Jul 122019
 


Jack Delano Rebuilt Chicago and North Western Railroad caboose at the Proviso yard in Chicago 1943

 

Making Banking Boring Again: The Decline Of Deutsche Bank (NS)
The Parable of Deutsche Bank and Investment Banking (Wright)
Bank Of England Warns Of Lending Crisis For EU Firms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)
Epstein Sold ‘Lolita Express’ Weeks Before Arrest (ZH)
Did Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein Work for Mossad? (Giraldi)
AOC on the 2020 Presidential Race and Trump’s Crisis at the Border (NYer)
Guardian Publishes, Then Censors Jewish Open Letter Defending Labour MP (GZ)
BBC Panorama’s Hatchet Job On Labour Antisemitism (Cook)
Bitcoin Extends Losses After Fed Chief Urges Halt To Facebook’s Libra (R.)
Japan Crypto Exchange Says $32 Million Missing In Hack (AFP)
Iran Calls On Britain To Release Seized Oil Tanker Immediately (R.)
Greek Growth Expected To Recover In The Second Half Of The Year (K.)

 

 

“If Deutsche falls, it could pull many other European banks down with it.” And American banks too.

Making Banking Boring Again: The Decline Of Deutsche Bank (NS)

There once was a time when Deutsche Bank’s central purpose was to expand its investment banking operations to compete with its American counterparts. On Sunday (7 July), its CEO declared those “days of spectacular ambition” over, announcing a major restructuring in a last attempt to save the bank from collapse. In a decade of decline for the once-great European investment banks, Deutsche has fared particularly badly. In the aftermath of the financial crash, it refused a German government bailout. Regulators have since discovered it was only able to do so by fiddling its books, earning it a large fine from the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The bank has remained fragile. The IMF called it the “most important net contributor to systemic risks in the global banking system”.


If Deutsche falls, it could pull many other European banks down with it. It has also been breaking rules in pursuit of a return to profitability. It earned big post-crisis fines for its role in the Libor rigging scandal, for laundering Russian money, and for violating US sanctions against a string of countries. The bank’s share price has fallen to below €7, from a pre-crisis peak of €112. The scale of its restructuring has shocked many analysts. Having already squeezed shareholders for huge amounts of capital, Deutsche aims to pay for it by cutting costs. Eighteen thousand jobs will be lost worldwide and the bank will shift away from expensive investment banking and return to its “traditional strengths” in corporate banking.

Read more …

Quite obvious what went wrong.

The Parable of Deutsche Bank and Investment Banking (Wright)

I first started writing about Deutsche Bank in the mid-1990s as a cub reporter on a City trade paper and this week’s news made me feel quite nostalgic. My first interview as a reporter in 1996 was on an empty trading floor in the City with someone called Edson Mitchell – the uber-trader hired by Deutsche Bank in 1995 to spearhead its ambitious project. He patiently explained to a clueless reporter why the bank was hiring 500 traders and what they would soon be doing. My first front page splash a few months later was that Deutsche Bank had hired the entire Latin American equities team of about 70 people from ING Barings. Why bother building a business from the bottom up when you can just buy the people from another firm that has already done so?

Those early moves were repeated many times over. You want to build the best trading business? Hire a huge team from Merrill Lynch. You want the best equities and advisory business? Take the best team on the street from SG Warburg. In the early days of the Deutsche Bank project it had the culture of an ambitious start-up: hire large teams of very good people, pay them a ton of money, focus on revenues, scale and market share – and eventually the profits will follow. Throw in as much leverage as your balance sheet can bear, and the numbers started adding up pretty quickly. It was a simple and successful formula. Soon Deutsche Bank graduated from hiring teams to buying entire firms: its acquisition of Bankers Trust in 1998 for $10bn – the biggest ever attempt by a European bank to break into the US market – briefly made it the biggest bank in the world in terms of assets.

It snapped up Scudder Investments a few years later, and Russian investment bank UFG a few years after that. The danger was that this ambitious start-up culture became the de facto culture of the investment bank. As a business model it worked when regulators around the world were more generous with how much leverage banks could have and when everyone was printing money in the years running up to the financial crisis. In 2007 the investment bank at Deutsche generated a shade under €20bn in revenues of a balance sheet that was just shy of €2 trillion. Two thirds of that revenue came from its huge sales and trading business. Pretax profits topped €5bn and its return on equity – a measure of profitability – was just under 20%. The Deutsche Bank project had worked.

The problem with this culture and business model – or rather, collection of businesses that had been rammed together over the previous decade – was that when the music stopped in 2008 it left Deutsche Bank with a huge and unproductive balance sheet, a cost-base that was nowhere near as flexible as it should have been, and a toxic culture in which many people’s expectation of how much they should be paid had become disconnected from the reality of the day-to-day business.

Read more …

“Britain has enabled UK companies banking with EU institutions located in Britain to keep on trading in the same way, even in a no-deal scenario, under special rules legislated for by the government. However, Brussels has not taken similar steps, the Bank warned.”

Bank Of England Warns Of Lending Crisis For EU Firms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The Bank of England has warned that a no-deal Brexit could trigger a material shock to the UK economy while causing widespread disruption for EU companies by cutting them off from London-based banks. Stating that the risk of Britain crashing out without a deal had risen, the Bank said the City of London was ready to withstand such a scenario and avoid banks failing, as they did in the financial crisis. However, there would still be major disruption for companies. Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, said: “The perceived likelihood of no-deal Brexit has increased since last year. Although the degree of preparedness for such a scenario has improved, material risks still remain.”

He said the absence of further action by Brussels to get ready for Brexit could leave the door open to disruption for banks and their customers in the EU, while warning that the UK would face “material economic disruption” from a no-deal departure. “Although such disruption would primarily affect EU households and businesses, it could amplify volatility and spill back to the UK in ways that cannot be fully anticipated or mitigated,” he said. Against the backdrop of a rising threat of a no-deal Brexit, the central bank used its twice yearly financial stability report to say that UK, EU and international banks operating in London had made progress planning for a disorderly departure.

However, it warned that about half of EU companies using banks registered in Britain could be cut off from their banking services after the Halloween Brexit date, as they had yet to fully prepare. Britain has enabled UK companies banking with EU institutions located in Britain to keep on trading in the same way, even in a no-deal scenario, under special rules legislated for by the government. However, Brussels has not taken similar steps, the Bank warned.

Read more …

If they let him out on bail there’ll be riots.

Epstein Sold ‘Lolita Express’ Weeks Before Arrest (ZH)

A curious footnote has appeared in a court filing by Jeffrey Epstein’s attorneys suggesting that the registered sex offender sold his infamous Boeing 727-200 weeks before his Satuday arrest on suspicion of sex-trafficking minors. While arguing for why Epstein should be allowed to remain under house arrest pending trial, his attorneys made the case that the wealthy financier would “deregister or otherwise ground his private jet,” with the footnote reading “Mr. Epstein owns one private jet. He sold the other jet in June 2019,” placing the sale just weeks before his July 6 arrest upon his return from Paris in his Gulfstream G550 according to Bloomberg.

In other words, it looks like the financier unloaded the potentially ‘evidence-rich’ aircraft – said to have had a bed installed where passengers reportedly had group sex with young girls – right before the hammer came down. According to investigative journalist Conchita Sarnoff – who first revealed the former president’s extensive flights on Epstein’s “lolita express” in a 2010 Daily Beast exposé – former president Bill Clinton flew on the ‘lolita express’ no fewer than 27 times.

Read more …

Still just a theory. I would be careful with that.

Did Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein Work for Mossad? (Giraldi)

Questions about Epstein’s wealth also suggest a connection with a secretive government agency with deep pockets. The New York Times reports that “Exactly what his money management operation did was cloaked in secrecy, as were most of the names of whomever he did it for. He claimed to work for a number of billionaires, but the only known major client was Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of several retail chains, including The Limited.” But whose intelligence service? CIA and the Russian FSB services are obvious candidates, but they would have no particular motive to acquire an agent like Epstein. That leaves Israel, which would have been eager to have a stable of high-level agents of influence in Europe and the United States.

Epstein’s contact with the Israeli intelligence service may have plausibly come through his associations with Ghislaine Maxwell, who allegedly served as his key procurer of young girls. Ghislaine is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, who died or possibly was assassinated in mysterious circumstances in 1991. Maxwell was an Anglo-Jewish businessman, very cosmopolitan in profile, like Epstein, a multi-millionaire who was very controversial with what were regarded as ongoing ties to Mossad. After his death, he was given a state funeral by Israel in which six serving and former heads of Israeli intelligence listened while Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir eulogized: “He has done more for Israel than can today be said”

[..] It will be very interesting to see just how far and how deep the investigation into Epstein and his activities goes. One can expect that efforts will be made to protect top politicians like Clinton and Trump and to avoid any examination of a possible Israeli role. That is the normal practice, witness the 9/11 Report and the Mueller investigation, both of which eschewed any inquiry into what Israel might have been up to. But this time, if it was indeed an Israeli operation, it might prove difficult to cover up the story since the pedophile aspect of it has unleashed considerable public anger from all across the political spectrum. Senator Chuck Schumer, self-described as Israel’s “protector” in the Senate, is loudly calling for the resignation of Acosta. He just might change his tune if it turns out that Israel is a major part of the story.

Read more …

Yes, the US needs to improve conditions at the border, no doubt about it. But calling it Trump’s crisis while it plays out in Obama facilities is a step too far. At least get some stories about what went on there before January 2017.

And AOC saying Trump called migrants “animals” is simply false. He was referring to MS-13 gang members (see video), and it’s very hard to believe she doesn’t know that. And then he compliments her. Maybe it’s time she pays him a compliment in return. Varoufakis said it very well:

“Come on, wake up! You can not say to Trump voters that they are idiots, and Putin duped them. You can say that, but then that’s it – you lose them forever. And it’s also not true.”
– Yanis Varoufakis

AOC on the 2020 Presidential Race and Trump’s Crisis at the Border (NYer)

So, we walked in and in one of the cells, the cell is just all concrete. There were just women on a concrete floor, and then there were two concrete slabs where they could sit, and then in the back there was a toilet, and a concrete slab in front of the toilet, but no door. And these women were just in these sleeping bags on the floor over each other. There’s no way that they could all sleep at once. Almost no way. And [..] it was, it was the physical manifestation of Trump’s rhetoric in calling migrants animals.


Caption: “[Trump] was responding during a White House event to a point made by a California sheriff about the MS-13 gang, which was started in the 1980s by immigrants from Central America.”

Read more …

The UK looks to be dissolving into complete chaos. Corbyn sympathizes with the Palestinians, and this is what happens.

