Esther Bubley Soldiers with their girls at the Indianapolis bus station 1943
With war cries rulling the waves, “investors” wonder where their money is safest: with a sweat-shop using company that buys back its shares all the time, or with gold. Given volumes, governments, central banks also appear involved.
• Gold, Oil Soar, Shares Slip As US And Iran Rattle Sabers (R.)
Tensions in the Middle East after the killing of a top Iranian general by the United States pushed an index of Asian shares off an 18-month high on Monday as investors pushed safe-haven gold near a seven-year high, and oil jumped to four-month peaks. The United States detected a heightened state of alert by Iran’s missile forces, as President Donald Trump warned the United States would strike back, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” if Iran attacked any American person or target. Iraq’s parliament on Sunday recommended all foreign troops be ordered out of the country after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a drone strike on a convoy at Baghdad airport.
Spot gold gained 1.6% to $1,579.55 per ounce in jittery trade to reach its highest since April 2013. Oil prices extended gains on fears any Middle East conflict could disrupt global supplies. Brent crude futures rose $1.9 to $70.50 a barrel, while U.S. crude climbed $1.5 to $64.57. “The risk of further escalation has clearly gone up – given the direct attack on Iran, Iran’s threat of retaliation and Trump’s desire to look tough – posing the threat of higher oil prices,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital. “Historically though oil prices need to double to pose a severe threat to global growth and we are long way from that.”
Max Blumenthal takes a bit much as gospel: “Iraqi PM Reveals…”
• Iraqi PM Claims Soleimani Was On Peace Mission When Assassinated (GZ)
At a January 3 State Department briefing, where reporters finally got the chance to demand evidence for the claim of an “imminent” threat, one US official erupted in anger. “Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?” he barked at the press. Two days later, when Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi addressed his country’s parliament, Trump’s justification for killing Soleimani was exposed as a cynical lie. According to Abdul-Mahdi, he had planned to meet Soleimani on the morning the general was killed to discuss a diplomatic rapproachment that Iraq was brokering between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Abdul-Mahdi said that Trump personally thanked him for the efforts, even as he was planning the hit on Soleimani – thus creating the impression that the Iranian general was safe to travel to Baghdad.
Soleimani had arrived in Baghdad not to plan attacks on American targets, but to coordinate de-escalation with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, he was killed while on an actual peace mission that could have created political distance between the Gulf monarchy and members of the US-led anti-Iran axis like Israel. The catastrophic results of Soleimani’s killing recall the Obama administration’s 2016 assassination of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a Taliban leader who was eager to negotiate a peaceful end to the US occupation of Afghanistan. Mansur’s death wound up empowering hardline figures in the Taliban who favored a total military victory over the US and triggered an uptick in violence across the country, dooming hopes for a negotiated exit.
Again: who gets what they wanted?
• Iraqi Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of Foreign Troops (AlJ)
Iraq’s parliament has passed a resolution calling on the government to expel foreign troops from the country as Iran-US tensions escalate following the killing of a top Iranian military commander and Iraqi armed group leader in a US strike in Baghdad. In an extraordinary parliamentary session on Sunday, parliament called on the government to end all foreign troop presence in Iraq and to cancel its request for assistance from the US-led coalition which had been working with Baghdad to fight ISIL. “The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory,” the resolution read.
“The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason.” Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding and the move would require new legislation to cancel the existing agreement. Ahead of the vote, chants of “No, no, America…long live Iraq”, rang out inside the hall, before Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also called on parliament to end foreign troop presence. “Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically,” said Abdul Mahdi in an address to parliament ahead of the vote.
Latest proposal: mandatory simulator trainning for all pilots. That’s what started the whole charade, so a nice round circle.
• Boeing Reports “Previously Unreported Concerns” With Wiring In 737 MAX (CNN)
[..] as part of a December audit of the plane’s safety ordered by the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing found “previously unreported concerns” with wiring in the 737 Max, according to a report earlier Sunday from the New York Times. The company informed the FAA last month that it is looking into whether two sections of wiring that control the tail of the plane are too close together and could cause a short circuit — and potentially a crash, if pilots did not react appropriately — the Times reported, citing a senior Boeing engineer and three people familiar with the matter. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed the report to CNN Business on Sunday, saying the issue was identified as part of a “rigorous process” to ensure the plane’s safety.
