I intentionally start writing this mere minutes away from Fed chair Jay Powell’s latest comments. Intentionally, because the importance ascribed to those comments only means we have gotten so far removed from what capitalism and free markets are supposed to be about, that it’s pathetic. The comments mean something for rich socialists, but nothing for the man in the street. Or, rather, they mean that the man in the street will get screwed worse for longer.
And it’s not just the Fed, all central banks have it and do it. They play around with rates and definitions and semantics until the cows can never come home again. And they have such levels of control over their respective societies and economies that the mere use of the word “markets” should result in loud and unending ridicule. There are no markets, because there is no price discovery, the Fed and ECB and BOJ got it all covered. Any downside risks, that is.
But it doesn’t, because the people who pretend they’re in those markets hang on central banks’ every word for their meal tickets. These are the same people we once knew as traders and investors, but who today function only as rich socialists sucking the Fed’s teats for ever more mother’s milk.
Our economic systems have been destroyed by our central bankers. Who pretend they’re saving them. And we all eat it up hook line and sinker. Because the rich bankers and their media have no reasons to counter Fed or ECB actions and word plays, and because anyone who’s not a rich banker or investor is kept by the media from understanding those reasons.
What the Fed and ECB have done, and the BOJ, between Greenspan and Bernanke and Yellen and Powell and Draghi and Kuroda, is they have made it impossible for economies to let zombies go to die as they should. They have instead kept those zombies, banks, corporations, alive to the point where they are today a very big live threat to those economies, and growing. Look at Deutsche Bank.
How healthy do you think your economy can be if all the wealthy people are focused on whether Powell uses the word “patient” or not in his notes? Why would a vibrant company or entrepreneur give a flying damn about whether he does or not use a certain word? There is no reason.
But we have let our central banks take over, and that’s what they did. And it will be very hard to take back that power, but we will have to. Because central banks, while pretending to guard over the entire economy, in fact only protect the interests of commercial banks, and rich “investors”. And then tell you it’s the same difference.
There’s a case to be made that Paul Volcker was right when he raised US interest rate in the 1980s, but after Volcker it’s only been one big power and money grab for Wall Street, starting with Alan Greenspan and the housing bubble he blew. The Oracle my behind.
Japan is only just beginning to assess the damage Kuroda and Abenomics have done, and that’s at a point where both these men are still in power, and hell bent on doing more of the same. Something all central banks have in common; there are very few tools in their boxes, so they just repeat and repeat even as they fail. And that failure, by the way, is inevitable.
The Bank of Japan by now owns half the country, and they just want to do more. Kuroda’s plan to get rid of deflation was to force the Japanese to spend their money/savings. But the fully predictable result was that the grandmas did the exact opposite: they clued into the fact that if he wanted that, they had reason to be afraid, and so they sat on their money. And now it’s ten years later.
Draghi is going to leave in a few months’ time, and he’ll lower rates even more (towards 0º Kelvin), even if he knows that’s a really bad idea (it is), because at this point it’s about his legacy (after me, the flood). Same thing that Bernanke, Yellen did, clueless intellectuals who told themselves they had a grip on this. They never came near. That’s why they were elected, for being clueless. Wall Street doesn’t want Fed heads who know.
The pivotal moment was when Bernanke said they were running into “uncharted territory”, and then never looked back and started pretending he knew where he was. He didn’t and none of them ever did since. But they have academic degrees, and they’re willing to sell their souls for money, so there you are.
Central banks, or let’s say handing them the powers that we have, are the worst thing we have ever invented, and that’s saying something in the age of Pompeo and Bolton and Trump and the Clintons. The latter may take us into war with Iran, or any other country from a long list, but central banks are set to destroy our societies and economies from within.
It’s real simple: your central bank does NOT serve your interests. So get rid of it. Don’t wonder whether it’ll use the word “patient” or raise or lower rates by 25 or 50 points, get rid of the entire thing. There’s nothing there that benefits you, it only ever benefits bankers.
Now, of course, if you’re a banker…..
Note: I knicked the headline from something Tyler Durden said yesterday, that central banks are back to square minus zero. Too good to let go. Draghi back to square one, but then again not. Central banks should be abolished.
In 2011, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University published a study on Americans’ views of how wealth was distributed in their society, and how they felt it should be distributed. They found that, in the average American’s ideal world, the richest 20 percent would own 32 percent of national wealth. In reality, the top quintile owned 84 percent as of 2011. And that share has grown in the intervening years. Today, the one percent alone commands roughly 40 percent of all America’s wealth. Given all this, any politician who insists that American capitalism is “already great” is clearly a far-right extremist whose indifference to inequality puts him or her wildly out of step with ordinary people. But is it the case that Warren and Sanders would take things too far in the other direction?
Not remotely. I do not have the relevant data or skills to project precisely how the full implementation of either candidate’s agenda would influence America’s wealth distribution. But neither candidate is calling for a series of reforms that would place the United States far outside the Western European norm. In fact, both Warren and Sanders have cribbed their signature policies from European nations. As the 2018 World Inequality Report demonstrated, policy choices do matter — and income inequality is much lower in Western Europe than it is in the U.S.
But even Scandinavia’s social democracies feature far more inequitable distributions of wealth than Americans think to be fair, according to Ariely and Norton’s survey. What’s more, it will take a lot of redistribution just to prevent America’s current wealth gap from growing even larger. The fundamental challenge in combating inequality is that wealth begets more wealth. Those who can afford to invest in bonds get to collect annual interest payments; those who invest in stocks or real estate typically see their capital assets annually appreciate. Thus, most years, our nation’s collective capital stock directs loads of passive income to America’s wealthiest citizens.
Russia told the United States on Tuesday to drop what it called provocative plans to deploy more troops to the Middle East and to cease actions that looked like a conscious attempt to provoke war with Iran. The comments, from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to Russian news agencies, followed an announcement from Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan a day earlier who said Washington planned to send around 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for defensive purposes. President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran would not wage war against any nation and the Kremlin called for restraint from all sides.
Ryabkov told reporters that Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington and its regional allies about what he called the “unthinking and reckless pumping up of tensions in an explosive region.” “Now what we see are unending and sustained U.S. attempts to crank up political, psychological, economic and yes military pressure on Iran in quite a provocative way. They (these actions) cannot be assessed as anything but a conscious course to provoke war,” Ryabkov was cited as saying. If Washington did not want war it had to show it, he said. “If that’s really how it is then the U.S. should step back from reinforcing its military presence,” said Ryabkov.
With the dogs of war on full alert, something extraordinary happened at the 19th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) late last week in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Virtually unknown across the West, the SCO is the foremost Eurasian political, economic and security alliance. It’s not a Eurasian NATO. It’s not planning any humanitarian imperialist adventures. A single picture in Bishkek tells a quite significant story, as we see China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, India’s Modi and Pakistan’s Imran Khan aligned with the leaders of four Central Asian “stans”. These leaders represent the current eight members of the SCO. Then there are four observer states – Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia and, crucially, Iran – plus six dialogue partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and, crucially, Turkey.
The SCO is bound to significantly expand by 2020, with possible full membership for both Turkey and Iran. It will then feature all major players of Eurasia integration. Considering the current incandescence in the geopolitical chessboard, it’s hardly an accident a crucial protagonist in Bishkek was the ‘observer’ state Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani played his cards masterfully. Rouhani speaking directly to Putin, Xi, Modi and Imran, at the same table, is something to be taken very seriously. He blasted the US under Trump as “a serious risk to stability in the region and the world”. Then he diplomatically offered preferential treatment for all companies and entrepreneurs from SCO member nations committed to investing in the Iranian market.
[..] Xi was adamant; Beijing will keep developing ties with Tehran “no matter how the situation changes”. Iran is a key node of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It’s clear for the leadership in Tehran that the way forward is full integration into the vast, Eurasia-wide economic ecosystem. European nations that signed the nuclear deal with Tehran – France, Britain and Germany – can’t save Iran economically.
“..advance negotiations with all key oil producers – including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran – on substituting the petrodollar with a basket of currencies where the yuan, the euro and the ruble dominate.”
Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s early June 2019 summit in Moscow with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Pres. Xi Jinping seems likely to have a disproportionate influence on the next phases of the crises unfolding in the greater Middle East, and therefore on the future of the region. The escalating confrontation between Iran and the US is both influencing and influenced by the mega-trends set by Russia and the PRC. Although the key meetings took place on June 5, 2019, the seeds of the new joint strategy were already planted during the May 13, 2019, summit in Sochi between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They went over all the key topics in preparation for the Putin-Xi summit.
On June 5, 2019, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in Moscow and decided to not only markedly upgrade the bilateral relations and alliance of their countries, but to use the new relations in order to shape the long-term posture of the entire Eastern Hemisphere in their favor. Emphasis was to be put on the Eurasian Sphere (the Kremlin’s high priority) and the New Silk Road (the Forbidden City’s high priority), as well as the Korean Peninsula which is most important for both. One of the first major confrontations with the US by Russia and the PRC was to be over the greater Middle East. The main reason was the advance negotiations with all key oil producers – including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran – on substituting the petrodollar with a basket of currencies where the yuan, the euro and the ruble dominate.
Using the currency basket would enable the sellers and buyers to go around the US-imposed sanctions and quotas. Indeed, Beijing and Moscow were now enticing the oil producers with huge, long-term export deals which were both financially lucrative and politically tempting by offering guarantees for the well-being of the participating governments. The crux of the proposal is regional and includes flagrant disregard of the US sanctions on Iran. However, the key to the extent of the commitment of both Beijing and Moscow lies in the growing importance and centrality of the New Silk Road via Central Asia. Persia had a crucial rôle in the ancient Silk Road, and both the PRC and Russia now expect Iran to have a comparable key rôle in the New Silk Road.
The growing dominance of heritage-based dynamics throughout the developing world, including the greater Central Asia and the greater Middle East, makes it imperative for the PRC to rely on historic Persia/Iran as a western pole of the New Silk Road. It is this realization which led both Beijing and Moscow to give Tehran, in mid-May 2019, the original guarantees that Washington would be prevented from conducting a “regime change”.
Russia and China on Tuesday blocked an American initiative that aimed to halt fuel deliveries to North Korea, which Washington accuses of exceeding its annual ceiling for 2019, diplomatic sources said. Moscow and Beijing said more time was needed to study the US request, which was backed by 25 UN members including Japan, France and Germany, according to the sources. A week ago, the United States, in a report, accused North Korea of breaching the United Nations-imposed ceiling on fuel imports by carrying out dozens of ship-to-ship transfers this year.
The cap on fuel imports is among a series of tough sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests. The United States insists that “maximum pressure” from the sanctions must remain on North Korea until it agrees to dismantle its weapons program. Washington had asked that a United Nations sanctions committee rule that the annual cap of 500,000 barrels had been exceeded and order all countries to halt fuel deliveries. Countries on the sanctions committee, including Russia and China, had until Tuesday to raise objections to the request to cut off fuel shipments to North Korea.
Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said Facebook should halt development of the product, dubbed Libra, until Congress and regulators can review the issue, and called on company executives to testify before Congress. “Facebook has data on billions of people and has repeatedly shown a disregard for the protection and careful use of this data,” she said in a statement. “With the announcement that it plans to create a cryptocurrency, Facebook is continuing its unchecked expansion and extending its reach into the lives of its users.” Her comments came after Representative Patrick McHenry, the senior Republican on her panel, also sought a hearing on Facebook’s new initiative. A Facebook representative said the company looked forward to answering lawmakers’ questions.
Facebook’s announcement was met with immediate backlash from U.S. lawmakers and regulators across the globe, who are concerned that Facebook is already too massive and careless with users’ privacy. “Facebook is already too big and too powerful, and it has used that power to exploit users’ data without protecting their privacy. We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, in a statement. [..] French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for more regulation of tech companies. “This instrument for transactions will allow Facebook to collect millions and millions of data, which strengthens my conviction that there is a need to regulate the digital giants,” he said in an interview on Europe 1 radio.
Japan’s exports fell for a sixth straight month in May as China-bound shipments of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and car parts weakened, in a sign of a deteriorating outlook for growth as the trade-reliant economy faces persistent pressure from slowing external demand. Sluggish exports have been a source of concern among Japanese policymakers, especially as a bruising U.S.-China tariff war has upended supply chains and hit global growth, trade and investment.
“The business sentiment of Japanese firms, and in particular exporters, is falling depending on the extent of U.S.-China trade tensions, and that will suppress exporters’ capital expenditure,” said Hiroshi Miyazaki, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “I think that will be a negative for Japan’s economy.” Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed on Wednesday that exports declined 7.8% in May from a year earlier, down for the sixth straight month. The fall in shipments compared with a 7.7% annual decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll, and followed a 2.4% year-on-year fall in April.
Japan’s economy is likely to stop expanding this year and into next with the Sino-U.S. trade war and a planned sales tax hike expected to crimp activity, a Reuters poll of Japanese companies found, with most calling for fresh stimulus to prop up growth. The gloomy outlook suggests that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reflationary policy mix, known as “Abenomics”, is sputtering. “A combination of the U.S.-China trade friction and the tax hike in October will almost certainly tip Japan into recession,” an electric machinery maker wrote in the monthly survey.The Corporate Survey found 42% of respondents see the economy contracting into next year, while 52% believe growth will remain stagnant.
Just 5% foresee it expanding, the June 4-13 poll showed. China and United States, the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff war for nearly a year, which has curbed global trade and upended supply chains, pressuring Japan’s exports and factory output. Some 55% of Japanese firms said harsher U.S. punitive tariffs against China were affecting their business profits, with much higher proportions of transport machinery firms and chemicals makers taking a hit, the Reuters Corporate Survey showed. [..] To keep the economy from faltering, nearly two-thirds of companies called for fresh stimulus, with a quarter of respondents wanting an individual income tax cut and nearly as many demanding the government postpone the sales tax hike.
America’s relationship with authority is in grievous disrepair with Robert Mueller as exhibit-A — a would-be Moses-like figure, only with feet of clay and a head rotting like the proverbial fish of institutional corruption. He announced in his May 29th “news conference” — in which he refused to entertain questions — that he preferred not to testify in any further inquiries about his Special Counsel investigation. What a cheeky fellow! It was, perhaps, a message to Reps. Nadler, Schiff, and comrades on the various congressional committees to (hint hint) not even bother calling him. But Mr. Mueller was, after all, a mere employee of the US Department of Justice, not a herald of God Almighty.
I rather imagine that the Attorney General, Mr. Barr, has a few additional questions he would like to ask his “old friend.” Will Mr. Mueller, this Greta Garbo of jurisprudence, coyly demur? And on what basis, exactly? I don’t think he can get away with it. The complexities of RussiaGate make all previous government scandals look as simple as Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The Internet will prove to be both its doing and its undoing. The much abused and perverted official “truths” of the matter were amplified by the Internet. And, of course, these “truths” were enlisted in service of Mrs. Clinton and the rogue bureaucracy looking to defend her (and themselves) at all costs. The cost turns out to be the dismemberment of thinking itself in America.
It is now taken for granted that anyone who persists in thinking for him/her/zheself will be tossed out of the Internet’s large “social media” arenas in Mark Zuckerberg’s and Jack Dorsey’s quest to purify history. They will not succeed. But they have certainly succeeded in needlessly antagonizing Russia, shoving foreign policy debate into sequestered game rooms that are at once halls-of-mirrors and echo chambers, and making the world a much more dangerous place. There is also a pretty fair percentage chance that America is too far gone intellectually to sort all this out.
Canada on Tuesday approved as expected a hotly contested proposal to expand the western Canadian crude oil pipeline it bought last year, providing hope for a depressed energy industry but angering environmental groups. Construction on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is scheduled to resume this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference. A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier that Ottawa expected legal challenges to the approval. The project would triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific coast, alleviate congestion on existing pipelines and diversify exports away from the United States.
Trudeau, who faces a tough fight in a national election scheduled for October, has been under pressure both from western Canadian politicians who accuse him of doing too little for the oil industry, and from environmental groups, which see the oil sands as a highly polluting source of crude production. “This isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” he said, adding he knew some people would be disappointed.
