Connect with us

Spread & Containment

September Monthly

The US dollar was driven to new highs for the year in recent weeks by a combination of another signal that the Federal Reserve was still on track to taper before the end of the year and concerns about global aggregate demand.  The spread of the contagion.



The US dollar was driven to new highs for the year in recent weeks by a combination of another signal that the Federal Reserve was still on track to taper before the end of the year and concerns about global aggregate demand.  The spread of the contagion has exacerbated the slowdown already seen in parts of Asia.  China's efforts to curb steel output and recognition that the US infrastructure initiative may be smaller than expected were separate sources of pressure on industrial commodities. In addition, the partial closure of Chinese ports, and factory shutdowns in Vietnam and elsewhere, are disrupting supply chains.  China's August Composite PMI fell below the 50 boom/bust level for the first time since February 2020.  

Re-stocking could help moderate the slowdown projected as the fiscal and monetary stimulus in the high-income countries move past their peaks, pent-up demand is satiated, savings drawn down, and excesses from several quarters of rapid growth are unwound.  While the US debt ceiling issue has not been resolved, some income support programs, including emergency federal unemployment compensation, end early September.  Also, the UK's furlough program that absorbed part of the wage bill expires at the end of September.

The shortage of semiconductor chips continues to hobble the auto sector. Even some companies that had fared well in the early days are adversely impacted by the extended shortage. Volatile weather of floods, droughts, heat, fires, hurricanes, and tornados are additional exogenous shocks.  In some areas, like Louisianna and Mississippi, hospital capacity to deal with disasters has been absorbed by the high cases of covid viruses.  The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued in early August warns climate change is proceeding faster than scientists previously projected.  The Federal Reserve joined the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for the Greening of the Financial System at the end of last year.  More than 75 other central banks are members as well.  

China's economy has slowed, and the PBOC responded in July with a cut in reserve requirements.  However, it has not cut interest rates, and the market does not expect it to.  Rather, another cut in reserve requirements is seen to be more likely in Q4. In addition, China's strong stance on issues that resonate among the high-income countries, from data collection and the power of some internet companies to the re-invigorated anti-trust, may be deterring domestic and international investors.  However, it will take some time to determine whether it is tactical or what appears as capricious actions discourage asset managers and slow China's integration into the global capital markets.  Early indications point to the former rather than the latter. 

In March, the ECB ratcheted its bond-buying efforts under the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program and will review the decision at the September 9 meeting.  More important than the amount purchased is its signals for its future course.  Most likely, it can kick the decision to the December meeting.  The PEPP is to run until the end of Q1 22.  Without increasing the "envelop," it could extend the program.  Stretching it out might offer a workable compromise with the more hawkish members while buying time to see the evolution of the virus, fiscal policy, and the economy.  That said, news that the preliminary August CPI jumped to 3.0% may offer the hawks powerful ammunition.  German inflation (3.4% year-over-year in August) is higher than the eurozone aggregate.  Countries with less price pressures (e.g., Italy 2.6%) gain competitively over Germany.  

The minutes from the July FOMC meeting confirmed that it can begin reducing its bond-buying by the end of the year, barring a new significant downside shock. Inflation is well above 2%, and nonfarm payroll growth has averaged 830k in the three months through July.   Another 750k are expected to have been hired in August.  At the conclusion of the FOMC meeting on September 22, the Summary of Economic Projections (dot plot) will be adjusted.  In the June reiteration, only seven of the 18 Fed officials thought a hike in 2022 would be appropriate, and two thought two hikes might be.  Judging from the Fed funds futures strip, the market has nearly priced in a hike at the September 2022 FOMC meeting but only has a small chance of more than one move next year.  

Powell used his Jackson Hole speech to remind investors and businesses that there are different criteria for hiking than tapering.   Officials want to avoid the market getting too far ahead and prematurely tightening financial conditions.  On the other hand, around the same time as the Federal Reserve slows its bond purchases, the US Treasury will likely begin reducing its issuance, as the expenditures slow and revenues recover with the strengthening economy.   Still, investors are aware that the previous attempts to reduce the Fed's balance sheet (2011, 2015, 2018) have coincided with a correction in stocks.  

