Acme Storm over Manhattan 1950
“..the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.”
Or is it just a promotion campaign for Comey’s book tour?
Update II: As many probably suspected, Trump attorney Michael Cohen is under investigation for possible fraud and campaign finance violations, the Washington Post reported. The FBI has seized documents – including emails, tax documents and other records – related to Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Meanwhile, President Trump has stepped up to defend his longtime personal attorney, calling the raid “a whole new level of unfairness” and going as far to say it was an “attack on our country, on what we stand for before heading into a meeting with top military leaders.” He also described the special counsel’s team as “the most conflicted group of people I’ve ever met” and said the raid was “a disgraceful situation.”
Trump added that the raid happened after Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein – who is supervising the Mueller probe – approved a referral that Mueller brought to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Jeff Sessions also came under fire as the president bashed him once again for recusing himself from the Mueller probe. Trump also exclaimed that “no one is looking at the other side” referring to Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. “I have this witch hunt constantly going on,” he said. Of course, Trump has every reason to defend Cohen. As Trump’s longtime lawyer, Cohen knows where the bodies are buried. And the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.
Update: Michael Cohen’s lawyer says the FBI seized privileged communications between Cohen and his clients – a group that notably includes President Trump. And thus, we have what could quite possibly be an ulterior motive for the search. While initial reports suggested the raid on Cohen’s home wasn’t related to the Mueller probe, CBS is reporting that it’s unclear whether the raid was in relation to Stormy Daniels, the Mueller probe or something else. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen’s office in Rockefeller Center was searched along with his home and hotel room. The search was executed by the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office which is carrying out an independent investigation in coordination with Mueller. Cohen has of course already turned over his emails to the special counsel.
For now it’s just words. But his tone could have been different.
Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday to lower car tariffs this year and take other steps to further open the world’s number two economy, indirectly addressing major complaints by the United States in a simmering trade row. Promising a “new phase of opening up”, Xi told an economic forum on the southern island of Hainan that Beijing “does not seek a trade surplus” and hopes to increase imports. He said China will take measures to liberalise automobile investment, significantly reduce tariffs on cars this year and protect intellectual property – all areas that have been high on the list of demands by Washington. “Economic globalisation is an irreversible trend of the time,” Xi told the Boao Forum for Asia.
“The door of China’s opening up will not close, it will only open wider and wider.” Xi pushed measures in areas that have been high on the list of US President Donald Trump’s ire at China. “When a car is sent to the United States from China, there is a Tariff to be paid of 2.5%. When a car is sent to China from the United States, there is a Tariff to be paid of 25%,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE – going on for years!” Without directly responding to Trump, Xi promised China would lower import tariffs for vehicles and other products, but he gave no details or an exact date for taking the measures.
[..] Xi also pledged specific measures to address IP protection. “This year, we will reorganise the State Intellectual Property Office to strengthen law enforcement,” he told the forum, an Asian version of the World Economic Forum, which draws global leaders to its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. “We encourage Chinese and foreign companies to carry out normal technical exchanges and cooperation to protect the legitimate intellectual property rights of foreign-funded enterprises in China,” he said.
This will be important: “Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%.”
Global debt rose to a record $237 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017, more than $70 trillion higher from a decade earlier, according to an analysis by the Institute of International Finance. Among mature markets, household debt as a percentage of GDP hit all-time highs in Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. That’s a worrying signal, with interest rates beginning to rise globally. Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%. Still, the ratio of global debt-to-GDP fell for the fifth consecutive quarter as the world’s economic growth accelerated. The ratio is now around 317.8% of GDP, or 4 percentage points below the high in the third quarter of 2016, according to the IIF. Among emerging markets, household debt to GDP is approaching parity in South Korea at 94.6%.
And the Fed wants to raise rates?!
The U.S. budget deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously estimated, as tax cuts and spending increases signed by President Donald Trump do little to boost long-term economic growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Spending will exceed revenue by $804 billion in the fiscal year through September, jumping from a projected $563 billion shortfall forecast in June, the non-partisan arm of Congress said in a report Monday. In fiscal 2019, the deficit will reach $981 billion, compared with an earlier projection of $689 billion. The nation’s budget gap was only set to surpass the trillion-dollar level in fiscal 2022 under CBO’s report last June.
