Jean-Francois Millet In the Auvergne 1869
UPDATE: Half an hour after I posted this Debt Rattle, two more ministers have evidently resigned: Esther McVey and Suella Braverman. That makes 4 so far today who have left the May government, and 22(!) over the past 2 years.
Inevitably, a lot of Brexit stuff today. Somewhat curiously, Mr. Raab ostensibly negotiated the deal May presented yesterday, and because of which he resigned this morning. He won’t be the last. He wasn’t the first either, junior Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara was ahead of him.
Meanwhile, May faces Parliament today and the EU has announced a meeting on November 25 to secure the deal. But who will represent the UK there? Because as prominent Tory Anna Soubry said: “Raab’s resignation marks the end of PMs Withdrawal Agreement. This is v serious the PM will clearly be considering her position.”.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has resigned saying he “cannot in good conscience support” the UK’s draft Brexit agreement with the EU. Theresa May announced on Wednesday evening that she had secured the backing of her cabinet for the agreement, after a five hour meeting. But several ministers were understood to have spoken against it. And there are suggestions of moves among Conservative backbenchers to force a no-confidence vote in her. Mr Raab – a Leave supporter who was promoted to the cabinet to replace David Davis when he quit in protest at Mrs May’s Brexit plans – is among a group of senior ministers thought to be unhappy with the agreement.
He was closely involved in drafting the agreement, which sets out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU. In his resignation letter, Mr Raab said he could not support it because the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland “presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom”. And, he added, the “backstop” arrangements aimed at preventing the return of a hard Irish border would result in the EU “holding a veto over our ability to exit”. “Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election,” he told the prime minister.
The BBC’s Norman Smith said Mr Raab’s departure puts pressure on other cabinet members to quit, raising the prospect of a “domino effect” that could end in the break-up of the cabinet. Remain-backing Conservative MP Anna Soubry tweeted: “Raab’s resignation marks the end of PMs Withdrawal Agreement. This is v serious the PM will clearly be considering her position. My own view is that we need a Govt of National Unity and we need it now.” Earlier on Thursday, Shailesh Vara quit as minister of state for Northern Ireland, saying he cannot support Mrs May’s agreement, which he said “leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation”.
But this may turn out to be the main takeaway from May’s deal: opening up the option of a second vote.
Theresa May has admitted Brexit can be stopped, with her senior officials accepting a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the EU is possible. The unprecedented admission from the top of government came as the prime minister revealed her cabinet had begrudgingly backed the draft Brexit deal struck by negotiators earlier this week. But speaking outside Downing Street, she issued a stark warning to Tory rebels that threats to tear down the proposals and her leadership could mean there is “no Brexit at all”. There are widespread claims that angry backbenchers are preparing to launch a bid to topple the prime minister within days, while speculation that cabinet ministers could still quit is rife.
Eurosceptics are likely to be further enraged by a clause in the 585-page draft deal allowing an unspecified extension to the Brexit transition – with the text simply saying it could run until “20XX”. Ms May emerged from the black door of No 10 to confirm tentative cabinet support following an intense five-hour cabinet meeting, at which almost 30 of her top ministers spoke. In a short statement she targeted a warning directly at those intent on bringing the deal down, saying: “When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear.
“This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our union – or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all.” Asked later how the PM felt there could be ‘no Brexit’, her spokesman said: “You should see that through the prism of parliament, in that the main opposition party has actively said that Brexit can be stopped, there is a People’s Vote movement which we have set out our opposition to, and any other number of important votes that will have to occur between now and the 29th of March.” It is the first time Downing Street has so clearly stated not only that Brexit is not a foregone conclusion, but that a new vote is possible.
At what point can we label this “chaos”?
Theresa May will launch a high-stakes battle to sell her Brexit deal to parliament on Thursday, after clinching the support of her deeply-divided cabinet during a fraught five-hour meeting in Downing Street. Emerging from No 10 on Wednesday night, May said she believed “with my head and my heart” that her deal was the best one for the UK – and the only alternatives were no deal, or no Brexit. She said her ministers had taken a “collective” decision, to press ahead with finalising the deal in Brussels, which she will then have to bring back to parliament for approval; but it was clear there had been significant dissent. There were a series of dissenting voices from Brexit supporting ministers, as the meeting overran its intended length by two hours.
