Jun 212019
 


Pablo Picasso La guerre 1951

 

Trump Approved Strikes On Iran But Cancelled Them: Reports (AlJ)
The Drone Iran Shot Down Was a $220 Million Surveillance Monster (W.)
The Real Meaning Of Trump’s Deplorable Aggression Against Iran (Stockman)
Senate Blocks Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia In Bipartisan Trump Rebuke (ZH)
More Spent On S&P 500 Buybacks Than All 2018 R&D (Axios)
China Concerned Over Possible US Dollar Shortage Risk (SCMP)
US Spend Ten Times More On Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education (F.)
Bring on Higher Oil Prices: They’ll Boost the US Economy (WS)
Defiant Italy Urges Changes To EU Rules (R.)
UK Will Be ‘Diminished’ After Brexit – Dutch PM Rutte (Pol.eu)
Ecuador Judge Frees Ola Bini, Swedish Programer Close To Assange (R.)
Ten Cities Ask EU For Help To Fight Airbnb Expansion (G.)
The Dangerous Methane Mystery (CP)

 

 

When something like this is leaked to multiple news outlets at the same time, isn’t it likely the White House itself does the leaking?

Kim Dotcom’s take:

Trump: Attack Iran now!
General: Iran can sink our Carrier strike group in the region.
Trump: What?
General: If we strike Iran now they can retaliate against thousands of US sailors.
Trump: WTF!
General: This isn’t Syria Sir.
Trump: Call it off.
THE END

Trump Approved Strikes On Iran But Cancelled Them: Reports (AlJ)

US President Donald Trump approved military strikes on Friday against Iran in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching the attacks, the New York Times reported. A US official told Associated Press that the military made preparations on Thursday night for limited strikes on Iran in retaliation for drone shootdown, but approval was abruptly withdrawn. The official, who was not authorised to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries.


Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles fired, when the order to stand down came, the Times cited one senior administration official as saying. The abrupt reversal put a halt to what would have been Trump’s third military action against targets in the Middle East, the paper added, saying Trump had struck twice at targets in Syria, in 2017 and 2018. However, it is not clear whether attacks on Iran might still go forward, the paper said, adding that it was not known if the cancellation of strikes had resulted from Trump changing his mind or administration concerns regarding logistics or strategy.

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This thing is huge: “..a wingspan of more than 130 feet and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 16 tons..”

Why would Iran want that in its airspace?

The Drone Iran Shot Down Was a $220 Million Surveillance Monster (W.)

Early Thursday morning, Iran shot down a United States unmanned aerial vehicle over the Strait of Hormuz, which runs between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran identified the drone as an RQ-4A Global Hawk, a $220 million UAV that acts as a massive surveillance platform in the sky. The attack marks an escalation with tensions already running high between the US and Iran—particularly because of the value and technical sensitivity of the downed drone. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Thursday that the Northrup Grumman-made Global Hawk—part of a multibillion-dollar program that dates back to 2001—had entered Iranian airspace and crashed in Iranian waters; US Central Command confirmed the time and general location of the attack, but insists that the drone was flying in international airspace.


Alamy

The incident comes on the heels of another situation last week in which the US accused Iran of attacking two fuel tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The US also said that Iran had attempted to shoot down a different UAV—an MQ-9 Reaper drone—but failed. The Pentagon also linked Iran to an attack on a Reaper drone in Yemen two weeks ago that caused the vehicle to crash. Thursday’s attack, though, targeted a massive and much more expensive surveillance drone, and likely represents a more definite escalation. “There’s a lot going on here, and we’re probably only seeing some of it,” says Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


“This is a more expensive, higher-altitude, more capable, long-range intelligence surveillance reconnaissance craft. If they’re shooting down aircraft in international airspace over international waters, that’s likely to elicit some kind of measured reprisal.” Global Hawks are massive surveillance platforms, in operation since 2001, with a wingspan of more than 130 feet and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 16 tons, equivalent to roughly seven shipping containers of cocaine. They have a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles, can fly at strikingly high altitudes of 60,000 feet, and can stay aloft for 34 hours straight.


U.S. military drone RQ-4A Global Hawk – Eric Harris/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

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Iran has no army to speak of, and hardly an economy. But it does have friends.

The Real Meaning Of Trump’s Deplorable Aggression Against Iran (Stockman)

Iran has no blue water Navy that could even get to the Atlantic and only 18,000 sailors including everyone from admirals to medics; an aging, decrepit fleet of war planes with no long range flight or refueling capabilities; ballistic missiles that mainly have a range of under 800 miles; a very limited air defense based on a Russian supplied S-300 system (not the far more capable S-400); and a land Army of less than 350,000 or approximately the size of that of Myanmar. Indeed, Iran’s defense budget of less than $15 billion amounts to just 7 days of spending compared to the Pentagon’s $750 billion; and it is actually far less even in nominal terms than Iran’s military budget under the Shah way back in the late 1970’s. In inflation-adjusted dollars, Iran’s military expenditure today is less than 25% of the level prior to the Revolution.

Whatever the foibles of today’s Iranian theocratic state, a thriving military power it is not. In fact, that’s the real irony. Mostly what comprises the core of Iran air force is left over 40-50 year-old planes that had been purchased from the US under the Shah, and which have been Jerry-rigged with bailing wire and bubble gum to stay aloft and to accommodate some modest avionics and armaments modernizations. As one analyst further noted, some of its planes were actually gifts from Saddam Hussein! Much of the IRIAF’s equipment dates back to the Shah era, or is left over from Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi air force, which flew many of its planes to Iran during the 1991 Persian Gulf War to avoid destruction. American-made F-4, F-5 and F-14 fighters dating from the 1970s remain the backbone of the Iranian air force.

So military threat has absolutely nothing to do with it. Washington is knee deep in harms’ way and on the verge of starting a war with Iran solely on account of a misguided notion that the Persian Gulf is an American Lake that needs to be policed by the US Navy; and, more crucially, that Washington has the right to control Iran’s foreign policy and determine what alliances it may and may not have in the region – including whether or not they pass muster with Bibi Netanyahu. Stated differently, the missions of protecting the oil supply lines and regulating the foreign policy of what amounts to a two-bit economic power is straight out of the playbook of Empire First. As such, it amounts to a foolish policy of putting America’s actual security last.

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When your own party turns against you, it’s time to pay attention.

Senate Blocks Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia In Bipartisan Trump Rebuke (ZH)

The Senate voted on Thursday to block billions of dollars of armaments to Saudi Arabia in what the New York Times described as a “sharp and bipartisan rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to circumvent Congress” by declaring an emergency over Iran. “In the first of a series of three back-to-back votes, Republicans joined Democrats to register their growing anger with the administration’s use of emergency power to cut lawmakers out of national security decisions, as well as the White House’s unflagging support for the Saudis despite congressional pressure to punish Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the killing last October of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi”. -NYT

The vote marks the sharpest division between the White House and lawmakers to date – and is the second time in recent months that the administration has faced bipartisan pushback against foreign policy. In April, both the House and Senate voted to cut off military assistance to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen under the 1973 War Powers Act, only for Trump to veto the measure (the second of his presidency). And once again, Trump will use his veto power to override Congress: “While the Democratic-controlled House is also expected to block the sales, Mr. Trump has pledged to veto the legislation, and it is unlikely that either chamber could muster enough support to override the president’s veto”. -NYT

“This vote is a vote for the powers of this institution to be able to continue to have a say on one of the most critical elements of U.S. foreign policy and national security,” said New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez, lead sponsor of the resolutions of disapproval. “To not let that be undermined by some false emergency and to preserve that institutional right, regardless of who sits in the White House.” 22 pending arms sales to three Arab nations were announced in late May utilizing an emergency provision contained in the Arms Export Control Act. In total, $8.1 billion in munitions are part of the sales.

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Call that an economy?

More Spent On S&P 500 Buybacks Than All 2018 R&D (Axios)

Total research and development spending in the U.S. last year totaled $608 billion, according to data from the Federal Reserve, while corporations in the S&P 500 spent $806 billion buying back their own stock. The total for all companies was well over $1 trillion. What it means: In 2018, the 500 biggest U.S. companies spent 33% more on their stock buyback programs than the country is investing in research and development. The trend looks to be continuing this year as the U.S. is on pace to spend $642 billion on R&D in 2019 and poised to surpass last year’s $1.085 trillion total in buyback spending.

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Starting to sound serious.

China Concerned Over Possible US Dollar Shortage Risk (SCMP)

Anbang Insurance Group’s plan to sell its condos at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York is the latest in the string of high-profile Chinese divestments that underscores China’s concern that the nation is running short of US dollars. The Chinese holding company bought the Waldorf for a record US$1.95 billion in 2014, but under pressure from the Chinese government, is reported to be seeking buyers for the 375 flats at the hotel despite a glut of unsold luxury flats in Manhattan. In total, it is aiming to shed a portfolio of assets that includes 15 hotels having, like other highly leveraged Chinese conglomerates with overseas investments, been placed under scrutiny by Beijing.

Chinese real estate mogul Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group has dumped US$25 billion in assets since 2017, while troubled conglomerate HNA Group was forced to sell everything from Hong Kong land parcels, to its stakes in Deutsche Bank, Hilton Grand Vacations as well as its airlines. Chinese oil giant CEFC China Energy also wants to sell 100 properties worldwide. The government’s dramatic about-face from encouraging aggressive overseas acquisitions to cracking down on risky lending and overseas transfers underscores worries over the risk that the nation could run short of enough US dollars to make the interest and principal payments on its mounting debt at a time when the current account balance is coming under pressure.

“These companies are selling their assets because they don’t have enough US dollars,” said Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia excluding Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets. “China does not want to use its US$3 trillion foreign reserves for the debt repayments, so that is why these companies need to sell their assets.” On the surface, China should be the last country to worry about a US dollar shortage given that its US$3.1 trillion worth of foreign exchange reserves is the largest help by any nation.

But analysts believe China’s reserves may be insufficient to pay for its massive imports and debt payments in response to a worse-case scenario caused by the ongoing trade war with the United States, particularly since many of its assets cannot readily be turned into cash to help the central bank to save a crashing financial system or sharp devaluation of the yuan’s exchange rate. “In reality, they don’t have as much as US$3.1 trillion of liquid reserves,” said Rabobank analyst Michael Every. “I would estimate they probably only have a little bit more liquid reserves than what they hold in US Treasuries.”

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Fuel fools.

US Spend Ten Times More On Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education (F.)

A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) study shows that USD$5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP of that year, it also represented a half-trillion dollar increase since 2015 when China ($1.4 trillion), the United States ($649 billion) and Russia ($551 billion) were the largest subsidizers. Despite nations worldwide committing to a reduction in carbon emissions and implementing renewable energy through the Paris Agreement, the IMF’s findings expose how fossil fuels continue to receive huge amounts of taxpayer funding. The report explains that fossil fuels account for 85% of all global subsidies and that they remain largely attached to domestic policy.


Had nations reduced subsidies in a way to create efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015, the International Monetary Fund believes that it “would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.” The study includes the negative externalities caused by fossil fuels that society has to pay for, not reflected in their actual costs. In addition to direct transfers of government money to fossil fuel companies, this includes the indirect costs of pollution, such as healthcare costs and climate change adaptation. By including these numbers, the true cost of fossil fuel use to society is reflected.

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Yeah, try and sell that to your voters.

Bring on Higher Oil Prices: They’ll Boost the US Economy (WS)

Powered by the iffy situation in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman, with attacks on tankers and now the downing of a US drone, the price of crude oil got a little nervous in recent days. WTI jumped about 6% today to over $57 a barrel. But this was just a minor uptick in the overall scheme of things: The US, which has become the largest oil producer in the world, is in the middle of its second oil bust in five years:

P These two oil busts are largely a consequence of surging US crude oil production. During the oil bust of 2014-2016, the price of WTI collapsed by over 75%, careening from $107 per barrel to a low of $27 per barrel in 18 months, before starting to rebound. In the process, a slew of oil-and-gas drillers filed for bankruptcy. For a while it looked like the shale boom, where all the growth in production had come from, was running out of money, and therefore out of fuel. Production fell sharply from early 2015 through much of 2016, but then new money from Wall Street appeared, and production began to soar again, hitting new records all along the way.


Shale wells produce a variety of liquid hydrocarbons (they also produce gaseous hydrocarbons which are not included here). This production of crude oil and petroleum products soared from just over 7 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2010 to 16.6 million bpd currently, according to EIA data:

P The US used to be the largest net importer of crude oil and petroleum products in the world. Between 2005 and 2008, “net imports” (imports minus exports) of crude oil and petroleum products exceeded 12 million bpd. But surging production in the US has slashed imports. And recently exports have surged, and the trade in crude oil and petroleum products is now nearly balanced between the US and the rest of the world. And the net imports are heading toward zero – the point where the US imports as much as it exports. In February, net imports were down to just 176,000 barrels a day, the lowest in the EIA data going back to 1971. In March, the most recent data available, net imports were 842,000 barrels a day:

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“We have a stability and growth pact that focuses on stability and not on growth. We want to invert this order..”

Defiant Italy Urges Changes To EU Rules (R.)

Italy’s prime minister defied European Union concern over its debt on Thursday, saying the bloc’s fiscal rules should focus on growth rather than stability, and blaming partners for unfair tax competition and excessive surpluses. Arriving at a meeting of European leaders in Brussels, Giuseppe Conte dismissed warnings over Rome’s growing debt and said Italy was complying with EU fiscal rules. “We have a stability and growth pact that focuses on stability and not on growth. We want to invert this order,” Conte told reporters. Under current rules, EU states with large public debts should gradually reduce them, but Rome’s debt increased last year and is forecast to expand further until 2020.


Conte said the Italian government will complete the assessment of its finances in a meeting on Wednesday after which he expects new estimates to point to a 2019 deficit of around 2.1% of output, below the EU commission’s expectations. It is unclear, however, whether this would be enough for the EU Commission to stop a disciplinary procedure against Italy, which Brussels has said would be warranted on the basis of 2018 data and EU forecasts. [..] At the summit where EU leaders are discussing the bloc’s top jobs for the coming years, Conte echoed belligerent tones used by Italy’s deputy prime minister and far-right leader Matteo Salvini in attacking other EU members for unfair competition. He said there was something wrong in the fact that Italian firms relocate to other EU states for tax reasons – a probable reference to low corporate levies and lenient regulatory approaches in places like Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Ireland.

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“..you are not big enough to have an important position, important enough on the world stage, on your own.”

UK Will Be ‘Diminished’ After Brexit – Dutch PM Rutte (Pol.eu)

No U.K. prime minister would be able to mitigate the economic impact of Brexit on Britain or sustain its global power outside of the EU, especially after a no-deal exit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned Conservative leadership candidates today. Speaking ahead of the European Council summit in Brussels, he told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this morning: “With a hard Brexit — even with a normal Brexit — the U.K. will be a different country. It will be a diminished country. “It is unavoidable. Because you are not any longer part of the European Union and you are not big enough to have an important position, important enough on the world stage, on your own.”

The leader of the Netherlands, who described himself as an “Anglophile,” also said the next occupant of Downing Street must be clear about what they want from the EU if they aim to modify the so-called Political Declaration on the future relationship between the two sides; however he ruled out any reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement struck by outgoing British premier Theresa May. He dismissed claims by leadership hopeful Boris Johnson that the U.K. could be granted a Brexit transition period after a no-deal departure. “As Boris Johnson would say, Brexit is Brexit, and a hard Brexit is a hard Brexit,” Rutte said. “I don’t see how you can sweeten that.”

Home Secretary and Johnson’s rival Sajid Javid’s claim that he could renegotiate the controversial backstop plan directly with Dublin also got short shrift from Rutte, who said Ireland is an integral part of the EU and “we cannot have a backdoor” to the single market. Both Johnson and Javid have vowed to take Britain out of the EU, deal or no deal, by the current deadline of October 31 if they fail to renegotiate the exit plan with Brussels before then. The Dutch leader warned that any no-deal departure would be “chaos.” He said if a new British PM wanted an extension to continue negotiating on Brexit, something Environment Secretary Michael Gove has proposed, they would have to be clear about “making changes to the red lines the U.K. is currently holding.”

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Will the courts dare turn against Lenin Moreno?

Ecuador Judge Frees Ola Bini, Swedish Programer Close To Assange (R.)

An Ecuadorean judge on Thursday ordered that a Swedish citizen and personal friend of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be freed, two months after he was detained for alleged participation in a hacking attempt on the government. But Ola Bini, a 36-year-old software developer who has lived in Ecuador for five years, remains under investigation in the case and will be barred from leaving the country, according to the court ruling. Bini was detained in April at the Quito airport before boarding a flight to Japan, hours after Ecuador withdrew asylum for Assange, who had lived at its London embassy for almost seven years while facing spying charges related to WikLeaks’ 2010 publication of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.


Ecuador’s Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo had accused him of seeking to destabilize the Andean country’s government and compromising its national security. Bini has denied those allegations, but has acknowledged being close to Assange. “His right to freedom was violated,” judge Patricio Vaca said, reading the Thursday court ruling. “We accept the habeas corpus action proposed by the Swedish citizen Ola Bini, who can be immediately freed.” Bini worked at the Quito-based Center for Digital Autonomy, an organization focusing on cybersecurity and data privacy. His lawyer, Carlos Soria, told journalists on Thursday that he would ask “international courts” to determine any “prejudice” to the case that may have resulted from his arrest. “We will take actions against everyone because the court has determined that his detention was arbitrary. Now they will have to pay,” Soria said. “We will demonstrate Ola Bini’s innocence.”

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Better do it fast.

Ten Cities Ask EU For Help To Fight Airbnb Expansion (G.)

Ten European cities have demanded more help from the EU in their battle against Airbnb and other holiday rental websites, which they argue are locking locals out of housing and changing the face of neighbourhoods. In a joint letter, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna said the explosive growth of global short-stay lettings platforms must be on the agenda of the next set of European commissioners. In April the advocate general of the European court of justice found in non-binding opinion that under EU law Airbnb should be considered a digital information provider rather than a traditional real estate agent.

That status, if confirmed by the court, would allow Airbnb and similar platforms to operate freely across the bloc and, crucially, relieve them of any responsibility to ensure that landlords comply with local rules aimed at regulating holiday lets. European cities believe homes should be used first and foremost for living in, the cities said in a statement released by Amsterdam city council. Many suffer from a serious housing shortage. Where homes can be rented out more lucratively to tourists, they vanish from the traditional housing market. The cities said local authorities must be able to counter the adverse effects of the boom in short-term holiday lets, such rising rents for full-time residents and the continuing touristification of neighbourhoods, by introducing their own regulations depending on the local situation .

“We believe cities are best placed to understand their residents needs”, they said. “They have always been allowed to regulate local activity through urban planning and housing rules. The advocate general seems to imply this will no longer be possible when it comes to internet giants”. After several years of strong growth, Airbnb currently has more than 18,000 listings in Amsterdam and Barcelona, 22,000 in Berlin and nearly 60,000 in Paris. Data from the campaign group InsideAirbnb last year suggested that more than half were whole apartments or houses, and that even in cities where short-term lets were restricted by local authorities, up to 30% were available for three or more months a year.

Many cities say the short-term holiday lettings boom is contributing to soaring long-term rents, although speculation and poor social housing provision are also factors. Last year Palma de Mallorca voted to ban almost all listings after a 50% increase in tourist lets was followed by a 40% rise in residential rents.

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The Big Burp.

The Dangerous Methane Mystery (CP)

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf (“ESAS”) is the epicenter of a methane-rich zone that could turn the world upside down. Still, the ESAS is not on the radar of mainstream science, and not included in calculations by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and generally not well understood. It is one of the biggest mysteries of the world’s climate puzzle, and it is highly controversial, which creates an enhanced level of uncertainty and casts shadows of doubt. The ESAS is the most extensive continental shelf in the world, inclusive of the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, and the Russian portion of the Chukchi Sea, all-in equivalent to the combined landmasses of Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan.

The region hosts massive quantities of methane (“CH4”) in frozen subsea permafrost in extremely shallow waters, enough CH4 to transform the “global warming” cycle into a “life-ending” cycle. As absurd as it sounds, it is not inconceivable. Ongoing research to unravel the ESAS mystery is found in very few studies, almost none, except by Natalia Shakhova (International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska/Fairbanks) a leading authority, for example: “It has been suggested that destabilization of shelf Arctic hydrates could lead to large-scale enhancement of aqueous CH4, but this process was hypothesized to be negligible on a decadal–century time scale. Consequently, the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean (AO) has not been considered as a possible source of CH4 to the atmosphere until very recently.”


[..] early-stage warning signals are clearly noticeable; ESAS is rumbling, increasingly emitting more and more CH4, possibly in anticipation of a “Big Burp,” which could put the world’s lights out, hopefully in another century, or beyond, but based upon a reading of her latest report in Geosciences, don’t count on it taking so long. Shakhova’s research is highlighted in a recent article in Arctic News: “When Will We Die?” d/d June 10, 2019, which states: “Imagine a burst of methane erupting from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean that would add an amount of methane to the atmosphere equal to twice the methane that is already there.”

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Mar 172019
 


M.C. Escher Gravitation 1952

 

Steele Admits He Used Unverified Information In Dossier (CNN)
Even A Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’ (Stephen Cohen)
The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb (Kunstler)
EU War-Gaming For Fall Of May’s Government (O.)
Disbelief In Europe At Another Lost Brexit Week (G.)
‘White Men Are Considered Everyone’: Ocasio-Cortez (G.)
Deadly Air In Our Cities: The Invisible Killer (O.)
Good Enough To Eat? The Toxic Truth About Modern Food (G.)

 

 

Travel day yesterday, back to Athens. So timing’s a bit skewed. And the content. Just the essentials today. And there was raki last night, and friends. Lots of both. In a city that is fast turning, like Barcelona, Amsterdam et al, into Disneyland. Because of Airbnb. Stories of Greek people getting evicted from their apartments because the Greek owner sold the building to a Chinese who will Airbnb it, not rent out to locals. And then a good friend saying that’s good because renting out his apartment this way is the only way to pay for his aunt’s health care bills. Apartment prices have tripled in 2 years, but you can’t even find one.

A city is nice because of the people who live there. Airbnb chases them out. And then you wind up with an empty shell. Disneyland.

 

Saw a sign held up in a demo concerning Christchurch that said: “We won’t tolerate hate”. And I thought: maybe you should. Maybe, if you protest intolerance, the response is not more intolerance. Like Martin Luther King could have said: You can hate me, but I refuse to hate you back.

 

 

It’s Alice and the looking glass. The entire Mueller probe was based on a dossier based on nothing but a bunch of nutcase comments at a CNN site. And this is CNN commenting on that. The dossier was paid for by the losing Democrat party, and there are close links to FBI and DOJ. And you think Trump’s the bad guy in this story.

On top of that, Steele hadn’t been in Russia in many years, and used equally unverified ‘info’ from Moscow. And the US hunts its own president for 2 years based on it.

“Steele says he used unverified information to support details about web company in dossier..”

Steele Admits He Used Unverified Information In Dossier (CNN)

A newly released snippet of a deposition with the ex-British spy behind the Trump-Russia dossier describes some of the steps he took to verify information he collected for it in 2016, including pulling from a user-generated citizen journalism initiative by CNN, iReport, which no longer operates. Christopher Steele admitted during a lawsuit deposition that he used internet searches and unverified information to support details he had gathered about a web company mentioned in the dossier, according to select pages of his deposition transcript that a federal court unsealed this week.

But Steele limited his answers about how he verified information about the web companies who claimed they were defamed. He would not explain, for instance, what else he did or sources he used to verify information in the dossier about Webzilla, its parent company XBT and their Russian founder Aleksej Gubarev, who were named in the dossier. He did not have to describe during the deposition all the steps he took to collect or check the information because of terms set by the court.