Several emerging market central banks will continue their monetary tightening cycle in the month ahead, including Russia, Brazil, and the Czech Republic.  After hiking in July and August, the central bank of Mexico may pause. There are only a few central banks for which the next move is likely easier policy.  It is clear that Turkey's Erodgan wants to see lower rates, but the central bank is holding off as inflation remains high.  The August CPI report is due September 3.  It needs to rise by less than it has any month this year if the year-over-year rate is to ease from July's 18.95%. 

Politics will also be among the September highlights.  Two G7 countries, Germany and Canada, go to the polls. At the same time, in a third, Japan, the largest political party, the Liberal Democrats, will hold a leadership contest that could replace Prime Minister Suga.  Merkel has led Germany since 2005.  There will be a new Chancellor (September 26).  Laschet, the CDU party leader, has run an uninspiring campaign, and his apparent claim to fame is that of continuity.  Yet, judging from the CDU's poor showing in the polls, voters want a change.  Indeed, it is becoming more likely that an SPD-led coalition (with Greens and FDP) could form the next government.  A change in power in Berlin could help shape the coming debates in Brussels about making permanent some measures adopted during the emergency.  

Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau is opportunistic in calling for a snap election now (September 20).  He has been leading a minority government for two years.  The success of the inoculation efforts, after a slow start, and an economy emerging from the earlier soft patch provides for a conducive backdrop.  However, the Liberals have a difficult time in the western provinces, and it is not clear if they can regain their majority after losing it in 2019. Moreover, Trudeau's campaign initiatives seem to be tacking to the left, perhaps on ideas that it may be easier to pick up NDP or Green voters than Conservatives.  

Norway heads to the polls on September 13.  Erna Solberg, who has led the Conservative Party since 2004 and has been Prime Minister since 2013, will likely be denied a third term. Instead, voters look to allow the Labour Party to forge a coalition.  Although Solberg was given high marks on handling the pandemic (Norway has one of the lowest mortality rates related to Covid-19 in Europe), she has fallen afoul of a backlash against economic disparities and unpopular public sector reforms.    Labour is running on a platform calling for tax relief for the low and middle class, an end to the privatization of public services, and more funds for public health. In addition, it calls for an income tax hike on the top 20% of incomes.  Ten days after the election, regardless of its outcome, the central bank has indicated it will most likely lift the deposit rate, which has been at zero since May 2020.  It was at 1.50% at the end of 2019.  

Bannockburn's World Currency Index, a GDP-weighted measure of the top 12 economies, fell to four-month lows last month, as the dollar outperformed.  In fact, there were only two currencies in the basket that appreciated against the dollar: the Indian rupee, which rose by nearly 2% and the Brazilian real rose by 1.1%. Sterling, the Canadian dollar, fell a little more than 1%. August's slippage left the BWCI with a 0.7% loss for the year. 

Of note, we adjusted the weightings of the index once a year based on the World Bank's estimate of the previous year's GDP. The following charts show the new composition and the change from the previous iteration.  As one would expect, changes are small.  The US economy proved more resilient than most in 2020, and the dollar's share of the index edged a little higher.  So do China's share and the weight of the yuan.  The yen's share increased slightly as well.  The euro and the UK underperformed, and the weight of their currencies was shaved.  It does seem as if the pandemic is slowing India's move past the UK to be the fourth largest in our GDP-weighted index.  

Dollar:  On a real broad trade-weighted basis, the dollar rose for the third consecutive month in August but is about 1% lower than a year ago.  The US two-year premium over Germany gradually rose from testing the year's low near 80 bp in the second half of May to almost 100 bp in the first half of August, illustrating the conviction that the Fed will be well ahead of the ECB in lifting rates.  Although only a minority (7 of 18) Fed officials in June thought a hike next year would be appropriate, the market has one fully discounted.  At the conclusion of the FOMC meeting on September 22, new economic projections will be made, and the market is anticipating more color about the tapering. Many observers have focused on the Fed's purchases but may have missed that starting with the next quarterly refunding, the Treasury's issuance is expected to begin declining.   Moreover, indirect bidders, often foreign central banks and multilateral lenders, have been particularly strong at recent note auctions.  Meanwhile, federal income support programs, including emergency unemployment compensation, coverage for gig workers, will end shortly, and the moratorium on evictions has been terminated by the courts.  Most recently, increased covid infections are weighing the economy, with restaurant bookings, air travel, consumption, and confidence measures all weakening. The data surprise models have gone negative. 