Guardian Publishes, Then Censors Jewish Open Letter Defending Labour MP (GZ)

Britain’s leading newspaper The Guardian, which has relentlessly attacked Jeremy Corbyn and his leftist allies, published but then quickly removed an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky defending Labour MP Chris Williamson from “anti-Semitism” smears. Britain’s leading newspaper The Guardian has censored an open letter published by prominent Jewish intellectuals, writers, and activists that defended leftist Labour Party Member of Parliament Chris Williamson from “anti-Semitism” smears. The Guardian printed, but then quickly removed the letter without explanation. Meanwhile, the paper has refused to retract a wholly discredited article that maligned journalist and political prisoner Julian Assange which has remained on the website for more than seven months.

WikiLeaks says this piece is completely false, and has pledged to sue the newspaper over it. The retracted open letter was a defense of Chris Williamson emphasizing that the socialist and anti-imperialist MP “has a longer record of campaigning against racism and fascism than most of his detractors,” and “stands as we do with the oppressed rather than the oppressor.” Among the more than 100 signatories on the missive are world-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky, accomplished scholar Norman Finkelstein, anti-war activists Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold, legal expert and former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk, Holocaust survivors, Israeli dissidents, and leaders of progressive Jewish organizations in the United Kingdom.

Chris Williamson has been a key Corbyn ally in Parliament, advancing a staunchly progressive anti-war and anti-imperialist politics at a time when many Blairite holdovers in the Labour Party are pushing for more aggressive and bellicose policies against Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and Syria. Williamson was suspended in February after making comments which were later misrepresented by anti-Corbyn activists. He lamented that the Labour Party, which had “done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.” “I’ve got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion,” the MP added. “We’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.”

Read more …

Britain has a whole bunch of right wing papers, and then there’s the Guardian that has the same agenda phrased slightly differently, and then there’s the BBC. The media environment is perfect for smear jobs. Watch Assange.

There’s no way out anymore.

BBC Panorama’s Hatchet Job On Labour Antisemitism (Cook)

It is difficult to describe as anything other than a hatchet job the BBC Panorama special this week that sought to bolster claims that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has become “institutionally antisemitic”. The partisan tone was set from the opening shot. A young woman whose name was not revealed tearfully claimed to have been abused with antisemitic taunts at a Labour Party conference. The decision not to disclose the interviewee’s identity is understandable. It would have discredited the whole narrative Panorama was trying so hard to build. The woman’s name is Ella Rose, a senior official in the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), an organisation representing Jewish and non-Jewish members of Labour at the forefront of attacks on Corbyn.

Rose has a secret past too: she once worked at the Israeli embassy in London. Two years ago she and other JLM officials were exposed collaborating with Shai Masot, an Israeli embassy official. He had to be hurriedly removed from the UK after an undercover Al Jazeera documentary showed him plotting with activists in the Labour and Conservative parties to discredit British politicians seen as a threat to Israel. Most observers believe that Masot was operating within the embassy, as part of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, which in turn has been running black ops against western critics of Israel. Corbyn, we can safely assume, is high on that list. Rose is on record as saying she was a close friend of Masot’s.

[..] Why, one can reasonably ask, did Panorama ignore Jewish Voice for Labour in this supposed “investigation” of Labour and anti-semitism? The group was specifically set up by Jewish members to counter the claims being made by activists like Rose. Groups like the Jewish Labour Movement have implied that Jewish supporters of Corbyn are the “wrong kind of Jews” – an extremely ugly insinuation that Panorama appeared to endorse by entirely sidelining them. This was one of the reasons the Labour leadership censured the programme-makers in a 50-page document presented to BBC boss Tony Hall, in which it argued that Panorama had “pre-determined the outcome of its investigation”.

Read more …

Trump doesn’t like crypto either. He thinks there should be banking charters required.

Bitcoin Extends Losses After Fed Chief Urges Halt To Facebook’s Libra (R.)

Bitcoin dipped almost 8% on Thursday, extending losses the day after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell called for a halt to Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project until concerns ranging from privacy to money-laundering were addressed. The original cryptocurrency initially fell 7.7% to $11,164 in early morning trade, following a 3.8% slide on Wednesday after Powell’s testimony on monetary policy before the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee. It was last down 4.5%. Other major cryptocurrencies including Ethereum and Ripple’s XRP fell by similar levels.


“This is a direct response to the Powell testimony and comments on Facebook’s Libra and the implications that could have for the entire cryptocurrency space,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at FX trading platform OANDA. “Libra raises many serious concerns regarding privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability,” Powell told the committee, adding that he did not think the project could proceed unless those concerns were addressed.

Read more …

Hot wallets appear weak.

Japan Crypto Exchange Says $32 Million Missing In Hack (AFP)

A Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange said Friday it had halted all services after losing cryptocurrency worth more than $32 million in the latest apparent hack involving virtual money. Remixpoint said its subsidiary BITPoint Japan discovered overnight that about 3.5 billion yen ($32.3 million) in various digital currencies had gone missing from its management. The apparent hack was discovered after an error appeared in the firm’s outgoing funds transfer system on Thursday night. It said the cryptocurrency went missing from a so-called “hot wallet”, which is connected to the internet, but that currency held in “cold wallets” that are offline was not affected.


BITPoint Japan handles various virtual currencies, including bitcoin, ethereum and ripple. Remixpoint said the firm was still analysing the loss and offered no further details. It said it would compensate customers for the losses. Around 2.5 billion yen worth of the missing currency was customer funds, with the rest owned by the firm. Remixpoint shares plunged 18.6 percent following the announcement.

Read more …

It’s like Venezuela. Aggression gone completely wrong.

Iran Calls On Britain To Release Seized Oil Tanker Immediately (R.)

Iran called on Britain on Friday to immediately release an oil tanker that British Royal Marines seized last week on suspicion it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a foreign ministry spokesman told state news agency IRNA. “This is a dangerous game and has consequences … the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid … the release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest,” the spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said. Iran has warned of reciprocal measures if the tanker is not released.


Britain said on Thursday that three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which controls the flow of Middle East oil to the world, but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship. Iran denied that its vessels had done any such thing. Tension between Iran and the West has increased a week after Britain seized the tanker and London said the British Heritage, operated by oil company BP, had been approached in the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula. Mousavi accused Britain of seizing the tanker under U.S. pressure. “Such illegal measures could increase tensions in the Persian Gulf,” he told IRNA.

Read more …

Oh, sure, the new right wing government will make things look like they recover. But the EU squeeze is still on and growth will only be a mirage. Watch the poor get poorer. As long as Greece has to have a 3.5% budget surplus, taking all that direly needed money out of its economy, growth is mathematically impossible.

Greek Growth Expected To Recover In The Second Half Of The Year (K.)

The Greek economy is expected to regain its growth momentum in the second half of the year, after a slowdown in the previous quarters, as a result of increased confidence and favorable monetary conditions, a report by the financial analysis department of the National Bank of Greece argues. The report projects that after a drop in the growth rate in late 2018 and at the start of 2019, economic activity is set to rebound in July-December, with the main indexes reflecting a trend for strengthening consumption and for increased investments.


Nevertheless, the NBG report adds that increased exports are making the economy more vulnerable to the slowdown of the European economy. This, it says, is also reflected in the stagnation of international tourism arrivals over the first four months of the year, on a year-on-year basis. The bank’s baseline scenario provides for a zero increase to tourism revenues in 2019 from the record year of 2018.

Read more …

Mexico wants out of the EU

 

 

 

 

Feb 222019
 


Salvador Dali The ghost of Vermeer of Delft which can be used as a table 1934

 

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)
Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)
Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)
EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)
Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)
Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)
Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)
Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)
Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)
FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)
Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)
Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)
Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)
US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)
World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

 

 

Meanwhile in the real world that central bankers don’t want you to see:

US Housing Market In Freefall As New Buyers Can’t Afford A Home (ZH)

[..] with consensus expecting a tiny rebounding in January following December’s sharp drop, the deterioration in the US home market continued, and January existing home unexpectedly dropped 1.2% (exp. +0.2%), to 4.94 million, missing expectations of a rebound to 5.00 million. After December’s revision higher to 5.00 million, the January SAAR of 4.94 million was the first sub-5MM print since 2015, while the parallel pending home sales series confirms even more weakness is in store. Needless to say, it is very troubling that Americans are unable to afford home purchases with the 30% mortgage at just 4.5%, and suggests that even if inflation picks up, the Fed may have no choice but to keep rates flat to avoid a housing market crash.

As usual, NAR chief economist Larry Yun was optimistic, saying that he does not expect the numbers to decline further going forward. “Existing home sales in January were weak compared to historical norms; however, they are likely to have reached a cyclical low. Moderating home prices combined with gains in household income will boost housing affordability, bringing more buyers to the market in the coming months.” One wonders what “gains in household income” he is talking about. Meanwhile, properties are failing to sell as the slowdown spreads: Properties remained on the market for an average of 49 days in January, up from 46 days in December and 42 days a year ago. Thirty-eight percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month.

Read more …

“Vancouver [..] saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.”

Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)

Canadians are accelerating the rate at which they borrow cash against their homes, despite the fact that the real estate market is slumping in the country. This exposes the country’s financial system to obvious vulnerabilities, according to rating company DBRS and Bloomberg. Home equity lines of credit in Canada reached a record $184.5 billion (USD) as of October 31, which equates to 11.3% of total household credit. This is the highest share since mid 2015, according to a report released last Thursday. Canadians are drawing on their home’s equity to fund everything from home renovations to car purchases. And they’re doing it so quickly that borrowing has grown faster than mortgages since 2017.

Analyst Robert Colangelo, who published the report on Thursday, commented: “The flexibility of Helocs could increase financial system vulnerabilities. In the event of a correction, borrowers could find themselves with a debt load that exceeds the value of their home, which is often referred to as negative equity.” Obviously, home equity lines of credit can decrease visibility for lenders to identify credit problems as consumers use the equity in their homes to consolidate high interest loans and unsecured debt into one lump sum at a lower rate. Out of all of the Canadian banks, Toronto Dominion bank has the largest exposure to Helocs at about 39%, followed by Royal Bank of Canada which has 18% exposure. Other large banks are averaging 11% exposure, according to the report.

And the timing for Helocs to grow couldn’t be worse. Toronto’s real estate market continues to feel pain. Sales of new homes in the city fell to the lowest in almost 2 decades in 2018 and a glut of unsold condominiums continue to pile up, according to a Building Industry and Land Development Association report released February 1. Vancouver, still feeling the deflationary effects of a foreign real estate bubble popping, saw home sales fall about 40% in January from the same month a year earlier.

Read more …

People aged 65-74: A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. People aged 25-34: A$38,000.

That could topple a lot more than only a government.

