M. C. Escher Corte, Corsica 1928
“This country is being ripped apart here,” Mr Flake told the committee…
Donald Trump has ordered the FBI to carry out a fresh investigation into his nominee for the Supreme Court, after Republicans were obliged to delay a full confirmation vote after being blind-sided by one of their own senators. During a day of blurred and frequently confusing drama on Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday voted 11-10 to approve Brett Kavanaugh for a confirmation vote in the full senate. But it did so, only after an 11th hour intervention from Jeff Flake, a senator from Arizona, who said his support in the later confirmation vote was dependent on the FBI being given a week to carry out an investigation into Mr Kavanaugh, the subject of sexual assault allegations from several women, all of which he denies.
“This country is being ripped apart here,” Mr Flake told the committee, after a vote scheduled for 1.30pm was delayed. “We ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important.” Mr Flake’s deeds sent senior Republicans scrambling to decide how best to proceed. The senate’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, who has long said he did not see the need for an additional investigation into Mr Kavanaugh, said it was the decision of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on when to hold the confirmation vote.
Within a matter of hours, Mr Grassley issued a statement saying he would ask the White House to request the FBI carry out an additional background check. Shortly afterwards, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement from the president, which read: “I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file. As the senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week.”
[..] Mr Flake may have been motivated to act by the words of two protesters who confronted him in a senate elevator after it was initially announced he would back Mr Kavanaugh. “What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them. I have two children,” shouted one of the women, Ana Maria Archila. “I cannot imagine that for the next 50 years they will have to have someone in the Supreme Court who has been accused of violating a young girl. What are you doing, sir?”
Plenty angles: … trial by social media…
Senator Maize Hirono of Hawaii recently stated, “Not only do women like [Kavanaugh’s accuser], who bravely come forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed.” By definition this is neither fair nor impartial, and turns the entire process into a Kangaroo Court… which is what the Senate has become. At a certain point yesterday, one Senator introduced multiple pieces of evidence on behalf of the accuser, including ‘expert reports’ that justify her inability to remember details from the assault. This is truly bizarre. These Senators are playing the role of judge in this matter. It seems impossible to do this while simultaneously acting as advocate for the accuser.
Another Senator sat smugly and sanctimoniously, leering down at Brett Kavanaugh and demanding explanations about code words for beer and flatulence that date back to Kavanaugh’s high school days. The fact that a United States Senator would actually consider this important evidence is an utter embarrassment. Another disgusting perversion of justice is that the United States Senate actually felt compelled to negotiate with the accuser about when/how she would testify. For example, the accuser wanted to prohibit certain questions, control who could/could not ask questions, determine the order of witness testimony, etc. This is simply NOT how the justice system is supposed to work.
[..] the saddest part – this manner of Inquisition… trial by social media… has now been condoned and advanced by the United States Senate, an institution whose members have ALL taken a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution which they are now violating in the worst way. Clearly the Senate is no longer an assembly of kings… but a brood of bickering, immature weaklings. (The only resilience displayed has been from the accused and accuser, both of whom have had to endure insane public scrutiny.) There’s obviously an agenda here.
Perhaps some Senators are trying to win points with the #metoo movement for the upcoming elections. Or they’re intentionally blocking Kavanaugh simply because he is a Trump nominee. Whatever their reasons, they may be victorious in achieving their desired outcome. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory… for it will come at the expense of establishing a dangerous new standard that destroys the most important principles of Justice.
As deficits grow, liquidity is shrinking.
Without much fanfare or public discussion, Congress has decided to push the U.S. into deeper fiscal responsibility. Earlier this week, the House passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government from “shutting down” prior to the mid-term elections. “The House on Wednesday passed an $854 billion spending bill to avert an October shutdown, funding large swaths of the government while pushing the funding deadline for others until Dec. 7. The bill passed by 361-61, a week after the Senate passed an identical measure by a vote of 93-7.” For almost a decade, Congress has failed to pass, and operate, underneath a budget.
Of course, without any repercussions from voters in demanding that Congress “does their job,” the path to fiscal insolvency continues to grow. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget made the following statement: “We’re pleased policymakers have likely avoided a shutdown and actually appropriated most of this year’s discretionary budget on time. But let’s not forgot that Congress did so without a budget and had to grease the wheels with $153 billion to pass these bills. That isn’t function; it’s a fiscal free-for-all.” Of course, with trillion-dollar deficits just around the corner, the negative impact from unbridled spending and debt increases will begin to reverse the positive effects from deregulation and tax reform.
