Paul Gauguin Bathing, Dieppe 1885
It is essential that they keep sighting each other. People love that.
• White House Questioned Over Scope Of FBI Investigation Into Kavanaugh (WSJ)
A political cease-fire achieved by a further FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh evaporated over the weekend, as the White House fended off accusations it had placed overly restrictive limitations on the probe of its Supreme Court nominee. The one-week-at-most inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, brokered as a last-minute deal Friday between Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was intended to satisfy concerns that allegations against Kavanaugh weren’t being fully vetted before the full Senate took up his nomination.
But early signs that the FBI probe would be on a short leash inflamed Democratic criticism that President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans weren’t out to explore fully the allegations, while the White House, Senate and FBI all appeared to shift responsibility for the scope of the probe elsewhere. “The FBI’s hands must not be tied in this investigation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, wrote on Twitter. Later Sunday, Feinstein asked White House counsel Don McGahn and the director of the FBI to release a copy of the directive sent by the White House to the bureau outlining the scope of the investigation.
The contours of the FBI investigation weren’t clear and appeared at times to shift, as Trump and senior administration officials pushed back against reports that the White House directed who would be interviewed as part of a reopening of Kavanaugh’s background investigation. Administration officials said they were taking cues from the Senate. Leading the process for the West Wing is McGahn, who helped prepare Kavanaugh for the questions he would face in Judiciary Committee hearings. The lack of clarity extended to what investigators could ask witnesses, such as whether they would examine the accuracy of Kavanaugh’s testimony last week on his drinking habits as a teen.
Most important article about US politics in a long time. The title says Pro and Con, but really, it’s all con. Because that sells. More books are coming. Because they will sell.
• Trump Helps Publishers Sell Millions Of Books – Both Pro And Con (AFP)
“Fire and Fury,” “A Higher Loyalty,” “Fear”: three books about Donald Trump have each sold more than a million copies in the United States, a first that reflects Americans’ fascination with their ever-surprising president. The great majority of successful books on politics have been written by politicians themselves — or by ghostwriters working with them. Barack Obama set the standard in the genre, selling a combined 4.6 million copies of his autobiographical books “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” In their time, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton and even Sarah Palin all topped the best-seller lists at least for a few weeks, while not reaching Obama’s lofty level.
And in 1976, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward sold 630,000 copies of his “The Final Days,” chronicling the dramatic unwinding of the Nixon presidency. After that, however, there have been no chart-toppers about a president. But in just nine months, “Fire and Fury” by journalist and author Michael Wolff, “A Higher Loyalty” by former FBI chief James Comey, and Woodward’s “Fear” have sold a combined total of more than five million copies, according to numbers reviewed by AFP. “I’m not surprised,” said David Corn, co-author of “Russian Roulette,” a book about Russian interference in the American presidential campaign. “There is deep desire on the part of many Americans for an understanding of what happened in this country” during the 2016 presidential campaign, he said, and also of “what’s going on now within the Trump White House.”
In the past, books about a presidency were generally published only after it was over, leaving sources freer to talk and allowing greater historical perspective. But, “as ever, Trump has sped everything up,” Jon Meacham, the author of several best-selling political and historical books, told MSNBC. “It’s almost as if we had a webcam” providing live coverage of events inside the White House. [..] “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis (author of “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short”), “The Apprentice” by Washington Post journalist Greg Miller, and the Stormy Daniels book “Full Disclosure,” about the adult film star’s alleged sexual liaison with Trump, are all set to reach bookstores on Tuesday. “One potential problem is that people get too accustomed to the outrages of the Trump administration,” Corn said, “and therefore become less interested in books like these. “But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
Mere days after declaring the talks near dead, everybody’s happy again.
• Canada, US Deal Saves NAFTA As Trilateral Pact (R.)
The United States and Canada forged a last-gasp deal on Sunday to salvage NAFTA as a trilateral pact with Mexico, rescuing a three-country, $1.2 trillion open-trade zone that had been about to collapse after nearly a quarter century. In a big victory for his agenda to shake-up an era of global free trade that many associate with the signing of NAFTA in 1994, President Donald Trump coerced Canada and Mexico to accept more restrictive commerce with their main export partner. Trump’s primary objective in reworking NAFTA was to bring down U.S. trade deficits, a goal he has also pursued with China, by imposing hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on imported goods from the Asian giant.
While the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) avoids tariffs, it will make it harder for global auto makers to build cars cheaply in Mexico and is aimed at bringing more jobs into the United States. Since talks began more than a year ago, it was clear Canada and Mexico would have to make concessions in the face of Trump’s threats to tear up NAFTA and relief was palpable in both countries on Sunday that the deal was largely intact and had not fractured supply chains between weaker bilateral agreements. “It’s a good day for Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters after a late-night cabinet meeting to discuss the deal, which triggered a jump in global financial markets.