Bursting Of Australia’s Housing Bubble Could Topple The Government (ZH)

In one of the world’s most developed economies, soaring costs for housing and education are rapidly widening the wealth-distribution gap between the younger and older generations amid the backdrop of one of the longest economic expansions in the country’s history. As younger workers grapple with the notion that they may never be able to afford a home, a backlash is stirring in the political arena, as younger voters embrace progressive (some would say “socialist”) politicians. No, we’re not talking about the US. We’re talking about Australia. After six years of tumultuous Liberal rule, the Labour Party is hoping to wrest back control of the government during elections later this year.

And it sees tackling this intergenerational divide as the best way to do it. And combating the country’s increasingly unaffordable housing bubble is a key plank of its proposals. The party has pledged to curb tax breaks for property investors that helped drive up home prices (alongside an influx of foreign capital). Labor leader Bill Shorten has promised to scrap tax refunds worth A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) a year for share investors. The benefits are already being seen in the polls, where Labour is seeing a slight advantage. After 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australians are struggling with the fact that the wealthy have enjoyed the bulk of the economic benefits.

While Australia has avoided recession for 27 years, the spoils have not been shared evenly as older people capture a greater share of the nation’s wealth. According to the Grattan Institute, households headed by people aged 65-74 were on average A$566,000 wealthier in 2015-16 than the same age group was 12 years earlier. That far outstrips growth in other bands and compares with just A$38,000 for the 25-34 age group. [..] While Sydney’s median house price is still more than A$900,000 [..] prices have already fallen 12% since their mid-2017 peak.

Read more …

Doesn’t she want to run down the clock?

EU Expects May to Request Three-Month Delay to Brexit (BBG)

The European Union expects U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to be forced to request a three-month delay to Brexit, two EU officials said. Discussions between the two sides suggest May will ask for an extension to the two-year negotiating period if the British Parliament backs the Brexit deal but it isn’t signed off until an EU summit on March 21-22. That is emerging as the EU’s current plan. The EU sees this as a “technical extension” to give British Parliament time to pass necessary legislation related to its departure from the bloc. Anything longer than three months would put the U.K. under pressure to take part in European elections on May 23-26, something that both sides are keen to avoid.

May is racing against the clock to change a controversial part of her deal, known as the “backstop,” in a way that would be acceptable to both the U.K. Parliament and the EU. However, with just five weeks to go until the U.K.’s scheduled departure from the EU and talks at an impasse, ministers and lawmakers in her own party are threatening to vote against her next week to give Parliament control of the process. The prime minister has repeatedly spoken out against a delay, saying she wants to take the U.K. out of the EU as scheduled at the end of March. She’s never completely ruled it out, however. Any postponement would have to be requested by the U.K. and accepted by all the remaining 27 EU governments.

EU officials say the three-month extension would happen under their most optimistic scenario. The risk remains that the U.K. could leave the bloc March 29 without a deal. Alternatively, May could be forced to contemplate a longer delay if she can’t get backing for the agreement, according to one official.

Read more …

Chances that Parliament will vote her deal through are slim.

Theresa May Warned Dozens Of Tories Could Rebel Over No-Deal Brexit (BBC)

Dozens of normally loyal Conservative MPs could rebel against the government in a bid to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, Downing Street has been warned. Leaders of the Brexit Delivery Group of both Leavers and Remainers say MPs may back alternatives if Mrs May’s reworked deal cannot command a Commons majority. Co-chairman Andrew Percy told the BBC more than 30 may try to block no deal. The government says “productive” talks in Brussels aimed at addressing MPs’ concerns continue “urgently”. The UK remains on course to leave the European Union on 29 March. But the government has repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of the UK leaving without a formal deal, in the event that Mrs May cannot get MPs to approve the deal she negotiated with Brussels in time.

Many MPs fear that scenario would be damaging to business and cause chaos at ports. However, Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs insist the “no-deal” option must be preserved as negotiating leverage in Brussels. Mr Percy told the BBC members of his group were becoming “tired” of the ERG’s refusal to back the prime minister. In a letter to government whips, he and co-chairman Simon Hart write: “Not only does this risk damaging the national interest, but also… we are putting in jeopardy the very thing many colleagues have spent decades campaigning for; our exit from the European Union.”

Read more …

The wonders of strip-mining social programs.

Record Surplus Gives UK Pre-Brexit Boost (G.)

Britain has recorded the biggest-ever monthly surplus in public finances since the early 1990s, putting the government on a strong footing in the run-up to Brexit, now less than 40 days away. In a rare piece of positive economic news for Philip Hammond as he prepares for his spring statement next month, income from taxes outstripped public spending by £14.9bn, the biggest January surplus since records began in 1993. Although January is typically a surplus month for the exchequer because of seasonal trends in the payment of taxes, the Office for National Statistics said last month’s surplus was £5.5bn larger than a year ago. Income and capital gains tax receipts increased by 14%, twice the average growth rate earlier in the year.

Combined, the income from self-assessed income taxes and capital gains tax receipts was £21.4bn, the highest in January since comparable records began in 2000. The data comes after several disappointing months for the chancellor, as borrowing came in worse than forecast. Government borrowing for the first 10 months of the financial year has, however, fallen almost by half, as tax receipts have been much stronger than expected. The exchequer has borrowed about £21.2bn this year so far, £18.5bn lower than at the same point a year ago, and the lowest since the 10 months to January 2001. The latest update means the government could be on track to reduce the deficit – the gap between spending and tax income – close to its target of £25.5bn set by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is 39% less than in 2017-18.

Read more …

Who in the party will defend Corbyn?

Anti-Semitism Is Cover For A Much Deeper Divide In UK Labour Party (Cook)

The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour Party on Monday that they were breaking away and creating a new parliamentary faction marked the biggest internal upheaval in a British political party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour. On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. There are predictions more will follow. With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, the founders of the so-called Independent Group made reference to their opposition to Brexit. The chief concern cited for the split by the eight Labour MPs, though, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.

The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit. Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader of a major British party to explicitly prioritise the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories. Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the Independent Group’s launch that she had reached “the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”. She and her allies claim she has been hounded out of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”.

[..] The timing of the defections was strange, occurring shortly after the Labour leadership revealed the findings of an investigation into complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”. And yet, the report decisively undercut their claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all. That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party. Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little or no part in influencing the anti-semitism narrative. This latest report was thus almost entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.

Read more …

Macron gambles that he can silence the Yellow Vests with antisemitism smear.

Macron Calls Anti-Zionism A Form Of Antisemitism (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has declared anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism as he ramps up France’s crackdown on racism against Jewish people. Speaking at the 34th annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France, Mr Macron said a surge in antisemitic attacks in his country had not been seen since World War Two. He promised a new law to tackle hate speech on the internet and said France would adopt the definition of antisemitism set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The IHRA definition does not use the phrase “anti-Zionism” but does say denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination “e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour,” is antisemitic.

Some critics of Israel, its occupation of territory internationally recognised as Palestinian, and its isolation of the Gaza Strip, say they risk being unfairly branded antisemitic, although the IHRA definition says: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country” is not. Mr Macron’s words were well received from the World Jewish Congress which said: “This is just the beginning of a long road ahead. Adopting this definition of anti-Semitism must be followed by concrete steps to encode into law and ensure that this is enforced.”

Read more …

Stop suing the banks. Sue their execs instead.

Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)

The city of Philadelphia is suing Bank of America and six other major banks for conspiring to manipulate the rates of municipal bonds, illegally making millions of dollars while depriving the city of funds for public services. Pennsylvania’s largest city, with over 1.5 million residents, filed the complaint late on Wednesday in the federal court in Manhattan. The city accuses Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Canada and Wells Fargo of colluding to manipulate rates of variable-rate demand obligations (VRDO), of which Philadelphia has issued over $1.6 billion-worth. The fees the banks collected, in violation of federal antitrust laws, have deprived Philadelphia and other jurisdictions of critical funding for public services, the lawsuit claims.

According to the court documents, the banks are already being criminally investigated by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, while the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has contacted four of the defendants with questions about their conduct. The lawsuit claims that phone and email records will show that the banks agreed not to compete with each other for VRDO remarketing services between February 2008 and June 2016, resulting in artificially high rates and banks collecting fees “for doing, essentially, nothing.”

Similar lawsuits are already being litigated in Massachusetts, California, Illinois and New York, accusing major banks of conspiring to “robo-reset” the rates of state VRDOs without any considerations for the local markets or investor demand, violating the requirement to market and price the bonds at the lowest possible interest rates. Plaintiffs in those four lawsuits are seeking to recover over $1 billion in fees, ranging from $100 million in Massachusetts and $349 million in Illinois to $719 million in California, while the New York numbers have not been made available yet.

Read more …

Some things are impossible to properly summarize in a few lines. Read the whole thing at Epoch Times.

And again: the US needs a Special Counsel for this. The FBI cannot be a state within the state.

FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)

A key player in the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign was Trisha Anderson, who, at the time, was the No. 2 lawyer at the agency’s Office of General Counsel. Despite having no specific experience in counterintelligence before coming to the FBI, Anderson was, in some manner, involved in virtually all of the significant events of the investigation. Anderson told members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees in August last year during closed-door testimony that she was one of only about 10 people who had known about the Trump–Russia investigation prior to its official opening.

A transcript of Anderson’s testimony, which was reviewed for this article, reveals that she had read all of the FBI’s FD302 forms detailing information that the author of the Steele dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, had provided to high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Anderson also told lawmakers that she personally signed off on the original application for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without having read it. The FBI relied heavily on the unverified information in the Steele dossier—which was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—to obtain the FISA warrant.

Anderson also was part of a small group of FBI personnel who got to read then-FBI Director James Comey’s memos about conversations he had with President Donald Trump. Besides the investigation into Trump, Anderson also was involved in the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton for sending classified information using a private server. Anderson’s testimony reveals that she received the original referral from the inspectors general for both the State Department and Intelligence Community on Clinton after hundreds of classified emails had been found on her server. Her testimony also raises questions as to whether then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict of interest.

Read more …

Get the impressions Stone’s getting bored sitting at home.

Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)

A judge imposed a sweeping gag order on Roger Stone, the former political adviser to President Donald Trump, after he created an Instagram post of the judge presiding over his criminal case next to an image that appeared to show the crosshairs of a gun. Stone told the judge at a hearing Thursday he made an “egregious error.” The new gag order prevents Stone from making any public comments on the case or investigation other than to solicit funds for his legal defense. If Stone violates the new gag order, his bond will be revoked and he’ll be detained. “There will not be a third chance,” District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.

Read more …

I had no idea.

Hungary Takes ‘Hundreds Of Venezuelan Refugees With Hungarian Ancestry’ (Ind.)

