Mar 202019
 


Johannes Vermeer The lacemaker 1669-71

 

You could probably say I’m sympathetic to the schoolchildren protesting against climate change, and I’m sympathetic to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call for a Green New Deal. Young people are the future, and they deserve a voice about that future. At the same time, I’m also deeply skeptical about their understanding of the issues they talk about.

In fact, I don’t see much understanding at all. I think that’s because they base their comprehension of the world they’ve been born into on information provided by the very people they’re now protesting against. Look kids, your education system sucks, it was designed by those destroying your planet, you need to shake it off and get something better.

But I know what you will do instead: you’re going to get the ‘proper’ education to get a nice-paying job, with a nice car (green, of course) and a nice house etc etc. In other words, you will, at least most of you, be the problem, not solve it. And no shift towards wind or solar will make one iota of difference in that. Want to improve the world? Improve the education system first.

 

Climate change is just one of an entire array of problems the world faces, and in the same way the use of fossil fuels is just one of many causes of these problems. And focusing on only one aspect of a much broader challenge simply doesn’t appear to be a wise approach, if only because you risk exacerbating some problems while trying to fix others.

In order to fix what’s broken, you’re first going to have to find out what broke it. The impression I get is that fossil fuels have been named the designated culprit, and people think that if only we have access to some other form(s) of energy we’ll be fine. But species extinction appears to be at least as large an issue as climate change, and the loss of 60% of all vertebrates, and 90% of flying insects in some places, since 1970 is linked to climate change only sideways.

 

 

It’s one thing to run into problems you could not have foreseen. It’s quite another to run into them because you elected to ignore readily available knowledge. But it’s the latter issue that’s behind by far most of the problems we’re running into. Because, again, our education system is broken.

And perhaps we should try to be forgiving when well-meaning children and young politicians don’t have a full grasp of political and economic issues heaped upon them by older generations. But physics? That you can only and always ignore at your own peril.

The First Law of Thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed; the total quantity of energy in the universe stays the same. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the use of energy produces waste (because entropy tends to increase). Neither law talks about fossil fuels.

This brings me once more to one of my favorite quotes of all time (because it explains so much):

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

And unfortunately, as I’ve said before in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity:

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

Not only do we produce waste with every calorie of energy we burn, our economic systems depend on us burning as much as we can. We ‘optimized’ them for it. Energy efficiency is the enemy of our economies. We transport ourselves in vehicles that are 20 times our own weight, and that use only 10% of the fuel we put in them for the purpose of transporting us. That’s what keep the economic engine going. It’s also what destroys the planet.

 

There’s probably no moment of deeper despair for the world than when I see a Swedish schoolgirl and a Dutch historian pop up at Davos to tell the billionaires and power hungry ‘the truth’. Davos is the last place to be when you have good intentions. All those people owe their money and power to the system you say you’re protesting. You think they’re going to give it up, or even risk it?

What those people will tell you, and what many of you are already parroting (check the Green New Deal), is that ‘going green’ will be a very profitable undertaking. Get the best of both worlds and eat it too. Tempting, for sure, but also incredibly stupid.

I covered that before as well in Heal the Planet for Profit, in which I cited an article by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney literally called How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change.

That epitomizes the Davos crowd. Stay away from that. There’s nothing for you there. They just want you to be inefficient in the use of another form of energy, only more this time. “We’re going to use a huge sh*tload of fossil fuels to build an infrastructure that allows us to use less fossil fuels.” Darn, that makes a lot of sense. “We’re saved!”.

See, saving the planet, and all the species we’re eradicating as we speak, will at the very least require an enormous decline in energy use. Because that’s the only way to reduce waste production. But that in turn will mean a huge hit to the current economic system, which cannot continue without the principle of maximizing waste production that it’s based on.

There appears to be a principle in nature that says when you hand a species an X amount of ‘free’ energy, that species will burn through it as fast as it can. Perhaps that’s simply a move towards equilibrium. The species will maximize energy use per individual, and proliferate, create more individuals, it’s a very predictable process, from bacteria in a petri-dish to the human species.

So maybe it cannot be helped, or stopped. But you can try. It’s just that, if you want to do that, you’re not going to achieve it by insulting your own, and my, intelligence through the complete disregard for the laws of physics, the most reliable gauges we have when it comes to understanding our world and the impact we have on it.

That goes for the schoolchildren, and it goes for Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal proponents too: ask yourself what physics says about it. Ask yourself what will happen to the economy. Never presume it will be easy or even profitable. You’re not going to save the planet for profit; you’ll have to find a different incentive.

And get educated. But forget about universities, they’re one of the leading drivers behind the mess you find yourselves in.

 

 

 

 

Mar 172019
 


M.C. Escher Gravitation 1952

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

Steele Admits He Used Unverified Information In Dossier (CNN)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

“..a Democratic Party Bereavement Ritual..”

The Blind Leading the Deaf and Dumb (Kunstler)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

They are way past disbelief.

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Mar 072019
 


Wassily Kandinsky Succession 1935

 

 

While we’re on the issue of the Green New Deal, here’s an article by Dr. D. with an intro by Dr. D., one he sent me in the mail that contained the actual article, and that I think shouldn’t go to waste. I hope he agrees.

Waste being the key term here, because he arrives at the same conclusion I’ve often remarked upon: that our societies and economies exist to maximize waste production. Make them more efficient and they collapse.

Ergo: no Green New Deal is any use if you don’t radically change the economic models. Let’s see AOC et al address that, and then we can talk. It’s not as if a shift towards wind and solar will decrease the economic need for waste production (though it may change the waste composition), and thus efficiency is merely a double-edged sword at the very best.

Here’s Dr. D. First intro, then article:

 

 

Dr. D: [..] of course there are a thousand things I can say, but I wanted to make just this one point:  that the economy as we know it is prohibited from contracting by its own system structure.  One thing I couldn’t expand on is that I believe it is almost entirely unconscious.  People like AOC, the Aspen Ecological Center, these people have in the back of their minds “What is possible” and “how things are done” and “can I sell this or will people turn away.” 
 
As I say, the idea of saying, “Everything will be perfect, just live like a Zen Monk” is a non-starter.  Why, I don’t know, as it’s very pleasant and quite provable. WHY that is in the back of OUR minds (and only ours, they often say “humans” are violent, mean or exploitative, but Algonquins or Kalahari Bushmen might show otherwise), is another whole question, however, it is the root of our, and only OUR, western culture: limitless growth and progress. A religion of Progress that replaces God himself, as the Archdruid would say.
 
However, here we are. And our system parameters, of our western system do NOT permit ANY contraction of growth or progress. At this point, the entire economic and financial system would collapse, and as we no longer have any religion, community, or moral framework, or possibly even reason, our whole society would collapse with it. 
 
That’s a lot to take on, so let’s just simply ask in public why we are calling for 20 years of furious concrete/CO2-producing growth must occur to rebuild those windmills and 4,000 buildings a day, or whether we should just take the Yankee mantra (and no doubt a Norwegian one too) to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” There is so much wasted you could dumpster dive and Craigslist the first 10 years, giving us enormous resources to apply to raw energy use. But we won’t, and no one will even say it, although everyone knows it, has done it, and CLAIMS there’s an urgent crisis. 
 
So let’s start here and ask why we’re not doing the most stupid, basic, cheap, things, like turning down the thermostat and walking to the store AT ALL, instead of (sorry to pick on this) saving the bats in Mauritania, or the whales in Japan. Why?  Because then SOMEBODY ELSE has to take a boot to the teeth, not me in Brooklyn or London. And we will MAKE THEM take in the teeth for me, so I DON’T HAVE TO. We were already down this road in 1970 as the Archdruid has said, we already made this decision not to wear sweaters way back. Instead, I can claim rights to $100 Trillion in wealth and dole it out like the queen, making friends and fame without limit. 
 
But it won’t work, and we need to get on it right away. I believe the leaders already know we’re going to hit the wall and are purposefully trying to hit the accelerator as with outlawing seeds, meat, poisoning soil and water, outlawing gardens, controlling travel – these are all the foundations of Stalin about to approach Ukraine. I can see that in 20 approaches they’re pushing, but I don’t expect them to be very successful.  Such as, WE are going to have to do it, not the other guy. And I in fact do, but I’m pretty busy, so this is the best I can do right now. 
 
And perhaps you too.

 

 

The Real New Deal

 

Dr. D: The Green New Deal has taken front page headlines lately, and the discussion on how to green the economy and become more ecological is real. Certainly all sides have wide agreement, where while the Left may call for salvation from Global Warming, yet the Right will call for efficient resource use, preserved farmland and better hunting camps. Everyone loves National Parks, being one of the largest tourist draws in our nation and also for our fellow nations worldwide, nobody likes to see animals run down or the environment destroyed.

With so much agreement, so widespread, it’s difficult to see why a consensus cannot be agreed on. Even if the means are different – statist control vs volunteer capitalism – surely the goals would be reached in any case. Perhaps with two methods, approaches, and visions, attaining our common goals could be far easier. If so, then why does there seem to be such obstacles and reluctance in our joint moment into a greener, better future? The Left says it’s because of the Right, and the Right because of the Left. Yet I can tell you it’s neither: it’s simply math and physics.

An “Economy” is the “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.” That is to say they are the static things, like land, rivers, and copper mines, as well as the specific ways in which those blank resources are put to use: the transportation of them to factories, their manufacture, sale, and disposal. This encompasses things not on-ledger, like where environmental and social costs are offloaded, and who is enjoying the benefit of a resource that will run out for our children. This is also the things that are on-ledger, such as who benefits from profits or productivity, and which sectors are subsidized and which are starved. The Financial System rides atop of the Economic System, simply accounting it, keeping track of it, and sending the messages to it about where the needs are and which products should go where.