One Whitehall source said the environment secretary, Michael Gove, had been the only leaver to speak in favour. “This is a decision that was not taken lightly, but I believe it is firmly in the national interest,” May said, adding that cabinet had held “a long, detailed and impassioned debate”. Cabinet sources said Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, made the most impassioned interventions against the draft agreement and warned of chaos should the government lose a meaningful vote in parliament. May twice refused a request from McVey to hold a vote in the room. One cabinet source said that McVey was “shouted down” by the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill.
Liz Truss, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said they were “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”. Up to 11 cabinet ministers were said to have spoken out against the deal. Supportive voices came from the communities secretary, James Brokenshire, and the education secretary, Damian Hinds. [..] The documents confirmed one key concession that has enraged Brexiters: the UK will not be able to unilaterally exit the Irish backstop. Instead that decision would rest with a joint, independent arbitration committee with an equal number of British and EU representatives, as well as outside members. The EU and the UK “decide jointly within the joint committee that [the backstop] … is no longer necessary,” the draft agreement said.
“..May said that her deal would give us back “control of our money, laws and borders”, while protecting business and jobs. None of that is true. ”
Now the arm-twisting, the bribery and the for-the-good-of-the-country cajoling of every last MP begins in earnest. Pinned to the wall, each must finally reveal their true colours; some will be principled, some not: Tories must reckon if the future is with Theresa May and her deal, or with Brextremists in their constituencies. Any Labour would-be defector must reckon whether their local party could ever forgive them for voting to keep this government in power. Meanwhile, Brexit mis-selling continues unabated. In her statement this evening, May said that her deal would give us back “control of our money, laws and borders”, while protecting business and jobs. None of that is true. Nowhere is there any evidence to be found in the lengthy withdrawal deal.
For the foreseeable, we are in a customs union we cannot leave without EU permission and our borders are open to EU citizens. We are paying £39bn, business has no certainty for future investment and as for jobs – well, let’s just cross our fingers and hope. May pretends that some distant sunlit trade deal, hazily sketched, will one day emerge from the political declaration that accompanies the deal. Will it be in two years, 10 years, sometime, never? No one knows. All the devilish dilemmas remain. All the impossibilities are as impossible as they were on referendum day – but now they are solemnly written down on paper.
We can’t have frictionless EU trade without a customs union, but that stops us buccaneering the globe for those exclusive deals with Mauritania or wherever else Liam Fox chooses to turn to. Ireland stands where it did: preserving an open border, made possible by the Good Friday agreement, means the UK must stay close to the EU forever. Scotland is righteously rebelling: David Mundell, with his crucial 13 Scottish Tory votes in parliament, will not countenance continued EU rights to fish in our waters; Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, protests at Scotland being denied Northern Ireland’s competitive advantage of effectively staying in the single market – a special status the DUP also objects to. Today takes us closer to fracturing the union.
Your guess is as good as the IMF’s. Contact your local bookmaker.
The UK economy could face a long-run hit of up to 8 per cent of GDP in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the International Monetary Fund has warned. That’s the equivalent of around £6,000 per British household. “A scenario in which future trade between the UK and the EU is governed by [World Trade Organisation] rules is estimated to bring about output losses of around 5 to 8 percent compared to a no-Brexit scenario in the long run (with an average of about 6 per cent),” the IMF said. However its economists also warned that this assumed a smooth transition to WTO rules and that the impact of a chaotic no-deal Brexit in the short-term next March could be more severe, leading to a “sharp fall in asset prices”, a “hit to consumer and business confidence” and another sterling depreciation.
“Directors emphasised the importance of a timely agreement with the EU, accompanied by an implementation period to avoid a cliff-edge exit in March 2019 and to allow firms and workers time to adjust to the new relationship”. Delivering its full annual health check on the UK on Wednesday, the Washington-based Fund also said that the British economy would be around 3 per cent weaker even if it successfully secured a “Canada-style” free trade deal with the rest of the European Union “due to lower trade, migration and productivity”.
6% is very low historically, and lethal today.
The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment rose to 5.17% for the latest reporting week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) today. This is the highest average rate since September 2009 (chart via Investing.com): Many people with smaller down payments and/or lower credit ratings are already paying quite a bit more. Top-tier borrowers pay less. Thus, mortgage rates have moved a little closer to the next line in the sand, 6%, which is still historically low.