As we know, big lies can run free across borders with few joining the dots. For example, no media reports that China’s growing dispute with Canada is based on Canada’s enforcement of the Trump administration’s unilateral and illegal embargo against oil-competitor Iran. A cynical reply is that this is predictable. Canada attacks any designated US Enemy in junior partnership with global corporate command. But this time there is a new twist. Canada is attacking itself without knowing it. A US Big-Oil backed juggernaut of Conservative provincial governments and the federal Opposition are well advanced in a Canada campaign to reverse longstanding parliamentary decisions, environmental laws, climate action initiatives, Supreme Court directions, first-nations negotiations, and bring down the government of Canada.
Yet no-one in public or media circles has joined the dots. Canada’s vast tar-sands deposits are world famous as surpassing Saudi Arabia oil-field capacities in total barrels of potential yield. Great Canada! Yet few notice that over two-thirds of the entire tar-sands operations are owned by foreign entities sending their profits out of Canada, and almost all its raw product is controlled for refining and sale in the US. What is especially kept out of the daily news is the incendiary fact that the infamous, election-interfering and oft-EPA-convicted Koch brothers have a dominant stake in the toxic crude of the Alberta tar-sands seeking a massive BC-pipeline out to their US refineries.
Koch-owned industries have already extracted countless billions of their near $100-billion fortune from the tar-sands and deployed their well-known voter-manipulations to change the balance of power in Canada as they have done in the US. The objective is the same in both cases – ever more tax-free, publicly subsidized and state-enforced control by US Big Oil of Alberta’s massive oil resources with no government regulations or interferences in the way.
Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared. A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilized the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia. “What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir E. Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters by telephone. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.” With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency.
The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analyzing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned Cold War-era radar base more than 300 km from the nearest human settlement. Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier. The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.
China on Tuesday (Jun 18) warned against opening a “Pandora’s box” in the Middle East after the United States announced the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the region amid escalating tensions with Iran. Foreign Minister Wang Yi also urged Tehran to not abandon the nuclear agreement “so easily” after Iran said it would exceed its uranium stockpile limit if world powers fail to fulfil their commitments under the agreement in 10 days. Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two tankers were attacked. The United States has blamed Iran, more than a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has denied having any role in the attacks. The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang told reporters at a briefing that China was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf, and called on all sides to ease tension and not head towards a clash. “We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said. “In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods. Any unilateral behaviour has no basis in international law,” Wang said, warning that it could create “an even greater crisis”.
Is the US going to attack Iran soon? Diplomatic sources at the UN headquarters in New York revealed to Maariv that they are assessing the United States’ plans to carry out a tactical assault on Iran in response to the tanker attack in the Persian Gulf on Thursday. According to the officials, since Friday, the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders, Pentagon representatives and advisers to President Donald Trump. The military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program, the officials further claimed. “The bombing will be massive but will be limited to a specific target,” said a Western diplomat.
The decision to carry out military action against Iran was discussed in the White House before the latest report that Iran might increase the level of uranium enrichment. The officials also noted that the United States plans to reinforce its military presence in the Middle East, and in the coming days will also send additional soldiers to the area. The sources added that President Trump himself was not enthusiastic about a military move against Iran, but lost his patience on the matter and would grant Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is pushing for action, what he wants.
On Friday morning I was in a small courtroom at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London. Julian Assange, held in Belmarsh Prison and dressed in a pale-blue prison shirt, appeared on a video screen directly in front of me. Assange, his gray hair and beard neatly trimmed, slipped on heavy, dark-frame glasses at the start of the proceedings. He listened intently as Ben Brandon, the prosecutor, seated at a narrow wooden table, listed the crimes he allegedly had committed and called for his extradition to the United States to face charges that could result in a sentence of 175 years. The charges include the release of unredacted classified material that posed a “grave” threat to “human intelligence sources” and “the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States.” After the prosecutor’s presentation, Assange’s attorney, Mark Summers, seated at the same table, called the charges “an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights.”
The publication of classified documents is not a crime in the United States, but if Assange is extradited and convicted it will become one. Assange is not an American citizen. WikiLeaks, which he founded and publishes, is not a U.S.-based publication. The message the U.S. government is sending is clear: No matter who or where you are, if you expose the inner workings of empire you will be hunted down, kidnapped and brought to the United States to be tried as a spy. The extradition and trial of Assange will mean the end of public investigations by the press into the crimes of the ruling elites. It will cement into place a frightening corporate tyranny. Publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian, which devoted pages to the WikiLeaks revelations and later amplified and legitimized Washington’s carefully orchestrated character assassination of Assange, are no less panicked. This is the gravest assault on press freedom in my lifetime.
[..] We know what will be done to Assange. It has been done to thousands of those we kidnapped and then detained in black sites around the world. Sadistic and scientific techniques of torture will be used in an attempt to make him a zombie. Assange, in declining health, was transferred two weeks ago to the hospital wing of the prison. Because he was medically unable to participate when the hearing was initially to be held, May 30, the proceeding was reset. Friday’s hearing, in which he appeared frail and spoke hesitantly, although lucidly, set the timetable for his extradition trial, scheduled to take place at the end of February. All totalitarian states seek to break their political prisoners to render them compliant. This process will define Assange’s existence over the next few months.
UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer told US journalist Chris Hedges that Lady Arbuthnot “has a strong conflict of interest” and that “her husband had been exposed by WikiLeaks”. Hedges adds that Assange’s lawyers have asked the judge “to recuse herself”, but that “she has refused”. However, Lady Arbuthnot was forced to recuse herself in August 2018 after an investigation by the Observer into her husband’s business dealings with Uber. The judge ruled in favour of Uber but stepped down from the case when it was shown that SC Strategy’s client the QIA had taken a stake in Uber.
And there are other precedents. For example, retired high court judge Lady Butler-Sloss was forced to resign as chair of the panel tasked with examining allegations of child abuse within institutions. This was after she admitted to a family conflict of interest (Sir Michael Havers, her brother, was attorney-general during the period when most of the alleged abuse occurred). Given the evidence relating to her family background, it may be time for Lady Arbuthnot to recuse herself once more, and for the extradition proceedings to be halted.
Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, is certain that the Wikileaks publisher will suffer grave mistreatment if extradited to the United States. “The British government must not accede to the US extradition request for Julian Assange as he faces a real risk of serious human right violations if sent there.” This will further add substance to the potential breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, a point reiterated by Agnes Callamard, Special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions. Ecuador, she argues, permitted Assange to be expelled and arrested by the UK, taking him a step closer to extradition to the US which would expose him to “serious human rights violations.” The UK had “arbitrary [sic] detained Mr Assange possibly endangering his life for the last 7 years.”
On May 31, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, concluded after visiting Assange in detention that the publisher’s isolation and repeated belittling constituted “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.” The issue of Assange’s failing health is critical. An important feature of his legal team’s argument is the role played by the UK authorities in ensuring his decline in physical and mental terms. The argument in rebuttal, disingenuous as it was, never deviated: you will get treatment as long as you step out of the Ecuadorean embassy.
There is also another dimension which the distracted Javid failed to articulate: the sheer political character of the offences Assange is being accused of. Espionage is a political offence par excellence, and the UK-US extradition treaty, for all its faults, retains under Article 4 the prohibition against extraditing someone accused of political offences, including espionage, sedition, and treason. As John T. Nelson notes in Just Security, “Each of Assange’s possible defences are strengthened by the 17 counts of espionage”.
CrowdStrike, the controversial cybersecurity firm that the Democratic National Committee chose over the FBI in 2016 to examine its compromised computer servers, never produced an un-redacted or final forensic report for the government because the FBI never required it to, the Justice Department has admitted. The revelation came in a court filing by the government in the pre-trial phase of Roger Stone, a long-time Republican operative who had an unofficial role in the campaign of candidate Donald Trump. Stone has been charged with misleading Congress, obstructing justice and intimidating a witness. The filing was in response to a motion by Stone’s lawyers asking for “unredacted reports” from CrowdStrike in an effort to get the government to prove that Russia hacked the DNC server.
“The government … does not possess the information the defandant seeks,” the filing says. In his motion, Stone’s lawyers said he had only been given three redacted drafts. In a startling footnote in the government’s response, the DOJ admits the drafts are all that exist. “Although the reports produced to the defendant are marked ‘draft,’ counsel for the DNC and DCCC informed the government that they are the last version of the report produced,” the footnote says. In other words CrowdStrike, upon which the FBI relied to conclude that Russia hacked the DNC, never completed a final report and only turned over three redacted drafts to the government. These drafts were “voluntarily” given to the FBI by DNC lawyers, the filing says.
“No redacted information concerned the attribution of the attack to Russian actors,” the filing quotes DNC lawyers as saying. In Stone’s motion his lawyers argued: “If the Russian state did not hack the DNC, DCCC, or [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta’s servers, then Roger Stone was prosecuted for obstructing a congressional investigation into an unproven Russian state hacking conspiracy … The issue of whether or not the DNC was hacked is central to the Defendant’s defense.” The DOJ responded: “The government does not need to prove at the defendant’s trial that the Russians hacked the DNC in order to prove the defendant made false statements, tampered with a witness, and obstructed justice into a congressional investigation regarding election interference.”
At a time of high tension in the 2016 presidential campaign, when the late Sen. John McCain and others were calling Russian “hacking” an “act of war,” the FBI settled for three redacted “draft reports” from CrowdStrike rather than investigate the alleged hacking itself, the court document shows. Then FBI Director James Comey admitted in congressional testimony that he chose not to take control of the DNC’s “hacked” computers, and did not dispatch FBI computer experts to inspect them, but has had trouble explaining why. In his testimony, he conceded that “best practices” would have dictated that forensic experts gain physical access to the computers. Nevertheless, the FBI decided to rely on forensics performed by a firm being paid for by the DNC.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether his son, Donald Trump Jr., should have contacted the FBI after being invited in 2016 to meet with a Russian national who allegedly offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, the president answered, “Give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.” The ensuing exchange led Stephanopoulos to ask the president: “Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?” Trump responded that, perhaps, the person in question should do both; look at the information being offered and notify the FBI. Stephanopoulos suggested this amounts to foreign interference in an American election, to which Trump responded: “It’s not an interference [sic]. They have information – I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI – if I thought there was something wrong.”
The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed this interview prompted the anti-Trump cable networks to bring in two men who were embroiled in the Russia collusion hoax. One of these men, Andrew McCabe, was fired from the FBI and is fortunate not to have yet been charged with multiple counts of lying to federal investigators. The other is hysterical Trump critic Brennan, who is almost certainly a subject of the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the genesis of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory. McCabe feigned horror at the idea that the president would be open to receiving information on a potential election opponent from a foreign source.
At the same time, however, he dismissed the idea that the Hillary Clinton campaign had done anything wrong in 2016 when it paid for Russian-sourced and unverified information to use against Trump. When asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo about a possible analogy between the two situations, the former FBI official said: “There’s no equivalence between those two examples … For a campaign to hire a law firm, an American law firm who then turns around and hires an American research company that then contracts out with a foreign individual, that is not illegal.”
Surging U.S. business debt, already at historic levels, is posing a potentially huge risk for the global financial system and the world economy, raising concerns among market players and policymakers. Experts are growing increasingly uneasy about both the quality and quantity of debt in the U.S. corporate sector as the amount of loans to borrowers with lower credit ratings and already high levels of debt is increasing. A newly created index shows corporate debt levels are now even higher than before the dot-com bubble or the global financial crisis triggered by the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.
Some experts warn that the ticking debt bomb in the U.S. corporate sector could eventually explode, triggering a new global financial meltdown. In a speech delivered on May 20, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sounded the alarm about rising levels of business debt, although he dismissed comparisons between the current situation and the conditions in U.S. mortgage markets before the financial crisis. Views about the risks from rising corporate borrowing “range from ‘This is a return to the subprime-mortgage crisis’ to ‘Nothing to worry about here,'” Powell said. “At the moment, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.”
One important concept for understanding the implications of corporate America’s borrowing binge for the financial system and the world economy is the credit cycle — the cyclical expansion and contraction of access to credit over time. Many policymakers and market players are beginning to fear that the U.S. corporate credit cycle is approaching its peak and will soon enter a phase of contraction.
The US gross national debt soared by $960 billion over the 12-month period through April. Over the same period, all foreign investors combined increased their holdings by $253 billion. This leaves $707 billion that someone else must have bought. Who? Nope, not the Fed. It shed $271 billion in Treasury securities over the 12 months as part of its QE unwind, bringing its holdings down to $2.12 trillion by the end of April. US government entities piled on $102 billion in Treasury securities over the 12 months, bringing their total to $5.83 trillion. This “debt held internally” is held by government pension and disability funds, the Social Security Trust Fund, etc., that have invested their beneficiaries’ money in Treasury securities, rather than stocks or other instruments.
This “debt held internally” is owed the beneficiaries of those funds and is a real debt of the US government. To summarize: Over the 12 months, foreign investors added $253 billion; the Fed got rid of $271 billion; and US government funds acquired $102 billion. All three combined, accounted for a net increase of Treasury holdings of $84 billion. But the total gross national debt soared by $960 billion over the same period. Someone must have bought the remaining $876 billion. But who? The only one left… American institutions and individuals added $876 billion of Treasuries to their holdings, bringing them to $7.64 trillion.
US banks held nearly $500 billion of them, according to the FDIC. Other US institutional holders include pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, corporations such as Apple, and others. Individuals also hold a portion of these Treasury securities, either indirectly via bond funds or pension funds, or directly via their brokers or at Treasury. All combined, American institutions and individuals held 34.7% of the US gross national debt. Ironically, there is no shortage of demand for this debt – despite the charade of the debt-ceiling-default threat hanging over it. On the contrary. Investors, mostly US institutional and individual investors but also some foreign investors, have gone nuts over it, bidding up prices and thereby pushing down yields, with the 10-year yield today settling at 2.09%.
Convincing skeptics on the board to embrace negative rates wasn’t easy, according to previously unreported accounts of the events on that fateful night. The policy had been studied for years in Japan but shunned as too controversial. On the brown-carpeted eighth floor of the BOJ building, bank bureaucrats visited the offices of swing voters on the board to make the case. A dashboard on the eighth floor lights up in red to show whenever a board member has visitors. That night, the lights stayed on “for hours and hours for some of them,” one person said. “You could see there was heavy lobbying going on.”
The shift to negative rates carried by a narrow 5-4 vote. Almost immediately, it was clear within the BOJ that the move was a mistake. It crushed long-term interest rates, didn’t weaken the yen as hoped and angered commercial bankers, who felt blindsided by a policy that crimped their profits. In retrospect, the move marked the death knell of “Kuroda-nomics,” as the governor’s plan for reflating the Japanese economy became known. In the most detailed account of these efforts, reported here, BOJ technocrats went to work tip-toeing back Kuroda’s radical program.
Three years on, there is a broad consensus that Japan’s experiment in shock-and-awe monetary policy has failed. An intense debate is under way within the BOJ over why Kuroda’s assumptions about how he could fundamentally change the trajectory of the economy proved wrong and what the bank’s next steps should be. The picture that emerges is of a central bank under pressure and at a moment of reckoning.
Boeing doesn’t have any immediate plans to rename its embattled 737 MAX aircraft despite CFO Greg Smith saying he was open to the idea earlier Monday. In an interview with Bloomberg at the Paris airshow, Smith said, “We’re committed to doing what we need to do to restore it. If that means changing the brand to restore it, then we’ll address that.” After the interview, the company told Reuters it isn’t currently working on a name change at the moment. “Our immediate focus is the safe return of the Max to service and re-earning the trust of airlines and the traveling public. We remain open minded to all input from customers and other stakeholders, but have no plans at this time to change the name of the 737 MAX,” said Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman.
The idea for a name change comes from President Donald Trump, who weighed in on Boeing’s myriad safety and public relations issues in March. “What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name,” he tweeted. All 737s are still grounded: All 371 Boeing 737 MAX planes were grounded worldwide in March following two deadly crashes that claimed 346 lives. Investigators are focusing on design flaws in a component of the plane’s automated flight controls called the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS. Boeing said last month that it has completed the software update necessary to address the aircraft’s safety issues, but the Federal Aviation Administration still has to approve the change.
