Edvard Munch Spring 1889
All involved know a realignment was inevitable. This is simply the art of the deal.
The trade conflict between China and the U.S. escalated, with Beijing announcing its first retaliation against metals levies hours after President Donald Trump outlined fresh tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports and pledged there’s more on the way. On Friday, China unveiled tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to steel and aluminum duties ordered by Trump earlier this month. The White House then declared a temporary exemption for the European Union and other nations on those levies, making the focus on China clear. Though Beijing’s actions so far are seen by analysts as measured, there may be more to come.
Equity indexes from Tokyo to Shanghai tumbled more than 3% and U.S. stock futures fell, signaling a further retreat for the S&P 500 Index after it fell 2.5%, on risks a further escalation in trade tensions will undermine an unusual phase of synchronized global economic growth. Suppliers to Apple were among the hardest hit in Hong Kong and mainland markets on Friday, as investors focused on potential losers from the trade spat. “China’s response is surprisingly modest in light of the U.S. actions, suggesting there could be a good deal more to come,” said Stephen Roach, a former non-executive chairman for Morgan Stanley in Asia and now a senior fellow at Yale University. “As America’s third largest and most rapidly growing export market and as the largest foreign owner of Treasuries, China has considerably more leverage over the U.S. than Washington politicians care to admit.”
[..] The White House gave the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea, until May 1 to negotiate levies on steel and aluminum. The administration said the suspensions can be renewed or revoked then, “pending discussions of satisfactory long-term alternative means to address the threatened impairment to U.S. national security.” “This has been long in the making,” Trump said signing the intellectual-property order, adding that the tariffs could affect as much as $60 billion in goods. He told reporters, “This is the first of many.”
There’ll be a bit of to and fro, with big words and big numbers and big threats, and then everyone will get back to business.
The global equities swoon rolled over to Asia on Friday, where markets reacted negatively to the Trump administration’s trade broadside against China. Although the import tariffs had been telegraphed for weeks, Thursday’s package, covering about $60 billion in goods, sent investors running for havens. Bonds and gold prices rose and the Japanese yen hit its highest point against the U.S. dollar since Donald Trump won the presidential election. “Yes, the news was out for a while, but the actual action was a bit of a surprise to the market,” said Shinchiro Kadota, a senior forex and rates strategist at Barclays. “Maybe they thought it would be smaller, maybe later.”
China’s commerce ministry responded Friday morning and announced it would levy tariffs against $3 billion worth of U.S. goods including pork and recycled aluminum. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average closed down 4.5% as the yen’s sharp gains on Thursday also pressured stocks lower. The yen rose further on Friday, hitting 16-month highs as the dollar went below ¥105. The WSJ Dollar Index fell 0.2% in Asia, extending the afternoon pullback seen during U.S. trading. Stocks in China also fell with the Shanghai Composite Index down 4%, the Shenzhen Composite Index down 5.3% and the small-cap-heavy Chinext Index down 5.1%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down more than 700 points, with investors fearing that trade tensions will spike between the US and China after President Donald Trump unveiled new tariffs against Beijing. Industrial and technology companies, which depend heavily on foreign trade, took some of the worst losses with Boeing, Caterpillar and Microsoft all falling sharply. The Dow sank 724 points, or 2.9%, to 23,957. The Nasdaq lost 178 points, or 2.4%, to 7,166. The S&P 500 index dropped 68 points, or 2.5%, to 2,643, erasing its gain for the year. It is the fifth-worst daily point drop ever for the Dow and the worst since the beginning of February.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Trump unveiled a plan to impose up to $60bn in new tariffs on Chinese goods, as well as limiting the country’s investment in the US as payback for what his administration alleges is years of intellectual property theft. The president’s order – which report from the White House had previously suggested would be nearer $50bn – is likely to trigger retaliation by Beijing and could further stoke fears of a global trade war. Just before signing the trade action, Mr Trump said it was “the first of many” as he looks to correct what has repeatedly called “unfair” trade deals with nations around the world.
“Markets are saying that these tariffs are going to cut into the global growth story that looked pretty strong just a few weeks ago. The prospect of more tariffs is making markets very unsettled and you’re going to see choppy trading until we see the effect they are having on earnings,” Jamie Cox, a managing partner for Harris Financial Group told Reuters.
All you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica outrage. It’s theater.