Deficits are growing as the Trump administration enacted a tax overhaul this year that will lower federal revenue and Congress approved a roughly $300 billion spending increase. The fresh CBO estimates could heighten investor worries as they weigh the potential impact that tariff threats between the U.S. and China may have on the world economy. The report includes new projections for the effects of the tax legislation – saying it will increase the deficit by almost $1.9 trillion over the next 11 years, when accounting for its macroeconomic effects and increased debt-service costs. In December, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation had said the tax package would reduce federal revenue by almost $1.1 trillion over a 10-year period.
The WTO and democracy.
[..] It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. Over time, the WTO membership encompassed increasingly diverse nations. For example, Saudi Arabia joined in 2005, is not a democracy and hardly has a market economy. It’s a monarchy and dependent on oil, its government seeks to rig petroleum markets through OPEC. Nondemocratic, nonmarket economies were admitted on the premise that participation in the system would encourage reforms but as Saudi Arabia demonstrates — similar to Mexico in the 1980s — political and economic progress mostly happens when autocratic regimes are threatened by financial crisis.
For the oil kingdom, it took the U.S. shale boom and prospects of oil permanently depressed at about $65 a barrel to inspire House of Saud to select a progressive crown prince. China joined the WTO in 2002 but has hardly liberalized. Beijing is perfecting Orwellian mechanisms to monitor its citizens’ activities and squash political dissent. President Xi Jinping is enhancing the role of state-owned enterprises, extending state influence over private firms and foreign subsidiaries, and compelling the latter to form joint ventures with Chinese firms and embrace Beijing’s propaganda strategies.
China’s state capitalism clearly creates unfair advantages, imposes trade deficits and job losses on other nations, and has been the target of many unfair trade complaints in the WTO, but Beijing has invested in top flight U.S. lawyers — for example, Steptoe & Johnson. And the activities of its complex mix of state-owned and state-supported private enterprise have proven difficult to discipline under WTO rules, which were written to constrain governments operating in a market context.
From 2011 to 2017, the United States was frustrated in many dispute settlement processes covering nearly 50 industries. In 2016, the administration aides cited a long list of complaints in an effort to block the reappointment of a South Korean judge to the appellate body. Since then, Mr. Trump has been criticized — as he seems to be for every principled action — for continuing this policy by blocking the appointment of other judges to compel reform. It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. And it is not likely possible to rewrite the WTO rules just to suit its peculiar system.
Talk is better.
The Trump administration’s new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and top government officials began to bite on Monday as the rouble suffered its biggest daily fall in more than three years, the main Russian stock index slumped and investors dumped shares in businesses controlled by Oleg Deripaska. Russia’s currency briefly dipped more than 4% before recovering slightly to trade at 60.42 to the dollar on Monday evening, down 3.8%, its biggest daily percentage fall since January 2015. The value of Deripaska’s aluminium producer Rusal halved in Hong Kong and more than 40% was wiped off the value of his London-listed EN+ as investors took fright at the potential impact.
Shares in Rusal and EN+ had already fallen sharply on Friday in response to the sanctions, which were announced towards the end of trading in London. The Russian stock market also fell heavily. The main RTS index dropped 11%, affecting companies not caught by the sanctions. The price of aluminium jumped as traders worried Rusal would be excluded from supplying the market. The firm, which produces almost 6% of the world’s aluminium, said the sanctions could cause technical defaults on bank loans and some credit obligations. Both Rusal and EN+, Deripaska’s holding company, said the sanctions could be “materially adverse to the business and prospects” of the companies.
Rusal and seven other companies linked to Deripaska were the main targets when the US imposed sanctions designed to punish Vladimir Putin’s inner circle for “malign activity”, including support for Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and interfering with the US election in 2016. Rusal sells more than 10% of its aluminium to the US.
Not my words. But nice graph.
The greatest bubble in history is popping, according to Bank of America. The cryptocurrency is tracking the downfalls of the other massive asset-price bubbles in history less than one year out from its record, analysts lead by Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett wrote in a note Sunday. The cryptocurrency has fallen more than 65% since peaking in December at $19,511. Bitcoin rose 2.2% to $6,750 on Monday.
“..accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites..”
Automated accounts or “bots” play a big role in disseminating information on Twitter, accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites, a study showed Monday. The Pew Research Center report found bots were a major source for diffusing information on news, sports, entertainment and other topics. The researchers found that of all tweeted links to popular websites, 66% were shared by accounts that appeared to be automated rather than human users. While bots have gained attention due to concerns over Russian-sponsored manipulation of social media during the 2016 political campaign and for other hot-button topics, the researchers said they made no effort to distinguish between “good” or “bad” bots.
