerial component. And as Jane's reports, the airstrip "was built sometime between 27 February 2013 and 19 June 2014," suggesting that this shift in focus was not just recent, but influenced by events next door.

    The airstrip isn't far from Qusayr, the Syrian border town where the most important Assad regime victory of the first phase of the Syrian civil war took place. Between mid-2012 and early 2013, a huge infusion of Hezbollah troops helped the regime secure the town against anti-regime rebels over months of heavy combat, denying the Assad regime's opponents of a chance to control a strategic crossroads between Damascus, Homs, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean coast.

    Hezbollah airstrip

    The regime and its Hezbollah allies only fully controlled the city in May of 2013 — three months after work began on the airstrip.

    Homs, a hotbed of secularist opposition to Assad, is within Ababil-3 range of the Hezbollah airstrip. It finally fell to regime forces in May of 2014, in a defeat that threatened to cripple Syria's remaining moderate resistance forces. 

    The airstrip hints at the importance of Hezbollah aerial surveillance in the Syria conflict, and also shows the depths to which the Iranian proxy has involved Lebanon in the conflict next door. The airstrip's most likely purpose is for operations in Syria, but it's positioned a safe distance from the conflict's frontlines and behind the border of an officially neutral state.

    As researcher Philip Smyth has demonstrated, the involvement of radical, pro-Assad Shi'ite foreign fighters is one of the most decisive and less-examined aspects of the Syria war. This airfield further demonstrates how Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah has turned the Syrian Civil War into a regional conflict — and used Lebanon's territory to bail out the Assad regime.

    And while Hezbollah is far from a typical case, it shows that drone technology has now proliferated to the point where a non-state group can essentially build and operate its own military airport.

    SEE ALSO: Al Qaeda's ex-metalhead American-born spokesman has reportedly been killed

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  • Betting odds predict the most popular names for Prince William and Kate's new baby

    Paddy Power Bookmakers, a company that specializes in online betting on sports and politics, is now taking bets on the name of Prince William and Kate Middleton's new baby. The baby is due any day now.

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  • The Wall Street regulators won

    obama dodd frank

    Deutsche Bank joins HSBC, Citigroup, UBS, Morgan Stanley, and other big banks that have all made major moves to slim down and run leaner, simpler operations.

    In other words, the Wall Street regulators won.

    Post-crisis regulation like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act wasn't meant to make bankers less "greedy" or to make Wall Street a warmer, fuzzier place. It was meant to ensure that banks were less risky and less likely to disrupt the entire financial system if something went wrong. That meant making them smaller and more boring. Less systemically important.

    Here are a few examples of what that looks like in practice: Reuters says Deutsche Bank is planning to sell its retail unit despite the fact that a few weeks ago it was telling the press and investors it wanted be like megabank JP Morgan. Now it's saying it was to be more like Goldman Sachs — sleek, focused, and smaller.

    Last year, Citibank exited 11 markets around the world. 

    Take the Volcker Rule, which was later added to Dodd-Frank. It split up all the proprietary trading desks at banks; simply meaning banks can no longer trade their extra cash to make money for themselves. At least not blatantly.

    Forget about traders barking orders at their serfs in the middle office to take outsized bets on opaque, synthetic securities. These days, a trader can put in an order and that same (former) middle-office serf will inform that trader that their trade violates this or that liquidity requirement set by post-crisis regulation. The trader's profit and loss sheet is slimmer these days and so is their bonus as a result.

    Even mammoth institution JP Morgan is constantly talking about de-risking and simplifying — on earnings calls, in interviews, and in investor letters. Sometimes it sounds like CFO Marianne Lake is defending her bank against an imminent break on conference calls.

    "Our synergies are real," she said during the bank's investor day in February. 

    "We've done the work ... and we've drawn our own conclusions [on what a breakup would look like]," Lake said, adding that though the bank wouldn't lose that much revenue, "benefits of the company as a whole which we don't measure would likely be lost over time."

    What this tells you is that if JP Morgan is getting defensive, this "simplifying" initiative in banking is everywhere.

