Pablo Picasso Portrait de femme (Dora Maar) 1943
Good friend Charlie Hall on America’s reality. Shale losses keep on coming.
U.S. oil production originally peaked in 1970, and gas in 1973, but declined through 2007, when production was revitalized by the process of lateral drilling and “fracking.” This technological miracle allowed us to exploit deposits formerly considered low-grade. Now the United States produces more oil than it ever has, and is, with Saudi Arabia and Russia, one of the top three oil producers in the world. Fracking has also reversed the long decline of U.S. natural gas production, allowing the substitution of gas for coal and a proliferation of cheap plastics. But, curiously, this renaissance of petroleum in the United States has not led to a resurgence of profits in the oil and gas industry.
Quite the opposite, because almost none of the companies that have invested in fracking are turning a profit. Investors in this industry are losing a lot of money, some $83 billion since 2008, according to oil analyst Arthur Berman. This situation means that relatively cheap oil and gas are keeping the U.S. economy strong. But this cheap oil and gas is being partially subsidized by investors who are either losing money or receiving a poor return on investment. In this respect, President Trump has these financial “losers” to thank for a large part of the current health of the U.S. economy. This relation among oil supplies, prices and the political winds is not new and works both ways.
Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were in office during the economically disastrous increase in the price of oil from less than $4 a barrel in 1972 to more than $35 in 1979. Both lost in their reelection bids. In 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan ran on a platform of “Let’s make America Great again” and “It’s morning again in America,” which coincided with the decline in oil prices during the 1980s. In the U.K., Margaret Thatcher was floundering in popularity in 1980, but then received most of the credit for the remarkable recovery of the U.K. economy. Was it her conservative management style, or the development of the North Sea oil, which occurred on her watch? Now that the North Sea oil boom is over, the U.K. economy is struggling again.
And there’s more. Chesapeake is but one example.
In 2019 through third quarter, 32 oil and gas drillers have filed for bankruptcy, according to Haynes and Boone. Since the end of September, a gaggle of other oil and gas drillers have filed for bankruptcy, including last Monday, natural gas producer Approach Resources. This pushed the total number of bankruptcy filings of oil and gas drillers since the beginning of 2015 to over 200. Other drillers, such as Chesapeake Energy, are jostling for position at the filing counter. Chesapeake has been burning cash ever since it started fracking. To feed its cash-burn machine, it has borrowed large amounts and has been buckling under its debt for years, selling assets to raise cash and keep drilling for another day.
But its debt is still nearly $10 billion. Its shares [CHK] closed on Friday at 59 cents. On November 5, in an SEC filing, it warned of its own demise unless oil and gas prices surge into the sky asap: “If continued depressed prices persist, combined with the scheduled reductions in the leverage ratio covenant, our ability to comply with the leverage ratio covenant during the next 12 months will be adversely affected which raises substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.” In early 2016, during Phase 1 of the oil bust — which had started in mid-2014 — Chesapeake had already used the threat of bankruptcy to push its creditors into accepting a debt restructuring. At the time, it was the second largest natural gas producer in the US.
The debt restructuring reduced its debt burden somewhat and pushed maturities out, which then allowed it to borrow new money from new investors with a series of bond sales. This coincided with the Wall Street floodgates reopening to the oil and gas sector, when PE firms, hedge funds, and distressed-debt funds piled billions of dollars into the sector, and many of the oil and gas drillers were able to raise more cash to burn. Chesapeake’s series of bond sales that it then undertook included, in January 2018, $1.25 billion of senior unsecured convertible notes with a coupon of 5.5%, due in September 2026. It issued those bonds at a discount, but by July 2018, a few months before Phase 2 of the oil bust set in, the bonds were trading at 103 cents on the dollar. On Friday, the last trade was at 45 cents on the dollar, giving these bonds a yield of over 21%:
But still fascinated with Musk. Why?
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is due to release numbers this week on car, commercial vehicle and engine manufacturing – figures that so far this year have been in reverse. At its last outing, the SMMT said that UK car production had fallen by a “bitterly disappointing” 3.8% during September, adding to a turbulent year-to-date in which political and economic turmoil, softness in key markets and operational changes have been blamed for a 15.6% slump. Unsurprisingly, the SMMT’s boss, Mike Hawes, warned that the industry was most worried about “the continued threat of a no-deal Brexit”, which is said to have caused “international investment to stall” and cost hundreds of millions of pounds, “money that would have better been spent in meeting the technological challenges facing the global industry”.
