Jacobello Alberegno The Beast of the Apocalypse 1360-90
The Guardian ran an article yesterday by one of its editors, David Shariatmadari, that both proves and disproves its own theme at the same time: “An Information Apocalypse Is Coming”. Now, I don’t fancy the term apocalypse in a setting like this, it feels too much like going for a cheap thrill, but since he used it, why not.
My first reaction to the headline, and the article, is: what do you mean it’s ‘coming’? Don’t you think we have such an apocalypse already, that we’re living it, we’re smack in the middle of such a thing? If you don’t think so, would that have anything to do with you working at a major newspaper? Or with your views of the world, political and other, that shape how you experience ‘information’?
Shariatmadari starts out convincingly and honestly enough with a description of a speech that JFK was supposed to give in Dallas right after he was murdered, a speech that has been ‘resurrected’ using technology that enables one to make it seem like he did deliver it.
“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason, or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality, and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”
John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear.
Yes, Kennedy’s words are lofty ones, and they do possess at least some predictive qualities. But history does play a part too. Would we have read the same in them that we do now, had Kennedy not been shot right before he could deliver them? Hard to tell.
What’s more, not long before JFK was elected president America had been in the tight and severe grip of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign, in which lots of reality was replaced with rhetoric, something Kennedy undoubtedly had in mind while writing the speech. JFK was not just addressing future threats, he was talking about the past as well.
But the writer slips into a much bigger faux pas right after: injecting Trump into the picture. It’s fine if someone doesn’t like Trump, but naming him there and then, in an article about ‘information apocalypse’, also means confusing objectivity with regards to your topic with subjectivity concerning your political ideas. While the Kennedy speech item relates to -advancing(?)- technology, a valid part of the apocalypse, mentioning Trump has nothing to do with that apocalypse, at least not objectively. Back to David Shariatmadari:
The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation. The result is pretty convincing, although there’s a machine-like ring to some of the syllables, a synthetic stutter. Enough to recognise, if you already know, that this is a feat of technology, not oratory.
We like to think of innovation as morally neutral. We empower scientists and engineers to range freely in the hope they might discover things that save labour and lives. The ends to which these are put aren’t the responsibility of the researchers. The agile robots produced by Boston Dynamics might look like they could cheerfully pin you up against a wall and snap your neck, but do we really want to close off this avenue of research? After all, they might equally be capable of performing life-saving surgery. The methods used to resurrect JFK can also help people with illnesses such as motor neurone disease – like the late Stephen Hawking – that affect their ability to speak.
It’s certainly true that we are so ‘geared’ towards progress, we ‘conveniently’ forget and ignore that every next step carries its own shadow side, every yin comes with its yang. ‘Progress’ and ‘innovation’ – and related terms- ring so positive in our eyes and ears it borders on -wilful- blindness. That blindness is set to play a major role in our future, and in our acceptance as gospel of a lot of ‘information’.
“Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump.
Ouch! See, he does it again. This is not an objective discourse on ‘information disinformation’, but a way to make people think -through a method he’s supposed to be exposing- that ‘fake news’ led to Brexit and Trump. That’s a political view, not a neutral one. Yes, there are many voices out there who connect ‘fake news’ directly to things they don’t like, but that’s just a trap.
And as I said, it may have to do with the fact that the writer works for a major newspaper, which of course he wants to, and wishes to, see as some kind of beacon against fake news, but if he lets his own personal views slip into an objective treatment of a topic this easily, it automatically becomes self-defeating.
There is no proof that Trump and Brexit’s success are down to fake news more than their opposite sides, ‘fake news’ is everywhere, and that very much includes the Guardian. The coverage of the UK government accusations against Russia in the poisoning case proves that more than ever.
You can be anti-Trump, anti-Brexit and anti-Putin all you want, but they don’t define fake news or an information apocalypse, any more than ‘commies’ did in the days of Hoover and McCarthy.
We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.
That is am almost bewildering line. Does the writer really think ‘ordinary people’ can today tell apart what’s real and what’s not? If his paper had honestly covered his country’s, and his government’s, involvement in the wars all over the Middle East and North Africa over the past decades, would his readers still be supportive of the politicians that today inhabit Westminster?
Or does the paper prefer supporting the incumbents over Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, because it owes its reputation and position and revenues to supporting the likes of Theresa May and Tony Blair? Yeah, I know, with a critical view, yada yada, but when has the Guardian labeled any UK politician a war criminal? Much easier to go after Farage, isn’t it? The question is: what part of this is fake, and what is not?
What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them?
This appears to make sense, but it does not really. We are way past that. ‘Ordinary people’ have already lost their capacity to tell truth from fiction. Newspapers and TV stations have long disseminated the views of their owners, it’s just that they now have -newfound- competition from a million other sources: the blessings of social media.
The core issue here is that 1984 is not some point in the future, as we for some reason prefer to think. We are living 1984. Perhaps the fact that we are now 34 years past it should give us a clue about that? People tend to think that perhaps Orwell was right, but his predictions were way early. Were they, though?
Also: Orwell may not have foreseen the blessings and trappings of social media, but he did foresee how governments and their media sympathizers would react to them: with more disinformation.
Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously.
This is a full-blown time warp. If it is true that people only now take the potential for an “information apocalypse” seriously, they are so far behind the curve ball that one must question the role of the media in that. Why didn’t people know about that potential when it was an actual issue? Why did nobody tell them?
The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.
Yes, we do have an idea about that, because we see it around us 24/7. Maybe not with images as fully fabricated as the JFK speech, but the essence is manipulation itself, not the means by which it’s delivered.
Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing.
David, we ARE all bullshitters, we all lie all the time, for a myriad of reasons, to look better, to feel better, to seem better, to get rich, to get laid. It’s who we are. We lie to ourselves most of all. A sixth sense against bullshit and propaganda is the very last thing we will ever develop, because it would force us to face our own bullshit.
But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.
We are not “on the cusp of a new and scary age”, we are in the smack middle of it. We haven’t been able to separate rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, for ages. What’s different from 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, is that now we are faced with an information overload so severe that this in itself makes us less capable of separating chaff from wheat.
So yes, that perhaps is new. But bullshit and propaganda are not. And labeling Trump and Brexit the main threats misses your own topic by miles. You could make an equally valid point that they are the results of many years of bullshit and propaganda by old-style politics and old-style media.
Maybe they’re what happens when ‘ordinary people’ switch off from an overload of bullshit and propaganda forced upon them by people and institutions they grew up to trust. And then feel they were betrayed by. A sixth sense after all.
Hong Kong, Sweden, China and Australia could all find themselves in hot water over private-sector debt if borrowing costs rise, according to research by Oxford Economics. That’s because those countries all have a particularly high share of floating-rate debt in relation to economic output. If interest rates increase, households and companies are likely to feel the pinch, the study of 16 economies found. With global economic momentum picking up, several major central banks are weighing steps to tighten policy, though the pace of movement varies significantly. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again next week and economists also predict that Sweden’s Riksbank will tighten policy later this year.
Oxford Economics estimated that an interest rate rise of 100 basis points would raise Hong Kong’s debt service ratio by around 2.5% of GDP after a year, while Sweden, China and Australia would experience increases of between 1.5% and 1.7% of GDP. By contrast, Germany, where debt levels are moderate, as well as France and the U.S. are less likely to suffer. For the latter two, that’s because mortgages are typically of fixed rate.
Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% experienced in the 50 years prior to 2008. As a result of the combination of slow economic growth and deficit spending, most people are also aware that the debt/GDP ratio has been rising. However, what most people don’t know is that, over the past ten years, the dollar amount of cumulative government deficit spending exceeded the dollar amount of GDP growth. Put another way, in the absence of deficit spending, GDP growth would have been less than zero for the past decade. Could that be true?
Let’s begin with a shocking chart that confirms the statements above, and begins to answer the question. The black line shows the difference between quarterly GDP growth and the quarterly increase in Treasury debt outstanding (TDO). When the black line is above zero (red dotted line), the dollar amount is GDP is growing faster than the increase in TDO. From 1971 to 2008, the amount of GDP typically grew at a faster rate than the increase in TDO, which is why the black line is generally above the red dotted line.
Most people are aware that GDP growth has been lower than expected in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 (GFC). For example, real GDP growth for the past decade has been closer to 1.5% than the 3% During the 1971-2008 period, inflation, budget deficits, and trade deficits varied widely, meaning that the relationship between GDP growth and TDO was stable even in the face of changes in other economic variables. Regardless of those changing economic variables, the US economy tended to grow at a pace faster than TDO for four decades. The only interruptions to the pattern occurred during recessions of the early 1980s, early 1990s, and early 2000s when GDP fell while budget deficits did not.
[..] From 2008-2017, GDP grew by $5.051 trillion, from $14.55 trillion to $19.74 trillion. During that same period, the increase in TDO totaled $11.26 trillion. In other words, for each dollar of deficit spending, the economy grew by less than 50 cents. Or, put another way, had the federal government not borrowed and spent the $11.263 trillion, GDP today would be significantly smaller than it is. It is possible to transform Chart 1, which shows annual changes in TDO and GDP from 1970-2017, into Chart 3 below, which shows the cumulative difference between the growth of TDO and GDP over the entire period from 1970-2017. The graph below clearly shows the abrupt regime change that occurred in the aftermath of the GFC. A period in which growth in GDP growth exceeded increases in TDO has been replaced by a period in which increases in TDO exceeded GDP growth.
The US gross national debt jumped by $72.8 billion in one day, on Thursday, the Treasury Department reported Friday afternoon. This March 16 is a historic date of gloomy proportions, because on this date, the US gross national debt punched through the $21 trillion mark and reached $21.03 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, a little over six months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.84 trillion. In those six-plus months – 132 reporting days, to be precise – the gross national debt spiked by $1.186 trillion. I tell you, these dang trillions are flying by so fast, they’re hard to see. And we wonder: What was that? Where did it go?
Whatever it was and wherever it went, it added 6% to the gross national debt in just 6 months. And with 2017 GDP at $19.74 trillion in current dollars, the gross national debt now amounts to 106.4% of GDP. In the chart below, the flat spots are the various debt-ceiling periods. This is a uniquely American phenomenon when Congress forbids the Administration to borrow the money that it needs to borrow in order to spend it on the things that Congress told the Administration to spend it on via the appropriation bills. So that’s where we are, on this glorious day of March 16, 2018:
Russia has announced it will expel 23 British diplomats in response to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from Britain. The move marks the latest development in the diplomatic spat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday morning that the 23 diplomatic representatives of the British Embassy in Moscow should leave Russia within a week. The ministry also said all activities by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations, would cease in Russia and that the planned reopening of the British consulate in St Petersburg would no longer go ahead. The ministry warned that Russia could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly actions” against the country.
Shortly before the announcement, British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the foreign ministry for talks, where he learned of the retaliation measures. As he left the ministry, Mr Bristow said: “This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the UK, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as Russia is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Act.” The retaliation from Russia comes four days after Theresa May announced that 23 Russian diplomats would be expelled from Britain after Russia missed a deadline to provide an explanation for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Both remain critically ill in hospital.
Russia has continued to dismiss accusations of Russian culpability for the attack and to deny possessing Novichok, the nerve agent used in the incident. On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning, saying it was “overwhelmingly likely” Mr Putin personally ordered the assassination attempt. Dmitry Peskov, Russian presidential press secretary, responded to the verbal escalation with a further denial of the state’s involvement. “Any reference or mention of our President in this connection is nothing but a shocking and unforgivable violation of the diplomatic rules of propriety,” Mr Peskov said.
Large companies with significant digital revenues in the European Union such as Google and Facebook could face a 3% tax on their turnover under a draft proposal by the European Commission seen by Reuters. The proposal, expected to be adopted next week and still subject to changes, updates an earlier draft which envisaged a tax rate of between 1 and 5%. The tax, if backed by EU states and lawmakers, would only apply to large firms with annual worldwide revenues above 750 million euros (£662.2 million) and annual “taxable” revenues above 50 million euros in the EU. The threshold for EU revenues has been raised from 10 million euros initially foreseen to exempt smaller companies and emerging start-ups from the tax.
Large U.S. firms such as Uber, Airbnb and Amazon could also be hit by the new levy, which would apply across the 28 EU countries. Big tech firms have been accused by large EU states of paying too little tax in the bloc by re-routing some of their profits to low-tax member states like Ireland and Luxembourg. Services that will be taxed are digital advertising, which would capture both providers of users’ data like Google, and companies offering ad space on their websites, like popular social media such as Facebook. The tax would be also be levied on online platforms offering “intermediation services,” a concept under which the Commission includes gig economy firms such as Airbnb and Uber. Digital market places, including Amazon, would also be within the scope of the levy.
Goldilocks is a conceit of monetary central planning and its erroneous predicate that falsifying financial asset prices is the route to prosperity. In fact, it only leads to immense and unstable financial bubbles which eventually crash – monkey-hammering the purported Goldilocks Economy as they do. It also leads to a complete corruption of the economic and financial narrative on both ends of the Acela Corridor. To wit, the Fed’s serial financial bubbles on Wall Street are falsely celebrated as arising from a booming main street economy. In fact, they are an economic dagger that bleeds it of investment and cash and exposes it to “restructuring” mayhem from the C-suites when the egregious inflation of share prices and stock option values finally gets crushed by another financial meltdown.
In this context, the Washington Post (WaPo) is out this morning with brutal takedown of our friend Larry Kudlow for his ebullient whistling past the graveyard on the eve of the financial crisis and Great Recession. It would be an understatement to say he didn’t see it coming, but it’s also completely unfair not to acknowledge that 95% of Wall Street and 100% of the FOMC were equally bubble-blind. In fact, when Larry Kudlow waxed eloquently in a piece in the National Review about the awesome economy the George Bush Administration had produced in December 2007, he was just delivering the Wall Street consensus forecast for the coming year:
“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth consecutive year with more to come. Yes, it’s still the greatest story never told…….In fact, we are about to enter the seventh consecutive year of the Bush boom.”
Well, not exactly. The worst recession since the 1930s actually incepted that very month and 10 months latter came Washington’s hair-on-fire moment when the monetary and fiscal spigots were opened far wider than ever before – bailing out everything that was collapsing, tottering, moving or even standing still.
Sunday night was Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s turn through the CBS 60-Minutes wringer of censure with a visibly frustrated inquisitor Lesley Stahl trying to hector her into self-incrimination. The sad truth about American schools is that they’re a mirror for the painful collapse of the society they supposedly serve — a process ongoing for decades before Ms. DeVos came on the scene. The expectation that some uber-regent can or ought to fix public education is bound to disappoint a news media searching for saviors. The further we leave the 20th century behind, the more anomalous its organizing principles look, especially the idea of preparing masses of young people for mass, regimented work at the giant corporate scale.
There’s a big divergence underway between the promises of schooling and the kind of future that the 21st century is actually presenting — of no plausible careers or vocations besides providing “therapy” and policing for the discontented masses stewing in anomie and compensatory pleasure-seeking, with all its nasty side effects. In the meantime, we’re stuck with wildly expensive, out-of-scale, giant centralized schools where the worst tendencies of human status competition are amplified by smart phones and social media to all but eclipse classroom learning.
Education in the years to come is destined to become more of a privilege than a right, and it will probably depend more on how much an individual young person really desires an education than just compelling masses of uninterested or indisposed kids to show up everyday for an elaborate and rather poorly supervised form of day-care. But it’s difficult to let go of old habits and obsolete arrangements, especially when we’ve spent countless billions of dollars on them. I call the future a World Made By Hand because it is going to be entirely unlike the sci-fi robotic fantasy that currently preoccupies the thought-leaders in this culture. A lot of what will be required in this time-to-come will be physical labor and small-scale skilled work in traditional crafts. There never were that many job openings for astronauts, not even in the 1960s, but in the decades ahead there will be none — notwithstanding Elon Musk’s wish to colonize Mars.
In Los Angeles, the more the politicians push to solve the city’s festering homelessness crisis, the worse it seems to get. The city leadership has taken one bold step after another: restructuring the budget to free more than $100m a year in homelessness funding, sponsoring one voter-approved initiative to raise more than $1bn for housing and backing another regional proposal to raise the sales tax and generate an estimated $3.5bn for support services over the next decade. And yet the tent cities continue to proliferate, in rich neighborhoods and poor, by the beach, the airport, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and within view of City Hall itself. It’s the sorriest urban scene anywhere in America, and the same voters who not so long ago opened their hearts and their wallets to put an end to it are growing increasingly impatient.
As the numbers of homeless people continue to rise – the latest figures put the countywide number at 58,000, up more than 20% in a single year – and new encampments spring up on sidewalks, under freeways, and along stretches of river and rail lines, the politicians who not so long ago were earning praise for their courage are facing the beginnings of an angry backlash. “How many people have we housed?” the Los Angeles Times asked impatiently in a blistering series of editorials late last month. “How many are we on track toward housing? Is Los Angeles setting the national standard for rapid and effective response to a vexing problem? Or are its leaders merely mastering the art of appearances while passing the buck and hoping things turn around? … Who’s in charge here?”
John F Kennedy’s last speech reads like a warning from history, as relevant today as it was when it was delivered in 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. His rich, Boston Brahmin accent reassures us even as he delivers the uncomfortable message. The contrast between his eloquence and the swagger of Donald Trump is almost painful to hear. The problem is, Kennedy never spoke these words. He was killed before he made it to the Trade Mart. You can only hear them now thanks to audio technology developed by a British company, CereProc. Fragments of his voice have been taken from other speeches and public appearances, spliced and put back together, with neural networks employed to mimic his natural intonation.
[..] “Dual use” of technology is not a new problem. Nuclear physics gave us both energy and bombs. What is new is the democratisation of advanced IT, the fact that anyone with a computer can now engage in the weaponisation of information; 2016 was the year we woke up to the power of fake news, with internet conspiracy theories and lies used to bolster the case for both Brexit and Donald Trump. We may, however, look back on it as a kind of phoney war, when photoshopping and video manipulation were still easily detectable. That window is closing fast. A program developed at Stanford University allows users to convincingly put words into politicians’ mouths. Celebrities can be inserted into porn videos. Quite soon it will be all but impossible for ordinary people to tell what’s real and what’s not.
What will the effects of this be? When a public figure claims the racist or sexist audio of them is simply fake, will we believe them? How will political campaigns work when millions of voters have the power to engage in dirty tricks? What about health messages on the dangers of diesel or the safety of vaccines? Will vested interests or conspiracy theorists attempt to manipulate them? Unable to trust what they see or hear, will people retreat into lives of non-engagement, ceding the public sphere to the already powerful or the unscrupulous? The potential for an “information apocalypse” is beginning to be taken seriously. The problem is we have no idea what a world in which all words and images are suspect will look like, so it’s hard to come up with solutions.