But he could talk about web searches — and how he didn’t realize one article he found in his research was a submission from a “random person,” as an attorney pointed out, rather than a news report. Steele testified that he used a 2009 article from the crowdsourced news site CNN iReport, for instance, to check information he learned about Webzilla, one of the three related entities that had sued BuzzFeed for defamation. BuzzFeed published the dossier in full — explaining they hadn’t verified it — on January 10, 2017, after CNN reported that President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump had been briefed about it.

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Yes, that Stephen Cohen. Who is still America’s no. 1 expert on Russia, professor emeritus of Russian studies, history, and politics at New York University and Princeton University. That Stephen Cohen

Even A Vacuous Mueller Report Won’t End ‘Russiagate’ (Stephen Cohen)

Too many reputations and other interests are vested in the legend for it to vanish from American politics anytime soon. Russiagate allegations that the Kremlin has a subversive hold over President Trump, and even put him in the White House, have poisoned American political life for almost three years. Among other afflictions, it has inspired an array of media malpractices, virtually criminalized anti–Cold War thinking about Russia, and distorted the priorities of the Democratic Party. And this leaves aside the woeful impact Russiagate has had in Moscow—on its policymakers’ perception of the US as a reliable partner on mutually vital strategic issues and on Russian democrats who once looked to the American political system as one to be emulated, a loss of “illusions” I previously reported.

• The story of a “Kremlin puppet” in the White House is so fabulous and unprecedented it is certain to become a tenacious political legend, as have others in American history despite the absence of any supporting evidence.

• The careers of many previously semi-obscure Democratic members of Congress have been greatly enhanced—if that is the right word—by their aggressive promotion of Russiagate. (Think, for example, of the ubiquitous media coverage and cable-television appearances awarded to Representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Maxine Walters, and to Senators Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal.) If Mueller fails to report “collusion” of real political substance, these and other Russiagate zealots, as well as their supporters in the media, will need to reinterpret run-of-the-mill (and bipartisan) financial corruption and mundane “contacts with Russia” as somehow treasonous. (The financial-corruption convictions of Paul Manafort, Mueller’s single “big win” to date, did not charge “collusion” and had to do mainly with Ukraine, not Russia.) Having done so already, there is every reason to think Democrats will politicize these charges again, if only for the sake of their own careers. Witness, for example, the scores of summonses promised by Jerrold Nadler, the new Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

• Still worse, the top Democratic congressional leadership evidently has concluded that promoting the new Cold War, of which Russiagate has become an integral part, is a winning issue in 2020. How else to explain Nancy Pelosi’s proposal—subsequently endorsed by the equally unstatesmanlike Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and adopted—to invite the secretary general of NATO, a not-very-distinguished Norwegian politician named Jens Stoltenberg, to address a joint session of Congress? The honor was once bestowed on figures such as Winston Churchill and at the very least leaders of actual countries.

Trump has reasonably questioned NATO’s mission and costs nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union disappeared, as did many Washington think tanks and pundits back in the 1990s. But for Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, there can be no such discussion, only valorization of NATO, even though the military alliance’s eastward expansion has brought the West to the brink of war with nuclear Russia. Anything Trump suggests must be opposed, regardless of the cost to US national security. Will the Democrats go to the country in 2020 as the party of investigations, subpoenas, Russophobia, and escalating cold war – and win?

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“..a Democratic Party Bereavement Ritual..”

The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb (Kunstler)

In his new book, Peak Trump, David Stockman called the RussiaGate affair “a Democratic Party Bereavement Ritual,” an excellent diagnosis. The breast-beating and garment-rending has gone on for more than two years, inducing a generalized hysteria that has made it impossible for this country to govern itself, and opening the door to some really serious mischief as the party’s new Jacobin wing sets up for the advent of an American failed state.

All of this is a prelude to equally serious tribulation roaring down the two-lane pike of finance and economy that will combine with the engineered destruction of institutional authority from RussiaGate to bring on the greatest crisis since the Civil War. The money is not there to perform any of the miracles of redistribution promised by AOC and Bernie Sanders — unless the Federal Reserve is coerced into printing a whole lot more money out of thin air, in which case the consequence will be that everybody gets to have a lot of worthless money that has lost its value.

If congress wants to play committee games, it might want to investigate how the USA is going to rack up another $2 trillion in debt to finance its operations before the 2020 election. They’re the ones who will have to vote to allow that to happen. The disorders of money coming down in the months ahead, RussiaGate aside, are sure to discredit both political parties. I doubt that Mr. Trump will survive it politically and the revenant Republican Party behind him is so devoid of credible leadership that it could dissolve altogether like an evening mist preceding the cold darkness of night. By then, the whole American political establishment will be, as Mencken quipped, like a blind man stumbling around a dark cellar looking for a black cat that isn’t there.

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If war-gaming is the same as preparing, sure. Maybe May should war-game a bit more.

EU War-Gaming For Fall Of May’s Government (O.)

The EU is war-gaming for the fall of Theresa May amid a complete collapse in confidence in the prime minister after a week of chaos over Brexit, a leaked document seen by the Observer reveals. In the run-up to a crucial summit of EU leaders where May will ask for a delay to Brexit, Brussels fears there is little hope that she will succeed in passing her deal this week and is preparing itself for a change of the guard in Downing Street. A diplomatic note of a meeting of EU ambassadors and senior officials reveals an attempt to ensure that any new prime minister cannot immediately unpick the withdrawal agreement should May be replaced in the months ahead. Some hardline Brexiters want to replace her with a leader who will back a harder split with Brussels.

According to the minutes, the European commission’s secretary general, Martin Selmayr, who is known as a master of strategy, asked: “Imagine that they have a new Brexit secretary or prime minister – what then? Article 50 has been agreed and the process has ended. It must be clear that the starting point is not a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.” The moves in Brussels come before another critical and highly unpredictable week in the Brexit process in which May is expected to launch her third attempt to secure support for her beleaguered deal. The Observer understands that Labour will use the opportunity to offer its most strident support yet for a second referendum, by voting for a plan drawn up by two Labour backbenchers to put May’s deal to a public vote.

Cabinet ministers remained locked in talks this weekend with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party, who are seen as vital in building a narrow majority for May’s deal and who said on Saturday that there were “still issues to be addressed”. And more Tory MPs currently opposing May’s Brexit deal have told party whips they would back it if the prime minister announced she would quit this summer.

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They are way past disbelief.

Disbelief In Europe At Another Lost Brexit Week (G.)

It was the week in which the EU’s governments had hoped that British common sense might seal the deal, putting a painful first chapter of the Brexit psychodrama to bed. By Wednesday the French daily Le Monde had concluded that the hoarseness of the prime minister’s throat “symbolised the state of a supposedly pragmatic country left voiceless by its incapacity to accept compromise with its neighbours”. For all the forlorn hopes that things might be different this time, leaders across Europe and senior EU officials in their offices in Brussels, watched on with a sinking heart as Theresa May’s deal was rejected again on Tuesday evening, this time by 149 votes, the fourth largest defeat for a sitting government.

The Commons subsequently voted to delay Brexit by at least three months. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, who has described himself as Britain’s best friend among the 27 EU heads of state and government, was left asking reporters: “What’s the point of whining on for months on end while we have been going around in circles for two years?” There had never been great optimism among the British officials close to the negotiations that things would slot into place, given the EU’s refusal to make changes to the withdrawal agreement, and the over-optimistic goals set by the prime minister in the Commons for the latest talks. But there had been a plan.

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Convince me she’s wrong on this. And I’m a white man. You’ll have a hard time getting rid of her, America. Thing is, you don’t need to agree with Trump, or AOC, to recognize their value and their role in the grander scheme of things.

‘White Men Are Considered Everyone’: Ocasio-Cortez (G.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized media coverage of her latest polling results on Saturday, noting her net favorability among all women and all non-white Americans, even as some commenters suggested that “Americans” now viewed her negatively. “So older, conservative white men are considered ‘everyone’ and everyone else is discounted as an exception,” the progressive New York congresswoman tweeted. “Cool.” The freshman Democrat blamed Fox News’ round-the-clock negative coverage for increasing the number of Republicans and white Americans who know who she is –and who view her unfavorably.

“The reason people know more is bc Fox News has turned into ‘AOC TMZ’ (no offense to TMZ),” she wrote, referencing the celebrity tabloid site. She also called Fox News a “propaganda machine” that “will be aimed at any Dem[ocrat] they want”. Since September, two months before the 29-year-old was elected, the number of Americans who say they have never heard of her or that they have no opinion has dropped by 21%, according to the Gallup poll results from February. Now, more than two-thirds of respondents have an opinion.But such visibility appears to have brought more negative reactions than positive ones. Overall, Gallup found, 31% of respondents now view Ocasio-Cortez favorably and 41% unfavorably. Her net favorability ratings are down 8%.

There were sharp partisan and racial divides in this response. Since September, Ocasio-Cortez’s net favorability dropped most sharply among Republicans (-21), white Americans (-15), men (-11) and Americans over 55 (-10). At the same time, net favorability increased among nonwhite Americans (+9) and Democrats (+8). A majority of women and Americans ages 18 to 34 still have a favorable opinion of the congresswoman, Gallup found. Her favorability has dropped slightly among such voters groups since September, but remains net positive. In presenting the poll results, Gallup noted that Republicans were more likely to have an opinion about Ocasio-Cortez than members of her own party, which “helps explain her overall net-negative rating”.

Some headlines announcing the Gallup results did not emphasize the racial and party-line divides reflected in the statistics. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez polls like Donald Trump: Poorly,” CNN reported, while US News and World Report summarized the news as: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Unfavorable Rating Climbs.” Fox News covered the poll results with the headline: “Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘unfavorable’ rating skyrockets, with most people viewing her negatively.”

https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1106953015804731393

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Europe is one of the worst places in air quality. Happy driving.

Deadly Air In Our Cities: The Invisible Killer (O.)

In 2014, like Kylie and Shazia, I didn’t know much about air pollution. I had just become a father when, living in London at the time, an Evening Standard headline caught my eye: Oxford Street had the worst diesel pollution in the world. This came as a surprise: the shopping street where I took my daughter to pick out her first pram had some of the most polluted air on Earth. Where were the health warnings, the public information signs, the protesters marching? All I could see were happy, oblivious shoppers. Weeks later came another headline: “Oxford Street pollution levels breached EU annual limit just four days into 2015.”

We had sleepwalked into a public health crisis. And not just in the UK, but across the world. The 2015 smog in Beijing was so bad that it was dubbed the “Airpocalypse”. Pictures circulated on social media of Beijing students sitting their exams so couched in smog that they could barely see the neighbouring table. The toxic smog that covers Delhi every Diwali now lasts for months at a time. Eventually, in the summer of 2016, my young family and I left London and moved to semi-rural Oxfordshire. I felt the relief of escape. I could breathe easy. The first time my daughter went out into our new garden at night, she asked what all the lights in the sky were. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was no longer an abstract concept. But I also felt a sense of defeat. Had I taken the easy way out? Shouldn’t I have stayed and fought for change?

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The more food we produce, the worse it gets. Supreme irony. Because with all that food, we could grow our numbers with no limits. So we build in a limit.

Good Enough To Eat? The Toxic Truth About Modern Food (G.)

For most people across the world, life is getting better but diets are getting worse. This is the bittersweet dilemma of eating in our times. Unhealthy food, eaten in a hurry, seems to be the price we pay for living in liberated modern societies. Even grapes are symptoms of a food supply that is out of control. Millions of us enjoy a freer and more comfortable existence than that of our grandparents, a freedom underpinned by an amazing decline in global hunger. You can measure this life improvement in many ways, whether by the growth of literacy and smartphone ownership, or the rising number of countries where gay couples have the right to marry. Yet our free and comfortable lifestyles are undermined by the fact that our food is killing us, not through lack of it but through its abundance – a hollow kind of abundance.

[..] What we eat now is a greater cause of disease and death in the world than either tobacco or alcohol. In 2015 around 7 million people died from tobacco smoke, and 2.75 million from causes related to alcohol, but 12m deaths could be attributed to “dietary risks” such as diets low in vegetables, nuts and seafood or diets high in processed meats and sugary drinks. This is paradoxical and sad, because good food – good in every sense, from flavour to nutrition – used to be the test by which we judged the quality of life. A good life without good food should be a logical impossibility.

Where humans used to live in fear of plague or tuberculosis, now the leading cause of mortality worldwide is diet. Most of our problems with eating come down to the fact that we have not yet adapted to the new realities of plenty, either biologically or psychologically. Many of the old ways of thinking about diet no longer apply, but it isn’t clear yet what it would mean to adapt our appetites and routines to the new rhythms of life. We take our cues about what to eat from the world around us, which becomes a problem when our food supply starts to send us crazy signals about what is normal. “Everything in moderation” doesn’t quite cut it in a world where the “everything” for sale in the average supermarket has become so sugary and so immoderate.

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Jan 272019
 


René Magritte L’éternité 1935

 

Mueller Hunt For Russia Collusion Turns Into Circus Show With Stone (Turley)
Disgraced Wasserman-Schultz Now ‘Fixing’ Democracy In Venezuela (RT)
Non-Yellow-Vest Protests Are Good? Macron Hails Venezuela Coup Attempt (RT)
Ireland Dismisses Suggestion It Should Quit EU And Join UK (G.)
Only Two Votes Really Matter Now On Brexit (Ind.)
Juncker Warns May: Permanent Customs Union Is Price For Revisiting Backstop (G.)
UK Firms Plan Mass Exodus If May Allows No-Deal Brexit (O.)
Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)
British Museum ‘Rules Out’ Returning Parthenon Marbles To Greece (Ind.)
Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

 

 

“.. if a deer could run over itself, then Stone is the ultimate roadkill defendant.”

Mueller Hunt For Russia Collusion Turns Into Circus Show With Stone (Turley)

This is not the big game that Robert Mueller was hunting when he began his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Despite the breathless news coverage, the indictment is underwhelming and far from what many predicted. As for the media, it seems to be only counting heads of Trump associates indicted, as opposed to what they were actually charged with. The media has long described Stone as the possible Trump campaign conduit to WikiLeaks and the Russians, citing his presumed communications with Julian Assange and his advance knowledge of the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign email hacks.

Yet, none of that was confirmed or even suggested in the indictment. There was no charge of collusion. No hint of meetings or arrangements with Assange. Not even a charge as an unregistered foreign agent of the Russians. Just collateral crimes with nary a mention of collusion and a defendant who alternatively presents himself as the tragically comic and the comically tragic figure mired in the special counsel investigation.

Indeed, if a deer could run over itself, then Stone is the ultimate roadkill defendant. Mueller has relentlessly pursued him for almost two years, and Stone has equally relentlessly taunted him and his team. Various grand jury witnesses recounted being questioned about Stone and theories of collusion for months. Mueller worked every evident angle before bringing down this indictment in what could be the final charging stage of his investigation. It was only last month that Mueller asked for the transcript of the testimony of Stone before Congress. Largely based on alleged false statements, the entirety of the indictment comes out of that transcript.

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The Democrats have dozens if not hundreds of people they must urgently get rid of, or they’ll never win another election. Wasserman-Schultz was thrown out for treachery vs Bernie. And now she’s back?

Disgraced Wasserman-Schultz Now ‘Fixing’ Democracy In Venezuela (RT)

Regime change and foreign interventions are things that the two US ruling parties agree on regardless of how much they exchange blows at home. Venezuela is the latest place where Republicans and Democrats have found common ground. If you watch the US media, you know what is happening in Venezuela: Dictator Nicolas Maduro is brutally suppressing the people he has been robbing for years, and now they have revolted and elected a true representative of their interest, the one true legitimate acting president Juan Guaido. And now it’s up to America to ‘fix’ democracy by whatever means necessary.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has even offered a simple explanation on how a ‘dream team’ of Democrats have prepared a package of laws, which will ensure Venezuela’s transition into a better future. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will be bringing humanitarian aid, Donna Shalala will stop the arming of Maduro’s thugs with batons and tear gas, while Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets arguably the hardest task of them all – taking on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. You know, the one who – according to the current dogma of the American left establishment – already denied the Democrats the presidency in 2016 and whose puppet Donald Trump is currently trying to topple the Venezuelan government for some reason that only a 5-dimensional-chess master can understand.

Wasserman Schultz may hold a personal grudge against Putin. She had to resign as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee after leaked documents revealed how it was playing on the side of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders in 2016. The leak is widely attributed to Russia by American politicians and media. The irony of Wasserman Schultz now being on the frontline of bringing democracy to Venezuela didn’t go unnoticed by Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party. But who cares? Americans were told already that Stein is just a Putin tool stealing votes from Clinton and working for RT. Those were smears, but ‘alternative facts’ are not an invention of the Trump administration. Opposing Washington’s regime change is a dangerous cause. Say a word of doubt, and you’ll find yourself in a virtual concentration camp for Putin puppets, Assad apologists and Maduro mouthpieces.

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Coverage of the Gilets Jaunes’ Acte XI is sparse. Given the extreme level of police violence, that is a bit weird. There are tons of videos, like of people losing eyes to police rubber bullets. Macron is damning his own presidency.

Non-Yellow-Vest Protests Are Good? Macron Hails Venezuela Coup Attempt (RT)

Emmanuel Macron has praised the “courage” of Venezuelan protesters but fell short of recognizing self-declared “acting president” Juan Guaido. His desire to exert influence on Latin America could back him into a corner in Paris. “After the illegal election of Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Europe supports the restoration of democracy. I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marching for their freedom,” Emmanuel Macron tweeted in French on his official account. The French leader went beyond the official statement from the EU, which has called for “an immediate political process leading to free and credible elections, in conformity with the constitutional order” although President Maduro’s second term officially runs to 2024.

Macron might be backing himself into a corner with his desire to exert influence on the situation in Venezuela and elevate his status on the international arena against a backdrop of a quite precarious situation at home, Chris Reynolds, an Associate Professor in Contemporary French and European Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, believes. “We can see a direct contradiction here between the domestic situation and Macron’s [statement] on this emerging situation in Venezuela,” Reynolds told RT, adding that the president’s response to the domestic Yellow Vests protests was “quite strong.” France has been gripped by massive weekly protests since November. United under the umbrella movement known as the Yellow Vests, the demonstrators, who first turned to the streets to protest fuel price hikes, are now expressing their discontent over Macron’s broader reform agenda.

Protests have often been marred by violence and were met with heavy police response as well as condemned by the president. With his sudden support for the Venezuelan street protests, Macron “opens himself up to criticism,” the professor said. “Those people, who would seek to criticize Macron will see a contradiction between his ambiguous support for the Venezuelan street protests [and his reaction to domestic protests] and therefore will have material to criticize him.” The fact that Macron stopped short of backing Guiado directly, and opted for a more vague statement instead, shows that he is well aware of this contradiction. “Macron finds himself in a situation, in which he cannot overtly express support to the Venezuelan opposition political leader, who has been brought to the fore on the back of the street protests,” Reynolds said.

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But you’re our colony!

Ireland Dismisses Suggestion It Should Quit EU And Join UK (G.)

Ireland has dismissed the suggestion that the best solution to the Brexit impasse might be for the country to quit the EU and join the UK. Questioned about the possibility by the BBC Today presenter John Humphrys, Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, said it was not contemplating quitting the EU, that polls showed 92% of the population wanted to remain in the bloc, and “Irexit” was not plausible. She told the Radio 4 programme on Saturday that, in the event of no deal, Ireland was “not planning for the reintroduction of a border”, and urged the UK to honour its commitment to ensure the border remained invisible, as it had since the Good Friday peace deal was signed nearly 21 years ago.

Humphrys said: “There has to be an argument, doesn’t there, that says instead of Dublin telling this country that we have to stay in the single market etc within the customs union, why doesn’t Dublin, why doesn’t the Republic of Ireland, leave the EU and throw in their lot with this country?” McEntee replied: “To suggest that we should leave? Ninety-two per cent of Irish people last year said they wanted Ireland to remain part of the European Union and in fact since Brexit that figure has gotten only bigger.” The interview came hours before hundreds of people gathered on the border to protest against Brexit.

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Big one coming up on Tuesday. Could take May’s powers away. But you’re right: they have far too many votes.

Only Two Votes Really Matter Now On Brexit (Ind.)

Tuesday will be a big day in the Brexit story. We have had historic votes and critical moments before, but this is up another notch. The vote on the amendment jointly proposed by Yvette Cooper, Labour MP, and Nick Boles, Conservative MP, will be both historic and critical. It will be historic because it is the first time since the 17th century that the House of Commons has tried to take control of the nation’s affairs from the government. And it will be critical because no one knows which way the vote will go. The Cooper-Boles plan is to take no-deal Brexit “off the table” by requiring Theresa May to seek to postpone our departure from the EU if a deal has not been approved in time. The vote will be no mere expression of opinion.

If the amendment is passed, it will change the rules of the Commons to allow a bill drafted by Cooper and Boles to be rushed into law on 5 February. There is some talk of this bill being blocked by Eurosceptic peers in the House of Lords, which would have to whizz it through on the same day. Unlike the Commons, the Lords doesn’t have rules for timetabling debates, which means a small group of peers could keep talking to prevent votes. But Labour and Liberal Democrat peers insist that the huge majority opposed to a no-deal Brexit in the House of Lords would invent new rules, if needed, to get the bill through.

[..] Most attention is focused on an amendment which supports the withdrawal agreement, but only if the Ireland backstop is “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. This wouldn’t be binding, and won’t pass unless the government or the official opposition support it, but its significance will be as a show of strength on the Tory back benches. Clever people think that if this amendment attracts a lot of votes it will strengthen the prime minister’s hand in going back to Brussels to ask for changes. Olly Robbins, May’s chief negotiator, is said to have drafted nine options for trying to make the backstop more palatable to Tory MPs who find it so objectionable they would rather leave without a deal.

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Trying to be funny?!

“Critics of May’s deal believe that the backstop [..] could trap the UK in an indefinite customs union.”

And then Juncker says renegotiating the backstop does just that. That logic says whatever you do, you’re stuck with the customs union.

Juncker Warns May: Permanent Customs Union Is Price For Revisiting Backstop (G.)

Jean-Claude Juncker has told Theresa May in a private phone call that shifting her red lines in favour of a permanent customs union is the price she will need to pay for the EU revising the Irish backstop. Without a major shift in the prime minister’s position, the European commission president told May that the current terms of the withdrawal agreement were non-negotiable. Details of the call, contained in a leaked diplomatic note, emerged as Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, said there had been no weakening of the resolve in Brussels in support of Ireland, and accused the Tory Brexiters of a “cavalier” approach to peace. “Let me be extremely clear: there is no way I could live in a situation where we throw Ireland under the bus,” Timmermans said.

“As far as the European commission is concerned, the backstop is an essential element for showing to Ireland and to the rest of Europe that we are in this together.” On Tuesday, the Commons will vote on a series of amendments that might variously force the prime minister to delay Brexit or go back to Brussels to demand the ditching of the Irish backstop or a time limit on its enforcement. Critics of May’s deal believe that the backstop, an “all-weather” solution for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, could trap the UK in an indefinite customs union, limiting the country’s ability to pursue an independent trade policy. May’s deal was rejected this month by a historic 230 votes.

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It’s a surprise any would want to stay.

UK Firms Plan Mass Exodus If May Allows No-Deal Brexit (O.)

Thousands of British companies have already triggered emergency plans to cope with a no-deal Brexit, with many gearing up to move operations abroad if the UK crashes out of the EU, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Before a crucial week in parliament, in which MPs will try to wrest control from Theresa May’s government in order to delay Brexit and avoid a no-deal outcome, the BCC said it believed companies that had already gone ahead with their plans represented the “tip of the iceberg” and that many of its 75,000 members were already spending vital funds to prepare for a disorderly exit. It said that in recent days alone, it had been told that 35 firms had activated plans to move operations out of the UK, or were stockpiling goods to combat the worst effects of Brexit.

