Jan 042020
 


Jack Delano Near Shawboro, North Carolina, Florida migrants on way to Cranberry, NJ 1940

 

The Dubious Official Story Behind the Soleimani Assassination (Whitney Webb)
Israel Had Advance Notice Of US Plan To Kill Iranian General Suleimani (LAT)
How Trump Decided To Kill Iran’s Soleimani (Pol.)
Inside The Plot By Iran’s Soleimani To Attack US Forces In Iraq (R.)
Iraqi PMF Militias Retract Claims Of Medics Targeted By US Airstrike (RT)
The Dogs of War (Kunstler)
Fed Policymakers Broadly See Eye To Eye On 2020 Outlook (R.)
Fed’s Mester Warned Of Inflation Risks, Says Current Policy ‘Well Calibrated’ (R.)
Australian Troops Called To Tackle Fires (BBC)
Slow Burn (John Quiggin)
Australia’s Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction (G.)
Mexico President Calls For Julian Assange To Be Released From UK Prison (R.)

 

 

See far too many people pretending they’re far too sure about what’s going on. Mostly in line with their pre-conceived views, but others, too, appear to think there’s shame in not having a strong opinion on things they don’t know much about (there will be a war!). While Israel and Saudi are almost completely missing from those opinions and reports.

First victim of war is truth, guys, and that war for now only exists in opinions. And don’t believe everyone in Iran is in deep mourning now. There, too, in the upper echelons there’s a constant power battle, with lots of bloodshed and torture and renditioned people. Just like in America. Plenty Iranians will be happy to see Soleimani gone.

The Dubious Official Story Behind the Soleimani Assassination (Whitney Webb)

Much has been written by MintPress and other outlets about the long-standing efforts by prominent neoconservatives in the U.S. as well as the Israel lobby and Israeli government to prod the U.S. into a major war with Iran. Neoconservative efforts at regime change in Iran have been decades in the making and the current presidential administration has several notable Iran hawks in prominent positions. Furthermore, both President Trump and his foremost ally in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are facing domestic efforts aimed at removing them from office and are facing fresh elections, giving both leaders incentive to ratchet up tensions abroad to distract from their own domestic conflicts.

Yet, the current pressure facing both Trump and Netanyahu in their respective policies is only the latest factor that has pushed both administrations into a renewed and increasingly desperate push to satisfy the decades-old effort of Iran hawks in both countries to stoke war and “reshape” the Middle East in favor of the U.S.-Israel axis. Given the recent assassination of Soleimani, however, it is essential to point out that the U.S. airstrike targeting the Quds Force leader came just a few months after Israel tried but failed to assassinate the general. Indeed, the most recent of these failed attempts was slated to occur early last October and, per The Times of Israel:

“The assassins planned to dig under a religious site associated with Soleimani’s father and set off an explosion under the building when he was inside, and then try to deflect blame so that it ignited an interfaction[al] religious war. The assassins prepared some 500 kilograms to use for the bomb.” Israel’s government did not comment on the alleged plot, though it is notable that the plan to dig below a Muslim holy site and plant a bomb has been attempted by Israeli extremist groups in the past, groups which have a major foothold in Israel’s current government.


This alleged attempt by Israel to kill Soleimani came after claims that, in 2018, the Trump administration had given Israel a “green light” to assassinate the general. The report claimed that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region” and was published by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, which is widely considered to be “an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East,” according to Israeli media.

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Geez, what a surprise.

Israel Had Advance Notice Of US Plan To Kill Iranian General Suleimani (LAT)

Israel had advance notice of the U.S. plan to kill Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani, Israeli military and diplomatic analysts reported Friday night while refraining from providing further details due to heavy military censorship. “Our assessment is that the United States informed Israel about this operation in Iraq, apparently a few days ago,” Barak Ravid, a journalist and commentator with deep sources in the Israeli security establishment, said on Channel 13. An Israeli army officer with knowledge of Israeli military assessments, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to reporters, told the Los Angeles Times that the attack on Suleimani “did not come as a surprise.”

The reactions of Israel’s political leadership to Suleimani’s assassination were mostly positive, though deep concern was registered throughout the leadership. Iran and Israel maintained warm relations for almost four decades before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah and imposed a theocratic Shiiite Muslim regime that for four decades now has called for “death to Israel” and is accused of backing and masterminding numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets, including the 1992 and 1994 attacks on the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that left over 100 people dead. Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based Iranian proxy militia, has in recent years been accused of perpetrating further attacks against Israeli targets in India, Thailand and Bulgaria.