Investors in Australian mortgage bonds are demanding higher premiums to buy the riskiest tranches of new debt, as a slowing economy stokes concerns a property downturn could get worse and increase home loan defaults. High-yield investors are receiving up to 40 basis points more than they were last year to buy the lower-rated and unrated portions, according to an analysis of recent deals by large lenders including AMP, National Australia Bank and Members Equity Bank. That marks an important shift from a near decade-long run of relatively stable spreads for the lower-rated residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), as the previously red-hot property prices have turned sharply lower, particularly in the major Sydney and Melbourne markets.
“When you are looking at those lower unrated tranches, they are deteriorating as one would expect at the late stage of the [property] cycle,” said George Boubouras, chief investment officer at Atlas Capital. “We see them as a leading indicator of risk, and they have been getting riskier.” Home prices in Australia’s heavily populated eastern states have fallen rapidly since late-2017 due to souring economic conditions, pushing problem home loans to their highest level since the aftermath of the global financial crisis, according to Standard & Poor’s.
It’s a curious feeling to watch your plan being deployed to do the opposite of what you intended. And that’s the feeling I’ve had since learning that Italy’s government is planning a variant of the fiscal money that I proposed for Greece in 2015. My idea was to establish a tax-backed digital payment system to create fiscal space in eurozone countries that needed it, like Greece and Italy. The Italian plan, by contrast, would use a parallel payment system to break up the eurozone. Under my proposal, each tax file number, belonging to individuals or firms, would be automatically provided with a Treasury Account (TA) and a PIN number with which to transfer funds from one TA to another, or back to the state.
One way TAs would be credited was by paying arrears into them. Taxpayers owed money by the state could opt for part or all of those arrears to be paid into their TA immediately, instead of waiting for months to be paid normally. That way, multiple arrears could be eliminated at once, thus liberating liquidity across the economy. For example, suppose Company A is owed €1 million ($1.1 million) by the state, while owing €30,000 to an employee and another €500,000 to Company B. Suppose also that the employee and Company B owe, respectively, €10,000 and €200,000 in taxes to the state. If the €1 million is credited by the state to Company A’s TA, and Company A pays the employee and Company B via the system, the latter will be able to settle their tax arrears. At least €740,000 in arrears will have been eliminated in one fell swoop.
Individuals or firms could also acquire TA credits by purchasing them directly, via web-banking, from the state. The state would make it worth their while by offering buyers significant tax discounts (a €1 credit purchased today could extinguish taxes of, say, €1.10 a year from now). In essence, a new dis-intermediated (middlemen-free) public debt market would emerge, allowing the state to borrow small, medium, and large sums from the private sector in exchange for tax discounts. When I first discussed the idea, staunch defenders of the status quo immediately challenged the legality of the proposed system, arguing that it violated the treaties establishing the euro as the sole legal tender. Expert advice that I had received, however, indicated that the system passed legal muster. A eurozone member state’s treasury has the authority to issue debt instruments at will, and to accept them in lieu of taxes.
The survey by BritainThinks reveals an astonishing lack of faith in the political system among the British people, with less than 6% believing their politicians understand them. Some 75% say that UK politics is not fit for purpose. As the Conservative party focuses on who its new leader should be, and the Brexit impasse continues with no solution in sight, 86% think the UK needs a strong leader more than ever – but only 21% think the next prime minister, whoever it may be, will be up to the job. Some 52% believe the country is heading for a Boris Johnson premiership.
Pollster Deborah Mattinson said she was shocked by the findings. “I have been listening to people in focus groups since the late 1980s and I cannot recall a time when the national mood was more despairing. ‘Broken’, ‘sad’, ‘worried’, ‘angry’– the negatives tumble out, as does the long list of grievances. I’m hearing anxieties voiced in a way that I haven’t heard since the 1990s: a rundown NHS, job insecurity, teacher shortages.” BritainThinks polled more than 2,000 people and hosted several focus groups in London and Leicester to gauge the national mood.
Almost three-quarters of the British public believe the divisions on Brexit between Leavers and Remainers will deepen and get worse within the next year. Two-thirds feel depressed by rising poverty and homelessness. While people say Brexit has made them more politically engaged – 40% are paying more attention since the 2016 referendum, rising to 50% in those aged between 18 and 24 – the polling suggests the bitter political debate over leaving the EU has shattered public trust in the way the nation is governed. Some 83% feel let down by the political establishment and almost three-quarters (73%) believe the country has become an international laughing stock and that British values are in decline.
Many of us are familiar with the acronym “FUBAR.” A recent New York Times article on the Boeing 737 fiasco provides a perfect illustration of the concept. We’re now learning that the company “built deadly assumptions” into its newly designed 737 Max aircraft and, specifically, its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Even worse, the Times account concludes that the recent air crashes that have resulted in a worldwide grounding of the Boeing Max plane “might have been avoided, if employees and regulators had a better understanding of MCAS” and if the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) itself was not operating with outdated data on the software changes (which Boeing failed to provide).
The analysis is excellent as far as it goes. But the most damning fact only briefly hinted at in the article is that the problems were evident as early as 2012, some five years before the newest 737 version was marketed and sold across the globe. “At its core, this was a hardware problem, not a software issue. Even when Boeing was using a relatively “safer” version of the early MCAS software (that was later changed to a more dangerous version), the new 737 still had an engine too large to be accommodated in its traditional spot on the plane, which ultimately distorted “the relationship between the engine’s ‘thrust’ and its center of gravity,” as I’ve written before. The resultant aerodynamic problems could not be solved with a software “solution,” no matter how “safe” the original MCAS version (that was ultimately changed to an even more dangerous version) was purported to be.”
Just don’t expect any blowback from Washington. The whole episode provides yet another sick illustration of how the entire system of governance in the US has degenerated into a fully fledged “predator state.” About the only good thing that might emerge from this whole fiasco is that Boeing will provide future Master of Business Administration students with a textbook example of how not to manage a crisis. Likewise, future historians and political scientists will marvel in incredulity at the magnitude of corruption that enveloped the US during this very dark time in the life of the republic. Assuming, of course, that there still anything left worth studying by that point.
[..] Recall that the genesis of this disaster was a problem of hardware, not just MCAS. The extra lift of the far larger-diameter engines of the 737 Max (placed on a different position on the wing) caused the plane to pitch up whenever it approached stall angles of attack at both high and low speeds. This is a problem that should have become glaringly obvious to the greenest of aerodynamics personnel at Boeing the moment the first wind-tunnel model was tested at angles of attack higher than stall (it may have even been obvious on even earlier fluid-dynamics computer-simulation results).
Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is preparing for a 40% to 60% decline in international smartphone shipments, Bloomberg reported on Sunday. The Chinese technology company is looking at options that include pulling the latest model of its marquee overseas smartphone, the Honor 20, according to the article, which cited people familiar with the matter. The device will begin selling in parts of Europe, including Britain and France, on June 21, the report said. Executives will be monitoring the launch and may cut off shipments if the sales are poor, it said. Marketing and sales managers at the tech giant are internally expecting a drop in volumes of anywhere between 40 million to 60 million smartphones this year, the report said. In order to offset overseas decline, Huawei is aiming to grab up to half of China’s smartphone market in 2019, Bloomberg said.
Google cuts Huawei off Android; so Huawei may migrate to Aurora. Call it mobile Eurasia integration; the evolving Russia-China strategic partnership may be on the verge of spawning its own operating system – and that is not a metaphor. Aurora is a mobile operating system currently developed by Russian Open Mobile Platform, based in Moscow. It is based on the Sailfish operating system, designed by Finnish technology company Jolla, which featured a batch of Russians in the development team. Quite a few top coders at Google and Apple also come from the former USSR – exponents of a brilliant scientific academy tradition.
In 2014, Russian entrepreneur Grigory Berezkin started co-owning Jolla, and from 2016 his Mobile Platform company started developing a Russian version of the operating system. In 2018, Rostelecom, a state company, bought a 75% share in Open Mobile Platform. Ahead of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last week, Huawei chairman Guo Ping discussed the possibility of adopting Aurora with Russian minister of digital development and communications, Konstantin Noskov. According to Guo, “China is already testing devices with the Aurora pre-installed.” In Moscow, before moving to St Petersburg, Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping discussed multiple possible deals; and these include Huawei-Aurora, as well as where to locate some of Huawei’s production lines in Russia.
Aurora could be regarded as part of Huawei’s fast-evolving Plan B. Huawei is now turbo-charging the development and implementation of its own operating system, HongMeng, a process that started no less than seven years ago. Most of the work on an operating system is writing drivers and APIs (application programming interfaces). Huawei would be able to integrate their code to the Russian system in no time. HongMeng, for its part, is a key project of Huawei 2012 Laboratories, the innovation, research and technological development arm of the Shenzhen colossus. No Google? Who cares? Tencent, Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo are already testing the HongMeng operating system, as part of a batch of one million devices already distributed.
Deutsche Bank is planning to overhaul its trading operations by creating a “bad bank” to hold tens of billions of euros of assets and shrinking or shutting its U.S. equity and trading businesses, the Financial Times reported on Sunday. The bad bank would house or sell assets valued at up to 50 billion euros ($56.06 billion)- after adjusting for risk – and comprise mainly long-dated derivatives, the FT reported, citing four people briefed on the plan. With the creation of the bad bank, Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing is shifting the German lender away from investment banking and focusing on transaction banking and private wealth management, the newspaper said.
As part of the restructuring, the lender’s equity and rates trading units outside continental Europe will be shrunk or closed entirely, the report said. The bank is planning cuts at its U.S. equities business, including prime brokerage and equity derivatives, to win over shareholders unhappy about its performance, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in May. “As we said at the AGM on May 23, Deutsche Bank is working on measures to accelerate its transformation so as to improve its sustainable profitability. We will update all stakeholders if and when required,” Deutsche Bank said in an emailed statement on Sunday in response to the FT report.
Take the case of the March 2016, $1.36 billion cash buyout of a supermarket chain, Fresh Market, by Apollo Global Management, the firm started by Leon Black nearly 30 years ago that now manages more than $300 billion. In that deal Apollo teamed up with Ray Berry, the company’s founder, and his son, Brett, to buy out the company’s public stockholders. Before the buyout the Berrys owned about 10% of the public Fresh Market. They agreed to roll over that stake into the newly private Fresh Market, giving them about the same ownership in the private company—worth somewhere between $136 million and $930 million, if the alchemy of leveraged buyouts worked out. Apollo would own the remaining 90% of the equity of the private company.
Because the deal was, in effect, a management buyout of the company, Fresh Market set up a special three-member committee of independent directors to evaluate the Apollo proposal, as well as any others that might come in over the transom after the company decided to put itself up for sale shortly after September 1, 2015. As professional referees, the special committee hired JPMorgan Chase as its financial adviser, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore as one of its legal advisers. Their job was to evaluate the various proposals to buy Fresh Market, a collection of 186 stores in 27 states as of March 2016, and to make sure that the one chosen was, in the parlance of Wall Street, “fair” to the public shareholders of the company “from a financial point of view.”
That’s when things got interesting, especially since Apollo was the only final bid the company received. According to a class action shareholder lawsuit that is still wending its way through the Delaware Court of Chancery, Apollo used its long-standing financial ties to JPMorgan Chase and Cravath to co-opt the process for the benefit of itself and the Berrys, allowing them to buy the company on the cheap. In effect, the lawsuit alleges, by teaming up with the Berrys on an exclusive basis, Apollo was able to buy Fresh Market knowing that its competition for the company would be at a severe disadvantage, without being able to count on the Berrys support, and that JPMorgan Chase would likely bless the fairness of the deal.
The Japanese government has been requesting the United States for concrete evidence to back its assertion that Iran is to blame for the attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, government sources said Sunday. The request came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a statement hours after the attacks blaming Iran but without offering proof. The Department of Defense later released a video allegedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine attached to the side of the Japanese-operated tanker Kokuka Courageous. But Japanese government officials remain unconvinced, the sources said. “The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” said one senior government official.
Japan has been seeking more concrete evidence through various channels, including Foreign Minister Taro Kono who is likely to have made the request during a call with his counterpart on Friday, the sources said. Pompeo said in a press conference Thursday that the United States’ assessment was based on their “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.” A source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “These are not definite proof that it’s Iran.” “Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it,” he said.
The US finds itself faced with a situation it has not found itself in over the last 50 years, namely, an environment where it does not expect to automatically enjoy air superiority. Whatever semblance of an air defense that may have hitherto been able to pose any conceivable threat to Uncle Sam’s war machine was rudely dismissed by a wave of cruise missiles. To give two prime examples that occurred in Syria in 2018, latest-generation missiles were intercepted and shot down by decades-old Russian and Syrian systems. While the S-400 system has never been employed in Syria, it is noteworthy that the Serbian S-125 systems succeeded in identifying and shooting down an American F-117 stealth aircraft during the war in the Balkans.
There is a more secret aspect of the S-400 that is little disclosed, either within Russia itself or without. It concerns the S-400’s ability to collect data through its radar systems. It is worth noting Department of Defense spokesman Eric Pahon’s alarm over Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400: “We have been clear that purchasing the S-400 would create an unacceptable risk because its radar system could provide the Russian military sensitive information on the F-35. Those concerns cannot be mitigated. The S-400 is a system built in Russia to try to shoot down aircraft like the F-35, and it is inconceivable to imagine.
Certainly, in the event of an armed conflict, the S-400’s ability to shoot down fifth-generation aircraft is a huge concern for the United States and her allies who have invested so heavily in such aircraft. Similarly, a NATO country preferring Russian to American systems is cause for alarm. This is leaving aside the fact that the S-400 is spreading around the world, from China to Belarus, with dozens of countries waiting in line for the ability to seal their skies from the benevolent bombs of freedom. It is an excellent stick with which to keep a prowling Washington at bay.
[..] The ability of the S-400 to collect data on both the F-35 and F-22 – the crown jewels of the US military-industrial complex – is a cause for sleepless nights for US military planners. What in particular causes them nightmares is that, for the S-400 to function in Turkey, it will have to be integrated into Turkey’s current “identification friend or foe” (IFF) systems, which in turn are part of NATO’s military tactical data-link network, known as Link 16.
Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a public apology Sunday evening (June 16) as hundreds of thousands of protestors dressed in black clogged the city’s streets in another massive protest demanding her resignation and the scrapping of a contentious bill that would allow for the extradition of suspects to mainland China. A day after Lam announced a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the bill in a press conference on Saturday, the city’s leader vowed to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public” in a statement released at 8:30 pm as chanting crowds stood outside the gates of her office calling for her to step down.
“Carrie Lam’s press conference yesterday just made Hong Kong people angrier. We don’t think she will step down, but we must force her out,” said 27-year-old Chiew minutes before demonstrators began marching from Victoria Park in the scorching afternoon heat with the aim of forcing the government to rescind, rather than postpone, the controversial bill. Gripped by a surge of mass dissent, the Asian financial hub has been thrust into political crisis amid the largest political demonstrations and some of the worst scenes of violence since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front said almost two million people took part in Sunday’s march.
Protest organizers said almost two million people took part in a mammoth June 16 protest march. Photo: Nile Bowie
More than 20 Chinese activists who took part in the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement called on Monday on the United Nations’ top human rights body to investigate Beijing’s deadly crackdown 30 years ago. Wang Dan and 21 others, backed by the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said they had submitted the complaint to the U.N. Human Rights Council, a Geneva forum which opens a three-week session on June 24. “We request the HRC investigate the gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by the Chinese government during its military assault on peaceful protests,” they said in statement.
They also sought action over “the consistent pattern of human rights violations in persecuting Chinese citizens during the past three decades who broke the silence” about the events of June 3-4, 1989. The anniversary remains taboo in China. Beijing has not held a public inquiry nor permitted an independent investigation, the statement said. Beijing enjoys strong support among developing countries at the Human Rights Council, a 47-member state forum that has never adopted a resolution on China since being set up in 2006.
Just trying to find angles here. Trying to find people who could help Julian Assange. But so many of them are already dead. Can you imagine how different things might have been if Martin Luther King had still been alive to speak out on his situation? Or Muhammad Ali, JFK and Bobby Kennedy? Nelson Mandela? How about Bob Marley? Or, you know, Johnny Cash? Joe Strummer? We lost so many voices, and so few appear to have emerged to take their place. Have we lost too many? Are we done? Is this it?