Perhaps not very much will change – perhaps we will develop a sixth sense for bullshit and propaganda, in the same way that it has become easy to distinguish sales calls from genuine inquiries, and scam emails with fake bank logos from the real thing. But there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to defend ourselves from the onslaught, and society could start to change in unpredictable ways as a result. Like the generation JFK was addressing in his speech, we are on the cusp of a new and scary age. Rhetoric and reality, the plausible and the possible, are becoming difficult to separate. We await a figure of Kennedy’s stature to help us find a way through. Until then, we must at the very least face up to the scale of the coming challenge.
China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions, said the statements which were dated March 2.
It added that the rules would come into effect on May 1. The move is in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, said one of the notices which was signed by eight ministries, including the country’s aviation regulator and the Supreme People’s Court. China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score.
We’re going to figure this one out way too late. The time to stop this is now, not at some future point down the line. But we’re not doing anything at all. We blindly parrot claims about clean energy and electric cars that will allegedly ‘save’ us, because we want to do the saving without paying a price for it that makes our lives one iota less comfy.
Earth is enduring a mass species extinction, scientists say – the first since the demise of the dinosaurs and only the sixth in half-a-billion years. The reason? Humanity’s voracious consumption, and wanton destruction, of the very gifts of nature that keep us alive. Starting Saturday, a comprehensive, global appraisal of the damage, and what can be done to reverse it, will be conducted in Colombia. “The science is clear: biodiversity is in crisis globally,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP ahead of a crucial meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “We depend on biodiversity for the food we eat, the water we drink, the clean air we breathe, the stability of weather patterns, and yet our actions are pushing nature’s ability to sustain us to the brink.”
Scientists and government envoys will gather as the 128-member IPBES to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on five monumental assessment reports designed to inform global policymaking into the future. Compiled over the last three years, the reports will provide the most up-to-date picture of the health of the world’s plants, animals and soil. [..] Meeting host Colombia claims to boast the world’s largest variety of birds and orchids and is second only to Brazil in terms of overall species diversity. Paradoxically, decades of conflict have preserved fragile habitats in no-go zones in the country, whose mountainous topography supports 311 different ecosystems.
Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.
Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.
[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.
Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:
“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:
“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”
[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’
It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.
The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.
[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”
It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.
And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.
The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!
There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.
So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.
I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).
Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.
Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.
He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.
The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.
“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.
More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.
The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.
[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”
An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.
She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.
[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..
The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”
A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.
Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…
Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.
The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.
Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.
My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.
Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.
This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”
Bit of a hyperbole headline perhaps (how would you know), but certainly unequalled in our times. I think Hawking greatest achievement was that once people had accepted his ‘initial’ groundbreaking theories on black holes (nothing can escape, event horizons etc.), he turned around and said they were not true: matter does escape from them after all: Hawking radiation.
He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.” Professor Hawking explored both the very smallest and very largest parts of the universe: testing the limits of human understanding across time and space space, and peering into the sub-molecular world of quantum theory. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, was one of the first to respond to news of his death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”. Professor Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks.
Over the years, he would also embrace areas of popular culture appearing in both The Simpsons and hit US science comedy The Big Bang Theory. His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes. His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation.” “My goal is simple,” Professor Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
With Roger Penrose, Professor Hawking showed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. He spent much of his career trying to find a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory with quantum physics and produce a “Theory of Everything.” Professor Hawking said he wrote A Brief History of Time to convey as clearly as he could the topics that excited him. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”
[..] the Korean peninsula never had anything to do with American security. Its partition was an accident in the final days of WWII; the 1950-1953 war was utterly pointless and unnecessary; and the prolonged US occupation of the southern half of the peninsula was at once a provocation, a massive waste of treasure and a prime example of what imperial rulers do once bivouacked astride a global empire. That is, like Imperial Rome, they puff themselves up with self-importance and busy-body rule for its own sake. So doing, they invent self-serving rationalizations for hegemony, such as the insidious “indispensable nation” conceit—even as they extract the taxes and issue the mountains of debt required to fund the endless fiscal needs of the state’s machinery of war and foreign domination.
Indeed, Washington has long ago forgotten how its global empire came about or why the Korean frontier has remained a vestigial Maginot Line – long after the “enemies” it was designed to contain disappeared from the pages of history. We are referring, or course, to the Soviet Empire, which is no more; and the Red China Menace, which has morphed into a colossal Red Ponzi scheme of debt, malinvestment and speculative building madness that is a danger mostly to the 1.3 billion Chinese caught up in history’s craziest economic freak show. So whether by inadvertence or blind impulse, the Donald has now opened the door to sweeping away six decades of Washington duplicity and double-speak.
The fact is, the Korean problem is not complicated or some kind of imponderable riddle that baffles even the so-called “experts”.To the contrary, both a visiting Martian and an attentive reader of history not enthrall to the groupthink of Imperial Washington can see that the key to “de-nuclearizing” Korea is to demilitarize it and de-internationalize it at the same time. That is, if Washington ever wishes to de-escalate its current dangerous nuclear brinksmanship with the Fat Boy Of Pyongyang, it needs to get its 29,000 troops off the peninsula and end the constant war games and practice invasions of the North Korea; and to also tear up the Washington imposed mutual security agreements, and let the two halves of the “Hermit Kingdom” restore their own version of the pre-1945 status quo ante.
[..] since 2002 South Korea’s economy has grown every eight months by more than the entire current GDP of North Korea. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground and the overwhelming case to permit Korea to be run by the Koreans under whatever state arrangements they can agree to. That was the exact aim of the South Korean governments after the Cold War ended when they pursued “sunshine policy” rapprochement with the North. That is, until it was shutdown by George Bush’s neocon hatchet men.
The firing of Secretary of State Tillerson, the movement of CIA Director Pompeo to Secretary of State, and the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand, indicate that the military/security complex has closed its grip on the Trump regime. There will be no more talk of normalizing relations with Russia. The combination of the Israel Lobby, the neoconservatives, and the military/security complex have proven to be too powerful for peace to be established between the two nuclear powers. If you look at Trump’s administration, the above three forces are those in charge. Israel remains determined to use the US military to destabilize Syria and Iran in order to isolate Hezbollah and cut off the milita’s support and supplies.
The neoconservatives both support Israel’s interest and their own desire for Washington’s hegemony over the world. The military/security complex intends to hold on to the “Russia threat” as a justification of its budget and power. The presstitutes are in complete harmony with the scheme. Although Russiagate has been proven to be false charges orchestrated by the DNC, FBI, and CIA, the presstitutes continue to repeat the charges as if evidence exists that proves the charges to be true. The “stolen election” is fiction turned into fact. And now we have a new charge, that Putin ordered a former British spy in England to be eliminated while sitting on a park bench with the use of a highly unlikely form of military poison.
The charge is preposterous, but that is not preventing the fiction from becoming fact. Having served in Washington for a quarter century and having known members of the British government, I do not believe that any of them believe the Russiagate and Skripal poisoning stories. What is happening is that an agenda has taken precedence over truth. This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons easily give Russia military superiority over the US. As China and Iran see the situation similarly to the Russians, the US is greatly out-classed.
Yet, Washington and its vassals persist in making violent and false charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and on occasion China. Russia, Iran, and China know that these charges are false. Confronting an endless string of false and hostile charges, they prepare for war. The world is being driven to war, which would be nuclear, by a tiny minority: Israeli Zionists, neoconservatives, and the US military/security complex. We are witnessing the most reckless and irresponsible behavior in world history. Where are the voices against it?
As CIA director Mike Pompeo moves to become the United States’ secretary of state, deputy director Gina Haspel has been nominated to lead the agency. If confirmed by the Senate, she will become the first woman to run the CIA. Haspel’s nomination will be controversial; she played a leading role (paywall) in running a US torture site abroad and later destroyed the evidence of it. In 2002, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that tortured two terrorism suspects. That torture took place within the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which suspected terrorists are sent to US allies, and interrogated in “black sites” on their soil. One of the men, known as Abu Zubayda, was waterboarded 83 times in one month and was slammed into walls by the head.
He was deprived of sleep and kept in a coffin-like box. Interrogators later decided he didn’t have any useful information. ProPublica found that Haspel personally signed cables to CIA headquarters that detailed Zubayda’s interrogation. CIA videos of the torture were destroyed in 2005, on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel. Her then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of operations for counterterrorism, signed off on the order. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes,” he wrote in his memoir, according to ProPublica. “They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.” The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO, has been pushing Germany’s public prosecutor to arrest Haspel for her role in the torture program.
Theresa May is drawing up plans for an “economic war” with Vladimir Putin and his allies after Moscow refused to explain how a deadly Russian nerve agent came to be used in a rural British city. The Independent understands the ground is already being prepared for economic measures such as asset freezes and seizures, alongside visa bans against Russian individuals. Ms May is also understood to be considering expelling diplomats and pushing for joint international action with allies. The Prime Minister is set to meet her National Security Council on Wednesday to finalise her approach which is then likely be announced to the House of Commons in the afternoon.
Action came a step closer after the Russian Foreign Minister said his country would not cooperate with the British investigation into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March. But Britain’s allies gave early support to Ms May’s push, with Angela Merkel calling for unified action and Donald Trump saying there must be “consequences” for those responsible. [..] A Government minister said: “What happens will be an economic war, these will be economic measures. “Russia’s economy is only half that of the UK, a lot of it concentrated in a few people’s hands. Well, we’ll do our bit to make it smaller if they want to carry on like this. “That doesn’t give us any pleasure at all, but we need the nations of Europe to behave within the rule of law and not like gangsters. The message has to be economic, political and diplomatic.”
“.. the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down..”
An important key to spotting a false flag is that the “knowledge” of who is to blame becomes available before any evidence is in. For example, in the case of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 over Eastern Ukraine, everyone in the West was convinced that “pro-Russian separatists” were to blame even before the means could be established. To this date, it isn’t understood how they could have done it given the equipment they had at their disposal. In this case, Russia was accused almost immediately, while British FM Boris Johnson was quick to volunteer that Britain should not send its team to the World Cup in Russia this summer, disclosing the real reason behind the assassination attempt.
Is there anything new and different behind this latest provocation? Not really; it seems like a replay of the Litvinenko assassination back in November 2006. The choice of an exotic poison (Polonium 210), the lack of evidence (the British claimed that compelling circumstantial evidence exists but haven’t provided any), and the instantaneous leap to “blame Russia” are all the same. The Russians offered to prosecute whoever is responsible if only the British would provide them with the evidence, but the British have failed to do so.
Giving the British story the benefit of the doubt, let’s see what would compel Russia’s secret services to go after Skripal. In Russia, he was convicted and sentenced for treason, then pardoned and released to the British in a prisoner exchange that included ten Russian spies who had worked in the US, including the rather memorable Anna Chapman. It is a very important rule of the spy business that those released in a spy swap are never acted against; if this rule were violated, the resulting bad faith would make spy swaps impossible to negotiate.
[..] My simple and consistent explanation, expressed in a single sentence, is as follows: Under direction from their colleagues in the US, and closely following a script previously worked out in the Litvinenko case over a decade ago, the British secret services, in close coordination with the British government and the press, poisoned Skripal and his daughter using a nerve agent obtained from Britain’s military research base at Porton Down in order to obtain an excuse to compromise the World Cup games in Russia this summer and also to create a scandal immediately before the Russian presidential election.
Google is cracking down on cryptocurrency-related advertising. The company is updating its financial services-related ad policies to ban any advertising about cryptocurrency-related content, including initial coin offerings (ICOs), wallets, and trading advice, Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, told CNBC. That means that even companies with legitimate cryptocurrency offerings won’t be allowed to serve ads through any of Google’s ad products, which place advertising on its own sites as well as third-party websites. This update will go into effect in June 2018, according to a company post.
“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Scott said. Google’s hard-line approach follows a similar ban that Facebook announced earlier this year. While the crypto-currency boom has produced a lot of excitement and wealth, it’s still a largely unregulated space and has spawned countless high-profile scams.
Virginia Fidler has it right, except for this: “The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem”. Thing is, it makes no difference if they’re aware or not. I’ve said it before: the demise of retirement systems is the no. 1 reason for UBI.
42% of Americans are facing their golden years with less than $10,000 in savings. A lack of savings and planning has reduced what should be an enjoyable time in seniors’ lives to a period of stress and worries for many. Out-of-pocket expenses for health care is spiraling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that Americans 65 years of age and older may spend up to $46,000 annually on healthcare. This is not good news for those with only $10,000 on which to fall back on. For adults over 50, this should be a call to act now, while there is still time. Only one-third of adults in that age group have savings greater than $10,000. Retirement planning needs to become a priority, as there is little time to waste.
Pensions are becoming rarer, and Social Security is becoming less secure than it used to be. Many health needs of seniors are not covered by Medicare. Some experts believe the Social Security system will be depleted by 2030. Adults over the age of 50 need to consider making contributions into 401(k) accounts or similar retirement plans. Social Security was never intended to be the sole income of retiring seniors. It was meant to supplement approximately only 40% of post-retirement spending. Social security was supposed to enhance seniors’ lives, not support it entirely. However, according to Investopedia.com, 43% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security to cover 90% of their basic needs. Almost a quarter of married couples depend on Social Security to meet most of their expenses.
Some seniors struggling with poverty are able to receive supplemental income (“SPM”), such as food stamps for a bit of additional help. The need is especially high for seniors who are women, African Americans, and Hispanics, and those with ongoing health issues.6,400,000 million American seniors are living at poverty level, struggling to meet fundamental needs such as rent and food. This number is likely to increase as more boomers become eligible for Social Security and the system becomes less able to support them.
What does this mean for the Millennial generation? The current Social Security system will be unsustainable at some point. It cannot continue at the current level. It probably won’t be abolished, as that would cause chaos for seniors. However, Millennials are aware that changes are coming. They know that benefits will likely be reduced by the time they grow older. The good news is, Millennials are aware of the problem. Members of the boomer generation who assumed Social Security would take care of their needs are learning a hard lesson.
According to official figures released on Tuesday more than 500 migrants reached islands of the eastern Aegean in the previous four days, following a two-week lull in arrivals. The spike in arrivals was attributed by a Greek Police official to Turkish authorities, who, he said, control the influx. “But they always make sure not to overdo it so they can claim they are honoring the joint EU-Turkey agreement,” the official said, referring to a deal signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 to curb human smuggling. The two-week drop in arrivals eased the pressure on facilities, as did the transfer of migrants to camps on the mainland. But some camps, notably on Lesvos, remain overcrowded.
While many fixed-income investors may be focused on the specter of higher long-term Treasury yields, there’s a sea change afoot at the shorter end – in U.S. money markets. The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and rates on Treasury bills are at levels not seen since 2008. The Fed’s move to tighten policy forms the backdrop for the increase, but an added force behind the surge this year has come from a deluge of supply as U.S. deficits widen. Higher short-term borrowing costs have implications for investors and also for banks, which find themselves paying up to borrow through the commercial-paper market as they compete to lure cash. “We are in a new paradigm,” said Jerome Schneider at Pimco. “The clear focus for the market is where will incremental demand come from to meet this supply.”
The Treasury has been jacking up debt sales this quarter: Net issuance is slated to exceed $400 billion, with the bulk coming in bills. The Treasury increased the 4-week bill sale to $65 billion, from as low as $15 billion earlier in the year. The march higher in Libor has widespread consequences despite regulatory efforts to replace it following a price-fixing scandal. About $350 trillion of financial products and loans are linked to Libor, with a large chunk hinged to the dollar-based version of the benchmark. Libor is among the main indexes, along with one-year T-bill rates, used to set U.S. adjustable-rate mortgages.
Assets in U.S. government-only money funds, which include bills among key holdings, have risen to $2.26 trillion, from $2.07 trillion last year. As the Fed keeps hiking, with the next move likely this month, the influx may continue. But for banks, the increasing appeal of T-bill rates is making them pay up to compete, through offering better returns on the commercial paper they use for short-term borrowing. “Banks still need funding and they need to entice investors,” Schneider said.
The threat of China factored heavily into the U.S. government’s decision to block Broadcom’s proposed buyout of Qualcomm. President Donald Trump, for his part, officially declared on Monday that the proposed $117 billion deal was prohibited on national security grounds. The president said in his order that “there is credible evidence” leading him to believe that Broadcom through control of San Diego-based Qualcomm “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” That conclusion may seem extreme given that Broadcom is based in Singapore — and looking to redomicile to the U.S., where it conducts most of its operations — but it’s not a fear of the Southeast Asian city state that is raising national security concerns.
“The case that has been constructed is that, given Broadcom’s business practices, the worry is that they will cut investment significantly, particularly in the 5G roadmap, weaken Qualcomm, as well as the U.S. position and allow Huawei, a Chinese company to take the lead,” explained Stacy Rasgon, chip analyst at Bernstein. The Treasury Department said last week in a letter to lawyers involved in the deal that Qualcomm was trusted by the U.S. government and cited Huawei as a competitive threat in the development of 5G, which is a telecommunications standard that will allow for faster transfer of data. Beyond those 5G concerns, there’s even more to Trump’s decision to block the deal, experts said.
“It is not just China, it is not just chips. It is broad technology. It is U.S. military power and economic power going forward and he’s got a very consistent point of view,” said Ron Napier, head of Napier Investment Advisors. “Trump has been saying all year long since he was inaugurated that security is very important to him, technology is very important to him, trade is very important to him and getting jobs back to the United States is very important to him. He’s making this all into one fabric,” he added. “He sees this as the U.S.’ last big stand if it’s going to remain the leader of the free world,” Napier told CNBC.
The looming conflict is a sign of the turning point at which the global economy finds itself. Recently, the economy in most corners of the globe has been healthy, with the world experiencing a rare phase of synchronous growth. But it looks as though that phase is now coming to an end. Interest rates are rising and sovereign debt is growing, the result of which is that governments are beginning to lose their flexibility and it is likely that some countries will soon face difficulties borrowing money on the open market. Increasing financial market instability shows that insecurity is on the rise. And in this situation, protectionist policies pursued by populists and nationalists harm economic growth and endanger international prosperity.