At that point, the interest rate would be back where it had been in December 2008, when the Fed was unleashing its program of interest rate repression even for long-dated maturities via QE that later included the purchase of mortgaged-backed securities (MBS), which helped push down mortgage rates further. Now the Fed is shedding Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities, and we’re starting to see the impact on mortgage rates: The difference (spread) between the 10-year yield and the interest rate of the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has widened sharply.
Since the beginning of the year: The 30-year mortgage interest rate has risen 95 basis points, or nearly 1 percentage point (from 4.22% to 5.17%). The 10-year Treasury yield has risen 71 basis points (from 2.46% to 3.17%) The spread between the two has widened from 176 basis points on at the beginning of January to 200 basis points now. In other words, mortgage rates are climbing faster than the 10-year Treasury yield, now that the Fed has begun the shed mortgage-baked securities. This is expected. It’s part of the QE unwind – it’s part of the Fed exiting the mortgage market and pulling its support out from under it. But 6% is still low:
Home prices in many markets have risen far above the home prices back in 2008 and 2009, and far above even the local peaks during Housing Bubble 1 in those markets now that they have developed into a fully blooming Housing Bubble 2. Home prices as a whole averaged out across the US have surged 11.5% above the crazy peak of Housing Bubble 1:
Good piece from Brandon Smith.
Fed propaganda asserts the lie that the bank is audited annually by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), but this is NOT an audit of Fed financial actions and policy initiatives. Rather, it is an audit of minor expenditures. Knowing how many pencils and desks the Fed purchases in a year does not help us to understand the bank’s influence over our economic security. All other audits of the Fed are done internally by the Fed’s own Board of Governors. This is hardly transparent or independent. The only time the public has gained access to even a partial government audit of Fed activities was during the audit of TARP. This alone exposed trillions of dollars in bailouts and overnight loans to various banks and corporations, many of which were foreign.
The GAO did nothing in terms of regulatory action against the Fed after it was revealed that they were funneling trillions in capital into foreign corporations. All they did was make a ledger of the transactions, and remained silent on the rest. I remind readers of this history and the conditions surrounding Fed actions because I want to drive the point home that, for now, the Fed and other central banks dictate the rules of the game. Some may say this has changed with the election of Donald Trump, but I disagree. If anything, as long as Trump is in office, the Fed will chase higher interest rates and steeper balance sheet cuts. They will not stop until markets break. And, the only solution (shutting down the Fed entirely) also comes with a set of extreme fiscal consequences.
There is a wall of cognitive dissonance when some in the public are confronted with this notion. They prefer to believe in a set of standard lies rather than accept that the Fed is a saboteur of our financial system.
Big Tech’s ultimate power lies in their connections with US intelligence. Dangerous.
The Washington Post seemed happy about Amazon’s decision to divide its new headquarters between New York and Crystal City, Virginia, outside of D.C., noting the amazing benefits both communities will receive by the arrival of the web-retail behemoth. The company expects to create 25,000 jobs in Northern Virginia by 2030, and generate $3.2 billion in tax revenue, in addition to investing $2.5 billion. Who better to trumpet the virtues of this job-creating, capital-investing deal than the richest person in modern history, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos? He sounded pleased as heck to be part of all the wonderfulness.
“We are excited to build new headquarters in New York City and Northern Virginia,” Bezos told the Post — which he owns — adding: “The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.” Rather quickly after the “HQ2” announcement was made, MarketWatch ran a piece pointing out that moving to Northern Virginia might have other benefits for Amazon: HQ2 in the D.C. area could help Amazon snag a $10 billion Pentagon contract. Yes, the company has increased the odds that it will be awarded one of the all-time lucrative defense deals, the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, providing cloud services and a platform for Department of Defense operations, instantly becoming one of the biggest federal contractors.
The deal has been a source of controversy for a while. In July, a pair of Republican members of Congress, Steve Womack of Arkansas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, sent a letter to Glenn Fine, acting Inspector General of the Defense Department. In it, they claimed the contract was essentially pre-delivered to Amazon. Among other things, the JEDI award can only go to a provider that meets Defense Information Systems Agency Impact Level 6, a requirement that has to do with security/secrecy clearances. “The highest level of cloud security” is how one congressional source explained Level 6 to me. Although the lawmakers did not single out Amazon, they did say only one private provider meets that requirement, and numerous reports say that provider is Amazon Web Services.