Hawes’s comments dovetail with a different announcement from earlier this month, when Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, said that the electric carmaker would be building its first major European factory on the outskirts of Berlin. “Brexit made it too risky to put a Gigafactory in the UK,” the entrepreneur said, to the delight of Remain campaigners. “[Boris] Johnson’s super-hard Brexit plan would see new trade barriers with our European partners,” wrote Lib Dem deputy leader Ed Davey in the Financial Times. “This will drive down already stagnant business investment … We must take seriously Mr Musk’s announcement.”
If he could be persuaded to comment on Tesla, Johnson would surely say the uncertainty will disappear as soon as we Get Brexit Done™. But Musk’s decision still seems like a missed opportunity, as he’s previously expressed an admiration for UK manufacturing – and F1 nous in particular. “We have a lot of respect for the British automotive engineering talent,” the billionaire told the Daily Telegraph in 2016. “Just look at Formula One – it amazes me how much British talent there is in that. We are likely to establish a Tesla engineering group in Britain at some point in the future.”
So where will the kids meet now? Online only?
Ecommerce sales in the third quarter 2019 spiked 17.3% from a year ago to $145.7 billion, not seasonally adjusted, according to the Commerce Department. On a seasonally adjusted basis, sales hit $154.5 billion. Ecommerce sales will exceed $600 billion in 2019, double the amount five years ago. In dollar terms, ecommerce sales jumped by $20.4 billion in Q3 compared to a year ago, the biggest dollar-jump in the history of ecommerce:
[..] Ecommerce is wiping out department stores one by one. The long-cherished destination for American shoppers is doomed. Sears is just the latest example of a long list of examples. Others will follow. Sales at brick-and-mortar department stores in Q3 fell 5.7% year-over-year to a new multi-decade low of $33.8 billion (seasonally adjusted). They’ve collapsed by 41% from the peak in Q4 2000 and by 20% from the beginning of the data series in 1992. People who still think that this trend is somehow going to turn around are fooling themselves. This is the brick-and-mortar business Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Sears are in:
An enormous effort by Eric Zuesse. This is just a small sample. Impossible to choose from all the material.
Donald Trump has surrounded himself with neoconservatives. There’s not much distance between his policies toward Ukraine versus Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s. However, after Trump becomes impeached in the House (if that happens) and the impeachment trial starts in the Republican U.S. Senate, there will then be a perfect opportunity for Trump to embarrass the Democratic Party profoundly by exposing not only Joe Biden but Biden’s boss Obama as having caused the war in Ukraine. In order for him to do that, however, he’d also need to expose the rot of neoconservatism. Nobody in Washington does that, except, perhaps the rebelling Democrat, Tulsi Gabbard, and she’s rejected in the national polls now by the public within her own Party.
Neoconservatism is the uniform foreign-policy ideology of America’s billionaires, both Republican and Democratic, and this is why Washington is virtually 100% neocon. In America, wealth certainly doesn’t trickle down, but ideology apparently does — and that’s not merely neoliberalism but also its international-affairs extension: neoconservatism. Nonetheless, if a Trump re-election ticket were Trump for President, and Gabbard for Vice President, it might be able to beat anything that the Democrats could put up against it, because Trump would then head a ticket which would remain attractive to Republicans and yet draw many independents and even the perhaps 5% of Democrats who like her.
Only Sanders, if he becomes the Democratic nominee (and who is the least-neoconservative member of the U.S. Senate), would attract some of Gabbard’s supporters, but he wouldn’t be getting any money from the 607 people who mainly fund American politics. The 2020 U.S. Presidential contest could just go hog-wild. However, America’s billionaires probably won’t let that happen. Though there are only 607 of therm, they have enormous powers over the Government, far more than do all other Americans put together. The U.S. Supreme Court made it this way, such as by the 1976 Buckley decision, and the 2010 Citizens United decision.
“Back in 2016, no one thought that Trump would win the presidency. So why bother hiding it?”
Let’s start with a fact: Meddling in the 2016 election by Ukrainian politicians and government agencies happened. The above is true and no amount of denial is going to change that. What’s more: Ukrainian nationals didn’t just meddle on their own, they also worked with Americans — including Ukrainian-American political operatives on the payroll of the Democratic Party. Not only did all this happen, it was written up as fact by establishment papers and outlets as varied as Yahoo, Politico, and the Financial Times in 2016 on the eve of the election. The involvement of Ukrainian pols and officials in all of this has never been secret. It was acknowledged at the time. The principle actors openly talked and bragged about their exploits in the press. And why not? Back in 2016, no one thought that Trump would win the presidency. So why bother hiding it?