[..] Due to the heightened alarm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece, where he had signed an agreement for a regional gas pipeline. He made a statement on the tarmac ahead of boarding his flight back to Israel, saying that the United States had the right to defend itself. “Qassem Suleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively. Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense.” The Israeli army officer described the situation as “definitely higher readiness than usual, but not DEFCON One. We want to err on the side of caution, but we know we are not the first target. We are the second.”

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Lots of stories of Trump spilling the beans before the attack to run of the mill Mar-a-Lago guests. While Howie Carr didn’t know anything until afterwards. Don’t let news outlets shape your opinions for you.

How Trump Decided To Kill Iran’s Soleimani (Pol.)

Hours before the U.S. military sent a Reaper drone to kill one of the most wanted men on the planet, President Donald Trump was relaxing at his palatial Florida properties. In the morning, he played 18 holes at Trump International, his West Palm Beach golf club. At around 3 p.m., he returned to Mar-a-Lago, the historic oceanfront estate he’s branded “the Winter White House,” and waited, donning a navy blue suit with a powder-blue tie and an American flag pinned to his lapel. He’d already made a risky—and potentially world-altering—decision to allow the U.S. military to kill Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite paramilitary forces.

Earlier this week, he’d been surrounded at Mar-a-Lago by top officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. Throughout the entire week, Trump sought input from other advisers by phone. “He was calm, cool and collected,” said conservative radio host Howie Carr, who spoke with Trump on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago soon after the news first broke, as the president dined with GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy. “I had no idea there was anything out of the ordinary going on until I got home.”

As rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq intensified over the last two months, the president had granted the Pentagon extraordinary latitude: The U.S. military had his permission to kill Soleimani the next time it had an opportunity to do so, according to a senior defense official who was not authorized to speak on the record. “We had authority before the strike to take that action,” said the official, who wouldn’t say how recently Trump gave the Pentagon that authorization—whether it was hours, weeks or even months earlier. As recently as New Year’s Eve, the president was telling reporters that he didn’t want war with Iran.


For a man U.S. officials have portrayed as a terrorist mastermind, an evil genius responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, Soleimani often flaunted his influence as he jetted between Tehran, Baghdad and Beirut for meetings with local potentates. “I don’t think it was so hard [to find him] because he was not below the radar in the last two or three years,” said a former senior Israeli government official, who noted that Soleimani had previously moved around under strict operational secrecy. “But the last two or three years, he worked in the open.”

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We simply don’t know what is fact and what fiction. And that’s okay.

Inside The Plot By Iran’s Soleimani To Attack US Forces In Iraq (R.)

In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters. The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight.

Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack on Friday that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. The two men died in air strikes on their convoy at a Baghdad airport as they headed to the capital, dealing a major blow to the Islamic Republic and the Iraqi paramilitary groups it supports. Interviews with the Iraqi security sources and Shi’ite militia commanders offer a rare glimpse of how Soleimani operated in Iraq, which he once told a Reuters reporter he knew like the back of his hand.


Two weeks before the October meeting, Soleimani ordered Iranian Revolutionary Guards to move more sophisticated weapons – such as Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicopters – to Iraq through two border crossings, the militia commanders and Iraqi security sources told Reuters. At the Baghdad villa, Soleimani told the assembled commanders to form a new militia group of low-profile paramilitaries – unknown to the United States – who could carry out rocket attacks on Americans housed at Iraqi military bases. He ordered Kataib Hezbollah – a force founded by Muhandis and trained in Iran – to direct the new plan, said the militia sources briefed on the meetings. Soleimani told them such a group “would be difficult to detect by the Americans,” one of the militia sources told Reuters.

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That second strike everyone’s talking about? Did it even happen?

Iraqi PMF Militias Retract Claims Of Medics Targeted By US Airstrike (RT)

The Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have dropped their claims that a medical convoy was destroyed in a US air raid along Taji road, north of Baghdad. In a new press release cited by several news agencies, the PMF leadership retracted their statement in which the group said their medics were hit by a US airstrike. This happened after Reuters cited Iraqi Army sources who said that six people were killed in a raid near Taji. The Iraqi Army, however, later denied that an airstrike took place there. In a statement quoted by local media, the military urged everyone to be “careful” about spreading unverified information and “rumors” in the future. The US-led coalition in Iraq also said that no air raids have been conducted in that area in recent days.

