Pablo Picasso Landscape 1920
Trump fired Comey, and Comey’s friends opened an inquiry.
Trump called Russiagate a made-up story, and that was reason for the FBI to open an inquiry into Russiagate.
Outlets like the NYTimes look increasingly like Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for short-term gains.
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation. The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.
[..] The second event that troubled investigators was an NBC News interview two days after Mr. Comey’s firing in which Mr. Trump appeared to say he had dismissed Mr. Comey because of the Russia inquiry. “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
A remarkable turnaround. The peaceniks have turned into warmongers.
[..] what is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops there comes from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal. The numbers are stark: Of people who voted for Clinton in 2016, only 26 percent support withdrawing troops from Syria, while 59 percent oppose it. Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent. A similar gap is seen among those who voted Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections (28 percent support withdrawal while 54 percent oppose it), as opposed to the widespread support for withdrawal among 2018 GOP voters: 74 percent to 18 percent.
Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops there than Republicans and independents. This case is even more stark since Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all troops home. Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.
With Trump rather than Obama now advocating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all of this has changed. The new polling data shows far more support for troop withdrawal among Republicans and independents, while Democrats are now split or even opposed. Among 2016 Trump voters, there is massive support for withdrawal: 81 percent to 11 percent; Clinton voters, however, oppose the removal of troops from Afghanistan by a margin of 37 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.
They don’t understand AOC anymore then they understood Trump.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already making enemies in the House Democratic Caucus — and some of its members are mounting an operation to bring the anti-establishment, democratic socialist with 2.2 million Twitter followers into the fold. The effort, described by nearly 20 lawmakers and aides, is part carrot, part stick: Some lawmakers with ties to Ocasio-Cortez are hoping to coax her into using her star power to unite Democrats and turn her fire on Republicans. Others simultaneously warn Ocasio-Cortez is destined for a lonely, ineffectual career in Congress if she continues to treat her own party as the enemy.
“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.” Incumbent Democrats are most annoyed by Ocasio-Cortez’s threat to back primary opponents against members of their ranks she deems too moderate. But their frustration goes beyond that: Democratic leaders are upset that she railed against their new set of House rules on Twitter the first week of the new Congress. Rank and file are peeved that there’s a grassroots movement to try to win her a top committee post they feel she doesn’t deserve.
Even some progressives who admire AOC, as she’s nicknamed, told POLITICO that they worry she’s not using her notoriety effectively. “She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.” It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will.
Yes, we want fewer reserves, but don’t worry, we’ll just pay you more interest on what remains, so you’re fine.
The Fed reported its preliminary results this morning for the year 2018. The headline is that it sent $65.4 billion of its profits to the US Treasury Department in 2018, and that this amount had plunged by 18.5% from the remittances, as they’re called, in 2017, and by 44.1% from the peak of $117 billion in 2015. The Fed earns interest income on the huge pile of securities it holds. After covering operating expenses, interest expenses, and some other items, it is required to remit the rest to the Treasury Department – to the taxpayer. Therefore, the amounts in interest expense the Fed pays the banks on their “Excess Reserves” and “Required Reserves” comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket and its transferred to the banks to become bank profits, and thereby bank executive bonuses and stock holder dividends, funded by the dear taxpayers. And this amount was huge in 2018: $38.5 billion!
The $38.5 billion: This is what the Fed paid US banks and foreign banks in the US on their Excess Reserves and Required Reserves on deposit at the Fed. • Required Reserves are the amounts that banks have to keep on deposit at the Fed for liquidity purposes. This is relatively small, $192 billion at year-end, and was roughly flat in 2018. • Excess Reserves are the amounts that banks voluntarily deposit at the Fed to earn risk-free income. The amount peaked in September 2014 at $2.7 trillion and has since fallen to $1.5 trillion. Of that $1.2 trillion drop, $510 billion occurred in 2018.
The interest rate that the Fed paid on both types of reserves was 1.5% at the beginning of 2018, and was raised four times with each rate hike during the year, but less than the 1/4-point hikes of the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate. At its December meeting, the Fed raised this rate to 2.4%. So the balances of Excess Reserves have plunged, and the interest rate the Fed pays on those reserve balances has jumped. Both factors combined caused the Fed to pay a record $38.5 billion to US banks and foreign banks in the US.
Here is the sordid history of this annual wealth transfer from taxpayers to the banks via the Fed:
Wolf Richter has much more on this topic in the article, I just wanted to point out that, counterintuitively perhaps, the amount of US currency in circulation has surged. To the mattresses!