But neither exist in a vacuum. Although we generally overlook it, the Economic and Financial Systems are an expression of our personal beliefs and values, and those of our nation and national culture or personality. So in the U.S., we have chosen to measure our national prosperity using headline metrics such as the S&P and the GDP. These change character from time to time, as we used to measure the GNP, and now follow the NASDAQ. And the way we characterize them is also relevant: in the U.S., for instance, we measure all government spending in GDP as if it were private spending; that is, as if it were a profit, not an expense.

Nor is this financial arcana: although when this choice was made to make it seem the economy was stronger during the Great Depression, “you optimize what you measure”, and now the government itself has become the economy, with $22T in debts owed, and is directing most resources, but at a LOSS, not a profit. We then record that loss as prosperity. Nor is that different for the S&P or NASDAQ: if the popular financial numbers decline, the Fed will openly take money from the people and push the numbers back up again to indicate “success” and “prosperity” as we measure it. Yet the money borrowed from the taxpayers, the currency holders, makes them poorer, not richer.

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2003 data from the International Energy Agency

 

What does this have to do with the Green New Deal and our joint goal of a cleaner, greener world? Well, the Green New Deal proposes to spend vast sums of money to transfer energy use to renewables and carbon-free sources, and there are unimaginable profits to be made should anyone do this. Unfortunately, the fact this hasn’t occurred is strong proof that it’s not possible. Not that green energy can’t be made or doesn’t exist, but that it’s not PROFITABLE to do so – that’s why the government, or rather the taxpayers, are asked to pay for it. But profit is only money, as the MMT-believers will avow.

What really matters is that thermodynamically, the EROEI, the “energy returned on energy invested” is too low. That is to say, you put in 90 calories and get out only 91. Or worse, put in 101 calories and get out only 90. This is easily shown in a wide variety of green projects, from solar – it’s estimated the electric produced over 20 years is equal to the glass-and-silicon manufacture – to ethanol, where despite enormous carbon, petrol, and water use in the cement, steel, shipping, and manufacturing of the distilling plant, the corn may only produce 10 units gain per 90 invested, or possibly none at all.

This is likely true for windmills, which if needing repair will add costs, while requiring a full-scale standing grid behind them at all times, as well as electric cars, which not only require a grid, but also may use more energy and cause more pollution in mining and smelting the batteries than the vehicle saves over a lifetime. Nor was this a surprise: again, as bad a system as financial accounting is in a system riddled with stock frauds and subsidies, nevertheless, if any of these saved energy, the huge drop in input costs – no gas used – would immediately render all these projects profitable, and not in need of a subsidy.

This is how coal replaced wood, and tractors replaced horses – sometimes in as little as 10 years. This is how LEDs instantly replaced incandescents, or the Prius replaced the K-car –lower costs, better products. And is how the U.S. has had one of the largest drops in CO2 emissions despite shutting down green subsidies and pulling out of the Paris Accord – organically, by market forces. Because despite our terrible, corrupt, interventionist system screwing up all the incentives, everybody loves a deal, and those arbitrages, those improvements still stand out.

 

Since we’re already using our technical limit, there is another way we can join together, reduce energy use, reduce waste and green the planet: lower demand.

The U.S. uses about half our energy for transportation, and if you’ve been to America, you know that most of that transportation is unnecessary: people live on average +20 minutes from work, and our oversized, centralized schools mean they are nearly as far. It’s not uncommon for every child to have a 40-minute bus ride each morning and night to and from school, and although more efficient than cars, there’s little need, only habit. We concentrated millions of small schools into a few huge ones from 1950 to 2000, just as we concentrated millions of small towns and shops into a few mega-centers. The remaining small businesses – dentists, phone stores, pizza shops – are randomly distributed, without any location in neighborhoods nor any access to public transit, and this would take decades to transform.

Nor is this a thing the people prefer. Commuting is one of the least-liked aspects of modern life as well as the most energy-intensive one. So instead of following massive hundred-trillion debt expenditures that show no promise of returning value, shouldn’t we grasp the low hanging fruit of efficiency? In fact, thermodynamically, efficiency is the only game in town, a 100 or 1,000:1 EROEI instead of 1.2:1. We have even done this from time to time during wars when massive campaigns led to massive efficiency, massive production, massive savings, ration books, and near-total recycling.

But nobody wants that. And that’s why the Green New Deal is structured exclusively as a SPENDING program, and not a SAVING one, because we don’t want to save, we want to SPEND. Part of this of course is that it’s more fun to spend than to save, but more importantly, it’s what we do, it’s what we measure. If you were to have a Green New Deal that is easy to implement and proven to work like the WWII model, GDP and profits would fall sharply. Although much, perhaps most, energy is wasted on unimportant things, the higher efficiencies would mean lower sales, lower production, and lower throughput EVEN IF IT MEANT A HIGHER QUALITY OF LIFE. This is easily seen in the U.S. vs Japan or Europe comparisons:

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2013 data from the World Bank

 

The U.S. uses 10,000kg oil while Japan uses 5,000 and Portugal uses 2,500, and while there are important differences between nations, we don’t think of Japan or Portugal as sacrificing quality of life. This is strictly a choice, a design built up over lifetimes of effort. So if we could become as efficient as Japan and live far better too, why don’t we? This is a no-argument left-right win that can be implemented in hours, why isn’t capturing this easy gain the real target of the GND?

“You get what you incentivize.” If efficiency were the Real Green Deal, money would NOT be spent in Congress, Companies would NOT be paid, and lobbyists go home empty and poor. People would NOT be employed for the new projects and they would NOT vote for the new Congressmen. Government spending falls, even private-sector GDP would decline, and falling with it would be protected sectors of the economy like oil and utilities. How do you sell “Let’s cancel the party and stay home with the lights out”?

But it’s far worse than that in ways we don’t see. We think about New Deal SPENDING because spending has been exclusively incentivized for 100 years. The economy, the society, the financial system have all been built around GROWTH, not efficiency; MORE, not less, until the systems themselves can no longer function with anything less than unceasing expansion, ever-increasing, forever.

If GDP drops for any reason, even for efficiency and an easy increase in the quality of life – even to save all life on earth – consumption drops. A simpler life with fewer miles driven means less gas wasted and fewer cars sold. Fewer cars means fewer meals out. Sales drop. Employment drops. Stock markets drop. The lower valuation of companies means bond quality drops. Lower sales and lower activity mean tax revenue drops. Government programs drop. Treasury bonds drop and with it, military power drops. As stocks, bonds, and T-bill drop, pensions drop. Insurance drops. In short, the entire economy drops, contracts, goes into a sharp deflation and depression with world-wide unemployment and mass bankruptcies.

But worse than that. Economies come and go, wax and wane and adjust to the new realities. However, unlike previous eras, under a debt-based fiat-money system, one thing does NOT drop: debt. As the value of all things declines, the debt owed only increases. By companies. By citizens. By whole governments. And so soon as the numbers in a debt-based system stop increasing, that debt defaults.

 

Now in previous times, the relative values of debts, assets, and money would simply re-adjust. Bonds would fall, gold (cash) would rise. Bad companies and inefficiencies would be driven out, and the system would recover without the dead weight and bad ideas at a more accurate pricing. But that won’t happen this time. Because everything is so highly leveraged and centralized, and the financial system is our primary means of directing the economy, that system under a debt-based fiat system would almost entirely collapse, and the disruptions of reforming and restarting it would almost certainly take years, during which the economy itself, the production of wheat bread and toothpaste, heating oil and electric lights, would come to a virtual halt, threatening the lives of millions, hundred millions, even billions worldwide.

Wars would start. Nations would fall. So while we don’t think of these things, the reality is, if one were to have a major contraction, much less plan a voluntary, intentional one, the pressure to stop it would be overwhelming and from every side: retail, political, financial, human, ecological, economic, military; there is no way such a plan could be seriously considered, much less implemented. WE ARE NEVER MOVING TO EFFICIENCY UNDER A DEBT-BASED MONETARY SYSTEM. End of story. To the contrary: such a system incentivizes and even DEMANDS new waste and expensive, ruinous ideas like the Green New Deal. And even if they fail, they must ever-increase.

So why are we not having a Green New Deal of easy efficiency, one that we know works, but instead spending ever-more on ever more massive expenditures that are ever-less fruitful? Because this is what the system is designed to do. It’s what it depends on. And as you get what you incentivize, every body, everywhere in the system, will be incentivized to do this or die trying. And this will continue until we change the base assumptions, what we measure, what we capture and profit by. Left or Right, big or small, town or country, public or private, nothing can change in our system until we change it, until we change our beliefs about who we are, what we want, and what we are doing.

For me, I prefer easy, provable gains and a higher, easier quality of life, and I’m not afraid to make those changes that improve us without being at the expense of others. And we will need to face where we are and the challenges of the steps before us. Because essentially we all agree. We not only need a New Green Deal, we need a New Deal altogether. A better one, a fairer one. A possible one. One with a future. So let’s start acting like it and begin.

 

 

Feb 262019
 


Leonardo da Vinci Saint John the Baptist 1513-16

 

There are lots of people talking about how they much disagree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, how silly she is, how dumb and impossible and irresponsible her Green New Deal is, but I think they’re missing a point or two. First of all: what’s the alternative? Who would you trade her for? Hillary? Feinstein? Pelosi? Bernie Sanders? Cory Booker?

Would you rather things stay the same? I can see that from the Hillary Pelosi camp, but not from any other Democrats – nor, obviously, Republicans. Three quarters of America must be dead sick of that cabal, the 50% that are GOP, plus the half of Democrats that would also prefer to vote for someone below 75 years old because 90% are themselves younger than that.

85-year old Dianne Feinstein told a bunch of climate protest kids last week that she’d been in Washington for 30 years and she ‘knows what goes on’. If she can’t see what the problem is with that, then she merely confirms 30 years is far too long in such a spot; Feinstein has been in Washington longer than Ocasio has been alive. Who does she represent that has an actual future left?