“Our highest priority is ensuring the 737 Max meets all safety and regulatory requirements before it returns to service,” the spokesperson said. “We are working closely with the FAA and other regulators on a robust and thorough certification process to ensure a safe and compliant design.” The spokesperson said it “would be premature to speculate” whether the discovery will lead to new design changes for the plane, or further extend the timeline for its recertification. It will be a challenge for Boeing’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, who officially takes over the job on January 13 after former CEO Dennis Muilenburg was ousted on December 23. “A change in leadership was necessary to restore confidence in the company moving forward as it works to repair relationships with regulators, customers, and all other stakeholders,” the company in December.
We would still do much better if central banks wouldn’t strangle interest rates.
• Why We’ll Never Get Rich By Putting Cash Away For A Rainy Day (Bell)
Norway has a wealth tax. Now, I’m in favour of a greater role for wealth taxes but, whatever your view, there’s at least one benefit we should all appreciate: lots of data on who owns what. Recent research delves into this Norwegian data mine and helps us investigate the popular view that those with more wealth build it up by saving more. You might call this the “wealth as the reward for doing the right thing” view of the world. But the research finds it’s nonsense – Norwegians save around 7% of their income, however much they may own. Despite saving the same proportion as those with much less, those with lots accumulate more. Why? Because we can accumulate wealth by the rising value of assets, such as property and shares.
The wealthier have more assets and more capital gains. These are banked, not consumed, so the gap grows. This is a huge deal, explaining 80% of wealth growing faster than income in Norway. The UK has also seen a wealth boom from rising house prices. These unexpected windfalls – rather than active savings like paying off a mortgage – explain 82% of increased property wealth since the early 1990s. Yet we pretend that wealth comes from savings and we ignore these capital gains when considering who is doing well, and so we make a dog’s dinner out of taxing them. It’s time we woke up to where wealth has actually come from in modern Britain … and Norway.
They can only exit repo if they support banks somewhere else.
• Fed Focuses On Repo Market Exit Strategy After Avoiding Year-End Crunch (R.)
Wall Street’s worst fears of a year-end funding squeeze never materialized thanks in large part to the quarter-trillion dollars the Federal Reserve stuffed into the market to ensure nothing became gummed up. The question now, though, is what it will take for the U.S. central bank to withdraw from its daily liquidity operations in the $2.2 trillion market for repurchase agreements, or repos – after it became a dominant player in a short three months. “The repo operations are a band-aid, but the wound isn’t healed fully,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an interest rate strategist at TD Securities. The New York Fed began injecting billions of dollars of liquidity into the repo market in mid-September, when a confluence of events sent the cost of overnight loans as high as 10%, more than four times the Fed’s rate at the time.
A month later, the Fed moved to expand its balance sheet – and boost the level of reserves – by snapping up $60 billion a month in U.S. Treasury bills. The Fed will continue pumping tens of billions a day into the repo market through at least the end of January. Its ability to exit from the repo market after that time will depend on how long it takes the central bank to make the balance sheet large enough so there are adequate reserves in the banking system – and the repo operations are no longer needed. “It seems implausible to me that the Fed will be able to stop their repo operations by the end of January,” said Mark Cabana, head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting released on Friday showed its staffers expected repo operations to be “gradually” reduced after mid-January. However, staff members also said the central bank may need to continue offering some repo operations until at least April, when tax payments could reduce the level of reserves. Another challenge for Fed officials: Deciding just how big the central bank’s balance sheet, which is currently about $4 trillion, should be.
Michael Pettis on Twitter: “So far “prudent policies” has meant that for several years China has generated nearly five times as much debt per unit of GDP as the rest of the world — even more if you think GDP growth has been overstated on a comparable basis.”
• PBOC Says Its Prudent Policies Will Continue (CD)
China will maintain a prudent monetary policy while keeping it flexible this year to ensure reasonably adequate liquidity, and it will strengthen adjustments to support economic growth, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said in a statement on Sunday. [..] The PBOC will promote credit financing for small and private companies, it said in its statement. Last year, it increased large commercial banks’ loans for small and micro companies by more than 30 percent, leading to a drop in lending costs of 1 percentage point. “These targets have been over-fulfilled,” it said.