One of the best examples of this is the plot to take down Paul Manafort — the sleazy Republican political consultant who had long worked in Ukraine and who headed Donald’s Trump campaign. In 2016, Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament and an anti-corruption activist (who got embroiled in his own corruption scandal), coordinated the release of a handwritten ledger. The document purported to show off-the-book payments made to Manafort from the Party of the Regions — the political arm of the Viktor Yanukovich, the Ukrainian President who had been overthrown in a coup-type revolt by a much more western-friendly political faction. The ledger itself was released by NABU, a Ukrainian government anti-corruption organization set up as result of prodding by the Obama Administration and which was run with the backing and financial support of the FBI.
(As an aside: NABU — which also got embroiled into its own political corruption scandal — also happens to be at the heart of an internal Ukrainian political fight that sucked in ex-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. But that’s a different and complicated story. And then there’s the weird angle of the FBI being so closely involved with NABU at a time when this Ukrainian anti-corruption agency decided to involve itself in an American election.) Anyway, Leshchenko — a foreign politician — made clear that his objective at the time was to kill off Trump’s candidacy. That’s a direct admission of meddling. As Oleksiy Kuzmenko has documented so well, Leshchenko repeated this statement in various ways in both English and Ukrainian over and over again.
We’ve known this for a while. The OPCW is a cesspool.
Wikileaks today publishes an e-mail, sent by a member of an OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria to his superiors, in which he expresses his gravest concern over intentional bias introduced to a redacted version of the report he co-authored. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons sent a team of experts to investigate allegations that a chemical attack took place in the Syrian city of Douma on the 7th of April 2018. The author of the e-mail was a member of that team and claims the redacted preliminary version of the report, misrepresents the facts he and his colleagues discovered on the ground. The e-mail is dated 22nd of June. It is addressed to Robert Fairweather, Chief of Cabinet, and forwarded to his deputy Aamir Shouket and members of the fact-finding mission to Douma.
He says this misrepresentation was achieved by selective omission, introducing a bias which undermines the credibility of the report. Further it is claimed that crucial facts, that have remained in the redacted version: “…have morphed into something quite different to what was originally drafted.” This is said to have been done at the behest of the Office of the Director General (a post that was held by Turkish diplomat Ahmet Üzümcü at the time, he has since been replaced by Spaniard Fernando Arias). The attack in question was widely attributed to the Syrian Army, based on reports by rebel forces that were present in Douma at the time, and this assertion was backed up by the United States, British and French governments. These three countries carried out air strikes against Syrian government targets in response, on the 14th of April 2018.
This was before the fact-finding team had gained access to the site in Douma, the mission there was delayed for nearly two weeks by entrenched rebel fighters and subsequent clashes between the rebels and government forces that moved into the area. Upon arrival the team found much of the physical evidence, including the bodies of the deceased, was no longer available. It was alleged that 49 had died and up to 650 had been seriously affected by a weaponized chemical gas released in a specific area of rebel-held Douma on that day in April. Rebels claimed the gas came from cylinders dropped from aircraft, clearly implicating Syrian government forces who had complete air superiority.
The actual email, part of a long article by Peter Hitchens for the Daily Mail of all places.
I wish to express, as a member of the FFM (Fact Finding Mission) team that conducted the investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April, my gravest concern at the redacted version of the FFM report, which I understand was at the behest of the ODG. (Office of the Director General). After reading this modified report, which incidentally no other team member who deployed into Douma has had the opportunity to do, I was struck by how much it misrepresents the facts. Many of the facts and observations outlined in the full version are inextricably interconnected and, by selectively omitting certain ones, an unintended bias has been introduced into the report, undermining its credibility. In other cases, some crucial facts that have remained in the redacted version have morphed into something quite different to what was initially drafted. If I may, I will outline some specific aspects to the redacted report that are particularly worrisome.