Someone wrote the other day that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s way of presenting herself showed she was “savvy beyond her years”, and I thought: you have that upside down. Those older than her couldn’t have presented themselves the way she does, because being 29 years old, born in 1989, she’s the first generation to literally grow up with internet and new media being everywhere. For anyone older, it’s acquired skills.

 

This is simply her time, and she uses it in the same way Donald Trump used the 2016 campaign being his time: they both found a gaping vacuum in power and credibility in their parties, and both jumped in. Even if that would be the only similarity between the two, it would still be an important one.

But of course there’s another one that’s obvious: social media use. Ocasio communicated through ‘new’ media from her days as a toddler, while Trump’s Twitter use is much more instinctive, but both are strong. And if we can agree that such skills are now required for any 2020 candidate, then I got to tell you I don’t see any politician who comes even close to their savvy and effectiveness on social media.

Are these skills one can learn, acquire? Well, anyone can type in a quasi-coherent bunch of characters, but with a billion or two people doing it, you’re going to have to stand out, and do that every single day. I for one am not at all sure that is teachable. You must be provocative up to and beyond the point of being fearless.

There’s a third major similarity between Trump and Ocasio, and that one is connected directly to Ocasio’s Green New Deal: both our protagonists – and antagonists- throw out bold ideas and plans and then wait and see what sticks. In other words, the Wall, and the Green New Deal. And bringing troops home. And creating meaningful employment.

 

 

Now of course you can say Ocasio’s Green New Deal is not realistic and she is clueless and dumb, but that risks taking you right back to what’s behind Door no. 1: Hillary, Pelosi, Bernie. Which is a good choice if you like young Americans invading foreign nations, the one thing Feinstein’s almost 30 years in the Senate can actually guarantee, but a terrible option if you want that kind of thing to stop.

And a terrible option, too, if you are even the slightest bit worried about the climate. The establishment, both Democrat and Republican, are absolutely useless when it comes to that, and they’ve had multiple decades to prove it. And even if that doesn’t rock your boat, you better realize that not only has the time come for Ocasio et al, the time for their, for new, ideas has arrived too.

There will be a version, some version, of the Green New Deal starting in the near future. Those schoolkids ‘confronting’ Feinstein are not smart enough to get it, and they’re being educated in the same school system that has duped all these generations into becoming pawns in a grand chess game, instead of thinking for themselves, but I bet you they are much more likely to vote Ocasio than Feinstein nonetheless.

And yes, those particular kids are too young to vote, and Ocasio’s too young to run, but pray stay with the larger program: Trump is where he is because the GOP had become such an outright failure that Donald could very simply waltz in and take over. The same is true for Ocasio and the Democrats: the incumbents represent the past, and not just because of their ages.

The ideas and policies America has been based on until now have functioned really only to keep the incumbents in their seats. But they have failed the country, whether you talk about climate, species extinction, global politics or the US economy. For all these things they find themselves at or over a dead end. And in comes Ocasio with her version of the Art of the Deal. So what matters (most) for now is that it’s green and it’s new.

Those clueless schoolkids are the vanguard of a new generation of Americans, and they’re going to demand change. Regardless of whether they actually understand the issues (I say they don’t), the climate is set to be a much more prominent election theme. Personally, this doesn’t exactly re-assure me, because the only thing I’ve seen so far is people promising to make money from producing less CO2.

And that’s something I wrote about many times, for instance in December 2016 in Heal the Planet for Profit:

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

[..] That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”.

Claiming that we can continue as we were if only we switch energy sources is so in conflict with the most basic of physics, that is: thermodynamics, that those who claim it are either real thick or, perhaps more likely in politicians and business people, lying through their teeth. In either case they’re unfit to build the future, any future. They should be stripped of their jobs and their money and be sent back to school.

 

I’m no fan of Ocasio saying she’s a socialist, since it may be the one step too far in America today that’s also entirely unnecessary. But by the same token I have no patience for those who claim capitalism is so much better than socialism while they’re getting or staying rich off of central bank interference, which for all intents and purposes is the exact opposite of capitalism.

In the same way that Ocasio stands out against her -much- older peers because of her exposure to ‘new media’, she and her actual peers also differ from most because they have grown up surrounded by scary climate stories. That doesn’t mean they understand the issue, and it doesn’t mean the stories are -all- true, but it does mean the issue is much more important to them than to Dianne Feinstein et al.

We cannot see -into- the future. But some things we can see: the next generation of Americans and American politicians will communicate much more than those before them though new media, whatever form these may take.

And since they have grown up with images of a decaying climate situation on top of ever-increasing poverty and an ever-declining American dream, who can blame them for wanting a Green New Deal that can at least alleviate some of the misery they inherit from the generations before them, even if they don’t know exactly from the start what that Green New Deal should look like and be made of?

I would perhaps suppress your first urge a bit to call it a stupid idea and all that. Because it’s not, really, it’s chapter 1 in the Art of the Deal (now available at Amazon at 90% off?!). Think of it as a first step towards something that will come no matter what you think. Or think about how both Trump and Ocasio not only dominate the game from the moment they start playing, they change the very rules of the game.

 

I haven’t read it, but I’m thinking the first principle of the Art of the Deal should be something like this:

You have to present your plans in a way that in and of itself will change the way those same plans are judged.

It’s easy to criticize Ocasio, and it may be justified too. But I don’t think we can gauge that yet, the Green New Deal doesn’t offer sufficient material for it. Still, I think she’s got that first principle down.

One last thing: Tulsi Gabbard is 37, young enough to matter and old enough to run (she is), and a staunch opponent of US regime change projects. Here’s hoping the two girls can find common ground. They would seem just about unbeatable together. And again, look at the alternative: Feinstein, Pelosi, and their appointed heiress, Kamala Harris.

 

“None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”

 

 

 

 

Feb 212019
 


Jan van Eijk The Arnolfini portrait 1434

 

A $3 Trillion Debt Tsunami Is About To Flood The Stock Market (MW)
Attorney General Barr To Announce End Of Mueller Probe Next Week: CNN (ZH)
Mueller Report May Be ‘Anti-Climactic’ – Clapper (Hill)
FBI Top Lawyer Believed Hillary Clinton Should Face Charges (Solomon)
Conservative Split As Tory Rebels Denounce Hardline Brexiters (G.)
How Not To Organise A Split In A Party (Galloway)
UK And Ireland Retailers Warn Of 40% Tariffs On Food In No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK Economy £100 Billion Smaller Because Of Austerity (G.)
Germany Rebuffs UK Call To Back Off Saudi Arms Freeze (ZH)
Bernie Sanders Raised $6 Million In One Day After Launching Campaign (ZH)
Ocasio-Cortez Refuses To Back Bernie Sanders For 2020 (Ind.)

 

 

They’re all still talking about the markets that aren’t markets. Curious. Is it because it’s all they have? Either way, seems leargely useless to me.

A $3 Trillion Debt Tsunami Is About To Flood The Stock Market (MW)

Will Nasgovitz, who oversees about $1.3 billion in assets as the chief executive of Heartland Advisors, isn’t calling for a “full blown financial crisis,” but, with trillions in corporate debt coming due in the coming years, the industry veteran’s not exactly predicting smooth sailing in the stock market, either. “With interest rates low, the economy strong, and relatively easy lending standards, the thinking went that borrowing to buyback shares or finance acquisitions was a low-risk strategy,” Nasgovitz explained in a recent post. “But the next five years could severely test that Pollyanna view.” Nasgovitz used this chart to illustrate his stance. As you can see, about $3.3 trillion — or 48% of all current outstanding commercial debt — comes due by 2023.

The timing could be problematic. “The sheer volume would be challenging for the market to digest in the best of scenarios, let alone this late in an economic expansion,” Nasgovitz wrote. “Adding to our sense of caution are early signs that lending standards have begun to tighten for commercial and industrial borrowers.” He says that, as banks become more stringent, borrowers could end up paying higher rates just to secure funds to retire outstanding obligations. “While we don’t currently see signs of a full-blown financial crisis on the horizon,” he concluded, “we do believe that excessive debt adds unnecessary challenges to companies in general and will likely be a headwind for heavy borrowers in the intermediate term going forward.”

Read more …

Overall sentiment: it won’t amount to much. So the media’s next steps are being prepared in the vein of “Just because Mueller couldn’t find a thing, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”.

Russiagate has been the media’s golden goose; what can they turn to now?

Attorney General Barr To Announce End Of Mueller Probe Next Week: CNN (ZH)

Barely a week after being sworn in as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr is reportedly planning to announce as early as next week that Robert Mueller has completed his investigation and that a confidential report on Mueller’s findings will be submitted to Congress in the very near future. According to CNN, the preparations – which are in line with an NBC report from late last year that the Mueller report would be completed by the end of February – “are the clearest indication yet that Mueller is nearly done with his almost two-year investigation.” Barr has said that he wants to be as “transparent” as possible while being “consistent with the rules and the law.”

According to the law, Mueller must submit a “confidential” report to the AG after the investigation ends. But the rules don’t require it to be shared with Congress or the public (though, like everything involving the Mueller probe, it will almost certainly leak). One thing that remains unclear is to what extent Mueller’s findings will be shared with Congress (since the DOJ typically frowns on publicizing embarrassing or compromising information about people who haven’t been charged with a crime…though that principle has apparently gone out the window over the last two years). CNN also noted that it’s possible that Mueller has made referrals to other prosecutors besides the New York US attorney who brought charges against Michael Cohen.

