Audit Notes: GOOD sellout, flash crashes, Reuters eyes banks’ accounting moves (UPDATED)

The liberal magazine-turned-social network pairs up with the military to perfect a killing machine

GOOD, the earnestly liberal magazine that fired most of its editorial staff and turned itself into a “social network for social good,” is now partnering with the US military to create better killing technology, a turn of events that’s up there in the annals of Greatest Sellouts of All Time.

BuzzFeed’s John Herrman flags a jaw-dropping press release touting its alliance with the military to entice high school kids to help design better drones. Not just any drones, mind you. Autonomous drones.


GOOD, an organization most commonly associated with its short-lived, ultra-conscious, proudly left-wing magazine, laid off most of its editorial staff a little over a year ago. It expressed plans to become “a platform for 21st century citizenship,” based around aggregation.

GOOD was founded as “a free press for the critical idealist” — a publication for “people who give a damn.” But now? It’s partnering with the Air Force to help design a better drone.


(UPDATE: GOOD complained about BuzzFeed’s claim, echoed in our post, that it had partnered with the Air Force to build better “killing machines.” In fact, the technology being developed in this partnership is specifically geared toward designing a better search-and-rescue drone, and I should have made that clear. But what happens to that technology once the Air Force has it is anyone’s guess, and that is the problem BuzzFeed and I were spotlighting.)

— In other Skynet news (h/t Theo Francis), Quartz’s Tim Fernholz reports that a study on high-frequency trading shows far more HFT-caused price spikes or falls than we’ve previously known about. They went undetected because they were so fast they couldn’t be sensed by humans. Here’s the paper:

Society’s techno-social systems are becoming ever faster and more computer-orientated. However, far from simply generating faster versions of existing behaviour, we show that this speed-up can generate a new behavioural regime as humans lose the ability to intervene in real time. Analyzing millisecond-scale data for the world’s largest and most powerful techno-social system, the global financial market, we uncover an abrupt transition to a new all-machine phase characterized by large numbers of subsecond extreme events. The proliferation of these subsecond events shows an intriguing correlation with the onset of the system-wide financial collapse in 2008.

And here’s Quartz:

What if someone told you the stock market crashed and spiked 18,000 times since 2006, and you had no idea?

That’s the contention of a group of scientists who study complex systems after analyzing market data, collected by Nanex, since the advent of high-speed trading. While the fallout of computerized algorithms has been seen before, including the infamous 2010 “flash crash,” when markets lost nearly 10% of value in just a few minutes, that same kind of sudden volatility is going on all the time, unseen.

“Crashes” and “spikes” are relative terms. The researchers counted movements of 0.8 percent in less than 1.5 seconds if they met certain criteria.

— Reuters is good to keep an eye on how banks are changing their accounting to turn billions of dollars worth of loss reserves into profits and to boost capital ratios, moves that could weaken them down the line:

Lenders ranging from large banks like U.S. Bancorp to smaller banks like Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc have been changing the way they account for investment securities, adopting a treatment that essentially forces them to hold onto bonds through thick and thin, instead of being able to sell them when markets tank. The accounting switch gives them near-term relief that helps them meet new international capital and liquidity rules.

But analysts fear that as bond markets keep weakening, banks will be stuck with more turkeys in their portfolios, giving them less cash to invest or lend at higher rates.

The willingness of lenders to surrender future profits shows the pressures they face in an era of restrictive regulations, soft loan demand and historically low rates that are now poised to rise. The exposure of banks to rising interest rates threatens to undo much of the progress that lenders had made in building capital since the financial crisis, said David Hendler, an analyst at New York research firm CreditSights.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,