The statement in paragraph 8.3 of the final conclusions ‘The team has sufficient evidence at this time to determine that chlorine, or another reactive chlorine-containing chemical, was likely released from cylinders’, is highly misleading and not supported by the facts. The only evidence available at this moment is that some samples collected at Locations 2 and 4 were in contact with one or more chemicals that contain a reactive chlorine atom. Such chemicals could include molecular chlorine, phosgene, cyanogen chloride, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen chloride or sodium hypochlorite (the major ingredient of household chlorine-based bleach). Purposely singling out chlorine gas as one of the possibilities is disingenuous. It is also worth noting that the term ‘reactive chlorine-containing chemical’ used in the redacted report is, in fact, inaccurate. It actually describes a reactive chemical that contains chlorine which itself (the chlorine) is not necessarily reactive e.g. chlorophenol. The original report uses the more accurate term ‘a chemical containing reactive chlorine’.
Pedophilia will do that. Time to get rid of the lot.
Future historians may conclude that Prince Andrew’s defining achievement was to gift the nation a new verb. Following a tumultuous week when his car-crash interview shook the House of Windsor so vigorously it seemed its palaces were in danger of losing their crenellations, the Duke of York now finds himself banished from duties. His fate is the 21st-century equivalent of that which befell the difficult minor royals of previous eras who were locked up in asylums, away from the public gaze. “Prince Andrew has been de-royaled, if there is such a word,” said the historian and biographer Robert Lacey, an adviser to the acclaimed Netflix series The Crown.
Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
“At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I really would compare it to 1936 and the abdication of Edward VIII. What we are talking about is effectively the removal of a member of the royal family as a result of public opinion.” The duke can take some comfort from the knowledge that if he had been around a few hundred years ago, things could have been worse. “One can even compare it to 1649, when Charles I was executed,” Lacey said. “This is a reminder that what was an institution of absolute power now depends ultimately on the consent and approval of the communities it seeks to represent, and Prince Andrew failed in this respect.”
Princess Diana’s bombshell Panorama confession did huge damage to the royal family. Prince Charles’s decision to admit to adultery via a television interview greatly reduced his standing in the eyes of the public. “Andrew is a bit of a plonker, everybody knows that,” said one source close to the palace. “There’s no way he should have been allowed to do that interview. They should have just sent him off to Australia. That would have been a bloody good idea. Out of sight, out of mind.”
They knew about Andrew and kept quiet. Time to get rid of the lot.
The Victims’ Commissioner is demanding that the Metropolitan Police explain its decision not to pursue a full investigation into claims a teenager was trafficked to the UK to have sex with Prince Andrew. The Observer understands that Dame Vera Baird QC, a former solicitor general and chair of the Board of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, has taken a close interest in the allegations, first examined by Scotland Yard in 2015. Baird, who has focused on protecting victims of sexual and domestic abuse throughout her career, is currently observing election purdah and cannot speak to the media. However, prior to the election she made her views known to a victims’ rights campaigner, telling him that she would be requesting a meeting with the Met once purdah was over.
“Before the election was called I spoke at length with the Victims’ Commissioner and we both find it extraordinary that this matter was not proceeded with,” Harry Fletcher said. The Met has said that its investigators reviewed all “available evidence” after receiving a complaint relating to claims that were made in court documents. It was alleged that in 2001 a 17-year-old, now known to be Virginia Roberts, was “forced to have sex with Prince Andrew”, purportedly at the London home of socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, the one-time girlfriend of the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. His victims are now bringing claims for damages against his estate. It is understood that lawyers for Roberts also independently contacted the force in 2016. But the Met chose not to pursue a full investigation.
“..the right to suck up to power..”
In a wide-ranging dismantling of mainstream media reporting on Julian Assange, award-winning journalist John Pilger has blasted the Guardian for its coverage of the WikiLeaks founder. Pilger took aim at a Guardian editorial published this week, which made the case for not extraditing the Australian to the US, where he could face 175 years behind bars for possession and dissemination of classified information. The BAFTA award-winning documentary filmmaker has offered his interpretation of what the editorial actually meant “What the Guardian was really saying was this: ‘We are the fourth estate, the bearers of true liberal principles, the guardians of sacred rights. Such as the right to suck up to power. The right to invade countries and the right to smear those who expose our double standards and, if necessary, the right to destroy them,’” he said.
If Julian were to succumb to the cruelty he has endured, week after week, month after month, newspapers like the Guardian would share the responsibility. Pilger is one of the contributors to a new book titled ‘In Defense of Julian Assange,’ and he made the comments at the book’s launch in London on Saturday. Writer and activist Tariq Ali, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, actress Pamela Anderson, and former diplomat Craig Murray are among the other high-profile names who contributed to the book, which is an essay compilation on the prosecution of Assange and freedom of speech.
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