Edward Hopper New York movie 1938
I could gloat and congratulate myself for having resisted the anti-Trump Russiagate mania for 2-3 years. But I’m occupied by wondering where this will go from here. Same with Brexit: what will all this folly lead to?
Important pundits and news networks have served up an impressive display of denials, evasions and on-air strokes after learning that Robert Mueller has ended his probe without issuing a single collusion-related indictment. The Special Counsel delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr for review on Friday, with the Justice Department confirming that there will be no further indictments related to the probe. The news dealt a devastating blow to the sensational prophesies of journalists, analysts and entire news networks, who for nearly two years reported ad nauseam that President Donald Trump and his inner circle were just days away from being carted off to prison for conspiring with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Some journalists and television anchors took to Twitter and the airwaves on Friday night to acknowledge that the media severely misreported Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, as well as what Mueller’s probe was likely to find. “How could they let Trump off the hook?” an inconsolable Chris Matthews asked NBC reporter Ken Dilanian during a segment on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’. Dilanian tried to comfort the MSNBC host with some of his signature punditry. “My only conclusion is that the president transmitted to Mueller that he would take the Fifth. He would never talk to him and therefore, Mueller decided it wasn’t worth the subpoena fight,” he expertly mused. Actually, there were several journalists who conjured up a reason why Mueller didn’t throw the book at Trump, even though the president is clearly a Putin puppet.
“It’s certainly possible that Trump may emerge from this better than many anticipated. However! Consensus has been that Mueller would follow DOJ rules and not indict a sitting president. I.e. it’s also possible his report could be very bad for Trump, despite ‘no more indictments,'” concluded Mark Follman, national affairs editor at Mother Jones, who presumably, and very sadly, was not being facetious. Revered news organizations were quick to artfully modify their expectations regarding Mueller’s findings. “What is collusion and why is Robert Mueller unlikely to mention it in his report on Trump and Russia?” a Newsweek headline asked following Friday’s announcement. Three months earlier, Newsweek had meticulously documented all the terrible “collusion” committed by Donald Trump and his inner circle.
The denials, evasions and bizarre hot takes are made even more poignant by the fact that just days ago, there was still serious talk about Trump’s entire family being hauled off to prison. “You can’t blame MSNBC viewers for being confused. They largely kept dissenters from their Trump/Russia spy tale off the air for 2 years. As recently as 2 weeks ago, they had @JohnBrennan strongly suggesting Mueller would indict Trump family members on collusion as his last act,” journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted. While the Mueller report has yet to be released to the public, the lack of indictments makes it clear that whatever was found, nothing came close to the vast criminal conspiracy alleged by virtually the entire American media establishment.
“You have been lied to for 2 years by the MSM. No Russian collusion by Trump or anyone else. Who lied? Head of the CIA, NSA,FBI,DOJ, every pundit every anchor. All lies,” wrote conservative activist Chuck Woolery. Kim Dotcom was more blunt, but said it all: “Mueller – The name that ended all mainstream media credibility.”
Mueller – The name that ended all mainstream media credibility.
No matter what you think of Donald Trump. His unexpected rise to power has educated the entire world about what’s wrong with US politics, the fake news media and the deep state.
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) March 23, 2019
John Solomon start out saying Trump’s lawyers have been right in their approach to Mueller.
Now, Mueller’s investigations leave one major mission unfinished: meting out justice to the intelligence, congressional, FBI and DOJ officials who appear to have used a political dirty trick to falsely weave an unproven narrative of Russia collusion. Unverified political opposition research never should be treated as actionable intelligence or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) evidence, as it was in this case. Just hours before Mueller’s report arrived, new evidence emerged of just how egregious the FBI acted in the early days of the Russia probe.
Fox News’s brilliant reporter Catherine Herridge obtained new text messages Friday showing Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and his chief lawyer, Lisa Page, were discussing credibility issues and “bias” about a key human source whose work was to support the FISA warrant used to first spy on the Trump campaign in October 2016. Those credibility issues likely were hidden from the judges who approved the warrant of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page (no relation to Lisa Page). As I have reported, the FBI also possesses emails showing concerns with the evidence it was going to use to support the FISA warrant.
Likewise the bureau didn’t disclose to the court that: • the “Steele dossier” that was the main FISA evidence was paid for with funds from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party; • Christopher Steele, the dossier’s author, had told a senior DOJ official he was desperate to defeat Trump; • most of the dossier was not verified before it was used as evidence of alleged Trump-Russia collusion; and • agents collected statements from key defendants such as Papadopoulos and Carter Page during interactions with an FBI informant that strongly suggested their innocence. Such omissions are so glaring as to constitute defrauding a federal court. And each and every participant to those omissions needs to be brought to justice.
Prediction: the media are going to dig in.
Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media. As has long been rumored, the former FBI chief’s independent probe will result in multiple indictments and convictions, but no “presidency-wrecking” conspiracy charges, or anything that would meet the layman’s definition of “collusion” with Russia. With the caveat that even this news might somehow turn out to be botched, the key detail in the many stories about the end of the Mueller investigation was best expressed by the New York Times: “A senior Justice Department official said that Mr. Mueller would not recommend new indictments.”
