Margaret Bourke-White Breadline, Kentucky 1937
The CIA will not like this. The press just can’t mention Putin enough. But a good decision.
The Trump administration has decided to halt the CIA’s covert program to equip and train certain rebel groups fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, two U.S. officials said, a move sought by Assad ally Russia. The U.S. decision, said one of the officials, is part of an effort by the administration to improve relations with Russia, which along with Iranian-supported groups has largely succeeded in preserving Assad’s government in the six-year-civil war. The CIA program began in 2013 as part of efforts by the administration of then-President Barack Obama to overthrow Assad, but produced little success, said the officials, both of whom are familiar with the program and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The decision was made with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo after they consulted with lower ranking officials and before Trump’s July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany. It was not part of U.S.-Russian negotiations on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria, the two officials said. One of the officials said the United States was not making a major concession, given Assad’s grip on power, although not on all of Syria, “but it’s a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.” A downside of the CIA program, one of the officials said, is that some armed and trained rebels defected to Islamic State and other radical groups, and some members of the previous administration favored abandoning the program.
Before assuming office in January, Trump suggested he could end support for Free Syrian Army groups and give priority to the fight against Islamic State. A separate effort by the U.S. military effort to train, arm and support other Syrian rebel groups with air strikes and other actions will continue, the officials said.
The real Macron.
Oh the irony: EU capitals are trying to attract the very institutions that caused some of the worst financial scandals of the last ten years.
In a sign of growing desperation, the City of London Corporation, the enigmatic city within the city that serves as the ultimate bastion of privilege in the UK, is now trying to appeal to brute populist sentiment to defend its position as the world’s most important financial center. In a memo to the British Treasury, MPs, and financial institutions, the City’s Brexit envoy to the EU, Jeremy Browne, bemoaned that the French are pushing for the most damaging Brexit possible, even if France doesn’t directly benefit. The memo was duly leaked to one of the UK’s most anti-EU newspapers, The Daily Mail: “Browne’s recent meeting at the Banque de France was the worst he had had “anywhere in the EU”. The French, he said, “are crystal clear about their objectives: the weakening of Britain and the ongoing degradation of the City of London” and plotting to “actively disrupt and destroy” the UK’s financial sector when Britain leaves the EU.
France isn’t the only country aggressively trying to poach business from the City of London; so too are Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and even Italy. But France differs from the rest in one key aspect, says Browne: it “sees Britain and the City of London as adversaries, not partners.” The recent election as president of Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque, has merely intensified this dynamic. Paris has promised to unfurl the red carpet for the City of London’s highest paid bankers by offering low tax rates and bank-friendly legislation, including scrapping a proposed financial transaction tax, while also seeking to grow as a clearing center. Clearing is a huge business for the City of London. The U.K. is estimated to handle 75% of all euro-denominated derivatives transactions, equivalent to around €930 billion of trades per day.
It’s also home to roughly 90% of US dollar domestic interest-rate swaps. The world’s largest clearinghouse for interest rate swaps, LCH, is based there and is majority-owned by London Stock Exchange Group Plc. LCH functions as a middle man collecting collateral and standing between derivatives and swaps traders to prevent a default from spiraling out of control. As Bloomberg reports, the role of clearing houses like LCH in global finance has become far more entrenched since the 2008 Financial Crisis and the inexorable expansion of derivatives trading. For years the French government, together with the European Central Bank, has wanted a piece of the action. Ironically, it was the European Court of Justice (ECJ) — the same court whose jurisdiction the UK government is now determined to elude — that, in 2015, stopped that from happening on the grounds that the ECB cannot discriminate against an EU member. But if the UK leaves the EU, and thus the ECJ’s jurisdiction, that ruling will no longer be applicable.
They had the money but not the interest in the idea,” he lamented, “instead spending a year developing a complex bill that was DOA on [Capitol] Hill.”
Thanks to a pair of defections from more GOP senators late yesterday, the Republican plan to repeal and replace or simply repeal the Affordable Care Act is dead — for now. But the health care status quo is far from popular, with 57% of Americans telling Gallup pollsters in March that they “personally worry” a “great deal” about health care costs. Many health care activists are now pushing to adopt what is called a “single payer” health care system, where one public health insurance program would cover everyone. The U.S. currently has one federal program like that: Medicare. Expanding it polls very well. One of the activists pushing for such an expansion is Max Fine, someone who is intimately familiar with the program — because he helped create it.