Hungary has accepted around 300 refugees from crisis-hit Venezuela, according to media reports from the country – surprising observers of its usually anti-immigration government. The refugees, who are thought to have Hungarian ancestry, are understood to have been welcomed into the country with the tacit support of the Orban administration and the help of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta. The news has come as a surprise in the conservative central European state, given the anti-immigration stances and refugee crackdowns of premier Viktor Orban.

“We are speaking about Hungarians and we do not consider Hungarians migrants,” Mr Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a press conference in response to the report. Confirming that the programme began in April 2018, he added: “They, like any other Hungarian, have a right to return home.” A controversial law passed by the Orban government last year restricted the activities of NGOs and charities that provide assistance to migrants. The law was de facto targeted at those groups helping people arriving by land from the Middle East and Africa. The Hungarian opposition seized on the latest developments, claiming the government was acting hypocritically.

Read more …

He got it back in October apparently, so no big immediate change.

And Center Alliance Senator Patrick having asked for the passport only so Julian can give himself up to the UK police doesn’t help either.

Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official confirmed in a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that Mr Assange’s 2018 application for a new passport had been accepted. Consular and Crisis Management Division first assistant secretary Andrew Todd said, “Mr Assange does have an Australian passport”. [..] The department is understood to have issued Mr Assange with his new passport in October. A DFAT official at an estimate’s hearing in October said Mr Assange’s passport application had “not been rejected”. But absolute confirmation that he has actually received a new passport did not come until Thursday’s heading. DFAT officials told the estimates hearing they had no knowledge of legal proceedings against Mr Assange in the United States.

Documents show Mr Assange’s UK-based lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, applied for a new passport on his behalf in mid-2018. DFAT replied that it was of the belief that Mr Assange’s entitlement to a passport may be affected by ongoing legal proceedings in the United Kingdom. “Specifically, we understand you may be the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with a ‘serious foreign offence’ within the meaning of section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005,” DFAT replied. “In order to progress your application, we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances. To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, who has pursued Mr Assange’s right to a passport in recent estimates hearings, said that, given Mr Assange’s failing health, the best thing would be for him to leave the Ecuador embassy and face the British justice system over breaching his bail conditions. After that, he should return to Australia, Senator Patrick said.

Read more …

“Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher..”

US Cities Burn Recyclables After China Bans Imports (G.)

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins. But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government. It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse. The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says. [..] Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics. The dilemma with what to do with items earmarked for recycling is playing out across the US. The country generates more than 250m tons of waste a year, according to the EPA, with about a third of this recycled and composted.

Read more …

Monoculture ‘R’ Us. You add it all up, the soil is poisoned, the food is poisoned, vertebrates are disappearing, insects are going gone, and how much longer for the human species?

World Food Supply Under ‘Severe Threat’ From Loss Of Biodiversity (G.)

The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates. The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities and factories gobble up land and pump out chemicals. Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive, said the report, launched on Friday. It noted a “debilitating” loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. In the oceans, a third of fishing areas are being overharvested.

Many species that are indirectly involved in food production, such as birds that eat crop pests and mangrove trees that help to purify water, are less abundant than in the past, noted the study, which collated global data, academic papers and reports by the governments of 91 countries. It found 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi were in decline. Pollinators, which provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops, are under threat. As well as the well-documented decline of bees and other insects, the report noted that 17% of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats and birds, were threatened with extinction. Once lost, the species that are critical to our food systems cannot be recovered, it said. “This places the future of our food and the environment under severe threat.”

“The foundations of our food systems are being undermined,” wrote Graziano da Silva, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in an introduction to the study. “Parts of the global report make sombre reading. It is deeply concerning that in so many production systems in so many countries, biodiversity for food and agriculture and the ecosystem services it provides are reported to be in decline.” Agriculture was often to blame, he said, due to land-use changes and unsustainable management practices, such as over-exploitation of the soil and a reliance on pesticides, herbicides and other agro-chemicals. Most countries said the main driver for biodiversity loss was land conversion, as forests were cut down for farm fields, and meadows covered in concrete for cities, factories and roads. Other causes include overexploitation of water supplies, pollution, over-harvesting, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

Read more …

Feb 202019
 


Henri Rousseau Tour Eiffel 1898

 

Asia Shares Rally To Four-Month High On Hopes Of US-China Trade Deal (R.)
Surging US Oil Supply “Neutralizes” OPEC Cuts, Venezuela Sanctions (R.)
Theresa May To Put New Backstop Proposals To EU (G.)
UK Manufacturers Warn Of ‘Catastrophic’ No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Despite The Slaughter In Yemen, Britain Is Still Chasing Arms Sales (G.)
Covington High School Student Files $250 Million Defamation Suit vs WaPo (ZH)
Salvini Set To Emerge As Biggest Winner In EU Parliament Elections
Thousands Rally Against Anti-Semitism In France After Spike In Attacks (R.)
Cuba Denies Having Forces In Venezuela, Says US Readies Intervention (R.)
Putin Vows To Improve Russia’s Living Conditions (AFP)
Russiagate In Flames: No Collusion, DNC Hack Narrative Dismantled (Vos)
Trends In Modern Propaganda (Southfront)
European Farms Could Grow Green And Still Be Able To Feed Population (G.)

 

 

In reality, it’s only central banks that matter.

Asia Shares Rally To Four-Month High On Hopes Of US-China Trade Deal (R.)

World stocks hit a four-month high on Wednesday on hopes of progress in trade talks between the United States and China, with a dovish backdrop at major central banks also helping push markets back into the black. U.S. President Donald Trump said negotiations with China were going well and suggested he was open to extending the deadline to complete them beyond March 1. Up to now, it was assumed U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports would rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no trade deal was reached by then. Asian shares soared on Trump’s comment, and European stock indices also strengthened, pushing the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, to a four-month high.

Deutsche Bank’s chief strategist Jim Reid said the newsflow was encouraging, despite signs that more progress was needed. “The overall feeling is that it is one step forward, three-quarters of a step back at the moment. So positive momentum but still fragile,” he said in a note. While hopes for a trade deal between the world’s two largest economy are seen as the primary driver for world stocks, dovish central bank messages are also playing a part. New York Fed President John Williams on Tuesday said he was comfortable with the level U.S. interest rates were at and that he saw no need to raise them again unless economic growth or inflation shifted to an unexpectedly higher gear.

Read more …

This too is possible only because the Fed keeps interest rates low. US oil is drowning in debt.

Surging US Oil Supply “Neutralizes” OPEC Cuts, Venezuela Sanctions (R.)

Oil prices slipped away from 2019 highs on Wednesday, with surging U.S. supply and slowing economic growth tempering upward pressure from supply cuts led by producer club OPEC and from Washington’s sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures hit 2019 highs of $56.39 per barrel on Wednesday but had slipped back to $56.16 per barrel by 0746 GMT, which was slightly above their last settlement. International Brent crude futures were at $66.41 per barrel, down 4 cents from their last close, though still not far off their 2019 high of $66.83 per barrel, hit on Monday. Oil prices have been supported by supply cuts led by OPEC.

OPEC-member and top crude exporter Saudi Arabia is expected to reduce shipments of light crude oil to Asia in March as part of the effort to tighten markets. OPEC as well as some non-affiliated producers such as Russia agreed late last year to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) to prevent a large supply overhang from swelling. “We have lowered Saudi crude oil output in line with announcements…(and) are now assuming that Saudi Arabia will produce in the first three quarters of 2019 less than the 10.31 million bpd target it agreed to at the Dec. 7 OPEC, non-OPEC meeting,” French bank BNP Paribas said in a note.

Read more …

Useless and she knows it. 37 days to go. What May is doing is running down the clock, so MPs will feel forced to accept her deal they voted down in a historical defeat just weeks ago.

Theresa May To Put New Backstop Proposals To EU (G.)

Theresa May will present the EU with new legal proposals to solve the Irish backstop issue on Wednesday, which Downing Street hopes will be enough to convince Eurosceptics to back her Brexit deal. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, confirmed late on Tuesday that the government no longer intended to pursue alternative arrangements for the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, which had been championed by cross-factional MPs including Eurosceptic Steve Baker and soft Brexiter Nicky Morgan. Instead, the prime minister is travelling to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, with a plan to secure legal assurances that the backstop would not permanently bind the UK into a customs union.

She was forced to admit to Conservative MPs who met her on Tuesday night that the Irish backstop could not be replaced by the “Malthouse compromise” – proposals for a free trade agreement with as-yet-unknown technology to avoid customs checks on the Irish border. However, she stressed that this solution would still be examined in future to help solve the issue of customs arrangements at the Irish border. Hammond confirmed that the Malthouse compromise was no longer a viable option in a speech to the Make UK dinner held by the manufacturers’ association EEF on Tuesday night. He called the plan a “valuable effort” that should be looked at again during the transition period, but said it could not provide a solution now.

“It is clear that the EU will not consider replacing the backstop with such an alternative arrangement now, in order to address our immediate challenge,” he said, adding that the alternative arrangement would “require significant changes to EU legislation and customs practices that would need to be negotiated with the EU member states and others”.

Read more …

Whatever the outcome, May will blame anyone but herself.

UK Manufacturers Warn Of ‘Catastrophic’ No-Deal Brexit (R.)

Britain faces the “catastrophic prospect” of a no-deal Brexit next month due to the selfishness of some politicians and chaotic parliamentary proceedings, the head of the country’s main manufacturing association said on Tuesday. The strong warning from Make UK, previously known as the EEF, comes as Japanese carmaker Honda is expected to say it is preparing to shut its main UK plant with a loss of 3,500 jobs. Nissan earlier this month canceled plans to build its X-Trail sport utility vehicle in Britain, mostly blaming “business reasons” but also citing Brexit uncertainty. “Let me be clear … for those hard Brexiteers who accuse us of scaremongering. This is very real and very serious,”

Make UK’s chair, Judith Hackitt, said in remarks ahead of the group’s annual conference. Finance minister Philip Hammond and business minister Greg Clark – who are on the pro-European wing of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party – as well as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, are due to address the conference. Corbyn intends to call again for May to back his proposal for a permanent customs union with the European Union and full guarantees for existing worker and consumer rights. He plans to meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier this week. [..] Some 49 percent of 429 manufacturers surveyed for Make UK said a no-deal Brexit would make Britain unattractive, compared with 28 percent who said Britain would still be an attractive location, with bigger companies more likely to express concerns.

Read more …

It’s remarkable how arms manufacturers never have to face any ethics claims, anywhere in the world. No government that says: are you crazy? And sure they make a few billion here and there, but their influence far outweighs their economic value.

Despite The Slaughter In Yemen, Britain Is Still Chasing Arms Sales (G.)