It is something on which a majority of economists actually agree: tariff barriers slow growth, put jobs at risk and drive up inflation. Once a trade war is triggered, there is no winner, although Munich-based economist Gabriel Felbermayr says that Germany has the most to lose. “There is no other country in the world that would be hit as hard.” Felbermayr, 41, heads up the Center for International Economics at the Center for Economic Studies (CES). The shaved-headed economics professor, originally from Austria, has examined just how devastating Trump’s economic policies could be for the German economy. Every fourth job in the country, he says, is dependent on exports. And in five key sectors – automobiles, machinery, electrical engineering, pharmaceuticals and precision instruments – fully three-quarters of all exports go to the United States.
“If the U.S. were to cut itself off, it would threaten the German business model,” Felbermayr says. “Everything would start teetering.” [..] The global steel market has been imbalanced for years, with producers manufacturing 1.6 billion tons of crude steel each year against an annual demand of just 900 million tons. China is primarily to blame for this lopsidedness. Inexpensive energy and low wages enable the country’s steel producers to sell their products cheaply around the world. If the U.S. were to make moves to protect its domestic steel producers, even more cheap steel would flow into the EU than is already the case. Were that to happen, says Wolfgang Eder, head of the Austrian steel concern Voestalpine, “Europe would threaten to become the world’s garbage pail.”
The EU told U.S. President Donald Trump it won’t be cowed by his escalating protectionist rhetoric and talk of punitive tariffs. “Europe is prepared,” Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said Monday as he headed into a meeting with his counterparts from the rest of the euro area. “We are not afraid, we will stand up to the bullies,” Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said earlier in the day. Trump returned to the offensive over the weekend, raising the prospect of higher levies on European cars and telling supporters at a rally that the countries of the EU have banded together “to screw the U.S. on trade.” The latest brinkmanship follows new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that are straining a transatlantic relationship already tested by disputes from climate change to Middle East policy.
“Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use against the U.S.A.,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers.” Trump’s rhetoric drew unanimous condemnation from European finance ministers gathering in Brussels. France’s Bruno Le Maire said that he’s concerned about “a trade war between the EU and the U.S.” while his Spanish counterpart Roman Escolano, making his debut as minister, said protectionism is always a mistake. Malmstrom accused the Trump administration of using trade “to threaten and intimidate” Europeans and using the issue as a “scapegoat.”
A meeting in Brussels between Malmstrom and her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer on Saturday ended without a breakthrough, as the EU didn’t receive assurances that it will be exempted from the metal tariffs. “If anyone starts throwing stones, it’s better first to make sure he’s not living in a glass house,” European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said.
Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum could cause major disruption for companies in Europe, a business lobbyist told CNBC Monday, who argued that the U.S. president should have taken less severe measures to protect his domestic market. U.S.’s allies, including the European Union and Japan, are hoping to be excluded from new tariffs that Trump announced last week. The decision to raise steel import taxes by 25% and aluminum by 10% could hurt not only those industries directly, but also carmakers and construction firms which use the raw materials. Trump decided that the tariffs would be the best way to deal with overcapacity in these sectors and based his argument on national security.
“This is a very exceptional mechanism that is rarely used. It’s a bit considered like an atomic bomb, because really to use this is like saying ‘look we are really at a level where we cannot use anti-dumping or anti-subsidies’,” Luisa Santos, the international relations director at BusinessEurope, told CNBC Monday. [..] European steel and aluminum businesses are reportedly preparing for a collapse in local prices if the tariffs are indeed applied to their region. Charles de Lusignan, from the Steel Association for Europe, said ultimately the tariffs could mean a scaling back in Europe, with firms letting people go, cutting investment and also innovation. “We need to act immediately because the damage will be done within the first weeks,” he said. “In fact it might already be happening, because obviously an exporter knows that the steel might be blocked in the future so they already start sending it ahead.”
Whether you believe there is a “bubble” in the Technology stocks, or the markets, is really not important. There are plenty of arguments for both sides. At the peak of every bull market in history, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” (Here is why it isn’t.) Yet, in the end, it was something unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that devastated investors. This is why the discussion of “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant.
Individuals no longer “invest” to become a “shareholder” in a publicly traded business. The “quaint concept” of “valuations” died with the mainstreaming of investing during the 1990’s as the “Wall Street Casino” opened for business. Today, investors only think in terms of speculating on “electronically traded bits of paper” in the hopes the value will rise over time. The problem, of course, is they are never told when to “sell” to capture that valuation increase which is the most critical aspect of the investment process. Instead, individuals continue to “bet” the “greater fool” will always appear. For now, the “bullish case” remains alive and well. The media will go on berating those heretics who dare to point out the risks that prevail, but the one simple truth is “this time is indeed different.”
China said it will merge its banking and insurance regulators, according to a parliament document released on Tuesday, in a series of proposed changes in the biggest ministry shake-up in years. In a long-awaited move to streamline and tighten oversight of the financial system in the world’s second-biggest economy, China will also transfer some of the banking and insurance regulators’ roles to the central bank, documents showed. In much-anticipated plans to create seven new ministries and a raft of government agencies announced on Tuesday, one of the most significant changes was creation of the national markets supervision management bureau.
The new body will decide on antimonopoly and pricing issues, replacing the roles played by the three national antitrust regulators: the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Commerce and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC). Unifying the structure under one agency, rather than handing the responsibility to one of the three existing watchdogs, reflects the growing importance of the issue for the government. China will also form a powerful new competition regulator in a bid to ramp up oversight of mergers and acquisitions and price-fixing as the world’s second-largest economy seeks to make policymaking more efficient and coordinated. Since the beginning of last year, Beijing has cracked down on leverage and risky market practices, with China’s various regulators releasing a flurry of new rules in an attempt to rein in risks.
With so many central banks failing to hit their inflation targets, some are considering changes to the tool kits they use to steer their economies. Norway’s decision to lower its price target is just the latest example, and follows more or less official adjustments in Sweden, Argentina and the euro area. Even in New Zealand, the birthplace of inflation targeting, the central bank is shifting to a broader goal that includes a focus on employment. But there’s no one-fits-all solution for monetary authorities and debate is splintered. Raising inflation targets has been discussed equally intensively in recent years as reducing or amending them.
And while some central banks acknowledge a need to reconsider their mandates, others are doubling down on existing policies. Claudio Borio, a top official at the Bank for International Settlements, poured fuel on the debate in September with a provocative speech calling for a broad rethink that accounts for how globalization and technological advances have influenced inflation. “Shall we throw away the books?” ECB President Mario Draghi asked on Thursday. “There are serious costs about changing course on credibility and the anchoring of expectations. We can go on on this for a while about changing objective.”
The head of Britain’s biggest business lobby group has attacked Labour’s nationalisation plans as potentially just as damaging to the economy as Britain leaving the European Union without a deal. In a speech on Monday, Paul Drechsler, the CBI president, said renationalising large parts of the economy would cause serious harm to the UK’s reputation as a place for international investors, which he argued would be as bad as a hard Brexit and would damage job prospects and living standards. “So you want to nationalise energy, rail and water, and bring public services contracts back in house? Let’s see the evidence that it will deliver a better service to consumers at a lower cost,” he said.
The intervention by the lobby group – which represents about 190,000 companies, including transport and utility firms – constitutes a warning from the boardrooms of corporate Britain that they harbour concerns over Labour’s plans for the economy despite supporting the party over its stance on Brexit. The CBI was among leading business voices supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s move to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU. The lobby group warned before the referendum that Brexit could lead to almost a million job losses and cost the economy £100bn – the equivalent of 5% of GDP – by 2020. Drechsler challenged Labour to provide evidence that its plans would lead to a better service for consumers at a lower cost.
He said private investment had helped create jobs and improve the efficiency of utility companies since they were sold off under the Thatcher government of the 1980s, and argued that progress could be undone if they were taken back into state control. However, utility companies and railway operators have faced intense pressure over their service standards and prices at a time when households are under increasing financial strain. Public support has swung behind Labour’s plans for greater state control of several key industries – shown in recent polls that suggest widespread backing for nationalisation of the railways, water, gas and electricity.
That crusty ole rascal, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, seems to be enjoying his sunset journey into Civil War Two or maybe the destination is more like Blade Runner (since we know that history only rhymes but does not repeat). Anyway, it’s not a good place. The once-golden state begins to look something like what one federal official recently called — dare I say it? — a shithole. “A mix of used hypodermic needles, human feces, and other trash litters the streets and sidewalks in a large section of downtown San Francisco, a local news outlet reported Sunday night. It’s a problem that has grown by epic proportions in recent years and has many concerned for the health and safety of some the city’s youngest residents…” — The Blaze
Yes, quite literally. This particular failure of the political Left started in the 1970s when states began aggressively shuttering their large mental hospitals. Many of these institutions dated from the late 19th century – ghastly old gothic revival warehouses for the mentally ill, fraught with overtones of abuse and neglect, scenes out of Vincent Price movies… lightning flashes through the barred windows… a scream in the night… hysterical laughter echoing down the dark, tiled hallways…. They were an embarrassment, for sure, and certainly an affront to liberal sensibilities. But, of course, they fucked up the remedy for that. Instead of replacing the giant old state insane asylums with smaller, better-managed institutions, they just released the inmates under the rationale that they were a politically oppressed minority group. And there it ended.
And so here we are, going on a half-century later, with an economy that manufactures failure and immiseration at a greater volume than its other finished products, and many more lost souls out on the city streets, and now we are an even more ideologically inflamed society than we were in 1973, with the ranks of intersectional oppressed minorities and aggrieved victim groups grown into virtual armies-of-the-night — and the mentally ill just lost in the crowd. It never seems to occur to anyone that a mental hospital can be run humanely, at an appropriate scale, and that these poor, sad creatures might, at least, be better off there with a bed, a bathroom, and somebody to check in on them daily than they are wallowing in the gutters of San Francisco and other cities. Surely there are up-to-date models in other lands for this kind of caretaking — if maybe we sent a few bureaucrats overseas to have a look.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has dubbed as a ‘circus show’ comments of UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the poisoning of Sergey Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence, and his daughter. “This is a circus show in Britain’s parliament,” she stressed. “The conclusion is obvious – a next political media campaign based on provocation,” Zakharova added. Earlier, Theresa May said it is “highly likely” that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter. Moscow urges London to make public the results of the investigation into the deaths of Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky, Zakharova said.
“Before making up new stories, let somebody in the Kingdom tell us what the previous fairy-tales ended in – those about Litvinenko, Berezovsky, Perepilichny and many others who died under mysterious circumstances on British soil,” the diplomat said. Former GRU Colonel Sergey Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Julia on March 4 suffered from the effects of an unidentified nerve agent. They were found in an unconscious condition on a bench near The Maltings shopping center in Salisbury. Both are now in hospital in critical condition.
In 2004, Skripal was arrested by the federal security service FSB, charged, tried and convicted of high treason and stripped of all ranks and awards. In 2010 he was handed over to the United States under an arrangement to exchange persons arrested on spying charges. Later in the same year Skripal settled in Britain.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal remains chairman of Kingdom Holding Company following his release from detention, but the Saudi government reportedly has final say over decisions at the investment firm. Investment decisions at Kingdom Holding are now subject to approval by the government, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing senior Saudi advisers. Kingdom Holding has $12.5 billion invested across more than a dozen sectors around the world, according to its website. Alwaleed’s personal investment portfolio is also under government control, according to the Journal. Alwaleed holds substantial stakes in companies like Citigroup, Twitter, Lyft and Time Warner.
The Journal report does not indicate whether the government has exercised its newfound influence over these investments. However, sources tell the Journal the government has already intervened in a major real estate project, ordering senior managers at Kingdom Holding to abandon the Jeddah Tower, which would be the world’s tallest skyscraper when — and if — it is completed. Officials have directed Kingdom Holding to instead focus its energy on a new city called Neom, which is expected to cost $500 billion to build. The project was announced in October by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the influential king in waiting who is overseeing the kingdom’s economic transformation and spearheaded the campaign that led to Alwaleed’s detention.
Rich-listers like Californian billionaire Ric Kayne have issued a warning to New Zealand – banning house sales to foreigners could hurt the country’s reputation and turn wealthy investors away. Kayne, who has built an exclusive golf course in New Zealand and wants to expand his investments, is one of several rich businessmen who claim the proposed new law will have unintended consequences. They’re seeking amendments to the draft legislation or its withdrawal in its current form. “The vision we have for what we would like to contribute to New Zealand is now being threatened,” Kayne wrote in submissions to a parliamentary committee examining the proposed law change.
“The new rules will “impact on us personally, and others like us who, having discovered this country, want to devote considerable resources to preserving, protecting and enhancing it.” The new Labour-led government came to power in October on a pledge to fix a housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property. While data suggest non-residents have only a minor impact on the wider housing market, support for the move was boosted by headlines about rich foreigners buying mansions and farms in New Zealand as boltholes away from the world’s ills.
House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall. In biggest city Auckland, prices have almost doubled since 2007 to an average of more than NZ$1 million ($730,000). That’s made it more difficult for first-time buyers to enter the market and driven up rents, leaving increasing numbers of poor people homeless. “It’s really important for us that we sort our housing market out, that we give New Zealanders a fair go at buying their first home,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a television interview Sunday. While the country welcomes foreign investment, “what we want is good-quality investment that supports the productivity of the New Zealand economy,” he said.
The Pentagon helps Hollywood to make money and, in turn, Hollywood churns out effective propaganda for the brutal American war machine. The US has the largest military budget in the world, spending over $611 billion – far larger than any other nation on Earth. The US military also has at their disposal the most successful propaganda apparatus the world has ever known… Hollywood. Since their collaboration on the first Best Picture winner ‘Wings’ in 1927, the US military has used Hollywood to manufacture and shape its public image in over 1,800 films and TV shows. Hollywood has, in turn, used military hardware in their films and TV shows to make gobs and gobs of money.
A plethora of movies like ‘Lone Survivor,’ ‘Captain Philips,’ and even blockbuster franchises like ‘Transformers’ and Marvel, DC and X-Men superhero movies have agreed to cede creative control in exchange for use of US military hardware over the years. In order to obtain cooperation from the Department of Defense (DoD), producers must sign contracts that guarantee a military approved version of the script makes it to the big screen. In return for signing away creative control, Hollywood producers save tens of millions of dollars from their budgets on military equipment, service members to operate the equipment, and expensive location fees.
Capt. Russell Coons, director of the Navy Office of Information West, told Al Jazeera what the military expects for their cooperation: “We’re not going to support a program that disgraces a uniform or presents us in a compromising way.” Phil Strub, the DOD chief Hollywood liaison, says the guidelines are clear. “If the filmmakers are willing to negotiate with us to resolve our script concerns, usually we’ll reach an agreement. If not, filmmakers are free to press on without military assistance.”
Industrial fishing for krill in the pristine waters around Antarctica is threatening the future of one of the world’s last great wildernesses, according to a new report. The study by Greenpeace analysed the movements of krill fishing vessels in the region and found they were increasingly operating “in the immediate vicinity of penguin colonies and whale feeding grounds”. It also highlights incidents of fishing boats being involved in groundings, oil spills and accidents, which it said posed a serious threat to the Antarctic ecosystem. The report, published on Tuesday, comes amid growing concern about the impact of fishing and climate change on the Antarctic.
A global campaign has been launched to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect the seas in the region and Greenpeace is calling for an immediate halt to fishing in areas being considered for sanctuary status. Frida Bengtsson, from Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, said: “If the krill industry wants to show it’s a responsible player, then it should be voluntarily getting out of any area which is being proposed as an ocean sanctuary, and should instead be backing the protection of these huge swaths of the Antarctic.” Last month a study found a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is hitting the krill population, with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators.
Photograph: Justin Hofman/Alamy Stock Photo
The study warned that the penguin population could drop by almost one-third by the end of the century due to changes in krill biomass. Krill are a key part of the delicate Antarctic food chain. They feed on marine algae and are a key source of food for whales, penguins and seals. They are also important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water. There is a growing global demand for krill-based health products which are claimed to help with a range of ailments from heart disease to high blood pressure, strokes and depression. A recent analysis of the global krill industry predicted it was on course to grow 12% a year over the next three years. Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s.
The bullish run in the Dow Jones industrial average — which celebrates its ninth birthday Friday — is the longest ever and the greatest percentage gain since World War II, according to Leuthold Group. The corresponding run by the S&P 500, notes LPL Financial, is that benchmark’s second-largest and second-longest bull market ever, with only the 1990s stock market run led by technology stocks in the way. Despite a more than 10% correction in equities last month following a burst of bullish activity, Leuthold’s Doug Ramsey doesn’t think the bull is done yet. “Assuming the Dow Jones industrial average can exceed its late-January high on March 9th or thereafter, this cyclical bull market will become the first one ever to last nine years,” said Ramsey, his firm’s chief investment officer.
“Historically, cycle momentum highs are usually followed by a push to even higher price highs over the next several months.” The Dow hit an all-time high of 26,616.71 on Jan. 26, the same day the S&P 500 clinched its own record of 2,872.87. The major indexes are off their record highs 6.4% and 4.6% respectively. This chart from Leuthold Group shows where the Dow bull market stacks up since 1900. It’s far and away the longest in modern financial times. In terms of percentage gains, it’s third behind two bull markets pre-WWII.
South Korea says it has not received a response from Pyongyang on a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. In a surprise development, Mr Trump on Friday accepted North Korea’s invitation to direct talks. South Korean officials said Mr Kim was prepared to give up his nuclear weapons. Details on the planned talks remain vague, with no agreement yet on the location or agenda. Analysts are sceptical about what can be achieved through talks given the complexity of the issues involved. “We have not seen nor received an official response from the North Korean regime regarding the North Korea-US summit,” a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification said on Monday. “I feel they’re approaching this matter with caution and they need time to organise their stance.” South Korean officials who spoke to Trump are now on the way to China and Japan to brief the leaders of each country on the upcoming talks.
Kim Jong Un wants to sign a peace treaty after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean media reported, reviving a long-held goal of the North Korean regime. Kim is likely to raise the possibility of a peace treaty, along with establishing diplomatic relations and nuclear disarmament, during a meeting with the U.S. leader, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said Monday, citing an unidentified senior official in South Korea’s presidential office. Trump last week agreed to meet Kim, although key details of the summit have yet to be decided. Koh Yu-hwan, who teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the regime has long sought a peace treaty to end the more than 60-year-old ceasefire between the two sides and help guarantee its safety.
“There were agreements between the U.S. and North Korea to open up discussion on a peace treaty, but they never materialized,” Koh said, saying the conditions were key. “The U.S. wants a peace treaty at the end of the denuclearization process, while for the North, it’s the precondition for its denuclearization.” Signing a peace treaty would require addressing issues regarding the U.S. military’s presence in South Korea and its transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea and United Nations forces in South Korea, Koh said.