Euro:  The euro was turned back from the $1.19 area at the start of  August and was sold to new lows for the year near $1.1665 before recovering at the end of the month to almost $1.1850.  The conviction that the ECB will lag behind the Federal Reserve in the monetary cycle weighs on sentiment.  Still, the ECB has to make decisions shortly or see its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program end before the Federal Reserve's tapering is completed.  It also buys bonds under a separate program, which is not nearly as flexible as the PEPP.  So far in Q3, the euro has been mostly confined to a $1.17 to $1.19 trading range, and it may persist. The large speculative long position in the futures market has been unwound and in late August was the smallest since March 2020. The tragedies in Afghanistan and Syria may pose a new refugee challenge for Europe while the political climate is in flux.  By the end of September, Germany will have a new Chancellor for the first time since 2005. 

(August 31 indicative closing prices, previous in parentheses)


Spot: $1.1810 ($1.1870)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.1810 ($1.1885) 

One-month forward  $1.1820 ($1.1880)    One-month implied vol  5.4%  (5.3%)    



Japanese Yen:  The dollar-yen exchange range often seems to be range-bound, which has clearly been the case for the three months through August.  With a couple of exceptions, the greenback has been between JPY109 and JPY111.  It ended the month in the middle of the range.  A spike lower would likely be associated with a risk-off event.  A break higher would likely coincide with a rise in US yields.  The expanded and extended formal emergency, which is voluntary, covering more than 70% of the population through nearly the middle of September, pushes the recovery into Q4.  The Bank of Japan could downgrade its economic assessment when it meets on September 22. While the Liberal Democratic Party may find an alternative leader to Prime Minister Suga, but an alternative to the broad thrust of policy is a different story. Meanwhile, the way that Beijing has clamped down on Hong Kong and its harassment of Taiwan have pushed Japan's political elite to boost its commitment to defend Taipai.  Some retaliatory action by Beijing should not be surprising.  


Spot: JPY110.00 (JPY109.85)      

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast JPY110.00 (JPY109.85)     

One-month forward JPY109.95 (JPY109.80)    One-month implied vol  5.2% (5.4%)  



British Pound:  Sterling was turned back after approaching $1.40 at the end of July and trended lower to reach almost $1.36 on August 20.  It held above the July spike low near $1.3570 and recovered to test the middle of the range, where the 200-day moving average is also found at the end of August.  The UK economy returned to growth in Q2 after contracting in Q1. Still, despite the high vaccination rate and supply chain disruptions that have hit the auto sector hard, the Delta variant is stifling growth. The PMI slowed in July and August.  There are three potentially important dates for sterling in September.  On the 17th, August retail sales will be reported.  It will frame the shocking 2.5% drop in July retail sales (+0.2% expected).  On September 23, the Bank of England meets. There was one dissent in August to slow the Gilt purchases. It may have been difficult to share a sense of urgency when the year-over-year measure of CPI that includes owner-occupied costs moderated to 2.1% from 2.4% in July.  At the end of the month, the furlough program that subsidizes wages will be terminated.  Initially, the government covered 80% of wages (up to GBP2.5k a month).  The government's share has subsequently fallen to 60%, with employers required to pay 20% (up from 10%).  It had been extended four times.  A little less than 2 mln people participated in the program at the end of July (down from a peak of 5.3 mln in January) or about 6% of the workforce.  