    The regulators are literally in the building

    Regulators, by the way, are everywhere too. In a recent interview, former Morgan Stanley CFO Ruth Porat told William D. Cohan that it's now impossible for banks to be as complex and devil-may-care as they once were.

    Thanks to Dodd-Frank, the regulators are literally just too close. From Cohan's piece in The Atlantic:

    “We’re in the risk-taking business,” Porat told me. “Just no outsized risks. You can’t do that to an institution. It’s irresponsible.” As at other big Wall Street firms, regulators from the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency now have offices at Morgan Stanley, and Porat said they meet with her team on a regular basis: the days of the “light touch” regulatory approach are over.

    It's a headache a lot of institutions would rather not have. That's part of the reason why GE announced that it was spinning off its massive GE Capital unit this month. It doesn't want to be financially important enough to have regulators breathing down its neck all the time — or as it's called in the business, it doesn't want to be a "systemically important financial institution."

    Insurance companies like MetLife have been fighting tooth and nail to get away from the "systemically important" designation.

    But the risks are still out there


    IMF herding chartNow, just as this doesn't mean bankers will be Boy Scouts, it also doesn't mean that risk has evaporated from the face of the planet. The IMF warned in a recent report that risk is transferring from banks to massive asset managers like private equity firm Blackstone (which has been loading up on real estate around the world), BlackRock (which sells all kinds of retail products like Exchange Traded Funds), and big mutual and hedge funds that have institutional money (people's pensions).

    More specifically, the IMF is scared of what could happen if these huge asset managers all decided to trade the same way. That's called "herding." This is about what would happen if, say, all of these asset managers decided to sell US stocks — well then who would be on the other side of that trade?

    “Large-scale sales by funds may exert significant downward asset-price pressures, which could affect the entire market and trigger adverse feedback loops,” it warns.

    Risk's gotta go somewhere, after all. You didn't think it just disappeared, did you?

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  • Rand Paul has been taking poker lessons from the notorious 'King of Instagram' and Snapchatting it

    In Rand Paul's most recent Snapchat story, the presidential hopeful shared a clip of himself taking poker lessons from famed "King of Instagram," Dan Bilzerian.

    Rand Paul

    Welcome to 2015!

    Bilzerian, who has become an internet superstar after amassing millions of followers on Instagram — following his photos of naked women, guns, and piles of cash — is a renown poker player.

    The Daily Caller's Kaitlan Collins reports "The video, captioned 'Lessons from Dan Bilzerian,' showed the two holding money and playing what appears to be liar’s poker, where hands are dictated by the serial numbers on the bills. They were using hundred dollar bills."

    Paul, whose Snapchat handle is SenetorRandPaul, is public on the social platform. Bilzerian was recently booted from Snapchat after just 24 hours of being active. He had posted videos of a naked women in his bed, violating the app's terms of service.

    Collins took the video of the Snapchat story below:

     

     

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  • A former Navy captain just identified the biggest flaw in the US aircraft-carrier strategy

    USS Eisenhower

    The actual strategic value of aircraft carriers, which are incredibly expensive to build and maintain, has been a recurring debate among military thinkers.

    Now a retired Navy captain has offered one of the fullest arguments yet that the US needs to radically rethink its naval strategy and shift away from its focus on aircraft carriers. 

    Writing in the National Review, retired Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix makes the case that aircraft carriers are simply not suited to the future of naval warfare.

    Instead, Hendrix believes that carriers have simply become so valuable that the Navy as a whole could not stand losing one.

    "At $14 billion apiece, one of them can cost the equivalent of nearly an entire year’s shipbuilding budget," Hendrix notes. "Each carrier holds the population of a small town. Americans are willing to risk their lives for important reasons, but they have also become increasingly averse to casualties."

    A single aircraft carrier today can be thought of as more like a small self-contained floating military base than an actual naval vessel. A Nimitz-class supercarrier can carry around 5,000 people onboard while having its own functioning internal economy.