China, Canada and Hong Kong are among the economies most at risk of a banking crisis, according to early-warning indicators compiled by the Bank for International Settlements. Canada – whose economy grew last year at the fastest pace since 2011 – was flagged thanks to its households’ maxed-out credit cards and high debt levels in the wider economy. Household borrowing is also seen as a risk factor for China and Hong Kong, according to the study. “The indicators currently point to the build-up of risks in several economies,” analysts Inaki Aldasoro, Claudio Borio and Mathias Drehmann wrote in the BIS’s latest Quarterly Review published on Sunday. The study offered some surprising results: for example, Italy wasn’t shown as being at risk, despite its struggles with a slow-growing economy and banks that are mired in bad debts.
While China was flagged, a key warning indicator known as the credit-to-gross domestic product “gap” showed an improvement, said the BIS, known as the central bank for central banks. This may suggest the government is making progress in its push to reduce financial-sector risk. The gap is the difference between the credit-to-GDP ratio and its long-term trend. A blow-out in the number can signal that credit growth is excessive and a financial bust may be looming. In China, the gap fell to 16.7% in the third quarter of 2017, down from a peak of 28.9% in March 2016 and the lowest since 2012, the study showed.
The belief in an “implicit guarantee” from the Chinese government on debt is a big problem, said a finance professor on Monday. “I’m concerned with what a lot of people believe, [that] the government is going to take care of investment losses. Under that impression, they are going to take up lot of leverage because they believe they will be bailed out if something does not work out,” said Zhu Ning, a professor of finance at Tsinghua University in Beijing. China has been battling high debt levels for years, but debt-to-GDP ratio is still about 260%, according to the Bank of International Settlements. While that absolute number is not alarming in itself, it is eyebrow-raising for the speed in rising to such levels, particularly in the last five years, Zhu said.
Since China’s economy is far bigger than two decades ago, the country has the size and resilience to overcome issues in the financial system, but Beijing is concerned about systemic risks that may roil the world’s second-largest economy. The key to solving any potential fallout from the ballooning debt is to remove the perception that Beijing will help solve any problems from a debt blowup, said Zhu. “This is a mentality that has taken decades to form so the government would have to do something aggressive and persistent to gradually remove this sense of implicit guarantee,” Zhu said. The Chinese government has been coming down hard on reining in systemic risks, using strong-arm tactics such as the recent state takeover of Anbang Insurance, which was aggressively expanding internationally.
Asia’s big developers are “more vulnerable” to shocks after their profitability waned from the boom years at the start of the decade, the Bank for International Settlements warned. The “sector’s deteriorating fundamentals give reason for concern,” said the Basel, Switzerland-based institution, which watches over global financial stability. Many firms’ returns on assets are below their costs of debt, the BIS said in a quarterly review, citing a study of developers in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Higher interest rates, sinking property prices or falling currencies are shocks that could worsen developers’ financial health, with the potential for significant economic repercussions, according to the organization known as the central banks’ central bank. Even without external jolts, falling returns on assets and declining interest coverage ratios “could pose problems” for the firms, it said. While easy money drove property booms worldwide after the global financial crisis, the BIS argues a tightening in the years ahead could force developers to sell off inventory – driving down prices – and lay off workers.
A spiralling cronyism scandal linked to the Japanese prime minister and his wife has reached fever pitch after the finance ministry admitted to tampering with records to remove references to the first lady. Shinzo Abe has previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be involved in heavily cutting the price of public land sold to a right-wing school operator in Osaka. The finance ministry admitted on Monday that it had altered official documents surrounding the decision to provide an 85% discount on the appraised value of the land. One document originally quoted the educational group Moritomo Gakuen as saying that Abe’s wife Akie had recommended the primary school project “move forward because it is a good plot of land”. However, this was removed in a version submitted to lawmakers investigating the sale. Kyodo News reported that the submitted papers also omitted an article in which Akie described being “moved to tears by the school’s education policy”.
Moritomo Gakuen’s existing kindergarten attracted attention for requiring its young pupils to bow before portraits of the imperial family, sing the national anthem daily, and learn the 1890 imperial rescript on education, which emphasises sacrifice for country. Akie was set to serve as honorary principal for the new primary school, but stepped down in February last year when questions were raised over the land deal. The government has previously denied claims that the first lady gave the school operator an envelope containing 1m yen (£6,775) on behalf of the prime minister during a visit she made to the existing kindergarten. The controversy fuelled a steep decline in Abe’s popularity last year but heappeared to ride out the scandal and won a snap lower house election in October. However, the forgery revelations have intensified political pressure on Abe and his long-serving finance minister, Taro Aso.
[..] my former boss from my Goldman Sachs days—Gary Cohn—just resigned from his White House post as chief economic adviser to the Chaos Producer in Chief. This was ostensibly in protest against the president’s announcement about imposing steel and aluminum tariffs. The next day, Trump signed the order sealing that deal, citing his actions as a “matter of necessity for our security.” Along the way, he said there would be no exemptions to the tariffs, then said there would be—for Canada and Mexico. Trump glowed in the light of his new-found power grab over trade agreements, leaving himself room to decide which countries would be “in” and “out” with respect to these and other tariffs in the future. And that was the week that was in Trump World.
The timing of Cohn’s departure certainly put a wrench in his plans to convene executives dependent on steel and present their case against steel tariffs to Trump. Instead, Trump signed the tariffs order flanked by steel and aluminum workers supporting it. Speaking of steel, Cohn’s nerves were seemingly made of that metal. At Goldman, he was the man who regularly waded through deals without losing his cool (unlike Trump). On 9/11, I witnessed him directing traders to keep trading oil as shreds of debris and billows of smoke engulfed the windows of the Goldman trading floor, only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. He became president (or number two) at Goldman, continually handling the less “cool” behavior of chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who remained above him in the pecking order for decades.
Cohn commanded daily activities at Goldman that led to the firm’s creation of shady financial instruments that were later at the core of the financial crisis. Under Cohn, Goldman was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers. The firm morphed, for government subsidy purposes, into a bank holding company, though it handled scant deposits from regular people. It did this to retain access to Federal Reserve support, as it has done, over the past decade. Cohn was also at Goldman when it reached a $5 billion settlement with the Department of Justice over its consistent misconduct regarding mortgage-related securities from 2005 to 2007. That type of conflict-meets-crisis readied him for his government service. When Cohn came up against Trump, the president’s flavor-of-the-minute trade policy hawk, Peter Navarro, met “Globalist Gary” head on. Then Cohn’s Trump administration career was over.
House prices in parts of London that were once at the epicentre of the UK property boom have fallen as much as 15% over the past year in fresh evidence of the impact of the EU referendum. Figures from Your Move, one of the UK’s biggest estate agency chains, reveal that the average home in Wandsworth – which includes much of Clapham, Balham and Putney – fell by more than £100,000 in value over the last 12 months. But property prices have surged in the north-west of England, with Blackburn recording the highest growth rates in the UK. Homes in the London borough of Wandsworth were fetching an average of £805,000 in January 2017 but this has now fallen to £685,000.
The current President of the EU Council has a good reputation in the EU circles, but not in Poland: he had to flee from his home country to Brussels, completely compromised. After all, his government was a catastrophe: mass emigration of young Poles, tampering with the coffers of future pensioners, corruption and benefit scandals, the Amber Gold affair, the all-pervasive nepotism in his Civic Platform (PO) party, numerous sins of omission crowned by Nord Stream. Young unemployed people can light the torch of a revolution. If you want to secure your position in politics, you leave salaries low and open the borders. The discontented young unemployed emigrate and only those who have less motivation to take to the streets remain. In 2005 Donald Tusk made this trick, this intervention on his nation. He threw Poland into the arms of the EU: since then the population has fallen significantly due to the emigration of many young Poles.
Nigel Farage aptly commented on this when he turned to Tusk in the European Parliament: “Your debate is about emigration, and time and again you’ve promised the Polish voters that young poles would return to Poland, and at the same time Mr Cameron has promised the British people that fewer Poles would come to us. Well, it turns out that you’ve both been wrong and your country has been depopulated by 2 million people since you joined the European Union and the reason is obvious: it’s money, isn’t it? And you yourself prove the point. You are the newest Polish emigre and you’ve gone from a salary of 6,000 euros a year to a salary of 30,000 euros a year. So congratulations! You’ve hit the EU jackpot!”
Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report has shown. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday that global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago. The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports. Russia, the world’s second biggest exporter, saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports; US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia. France, Germany and China were also among the top five exporters. The UK is the sixth biggest weapons exporter.
“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, the director of the Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.” The Middle East, a region where in the past five years most countries have been involved in conflict, accounted for 32% of global imports of weapons. Arms imports to the region doubled between 2013 and 2017 and in the five-year period before that. The US, the UK, and France were the main supplier of arms to the region, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE were the main recipient countries.
The UK, which rolled out a red carpet for the Saudi crown prince on his visit to London last week, exported nearly half of its arms to the Saudi Arabia, which has increased its imports by 225%. Sipri’s report noted that Saudi Arabia uses its imported weapons in large-scale combat operations, particularly in Yemen. The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, which has cost hundreds of civilian lives, was launched in 2015, aiming to counter the advances of Iran-backed Houthi rebels controlling the capital, Sana’a. Saudi Arabia’s shopping list included 78 combat aircraft, 72 combat helicopters and 328 tanks. “Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at Sipri. Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has called for large technology firms to be regulated to prevent the web from being “weaponised at scale”. “In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data,” Berners-Lee wrote in an open letter marking the 29th anniversary of his invention. These problems have proliferated because of the concentration of power in the hands of a few platforms – including Facebook, Google, and Twitter – which “control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” said the 62-year-old British computer scientist.
These online gatekeepers can lock in their power by acquiring smaller rivals, buying up new innovations and hiring the industry’s top talent, making it harder for others to compete, he said. Google now accounts for about 87% of online searches worldwide. Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users – more than 20 times more than MySpace at its peak. Together, the two companies (including their subsidiaries Instagram and YouTube) slurp up more than 60% of digital advertising spend worldwide. Although the companies are aware of the problems and have made efforts to fix them – developing systems to tackle fake news, bots and influence operations – they have been built to “maximise profit more than maximise social good”. “A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions,” he said.
Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, he argued, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts. Berners-Lee warned of “two myths” that “limit our collective imagination” when looking for solutions to the problems facing the web: “The myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points we need to be a little more creative,” he said. “I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions,” he said.
Despite all the smoke and mirrors, most Americans seem to see where the stenographers of corporate capitalism are taking us. A recent Gallup poll found that while 84% of Americans see media as “critical” or “very important” to democracy, only 28% see the corporatist mainstream news media (MSM) as actually supporting democracy. They’re right on both counts of course. The quality of a democracy is only as good as the information people have to make informed judgements about public policy and politicians. Even as the mainstream news media continue to lose street cred, they persist in a rumor-saturated full court press against the “Trump-Putin presidency,” which only further exposes their lack of professionalism and increasing vulgarity.
MSM management and their boardroom bosses have long understood that as long as they spice up their “nothing burger” news, ratings and advertising rates will keep them in business and please their commercial and government clients. Tabloid journalism, which can describe most American mainstream media these days, even when wrapped up as “all the news that’s fit to print,” is in constant search of sensation, scandal, gossip, and profit – and only occasionally in public-oriented investigative integrity. [..] 65% of Americans consider the so-called “free press” biased, obsessed with scandal, and full of “fake news” and therefore cannot be trusted. [..] trust in American institutions in general, that is, the government, business, NGOs, and the MSM, is going through the worst crisis in recorded history, according to the marketing firm Edelman in 2018.
[..] On January 27, 2018, the Washington Post editorial board issued this statement: “A foreign power interfered in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. law enforcement is trying to get to the bottom of that story. Congress should be doing everything possible to make sure the investigation can take place.” Obviously referring to Russia, the Post’s declaration, as the late investigative journalist Robert Parry and many other independent and respected writers have pointed out, was and remains without a shred of evidence. It’s WMD time all over again, only this time the propaganda is being trumpeted mainly by the Democrats. It would better serve the cause of democracy to investigate the Post for its covert coalition and collusion with the deep state and the Clinton (right) wing of the Democratic Party. The Post and the rest of their pack have constructed a wicked Russia foil in order to undermine Moscow’s presumed ally Trump and boost bigger Pentagon budgets.
“History,” Winston Churchill said, “will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” He needn’t have bothered. He was one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, yet is the only one, unlike Hitler and Stalin, to have escaped historical odium in the West. He has been crowned with a Nobel Prize (for literature, no less), and now, an actor portraying him (Gary Oldman) has been awarded an Oscar. As Hollywood confirms, Churchill’s reputation (as what Harold Evans has called “the British Lionheart on the ramparts of civilization”) rests almost entirely on his stirring rhetoric and his talent for a fine phrase during World War II. “We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. … We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. … We shall never surrender.” (The revisionist British historian John Charmley dismissed this as “sublime nonsense.”)
Words, in the end, are all that Churchill admirers can point to. His actions are another matter altogether. During World War II, Churchill declared himself in favor of “terror bombing.” He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers.” Horrors such as the firebombing of Dresden were the result. In the fight for Irish independence, Churchill, in his capacity as secretary of state for war and air, was one of the few British officials in favor of bombing Irish protesters, suggesting in 1920 that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them. Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilised tribes; it would spread a lively terror.” He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.
In Afghanistan, Churchill declared that the Pashtuns “needed to recognise the superiority of [the British] race” and that “all who resist will be killed without quarter.” He wrote: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. … Every tribesman caught was speared or cut down at once.” In Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the forcing of more than 150,000 people into concentration camps. Rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots, and electric shocks were all used by the British authorities to torture Kenyans under Churchill’s rule.
But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were the Indians — “a beastly people with a beastly religion,” as he charmingly called them. He wanted to use chemical weapons in India but was shot down by his cabinet colleagues, whom he criticized for their “squeamishness,” declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable.” [..] Thanks to Churchill, some 4 million Bengalis starved to death in a 1943 famine. Churchill ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault, he said, for “breeding like rabbits.”
Back in late 2016, we showed the unprecedented domination of capital markets by central banks using a chart from Citi, which had put together a fascinating slideshow asking simply “Where is the utility in marginal QE” and specifically pointing out that the longer unconventional monetary policy such as QE continues, the bigger its marginal cost, until eventually QE becomes a detriment. A broad criticism of monetary policy, the presentation carried an amusing footnote: “This presentation does not change any of Citi’s existing, published views on the actual future path of monetary policy. It is merely intended as a contribution to the ongoing debate about the efficacy of available policy tools” – after all, the last thing the market wanted is the realization that even banks no longer have faith in the central planners.
Incidentally, Citi’s broad critique of global QE took place when central banks owned just over $18 trillion in assets. Fast forward to today when in its latest update of central bank holdings, Citi shows that as of this moment not only has the total increased by another $3 trillion to a grand total of $21 trillion and rising, but that the big six central banks now own over 40% of global GDP, more than double the 17% they held before the financial crisis less than a decade ago. Which is remarkable in a world where there is still some confusion about what is behind the “global coordinated recovery”, and where there are deluded people who claim that central banks are now out of the picture.
Global debt has reached record heights without any signs of relief. While central bankers try to explain away the phenomenon of these out-of-control numbers, it’s not much of a mystery. Immediate consumption with the promise of repayment sometime in the future has consequences. Global debt is staggering to the point most of it will never be repaid. Certainly not in our generation. Perhaps by our grandchildren, but as global debt keeps mounting, the picture is doubtful. The per capita global debt is $30,000. Who, exactly, will be making repayments? Economists insist that the 2007 financial crisis could not have been predicted. Yet, all the signs of out-of-control credit where there.
Today, economists are repeating the same mantra, despite the spiraling world debt. The question is not if the next bubble will strike. It’s a matter of when. The math is fairly simple. The more a country increases its debt to simply stay afloat, the more like the increasing debt will cause a tightening of credit. The next step in the equation is a burst bubble and economic crisis. This is what happened in 1929, happened again in 2007, and it’s happening now. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Out-of-control credit will undoubtedly slow down the US’s current economic growth. It probably won’t cause an outright crisis. Other countries may not be as fortunate.
Countries such as China, Belgium, South Korea, Australia, and Canada are experiencing an unprecedented credit bubble, with few systems in place to control it. The resulted inflation or simply write-offs of debts could result in a global financial disaster we have not seen before. The current economic upswing is unlikely to continue.
Even before he decided to launch a trade war and roll the nuclear dice by agreeing in the course of a West Wing afternoon to a risky sit-down with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump was telling friends he was tired of being reined in. “I’m doing great, but I’m getting all these bad headlines,” Trump told a friend recently. A Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me Trump is “frustrated by all these people telling him what to do.” With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase—one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican said.
Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.” According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks. “Trump is going for a clean reset, but he needs to do it in a way that’s systemic so it doesn’t look like it’s chaos,” one Republican said. Sources said that the first officials to go will be Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom Trump has clashed with for months.
On Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office. When he plans to visit Mar-a-Lago next weekend, Trump is expected to interview more candidates for both positions, according to two sources. “He’s going for a clean slate,” one source said. Cohn had been lobbying to replace Kelly as chief, two sources said, and quit when he didn’t get the job. “Trump laughed at Gary when he brought it up,” one outside adviser to the White House said. Next on the departure list are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump remains fiercely loyal to his family, but various distractions have eroded their efficacy within the administration. Both have been sidelined without top-secret security clearances by Kelly, and sources expect them to be leaving at some point in the near future.
Hours after European Union trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said she had “no immediate clarity” on whether the bloc will be let off the hook from planned U.S. tariffs, President Donald Trump laid down his conditions and repeated a threat if they’re not met. “The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum,” he wrote on Twitter. “If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!” Trump’s response came after Malmstrom on Twitter described what she called “frank” but fruitless talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.
There was still “no immediate clarity on the exact U.S. procedure on exemption,” Malmstrom, the 28-nation bloc’s trade commissioner, said after the meeting that also included Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko. “As a close security and trade partner of the U.S. the EU must be excluded from the announced measures,” she said. Canada, Mexico and Australia have secured exemptions from the tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum announced by Trump, though Canada’s and Mexico’s were conditioned on progress renegotiating NAFTA. Trump has called the tariffs a matter of national security while threatening to tax European car imports and impose “reciprocal taxes” on countries that charge higher duties on U.S. goods than the U.S. now charges on their products.