Fine is the last surviving member of President Kennedy’s Medicare Task Force, and he was also President Johnson’s designated debunker against the health insurance industry. Fine, now 91, wrote to The Intercept recently to explain that Medicare was never intended to cover only the elderly population, and that expanding it to everyone was a goal that its architects long campaigned for. “Three years after the enactment of Medicare, in Dec. 1968, a Committee of 100 leading Americans was formed to campaign for single payer National Heath Insurance. The campaign leaders were UAW pres. Walter Reuther, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Nat. Urban League Pres Whitney Young and Mary Lasker, a leader in the formation and funding of NIH,” he wrote.
”The NY Times and other newspapers gave front page play to the announcement of the campaign for ‘Medicare for All’ but the Committee gained even more attention when, shortly before xmas, pres-elect Nixon, emerging from his doctor’s office in San Diego, denounced us as socialists who were trying to create a problem when none existed.” Fine noted that this movement towards single payer has “risen and fallen over the years,” reaching a high point in the early 70s when former Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s bill covering all Americans with government health insurance had 36 co-sponsors. But the Democratic Party decided to go a different direction, turning instead to private insurance to cover Americans.
Fine said he met with former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force in the early 1990’s, and advised them to incrementally expand Medicare, starting first with children and then lowering the age for the elderly. “They had the money but not the interest in the idea,” he lamented, “instead spending a year developing a complex bill that was DOA on [Capitol] Hill.”
Deutsche already did a review and reported nothing suspicious. Does that make them suspect?
Executives inside Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump’s personal bankers, are expecting that the bank will soon be receiving subpoenas or other requests for information from Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. A person close to the matter who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity said that Mueller’s team and the bank have already established informal contact in connection to the federal investigation. Deutsche’s relationship with Trump and questions about hundreds of millions in loans have dogged the German bank and the White House for months. They have also been the subject of intense scrutiny among some Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have demanded the bank turn over detailed information about the president’s accounts.
The requests for information from Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House financial services committee, have focused on whether any Russian entities may have provided financial guarantees for the loans that were made to the president or his immediate family members. The Guardian reported in February that the bank launched a review of Trump’s account earlier this year in order to gauge whether there were any suspicious connections to Russia and did not discover anything suspicious. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser in the White House; her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also a presidential adviser; and Kushner’s mother, Seryl Stadtmauer, are all clients of Deutsche Bank.
US media outlets have reported that Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign will include a close examination of the president’s finances and businesses. While Deutsche Bank did engage in banking transactions with Russian banks as late as 2005, including some loan activity, a person familiar with the matter said the activity was not related to Trump’s accounts or his family.
What a surprise. The same ones that signed on to the Paris Accord, by any chance?
The much-discussed boom in coal-fired power in south-east Asia is being bankrolled by foreign governments and banks, with the vast majority of projects apparently too risky for the private sector. Environmental analysts at activist group Market Forces examined 22 deals involving 13.1 gigawatts of coal-fired power in Indonesia and found that 91% of the projects had the backing of foreign governments through export credit agencies or development banks. Export credit agencies, which provide subsidised loans to overseas projects to assist export industries in their home countries, were involved in 64% of the deals and provided 45% of the total lending. The majority of the money was coming from Japan and China, with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) involved in five deals and the Export-Import Bank of China (Cexim) involved in seven deals.
All the deals closed between January 2010 and March 2017. The China Development Bank was the biggest development bank lending to the projects, imparting $3bn, with a further $300,000 in development funds coming from Korea’s Korea Development Bank. The lending comes despite the world’s biggest development bank – the World Bank – warning last year that plans to build more coal-fired power plants in Asia would be a “disaster for the planet” and overwhelm the deal forged at Paris to fight climate change. “Right now, several key countries supporting the Paris climate change agreement are actively undermining it by trying to expand the polluting coal-power sector in other countries,” said Julien Vincent, executive director of Market Forces.
The upside down logic of the First American Financial Corporation. They need people to buy and sell, or their business is dead. Your home is a prison if you don’t sell it. But the supply shortage illusion is really gone, guys.
In most markets, the seller, or supplier, makes their decision about adding supply to the market independent of the buyer, or source of demand, and their decision to buy. In the housing market, the seller and the buyer are, in many cases, actually the same economic actor. In order to buy a new home, you have to sell the home you already own. So, in a market with rising prices and strong demand, what’s preventing existing homeowners from putting their homes on the market? The housing market has experienced a long-run decline in mortgage rates from a high of 18% for the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in 1981 to a low of almost 3% in 2012. Today, five years later, mortgage rates remain just a stone’s throw away from that historic low point.