I was thinking about Jerry Dammers recently. Not a well-known name to many. But he wrote and produced an incredibly strong song and video in the last days that Nelson Mandela was still in captivity. And I was thinking why doesn’t anyone produce something equally as strong for Assange today? And no, I couldn’t come up with an answer. The world has changed enormously, but if the P. Diddys, the Coldplays, Radioheads and Beyonce’s of this world would want to release a song like Jerry Dammers did 35 years ago, they could, and through social media, they could give it as much weight as back then. And where’s Bruce Springsteen anyway?
So here’s calling on all those people. Here’s what Dammers and his brilliant crew did in 1984, and I can’t not notice how it involves both black and white people working seamlessly together. At that time in Britain, that was normal. Try that today with all the Brexit crap and the Hostile Environment nonsense.
So why can’t we have an equally powerful song for Julian Assange? What happened to music? Was Mandela’s situation that much worse than Assange’s? Was the pressure to free him that much stronger? And if so, who applied that pressure? Sure, 21 years in captivity is more than 7, but is there an essential difference? Are you so blind that you cannot see? Are you so deaf that you cannot hear? In the end both men were locked up for all the wrong reasons, no?
Sure, that could have been contested by the South African apartheid regime back when, just as it is by the US apartheid regime today, but does anybody in either case really think any of it is justified?
A month ago, I wrote Julian Assange Is Today’s Martin Luther King, and many people said something in the vein of: “he’s nowhere near”. But is that even true, and even if it were, does that justify the way he’s being treated?
Julian Assange has been smeared with sexual allegations, just like MLK. In MLK’s case it was courtesy of J. Edgar Hoover. In Assange’s case, it was -is- way more elaborate, they have 3-4 governments involved. Imagine Hoover having the tools the FBI and MI6 have today. How scary is that? Well, we’re not so far removed from just that, and Assange was the primary person to warn us about exactly this.
He saw it all coming. It’s why he was brought down. Too smart. He fought the law and the law won (well, the law…). But that is not a good thing for you or me, at all.
But, you know, where is Jerry Dammers? We know where Johnny Cash and Bob Marley are, and Joe Strummer and Nelson Mandela. They’re long gone. But we’re supposed to replace them with equal voices of our own, or whatever they’ve done, the sacrifices they’ve made, will fade into some distant haze.
What’s going on here? Everybody values their bank accounts more than their freedom now? Would you like to talk to Johnny Cash or Bob Marley about that choice? Are we just dumbing down, no more opinions of our own, no more principles?
You too want to be breaking rocks in the hot sun? You’re well on your way.
“How could he defend himself? He will not be under a clear law environment if he is taken to the US or already now as he has been holding in Europe, UK. Julian Assange is a political prisoner. Clearly. There is no clearer definition than that. What Assange did is not more than any newspaper does or publish important information that they think the people need to know. I think that if Assange is extradited, it will have huge consequences not just to it but also to the European moral or legal system. And it would completely redefine Europe as a place not caring about human rights anymore. Unfortunately this is happening all the time. But this time it will be clearly remembered as a landmark of the failure of our times.
It’s very interesting if you look at what’s happening about extradition. There are three cases about that going on in the world: Hong Kong, Assange and Huawei case, here the daughter of the founder is jailed in Canada because the US asked her extradition. I don’t know if she is a political prisoner but for sure she is part of the US strategy to limit China’s development in the world and the possibility of becoming a global leader. I’m not saying if it is right or wrong but it is fair this kind of situation. These three cases resemble a very interesting judicial challenge. At this moment after globalization the whole political structure of the world is being restored.
Now it’s starting to be challenged at the foundation of our rules, how do you readjust those rules and how to protect individuals’ freedom from the interest of state powers. That is a new task that any establishment of rule has to be concerned with. Nobody had put this together. This is an issue now embodied by different characters but actually it is one character.
Longer-term inflation expectations in the euro zone need to come unstuck for the European Central Bank to provide more stimulus, ECB Vice President Luis de Guindos was quoted on Saturday as saying. With growth slowing and inflation staying well below the ECB’s target, the bank recently raised the prospect of even more stimulus, arguing that a rate cut or even more asset purchases may become necessary. “What we need to see is a de-anchoring of inflation expectations,” de Guindos told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera when asked what the bank needed to see to provide more stimulus. “This has not yet happened, despite the fact that there has been a drop in market-based inflation expectations.”
With interest rates already at record lows and a 2.6 trillion euro ($2.9 trillion) bond purchase scheme ended just last year, analysts argue that the ECB has very little actual firepower left as its remaining tools lack significant potency. “If there is a further deterioration, then we will react,” de Guindos added. “But for now, our monetary policy stance is fully compatible with both inflation and real activity.” But de Guindos added that monetary policy is largely powerless against the impact of global trade disputes, one of the biggest drags on growth and thus inflation. “You can certainly smooth the impact with monetary policy, but you will not be able to address and fix this kind of problems with monetary policy,” he said.
European bank shares – which have been getting crushed and re-crushed for 12 years – are getting re-crushed again. On Friday, the Stoxx 600 Banks index, which covers major European banks, including our hero Deutsche Bank, dropped to an intraday low of 130.5 and closed at 131.2, thereby revisiting the dismal depth of December 24, 2018 (130.8). European banks did not soar on the first trading day after Christmas, unlike other stocks. Instead they fell further and hit their multi-year low on December 27 (129). The index is down 21.5% from a year ago and 33% from January 2018:
[..] that 33% drop from January 2018 in the above chart is a minuscule dip in the long-term collapse-scenario going back to 2007. Buy and hold, indeed. Back to the level first seen in October 1995:
Part of the problem for European banks is NIRP, which was never designed to boost the real economy or make banks healthier so that they could support a vibrant economy. It was designed to boost bond prices and thereby bring yields down, which lowers the costs of borrowing for debt-sinner countries such as Italy, and allows them to borrow for free, which even Italy s government can do with maturities of up to one year. But there is a price to pay. The ECB released a paper in August 2018 where it admits that NIRP could cause a financial crisis because it’s terrible for many banks.
This is the chilling abstract of the paper: “We show that negative policy rates affect the supply of bank credit in a novel way. Banks are reluctant to pass on negative rates to depositors, which increases the funding cost of high-deposit banks, and reduces their net worth, relative to low-deposit banks. As a consequence, the introduction of negative policy rates by the European Central Bank in mid-2014 leads to more risk-taking and less lending by euro-area banks with greater reliance on deposit funding. Our results suggest that negative rates are less accommodative, and could pose a risk to financial stability, if lending is done by high-deposit banks.”
On Saturday, the New York Times published an important story about how the United States military branches are attempting to thwart and combat Russian cyber attacks on American utility networks and interference in elections. But deeper into the article, an interesting and disturbing nugget has drawn attention: The Pentagon has gone out of its way to keep President Donald Trump ignorant of certain details about the operation because of “the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials.” After giving an in-depth account about the “deployment of American computer code” into Russia’s electric power grid, to work as both a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a more offensive posture in the cyber warfare realm, The Times then wrote:
“Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place ‘implants’ — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid. “Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.” New laws, enacted by Congress last year, allow such “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace to go ahead without the president’s approval. So, in this case, those new laws are protecting American interests… by keeping the sitting president out of the loop. What a (scary) time to be alive.
Boris Johnson’s attempts to appease hardline Tory Brexiters will tilt the party into a “disastrous general election” that could be just months away, senior Conservatives are warning. The runaway favourite to replace Theresa May is being told that the coalition of support set to deliver him Downing Street “won’t survive the autumn”, when he will have to decide whether to accept a deal with the EU or try to force a no-deal Brexit – a move likely to precipitate an election. Senior party figures are already warning of a “wipeout” in some parts of the country, such as Scotland and London, should it go into an election pledging to deliver a no-deal Brexit.
They believe that once in office, Johnson will either be toppled by hardline Eurosceptic MPs should he back away from no deal, or provoke an election by pursuing such a policy. With leadership contenders ruling out a coronation on Saturday, Tory critics are demanding increased scrutiny of Johnson’s Brexit plans. David Gauke, the justice secretary, said: “Boris is saying that he will definitely leave the EU by 31 October, but he is refusing to say how he will do this if parliament takes steps to stop a no-deal Brexit. Will he respond by suspending parliament? Will he seek a general election? This lack of clarity is helping him maintain a broad base of support for now but it won’t survive the autumn. This is why his position on Brexit needs to be tested thoroughly now.”
Activists set up gazebos as protesters, some carrying flowers, started to gather in sweltering summer heat to march from Victoria Park to Hong Kong’s central government offices. Beijing-backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed the extradition bill that could send people to mainland China to face trial, expressing “deep sorrow and regret”. The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city. Activist investor David Webb, in a newsletter on Sunday, said if Lam was a stock he would recommend shorting her with a target price of zero.
“Call it the Carrie trade. She has irrevocably lost the public’s trust,” Webb said. “Her minders in Beijing, while expressing public support for now, have clearly lined her up for the chop by distancing themselves from the proposal in recent days.” Protest organizers are hoping more than a million people turn up for the Sunday rally, scheduled to start at 2.30pm local time, similar to numbers they estimated for a demonstration against the proposed extradition bill last Sunday. Police put that count at 240,000.
At stake is the allocation of revenues from the wider Caspian basins area, including both onshore and offshore fields, that is conservatively estimated to have around 48 billion barrels of oil and 292 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas in proved and probable reserves. Around 41 percent of total Caspian crude oil and lease condensate and 36 percent of natural gas exists in the offshore fields, with an additional 35 percent of oil and 45 percent of gas estimated to lie onshore within 100 miles of the coast, particularly in Russia’s North Caucasus region. The remaining 12 billion barrels of oil and 56 Tcf of natural gas are believed to be variously located further onshore in the large Caspian Sea basins, mostly in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The area accounts for an average of 17 percent of the total oil production of the five littoral states that share its resources, on average totalling 2.5-2.9 million barrels per day (mbpd).
[..] the legal designation of the Caspian as either a ‘sea’ or a ‘lake’ would have far-reaching repercussions on the assignment of revenues from it. If it was designated a sea then coastal countries would apply the ‘United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’ (1982), in which event each littoral state would receive a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles, an exclusive economic zone up to nautical 200 miles, and a continental shelf. In practice, this would mean that countries such as Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan would have exclusive access to offshore assets that Iran would not be able to access. If it was designated a lake – and this was the informal designation before the August agreement – then the countries could use the international law concerning border lakes to set boundaries, by which each country effectively possesses 20 percent of the sea floor and surface of the Caspian.
In the preparations for the signing of the ‘Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea’ last August, Iran had engaged lawyers to challenge the established 20 percent share that each littoral state had informally agreed upon, based on the fact that Russia should have used its own original 50 percent share to make good stakes for its former USSR states. [..] Moscow was the prime mover in having the Caspian designated as a sea, not a lake. This was on the basis that because Russia had opened up the channel from the Volga River into the Caspian to prevent the levels dropping, the Caspian no longer conformed to the legal definition of a lake, which is that it is a localised water deposit standing independent of any river that serves to feed it.
[..] “This meant, effectively, that Russia could divide up the shares as it saw fit, and the way it saw fit was to benefit its existing ally, Kazakhstan, which was assigned a 28.9 percent share, and its wished-for ally, Azerbaijan, which secured a 21 percent stake, while Russia saw a slight increase, to 21 percent, while Turkmenistan’s share goes down to 17.225 percent, as it is seen as a softer touch by Russia, and Iran’s share goes down to just 11.875 percent,” said the Iran source. “This switch from 50 percent to just over 11 percent means that Iran will lose at least US$3.2 trillion in revenues from the disputed and lost value of energy products going forward,” concluded the Iran source.
Airline pilots have voiced fears over the safety of a fleet of Boeing aircraft after a crucial fire-fighting system has been found to have the potential to malfunction. Boeing has issued an alert to airlines using its flagship B787 Dreamliner, warning that the switch used to extinguish an engine fire has failed in a “small number” of instances. The switch also severs the fuel supply and the hydraulic fluid to prevent flames spreading. UK airlines Tui, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate more than 60 Dreamliners between them. The US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has decided not to ground the fleet, despite admitting a “risk to the flying public”.
Pilots, however, claim that the safety of passengers and crew is being compromised. “If there was an engine fire on a transatlantic flight and the aircraft had one of the defective fire switches, then we would have to fly with a burning wing for up to three hours before we could safely land,” a pilot with a British airline told the Observer. In its alert to airlines, Boeing warns that long-term heating can cause the fire switch to stick in the locked position so it can’t be used to release the two fire extinguishers in each engine.
[..] “Boeing insists that the risk of an engine fire is very low, and that’s true, but it’s Boeing’s attitude to the risk that has upset us, especially in light of recent B737 Max issues. If the fire switch malfunctions, there’s no manual override to deploy the engine fire extinguishers and therefore no way of putting out a fire, but Boeing says that it’s fine, and the airlines agree. Such is the fear of Boeing’s power that no one dares speak out.”
Last year saw record levels of CO2 emissions, gas and oil use, and installations of renewable energy, according to new global data from oil giant BP. Gas was the largest driver of energy-use growth in 2018, responsible for more than 40% of the increase. This, along with increased use of oil and coal, led to global CO2 emissions rising by 2% in 2018, the largest year-on-year increase in seven years. Renewable energy sources were the largest source of new electricity generation worldwide for the third year in a row, driven primarily by the growth of wind and solar generation. Wind and solar grew at their second fastest rate on record, driven by growth in China, though the growth in wind and solar generation in the US, EU, and India was slower in 2018 than in 2017.
However, there is a constantly growing gap between today’s energy use and what would be needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, given that emissions must, according to scientists, reach net-zero by mid-century to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. Energy use grew in 2018 at a rate of 2.9%, the largest growth since 2010. China, the US and India accounted for more than two-thirds of global energy-use growth, with US energy use expanding at the fastest rate for 30 years. Energy use increased by 390m tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2018. Fossil fuels were responsible for 71% of this, while near-zero-carbon energy sources, including solar, wind, hydro and nuclear, were responsible for 29%.
Natural gas represented the single largest contributor to global energy-use growth in 2018, increasing by 5.3% compared to 2017. It alone was responsible for 40% of the increase in total energy use. Non-hydro renewables grew by 14.5% in 2018. This was the largest relative growth of any energy source, though it was still below the record growth experienced in 2017. Non-hydro renewables now represent 4% of global energy use, with all zero-carbon sources representing 15% of global energy. Oil consumption grew by 1.5% in 2018, with China and the US contributing around 85% of the growth in oil use. This growth was primarily concentrated in the transportation sector, reflecting increased vehicle ownership and miles driven.
At least 279 dolphins have become stranded across much of the US Gulf Coast since the start of February, triple the usual number, and about 98% of them have died, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said. Scientists will investigate whether lingering effects from the 2010 BP oil spill and more immediate effects from low salinity because of freshwater flowing from high rivers and a Louisiana spillway contributed to the deaths, said Teri Rowles, coordinator for Noaa fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response program. BP spill effects included problems with lungs and adrenal glands, which produce stress-related hormones; blood abnormalities; and general poor condition, according to earlier reports.
Those reports said the spill contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s largest and longest dolphin die-off. “We do know some of the health conditions … are improving, but some have been slow to improve,” Rowles said on Friday. “Reproduction in the heaviest-oiled areas continues below normal.” Erin Fougeres, administrator for the marine mammal stranding program in Noaa fisheries’ south-east region, said 23% of the dolphins stranded from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle had sores consistent with freshwater exposure. Such lesions are “not uncommon” in the spring, according to Noaa’s website. Mississippi had 121 dolphin strandings as of Wednesday, with 89 in Louisiana, 32 in Alabama and 37 in Florida, Fougeres said.
Moby Solangi, director of the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi, put that state’s total on Thursday at 126, and said the opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway was at least partly to blame.The effects were worse for Mississippi’s dolphins than the BP spill was, he said, noting that 91 dead dolphins were found in Mississippi during all of 2010. Dolphins continued to die for years because of oil spill damage, a 2015 study reported. Freshwater exposure “doesn’t appear to be the cause of death for all animals, so that’s something we’re continuing to investigate”, Fougeres said. Rowles noted that 70% of the carcasses were too decomposed for necropsy.