The bigger problem with the $854 billion CR just passed by the House, and awaiting the President’s signature, is that it only covers spending from now until December. Such means that by the time we get the full 2019 budget funded, with the annual automatic increases still in place, we will be looking at more than $2 Trillion in annual spending. Such will require further increases in debt issuance at a time when there are potentially fewer buys of Treasuries readily available. As shown in the chart below, with the major Central Banks reducing their balance sheets simultaneously, some of the more major buyers are being removed from the market. “Central bank balance sheets have shrunk by over half-a-trillion dollars since March. This decrease in global liquidity – in the face of a global slowdown – raises the risk of policy mistakes much higher than is commonly assumed.” – ECRI
Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood central bank.
For the latest confirmation of the upside down market, look no further than corporate bonds where the riskiest, CCC-rated junk bonds are set to make a positive return for the 3rd consecutive year, the longest winning streak since records began in 1997. Not only have the lowest quality junk bonds, those rated CCC or lower, generating respectable absolute returns of 5.8% YTD, they have also outperformed higher quality debt with a 1% total return so far this month, according to Bloomberg and ICE data. Additionally, the lowest rated junk bonds have also outperformed the broader junk bond index, which has returned 1.9% YTD.
And while the key contributor to the outperformance of lowest-rated bonds is demand for, well, higher yielding paper as investors continue to chase returns, a key structural issue has been the lack of HY supply, which at $150 billion YTD is the lowest since 2009. Meanwhile, as investors scramble for any paper that promises a material yield, regardless of underlying fundamentals, investment grade corporate bond returns have, in the worlds of Bloomberg’s James Crombie “fallen from darling to deadbeat.”
Perhaps the biggest risk is that Tesla shares fall and loans have to be rolled over.
Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk believes he had a verbal agreement in place with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund to help finance a plan to take the auto maker private, according to a person familiar with the matter, a contention that could preview how he will fight regulators’ accusation that he misled shareholders. Musk was sued Thursday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which alleged that he misled investors when he tweeted last month that he had funding secured to lead a Tesla buyout. The agency, which is seeking to oust Musk from Tesla, said in its complaint that he “knew that he had never discussed a going-private transaction at $420 per share with any potential funding source.”
Musk believes the SEC’s effort is flawed in assuming that a written agreement and fixed price were necessary for a deal, the person said. Musk also thinks regulators aren’t taking into account that Middle Eastern businesses routinely operate using verbal agreements in principle, the person said. In addition, Musk has told people that he could have led a go-private transaction using his own stake in SpaceX, if major Tesla investors were on board. SpaceX is the privately held aerospace firm that Mr. Musk controls and is valued at tens of billions of dollars.
Tory conference soon. Spectacle.
Labour has accused Theresa May of leading “the most divided government ever” as it released a dossier claiming a third of Conservative MPs have publicly criticised either the government or a Tory colleague within the last year. On the eve of the Conservatives’ annual conference, Labour said more than 100 Tory MPs have recently turned their fire on a colleague or on government policy. The report said 80 per cent of the attacks were directed at Ms May or her government, with 83 MPs having criticised one of the two. The dossier was released as a number of senior Conservatives spoke out against Ms May’s leadership and voiced fears about the prospects of the party.
Much of the criticism outlined in the Labour document relates to Ms May’s Chequers plan for Brexit, which has been widely condemned by both Eurosceptics and Remain supporters on the Tory benches. It has been called “unworkable” by Justine Greening, the pro-European former education secretary, while former Brexit minister Steve Baker said it could lead to a “catastrophic split” in the Conservative Party. Mike Penning, previously seen as an ally of Ms May, described the plan as “dead as a dodo”, and former cabinet minister Priti Patel said it would be “a disaster for our country”. Ms May is facing mounting pressure to ditch the proposals, which are also highly unpopular with Tory members and have been rejected by EU leaders.
EU has already thrown out Chequers.
Furious ministers rounded on Boris Johnson for suggesting the UK could renege on its Brexit agreements over the Irish border, calling it unworkable and criticising the former foreign secretary for denouncing agreements made while he was a cabinet minister. The Department for Exiting the European Union issued a defiant statement rejecting Johnson’s alternative, laid out in a 4,000-word Telegraph article, saying it was “not a workable or negotiable plan,” less that two days before the start of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham. Government sources mocked Johnson’s disavowal of the December withdrawal agreement, when he had been part of the cabinet that approved it, dismissing his intervention as “another very lengthy article which doesn’t offer any answers”.