The Fed’s balance sheet would be “substantially smaller” after the Fed gets done with its QE unwind, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday. [..] “Don’t know the exact level. That would depend really on the public’s appetite for our liabilities, specifically currency. To us, that’s a liability. And the public has a large appetite for currency….” “So it will be substantially smaller than it is now,” he said. “But nowhere near what it was before, and the reason is, currency was well less than $1 trillion before quantitative easing started and now is moving up toward $2 trillion.” The line item on the Fed’s balance sheet called “currency in circulation” is composed of Federal Reserve Notes – as it says on the wrinkled and thinning wad of twenties in my pocket — and coins. In other words, hard cash.
And as Powell pointed out, this is a liability on the Fed’s balance sheet, not an asset. The Treasury Department produces the bills and coins. But the Fed manages the amounts in circulation via the banking system. Currency in circulation grows when there is a lot of demand for paper-dollar cash. There must always be enough paper-dollars in the banking system to satisfy the demand by customers for the physical dollars. And as Powell pointed out, “the public has a large appetite for currency.” This demand for dollars is on a global basis. People globally are hoarding this stuff, and some countries use it as their primary currency, or as an alternate currency alongside their own trashed currency. When the Financial Crisis set in, folks started hoarding more of it, and demand increased at a steeper rate. This chart shows currency in circulation. The amount more than doubled from $830 billion in February 2008 to $1.72 trillion now:
$2000 for a phone. Get real. It’s a dead business model.
Apple’s latest iPhone models are facing huge discounts in China as retailers try to sell the struggling devices. That comes as the top-of-the-line Apple smartphones have posted poor China sales on what experts say are too-high prices for the world’s largest smartphone market and a lack of innovative features compared to local competitors like Huawei. The technology giant itself acknowledged earlier this month that unexpectedly low sales in the Chinese market would likely lead to worse-than-anticipated first quarter revenues. One of the most recent iPhone cost cuts in the country came from Suning, a large Chinese retailer, which changed the price of the 128GB version of the iPhone XR from 6,999 yuan ($1,036) to 5,799 yuan ($858) — a 1,200 yuan ($178) discount.
Other third-party sellers on the site had the devices for even cheaper, offering flash sales to try to unload iPhones.[..] Apple’s issues in China are down to two major factors, experts and local consumers say: It got its pricing wrong, and it has failed to introduce features to excite consumers in a forward-thinking technology market. Now, analysts said, competitors have taken market share in the premium smartphone space. In a public letter released on Jan. 2, Apple CEO Tim Cook blamed the slowing Chinese economy and rising trade tensions with the U.S. as one of the key reasons for lowering first quarter sales guidance. Experts, however, told CNBC that much of the iPhone’s China problem comes down to the company setting the wrong prices.
[..] “The trade war is background noise and more of a scapegoat excuse with the real issues being iPhone XR demand and a mispriced product in a competitive Chinese market,” Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities, told CNBC by email. “It’s time for Cook and Apple to look in the mirror, take their medicine around pricing and execution and move forward with the biggest installed base in the world to turn this ship around from this dark chapter in Cupertino,” he added.
Of course, when your new phones don’t sell, you launch more new phones. Now with 3 cameras. Where’s Steve Jobs?
Apple plans to unveil three new iPhone models this year, including a successor to the XR, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The tech giant’s new phones will include new camera features, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation. The higher-end model will be fitted with a triple rear camera, while the lower-end models will have a double rear camera, the report said. One will feature a liquid-crystal display, the display that Apple’s lower-end iPhone XR model comes with. The XR has reportedly struggled to win over Chinese consumers. Apple recently lowered its revenue guidance for the first quarter, alarming investors, and cited lower-than-expected iPhone revenue “primarily in Greater China” as one of the main reasons behind its warning.
Yeah, they’re not selling enough cars, i.e. they don’t create enough pollution: “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty..”
It is unclear if Germany’s recent economic setbacks are a one-off or a more lasting phenomenon caused by structural problems, particularly in its car industry, European Central Bank policymaker Ewald Nowotny said in remarks published on Saturday. Struggling to adjust to new emission testing standards, Germany’s car manufacturing contracted in the third quarter, dragging overall economic growth into negative territory and raising fears that Europe’s five-year-old growth run may be coming to a premature end. The Bundesbank said in a monthly economic report last month that Germany’s dominant car industry may take longer than previously thought to recover from a slump, weighing on growth in the euro zone’s biggest economy.
“The most important economic question for Europe is whether these are one-off slowdowns or whether structural factors are behind them,” ECB’s Governing Council member Nowotny said in an interview with Austrian newspaper Der Standard, discussing the prospect of a second quarter of negative growth in Germany. “The fear is that particularly in the auto industry we have lasting changes that affect Germany especially,” said Nowotny, who is also governor of the Austrian National Bank. The Bundesbank said in its report last month that while a quick rebound in the auto sector had been forecast, fresh data was disappointing those hopes.