A Khaleeji bagpipe band, a colourful aircraft display, a performance by the Armenian Military Orchestra and a big show of support from the Emirate royal families. These were some of the touches at Sunday’s opening ceremony for the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex 2019) in Abu Dhabi, the Middle East’s biggest arms fair. It’s a decadent and distasteful celebration of militarism and weaponry. Missiles, rifles, tanks, helicopters and warships are on display for anyone that can afford them. More than 100,000 people will attend this week, including representatives from all of the world’s biggest arms companies and military delegates from 57 nations.

Among those looking to do business is the UK government, which has sent a team of civil servants to support UK arms company reps in doing as much business as possible. Particularly with the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, they will pull out all stops to cement sales. There is no way of knowing what kind of deals will be discussed, or the kind of weaponry that might be sold as a result. We don’t know how these weapons will be used, or who they will be used against. But the results could be devastating. There is no shortage of UK arms in the Middle East. With rising military budgets, it is an important region for the arms trade. In 2017 it accounted for more than two-thirds of all UK arms sales.

It’s been eight years since the Arab spring uprisings. UK-made weapons were implicated in the violence, particularly in Libya where UK contractors were upgrading Gaddafi’s tanks on the eve of the uprising, and Egypt where UK-made teargas was turned on protesters. No lessons were learned, and there has been a significant increase in arms sales to many of the regimes. Since the uprisings began, and, despite the atrocities that have taken place, the UK has licensed a further £200m worth of arms to Egypt, and £100m worth to Bahrain. The sales include rifles, ammunition, armoured vehicles and a host of other deadly weaponry.

The impact of UK arms sales is most strongly felt in Yemen, where UK-made fighter jets and bombs are playing a central role in the ongoing war. For almost four years now the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has used them to inflict the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 60,000 people have been killed, and yet the arms sales continue unabated. Last week a House of Lords committee chaired by a former Conservative cabinet member told the government that these arms sales are illegal.

Read more …

“According to the Daily Wire, Sandmann’s lawyers sent “letters for potential lawsuits to over 50 entities ranging from Democratic politicians to celebrities to media figures.” Nice list at the source.

Covington High School Student Files $250 Million Defamation Suit vs WaPo (ZH)

After an investigation conducted by the Covington Diocese turned up no evidence that 16-year-old high school student Nicholas Sandmann confronted Native American activist Nathan Phillips during a March for Life rally at the Lincoln Memorial last month, seemingly confirming that the mainstream press was incorrect to pillory the white, MAGA-hat wearing teen for a confrontation that never actually happened, lawyers for Sandmann filed the first of what are expected to be many defamation lawsuits demanding compensatory and punitive damages for leading an Internet mob that villified Sandmann and his peers. According to Reuters, lawyers Lin Wood and Todd McMurtry are seeking $250 million in damages from the Washington Post on behalf of Sandmann, a sum equal to the amount that billionaire Jeff Bezos paid to buy the paper in 2013.

The suit claims that the paper – which helped publicize a now infamous photo that helped trigger an Internet mob that swiftly outed the teen and demanded he be punished – led the hate campaign against Sandmann – and failed to practice proper journalistic due diligence – “because he was the white, Catholic student wearing a red ‘Make America Great Again’ souvenir cap on a school field trip to the January 18 March for Life in Washington, D.C. when he was unexpectedly and suddenly confronted by Nathan Phillips (‘Phillips’), a known Native American activist, who beat a drum and sang loudly within inches of his face (‘the January 18 incident’).” Not only did the diocese’s investigation corroborate the students’ version of events, but it also found no evidence to support Phillips’ claims that Sandmann and his fellow students had been chanting “build the wall” at the time of the confrontation.

What really happened – as is now widely known – is that the students, who were marching with the pro-life rally, were verbally accosted by the Black Hebrew Israelites, who hurled homophobic slurs at the students and accosted them. “In targeting and bullying Nicholas by falsely accusing him of instigating the January 18 incident, the Post conveyed that Nicholas engaged in acts of racism by “swarming” Phillips, “blocking” his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct,” the suit read. “The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President.” The Washington Post’s Vice President for Communications Kristine Coratti Kelly told Reuters “We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit and we plan to mount a vigorous defense.”

Read more …

I bet the shift will be much more dramatic.

Salvini Set To Emerge As Biggest Winner In EU Parliament Elections

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s efforts to undermine the EU status quo by rallying a broad coalition of eurosceptic groups during spring elections for the European Parliament are set to pay off big time, according to the first forecast of the expected results released by the chamber on Tuesday. According to the polling, which was cited by the FT, Salvini’s League Party is expected to make some of the most striking gains in the May vote, possibly becoming the second-largest party in the assembly after Germany’s center right Christian Democratic Union.

Mr Salvini’s League is on course to dominate in Italy by winning 32 per cent of the vote and 27 seats, according to the poll. If so, it would be the second-biggest party in the chamber after Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, which is forecast to hold 29 seats, down from 34 in the last election in 2014. The CDU is a mainstay of the European People’s party, the parliament’s main centre-right group. The EPP is predicted to slip from 217 seats to 183 seats, while the centre-left Social Democrat grouping is projected to lose almost one-third of its seats — from 186 to 135.

In total, Eurosceptic parties are expected to win 153 seats in the chamber. Though they control the same number now, their share of the votes will climb as the total number of seats in the chamber falls to 705 from 751 to account for the UK’s departure. In addition to Salvini’s League, the Eurosceptic faction in the EUP includes Poland’s Law and Justice party, Italy’s Five Star Movement and France’s Rassemblement National. Law and Justice and France’s RN have pledged to join forces in the coming parliament. Other Eurosceptic parties including Spain’s far-right Vox and the Dutch Forum for Democracy are expected to win seats in the chamber for the first time.

Read more …

My money is on Macron having staged the entire thing. Just so he can say: “It’s a real question of authority…” The man’s under severe pressure. And anitisemitism sells.

Thousands Rally Against Anti-Semitism In France After Spike In Attacks (R.)

Thousands of people rallied across France after a surge of anti-Semitic attacks in recent weeks that culminated on Tuesday with vandals daubing swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans on dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery. Political leaders from all parties, including former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, gathered in Paris filling the Place de la Republique, a symbol of the nation, to decry anti-Semitic acts with one common slogan: “Enough!” People also lined the streets of cities from Lille in the north to Toulouse and Marseille in the south. President Emmanuel Macron paid respects at one of the 96 desecrated graves in the village of Quatzenheim, near the eastern city of Strasbourg.

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished… We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them,” he said, walking through a gate scarred with a swastika as he entered the graveyard. Macron later visited the national Holocaust memorial in Paris with the heads of the Senate and National Assembly. France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 — a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common. Government statistics released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic attacks in the country last year, a 74 percent increase from 2017. “Some people are provoking the authority of the state. It needs to be dealt with now and extremely firmly,” Sarkozy told reporters. “It’s a real question of authority. Violence is spreading and it needs to stop now.”

Read more …

Might as well drag Cuba into it as well while you’re at it.

Cuba Denies Having Forces In Venezuela, Says US Readies Intervention (R.)

Cuba denied on Tuesday it has security forces in Venezuela and charged the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign of lies paving the way for military intervention in the South American country. U.S. President Donald Trump and members of the administration have charged that Cuba’s security forces and military control Venezuela’s and that troops are also on the ground there. “Our government categorically and energetically rejects this slander,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said at a Havana press conference, adding all of the some 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela were civilians, most health professionals. Rodriguez called on the U.S. administration to produce proof.

“There is a big political and communications campaign underway which are usually the prelude to larger actions by this government,” Rodriguez said. Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the Bolivarian Revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998. The Trump administration has been trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and hand over power to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly. [..] Rodriguez termed the political crisis in Venezuela “a failed imperialist coup … fabricated in Washington,” and warned plans to deliver humanitarian aid were a recipe for violence and intervention.

Read more …

The western press of course can’t report on Putin without trying to make him look weakened. This time there’s a survey that has his approval rating at 64%, “his lowest in 5 years”. From the same “independent” pollsters comes an October poll that says only 40% would have voted for Putin. While he was re-elected 6 months earlier with 76%.

Putin Vows To Improve Russia’s Living Conditions (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin promised Russians rapid improvements in their living conditions as he delivered his annual state of the nation address Wednesday under pressure from falling approval ratings. Putin, who was elected to a fourth term last year with more than 76 percent of the vote, laid out a series of new measures in his speech to Russia’s two houses of parliament. His promises seemed aimed at addressing growing discontent over the dismal living conditions, especially outside Moscow, that many Russians still face nearly 20 years after Putin came to power. “We cannot wait, the situation must change for the better now,” Putin told assembled lawmakers from the lower house State Duma and upper house Federation Council.

“Within this year (Russians) should feel changes,” he said, promising a wide range of steps including new child benefits and lower taxes for larger families. “We did and will do everything for the strengthening of family values,” he said. “The incomes of Russian families should of course rise”. Putin, 66, appeared calm and confident as usual during the speech, but the Kremlin is reportedly deeply concerned by the fall in his personal approval ratings in recent months. A survey by Russia’s independent Levada Center released in January found his approval rating at 64 percent — a figure many Western leaders could only dream of, but Putin’s lowest in five years.

Russians appear increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of economic growth and the concentration of the country’s wealth in a few hands in Moscow. Moves by the government to implement economic reforms, including an increase in the retirement age and a rise in the value-added tax from January 1, have prompted widespread opposition including rare street protests. Another Levada poll in October found only 40 percent of Russians would vote for Putin if an election were held.

Read more …

All true, and Elizabeth Lea Vos means well. But the moment she uses terms like “neo-McCarthyist insanity”, she writes herself straight into an echo-chamber. Don’t.

Russiagate In Flames: No Collusion, DNC Hack Narrative Dismantled (Vos)

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed two pillars of the Russiagate narrative continue to disintegrate and erode. First, we heard that a bipartisan inquiry by the Senate Intelligence Committee admitted that they have yet to find evidence indicating that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential election. Secondly, new light was shed on the process by which the DNC Emails published by WikiLeaks may have been sourced, thanks to two reports: one authored by former NSA Technical Director Bill Binney and former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, with the other work penned by Disobedient Media’s Adam Carter. Of course, this does not entail that the establishment-backed media will stop promoting the neo-McCarthyist insanity that has held legacy press audiences captive for the last two and a half years.

A recent report from NBC related an admission from both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, indicating that they have discovered no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion to date. NBC’s report reads in part: “The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians.” Let’s review that again: the only thing the Democrats and Republicans disagree on is the significance of an alleged “Pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians.”

[..] Last month, The Nation’s Aaron Mate wrote: “Not a single Trump official has been accused of colluding with the Russian government or even of committing any crimes during the 2016 campaign. As The New York Times recently noted, “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

Read more …

We’re awash in made-up narratives.