This long-run decline in rates encouraged existing homeowners to both move more often and to refinance more often, in many cases refinancing multiple times between each move. It’s widely expected that mortgage rates will rise further. This is more important than we may even realize because the housing market has not experienced a rising rate environment in almost three decades! No longer is there a financial incentive to refinance for most homeowners, and there’s more to consider when moving. Why move when it will cost more each month to borrow the same amount from the bank? A homeowner can re-extend the mortgage term another 30 years to increase the amount one can borrow at the higher rate, but the mortgage has to be paid off at some point.
Hopefully before or soon after retirement. Existing homeowners are increasingly financially imprisoned in their own home by their historically low mortgage rate. It makes choosing a kitchen renovation seem more appealing than moving.” There is one more possibility caused by the fact that the existing-home owner is both seller and buyer. In today’s market, sellers face a prisoner’s dilemma, a situation in which individuals don’t cooperate with each other, even though it is seemingly in their best interest to do so. Consider two existing homeowners. They both want to buy a new house and move, but are unable to communicate with each other. If they both choose to sell, they both benefit because they increase the inventory of homes available, and collectively alleviate the supply shortage.
However, if one chooses to sell and the other doesn’t, the seller must buy a new home in a market with a shortage of supply, bidding wars and escalating prices. Because of this risk, neither homeowner sells (non-cooperation) and neither get what they wanted in the first place – a move to a new, more desirable home. Imagine this scenario playing out across an entire market. If everyone sells there will be plenty of supply. But, the risk of selling when others don’t convinces everyone not to sell and produces the non-cooperative outcome. Rising mortgage rates and the fear of not being able to find something affordable to buy is imprisoning homeowners and causing the inventory shortages that are seen in practically every market across the country. So, what gives in a market short of supply relative to demand? Prices. According to the First American Real House Price Index, the fast pace of house price growth, combined with rising rates, has had a material impact on affordability.
A weird turnaround in an already weird file. Tillerson?
The four Arab nations leading a boycott of Qatar are no longer insisting it comply with a list of 13 specific demands they tabled last month. Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt told reporters at the UN they now wanted it to accept six broad principles. These include commitments to combat terrorism and extremism and to end acts of provocation and incitement. There was no immediate comment from Qatar, which denies aiding terrorists. It has refused to agree to any measures that threaten its sovereignty or violate international law, and denounced the “siege” imposed by its neighbours. The restrictions put in place six weeks ago have forced the gas-rich emirate to import food by sea and air to meet the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million.
At a briefing for a group of UN correspondents in New York on Tuesday, diplomats from the four countries said they wanted to resolve the crisis amicably. Saudi permanent representative Abdullah al-Mouallimi said their foreign ministers had agreed the six principles at a meeting in Cairo on 5 July and that they “should be easy for the Qataris to accept”. This latest development does, on the surface, hint at a possible way out of the current standoff between Qatar and its neighbours. But it is unlikely to provide a permanent solution. The problem comes down to how countries choose to interpret “extremism and terrorism”. Qatar has long prided itself on giving voice to alternative views to the edited, government-approved ones aired by its conservative neighbours. Hence one of the reasons why Qatar’s Al Jazeera network has been such a thorn in their sides. However, the charge levelled against Qatar is that those alternative voices include people committed to the overthrow of governments in the region.
Please pay $64.450 to comply with bylaws.
A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards. Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job. “I thought they were talking about an escalator,” Astl told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours. Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford, says the stairs have already been a big help to people who routinely take that route through the park. “I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there to begin with,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.” Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year. “To me, the safety of people is more important than money,” Astl said. “So if the city is not willing to do it, I have to do it myself.” City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. However, Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.
Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the city estimate sounds “completely out of whack with reality” on Wednesday. However, he says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves. “I think everyone will understand that it will be more than $550,” he said on Wednesday. “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”
Result: reisistant superbugs.
Since the days of the wild west frontier, the popular image of American farming has been of cowboys rounding up steers on wide open ranches, to whoops, whips and hollers. Today, the cowboys on their ranches under wide open skies have been replaced by vast sheds, hulking over the plains, housing tens of thousands of animals each, with the noises and smells spreading far beyond their fences. The US has led the world in large-scale farming, pioneering the use of intensive livestock rearing in hog farms, cattle sheds and sheep pens. There are now more than 50,000 facilities in the US classified as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), with another quarter of a million industrial-scale facilities below that threshold. Around the world, developing countries in particular were quick to catch up.