The existence of other investigations might also soon come to light. CNN reported that attorneys from the US attorney’s office for Washington DC have been visiting Mueller “more than usual.” Signs that the Mueller probe is winding down have been multiplying in recent weeks. Four of his 17 prosecutors have been reassigned, and the grand jury he has used to secure his indictments hasn’t convened since late January. While Trump is probably hoping that the Russia collusion narrative will decidedly die after the report is released, former DNI James Clapper – whom Trump threatened to strip of his security clearance – warned that the report might leave open the question of whether there actually was collusion between Trump and Russia, giving the release a disappointingly anti-climactic feel, according to the Hill.

Read more …

A ‘subtle’ shift: now that going after Trump himself is going nowhere, Clapper et al claim Putin uses Trump as an unwitting asset. Takeaway: they will simply continue their collusion accusations. And Putin is an even easier victim.

Give me one reason why this entire cabal should not be investigated.

As I said yesterday: “Isn’t it supremely ironic that Mueller’s main objective today is trying to come up with some narrative that justifies his own probe? It’s circular ‘logic’ at its very best.

But why is McCabe so cocky about his treasonous(-like) behavior? Imagine someone like him doing an interview like that 2 years (or 6) into Obama’s presidency, saying it was possible Barack was an asset of China. Just imagine.”

Mueller Report May Be ‘Anti-Climactic’ – Clapper (Hill)

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday that he’s far from sure that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will clear up questions about President Trump and Russia. He said he was hopeful the Mueller probe will provide some answers, but warned it might not even draw a conclusion on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. “I think the hope is that the Mueller investigation will clear the air on this issue once and for all. I’m really not sure it will, and the investigation, when completed, could turn out to be quite anti-climactic and not draw a conclusion about that,” Clapper said Wednesday on CNN.

Clapper, a frequent critic of Trump’s, said people in the intelligence community see a strange deference on the president’s part toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The strange thing I think that has bothered a lot of people both in and out of the intelligence community is this strange personal deference to Putin by the president. I’ve speculated in the past that the way Putin behaves is to treat President Trump as an asset,” Clapper said Wednesday. He added that if Trump were indeed advancing Putin’s interests, he would more likely be doing so unwittingly.

The White House has lashed out at Clapper over his criticism in the past and announced in August it was reviewing existing security clearances for Clapper and several other former intelligence and law enforcement officials who have criticized the White House. Speculation has ramped up over Trump’s relationship with Russia after it was reported last month that the Justice Department had opened an investigation into whether the president was working on behalf of Moscow’s interests. Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Friday claimed that he believes “it’s possible” Trump is a Russian asset.

Read more …

And there’s Comey again, out to save the country.

FBI Top Lawyer Believed Hillary Clinton Should Face Charges (Solomon)

For most of the past three years, the FBI has tried to portray its top leadership as united behind ex-Director James Comey’s decision not to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information over her insecure, private email server. Although in the end that may have been the case, we now are learning that Comey’s top lawyer, then-FBI General Counsel James Baker, initially believed Clinton deserved to face criminal charges, but was talked out of it “pretty late in the process.” The revelation is contained in testimony Baker gave to House investigators last year. His testimony has not been publicly released, but I was permitted to review a transcript.

During questioning by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Baker was unequivocal about his early view that Clinton should face criminal charges. “I have reason to believe that you originally believed it was appropriate to charge Hillary Clinton with regard to violations of law — various laws, with regard to mishandling of classified information. Is that accurate?” Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor, asked Baker. Baker paused to gain his lawyer’s permission to respond, and then answered, “Yes.” He later explained why he came to that conclusion, and how his mind was changed: “So, I had that belief initially after reviewing, you know, a large binder of her emails that had classified information in them,” he said.

“And I discussed it internally with a number of different folks, and eventually became persuaded that charging her was not appropriate because we could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that — we, the government, could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that — she had the intent necessary to violate (the law).” Asked when he was persuaded to change his mind, Baker said: “Pretty late in the process, because we were arguing about it, I think, up until the end.” Baker made clear that he did not like the activity Clinton had engaged in: “My original belief after — well, after having conducted the investigation and towards the end of it, then sitting down and reading a binder of her materials — I thought that it was alarming, appalling, whatever words I said, and argued with others about why they thought she shouldn’t be charged.”

His boss, Comey, announced on July 5, 2016, that he would not recommend criminal charges. He did so without consulting the Department of Justice (DOJ), a decision the department’s inspector general (IG) later concluded was misguided and likely usurped the power of the attorney general to make prosecutorial decisions. Comey has said, in retrospect, he accepts that finding but took the actions he did because he thought “they were in the country’s best interest.”

Read more …

More will follow. 5 weeks left.

Conservative Split As Tory Rebels Denounce Hardline Brexiters (G.)

Three Conservative MPs who resigned to join a new independent group on Wednesday said Theresa May had allowed their former party to fall prey to hardline Brexiters and declared that the Tory modernising project had been destroyed. In the latest evidence that Brexit is reshaping the political landscape, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, all outspoken critics of May’s stance on Europe, said the Conservative party as they had known it under David Cameron was dead. “I’m not leaving the Conservative party – it has left us,” said Soubry at a hastily convened press conference around the corner from the House of Commons. “The modernising reforms that had taken years to achieve were destroyed.”

Allen was asked if she could ever return to the Conservatives and answered: “If we do our jobs properly, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to.” She added: “We’re about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre ground of British politics that people out there, I am convinced, we are convinced, want.” The dramatic resignations – announced shortly before May confronted Jeremy Corbyn at prime minister’s questions – sent shockwaves through Westminster, where MPs had barely digested news of the Labour split. The move reduces May’s already tenuous working majority to eight, raising still more questions over her authority amid rumours that there could be further Tory defections.

On Wednesday night, Allen told ITV’s Peston that “a third of the party” – around 100 of her former colleagues – shared her frustrations at its direction. The Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve told the BBC: “The government which I am supporting implementing a no-deal Brexit – what would I do? I would not be able to maintain my support of the government. I would have to leave the party.”

Read more …

George Galloway is right: center liberal parties are exactly what the whole world is rejecting.

How Not To Organise A Split In A Party (Galloway)

Just seven MPs announced their departure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and though there may be others to come this was their first rank. And there lies the first problem. Other than Chuka Umunna virtually nobody has ever heard of the new Independent Group of MPs who were quickly dubbed the ‘Seven Dwarfs’. [..] From a crowded field I’d say the next biggest blunder was registering their parliamentary factions as a private company in a transparent effort to avoid…transparency! It’s true that Chuka and co are the corporate suit types and most of them are more familiar with the boardroom than the boiler room but no parliamentary group in history has turned themselves into a business!

The reasons – millions of them – are not hard to discern. A political party must declare who’s funding it and how much. A private company doesn’t. But again what seemed like a wheeze is in fact a blunder. I’m now free to speculate that they’ve already received millions from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and President Putin. It’s probably not true, but how can one tell? [..] I may be wrong and Manchester United may win the Champions League but I’m perfectly sure Centrist neo-liberal politics are currently out of fashion throughout the world. I base this on 14 weeks of mayhem on the streets of France, and not much more than that in President Macron’s opinion poll ratings. On Mrs Merkel slouching out of the German Chancery in ruins. On the Rushmore like ruin of Hillary Clinton. On the portrait of Dorian Gray that is the haunted face of the most hated man in Britain, Tony Blair.

Read more …

And that’s only the tariffs.

UK And Ireland Retailers Warn Of 40% Tariffs On Food In No-Deal Brexit (G.)

A no-deal Brexit could lead to tariffs of 40% or more being imposed on food such as beef and cheddar cheese, driving up prices in shops and squeezing household budgets across the UK and Ireland, retail organisations from both countries have warned. With mounting fears that the UK could leave the European Union without an agreement in 36 days’ time, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Retail Ireland, issued a joint warning that this outcome could lead to delays at borders and shortages of fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. The scheduled withdrawal on 29 March comes at a time in the year when the UK imports a lot of fresh, out-of-season, produce – 90% of the lettuce consumed in Britain, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruits come from, or arrive via, Europe.

Increased tariffs, the devaluation of sterling and new regulatory checks would drive up the cost of fresh food and drink, which would be passed on to consumers, the retail bodies warned. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, both fall back on the World Trade Organization’s most favoured nation tariffs, which means import duties on everyday food items from fruit to cheese. This would mean a 42% tariff on imported cheddar, 46% on mozzarella, 40% on beef, 21% on tomatoes and 15.5% on apples, the BRC said. Last year one of the UK’s largest dairy producers, based in Northern Ireland, warned that leaving the customs union under a hard Brexit could lead to the price of meat doubling in the UK and the price of dairy, half of which is imported, rising by up to 50%.

Read more …

Imagine taking that into a severe recession.

UK Economy £100 Billion Smaller Because Of Austerity (G.)

Austerity policies from the Treasury have resulted in slower growth in every year since 2010 and left each household £300 a month worse off as a result, a thinktank has said. The New Economics Foundation said its analysis of the impact of tax and spending changes since the Conservatives came to power, first as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, had left the economy £100bn smaller than it would otherwise have been. Although the peak impact of the attempt to reduce a record peacetime budget deficit occurred during the first two years of the 2010-15 parliament, the thinktank said austerity was still acting as a drag on output. The NEF said the cumulative effect of tax, public spending and welfare adjustments on growth by the end of the 2018-19 financial year would be to leave the average household £3,629 a year worse off – the equivalent of £1,495 per person.

The latest public finances figures, due out on Thursday, will show whether the chancellor, Philip Hammond, is on course to hit his forecast for a budget deficit in 2018-19 of £25.5bn – one sixth of its level in the aftermath of the financial crisis and deep recession of 2008-09. Alfie Stirling, head of economics at the NEF, said work by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies made it possible to isolate the effects of austerity. “At this time of year there is often renewed speculation over whether the chancellor will meet his year-end deficit targets by March. But for nine years, the elephant in the room has largely been missed: the sheer scale of economic damage that these targets have contributed to in the first place.”