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“..the little towns that dotted that landscape where all the carnage and horror played out. Not a strip-mall in the whole gorgeous panorama. The rolling fields neatly fenced in the stillness of a summer’s day. A peaceful tranquility we today cannot even imagine.”

The Dogs of War (Kunstler)

In that mercifully quiet week between Christmas and New Years, I re-watched Ken Burns’ documentary of the first Civil War, in contemplation of a possible second. What an almighty bloodbath that was. Thousands butchered in minutes in one battle after another, heads and limbs flying, men turned inside-out, and horses, too. The blue and the gray were hostage to their battlefield tactics and didn’t seem to learn from the insane extravagance of souls wasted in massed assaults against massed artillery again and again and again. The population of the whole nation (Confederacy included) was 31 million in 1860 and the war killed two percent of that, almost entirely young men.

Another impression left by that documentary was the startling beauty of the countryside in that day, and of the little towns that dotted that landscape where all the carnage and horror played out. Not a strip-mall in the whole gorgeous panorama. The rolling fields neatly fenced in the stillness of a summer’s day. A peaceful tranquility we today cannot even imagine. Everything human-scaled and so many buildings graced with beauty deliberately made: pediments, steeples, cupolas, columns, and swags. Walt Disney could not have imagined a more tender and appealing place. The lyrical names of those towns are linked to rivers of blood: Shiloh, Spotsylvania, Missionary Ridge, Cold Harbor….


And the last impression accumulated over each installment was that this we did it to ourselves, and couldn’t seem to stop, just as today various parties to current events can’t seem to stop their provocations to a new episode of national domestic violence. This time it is the very government at war with itself, and so far the war is merely legalistic, the battles of lawyers — of which, one senses, we have far too many for our own good. The Department of Justice in particular is at war with itself, one faction in it refusing to cooperate with the other, hiding documents, trafficking in political muck, kluging up the works with deceptions, and still at it in the yet-unresolved case of General Flynn, which should have been thrown out of court months ago based on obvious prosecutorial malice.

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These people think you are really really stupid…

Fed Policymakers Broadly See Eye To Eye On 2020 Outlook (R.)

Federal Reserve policymakers who last year were frequently at odds over where to set U.S. borrowing costs opened 2020 telegraphing confidence in the state of the economy and signaling broad agreement that monetary policy is right where it should be. In their first remarks in the new year, heads of several regional Fed banks noted a strong job market, robust consumer spending and a rising optimism for a resolution to the trade tensions that had nicked growth in the second half of 2019.


And after cutting interest rates three times last year to bring the Fed’s target to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% and ensure global headwinds didn’t short-circuit the longest U.S. economic expansion in history, “I think most of us think that we are well-calibrated now,” Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said in an interview on the sidelines of an economics conference in San Diego. Based on forecasts of her fellow policymakers on the Fed’s rate-setting committee, she said, “the committee thinks a flat path (for interest rates)… is appropriate.” Mester had been among a handful of Fed policymakers who argued last year that the U.S. economy did not need lower rates to continue to grow.

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… so stupid, in fact, that they say whatever sounds good, truth be damned.

Fed’s Mester Warned Of Inflation Risks, Says Current Policy ‘Well Calibrated’ (R.)

Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester, among the Fed policymakers most concerned that easy monetary policy would risk excessive inflation, said on Friday she has put those fears to rest for now and is willing to leave rates at their current level absent some substantial change in the economy. Her comments in an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the American Economic Association conference suggest how firmly the Fed is anchored to its current setting for overnight interest rates, fixed in a range of between 1.5% and 1.75% after three rate cuts last year. Advocates for even deeper rate reductions now agree the current setting is helping the economy enough that the Fed can stand pat while Mester and others who worried that lower rates might court faster inflation or risky lending have concluded that at this point there is little cause for concern.