China’s parliament voted to repeal presidential term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to retain power indefinitely in a formal break from succession rules set up after Mao Zedong’s turbulent rule. The rubber-stamp National People’s Congress agreed Sunday to strike a 36-year-old constitutional provision barring the president from serving more than two consecutive terms. The amendment – announced by the Communist Party two weeks ago – removes the only barrier keeping Xi, 64, from staying on after his expected second term ends in 2023. The vote – never in doubt – gives Xi more time to enact plans to centralize party control, increase global clout and curb financial and environmental risks.
It also ties the world’s most populous country more closely to the fate of a single man than at any point since reformer Deng Xiaoping began establishing a system for peaceful power transitions in the aftermath of Mao’s death. Before Sunday’s vote in Beijing, Donald Trump had joked that Xi was “now president for life.” The NPC could appoint Xi to a second term as soon as Saturday. “In the long run, the change may bring some uncertainties, like ‘key man’ risk,” Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst for Gavekel Dragonomics in Beijing, said before the vote. “Dissenting is becoming riskier. The room for debate is becoming narrower. The risk of a policy mistake could become higher and correcting a flawed policy could take longer.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told NBC News that he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens tried to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election because, he claims, they were not connected to the Kremlin. In an exclusive and at-times combative interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin again denied the charge by U.S. intelligence services that he ordered meddling in the November 2016 vote that put Donald Trump in the White House. “Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” asked Putin, who will probably be returned as president in the March 18 elections.
Putin was unmoved by an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller last month that accused 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies of interfering in the election – including supporting Trump’s campaign and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton’s. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. “So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the people named in last month’s indictment. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? … I don’t care. I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.” Putin even suggested that Jews or other ethnic groups had been involved in the meddling.
“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.” Asked whether he was concerned about Russian citizens attacking U.S. democracy, Putin replied that he had yet to see any evidence that the alleged interference had broken Russian law. “Are we the ones who imposed sanctions on the United States? The U.S. imposed sanctions on us.” “We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said. “At least send us a piece of paper. … Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we’ll take a look at it.”
U.S. intelligence agencies and many Western analysts have said that Russian interference came at the orders of the Kremlin. Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin, dismissed this. “Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away … influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous even to you?” he said. “It’s not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering. There’s no goal.”
Families struggling to make ends meet will be hit by the biggest annual benefits cut for six years, according to a new analysis that exposes the impact of continuing austerity measures on the low paid. Chancellor Philip Hammond is preparing to give a stripped-down spring statement on Tuesday, where he is expected to boast of lower than expected borrowing figures. He will use them to suggest Britain has reached a “turning point”. He will point to forecasts showing the “first sustained fall in debt for a generation” to claim “there is light at the end of the tunnel” in turning around Britain’s finances. However, he will be speaking just weeks before a further public spending squeeze will see the second largest annual cut to the benefits budget since the financial crash.
According to new research by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, the changes from April will save around £2.5bn and dent the incomes of the “just about managing” families that Theresa May has vowed to help. The cuts will affect around 11 million families, including 5 million of the struggling families that the prime minister stated she would focus on. There will also be some good news for the low paid, with more than 1.5 million workers set to benefit from a 4.4% pay rise when the national living wage increases from £7.50 to £7.83 at the start of April. However, that measure will be outweighed by the effective £2.5bn cuts to working-age benefits.
MPs are demanding an urgent explanation from ministers after being told that £817m allocated for desperately needed affordable housing and other projects in cash-strapped local authorities has been returned to the Treasury unspent. The surrender of the unused cash has astonished members of the cross-party housing, communities and local government select committee at a time when Theresa May has insisted housebuilding is a top priority and when many local authorities are becoming mired in ever deeper financial crises. On Monday the committee, which discovered the underspend for 2017-18, will interrogate housing minister Dominic Raab and homelessness minister Heather Wheeler on the issue, before Tuesday’s spring statement by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
He is under heavy pressure from MPs, and the Tory-controlled Local Government Association, to signal extra help for the local authority sector, which has seen budget cuts of around 50% since 2010. The acting chair of the committee, the Tory MP Bob Blackman, said: “We will be wanting to know why this very large sum has not been spent at a time of great strain on local authority budgets, and why it was not channelled to other spending projects. It does not help those of us who argue that more should be given to local authorities if the chancellor knows money he gave last time has not even been spent.” MPs believe they can argue for more for local authorities because Hammond will announce that unexpectedly high tax receipts have left the Treasury with a windfall of between £7bn and £10bn.
When the chancellor Philip Hammond sits down on Tuesday after delivering his first spring statement – the streamlined replacement for what we used to call the budget – one man will be greatly in demand, popping up on every media outlet to tell us what the figures on borrowing levels and the projected deficit really mean. That man is Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). I suggest to him that his official role is to pour a bucket of cold water over Hammond’s head, and he doesn’t disagree. [..] The idea of the spring statement, with the budget now pushed back to autumn, is to tell us where we are financially, and to kickstart consultations about the long-term fiscal challenges facing the UK. That, for Johnson, is the important bit.
If the spring statement works, it is an opportunity to counteract the short-termism that bedevils British politics and to start thinking about the issues that really matter – the ageing population, the buckling health service, the lack of any coherent plan for social care, the fact that soon taxes are going to have to rise or public services will fall to pieces. There comes a point when you can no longer kick the can down the road because the road is no longer usable. The Office for Budget Responsibility numbers cited in the spring statement will be better than those projected last autumn because tax receipts have been higher than anticipated, and Johnson reckons Hammond will indulge in some self-congratulation for having met the government’s austerity targets (albeit two years later than his predecessor George Osborne forecast) and eliminated the deficit on day-to-day spending.
But Johnson is ready with his bucket of cold water. “Chancellors always talk up the positive numbers,” he says, “but we’re not out of austerity; we’re nowhere near out of austerity. There are still big spending cuts and big social security cuts to come.” [..] He says the government has done well to get the deficit under control [..] Local government until 2014 was coping fine. It really isn’t any more. Clearly, the health service is struggling in a way that, three or four years ago, it wasn’t. So it feels as if we’ve got to the crunch point. We’re really beginning to feel the cost.” Government borrowing is now back to pre-financial crash levels. “It is quite an achievement to have got borrowing down from the highest level since the war to pretty much normal kinds of levels,” he says.
The march of the brand new car once seemed unstoppable. Cheap finance and personal contract plans (PCPs) fuelled a boom in new cars, accounting for more than 80% of all new car registrations. A fall at the start of 2017 was blamed on a collapse in consumer confidence in diesel vehicles and last year remains one of the highest on record for new car registrations. However, the latest figures reveal that the number of new cars registered in February fell by 2.8% compared with the same month last year, making it the 11th month in a row to show a decline. And once again it’s being blamed on falling demand for diesel vehicles; diesel cars accounted for just 35% of the new cars registered last month, compared with more than 44% in February 2017.
[..] The previous surge in new car registrations had been partly fuelled by changes to the way we buy vehicles. Buying a brand new car with a relatively small deposit and monthly fee can be more immediately affordable than buying an older car upfront. 37% of car buyers claim to have bought on finance because it enabled them to spread out their payment monthly, 36% to get a better deal and, revealingly, 36% because they couldn’t afford to purchase a car otherwise. [..] Justin Benson, KPMG’s UK head of automotive, says: “Consumers aren’t necessarily turning away from car finance. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the new car market is pretty saturated, ie most cars in the last few years have been bought using PCP plans. So many are using the vehicles they already have and we are seeing a drop in demand – although Brexit is also in the back of people’s minds.”
Turkey’s leader has scorched NATO allies over their failure to support his “counter-terrorist” operation in the Kurdish-held Syrian region of Afrin, but expressed gratitude that they at least had no guts to openly oppose Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered the inflammatory comments while speaking before a gathering of his ruling AK Party in the Turkish city of Mersin on Saturday. “Hey NATO where are you? We’re fighting so much. NATO, Turkey is not a NATO country? Where are you? You’ve invited NATO-member states to Afghanistan,” Erdogan said. NATO members not only show no support towards Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch and would even openly oppose Ankara’s actions in Syria, but did not have the guts to do so, Erdogan claimed.
The offensive against Kurdish militias in Syria’s region of Afrin was launched late in January. Turkey describes the militias as offshoots of the terrorist-labeled outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). So far, 3,213 “terrorists” have been killed during the operation, carried out by Turkish troops and affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants, Erdogan stated. “In fact, they would openly oppose Turkey in Syria if they could. But seeing Turkey’s adamant position, they did not find [the] resolve to do so,” the president said. The Turkish leader also reiterated his earlier statements, that his only goal in Syria was the “fight against terrorism.” When Ankara reaches it, the troops will be pulled out of the country, he stated.
[..] Washington has repeatedly called upon Turkey to stop its “aggression” against the Afrin region, omitting the fact that the US-led coalition itself spent years in Syria without any invitation from the government or international approval. The recent UNSC resolution, which urged a 30-days Syria-wide ceasefire, has been also used to call upon Erdogan to halt the invasion. “Turkey is more than welcome to go back and read the exact text of this UN Security Council resolution, and I would suggest that they do so,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on February 27, stating that the Afrin region was “certainly within Syria.”
As tensions rise over the detention of two Greek soldiers who crossed the Turkish border accidentally and over Turkish aggression off Cyprus, statements by both Greek and Turkish officials over the weekend underscored the fragility of the situation. In an interview with French daily Liberation on Saturday, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declared that “Greece is very close to a fatal accident with Turkey,” referring to Turkish violations of Greek air space and territorial waters. “We are obliged to defend our territory which is not only Greek but also European,” he said. Late last week, meanwhile, Kammenos had referred to two Greek soldiers being detained in Turkey as “hostages.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said Turkey’s judiciary was seeking to determine whether the Greek soldiers crossed into Turkey by accident or deliberately. Asked whether Ankara was considering exchanging the two men with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following an attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Cavusoglu ruled out such a prospect. “We do not want such an agreement,” he said.
Greece will probably not need a precautionary credit line after its bailout ends in August if the country sticks to reforms, the head of Europe’s rescue fund said in an interview released on Saturday. Greece has received 260 billion euros in financial aid from euro zone countries and the IMF since 2010, and its third bailout expires in August. The country regained market access last year but some European Union policymakers and Greek central bankers believe Athens cannot go it alone without a standby line of credit after its financial support ends. But a precautionary credit line would come with conditions attached, something the government is keen to avoid after eight years of austerity that has worn down Greeks and hurt its popularity in polls.
In an interview with Proto Thema newspaper, the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling, said having a precautionary arrangement available is good because it gives more assurances to markets, investors and the Greek population. “But it very much depends whether it’s really needed,” he said. “If everything remains quiet, reforms continue and Greece continues to develop its market access, then based on what we know today it’s probably not needed.” The ESM and the European Financial Stability Facility are Greece’s largest creditors, together holding more than half of its 332 billion euro public debt, a sum equal to nearly 180% of economic output.
They talk the talk because their pollsters say they must. And then deflect responsibility because they have no intention of doing anything. This way it becomes along term issue; the public must be heard first, and that takes years.
A tax on disposable cups is ridiculous. Just ban them, what’s the problem?
The public will be urged by the Government to suggest tax changes to curb plastic pollution, amid growing criticism that ministers are dragging their heels. A “call for evidence” on how tax incentives could cut the amount of single-use plastics – such as cutlery, foam trays and coffee cups – that end up littering the land and poisoning the seas will be launched. But the move, in Tuesday’s Spring Statement, is not expected to include any specific proposals, nor will a formal consultation be launched by the Treasury. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, will tell MPs he is determined that Britain will “lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem”.
But the call for evidence was first proposed by Mr Hammond four months ago, the delay prompting criticism that ministers have simply “talked the talk on plastic pollution”. A proposal for a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, made by a cross-party Commons committee in January was met with a cool response from the Government. In January, Theresa May delivered the first major speech on the environment from a sitting prime minister since 2004 and published a 25-year Environment Plan with the ambition of abolishing plastic waste by 2042. However, it was widely criticised for being vague, for the lack of proposed legislation and for the lengthy timescales for dealing with the problems involved. [..] The UK still creates 2.26 million tons of plastic packaging waste a year and recycles only around a third.
On Tuesday, Mr Hammond will say the call for evidence is intended to find ways to use the tax system to deliver both technological progress and behavioural change. Individuals, green groups and industry will be urged to have their say, as the Chancellor announces a £20m innovation fund for businesses and universities to develop the new technologies and approaches needed. The Chancellor said: “Single-use plastics waste is a scourge to our environment. From crisp packets to coffee cups, each year the UK produces millions of tonnes of waste which is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. “That’s why I want British businesses and universities to lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem.
A marked shift toward protectionism by President Donald Trump caused sharp outflows from U.S. large-cap stocks this week, Bank of America Merrill-Lynch (BAML) strategists said on Friday. Investors rushed into government bonds and other safer assets amid rising fears of an international trade war after Trump’s plans for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum met barbed responses from allies and trade bodies. Overall, investors pulled money out of equities, though the damage was mostly in the United States where $10.3 billion flowed out of U.S. equity funds, while global equity funds suffered just $0.4 billion of outflows, according to EPFR data cited by BAML. “As QE ends, protectionism begins,” wrote BAML strategists.
The risk-off mood drove investors into money market funds, pushing assets up to $2.9 trillion – the highest level since 2010. Safe-haven gold also drew in $0.4 billion. U.S. small caps were sheltered from the storm, the only U.S. sector to draw inflows, albeit tiny at $0.03 billion. U.S. large-cap stocks lost $10.1 billion. Flows into Japanese equities continued apace, with the market drawing in $4.1 billion in its 14th straight week of inflows, the longest streak of inflows since 2013. European stock funds managed to draw in $0.1 billion. Trump’s exemption of Canada and Mexico from the final tariffs announced late on Thursday soothed investors somewhat, and news the U.S. president would meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un caused crude prices to rise.
Vice President Mike Pence has said the US made “zero concessions” in order to get an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and talk about a possible end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. Mr Pence said that President Donald Trump has “consistently increased the pressure” on North Korea, which has continued the development of its weapons – including an increasing number of missile tests in the last 12 months – despite numerous resolutions by the United Nations. Later at the White House, the press secretary made it clear that talks would only take place if Washington saw “concrete action” by North Korea towards denuclearisation. Mr Trump and Mr Kim are expected to meet before the end of May, although a date and location has yet to be set.
After months of escalating rhetoric between the nations the prospect of a thaw has been welcomed by world leaders. Ms Sanders said at a briefing on Friday that President Trump was “in a great mood” in the wake of the announcement, saying that the US was having conversations “from a position of strength” – with denuclearisation having always been the goal of the administration. It has taken many by surprise, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had said just hours before the announcement that the US was a “long ways from negotiations”. But, Mr Tillerson said the President made the decision to accept the invite “himself”, a move he said was a “dramatic” reversal in posture for North Korea.
While everyone is “high fiving” over stocks holding up, the bond market is back to imploding. Already Treasury yields have bounced and are soaring higher in one of the nastiest breakouts in over 20 years.
In a world awash in too much debt (global Debt to GDP is over 300%) this is a MAJOR problem. Most investors believe that the 2008 Crisis was the worst crisis of their lifetimes. They’re mistaken… what’s coming down the pike when the Bond Bubble blows up will be many times worse than 2008. The reason is that bonds, not stocks, represent the bedrock of the financial system. When a stock bubble bursts, investors lose money. When a sovereign bond bubble bursts, entire countries go bust (a la Greece in 2010). On that note, I want to point out that bond yields are not just rising in the US… we’re seeing them spike in Germany, Japan, and others.
This is a truly global problem, and if Central Banks don’t move to get it control soon, we’re heading into a MAJOR crisis.
The census bureau does the data-gathering and the Bureau of Labor Statistics feeds the questionable data sample through its statistical sausage grinder and spits out some type of grotesque scatological substance. You know an economic report is pure absurdity when the report exceeds Wall Street’s rose-colored estimate by 53%. That has to be, by far, an all-time record-high “beat.” If you sift through some of the foul-smelling data, it turns out 365k of the alleged jobs were part-time, which means the labor market lost 52k full-time jobs. But alas, I loathe paying any credence to complete fiction by dissecting the “let’s pretend” report. The numbers make no sense. Why? Because the alleged data does not fit the reality of the real economy.
Retail sales, auto sales, home sales and restaurant sales have been declining for the past couple of months. So who would be doing the hiring? Someone pointed out that Coinbase has hired 500 people. But the retail industry has been laying off thousands this year. Given the latest industrial production and auto sales numbers, I highly doubt factories are doing anything with their workforce except reducing it. And if the job market is “so strong,” how comes wages are flat? In fact, adjusted for real inflation, real wages are declining. If the job market was robust, wages would be soaring. Speaking of which, IF the labor market was what the Government wants us to believe it is, the FOMC would tripping all over itself to hike the Fed Funds rate. And the rate-hikes would be in chunks of 50-75 basis points – not the occasional 0.25% rise.
So we have the first Fed Governor and member of the policy-setting FOMC who came out and said that the QE Unwind that began last October with baby steps isn’t fast enough. And because it’s so slow it may actually contribute to, rather than lower, the “financial imbalances.” In her speech, Kansas City Fed President Esther George pointed at the growth of the economy, the tightness in the labor market, the additional support the economy will get from consumers and companies as they spend or invest the tax cuts, etc., etc. And despite this growth, “the stance of monetary policy remains quite accommodative,” she said. She cited the federal funds rate – the overnight interest rate the Fed targets. The Fed’s current target range is 1.25% to 1.50%, which is “well below estimates of its longer-run value of around 3%,” she said.
The Fed would have to raise rates at least six more times of 25 basis points each, for a total of at least 1.5 percentage points, to bring the federal funds rate to around 3% and get back to neutral. If the Fed wanted to actually tighten after that, it would have to raise rates further. So far, so good. And then came her concerns about the Fed’s balance sheet. Under QE, the Fed acquired $1.7 trillion in Treasury securities and $1.78 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, for a total of about $3.5 trillion. After QE ended in October 2014, the Fed then maintained the levels by replacing maturing securities. But in October last year, it commenced the QE-Unwind and started to not replace some maturing securities. This has the effect of shrinking its balance sheet.
Just like the Fed “tapered” QE by phasing it out over the course of a year, it is also ramping up the QE-Unwind over the course of a year. But the pace of the QE-Unwind has been too slow, according to George – and this may be destabilizing the financial markets: “By the end of this year, however, only about a quarter of the increase to the Fed’s balance sheet resulting from the first round of large scale asset purchases will be unwound. These holdings of longer-term assets were intended to put downward pressure on longer term interest rates. Many investors responded, as would be expected, by purchasing riskier assets in a reach for higher yield. As a result, asset prices may have become distorted relative to the economic fundamentals.”