Drought-hit Namibia has authorised the sale of at least 1,000 wild animals – including elephants and giraffes – to limit loss of life and generate US$1.1 million for conservation, the authorities confirmed Saturday. “Given that this year is a drought year, the [environment] ministry would like to sell various type of game species from various protected areas to protect grazing and at the same time to also generate much needed funding for parks and wildlife management,” the environment ministry spokesman Romeo Muyunda said. The authorities declared a national disaster last month, and the meteorological services in the southern African nation estimate that some parts of the country faced the deadliest drought in as many as 90 years.
“The grazing condition in most of our parks is extremely poor and if we do not reduce the number of animals, this will lead to loss of an animals due to starvation,” Muyunda said. In April, an agriculture ministry report said 63,700 animals died in 2018 because of deteriorating grazing conditions brought on by dry weather. Namibia’s cabinet announced this week that the government would sell about 1,000 wild animals. They include 600 disease-free buffalos, 150 springbok, 65 oryx, 60 giraffes, 35 eland, 28 elephants, 20 impala and 16 kudus – all from national parks. The aim is to raise $1.1 m that will go towards a state-owned Game Products Trust Fund for wildlife conservation and parks management.
The government said there were currently about 960 buffalos in its national parks, 2,000 springbok, 780 oryx and 6,400 elephants. The auction was advertised in local newspapers from Friday. Namibia, a country of 2.4 million people, has previously made calls for aid to assist in the drought emergency that has already affected over 500,000 people.
The public has been led to believe that the 2016 election and the resulting Mueller Report is the definitive evidence that WikiLeaks was somehow in cahoots with Russia, reinforcing the premise that they were in a political alliance with, or favoured, Donald Trump and his Presidential election campaign. Prominent Russiagate-skeptics have long pointed out the multitude of gaping holes inherent in those theories, including the advocacy group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who have produced credible forensic work analysing the 2016 WikiLeaks releases, that resoundingly debunks officials claims.
In the course of researching this article, I stumbled across a major discovery that augments that: the false notion of WikiLeaks being a front for Russian intelligence isn’t new – it has been pushed by media since 2009. It turns out the circulation of the WikiLeaks-Russia myth was a tried and true diversionary, smear tactic that was simply regurgitated in 2016. Julian Assange believed that UK intelligence agencies were behind the pushing of that narrative, and he was publicly stating so at the end of last decade. He wouldn’t make such claims lightly, and other emerging facts support his suspicion.
“Today’s the day that journalism gets put on trial,” Dimmack said. “And it’s interesting that behind me there are this many cameras. There haven’t been this many cameras for quite a while. It’s interesting that when Julian was dragged out and kidnapped from within that Ecuadorian embassy, all of you guys had actually gone home, and it was a Russian TV station that actually caught it, Ruptly. It’s almost as if you don’t care.”
“For seven years you have smeared and slandered that man who is going to appear on video in that court in about fifteen minutes,” Dimmack told the mainstream press, right to their fucking faces. “You are all responsible for what has happened today! All of you in the media! Every one of you. You have got blood on your hands. When he released those documents that Chelsea Manning gave him, all he did was the job of a publisher. That’s it. Right now Julian Assange is going to court and put on trial for exposing war criminals as war criminals. And all of you for seven years have smeared and slandered him. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“You have all got a chance right now to actually do a U-turn and repair some of the damage that you have done over the last seven years,” Dimmack roared. “The Fourth Estate is extremely important. You know this. This is why journalism is such a noble profession; you are meant to hold power accountable, not to suck up to it sycophantically and just repeat propaganda. Otherwise you are just the establishment’s PR firm.” “Stand up for Julian Assange and tell the truth,” he continued. “Ask yourselves why is it for seven years you have printed lie after lie after lie about him? Why is it for seven years you have said that he went to the Ecuadorian embassy to escape a rape charge? No he didn’t! How many times have I said it? He went in there to escape extradition to the United States.” “Well guess what?” Dimmack concluded, gesturing to the courthouse. “He was right again! Free Julian Assange.”
The New York Times Thursday morning has bad news for one of its favorite anonymous sources, former CIA Director John Brennan. The Times reports that the Justice Department plans to interview senior CIA officers to focus on the allegation that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian intelligence to intervene in the 2016 election to help Donald J. Trump. DOJ investigators will be looking for evidence to support that remarkable claim that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report failed to establish. Despite the collusion conspiracy theory having been put to rest, many Americans, including members of Congress, right and left, continue to accept the evidence-impoverished, media-cum-“former-intelligence-officer” meme that the Kremlin interfered massively in the 2016 presidential election.
One cannot escape the analogy with the fraudulent evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As in 2002 and 2003, when the mania for the invasion of Iraq mounted, Establishment media have simply regurgitated what intelligence sources like Brennan told them about Russia-gate. No one batted an eye when Brennan told a House committee in May 2017, “I don’t do evidence.” As we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have warned numerous times over the past two plus years, there is no reliable forensic evidence to support the story that Russia hacked into the DNC. Moreover, in a piece I wrote in May, “Orwellian Cloud Hovers Over Russia-gate,” I again noted that accumulating forensic evidence from metadata clearly points to an inside DNC job — a leak, not a hack, by Russia or anyone else.
So Brennan and his partners, FBI Director James Comey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper were making stuff up and feeding thin but explosive gruel to the hungry stenographers that pass today for Russiagate obsessed journalists. With Justice Department investigators’ noses to the ground, it should be just a matter of time before they identify Brennan conclusively as fabricator-in-chief of the Russiagate story. Evidence, real evidence in this case, abounds, since the Brennan-Comey-Clapper gang of three were sure Hillary Clinton would become president. Consequently, they did not perform due diligence to hide their tracks.
A European payment system designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran will be ready soon, Germany announced on Monday. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran as part of European efforts to salvage the historic JCPOA nuclear pact and defuse rising US-Iranian tension. Iran and Germany held “frank and serious” talks on saving the 2015 deal with world powers, Zarif told a joint press conference. “Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the deal to save it,” Zarif said. Maas said earlier the payment system, known as INSTEX, (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) will soon be ready to go after months of work.
“This is an instrument of a new kind so it’s not straightforward to operationalise it,” he said, pointing to the complexity of trying to install a totally new payment system. “But all the formal requirements are in place now, and so I’m assuming we’ll be ready to use it in the foreseeable future,” added Maas about the system for barter-based trade with Iran. A cautious thaw in relations between Tehran and Washington began in 2015 when the deal was struck between six world powers and Iran, limiting its nuclear activity. But tensions with the US have mounted since President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions. Iran has criticised the European signatories of the JCPOA for failing to salvage the pact after Trump pulled the US out. “There is a serious situation in the region. An escalation of tension is becoming uncontrollable and military action wouldn’t be in line with the interests of any party,” Maas said.
Jeremy Corbyn has questioned whether the government has “credible evidence” to show Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said responsibility for Thursday’s attack in the Gulf of Oman “almost certainly” lies with the Iranian regime. But the Labour leader tweeted that there was no evidence for this. Mr Hunt responded that Mr Corbyn’s comments were “pathetic” and said he should back British intelligence. It is the second time in the past few weeks that tankers appear to have been attacked in the region and comes amid escalating tension between Iran and the United States.
The US military released video footage which it said proved Iran was behind Thursday’s attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese tankers – something Iran has categorically denied. The UK Foreign Office said it was “almost certain” that a branch of the Iranian military – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – attacked the two tankers on 13 June, adding that “no other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible”. “These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to the region,” Mr Hunt said. However, in a tweet Mr Corbyn questioned that assessment and said the UK should ease tensions in the region, not fuel a military escalation.
Launching his bid for the Tory leadership this week, Dominic Raab announced, histrionically: “We’ve been humiliated as a country.” For those of us who do not live on planet Brexit, this might have been mistaken for a belated reaction to the genuinely demeaning spectacle of Donald Trump’s state visit a week earlier. But, of course, like almost all of his fellow contenders to be the next prime minister, Raab was playing his part in a strange performance in which the national honour has been so horribly besmirched by the European Union that it can be salved only by taking the pain of a no-deal Brexit.
Perhaps if you keep acting out phoney feelings, you end up not being able to recognise the real thing. Brexit Britain has been wallowing in a hyped-up psychodrama of national humiliation. It is, indeed, one of the very few things that remainers and leavers still share, even if they feel mortified for very different reasons. In relation to the EU, this sense of humiliation is wildly overplayed. But when Trump comes to town and really does degrade Britain, the sense of wounded dignity that ought to be felt seems curiously absent.
[..] how come the idea of national humiliation has loomed so large in Brexit? Shortly before the missed departure date of 29 March, a Sky Data poll asked: “Is the way Britain is dealing with Brexit a national humiliation?” Ninety per cent of respondents said yes. This idea of collective abasement is everywhere in the Brexit narrative. A random sample of headlines from across the spectrum tells the story: “Brexit and the prospect of national humiliation” (Financial Times); “Voice of the Mirror: Theresa May’s Brexit is a national humiliation”; “A national humiliation: Never was so much embarrassment caused to so many by so few” (Telegraph); “‘Humiliating to have to beg’ for EU exit, says Arlene Foster” (Irish Times). And so, endlessly, on.
There is something hysterical in this constant evocation of humiliation. It is a cry of outraged self-regard: how dare they treat us like this? Yes, of course, the Brexit debacle has reduced Britain’s prestige around the world. And the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is indeed a miserable thing when compared with the glorious visions that preceded it. But Britain has not been humiliated by the EU – the deal was shaped by May’s (and Arlene Foster’s) red lines. Britain did not get what the Brexiters fantasised about, but it did get what it actually asked for. That’s not humiliation.
The Federal Open Market Committee meeting next week is shaping up as a pivotal one for Wall Street, with stocks primed for a selloff should the Fed fail to take an even more dovish tilt after policymakers raised expectations for a rate cut in recent weeks. The benchmark S&P 500 has rallied more than 5% this month as softening economic data coupled with comments by Fed officials heightened expectations the Fed will cut rates by the end of the year and, at the very least, telegraph it is leaning toward a later rate cut at its June 18-19 meeting. Those gains came on the heels of a selloff in May of nearly 7% in the S&P, largely fueled by investor concerns that trade wars were escalating, slowing the economy and putting it at risk of falling into a recession.
Bets for a rate cut were amplified by comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on June 4, who said the central bank will respond “as appropriate” to the risks from a global trade war and other developments, and after a weak May payrolls report on June 7. Bank of America Merrill Lynch Chief Economist Michelle Meyer expects the Fed’s “dot plots” projection of interest rates, which represents the anonymous, individual rate projections of Fed policymakers for the next few years, to shift lower as officials start to factor in cuts. However, “the median dot will signal a Fed on hold,” Meyer said in a note. “The market has somehow convinced themselves that we are in an easing cycle. I am not sure how we got so far ahead of ourselves,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.
As a result of the Fed’s ZIRP and QE programs in the past decade, virtually all types of assets soared in value: stocks, bonds, art, classic cars, farmland, residential real estate, and commercial real estate. On average, U.S. commercial real estate prices have surged by 111%, or more than double, since their 2009 low. Interestingly, most people don’t realize that U.S. commercial real estate also experienced a bubble from 2004 to 2008 at the same time as the U.S. housing bubble. This early bubble inflated for many of the same reasons as the housing bubble, which were ultra-low borrowing costs and loose lending standards. From 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate prices rose 66%, but crashed by nearly 40% during the 2008 financial crisis. Commercial real estate prices have increased even more in the current bubble (111% vs. 66%), which means that the coming commercial real estate bust is likely to be even worse than the 2008 bust.
As discussed earlier, low interest rate environments often cause dangerous bubbles to develop by encouraging borrowing booms. Like the U.S. commercial real estate bubble of 2004 to 2008, commercial real estate lending has flourished during the current bubble. Since 2012, total commercial real estate loans at U.S. banks have increased by an alarming $700 billion or 50%.
Well, that was timely. The US Treasury just posted a record $207 billion deficit for May and record monthly spending of $440 billion. That brought the rolling 12 month deficit to just shy of the trillion dollar mark at $986 billion. The timely part is two-fold. First, it just so happens that May marked month #119 of the current expansion, making it tied for the duration record with the 1990s cycle. But even JM Keynes himself would be rolling in his grave in light of the chart below. To wit, even by the lights of hardcore Keynesians of yore, fiscal deficits were supposed to be falling sharply at the end of a business cycle or even moving into surplus as they did in 1999-2000, not erupting toward 5% of GDP as has now happened.
The second timely note, of sorts, is that the Wall Street Journal was Johnny on the Spot this AM with a front page story entitled, “How Washington Learned to Love Debt and Deficits”. The story’s quote from the current Dem Chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmouth, says it all. There simply has never been such bipartisan complacency about the nation’s public finances in all of modern history – including during the biggest borrow and spend days of FDR, LBJ and every president since Gerald Ford: “Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.), House Budget Committee chairman, says he rarely hears from constituents concerned about rising deficits and debt. Many voters’ attitudes, he says: “There haven’t been any cataclysmic consequences, so why worry about it?”
The WSJ story is a dog’s breakfast of rationalizations, non sequitirs, political double-talk and Keynesian tommyrot. What is the most telling, however, is that it was co-authored by Jon Hilsenrath, who was the paper’s long-time Fed reporter. Yet it contains not a single word about the role of central banks in fostering the utter collapse of fiscal responsibility described by his lengthy report. So for want of doubt, here is the culprit. The central banks of the world have expanded their balance sheets by upwards of $22 trillion since the turn of the century, thereby massively monetizing the erupting public debt of the US and most of the world via fiat credit snatched from thin air.
So did that massive $22 trillion “buy” order from the central banks weigh heavily on the supply of funds side of the scales in the fixed income market, thereby driving bond prices skyward and yields ever lower? Why, goodness gracious, yes it did!
Beijing has yielded to Hong Kong’s unique economic status. Carrie Lam, chief executive of the special administrative region, on Saturday indefinitely suspended a bill that would have allowed extradition to the mainland, responding to mass rallies and violent street protests that rocked the city. It’s a defeat for her, and leaves the central government embarrassed. But for the Chinese Communist Party, preserving Hong Kong’s financial role still trumps the desire for more political control. Lam took office in 2017, and is considered a reliable Beijing loyalist. Pushing through the extradition bill, however, came from her, she said. Either way, the central government endorsed it enthusiastically as well. Yet the strength and breadth of the protests caught both Lam and Beijing off guard.
The backlash was not confined to democracy advocates, much less to a radical minority that began calling for independence after the Occupy movement in 2014. It extended to anyone who distrusted the Chinese legal system. In the end, that seemed to be almost everyone. Some tycoons began moving funds out of Hong Kong to Singapore in advance of the bill’s passage, Reuters reported, a hint of the outflows before the 1997 handover from Britain. And not only did the pro-Beijing camp fail to mobilise against the demonstrations in force – as it did in 2014 – the conservative business community began expressing public doubts about the agenda almost immediately. Financial markets wobbled. Worse still, U.S. politicians threatened to re-evaluate Hong Kong’s unique status, which could affect everything from visas to trade.
It was only a few days ago that the Japanese government’s Financial Services Agency published its oddly-titled “Annual Report on Ageing Society”. (Like everything in Japan, English translations often hilariously miss the mark…) This is a report that the Ministry of Finance puts out every year. And as the name implies, the report discusses the state of Japan’s pension fund, and its future prospects for taking care of its senior citizens. Bear in mind that Japan has the oldest population in the world; Japan ranks #2 in the world for average age (46.9, just behind Monaco), #1 in the world for the greatest percentage of citizens over the age of 70, and #1 in the world for life expectancy. In a nutshell, this means that Planet Japan has more people collecting pension benefits, for more years, than anywhere else.