It added that the slump was exacerbated by an overall deterioration in sentiment as well as uncertainty over the future of diesel cars as cities contemplate bans to reduce pollution. “What I find particularly unsettling are psychological factors. The whole diesel discussion, combined with the problems in the auto industry, increases uncertainty,” Nowotny said. “If people defer the purchase of a car by just half a year, that causes a vast fall in demand. There would be lasting and dramatic consequences if there were real structural collapses in the export- and machinery-oriented economy. Germany could become vulnerable,” he said.
Macron et al are clueless. They keep trying to separate the protesters from the ‘real French’, but they’re the same people.
France braced for a fresh round of “yellow vest” protests across the country on Saturday, with the authorities vowing zero tolerance for violence after weekly scenes of rioting and vandalism in Paris and other cities over the past two months. [..] “Those who are calling to demonstrate tomorrow know there will be violence, and therefore they are in part responsible,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a Facebook interview Friday with Brut, a digital news site favoured by many yellow vests. “Those who think that, a few thousand people, can make us question our institutions, are wrong,” Castaner added later Friday.
Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who has presented her party as the longstanding expression of many yellow vest demands, condemned the government’s reaction as “disturbing”. “To accuse all protesters of ‘complicity’ with the thugs: here is a new verbal provocation and legal ineptitude waiting to undermine our rule of law,” she wrote on Twitter. [..] Macron has called for a national debate on voters’ grievances, beginning next week, hoping to sate demands for more of a say in national law-making and tamp down the protesters’ anger. But the process risks being hobbled by record levels of distrust towards politicians and representatives of the state.
A poll by the respected Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed 77 percent of respondents thought politicians inspired “distrust”, “disgust” or “boredom”. And it’s uncertain if the public consultations will be enough, with many protesters calling for Macron’s resignation or an immediate referendum on his presidency. “I had some hope with this ‘great debate’, but it’s not looking good because they don’t want to talk about taxes, and they’re the ones who are deciding the subjects,” said Patrick Lerest, a 62-year-old protester in Nemours, southeast of Paris. “I want us to have a real debate,” he said.
Damning no matter the outcome of the suit. Do no evil. Where is #MeToo?
Google’s board of directors is being sued for approving a $90m (£70m) payout to a former executive and covering up allegations including that he forced a female employee to perform oral sex. The lawsuit, brought by shareholder James Martin, claims directors made the payment to stop details of the allegations becoming public. It also cites examples of alleged sexual misconduct by other former employees which Google directors kept private. Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin allowed Mr Rubin to “quietly resign” even after an internal investigation had found the allegations against him credible, the complaint filed in California alleges.
“The directors’ wrongful conduct allowed the illegal conduct to proliferate and continue,” the complaint states. “As such, members of Alphabet’s board were knowing and direct enablers of the sexual harassment and discrimination.” The lawsuit also cites allegations that while Mr Rubin was at Google he engaged in “human sex trafficking – paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to women to be, in Rubin’s own words, ‘owned’ by him”. Mr Page, Mr Brin and other top executives failed in their duty by allowing harassment to occur at their company, approving excessive severance payments and keeping details of the allegations private, the lawsuit alleges. David Drummond, the chief legal officer of Google’s parent company Alphabet, and investor Ram Shriram are named among others in the court filings.
Why there’s Brexit.
Before Christmas, the housing secretary James Brokenshire insisted that the fact the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 has nothing to do with Tory policies. Rather, he said, it was due to drug addiction, family breakdown and the number of foreigners. Brokenshire has since rowed back from this palpably ludicrous claim, admitting that Tories “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”. Anyone who has seen this for themselves – which is to say, everyone who lives in a British city – could have told him that, because what has really changed is not just the number of homeless people, but who these homeless people are.
At Shelter from the Storm, my local shelter, the co-founder Sheila Scott told me last week that, when she started a decade ago, the people who stayed were “town-square drinkers” and foreign itinerants. Now, half the inhabitants have regular jobs and three-quarters are British. Some leave every night at 2am to work at Amazon factories; some are Uber drivers who took out too many loans to buy their car to do their job. Most have been driven out of their properties by private landlords – and you have only to look at Caledonian Road to see the damage such landlords can do. Many of the shopkeepers have been driven out by what one described to me as “deliberately high rents”, their stores turned into expensive flats.
One private landlord, Andrew Panayi, owns 200 properties in the area, and even though he has been fined for renting substandard properties (one tenant called them “worse than prison cells”), he still keeps a tight grip on the street. These landlords exploit the real problem, which is a lack of social housing and the decimation of social services. Scott says councils now send people directly to her, as they have nowhere else to put them. But they will soon have to send them to a new address: Shelter from the Storm is moving, because a property developer has bought the lot they currently stand on; like so many of the people the charity helps, it is being pushed out of the area.