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The Germans have a much smaller weapons industry.

Germany Rebuffs UK Call To Back Off Saudi Arms Freeze (ZH)

Germany is feeling the pressure from western allies over its weapons exports freeze in the wake of the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a freeze first announced in November, which included plans to reject any future export licences to Riyadh, but not previously approved deals. German allies like the UK have lately implored the German government to soften its stance, noting the potential broader economic impact on Europe. British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, currently in Berlin to discuss the terms of Brexit, reportedly wrote to the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a private letter first revealed by Der Spiegel that UK defense companies would be hindered in contractual obligations related to Eurofighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet delivery, namely to supply parts affected by the German arms freeze.

Hunt told Maas in the letter published in German press: “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments.” This follows comments by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the past weekend’s Munich Security Conference acknowledging the need for “common export controls guidelines” across Europe. She said during a question-and-answer session after her speech at the conference: “We have because of our history very good reasons to have very strict arms export guidelines, but we have just as good reasons in our defense community to stand together in a joint defense policy. And if we want … to develop joint fighter planes, joint tanks, then there’s no other way but to move step-by-step towards common export controls guidelines.”

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It’s like nothing changed in 4 years. Only this time Bernie may be the favorite.

Bernie Sanders Raised $6 Million In One Day After Launching Campaign (ZH)

Just one day after officially launching his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination during an interview on Vermont Public Radio, Bernie Sanders has already raised more than $6 million through more than 220,000 individual contributions, according to CNN. Sanders, who consistently ranks near the top of most polls alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, saw the money pour in from donors in all 50 states. The average contribution was $27, which is roughly in line with the average contribution from Sanders 2016 upstart primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, in which he won a number of crucial primaries (all while actively working against the DNC). Confirming his outsize popularity in an increasingly crowded field, the self-described “Democratic Socialist”‘s haul dwarfs the $300,000 raised by Elizabeth Warren during the 24 hours after her official campaign launch.

Of the $6 million raised, some 10% (about $600,000) came in the form of recurring donations, providing “a huge, dependable grassroots donor base that will afford the campaign a consistent budgeting baseline.” During his last race, Sanders regularly touted the fact that his campaign was largely funded by small donations. And it appears this is already emerging as a central theme for the 2020 race. “The only way we will win this election and create a government and economy that work for all is with a grassroots movement – the likes of which has never been seen in American history,” Sanders said in his message announcing his campaign. “They may have the money and power. We have the people.”

On top of that $6 million haul, Sanders is entering the race with more than $9 million left in his US Senate campaign committee: funds that he can transfer to his presidential campaign. That puts him behind only Warren ($11 million) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($10.3 million).

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She has no reason to support anyone at all.

Ocasio-Cortez Refuses To Back Bernie Sanders For 2020 (Ind.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has refused to endorse Bernie Sanders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, despite working on the senator’s first presidential campaign. A spokesperson for Ms Ocasio-Cortez, like Mr Sanders a self-described democratic socialist, refused to comment directly on the 77-year-old’s Tuesday announcement he is running for a second time. “We’re excited to see so many progressives in the race,” spokesperson Corbin Trent said. “We’re not thinking at all about the next election.” Any endorsement by Ms Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be influential on the outcome of the race, thanks to her massive support among the grassroots of the party. But the 29-year-old, a congresswoman for New York, is unlikely to offer an endorsement before her state’s Democratic primary next year, and may even permanently withhold any explicit support for a single candidate.

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Feb 162019
 


Marcel Duchamp The king and queen surrounded by swift nudes 1912

 

Over 60% Of All New Debt Created Globally In Past Decade Was In China (NYFed)
Worms Turning (Jim Kunstler)
FBI Created, Covered Up “Chart” Of Potential Hillary Clinton Crimes (ZH)
Mueller Discloses Evidence Roger Stone Communicated With Wikileaks (G.)
Are Russian Trolls Saving Measles From Extinction? (RFE)
Democrats’ Coveted 2020 Prize? An Endorsement From Ocasio-Cortez (G.)
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State (CP)
Corbyn To Hold Brexit Talks With EU’s Barnier And Verhofstadt (G.)
When The Swabian Hausfrau Saves (Steve Keen)
9/11 Fund Running Out Of Money For Those With Illnesses (AP)
Subsidies to Amazon Are Uneconomical, Un-American, and Unconstitutional (PM)

 

 

As Trump flunks his emergency, Xi flunks his economy. I’ll wait for the shouting match over the first to settle over the weekend.

This is from the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics. The second graph is not from their piece, but very much to the point. After all that new debt, China’s transition to a consumer economy is faltering. So people are clamoring for rate cuts and more stimulus. But do they realize how much stimulus China has already neede to get where it is today?

Over 60% Of All New Debt Created Globally In Past Decade Was In China (NYFed)

Although there has been a notable deceleration in the pace of credit growth recently, the run-up in debt in China has been eye-popping, accounting for more than 60 percent of all new credit created globally over the past ten years. Rising nonfinancial sector debt was driven initially by an increase in corporate borrowing, which surged in 2009 in response to the global financial crisis. The most recent leg of China’s credit boom has been due to an important shift toward household lending. To better understand the rise in household debt in China and its implications for financial stability and China’s economic performance, it is important to examine the expansion in household credit, how the rise in debt compares to international experience, and the associated risks.

The growth of China’s household debt reflects a natural evolution in financial sector deepening and has grown in two waves. The first occurred during the late-1990s following major financial reforms and the privatization of China’s housing stock. The second wave began in the wake of the global financial crisis and has witnessed much more rapid growth, with debt increasing by nearly $5.7 trillion, or nearly 30 percent of China’s GDP. In fact, household lending overtook corporate borrowing in early 2018 to become the largest driver of aggregate loan growth in China. New household lending now accounts for roughly half of new loans.

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Glad someone’s keeping count.

Worms Turning (Jim Kunstler)

[..] late this week, William Barr was confirmed as a new Attorney General, meaning the extreme case of bureaucratic constipation in that department may be resolving in a shitstorm of counter-revelations and prosecutions in what amounted to an attempted coup d’etat. A lot of the evidence for that is already public and overwhelming. It includes:

• Using FBI counter-intelligence assets improperly and illegally.
• Using fabricated “opposition research” provided by Mrs. Clinton to obtain warrants to spy on her election opponent, and failing to verify it as evidence (according to strict “Woods” procedures) submitted to FISA court judges.
• Recruiting Britain’s MI6 to spy on US citizens as a work-around from US laws prohibiting US Intel from spying on Americans.
• Setting up the notorious Trump Tower meeting to entrap Donald Trump Jr., using a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, in the employ of Fusion GPS, Mrs. Clintons oppo research contractor.
• Orchestrating leaks of secret FBI proceedings to the news media to feed a Russia collusion hysteria.
• Malicious prosecutions by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and egregious political conflicts-of-interest among Mr. Mueller’s team of prosecutors.
• Coverup of the Uranium One scheme facilitated by Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
• A scheme to surreptitiously and illegally record conversations with Mr. Trump once he became president.
• Conspiring to bury multiple inquires into illegal conduct of Mrs. Clinton, her employees and associates by failing to obtain evidence and allowing it to be destroyed.
• Misconduct in office by former CIA chief John Brennan, former National Security Director James Clapper, former AG Loretta Lynch, and members of President Obama’s White House inner circle.

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Tie in this one with Jim Kunstler’s list above.

FBI Created, Covered Up “Chart” Of Potential Hillary Clinton Crimes (ZH)

The top brass of the Obama FBI went to great lengths to justify their decision not to recommend charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information, according to Judicial Watch, which obtained evidence that the agency created a ‘chart’ of Clinton’s offenses. The newly obtained emails came in response to a court ordered Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that the DOJ had previously ignored. Via Judicial Watch: “Three days after then-FBI Director James Comey’s press conference announcing that he would not recommend a prosecution of Mrs. Clinton, a July 8, 2016 email chain shows that, the Special Counsel to the FBI’s executive assistant director in charge of the National Security Branch, whose name is redacted, wrote to Strzok and others that he was producing a “chart of the statutory violations considered during the investigation [of Clinton’s server], and the reasons for the recommendation not to prosecute…”

[..] On May 15, 2016, James Rybicki, former chief of staff to Comey, sends FBI General Counsel James Baker; Bill Priestap, former assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division; McCabe; Page; and others an email with the subject line “Request from the Director.” Rybicki writes: By NLT [no later than] next Monday, the Director would like to see a list of all cases charged in the last 20 years where the gravamen of the charge was mishandling classified information. It should be in chart form with: (1) case name, (2) a short summary for content (3) charges brought, and (4) charge of conviction. If need be, we can get it from NSD [National Security Division] and let them know that the Director asked for this personally. Please let me know who can take the lead on this. Thanks! Jim

Page forwards to Strzok: FYSA [For your situational awareness] Strzok replies to Page: I’ll take the lead, of course – sounds like an espionage section question… Or do you think OGC [Office of the General Counsel] should? And the more reason for us to get feedback to Rybicki, as we all identified this as an issue/question over a week ago. Page replies: I was going to reply to Jim [Rybicki] and tell him I can talked [sic] to you about this already. Do you want me to?

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Mueller gets nuttier, and the Guardian gladly collaborates. On nothing new. We already knew WikiLeaks told Stone to take a hike. Most importantly, Mueller continues his cowardice vs Assange, because without his empty accusations of Assange, he really has nothing left on collusion. And if Assange could talk, he’d have even less left. And people tell me he’s not a coward.

Under US law, people have the right to defend themselves. Under Robert Mueller’s law, Julian Assange does not. Is that stating it clear enough?

As for Stone, Aaron Maté tweeted about this article: “LOL. The “communications of Roger Stone with Wikileaks” were revealed a year ago. They show WL urging Stone to stop making “false claims of association” between them.”