Yet at the same time, Japan’s pension fund is completely insolvent. There simply aren’t enough people paying into the system to make good on the promises that have been made. At present there are only 2 workers paying into the pension program for every 1 retiree receiving benefits in Japan. The math simply doesn’t add up, and it’s only getting worse. Planet Japan’s birth rate is infamously low, and the population here is actually DECLINING. So, fast forward another 10-15 years, and there will be even MORE people collecting pension benefits, and even FEWER people paying into the system. This year’s ‘Annual Report on Ageing Society’ plainly stated this reality; it was a brutally honest assessment of Japan’s underfunded pension program.
The report went on to tell people that they needed to save their own money for retirement because the pension fund wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. This terrified a lot of Japanese workers and pensioners. So the government stepped in to quickly solve the problem… by making the report disappear. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for the report, calling it “inaccurate and misleading.” And Finance Minister Taro Aso– himself a pensioner at age 78 (though in typical Japanese form he looks like he’s 45)– simply un-published the report.
The United States is discussing with its allies a variety of options on how to protect international shipping in the Gulf of Oman in the wake of tanker attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, senior Trump administration officials said on Thursday. Two officials, speaking to a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States wants to ensure the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz and make sure international commerce is not disrupted. Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman. “We don’t think this is over,” one official said of the possibility of more such attacks. The official said options are being reviewed.
“We’re discussing and will be discussing with our partners and allies suggestions on how we collectively can take steps to ensure, one, that we maintain freedom of navigation and international commerce is not disrupted and, second, that we protect our forces’ interests and our commercial assets and those of our partners and allies,” the official said. The official said the attacks appeared “designed to have a political outcome” and suggested it could have been an attempt to disrupt a visit to Tehran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We are going to obviously evaluate our presence in the region and the growing threat and make subsequent decisions,” the official said. “We have to look at the threat, as we always do, to our personnel and our forces but the threat to a strategic chokepoint. There’s a significant amount of trade that transits the Strait of Hormuz every day.”
The most honest man in Britain today is Julian Assange, while the most dishonest are those who are engaged in his ongoing persecution. The latest instalment in that persecution is a court hearing in London on June 14, where details of the request for his extradition to the US, it is expected, will be revealed for the first time. The formal request for the extradition of the founder of WikiLeaks was made to the UK by US authorities earlier in the week – and with British Home Secretary Sajid Javid signing the relevant papers sanctioning it, the final decision on whether Julian Assange’s extradition to the US goes ahead now rests with the courts.
[..] In revealing to the world the beast of US hegemony that resides behind the velvet curtains of democracy and human rights, Julian Assange exposed the lie upon which this American Empire (and make no mistake, it is an empire) depends. It depends on it in order to persuade its supposed beneficiaries – i.e. people living in the West – to continue to suspend disbelief as to the reality of a system they’ve been conditioned to believe is rooted in values that emanate from the human heart rather than from the heart of the machine. The end result is that in exposing this lie, Assange and WikiLeaks became a bigger threat to the ability of US hegemony to function normally than a million bayonets. As such, it became imperative that he, as the founder and face of WikiLeaks, be destroyed.
Britain’s role in this process couldn’t be any more sordid or shameful. Its legal system and judiciary has effectively been turned into a subsidiary of its US counterpart; its function not to dispense justice but to deliver a man into the arms of injustice. The fate to befall Assange proves that there’s a world of difference between believing that you live in a free society and behaving as if you do. He is the canary down the coalmine of Western democracy, signalling the warning that its foundations are rotten to the core.
Apparently, American Hitler and his cronies are conspiring with some secret group of “Jewish leaders” to stop British Hitler from becoming prime minister and wiping out all the Jews in Great Britain. Weird, right? But that’s not the weird part, because maybe American Hitler wants to wipe out all the Jews in Great Britain himself, rather than leaving it to British Hitler … Hitlers being notoriously jealous regarding their genocidal accomplishments. No, the weird part is that everyone knows that American Hitler does not make a move without the approval of Russian Hitler, who is also obsessed with wiping out the Jews, and with destroying the fabric of Western democracy. So why would Russian Hitler want to let American Hitler and his goons thwart the ascendancy of British Hitler, who, in addition to wanting to wipe out all the Jews, also wants to destroy democracy by fascistically refunding the NHS, renationalizing the rail system, and so on?
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? In any event, here’s the official story. In “a recording leaked to The Washington Post,” and then flogged by the rest of the corporate media, Reichsminister des Auswärtigen, Mike Pompeo, told a group of unnamed “Jewish leaders” that American Hitler (i.e., Donald Trump) will “push back” (i.e., intervene) against British Hitler (i.e., Jeremy Corbyn) to protect the lives of Jews in Great Britain if British Hitler becomes prime minister (and is possibly already doing so now). The identities of these “Jewish leaders” have not been disclosed by the corporate media, presumably in order to protect them from being murdered by Corbyn’s Nazi hit squad.
Whoever they were, they wanted to know whether American Hitler and his fascist cabinet were “willing to work with [them] to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews” after Jeremy Corbyn seizes power, declares himself Führer of Communist Britannia, and orders the immediate invasion of France. To anyone who has been closely following the corporate media’s relentless coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s Nazi Death Cult (i.e., the UK Labour Party) and the global Anti-Semitism Pandemic, it comes as no real surprise that this group of “Jewish leaders” (whoever they are) would want to stop him from becoming prime minister. I doubt that their motives have much to do with fighting anti-Semitism, or anything else specifically “Jewish,” but … well, I’m kind of old-fashioned that way. I still believe there’s a fundamental difference between “the Jews” and the global capitalist ruling classes.
Many Americans haven’t saved as much money as they need for retirement — and the gap is expected to widen dramatically in the next 30 years. The retirement savings gap — between what people have and should have — was $28 trillion in the U.S. in 2015, but by 2050, it’s expected to swell to $137 trillion, according to the World Economic Forum, a Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland-based nonprofit that researched international financial affairs. The disparity grows $3 trillion every year in the U.S.
The organization calculated this gap assuming most individuals’ retirement income sources would include a combination of government-provided pensions (such as Social Security), employer pensions in the public or private workforce and individual savings. They also analyzed the level of savings across expectations of income needs and life expectancies, assuming individuals would retire between 60 and 70 years old, for countries including China, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. The gap is most pronounced in the U.S., followed by China and Japan tied for $11 trillion in 2015. China is also expected to see a significantly wider discrepancy in 2050, at $119 trillion, followed by India, with an $85 trillion gap. Overall, the eight countries the WEF analyzed will see a $400 trillion disparity.
Historically, the reason the Fed cuts rates, and interest are falling, is because the Fed has acted in response to a crisis, recession, or both. [..] Secondly, after a decade of QE and zero interest rates inflation, outside of asset prices, (as measured by CPI), remains muted at best. The reason that QE does not cause “inflationary” pressures is that it is an “asset swap” and doesn’t affect the money supply or the velocity of money. QE remains confined to the financial markets which lifts asset prices, but it does not impact the broader economy.
Unfortunately, the Fed is still misdiagnosing what ails the economy, and monetary policy is unlikely to change the outcome in the U.S., just as it failed in Japan. The reason is simple. You can’t cure a debt problem with more debt. Therefore, monetary interventions, and government spending, don’t create organic, sustainable, economic growth. Simply pulling forward future consumption through monetary policy continues to leave an ever growing void in the future that must be filled. Eventually, the void will be too great to fill.
Canadian households are known around the world for their uncanny ability to pile on debt. And American debt slaves, who’d gotten trampled during the Great Recession, turn out to be lackadaisical these days in comparison. The share of disposable income (total incomes from all sources minus taxes) that Canadian households spent on making principal and interest payments on their ballooning mortgage debts and non-mortgage debts reached a new record of 14.9% in the first quarter, despite still ultra-low interest rates and despite the highest disposable income ever, according to data released today by Statistics Canada:
[..] So how do Canadian debt slaves stack up against American debt slaves? Statistics Canada released a report on just this topic at the end of March perhaps because authorities in Canada should get a tad nervous. [..] The annualized data it provided included the household debt-to-disposable income ratios for Canada and for the US through 2018. The ratio shows how large debt is relative to disposable income. For Canada, this ratio was 175% annualized in 2018, one of the highest in the world, and rising. For the US, it was 103%, and declining:
Canada’s household debts have continued to surge since the year 2000 except for a brief dip during the Financial Crisis. But US household debts plunged during years of deleveraging after the Financial Crisis, in part by consumers defaulting on their mortgages and credit cards. Household debts didn’t start growing again until 2013. And it took until 2017 before they surpassed the pre-Financial Crisis peak. But over the decade since the Financial Crisis, the US population has grown, and the number of working people has grown, and the national disposable income has increased, and so the ratio of household debt to disposable income has continued to drop.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Thursday dismissed a suggestion that Ottawa block the extradition of a top executive from China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to the United States, saying it would set a dangerous precedent. Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested on U.S. fraud charges in Vancouver last December, will challenge Washington’s extradition request at hearings that are set to begin next January. China angrily demanded Canada release Meng and detained two Canadians on spying charges. It has also blocked imports of Canadian canola seed and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he fears further retaliation.
The Globe and Mail newspaper on Thursday said former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien had floated the idea of the government intervening to stop the extradition case and thereby improve ties with Beijing. “When it comes to Ms Meng there has been no political interference … and that is the right way for extradition requests to proceed,” Freeland told a televised news conference in Washington. “It would be a very dangerous precedent indeed for Canada to alter its behavior when it comes to honoring an extradition treaty in response to external pressure,” she added, saying to do so could make Canadians around the world less safe.
Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to cancel student debt will soon be one step closer to reality — even if she doesn’t become president. The Democratic Senator of Massachusetts plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks that mirrors her presidential campaign proposal to cancel at least a portion of the student debt held by many of the nation’s 44 million borrowers, her Senate office announced Thursday. Rep. James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the house majority whip, will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Warren’s office hasn’t yet released a draft of the legislative text, but the bill is slated to propose cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt for the bulk of student loan borrowers, her office said.
Under the proposal Warren released as part of her presidential campaign in April, borrowers with a household income of less than $100,000 would have $50,000 of their student debt cancelled and borrowers with an income between $100,000 and $250,000 would be eligible for some student debt cancellation — though not the full $50,000. Borrowers earning $250,000 or more would receive no debt cancellation. Her campaign estimated the plan would cost $640 billion, which would be paid through a tax on the ultra-wealthy. The idea of student debt cancellation has been popular in some circles for years, but Warren’s campaign proposal nudged it into the mainstream. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination, has vowed to cancel “massive amounts of student debt,” though hasn’t offered specifics.
Here’s how the scheme works: First-time property buyers get to put down a deposit of as little as 5% on a new-build home worth as much as £600,000 ($761,000) and receive an “equity loan” from the government. The size of the loan varies depending on where borrowers live. In London, where the price of property is an order of magnitude higher than in most other places, buyers can receive as much as 40% of the property price. Across the rest of the country the upper limit is 20%. The rest of the financing is covered by a traditional mortgage. While Help to Buy may have had a limited effect in terms of making housing affordable for first time buyers who are genuinely priced out of the market, it has proven to be effective at sustaining the UK’s all-important housing bubble by jacking up the prices of new-build houses, resulting in even less affordable housing.
Since Help to Buy was first launched in 2013, average UK house prices have increased by 35%, from £167,000 to £226,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. Through the scheme, the government has so far issued around 211,000 loans worth £11.7 billion ($14.8 billion) to home buyers. According to the NAO, this has helped increase sales of new-build properties from 61,357 a year in 2013-14 to 104,245 a year in 2017-18. That, in turn, has helped fuel a spike in profits for the UK’s biggest home builders. The nine largest builders dished out £2.3 billion in dividends in their most recent financial year, 39 times greater than the £53 million they paid out in 2012, a year before the scheme was introduced.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been blindsided and thrown completely off his game plan. His narrative of a “progressive army” and a fresh rally of forces for elections “that will determine the future” is coming under constant attack. The Progressive Alliance was intended to move SYRIZA closer to the center so that it could resonate more strongly with the broader “progressive” section of voters – though what constitutes progressive and conservative in today’s world is a matter of debate – and to more fully acquire the characteristics of one of the two pillars of the two-party system, pushing center-left Movement for Change to the sidelines.
Tsipras’ plan, however, has been scuppered by two developments in the broader area of the Left, which are of significant symbolic importance and may affect the balance of power. What he hopes to achieve in the next few weeks is to convince many of the voters who chose not to vote in the European elections and who are mainly former supporters of SYRIZA to return to the fold and put their weight behind the big battle against the “socially insensitive, neoliberal” Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the opposition New Democracy party. His path in this ambitious plan, however, is littered with obstacles. The first was the surprisingly strong performance of Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 party in the European elections, which shook things up.
There is now a party to the left of SYRIZA that is pro-European and has a leader with what a leftist voter might see as a convincing position. Moreover, he is neither Zoe Constantopoulou nor Panagiotis Lafazanis. He is a TV star who is in a position to boost his popularity thanks to his strong social media presence. It is also quite likely, if not certain, that he will make it into Parliament next month, and not just by scraping by with 3 percent. You can say a lot about Varoufakis, but what is certain is that he represents the thinking of a significant portion of the people who voted for SYRIZA in January 2015. He exercises charm over this portion of voters, and this is something that will be evident at the polls.
The near sole purpose of present-day academia is indoctrination. This is a fairly bold thesis, but the evidence is in its favor. The increasingly progressive leftist agenda is sweeping through academia and conservatives are passively watching it happen. The main indoctrination stories you hear are those of radical professors on college campuses, outlandish majors created to forward social justice movements, and, on occasion, a political outburst by a high school teacher. Although these issues need addressing, by far the biggest – and the one that should scare everyone the most – is the silent indoctrination.
Indoctrination is no longer dependent upon the political beliefs of teachers. We are now past that. Course material is blatant political propaganda. Not just the course material for gender studies and similar. The core curricula of grade school through college. Sciences, economics, literature – any core course you can think of is politically influenced. The only course that may still be an exception is mathematics. Unless you account for the left-wing system of common core – which is a complete disaster. If you don’t believe this, sit through a grade school math class or open up your child’s text book. Disaster.
Commercial cruise lines are some of the world’s worst polluters, and Carnival is near the top of that list according to a study of European cruise line operators. Research found that Carnival alone is responsible for almost 10 times as much sulfur dioxide release as all 260 million of Europe’s cars combined. The study from Transport & Environment says that the 203 cruise ships that operated in European waters in 2017 emitted a combined total of 62 kilotons of sulfur oxides (SOx), which form airborne gases known to cause lung cancer and acid rain. During the same period, Europe’s 260 million known registered vehicles let out just 3.2 kilotons, the study found.
Of these 62 kilotons of SOx, more than half allegedly were the product of the 47 ships operated by Carnival Cruise Lines or its subsidiaries. Of the 20 worst offenders, seven are Carnival properties, which together made up half of the industry’s SOx emissions in Europe. Carnival denied any wrongdoing when asked for comment by Fast Company, pointed the finger at the rest of the maritime transportation industry, and insinuated that the study’s methodology was unscientific. [..] This statement arrived days after Carnival agreed to a $20 million fine and undergo increased scrutiny of its plastic and sewage disposal practices, which included dumping both directly into the ocean in large quantities. Carnival allegedly tried to hide these activities from regulators by falsifying records or pressuring the United States Coast Guard to relax the terms of its environmental compliance agreement.
British Home Secretary Sajid Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today that he has signed Julian Assange’s extradition order. “The final decision is now with the courts,” Mr Javid said. It is unclear whether the WikiLeaks founder will be sent to Sweden or the US. It was earlier reported that the US had formally submitted an extradition request to the UK for the WikiLeaks founder. Mr Assange faces an 18-count indictment that accuses him of soliciting and publishing classified information and of conspiring with former Army private Chelsea Manning to crack a Defense Department computer password. That indictment, which includes Espionage Act charges, was issued by the Justice Department last month and is pending in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
The extradition request had been expected ever since US authorities first announced a criminal case against Mr Assange. [..] The United States will detail all the charges against Mr Assange when it seeks his extradition in a London court on Friday, the editor of the whistleblowers’ website said on Tuesday. “The American authorities, the Department of Justice, will present the evidence in support of their extradition demand,” Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters. The US Justice Department confirmed on Tuesday that it had submitted a formal extradition request. The 47-year-old Australian is not expected to attend Friday’s hearing but could take part from prison via video link, although it will be largely procedural. The “first real confrontation of arguments” in court will not be for several weeks or months, Mr Hrafnsson said.