Vanity Fair ran a piece this past summer noting other deal requirements — like a prerequisite of $2 billion in cloud revenue — ruled out all but a few competitors. “The deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider,” the magazine wrote, adding that Amazon Web Services had ties to Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis. Amazon already had another recent win on the defense-contracting front with the passage of the so-called “Amazon Amendment,” which makes Amazon the go-to portal for the government’s online purchases. This was included in last year’s Defense Authorization Bill. That amendment will cover $53 billion in annual government purchases, enriching the firm even more.
Why would anyone want one in their homes?
Last week, a judge in New Hampshire ordered Amazon to hand over recordings of an Echo smart speaker found in the home where a double murder took place last year in Farmington. Authorities believe the recordings may provide information that could put the murderer behind bars. If Amazon does hand over the private data of its users to law enforcement, it won’t just involve the tech company in a murder case. It will also be the latest incident to raise serious questions about how much data tech companies collect about their customers with and without their knowledge, how that data can be used, and what it means for privacy.
Last January, Timothy Verrill was charged with first-degree murder by the New Hampshire attorney general in the deaths of two women, Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pellegrini. Police found the women’s bodies in the backyard of Sullivan’s boyfriend, Dean Smoronk, whom local New Hampshire media reported Verrill knew. Verrill was spotted on home surveillance video with both Sullivan and Pellegrini. He was also seen on video hours later buying cleaning supplies at a store and returning to the house. After Smoronk called 911 to report his girlfriend missing, police found the bodies and seized an Amazon Echo speaker in the kitchen, next to the spot where police believe Sullivan was killed.
According to AP, prosecutors believe the Echo might have useful information to make the case against Verrill, whose trial begins May 2019, including details about what happened during and after the murder, such as “possible removal of the body from the kitchen.” [..] While it’s entirely possible the Echo speaker will have nothing recorded that relates to the case, it also may very well have pertinent info. The speaker is initiated with four wake-up words — “Alexa”, “Echo,” “computer,” and “Amazon” — and records after hearing these words, even when it’s not being spoken to. These recordings are then stored on an Amazon server, accessible to the company, and to owners via the Alexa app.
There’s plenty of evidence that the devices record more than what Amazon says. After a woman in Portland found out that her Echo speaker had recorded a conversation she had with her husband and sent it to a random contact, Amazon admitted that its Alexa technology can misinterpret household noises like conversations, TV soundtracks, and music as wake-up calls and start recording. The speaker also starts recording a few seconds before a command is issued, meaning there’s likely more private information in the recordings than customers are aware of.
US is preparing to sanction Turkey for not bying these boondoggles.
The Pentagon on Wednesday announced it had awarded Lockheed Martin a $22.7 billion contract for 255 F-35 fighter jets. Of the aircraft, 106 are destined for the US military: 64 F-35As for the Air Force, 26 F-35Bs for the Marines, and 16 F-35Cs for the Navy, while the rest are destined for foreign customers, the department said in a statement. A major Pentagon supplier, Lockheed Martin will receive a $6 billion advance for the order, due to be completed in March 2023. Most of the work on the jets will be performed in the US, with some will be carried out in countries including Britain and Italy.
Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 program is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some $400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years. Once servicing and maintenance costs for the F-35 are factored in over the aircraft’s lifespan through 2070, overall program costs are expected to rise to $1.5 trillion. According to Pentagon figures from early October, 320 F-35s have been delivered worldwide, including 245 in the US.
A Japanese minister in charge of cyber security has provoked astonishment by admitting he has never used a computer in his professional life, and appearing confused by the concept of a USB drive. Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, is the deputy chief of the government’s cyber security strategy office and also the minister in charge of the Olympic and Paralympic Games that Tokyo will host in 2020. In parliament on Wednesday however, he admitted he doesn’t use computers. “Since the age of 25, I have instructed my employees and secretaries, so I don’t use computers myself,” he said in a response to an opposition question in a lower house session, local media reported.
He also appeared confused by the question when asked about whether USB drives were in use at Japanese nuclear facilities. His comments were met with incredulity by opposition lawmakers. “It’s unbelievable that someone who has not touched computers is responsible for cyber security policies,” said opposition lawmaker Masato Imai. And his comments provoked a firestorm online. [..] one Twitter user [..] joked that perhaps Sakurada was simply engaged in his own kind of cyber security. “If a hacker targets this Minister Sakurada, they wouldn’t be able to steal any information. Indeed it might be the strongest kind of security!”