“The study does not find evidence that automated accounts currently have a liberal or conservative ‘political bias’ in their overall link-sharing behavior,” the researchers wrote. Twitter’s policy on automated accounts, last updated in November, allows bots to operate but with limitations. The policy allows for bots to “automatically broadcast helpful information” or “run creative campaigns that auto-reply to users.” But Twitter’s rules forbid automatic posts about trending topics or using automation “to attempt to influence or manipulate trending topics.” It also bans the use of multiple accounts to generate more activity.
“These findings illustrate the extent to which bots play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment,” says Pew researcher Aaron Smith. “Automated accounts are far from a niche phenomenon: They share a significant portion of tweeted links to even the most prominent and mainstream publications and online outlets. Since these accounts can impact the information people see on social media, it is important to have a sense their overall prevalence on social media.”
“.. upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.”
One thing: Facebook could have known this.
A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters. CNN reports that Ian MacKay – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights. The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page. MacKay – who is white – did not respond to calls or emails but denied running the page when contacted by CNN. A statement given to the Guardian by the NUW’s national secretary, Tim Kennedy, said the union had launched an investigation into the claims made in the CNN report.
He said the union had suspended “the relevant officials pending the outcome of an investigation”. “The NUW is not involved in and has not authorised any activities with reference to claims made in CNN’s story,” he said. The Guardian understands MacKay and one other NUW official has been suspended. In 2015 Mackay was appointed vice president of the NUW’s general branch and the union’s public office records state that he still holds the position. The investigation quoted sources who said the page may have garnered upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.
This happened 4 years ago! And only now Facebook is “..in the process of alerting New Zealanders..”?!
Ten New Zealanders who downloaded an app on Facebook could have exposed up to 63,714 of their compatriots to the data mining tactics of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has told the country’s privacy commissioner that it is in the process of alerting New Zealanders who were affected by the breach, which occurred when ten users downloaded a personality quiz app. “For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” said Antonia Sanda, head of communications for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards, said he was urgently seeking further information from Facebook on how New Zealanders data was used by Cambridge Analytica, and is working closely with his counterparts in the US, UK Australia and Canada to establish the severity and ramifications of the privacy beach. “I think we have some real information deficits that I hope my colleagues in the UK and the US will uncover … I am not sure New Zealanders were ‘targeted’ but I think there is a level of complacency [in New Zealand]. And when you say we’re so far away, we’re only one click away really,” Edwards said.
Edwards deleted his own Facebook account shortly after the revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica broke, and said New Zealanders should seriously consider doing the same and then resetting their profile. “I am actually quite concerned about the drip-feed of information [from Facebook]. These events occurred four years ago. There was knowledge about Cambridge Analytica targeting tactics a good two years ago, yet we are really only seeing Facebook confront this issue now,” Edwards said.
This, too, is Facebook. Supply and demand.
Were you impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data? An estimated 87 million Facebook users will find out Monday whether the group improperly used their data, the social-media company said. All 2.2 billion Facebook users will get see a message on Facebook called “Protecting Your Information,” that lays out which third-party apps have access to your individual Facebook profile. Whether or not you were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident, there’s a depressing aspect of many recent privacy violations: The most important parts of your identity can be sold online for just a few dollars.
Consumers have to spend hours of their time — and, sometimes, their own money — when they find out their driver’s license, Facebook “likes” or Social Security number have been exposed to hackers. But those who sell them are making only petty cash. That’s according to a new report from the content marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces — Dream, Point and Wall Street Market — over several days last month. The “dark web” is part of the internet that people can only access by using special software. To create this report, Fractl accessed the dark web through the browser Tor.
People buy other risky or illegal substances on the dark web, including drugs, pirated content like movies or music and materials that help with scams, including credit-card “skimmers.” Facebook logins can be sold for $5.20 each because they allow criminals to have access to personal data that could potentially let them hack into more of an individual’s accounts. The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247 on average, the report found. One’s entire online identity, including personal identification numbers and hacked financial accounts, can be sold for only about $1,200 on the dark web, Fractl found. That’s because so much personal information may already available to hackers, after repeated data breaches across a range of industries.
“..fiscally incontinent government..” Great line.