I have been kind of forecasting inflation to go up to 2% for quite a while and we have been undershooting,” said Mester, who assumes a voting role this year on the Fed’s policy-setting committee. Mester, who was skeptical last year that rate cuts were needed, said, “I think we are really well calibrated now.” A rate increase would not be needed, “until I see either financial stability issues looming or some indication that inflation is going to pick up strongly. I don’t see that now and it is not in my forecast.” “You want to see that inflation really is at 2%. You want persistence. You want to be able to say that I am confident now that inflation is meeting our goal,” which was set at 2% in 2012 but never consistently achieved, she said.

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Finally, and even then it’s just reserve troops.

Australian Troops Called To Tackle Fires (BBC)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced 3,000 reserve troops will be deployed to help tackle raging bushfires across the country. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said this is the first time this has happened in Australia’s history. Temperatures have surpassed 40C (104F) in parts of south-east Australia. Officials had warned that Saturday was set to be a “dangerous day”. Since September, fires in Australia have killed at least 23 people. Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Mr Morrison told reporters: “We have seen this disaster escalate to an entirely new level.”


An emergency warning was issued for areas of eastern Victoria that told remaining residents it was now too late to leave. “The safest option is to plan how you will safely take shelter indoors as conditions worsen,” the warning said, adding: “Leaving now would be deadly.” Residents were instructed to attempt to take shelter indoors or in a large clearing or body of water. Dozens of people are missing and some 1,500 homes have already been lost this fire season. Mr Morrison also announced A$20m (£10m) has been allocated to lease four water bomber planes. Defence force bases would provide temporary accommodation, he said.

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Just think about all the plastics and paints etc. that are burning.

Slow Burn (John Quiggin)

At least eighteen people have already been killed by this season’s bushfires — and, with most of January and all of February still to come, that number is sure to rise. But these dramatic deaths are far outweighed by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, that will ultimately result from the toxic smoke blanketing Australian cities.

The most dangerous component of bushfire smoke are tiny particulates, no more than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5. Over the past twenty years, studies have shown that high levels of PM2.5 have contributed to millions of premature deaths in highly polluted cities like Beijing and Delhi. Sydney, Canberra and other Australian cities have recently joined this list. In 2016 alone, exposure to PM2.5 contributed to an estimated 4.1 million deaths worldwide from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infections.

Even before the current cataclysm, air pollution was a major health hazard. While Sydney’s prevailing average of 6 micrograms per cubic metre (6 μg/m3) is within international health standards, it is above the levels observed in most European and American cities. A study led by the Sydney Public Health Observatory’s Richard Broome estimated that particulates and associated forms of pollution already account for between 310 and 540 premature deaths annually.

As far as can be determined, the mortality and health risks of PM2.5 are a linear function of the level of exposure. Being exposed to 6 μg/m3 every day for a year, for example, amounts to 2190 “microgram days.” Broome and his colleagues’ work implies that each microgram day is associated with between 0.14 and 0.25 premature deaths. This figure is consistent with a range of international studies they cite.

The overall mortality effects are also a linear function of the number of people exposed. That’s why a city like Delhi, with thirty million people and an average PM2.5 of 150 μg/m3, suffers tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

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Think anyone cares? Always had the impression white Australia only wants to sell off all resources as fast as they can, because they know they stole all of them to begin with. Before you get caught, make sure the money’s in your pocket.

Australia’s Bushfires Push Countless Species To Extinction (G.)

Close to the Western River on Kangaroo Island, Pat Hodgens had set up cameras to snap the island’s rare dunnart – a tiny mouse-like marsupial that exists nowhere else on the planet. Now, after two fires ripped through the site a few days ago, those cameras – and likely many of the Kangaroo Island dunnarts – are just charred hulks. “It’s gone right through the under storey and that’s where these species live,” said Hodgens, an ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a not-for-profit conservation group. “The habitat is decimated.” On Friday afternoon word came through that three other Land for Wildlife sites protecting dunnarts and other endangered species, including the southern brown bandicoot, had also been consumed by fire on the island off the South Australian coast.


Prof Sarah Legge, of the Australian National University, said the prognosis for the Kangaroo Island dunnart was “not good” and its plight was symbolic of what was happening all across the east coast of Australia. “Many dozens” of threatened species had been hit hard by the fires, she said. In some cases “almost their entire distribution has been burnt”. So far, the Australian bushfire season has burned through about 5.8m hectares of bush, known across the world for its unique flora and fauna. Ecologists say the months of intense and unprecedented fires will almost certainly push several species to extinction. The fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades, they say, and, as climate heating grips, some species may never recover. Climate scientists have long warned that rising greenhouse gases will spark a wave of extinctions.