Speaking ahead of the conference, May said the government was on the verge of a Brexit deal, despite admitting after the EU summit in Salzburg that the two sides remained some distance apart on customs and the Northern Irish border. “The right deal is close – and with it the opportunity to make life better for ordinary working people,” she said. But Johnson continued his public intervention with a series of television interviews – his first since quitting over Chequers – criticising the prime minister, warning May that she risked betraying the wishes of leave voters if she persisted with the Chequers deal but stopping short of calling her to go. Johnson told the BBC: “If you stick with Chequers, the electorate of this country will look at what we have produced and think how on Earth was that the outcome of voting leave.”
If people want a second vote, isn’t that democratic?
As deadlines approach and red lines are redrawn in the United Kingdom’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, it is imperative for the people of Britain to regain democratic control over a process that is opaque and ludicrously irrational. The question is: How? Democracy can never aspire to being more than a work in progress. Decisions made collectively must constantly be reappraised collectively in the light of new evidence. Yet, in the UK’s current circumstances, nothing would be more poisonous to democracy than revisiting Brexit by means of a second referendum.
Both sides, Leavers and Remainers, feel betrayed. Even though Brexit was meant to restore its sovereignty, Parliament has no real say in a process that will mark Britain for decades to come. The Scots and the people of Northern Ireland are hostages to a distinctly English feud that could do them serious damage. The young feel the old have hijacked their future, while the old feel that their accumulated wisdom and legitimate concerns are being ignored by insiders striking bad deals behind closed doors on behalf of vested interests. In short, British democracy is failing its latest and most stringent test.
But a fresh referendum cannot be the answer to the unfolding disaster triggered by the original referendum. In June 2016, a stark choice was available to the people of Britain: leave the EU or stay in. While one can question the wisdom of making such a collective choice via a referendum, the logical coherence of the enterprise was beyond dispute. Once the verdict came in, and the process stipulated by the Treaty of Lisbon’s Article 50 was triggered, no binary yes-or-no choice to steer Britain out of its mess became available. In fact, there are now at least five options that must be collectively appraised.
Oh, yeah, that has them worried. They want their friends spying on you, and nobody else.
Nearly 50m Facebook accounts were compromised by an attack that gave hackers the ability to take over users’ accounts, Facebook revealed on Friday. The breach was discovered by Facebook engineers on Tuesday 25 September, the company said, and patched on Thursday. Users whose accounts were affected will be notified by Facebook. Those users will be logged out of their accounts and required to log back in. “I’m glad we found this and fixed the vulnerability,” Mark Zuckerberg said on a conference call with reporters on Friday morning. “But it definitely is an issue that this happened in the first place. I think this underscores the attacks that our community and our services face.”
The security breach is believed to be the largest in Facebook’s history and is particularly severe because the attackers stole “access tokens”, a kind of security key that allows users to stay logged into Facebook over multiple browsing sessions without entering their password every time. Possessing a token allows an attacker to take full control of the victim’s account, including logging into third-party applications that use Facebook Login. The security breach comes at a time of significant strife for the social media company, which has faced mounting criticism over issues including foreign election interference, the flow of misinformation, hate speech, and data privacy.
I kid you not: there will be many voices labeling this as ‘opportunity’.
A Danish-flagged cargo ship has successfully passed through the Russian Arctic, in a trial voyage showing that melting sea ice could potentially open a new trade route from Europe to east Asia. The Venta Maersk made the journey as a one-off trial, said Palle Laursen, the chief technical officer of A.P. Moller-Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping group. The ship, carrying a cargo of frozen fish, arrived in St Petersburg on Friday, after leaving Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok on 22 August. “The trial allowed us to gain exceptional operational experience,” said Laursen, adding the ship had performed well in the unfamiliar environment.
The Northern Sea route could be a shorter journey for ships travelling from east Asia to Europe than the Northwest Passage over Canada because it will likely be free of ice sooner due to climate change. Experts say it could reduce the travel distance from east Asia to Europe from the 21,000 kilometres (13,000 miles) it takes to go via the Suez Canal, to 12,800 kilometres (8,000 miles). This would cut transit time by 10 to 15 days. It’s not the first time a cargo vessel has completed the Russian Arctic route, and Maersk underlined that the journey was “to gain operational experience in a new area and to test vessel systems”. “Currently, we do not see the Northern Sea route as a viable commercial alternative to existing east-west routes,” Laursen said.