The mobility of capital radically alters the simplistic 18th century view of free trade. In today’s world, trade can not be coherently measured as goods moving between nations, because capital from the importing nation owns the productive assets in the exporting nation. If Apple owns a factory (or joint venture) in China and collects virtually all the profits from the iGadgets produced there, this reality cannot be captured by the models of simple trade described by Ricardo. In today’s globalized version of “free trade,” mobile capital can arbitrage labor, currencies, interest rates, regulatory burdens and political favors by shifting between nations and assets. Trying to account for trade in the 18th century manner of goods shipped between nations is nonsensical when components come from a number of nations and profits flow not to the nation of origin but to the owners of capital.
[..] In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage. Mobile capital can borrow billions of dollars (or equivalent) in one nation at low rates of interest and then use that money to outbid domestic capital for assets in another nation with few sources of credit. Mobile capital can overwhelm the local political system, buying favors and cutting deals, all with cash borrowed at near-zero interest rates. Mobile capital can buy up and exploit resources and cheap labor until the resource is depleted or competition cuts profit margins. At that point, mobile capital closes the factories, fires the employees and moves on. Where is the “free trade” in a world in which the comparative advantage is held by mobile capital?
And what gives mobile capital its essentially unlimited leverage? Central banks issuing trillions of dollars in nearly-free money to banks and other financial institutions that funnel the free cash to corporations and financiers, who can then roam the world snapping up assets and arbitraging global imbalances with nearly-free money. There’s nothing remotely “free” about trade based not on Ricardo’s simple concept of comparative advantage but on capital flows unleashed by central bank liquidity. The gains reaped by mobile capital flow to those who control mobile capital: global corporations, financiers and banks. No wonder labor’s share of the economy is stagnating across the globe while corporate profits reach unprecedented heights.
Investors shrugged off trade skirmishes and signals of fading monetary stimulus as they rewarded some of Europe’s most leveraged companies, putting the latter on track for their best weekly advance since December 2016. Stocks with the weakest balance sheets gained 4.5% this week, compared to 3.1% for their less-indebted counterparts, according to a Bloomberg analysis of Morgan Stanley data. Since these risky-debt companies were beaten up earlier in the year, they’re beginning to bounce back thanks to the risk-on rally, buoyed by largely positive earnings reports, said Hugh Cuthbert at SVM Asset Management. “Post the jitters that we saw at the start of February, they are more than likely to be beneficiaries”.
“The market appetite for risk will always benefit those guys when it’s high.” Still, it’s a small reprieve after they dropped more than 10% in the 25 trading days through last week. Even after the recent advance, shares of weak balance-sheet companies sit 7.7% below their January peak. The Morgan Stanley-compiled basket tracks 40 European companies with measures that include net debt to Ebitda and interest coverage ratios. The good times may be short-lived, however, as the ECB pares stimulus, said Cuthbert. “Look out, if we are in a tightening cycle,” he said. “A lot of companies have been living off debt and their business model won’t apply to higher interest rates.”
Just because China’s financial regulators are cracking down on cryptocurrencies doesn’t mean they’re souring on the idea of digital money. People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan made that clear at a press conference in Beijing on Friday, saying physical cash may one day become obsolete. Zhou said the PBOC is looking into digital currencies as it pursues faster, cheaper and more convenient payment methods, even as he warned that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – more often used for speculation than payments – don’t serve the economy.
“We must prevent major mistakes that would lead to irreparable losses, so we are cautious,” Zhou said during what may be one of his last public appearances before his expected retirement. “We don’t like creating products for speculation and making people have the illusion that they can get rich overnight.” China, once home to the world’s most active Bitcoin exchanges, banned the venues last year amid a broad-ranging clampdown on virtual currencies. Yet the country is still the world leader in digital payments, thanks to the popularity of platforms developed by tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.
The most notorious of the Nazi collaborators who immigrated to Canada was Mykhailo Chomiak, a mid-level Nazi operative in Poland, who came under US protection at the end of the war and eventually made his way to Canada where he settled in Alberta. Had he been captured by the Red Army, he would quite likely have been hanged for collaboration with the enemy. In Canada however he prospered as a farmer. His grand-daughter is the “Ukrainian-Canadian” Chrystia Freeland, the present minister for external affairs. She is a well-known Russophobe, persona non grata in the Russian Federation, who long claimed her grandfather was a “victim” of World War II. Her claims to this effect have been demonstrated to be untrue by the Australian born journalist John Helmer, amongst many others.
In 1940 the Liberal government facilitated the creation of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress (UCC), one of many organisations used to fight or marginalise the left in Canada, in this case amongst Canadian Ukrainians. The UCC is still around and appears to dominate the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Approximately 1.4 million people living in Canada claim full or partial Ukrainian descent though generally the latter. Most “Ukrainian-Canadians” were born in Canada; well more than half live in the western provinces. The vast majority has certainly never set foot in the Ukraine. It is this constituency on which the UCC depends to pursue its political agenda in Ottawa.
After the coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 the UCC lobbied the then Conservative government under Stephen Harper to support the Ukrainian “regime change” operation which had been conducted by the United States and European Union. The UCC president, Paul Grod, took the lead in obtaining various advantages from the Harper government, including arms for the putschist regime in Kiev. It survives only through massive EU and US direct or indirect financial/political support and through armed backing from fascist militias who repress dissent by force and intimidation. Mr. Grod claims that Russia is pursuing a policy of “aggression” against the Ukraine.
If that were true, the putschists in Kiev would have long ago disappeared. The Harper government allowed fund raising for Pravyi Sektor, a Ukrainian fascist paramilitary group, through two organisations in Canada including the UCC, and even accorded “charitable status” to one of them to facilitate their fund raising and arms buying. Harper also sent military “advisors” to train Ukrainian forces, the backbone of which are fascist militias. The Trudeau government has continued that policy. “Canada should prepare for Russian attempts to destabilize its democracy,” according to Minister Freeland: “Ukraine is a very important partner to Canada and we will continue to support its efforts for democracy and economic growth.”
There is no place that the US or NATO has gone into in the last 4 decades that is better off. Not one. In fact, there is no place that NATO or the US have intervened, (usually against international law) that hasn’t become a failed state, hell on Earth for the citizens, and a genuine danger to the surrounding regions and the world. It is the US government and NATO, and the people who own and control them, who are the threats and the enemies to the future of Humanity. But their days of disregarding international law and destroying weaker nations with impunity are now over, as of March 1st, 2018. The good people of America now have a huge opportunity, and a huge challenge. Russia spends less than one tenth what the USA spends on military and defense, but their military and weapons are superior in every measurable way.
The waste, corruption and abject venality of the US military industrial complex has wasted trillions on weapon systems that are now literally useless, and which have left the US military (and by extension the American people) defenseless before the power of Russia’s weapons, which are designed and produced to be effective rather than profitable. The opportunity is this – the USA can now reduce its military spending (the highest in the world) by 90% and still be safer than you are right now, spending almost a trillion dollars a year on useless weapons and a defenseless military. Safer, because as soon as the American People take control of their government enough to reduce your spending to ONLY as much as Russia spends, Russia will stop having reason to see the USA as an existential threat.
The less you spend, the safer you will be. The more you spend, the more likely World War Three, which will see you as the instigators and the losers. This gives the USA, starting as soon as you want, an extra $800 billion, per year, to spend on things that have actual worth, things you really need. Health care, free college education, fixing the rotting economy and infrastructure that are daily becoming more of a threat to the American people than Russia has ever been. Your challenge is that you must root out an entrenched and ruthless kleptocracy, built on deceit and oppression, and which is bent on war, and will stop at nothing to cling to its power. It is a huge task, an historic task, but in it lies your only hope. These parasites must be stopped, and if the American People are not up to the challenge, if they fail in their historic mission, they will leave it to the armies of the world, led by Russia, who will no longer tolerate those who want to rule the world.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has repeatedly told the world that China is ready to lead on issues like free trade and climate change. Now, he’s ready to extend his leadership to political parties everywhere. At the big annual gathering of Chinese lawmakers and political advisors that kicked off March 3, Xi said that China is offering a “new type of political party system”—a Chinese solution that contributes to the development of political parties around the world, according to state media (link in Chinese). The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always said the country will never copy the political systems of other countries, in particular the Western notion of democracy.
But under Xi—the most powerful Chinese leader in four decades—China’s own one-party system is one that is ready to be exported to regimes everywhere. The term “new type of political party system” was first put forward by Xi when he delivered a speech to non-party political advisors on March 4. It’s not the first time that Xi has floated the idea that China’s political model can make a contribution to the world. This time, however, Chinese state media churned out a wave of articles to underscore the significance of this new phrase. In the past, “some people lacking self-confidence always use Western political theories to criticize China’s political party system,” wrote Wang Xiaohong at the party-backed Central Institute of Socialism, in a commentary widely circulated by Chinese news outlets.
But as Wang argues, Western political systems are associated, among other things, with fractured societies, inefficient government, and “endless power transitions and social chaos” as in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and in north Africa after the Arab Spring. “The new type of political party system has overcome all sorts of problems that the old [one] can’t overcome,” Wang argued. In China, there are eight so-called “democratic parties” that are allowed to participate in the political system, but they are almost completely subservient to the CCP. Every year in March, members of the minor parties meet with their communist counterparts in Beijing to provide advice on everything from healthcare to poverty reduction—largely for show.
The system—called “multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the CCP’s leadership”—has been used as evidence that China is also a democracy. The internationalization of China’s political system is in fact well underway. Since 2014, the Communist Party has hosted an annual summit in Beijing inviting political party leaders from around the world to hear about how it governs China. In recent years, the party has also brought young African politicians to China for training, in a bid to cultivate allies.
Complaining that U.S. investigations into foreign interference in the election have gotten almost everything wrong, officials from dozens of countries around the world expressed irritation Friday that all of the credit for meddling in the 2016 presidential race was going to Russia. Resentful operatives from Serbia, Uruguay, Swaziland, and 45 other nations said they were incredibly annoyed that Kremlin-backed computer hackers and dark-money financiers were receiving all the media attention, while their own far superior efforts to undermine the U.S. electoral process had so far received no recognition at all.
“Do you have any idea how much more sophisticated our attacks on American democracy were than Russia’s?” Laotian president Bounnhang Vorachith said of his government’s efforts to spread misinformation about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on social media sites. “We spent millions building a sophisticated bot network that could craft false but believable stories portraying Trump in a good light. And it worked! It’s unbelievably frustrating to pull off something like that and then have all the glory go to someone else.” “Do you really think Russia could’ve hacked into [Clinton campaign chairman] John Podesta’s emails?” Vorachith continued. “Hell no. That was Laos.”
According to sources, every time the American media credits Russian oligarchs with funding election-tampering efforts, numerous foreign agents across the globe throw up their arms and storm out of the room, infuriated because Costa Rican and Nepalese money launderers reportedly did far more to finance such initiatives. These agents have also been known to toss aside newspapers in anger, shouting that Mongolia’s work busing thousands of people with dead voters’ names to cast ballots for Clinton in New Hampshire was more deserving of attention than anything Russia had accomplished.
On this winter day, the world was upside down: it was raining in the Arctic Circle and snowing in Rome. The contradiction was not lost on those gathered at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located near the top of the world. The scientists, activists, executives and government officials were in Longyearbyen, to mark the 10-year anniversary of what has become known as the Doomsday Vault, which stores seeds of the world’s most important crops deep in a mountain against the apocalyptic consequences of climate change and war. The challenge they’re facing now is that the climate is changing far quicker than they’d imagined. The facility sprung a leak last year after construction had failed to take into account that the permafrost could melt.
Norway is now spending about $20 million to secure and improve the facility. But it’s not just the building. “Biodiversity is the building block to develop new plants and because of climate change we’re in a terrible need to quickly develop new varieties,” said Aaslaug Marie Haga, executive director of Crop Trust, a group established to support gene banks. “The climate is changing quicker than the plants can handle.” Svalbard is the farthest north one can travel commercially, about an 1 1/2 hour flight from northern Norway. The vault is about a 10 minute drive from town, past a coal-fired power plant and up a winding two-lane road. Unless armed with a high-caliber rifle, driving is essential, since leaving town also means venturing into polar bear country.
The site’s entrance, not far from the abandoned coal mine that served as the first Nordic seed vault, shines at night like a green beacon, lit up by an artwork of fiber optics, steel and glass called Perpetual Repercussion. The seeds are kept at minus 18 centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit) more than 100 meters into the mountain behind six steel doors. And in an ideal world, the vault would never have to be used. It’s meant to back up the plant gene banks around the world, organized under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But many of these facilities are vulnerable. One withdrawal from Svalbard has already been made by the group that ran the seed bank in Aleppo, Syria.
In Iran, nearly 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women—a higher percentage than in any other country. Nearby Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are close, each boasting over 60% female graduates in science, still more of the rest of the world. Young women in science are the rule, not the exception, in the Middle East. At least a third of STEM trained talent across the Muslim world is female, writes Saadia Zahidi in her new book Fifty Million Rising, which tracks the workplace progress achieved by Muslim women since the turn of the century. Only in Jordan, Qatar and the UAE are girls more comfortable with math than boys.
“The Muslim world has put high investment in education, and the payoff is coming now,” argues Zahidi, a World Economic Forum executive who leads education and gender equality initiatives. While observant Muslim societies are often associated with strict social codes for men and women, Western gender stereotypes about work don’t necessarily apply: Several Muslim countries have filled more than half of STEM jobs with female workers. Zahidi adds that in many cases, Muslim women are pioneering their role in the workforce, so they don’t have preconceived stereotypes about whether tech jobs, for example, constitute “feminine” career goals.
A study published in February found that the social and political gender equality typical of Scandinavian countries may be inversely related to women’s representation in STEM fields. This could be in part due to the fact that countries with greater parity between sexes tend to be wealthier, providing better government support to citizens and allowing women to accept less secure jobs.
Donald Trump took the biggest gamble of his presidency on Thursday, breaking decades of U.S. diplomatic orthodoxy by accepting an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The bet is that Trump’s campaign to apply maximum economic pressure on Kim’s regime has forced him to consider what was previously unthinkable: surrendering the illicit nuclear weapons program begun by his father. If the president is right, the U.S. would avert what appeared at times last year to be a steady march toward a second Korean War. It was classic Trump, showing an unerring confidence to get the better end of any negotiation.
But it was also Trump in another way: high risk and high reward, with little regard for those in the foreign policy establishment who worry it’s too much, too soon. “He’s taking a risk,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “By seizing an opportunity for a summit meeting, a decision that would have taken much more time in another administration, the president has said, ‘I’m going to go right now. And we’re going to test this.”’
U.S. President Donald Trump pressed ahead on Thursday with import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% for aluminum but exempted Canada and Mexico and offered the possibility of excluding other allies, backtracking from an earlier “no-exceptions” stance. Describing the dumping of steel and aluminum in the U.S. market as “an assault on our country,” Trump said in a White House announcement that the best outcome would for companies to move their mills and smelters to the United States. He insisted that domestic metals production was vital to national security. “If you don’t want to pay tax, bring your plant to the USA,” added Trump, flanked by steel and aluminum workers.
Plans for the tariffs, set to start in 15 days, have stirred opposition from business leaders and prominent members of Trump’s own Republican Party, who fear the duties could spark retaliation from other countries and hurt the U.S. economy. Within minutes of the announcement, U.S. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, said he would introduce a bill to nullify the tariffs. But that would likely require Congress to muster an extremely difficult two-thirds majority to override a Trump veto. Some Democrats praised the move, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said it was “past time to defend our interests, our security and our workers in the global economy and that is exactly what the president is proposing with these tariffs.”
When the “tax cut” bill was being passed, everyone from Congress to the mainstream media, and even the CFP’s I spoke with yesterday, regurgitated the same “storyline:” “Tax cuts will lead to an economic boom as corporations increase wages, hire and produce more and consumers have extra money in their pockets to spend.” As I have written many times previously, this was always more “hope” than “reality.” The economy, as we currently calculate it, is roughly 70% driven by what you and I consume or “personal consumption expenditures (PCE).” The chart below shows the history of real, inflation-adjusted, PCE as a percent of real GDP.
If “tax cuts” are going to substantially increase the growth rate of the U.S. economy, as touted by the current Administration, then PCE has to be directly targeted. However, while the majority of consumers will receive an “average” of $1182 in the form of a tax reduction, (or $98.50 a month), the increase in take-home pay has already been offset by surging health care cost, rent, energy and higher debt service payments. [..] But this is nothing new as corporations have failed to “share the wealth” for the last couple of decades.
That was quick. The trade war scare was over by noon yesterday, and by the market close they were singing “Gary Cohn, we hardly knew ya”. Folks, what more evidence do you need that the financial markets are completely uncoupled from reality and that these feeble bounces between the 50-day and 20-day chart points are essentially the rigor mortis of a dead bull? At the moment, the 50-day stands at 2740 on the S&P 500 and is functioning as “resistance” according to the chart mavens, while the 20-day at 2700 is purportedly acting as “support”. So there’s that, but also this: At the exact mid-point of 2720, the broad market is currently trading at 25.6X reported earnings for 2017.
That’s the nosebleed section of history no matter how you slice it – and most especially in the context of an earnings growth trend that is shackled to the flat line, and which has no prospect of breaking away before the next recession, either. With virtually every company having reported, it turns out that GAAP earnings for 2017 came in at $109.46 per share on the S&P 500. Then again, 40 months earlier in September 2014 reported LTM earnings were $105.96 per share. That tabulates to a 1.0% per year gain during what will surely prove to have been the sweet spot (month #63 to month #102) of the current long-in-the-tooth business expansion.
Low interest rates. Easy credit. Poor regulation. Toxic mortgages. These were just a few reasons regulators gave for the collapse of the US housing market a decade ago. Since then, regulators have improved the standards that lenders use when Americans apply for mortgages. But today increasing danger lurks in the mortgage market, and economists say it could put the financial system at “even greater risk” when the next recession strikes or too many borrowers fall behind on their mortgage payments. A growing segment of the mortgage market is being financed by so-called non-bank lenders — financial institutions that offer loans to consumers but don’t provide saving or checking accounts.
Borrowers with poor credit have increasingly turned to these alternative lenders instead of traditional banks. The alternative lenders are subject to far less regulation and have fewer safeguards when borrower defaults start to pile up. “A collapse of the non-bank mortgage sector has the potential to result in substantial costs and harm to consumers and the US government,” economists at the Federal Reserve and the University of California, Berkeley, write in a paper released Thursday at a Brookings Institution conference. As of 2016, non-bank financial institutions originated close to half of all mortgages. They originated three-quarters of mortgages with explicit government backing, underscoring the risk to taxpayers.