The Times tried to soften the emotional blow for the millions of Americans trained in these years to place hopes for the overturn of the Trump presidency in Mueller. Nobody even pretended it was supposed to be a fact-finding mission, instead of an act of faith. The Special Prosecutor literally became a religious figure during the last few years, with votive candles sold in his image and Saturday Night Live cast members singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” to him featuring the rhymey line: “Mueller please come through, because the only option is a coup.” The Times story today tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation, noting Trump’s Attorney General William Barr’s reaction was an “endorsement” of the fineness of Mueller’s work:
“In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step.” Mueller, in other words, never stepped out of the bounds of his job description. But could the same be said for the news media?
They should all go. Call elections, call off Brexit for now. This has become a threat to the UK itself.
Tory insiders described the party’s atmosphere as “end of days”. May was in her Chequers retreat on Sunday, talking tactics to colleagues. She faces resignations from both wings of her cabinet should her Brexit deal be voted down this week, as expected. One of her team said they expected Brexit to come down to a “blunt choice between no deal or a customs union [with the EU]”. Pro-Remain ministers will not tolerate any endorsement of a no-deal Brexit. But some pro-Brexit ministers have said that May could not carry on in No 10 unless she backed a no-deal Brexit. “It is being said that the only way she could stay on as prime minister is if she backed no-deal,” said a cabinet source. “That is where the party is – anything else would cause a huge division.”
While accepting that May faces a terminal loss of support, some senior ministers are also warning that toppling her now would unleash a general election and a leadership fight that would be “toxic” for the Tories. “It is much better that one person is held responsible for all this mess,” said one senior minister.“If you get shot of her this week, you can almost guarantee an election and a whole set of problems.” There is no clear plan of what would happen should May stand down. Some assume that her de facto deputy, David Lidington, would take over. However, seen as a pro-Remain minister, he would also face serious challenges from Tory MPs if he attempted to engineer a soft Brexit. One minister said: “The idea that everyone would step back and allow David Lidington to deliver a soft Brexit is absurd.”
A national government anyone?
Pro-Remain MPs are drawing up plans for a vote on revoking article 50 as an emergency measure to stop Britain crashing out of the EU, after an online petition to cancel Brexit became the most popular ever. By Saturday night more than 4.6 million people had signed the petition on the parliament website, which states: “A People’s Vote may not happen – so vote now”. Public discussion about halting Brexit was considered politically toxic until just days ago. But that shifted last week as the prospect of crashing out drew closer and the number of petition signatures rose dramatically. A cross-party group of parliamentarians is now examining the possibility of cancelling the Brexit process, following concerns that Theresa May could end up backing Tory MPs who favour a no-deal departure if her own withdrawal agreement is rejected again.
They are planning to table an amendment to Brexit legislation closer to the day of Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU. The European court of justice ruled late last year that Britain could unilaterally revoke article 50, although not just to buy time. Writing on theguardian.com, the Tory MP Phillip Lee said that the people had to be given an opportunity to reconsider Brexit and that one way of allowing this to happen would be to revoke article 50. “Mrs May should ensure that the UK has the time and the space to do this in a properly considered way – either by seeking a long extension of article 50, or by taking back control and revoking it altogether.”
One time is not enough. They should be there again today, and tomorrow. Will they?
An estimated 1 million people staged one of the biggest marches in British history to demand a second referendum on Brexit and for the public to have the Final Say on the gathering crisis. The streets of central London were clogged with protesters from across the country, urging politicians – faced with the country potentially crashing out of the EU in just three weeks’ time – to hand the decision back to the people. Aerial cameras captured the spectacular scenes of the vast throng winding its way to outside the Houses of Parliament to hear passionate speeches from MPs of all parties.
Perhaps the most dramatic picture was the unfurling of an enormous banner with the pre-referendum words of David Davis, the Brexit-supporting Tory MP: “If a democracy cannot change, it ceases to be a democracy.” Among the speakers were Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, who called out to Theresa May, saying: “Have a look out of the window prime minister. Open your curtains. Switch on your TV. Here are the people.” Some in the crowd cried out “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” – the Labour leader, who was later revealed to be campaigning for his party ahead of local elections in Lancashire. Michael Heseltine, the Conservative grandee, used his speech to express “contempt” for Brexiteers “wrapped in a Union Jack” who invoke Winston Churchill for their cause.
Wolf Richter and an insane amount of graphs. Pretty scary.
US corporate debt, excluding debt by banks – so “nonfinancial” corporate debt – has surged in recent years by all measures and to such an extent that it was featured prominently in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report, in terms of what might trigger the next financial crisis. The Fed is counting total nonfinancial business debts, which include the debts of businesses that are not incorporated. It found about $17 trillion in debts.