Trends In Modern Propaganda (Southfront)

On February 13, BBC Syria’s producer Riam Dalati came out with a statement that “After almost 6 months of investigations” he “can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged” and “no fatalities had occurred in the hospital.” Dalati added that he believes that “the attack did happen” but no Sarin was used and “everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.” [..] Dalati’s statement widely circulated independent media organizations and was even commented by the Russian defense and foreign ministries. Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the revelation as a “theater of absurd.”

“Over the past years, and not only in Syria, we have seen just a tragic farce performed by the Western community and mass media, which on the one hand, speak about the high democratic goals and how they care about the civilians of a sovereign state, and on the other hand, they just do not give a damn about all laws, the international law, freedoms and rights of a nation and certain people,” Zakharova stressed. She compared this case with the situation developing around Iraq prior to the start of the US intervention and recalled how then US ambassador to the UN Colin Powell was convincing the international community that there is a need to rescue “Iraq, Iraqi nation and democracy”.

The Russian Defense Ministry also commented on the issue by saying that Russia is not surprised by the appearance of new discrediting details. “Many of today’s top-ranking politicians in the United States and Europe, then tearing their throats in ‘defending the peaceful Syrians from the terrible chemical attacks of the regime” and sanctioning missile and air strikes on Syria, will try to forget the topic in order to avoid moral, political and criminal liability,” defense ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

Read more …

There is no doubt about this. But it will require dumping the agri-industrial approach to providing our food.

European Farms Could Grow Green And Still Be Able To Feed Population (G.)

Europe would still be able to feed its growing population even if it switched entirely to environmentally friendly approaches such as organic farming, according to a scientific paper. A week after research revealed a steep decline in global insect populations that has been linked to the use of pesticides, the study from European thinktank IDDRI claims such chemicals can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population. Agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant crops that increase the sustainability of the farming system as a whole.

The IDDRI study, entitled Ten Years for Agroecology, used modelling to examine the reduction in yields that would result from a transition to such an approach. Reductions, the authors argue, could be mitigated by eliminating food-feed competition – reorienting diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain-fed white meat. More than half the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals. The study models a future in which European meat production has been cut by 40%, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed pork and poultry. “Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association.

“The Ten Years for Agroecology study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.” [..] The study is being published in parallel with the UK launch of the Eat-Lancet “planetary health diet”, which proposes a shift towards a more plant-based diet. The agroecology study addresses similar concerns, but places greater emphasis on farmland biodiversity.

Read more …

Feb 182019
 


Pablo Picasso Face female study 1925

 

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)
Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)
Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)
Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)
New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)
Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)
UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)
Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)
Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)
Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)
Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)
UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)
Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

 

 

How state propaganda works (and is disseminated by sympathetic media).

“The scene was a vicious verbal interlude..” “The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. “The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks.”

In reality, the French see young people with their eyes missing due to Macron-ordered rubber bullets. The only support that’s eroding is that for Macron.

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)

Paris judicial authorities opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic remarks hurled at a noted philosopher during a yellow vest protest, an incident that raised national concerns about the movement’s ascendant radical fringe. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the investigation was being conducted into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.” A band of men taunted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of a protest through the French capital Paris on Saturday. “Go back to Tel Aviv,” ”Zionist,” and “France is our land” were among the insults captured on video. Finkielkraut, a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, told French television station LCI on Sunday he doesn’t intend to file a complaint.

The scene was a vicious verbal interlude as thousands of protesters made their way through the Left Bank for the 14th Saturday in a row of demonstrations by the yellow vest movement. Several thousand protesters gathered again in Paris on Sunday to mark the three-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement’s protests, which started Nov. 17 with nationwide protests of fuel tax increases. [..] The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks. One yellow vest protester who has tried to put together a candidates list for the European Parliament election was heckled Sunday by detractors.

Read more …

Government officials vs a newly elected president. Must be a first. Patriots vs voters.

Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)

Two Trump Cabinet officials were “ready to support” a DOJ scheme to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump, according to Bloomberg and Fox News, citing closed-door testimony from the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker – who said that the claim came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “The testimony was delivered last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Fox News has confirmed portions of the transcript. It provides additional insight into discussions that have returned to the spotlight in Washington as fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revisits the matter during interviews promoting his forthcoming book.” -Fox News

While Baker did not identify the two Cabinet officials, he says that McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page approached him to relay their conversations with Rosenstein, including their discussions of the 25th Amendment scheme. “I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he – this was what was related to me – that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the Congressional committees. The 25th Amendment allows for the removal of a sitting president from office through various mechanisms – including the majority of a president’s Cabinet agreeing that the commander-in-chief is incapable of performing his duties.

Rosenstein – who is slated to leave the Justice Department in the near future, has denied the claims. Baker said McCabe was cool, calm and collected throughout the discussions, telling lawmakers: “At this point in time, Andy was unbelievably focused and unbelievably confident and squared away. I don’t know how to describe it other than I was extremely proud to be around him at that point in time because I thought he was doing an excellent job at maintaining focus and dealing with a very uncertain and difficult situation. So I think he was in a good state of mind at this point in time.” McCabe, meanwhile told “60 Minutes” in an interview set to air Sunday night that Rosenstein was concerned about Trump’s “capacity.”

According to McCabe, Rosenstein “raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort,” adding that Rosenstein was “definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity and about his intent at that point in time.” “Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president?” asks CBS News anchor Scott Pelly, to which McCabe replied: “That’s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.”

Read more …

Inevitable, so let’s have it.

“..there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.”

Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)

President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said on Sunday. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.” The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president’s effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges.

After lawmakers in both parties blocked his requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his signature campaign pledge, Trump’s declared national emergency Friday shifts billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction to the border. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action. Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

Read more …

“The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.”

Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)

Senior Tories were accused of “sniping” at the huge numbers of campaigners set to take part in a march for a fresh Brexit referendum, a day after it was announced. A Brexit minister, Martin Callanan, came under fire after he branded next month’s Put It To The People march – part of The Independent’s Final Say campaign – “desperate stuff”. James Cleverly, a Conservative vice-chairman, tweeted sarcastically: “The only thing that might make me change my mind is a bloke in a blue hat with yellow stars shouting ‘Stop Brexit’. Yep, that might do it.” The reaction came despite last October’s demonstration attracting up to 700,000 people in London alone – and fuelling support for a new referendum at Westminster.

Anna Turley, a Labour supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the two men were “sniping at the huge numbers of people in this country who want to make their voice heard”. “Ministers should listen to the calls of those who feel betrayed by broken Brexit promises, worried about the damage caused by either this deal or no deal, as well as those who just want clarity and closure about our country’s direction – rather than years more of argument and division,” she said. The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.

Read more …

Meaningless without including other taxes, income, wealth, tec.

New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)

New Zealand said on Monday that it plans to update its laws so it can tax revenue earned by multinational digital firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, extending a global effort to bring global tech giants into the tax net. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the cabinet had agreed to issue a discussion document about how to update the country’s tax framework to ensure multinational companies pay their fair share. “Our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals,” Ardern told reporters at her weekly post-cabinet news conference.

Highly digitalized companies, such as those offering social media networks, trading platforms, and online advertising, currently earn a significant income from New Zealand consumers without being liable for income tax, the government said in a statement released after the announcement. The value of cross-border digital services in New Zealand is estimated to be around NZ$2.7 billion ($1.86 billion). The revenue estimate for a digital services tax is between NZ$30 million and NZ$80 million, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in the statement. Digital services taxes (DST) are generally charged at a flat rate of two to three percent on the gross revenue earned by a multinational company in that country. A number of countries including the U.K, Spain, Italy, France, Austria and India have enacted or announced plans for a DST. The EU and Australia are also consulting on a DST.

Read more …

Anything here that money won’t buy?

Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)

Facebook deliberately broke privacy and competition law and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation, according to a devastating parliamentary report denouncing the company and its executives as “digital gangsters”. The final report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news accused Facebook of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections. “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” warned the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.

The report:
• Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
• Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
• Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

The committee argues that, had Facebook abided by the terms of an agreement struck with US regulators in 2011 to limit developers’ access to user data, the scandal would not have occurred. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies,” it concludes. The 108-page report makes excoriating reading for the social media giant, which is accused of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights. “Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states, accusing the company of covering up leaks of user data. “It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.”

Zuckerberg is also personally criticised by the committee in scathing terms, with his claim that Facebook has never sold user data dismissed by the report as “simply untrue”. “Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins added in a statement. Watson agreed. “Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has,” he said. “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line.”

Read more …

I know you thought this was about the CIA. But no, it’s Russia again.

UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Theresa May must launch an independent investigation into “foreign influence and voter manipulation” in the Brexit vote, a committee of MPs says today, amid growing evidence of lawbreaking by Leave campaigners. A highly critical report – which warns “democracy is at risk” from rogue practices on social media – turns its fire on the prime minister for the failure to probe their effect on the referendum result. No wide-ranging investigation has taken place, despite the main Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, being found by the Electoral Commission to have broken the law. The National Crime Agency, meanwhile, has launched a separate investigation into evidence of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Arron Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

But Downing Street has fought off calls for a “Mueller-style” inquiry, on the scale of the US probe into alleged collusion with Russia by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has insisted an inquiry must be carried out, also looking into the 2017 general election and the 2014 Scottish referendum. It would establish “what actually happened with regard to foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data, so that appropriate changes to the law can be made and lessons can be learnt for future elections and referenda”. Damian Collins, the committee’s Conservative chair, urged the prime minister to come clean about whether “Russian interference in UK politics” was being probed.

“We want to find out what was the impact of disinformation and voter manipulation on past elections including the UK referendum in 2016, and are calling on the government to launch an independent investigation,” he said. [..] The crisis emerged after the Brexit referendum, leading to the finding against Vote Leave which has been referred to the police for busting spending limits Crucially, the cash was used to pay data firm Aggregate IQ and – a whistleblower and an Oxford professor argue – potentially enabled it to precisely target enough voters on social media to have swayed the Brexit result. Mr Banks, Nigel Farage’s ally, could receive a two-year prison sentence if he is found to have “knowingly concealed” that an Isle of Man company handed up to £8m to Leave.EU – which would have been outlawed as a foreign donation.

Read more …

Saw that headline and though: elections must be coming up. And yes.

Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)

A cyber attack on Australian lawmakers that breached the networks of major political parties was probably carried out by a foreign government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, but did not name any suspects. As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told this month told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network. The hackers breached the networks of major political parties, Morrison said, as he issued an initial assessment by investigators. “Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he told parliament.

“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected.” Morrison did not reveal what information was accessed, but he said there was no evidence of election interference. Investors are still securing local networks, said Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, the government department responsible for online security. “Our political institutions represent high-value targets,” MacGibbon told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

Read more …

Problem is he doesn’t stand a chance of winning anything.

Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)

The enfant terrible of euro-economics and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis reloaded his gun and shot: Profits from the European Central Bank should be used for a European Poverty Fund. Speaking at an event of his party DiEM25 in Thessaloniki, he said about the “New Deal in Europe and the World”, that Europe is currently facing four crises: public-private debt, very low investment, banking system and rising poverty. Especially about poverty, Varoufakis, revealed that last year the European Central Bank had profits of €91 billion, which are distributed to the finance ministries of countries with surplus. “A Fund to Combat Poverty could be founded tomorrow morning, in order to support the poor European family and this would be an integrative move and the fight against intolerance and anti-Europeanism and fascism.”

Addressing his Greek audience, he said “in DieM25/MeRA25 we are deeply European, we are criticizing the euro, we want to upgrade it, we are the only ones that have proposals to change the architecture of the euro. We want to restructure the euro. We do not propose exit from the euro, we are not threatening to exit the euro. This is a fact. He criticized the economic policies of his former SYRIZA comrades saying ‘“It is impossible at this time to have any recovery in Greece when small and medium-size businesses pay 75% of their profits to the state. You can not have a 100% pre-payment of the tax. You do that in a country when it is to destroy it.” [..] “Every eurozone country should have a parallel payment system,” he underlined.

Read more …

Well, they did vote to recognize Guiado as head of state.

Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)

Venezuela denied a group of European Parliament deputies entry into the country on Sunday, arguing they had “conspiratorial motives” for flying to Caracas in the throes of a political crisis. The European Parliament last month joined a slew of Western nations in recognizing Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim head of state after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in an election last year that critics denounced as a sham. The four deputies from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) were traveling to Venezuela to meet with Guaido, one of them said in a video distributed via social media.

“They have retained our passports, they haven’t communicated the reason for our expulsion,” Esteban González Pons said. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account that the lawmakers had been advised several days ago they would not be allowed entry into the South American country. Venezuela would “not permit the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its rude, interventionist actions,” he wrote.

Read more …

Wonder how much money Monsanto has paid into the report.

..new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious.

..opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity ..

Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)

It is 2040 and Britain’s green and pleasant countryside is populated by robots. We have vertical farms of leafy salads, fruit and vegetables, and livestock is protected by virtual fencing. Changing diets have seen a decline in meat consumption while new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious. This is the picture painted in a report from the National Farmers Union which attempts to sketch out what British food and farming will look like in 20 years’ time. “The Future of Food 2040 report is a catalyst to encourage us all to start the debate about our food and our future so we can plan ahead,” said Andrea Graham, NFU’s head of policy services and author of the report, who interviewed 50 experts across Britain’s food chain to gauge their views.

“It is also a reminder for government, at a critical time in British history, to make domestic food production a strategic priority in all policy making.” While some of the predictions may seem a long way off, others are already in their infancy. “Even now, there are technologies being developed that can care for crops on a plant-by-plant basis or control the grazing of cattle without physical fences, and by 2040 this technology will be commonplace in farming,” Graham said. The British farming sector will need to be more efficient if it is to meet a key NFU goal of producing net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. “Over the next 20 years we will face potentially seismic changes in all aspects of society,” Graham added. “An increase in the global population and the need to mitigate climate change will provide opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity and reduce its impact on the environment.”

Read more …

Food must come from sterile enviroments. No life allowed.

Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)

More than a century ago, wolves were hunted to extinction in Germany. These days, they’re back – and their presence is a source of political strife. Wolf attacks on livestock increased drastically in 2017, according to government statistics released at the weekend: they carried out 472 attacks, an increase of 66% over the previous year. The number of killed, injured or missing livestock – mostly sheep and goats – rose 55%, to 1,667. The issue of how to deal with wolves is pitting farmers who want to protect their livestock against environmentalists who prioritise the protection of vulnerable species. Julia Klöckner, the agriculture minister, said the latest figures proved the government needed to act.

Germany should shift its regulations to make it legal to remove individual wolves from a pack, she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. For more than a century, wolves were extinct in Germany. In recent years, however, especially since the country’s reunification in 1990, the animals have been reintroduced and are slowly making a comeback. They are especially prevalent in the former East German states, since many have crossed the border with Poland. Though environmentalists have lauded the return of the wolf, not everyone is happy that they are back – or that they have been awarded protected status. EU regulations outlaw the killing of wolves, allowing exceptions only when there is “no satisfactory alternative” or if people are in danger.

Read more …

Instead of simply saying don’t make the stuff anymore. London must think Brits are incredibly stupid people.

UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)

Britain is to set out plans to overhaul its recycling system on Monday, including making plastic packaging producers pay the full cost of dealing with their waste and introducing a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles. The plans, which also aim to make household rubbish collections more consistent around the country, will be introduced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove and go out for consultation for three months. “We will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste, and end the confusion over household recycling,” Gove said in a statement. The tax will be payable by producers who fail to use enough recycled material.

At present, producers pay only around 10 percent of the cost of dealing with plastic packaging waste, the environment ministry said. Under an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, the industry will pay higher fees if its packaging is harder to reuse or recycle. EPR for packaging will raise between 800 million and one billion pounds a year for recycling and disposal, the ministry said. Government will seek views on two options for how a deposit return scheme might work for cans and glass or plastic bottles, it added. The first would target a large amount of drinks on the market, irrespective of container size. The second, known as the “on-the-go” model, would concern smaller container sizes – those most often sold for consumption outside the home.

Read more …

These birds spend most of their lives feeding at sea, returning to their nests only to breed.

Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet. Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects. These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food. The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive. “These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher. If fulmar colonies were tested in the North Sea, where levels of plastic consumption are far higher, she said the results could be far more dramatic. “Now the thing is to look at other populations and to see if they have the same chemicals, or other chemicals,” she said. In another study, Dr Provencher and her colleagues examined the eggs of both fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes, and found traces of more chemicals known as UV stabilisers and antioxidants. “We are finding multiple plastic-derived contaminants that are maternally transferred to the egg,” she said. “It’s really tragic.”


Scientists studied the eggs of northern fulmars from an Arctic island in Canada’s Lancaster Sound (Getty/iStock)

Read more …

Feb 172019
 


Jean-François Millet The Gleaners 1857 (see more in comments section)

 

Macron Condemns Antisemitic Abuse During Gilets Jaunes Paris Protest (AFP)
French Police Fire Tear Gas As Latest ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Turn Violent (R.)
Yellow Vests Who Have Lost Eyes, Limbs Demand Justice From Macron (RT)
Act XIV: The Last Saturday Of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests In France? (Local)
Remainers Plan Mass March And Key Vote In Last Days Before Brexit (G.)
IS Caliphate On Brink Of Defeat In Syria As Trump Urges Europe To Do More (R.)
Amazon Paid No Federal Taxes On $11.2 Billion In Profits Last Year (WaPo)
Spain Heads Into Election Unknown As PM Runs Out Of Road (G.)
Catalan Separatists Stage Mass Anti-Trial Protest In Barcelona (BBC)
Mass Restoration Of World Forests Would Cancel Out Decade Of Emissions (Ind.)

 

 

After weeks of finding it hard to find any coverage of the Yellow Vests protests, plenty articles today. How come? The media, and Macron, found an antisemitism angle to use against protesters. Interestingly, the second philosopher in a week spoke out, but this one against the movement. And what part is antisemitic? ‘Several’ protesters shouted “we are the people” and “France is ours”. And they called him a dirty Zionist. Which is more a condemnation of Israel Gaza and West Bank policies than of Judaism.

But antisemitism has proved a winning angle in western media. It’s how they got rid of Jeremy Corbyn, it’s what’s used against Trump with his entire Jewish family, and it’s what’s used against anyone critical of today’s version of apartheid.

So you would think if the incident were so terrible, Reuters, too, would loudly condemn it. Not one word (see article below). What do you think the odss are the French staged the so-called antisemitic incident?

Macron Condemns Antisemitic Abuse During Gilets Jaunes Paris Protest (AFP)

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has condemned antisemitic abuse of a leading intellectual by gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protestors and said it would not be tolerated. Police intervened to protect philosopher and writer Alain Finkielkraut after he was targeted by a group of protestors on the fringe of a demonstration in central Paris on Saturday, according to videos posted on social networks. “The antisemitic insults he has been subjected to are the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate it,” Macron tweeted. “The son of Polish immigrants who became a French academician, Alain Finkielkraut is not only a prominent man of letters but the symbol of what the Republic allows everyone,” the president added in another tweet.

Several protestors shouted “dirty Zionist”, “we are the people” and “France is ours”, according to a video broadcast by Yahoo! News. “I felt absolute hatred and, unfortunately, this is not the first time,” Finkielkraut, 69, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. “I would have been afraid if there had not been the police, fortunately they were there.” He added that not all the demonstrators were hostile towards him and one even suggested he put on a vest and join the demonstration while another hailed his work. Finkielkraut has expressed his solidarity and sympathy with the gilets jaunes protestors from the outset but in an interview published on Saturday in Le Figaro, he criticised the leaders of the movement, saying that “arrogance has changed sides”.

Read more …

Reuters instead chooses to go after the protesters in general. “A poll this week showed dwindling support for the “yellow vests” demonstrations..”, that kind of approach, “..police also fired tear gas and charged, to disperse projectile-throwing demonstrators..” The general idea: the protesters are violent.

French Police Fire Tear Gas As Latest ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Turn Violent (R.)

French police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who threw projectiles and set bins on fire in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux on Saturday, as the 14th straight weekend of “yellow vest” protests took a violent turn in the afternoon. In Rouen in the north, four people were injured after a driver tried to force his way through a crowd of protesters, authorities said. Demonstrators gathered peacefully earlier in the day at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a flashpoint of clashes with the police in the early days of the protests, before marching toward the Eiffel Tower. Later in the afternoon, police and hooded protesters clashed at the Esplanade des Invalides in central Paris where the march was expected to end, forcing some into adjoining streets where some skirmishes were reported.

In Bordeaux and Lyon, police also fired tear gas and charged, to disperse projectile-throwing demonstrators after bins were set on fire and properties destroyed. Protesters tried to block a depot operated by online retail giant Amazon and some threw stones at police in Toulouse in the south, BFM Television reported. A poll this week showed dwindling support for the “yellow vests” demonstrations, named for motorists’ high-visibility jackets, which began in November over fuel taxes and morphed into a more general revolt against politicians and a government they see as out of touch.

Read more …

But reality in France is not what the MSM report it is.

“France is likely witnessing the worst non-wartime bloodshed since the Paris Commune massacre of 1871.”