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AMLO doesn’t appear to be very effective so far, certainly not internationally. A socialist right on America’s doorstep. Can’t be easy.

Mexico President Calls For Julian Assange To Be Released From UK Prison (R.)

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday called for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to be released from prison in London, urging an end to what he described as his “torture” in detention. Assange, 48, is in a British jail for skipping bail when he sought asylum in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he spent nearly seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape that were dropped in November. Assange is also battling U.S. attempts to extradite him over Wikileaks’ publication of vast caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables. He faces a lengthy prison term if extradited to the United States.


A U.N. human rights investigator last year said Assange has suffered psychological torture from a defamation campaign and should not be extradited to the United States where he would face a “politicized show trial.” Lopez Obrador, a leftist who has close ties with Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, expressed his solidarity with Assange and said he hoped the former hacker and activist is “forgiven and released” from prison. “I don’t know if he has recognized that he acted against rules and norms of a political system, but at the time these cables demonstrated how the world system functions in its authoritarian nature,” Lopez Obrador said in response to a question about Assange at a regular government news briefing. “Hopefully consideration will be given to this, and he’s released and won’t continue to be tortured.”

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jul 022018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Woman in Bath 1963

 

When Politics Trumps Economics (Roach)
Update on Deflating Property Bubbles in Sydney & Melbourne (WS)
EU Warns US Of $294 Billion Hit If Car Tariffs Imposed (R.)
Key Merkel Ally Seehofer ‘Announces Intention To Resign’ Over Migration (G.)
Competing Visions Of Europe Are Threatening To Tear The Union Apart (G.)
Leftist ‘AMLO’ Sweeps To Mexican Presidency (AFP)
Axios Leaks Trump Bill To Blow Up World Trade Organization (ZH)
UK To Announce Third Post-Brexit Customs Model (BBC)
The Supreme Court Has Already Reshaped America (G.)
Australian Plastic Bag Ban Sparks Abuse, Violence From Angry Shoppers (Ind.)
New Zealand Most Perilous Place For Seabirds Due To Plastic Pollution (G.)

 

 

All economics is politics.

When Politics Trumps Economics (Roach)

With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics. Trade policy is an obvious and essential case in point. Showing no appreciation of the time-honored linkage between trade deficits and macroeconomic saving-investment imbalances, the president continues to fixate on bilateral solutions to a multilateral problem – in effect, blaming China for America’s merchandise trade deficits with 102 countries.

Similarly, his refusal to sign the recent G7 communiqué was couched in the claim that the US is like a “piggy bank that everybody is robbing” through unfair trading practices. But piggy banks are for saving, and in the first quarter of this year, America’s net domestic saving rate was just 1.5% of national income. Not much to rob there! The same can be said of fiscal policy. Trump’s deficit-busting tax cuts and increases in government spending make no sense for an economy nearing a business-cycle peak and with an unemployment rate of 3.8%. Moreover, the feedback loop through the saving channel only exacerbates the very trade problems that Trump claims to be solving.

With the Congressional Budget Office projecting that federal budget deficits will average 4.2% of GDP from now until 2023, domestic saving will come under further pressure, fueling increased demand for surplus saving from abroad and even bigger trade deficits in order to fill the void. Yet Trump now ups the ante on tariffs – in effect, biting the very hand that feeds the US economy.

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A real threat to the entire Aussie economy.

Update on Deflating Property Bubbles in Sydney & Melbourne (WS)

In Sydney, Australia’s largest property market and Petri dish for one of the world’s biggest housing bubbles, home prices fell 4.6% in June compared to a year ago, with house prices down 6.2%, and prices of condos (“units” as they’re called) down 0.7%, according to CoreLogic. The most expensive sector got hit the hardest: in the top quartile of home sales, prices fell 7.3%. In the nine months since the peak in September, the overall Daily Home Value Index has fallen 5.0%. But it had been one heck of a boom in Sydney, where home prices had jumped over 80% from the end of 2009 through the peak in September last year. Even during the big-bad Global Financial Crisis, they’d only dipped 4.6%.