The central bank is aiming this year to “win the battle of preventing and reducing large financial risks” and reiterated its role as “the lender of last resort”, which means the it will provide money to financial institutions that are experiencing financial difficulty to prevent their collapse. Last year, financial regulators took over Baoshang Bank in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and provided liquidity to prevent the spread of financial risks. To support liquidity and improve commercial bank’s asset quality, the PBOC will supplement commercial banks’ capital in 2020 through issuance of perpetual bonds — a credit instrument having no date to pay back.
Other risk-control measures will be taken for internet and real estate financing, and a macro-prudential regulatory system will be built to supervise cross-border capital flows, according to the central bank. Regulatory control over monetary policy operations is expected to continue to strengthen in China. “Monetary easing, if any, is expected to be limited and should not translate into relaxed regulatory control over the riskier types of leverage, which is positive to system stability,” said Rowena Chang, associate director of Non-Banks Asia Pacific at Fitch Ratings, an international rating agency.
Military use is a deal killer.
• Trump Admin Pressed Dutch Hard To Cancel China Chip-Equipment Sale (R.)
The Trump administration mounted an extensive campaign to block the sale of Dutch chip manufacturing technology to China, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lobbying the Netherlands government and White House officials sharing a classified intelligence report with the country’s Prime Minister, people familiar with the effort told Reuters. The high-level push, which has not previously been reported, demonstrates the importance the White House places on preventing China from getting hold of a machine required to make the world’s fastest microprocessors. It also shows the challenges facing the U.S. government’s largely unilateral efforts to stem the flow of advanced technology to China.
The U.S. campaign began in 2018, after the Dutch government gave semiconductor equipment company ASML, the global leader in a critical chip-making process known as lithography, a license to sell its most advanced machine to a Chinese customer, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Over the following months, U.S officials examined whether they could block the sale outright and held at least four rounds of talks with Dutch officials, three sources told Reuters. The effort culminated in the White House on July 18 when Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman raised the issue with Dutch officials during the visit of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was given an intelligence report on the potential repercussions of China acquiring ASML’s technology, according to a former U.S. government official familiar with the matter.
The pressure appears to have worked. Shortly after the White House visit, the Dutch government decided not to renew ASML’s export license, and the $150 million machine has not been shipped. [..] The ASML machine uses extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light beams, generated by lasers and focused by giant mirrors, to lay out extraordinarily narrow circuits on slabs of silicon known as wafers. That in turn makes it possible to create faster and more powerful microprocessors, memory chips and other advanced components, which are critical for consumer electronics and military applications alike. Only a few companies, including America’s Intel, South Korea’s Samsung and Taiwan’s TSMC, are currently capable of manufacturing the most sophisticated chips.
Curious: CBS puts a whole team on this for 5 months, and then writes about a note that says nothing, instead of photos that say a lot. Bloody neck, bloodless noose.
• Handwritten Note Found In Jeffrey Epstein’s Jail Cell (CBS)
While Epstein surrounded himself with a collection of powerful and high profile figures, the wealthy financier lived a majority of his life in privacy, avoiding television appearances and media interviews almost entirely. And though the federal charges brought against Epstein in July served as a gateway into learning more about the secretive life the 66 year-old led, filled with a controversial plea deal, luxurious travels around the world and alleged sex abuse rings, public intrigue about Epstein, who neglected to give any public statements following his arrest, has heightened.
In the course of a five-month investigation, 60 Minutes obtained photos of Epstein’s cell after his apparent suicide. Also found was a note, giving the world a look into what Jeffrey Epstein may have been thinking in his final days. The note was written on yellow lined paper with a blue ballpoint pen and there were complaints about jail conditions. The note says that one guard “kept me in a locked shower stall for 1 hour.” “[Another prison guard] sent me burnt food.” “Giant bugs crawling over my hands. No fun!!” Epstein’s apparent discomfort about jail conditions comes as no surprise. According to Bruce Barket, Epstein’s former cellmate’s lawyer, Jeffrey Epstein and his legal team took up one of the two attorney visiting rooms “all day, every day.”
No, I don’t know how credible the Daily Mail is here. But it’s good to keep the conversation going.
• Ghislaine Maxwell Under 24-Hour Guard By Former US Navy Seals (DM)
Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is being guarded round the clock by former US Navy SEALs amid concern that her life is in danger, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. A source says ex-special forces are shuttling the 58-year-old friend of Prince Andrew from one safe house to another across the American Midwest following ‘credible death threats’. She is now the principal focus of an FBI investigation and is said to hold the key to the truth about the Duke of York’s relationship with the disgraced financier and whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The Duke has repeatedly denied these allegations and any suggestion of wrongdoing.