“Rees-Mogg said the plan was the “deadest of dying ducks”..”
• May Fights To Assert Authority At Tory Conference (G.)
Deep divisions over Brexit overshadowed the opening day of the Conservative party conference on Sunday as Theresa May attempted to wrestle back the focus on to her domestic agenda. The bitter infighting that has crippled the Conservative party was laid bare as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg laid into the prime minister’s Brexit plans as thousands of delegates gathered in Birmingham. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, launched a scathing attack on Johnson, suggesting the former foreign secretary could not do “grown-up politics” and saying he did not expect him to become prime minister. May appealed to Tory MPs and the party’s grassroots to back her Chequers proposal as she was forced to hit back at Johnson, her former foreign secretary, who questioned her belief in leaving the European Union.
“I do believe in Brexit, but crucially I believe in delivering Brexit in a way that respects the vote and delivers on behalf of the British people, while also protecting our union, protecting jobs and ensuring we make a success of it,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr. However, May risked infuriating the party’s pro-Brexit grassroots by appearing to refuse to rule out further compromises to her Chequers plan in order to broker a final deal. It came after Johnson used a newspaper interview to launch a renewed attack on May’s entire Brexit plan, dismissing it as “deranged” while suggesting the proposal for Britain and the EU to collect each other’s tariffs was “entirely preposterous”. Rees-Mogg, the leader of the hard Brexiter European Research Group, said the plan was the “deadest of dying ducks” at a packed fringe meeting with hundreds of delegates..
2 years of doing nothing, what else is there to do?
• Six Months Before Brexit, The UK Government Is Attacking The EU (CNBC)
The U.K. government is demanding action from the European Union (EU) amid strong frustration over the lack of proposals from Brussels on a post-Brexit relationship. The U.K. is set to leave the EU in March 2019 and negotiators are working against the clock, trying to hammer a deal that will allow businesses to continue trading under relatively low tariffs. However, key differences, including the future of the Irish border with Northern Ireland, remain – leading many to believe that a no-deal is the more likely outcome. Speaking to CNBC over the weekend, several members of the U.K. government appeared frustrated about the lack of help coming from the European Union.
“At the moment, it is very much a question of the European Union responding with its proposals. At the moment, there is nothing on the table,” Chris Grayling, transport secretary told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the Conservative Party conference currently taking place in Birmingham. Liam Fox, Trade secretary and an outspoken Brexit supporter, told CNBC on Sunday that it is the EU’s “duty” to help the U.K. and put forward their proposals. “They said they were not very happy with what the U.K. offered, in which case let them bring forward their own proposals,” he said. “Under Article 50 (the legislation that allows a EU country to leave the Union), we have the right to leave the European Union and they have a duty to help us in that future relationship. Let’s see them now deliver what they promised to do in that treaty,” Fox said.
The trade war isn’t raging. Yet.
• China Manufacturing Activity Slows As Trade War Rages (AFP)
Chinese factory activity slowed in September, official data showed Sunday, as the Asian giant’s trade war with the United States showed no sign of abating. The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a key gauge of factory conditions, came in at 50.8 for the month, down from 51.3 in August, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The figure was below the 51.2 reading tipped in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. Although the numbers indicated a slowdown, they remained above the 50-point mark that separates expansion from contraction. A separate manufacturing index, calculated independently by the Caixin media group, also showed a deceleration.
“Exports increasingly dragged down performance and continued softening demand began to have an impact on companies’ production,” said Caixin analyst Zhengsheng Zhong. “In addition, the employment situation worsened further. Downward pressure on China’s economy was significant.”
Musk can pay big fines.
• Tesla’s SEC Deal Provides Ammunition For US Probe, Investor Lawsuits (R.)
Tesla Inc’s settlement with U.S. regulators will help soothe investors calling for more oversight of Chief Executive Elon Musk, experts said, even as it gives ammunition to short-sellers pursing separate cases and to a probe by the Justice Department. Musk and Tesla will pay $20 million each, bring in two independent directors and have the billionaire step down as board chairman to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that Musk misled investors by tweeting he had financing for a go-private deal. That settlement must still be approved by a court, and does not end the Justice Department probe disclosed by Tesla into Musk’s tweets or lawsuits by short-sellers and other investors alleging losses and securities law violations.
“The real worry for the company is not the SEC but private actions that follow a settlement like this,” said Charles M. Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “By paying that size fine, it bolsters investors’” claims over stock market losses, he said. [..] Musk settled with the SEC after advisers persuaded him the terms were favorable and a lengthy court fight would not be in the best interest of the company, a person familiar with the deal said. Musk had wanted to personally pay the fine for money-losing Tesla but the SEC rejected that proposal, the person said.