Matt Griffith, director of policy at the BCC’s west of England branch, said that many more companies had acted to protect themselves since May’s Brexit deal was decisively rejected by MPs in the Commons earlier this month. He said: “Since the defeat for the prime minister’s deal, we have seen a sharp increase in companies taking actions to try and protect themselves from the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit. No deal has gone from being one of several possible scenarios to a firm date in the diary.” Labour MP Yvette Cooper has revealed to the Observer that two major employers in her West Yorkshire constituency – luxury goods manufacturer Burberry and confectioner Haribo – had both written to her, warning of the damaging effects of no deal on their UK operations.

[..] Last week some of the UK’s largest employers – including Airbus, Europe’s largest aerospace manufacturer, which employs 14,000 people in the UK and supports another 110,000 through supply chains – warned of potentially disastrous effects of no deal on its UK activities. Tom Enders, the boss of Airbus, said: “Please don’t listen to the Brexiters’ madness, which asserts that because we have huge plants here we will not move and we will always be here. They are wrong.”

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Houses are places where people live. Any other use is detrimental.

Airbnb Contributes To Poor Housing Markets (Ind.)

A recent report by a Toronto public interest group, Fairbnb, has added a local voice to the growing international chorus of concern about the impact of Airbnb on housing. It is now clear that a single American company has upended local markets, pushed rental prices skyward and could be contributing to poverty, especially in cities popular with tourists. Toronto City Council was slow to recognize the dangers posed by Airbnb, not only to unionized hotel workers but also to the million-plus tenants who need stable and affordable accommodation. Late in 2017, regulations were put in place making it difficult for deep-pocketed investors to buy multiple condos for the purpose of listing them on Airbnb.

But Airbnb hosts appealed against the legislation to Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Six commercial operators added their voice. The hearings on the new bylaw are set for August 2019. In the meantime, there are no rules. Limiting Airbnb to some version of its initial ideal of “home sharing” is crucial. In 2018, 16 per cent of Toronto Airbnb hosts controlled 38 per cent of the listings, and the problem is worsening, with some downtown condos having hundreds of units listed on Airbnb, according to the Fairbnb report. The study concludes that Airbnb is responsible for countless illegal “ghost hotels”. What’s more, the report notes that if Toronto’s new rules were to come into force, more than 8,200 listings would have to be removed, and up to 6,500 whole homes would be available to boost the supply of long-term family rental housing.

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Imperial powers still rule. So stand up to them. Tell the Brits they’re not welcome until they give back what they stole. Not a single one of them. Let them fix their issues at home first.

British Museum ‘Rules Out’ Returning Parthenon Marbles To Greece (Ind.)

The director of the British Museum has appeared to rule out returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece after its government demanded Britain open negotiations over their return last year. The 2,500-year-old marble sculptures were removed from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis in Athens by the Ottoman ambassador Lord Elgin in the early 1800s. Lord Elgin sold the marbles to the British government, who passed them on to the British Museum in 1817 where they remain one of its most prized exhibits. Debate over where the sculptures should be located has raged for more than 200 years, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledging to return them to Greece if he becomes prime minister.

In August, Greek culture minister Lydia Koniordou invited UK officials to meetings in Greece to discuss the statues’ return in the midst of Brexit talks as Britain sought allies around Europe. In an interview with Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said: “The Trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection.” Asked if he thinks the Greek people are right to want the Parthenon sculptures back, he told the newspaper: “I can certainly understand that the Greeks have a special and passionate relationship with this part of their cultural heritage. “Yes, I understand that there is a desire to see all of the Parthenon Sculptures in Athens.”

The other half of the Parthenon Sculptures are currently in the Acropolis Museum in Greece. For several decades, Greece has called for the reunification of the statues and has sent several formal requests, threatened legal action and proposed solutions such as mediation by Unesco. Supporters of the Greek position say although Lord Elgin said he had the permission of officials of the ruling Ottoman Empire to take the sculptures, the empire was a foreign force and had no right to let the artefacts go. When Mr Fischer was asked about Mr Corbyn’s pledge to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece if he became prime minister, he said: “I think that this is Mr Corbyn’s personal view on the question, that you take note of. “Obviously, that is not the stance and the view of the Trustees of the Museum.”

Asked by Ta Nea if he would accept that Greece is the legal owner of the Parthenon Sculptures, he replied: “No, I would not. The objects that are part of the collection of the British Museum are in the fiduciary ownership of the Trustees of the Museum.”

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I’m guessing this divides America in two along a very sharp dividing line. What I see of it (not much) is Trevor Noah being an embarrassment to Jon Stewart, and Colbert having completely lost his mojo after he shed his right-wing persona. They do what the media do: play safe, keep feeding your followers what you know they want. Anti-Trumpism.

But if there’s one thing humor needs to thrive, it’s surprise. And none of this pretend humor has any of that. It’s all just devolved into a painfully predictabe word-play game. Letterman wouldn’t have gone there, Jon Stewart wouldn’t. Humor can’t just confirm people’s fixed opinions, there’s nothing funny about that.

Late-Night With The Democrats (G.)

Diners and town halls. Iowa and New Hampshire. The Rachel Maddow Show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. While some campaign stops for Democrats running for president are very familiar, others reflect how the rise of liberal media hosts, late night comedians and “going viral” online could make all the difference in a tight race. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has appeared twice in three months on Colbert’s programme on the CBS TV network, first to promote her book, then for the big reveal about 2020. Colbert asked: “Do you have anything you would like to announce?” She replied: “I’m filing an exploratory committee for president of the United States, tonight!”

Other guests on The Late Show, filmed before an audience at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York and broadcast at 11.35pm, have included Eric Holder, Cory Booker, John Kerry, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro (who appeared with twin brother Joaquin) and Kamala Harris, all of whom have declared their candidacy or are said to be considering it. A recent CNN article was headlined: “Welcome to the Stephen Colbert primary.” Colbert, 54, who cut his teeth in improvisational comedy, has earned it. Future historians could do worse than watch the bitingly satirical take-downs of Donald Trump in his opening monologues. His edgy political wit has catapulted him past Jimmy Fallon in the late night ratings and drawn interviewees including Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi.

“Any Democratic candidate who thinks they can ignore Stephen Colbert might as well not run for president,” said Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “Colbert once joked that the road to the White House runs through his show but it’s no joke; it is exactly so.”

[..] Maddow scooped the first interview with Warren after the Massachusetts senator announced she was formally exploring a run for the White House. She asked Gillibrand pointed questions about her shifting policy positions. Last week she questioned Harris and Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, another possible candidate. All seemingly regard Maddow’s show as a hotline to the anti-Trump resistance. Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist who was an adviser to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns, said: “I think she’s terrific. She’s incisive, she’s smart, she has her own views on things and, by the way, she doesn’t disguise them: they’re right out in the open.”

Robert Lichter, professor of communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said: “With the Democratic party moving to the left, she’s positioned to become a kingmaker. She’s a highly respected liberal and can make or break a candidacy early on by exposing someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Candidates will try to aim through Colbert’s jokes and Maddow’s seriousness.”

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Nov 272018
 
 November 27, 2018  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Otto Dix Ice drift 1940

Putin ‘Seriously Concerned’ After Ukraine Votes To Impose Martial Law (G.)
The Latest Ukronazi Provocation In The Kerch Strait (Saker)
Trump Says He Isn’t Happy With GM Decision To Shed 14,700 Jobs (G.)
GM Cuts 14,700 Jobs As Auto Bubble Begins To Burst (Colombo)
Tesla China Sales Plunge 70% In October (R.)
May’s Brexit Deal Sounds Like A ‘Great Deal For The EU’ – Trump (G.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Could Cost UK £100bn Over A Decade (G.)
Shares Rally As Italy Edges Away From Brussels Budget Clash (G.)
Bitcoin Is Down More Than 80% From Last Year’s High (CNBC)
Human Rights Watch Asks Argentina To Probe MbS Over Yemen, Khashoggi (R.)
The ‘Sharing Economy’ Has Been Seized By Big Money (G.)
Who Will Fix Facebook? (Matt Taibbi)
Investors Go After Zuckerberg After Facebook Plunges 40% In 4 Months (CNBC)
Fighting Climate Change Can Be America’s New New Deal (R.)
The Detention and Isolation from the World of Julian Assange (Stefania Maurizi)

 

 

Here’s what this is about:

“Since the completion of the bridge over the Kerch strait, Moscow has demanded that Ukrainian ships not only give notice of their intention to transit the strait but request permission, a change that Kiev has rejected. According to western diplomats, the dispatch of the three ships was intended to assert freedom of navigation..”

Russia came close to losing its only warm water ports in early 2014. They won’t let that happen again.

Putin ‘Seriously Concerned’ After Ukraine Votes To Impose Martial Law (G.)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has expressed “serious concern” over Ukraine’s decision to impose martial law, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, as the simmering confrontation between Moscow and Kiev sparked a new global crisis. In a phone conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin also said he hoped the German leader could intervene to rein in Kiev. Putin “expressed a serious concern over Kiev’s decision to put its armed forces on alert and to introduce martial law,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the call. He also said he hoped “Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to dissuade them from further reckless acts,” it added.

The political efforts came after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels and their crews in the Kerch strait separating Crimea from the Russian mainland. Ukrainian MPs responded by voting to impose martial law. Six Ukrainians were reported to be injured, one of them critically, in the clash at the mouth of the Sea of Azov, where Russia has been building up its naval presence and seeking to restrict Ukrainian access since completing a bridge across the strait in May. The Ukrainian government released video footage of one of its ships being rammed by a Russian vessel. The incident sparked an emergency debate at the UN security council, where the Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors accused each other’s governments of seeking to trigger a conflict to deflect from their own domestic unpopularity.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, said the Russian naval authorities had been notified that the three Ukrainian vessels – two cutters and a tugboat – wished to pass through the strait, and had been waiting to hear confirmation on Sunday morning when the vessels were attacked. [..] Since the completion of the bridge over the Kerch strait, Moscow has demanded that Ukrainian ships not only give notice of their intention to transit the strait but request permission, a change that Kiev has rejected. According to western diplomats, the dispatch of the three ships was intended to assert freedom of navigation and also to reinforce a very small Ukrainian naval presence in the Sea of Azov.

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“..Considering the current single-digit popularity rating of Poroshenko and the fact that he has no chance in hell to be re-elected ..”

The Latest Ukronazi Provocation In The Kerch Strait (Saker)

Second, let me give you the single most important element to understand what is (and what is not) taking place: the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea are, in military terms, “Russian lakes”. That means that Russia has the means to destroy any and all ships (or aircraft) over these two seas: on the Black Sea the life expectancy of any intruder would be measured in minutes, on the Sea of Azov in seconds. Let me repeat here that any and all ships deployed in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are detected and tracked by Russia and they can all easily be destroyed. The Russians know that, the Ukrainians know that and, of course, the Empire knows that. Again, keep that in mind when trying to make sense of what happened.

Third, whether the waters in which the incident happened belong to Russia or not is entirely irrelevant. Everybody knows that Russia considers these waters are belonging to her and those disagreeing with this have plenty of options to express their disagreement and challenge the legality of the Russian position. Trying to break through waters Russia considers her own with several armed military vessels is simply irresponsible and, frankly, plain stupid (especially considering point #2 above). That is simply not how civilized nations behave (and there are plenty of contested waters on our planet).

Fourth, one should not be too quick in dismissing Poroshenko’s latest plan to introduce martial law for the next 60 days. Albeit Poroshenko himself declared that this mobilization does not mean that the Ukronazi regime wants war with Russia, the fact is that the first-line reserves will be mobilized. This is important because the situation resulting from the introduction to martial law could be used to covertly increase the number of soldiers available for an attack on Novorussia or, God forbid, Russia herself. In fact, Poroshenko also officially appealed to the veterans of the war against Novorussia to be ready for deployment.

[..] Considering the current single-digit popularity rating of Poroshenko and the fact that he has no chance in hell to be re-elected it is pretty darn obvious of why the Ukronazi regime in Kiev decided to trigger yet another crisis and then blame Russia for it. The very last thing Russia needs is yet another crisis, especially not before a possible Putin-Trump meeting at the G20 Buenos Aires summit later this month. In fact, Ukrainian bloggers immediately saw this latest provocation as an attempt to scrap upcoming elections.

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Remind me, what did it cost to keep GM alive?

Trump Says He Isn’t Happy With GM Decision To Shed 14,700 Jobs (G.)

General Motors has announced it will halt production at five North American facilities and cut 14,700 jobs as it deals with slowing sedan sales and the impact of Donald Trump’s tariffs. More than 6,000 blue-collar jobs will be hit by GM plans to stop production at a car plant in Canada and two more in Ohio and Michigan. Two transmission plants in the US will also be mothballed, putting the future of those plants in doubt. The cuts will also include 15% of GM’s 54,000 white-collar workforce, about 8,100 people, and come as 18,000 GM workers have been asked to accept voluntary redundancy. Trump, who won over voters in many of the states affected by GM’s decision by promising to save their jobs, told reporters he was not happy with the decision.

“We don’t like it,” he told reporters. “This country has done a lot for General Motors. They better get back to Ohio, and soon.” Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, was due to meet with top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow later on Monday. “We are taking this action now while the company and the economy are strong to keep ahead of changing market conditions,” Barra said in a conference call. GM’s share price rose 5.5% on the news. The car plants – Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Oshawa Assembly – all build slow-selling cars. Trump held a rally close to the Lordstown plant in July and told workers not to sell their homes because “jobs are coming back”.

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Fiat/Chrysler increased sales (but its CEO died recently), Ford and GM lost big.

GM Cuts 14,700 Jobs As Auto Bubble Begins To Burst (Colombo)

On Monday, General Motors announced that it will cut 14,700 jobs or 15% of its North American workforce in addition to closing three assembly plants and two other facilities: While GM’s CEO Mary Barra is spinning this move as a positive, I am highly suspicious because it is taking place at the same time that global auto sales are plunging (see chart below). Ford also said recently that it will cut more than 20,000 jobs across the globe as part of an $11 billion restructuring.

The reason why I criticized President Trump’s excitement about Ford’s decision was because I’ve been warning (then and now) that the U.S. automobile sales boom was driven by a debt bubble that would end very badly. Since 2010, total outstanding U.S. auto loans increased by $445 billion or 64% to over $1.1 trillion as Americans took advantage of record low interest rates to finance automobile purchases.

U.S. Auto Loans

After the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to record low levels and held them there for a record length of time, making it much cheaper to take out loans of all kinds. Notice how the total outstanding U.S. auto loans in the chart above start to soar shortly after interest rates were cut to record lows (based on the chart below)? That is certainly no coincidence. Low interest rates lead to borrowing booms that end when interest rates go back up, which is what has been happening over the last few years. Rising interest rates are threatening the U.S. automobile sales and loan bubble and will eventually cause its popping.

Interest Rates

It’s entirely possible that GM is aware of the risk of a more serious auto sales downturn ahead as higher interest rates start to bite, which is why they decided to cut jobs and close the plants before it’s too late. If that’s the case, it’s a smart move on CEO Mary Barra’s part.

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70% may seem a lot, but the remaining 30% consisted of just 211 cars. Non-story.

Tesla China Sales Plunge 70% In October (R.)

Tesla Inc’s vehicle sales in China sank 70 percent last month from a year ago, the country’s passenger car association told Reuters on Tuesday, underscoring how the Sino-U.S. trade war is hurting the U.S. electric carmaker. An official from China Passenger Car Association said data from the industry body showed Tesla sold just 211 cars in the world’s largest auto market in October. The electric carmaker, which imports all the cars it sells in China, said in October that tariff hikes on auto imports were hammering its sales there. In July, Beijing raised tariffs on imports of U.S. autos to 40 percent amid a worsening trade standoff with the United States. While so-called new-energy vehicle sales have continued to climb in China, wider auto sales have slowed sharply since the middle of the year, taking the market to the brink of its first annual sales contraction in almost three decades.

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First vote is December 11, the second around Christmas time.

May’s Brexit Deal Sounds Like A ‘Great Deal For The EU’ – Trump (G.)

Donald Trump has delivered a weighty blow to Theresa May’s hopes of steering her Brexit deal through parliament, saying it sounded like a “great deal for the EU” that would stop the UK trading with the US. Trump was speaking to reporters outside the White House when he was asked about the deal May struck with the EU’s other 27 heads of state and government on Sunday. “Sounds like a great deal for the EU,” the president said. “I think we have to take a look at, seriously, whether or not the UK is allowed to trade. Because, you know, right now, if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us … I don’t think that the prime minister meant that. And, hopefully, she’ll be able to do something about that.”

Trump’s intervention caught Downing Street off-guard and is likely to weaken May’s hand at a time when she is seeking to get the deal approved by parliament, where she faces determined resistance from 89 Tory backbenchers who argue the deal does not secure sufficient freedom of action for the UK. A vote is due on 11 December after a five-day debate. A No 10 spokesman argued that Trump’s take on Brexit was wrong: “The political declaration we have agreed with the EU is very clear we will have an independent trade policy so that the UK can sign trade deals with countries around the world – including with the US.”

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Insert any number you can think of. And then realize that people actually get paid to issue these fully hollow reports.

Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Could Cost UK £100bn Over A Decade (G.)

Theresa May’s Brexit deal is expected to cost the UK economy as much as £100bn over the next decade compared with remaining in the EU, according to one of the country’s leading economic thinktanks. An analysis of the prime minister’s EU withdrawal agreement from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggested that by 2030, Britain would lose GDP growth equivalent to the annual economic output of Wales. The study, commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, found GDP over the long term was forecast to be about 4% less than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU.

It comes as the government prepares to publish its own analysis of the impact of the deal this week, possibly on Wednesday, to help inform MPs before they vote on whether to back it in parliament. NIESR said the cost to the economy of the prime minister’s deal would be the equivalent of losing about £1,000 a year for every person in the UK. Garry Young, the director of macroeconomic modelling and forecasting at NIESR, said: “Leaving the EU will make it more costly for the UK to trade with a large market on our doorstep and inevitably will have economic costs.” The NIESR report found May’s deal would not be as damaging for the economy as Britain leaving the EU without an agreement, which would cost the economy about £140bn over the next 10 years.

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The emptiness of the rumors that drive this stuff is deafening. These are not markets.

Shares Rally As Italy Edges Away From Brussels Budget Clash (G.)

Italy has shown the first signs of backing away from a budget clash with Brussels, sparking a share rally in Rome. On a day when equities rose across the globe, tentative signs of progress in negotiations between the European commission and Italy’s populist leaders resulted in the key barometer of the Italian stock market rising by almost 3%. Bank shares – seen as particularly vulnerable in the event of a loss of confidence in Italian assets triggered by a prolonged confrontation – were up by 5% on Monday. Reports that Rome was willing to cut its budget deficit from 2.4% of national output to as low as 2% also led to a fall in the interest rate the Italian government pays to borrow on the world’s financial markets.

Italy’s main stock market index – the FTSE MIB – was the best performer of the leading European bourses on a day of across-the-board gains, closing 2.8% higher. Frankfurt’s Dax index rose by 1.45%, while the City’s FTSE 100 ended the day up by 1.2% at 7,036. After sharp falls last week, shares rallied on Wall Street and the Dow Jones industrial average ended Monday trading 1.5% higher amid signs of strong Black Friday spending by American consumers. Ever since it came to power in the spring, Italy’s coalition government has been on a collision course with the commission over its plans to stimulate growth by running a bigger budget deficit. The proposed move would violate the eurozone’s fiscal rules and in the past few weeks investors have become increasingly more nervous about Italy’s public finances.

The concessions hinted at by the Rome government would go nowhere near far enough to meet the demands made by Brussels, however. A proposed budget deficit of 2% of GDP would still leave open the possibility of Rome being fined by the commission’s excessive deficit procedure rules but even a partial climbdown was enough to trigger a fall in 10-year Italian bond yields – a key benchmark of official borrowing costs. The spread between the interest rate Italy pays and the much cheaper interest rates for Germany fell to its lowest in more than a month.

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Nice try, but Bitcoin no longer is what it was 10 years ago at birth. So fluctuations aren’t either. Who’s going to put serious money into something that loses 81% in less than a year?

Bitcoin Is Down More Than 80% From Last Year’s High (CNBC)

Bitcoin is only 10 years old, but the cryptocurrency has already seen its fair share of bear markets. The most recent one, which some are dubbing “crypto winter,” worsened over the weekend. The cryptocurrency slid below $3,500 for the first time in 14 months, then later recovered toward the $3,900 level by Monday, according to data from CoinDesk. That brings its decline from last year’s peak to more than 81 percent. That loss isn’t the worst bitcoin has suffered, but the world’s largest digital currency is getting close. Bitcoin’s current level is still well above the fraction of a penny price where it first began trading in 2010— and its early investors are mostly wealthier because of it. By June 2011, it had risen to a new all-time high of roughly $30. But by that November, the cryptocurrency was back below $2.50, tumbling more than 92 percent from their high.

That year, volume was still low and the dozens of now popular trading exchanges like Coinbase didn’t exist yet. Tokyo-based Mt. Gox was handling roughly 70 percent of all cryptocurrency transactions in the world. [..] Roughly $700 billion has been wiped off cryptocurrencies’ global market capitalization since the high, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com. The price of one bitcoin has dropped more than $15,000 since December. Bitcoin skyrocketed to current its all-time high of almost $20,000 in December 2017. Coinbase’s CEO said this summer that at the height of that boom, the exchange was opening up 50,000 new accounts a day, for mostly retail investors. The all-time high also came ahead of the availability of bitcoin futures. Those products have also fallen. On Monday, they dropped to their lowest levels since launching.

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Not going to happen. Unless they find a vigilante prosecutor.

Human Rights Watch Asks Argentina To Probe MbS Over Yemen, Khashoggi (R.)

Human Rights Watch has asked Argentina to use a war crimes clause in its constitution to investigate the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in possible crimes against humanity in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Argentina’s constitution recognizes universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture, meaning judicial authorities can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed. Human Rights Watch said its submission was sent to federal judge Ariel Lijo.

HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said the international rights group took the case to Argentina because Prince Mohammed, also known as MbS, will attend the opening of the G20 summit this week in Buenos Aires. “We submitted this info to Argentine prosecutors with the hopes they will investigate MbS’s complicity and responsibility for possible war crimes in Yemen, as well as the torture of civilians, including Jamal Khashoggi,” Whitson told Reuters. Argentine media cited judicial sources as saying it was extremely unlikely that the authorities would take up the case against the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

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Gee, what a surprise. Downplaying the economic losses to communities caused by Airbnb, Uber and Amazon doesn’t help.

The ‘Sharing Economy’ Has Been Seized By Big Money (G.)

[..] The year 2018 is to the sharing economy what 2006 was to user-generated content: it can only go downhill. Platforms won’t disappear; far from it. However, the initial lofty objectives that legitimised their activities will give way to the prosaic and occasionally violent imperative imposed by the iron law of competition: the quest for profitability. Uber may help some make ends meet through occasional driving gigs. The need to achieve profitability, however, means that it will have no qualms about ditching its drivers for fully automated vehicles; a company that lost $4.5 bn in 2017 alone would be silly to do otherwise.