So the market is changing, and the denying has stopped. Australian banks are getting put through the wringer by the Royal Commission with ongoing revelations of an ever longer list of misdeeds, particularly in the mortgage sector. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (ARPA), which is supposed to regulate the financial services industry, put in place some macroprodential measures to tamp down on the housing bubble, and they’re finally having an impact. Banks are suddenly focusing on borrowers’ debt-to-income ratios and other specifics, rather than just the assurance that home prices will always rise. They’re under investigation, and they’re tightening credit. And investors – a huge force in the market – have suddenly lost their appetite for property speculation, and banks have lost their appetite for funding them.

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Just make all tariffs the same.

EU Warns US Of $294 Billion Hit If Car Tariffs Imposed (R.)

The European Union has warned the United States that imposing import tariffs on cars and car parts would harm its own automotive industry and likely lead to counter-measures by its trading partners on $294 billion of U.S. exports. In a 10-page submission to the United States Commerce Department sent last Friday, the European Union said tariffs on cars and car parts were unjustifiable and did not make economic sense. he Commerce Department launched its investigation, on grounds of national security, on May 23 under instruction from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticised the EU over its trade surplus with the United States and for having higher import duties on cars. The EU has a 10% levy, compared to 2.5% for cars entering the United States.

Trump said last week that the government was completing its study and suggested the United States would take action soon, having earlier threatened to impose a 20% tariff on all EU-assembled cars. The bloc exported 37.4 billion euros (33.10 billion pounds) of cars to the United States in 2017, while 6.2 billion euros worth of cars went the other way. The European Union says that for some goods, such as trucks, U.S. import duties are higher. In its submission, the EU said that EU companies make close to 2.9 million cars in the United States, supporting 120,000 jobs – or 420,000 if cars dealerships and car parts retailers are included. [..] Assuming counter-measures along the lines of those taken in response to existing U.S. import tariffs on steel and aluminium, up to $294 billion of U.S. exports – 19% of overall U.S. exports – could be affected, the submission said.

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One last chance for Merkel.

Key Merkel Ally Seehofer ‘Announces Intention To Resign’ Over Migration (G.)

The future of Germany’s coalition government is hanging in the balance after the country’s interior minister reportedly announced his intention to resign over a migration showdown with Angela Merkel. Horst Seehofer, who is also leader of the Christian Social Union, on Sunday night offered to step down from his ministerial role and party leadership in a closed-door meeting in which he and fellow CSU leaders had debated the merits of the migration deal Merkel hammered out with fellow European Union leaders in Brussels. But with CSU hardliners believed to have tried to talk the combative interior minister into staying, a press conference was postponed until Monday, with Seehofer seeking to go back to Merkel in search of a final compromise.

At a 2am media conference, Seehofer said he had agreed to meet again with Merkel’s party before he made his decision final. “We’ll have more talks today with the CDU in Berlin with the hope that we can come to an agreement,” Seehofer said. “After that, then we will see.” In the short term, Seehofer’s resignation would appear to be a let-up for a beleaguered Merkel, removing a politician who has become the chancellor’s biggest nemesis inside her own government since taking up his post at the interior ministry in March. But if Seehofer were to resign and his replacement continue an adversarial approach, it would threaten to bring an end to the historic alliance between Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the Bavarian CSU, pushing the chancellor’s coalition government to the brink of collapse.

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Germany has dictated policies far too long.

Competing Visions Of Europe Are Threatening To Tear The Union Apart (G.)

[..] three competing visions have emerged. The first is Merkel’s idea of a “competitive” Europe. Under her “leadership” since the euro crisis began in 2010, the EU has increasingly become a vehicle for imposing market discipline on member states. It is in the name of this idea of a competitive Europe that, led by Germany, austerity has been imposed on debtor countries in the eurozone. In other words, although it is expressed in pro-European terms and involves further integration, it is essentially a neoliberal vision.

The second vision is the French president Emmanuel Macron’s idea of a “Europe qui protège”, a Europe that protects. Macron envisages an EU in which there would be greater solidarity between citizens and between member states. In practice, this means more redistribution and risk-sharing in the eurozone – the “transfer union” that Germany and other creditor countries fear. This is a centre-left vision of Europe – although in France, because Macron has implemented structural reforms in an attempt to gain credibility in Berlin, he is himself increasingly perceived as neoliberal.