That would be all of them. And all claim innocence.
• The Banks That Helped Danske Bank Estonia Launder Russian Money (Coppola)
Money laundering is a multi-bank phenomenon. Danske Bank Estonia has been revealed as the hub of a $234bn money laundering scheme involving Russian and Eastern European customers. But Danske Bank Estonia couldn’t do this by itself. Much of the money was paid in U.S. dollars, and for that, it needed help from other banks. Banks that had access to Fedwire, the Federal Reserve’s electronic settlement system. Big banks, in other words. It appears that four big banks helped Danske Bank Estonia make its dodgy transactions. J.P. Morgan, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank AG all made dollar transfers on behalf of the Estonian branch’s non-resident customers. And according to the Wall Street Journal, Citigroup’s Moscow branch may have been involved in some financial transfers in and out of Danske Bank Estonia.
But how much responsibility do these banks bear for these transfers? Could they reasonably have been expected to know – or suspect – that the money was dirty? Banks that make transactions on behalf of customers of other banks are known as “correspondent banks”. In the past, correspondent banks often had little information about the originator or final recipient of the money they were transmitting. They simply trusted that their customer bank was acting legally and that its customers were above board. Old habits die very hard: in 2016, the correspondent banks involved in the FIFA corruption case, which include Citigroup, HSBC, Wells Fargo and Barclays, all claimed that they could not have known that the transfers were corrupt.
But these days, banks are expected to “know their customers’ customers”. They are supposed to conduct their own checks to make sure that they are not unwittingly being used to launder dirty money. In the case of Danske Bank Estonia, one of the correspondent banks did suspect something was wrong. In 2013, J.P. Morgan terminated its correspondent banking relationship with Danske Bank Estonia because it was concerned that it was being used as a conduit for dodgy funds. Deutsche Bank, however, blithely continued to make U.S. dollar wire transfers on behalf of the Estonia branch’s non-resident customers after J.P. Morgan’s departure. So did Bank of America, which replaced J.P. Morgan.
The housing bubble has made Britian ‘rich’ while productivity falls behind.
• The Distribution Of Wealth Has More To Do With Power Than Productivity (OD)
According to a new OECD working paper, Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Net wealth is estimated to stand at around $500,000 per household – more than double the equivalent figure in Germany, and triple that in the Netherlands. Only Luxembourg and the USA are wealthier among OECD countries. On one level, this isn’t too surprising – Britain has long been a wealthy country. But in recent decades Britain’s economic performance has been poor. Decades of economic mismanagement have left the UK lagging far behind other advanced economies. British workers are now 29% less productive than workers in France, and 35% less than in Germany. How can this discrepancy between high levels of wealth and low levels of productivity be explained?
[..] Let’s start with land: Germany has among the strongest tenant protection laws in Europe, and many German cities also impose rent controls. This, along with a banking sector that favours real economy lending over property lending, means that Germany has not experienced the rampant house price inflation that the UK has. Remarkably, the house price-to-income ratio is lower in Germany today than it was in 1995, while in the UK it has nearly tripled over the same time period. The fact that houses are not lucrative financial assets, and renting is more secure and affordable, means that the majority of people choose to rent rather than own a home in Germany – and therefore do not own any property wealth.
In Britain, the story couldn’t be more different. Over the past five decades Britain has become a property owners’ paradise, as successive governments have sought to encourage people onto the property ladder. Taxes on land and property have been removed, and subsidies for homeownership introduced. The deregulation of the mortgage credit market in the 1980s meant that banks quickly became hooked on mortgage lending – unleashing a flood of new credit into the housing market. Rent controls were abolished, and the private rental market was deregulated. Today tenant protection is weaker than almost anywhere else in Europe. Meanwhile, the London property market has served as a laundromat for the world’s dirty money. As Donald Toon, head of the National Crime Agency, has described: “Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”.
If one man can do it…
• Tim Berners-Lees Aims To Radically Decentralize The Internet (ZH)
The man who created the world wide web by implementing the first ever successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the internet in 1989 lamented that his creation has been abused by powerful entities for everything mass surveillance to fake news to psychological manipulation to corporations commodifying individuals’ information. But he’s long been at work on a new project to take the web back, described in depth by the business technology magazine Fast Company: This week, Berners-Lee will launch, Inrupt, a startup that he has been building, in stealth mode, for the past nine months.