Spot: $1.3755 ($1.3905)   

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.3790 ($1.3930) 

One-month forward $1.3760 ($1.3910)   One-month implied vol 6.2% (6.6%)



Canadian Dollar:  The Canadian dollar was the weakest of the major currencies in August, falling by about 1.2%.  It was the third consecutive monthly decline, but, year-to-date, it remains the strongest currency in the G10.  Indeed, the Canadian dollar and sterling are the only major currencies to have posted gains, albeit minor, against the dollar through the first eight months (~0.75% and 0.55%, respectively).  The Canadian dollar has been moving more in line with oil prices.  The correlation of the change in the Canadian dollar and the change in the price of WTI has increased to over 0.85, the highest since March 2020, which itself was the extreme since 2012. The OECD's purchasing power parity model put the fair value at CAD1.21 (~$0.8265).  The market continues to price in a hike in the middle of the next year, three-six months ahead of the Federal Reserve. The Bank of Canada meets on September 8 and is likely to confirm its projection that the output gap will close around mid-2022. Activity softened in the spring, and Q2 GDP unexpectedly contracted. Nevertheless, the economy appears to have ended the first half with strong momentum that is carrying into Q3.  Fiscal policy may be somewhat more accommodative than if the election had not been called, even if Trudeau's Liberals do not secure a parliamentary majority.  


Spot: CAD1.2610 (CAD 1.2475) 

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CAD1.2560 (CAD1.2435)

One-month forward CAD1.2615 (CAD1.2480)    One-month implied vol  7.3%  (6.8%) 



Australian Dollar:  The lockdowns to combat the virus are taking an economic toll. Although the central bank wants to push ahead with its tapering efforts, the market continued to sell the Australian dollar. August was the third consecutive monthly decline for the Aussie.  The pace of decline has slowed from 3% in June and 2% in July to about 0.45% in August 2.5% rally in the last full week of the month.  It is off almost 5% for the year, the worst-performing major currency after the Japanese yen (-6.2%).  Australia's two-year note discount to the US approach 22 bp in late August (-25 bp), the most since March 2020.  The carry works against the Australian dollar.  The shuttering of a couple important Chinese ports and the nearly 33% drop in iron ore prices since mid-July may impact Australia's external balance.  The next important technical support area is $0.7000-$0.7050.  With a nationwide lockdown, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand held off hiking rates in August but signaled that it still intended to normalize policy.  It meets next on October 5.  The monetary policy divergence between Australia and New Zealand has been another source of pressure on the Australian dollar, which fell to new lows since the pandemic first struck.   


Spot:  $0.7315 ($0.7345)       

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast $0.7360 ($0.7425)     

One-month forward  $0.7320 ($0.7350)     One-month implied vol 8.5  (8.9%)   



Mexican Peso:  After appreciating for five consecutive months through July, the peso fell in August, and its 1% depreciation made it among the worst-performing currencies in emerging markets. The emerging market currencies that performed worse than the Mexican peso were also from Latam (Chilean peso -1.75% and the Argentine peso -1.10%).   The JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index rose by almost 0.5% to post the first monthly gain since May.  The dollar had been hovering around MXN20.00 but shot up for two days following the FOMC minutes that indicated a majority of Fed officials are inclined to begin tapering this year.  The dollar reached MXN20.4565 for the first time in two months but finished the month on a soft note near MXN20.07, below the 200-day moving average (~MXN20.1160). One reason why Mexico has fared as well as it has, is that worker remittances have surged. They reached a record of $23.4 bln in the first half of the year, ensuring a current account surplus. The sustainability is questionable.  The central bank meets at the end of the month.  After hiking rates in July and August by 3-2 decisions, a pause is likely.  The market appears to have too much tightening priced in, especially next year when the new governor takes the helm with more dovish leanings.  


Spot: MXN20.07 (MXN19.87)  

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast  MXN20.06 (MXN19.94)  

One-month forward  MXN20.16 (MXN19.95)     One-month implied vol 9.9% (10.5%)



Chinese Yuan: The yuan continues to be amazingly stable against the US dollar.  The actual (historical as opposed to implied) volatility over the past month is the lowest since April (~2.2%).  The combination of China's regulatory crackdown on several fronts and more evidence that the economy is slowing may scare investors, but the potential for profits proved greater still.  The Shanghai Composite's 4.3% gain in August was among the best of major markets. The NASDAQ Golden Dragon China Index of China-based companies whose common share trade in the US extended July's 22% decline, falling another 15% in the first three weeks of August. Bargain hunters stepped in, and the index soared over 9% in the last full week of the month and another 3.5% in the last two sessions of August.  Still, neither portfolio capital flows nor trade appears to drive the exchange rate in a meaningful time horizon of investors and most businesses.  The market appears to take even subtle cues from officials and "color inside the line" where it is safe.  The stability of the yuan against the dollar is desired, but given the broader strength of the greenback, the yuan reached five-year highs against the trade-weighted basket the PBOC uses to monitor the exchange rate.  Port closures due to the virus protocols and poor weather have slowed economic activity further in August.  There is speculation that rather the reduce interest rates, the PBOC would more likely reduce reserve requirements again.  