The election of 2016 was supposed to be the most disruptive break with the status quo in modern history, if ever. On the single most important decision of his tenure, however, the Donald has lined-up check-by-jowl with Barry and Dubya, too. That is to say, Trump’s new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, amounts to Janet Yellen in trousers and tie. In fact, you can make it a three-part composite by adding Bernanke with a full head of hair and Greenspan sans the mumble. The overarching point here is that the great problems plaguing American society – scarcity of good jobs, punk GDP growth, faltering productivity, raging wealth mal-distribution, massive indebtedness, egregious speculative bubbles, fiscally incontinent government – are overwhelmingly caused by our rogue central bank.
They are the fetid fruits of massive and sustained financial repression and falsification of the most import prices in all of capitalism – the prices of money, debt, equities and other financial assets. Moreover, the worst of it is that the Fed is overwhelmingly the province of an unelected politburo that rules by the lights of its own Keynesian groupthink and by the hypnotic power of its Big Lie. So powerful is the latter that American democracy has meekly seconded vast, open-ended power to dominate the financial markets, and therefore the warp and woof of the nation’s $19 trillion economy, to a tiny priesthood possessing neither of the usual instruments of rule.
That is to say, never before in history has a people so completely and abjectly surrendered to an occupying power – even though its ostensibly democratic government already possessed all the votes and all the guns. So it is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that the Fed is an alien state unto itself. That was powerfully symbolized most recently by the appointment of John Williams, a lifetime apparatchik at the San Francisco Fed, to the job of head satrap at the central bank’s Liberty Street outpost in the heart of Wall Street. In the scheme of things, the President of the New York Fed is #2 in the whole central banking apparatus, and as such is immensely more powerful than any Senate Committee Chairman or House Speaker. But Williams’ appointment was not reviewed or passed upon by a single elected official accountable to any voter anywhere in the US of A.
Hard to tell what the next steps are.
Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, has been discharged from hospital, according to reports. Just over one month after she and her father were found in Salisbury in Wiltshire after being poisoned with a nerve agent, the BBC reported that Skripal had left Salisbury district hospital. Skripal, 33, flew to the UK on 3 March, the day before she and her father are believed to have been poisoned by a novichok nerve agent. She released a statement on Friday to say her strength was “growing daily”. The BBC reported on Tuesday morning that Skripal had been taken to a secure location, though a hospital spokesman declined to comment on the reports. Christine Blanshard, the hospital’s deputy chief executive, and Lorna Wilkinson, the director of nursing, are to make a statement later on Tuesday morning.
It’s the White Helmets again.
The Russian military has found no trace of chemical weapons use after searching parts of Syria’s Douma allegedly targeted by an “attack.” Photos of victims posted by the White Helmets are fake, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Experts in radiological, chemical and biological warfare, as well as medics, on Monday inspected the parts of the Eastern Ghouta city of Douma, where an alleged chemical attack supposedly took place on Saturday, the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria said in a statement. The specialists “found no traces of the use of chemical agents” after searching the sites, the statement said. The center’s medical specialists also visited a local hospital but found no patients that showed signs of chemical weapons poisoning.
“All these facts show… that no chemical weapons were used in the town of Douma, as it was claimed by the White Helmets,” the statement said, referring to the controversial “civil defense” group that was among the first to report about the alleged attack. “All the accusations brought by the White Helmets, as well as their photos… allegedly showing the victims of the chemical attack, are nothing more than a yet another piece of fake news and an attempt to disrupt the ceasefire,” the Reconciliation Center said. On Saturday, some rebel-linked groups, including the White Helmets, accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack that, allegedly, affected dozens of civilians in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma.
The reports have already provoked a wave of outrage in the West, as the US and the EU rushed to put the blame for the incident on Damascus and Moscow. US President Donald Trum hastily denounced the perceived attack as a “mindless” atrocity and a “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever,” warning of a “big price” to be paid. Syria and Russia have dismissed the accusations and called the reports fake news, aimed at helping the extremists and at justifying potential strikes against Syrian forces. In the very early hours of Monday, Israeli fighter jets targeted Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Israel has not commented on the strike. Earlier, a number of Israeli officials had called on the US to strike Syria as a response to the reported chemical attack.
Like is the case with Russia, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has declared Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal destroyed.