Mueller Discloses Evidence Roger Stone Communicated With Wikileaks (G.)

The US Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, disclosed for the first time on Friday that his office has evidence of communications between Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, and WikiLeaks related to the release of hacked Democratic party emails. In a court filing on Friday, Mueller’s office said it had gathered that evidence in a separate probe into Russian intelligence officers who were charged by Mueller with hacking the emails during the 2016 US presidential campaign and staging their release. In an email criticising media coverage of Mueller’s filing on Friday, Stone said the evidence was “innocuous Twitter direct messages” that have already been disclosed to the House Intelligence Committee and “prove absolutely nothing”.

Also on Friday, a federal judge placed some limits on what Stone and his lawyers can say publicly about his criminal case brought by the special counsel in the Russia investigation. But the US district judge, Amy Berman Jackson, stopped short of imposing a broad ban on public comments by the outspoken political operative, issuing a limited gag order she said was necessary to ensure Stone’s right to a fair trial and “to maintain the dignity and seriousness of the courthouse and these proceedings”. Stone was indicted last month for lying to Congress about his communications with others about the hacked emails. Mueller did not say at the time that he had evidence of communications with WikiLeaks. Stone, an ally of Trump for 40 years, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Stone has previously acknowledged brief exchanges with both WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 but maintains he never had advance knowledge about the release of hacked emails. But Friday marked the first time Mueller indicated he had obtained related evidence, although it remained unclear if the evidence is more substantial than what is publicly known. “The government obtained and executed dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release, as well as to discuss the timing and promotion of their release,” Mueller’s team wrote in a filing to the US district court in Washington DC. “Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 and with Organization 1.”

[..] WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 each published emails and other documents from the Democratic party in 2016 in an operation that Mueller alleges was part of a Kremlin-backed effort to tip the election in favour of then Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

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Radio Free Europe presents Russiaphobia on steroids.

Let’s ask Mueller what he thinks.

Are Russian Trolls Saving Measles From Extinction? (RFE)

Scientific researchers say Russian social-media trolls who spread discord before the 2016 U.S. presidential election may also have played an unintended role in a developing global health crisis. They say the trolls may have contributed to the 2018 outbreak of measles in Europe that killed 72 people and infected more than 82,000 — mostly in Eastern and Southeastern European countries known to have been targeted by Russia-based disinformation campaigns. Experts in the United States and Europe are now working on ways to gauge the impact that Russian troll and bot campaigns have had on the spread of the disease by distributing medical misinformation and raising public doubts about vaccinations.

Studies have already documented how cybercampaigns by the Internet Research Agency – a St. Petersburg “troll farm” that has been accused of meddling in the U.S. 2016 presidential election – artificially bolstered debate on social media about vaccines since 2014 in a way that eroded public trust in vaccinations. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that “vaccination hesitancy” has become one of the top threats to global health. It notes a 30 percent rise in measles globally and a resurgence of measles in countries that had once been close to eradicating the disease.

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You heard it here first in The Great Discontent.

A communications director says: “She’s built a profile with a savvy way beyond her years..”, but it’s the other way around. Anyone older can not build a profile the way she has because she’s 29 and grew up with social media; it’s not an acquired taste for her.

Democrats’ Coveted 2020 Prize? An Endorsement From Ocasio-Cortez (G.)

Welcome to the AOC primary. At 29 years old, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – already known as “AOC” for short – is too young to be eligible to run for US president. But her phenomenal impact on American politics means that she could play an outsized role in deciding who does. As her fellow Democrats jostle for position ahead of the 2020 primary elections, an endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be a widely coveted prize, a guaranteed shot of adrenaline sure to energise her army of millennial voters. But it could also come with perils in the later presidential contest, especially for so-called “centrist” candidates hoping to draw independents and moderate Republicans away from Donald Trump.

In little more than a month, Ocasio-Cortez, whose New York district includes parts of the Bronx and Queens, has taken Washington by storm, overshadowing career politicians who have spent years labouring in the 435-member House of Representatives. Her proposals – among them a Green New Deal to combat climate change and a 70% tax rate on earnings over $10m to tackle economic inequality – have reset terms of debate in the early stages of the Democratic contest. “This is a race to the left,” said Dave Handy, a New York-based political consultant and organiser. “Even if people don’t like her or her policies, they will be racing to get her endorsement because it’s a progressive check mark. She embodies the general direction the party is going in.”

[..] Ocasio-Cortez is also a social media sensation. She has in excess of 3 million followers on Twitter with more engagement than Donald Trump, Barack Obama or Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Last week a video clip in which she quizzed ethics experts about government corruption became the most watched political video ever posted on Twitter with 37.5m views. It was another demonstration of astonishing clout. Neil Sroka, communications director of the progressive group Democracy for America, said: “She’s built a profile with a savvy way beyond her years, but she also has an agenda that feels right for the moment. AOC does not exist without the bold, inclusive, populist agenda she’s pushing. The vitriol she has inspired speaks to how afraid everyone is; Republicans see her as representing a country they don’t even know how to speak to.”

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“The American plan is to burn the oil. All of it.”

The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State (CP)

Unbeknownst to most Americans, the nation’s forests were clear-cut from coast to coast in the mid-late nineteenth century. Photographs from the era show denuded landscapes— no trees, no animals, and streams still poisoned from the runoff in the present, for as far as the eye can see. The scars from nineteenth and twentieth century strip mining in Pennsylvania draw direct geographical and historical lines to the mountaintop removal that is taking place in West Virginia today. These natural resources produced the bounty of American capitalism every bit as much as the manufacturing prowess of the Second Industrial Revolution. In turn, this combination of low-cost resources, manufacturing prowess and natural borders (the oceans) produced the military might that defines America in the present.

The logic of weapons and weaponry pervades American capitalism. Death and destruction, domination and control, are what America does. The thought that these resources were ever ‘free’ illustrates the power of ideology. With a body count of at least one-hundred million human beings— including genocide against the indigenous population, murdered slaves, coal miners in Appalachia who died from black lung disease, mill workers in Massachusetts and North and South Carolina who died from inhaling cotton fibers, and those killed in American wars for resources, the human toll of American capitalism is staggering.

[..] In the present, the introduction of a Green New Deal as a nonbinding resolution, rather than the creation of a select congressional committee, clarifies the political form of official resistance to environmental resolution. The public pronouncement itself is a call to arms, implying both that the need for environmental resolution is urgent and that it won’t be led from above. Its authors were right to take their case to the people, from whom something akin to a revolutionary movement is required. Complaints over its limited scope miss that until there is such a movement, little progress toward environmental resolution will be made. Current bipartisan American machinations toward Venezuela illustrate the conundrum. Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The U.S. is using state power to ‘liberate’ this oil for the benefit of nominally private multinational oil corporations. The American plan is to burn the oil. All of it.

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And why not? It must get messier still.

Corbyn To Hold Brexit Talks With EU’s Barnier And Verhofstadt (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will hold talks in Brussels next week with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, as he seeks to break the Brexit impasse and persuade Theresa May to sign up to a customs union. The visit is likely to be highly unwelcome in Downing Street, and risks accusations that Labour is pursuing its own shadow negotiations, undermining the prime minister’s hopes of fresh EU concessions. May will be in Brussels in the same week to meet the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. The UK attorney-general, Geoffrey Cox, is expected to travel with her. During a whistle-stop tour of the central figures in the Brexit talks on Thursday, Corbyn is also due to meet the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt.

He will also hold talks with senior figures in the socialist group in the European parliament, including Labour MEPs. EU sources said Corbyn was expected to provide further details on his recent conditional offer of support for the prime minister’s deal along with an update on the cross-party talks. Earlier this month, the Labour leader said his party would back the withdrawal agreement, containing the Irish backstop, if May renegotiated the accompanying political declaration on the future relationship. Labour is seeking a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union, a close alignment with the single market and protection for standards and workers’ rights.

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Steve wants to abolish the word ‘savings’ with regards to a government. It makes no sense at all.

When The Swabian Hausfrau Saves (Steve Keen)

Savings is promoted as a private virtue that should be practiced at a national and international level as well. What happens to the economy when it is implemented? Keen explains one of the great economic fallacies: that a government needs to manage its finances like a household, and if the government consistently spends more than it receives in income, the nation’s debt will ultimately become unsustainable, and the nation will go broke. Furthermore he will address why the predominant Neoclassical economic model of banking is dangerously misleading as a guide to how a capitalist economy actually works and was thus incapable of predicting the Great Financial Crisis of 2007.

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Hoe much more American does it get?

9/11 Fund Running Out Of Money For Those With Illnesses (AP)

The compensation fund for victims of 9/11 is running out of money and will cut future payments by 50 to 70 percent, officials announced Friday. September 11th Victim Compensation Fund special master Rupa Bhattacharyya said she was “painfully aware of the inequity of the situation” but stressed that awarding some funds for every valid claim would be preferable to sending some legitimate claimants away empty-handed. “I could not abide a plan that would at the end of the day leave some claimants uncompensated,” Bhattacharyya said.

Nearly 40,000 people have applied to the federal fund for people with illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the 2001 terror attacks there, and about 19,000 of those claims are pending. Nearly $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.3 billion fund. Bhattacharyya said fund officials estimate it would take another $5 billion to pay pending claims and the claims that officials anticipate will be submitted before the fund’s December 2020 deadline. Absent that funding, officials determined that pending claims submitted by Feb. 1 would be paid at 50 percent of their prior value. Valid claims received after that date will be paid at just 30 percent.

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Idea is good, argumentation less so. You can’t expect to be taken too seriously when you write lines like this one: A recent paper shows that companies are more likely to receive subsidies when they make financial contributions to political candidates in the state.