Spot: CNY6.4605 (CNY6.4615)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CNY6.4615 (CNY6.4555) 

One-month forward CNY6.4750 (CNY6.4780)    One-month implied vol  3.5% (4.0%)




Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Supreme Court To Hear Arguments In Biden Admin’s Censorship Of Social Media Posts

Supreme Court To Hear Arguments In Biden Admin’s Censorship Of Social Media Posts

Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),




Supreme Court To Hear Arguments In Biden Admin’s Censorship Of Social Media Posts

Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in a case that concerns what two lower courts found to be a “coordinated campaign” by top Biden administration officials to suppress disfavored views on key public issues such as COVID-19 vaccine side effects and pandemic lockdowns.

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 7, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on March 18 in Murthy v. Missouri, which started when the attorneys general of two states, Missouri and Louisiana, filed suit alleging that social media companies such as Facebook were blocking access to their platforms or suppressing posts on controversial subjects.

The initial lawsuit, later modified by an appeals court, accused Biden administration officials of engaging in what amounts to government-led censorship-by-proxy by pressuring social media companies to take down posts or suspend accounts.

Some of the topics that were targeted for downgrade and other censorious actions were voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, the COVID-19 lab leak theory, vaccine side effects, the social harm of pandemic lockdowns, and the Hunter Biden laptop story.

The plaintiffs argued that high-level federal government officials were the ones pulling the strings of social media censorship by coercing, threatening, and pressuring social media companies to suppress Americans’ free speech.

‘Unrelenting Pressure’

In a landmark ruling, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana granted a temporary injunction blocking various Biden administration officials and government agencies such as the Department of Justice and FBI from collaborating with big tech firms to censor posts on social media.

Later, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court’s ruling, saying it was “correct in its assessment—‘unrelenting pressure’ from certain government officials likely ‘had the intended result of suppressing millions of protected free speech postings by American citizens.’”

The judges wrote, “We see no error or abuse of discretion in that finding.”

The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, and on Oct. 20, 2023, the high court agreed to hear the case while also issuing a stay that indefinitely blocked the lower court order restricting the Biden administration’s efforts to censor disfavored social media posts.

Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas would have denied the Biden administration’s application for a stay.

“At this time in the history of our country, what the Court has done, I fear, will be seen by some as giving the Government a green light to use heavy-handed tactics to skew the presentation of views on the medium that increasingly dominates the dissemination of news,” Justice Alito wrote in a dissenting opinion.

“That is most unfortunate.”

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito poses in Washington on April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

The Supreme Court has other social media cases on its docket, including a challenge to Republican-passed laws in Florida and Texas that prohibit large social media companies from removing posts because of the views they express.

Oral arguments were heard on Feb. 26 in the Florida and Texas cases, with debate focusing on the validity of laws that deem social media companies “common carriers,” a status that could allow states to impose utility-style regulations on them and forbid them from discriminating against users based on their political viewpoints.

The tech companies have argued that the laws violate their First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the Florida and Texas cases by June 2024.

‘Far Beyond’ Constitutional

Some of the controversy in Murthy v. Missouri centers on whether the district court’s injunction blocking Biden administration officials and federal agencies from colluding with social media companies to censor posts was overly broad.

In particular, arguments have been raised that the injunction would prevent innocent or borderline government “jawboning,” such as talking to newspapers about the dangers of sharing information that might aid terrorists.

But that argument doesn’t fly, according to Philip Hamburger, CEO of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which represents most of the individual plaintiffs in Murthy v. Missouri.