[..] a joint mission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was called in to supervise the destruction of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, and certified it as accomplished in late 2014. Yet, poison gas incidents continued – most notoriously in 2017 when President Donald Trump responded to one with a sortie of cruise missiles against a vacant Syrian government airfield. And now another incident in the Damascus suburb of Douma has provoked Mr. Trump to tweetstormed threats of retaliatory violence, just days after he proposed a swift withdrawal from that vexing corner of the world.
Surely by now the American public has developed some immunity to claims of nefarious doings in foreign lands (“weapons of mass destruction,” and all). The operative sentence in that New York Times report is “…Syrian forces hit a suburb of Damascus with bombs that rescue workers said unleashed toxic gas.” Yeah, well, how clear is it that the toxic gas was contained in the bombs, or rather that the bombs dropped by the Syrian military blew up a chemical weapon depot controlled by anti-government Jihadis? Does that hodgepodge of maniacs show any respect for the UN, or the Geneva Convention, or any other agency of international law?
As in many previous such incidents, we don’t know who was responsible — though there is plenty of reason to believe that parties within the US establishment are against Mr. Trump’s idea of getting the hell out of that place, and might cook up a convenient reason to prevent it. Lastly, how is it in Bashar al-Assad’s interests to provoke a fresh international uproar against him and his regime? I’d say it is not the least in his interest, since he is on the verge of putting an end to the awful conflict. He may not be a model of rectitude by Western standards, but he’s not a mental defective. And he has very able Russian support advising him in what has been so far a long and difficult effort to prevent his state from failing — or being failed for him.
Germany, Japan, China.
The next crisis is just a couple of years away, and Germany will be its largest victim. Economies grow, driven by capital and labour. The ECB monetary policy is currently providing the German economy with enough funds, but the country is experiencing a catastrophic lack of youth, and its ageing labour force is not being replaced as a result of which workforce is already in short supply. Since the German population is declining at a staggering pace, before the end of the century there will only be 22 million indigenous Germans left. Currently the working population has already begun to shrink. This drop is still moderate compared to what will come after 2020.
The disappearing of the nation that has just begun will have catastrophic consequences. The German government recorded a large budget surplus last year, a sign that the authorities are not willing or able to invest in their own country. Germany lacks health care professionals, road construction workers and teachers, but allocating more tax money to this sector makes no sense because there are simply no people available. For that reason road construction sites have come to a standstill and road maintenance is postponed. In order to find consumers and labourers, the German industry is investing in new factories abroad.
In the past, the German economy was able to attract employees from Southern, Eastern and Central Europe, but at present the demographic situation in states such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland – which have long provided Germany with workforce – has worsened, so for all practical purposes these sources of labour have all but dried out. Poland for instance has lost a large number of young people to the West European labour market and the loss has not been made good because of extremely low fertility.The financial sector depends on a growing economy, but – apart from periods of temporary increase – there is no significant growth, and banks have to unwind their positions by selling their assets and returning cash to their clients. When the ageing population tries to sell its investments – stocks, obligations or companies – after 2020 they will find a declining working age population that is willing and able to buy these assets. It is already difficult for German business owners to find successors.
Tragic species, mankind.
A fishing ship carrying 600 illegal nets stretching up to 18 miles has been seized after it escaped Chinese authorities, while using the flags of eight different countries to evade capture. The vessel, STS-50, had targeted a cod species called Antarctic toothfish that plays an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, according to Indonesia‘s fisheries ministry. Its hundreds of gillnets had walls of fine mesh and could expand to a distance of 18 miles. Gillnetting has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2006 and is described by Australia as posing a “huge risk to almost all marine life, including marine mammals due to [its] indiscriminate nature”.
The use of the nets also harm seabirds including endangered albatrosses, the country’s environment department said on its website in 2011. Indonesia was acting on a request from Interpol when it seized the officially stateless craft. It had eluded authorities by flying eight different flags at different times, including those of Sierra Leone, Togo, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Micronesia and Namibia, the ministry said in a statement. Interpol contacted Indonesia last week with a request to investigate the vessel, fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in the statement. “Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” she said.
The STS-50 had previously been detained by China, but escaped and was caught in the port of Maputo in Mozambique before fleeing again, Ms Pudjiastuti said. Prior to its capture off the Indonesian island of Weh in the northwestern province of Aceh, the vessel had also operated under several other names including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov, STD No. 2 and Aida, the statement said. Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows the 54m-long, 452-tonne vessel was built in 1985.