    The loss of a single carrier could conceivably lead to about twice as many US fatalities as in the entirety of the war in Afghanistan.

    The obvious value of a carrier would make it a prime target for an enemy strike. Since World War II, the US has had relatively free access to the world's sea lanes. But the US is facing increasingly hostile maritime forces with China positioning itself as the naval hegemon in the Pacific.

    Beijing has also invested heavily in anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), and submarines capable of launching these missiles, that could target US aircraft carriers while evading the US Navy's Aegis Defense System. The existence of China's anti-ship weapons program, which has been designed especially to counter US influence, makes the specific value of carriers questionable and forces the US to make some very uncomfortable choices.

    Either the US can refrain from positioning its carriers within strike of Chinese military assets, ceding influence, or it could hypothetically risk the lives of thousands of Americans by placing a carrier within range of Chinese assets.

    "For this reason, the modern carrier violates a core principle of war: Never introduce an element that you cannot afford to lose," Hendrix writes.

    USS George Washington navy ship And that, in Hendrix's mind, is the main problem with the aircraft-carrier program.

    Carriers, although larger and more technically impressive than ever, are systems designed in a different age to deal with a different historical context, a time when states fought major naval engagements while operating at a comparable technological and operational level.

    "Today’s Navy looks remarkably like it has for the past 70 years, just smaller and more expensive," Hendrix notes. "It is an evolutionary force, not a revolutionary force, and it’s an easy target for rising powers that seek to overtake it."

    You can read Hendrix's entire story here »

    SEE ALSO: Russia wants to build a supercarrier, and it's a total waste

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  • The new Attorney General should probably freak Wall Street out way more than the old one

    Loretta Lynch

    The Senate has finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be the next US Attorney General.

    What does this mean for Wall Street?

    What does Wall Street think of her?

    We asked a bunch of sources close to the industry and to the Department of Justice.

    They paint a picture of someone who, having worked in New York, has a much firmer grasp on the financial sector than her predecessor, but who will nevertheless be very tough.

    Here are the details:

    • After years of being dogged by investigations from departing US Attorney General Eric Holder, Wall Street banks shouldn’t expect things to get any easier for them.
    • Lynch used to be the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. In that role, she drew mixed reviews for the work she’s done prosecuting big banks. But it’s expected she could be a unifying force between Washington and New York regulators.
    • Lynch has already delivered a gut-punch to Citigroup, in the form of a $7 billion fine, but drew criticism for being soft on HSBC.
    • Lynch is widely believed to possess a better grasp of financial markets and their inner workings than her predecessor, Eric Holder, which some think could make her an even greater threat to big banks.
    • An ex-DOJ lawyer said that Lynch will push more case work to New York’s Eastern District — her former stamping grounds — which will likely clear some room on Preet Bharara’s schedule. Bharara, who is the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was considered a potential candidate to head DOJ before Lynch was nominated and confirmed.
    • “[Lynch's predecessor, Eric] Holder and Preet didn’t get along that well,” said the ex-DOJ lawyer.
    • “[H]er office did a lot of financial crimes so she knows the turf,” said one banking industry source. "Somewhat counter-intuitively, our lawyers prefer that as they like to deal with competent, well informed prosecutors who understand something about financial markets.”
    • "In the less glamorous world of financial cases, she did a good job in the Citigroup mortgage case and a not-so-good job in the HSBC case,” one law professor said. Still, “she will be pressured by one side to require admissions of guilt and by the other to treat the CEOs and big banks differently than drug dealers.” He added Lynch is “afraid of nobody."
    • "She knows the investigations very deeply, at the level of understanding what was known but not put in indictments yet -- much more than Holder,” said Charles Tiefer, professor at the University of Baltimore Law School. "She will back an effort to go beyond cases against entities, like banks, and seek sanctions against individuals, like bank CEOs."

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  • This Mexican teen was forcibly sent to the US after being mistaken for a Texas woman's abducted daughter

    14-year-old Alondra Luna Nunez was reunited with her family after a bizarre case of mistaken identity.