In a series of recent statements on the subject, Mr. Hamburger explained why he believes that the Biden administration’s censorship was “far beyond anything that could be constitutional” and that concern about “innocent or borderline” cases is unfounded.

For one, he said that the censorship that is highlighted in Murthy v. Missouri relates to the suppression of speech that was not criminal or unlawful in any way.

Mr. Hamburger also argued that “the government went after lawful speech not in an isolated instance, but repeatedly and systematically as a matter of policy,” which led to the suppression of entire narratives rather than specific instances of expression.

“The government set itself up as the nation’s arbiter of truth—as if it were competent to judge what is misinformation and what is true information,” he wrote.

In retrospect, it turns out to have suppressed much that was true and promoted much that was false.

The suppression of reports on the Hunter Biden laptop just before the 2020 presidential election on the premise that it was Russian disinformation, for instance, was later shown to be unfounded.

Some polls show that if voters had been aware of the report, they would have voted differently.

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/18/2024 - 09:45

Read More

Continue Reading


AI vs. elections: 4 essential reads about the threat of high-tech deception in politics

Using disinformation to sway elections is nothing new. Powerful new AI tools, however, threaten to give the deceptions unprecedented reach.



Like it or not, AI is already playing a role in the 2024 presidential election. kirstypargeter/iStock via Getty Images

It’s official. Joe Biden and Donald Trump have secured the necessary delegates to be their parties’ nominees for president in the 2024 election. Barring unforeseen events, the two will be formally nominated at the party conventions this summer and face off at the ballot box on Nov. 5.

It’s a safe bet that, as in recent elections, this one will play out largely online and feature a potent blend of news and disinformation delivered over social media. New this year are powerful generative artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT and Sora that make it easier to “flood the zone” with propaganda and disinformation and produce convincing deepfakes: words coming from the mouths of politicians that they did not actually say and events replaying before our eyes that did not actually happen.

The result is an increased likelihood of voters being deceived and, perhaps as worrisome, a growing sense that you can’t trust anything you see online. Trump is already taking advantage of the so-called liar’s dividend, the opportunity to discount your actual words and deeds as deepfakes. Trump implied on his Truth Social platform on March 12, 2024, that real videos of him shown by Democratic House members were produced or altered using artificial intelligence.

The Conversation has been covering the latest developments in artificial intelligence that have the potential to undermine democracy. The following is a roundup of some of those articles from our archive.

1. Fake events

The ability to use AI to make convincing fakes is particularly troublesome for producing false evidence of events that never happened. Rochester Institute of Technology computer security researcher Christopher Schwartz has dubbed these situation deepfakes.

“The basic idea and technology of a situation deepfake are the same as with any other deepfake, but with a bolder ambition: to manipulate a real event or invent one from thin air,” he wrote.

Situation deepfakes could be used to boost or undermine a candidate or suppress voter turnout. If you encounter reports on social media of events that are surprising or extraordinary, try to learn more about them from reliable sources, such as fact-checked news reports, peer-reviewed academic articles or interviews with credentialed experts, Schwartz said. Also, recognize that deepfakes can take advantage of what you are inclined to believe.

Read more: Events that never happened could influence the 2024 presidential election – a cybersecurity researcher explains situation deepfakes

How AI puts disinformation on steroids.

2. Russia, China and Iran take aim

From the question of what AI-generated disinformation can do follows the question of who has been wielding it. Today’s AI tools put the capacity to produce disinformation in reach for most people, but of particular concern are nations that are adversaries of the United States and other democracies. In particular, Russia, China and Iran have extensive experience with disinformation campaigns and technology.

“There’s a lot more to running a disinformation campaign than generating content,” wrote security expert and Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Bruce Schneier. “The hard part is distribution. A propagandist needs a series of fake accounts on which to post, and others to boost it into the mainstream where it can go viral.”

Russia and China have a history of testing disinformation campaigns on smaller countries, according to Schneier. “Countering new disinformation campaigns requires being able to recognize them, and recognizing them requires looking for and cataloging them now,” he wrote.