Intensive farming of livestock offers many advantages over traditional open ranges, not least economies of cost and scale, more efficient healthcare for the herds and flocks, and ultimately cheaper food. According to the UN, globally CAFOs account for 72% of poultry, 42% of egg, and 55% of pork production. In 2000, there were an estimated 15 billion livestock in the world, according to the Worldwatch Institute. By last year, that had risen to about 24 billion, with the majority of eggs, chicken meat and pork produced on intensive farms. Ranching was never an option in the UK, but most people still expect farms to consist of green fields rather than vast industrial-scale sheds. The reality is an increasing number of livestock are “zero graze”, spending all or almost all of their time indoors in large warehouse-type facilities.
[..] at least 789 megafarms, meeting the US definition of CAFOs, now operate around the UK, with every region of the country hosting several such operations, many of them owned by foreign multinationals. These are the biggest in a wave of intensive farms that has increased by more than a quarter in six years. [..] Emma Slawinski, director of campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said the problems of mega farms around the world included over-medication, where animals are given antibiotics whether they are needed or not. “Factory-farmed animals are regularly given antibiotics in their feed or water, because of the higher risk of disease when large numbers of animals are kept in these overcrowded conditions. There is strong evidence that this overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming is contributing to antibiotic resistance in human medicine.
How is this new information?
Australia was colonised about 20,000 years before humans first arrived in Europe, according to new research. The discovery of the world’s oldest stone axes with ground edges, ochre used to make “spectacular rock art” and other artefacts in northern Australia pushes back the earliest known presence of humans to 65,000 years ago. Despite the relative closeness of Europe to Africa, where modern humans first evolved about 200,000 to 3000,000 years ago, the first concrete signs of Europeans are about 45,000 years old. In addition to their sophisticated axes, the people who first arrived on Australia’s shores may also have been armed with spears. The objects were found at Madjedbebe within the traditional lands of the Mirarr clan, an area of land that was excluded from the surrounding Kakadu National Park after a lease to mine uranium in the area was granted in 1982.
Representatives of the Mirarr said the research showed the “universal importance” of the area and called for it to receive the “highest level of conservation and protection”. Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers said: “The settlement of Madjedbebe around 65,000 years ago … sets a new minimum age for the human colonisation of Australia and the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and across south Asia. “The final stages of this journey took place at a time of lower sea level, when northern Australia was cooler and wetter. “Our chronology … extends the period of overlap of modern humans and Homo floresiensis [the hominin species better known as hobbits] in eastern Indonesia to at least 15,000 years and, potentially, with other archaic hominins – such as Homo erectus – in southeast Asia and Australasia.”
In addition to changing the story of our species’ expansion across the globe, the new much older date challenges theories that Australia’s astonishing megafauna – a two-tonne wombat, giant kangaroos that were so big they couldn’t hop and a two-metre-tall bird – were quickly wiped out by humans. “Our chronology places people in Australia more than 20,000 years before continent-wide extinction of the megafauna,” the Nature paper said.
Deterrent is still the favorite approach for Greece as well as the EU. Cowards.
Unaccompanied child refugees are being wrongly identified as adults by Greek authorities and denied vital care in squalid camps, a new report has found. Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed children as young as 15, who said they had been denied special protections required under international law. The group found Greece’s legal age assessment procedure was not being “followed in practice” on the island of Lesbos, which has been at the epicentre of the Aegean refugee crisis. [..] Under Greek law, the government is supposed to appoint a guardian for each child to represent them in legal proceedings, hear their views and act in their best interests, separating minors into designated areas of “hotspot” processing centres.
The Greek Reception and Identification Service (RIS) is responsible for identifying unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups, with support from the UN, Frontex border agency and EU, and referring them to social services and information. But HRW said the authority was “failing to meet its responsibilities” and sometimes “arbitrarily” recording ages above those given, sometimes using controversial dental examinations without any other evidence. Those classified as adults are left to fend for themselves at heightened risk of exploitation, trafficking and other abuse, including prostitution, aid workers have warned. “They live in official and unofficial sites with unrelated adult single men; are exposed to inhumane living conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and frequent incidents of violence; and are unable to go to school or otherwise access education,” HRW said.