Britain’s political parties are poised to grant themselves special powers to use personal data to find out how people are likely to vote, despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Independent can reveal. Legislation set to clear Parliament within weeks will allow the profiling of voters to help infer their political opinions, privacy campaigners have warned. The move comes as controversy has engulfed Cambridge Analytica over its collection of Facebook data, with the aim of using it to profile and target people during election campaigns. Even before the scandal erupted, political parties had faced questions about their use of social media to carry out online campaigning.
All the major parties have agreed to the exemption from new data protection laws, arguing it clarifies their widely recognised right to canvas voters in order to target possible supporters. But critics say technological advances now enable such data to be mined to discover people’s opinions without their active consent. Organisations outside of the main political parties will be barred from collating voting data in this way. Ailidh Callander, a lawyer at the group Privacy International, told The Independent that “no meaningful justification” had been given for the powers in the Data Protection Bill. “This exemption is open to abuse by political parties and those working for them and can be used to facilitate targeted and exploitative political advertising,” she warned.
[..] “As we can see from the work of Cambridge Analytica, personal data that might not have previously revealed political opinions can now be used to infer information about the political opinions of an individual,” Ms Callander added. It would allow private firms, under contract to political parties, to “process personal data revealing political opinions for a wide range of purposes” without the explicit consent of the person concerned, Ms Callander said. Mr Bernal said data that could reveal voting preferences should be given “more protection”, warning: “Almost anything can be used to at least have a guess at your political leanings.”
Business model. And if anyone can buy this stuff, you wonder what the NSA keeps for itself.
Steve Bannon tried to distance himself from the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Thursday, claiming: “I didn’t even know anything about the Facebook mining.” Bannon is a former vice-president and board member of the political consultancy, which he agreed he “put together.” He claimed to a conference in New York that neither he nor Cambridge Analytica had anything to do with “dirty tricks” in the use of information harvested from Facebook to make computer models to sway elections. Besides, he said, “Facebook data is for sale all over the world”.
Bannon – Donald Trump’s former chief strategist – later said outside the conference room that he “did not remember” being part of any scheme to buy data that came from Facebook and divert it to use for election propaganda, as the Observer revealed last weekend. He blamed any “dirty tricks” on Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, which he described as “the British guys, old Etonians and guys from Oxford and Cambridge” [..] Bannon denied there was any scandal involving companies acquiring people’s personal information from Facebook and using it for other purposes.
“It’s just about the cost of it. It’s bought and sold every day, it’s just a marketplace,” he said, adding: “I didn’t even know about the Facebook mining, that’s Facebook’s business … They went to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and told him all about the power of personal data.” Bannon turned to the conference audience and said: “You’re all serfs. Well paid serfs, but still serfs … The data is all out there, they [Facebook] take your stuff for free and monetize it for huge margins, they take over your life.”
About that claim that Facebook was cheated, it wasn’t. It was always part of the whole thing. This is not something Kogan ‘harvested’, Facebook had already done that.
Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting “scam” at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. Facebook provided the dataset of “every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level” to Kogan’s University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time.
A University of Cambridge press release on the study’s publication noted that the paper was “the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre’s lab in Cambridge and Facebook”. Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. “The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “It’s not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook.”
Facebook downplayed the significance of the dataset, which it said was shared with Kogan in 2013. “The data that was shared was literally numbers – numbers of how many friendships were made between pairs of countries – ie x number of friendships made between the US and UK,” Facebook spokeswoman Christine Chen said by email. “There was no personally identifiable information included in this data.”
Excellent long background by Tamsin Shaw for the Facebook story. It’s a who’s who.
In a 2014 interview, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, speaking then as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that such open-source data initiatives, and in particular the study of social media such as Facebook, had entirely transformed intelligence-gathering. He reported that traditional signals intelligence and human intelligence were increasingly being replaced by this open-source work and that the way in which intelligence agents are trained had been modified to accommodate the shift. A growing portion of the military’s $50 billion budget would be spent on this data analytics work, he claimed, creating a “gold rush” for contractors. A few weeks after this interview, Flynn left the DIA to establish the Flynn Intel Group Inc. He later acted as a consultant to the SCL Group.”
Carole Cadwalladr reported in The Observer last year that it was Sophie Schmidt, daughter of Alphabet founder Eric Schmidt, who made SCL aware of this gold rush, telling Alexander Nix, then head of SCL Elections, that the company should emulate Palantir, the company set up by Peter Thiel and funded with CIA venture capital that has now won important national security contracts. Schmidt threatened to sue Cadwalladr for reporting this information. But Nix recently admitted before a parliamentary select committee in London that Schmidt had interned for Cambridge Analytica, though he denied that she had introduced him to Peter Thiel. Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie allowed Cambridge Analytica to evolve into an extremely competitive operator in this arena.