Airbnb may have presented itself as an ally of the middle classes against entrenched economic interests. But the drive for profits already forces it to partner with the likes of Brookfield Property Partners, one of the world’s largest real-estate firms, to develop Airbnb-branded hotel-like residencies, often by purchasing and converting existing apartment blocks. Few entrenched interests – save, perhaps, for the tenants who see their apartment blocks become Airbnb-run hotels – get disrupted here. Given the huge sums involved, the most likely outcome of current battles in sectors such as ride-sharing will be more centralisation, with just one or two platforms controlling each region. Uber’s surrender – in China, India and Russia, as well as much of southeast Asia and Latin America – to local players, many of them also backed by Saudi money, suggests as much.

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What ails the Automatic Earth: “Small blogs cannot exist without Facebook..”. But Facebook shut down access to our account, and thousands of ‘friends’, without one single word of explanation. So what now? Set up a new accoint, only for them do to it again? Are you beginning to see what’s wrong here?

Who Will Fix Facebook? (Matt Taibbi)

James Reader tried to do everything right. No fake news, no sloppiness, no spam. The 54-year-old teamster and San Diego resident with a progressive bent had a history of activism, but itched to get more involved. So a few years ago he tinkered with a blog called the Everlasting GOP Stoppers, and it did well enough to persuade some friends and investors to take a bigger step. “We got together and became Reverb Press,” he recalls. “I didn’t start it for the money. I did it because I care about my country.”

[..] The site took off, especially during the 2015-16 election season. “We had 30 writers contributing, four full-time editors and an IT worker,” Reader says. “At our peak, we had 4 million to 5 million unique visitors a month.” Through Facebook and social media, Reader estimates, as many as 13 million people a week were seeing Reverb stories. Much of the content was aggregated or had titles like “36 Scariest Quotes From the 2015 GOP Presidential Debates.” But Reverb also did original reporting, like a first-person account of Catholic Church abuse in New Jersey that was picked up by mainstream outlets.

Like most independent publishers, he relied heavily on a Facebook page to drive traffic and used Facebook tools to help boost his readership. “We were pouring between $2,000 and $6,000 a month into Facebook, to grow the page,” Reader says. “We tried to do everything they suggested.” Publishers like Reader jumped to it every time Facebook sent hints about changes to its algorithm. When it emphasized video, he moved to develop video content. Reader viewed Facebook as an essential tool for independent media. “Small blogs cannot exist without Facebook,” he says. “At the same time, it was really small blogs that helped Facebook explode in the first place.”

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The investors are not the answer to the problem. The links to secret services are.

Investors Go After Zuckerberg After Facebook Plunges 40% In 4 Months (CNBC)

It’s been a brutal few months for Facebook investors. Shares of the social network have tumbled almost 40 percent since reaching a high on July 25, even after a modest rebound on Monday. The company has faced a barrage of attacks related to the numerous ways the platform has been manipulated to spread false information and for leadership’s insufficient and controversial response, which the New York Times detailed in a lengthy investigative report earlier this month. Some of the almost $200 billion of market value that’s been wiped out since the stock’s peak can be attributed to a broader sell-off in tech stocks, which have plummeted since August amid concern about a slowdown in global economic growth and President Trump’s threats of a trade war.

But Facebook’s slide started well before that and the stock has badly underperformed the Nasdaq and its big-tech peers this year. The problem for Facebook is in finding a way out. Facebook’s business model, which relies on a growing number of users to share more information and for advertisers to continue to pay up to reach them, starts to look shaky as trust in the network deteriorates. Yet at the top of the company, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 34, has so much ownership and control that the board and shareholders have a very limited ability to exert any influence.

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Might as well give up on people ever understanding that climate change is not an economic problem, and can therefore not be solved by economics.

Whoever links the demise of the planet to solutions offered by the same money that is causing it, is blind.

Fighting Climate Change Can Be America’s New New Deal (R.)

Fighting climate change can be America’s new New Deal. The effects of global warming on virtually all aspects of U.S. society could be devastating, according to a government report released on Friday. Rather than seize on its findings as a way to boost American innovation, economic output and jobs, President Donald Trump’s administration snuck the report out late on Friday after Thanksgiving – and then played down its devastating findings. That’s a big missed opportunity Unchecked, climate change could lop as much as a tenth off the nation’s GDP by the end of the century, according to the authors of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

That overall figure doubtless underestimates regional variances. The overall cost of the wildfires that hit California in 2017, for example, amounted to 6.5 percent of the Golden State’s economic output, estimated AccuWeather. Factor in everything from water scarcity to pollution to energy production to human health, and in some parts of the country the economic impact could be far worse. The cost in financial and human terms drops by up to 70 percent if greenhouse-gas emissions peak before the middle of the century and then drop, the report says. It requires investment, of course – which some Republicans like Senator Mike Lee deride as being harmful to the economy.

That’s clearly a ruse. Fully decarbonizing by 2050 the world’s cement, steel, plastics, trucking, shipping and aviation sectors could require investing some 0.5 percent of global GDP a year using mostly existing technology, according to the Energy Transitions Commission. But it would bring efficiencies, employment and advances in technology that could more than offset the costs. Similarly, modernizing aging infrastructure has multiple benefits. Investing the $800 billion or so needed to upgrade America’s water systems could generate an almost 300 percent return, according to the U.S. Water Alliance – and generate 1.3 million jobs.

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Stefania Maurizi gained access to Assange recently. The cat is gone. So sorry for Julian. Maurizi makes a point that everyone should make: the role of the UK press. I wrote earlier this year about a series of smear pieces the Guardian published. Nothing has changed. These are the same folk that shout out about freedom of the press when Trump is concerned. They’re at the very least no better than he is.

The Detention and Isolation from the World of Julian Assange (Stefania Maurizi)

They are destroying him slowly. They are doing it through an indefinite detention which has been going on for the last eight years with no end in sight. Julian Assange has become one of the most widely known icons of freedom of the press and the struggle against state secrecy. [..] After eight months of failed attempts, la Repubblica was finally able to visit the WikiLeaks founder in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after the current Ecuadorian president, Lenin Moreno had cut him off from all contacts last March with the exception of his lawyers.

[..] The friendly atmosphere we had always experienced during our visits over the last six years is now gone. The Ecuadorian diplomat who had always supported the WikiLeaks founder, Fidel Narvaez, has been removed. Not even the cat is there anymore. With its funny striped tie and ambushes on the ornaments of the Christmas tree at the embassy’s entrance, the cat had helped defuse tension inside the building for years. But Assange has preferred to spare the cat an isolation which has become unbearable and allow it a healthier life.

The news that surfaced last week, revealing the existence of criminal charges against Julian Assange by the US authorities, charges which were supposed to remain under seal until it was impossible for Assange to evade arrest, vindicates what Assange has feared for years. He is now waiting for the charges to be unsealed, but in the meantime he is silent: the risk that he could suddenly lose Ecuador’s protection due to some public statement is not improbable these days. Two years ago, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) established that the UK (at that time Sweden as well) is responsible for detaining Assange arbitrarily: it should free him and compensate him. London did not welcome this decision: they tried to appeal it, but lost the appeal and since then have simply ignored it.

The British media has never called on the UK authorities to comply with the UN body’s decision, quite the opposite: some even lashed out against the UN body. If Julian Assange ends up in the hands of the UK authorities in the upcoming months and the US asks for his extradition, where will the British medial stand? Never before has the life of the WikiLeaks founder been so crucially in the hands of public opinion and in the hands of one of the few powers whose mission it is to reign in the worst instincts of our governments: the press.

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Oct 252018
 
 October 25, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Circus 1918

 

Donald Trump Attacks Media ‘Hostility’ After Attempted Pipe Bombings (G.)
CNN President Jeff Zucker Blasts Trump White House After Bomb Threat (THR)
Dow Falls 600 Points And Wipes Out 2018 Gains (MW)
Asia Pacific Shares In Freefall Amid Fears Over Global Economy (G.)
Value of Euro Zone Banks Drops by a Third From 2018 Peak (R.)
Spain’s Mortgage Market Seizes Up, Bank Stocks Sink, Legal Uncertainty Reigns
It’s Not Just Italy – France’s 2019 Budget Also A Concern For Brussels (CNBC)
Tesla Shares Soar On Surprise Third-Quarter Profit (CNBC)
Airbnb Can’t Go On Unregulated – It Does Too Much Damage To Cities (G.)
Brexit Deal ‘Progress Is At 0%’ Until Irish Border Solved – Verhofstadt (Ind.)
May Sets November Date To Trigger No-Deal Brexit Preparations (G.)
Disadvantaged Groups Trapped In Poverty And Excluded From UK Society (Ind.)
Ban Entire Pesticide Class To Protect Children’s Health – Experts (G.)
European Parliament Votes To Ban Single-Use Plastics (Ind.)
Humpback Whales Stop Singing When Ships Are Near (AFP)

 

 

Another crazy story. less than 2 weeks before the midterms some loonie allegedly sent crude explosive devices to Democrats and CNN. Obviously, doesn’t appear to help Trump. Who they all fall over each other to blame, absolving themselves from all responsibility in the process. Some details:

Bombs had ISIS-like logo’s on them
At least some contained shards of glass
They were sent to people who don’t open their own mail
None of the bombs went off
Powder in package to CNN was harmless

Seen a lot more like that on Twitter, many people saying the ‘bombs’ are a joke.

Donald Trump Attacks Media ‘Hostility’ After Attempted Pipe Bombings (G.)

Donald Trump has attacked what he called media “hostility” in a speech to a campaign rally following a wave of pipe bombs sent to senior Democrats, prominent critics and the broadcaster CNN. The US president, who earlier said at the White House he condemned the attempted bombings and that a “major federal investigation” was under way, followed this with a plea for unity during a midterms campaign rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, later on Wednesday. “Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself,” he told the crowd. “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony. We can do it … Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as morally defective.” But he soon reverted to a familiar scapegoat. The media, he said, has “a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories”.

[..] Trump, who still assails Clinton at rallies while supporters chant “lock her up” two years after he defeated her, took a softer tone in Wisconsin. “Let’s get along,” he told supporters. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well and hopefully we can keep it that way, right?” He did not mention the intended recipients of the devices by name but spoke more generally, including in language which could be taken to refer to protests against himself and allies. “No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains, which is done often, it’s done all the time, got to stop. We should not mob people in public places or destroy public property. There is one way to settle our disagreements. It’s called peacefully, at the ballot box.”

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Zucker doesn’t take any responsibility for the political climate. Nor do any of the others. 24/7 blasting Trump for two years has had no influence, apparently. Someone should make a database with all Trump articles at MSM that contain positive things about Trump vs those that are negative.

CNN President Jeff Zucker Blasts Trump White House After Bomb Threat (THR)

CNN president Jeff Zucker, who has long sparred with President Donald Trump throughout their decades of knowing each other, lashed out at him in a statement on Wednesday, hours after his network’s New York office was forced to evacuate due to a bomb threat. “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker said. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”

The president has been criticized for his slow response to the bomb threat on Wednesday, initially responding only by echoing Vice President Mike Pence’s tweet condemning it. On Wednesday afternoon, Trump spoke directly at a White House event, pledging to take action. “The full weight of our government is being deployed to conduct this investigation and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice,” he said. “We will spare no resources or expense in this effort. In these times, we have to unify. We have to come together, and send one clear, strong unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”

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All over the world.

Dow Falls 600 Points And Wipes Out 2018 Gains (MW)

Stocks ended sharply lower Wednesday, as losses accelerated into the close and put both the Dow and the S&P 500 into the red for the year, and the Nasdaq into correction territory. Upbeat results from Boeing were credited with briefly pushing the Dow higher in early morning trading, before investors took an increasingly defensive stance, fleeing for the relative safety of utilities and consumer nondurable shares. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 606.11 points, or 2.4%, to 24,583.42, while The S&P 500 dropped 84.59 points, or 3.1%, to 2,656.10, it’s sixth straight losing session.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq shed 329.14 points, or 4.4%, to 7108.4, a performance that put the index more than 10% below its Aug. 29 all-time high, meeting the widely used definition of a market correction. The loss also marked the worst day for the Nasdaq since Aug. 18, 2011. October is shaping up to be a brutal month for equities, as expected, with the S&P falling 8.9% month-to-date, the Dow down 7.1%, and the Nasdaq falling 11.7% since the start of the month. Wednesday’s session also sent the Dow into losing territory for the year, with the index down 0.6% in 2018. The blue-chip index is also down for five straight weeks, it’s longest string of weekly losses since July, 11 2008, when the market fell for six straight weeks. The S&P 500 also ended the trading day in the red, down 0.7% year-to-date.

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Broad pessimism.

Asia Pacific Shares In Freefall Amid Fears Over Global Economy (G.)

Shares in Asia Pacific have plunged into bear market territory and wiped billions off the values of companies as one analyst warned that the losses could be a harbinger of a wholesale “capitulation”. After the worst day for tech stocks on Wall Street for seven years, markets were in retreat from Sydney to Shanghai as concerns about the global economy and rising borrowing costs were compounded by local factors. In Australia the benchmark ASX200 closed down 164 points or 2.8% as it suffered its fifth straight day of losses. In Japan the Nikkei was off 3.2% and has now dropped around 13% from a 27-year peak of 24,448.07 touched in early October.

A broad indicator of shares in the region – the MSCI Asia Pacific index – has now fallen 20.3% from the year-to-date high set on 29 January, representing an official bear market. The Vix “fear” index, which measures volatility across the market, has spiked sharply this week and was up 21% overnight. “We haven’t thought that selling would be this steep. This sell-off makes us think the market may be set for capitulation,” said Shoji Hirakawa, chief global strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. The contagion looked set to continue into the European trading session with the FTSE100 expected to fall 0.65% at the open.

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Italians, Deutsche. Draghi doing a speech soon.

Value of Euro Zone Banks Drops by a Third From 2018 Peak (R.)

The value of euro zone banks have collapsed by a third since markets touched their peak at the end of January, data showed on Wednesday, as another quarter of disappointing profits at Deutsche Bank dragged the region’s sector down. European banks shares, which have never reclaimed their pre-financial crisis prices, have been the worst performing sector so far in the monetary block this year, down 26.5 percent as investors shed assets seen as most vulnerable to political upheaval. “The fall is not justified by a similar drop in earnings,” commented Farhad Moshiri, an analyst covering European banks at Alphavalue, arguing that political risk had a stronger negative impact than sector results.

Still, Deutsche’s bleak results and revenue forecast on Wednesday, which sent shares down 5 percent for their worst day since end-May, deepened the sector-wide rout. The Spring political crisis in Italy and the following on-going row with the European Commission about the country’s populist government’s budget took a heavy toll, particularly on Italian banks. The latters are heavily exposed to Italian sovereign debt, which has shed value since the country decided to raise spending and put an end to years of fiscal prudence. Slowing economic growth on the continent and elusive monetary normalization, with a first interest rate hike by the European Central Bank (ECB) still far away, also weighed on stock prices.

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A legal issue about taxes on mortgages only makes things worse.

Spain’s Mortgage Market Seizes Up, Bank Stocks Sink, Legal Uncertainty Reigns

In the last five trading days, the shares of Spain’s five largest listed banks have re-energized their plunge that had started at the end of January and now amounts to 40%. The cause for the recent drop? A shock ruling by Spain’s Supreme Court that lenders, rather than mortgage borrowers, should pay the contractual tax on mortgage loans, on the grounds that the lender is the only party with an interest in getting the loan certified by a notary, since this is what enables the bank to begin foreclosure proceedings if the borrower defaults on payments. Even the Supreme Court’s desperate decision last Friday to suspend its own ruling a day after it had announced the ruling, a historic flip-flop that left everything in limbo and its reputation in tatters, failed to stop the rout (data via YCharts):

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it won’t decide who has to pay the tax on mortgages — the banks or the borrowers — until November 5. In other words, there will be two more weeks of acute legal uncertainty. This has plunged Spain’s mortgage market into chaos. For years Spanish banks and builders have been desperately trying to breath new life into the market — including, in some cases, by resurrecting 100% mortgages, a high-risk instrument that helped fuel Spain’s madcap property boom. But now, thanks to the pervading legal uncertainty, the market has all but seized up. On Tuesday, sources from a number of large banks told the financial daily Cinco Dias that the only mortgages being signed are with clients who had already arranged to sign the contract before last week’s furor and who don’t mind paying the mortgage tax. “We’re not signing any new ones,” the sources said.

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Italy must insist France gets the same treatment.

It’s Not Just Italy – France’s 2019 Budget Also A Concern For Brussels (CNBC)

Markets have been on the edge regarding Italy’s future spending, but there are other countries challenging European fiscal rules. France, the second-largest economy in Europe, received a letter from Brussels last week, warning that its planned debt reduction in 2019 does not respect the proposals that Paris had agreed previously with the EU. Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia were also effectively told off by the EU. In the case of France, the 2019 budget plan sees its structural deficit (the difference between spending and revenues, excluding one-off items) falling 0.1 percent this year and 0.3 percent in 2019. Paris had agreed in April to an annual reduction of 0.6 percent of GDP for its structural deficit.

Though the tone of the warning from Brussels to Paris was softer than the tone towards Rome, the two countries have perhaps more similarities than differences. The French 2019 budget “shows that the government relies heavily on very optimistic revenues to achieve fiscal consolidation and that spending is out of control again,” Daniel Lacalle, chief economist and investment officer at Tressis Gestion, told CNBC via email. “In the case of France, it is a very difficult budget to accept by the European Commission because France has not had a balanced budget since 1974 and has missed its own deficit targets more than eleven times,” Lacalle added.

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A curious turnaround. To be continued.

Tesla Shares Soar On Surprise Third-Quarter Profit (CNBC)

Tesla shares soared by more than 12 percent after the company reported a surprise profit for the third quarter as CEO Elon Musk made good on his promise to start turning regular profits in the last half of the year. The company’s earnings report, released after the markets closed Wednesday, also showed better-than expected car sales and a faster timeline on its Model 3 production. The electric car maker said its midsize Model 3 sedan, which it hopes to produce on mass scale, was the best-selling car in the U.S. when measured by revenue and the fifth best-selling car in terms of volume. Musk told analysts on a call it was an “incredibly historic quarter” for the young car company. It was welcome news for investors following an otherwise a tumultuous few months.

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It does. Somone better get serious about this.

Airbnb Can’t Go On Unregulated – It Does Too Much Damage To Cities (G.)

Remember the “sharing economy”? That rhetoric looks more comically disingenuous than ever in light of the news that a single Airbnb user in Barcelona is managing a portfolio of properties that brings in an eye-watering £33,000 a day in high season. Old neighbourhoods are being overrun with short-term tourists and shops selling souvenir tat. Rents for residents are being driven up, in Barcelona as well as Berlin, New York and elsewhere. Airbnb is a parasitic monster that squats over cities and hoovers up vast sums of money through its slimy proboscis. So what can be done?

Airbnb, short for “airbed and breakfast”, originally sold itself as a way for travellers to stay in people’s spare rooms and get an authentic feel of a foreign culture. This friendly idea is still present in the company’s vocabulary – “hosts”, not landlords, and “hospitality” in place of “business” – even though the vast majority of its listings are now for self-contained apartments or houses. In Barcelona, it used to cost €250 (£221) for a short-term rental permit. Now that such permits are no longer being issued, they change hands for up to €80,000. It’s “sharing” for the rich, maybe, but not for the rest of us.

During their early rapid growth, sharing economy companies started operations around the world without regard to local laws on the basis that existing regulations had not envisaged the radical and disruptive new ideas they embodied. But the tide slowly turned as the whizzy tech rhetoric wore off and it became clear that Uber was in fact a taxi company and Airbnb was in effect a hotel business.

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Don’t like Verhofstadt, but it’s time for honesty.

Brexit Deal ‘Progress Is At 0%’ Until Irish Border Solved – Verhofstadt (Ind.)

The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator has rejected Theresa May’s suggestion that a deal is “95 per cent done”, as Brussels warned it will not be bounced into an agreement. Guy Verhofstadt said the withdrawal agreement needed to prevent no deal was “0 per cent done” as far as MEPs were concerned, because of the lack of a solution to the Irish border issue. “Progress on the Brexit negotiations can be 90 per cent, 95 per cent or even 99 per cent,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “But as long as there is no solution for the Irish border, as long as the Good Friday agreement is not fully secured, for us in our parliament progress is 0 per cent.”

The European Parliament has a veto on the final Brexit deal and has said it would kill any agreement that does not prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Speaking in a debate at the parliament’s Strasbourg seat on Wednesday morning, the second in command of the European Commission Frans Timmermans also warned that the block would not “rush a deal through at the expense of our principles”. “As was clear after the European Council the bottom line is that we do not have the decisive progress that we need,” Jean-Claude Juncker’s deputy said. “The good will and the determination to find a deal as soon as possible are there. But it is also clear that we will not rush a deal through at the expense of our principles or our agreed commitments, most notably on the Irish border question.

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Watch the pound when she makes it official.

May Sets November Date To Trigger No-Deal Brexit Preparations (G.)

Theresa May has set a date for Whitehall to trigger a series of no-deal Brexit preparations as her government faces up to the possibility that there will be no agreement with the EU about Britain’s departure. With less than six months to go before the UK leaves the bloc, the cabinet has agreed that a flurry of activity will be triggered in the second week of November as the government prepares to crash out of the EU, informed sources said. Civil servants have also accelerated plans to lay down new laws and secondary legislation so that UK businesses and both British and EU citizens can prepare. The move follows concerns across government that preparations for how the UK might cope with crashing out the EU are still uncertain.

The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, told cabinet colleagues on Tuesday that Whitehall departments needed to step up their efforts next month and move “from warning businesses to telling them to act”. Whitehall has until now concentrated on the publication of more than 100 technical notices detailing the potential impact on particular industries but not on individual businesses and people. A source said that there would be an acceleration of preparations after MPs return from a short break on 12 November. “We have to get on with no-deal legislation. At the moment, we’re looking at the same legislation for a deal as no deal. In the case of no deal it would need royal assent before we leave. “There will be an awful lot to discuss. It will concentrate minds. Obviously we don’t want to upset the negotiations, but the clock is ticking and it will get harder and harder the later we leave it,” the source said.

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This is Theresa May’s country, her accomplishment.

Disadvantaged Groups Trapped In Poverty And Excluded From UK Society (Ind.)

Britain is a divided nation as the poor are increasingly trapped in poverty and excluded from mainstream society because of their social status, the human rights watchdog has warned. A major report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found a continued decline in prospects for disadvantaged groups has cemented a “two-speed society” in the UK which leaves many behind. The watchdog found that in just three years “alarming backward steps” have left disabled people, ethnic minorities and children from poorer backgrounds struggling to make headway in a society where “significant barriers still remain”.

Charities accused Theresa May of breaking the promise she made in her first speech as prime minister to tackle “burning injustices” in British society. It comes just days before Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is to set out a budget with critics waiting for spending commitments that will deliver on the prime minister’s conference promise that austerity is finally coming to an end. In a speech on Thursday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell will say that schools, councils and the UK’s social care system are “crying out for investment” and called on the government to “stump up the cash”. David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said Britain was facing a “defining moment in the pursuit of equality”.

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Stop using pesticides altogether.

Ban Entire Pesticide Class To Protect Children’s Health – Experts (G.)

Evidence that an entire class of pesticides threatens the health of children and pregnant women is now so arresting that the substances should be banned, an expert panel of toxicologists has said. Exposure to organophosphates (OPs) increases the risk of reduced IQs, memory and attention deficits, and autism for prenatal children, according to the paper, published in Plos Medicine. More than 10,000 tonnes of OP pesticides are sprayed in 24 European countries each year and usage is higher in the US, where the Trump administration is appealing against a federal court ban on chlorpyrifos, one of the most popular agricultural insecticides.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the paper’s lead author and director of the UC Davis environmental health sciences centre, said: “We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides put children and foetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime. By law, the EPA cannot ignore such clear findings: It’s time for a ban not just on chlorpyrifos, but all organophosphate pesticides.” The meta-review of data and literature on OPs analysed and cross-referenced scores of reviews and epidemiological studies with a UN database that covers 71 countries, and other research material.