Read more: AI disinformation is a threat to elections − learning to spot Russian, Chinese and Iranian meddling in other countries can help the US prepare for 2024

3. Healthy skepticism

But it doesn’t require the resources of shadowy intelligence services in powerful nations to make headlines, as the New Hampshire fake Biden robocall produced and disseminated by two individuals and aimed at dissuading some voters illustrates. That episode prompted the Federal Communications Commission to ban robocalls that use voices generated by artificial intelligence.

AI-powered disinformation campaigns are difficult to counter because they can be delivered over different channels, including robocalls, social media, email, text message and websites, which complicates the digital forensics of tracking down the sources of the disinformation, wrote Joan Donovan, a media and disinformation scholar at Boston University.

“In many ways, AI-enhanced disinformation such as the New Hampshire robocall poses the same problems as every other form of disinformation,” Donovan wrote. “People who use AI to disrupt elections are likely to do what they can to hide their tracks, which is why it’s necessary for the public to remain skeptical about claims that do not come from verified sources, such as local TV news or social media accounts of reputable news organizations.”

Read more: FCC bans robocalls using deepfake voice clones − but AI-generated disinformation still looms over elections

How to spot AI-generated images.

4. A new kind of political machine

AI-powered disinformation campaigns are also difficult to counter because they can include bots – automated social media accounts that pose as real people – and can include online interactions tailored to individuals, potentially over the course of an election and potentially with millions of people.

Harvard political scientist Archon Fung and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig described these capabilities and laid out a hypothetical scenario of national political campaigns wielding these powerful tools.

Attempts to block these machines could run afoul of the free speech protections of the First Amendment, according to Fung and Lessig. “One constitutionally safer, if smaller, step, already adopted in part by European internet regulators and in California, is to prohibit bots from passing themselves off as people,” they wrote. “For example, regulation might require that campaign messages come with disclaimers when the content they contain is generated by machines rather than humans.”

Read more: How AI could take over elections – and undermine democracy

This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

This article is part of Disinformation 2024: a series examining the science, technology and politics of deception in elections.

You may also be interested in:

Disinformation is rampant on social media – a social psychologist explains the tactics used against you

Misinformation, disinformation and hoaxes: What’s the difference?

Disinformation campaigns are murky blends of truth, lies and sincere beliefs – lessons from the pandemic

Read More

Continue Reading


Artificial mucus identifies link to tumor formation

NEW ORLEANS, March 18, 2024 – During cold and flu season, excess mucus is a common, unpleasant symptom of illness, but the slippery substance is essential…



NEW ORLEANS, March 18, 2024 – During cold and flu season, excess mucus is a common, unpleasant symptom of illness, but the slippery substance is essential to human health. To better understand its many roles, researchers synthesized the major component of mucus, the sugar-coated proteins called mucins, and discovered that changing the mucins of healthy cells to resemble those of cancer cells made healthy cells act more cancer-like.

Credit: American Chemical Society

NEW ORLEANS, March 18, 2024 – During cold and flu season, excess mucus is a common, unpleasant symptom of illness, but the slippery substance is essential to human health. To better understand its many roles, researchers synthesized the major component of mucus, the sugar-coated proteins called mucins, and discovered that changing the mucins of healthy cells to resemble those of cancer cells made healthy cells act more cancer-like.

The researcher will present her results today at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Spring 2024 is a hybrid meeting being held virtually and in person March 17-21; it features nearly 12,000 presentations on a range of science topics.

“For hundreds of years, mucus was considered a waste material or just a simple barrier,” says Jessica Kramer, a professor of biomedical engineering who led the study. And indeed, it does serve as a barrier, regulating the transport of small molecules and particulates to underlying epithelial cells that line the respiratory and digestive tracts. But it also does much more. Studies show that mucus and mucins are biologically active, playing roles in immunity, cell behavior and defense against pathogens and cancer. Kramer’s team at the University of Utah, for example, recently found that specific sugars attached to mucins inhibited coronavirus infection in cell culture.

“Part of the challenge of studying mucus and mucins in general is that they have quite a variety of protein structures,” Kramer explains. Although humans share more than 20 mucin genes, those genes are expressed differently in different tissues and are spliced to generate a range of proteins. In addition, cells modify those proteins in myriad ways with different sugars to meet the body’s needs.