    Nunez was originally sent to Houston to live with a woman who claimed she was her daughter and had been taken illegally by her father to live in Mexico years earlier. 

    Produced by Jason Gaines. Video courtesy of Associated Press.

    Follow BI Video: On Facebook

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  • These are all of the worst policies currently being pitched in the General Election

    By now, all the political parties in May's general election have released their manifestos, telling voters where they stand on important issues like taxes, immigration, and housing. Of course, not every pledge is foolproof. Here are some of the most nonsensical policies we've seen so far. 

    Conservatives — Right to Buy 2

    UK house saleThe right to buy scheme is the policy of allowing council tenants to purchase their houses at heavily discounted prices. The Conservatives have proposed extending this policy to around 800,000 housing association tenants, with the goal of boosting home ownership. 

    The original right to buy program, introduced in the 1980s, made a lot more sense given the state was sitting on a large amount of council housing stock at time. 

    But the tide has turned. Now, Britain has a housing crisis. The Conservatives claim that they can replace each property sold on a one-for-one basis, but even if they could, it makes little sense to use the projected £4.5 billion raised from selling the most expensive council properties to fund a discount for relatively affluent tenants, rather than just building more houses.

    Moreover, the policy is aimed at extending Right to Buy to Housing Association properties, but that might not even be legal as the houses are held by the associations and not by the state. And Housing Associations are currently sitting on around £60 billion of debt held against the future rent payments on their properties. It's not clear how they will pay that back when that rental income disappears.

    In its summary of the policy the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies says it would "worsen the UK's underlying public finance position" and potentially increase social segregation by "creating clearer divisions between areas where richer and poorer households are located".

    The message to the people of Britain is: we can't afford to build you houses but we can afford to give you some. 

    Labour — Tuition fee cuts

    Students graduation

    The Labour Party has proposed cutting university tuition fees as part of the UK's student loan system from the current cap of £9,000 to £6,000, a promise that's popular among Britain's young. 

    This doesn't make sense for many reasons.

    • Cutting tuition fees doesn't change the cost of the education you provide, only how you fund it. The funding gap opened up by lower fees would have to be plugged through the tax system, and could well end up less progressive than the present arrangement as it imposes costs on people who did not necessarily (directly) benefit from the system.
    • Cuts mostly benefit higher earners who can pay off their smaller debts more quickly than they could otherwise.
    • The lowest-earning graduates, whose income rarely exceeds £21,000 a year, pay back less now than they used to under the previous system of lower fees, mainly because of the higher level of earnings required before repayments are made.
    • The lowest earners would see no benefit whatsoever from the fee cut because their debts are written off anyway by the state.

    Conservatives — Raising the inheritance tax threshold

    private jetThe Conservatives want to help Britain's hard-working middle class pass on their wealth to their families at their own discretion without the state getting in the way by raising the inheritance tax threshold from £325,000 ($491,000) to £1 million. 

    The issue with that is it's really not going to impact all that many people. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) points out, "the vast majority of estates (over 90%) are not liable to IHT at the moment and therefore would not benefit". So there's nothing really "middle class" about this measure, it's about reducing taxes on the wealthiest 50,000 households in the country.

    But an important thing to consider with tax changes is not only who it is notionally targeted at, but who bears the burden of it. In the case of inheritance tax the burden is felt by the family members who stand to inherit. Coincidentally, the top 10% of wealth owners also tend to have children near the top of the income spectrum such that, as the IFS point out, "any IHT cut will also go disproportionately to those towards the top of the income distribution".

    The party intends to pay for this by reducing pension tax relief for those earning over £150,000 a year. That is, the party wants to reward hard working families by taxing the rewards of work to fund a cut to windfall inheritances for the next generation.

    The IFS rather politely notes that the move "would not improve the efficiency of the [pension] system". We should be less so. For a party that's supposed to favour a simpler, fairer tax system that rewards hard work this is pretty bonkers. 