In the process, the scientists discovered that US regulators had already quietly banned 26 out of 40 OP pesticides considered hazardous to human health. In Europe, the figure was 33 out of 39. However, 200,000 people still die each year from pesticide poisonings, according to UN estimates, about 99% of them in the developing world. A further 110,000 suicides using pesticides take place each year.

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Not bad, but too late.

European Parliament Votes To Ban Single-Use Plastics (Ind.)

Fragments of plastic have been found everywhere from Arctic sea ice to fertilisers being applied to farmland. Animals as small as plankton and as large as whales are known to eat plastic, and as tiny shards enter the human food chain they seem to be ending up inside humans as well. While much still remains unknown about the impact plastic is having on the environment and human health, environmentalists have called for urgent measures from industry and governments to curb the flow of plastic. “We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November,” said Belgian liberal Frederique Ries, who was responsible for the bill.

Under the new rules, member states would have to ensure that tobacco companies cover the cost of cigarette butt collection and processing in a bid to reduce the number entering the environment by 80 per cent in the next 12 years. Similar measures would apply to producers of fishing gear, who would have to help ensure at least 50 per cent of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year. Fishing gear accounts for over a quarter of waste found on Europe’s beaches, and “ghost fishing” is thought to be responsible for thousands of whales, seals and birds dying every year. EU states would also be obliged to recycle 90 per cent of plastic bottles by 2025, and producers would have to help cover costs of waste management.

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But they don’t mean sailing ships.

Humpback Whales Stop Singing When Ships Are Near (AFP)

Humpback whales are famous for their eerie, underwater songs. But researchers in Japan said Wednesday these massive marine creatures stop singing, at least temporarily, when human-driven ships are nearby. Researchers focused on the remote Ogasawara Islands in Japan, some 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, where a single passenger-cargo liner passed through the area once per day. Male humpback whales sing as a way to communicate and attract mates. But by plunging a pair of hydrophones into the water to listen to the whales’ reaction — about 26 of whom were detected in the study area — researchers found that the approach of a ship silenced them.

“The main reaction of humpback whales was to stop singing either when the ship approached or after it passed by,” said the study in the journal PLOS ONE, led by Koki Tsujii from Ogasawara Whale Watching Association and Hokkaido University. Fewer male humpbacks sang in the area within 500 yards (meters) of the shipping lane than elsewhere. “After the ship passed by, whales within around 1,200 meters tended to temporarily reduce singing or stop singing altogether,” said the study. Many whales did not start to sing again until a half hour after the ship was gone from the area. Since ocean noise has been on the rise in recent decades, some experts said the findings raise new questions about what other whale behaviors might be changing due to mounting human presence on the high seas.

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Sep 072018
 
 September 7, 2018  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


René Magritte The false mirror 1928

 

I Know Who the “Senior Official” Is Who Wrote the NY Times Op-Ed (PCR)
Pompeo Denies Being Author Of ‘Sad’ NYT Op-Ed On Trump (AFP)
Mueller Hardens Stance On Trump Interview In Russia Probe, Giuliani Says (R.)
‘Lots Of Evidence’ Syria Preparing Chemical Weapons In Idlib- New US Envoy (R.)
Operation Yellowhammer: Secret Government Paper On No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
Brexit Negotiators Risk Sleepwalking Into Crisis – Former UK Envoy To EU (G.)
The Fed’s QE Unwind Hits $250 Billion (WS)
Twitter Permanently Bans Alex Jones, Website Infowars (R.)
Google and Apple’s Systems to Track you in Person (CP)
Moon Says Is Seeking To Establish ‘Irreversible’ Peace On Korean Peninsula (YH)
Paris Official Seeks To Outlaw Airbnb Rentals In City Centre (AFP)
Most Of British Countryside Now Devoid Of Hedgehogs (G.)

 

 

Paul Craig Roberts: “The New York Times wrote it.”

I Know Who the “Senior Official” Is Who Wrote the NY Times Op-Ed (PCR)

I know who wrote the anonymous “senior Trump official” op-ed in the New York Times. The New York Times wrote it. The op-ed is an obvious forgery. As a former senior official in a presidential administration, I can state with certainty that no senior official would express disagreement anonymously. Anonymous dissent has no credibility. Moreover, the dishonor of it undermines the character of the writer. A real dissenter would use his reputation and the status of his high position to lend weight to his dissent. The New York Times’ claim to have vetted the writer also lacks credibility, as the New York Times has consistently printed extreme accusations against Trump and against Vladimir Putin without supplying a bit of evidence.

The New York Times has consistently misrepresented unsubstantiated allegations as proven fact. There is no reason whatsoever to believe the New York Times about anything. Consider also whether a member of a conspiracy working “diligently” inside the administration with “many of the senior officials” to “preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting” Trump’s “worst inclinations” would thwart his and his fellow co-conspirators’ plot by revealing it! This forgery is an attempt to break up the Trump administration by creating suspicion throughout the senior level. If Trump falls for the New York Times’ deception, a house cleaning is likely to take place wherever suspicion falls. A government full of mutual suspicion cannot function.

The fake op-ed serves to validate from within the Trump administration the false reporting by the New York Times that serves the interests of the military/security complex to hold on to enemies with whom Trump prefers to make peace. For example, the alleged “senior official” misrepresents, as does the New York Times, President Trump’s efforts to reduce dangerous tensions with North Korea and Russia as President Trump’s “preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un” over America’s “allied, like-minded nations.” This is the same non-sequitur that the New York Times has expressed endlessly. Why is resolving dangerous tensions a “preference for dictators” and not a preference for peace? The New York Times has never explained, and neither does the “senior official.”

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As have lots of others. If PCR is right, makes sense.

Pompeo Denies Being Author Of ‘Sad’ NYT Op-Ed On Trump (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied Thursday being the author of a damning, anonymous op-ed in the New York Times about President Donald Trump, calling it “sad”. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the New York Times, a liberal newspaper that has attacked this administration relentlessly, chose to print such a piece,” Pompeo said in New Delhi. “If it’s accurate… they should not… have chosen to take a disgruntled, deceptive bad actor’s word for anything and put it in their newspaper. It’s sad more than anything else,” he told reporters.

He added: “I come from a place where if you’re not in a position to execute the commander’s intent, you have a singular option, that is to leave. And this person instead, according to the New York Times, chose not only to stay but to undermine what President Trump and this administration are trying to do. “And I have to tell you, I just, I find the media’s efforts in this regard to undermine this administration incredibly disturbing. The editorial, by an anonymous senior US official according to the New York Times, said that Trump’s own staff see him as a danger to the nation. Trump has questioned whether the “gutless” piece, entitled “I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration”, might be treasonous. “It’s not mine,” Pompeo added.

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“We’ve said no, and let’s see how they deal with it.”

Mueller Hardens Stance On Trump Interview In Russia Probe, Giuliani Says (R.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants President Donald Trump to commit to a follow-up interview to written answers to questions in his probe of any coordination between Trump campaign members and Russia in the 2016 U.S. election, Rudy Giuliani, who is representing the president, said on Thursday. Giuliani, who said talks between the two sides were continuing, saw Mueller’s stance as a hardening in the position prosecutors are taking after offering to allow Trump to answer questions in writing. “I thought we were close to having an agreement until they came back with, ‘You have to agree now that you’ll allow a follow-up,’ and I don’t see how we can do it,” Giuliani told Reuters.

Lawyers for Trump have been negotiating over a potential interview with Mueller’s team since last year in the U.S. investigation of Russian meddling in the presidential election, which Moscow denies. Trump has denied any campaign collusion, calling the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.” In a letter to Trump’s lawyers last week, Mueller expressed a willingness to accept written responses on questions about collusion, but did not rule out a possible interview as a follow-up, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday. After receiving the written responses, Mueller’s investigators would decide on a next step, which could include an interview with Trump, the person said. But Giuliani said on Thursday that Mueller’s team had stiffened its position in the latest talks. “They want a commitment” to a follow-up interview, Giuliani said. “We’ve said no, and let’s see how they deal with it.”

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In crease the pressure on Trump with anon op-eds and Mueller, and see if he bombs Assad. Transparent.

‘Lots Of Evidence’ Syria Preparing Chemical Weapons In Idlib- New US Envoy (R.)

There is “lots of evidence” chemical weapons are being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib, north-west Syria, the new US representative for Syria has said, warning any attack on the last big rebel enclave would be a “reckless escalation”. “I am very sure that we have very, very good grounds to be making these warnings,” said Jim Jeffrey, who was named on 17 August as secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s special adviser on Syria overseeing talks on a political transition. “Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation,” Jeffrey said. “There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared.”

Washington has issued a strong warning to Syria’s government against using chemical weapons in the widely expected operation. Jeffrey said any offensive by Russian and Syrian forces, and the use of chemical weapons, would force huge refugee flows into south-eastern Turkey or areas in Syria under Turkish control. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has massed his army and allied forces on the frontlines in the north-west and Russian planes have joined his bombardment of rebels there – the prelude to a possible assault. The fate of the insurgent stronghold in and around Idlib province now seems to rest on a meeting to be held in Tehran on Friday between the leaders of Assad’s supporters Russia and Iran, and the rebels’ ally Turkey.

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“..its song is said to have a rhythm like “a little bit of bread and no cheese”

Operation Yellowhammer: Secret Government Paper On No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

A secret Treasury document has raised questions about “rail access to the EU” after a no-deal Brexit. The document – snapped as it was carried into a Whitehall meeting – also reveals that Philip Hammond’s department has codenamed its contingency planning “Operation Yellowhammer”. It warns that government departments will have to make cuts to prepare for crashing out of the EU, saying: “Their first call should be internal reprioritisation.” And it acknowledges the need to “maintain confidence in the event of contingency plans being triggered – particularly important for financial services”.

Operation Yellowhammer is being overseen by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, which is usually responsible for coping with emergencies such as floods and disease outbreaks. The document was photographed just hours after the health secretary admitted that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for stockpiling NHS medicines in a no-deal Brexit. A Treasury spokesman refused to be drawn on the paper, saying: “We don’t comment on leaked documents.” The yellowhammer is a bird with a bright yellow head, a brown back streaked with black and chestnut rump, often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Intriguingly for critics of a no-deal Brexit, its song is said to have a rhythm like “a little bit of bread and no cheese”.

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“Rogers says the prime minister’s compromise plan “contains many wholly unsaleable elements and will not [and] cannot be agreed by the 27..”

Brexit Negotiators Risk Sleepwalking Into Crisis – Former UK Envoy To EU (G.)

Brexit negotiators on both sides of the Channel risk “sleepwalking into a major crisis” that could poison relations for a generation, the UK’s former ambassador to the European Union Sir Ivan Rogers, has warned. In a speech to the British Irish Chambers of Commerce in Dublin, he urged EU leaders to move beyond a technocratic approach to Brexit and give serious thought to “the British question” or risk “endless toxic running battles”. “There is now, in my view, a higher risk than the markets are currently pricing of a disorderly breakdown in Brexit negotiations, and of our sleepwalking into a major crisis,” he said. “Not because either negotiating team actively seeks it, but precisely because each side misreads each other’s real incentives and political constraints and cannot find any sort of landing zone for a deal, however provisional.”

He said it was “tempting” and “an understandable accusation” for European capitals to think that “the British have brought all this on themselves without much apparent thought or honesty”. But he urged leaders to take a longer view, or risk a brittle settlement that would not last. Rogers resigned as the UK’s ambassador to the EU last January after being attacked as “the gloomy mandarin” by Tory Eurosceptics, who dismissed his warnings that leaving the EU would be be complicated process that would dominate UK political life for a decade.

In a parting email to staff he urged British officials to challenge ill-founded arguments and “muddled thinking”, while another former top civil servant lamented his departure as a “wilful and total destruction of EU expertise”. In his speech on Thursday night Rogers criticised the “delusional” thinking of British Eurosceptics and said they knew that a genuine no-deal Brexit “would bring several key sectors of the economy to a halt”. He said that advocates of a no-deal Brexit expected to trigger a host of mini deals at the 11th hour.

[..] Much of his speech was a plea to EU27 member states to take a strategic approach to Brexit, recognising that they cannot have “just a bog-standard third-country relationship like any other” with the UK. But Rogers was not attempting to sell Theresa May’s Chequers plan, an array of proposals that includes an unprecedented customs deal and “common rule book” for goods that the EU has rejected. Rogers says the prime minister’s compromise plan “contains many wholly unsaleable elements and will not [and] cannot be agreed by the 27”.

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Just a start, but getting serious.

The Fed’s QE Unwind Hits $250 Billion (WS)

In August, the Federal Reserve was supposed to shed up to $24 billion in Treasury securities and up to $16 billion in Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), for a total of $40 billion, according to its QE-unwind plan – or “balance sheet normalization.” The QE unwind, which started in October 2017, is still in ramp-up mode, where the amounts increase each quarter (somewhat symmetrical to the QE declines during the “Taper”). The acceleration to the current pace occurred in July. So how did it go in August? The Fed released its weekly balance sheet Thursday afternoon. Over the period from August 2 through September 5, the balance of Treasury securities declined by $23.7 billion to $2,313 billion, the lowest since March 26, 2014. Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $152 billion in Treasuries:

The step-pattern of the QE unwind in the chart above is a consequence of how the Fed sheds Treasury securities: It doesn’t sell them outright but allows them to “roll off” when they mature; and they only mature mid-month or at the end of the month. On August 15, $23 billion in Treasuries matured. On August 31, $21 billion matured. In total, $44 billion matured during the month. The Fed replaced about $20 billion of them with new Treasury securities directly via its arrangement with the Treasury Department that cuts out Wall Street – the “primary dealers” with which the Fed normally does business. Those $20 billion in securities were “rolled over.” But it did not replace about $24 billion of maturing Treasuries. They “rolled off” and became part of the QE unwind.

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They have to reveal their grounds.

Twitter Permanently Bans Alex Jones, Website Infowars (R.)

Twitter on Thursday permanently banned U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website Infowars from its platform and Periscope, saying in a tweet that the accounts had violated its behavior policies. “As we continue to increase transparency around our rules and enforcement actions, we wanted to be open about this action, given the broad interest in this case,” the company tweeted. “We do not typically comment on enforcement actions we take against individual accounts for their privacy.” In a video posted on the Infowars website on Thursday Jones said, “I was taken down not because we lied but because we tell the truth and because we were popular.”

The ban came weeks after Apple, Alphabet’s YouTube, and Facebook took down podcasts and channels from Jones, citing community standards. Jones, whose conspiracy theories include that the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax, hosts the syndicated radio program “The Alex Jones Show.” Last month, Jones lost a bid to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought against him by the parents of a boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. On Wednesday, Jones attended a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on ways to counteract foreign efforts to influence U.S. elections and political discourse. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey testified at the hearing.

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Bluetooth ‘beacons’ everywhere that track you. Lovely.

Google and Apple’s Systems to Track you in Person (CP)

Google is in the news (again) for creepy surveillance practices. Google, AP reported, is tracking your physical whereabouts even after you tell them to shut Location History off. Now Bloomberg reports they bought data about Mastercard transactions to link online ads with in-store purchases. These make for interesting stories, but the real story, not being discussed, is the online-physical advertising systems engineered by Google and Apple.

Over the last few years, there’s been a quiet revolution in retail marketing empowering advertisers to track consumers in physical space. Retailers have realized that, contrary to popular misconceptions, most retail purchases are still made in brick-and-mortar stores– not the online world of Amazon and Walmart. The capacity to track each of us in the physical world offers an untapped market for high-tech advertising. Google previously called this the Physical Web, a new Internet of Things frontier that melds the online and offline worlds into one.

To facilitate online-offline tracking, Google and Apple developed protocols for communications with mobile devices like smartphones. The idea is to make the physical world, like a poster on a building, something you can “click on” (i.e. interact with) without installing a special app. The dominant weapon of choice is the bluetooth beacon – silly putty-sized units that broadcast bluetooth signals to track your precise location and send messages to your phone. Bluetooth beacons are now scattered about stores, airports, sporting arenas, malls, and other locales. The technology is several years in the making.

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Let him.

Moon Says Is Seeking To Establish ‘Irreversible’ Peace On Korean Peninsula (YH)

South Korea is seeking to formally end its hostile relations with North Korea before the year’s end to establish permanent peace that would be irreversible, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in an interview published Friday. “The most basic goal of our policy is that there must never be another war on the Korean Peninsula,” the president said in a written interview with Indonesian newspaper Kompas. The rare interview came ahead of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s three-day trip to Seoul. Moon and Widodo will meet Monday, one day after the Indonesian leader arrives on a state visit. Moon noted he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have already agreed to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and establish permanent peace.

“The issue is sincerely implementing the agreement reached by the leaders, and the plan is to make enough progress by the year’s end so the process cannot be reversed,” the South Korean president said, according to a script of his written interview released by his office Cheong Wa Dae. Moon’s remarks came as he is set to hold his third bilateral summit with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang from Sept. 18-20. Moon and Kim earlier met in the border village of Panmunjom on April 27 and May 26. He expressed hope for a formal end to the Korean War before the year’s end. “As a practical way of building trust, it would be great if a declaration of the war that would mark the end of hostile relations on the Korean Peninsula can be made this year,” Moon said.

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“We’ll be living in an open-air museum.”

Paris Official Seeks To Outlaw Airbnb Rentals In City Centre (AFP)

The Paris city council member in charge of housing said Thursday that he would propose outlawing home rentals via Airbnb and other websites in the city centre, accusing the service of forcing residents out of the French capital. Ian Brossat told AFP that he would also seek to prohibit the purchase of secondary residences in Paris, saying such measures were necessary to keep the city from becoming an “open-air museum”. “One residence out of every four no longer houses Parisians,” said Brossat, who is expected to head the Communist party list for European Parliament elections next year. With some 60,000 apartments on offer in the city, Paris is the biggest market for Airbnb, which like other home-sharing platforms has come under increasing pressure from cities which claim it drives up rents for locals.

“Do we want Paris to be a city which the middle classes can afford, or do we want it to be a playground for Saudi or American billionaires?” he said. Brossat has had Airbnb and its rivals in his sights for years, and recently published a book assailing the US giant titled “Airbnb, or the Uberised City”. He wants to forbid any short-term tourist rentals of entire apartments in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Arrondissements of Paris, home to some of the world’s most popular sites including the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Louvre museum. “If we don’t do anything, there won’t be any more locals: Like on the Ile Saint-Louis, we’ll end up with a drop in the number of residents and food shops turned into clothing or souvenir stores,” he said, referring to the Seine island in the shadow of the Notre-Dame cathedral. “We’ll be living in an open-air museum.”

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In the end this means a countryside devoid of countryside.

Most Of British Countryside Now Devoid Of Hedgehogs (G.)

A “perfect storm” of intensive farming and rising badger populations has left most of the countryside in England and Wales devoid of hedgehogs, according to the first systematic national survey. The research used footprints left by hedgehogs in special tunnels to reveal that they were living at just 20% of the 261 sites surveyed. Hedgehogs, which topped a vote in 2013 to nominate a national species for Britain, were significantly less common where badgers were more numerous. Badgers eat hedgehogs and also compete for the beetles and worms the prickly animals consume. However, hedgehogs and badgers lived alongside each other in half the hedgehog sites, while a quarter of all the sites had neither animal, showing the destruction of habitat such as hedgerows and coppices was also a major factor.

“There are lots of areas in the countryside that are not suitable for hedgehogs or badgers,” said Ben Williams, at the University of Reading, who led the new work. “There is something fundamentally wrong in the rural landscape for those species and probably lots of other species as well,” such as birds and shrews. Previous work based on visual sightings and roadkills indicated that the number of hedgehogs living in the British countryside has plummeted by more than half since 2000. Historical hedgehog numbers are hard to estimate, but scientists think populations have fallen by at least 80% since the 1950s. The new survey, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is much more detailed and reliable. It concludes: “The combined effects of increasing badger abundance and intensive agriculture may have provided a perfect storm for hedgehogs in rural Britain, leading to worryingly low levels of occupancy over large [areas].”

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Aug 082018
 
 August 8, 2018  Posted by at 8:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh The red tree house 1890

 

Tesla Shares Soar After Elon Musk Floats Plan To Take Company Private (G.)
Securities Lawyers Shocked By Elon Musk’s Tweet (CNBC)
Alex Jones Pleads With Donald Trump To Fight ‘Censorship’ (Ind.)
US Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media (R.)
Trump’s Sanctions Causing Turmoil In Turkey (CNBC)
Turkish Banks Scramble to Stave Off Debt Crisis (DQ)
Europe ‘Needs To Get A Backbone’ On Trump’s Iran Sanctions – Ron Paul (RT)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Calls On Firms To Defy Trump Over Iran (G.)
The Blowup With Canada Is the Latest Saudi Overreach (IC)
London Is The World’s Airbnb Capital (ZH)
My Amsterdam Is Being Un-Created By Mass Tourism (G.)
First Trial Alleging Monsanto’s Roundup Causes Cancer Goes To Jury (R.)
The American Sea of Deception (TD)

 

 

$82 billion in funding arranged? Perhaps the SEC should have a word with Musk about that.

Tesla Shares Soar After Elon Musk Floats Plan To Take Company Private (G.)

Elon Musk has launched a campaign to take Tesla private on a day that included several provocative tweets, a suspension (and resumption) of trading in the company’s shares, reports of a significant Saudi investment, a surge in stock price, and an evocative, Musk-tinged appeal to the Tesla faithful: “The future is very bright and we’ll keep fighting to achieve our mission.” The ride started with Tesla’s stock rising more than 7% after Musk tweeted he was “considering taking Tesla private” and had funding in place to do so at a price of $420 (£325) per share. Shortly afterwards, Tesla published a blogpost written by Musk entitled ‘Taking Tesla private’ that had been sent to all employees.

The tweet appeared to be triggered by a report in the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia has built up a stake in Tesla worth up to $2.9bn. At $420 a share, Tesla would have an enterprise value of about $82bn including debt, well above its stock market value, which reached $63.8bn on Tuesday. Shares closed up 11% at $378. To take Tesla private, Musk would have to pull off the largest leveraged buyout in history, surpassing Texas electric utility TXU’s in 2007. Analysts say Tesla doesn’t fit the typical profile of a company that can raise tens of billions of dollars of debt to fund such a deal. In a follow up tweet, Musk wrote: “I don’t have a controlling vote now and wouldn’t expect any shareholder to have one if we go private. I won’t be selling in either scenario.”

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Social media and its consequences.

Securities Lawyers Shocked By Elon Musk’s Tweet (CNBC)

“If his comments were issued for the purpose of moving the price of the stock, that could be manipulation, it could also be securities fraud,” former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt told CNBC on Tuesday. “The use of a specific price for a potential going private transaction is highly unprecedented and therefore raises significant questions about what his intent was. So, that would have to be investigated.” [..] Five years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission had to clarify its social media policy after Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings set off a firestorm of his own.

Companies can use social media like Facebook and Twitter to announce key information and be OK under Fair Disclosure regulations as long as investors know that they can find that information on the social media accounts. Reg FD was designed to make sure investors could get information at the same time, rather than having select disclosures to some before others. The SEC’s enforcement division had investigated Hasting’s use of a personal Facebook page back in 2012 to say the streaming service’s monthly online viewing had exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time.

The SEC didn’t take any action against Netflix or Hastings but clarified its social media policy. “Personal social media sites of individuals employed by a public company would not ordinarily be assumed to be channels through which the company would disclose material corporate information,” the SEC said in a statement at the time. There might not be any SEC action this time, either, but it’s only a matter of time before an executive gets accused of making a false or misleading statement on social media, said Kevin LaCroix, an attorney focused on management liability issues. “There will be a case someday.”