A narrower measure is nonfinancial corporate debt, which amounts to $15 trillion. This is up a breath-taking 40% from the prior peak in 2008. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) uses this measure to compare how corporate debt stacks up in different countries. One of its measures is corporate debt denominated in local currency; and in order to determine the relative size of this debt, the BIS expresses it as a percent of nominal local-currency GDP. So Chinese debt in yuan as a percent of Chinese GDP in yuan. By this measure, the US nonfinancial corporate debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned to the highest ever: a stunning whopping 73.9% of GDP:
The BIS also converts local-currency debt to dollars, so that the total debts can be compared from one country to another. And the US corporate debt of $15 trillion pales compared to China’s corporate debt of $19.7 trillion. But that is down from the $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, at which point Chinese authorities got serious about deleveraging the corporate sector. The monstrous pileup of corporate debt in China happened in just 12 years:
China’s economy, while growing much faster than the US economy, is still quite a bit smaller than the US economy, when measured by GDP in US dollars. And so among the larger economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is unrivaled (though there are some small economies with special tax laws that blow right past China for other reasons, and we’ll get to those in a moment). The data for China goes back only to 2006. Note the effects of China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, with corporate debt-to-GDP ratio now down to 152.9%. But China is only in 7th Place by debt-to-GDP!
But the profits!
The government’s fracking proposals would release the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as almost 300 million new cars, fatally undermining ministers’ obligation to tackle the escalating climate crisis, according to new research. Analysis by the Labour party shows that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere if the government’s plans go ahead would be the same as the lifetime emissions of 286 million cars – or 29 new coal-fired power plants. The findings come as ministers’ efforts to kickstart their fracking proposals face growing resistance, with defeat in the courts, fierce local objections and opposition from Labour and Tory councils alike.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was in Lancashire on Saturday to join the anti-fracking campaign in the region, said a future Labour government would ban fracking “once and for all”. “The Conservatives’ fracking plans will damage our environment and fly in the face of community opposition,” he said. “There is a clear alternative to fracking. Clean, renewable energy is the future of our economy and will create more than 400,000 jobs as part of Labour’s green industrial revolution.” Concerns about drilling flared in the run-up to Christmas when energy company Cuadrilla was forced to pause operations near Blackpool three times after drilling caused small earthquakes that breached government safety limits.
Several local authorities – including London, Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield, Hull and York – have expressed opposition to fracking. There is also opposition from many Tories. In Westminster, almost two dozen Tory MPs are reported to be against fracking and willing to “destroy the government’s majority” if it tries to weaken planning laws.
I’m seeing it happen around me here in Athens. I’m staying in Koukaki. Very destructive.
For Dimitra Dionysopoulou, who lives in the shadow of the Acropolis, there is no mistaking the signs of the Airbnb takeover in her neighbourhood. “Renovation noise, debris disposal bins on every street, and rolling luggage,” said the 50-year-old Athenian mother. Dionysopoulou has lived her entire life in the middle-class district of Koukaki, now in the midst of a home-sharing frenzy. In 2016, it was named Airbnb’s fifth fastest growing neighbourhood globally with an 800-percent jump in activity. Its selling point? Walking distance from one of the world’s most visited archaeological sites, as well as the state-of-the-art Acropolis museum. Hundreds of apartments in Koukaki’s ageing concrete buildings are now on offer.
Rents have doubled and entire families of tenants have been pushed out by cash-hungry owners, said Dionysopoulou. “Three families I know have already left, and we are currently trying to find a home for a fourth,” she told AFP. [..] Dionysopoulou is not alone in feeling that the Airbnb phenomenon, as in other major cities, has run amok. Greek authorities this year belatedly introduced registration and tax rules for Airbnb homeowners. According to Angelos Skiadas, head of Greece’s tenant association, the home-sharing craze has even spread to far-off Athens suburbs with no tourist interest. “Homeowners think this is a cure-all that will solve their problems for life. Many use Airbnb as a threat (to raise the rent),” he said.
More of my friends leave every single day.
One of nature’s most remarkable creatures, the pangolin, is being driven to extinction as hunting and trafficking have soared in recent years. Studies have discovered that hundreds of thousands of these distinctive, scaly animals are now being killed every year to satisfy markets in Asia, making it the most trafficked and poached mammal on Earth. The pangolin is hunted for its meat – and also for its scales, which are believed to have important medicinal properties as cures for poor circulation, skin complaints and asthma. Last January, authorities in Hong Kong seized 8.3 tonnes of pangolin scales in a shipment from Nigeria bound for Vietnam.
It was one of the largest confiscation of the animal’s scales ever made and its weight suggests that around 13,800 animals died to make up the consignment. In addition, in February, Malaysian customs officers seized 1,800 boxes that contained 30 tonnes of frozen pangolins and pangolin parts. Ironically, the confiscation was made only a few days before World Pangolin Day was held on 16 February this year. “We simply do not know if pangolins can withstand this level of hunting,” said Daniel Ingram of University College London. “The problem is compounded by the fact we do not have reliable pangolin population estimates.” Ingram is lead author of a paper on pangolin trafficking that has just been published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.