“The experience of the financial crisis suggests that the government will be pressured to backstop the sector in a time of stress,” the authors write. The danger is that non-banks may have fewer resources to weather economic shocks to the mortgage market, like a rise in interest rates or a decline in house prices. “What happens if interest rates rise and non-bank revenue drops? What happens if commercial banks or other financial institutions lose their taste for extending credit to non-banks? What happens if delinquency rates rise and servicers have to advance payments to investors?” the authors write. “We cannot provide reassuring answers to any of these questions,” they write.
The end of the era of cheap money highlights the risk of “Enron-style” bankruptcies in many sectors, including renewable energy. With the path of three rate hikes in the United States in 2018 confirmed by the Federal Reserve and a nervous equity market, the challenges are more evident than ever. The past eight years of massive liquidity and low rates have not helped deleverage, and many companies have used this period to increase imbalances and create complex debt structures. In fact: • Corporate net debt to EBITDA levels is at record highs. About 20% of US corporates face default if rates rise, according to the IMF. • The number of zombie companies has risen above pre-crisis levels according to the Bank of International Settlements (BIS). • This is particularly evident in the renewable sector where, even in the years of high liquidity and low rates, bankruptcies soared.
The renewable sector has undergone an absolutely spectacular transformation in the past eight years. Technology advanced, costs fell and global leaders strengthened when their strategy was to develop an energy model. Understanding that disruptive technologies cannot be more leveraged than traditional ones was key. When technology reduces costs and disrupts inflationary models, basing the business on ever-increasing subsidies and higher prices and financing it with massive debt is suicidal. In the era of cheap money and extreme liquidity, many companies used the “green” subterfuge to implement an extremely leveraged builder-developer model, ignoring demand, costs, and competition. A model whose sole objective was to install for the sake of installing capacity, whether there was a demand or not, and that pursued subsidies while stating that it is very competitive.
Even in a period of falling interest rates and very high liquidity, there have been spectacular bankruptcies, so imagine what can happen when rates rise. [..] If a technology is viable, it does not need subsidies. If it is unviable, no subsidies will change it. Bankruptcies in the solar sector exceed all those of the inefficient coal and fracking companies combined. This domino of bankruptcies, which includes more than 120 corpses of large companies around the world, was self-inflicted. And now, winter is coming. [..] The global renewable sector faces refinancing needs in the next seven to eight years that exceed its entire market capitalization (134 billion euros, Renixx Index).
It is not a problem of technology, it is the addiction to cheap debt and growth for growth sake. And it’s not just a problem in the renewable sector. The combination of lower revenues and increased debt costs is a danger. Cost of debt rises, and cost of equity soars due to higher perceived risk, which in turn can dry up the market for capital increases and refinancing. It is not just renewables, but it is worth highlighting that energy is -again- the most vulnerable sector due to the cyclical nature of its revenues and the perpetuation of overcapacity of the past eight years.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter on Thursday to call on U.S. President Donald Trump to challenge China’s auto trade rules, which limit foreign ownership of Chinese ventures and impose steep tariffs on imported cars. In a series of tweets aimed at the president, Musk said he was “against import duties in general, but the current rules make things very difficult. It’s like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes.” Tesla has been pushing hard to build cars in China, the world’s largest auto market, but has hit roadblocks in negotiations with local authorities, in part because Musk is keen to keep full control of any local venture. “No U.S. auto company is allowed to own even 50% of their own factory in China, but there are five 100% China-owned EV (electric vehicle) auto companies in the U.S.,” Musk wrote in another tweet.
Tesla “raised this with the prior administration and nothing happened. Just want a fair outcome, ideally where tariffs/rules are equally moderate. Nothing more. Hope this does not seem unreasonable,” he said. Trump quoted one of Musk’s tweets in his announcement on new tariffs and said American automakers have not been treated fairly by trade rules around the world. Trump announced steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on Thursday. Politicians “have known it for years and never did anything about it. It’s got to change,” Trump said, saying he plans to impose a “reciprocal tax” on other countries. “We’re changing things,” Trump added. “We just want fairness.”
China has moved away from its old growth model which was heavily reliant on investment and will rely less on stimulus to boost the economy in future, People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on Friday. Zhou’s comments echoed those of other top officials at China’s parliament this week which suggested that Beijing will be more cautious about spending this year while it focuses on reducing the risks from a rapid build-up in debt. After years of heavy pump-priming, markets worry less generous stimulus could retard the pace of growth not only in China but globally. But analysts believe Beijing will continue to keep the system well supplied with cash to avoid the risk of a sharp slowdown in economic growth, even as they continue to tighten the screws on financial regulations.
“We now emphasize the new normal of the economy, shifting from the past growth model of quantitative growth… referring to the accumulation of capital and investment to boost economic growth,” Zhou told reporters on the sidelines of the annual parliament session. “While pursuing higher quality growth, we will have to reduce our reliance on the old growth model of investment,” said Zhou, in what was likely his last news briefing before his expected retirement this month. Zhou said China needs to improve its regulatory supervision as soon as possible to curb risks to the financial system. He said China has begun to make progress in reducing such risks, but numerous threats remain, such as a lack of transparency at financial holding companies and digital currencies.
The UK’s pension funding crisis reached a new crisis milestone this week as the Office for National Statistics revealed the UK’s pension funding liabilities rose to £7.6 trillion at the end of 2015. The figure – the total amount promised to pay Brits’ future retirement income – includes £5.3 trillion of pension entitlements that were the responsibility of central and local government, most of which – around £4 trillion – came from State Pension entitlements. The remaining £2.3 trillion were private sector employee pension entitlements with £2 trillion due to final salary pensions, up from £1.4 trillion in 2010. As things stand, expert commentators suggest there is only around a third of that ‘in the bank’ in company pension funds.
The remainder, it is hoped, will be generated by future working populations. The figures are designed to provide a snapshot of household retirement entitlements, though they don’t include self-invested personal pensions, which have grown significantly in recent years thanks to legislative changes known as pensions freedoms. “While these are obviously large amounts of money, it is important to remember that the payments will be drawn over many years,” says Darren Morgan, head of national accounts for the ONS. “The figures say nothing about the sustainability of our pension system in future.”
In fact, pensions experts have been shocked by the statistics, which come just days after official warnings from the Government Actuary that National Insurance may have to increase by 5% to pay for future state pay outs. “The figures published by the ONS today are astonishing and bring into sharp relief the reasons behind proposed increases in the state pension age,” adds Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell. “Unfunded state pension entitlements are worth more than double UK GDP – these are promises that will, ultimately, have to be paid for by future generations either through higher taxes, a lower state pension income or a later retirement age.
Countrywide, Britain’s largest estate agent, has reported a 22.5% fall in core annual earnings and scrapped its dividend, sending its shares to record lows. It pledged to go “back to basics” to return its sales and lettings business to profitable growth after what it described as a disappointing year. “We have got to put our resources back in the front line and not at the head office,” said the executive chairman, Peter Long, adding that restructuring would reduce headcount to 350 from 400. Countrywide said its 2018 property pipeline was “significantly lower” and that it expected a fall of about 36% (£10m) in first-half adjusted earnings before interest, taxation and amortisation (Ebitda).
Its 2017 adjusted Ebitda fell 22.5% to £64.7m while group income fell almost 9% to £671.9m. Shares in Countrywide plunged to a record low of 66.64p before rising to 77p in mid-morning trading, down 13.4% . “The next few months will be messy as new plans are put into place,” Jefferies analysts said in a note to clients. “However, banks are lending their support to the new plan and we believe those equity investors who choose to do the same will have their patience rewarded.”
Toronto developers had one of their busiest months on record in February in another sign the condo market is alive and well in Canada’s biggest real estate market, even amid a broader slowdown. Builders began work on 5,677 units during the month, most of them multiple-unit projects like condos, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Thursday in Ottawa. That’s the strongest February, and the sixth-highest figure for any month, in records back to 1948. The bulk of Toronto condo units are typically sold before construction begins, so the latest surge may simply reflect past sales. But the report also suggests developers are betting the condo market will be less affected by headwinds including higher borrowing costs and tighter mortgage qualification rules that are currently hitting Toronto housing.
“It’s probably lagging a little bit. Historically you tend to see supply follow demand,” said Robert Kavcic, an economist at Bank of Montreal. “The other nuance here is that a lot of the policy changes we’ve seen over the last year, they really had a bigger impact on the higher end of the single detached housing market.” [..] Construction is picking up in Toronto just as sales begin to slide, after various levels of government and regulators took measures to curb surging prices. Most recently, tougher mortgage guidelines came into play on Jan. 1, making it harder for prospective buyers to qualify for loans. Many buyers rushed into the market in December to get ahead of the rules.
Transactions fell 35% in February from a year earlier to 5,175 units, according to data released Tuesday by the Toronto Real Estate Board. It was the weakest February for sales since 2009. Prices are holding up better, particularly in the condo segment, which has gained consistently over the past year and is up 20% since last February. Prices for single-detached homes have fallen 12% since reaching a record last year. Fundamentals that favor condos seem to be at work, as rising immigration levels drive demand. And since the net effect of the new regulations is to limit the size of mortgage credit, the tougher rules may be buoying the less-expensive condo market.
The EU has thrown down an ultimatum to Theresa May in Brexit talks, warning that it will not open discussions about trade or other issues until the Irish border question is solved. Speaking in Dublin alongside the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, European Council President Donald Tusk said talks would be a case of “Ireland first” and that “the risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs”. “We know today that the UK Government rejects a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, the EU single market, and the customs union,” the Mr Tusk said. “While we must respect this position, we also expect the UK to propose a specific and realistic solution to avoid a hard border.
“As long as the UK doesn’t present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations. “If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first before the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first.” British negotiators have long been keen to move to discussions about trade and had hoped to do so after the March meeting of the European Council in two weeks, but Mr Tusk’s latest ultimatum suggests further delays could be in store. The EU says a withdrawal agreement must be negotiated by October to give it time to ratify the deal before the UK falls out of the bloc in March 2019.
Mr Tusk recalled that the Good Friday Agreement, whose 20th anniversary is next month, had been “ratified by huge majorities north and south of the border”. “We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016 – just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences,” he said, in a play on the rhetoric used by Brexiteers regarding the 2016 EU referendum. The EU27 nations granted the UK “sufficient progress” to move to the rest of Brexit talks in the December meeting of the European Council after the UK made a commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland at all costs.
The boss of the port of Calais has said there could be tailbacks up to 30 miles in all directions and potential food shortages in Britain if a Brexit deal involves mandatory customs and sanitary checks at the French ferry terminal. Jean-Marc Puissesseau made an impassioned plea to Theresa May and Michel Barnier to put plans in place immediately to avert congestion in Calais and Dover, where bosses have already warned of permanent 20-mile tailbacks. At the same time a leading politician for the Calais region said the problems in France would be 10 times worse than at the Irish border. At a private meeting at the European parliament, Xavier Bertrand, a former French health minister and the president of the Hauts-de-France political region, said politicians needed to grasp the magnitude of the problem.
“I know Ireland is going to be a real problem, but please remember the economic issues in Ireland are 10 times smaller than what is going to happen here,” he said. “This is a black scenario, but it is going to get darker and darker,” he said, urging politicians in Brussels and London to take urgent action by setting up working groups and listening to business. Bertrand angrily denounced those who had power to influence the Brexit outcome. It was not right that economic operators should be expected to “sit on their hands waiting very anxiously for something to happen”.
At the same meeting, Puissesseau said both sides would be affected by the problems at the ports, with suppliers from the UK trying to get their goods through strict EU controls treated no better than those from a developing country. “The UK is part of the 21st century. But this takes us back 100 years. This is sad,” he said. “From Brexit day, 100% of our traffic will be from outside the EU. I tell you honestly that GB will be a third country, this frightens me. There’s such a long history between the UK and EU.” “At the moment, 70% of food imported comes from the EU. Even if that goes down to 50% after Brexit because of controls, it still needs to flow smoothly; people still need to eat,” he said.
Selling intensified for digital currencies on Friday, as the price of the No.1 cryptocurrency bitcoin pushed below $9,000. The price of a single bitcoin fell 4.8% to $8,847.85, but bounced off a low of $8,370.80, according to CoinDesk. In a week, bitcoin has dropped around 20%. Losses were widespread across cryptocurrencies. Ether was down 4.5% to $671.66, bitcoin cash slid 6.4% to $970.66 and Litecoin fell 6.2% to $166.22, according to CoinDesk. Ripple tumbled 10% to $0.78, according to CoinMarketCap. The moves build on sharp drops on Thursday, which some suggested were due to technical factors.
Across the United States, government officials are struggling to combat the next wave of the opioid epidemic, which is expected to deliver a massive blow to the heartland. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms the opioid crisis has dramatically worsened since the second half of 2016. Raw data from hospital emergency rooms show a significant increase in drug overdoses across the U.S. In a press briefing on Tuesday, CDC Director Anne Schuchat, M.D., warned that the U.S. is currently experiencing the highest drug overdose death rates ever.
In the newly issued report, which examined data from 16 states, emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses jumped 30% from July 2016 through September 2017. In some regions of the country, overdoses were far more significant, but overall, data from most areas showed the opioid crisis is worsening, despite President Trump’s new initiative to tackle the epidemic.
The Bank of China has pledged at least 10bn yuan (£1.1bn) to create a vast panda conservation park in south-west Sichuan province, the Chinese forestry ministry has said. The Sichuan branch of the central bank signed an agreement with the provincial government to finance the vast national park’s construction by 2023. The park aims to bolster the local economy while providing the endangered animals with an unbroken range in which they can meet and mate with other pandas in order to enrich their gene pool.The ministry said the park will measure 2m hectares (5m acres), making it more than twice the size of Yellowstone national park in the US.
Zhang Weichao, a Sichuan official involved in the park planning, told the state-run China Daily the agreement would help alleviate poverty among the 170,000 people living within the project’s proposed territory. Plans for the park were initiated in January last year by the ruling Communist party’s central committee and the state council, the China Daily reported. Giant pandas are China’s unofficial national mascot and live mainly in the Sichuan mountains, with some in neighbouring Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. An estimated 1,864 live in the wild, where they are chiefly threatened by habitat loss. Another 300 live in captivity.
The world’s biggest seafood firms are all contributing to the deaths of more than 100,000 whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and seabirds that are killed in agony every year by discarded fishing equipment, according to a new report. Many of the creatures are drowned, strangled or mutilated by plastic gear lost or abandoned at sea, while others suffer “a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving” either because they cannot fish or their stomachs are full of plastic. Campaigners believe the fishing litter problem is becoming so bad that the oceans could end up unable to provide any catches for humans to eat.
They say “ghost gear” has become a huge but overlooked threat to marine life, and 640,000 tons of it are added to the oceans each year – a rate of more than a ton every minute. A new study analysed the approaches to fishing equipment of the world’s 15 biggest seafood companies, to rank them in five categories – but found that none could be ranked in the top two as having “best practice” or making “responsible handling” of their fishing gear integral to their business strategy. [..] The report, entitled Ghosts beneath the Waves, says abandoned and lost gear is four times more likely to trap and kill creatures than all other forms of marine debris combined, and more than 70% of visible plastic in the sea is fishing-related.
Microplastics – minuscule pieces – were found in the digestive tracts of 80% of seals tested off the coast of Ireland, while other research cited found that plastic accounted for 69% of the debris ingested by whales. Other studies said 98% of whale entanglements involved ghost gear, while 82% of North Atlantic right whales have become entangled at least once. “This is a huge crisis of animal suffering, yet hardly anyone is talking about it,” said World Animal Protection. In one deep water fishery in the north east Atlantic 25,000 nets have been recorded as lost or discarded each year, according to the report. “Even within small areas, the amount of ghost gear can be staggering,” it said. “The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for example, is estimated to be littered with 85,000 active ghost lobster and crab pots.
The world may have hit ‘peak trade,’ according to an expert who pointed to robotics, digitization and localization as major game-changers for the sprawling supply chains that have defined globalization. Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s recently announced trade tariffs are not to blame. “I don’t think that the modest taxes imposed by Trump are a driver of peak trade, at this stage. Trade protectionism — mainly non-tariff barriers to trade — have been rising for some years,” he told CNBC. Rather, Donovan said, the peak trade argument is based on “a reversal of the structural way in which globalization took place in recent years.” Globalization as we know it has meant long cross-border supply chains, where many different countries and entities would take part in the production or processing of goods.
The resulting value of trade rose for each country as a proportion of GDP. Trade to GDP, therefore, rose as supply chains lengthened. “What is now happening is that robotics and digitization mean we can produce efficiently, locally,” Donovan said. As an example, he compared the purchase of a compact disc — whose components, intellectual property and packaging would come from different places — a decade ago to downloading music now, which requires only one transaction of intellectual property. This reduces the ratio of trade to GDP. [..] “Robotics, digitization and localization mean that trade wars today are fighting battles from the past,” Donovan said. “I think global trade in goods (not services) revert to something like the old ‘imperial model’ of importing raw materials and then processing close to the consumer.”
China’s exports unexpectedly surged at the fastest pace in 3 years in February, suggesting its economic growth remains resilient even as trade relations with the United States rapidly deteriorate. Trade tensions have jumped to the top of the list of risks facing China this year, with proposed U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports suggesting more measures may be on the way, Zhou Hao, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank, [said]. China’s February exports rose 44.5% from a year earlier, compared with analysts’ median forecast for a 13.6% increase, and an 11.1% gain in January, official data showed on Thursday. Imports grew 6.3%, the General Administration of Customs said, missing analysts’ forecast for 9.7% growth, and down from a sharper-than-expected 36.9% jump in January.
Analysts caution Chinese data early in the year can be heavily distorted by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February this year but in January in 2017. But combined January-February trade data also showed a dramatic acceleration in export growth. Exports rose 24.4% on-year in Jan-Feb, much better than 10.8% in December and 4% growth in Jan-Feb last year. The government also releases combined data for the first two months in an attempt to smooth out seasonal distortions. The deceleration in import growth for February may be payback for the previous month’s unusual strength, rather than a sign there has been an abrupt weakening in demand. Robust import growth in January was mostly led by commodities as factories scrambled to restock inventories ahead of the long holiday. Imports in the first two months of the year rose 21.7%, compared with 4.5% in December.