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A hard one for Trump. Alex Jones is his biggest media asset. But how can Washington stop Silicon Valley?

Alex Jones Pleads With Donald Trump To Fight ‘Censorship’ (Ind.)

Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has appealed to Donald Trump to pursue an end to “censorship” after the InfoWars host was banned from all but one of the West’s major content platforms. On Monday, Apple deleted most of Mr Jones’s podcasts saying they contained hate speech; Facebook removed four of his pages down for “repeated violations of community standards”; YouTube terminated Mr Jones’s account after he violated a 90-day ban; and Spotify removed one of Jones’s podcasts for “hate content”. In a free-wheeling monologue posted online, the prominent far-right personality praised the president, condemned the mainstream press, and accused China of meddling in US elections.

“Mr President, America knows you’re real. They know the Democrats are the anti-American globalists allied with the ChiComms, radical Islam, the unelected EU, and others,” he said. “If you come out before the midterms and make the censorship the big issue of them trying to steal the election. “And if you make the fact we need an Internet Bill of Rights, and anti-trust busting on these companies, if they don’t back off right now. “And if you don’t come out and point out that the communist Chinese have penetrated and infiltrated and are way, way worse than the Russians …. then they will be able to steal the midterms and start the impeachment.” He said cracking down on China and speaking out against censorship was “the right thing to do”.

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The Atlantic Council doesn’t find the truth, it makes its own. Main Russiagate proponents.

US Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media (R.)

A day before Facebook announced that it had discovered and disabled a propaganda campaign designed to sow dissension among U.S. voters, it exclusively shared some of the suspicious pages with an online forensics team so busy it hasn’t put a nameplate on the door. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab is based in a 12-foot-by-12-foot office in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the nearly 60-year-old Council www.atlanticcouncil.org, a think tank devoted to studying serious and at times obscure international issues. Facebook is using the group to enhance its investigations of foreign interference. Last week, the company said it took down 32 suspicious pages and accounts that purported to be run by leftists and minority activists.

While some U.S. officials said they were likely the work of Russian agents, Facebook said it did not know for sure. It fell to the lab to point out similarities to fake Russian pages from 2016 during Facebook’s news conference last week. Facebook began looking for outside help amid criticism for failing to rein in Russian propaganda ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. The U.S. Justice Department won indictments against 13 Russians and three companies for using social media in that election to influence voters. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team warned last week of persistent attempts by Russia to use social media against the 2018 congressional elections as well.

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All they need to do is release a pastor.

Trump’s Sanctions Causing Turmoil In Turkey (CNBC)

The Turkish lira and benchmark sovereign bond hit a record low as the threat of U.S. sanctions added pressure to already ailing markets. The U.S. dollar rose to 5.4 against the lira on Monday before trading around 5.29 on Tuesday. Turkey’s 10-year bond fell to a record low on Tuesday, pushing its yield up to around 20 percent before hovering around 18.8 percent. Bond prices move inversely to yields. Turkish capital markets have struggled this year as the country deals with a weakening economy. The sharp moves down come after President Donald Trump threatened last month to slap “large sanctions” on the Middle Eastern nation if it refuses to free Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor.

The U.S. then announced on Aug. 1 sanctions on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers, prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with them. “This is a shot across the bow,” said Marcus Chenevix, an analyst at TS Lombard. “Now, I think the U.S. will give them time to respond. It’s not like the U.S. sees this as a pressing political matter, it just can’t seem to be backing down to these hostage tactics.” Turkey detained Brunson in October 2016, accusing him of spying and trying to overthrow the government after a failed coup earlier that year. Trump demanded in a July 26 tweet the Turkish government release Brunson.

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20% yields on bonds… As the lira has lost 25% or so of its value..

Turkish Banks Scramble to Stave Off Debt Crisis (DQ)

Highly leveraged companies currently face a potent cocktail of soaring borrowing costs and a plunging Lira. As the local currency weakens against the dollar and the euro, it gets harder and harder for local companies to service foreign currency bonds. That’s how a currency crisis becomes a debt crisis. Turkish companies are sitting on $337 billion in debt. With as much as $100 billion in debt scheduled to come due over the course of the next year, Turkish banks are under growing pressure to restructure foreign-currency denominated corporate loans as those companies struggle to service them.

The banks have proposed rules to accelerate the restructuring of company debt and allow lenders to avoid booking these loans as “non-performing loans,” a move that may help prevent defaults from piling up. As has happened in Italy since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, the banks will try to extend loans indefinitely in order to avoid gaping holes developing on their balance sheets. But it may already be too late. The downgrades, both sovereign and corporate, are coming thick and fast. On July 20, Fitch Ratings downgraded the Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Ratings (LTFC IDRs) of 24 Turkish banks and their subsidiaries, in many cases by two notches.

The agency also slashed Turkey’s sovereign rating deeper into junk territory, downgrading its Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘BB’ from ‘BB+’ with a negative outlook. Moody’s also downgraded the ratings of 17 banks in July. These downgrades will make it even more costly for Turkish banks and the Turkish government to raise funds, with the yield on Turkey’s benchmark 10-year bond soaring to an eye-watering 19% on Tuesday.

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“In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done..”

Europe ‘Needs To Get A Backbone’ On Trump’s Iran Sanctions – Ron Paul (RT)

Washington is powerful, but Europe needs to “stick to its guns” against President Donald Trump’s threats that any countries doing business with Iran will not to do business with the US, according to former Congressman Ron Paul. In an interview with RT, Paul said that while the US can “throw its weight around” the EU needs to “get some backbone” to resist Trump’s threats. “If they stick to their guns I think the United States would have to adjust our policies a bit, because how are they going to enforce that? You know, if China and Russia and other countries and India, they do business with Iran — how are we going to punish them?” he said. Paul acknowledged that standing up to Washington might be difficult if major companies are faced with the threat of losing business in the US. “In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done,” he said.

Asked about the anti-Russia sentiment currently gripping the US, Paul said that the people who are in favor of taking a very negative view of Russia — and who are pushing the narrative that Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency — are in control in both the media and in Congress. “I think it’s tragic what’s happening, because they have no proof of anything and for some reason these senators have come up with this new [Russia sanctions] bill — Graham and McCain and Menendez — just out of the clear blue, they have no evidence whatsoever of their charges that they have made,” he said. Paul, who has long advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy and taken a negative view of sanctions, said that the US tendency to blame other countries for everything, slapping them with sanctions and then complaining when they retaliate is “very, very bad foreign policy.”

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Catch 22.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Calls On Firms To Defy Trump Over Iran (G.)

The EU is set on a collision course with Donald Trump after its foreign policy chief called for Europeans to increase their business dealings with Iran in defiance of bellicose statements from the US president. As Trump vowed to block those trading with Iran from the US market, the EU stepped up efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal by encouraging its companies to ignore the White House. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said Brussels would not let the 2015 agreement with Tehran die, and she urged Europeans to make their own investment decisions. The EU, China and Russia remain signatories to the joint comprehensive plan of action under which economic sanctions on Iran have been lifted in return for the regime curtailing its nuclear aspirations.

Trump reneged on the deal in May, describing it as “a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made”. The clash risks destabilising the wider transatlantic relationship weeks after the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Trump vowed in the White House rose garden to increase tariff-free trade between the EU and the US and to move on from recent disagreements. During a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, on Tuesday, Mogherini said: “We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran, because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region but also of the world.

“If there is one piece of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation that is delivering, it has to be maintained. We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something [that] for us is a security priority.” Hours earlier, Trump had tweeted: “The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!”

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“Have the Saudis gone stark-raving bonkers?”

The Blowup With Canada Is the Latest Saudi Overreach (IC)

Have the Saudis gone stark-raving bonkers? First, they pick a fight with Canada — yeah, that Canada! Maple syrup-loving, hockey-playing, poutine-eating, liberal, multicultural Canada; the land with free health care and a prime minister who wears “Eid Mubarak” socks. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia (over)reacted to a single tweet from the Canadian foreign ministry. The tweet called on the Saudis to “immediately release” imprisoned activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif, as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” The Saudi foreign ministry lambasted the Canadians for an “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable” statement, announced the “freezing of all new trade and investment transactions” with Canada, demanding the Canadian ambassador leave the country “within the next 24 hours.”

At the same time, Saudi trolls took to Twitter to declare their loud support for … Quebec’s independence. Who knew that an absolute Persian Gulf monarchy was so passionate about a French-speaking secessionist movement 6,000 miles away? (Hey, Canadian trolls — if you even exist — my advice would be to retaliate by offering Ottawa’s backing for independence in the restless, Shia-dominated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It’ll drive them totally nuts.) And Saudi Arabia was just getting started. On Monday, the kingdom escalated the row by suspending scholarships “for about 16,000 Saudi students” studying in Canada, the Toronto Star reported, “and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.” (Can you think of a better example of biting your bigoted nose to spite your intolerant face?)

Then — and this is my favorite part of this whole bizarre episode — a Saudi group put out an image on Twitter of a Canadian airliner flying directly toward Toronto’s tallest building over a warning against interfering in others’ affairs. (The Saudi group later deleted it and apologized) Are. You. Kidding. Me?

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Destruction in its wake.

London Is The World’s Airbnb Capital (ZH)

10 years ago, in early August 2008, the website Airbedandbreakfast.com went online, marking the birth of Airbnb. Back then the three founders, Brian Cheky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk wanted to help short-term travelers find affordable accommodation and provide renters with an opportunity to make an extra buck by renting out spare rooms or even just the namesake airbed on the floor. However, as Statista’s Felix Richter notes, little did they know that 10 years later their little venture would be one of the hottest private companies in the world, valued at nearly $30 billion.

Over the years, Airbnb has developed into much more than what it was originally meant to be. These days you can rent millions of houses, apartments and rooms on the platform. For many young travelers is has become the favorite if not the only way to find accommodation when travelling. Luckily for Airbnb, its rise coincided with a steep increase in city tourism. In cities such as London, Paris or New York, where hotel rooms are often hard to find and/or expensive, Airbnb has become an affordable and popular way to experience cities in a less touristy way.

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Politicians can’t keep up with tech developments. They’re always late. They sit on their hands until someone else does something.

“..the red light district is no longer under government control at weekends. Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time.”

My Amsterdam Is Being Un-Created By Mass Tourism (G.)

The word on everyone’s lips is “Venice”. It starts as a whisper, some time in early spring, when the lines in front of the Rijksmuseum get a little longer, and the weekend shopping crowds in the Negen Straatjes begin to test your bike-navigation skills. By the time it’s July those streets are flooded. You don’t even try steering through the crowds. You’d be like Moses, except that God is not on your side, the Red Sea will not part in your favour, and the crowds will wash you away: the middle-aged couples from the US and Germany, here for the museums; and the stag parties from Spain, Italy and the UK, here in their epic attempt to drink all the beer and smoke all the pot.

So you learn to take the long way round to your destination and skip entire areas of Amsterdam – which nevertheless means that, perhaps once every summer, you’ll be down on the pavement after crashing into a distracted tourist who walked in front of your bike, and the whisper becomes a curse: “Fucking Venice!” (The Dutch like to swear in English.) “Venice”is shorthand for a city so flooded by tourists that it no longer feels like a city at all. In the famed 2013 Dutch documentary I Love Venice a tourist asks: “At what time does Venice close?” It’s very funny, except, of course, that it is not funny at all.

This year Amsterdam’s 850,000 inhabitants will see an estimated 18.5 million tourists flock to the city – up 11% on last year. By 2025, 23 million are expected. Last week the city’s ombudsman condemned the red light district as no longer under government control at weekends. Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time. [..] There are several ways to react. One is to leave town. A study shows that in the past five years 40% of couples relocated to smaller towns after their first child. Many feel this is no longer a city to raise kids.

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Hard to prove, I said it before. But a jury might decide anyway. Huge case, 5,000 more plaintiffs to come.

First Trial Alleging Monsanto’s Roundup Causes Cancer Goes To Jury (R.)

Groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson is one of more than 5,000 plaintiffs across the United States who claim Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing herbicides, including the widely-used Roundup, cause cancer. His case, the first to go to trial, began in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California four weeks ago. Johnson’s lawyer Brent Wisner on Tuesday urged jurors to hold Monsanto liable and punish them with a verdict he said would “actually change the world.” Wisner claimed Monsanto knew about glyphosate’s cancer risk, but decided to bury the information. Monsanto, a unit of Bayer following a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate, denies the allegations and says expert testimony on which Johnson and others rely does not satisfy any scientific or legal requirements.

“The message of 40 years of scientific studies is clear: this cancer is not caused by glyphosate,” Monsanto’s lawyer George Lombardi said, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2017 concluded a decades-long assessment of glyphosate risks and found the chemical not likely carcinogenic to humans. The World Health Organization’s cancer arm in 2015 classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” If it finds Monsanto liable, the jury can decide to award punitive damages on top of the more than $39 million in compensatory damages Johnson demanded. The jury is expected to start deliberating on Wednesday.

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All the Presidents’ lies.

The American Sea of Deception (TD)

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lied to Congress and the American people when he claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked” by the U.S. and a complete “surprise” to the U.S. military. President Dwight Eisenhower flatly lied to the American people and the world when he denied the existence of American U-2 spy plane flights over Russia. President John F. Kennedy lied about the supposed missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. And Kennedy lied when he claimed that the United States sought democracy in Latin America, Southeast Asia and around the world. President Lyndon Johnson lied on Aug. 4, 1965, when he claimed that North Vietnam attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. This provided a false pretext for a massive escalation of the U.S. war on Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel and millions of Southeast Asians.

Regarding Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg recalled 17 years ago that his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. military and intelligence documents “proving that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward. … A generation of presidents,” Ellsberg noted, “chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was. …” President Richard Nixon lied about wanting peace in Vietnam (his agent, Henry Kissinger, actively undermined a peace accord with Hanoi before the 1968 election) and about respecting the neutrality of Cambodia. He lied through secrecy and omission about the criminal and fateful U.S. bombing of Cambodia—a far bigger crime than the burglarizing of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex, about which he of course famously lied.

The serial fabricator Ronald Reagan made a special address to the nation in which he lied by saying, “We did not—repeat—we did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.” President George H.W. Bush falsely claimed on at least five occasions in the run-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War that Iraqi forces, after invading Kuwait, had pulled babies from incubators and left them to die.

President Bill Clinton shamelessly lied about his White House sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. He falsely claimed to be upholding international law and to be opposing genocide when he bombed Serbia for more than two months in early 1999. The serial liar George W. Bush and his administration infamously, openly and elaborately lied about Saddam Hussein’s alleged Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and about Iraq’s purported links to al Qaida and the 9/11 jetliner attacks. After the WMD fabrication was exposed, Bush falsely claimed to have invaded Iraq to spread liberty and democracy.

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Jul 172018
 
 July 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


René Magritte The human condition 1935

 

IMF Warns Trump Trade War Could Cost Global Economy $430 Billion (G.)
Detente Bad, Cold War Good (Murray)
Mueller’s Latest Indictment Contradicts Evidence In The Public Domain (Carter)
Has Mueller Caught the Hackers? (RN/NC)
Putin Rejects UK’s ‘Ungrounded Accusations’ Over Novichok Poisoning (AFP)
Vote Leave Fined For Breaking Electoral Law (BBC)
May Narrowly Heads Off Defeat After Caving In To Brexit Hardliners (G.)
Brexit Is Like The Python That Swallowed An Alligator (Ind.)
Theresa May Told Her Chequers Deal Is ‘Dead In The Water’ (Ind.)
IRS To Revoke 362,000 Passports From US Citizens (Black)
Going Cashless Is Discriminatory (G.)
Netflix Stock Slammed As Subscriber Growth And Revenue Fall Short (MW)
Airbnb Warned It Breaches EU Rules Over Pricing Policy (G.)
High Housing Costs Prompt Thousands of Greeks To Disclaim Inheritance (K.)

 

 

US “as the focus of global retaliation”..

IMF Warns Trump Trade War Could Cost Global Economy $430 Billion (G.)

Rising trade tensions between the United States and the rest of the world could cost the global economy $430bn, with America “especially vulnerable” to an escalating tariff war, the International Monetary Fund has warned. Delivering a sharp rebuke for Donald Trump, the Washington-based organisation said the current threats made by the US and its trading partners risked lowering global growth by as much as 0.5% by 2020, or about $430bn in lost GDP worldwide. Although all economies would suffer from further escalation, the US would find itself “as the focus of global retaliation” with a relatively higher share of its exports taxed in global markets. “It is therefore especially vulnerable,” the fund said.

Trump raised the stakes in his mounting trade dispute with China last week by proposing 10% tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods entering the country, on top of $34bn of tariffs that were officially imposed on Beijing at the beginning of the month. The Chinese government, which hit back at the first wave of US tariffs with similar measures, was quick to warn of further retaliation on Monday.[..] Issuing its latest World Economic Outlook report on Monday amid the rising tensions, the IMF said there were greater risks emerging for the global economy since its last assessment in the spring. Although world growth remains strong, the expansion is “becoming less even, and risks to the outlook are mounting”, it said.

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So much vitriol these days. Craig Murray is one of many to tone it down.

Detente Bad, Cold War Good (Murray)

The entire “liberal” media and political establishment of the Western world reveals its militarist, authoritarian soul today with the screaming and hysterical attacks on the very prospect of detente with Russia. Peace apparently is a terrible thing; a renewed arms race, with quite literally trillions of dollars pumped into the military industrial complex and hundreds of thousands dying in proxy wars, is apparently the “liberal” stance. Political memories are short, but just 15 years after Iraq was destroyed and the chain reaction sent most of the Arab world back to the dark ages, it is now “treason” to question the word of the Western intelligence agencies, which deliberately and knowingly produced a fabric of lies on Iraqi WMD to justify that destruction.

It would be more rational for it to be treason for leaders to blindly accept the word of the intelligence services. This is especially true on “Russia hacking the election” when, after three years of crazed accusations and millions of man hours by lawyers and CIA and FBI investigators, they are yet to produce any substantive evidence of accusations which are plainly nuts in the first place. This ridiculous circus has found a few facebook ads and indicted one Russian for every 100,000 man hours worked, for unspecified or minor actions which had no possible bearing on the election result.

There are in fact genuine acts of election rigging to investigate. In particular, the multiple actions of the DNC and Democratic Party establishment to rig the Primary against Bernie Sanders do have some very real documentary evidence to substantiate them, and that evidence is even public. Yet those real acts of election rigging are ignored and instead the huge investigation is focused on catching those who revealed Hillary’s election rigging. This gets even more absurd – the investigation then quite deliberately does not focus on catching whoever leaked Hillary’s election rigging, but instead seeks to prove that the Russians hacked Hillary’s election-rigging, which I can assure you they did not. Meanwhile, those of us who might help them with the truth if they were actually interested, are not questioned at all.

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Excellent point by point take-down of the entire indictment.

Mueller’s Latest Indictment Contradicts Evidence In The Public Domain (Carter)

Mueller’s indictment leaves us with the premise that a supposed GRU officer working in league with other GRU officers, acquiring Podesta’s attachments and, just three days after Julian Assange announces leaks are coming in relation to Hillary Clinton, releases deliberately tainted files that serve to pin the blame on Russians, that only really hurt Trump, that ultimately undermined leaks and that provided fabricated evidence. Evidence that, for whatever reason, supported several claims made by CrowdStrike executives published in a legacy media article the previous day.

Guccifer 2.0 repeatedly tried to associate his efforts with WikiLeaks (from the day he appeared) – an organization for whistleblowers to be able to leak files anonymously. Something a hacker willing to publish leaks on his own blog would have had no need for, especially not if he was connected to a site that published leaks already (that is, DCLeaks.com). What we know about Guccifer 2.0 and his multi-layered efforts to be seen as Russian destroy the notion that he was anyone operating on the side of the Russian state.

Ultimately, the indictment produces a lot of new claims, many in keeping with what we know or have heard, however, it presents no evidence to support what it has introduced and an indictment by itself is not evidence, points that have already been noted by Consortium News, Moon of Alabama, Mark McCarty and others. They have also picked up on the timing of the indictment, which seems to have become a theme for Mueller’s indictments in particular. This latest example comes immediately following Rosenstein and Strzok being grilled and receiving negative press as well as immediately before Trump’s summit with Putin. Exactly how much of the indictment is bogus, I can’t know for sure, but definitely, some of it is, especially those parts that relate to the Guccifer 2.0 persona “being on Russia’s side” in all of this.

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The whole WMD presentation lost Mueller his right to be believed at face value.

Has Mueller Caught the Hackers? (RN/NC)

AARON MATE: Right. So, then let me ask you, Michael, this question, this belief that Putin personally ordered this interference campaign against the U.S. The strongest evidence to bolster it that I’ve seen was this Washington Post report in June 2017, I believe, that said that the U.S. had a mole inside Putin’s inner circle who reported that he personally instructed this operation to happen. Doesn’t that strike you as odd, that, well A, that the U.S. could penetrate Putin’s inner circle at that high level, and B, if they did, that they’d be willing to disclose that in a media report, thereby potentially compromising this incredibly sensitive source of information?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Now, you read Russian Roulette and you read about the secret source they had inside the Kremlin in 2014, who was warning the U.S. government that this is exactly what Putin’s government was up to. And this is what they were planning. And I know exactly. I know, we know a lot more about that secret source than we put in the book. This was something that was vetted very carefully. But it is not at all unusual that American spy agencies would seek to cultivate and develop sources who can provide insight into what Putin’s up to, and in these cases they clearly did.

AARON MATE: Someone claims they did. I just find it shocking that they would publicly reveal that, something that high level.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, so what’s your suggestion? That they invented the source, or what’s your-?

AARON MATE: My suggestion is it’s quite possible that, given the legacy of U.S. intelligence officials inventing intelligence to fix, to comport with political imperatives whatever they are, whether it’s the Iraq War, whether it’s allegations against any number of official U.S. enemies, that that may have happened here. And I’m just urging skepticism in the absence of evidence that we obviously disagree on whether it has been presented yet.

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Doesn’t look like we will ever see proof.

Putin Rejects UK’s ‘Ungrounded Accusations’ Over Novichok Poisoning (AFP)

Vladimir Putin has accused Britain of making baseless allegations against Russia over the former Soviet spy and three other people poisoned, one fatally, with the novichok nerve agent in Salisbury. Asked in a Fox News interview about the British government’s assertion that Moscow was behind the novichok attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal, Putin said London had not provided any evidence to back up the claim. “We would like to get documentary evidence but nobody gives it to us,” Putin, speaking through a translator, told the US network after a summit with Donald Trump in Finland.

“It’s the same thing with the accusations of meddling in the election process in America,” he added in reference to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election which was won by Trump. Putin suggested the case could be driven by domestic issues in Britain, saying: “Nobody wants to look into these.” “We just see the ungrounded accusations – why is it done this way? Why should our relationship be made worse by this?” The former Russian double agent Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in Salisbury on 4 March after being exposed to novichok. Both have since recovered. On 30 June Charlie Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess fell ill not far from the Skripal attack after being exposed to the same nerve agent. Sturgess died on 8 July.

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Referred to the police. What are they going to do with this? At what point does the whole vote get nullified?

Vote Leave Fined For Breaking Electoral Law (BBC)

Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined £61,000 and referred to the police after an Electoral Commission probe said it broke electoral law. The investigation found “significant evidence of joint working” between the group and another organisation – BeLeave – leading to it exceeding its spending limit by almost £500,000. Vote Leave also returned an “incomplete and inaccurate spending report”, with almost £234,501 reported incorrectly, and invoices missing for £12,849.99 of spending, the watchdog said. BeLeave founder Darren Grimes has also been fined and referred to the police for breaking the group’s spending limit by more than £665,000 and wrongly reporting the spending as his own.