[..] When there is no space in safe shelters for unaccompanied children, authorities frequently detain them in police stations, immigration detention facilities and asylum processing centres, with 1,149 unaccompanied minors currently awaiting places. The uncertainty and distress provoked by the process is worsening an ongoing mental health crisis in Greek camps, aid workers said, having already warned of increasing rates of suicide and self-harm. [..] Greek officials told HRW that a thorough procedure is followed to establish the ages of asylum claimants [..] The group called on authorities in Greece to bring age assessments in line with international best practice, so proper accommodation, care, education, counselling and legal aid can be given to those who need it.
Scandalous. But at least something UK and EU can agree on: let ’em rot.
Home Office ministers have tried to deflect cross-party anger as it emerged that not a single extra lone child refugee has been brought to Britain from Europe under the “Dubs amendment” this year. The immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, met accusations that the government was “dragging its feet” by disclosing he will visit Italy and Greece next week to follow up the invitation to refer eligible children to be brought to Britain. But during an urgent Commons question raised by the outgoing Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, he faced cross-party criticism that it was taking too long to process eligible refugee children in Europe to bring them to Britain. Home Office ministers have confirmed in written answers that only 200 children were transferred under Dubs in 2016 after the closure of the Calais camp and 280 local authority places remain to be filled.
The Dubs amendment, known as section 67, was passed in April 2016 amid a campaign to bring 3,000 lone refugee children stuck in camps in Europe to Britain. Ministers initially estimated local authority capacity at 350 but extended it to 480 in April after saying there had been “an administrative error” in the initial figure. Lily Caprani, of Unicef UK, said: “It’s unacceptable that we have seen no children brought under the Dubs scheme this year. As a nation we showed our compassion and our principles when we helped refugee children stranded in Calais, but we were told this was not the end of the story. We are seeing too many children still having to make dangerous journeys to reach safety.”
In the Commons, Farron said it was hard to see the government’s response as anything more than lip service and demanded to know when the “measly commitment” of 480 would be met. “I have visited the camps in Greece and elsewhere – something neither the home secretary nor the prime minister have done. I have met these children who, through no fault of their own, find their lives paused as ministers have chosen to ignore them,” said the Lib Dem leader. “Has the UK government even signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to get these transfers under way? I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be transferred under Dubs over a year ago. They are still stuck in Greece.”
Bringing carbon to the surface.
More than 9 billion tons of plastic have been made since the 1950s, and the vast majority of it has been thrown in the trash, says a new study. The paper says it is the first attempt to measure the total amount of plastic produced since the beginning of mass plastic production in the middle of the 20th century. A team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, say that although plastic materials such as Bakelite were in use in the early 20th century, the material’s popularity began to rapidly rise after World War II, making it one of the most commonly used man-made materials. For example, the researchers estimated that the amount of plastic in use now is 30% of all the plastic ever produced.
While that has brought its benefits, such as lower-cost materials or capabilities like water resistance, our love of plastic has also produced a lot of trash. About 7 billion tons of it, by their estimate. And as of 2015, only 9% of the plastic waste produced ended up recycled, and another 12% was incinerated, the researchers found in their report. The remaining 79% has built up in landfills or ended up elsewhere in the environment. The team published their results in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. To make their estimates, the researchers cobbled together datasets on global plastic production, such as global annual pure polymer (resin) production data from 1950 to 2015, published by the Plastics Europe Market Research Group, and global annual plastic fiber production data from 1970 to 2015 published by The Fiber Year and Tecnon OrbiChem.
Production is not just growing, growth is still accelerating.
Industry has made more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950 and there’s enough left over to bury Manhattan under more than two miles of trash, according to a new cradle-to-grave global study. Plastics don’t break down like other man-made materials, so three-quarters of the stuff ends up as waste in landfills, littered on land and floating in oceans, lakes and rivers, according to the research reported in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances . “At the current rate, we are really heading toward a plastic planet,” said study lead author Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It is something we need to pay attention to.” The plastics boom started after World War II, and now plastics are everywhere. They are used in packaging like plastic bottles and consumer goods like cellphones and refrigerators.
They are in pipes and other construction material. They are in cars and clothing, usually as polyester. Study co-author Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia said the world first needs to know how much plastic waste there is worldwide before it can tackle the problem. They calculated that of the 9.1 billion tons made, nearly 7 billion tons are no longer used. Only 9% got recycled and another 12% was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land and in water. Using the plastics industry own data, Geyer, Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law found that the amount of plastics made and thrown out is accelerating. In 2015, the world created 448 million tons of plastic — more than twice as much as made in 1998.