Proof is overrated.
EU leaders have thrown their weight behind Theresa May’s stance on Russia, with several countries poised to announce expulsions of diplomats, in a bid to dismantle Vladimir Putin’s spy network. Following a summit in Brussels to discuss the response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack, EU leaders gave their full-throated backing to the prime minister by adopting a statement declaring it was “highly likely Russia is responsible” for poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, tweeted that all leaders agreed Russia’s responsibility for the attack was highly likely. In a significant point for May, the statement goes further than a declaration by foreign ministers earlier this week, which avoided pinning the blame on Russia.
British diplomats believe that a strong message of solidarity with the UK, from Russia’s closest European neighbours, will hit home with President Putin. France, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are understood to be considering expelling Russian diplomats, as requested by the UK government, in a coordinated strike against Moscow. The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said: “All of us, we are considering such measures.” She added that she had not congratulated Putin on his election victory. EU leaders discussed their response to the Salisbury poisoning over a European council summit dinner in Brussels. The UK prime minister told her fellow leaders the attack formed part of a long-term pattern of behaviour by Russia, and urged them to present a united front.
What all the talk about Russia serves to hide…
The number of children in poverty across the UK has surged by 100,000 in a year, new figures show, prompting calls for ministers to urgently review cuts to child welfare. Government statistics published on Thursday show 4.1 million children are now living in relative poverty after household costs, compared with four million the previous year, accounting for more than 30% of children in the country. Compared to the overall population, children remained the most likely to be in relative poverty, at almost one in three compared with 21% of working age adults and 16% of pensioners.
The figures will fuel concerns that benefit cuts and tax credits under the Tory Government are seeing children hardest hit, with around one and a half million more under-18s forecasted to live in households below the relative poverty line by 2022. Relative child poverty is measured as children living in homes where the income is 60% of the median household income in the UK, adjusted for family size and after housing costs. Separate government statistics published on Thursday show the number of households in temporary accommodation has surged 64% since the Tories came to power in 2010, of which more than 2,000 had children.
Responding to the rise in child poverty levels, Labour MP Margaret Greenwood, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “These figures show that after eight years of Conservative austerity, Labour’s progress in tackling child poverty has been reversed with a shocking increase in the numbers of children living in poverty.
Don’t get too successful, or else…
First there were the banks. Sending credit cards through the post, offering easy loans. They overstretched, teetered. Then came the billion-dollar bailouts, recession, austerity, poverty and payday loans. Then, slowly, came the movement: a piecemeal, sporadic effort to buy back the debt of ordinary people. Now in north-east London, an enterprise that is part art installation, part stunt and part charitable endeavour, has brought all the threads together: a bank that prints its own money, sells it for real tender and uses the proceeds to buy back the debt.
Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn have taken over an old Co-op Bank on a high street in Walthamstow and are printing money featuring the faces of people behind four local services – a primary school, a foodbank, a youth project and a soup kitchen. As well as raising money for those projects, Hoe Street Central Bank aims to raise enough money to buy out £1m of debt owned by people within the E17 postcode, in a London borough ranked 35th most deprived in the country.
“We see it as a community heist taking on the economic discourse,” says Powell. One of the delightful ironies of the undertaking is that the ‘bank’ could only have to raise as little as £20,000 to buy out £1m of local debt, because bad loans are often written down to a fraction of their face value in the secondary market. “The system forces people into debt for basic needs,” says Powell. “We are the forerunners of what we hope will be a bigger movement for debt abolition.” As the bank did its unusual trade this week, schoolchildren were invited in to watch a batch of £5, £10 and £20 notes, all designed by artists, roll off the presses. After all, it’s not every day that you see your headteacher’s face on a fiver.
Varoufakis’ Shakespeare lecture. The recent Facebook and Novichok stories would fit right in.
As is, alas, well known, my country went bankrupt in 2010. And the oligarchies, Greek and European, in power decided to cover it up by means of largest loan in History to the most bankrupt European state – money that was, always, meant to flow on to France’s and Germany’s bankrupt bankers while the Greeks were thrown indefinitely into debtor’s prison and treated to the harshest austerity this planet has ever seen. Yes, there was method to the madness of the powers-that-be, just as in any Shakespearean play. Watching them stumble from one idiotic decision to the next, making things up as they were going along, and intensifying the crisis that they were trying to quell, was like watching a version of Othello, wondering how smart people could be so foolish, or of a Macbeth scheming in the land of Oedipus.