Yellow Vests Who Have Lost Eyes, Limbs Demand Justice From Macron (RT)

France gathered for the 14th week of Gilets Jaunes protests, with the injury toll of the worst civil unrest in decades now resembling that of a small war. Yet despite pleas from victims, Emmanuel Macron is tightening the screws. “This is not normal. We are in France, one of the oldest and best democracies in the world,” says Fiorina Jacob Lignier, who lost her eye at a demonstration in Paris on December 8. “We usually condemn from afar other countries where this occurs, that this is happening here is unbelievable.” Lignier, a 20-year-old philosophy student, traveled from the northern city of Amiens to march on the Champs-Elysees to protest against fuel taxes with her boyfriend, Jacob Maxime.

He told RT that they were marching with a column of peaceful demonstrators, when a group of masked radicals began to vandalize a shopfront more than 50 yards away. The police “began shooting ‘Flash Balls’ and throwing grenades in all directions,” during which the couple spent two hours “penned in between a line of gendarmes and a wall, with no chance to flee.” Lignier said the last thing she remembers was the cries of cops clearing the way for firemen, then a gas grenade hit her on the head, and she was on the ground. When she woke up, her nose was broken, her face swollen from fractures, and she couldn’t see through her left eye. Over the next 16 days, Lignier underwent two surgeries, and is still waiting for two more.

For most demonstrations anywhere in the West, Lignier’s story would have made her a poster girl for law enforcement excesses. Among the Gilets Jaunes, her case is just one of many. The sheer scale of concentrated peacetime violence since November is hard to comprehend. [..] While the May 1968 student and worker protests that upturned French history claimed four lives directly, [neurosurgeon Laurent] Thines believes the overall scope, length and intensity of violence was much more contained than the current chaos. If so, France is likely witnessing the worst non-wartime bloodshed since the Paris Commune massacre of 1871.


Protester Fiorina Jacob Lignier before and after she was struck by a police gas grenade.

Read more …

Moving from Saturday to Sunday? Will the movement survive it, or merely be divided? “Staging marches on Sunday will allow families to take their baby in strollers out in the street. I doubt Interior Minister Castaner will send cops out with water cannons and rubber bullets if we do..”

Act XIV: The Last Saturday Of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests In France? (Local)

The southern city of Bordeaux is also expecting another weekend of protest and violence now that anti-capitalism group “black block” is set to join a demo called for 1pm Saturday at the city’s Place de la Bourse. The anarchist group, responsible for some of the violent incidents that have plagued recent gilets jaunes protests in the capital of Gironde, posted their participation on a Facebook group called “black yellow”, in which they also called for the yellow vests and the black blocks to join forces. A “yellow night” march is also planned to start at Paris’s Place de la République from 5pm onwards. Then there are figureheads of the group such as Eric Drouet who want the weekend rallies rallies in Paris to be moved to Sunday to commemorate the three-month “anniversary” of the movement, born on November 17.

The first of its kind will be held this Sunday at 11am at the Arc de Triomphe. This call for changing Saturday demos to Sundays has been replicated by other yellow vest figureheads such as Benjamin Cauchy, who thinks the marches should also return to their original place: France’s roundabouts. “Staging marches on Sunday will allow families to take their baby in strollers out in the street. I doubt Interior Minister Castaner will send cops out with water cannons and rubber bullets if we do,” he wrote on a Facebook post. “The movement wants to return to the city outskirts again, block major shopping centres, big national and international brands and disassociate itself from the thugs who remain in the city centres.”

Read more …

This is so late in the game I can’t help thinking of our economic model of ‘just-in-time delivery’.

Look, the French yesterday did their 14th consecutive demo. Britons haven’t even had one yet.

Remainers Plan Mass March And Key Vote In Last Days Before Brexit (G.)

Campaigners against Theresa May’s “my deal or no deal” Brexit strategy are planning to mobilise the public and politicians for a showdown over the UK’s future in Europe in the final six days before Britain is due to leave the EU, the Observer can reveal. The plans will involve a huge march in London on Saturday, 23 March, aimed at demonstrating the scale of public anxiety about the two Brexit options May is offering, which will conclude with speeches outside the Palace of Westminster. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend. Then on 25 and 26 March, MPs of all parties say they will be ready to rally behind a “lethal” amendment that will allow May’s deal to be passed, but only on condition that it is first ratified and approved by the British people in a referendum. Such a referendum would require article 50 to be delayed.

If the British people reject May’s deal in that second public vote, the UK would in all probability stay in the EU on its current terms. MPs who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum – and who are appalled by May’s attempts to “run down the clock” in the hope of forcing parliament to vote for her hugely unpopular deal – believe that the two-pronged approach of involving the public and politicians has a good chance of averting a disastrous Brexit outcome, albeit at the 11th hour. While some at Westminster believe the chances of securing a second referendum have faded, supporters of the latest plans say the Commons will be most likely to back another public vote at the moment when a nervous nation will be on the brink of the biggest decision in its postwar history, one that will affect the futures of millions of British people. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March.

Read more …

Read quite a few pieces on this. Not one mention anywhere of the fact that Assad and Russia defeated ISIS, not the US.

IS Caliphate On Brink Of Defeat In Syria As Trump Urges Europe To Do More (R.)

U.S.-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Islamic State’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday, bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat as U.S. President Donald Trump spoke of “100 percent victory”. Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighborhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides. “In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. He was speaking after Trump said on Friday there would be “great announcements” about Syria over the next 24 hours.

Trump on Saturday said the caliphate was “ready to fall and that the United States was asking European allies to take back more than 800 Islamic State fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial. “The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he said in a Tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them… “….The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”

Read more …

Right. What are we supposed to think when Jeff Bezos owned newspaper WaPo ‘attacks’ Jeff Bezos owned Amazon?

Amazon Paid No Federal Taxes On $11.2 Billion In Profits Last Year (WaPo)

Amazon, the e-commerce giant helmed by the world’s richest man, paid no federal taxes on profit of $11.2 billion last year, according to an analysis of the company’s corporate filings by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a progressive think tank. Thanks to a variety of tax credits and a significant tax break available on pay handed out in the form of company stock, Amazon actually received a federal tax rebate of $129 million last year, giving it an effective federal tax rate of roughly -1 percent. It is the second year in a row the company has enjoyed a negative federal tax rate on a multibillion dollar profit. That would place the company’s effective federal tax rate below the rate paid by the poorest 20 percent of American households, which had an effective federal tax rate of 1.5 percent in 2015, according to the Tax Policy Center.

“Amazon pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate, including paying $2.6 billion in corporate tax and reporting $3.4 billion in tax expense over the last three years,” said an Amazon spokeswoman, Jodi Seth, in a statement. “We have invested more than $160 billion in the U.S. since 2011, building a network of more than 125 fulfillment and sortation centers, air hubs and delivery stations as well as cloud-computing infrastructure and wind and solar farms.” Matthew Gardner, an ITEP senior fellow, called the situation a failure of American tax policy. “Their U.S. profits doubled in the last year. If anyone is ever going to be subject to the corporate income tax, you would hope it would be Amazon,” he said.

Read more …

Election April 28. Just a repeat of what went before.

Spain Heads Into Election Unknown As PM Runs Out Of Road (G.)

Spain is heading into what could be months of political uncertainty after its Socialist prime minister called a snap general election for April – the country’s third in less than four years – against the backdrop of a continuing Catalan secession crisis. It was always improbable that Pedro Sánchez, whose administration will be the shortest in Spain’s modern democratic history, would last long. He came to power in June only because his predecessor, the conservative Mariano Rajoy, lost a no-confidence vote after a string of corruption revelations about his People’s Party (PP).

But with just 24% of MPs, Sánchez needed the backing of the anti-austerity Podemos and, critically, Catalan nationalists – whose continuing demands for a referendum on independence were always going to fall foul of the Socialists’ pledge to defend Spain’s constitutional order. The prime minister’s fragile government finally ran out of options to stay in power this week after talks with Catalan separatist MPs broke down and they opted to join forces with the conservative opposition to block his budget proposals. What happens after the 28 April vote, which comes less a month before European, regional and local elections in May, is far from clear. Spain’s two most recent elections have both resulted in hung parliaments and weak governments – and the country’s political landscape is now even more fragmented.

Read more …

Some of the leaders could get 25 years in prison. That guarantees 25 years of unrest.

Catalan Separatists Stage Mass Anti-Trial Protest In Barcelona (BBC)

Demonstrators have marched en masse through Barcelona in protest at the trial of Catalan separatist leaders. Some 200,000 people took to the streets, waving Catalan flags and shouting pro-separatist slogans in support of the 12 leaders on trial. The trial, at Madrid’s Supreme Court, follows Catalonia’s independence referendum and failed attempt to secede from Spain in October 2017. If convicted, some of the leaders could face up to 25 years in prison. The Catalonia crisis is thought to be the most serious to hit Spain since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, and the country’s transition to democracy.

Soon after the referendum, Spanish authorities had declared that it was illegal, and the national government imposed direct rule over the semi-autonomous region. Prosecutor Fidel Cadena told the court that the separatists were promoting “subversion and rupture of the constitutional order”. Spain’s 1978 constitution speaks of “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. But the separatist leaders’ lawyer, Andreu Van Den Eynde, said the trial was about “the right to self-determination and the democratic principle”. “There is no international or European Union law that prevents the secession of a sub-state entity,” he added. “It does not exist.”

Read more …

Plant a Tree, Drive an SUV.

Mass Restoration Of World Forests Would Cancel Out Decade Of Emissions (Ind.)

Replenishing the world’s forests on a grand scale would suck enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to cancel out a decade of human emissions, according to an ambitious new study. Scientists have established there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees to grow in parks, woods and abandoned land across the planet. If such a goal were accomplished, ecologist Dr Thomas Crowther said it would outstrip every other method for tackling climate change – from building wind turbines to vegetarian diets. Lack of accurate information meant for years experts severely underestimated the number of trees on Earth.

Combining data from ground-based surveys and satellites, Dr Crowther and his colleagues arrived at a figure of three trillion – over seven times more than a previous Nasa estimate. The same approach, using machine learning and AI to analyse the enormous data set, allowed the researchers to predict the number of trees that could feasibly be planted in empty patches around the world.Dr Crowther said undervaluing trees means scientists have also been massively underestimating the potential for forests to combat climate change. Project Drawdown, a group that compares the merits of different emission-cutting techniques, currently places onshore wind power and improved recycling of fridges and air conditioners at the top of its list.

If rolled out on a realistic scale, each of these techniques would cut over 80 gigatons of emissions, while growing forests languishes in 15th place with a saving of just 18 gigatons. New research undertaken by Dr Crowther has used the 1.2 billion figure to estimate the potential scale of carbon capture that could be achieved by planting trees, and reveal their true potential. “There’s 400 gigatons now, in the 3 trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere – at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out,” he said.

Read more …