The third vision is the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s idea of a “Christian” Europe of sovereign states. His vision first emerged in response to the attempt, led by Germany, to force EU member states to accept mandatory quotas of refugees in 2015, but it has developed into a broader critique of the European project. Orbán defines himself as an “illiberal democrat” in opposition to what he sees as the undemocratic liberalism of the EU. His vision is shared not just by the Law and Justice party government in Poland but also by far-right parties in other EU member states.

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Good luck. Mexico is such a mess. But they might beat Brazil today in the World Cup.

Leftist ‘AMLO’ Sweeps To Mexican Presidency (AFP)

Anti-establishment leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador swept to victory in Mexico’s presidential election Sunday, in a political sea change driven by voters’ anger over endemic corruption and brutal violence. The sharp-tongued, silver-haired politician known as “AMLO” won 53% of the vote, according to an official projection of the results. It is the first time in Mexico’s modern history a candidate has won more than half the vote in a competitive election, and a resounding rejection of the two parties that have governed the country for nearly a century. “This is a historic day, and it will be a memorable night,” Lopez Obrador said in a victory speech in Mexico City’s Alameda park, as thousands of ecstatic supporters flooded the capital’s central district, chanting “Yes we did!” and partying to mariachi music.

Lopez Obrador, 64, sought to downplay fears of radicalism, after critics branded him a “tropical Messiah” who would install Venezuela-style policies that could wreck Latin America’s second-largest economy. “Our new national project seeks an authentic democracy. We are not looking to construct a dictatorship, either open or hidden,” he told cheering supporters, promising to safeguard freedoms, respect the private sector and work to reconcile a divided nation. He also vowed to pursue a relationship of “friendship and cooperation” with the United States, Mexico’s key trading partner – a change in tone from some comments during the campaign, when he said he would put US President Donald Trump “in his place.”

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Better to reorganize it?!

Axios Leaks Trump Bill To Blow Up World Trade Organization (ZH)

Following the close of a second quarter that will be best remembered by President Trump’s vacillations on trade, Axios has dropped a Sunday night bombshell that may spook markets hoping for a respite from the daily escalating trade war rhetoric as the second half of the year begins: White House reporter Jonathan Swan has obtained a copy of a draft bill, purportedly ordered by Trump himself, that would allow the US to “walk away” from its commitments to the World Trade Organization. If passed, the bill (entitled the “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act”) would effectively blow up the WTO, an organization that the US helped create back in the 90s, by allowing Trump to unilaterally ignore the two most important principles:

The “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) principle that countries can’t set different tariff rates for different countries outside of free trade agreements; “Bound tariff rates” — the tariff ceilings that each WTO country has already agreed to in previous negotiations. “It would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal,” one anonymous source reportedly told Axios. The bill asks Congress to hand over to Trump unilateral power to ignore WTO rules and negotiate unilateral trade agreements. The leak of the draft bill follows another WTO-related scoop from Axios, published last week, where Swan reported that Trump has repeatedly badgered his aides about pulling the US out of the WTO, which the president has famously criticized as a “disaster”.

The bill’s chances of making it through Congress are extremely low. However, if Trump has taught us anything about his trade agenda, it’s never say never. “The good news is Congress would never give this authority to the president,” the source added, describing the bill as “insane.” “It’s not implementable at the border,” given it would create potentially tens of thousands of new tariff rates on products. “And it would completely remove us from the set of global trade rules.”

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Another nonstarter.

UK To Announce Third Post-Brexit Customs Model (BBC)

Downing Street has produced a third model for handling customs after the UK leaves the EU, the BBC understands. Details of the new plan have not been revealed publicly but senior ministers will discuss it at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, on Friday. Ministers have been involved in heated discussions recently as they tried to choose between two earlier models. Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg says the PM risks a revolt if the type of Brexit she promised is not delivered. Theresa May hopes to resolve cabinet splits on the shape of Brexit at this week’s cabinet meeting. The prime minister has said the UK will then publish a White Paper setting out “in more detail what strong partnership the United Kingdom wants to see with the European Union in the future”.

It follows last week’s summit in Brussels where European Council president Donald Tusk issued a “last call” for the UK to agree its position on Brexit, saying the “most difficult” issues were unresolved and “quick progress” was needed if agreement was to be reached by the next meeting in October. BBC political correspondent Chris Mason says Downing Street hopes it has now found its way out of a bind on customs, the issue central to the practicalities of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, and a significant part of finding a solution to maintaining an open border with the Republic of Ireland.