Backed by Glasswing Ventures, its mission is to turbocharge a broader movement afoot, among developers around the world, to decentralize the web and take back power from the forces that have profited from centralizing it. In other words, it’s game on for Facebook, Google, Amazon. “We have to do it now,” Berners-Lee said of the newly launched project. “It’s a historical moment.” He identified the main impetus behind his recent announcement that he’ll be going on sabbatical from his research professor post at MIT to work full-time on the project as the recent revelation that Facebook allowed political operatives to gain access to some 50 million users’ private data.
At MIT Berners-Lee has for years led a team on designing and building a decentralized web platform called ‘Solid’ — which will underlie the Inrupt platform. The Inrupt venture will serve as users’ first access to the new Solid decentralized web: If all goes as planned, Inrupt will be to Solid what Netscape once was for many first-time users of the web: an easy way in. And like with Netscape, Berners-Lee hopes Inrupt will be just the first of many companies to emerge from Solid. “I have been imagining this for a very long time,” says Berners-Lee.
Even the president told people not to vote.
• FYROM Leader Vows To Press On With Name Change Despite Referendum Failure (R.)
Macedonia’s prime minister pledged on Sunday to press on with a vote in parliament to change the country’s name to resolve a decades-old dispute with Greece, despite failing to secure the 50 percent turnout at a referendum required to make it valid. The proposed name change is part of an agreement reached in June by pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Zaev with Greece to resolve the dispute over the country’s name, which had prevented Macedonia from joining NATO or the EU. With 85 percent of votes counted, official turnout was just 36 percent, and election officials made clear there was no chance the threshold would be cleared. “On this referendum, it is clear that the decision has not been made,” election commission head Oliver Derkoski told reporters.
The people who did vote overwhelmingly backed the name change — more than 90 percent voted yes with 63 percent of polling stations reporting. But that had never been in doubt, since opponents of the change had urged followers not to vote, rather than vote no. “It is clear that the agreement with Greece has not received the green light from the people,” main nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE party leader Hristiajn Mickoski told journalists. The referendum was itself not legally binding, but lawmakers had pledged to abide by it, and the failure to reach the turnout threshold means opponents can now freely vote against the deal. The nationalist opposition holds 49 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to block the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution.
Letting TEPCO police itself is a bad idea.
• Treated Water At Fukushima Nuclear Plant Still Radioactive (AP)
The operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has said that much of the radioactive water stored at the plant isn’t clean enough and needs further treatment if it is to be released into the ocean. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and the government had said that treatment of the water had removed all radioactive elements except tritium, which experts say is safe in small amounts. They called it “tritium water,” but it actually wasn’t. Tepco said Friday that studies found the water still contains other elements, including radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium. It said more than 80 percent of the 900,000 tons of water stored in large, densely packed tanks contains radioactivity exceeding limits for release into the environment.
Tepco general manager Junichi Matsumoto said radioactive elements remained, especially earlier in the crisis when plant workers had to deal with large amounts of contaminated water leaking from the wrecked reactors and could not afford time to stop the treatment machines to change filters frequently. “We had to prioritize processing large amounts of water as quickly as possible to reduce the overall risk,” Matsumoto said. About 161,000 tons of the treated water has 10 to 100 times the limit for release into the environment, and another 65,200 tons has up to nearly 20,000 times the limit, Tepco said.
The earth as a complex system.
• Which Cities Will Sink Into The Sea First? (G.)
[..] are sea levels going up or down? The answer seems clear when you consider that Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tonnes of ice in the last 25 years. Yet to understand what is going on we first have to recognise that the Earth isn’t solid. It started life as a ball of hot liquid about 4.5bn years ago and our planet has been cooling ever since. Right at the centre of the Earth is a solid core of metal made of iron and nickel at a temperature of approximately 5,000C. But this core is surrounded by an approximately 2,000km-thick ocean of molten metal, again mostly iron and nickel.
Surrounding this is a layer of rock called the mantle that is between 500C to 900C, and at these red-hot temperatures the rock behaves like a solid over short periods of time (seconds, hours, and days) but like a liquid over longer time periods (months to years) – so the rock flows, even though it is not molten. On top of the fluid mantle floats the crust, which is like the skin of the Earth. It is a relatively thin layer of cool rock that is between 30 to 100km thick and contains all the mountains, forests, rivers, seas, continents – our world.
Since the crust is floating on the fluid mantle, if you increase its weight by, for instance, building up kilometres of ice on top of it, then it sinks further into the mantle. This is what has happened to the landmasses of Antarctica and Greenland, which are both covered in 2km to 3km of thick ice. If global warming were to cause all that ice to melt, then the sea level of the oceans would rise by more than 50 metres, submerging all the coastal cities of the world and making hundreds of millions of people homeless. This seems obvious. What is less obvious is how it might unfold.
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