“Assange, the outsider, did much more than that, he laid the path for the future of journalism, where journalists would be expected to produce primary source documents, wherever possible, and horror of all horrors, share them with the public.”
The federal police raid on the ABC last week produced an unexpected benefit. Journalists are being forced to decide: whose side are they on. And where do they stand on fundamental issues of disclosure and the public’s right to know? When the executive producer of Australia’s most highly regarded current affairs program Four Corners retweeted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was “Putin’s bitch” – a tweet she later removed – it said much about the state of journalism in Australia. The re-post, echoing a view held by many Australian journalists, followed a Four Corners interview with Hillary Clinton in which she was given full rein to attack Assange. Clinton was angry that WikiLeaks had revealed through a series of leaked Democratic Party emails that the party executive had given her help to defeat her main rival Senator Bernie Sanders for the party’s nomination – and helped the campaign of Donald Trump.
While the former presidential candidate was challenged on emails relating to her controversial involvement with the Clinton Foundation, never once was it pointed out that the Democratic Party emails revealed how she had been an active beneficiary of deeply unethical behaviour inside the party. What state have we reached where Assange, a journalist, facing his next extradition hearing in London on Friday, should be so reviled? It is dangerous territory for journalism. The insults thrown by Trump that journalists were the enemy of the American people might have been self-serving, but clearly the old notion that journalists mainly represent ordinary people against the powerful is in many cases something of the past. Just as the political parties have shifted to the right, so too have many journalists.
What so enrages the journalists’ “club” is the challenge from those who question their power, journalists like Assange. His revelations threatened them. But Assange, the outsider, did much more than that, he laid the path for the future of journalism, where journalists would be expected to produce primary source documents, wherever possible, and horror of all horrors, share them with the public. The internet made this possible, but for those who were holding out against the inevitable rise of this new form of communications, it posed a huge threat to the old order. Assange was not interested in off-the-record briefings from government insiders. He wanted to show the original documents to practise what he called Scientific Journalism.
Ask the Iraqi parents of Sabiha Hamed Salih, aged 15, and Ashwaq Hamed Salih, aged 16, who were killed by shrapnel in Baghdad on July 31, 2004, what they think of Julian Assange. Ask the man and his two young daughters who saw their wife and mother shot to death and were themselves wounded in a car fired upon by U.S. Marines in Fallujah on July 22, 2005, what they think of Julian Assange. Ask the parents of Huda Haleem, an 18-year-old girl, and Raghad Muhamad Haleem, a 5-year-old boy, shot dead by U.S. soldiers on June 2, 2006, in Iraq’s Diyala province what they think of Julian Assange. Ask the parents of the 15-year-old boy choked with a wire and then shot to death by U.S. Marines in Ramadi on Aug. 10, 2006, what they think of Julian Assange.
Ask the relatives of Ahmed Salam Mohammad, who was shot dead on Nov. 27, 2006, when U.S. troops attacked a wedding party near Mosul, an attack that also left four wounded, what they think of Julian Assange. Ask the families of the over one dozen people shot to death with .50-caliber machine guns by bantering U.S. Apache helicopter crews in east Baghdad in July 2007—the crew members can be heard laughing at the “dead bastards” and saying “light ’em up” and “keep shooting, keep shooting”—a massacre that included two journalists for Reuters—Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh—what they think of Julian Assange. Ask the then 10-year-old Sajad Mutashar and his 5-year-old sister, Doaha, both wounded, whose 43-year-old father, Saleh, was shot to death from the air as he attempted to assist one of the wounded men in the Baghdad street what they think of Julian Assange.
There is nothing like the boot of the oppressor on your neck to give you moral clarity. None of these war crimes, and hundreds more reported to the U.S. military but never investigated, would have been made public without Julian, Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks. That is the role of journalists—to give a voice to those who without us would have no voice, to hold the powerful to account, to give the forgotten and the demonized justice, to speak the truth. We have watched over the last decade as freedom of the press and legal protection for those who expose government abuses and lies have been obliterated by wholesale government surveillance and the criminalizing of the leaking and, with Julian’s persecution, publication of these secrets. The press has been largely emasculated in the United States. The repeated use of the Espionage Act, especially under the Obama administration, to charge and sentence whistleblowers has shut down our ability to shine a light into the inner workings of power and empire.
Governmental officials with a conscience, knowing all of their communications are monitored, captured and stored by intelligence agencies, are too frightened to reach out to reporters. The last line of defense lies with those with the skills that allow them to burrow into the records of the security and surveillance state and with the courage to make them public, such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, now serving a 10-year prison term in the United States for hacking into the Texas-based private security firm Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor. The price of resistance is high not only for them, but for those such as Julian willing to publish this information. As Sarah Harrison has pointed out: “This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it.”
Even if Julian were odious, which he is not, even if he carried out a sexual offense, which he did not, even if he was a poor houseguest—a bizarre term for a man trapped in a small room for nearly seven years under house arrest—which he was not, it would make no difference. Julian is not being persecuted for his vices. He is being persecuted for his virtues.
[..] they’ve got a couple of grim worst-case scenarios. One envisages the U.S. economy slowing sharply from the third quarter of this year, then falling into recession as corporate profits, hitting business and investor sentiment. The fallout from this could trigger a 30% drop in the S&P 500 in the third quarter. Within a year the U.S. would be in recession, with the Fed cutting interest rates aggressively to “stave off the worst of the shock,” says the economic forecasters. The other downbeat scenario pictures bleak fallout from a trade-war escalation.
The U.S. slaps a 25% tariff on China and Mexico imports, and a 10% blanket tariff on Europe goods, and 25% on non-North American cars. Based on those assumptions, U.S. stocks could be 15% lower by late 2019, the firm says. But let’s leave things on a happy note. Under yet one more scenario they predict further stimulus from China, de-escalation in trade tensions supportive policy from central banks and much improved investor sentiment across the globe. All that good news could mean a boost in the high single digit percentage ballpark by the first quarter of 2020.
“The next recession is overdue because this is the longest expansion on record. . . . We loaded up car buyers with sub-prime loans. Students now have $1.5 trillion of student debt. Credit card debt is at record levels. Government debt is at record levels. Corporate debt is at record levels. . . . All of these guys have borrowed more money than they ever have in history. So, the idea we are going to convince people to borrow a lot more money by lowering interest rates is at best problematic and at worst insane. We are headed that way because they have no other tools. So, when things slow down, they are going to start cutting again and printing money and buying up assets with that money. We’ll see if it works again. It shouldn’t have worked the last time. . . . We are in a range of unexplored numbers. . . . How much further can this go? Is there a limit out there? We are going to find out in the next recession.”
Rubino is not impressed with the Federal Reserve’s latest promise to slash interest rates and print money to save a teetering economy. Rubino contends, “The markets ought to be terrified by this, but in the U.S. because the rates are not yet zero, the market is not yet terrified. We are not far from 0%. . . . The Fed can’t save us. We’re at the point now where we would be at a 1930’s style depression or a Weimar Germany hyperinflation or something new and equally bad. We have taken on insane amounts of debt, more than any society in history has ever tried to take on. So, we just don’t know what is going to happen. If the central banks cannot stop the next recession, we will find out what happens when this much debt goes bad. . . . The Fed’s biggest fear is that things will spin out of control, and they won’t have the tools to stop it.”
Imagine a world in which you could keep every single penny that the fruits of your own labor produced. That would be a world without income taxation making it much easier for the average American to get by. Instead, we live in a world where nothing goes untaxed. About 1/3 of Americans say that their expenses are so high that after the theft of the federal government from their paychecks, they need a “side hustle” to make ends meet. According to Bankrate, side hustlers make $1,122 per month on average from their part-time work — up from $686 last year. But if Americans were given the right to no longer be stolen from, and got to keep their own money, most wouldn’t need a side hustle or part-time work to get by.
Nearly half, 45%, of U.S. workers earn additional income outside of their primary career, a recent Bankrate survey found. This includes 48% of millennials. The percentage of Gen Xers and baby boomers with a side hustle is slightly lower, coming in at 39% and 28%, respectively. “A lot of people are working side hustles because even though the economy is strong, wages are stagnant,” Amanda Dixon, an analyst at Bankrate, told MarketWatch. “For a lot of Americans, expenses are rising, but there are no raises at work.” And heaven forbid the government stops raiding our income. That won’t be a suggestion the lapdog media will toss around either. However, if humans own themselves, they have the right to the fruits of their labor regardless of the edicts of the political elitists.
President Trump told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos in an Oval Office interview that he might not call the FBI if foreign governments offered damaging information against his rivals in the upcoming 2020 election. While initially suggesting it would be absurd to call the FBI instead of taking the information, Trump said “I think maybe you do both,” adding “I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening.” “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
Trump also pushed back on the notion that opposition research provided by a foreign government would be considered election interference – saying “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” adding “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.” President Trump lamented the attention on his son, Donald Trump Jr., for his role in the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. Stephanopoulos asked whether Trump Jr. should have taken the Russians’ offer for “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton to the FBI. “Somebody comes up and says, ‘hey, I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump responded.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do,” Trump continued. “Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.” -ABC News When Stephanopoulos pointed out that FBI Director Christopher Wray said that a candidate should call the FBI in regards to foreign-sourced oppo-research, Trump said: “The FBI director is wrong, because frankly it doesn’t happen like that in life,” adding “Now maybe it will start happening, maybe today you’d think differently.” Trump then claimed that “if you go talk honestly to Congressmen, they all do it, they always have,” adding “That’s the way it is, it’s called oppo-research.”
[Bolton] said in a Wall Street Journal podcast that he believes five countries are spreading “lies about dysfunction in the Trump administration.” Those countries are North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China. That’s laughable. What Bolton is saying is that there is a vast and incredibly well-coordinated international conspiracy that includes some of the most important countries in the world, the main purpose of which is to embarrass him. That sounds perfectly rational, right? Of course, a more rational person might conclude that Bolton has done a terrible job, that the people around him have done a terrible job, that he has aired his disagreements with Trump in the media, and that the President is angry about it. That’s the more likely scenario.
Here’s what my friends are saying. Trump is concerned, like any president is near the end of his term, about his legacy. He said during the campaign that he wanted to be the president who pulled the country out of its two longest wars. He wanted to declare victory and bring the troops back from Afghanistan and Iraq. He hasn’t done that, largely at the insistence of Bolton. Here we are three years later and we’re still stuck in both of those countries. Second, my friends say that Trump wants to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, but that Bolton has been insistent that the only way to guarantee the closeness of the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is to keep providing those countries with weapons, aerial refueling planes, and intelligence support.
Third, the mainstream media has accused Bolton of being the reason behind the failure of Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Bolton towed a hard line, so much so that the North Korean media called him a “war monger” and a “human defect” once the summit ended. This week Trump told reporters gathered on the White House south lawn that Kim had “kept his word” on nuclear and missile testing. This was a direct contradiction of Bolton, who had said just hours earlier that the North Koreans had reneged on their commitments to the U.S. Trump said simply, “My people think there could have been a violation. I view it differently.”
Opposition MPs have lost a critical vote on a bid to prevent a future Conservative prime minister from forcing through a no-deal Brexit. Labour introduced a motion paving the way for parliament to block a chaotic Brexit by seizing control of the Commons timetable on 25 June. But MPs rejected the cross-party effort by 309 votes to 298, in a blow to hopes of preventing a Brexiteer prime minister from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal in October. Eight Labour MPs voted against the cross-party motion and a further 13 did not vote. Ten Conservative backbenchers rebelled to back the motion. Jeremy Corbyn could be heard admonishing Tory MPs when the result was called, saying: “You won’t be cheering in September.”
The move came after several Tory leadership hopefuls refused to rule out suspending parliament to prevent MPs from blocking a no-deal Brexit in September. Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, and Esther McVey, the ex-work and pensions secretary, have both said parliament could be prorogued to ensure the UK leaves by the 31 October deadline. Sir Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, said: “This is a disappointing, narrow defeat. “But this is just the start, not the end of our efforts to block no deal. Labour stands ready to use whatever mechanism it can to protect jobs, the economy and communities from the disastrous consequences of a no-deal Brexit.
It will take “six to eight months” to build up supplies of medicines for a no-deal Brexit, a leaked cabinet note says – undermining Boris Johnson’s threat to crash out of the EU on 31 October. The warning says the pharmaceutical industry needs that period of help from the government “to ensure adequate arrangements are in place to build stockpiles of medicines”. It also says that it would take “at least 4-5 months” to make traders ready for the new border checks that might be required, including incentives to register for fresh schemes. The note was revealed by The Financial Times as Mr Johnson – the overwhelming favourite to succeed Theresa May – launched his campaign on a pledge to leave the EU on 31 October “deal or no deal”.
It states that, while government departments had delivered around 85 per cent of their “core no-deal plans”, many of those provided only “a minimum viable level of capability”. Prepared for a cabinet discussion on 21 May, it was never circulated because Ms May was concentrating at the time on her doomed attempt to force through her withdrawal agreement. After that attempt collapsed, the prime minister announced her plans to resign – throwing the country into the uncertainty of the Tory leadership race. Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, seized on the note, saying: “This lays bare the utter cynicism of Boris Johnson and his ilk. “They are prepared to talk up crashing out of the EU to further their chances in the Tory leadership contest, despite government documents showing this would lead to shortages of medicines and chaos at our borders.”
Europe should think outside NATO dictates and restore relations with Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed, calling for a “strategic debate” with Moscow over mutual areas of concern. “Europe… must build new rules of trust and security with Russia, and should not only agree with NATO,” Macron said in an interview with the Swiss television channel RTS. “It needs to build [relations] only between Europe and Russia.” While noting that disagreements between Moscow and Brussels do exist, in particular over Ukraine, Macron insisted that Russia’s role in world affairs cannot be underestimated.
Europe, the French president stressed, needs Moscow to solve major security issues, as Russia’s highly successful anti-terrorist campaign in Syria has shown. “We need to have a strategic debate, so this week I will have another, long and intense conversation with Vladimir Putin, as the president of France and the G7,” Macron stressed. “There is disagreement among us, but we work together.” “It would not be good to leave Russia to China,” he added, reminding that Europe should “never forget the price [the Soviet Union] paid” in World War II to free the continent from Nazi Germany.
Australia approved Thursday the construction of a controversial coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef, paving the way for a dramatic and unfashionable increase in coal exports. Queensland’s government said it had accepted a groundwater management plan for the Indian-owned Adani Carmichael mine — the last major legal hurdle before construction can begin. The project, fiercely debated for almost a decade, comes as investors and even energy companies are moving away from fossil fuels amid concern about the climate. Opponents warn it will create a new generation of coal exports — which will be burned in India and China — contributing to further degrade the planet.
The vast open cut mine is slated to produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year, boosting Australia’s already vast exports by around 20 percent. Coupled with the construction of a railway link, it could open up a swathe of Queensland to further exploitation and new mining projects. “If all the coal in the Galilee Basin is burnt it would produce 705 million tonnes of climate pollution each year, which is more than 1.3 times Australia’s annual pollution from all sources, including cars, industry, energy and agriculture,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation.
The Adani coal mine has been under fierce debate – and protest – for almost a decade (AFP Photo/PETER PARKS)
Plastic pollution is so widespread in the environment that you may be ingesting five grams a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said on Wednesday. The study by Australia’s University of Newcastle said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish, which tended to be eaten whole so the plastic in their digestive system was consumed too. “Since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined, a third of which is leaked into nature,” the report said.
The average person could be consuming 1,769 particles of plastic every week from water alone, it said. The amount of plastic pollution varies by location, but nowhere is untouched, said the report, which was based on the conclusions of 52 other studies. In the United States, 94.4 percent of tap water samples contained plastic fibers, with an average of 9.6 fibers per liter. European water was less polluted, with fibers showing up in only 72.2 percent of water samples, and only 3.8 fibers per liter.