Subsidies to Amazon Are Uneconomical, Un-American, and Unconstitutional (PM)

Corporate subsidies are a negative-sum game. They foster crony capitalism, hurt productivity growth and inflict great harm on product market competition.

As soon as Amazon announced the location of its new headquarters, an intense media battle started on the rationality of the fiscal subsidies offered by the two chosen states to attract the new headquarters. Was it a good idea for New York and Virginia to offer $1.5 billion and $573 million respectively to stir Amazon’s decision? In each of the two chosen locations Amazon was to invest billions in infrastructure, employ as many as 25,000 people directly (and many more indirectly), and bring billions in new tax revenues. Even the generous fiscal benefits offered by the two locations seem small vis-à-vis the additional fiscal revenues the winning states will enjoy. After all, had Amazon chosen New Jersey over New York, the Empire State would have lost up to $14 billion in new tax revenues over the next 25 years.

Why shouldn’t a state pay a fraction of these enormous benefits to secure Amazon’s headquarters? While appealing, this argument is flawed and—as it turns out—self-defeating. When companies compete for customers, they have to offer better products or lower prices. They are forced to innovate and improve efficiency in production. In economist lingo, product market competition is not a zero-sum game (my gains are equal to your losses), but a positive-sum game (my gains exceed your losses). By contrast, corporate competition for state subsidies is a zero-sum game. Amazon is not going to be more productive in New York than in New Jersey –it will only pay fewer taxes. If companies are successful in pitting one state against another, they will end up paying no state taxes.

As a result, the economy will not be one iota more efficient, and the rest of us will end up paying more taxes to make up for the revenue shortfall. Competition for subsidies also fosters crony capitalism and hurts productivity growth. It fosters crony capitalism because it favors companies that are well-connected, rather than companies that are more efficient.

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Feb 152019
 


Pablo Picasso Three women at the edge of the beach 1924

 

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)
Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)
Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)
Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)
Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)
German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)
BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)
As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)
White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)
How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)
School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)
100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

 

 

They’re inventing a narrative as we speak that Mueller may have proof of collusion, but not enough for a criminal case, and therefore that proof may remain hidden. Which would give NBC plenty material for more empty allegations right up until the 2020 elections. In the media, it’s no longer about what you can prove, it’s about what wiggle room you have to smear and accuse. They’ll never give up: the Senate committee comes up nothing, and they prepare their audience for the Mueller probe doing the same, but somehow that means nothing. No matter what happens, the verdict is already there.

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)

“Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed” by the Mueller report – or lack thereof, according to NBC News. Yes, after nearly three years of DOJ investigation, FBI spying, and what appears to have been a setup involving a mysterious Maltese professor who bragged about his ties to the Clinton Foundation – it looks like that “the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found.” The NBC report comes days after a bipartisan Senate investigation found no collusion between Trumpworld and Russia, and the same day as former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe admitted that he rushed to open the Russia probe out of fear of being fired.

Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn’t amount to a provable crime . The reason: The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public. -NBC News And while the Attorney General will be required to notify Congress of Mueller’s findings, those reports must amount to “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” “Expectations that we will see a comprehensive report from the special counsel are high. But the written regulations that govern the special counsel’s reporting requirements should arguably dampen those expectations,” said former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg.

[..] When asked about making the Mueller report public, newly minted Attorney General, William Barr, has said “My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” adding “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and I will not let personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in January that her vote on Barr’s nomination is contingent upon whether he will release the report publicly. “My vote really depends on whether I believe that that report will come out as written,” said Feinstein. “I served for a long time on the Intelligence Committee, and I know redaction can be excessive.”

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TEXT

Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)

President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to keep the government open and at the same time declare a national emergency at the border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. McConnell spoke from the Senate floor after Trump said on Twitter he was reviewing the bill with his team at the White House. Trump has discussed using an emergency declaration to build a proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a move that’s certain to provoke a brawl with Congress and perhaps in the courts.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump would sign the bill and “take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.” “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” Sanders said. The measure passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon by an 83-16 vote, and the House approved it Thursday night with a 300-128 tally. Republicans including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida voted against it.

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As RT states: “Even the most cursory observer will notice the bill treats alleged Russian meddling abroad and “illicit and corrupt activities” of the Russian president as established, proven facts (they are not).”

Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)

Moscow has reacted to a proposed new package of United States sanctions with of mix of anger and resignation. As an influential former minister urged Russians to prepare for the worst, the Kremlin accused the US of “racketeering”. “We see clear symptoms of emotional Russophobia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists. “But behind the emotions … is an entirely pragmatic, assertive trade calculation, and … nothing less than an attempt to engage in dishonest competition.” The new round of sanctions, proposed in the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act on Wednesday evening, would target Russia’s security service, sovereign debt, and its financial and energy sectors.

The sanctions package is awaiting congressional approval. m According to the bill’s authors, the measures have been proposed in response to two developments: Russian “interference in democratic processes abroad” and its “aggression against Ukraine”, including the seizing of Ukrainian warships in the Kerch strait in November. On Thursday, the proposed sanctions were met with a predictably angry response by Russian state television and more media-hungry parliamentarians. Perhaps the most memorable response was filed by Frants Klintsevich, the prominent, if excitable, member of the Defence and Security Committee of Russia’s upper house. He described the new sanctions as a “dangerous habit” akin to “smoking a pipe before breakfast, poisoning all those around”.

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In the future, this headline will sow much confusion about the date it applies to. May suffers embarrassing defeats almost every day.

Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have been dealt a body blow following a “fiasco” in the House of Commons, which saw dozens of Tories inflict an embarrassing defeat on their leader. Eurosceptic Conservatives refused to back a motion reiterating support for the prime minister’s negotiating strategy, deeply suspicious that she might try and use it to rule out a no-deal Brexit. The loss brutally exposes how trust between Ms May and her backbenchers has hit rock bottom, with many still furious over comments made by her chief negotiator in a Brussels bar this week which also appeared to exclude a no-deal scenario. But the defeat has also laid bare the extreme fragility of parliamentary support for her approach, with her ministers having claimed only last week that she had secured a “strong mandate” from the Commons.

On another dramatic night in parliament, Ms May was nowhere to be seen as the result was read out to cheers from the Labour benches. The government motion was defeated by 258 votes to 303. One leading Tory described the night as a “fiasco”, Jeremy Corbyn said the country was heading for a “catastrophe”, and a senior source in Brussels said: “There goes the strong mandate.” The Brexit fault line also cut through Mr Corbyn’s party on Thursday, with a significant number of Labour MPs apparently defying their leader’s will in a separate vote amid suspicions that some are close to breaking away. But the spotlight was firmly on the prime minister’s ailing administration as it contorted in an attempt to avoid defeat on what did not have to be a difficult night for Ms May.

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Rutte is an all-out neo-liberal globalist. The kind that control Brussels today. But will that still be the case after the May EU elections?

Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)

Britain is a “waning country” and too small to stand alone on the world stage, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has claimed in a withering assessment of the UK’s exit from the EU. Rutte, who has emerged as a key player in the talks over the past two years, also warned in an interview that the UK looked to be sliding off the “precipice” towards a “devastating” no-deal Brexit. “Who will be left weakened by Brexit is the United Kingdom,” he said. “It is already weakening, it is a waning country compared to two or three years ago. It is going to become an economy of middling size in the Atlantic Ocean. It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.”

Rutte, who also claimed the Dutch would replace the UK in the bloc as the pre-eminent voice for free trade, has been regularly consulted by Theresa May on progress in the Brexit negotiations. The Netherlands is one of the EU member states that will be most affected by the barriers to trade that will emerge after the UK leaves the bloc, although it has been the beneficiary of some relocations by big businesses. Figures released last week by the Dutch investment agency revealed 42 companies had relocated to the Netherlands in 2018, citing Brexit as a reason, resulting in the movement of 1,923 jobs. Asked whether a Brexit deal was likely, Rutte said in an interview with European media outlets, including the Spanish newspaper El País: “My impression is that the ball is heading towards the precipice and everyone screams to stop, but nobody does anything to stop it, at least, from the British side.”

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When is Berlin going to start pumping money in?

German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)

Germany narrowly avoided falling into recession in the second half of last year as weaker exports dragged Europe’s largest economy to stalling point during the final three months of 2018. The German economy recorded zero growth in the fourth quarter, managing to just avoid a technical recession after reporting a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter amid a slump in industrial output. Several economists had previously warned that Germany was on the brink of recession because of consecutive monthly declines in factory output, with the country suffering from weaker levels of global demand and disruption at factories.

Tensions between the US and China have acted as a handbrake on global goods trade, while growth is slowing in the Chinese economy after years of rapid expansion. Sales of cars in China dropped last year for the first time in almost 30 years, affecting manufacturers across Europe. New vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW emissions scandal have also caused disruption to factories across Europe, including in Britain. Manufacturing accounts for about a fifth of the Germany economy, about double the size of Britain’s industrial base. Overall growth for 2018 in Germany was 1.5%, marginally above the 1.4% expansion recorded in Britain.

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How things we’ve all know for years can still be bombshells.

BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)

Now approaching nearly a year after the April 7, 2018 alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria — which the White House used as a pretext to bomb Syrian government facilities and bases throughout Damascus — a BBC reporter who investigated the incident on the ground has issued public statements saying the “Assad sarin attack” on Douma was indeed “staged”. Riam Dalati is a well-known BBC Syria producer who has long reported from the region. He shocked his nearly 20,000 twitter followers on Wednesday, which includes other mainstream journalists from major outlets, by stating that after a “six month investigation” he has concluded, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

The “hospital scene” is a reference to part of the horrid footage played over and over again on international networks showing children in a Douma hospital being hosed off and treated by doctors and White Helmets personnel as victims of the alleged chemical attack. The BBC’s Dalati stated on Wednesday: “After almost 6 months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital.” He noted he had interviewed a number of White Helmets and opposition activists while reaching that conclusion.