    Labour/Conservatives/UKIP — Immigration caps

    Over the past few weeks we've heard a lot about how important it is to control net migration into Britain. Ed Miliband gave his speech to launch the Labour manifesto in front of a banner emblazoned with "controlling immigration" while David Cameron has repeatedly warned of the dangers of "uncontrolled immigration."

    But there's are a number of problems with both of these platforms.

    Firstly, freedom of movement is guaranteed for people within the European Union so the extent to which net migration can be "controlled" is much more rhetoric than substance.

    Secondly, this passage from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the government's budget watchdog, isn't getting nearly as much airtime as it should during this election campaign (emphasis added):

    Net migration in the year to September 2014 rose to 298,000, up from 210,000 in the year to September 2013. Our previous forecasts have been underpinned by the assumption in the ONS low migration population projections that net migration will move towards 105,000 a year by mid-2019. A reduction over time seems consistent with the international environment and with the Government’s declared efforts to reduce it. But in light of recent evidence, it no longer seems central to assume it will decline so steeply. So we now assume that net migration flows will tend towards 165,000 in the long term, consistent with the ONS principal population projections. Relative to our December forecast, this raises potential output growth by 0.5 per cent over the forecast period via 16+ population growth.

    So the headline takeaway is that we should expect more immigration over the next few years — and this is great news for the UK's economy. Or, as another way of looking at it, one of the biggest successes of economic policy achieved by the Coalition government has arguably been missing its own immigration targets. 

    Lib Dems/Labour/Conservatives/Greens — Tax avoidance clampdown revenues

    plane money cash If there's one line in party budgets that should get eyebrows immediately rising all across the country it's the number placed next to "clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion." Like any figment of the imagination, this number can grow or shrink to fill any problematic hole in your forecasts and allow you forever to claim that your policy proposals are "fully-costed" when, in fact, you've just plucked a figure out of thin air.

    The Liberal Democrats claim they'll be able to raise around £7.5 billion from a tax avoidance clampdown, followed by Labour promising a cool £7 billion and finally the Conservatives on £5 billion by 2017-2018. Oh, and the Greens' claims have to be seen to be believed (and even then I wouldn't recommend it):

    Green party tax avoidance

    So what's the issue?

    • It's almost impossible to know up-front actually what you can achieve by cracking down on avoidance and evasion and indeed it's almost impossible to know even after the fact how large an effect it had.
    • Whilst you want to stop evasion as far as is possible and counter some of the more aggressive avoidance schemes that we've seen you can do so much of it that you end up hitting real economic activity.
    • Any estimate for how much you can raise has to factor in what's called attrition — whereby you assume that people start finding new avoidance routes as you go after the existing one. The relatively flat revenue assumptions by the parties suggests they're simply ignoring this problem.

    Labour/Conservatives — Price freezes

    Frozen trainThe Labour party has committed to "freezing energy prices until 2017, while reforming the broken energy market," while the Conservatives recently joined them on this particular bandwagon pledging to "freeze" rail fares in the next parliament (read: only allow prices to increase with inflation).

    Economists tend to hate price controls as a point of principle. That's because in competitive markets prices should be flexible enough to shift as the costs of providing particular goods or services change. Holding them constant, the theory goes, risks either preventing them from falling when costs drop (to the benefit of end customers) or holding them below a level required for businesses to continue operating effectively.

    But that competitive market caveat is crucial here. In markets where competition is lacking, for example where one company has a monopoly on the supply of a particular good or service, price controls can arguably be necessary in order to protect customers from exploitation. But they are a poor substitute for price competition between providers.

    Moreover, there are two big reasons to be worried about introducing state subsidies. Firstly, they are very difficult to unwind once there and; secondly, they can actively hinder the formation of competitive markets.

    As the IFS puts it (emphasis added):

    Whilst a freeze may help consumers, it does come with risks. Supply companies would bear the brunt of any upward shocks to costs that may hinder entry and investment. When announced in advance, there is also a risk that supply companies will increase prices prior to the freeze. Furthermore, a freeze on prices is unlikely to encourage consumers to get more engaged in the market, something that [regulators] consider necessary for effective competition.