Veterans for Britain were also found to have inaccurately reported a donation it received from Vote Leave and has been fined £250. Bob Posner, from the Electoral Commission, said: “The Electoral Commission has followed the evidence and conducted a thorough investigation into spending and campaigning carried out by Vote Leave and BeLeave. “We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits. These are serious breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.”

He added: “Vote Leave has resisted our investigation from the start, including contesting our right as the statutory regulator to open the investigation. It has refused to cooperate, refused our requests to put forward a representative for interview, and forced us to use our legal powers to compel it to provide evidence. “Nevertheless, the evidence we have found is clear and substantial, and can now be seen in our report.”

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Like a full-time contortionist.

May Narrowly Heads Off Defeat After Caving In To Brexit Hardliners (G.)

Theresa May has narrowly seen off a Commons rebellion from Conservative remainers unhappy that she had caved in to hardline Brexiters by accepting their amendments to the customs bill. The government majority was reduced to just three votes on the two most controversial amendments after leading Tory remainer Anna Soubry complained that the prime minister had lost control of events by making concessions to the rightwing European Research Group of MPs. The most important of the four amendments from the ERG, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been designed to frustrate May’s compromise proposals over customs arrangements and had initially been opposed by the government, until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon.

No 10 then concluded that all four amendments were “consistent with the Brexit white paper”, a decision that so incensed Tory remainers they vowed to vote against the amendments in Monday night’s Commons debate. One junior minister, Guto Bebb, resigned rather than support the ERG customs union amendment, which narrowly passed by 305 to 302. A total of 14 Tory remainers voted against the government, while three Labour MPs and former Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins voted the other way. A second ERG amendment, preventing the UK joining in with the EU’s VAT regime post-Brexit, passed 303 to 300.

A frustrated Soubry had told the Commons: “The only reason that the government has accepted these amendments is because it is frightened of somewhere in the region of 40 members of parliament – the hard, no-deal Brexiteers, who should have been seen off a long time ago and should be seen off.”

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Nice metaphor.

Brexit Is Like The Python That Swallowed An Alligator (Ind.)

About a year ago, I described the passage of Brexit through parliament as being like that regularly reappearing photograph of a Burmese python that tried to swallow a six-foot alligator whole and accidentally exploded. The alligator suffocated, the python’s head got blown off. That much is not contested. But apart from that, no one knows quite what happened in the hours before an amateur photographer chanced upon it. We must presume the alligator struggled til the last, and that is the stage of Brexit at which we have now arrived. Parliament embraced Brexit of its own free will, but now it cannot handle the monster coming down its oesophagus. And the monster itself does not want to die.

More than a year on from triggering Article 50, the point at which the teeth of the two beast’s teeth first touched, Theresa May had hoped she had found a way of easing its passage that might keep both alive. The so-called “Chequers deal”, which is not a deal at all but an agreed position among the cabinet, detonated the cabinet within moments of it being agreed to. None of which engages with the fact that the European Union was highly likely to reject the agreement anyway. David Davis has quit. Boris Johnson has quit. Justine Greening, the former education secretary who quit in January, has said the only way forward is a second referendum with three choices on the ballot paper (hard Brexit, no Brexit, or the least damaging Brexit the government can manage to get).

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No there there.

Theresa May Told Her Chequers Deal Is ‘Dead In The Water’ (Ind.)

Theresa May has faced taunts that her Chequers deal is “dead in the water” after caving in to a series of changes to customs rules demanded by pro-hard Brexit Tories. Plans for the UK to collect duties for the EU – which lie at the heart of the prime minister’s hopes for a deal with Brussels – will only go forward if the EU in turn agrees to collect them for the UK. There appears to be no prospect of the EU bowing to such a request, apparently throwing the hard-fought Chequers proposals up in the air after just 10 days. In the Commons, Ms May was accused of “dancing to the tune of the European Research Group” – the 60-80 strong organisation of Brexiteer MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

“By capitulating to their proposals on the Customs and [the] Trade Bill she is accepting that the Chequers deal is now dead in the water,” said Labour MP Stephen Kinnock. Ms May insisted he was “absolutely wrong”, telling MPs: “I would not have gone through all the work that I did to ensure that we reached that agreement only to see it changed in some way through these bills. They do not change that Chequers agreement.” Nevertheless, the Brexit white paper – published only four days ago – appeared to rule out a requirement for the EU to agree reciprocal arrangements. It said the two sides would have to “agree a mechanism for the remittance of relevant tariff revenue”, but added: “The UK is not proposing that the EU applies the UK’s tariffs and trade policy at its border for goods intended for the UK.”

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Disturbing.

IRS To Revoke 362,000 Passports From US Citizens (Black)

About two and a half years ago, I told you about a particularly nasty piece of legislation that President Obama quietly signed into law towards the end of his administration. They called it the “FAST Act”, which stood for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation. Yet despite $300 billion earmarked for infrastructure repairs, they didn’t manage to fix very much of America’s surface transportation. The legislation did, however, have two major effects: 1) The FAST Act authorized the US government to plunder excess capital from the Federal Reserve… which is about as stupid as thing as anyone could possibly do. The Federal Reserve is America’s central bank; they control the value and fate of the US dollar… which is still the most dominant currency in the world.

You’d think that having some excess cash on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet would be viewed as wise and conservative. But not Congress. These guys are so broke, they’ll grab every penny they can get. Even from their own central bank. So they buried a provision into the FAST Act demanding that the Federal Reserve hand over any excess capital to the Treasury Department at the end of every calendar year. They started doing that almost immediately, in December 2015. And in 2016. And in 2017. This is one of the reasons why, to this day, the Federal Reserve is borderline insolvent… which hardly inspires confidence. Now, I could go on for quite some time about what an idiotic idea this was. But believe it or not, there was an even worse section of the FAST Act– one they only started implementing recently:

2) Section 32101 of the FAST Act required the US State Department to revoke or deny the passport of any taxpayer that the IRS deems to have “seriously delinquent tax debt.” They define seriously delinquent tax debt as owing $50,000 or more. Well, it took them a couple of years, but the IRS has finally started enforcing this law. Earlier this month the IRS acknowledged that they had sent at least 362,000 names to the State Department to start revoking or denying passports. And that’s just the beginning. The IRS is sending these names out ‘in batches’, so there will be many more to follow. They hope to be finished by the end of the year.

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Washington DC, capital of cash.

Going Cashless Is Discriminatory (G.)

Mobile payments. Credit cards. Digital currencies. Going cashless seems to be a worldwide trend. In Belgium, it is illegal to buy real estate with cash. Some banks in Australia have eliminated cash from their branches. Sweden has seen its use of cash drop to less than 2% of all transactions, and the number could be heading even lower in the next few years. However, one city in the US is resisting that trend: Washington DC. In the nation’s capital cash is still king, and a new bill introduced this week wants to keep it that way. The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2018 would make it illegal for restaurants and retailers not to accept cash or charge a different price to customers depending on the type of payment they use.

City councilmember David Grasso, and five other councilmembers who co-introduced the bill, are responding to the recent tide of retailers in their city and around the country – like the salad chain Sweetgreen – who are no longer accepting cash. These retailers, which mostly serve upscale customers, say that going cashless speeds up transactions, improves customer service and makes for more accurate accounting. They also argue that having less cash lying around also minimizes the risk of crime and contributes to a safer environment for both their customers and employees.

But to some, not accepting cash is discriminatory. A report last year by the Washington City Paper found that 27% of people in the US would have trouble using only a credit card to purchase products, and that the percentage in Washington DC is even higher. “I’m concerned with more and more restaurants, businesses and shops going cashless because you’re systematically excluding a group of people who are already disadvantaged and disenfranchised,” Linnea Lassiter, an analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, told the paper. “And now they can’t have access to this restaurant?”

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When growth slows…

Netflix Stock Slammed As Subscriber Growth And Revenue Fall Short (MW)

Netflix posted weaker-than-expected second-quarter revenue and subscriber numbers Monday afternoon, sending its stock into a sharp dive during after-hours trading. Netflix shares fell about 14% in the extended session after the Los Gatos, Calif-based company announced it added 5.2 million streaming users in the second quarter, a substantial drop from the 6.2 million estimate the company provided in April. The company added 4.47 million international subscribers and 670,000 domestic subscribers, missing its April estimates of 5.9 million and 1.2 million.

The company reported a profit of $384 million, or 85 cents a share, topping the FactSet consensus of 79 cents a share and up from $66 million, or 15 cents a share, in the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $3.91 billion from $2.79 billion the year before, just below the FactSet consensus of $3.94 billion. In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said the company had a “strong but not stellar” quarter, acknowledging the company had “over-forecasted” both domestic and global net subscriber additions and “acquisition growth was lower than we projected.”

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Doesn’t feel like the EU actually identifies the danger to society.

Airbnb Warned It Breaches EU Rules Over Pricing Policy (G.)

Airbnb has been found in breach of EU law and given until the end of the summer to ditch a range of practices, including that of belatedly applying additional fees to the prices it promotes online. The accommodation service has been accused by the European commission and national regulators of failing its customers and making the mistake of many global digital firms of “forgetting its responsibilities”. Vera Jourova, the commissioner for justice and consumers, told reporters in Brussels that the company had until the end of August to show it was reforming its ways or it could expect national regulators across Europe to launch coordinated action.

The commissioner said the prices displayed to those using the Airbnb website fail to reflect the fees and charges later passed on to the consumer, including cleaning costs. The site did not clearly identify if the offer of accommodation was being made by amateur hosts or professionals. The issue is important because the level of consumer rights differ according to the status of the owner, as do the health and safety requirements. The commissioner said Airbnb’s terms and conditions were unclear. She also said the company should put an end to its policy of seeking to tackle legal complaints made by its clients in courts outside the country where the complainant resides.

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Maybe the government can make a deal with Airbnb.

High Housing Costs Prompt Thousands of Greeks To Disclaim Inheritance (K.)

Thousands of properties are coming into the state’s possession not because they’re bogged down in debt, but simply because the people who inherit them are opting to give up the titles. According to real estate experts, more than 135,000 inheritances were disclaimed in 2017, because the beneficiaries were unable to pay the inheritance tax or they found the future financial demands of the property unbearable. The slump in the real estate market, in combination with the fact that many properties are suffering from neglect, meanwhile, are making it even harder for those who may be hoping to find a buyer before accepting their inheritance.

“Property has become a burden,” says Babis Haralambopoulos, a certified valuer, scientific consultant to Solum Property Solutions and former president of the Hellenic Valuation Institute. “Since the start of the crisis, residential properties have shed an average of 45 percent of their value, while there’s a trend toward stabilization right now.” Meanwhile, recent data from Eurostat showed that Greece had the highest housing costs as a percentage of disposable income among the European Union’s member-states. In 2016, the proportion of Greek households that spent more than 40 percent of their disposable income on housing costs came to 40.5 percent, which is almost four times the EU average of 11.1 percent.

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Jun 152018
 
 June 15, 2018  Posted by at 8:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


OR LIGHT Compassion 2018

 

Argentina’s Peso Collapses Even Further Despite $50 Billion IMF Bailout (WS)
ECB Calls Halt To Quantitative Easing, Despite ‘Soft’ Euro (G.)
Japan’s Central Bank Dials Down Inflation View, Complicates Stimulus-Exit (R.)
Powell Orchestrates a Masterful Move (DDMB)
The Fed Creates Problems For Itself (Macleod)
The Art of the Deal Worked On Sentosa Island (AT)
Absence of “CVID” In Joint Statement? (Hani)
Optimism (Caitlin Johnstone)
Blackstone Becomes Biggest Hotel & Property Owner in Spain (WS)
‘Tourism Pollution’: Japanese Crackdown Costs Airbnb $10 Million (G.)
Greeks Are Least Satisfied In The EU (K.)
Turkey: Even Birds Need Our Consent To Fly In The Aegean (K.)
Comey et al Just Made It More Difficult For Mueller To Prosecute Trump (Hill)
A Closer Look At Extreme FBI Bias Revealed In OIG Report (ZH)

 

 

Money has left the building.

Argentina’s Peso Collapses Even Further Despite $50 Billion IMF Bailout (WS)

Today the Argentina peso plunged another 5.5% against the US dollar. It now takes ARS 27.7 to buy $1. Over the past 16 years, the peso has gone through waves of collapses. This collapse began on April 20. The central bank of Argentina (BCRA) countered it by selling $1 billion per day of scarce foreign exchange reserves and buying pesos. The peso fell more quickly. The BCRA responded with three rate hikes, to finally 40%! On May 8, the government asked the IMF for a bailout. On May 16, after a chaotic plunge of the peso, the BCRA was able to refinance about $26 billion in maturing peso-denominated short-term debt (Lebacs) at an annual interest of 40%, and the peso bounced. It was a dead-cat bounce, however, and the peso plunged another 13% against the dollar through today.

Since April 20, the peso has plunged 27.5%. The annotated chart shows the daily moves of the collapse, and the various failed gyrations to halt it (the chart depicts the value of 1 ARS in USD). The collapse of the peso comes despite an endless series of measures to halt it. Just this week so far: On Tuesday, the BCRA decided to keep its key interest rate at 40%; and on Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance announced it would hold daily auctions to sell $7.5 billion in foreign exchange reserves and buy pesos, to prop up the peso. But it was apparently the only one buying pesos. With inflation at 25.5% and heading to 27% by year-end, according to government estimates, with a rising budget deficit, a surging current account deficit, soaring borrowing costs, and burned investors, what else is there to do?

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Not Draghi’s finest hour.

ECB Calls Halt To Quantitative Easing, Despite ‘Soft’ Euro (G.)

The European Central Bank has shrugged off evidence of a slowdown in the eurozone and announced that it will phase out the stimulus provided by its massive three-year bond-buying programme to the eurozone economy by the end of the year. Despite warning that the single currency area was going through a soft patch at a time when protectionist risks were rising, the ECB said it would wind down its bond purchases over the next six months. The ECB is currently boosting the eurozone money supply by buying €30bn of assets each month, but this will be reduced to €15bn a month after September and ended completely at the end of 2018.

The move follows strong pressure from some eurozone countries, led by Germany, that were uncomfortable about the more than €2.4tn of assets accumulated by the ECB since it launched its quantitative easing programme at the start of 2015. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said at the end of a meeting of the bank’s governing council in Latvia that the QE programme had succeeded in its aim of putting inflation on course to meet its target of being below but close to 2%. Eurozone activity has accelerated markedly over the past three years, with some estimates suggesting that QE contributed 0.75percentage points a year to the average 2.25% annual growth rate.

The ECB’s statement reflected the battle between hawks and doves on the bank’s council, with the decision on QE matched by a softening of its approach to interest rates. Draghi said there would be no prospect of an increase in the ECB’s key lending rate – currently 0.0% – until next summer at the earliest. “We decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged and we expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remains aligned with our current expectations of a sustained adjustment path,” Draghi said.

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No, really, Abenomics is dead.

Japan’s Central Bank Dials Down Inflation View, Complicates Stimulus-Exit (R.)

The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Friday and downgraded its view on inflation in a fresh blow to its long-held 2% price goal, further complicating the central bank’s path to rolling back its crisis-era stimulus. Markets are on the lookout for clues from BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s post-meeting briefing on how long the central bank could hold off on whittling down stimulus given recent disappointingly weak price growth. As widely expected, the Bank of Japan kept its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero%.

The move contrasts with the European Central Bank’s decision to end its asset-purchase program this year and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s steady rate increases, which signaled a break from policies deployed to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis. “Consumer price growth is in a range of 0.5 to 1%,” the BOJ said in a statement accompanying the decision. That was a slightly bleaker view than in the previous meeting in April, when the bank said inflation was moving around 1%. The BOJ stuck to its view the economy was expanding moderately, unfazed by a first-quarter contraction that many analysts blame on temporary factors like bad weather.

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He just likes the attention.

Powell Orchestrates a Masterful Move (DDMB)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has taken the first steps in remaking the central bank in his “plain-English” image, which can only be a good thing for financial markets. Earlier this week, news leaked that the central bank was considering holding a press conference following each Federal Open Market Committee meeting instead of after every other one like it does now. The reports set off a mini-storm. Speculation rose the Fed would implement this new policy immediately, which could mean the central bank was considering accelerating the pace of interest-rate increases as soon as August. After all, investors had become accustomed to the Fed only making a major policy move at meetings followed by a press conference. Now, every meeting would be “live.”

But in a masterful move, Chairman Jerome Powell managed to confirm the policy while also putting financial markets at ease. Rather than announcing the change in the official statement outlining the Fed’s plan to raise its target for the federal funds rate for the seventh time since December 2015, Powell waited until the start of his press conference to drop the bomb, noting that the policy wouldn’t start until January. Here’s Powell’s reasoning: “My colleagues and I meet eight times a year and take a fresh look each time at what is happening in the economy and consider whether our policy needs adjusting. We don’t put our interest rate decisions on auto-pilot because the economy can always evolve in unexpected ways.

History has shown that moving interest rates either too quickly or too slowly can lead to bad economic outcomes. We think the outcomes are likely to be better overall if we are as clear as possible about what we are likely to do and why. To that end, we try to give a sense of our expectations for how the economy will evolve and how our policy stance may change. As Chairman, I hope to foster a public conversation about what the Fed is doing to support a strong and resilient economy. And one practical step in doing so is to have a press conference like this after every one of our scheduled FOMC meetings. We’re going to do that beginning in January. That will give us more opportunities to explain our actions and to answer your questions.

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“..the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates..”

The Fed Creates Problems For Itself (Macleod)

Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates. Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis.

The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis. Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019. The chart tells us the Fed is already living dangerously with yesterday’s hike, and further rises will all but guarantee a credit crisis.

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The view from Asia Times. Many people in that part of the world don’t understand the criticism.

The Art of the Deal Worked On Sentosa Island (AT)

Some statesmen by their sheer force of personality and unorthodox ways of politicking arouse disdain among onlookers. US President Donald is perhaps the most famous figure of that kind in world politics today. No matter what he does, Trump attracts criticism. He evokes strong feelings of antipathy among a large and voluble swathe of opinion within half of America. The making of history in a virtual solo act on his part, which is the rarest of efforts, on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday and which the world watched with awe and disbelief, will be instinctively stonewalled. Half of America simply refuses to accept the positive tidings about him coming from Singapore.

The skeptics are all over social media pouring scorn, voicing skepticism, unable to accept that if the man has done something sensible and good for his country and for world peace, it deserves at the very least patient, courteous attention. The problem is about Trump – not so much the imperative need of North Korea’s denuclearization. But western detractors – ostensibly rooting for the “liberal international order” – will eventually lapse into silence because what emerges is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has enough to “bite” here in the deal that Trump is offering – broadly, a security guarantee from the US and the offer of a full-bodied relationship with an incremental end to sanctions plus a peace treaty.

Succinctly put, Trump has offered a deal that Kim simply cannot afford to reject. The ending of the US-ROK military exercises forthwith; Trump’s agenda of eventual withdrawal of troops from ROK; the lure of possible withdrawal of sanctions once 20% of the denuclearization process gets underway, or once the process becomes irreversible; Trump’s hint that he has sought assurances from Japan and the ROK that they will be “generous” in offering economic assistance to the reconstruction of North Korea; China’s involvement in the crucial process – these are tangibles.

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The view from South Korea.

Absence of “CVID” In Joint Statement? (Hani)

The absence of any reference to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program in the joint statement reached at US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s June 12 summit in Singapore is being seen by some as a “negotiation failure” on the US’s part. But an analysis of Trump’s subsequent remarks – and a reading between the lines of the Pyongyang’s official announcement – suggests the US achieved practical gains in terms of a commitment from the North in exchange for the face-saving measure of avoiding use of the “CVID” term due to possible North Korean objections to it.

To begin with, the Singapore joint statement’s language marks a step forward from the Panmunjeom Declaration of Apr. 27 in terms of the final goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The latest statement refers to Kim having “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” While the Panmunjeom Declaration referred to “realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” the new statement includes the additional reference to a “firm and unwavering commitment.”

From the reference to Kim’s “firm and unwavering” commitment to denuclearization, some experts are suggesting North Korea may have agreed to verification in addition to denuclearization – in other words, that the language may be a substitute for the “verifiable” part of the CVID approach demanded by Washington. “You could see them as having used the term out of awareness of North Korea’s discomfort with the word ‘verification,’” Handong Global University professor Kim Joon-hyung said after a Korea Press Foundation debate at Singapore’s Swissotel on June 13. “It may be fair to say North Korea made a definite commitment on the implementation and verification issues,” Kim argued.

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“..while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter. ”

Optimism (Caitlin Johnstone)

Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking of anything sleazier than smearing peace talks in order to gain partisan political points, but that has indeed been the theme of the last few days when it comes to the Singapore summit. Liberal pundits everywhere have been busily circulating the narrative that Kim Jong-Un “played” Trump by getting him to temporarily halt military drills in exchange for suspended nuclear testing. It was the most fundamental beginning of peace negotiations and a slight deescalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but the way they talk about it you’d think Kim had taken off from Singapore in Air Force One with the keys to Fort Knox and Melania on his lap.

I’m not sure how far up the military-industrial complex’s ass one’s head needs to be to think that one single step toward peace is a gigantic take-all-the-chips win for the impoverished North Korea, but many of Trump’s political enemies are taking it even further. Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to make it more difficult for Trump to withdraw US troops from South Korea, because while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter.

Surprising no one, MSNBC’s cartoon children’s program The Rachel Maddow Show took home the trophy for jaw-dropping, shark-jumping ridiculousness with an eighteen-minute Alex Jones impression claiming that the chief architect of the Korean negotiations was none other than (and if you can’t guess whose name I’m going to write once we get out of these parentheses I deeply envy your ignorance on this matter) Vladimir Putin. [..] This president is facilitating acts of military violence and dangerous escalations around the world; anyone who isn’t relieved by the possibility of one powder keg being defused in that rampage actually has a lot more faith in Trump’s competence than they’re pretending to.

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Easy pickings.

Blackstone Becomes Biggest Hotel & Property Owner in Spain (WS)

Private equity firm Blackstone, the undisputed king of property funds, continues to bet big on global real estate. In the last week it raised $9.4 billion for Asian real estate. It was also given the green light to acquire Spain’s biggest real estate investment fund (REIT), Hispania, for €1.9 billion. The move, after its prior acquisitions, will cement its position as Spain’s biggest hotel owner and fully private landlord. Hispania’s 46 hotels, added to Blackstone’s other hotels, will turn the PE firm into Spain’s largest hotelier with almost 17,000 rooms, far ahead of Meliá (almost 11,000), H10 (more than 10,000) and Hoteles Globales (just over 9,000).

It took Blackstone just three moves to become market leader. First, it acquired the hotel group HI Partners from struggling Spanish lender Banco Sabadell for €630 million in October 2017. Then, a month ago, it bought 29.5% of the hotel chain NH Hoteles, which is currently in the hands of the Chinese conglomerate HNA. Now, by raising its stake in Hispania from 16.75% to 100%, it will take up a dominant position in one of the world’s biggest tourist markets. With this deal, it will also expand its residential property empire in Spain. Blackstone has over 100,000 real estate assets controlled via dozens of companies. Those assets include a huge portfolio of impaired real estate assets, including defaulted mortgages and real estate-owned assets (REOs).

Blackstone also owns 1,800 social housing units, which it acquired from Madrid City Hall in a controversial deal brokered by the son of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar and former Madrid mayor Ana Botella. Blackstone paid €202 million for the apartments in 2013; they are now estimated to be worth €660 million — a 227% return in just five year! Since its purchase of the properties, Blackstone has hiked rents on the flats by 49%. Those who can’t pay have been evicted. Blackstone also played a starring role in one of the world’s biggest real estate operations of 2017, in which it payed €5.1 billion for the defaulted loans Banco Santander inherited from its shotgun-acquisition of Banco Popular.