Like King Laius of Thebes unwittingly brought about his own murder by his son Oedipus because he believed the prophecy that Oedipus would kill him once he grew up, so too did Europe’s Deep Establishment, in a bid to save their bankers while safeguarding their legitimacy, undermined their legitimacy by committing successive, Macbeth-like, crimes against logic – so much so that, today, the so-called political centre traditionally in the service of the Establishment lays in ruins everywhere in Europe: Think France, Austria, Germany, recently Italy, where political monsters are rising up across Europe bringing to mind Brutus’ line in Julius Caesar about the hatchling of the serpent’s egg that must be “killed in the shell” before it emerges. Except that, instead of crushing the shell before the new serpents hatched, the Establishment kept it warm, facilitated its hatching, and is now repeatedly bitten by them.
Global plastic production is increasing exponentially.
An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic. The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer.
The analysis, conducted by boat and air surveys taken over two years, found that pollution in the so-called Great Pacific garbage patch is almost exclusively plastic and is “increasing exponentially”. Microplastics, measuring less than 0.5cm (0.2in), make up the bulk of the estimated 1.8tn pieces floating in the garbage patch, which is kept in rough formation by a swirling ocean gyre. While tiny fragments of plastic are the most numerous, nearly half of the weight of rubbish is composed of discarded fishing nets. Other items spotted in the stew of plastic include bottles, plates, buoys, ropes and even a toilet seat.
“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” said Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study. Lebreton works for the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch-based non-profit that is aiming to tackle the garbage patch. [..] The organization is developing a system of large floating barriers with underwater screens that capture and concentrate plastics into one area ready to be scooped out of the ocean. A prototype, to be launched from San Francisco this summer with the aim of spawning a clutch of devices each of which can collect five tons of waste a month, will, if successful, be followed by dozens of other boom-like systems measuring up to 2km (1.2 miles) long.
The project comes with caveats, however – its system will not catch the proliferation of microplastics measuring under 10 millimeters (0.39in) and the whole operation will require further funding from next year. Any successful clean-up may also be overwhelmed by a global surge in plastic production – a recent UK government report warned the amount of plastic in the ocean could treble within the next decade. “There is a big mine of microplastics there coming from larger stuff that’s crumbling down, so we need to get in there quickly to clean it up,” said Joost Dubois, a spokesman for the Ocean Cleanup.
The official report. Half of the garbage is fishing nets. A recent report estimated 70% of all visible plastic is discarded nets.
Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45-129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported.
We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1-3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.
Global annual plastic consumption has now reached over 320 million tonnes with more plastic produced in the last decade than ever before. A significant amount of the produced material serves an ephemeral purpose and is rapidly converted into waste. A small portion may be recycled or incinerated while the majority will either be discarded into landfill or littered into natural environments, including the world’s oceans. While the introduction of synthetic fibres in fishing and aquaculture gear represented an important technological advance specifically for its persistence in the marine environment, accidental and deliberate gear losses became a major source of ocean plastic pollution. Lost or discarded fishing nets known as ghostnets are of particular concern as they yield direct negative impacts on the economy and marine habitats worldwide.
Ehrlich still claims it’s preventable. Why?
A shattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich. In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, the Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever. The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.
Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system – that hold the annual ‘world destroyer’ meetings in Davos – are unlikely to let it happen”. The Population Bomb, written with his wife Anne Ehrlich in 1968, predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture. Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall. “Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.”
I doubt that “it’s not too late”.
Scientists will deliver a comprehensive assessment Friday of the state of biodiversity — the animals and plants that humankind depends on to survive but has driven into a mass species extinction. The labor of some 600 scientists over three years, four reports will be unveiled in Medellin, Colombia, under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The diagnosis is expected to be dire. “If we continue the way we are, yes the… sixth mass extinction, the first one ever caused by humans, will continue,” IPBES chairman Robert Watson told AFP ahead of the much-anticipated release. But the good news, he said, “It’s not too late” to slow the rate of loss.
Scientists say mankind’s voracious consumption and wanton destruction of Nature has unleashed the first mass species die-off since the demise of the dinosaurs – only the sixth on our planet in half-a-billion years. The first major biodiversity assessment in 13 years comes in the same week that Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya – a stark reminder of the stakes. “The IPBES conference is going to tell us that the situation is continuing to deteriorate, they are going to tell us some ecosystems are being brought to the brink of collapse,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP on Thursday. “The IPBES is going to make a strong case for the importance of protecting Nature for our own wellbeing.”