    ALL PARTIES — The missing details

    simulation of two colliding black holesWithout question, the worst piece of misdirection being undertaken by all of the major political parties in this General Election campaign is the policy of not providing anywhere near enough detail about what they are actually going to do if they get into office after May 7.

    The Conservatives have announced plans to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget over the next parliament but consistently refused to tell us where these were going to come from (or how they would improve on the coalition's poor record of hitting its targets in this area).

    Meanwhile, both Labour and the Lib Dems have said that there will be spending reductions but, when pressed, repeatedly refuse to identify where exactly these will be. And the SNP is gleefully touting its anti-austerity credentials while offering up a spending plan that looks barely distinguishable from Labour's.

    All of this has left what the Resolution Foundation so aptly dubbed a candour deficit. Worse, not knowing where the axe will fall prevents voters from making an informed choice as to which party best reflects their preferences. In other words, it's a democratic deficit enabled by all parties.

    This is the real deficit that needs closing, and the costs for those who rely on state services (in particular local government services that have already been squeezed under the coalition) are potentially huge.

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  • Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis accused of being 'a time-waster, a gambler, and an amateur'

    Yanis Varoufakis Creepy 4*3

    Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was today accused of being a "time-waster, a gambler, and an amateur" by a participant of the Eurogroup meeting on Greece's reform proposals taking place in the Latvian capital, Riga.

    The comments, reported by Bloomberg, show just how wide the divide between European finance ministers remains as negotiations over providing then next tranche of bailout funds to the cash-strapped Greek government continue.

    Underlining these concerns, Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said at a press conference on Friday that there were "positive signs, but still wide differences to bridge on substance."

    He added: "We are all aware that time is running out...[and] too much time has been lost."

    In a blog post released earlier today, Varoufakis made clear that there was still a lot of ground between the two sides — although progress had been made. He notes that "our partners already agree on much" but goes on to rule out further wage cuts and cuts in pensions stating that they are not on the agenda for the Greek government.

    More controversially, he calls for the institutions-formerly-known-as-the-Troika to "let go of an approach that has failed." He argues that insisting that the reforms agreed under Greece's 2012 bailout programme be carried out would "merely cause further damage to Greece’s already-stressed social fabric" and fail to put the country back on the road to recovery.

    This latest backbiting incident is likely to do little to sooth nerves among those who fear that the gap between the two sides remains too large to bridge before the government in Athens runs out of money to meet its bills. The fact that almost all the representatives speaking at the press conference stressed that "time is running out" suggests that patience may also be wearing thin.

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  • 5 things you need to know about the General Election 2015

    Ed Miliband wave

    Good morning! Here are 5 of the most important things you need to know about the General Election 2015 today.

    1. Labour leader Ed Miliband is set to say today that the deaths of 800 migrants whose boat sank off the coast of Libya on Sunday "could have been anticipated [and] should have been avoided." The Conservatives are furious calling the comments "shameful and provocative."

    2. If you haven't read Ian Jack's profile of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon yet, you're missing out. "A tenacious belief in a cause – as well as in her ability to serve it – is the key aspect of Sturgeon’s career; in no other leading British politician’s story ... is it so absolutely manifest."

    3. The Conservatives will release an English Manifesto today which will lay out plans for an England-only income tax. The plans come in response to the cross-party vow to devolve further powers over tax and spending to the Scottish parliament during last year's independence referendum campaign.

    4. The latest ComRes poll gives the Tories a 4 point lead over Labour. The poll for ITV and the Daily Mail has the Conservatives on 36% (up 2) and Labour on 32% (down 1), with the Liberal Democrats trailing on 8%.

    5. Business leaders are concerned over Tory election tactics. "Why not play the positive economic note? There is a good story to tell."

    And finally...

    Buzzfeed's Jamie Ross may not (yet) have discovered who the original Solero girl pictured with then SNP leader Alex Salmond was, but he's at least managed to recreate the moment on the election trail in Scotland.

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