Jesse Colombo’s comment: “And what’s amazing is that these retirement stats are during a massive, Fed-driven asset bubble that has inflated the value of retirement accounts – and people STILL can’t retire! Stick a fork in it…we’re done.”
At this rate, retirement is more of a fantasy than a reality for many people in this country. About 42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, according to a study by GoBankingRates released Tuesday. The No. 1 reason most people cited for not stashing more away was because they didn’t earn enough to save, followed by the fact that they were already struggling to pay bills, GoBankingRates said. The personal finance site polled more than 1,000 adults online in February.
For those with little or no savings, a serious lack of proper investment income and planning, coupled with a longer life expectancy, has destroyed any retirement expectations. Although millennials are most likely to have less than $10,000 saved, older Americans are also becoming steadily more pessimistic about their future economic prospects, according to a separate study by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.
America relinquished its role as the world’s leading manufacturer in exchange for cheaper imported goods and services from other countries. The profits of U.S.-based manufacturing companies were enhanced with cheaper foreign labor, but the wages of U.S. employees were impaired, and jobs in the manufacturing sector were exported to foreign lands. This had the effect of hollowing out America’s industrial base while at the same time stoking foreign appetite for U.S. debt as they received U.S. dollars and sought to invest them. In return, debt-driven consumption soared in the U.S. The trade deficit, also known as the current account balance, measures the net flow of goods and services in and out of a country. The graph shows the correlation between the cumulative deterioration of the U.S. current account balance and manufacturing jobs.
Since 1983, there have only been two quarters in which the current account balance was positive. During the most recent economic expansion, the current account balance has averaged -$443 billion per year. To further appreciate the ramifications of the reigning economic regime, consider that China gained full acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. The trade agreements that accompanied WTO status and allowed China easier access to U.S. markets have resulted in an approximate quintupling of the amount of exports from China to the U.S. Similarly, there has been a concurrent increase in the amount of credit that China has extended the U.S. government through their purchase of U.S. Treasury securities as shown below.
To further understand why the current economic regime is tricky to change, one must consider that the debts of years past have not been paid off. As such the U.S. Treasury regularly issues new debt that is used to pay for older debt that is maturing while at the same time issuing even more debt to fund current period deficits. Therefore, the important topic not being discussed is the United States’ (in)ability to reduce reliance on foreign funding that has proven essential in supporting the accumulated debt of consumption from years past. Trump’s ideas are far more complicated than simply leveling the trade playing field and reviving our industrial base. If the United States decides to equalize terms of trade, then we are redefining long-held agreements introduced and reinforced by previous administrations.
In breaking with that tradition of “we give you dollars, you give us cheap goods (cars, toys, lawnmowers, steel, etc.), we will most certainly also need to source alternative demand for our debt. In reality, new buyers will emerge but that likely implies an unfavorable adjustment to interest rates. The graph below compares the amount of U.S. Treasury debt that is funded abroad and the total amount of publicly traded U.S. debt. Consider further, foreigners have large holdings of U.S. corporate and securitized individual debt as well. (Importantly, also note that in recent years the Fed has bought over $2 trillion of Treasury securities through QE, more than making up for the recent slowdown in foreign buying.)
There are many ways of assessing the value of the stock market. The Shiller PE (price relative to the past decade’s worth of real, average earnings) and Tobin’s Q (the value of companies’ outstanding stock and debt relative to their replacement cost) are likely the two best. That doesn’t mean those metrics are accurate crash indicators, or that one can use them profitably as trading signals. Expensive stocks can stay expensive or get more expensive, and cheap stocks can stay cheap or get cheaper for inconveniently long periods of time.
But those metrics do have a good record of forecasting future long-term (one decade or more) returns. And that’s important for financial planning and wealth management. Difficult though it is sometimes, everyone must plug in an estimated return into a formula for retirement savings. And if an advisor is plugging in a 7% or so return for a balanced portfolio currently, he or she is likely not doing their job well. Stocks will almost certainly return less than their long-term 10% annualized average for the next decade or two given a starting Shiller PE over 30. The long-term average of the metric, after all, is under 17.
[..] Companies are always manipulating items on income statements to arrive at a particular earnings number. Recently, record numbers of companies have supported net income numbers with non-GAAP metrics. That can be legitimate sometimes. For example, depreciation on real estate is rarely commensurate with reality. But it can also be nefarious[..] So I created a chart showing sales per share growth and price per share growth of the S&P 500 dating back to the end of 2008. From the beginning of 2009 through the end of 2016, companies in the index grew profits per share by nearly 4% annualized, a perfectly respectable number for a mature economy. But price per share grew by a whopping 14.5% over that time. Over that 8 year period, sales grew less than 50% cumulatively, while share prices tripled.
Anyone invested in stocks should worry about this chart. How do share prices get so divorced from underlying corporate sales? One likely answer is low interest rates. But there must be other reasons because we’ve had low interest rates and low stock prices before – namely in the 1940s. That was after the Great Depression, and stocks were still likely viewed as suspect investments. Today, by contrast, stocks are not viewed with much suspicion, despite the technology bubble peaking in 2000 and the housing bubble in 2008. Investors still believe in stocks as an asset class.
As if a brewing trade war wasn’t enough to worry about, investors also need to be alert to the threat of a major currency conflict. Norihiro Takahashi, president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, dismissed Donald Trump’s tariffs plan as a “performance” for his supporters, and said U.S. assets are no longer expensive, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week. That marks a change in stance since the December quarter, when the world’s largest pension fund scaled back its exposure to foreign assets. Takahashi’s comments could well be a veiled expression of Japan’s displeasure at a stronger yen. The Japanese currency has soared 6.6% against the greenback this year — and we’re only three months into 2018. For a yen-based investor, Treasuries, in particular, do indeed look more reasonably priced than in December.
In theory, currency policy falls under the jurisdiction of Japan’s finance ministry. In practice, government agencies from the Bank of Japan to the GPIF co-ordinate their actions. Don’t forget that on Oct. 31, 2014, the central bank expanded its monetary policy on the same day the GPIF adopted a “new policy asset mix” that increased the fund’s exposure to foreign bonds. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda can deny it, but the central bank has every interest in seeking a weak yen. Japanese corporate earnings are highly cyclical: On a market-weighted basis, companies on the Topix index derive more than 37% of their revenue from abroad, data compiled by Gadfly show. A strengthening yen can cause stocks to plunge, depressing consumption and tipping the economy back into deflation.
With the Topix down more than 10% from its January high, that’s no idle threat. CPI ex-food, the BOJ’s inflation metric, was 0.9% in January, still nowhere near the 2% target that was last breached in 2015. Kuroda’s domestic toolbox, meanwhile, is starting to look empty. With a record 40% of government bonds already in its hands, the central bank is running out of assets to buy.
The financial commentariat and the robo-machines are all in a tizzy this morning because Gary Cohn up and quit. But we say good riddance: The man gave Trump bad advice on nearly every single issue – trade, taxes, fiscal policy and the Fed. We didn’t make any bones about that viewpoint during our appearance on Fox Business this AM. When Maria Bartiromo asked us about Cohn’s departure, our reply was: Hallelujah, the Goldman Sachs Regency in the White House is finally over! The fact is, we do have a trade crisis, but Gary Cohn and the Wall Street pseudo-free traders don’t care and never have. That’s because they fiercely support a perverted, self-serving monetary regime that systematically and massively inflates financial assets, even as it strip mines and deflates the main street economy.
As we have been pointing out in this series, there is a perverse symbiosis between the Fed and the Dirty Float central banks of the 10 major countries (China, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, etc), which account for 90% of the nation’s $810 billion trade deficit (2017). Together they have ripped the guts out of the US industrial economy – effectively sending jobs and production abroad and cash flow and liquidated capital to Wall Street. For its part, the Fed has monkey-hammered US competitiveness. That’s the result of its insensible 2.00% inflation policy, which has fatally inflated nominal dollar wages in a world market drowning in cheap labor priced in artificially under-valued currencies. At the same time, its massive interest rate repression and price-keeping operations in the stock market have turned the C-suites of corporate America into financial engineering joints.
So doing, they have slashed real net business investment by nearly 3o% since the turn of the century, by 20% from the 2007 pre-crisis peak and, actually, to a level in 2016 that barely exceeded real net investment two decades earlier in 1997. Meanwhile, the C-suites shuttled upwards of $15 trillion of cash flow and debt capacity during the last decade alone into stock buybacks, vanity M&A deals and excess dividends and recaps.
The Trump administration will initially exclude Canada and Mexico from stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, an exemption they would lose if they fail to reach an updated Nafta agreement with the U.S., White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday. The two nations won’t be subject to tariffs on their steel and aluminum if they sign a new NAFTA that meets the satisfaction of the U.S., Navarro said, adding that other American allies could use a similar system to ask for an exemption. If Nafta talks fall through, Canada and Mexico would face the same tariff as other nations, expected to be 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. “Here’s the situation, and the president has made this public,” Navarro said. “There’s going to be a provision which will exclude Canada and Mexico until the Nafta thing is concluded one way or another.”
The decision-making process regarding the tariffs has evolved and more changes could be made before President Donald Trump formally approves them. China on Thursday vowed to retaliate, its most forceful comments yet on the threatened tariffs. “A trade war is never the right solution,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “In a globalized world, it is particularly unhelpful, as it will harm both the initiator and the target countries. In the event of a trade war, China will make a justified and necessary response.” Earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the tariff plan would feature “potential carve outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security” considerations and also possible exclusions for specific countries. Australia is among those making the case for exemption, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop citing her nation’s status as a “close ally and partner” in a Sky News interview on Thursday.
Apple’s iPhone X may not have wooed Asian consumers during the Lunar New Year holiday — but the company has some new products in the pipeline, according to Rosenblatt Securities’ Jun Zhang. Zhang chopped 5.5 million units off expectations for iPhone X sales for the first half of this year in a Wednesday research note. But with sales of high-end smartphones shrinking, Apple could offset lower iPhone sales with new products. “We are not surprised with the quick cooldown of iPhone X sales following Chinese New Year,” Zhang wrote. “Further iPhone X cuts, in our view, suggest the high-end smartphone market upgrade cycle continues to extend. We are seeing similar issues for Samsung’s S9 model since our research suggests that preorders are weak.”
Apple and Samsung, like many tech companies, and rarely release data on new products or unit sales outside of quarterly reports or launch events. But, Zhang wrote, Apple could sell 6 million to 8 million iPad Pro units with more advanced 3-D sensing, as well as new phones in the fall. A new red iPhone model, lower-end iPhones and a lower-priced HomePod might also be in the works, Zhang said. (Apple has had a partnership with HIV/AIDS organization (RED) for over a decade, and often sells red-colored products to support AIDS research and prevention.) “Since we expect the overall smartphone market to be flat this year, particularly in the mid-to-high end markets, Apple’s upcoming lower priced iPhone model could drive Apple’s unit growth,” Zhang wrote.
Thousands of homes in Vancouver have been declared unused and liable for a new empty homes tax as part of a government attempt to tackle skyrocketing home prices and soaring rents. About 4.6% or 8,481 homes in the western Canadian city stood empty or underutilised for more than 180 days in 2017, according to declarations submitted to the municipality by 98.85% of homeowners. Properties deemed empty will be subjected to a tax of 1% of their assessed value. Vancouver has rolled out a raft of measures to cool prices and improve housing affordability in the country’s most expensive real estate market. Empty houses, also a big issue in the UK, are only one aspect of the problem. In 2017 the provincial government of British Columbia raised its foreign buyer tax from 15% to 20% to target offshore investors blamed for pushing up prices.
Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, followed suit with a 15% tax in April. Before the foreign buyer tax, sales agents said investors in Hong Kong, China and other parts of Asia were acquiring up to 40% of Vancouver condominium projects marketed abroad, absorbing the more expensive units that domestic buyers could not afford. Nearly 61% of the homes declared empty in Vancouver were condos, and other multi-family properties made up almost 6%, according to the city government. More than a quarter of the empty properties were in downtown Vancouver. Property owners who did not submit a declaration and those who claimed exemptions, such as for renovations or if the owner was in hospital or long-term care, were included in the empty homes number.
There are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities, underscoring the extent to which corporate Britain is still dominated by men. According to research conducted by INvolve, a group that champions diversity and inclusion in business, there are currently five ethnic minority and seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Nine are named David and four are called Steve. Later this month Royal Mail, which is headed up by Moya Greene, is set to join the index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies, taking the total number of female-led firms to eight.
The number highlights how women and ethnic minorities are still dramatically underrepresented on corporate boards across the UK. According to the Government’s Hampton-Alexander Review into female leaders across FTSE companies published last November, only five FTSE 250 companies had at the time achieved a gender-balanced board. Speaking at an event in London to mark International Women’s Day this week, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that women are now joining boards in greater numbers than ever, but often as non-executive directors.
President Vladimir Putin, who recently startled the world by unveiling Russia’s advanced nuclear arsenal, has again spoken of nuclear arms, clarifying the circumstances in which Moscow is prepared to enter a nuclear war. “Certainly, it would be a global disaster for humanity; a disaster for the entire world,” Putin said, in an interview for a Russian documentary “The World Order 2018,” adding that “as a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?” Even though Putin admitted that any conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons would have dire consequences for humanity, he maintained that Russia would be forced to defend itself using all available means if its very existence is put at stake.
“A decision on the use of nuclear weapons may only be taken if our ballistic missile attack warning system not only detects a launch, but also predicts that the warheads would hit Russian territory. This is called a retaliation strike,” he said in the interview. Russia’s latest edition of its nuclear doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack against Russia or its allies, or to a conventional attack that threatens the existence of Russia. Putin also denied Russia was interested in pursuing a nuclear arms race, saying that “to begin with, we did not start this… nuclear bomb was first developed not by us but by the US,” he said in the interview, pointing out that “we have never used nuclear weapons [although] the US used them against Japan.”
Boris Johnson just about observed diplomatic protocol when he addressed MPs about the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. He stopped short of accusing the Russian state directly. But his inference – a malevolent and unjustified inference for the Foreign Secretary of a country that harps on about the rule of law – was indeed of Russian guilt. And it was clearest in the parallel he invited MPs to draw with the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Now it may indeed be that Russia – or Russians (something rather different) – are responsible for whatever happened in Salisbury. And it is true that Russians in the UK seem disproportionately accident-prone. But it is premature in the extreme to blame the Russian state, and just as misleading to draw this particular parallel with the Litvinenko case.
Both men may have been Russians branded traitors by their homeland, and both may have been victims of poisoning, but there are important differences. In Russia, Litvinenko worked against organised crime; he was less a spy in the conventional sense than a criminal intelligence officer. He fled the country after blowing the whistle on his corrupt bosses, and applied for asylum in the UK. His first choice, the US, had turned him down on the apparent grounds that the information he had to offer was not valuable enough. Unlike Skripal, he started working for MI5/6 only after arriving in the UK, and even then seems to have had difficulty getting on the payroll. His widow, Marina, is still battling to get the intelligence agencies to pay a pension or recognise a duty of care. It is cruel to say so, but Litvinenko seems almost to have been more use to the UK in death – as a totem of Russia’s general badness – than he was in life.
[..] For the moment, though, I will resist the temptation to delve into my inner Le Carre and return to Litvinenko. As I said, there are crucial differences between the two – differences that should militate against state-sponsored assassination being the favoured explanation for Skripal’s plight. But there should be doubts, too, about this judgment in the case of Litvinenko. The conclusions of the Litvinenko inquiry, now treated as unimpeachable proof of Russian state culpability, are nowhere near as definitive – or credible – as they have since been presented. The much-trumpeted (and over-interpreted) conclusion of the judge, Sir Robert Owen, was that “the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin”. He said there was “a strong probability” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and the use of polonium-210 was “at very least a strong indicator of state involvement”. What sort of proof is that?
Turkey’s prime minister has renewed a threat against efforts to search for offshore gas around Cyprus. Turkey opposes what it says are “unilateral” efforts to search for gas, saying they infringe the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island’s resources. Binali Yildirim said Wednesday during a joint news conference with Tufan Erhurman, the so-called “prime minister” of the breakaway north of Cyprus, that “provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response.” Yildirim’s comments were in response to reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading toward the Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the US Navy. Last month, Turkish warships prevented a rig from reaching an area southeast of Cyprus where Italian company Eni was scheduled to drill for gas.
The United States recognizes the right of Cyprus to develop the resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and discourages any actions or statements that provoke a rise in tensions in the region, a State Department official has said. In a statement late on Wednesday, the official said that Washington’s policy on Cyprus’ EEZ was longstanding and has not changed, noting that the US “recognizes the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.” “We continue to believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” the official said. “We discourage any actions or rhetoric that increase tensions in the region.” The official did not comment directly on threats from Ankara regarding the arrival in the region of a research vessel belonging to US company ExxonMobil.
A costly “ice wall” is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows, preventing it from removing radioactive melted fuel at the site seven years after the disaster. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, Tepco assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant’s basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site’s reactors, to “nearly nothing.” However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the Tepco data showed.
The groundwater seepage has delayed Tepco’s clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant, which was battered by a tsunami seven years ago this Sunday. Waves knocked out power and triggered meltdowns at three of the site’s six reactors that spewed radiation, forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned to this once-fertile coast. Though called an ice wall, Tepco has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen ($324 million) in public funds, Tepco sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant’s reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit).
The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast. However, the continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that Tepco must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. It says it will run out of space by early 2021. “I believe the ice wall was ‘oversold’ in that it would solve all the release and storage concerns,” said Dale Klein, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the head of an external committee advising Tepco on safety issues.
In Canada, more than 500 doctors and residents, as well as over 150 medical students, have signed a public letter protesting their own pay raises. “We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the letter says. The group say they are offended that they would receive raises when nurses and patients are struggling. “These increases are all the more shocking because our nurses, clerks and other professionals face very difficult working conditions, while our patients live with the lack of access to required services because of the drastic cuts in recent years and the centralization of power in the Ministry of Health,” reads the letter, which was published February 25.
“The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our remuneration,” the letter says. Canada has a public health system which provides “universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay,” the government’s website says. The 213 general practitioners, 184 specialists, 149 resident medical doctors and 162 medical students want the money used for their raises to be returned to the system instead. “We believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end,” the letter says.
“We, Quebec doctors, are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be canceled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec.” A physician in Canada is paid $260,924 ($339,000 Canadian) for clinical services by the government’s Ministry of Health per year on average, according to a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information published in September 2017. On average, a family physician is paid $211,717 ($275,000 Canadian) for clinical services and a surgical specialist is paid $354,915 ($461,000 Canadian), according to the same report.