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Highest courts in every nation MUST be independent.

The Supreme Court Has Already Reshaped America (G.)

“It’s not just that justice Kennedy’s successor is likely going to move the court to the right,” Vladeck said. “It’s that knowing that there are five conservative justices surely emboldens states and conservative interest groups to bring to the supreme court legal theories that they might have been reluctant to leave in justice Kennedy’s hands.” If that picture of the country’s jurisprudential future has left liberals distraught, it has also raised questions about the court’s increasingly politicized nature, its power to shape society and the erosion of its independence as one branch of government meant to balance the other two – Congress and the presidency – and to be checked in turn itself.

While past courts have had liberal or conservative bents, since the Bush v Gore decision that decided the 2000 election, the court has taken on a more explicitly political feel. “People say the founders would roll over in their graves – I think the founders would hang themselves”, said Mickey Edwards, vice-president of the Aspen Institute think-tank and formerly a congressman for 16 years. “The whole idea of the court being a separate and independent branch has totally disappeared. It is now a third branch of the policymaking process.” Extreme partisanship in Congress has led the legislature to relinquish its power to the presidency and the court, Edwards said.

“We now have become so accustomed to thinking of things – whether it’s foreign policy or trade policy or other things that the Congress has constitutional authority over – we now look at them all as presidential powers,” Edwards said. “So the presidency has grown much stronger. “I would also say that the supreme court has grown stronger and it’s become more partisan, which is very disturbing.”

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Portrait of a nation.

Australian Plastic Bag Ban Sparks Abuse, Violence From Angry Shoppers (Ind.)

Supermarket staff in Australia have faced abuse and violence from shoppers angry at the removal of plastic bags as a ban comes into force. Customers rebelling against the end of free single-use bags have taken out their frustration on staff, prompting warnings to them to be considerate. In Western Australia, a shopper put his hands around the throat of an employee at Woolworths, which had stopped giving out free plastic bags days before the ban came into force. It was one of dozens of cases of shop staff being abused as Australia moves to reduce the amount of non-decomposing synthetic materials going into rivers and seas.

In a survey of supermarket workers this week, out of 132 who responded, 57 (43 per cent) said they had suffered abuse because of the plastic bag ban. “I work at Woolies and have already been abused countless times; it’s not our fault,” staff member Lauren McGowan told News.com.au. There have also been reports of customers stealing handfuls of bags before the ban. As of today, major retailers in Western Australia and Queensland face fines if they supply single-use plastic bags – which are already banned in Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

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Because there are so many birds.

New Zealand Most Perilous Place For Seabirds Due To Plastic Pollution (G.)

Seabirds are more at risk of dying due to plastic in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world, new research presented to parliament has shown. New Zealand is considered “the seabird capital of the world”, according to the country’s Department of Conservation, with the northern royal albatross raising their chicks on the Otago Peninsula, unique species of oystercatchers on the Chatham Islands and more penguin species than any country in the world. There are 36 seabird species that breed only in New Zealand. Mexico is a distant second with just five. More than a third of all seabird species are known to spend time in New Zealand’s waters.

Karen Baird from conservation group Forest & Bird, which produced the report, said: “Rubbish that ends up in our seas has a far worse effect on seabird species than anywhere else in the world.” “Even though we don’t have the most plastic pollution, we are unique in the world in having so many seabirds species. We also have the most threatened seabird species, many of which are found nowhere else.” Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to eating plastic because they are surface feeders, spotting food from the air and swooping down on it, scooping it up and swallowing it before the mistake is realised. Seabird chicks and adults face starvation when their stomachs fill up with plastic rather than food.

Forest & Bird called on the government to ban single-use plastic bags and commit to further research into how marine life is affected by plastic in New Zealand waters. One in three turtles that are found sick or dead in the country are caused by the animals eating plastic, Forest & Bird found, with marine mammals such as seals and sea lions also at risk. In neighbouring Australia, nine out of 10 fledglings in some shearwater colonies surveyed had eaten significant quantities of plastic, Baird said. New Zealand’s 10 shearwater species could be in for the same fate if plastic pollution wasn’t urgently addressed, Baird said.

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