The Environmental Working Group has released findings of research showing “troubling levels of glyphosate, the cancer-causing ingredient in the herbicide Roundup” in food products including children’s breakfast cereals. The Washington, DC-based advocacy group said in a statement released June 12 that the chemical, was detected “in all 21 oat-based cereal and snack products sampled in a new round of testing.” Furthermore, all of the products but four were found to contain levels higher than EWG’s safety threshold for child consumption, which is 160 parts per billion (ppb). The products “Cheerios” and “Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch” were found with the highest glyphosate levels with 729 ppb and 833 ppb respectively.
The findings follow two previous research studies conducted with independent labs conducted last year. Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, was acquired by the German agro-chemical giant Bayer in 2018. “The glyphosate levels in this report are far below the strict limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect human health,” a Bayer spokesman told RT when contacted for comment. “Even at the highest level reported by the EWG (833 ppb), an adult would have to eat 158 pounds of the oat-based food every day for the rest of their life to reach the strict limits set by the EPA.”
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said in its annual Digital News Report that most people would not pay for online news and that there had been only a small increase in the proportion of people willing to do so in the last six years. Even among those who do pay, there is “subscription fatigue” – many are tired of being asked to pay for so many different subscriptions. Many will opt for films or music rather than pay for news. So some media companies will fail. “There is no sign that the majority of people are about to pay for online news, although many recognize that information on the internet is often overwhelming and confusing,” said Nic Newman, a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute.
“Some of the biggest brands have already shown they are able to attract a large number of paying subscribers, but the road ahead will be more challenging for other publishers,” he added. While many news organizations add paywalls and some see increases in digital subscriptions, there has been little change in the proportion of people paying for online news, apart from the “Trump bump” rise in the United States in 2016/2017. In the United States, those paying for news online were likely to have a university degree and be wealthy: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post did well on digital. Still, almost 40 percent of new digital subscriptions at the New York Times are for crosswords and cooking, the Reuters Institute said, citing an article by Vox.
One of the media and beltway orthodoxies we constantly hear is that just a few bad apples under James Comey at the FBI explain why so many FBI elites have been fired, resigned, reassigned, demoted, or retired — or just left for unexplained reasons. The list is long and includes director James Comey himself, deputy director Andrew McCabe, counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, attorney Lisa Page, chief of staff James Rybicki, general counsel James Baker, assistant director for public affairs Mike Kortan, Comey’s special assistant Josh Campbell, executive assistant director James Turgal, assistant director for office of congressional affairs Greg Bower, executive assistant director Michael Steinbach, and executive assistant director John Giacalone. In short, in about every growing scandal of the past two years — FISA, illegal leaking, spying on a presidential candidate, lying under oath, obstructing justice — someone in the FBI is involved.
We are told, however, that the FBI’s culture and institutions are exempt from the widespread wrongdoing at the top. Such caution is a fine and fitting thing, given the FBI’s more than a century of public service. Nonetheless, many of those caught up in the controversies over the Russian-collusion hoax were not recent career appointees. Rather, many came up through the ranks of the FBI. And that raises the question, for example, of where exactly Peter Strzok (22 years in the FBI) learned that he had a right to interfere in a U.S. election to damage a candidate that he opposed. And why would an Andrew McCabe (over 21 years in the FBI) think he had the duty to formulate an “insurance policy” to take out a presidential candidate? Or why would he even consider overseeing an FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s improper use of emails when his wife had been a recent recipient of Clinton-related PAC money?
And why would McCabe contemplate leaking confidential FBI information to the press or even dream of setting up some sort of operation to remove a sitting president under the 25th Amendment? And how did someone like the old FBI vet Peter Strozk ever end up at the center of the entire mess — opening up the snooping on the Trump campaign while hiding that fact and while briefing the candidate on Russian interference in the election, interviewing Michael Flynn, preening as a top FBI investigator for Robert Mueller’s dream team, right-hand man of “Andy” McCabe, convincing Comey to change the wording of his writ in the Clinton-email-scandal investigation, softball coddling of Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, instrumental in the Papadopoulos investigation con — all the while conducting an affair with fellow FBI investigator and attorney Lisa Page and bragging about his assurance that the supposedly odious Trump would be prevented from being elected.
[..] Think what Mueller’s precedent of not-not-guilty would do to the American criminal-justice system, as zealous prosecutors might fish for just enough dirt on a suspect to ruin his reputation, but not find enough for an indictment, thereby exonerating their own prosecutorial failure by defaming a “guilty until proven innocent” suspect.
A February night in 1924, in a Manhattan concert hall owned by the Aeolian piano company… the wailing, warped, and flatted clarinet glissando that opens George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue announced the 20th century’s self-recognition that something new was up in the world, and especially in the USA. The composer tried to represent the stupendous energy of the maturing industrial culture in a symphonic cacophony with a core of the deepest tenderness — capturing all the wonder and grace of the moment. For America, everything was on the move. Love and power were in the air. The idea that this was the American century stuck. The 1920s were a kind of hormonal rush of wonders and amazements.
Radio, movies, airplanes, giant industries, electric power in farm houses, the dizzying rush of progress that welled up into a dangerous wave that broke over the world in economic depression, and then war in 1939 — by which time George Gershwin was gone at 38. America performed splendidly in World War Two, rescuing Europe and Asia from manifest evil. The nation found itself the fully mature leader of the free world, with daunting responsibilities in the Atomic Age, filled with confidence, but tinged with an understandable paranoia in the nervous peace of the 1950s. This was the time of my childhood, along with my fellow travelers, the Baby Boomers. What a time to come into this world!
For a while, the USA luxuriated in power and stability. I sang the Davy Crockett theme song from the Disney TV show, and wore a coonskin hat, and lived in a home where dad left for work in a business suit, and all was well in the world. To me and my childhood friends, the mindboggling horrors of the recent war were reduced to comic books and plastic soldiers in the sandbox. Everything else in America seemed to work as advertised. We built a lot of stuff and saw the USA in our Chevrolet. President Ike bossed around Britain’s PM Anthony Eden. The Yankees bossed around the major leagues. Hardly anyone knew what the Federal Reserve did, or even what it was. Elvis was in the Army, babysitting the defeated Germans. Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.
Jon Stewart, the popular former host of the late-night comedy program The Daily Show, criticized members of Congress for not attending a hearing on Tuesday on renewing funding for a program that provides health care to first responders who were sickened responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak and no one,” Stewart said, pointing to a mostly empty dais. “Shameful, it’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves for those who aren’t here but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”
Stewart was testifying before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about a renewal of the 9/11 first responders health care fund. Most of the panel’s 14 members were not in attendance. “Where are they? It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Their indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity, time, one thing they’re running out of.” The fund, originally approved for five years in 2010, provides medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack.
US “nonfinancial” corporate debt – this excludes debt by banks and by businesses that are not incorporated – rose to a record $15.2 trillion in the fourth quarter, according to data released by the Bank for International Settlements last week. To show how much of a burden this debt is, how it compares to other countries, and to eliminate the effects of inflation, the BIS also expresses this debt as a percent of nominal GDP. Given the growth of GDP in Q4, the ratio of corporate debt to GDP, at 74.4%, was unchanged from the upwardly revised Q3, and was down a tad from the record in Q2 of 74.9%. The prior record of US corporate debt had been set in Q4 2008, at $10.7 trillion. Corporate debt is high enough to be featured in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report at the top of the list of factors that might trigger the next financial crisis.
To compare the burden of debt levels from country to country, the BIS uses a country’s corporate debt as percent of nominal local-currency GDP. By this measure, and compared to all the debt sinners out there, the US is nevertheless only in a lowly 24th place.[..] China, a smaller economy than the US economy, has by far more nonfinancial corporate debt: In US dollar terms, corporate debt in China hit a record of $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, by far the most of any country. But since then, Chinese companies have been deleveraging under the orders from the central government. Deleveraging takes many forms in China, including defaults, state-mandated loan-to-equity swaps by Chinese state-owned banks, and bailouts by the central government, which includes the PBOC. In Q4, 2018, China’s nonfinancial corporate debt (red line) was $19.8 trillion, with efforts to deleverage in Q4 having taken a backseat to efforts to boost the economy:
Among the major economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is in a realm of its own. But there are some small economies with special tax laws and corporate tax-haven status that US, European, or Chinese corporations find attractive – and they have even higher corporate-debt-to-GDP ratios than China (we’ll get to those in a moment). China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, and the growth in its official GDP, have been reducing the corporate debt-to-GDP ratio from a peak of a blistering 162.6% in Q1 2016 to 151.6% in Q4 2018, still about twice the US ratio. In this chart and all charts below, the US debt-to-GDP ratio is added as a red line for comparative purposes:
China’s lending to other countries, often shrouded in secrecy, is thought to be higher than the amounts that are officially tracked, resulting in much “hidden debt.” That growing debt problem could spark a worse-than-expected slowdown, among other problems, experts warn. The lack of transparency would also affect investors who are considering bonds issued by those countries, or organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which are helping those countries with their debts, according to Carmen Reinhart, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Speaking at the Nomura Investment Forum in Singapore late last month, she said: “China’s rise as a global creditor has also meant that there are a lot of hidden debts. That is, countries that had borrowed from China but this borrowing is not reported by the IMF, by the World Bank. ” “So there is a tendency to think these countries had lower debt levels than what they actually have,” she concluded. That would hinder the IMF or the World Bank in doing their work on debt sustainability analysis, she said. That effort includes analyzing countries’ debt burdens, and coming up with recommendations for a borrowing strategy that limits the risk of debt distress.
“From the vantage point of surveillance, this means that the IMF, if they’re doing debt sustainability for example for Pakistan, unless they know how much Pakistan owes China, they are doing that sustainability exercise blindfolded, ” Reinhart said. For investors, the limited information they have hinders them in making investment decisions about bonds issued by those countries if they don’t know how much is actually owed to China already, she added. That could lead to them underestimating the risk of lending money to those countries through bonds.
[..] China has been criticized for saddling many countries with debt through its Belt and Road Initiative — a mammoth infrastructure investment plan to build rail, road, sea and other routes stretching from China to Central Asia, Africa and Europe. Chinese financial institutions have provided more than $440 billion in funding for Belt and Road projects, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang said during a talk at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing early last month.
Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong on Wednesday, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan. Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters — many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles — just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature. By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill “to a later date”.
In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together. Others plucked loose bricks from pavements. Some protesters deliberately stopped their cars in the middle of one key artery and jumped out, blocking the road, RTHK reported. Police used water cannons and pepper spray on protesters outside the Legco building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force.
Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world — including China. But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill. Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party. More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.
Hong Kong’s legislature put off a debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China after thousands of demonstrators dressed in black swarmed the area surrounding the central government complex on Wednesday. As demonstrators used police barriers, street signs and trash barrels to block off Harcourt Road, the government said that the session would be “changed to a later time to be determined” by the head of the Legislative Council, which is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority. The rally came three days after as many as 1 million people took to the streets.
Protesters had mixed reactions to news of the postponement, but remained steadfast to their cause standing under umbrellas and continuing to block potential traffic. “I would describe it as a small victory,” said Ramon Yuen, a member of a local district council representing the Democratic Party. “There are many possibilities … but we want the government to withdraw the amendment,” Yuen said. “No decision has been made to do that, and we do not see any good gestures that they will listen to Hong Kong people’s voices.” Cyrus Lee, 28, who was taking part in the demonstrations, echoed Yuen’s sentiment, telling NBC News he “can’t tell if it is a good sign or not because you don’t know what they will do next.”
The UK has been accused of “silently eroding” key environmental and human health protections in the Brexit-inspired rush to convert thousands of pages of European Union pesticide policy into British law. Despite government claims the process would be little more than a technical exercise, analysis by the University of Sussex’s UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) has uncovered significant departures from EU regulations, including the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects and immune disorders. The UK legislation removes the EU system of checks and balances to give a handful of ministers the power to create, amend and revoke pesticide legislation.
It also appears to weaken the existing “precautionary principle” approach, which requires scientific evidence from an independent body that a pesticide is safe to use. Instead, UK ministers are given the option to obtain and consider such evidence at their own discretion. The changes could lead to the widespread use in the UK of harmful and carcinogenic pesticides, the researchers warn. But because the laws are being drawn up so quickly and at such a high volume, there has been little scrutiny of the process, said Emily Lydgate, a UKTPO fellow and senior lecturer at the university. “The creation of over 10,000 pages of new legislation, which effectively convert EU law into UK rulebooks, is one of the most intensive and significant efforts that the government has made to prepare for Brexit,” she said.
The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws, which include regulations on pesticides, landfills, recycling and climate heating. Under the new regulations, however, power to make, amend and revoke pesticide legislation will be devolved to each of the national territories and consolidated to a secretary of state in England, relevant ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the competent authority in Northern Ireland.
The outgoing British high commissioner to Singapore has warned that the Asian city-state’s leaders are “baffled by the U.K.’s chaotic politics” and that Brexit is doing lasting damage to the U.K.’s reputation. In a devastating assessment of the damage Brexit is doing to the U.K.’s global reputation, Scott Wightman, one of the country’s most senior diplomats, said major investors told him the balance of future investment in Europe “will inevitably be weighted more towards Germany and France,” with post-referendum political risk now their “principle consideration.” His comments also cast doubt on the U.K.’s Global Britain strategy aimed at averting the economic damage of Brexit by using the country’s network of influence and trade links around the world.
In a confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic telegram, seen by POLITICO, Wightman, who has been in the job since 2015 but posted his last tweet as British high commissioner on Tuesday, said the Singapore-U.K. Partnership for the Future, an initiative to improve ties that was launched by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January, was being used in the “classic manner of the illusionist.” “Like posts across the network and departments in the U.K., we’re performing minor miracles for U.K. interests faced with the utter political shambles of Brexit,” he said. Singaporean ministers are “mystified as to how our political leaders allowed things to get to this pass,” he added.
[..] Wightman also likened the damage to Britain’s reputation in the last three years to the battle known as the Fall of Singapore in 1942. He said the battle showed the “complacency and arrogance of colonial leadership.” “It transformed their view of British imperialism,” he added. “Things were never the same again. The last three years have done the same for Singaporeans’ view of contemporary Britain. The nation they admired for stability, common sense, tolerance and realism grounded in fact, they see beset by division, obsessed with ideology, careless of the truth, its leaders apparently determined to keep on digging. “I fear many around the world share their view,” he said.
Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”, leaked documents reveal. The mission to increase Russian influence on the continent is being led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg who is a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One aim is to “strong-arm” the US and the former colonial powers the UK and France out of the region. Another is to see off “pro-western” uprisings, the documents say.
In 2018 the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts. According to Mueller, his troll factory ran an extensive social media campaign in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump. The Wagner group – a private military contractor linked to Prigozhin – has supplied mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and Syria. The documents show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub. Multiple firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”. Its activities are coordinated with senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries, the documents suggest. Putin showed little interest in Africa in the 2000s.
But western sanctions imposed in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea have driven Moscow to seek new geopolitical friends and business opportunities. Russia has a military presence and peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. CAR is described as “strategically important” and a “buffer zone between the Muslim north and Christian south”. It allows Moscow to expand “across the continent”, and Russian companies to strike lucrative mineral deals, the documents say.
When Andi Bauer, a German student hiking in Romania, was attacked by a bear, his girlfriend Lara Booth yelled “punch it in the eye!” (Lara is British, obviously). He did, the bear stopped attacking and Andi was helicoptered to hospital where rods were screwed into his broken leg. He survived, but was punching back the right thing to do? “If you’re being mauled by a bear, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, to escape and survive,” says Levison Wood. A former soldier, explorer and writer (his book for kids, Incredible Journeys, is published this week), Wood once had an encounter in a car park in Yosemite when a bear smashed into the adjacent empty car to get food. “We woke up and made a lot of noise, as bears do try to avoid humans. But each animal is different; you’ve got to know your stuff.” Here’s his guide to fighting off some of nature’s most-feared beasts.
[..] Wood knows some stuff about crocodiles, having avoided them while walking the length of the Nile. And that is his advice: avoid them. [..] When Wood was chased by a hippo, he scrambled up a hill. “They’re not good with hills, thankfully.” [..] “Most of the animals we’ve spoken about are critically endangered. While the fear is bred into us, remember that they’re the ones that are endangered, we generally come off better than they do.” Yes, Bauer is OK. But what about the poor bear wandering the Carpathian mountains with a sore head?