Complicating the picture, genetic factors alone don’t determine mucin composition. Dietary and environmental factors can also influence which sugars become attached to these proteins. Thus, mucus composition can vary significantly from person to person, from day to day, and from tissue to tissue, all of which makes it difficult to identify the biological effects of any given mucin.

To study mucin properties, researchers can collect mucus from animals in slaughterhouses, Kramer says. “But ultimately, it’s quite labor intensive and difficult to purify. And in the process of doing the harvesting, usually the sticky, slimy properties are disrupted.”

As an alternative, mucins can be purchased off-the-shelf, Kramer explains. But because batch-to-batch variability can lead to problems with experimental reproducibility, methods are needed to reliably produce synthetic mucins at scale and at a reasonable price.

In the absence of a simple genetic method to produce individual mucins, Kramer’s lab combined synthetic chemistry and bacterial enzymes to generate the core polypeptides and then selectively add sugars to create unique synthetic mucins. This allows the researchers to test the physical, chemical and biological properties of individual types of mucin molecules and identify the impact of changing individual sugars or protein sequences.

Kramer, along with the lab of collaborator Jody Rosenblatt at King’s College London, is applying her team’s mucins to questions of cancer biology. In particular, the scientists are exploring the influence of mucins on the earliest stages of tumor formation. Previous studies in other labs have shown that mucins embedded in the surface of cancer cells promote metastasis, the spread of cancer to other tissues in the body. These mucins can also help the cancer cells evade immune system defenses by blocking immune cell activation.

“We are building synthetic mucins to understand how the chemical aspects of these proteins affect the behavior of cancer cells,” Kramer explains. “It hasn’t been possible to study these things before because we can’t control the molecular properties of mucins using traditional genetic and biochemical methods.”

Normally, as non-cancerous epithelial cells grow, they crowd together, with some getting eliminated from the epithelial layer to maintain a consistent and stable tissue structure. When Kramer’s team engineered the cells to have a bulky mucin-rich surface similar to that of cancer cells, the cells stopped extruding normally and piled up, forming what looked like the start of tumors.

Kramer is quick to note, however, that her team has not determined whether the genetics of the cells have changed, so they cannot yet state definitively whether the healthy cells were transformed into cancer cells. Those studies are ongoing.

The insights will be pivotal for the development of possible cancer treatments targeting mucins, as they will help highlight which parts of the mucin molecules are most important to tumor formation.

Scientists have been trying to make mucin-targeting therapeutics for decades, but that hasn’t worked well, in part because the sugar groups on the molecules weren’t fully taken into account, Kramer says. “For a vaccine, we can’t only consider the protein sequence because that’s not what the molecule looks like to the immune system. Instead, when an immune cell bumps into the surface of a cancer cell it’s going to see the sugars first, not the protein backbone.” So she believes an effective vaccine will need to target those mucin sugars.

Beyond cancer, the ability to reliably modify the protein sequence and sugars and produce scalable quantities of synthetic mucins offers opportunities to develop these molecules as anti-infectives, probiotics and therapies to support reproductive and women’s health, Kramer says.

The research was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Science, National Science Foundation and Marion Milligan Mason Fund.

Visit the ACS Spring 2024 program to learn more about this presentation, “Synthetic mucins: From new chemical routes to engineered cells,” and more scientific presentations. 


The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact

Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Follow us: X, formerly Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Instagram

Synthetic mucins: From new chemical routes to engineered cells

Mucin glycoproteins are the major component of mucus and the epithelial glycocalyx. Mucins are essential for life, serving roles as a physical barrier, a lubricant, and a biochemical moderator of infection, immunity, and cancer. There are more than 20 known mucin genes with variable expression patterns, splicing, and post-translational glycosylation patterns. Such diversity has challenged study of structure-function relationships. We are developing scalable methods, based on polymerization of amino acid N-carboxyanhydrides, to synthesize glycan-bearing polypeptides that capture the chemical and physical properties of native mucins. We are utilizing these synthetic mucins to form fully synthetic mucus hydrogels and to engineer the glycocalyx of live cells to shed light on the role of glycans in health and disease. This talk will focus on advances in chemical synthesis along with application of synthetic mucins in study of tumorigenesis.

Read More

Continue Reading