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“..a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction.”

‘Tourism Pollution’: Japanese Crackdown Costs Airbnb $10 Million (G.)

It has become a familiar scene: tourists in rented kimonos posing for photographs in front of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. They and other visitors have brought valuable tourist dollars to the city and other locations across Japan. But now the country’s former capital is on the frontline of a battle against “tourism pollution” that has already turned locals against visitors in cities across the world such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam. The increasingly fraught relationship between tourists and their Japanese hosts has spread to the short-stay rental market. On Friday a new law comes into effect that requires property owners to register with the government before they can legally make their homes available through Airbnb and other websites.

The restriction has caused the number of available properties to plummet and has cost the US-based company millions of dollars. Thanks to government campaigns, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared since the end of a flat period caused by a strong yen and radiation fears in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. A record 28.7 million people visited last year, an increase of 250% since 2012. Almost seven million were from China, with visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Thailand and the US taking the next five spots. By 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, the government hopes the number will have risen to 40 million.

[..] Under the new private lodging law, which was supposed to address a legal grey area surrounding short-term rentals – known as minpaku – properties can be rented out for a maximum of 180 days a year, and local authorities are permitted to impose additional restrictions. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction. The legislation has forced the firm to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay in unregistered homes after Friday and to compensate clients to the tune of about $10m.


A sign in Kyoto cautions against touching geishas, taking selfies, littering, sitting on fences and eating and smoking on the street. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

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Surprise!

Greeks Are Least Satisfied In The EU (K.)

Greece is the least satisfied nation in the European Union, according to a Eurobarometer survey published Thursday. More specifically, the survey, conducted between March 17 and 28, showed that just 52% of Greeks said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a 83% average for the 28-member bloc. Only 35% of Greeks surveyed said they were satisfied with the financial situation of their households, compared to 71% across the EU. A staggering 98% said the state of the country’s economy is bad while one in two Greeks said the country’s financial crisis is not over yet and that it will deteriorate even further. As for the country’s general situation, 94% said it is negative. Just 6% said the general situation was positive compared to the 51% average for EU member-states.

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Even turkeys?!

Turkey: Even Birds Need Our Consent To Fly In The Aegean (K.)

With Greece featuring prominently in Turkey’s election campaigning, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised the tension a notch again Thursday, warning that not even a bird will fly over the Aegean without Ankara’s permission. Responding to criticism by Turkish ultra-nationalists that 18 islands have been “lost” to Greece in recent years, Cavusoglu said that since the crisis over the Imia islets in 1996 there have been no changes in the legal status of the Aegean. “Not only during our own rule, but before that there has been no change in the status of the Aegean. We will not allow this. Even in the case of research we will not give permission, not even to a bird in the Aegean,” he said during an interview with a Turkish radio station.

He went on to say that Turkey will make no concessions in the Aegean and Cyprus, and that Ankara will also begin gas exploration “around” the Eastern Mediterranean island. “We also have a drill,” he said. Turkey has vowed to stop Cyprus from drilling for gas and oil in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), insisting there can be no development of the island’s natural resources without the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the island’s Turkish-occupied north. “In the last few months we have prevented drilling and we drove the Italians away. We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” he said. Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that Nicosia will not be dragged into the “climate of tension” that Turkey is cultivating. He cited international law and said that Cyprus has an established EEZ. Moreover, he said the US, Russia and the European Union have all backed Cyprus’s rights.

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Wonder what the fallout will be.

Comey et al Just Made It More Difficult For Mueller To Prosecute Trump (Hill)

James Comey once described his position in the Clinton investigation as being the victim of a “500-year flood.” The point of the analogy was that he was unwittingly carried away by events rather than directly causing much of the damage to the FBI. His “500-year flood” just collided with the 500-page report of the Justice Department inspector general (IG) Michael Horowitz. The IG sinks Comey’s narrative with a finding that he “deviated” from Justice Department rules and acted in open insubordination. Rather than portraying Comey as carried away by his biblical flood, the report finds that he was the destructive force behind the controversy. The import of the report can be summed up in Comeyesque terms as the distinction between flotsam and jetsam.

Comey portrayed the broken rules as mere flotsam, or debris that floats away after a shipwreck. The IG report suggests that this was really a case of jetsam, or rules intentionally tossed over the side by Comey to lighten his load. Comey’s jetsam included rules protecting the integrity and professionalism of his agency, as represented by his public comments on the Clinton investigation. The IG report concludes, “While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

The report will leave many unsatisfied and undeterred. Comey went from a persona non grata to a patron saint for many Clinton supporters. Comey, who has made millions of dollars with a tell-all book portraying himself as the paragon of “ethical leadership,” continues to maintain that he would take precisely the same actions again. Ironically, Comey, fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and others, by their actions, just made it more difficult for special counsel Robert Mueller to prosecute Trump for obstruction. There is now a comprehensive conclusion by career investigators that Comey violated core agency rules and undermined the integrity of the FBI. In other words, there was ample reason to fire James Comey.

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Many heads will roll at the Bureau.

A Closer Look At Extreme FBI Bias Revealed In OIG Report (ZH)

As we digest and unpack the DOJ Inspector General’s 500-page report on the FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation “matter,” damning quotes from the OIG’s findings have begun to circulate, leaving many to wonder exactly how Inspector General Michael Horowitz was able to conclude: “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed” We’re sorry, that just doesn’t comport with reality whatsoever. And it really feels like the OIG report may have had a different conclusion at some point.

Just read IG Horowitz’s own assessment that “These texts are “Indicative of a biased state of mind but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the Presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Of course, today’s crown jewel is a previously undisclosed exchange between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which Page asks “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” to which Strzok replies “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Nevermind the fact that the FBI Director, who used personal emails for work purposes, tasked Strzok, who used personal emails for work purposes, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails for work purposes. Of course, we know it goes far deeper than that…

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel also had plenty to say in a Twitter thread:
1) Don’t believe anyone who claims Horowitz didn’t find bias. He very carefully says that he found no “documentary” evidence that bias produced “specific investigatory decisions.” That’s different
2) It means he didn’t catch anyone doing anything so dumb as writing down that they took a specific step to aid a candidate. You know, like: “Let’s give out this Combetta immunity deal so nothing comes out that will derail Hillary for President.”
3) But he in fact finds bias everywhere. The examples are shocking and concerning, and he devotes entire sections to them. And he very specifically says in the summary that they “cast a cloud” on the entire “investigation’s credibility.” That’s pretty damning.
4) Meanwhile this same cast of characters who the IG has now found to have made a hash of the Clinton investigation and who demonstrate such bias, seamlessly moved to the Trump investigation. And we’re supposed to think they got that one right?
5) Also don’t believe anyone who says this is just about Comey and his instances of insubordination. (Though they are bad enough.) This is an indictment broadly of an FBI culture that believes itself above the rules it imposes on others.
6) People failing to adhere to their recusals (Kadzik/McCabe). Lynch hanging with Bill. Staff helping Comey conceal details of presser from DOJ bosses. Use of personal email and laptops. Leaks. Accepting gifts from media. Agent affairs/relationships.
7)It also contains stunning examples of incompetence. Comey explains that he wasn’t aware the Weiner laptop was big deal because he didn’t know Weiner was married to Abedin? Then they sit on it a month, either cuz it fell through cracks (wow) or were more obsessed w/Trump
8) And I can still hear the echo of the howls from when Trump fired Comey. Still waiting to hear the apologies now that this report has backstopped the Rosenstein memo and the obvious grounds for dismissal.

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Jun 072018
 


Vincent van Gogh The good Samaritan (after Delacroix) 1890

 

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)
No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)
European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)
Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)
China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)
Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)
Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)
Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)
Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)
How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)
Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

 

 

Shifting priorities. Homes are no longer places to live.

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)

UK house prices are 106 times higher than they were when England won the World Cup in 1966, according to research from online mortgage broker Trussle. Average house prices have gone up from £2,006 to £211,000, the company found, while wages have risen at around a third of the rate, moving from £798 to £26,500. But for the country’s footballers, the story is somewhat different. On average Premier League footballers earn 1,136 times more than top-flight stars like Bobby Moore and George Best did back in 1966. It’s estimated that the average wage of the current England squad is just below £80,000 per week – more than 3 times the annual UK average wage.

Ishaan Malhi, CEO and founder of Trussle, said: “A lot of has changed since England won the World Cup. We’ve put a man on the moon, invented the internet and we’ve seen technology transform almost every aspect of our lives. “We’ve also seen the UK housing market change dramatically. Prices have soared in the last 52 years, wages have struggled to keep pace and for young people, the chances of getting on the property ladder today will feel a lot slimmer than they did in 1966.” The research from Trussle comes as analysis from trade union GMB published yesterday showed that rents in London are far outpacing wage growth. Analysing data from the Valuation Office Agency, GMB found that between 2011 and 2017, rent prices for two-bedroom flats in London increased by 25.9%, whilst over the same period, monthly earnings increased by just 9.1%.

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European ties to Russia are old and deep.

No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)

The US is force-feeding Europe its liquefied natural gas, which is three times more expensive that buying it from Russia, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said after signing a gas-supply contract with Moscow until 2040. While US politicians are accusing Europe of being dependent on Russian gas, they forget that “American liquefied gas is two or three times more expensive than Russian gas. Under such circumstances, it makes little sense in purely economic terms to replace Russian gas with American LNG,” Van der Bellen said at a press conference after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vienna on Tuesday.

Putin noted that Austria is a major transportation hub for Russian gas being exported to Europe. “Austria has become one of the key, if not to say, one of the most important units of Russian gas transportation to Western Europe and plays an important role in ensuring the energy security of the entire European continent,” Putin said. He recalled that Russia has exported more than 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Austria in the past 50 years. After the meeting, Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV signed a gas supply contract until 2040.

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Trade deals can be bitches.

European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)

European governments are advising businesses not to use British parts in goods for export ahead of Brexit, Sky News has established. In its advice rolled out to all Dutch businesses, the Dutch government has told its exporters that “if a large part of your product consists of parts from the UK” domestic exporters may lose free trade access under existing deals. The advice says: “Brexit will have consequences for exports outside the EU. “After Brexit, parts made in the UK no longer count towards this minimum production in the European Union.” This is a reference to what are known as “rules of origin” and “local content” under international trade rules. In order to qualify for EU free trade deals, a certain proportion, typically 55% of a product’s parts, needs to come from the EU.

The Dutch government says UK parts “no longer count towards EU origin” in its official “Brexit impact scan” advice to Dutch businesses. That warning has also been underpinned by the EU’s own technical notice on this issue. “As of withdrawal date, the UK becomes a third country. UK inputs are considered ‘non-originating’,” it says. A leading car industry executive told Sky News that not using UK parts for EU exports would be a “catastrophe” for the British industry. “The hard Brexiteers have built a bomb under the UK automotive industry and the EU have lit it,” said one chief executive. Sky News has also heard of major UK automotive suppliers now ceasing UK supply of major components to cars for export to countries currently covered by EU Free Trade Areas – countries such as South Korea, South Africa and Canada.

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A new day.

Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)

Volatility could well be in the cards for Wall Street again early this fall, but not for the same reason stocks got rattled in February. This time the culprit would be the largest-ever shakeup of the stock market’s broad business sectors, which will mean some of the hottest stocks, like Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, will shift from their traditional homes in the top-performing technology sector and into a deepened pool of telecommunications and media stocks. The sweeping reorganization of the Global Industry Classification Standard, or GICS, means that funds tracking the telecom, tech and consumer discretionary sectors will be forced to trade billions of dollars of stock to realign their holdings by a Sept. 28 effective date.

While the choppiness many investors expect to see is unlikely to hit stocks in quite the same way that wave of the global uncertainty did in early 2018, the fact that so much money must be shifted among index funds in a short time will cause a stir. In a bid to ensure a smooth transition, leading fund provider Vanguard Group has have already started adjusting its sector exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, while State Street Global Advisors is launching an entirely new fund. Other investors predict price swings and commotion on trading desks if last-minute sales of Alphabet and Facebook shares by heavyweight technology index funds dwarf demand from a handful of telecom funds buying those stocks.

“There’s probably going to be net selling,” said Andrew Bodner, president of Double Diamond Investment Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. “That will be a temporary scenario, and it could be a good buying opportunity for a lot of those stocks.” Maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI since 1999 and widely used by portfolio managers, the GICS classifies companies across 11 sectors. The newest, real estate, was split off from financials in 2016. The upcoming changes, which have yet to be finalized, are meant to reflect evolving industries. Facebook and Alphabet will move from information technology and sit alongside AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications in a broadened telecommunication services sector that will be renamed communications services.

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Who’s the boss in China? Xi or the shadows?

China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)

[..] what if the first domino to fall in the coming corporate debt crisis is not in the US, but in China? After all, as part of China’s aggressive deleveraging campaign, there has already been a spike of corporate bankruptcies as banks shed more of their massive note holdings and de-risk their balance sheets. According to Logan Wright, Hong Kong-based director at research firm Rhodium, there have already been least 14 corporate bond defaults in China in 2018; a separate analysis by Economic Information Daily, as of May 25, there had already been no less than 20 corporate defaults, involving more than 17 billion yuan, a shockingly high number for a country which until recently had never seen a single corporate bankruptcy, and a number which is set to increase as Chinese banks pull pull back from lending to other firms that use the funds to buy bonds, exacerbating the pressure on the market.

“You have seen banks redeeming funds placed with non-bank financial institutions that have reduced the pool of funds available for corporate bond investment overall,” Wright told Bloomberg, adding that additional bond defaults are especially likely among those property developers and local-government financing vehicles which have relied on shadow banking sources of funds. As we discussed last year, as part of Beijing’s crackdown on China’s $10 trillion shadow banking sector, strains have spread from high-yield trust products to corporate bonds as the lack of shadow funding has choked off refinancing for weaker borrowers. Separately, Banks’ lending to other financial firms, a common route for funds and securities brokers to add leverage for corporate bond investments, declined for three straight months, or a total of 1.7 trillion yuan ($265 billion), since January according to Bloomberg calculations.

The deleveraging campaign is also depressing bond demand: “Unlike the U.S., where the majority of buyers of bonds are mutual funds, individuals and investment companies, in China, the key holders of bonds are bank on-and off-balance sheet positions,” said Jason Bedford at UBS, who noted that Chinese banks are buying far fewer bonds as a result. Putting the number in context, according to Bloomberg, China’s four largest banks held about 4.1 trillion yuan in bonds issued by companies and other financial institutions at the end of 2017, nearly 20% below 5.1 trillion yuan a year earlier; all Chinese banks held about 12 trillion yuan of corporate bonds on or off their balances sheets, some 70% of outstanding issuance, according to Citic.

It is therefore hardly surprising to see that Chinese corporate bonds, especially riskier issues, have been getting slammed in recent weeks. According to Chinabond data, as noted first by Bloomberg, the yield premium of three-year AA- rated bonds over similar-maturity AAA notes has blown out 72 bps since March to 225 basis points, the highest level since August 2016, an indication of the recent pressures on weaker firms. One can imagine what is going on with deep junk-rated corps.

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Under heavy police protection in Greece. Because the Turks may come and get them. Elections June 24.

Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)

Turkey has sent fighter jets roaring into Greek airspace as tensions mount between the two neighbours following the release from pre-trial detention of eight Turkish army officers described as traitors by Ankara. Formations of F-16s flew at low altitude over Aegean isles for more than 20 minutes on Tuesday as Turkey furiously accused Greece of sheltering terrorists. Ankara vowed to trace the commandos who it claimed participated in the failed July 2016 coup against the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. “It is our duty to find these ‘putschist’ soldiers wherever they are, pack them up and bring them to Turkey,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said late on Monday.

He personally criticised the Greek prime minster, Alexis Tsipras, for failing to hand the soldiers over to Turkey after they flew into Greek airspace. “From statements made in Greece by its prime minister right after the coup, we were of the positive opinion that they would be extradited to Turkey,” he said. “We thought that Mr Tsipras would keep his word. With time, though, we saw that the judicial authorities were mobilised and these ‘putschists’ were not extradited.” The fate of the eight has been in Greek hands ever since the army officers took local authorities aback, landing their helicopter outside the northern border town of Alexandroupolis a day after the abortive coup.

[..] On Monday Greek authorities moved the military personnel out of police custody; following expiry of the 18-month pre-trial period they are legally allowed to be detained while they apply for asylum. They have been placed in top-secret locations under heavy police protection. “Given Turkey’s mindset, the situation is very dangerous,” said a senior judicial source. “But this is an issue of justice and we feel strongly that we must stand up for it.”

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Competition for NATO?!

Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported “in principle” the idea of a joint European Defense Force proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s opposition had been the main stumbling block for the much-discussed project. “I am in favor of President Macron’s proposal for an intervention initiative,” the German chancellor told Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday. “However, such an intervention force with a common military-strategic culture must fit into the structure of defense cooperation,” she said. Merkel said that the German military, the Bundeswehr, “must, in principle, be part of such an initiative,” but added that her statement “doesn’t mean that we are to be involved in every mission.”

During his key speech at Sorbonne University last September, Macron proposed a European military “intervention force” that would protect the continent by taking action in hotspots around the globe. It’s a crucial element of the French leader’s defense reform, which is aimed at integrating European defense capacities. But the talks on implementing the European Defense Force have so far been complicated due to Berlin’s cautions approach to the initiative. “European defense cooperation is very important. Of the 180 weapon systems that currently co-exist in Europe, we must move to a situation like the United States, which has only about 30 weapons systems,” Merkel said.

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Still a pretty weak law.

Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)

Rental platform Airbnb has suspended a large majority of its listings in Japan ahead of a new law that goes into effect next week regulating short-term rentals in the country. The law, which will comes into force on June 15, requires owners to obtain a government registration number and meet various regulations that some have decried as overly strict. “This weekend we reached out to those hosts who have not yet obtained their notification number to let them know that they will need this to accept any new bookings,” Airbnb spokesman for Asia-Pacific Jake Wilczynski told AFP. “We have informed those hosts that we are in the process of turning off future listing capabilities.”

He declined to confirm the exact number of listings affected, but local media reports and sources put the figure at about 80 percent of the rentals available on the site across Japan. Wilczynski said many Airbnb hosts had already obtained their registration, and others were “going through or finalising” the process. “We are on course to register tens of thousands of new listings in Japan in the months ahead,” he added. [..] The law limits stays to 180 days a year, and allows local governments to impose additional restrictions, with the tourist magnet of Kyoto only permitting rentals in residential areas between mid-January and mid-March, the low season for tourists.

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Two excellent pieces from Caitlin Johnstone.

Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)

MSNBC host Joy Reid still has a job. Despite blatantly lying about time-traveling hackers bearing responsibility for bigoted posts a decade ago in her then-barely-known blog, despite her reportedly sparking an FBI investigation on false pretenses, despite her colleagues at MSNBC being completely fed up with how the network is handling the controversy surrounding her, her career just keeps trundling forward like a bullet-riddled zombie. To be clear, I do not particularly care that Joy Reid has done any of these things. I write about war, nuclear escalations and the sociopathy of US government agencies which kill millions of people; I don’t care that Joy Reid is or was a homophobe, and I don’t care that she lied to cover it up.

The war agendas that MSNBC itself promotes on a daily basis are infinitely worse than either of these things, and if that isn’t obvious to you it’s because military propaganda has caused you to compartmentalize yourself out of an intellectually honest understanding of what war is. What is interesting to me, however, is the fact that Reid’s bosses are protecting her career so adamantly. Both by refusing to fire her, and by steering the conversation into being about her controversial blog posts rather than the fact that she told a spectacular lie in an attempt to cover them up, Reid is being propped up despite this story constantly re-emerging and making new headlines with new embarrassing details, and despite her lack of any discernible talent or redeeming personal characteristics. This tells us something important about what is going on in the world.

It is not difficult to find someone to read from a teleprompter for large amounts of money. What absolutely is difficult is finding someone who is willing to deceive and manipulate to advance the agendas of the privileged few day after day. Who else would be willing to spend all day on Twitter smearing everyone to the left of Hillary Clinton while still claiming to stand on the political left? Who else would advance the point-blank lieabout “17 intelligence agencies” having declared Russia guilty in US election meddling months after that claim had been famously and virally debunked? Who else would publicly claim that Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks did not benefit anyone besides Russia? Who else could oligarchs like Comcast CEO Brian L Roberts, whose company controls MSNBC, count on to consistently advance his agendas?

While it’s easy to find someone you can count on to advance one particular lie at one particular time, it is difficult to find someone you can be absolutely certain will lie for you day after day, year after year, through election cycles and administration changes and new war agendas and changing political climates. A lot of the people who used to advance perspectives which ran against the grain of the political orthodoxy at MSNBC like Phil Donahue, Ed Schultz and Dylan Ratigan have vanished from the airwaves never to return, while reporters who consistently keep their heads down and toe the line for the Democratic establishment like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid are richly rewarded and encouraged to remain.

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It’s just that I’m asking myself if maybe the notion that ‘we can change and be better people’ is itself a narrative?!

How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)

Narrative rules our world today, from our most basic concepts about ourselves to the behavior of nations and governments. Right now your direct experience of life is little more than the air going in and out of your respiratory system, your gaze moving from left to right over this text, and perhaps the sensation of your bum in a chair or sofa; without any narrative overlay, those experiences are all you are in this moment. Add in mental narrative and all of a sudden you’re a particular individual with a particular name and a particular story, who has perhaps some concerns about the future and regrets about the past, with all sorts of desires and goals and fears and aversions. As far as your actual present experience is concerned, all that stuff is pure mental noise. Pure narrative.

The same is true of things like power, money, and government. There is nothing grafted onto the electrons of the universe which says that the world needs to be mostly ruled by a few billionaires and their lackeys. Only the made-up rules about how power, money and government operate cause that to be the case, and those rules are only as true as we all collectively agree to pretend they are. They are all mental constructs that people made up, and we can therefore change them whenever we want to. Which is why so much plutocratic effort goes into making sure that we don’t.

Narrative dominates our society from top to bottom, which means that all someone has to do to control society is control its narratives. If people are sick, hungry, or poor, you don’t have to give them medicine, food or money to pacify them; you can just give them a narrative instead. If you can get them subscribed to the notion that attempts to rectify these problems with economic justice ought to be rejected and avoided by all hardworking Americans, you can have them defending the plutocracy and advocating their own poverty without giving them a thing. In a society where power is relative and money equals power, the rich are necessarily incentivized to keep everyone else poor in order to retain power, so using narrative control to pacify the masses is a common and useful tactic.

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Wherever you look, life itself appears to be exiting the planet. Rapidly.

Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

Conservation experts warned Wednesday of alarming falls in Australian fish populations and called for more marine reserves and better management to halt the decline. A 10-year study, looking at nearly 200 species at 544 sites, found the main cause was overfishing, with climate change also contributing, although the organisation that manages the nation’s fisheries disputed the findings. The research, in the decade to 2015 by the University of Tasmania and Sydney’s University of Technology, indicated that the numbers of large fish species – over 20 centimetres (eight inches) – had decreased by about 30 percent.

Claimed to be the first independent assessment of the size and abundance of coastal fish species off the Australian continent, it used frequent underwater surveys by divers along blocks of reef. Researchers compared areas where fishing was allowed with marine parks where it was limited or not permitted at all. “We found consistent population declines amongst many popular commercial and recreational fishes, including in marine parks that allowed limited fishing, while numbers increased within no-fishing reserves,” said lead author Graham Edgar. The study, published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, warned that the present situation globally — with more than 98 percent of seas open to some form of fishing — needed “immediate multinational attention”.

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