While Miss Maxwell has never been accused by the authorities of criminal wrongdoing, Epstein’s alleged victims have portrayed her as his ‘madam’ and ‘fixer’. A source said: ‘There has been so much rubbish written about Ghislaine. The reality is she receives multiple, credible death threats on a daily basis. The hate mail is sometimes 2ft high. ‘She is constantly moving. Her life is in danger. She is being guarded by the best of the very best and that includes former US Navy SEALs. She’s not under the protection of any government. She’s on her own.’ Asked about reports last week that Miss Maxwell was being sheltered in Israel and supported by wealthy friends, the source said: ‘I only wish. This is costing her a fortune. She moves constantly. The reports are just b*******.’
The reason Victoria’s Secret had no 2019 show is Epstein. But interesting that as America gets fatter fast, models go the opposite way. Neither looks very healthy.
• Victoria’s Secret Models Got Much Thinner Over Last 23 Years (WBUR)
Cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Neelam Vashi says she is fascinated by women’s waist-to-hip ratio, the hourglass curve from the narrowest point of the waist to the widest point of the hips. She was curious, she says, to see whether previous cross-cultural findings that men tend to prefer women with a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio would hold true across time in a group known for beauty — models in the famed Victoria’s Secret fashion show. So Vashi, an assistant professor of dermatology at Boston University and director of the Cosmetic and Laser Center at Boston Medical Center, and colleagues analyzed the measurements of models who walked the runway at the now-defunct fashion show over 23 years, from 1995 to 2018.
She found that the 0.7 ratio — roughly a 24-inch waist divided by 35-inch hips — did hold true for the models, a nice confirmation of her hypothesis. But the results from other measures the team examined were surprising — and, she says, concerning. “Overall, these models became slimmer and their dress size decreased,” says Vashi. “The ratio stayed the same, but each one of those measurements did decrease.” And as Victoria’s Secret models got thinner, the average American woman’s measurements grew — with the average woman now at least a size 16. Concern over that rising disparity comes across in the research paper’s title, which begins: “Unattainable Standards of Beauty.”
“These findings represent an ideal of beauty that continuously moves further away from the characteristics of the average American woman,” says a news release accompanying the study. In 2019, with ratings low, Victoria’s Secret canceled the fashion show, saying it needed to evolve and be rethought for a new media era. As a cosmetic dermatologist, Vashi focuses on enhancing people’s looks, she says, but she also hopes people recognize that Victoria’s Secret models, “have bodies that are just not attainable by an average person.” Though that hasn’t stopped some from trying. The study notes a dramatic recent rise in cosmetic surgery, “with buttock and lower body lift [procedures] increasing by 4295% and 256%, respectively, since 2000.”
[..] The study found that bust measurements dropped from 32.9 inches in the 1990s, to 32 inches 20 years later. Waist size dropped from 24.7 inches to 23.6 inches, and hips shrank from 34.9 inches to 34.4 inches. Average dress size dropped from 5.2 to 3.7. The research also found the models became more racially and ethnically diverse. “To decrease a dress size from 5.2 to 3.7, that’s a significant difference,” Vashi says. “To slim an inch off one’s waist — that’s very hard to do.”
And then you realize you really couln’t get one single American to say it. Painful.
• Ricky Gervais Skewers Hollywood’s A-List (R.)
British comedian and actor Ricky Gervais returned to host the Golden Globe awards on Sunday, cracking scathing jokes about Hollywood’s elite that got both laughs and disapproving looks from the A-list audience. Gervais last hosted the Globes four years ago, before the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite movements shined a spotlight on the underrepresentation of women and minorities in Hollywood. He said the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, had planned to have a segment honoring celebrities who died in 2019, “but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn’t diverse enough.”
Gervais also called out Hollywood actors as hypocrites for giving impassioned political speeches at awards shows while working in movies or television series produced by major tech and media corporations. “You say you’re woke, but the companies you work for – I mean, unbelievable – Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you’d call your agent, wouldn’t ya?,” he asked. “So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You are in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. “So if you win, right? Come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God” and leave the stage, he concluded, using an expletive.
Here's the Full Ricky.
A little bit of honesty that will make him a Hollywood pariah for years to come.
— TF Metals Report (@TFMetals) January 6, 2020
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