He continued in a follow-up tweet: “Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.” Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies.

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Yes, Amazon is the company that paid $0 in income taxes. And then people say progressives stand in the way of progress. Some progress.

As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time on Thursday in calling Amazon’s decision to scrap plans to build a major New York outpost with nearly $3 billion in city and state incentives a big victory for progressive politicians. The democratic socialist congresswoman has become the face of the Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing, thanks in part to her upset victory last year in a district near the proposed Amazon.com Inc development. “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

Amazon blamed local opposition for its abrupt reversal, which some saw as the latest evidence of the progressive movement’s surging influence ahead of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. “They have shown sufficient power to back off the largest corporation in the world,” Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York and an expert on city politics and public opinion. “They killed Amazon, the biggest beast around.”

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“Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether..”

White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)

Four centuries of white supremacy in Venezuela by those who identify their ancestors as European came to an end with the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, who won with the overwhelming support of the Mestizo majority. This turn away from white supremacy continues under Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor. In my interviews with Chavez for BBC beginning in 2002, he talked with humor about the fury of a white ruling class finding itself displaced by a man who embraced his own Indigenous and African heritage. In Venezuela, as in the USA, poverty and race are locked together. Why did so many Mestizo, poor Venezuelans love Chavez? As even the CIA’s surprisingly honest Fact Book states:

“Social investment in Venezuela during the Chavez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment.” But, just as Maduro took office, the price of oil began its collapse, and the vast social programs that oil had paid for were now supported by borrowing money and printing it, causing wild inflation. The economic slide is now made impossibly worse by what the UN rapporteur for Venezuela compared to “medieval sieges.” The Trump administration cut off Venezuela from the oil sale proceeds from its biggest customer, the US.

Everyone has been hurt economically, but the privileged class’s bank accounts have become nearly worthless. So, knowing that the Mestizo majority would not elect their Great White Hope Guaidó, they simply took to the streets — often armed. (And yes, both sides are armed.) I’ve seen this movie before. When I look at today’s news reports of massive demonstrations against the so-called “dictatorship” of Venezuela’s left government, it looks awfully like 2002, when I was first in Caracas reporting for BBC Television. [..] In 2002, George W. Bush’s State Department cheer-led the coup. The plotters kidnapped Chavez and held him hostage. The coup was led by an oil industry leader and head of the Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Carmona, who had seized the nation’s White House, and, like Guaidó today, declared himself president.

Carmona told me proudly about the fancy inaugural ball held by the nation’s elite and attended by Bush’s ambassador. But the Bush/Carmona coup collapsed when a million mostly Mestizo, Indigenous and Black Venezuelans flooded the capital and forced the plotters to return their hero, the supposedly unpopular Chavez, to Miraflores, the presidential palace. “Presidente” Carmona fled. Today, Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether, simply replacing running for office with the “recognition” from Trump and allies which Guaidó can’t get from Venezuelans.

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Wonderful summary of upcoming book.

How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)

There aren’t many historical episodes more firmly lodged in the United States’s national memory than the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is one of only a few events that many people in the country can put a date to: 7 December 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,” as Franklin D Roosevelt put it. Hundreds of books have been written about it – the Library of Congress holds more than 350. And Hollywood has made movies. But what those films don’t show is what happened next. Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawaii, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another US territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Harbor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that – an attack. Japan’s bombers struck, retreated and never returned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos – US nationals who saluted the stars and stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief – fell under a foreign power. Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

At first, “Pearl Harbor” was not the way most people referred to the bombings. “Japs bomb Manila, Hawaii” was the headline in one New Mexico paper; “Japanese Planes Bomb Honolulu, Island of Guam” in another in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, described the event as “an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines”. Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of 7 December, when she spoke of Japan “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines”. That was how the first draft of FDR’s speech went, too: it presented the event as a “bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines”. Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out.

At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines. Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the US. But he faced a problem. Were Japan’s targets considered “the United States”? Legally, they were indisputably US territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt’s audience didn’t care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental US supported a military defense of those remote territories.


The Greater United States as it was in 1941

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Get them when they’re young. They dragged this girl over to Davos, letting her think that means something. Well, it did, it meant she became a puppet. Davos, Brussels; kids, you’re being used. You’re now part of a propaganda campaign that says ‘leaders’ actually give a damn. But they just want your future vote.

School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)

Greta Thunberg is hopeful the student climate strike on Friday can bring about positive change, as young people in more and more countries join the protest movement she started last summer as a lone campaigner outside the Swedish parliament. The 16-year-old welcomed the huge mobilisation planned in the UK, which follows demonstrations by tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other countries. “I think it’s great that England is joining the school strike in a major way this week. There has been a number of real heroes on school strike, for instance in Scotland and Ireland, for some time now. Such as Holly Gillibrand and the ones in Cork with the epic sign saying ‘the emperor is naked’,” she told the Guardian.

With an even bigger global mobilisation planned for 15 March, she feels the momentum is now building. “I think enough people have realised just how absurd the situation is. We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it. I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful,” she wrote. Thunberg has risen rapidly in prominence and influence. In December, she spoke at the United Nations climate conference, berating world leaders for behaving like irresponsible children. Last month, she had similarly harsh words for the global business elite at Davos. She said: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

The movement she started has morphed and grown around the world , and, at times, linked up with older groups, including Extinction Rebellion, 350.org and Greenpeace. Next week she will take the train – having decided not to fly due to the high carbon emissions of aviation – to speak at an event alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, in Brussels, and then on to Paris to join the school strikes now expanding in France. Veteran climate campaigners are astonished by what has been achieved in such a short time. “The movement that Greta launched is one of the most hopeful things in my 30 years of working on the climate question. It throws the generational challenge of global warming into its sharpest relief, and challenges adults to prove they are, actually, adults. So many thanks to all the young people who are stepping up,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org.

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Eh, school strikers?

100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

Hundreds of animal species are at risk of extinction because wildlife trade restrictions are taking too long to come into effect, a major new study warns. Over a quarter of animals on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list – the world’s most critically endangered – are not protected by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Cites is regarded as the primary international framework for preventing species extinction due to international wildlife trade. It came into force in 1975 in order to coordinate and regulate trade in wildlife products, and can put into effect bans on sales of certain species or their body parts.

The research also revealed the long wait species have to gain recognition by Cites. Even among IUCN’s red-list species, 62 per cent of those protected by Cites had waited as long as 19 years for recognition or are still waiting to be listed up to 24 years after being first considered. “It’s absolutely critical that policymakers allow science to inform a speedy protection process,” said Eyal Frank, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. He said: “New trends in wildlife trade can develop quickly, with some species going from common to near extinction in just a few years.

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Feb 132019
 


Edouard Manet Osny, The road-menders, Rue de Berne 1878

 

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)
Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)
NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)
Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)
For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)
Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)
Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)
EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)
Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)
Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)
Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)
Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)
China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)
Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

 

 

My friend Jesse Colombo is right to point out the impact of imploding asset bubbles is the main takeaway. But I think even more than that, it’s who will be the main victims of that: those who have no assets. The losses will land on their shoulders.

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)

It’s not fashionable to wear flapper dresses and do the Charleston, but 1920s-style wealth inequality is definitely back in style. New research says America’s ultra-rich haven’t held as much of the country’s wealth since the Jazz Age, those freewheeling times before the country’s finances shattered. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” wrote Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Zucman said all the research on the issue also points to large wealth concentrations in China and Russia in recent decades. The same thing is happening in France and the U.K., but at a “more moderate rise,” the paper said.

In 1929 — before Wall Street’s crash unleashed the Great Depression — the top 0.1% richest adults’ share of total household wealth was close to 25%, according to Zucman’s paper, which was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Those rates plunged in the early 1930s and continued dropping to below 10% in the late 1970s, findings show. Rates have been on the rebound since the early 1980s, and are currently close to 20%. It’s become especially hard to measure the full extent of riches these days. “Since the 1980s, a large offshore wealth management industry has developed which makes some forms wealth (namely, financial portfolios) harder to capture,” the paper added.


MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto, Everett Collection

[..] Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; the recent federal government’s partial government shutdown forced some federal workers to food pantries, and cast a harsh light on Americans’ lack of savings. Jesse Colombo says people should be more worried about issues other than the current gap between the rich and poor. “America’s wealth inequality is not a permanent situation, but a temporary one because the asset bubbles behind the wealth bubble are going to burst and cause a severe economic crisis,” he added. “My argument is that our society should be worrying more about these asset bubbles than the temporary inequality.” “What is the common denominator between U.S. wealth inequality during the Roaring Twenties and now?” he said. “A massive stock market bubble.”

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The inevitable fall-out of a press that no longer reports the news, but manufactures it.

Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)

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. Last week, Sen. Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman, told CBS News that, while more facts may be uncovered, “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.” Democratic Senate investigators told NBC News on condition of anonymity that Burr’s characterizations, while accurate, lacked context. One aide said, “We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude.'”

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For MS(NBC), Russigate has been a major investment. And they’re still trying to squeak past it by saying an official report will take many more months etc., but it’s done as far as the Senate is concerned. And Mueller has given zero indication of having anything collusion-related.

NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)

We knew this day was coming, but watching an MSNBC anchor and guest pundits squirm during a live Tuesday morning update in which NBC News intelligence and national security correspondent, Ken Dilanian, read aloud that the Senate Intelligence Committee admits it has found “no direct evidence” of collusion between President Trump and Russia, is a segment that itself perhaps belongs to the history books. Mediaite described of the “stunned” MSNBC host’s demeanor: “The report met surprise first, then skepticism, with Jackson and her guests.” They awkwardly and visibly try to make sense of hard and unambiguous reporting that runs contrary to everything being parroted in the MSNBC echo chamber over the past 2 years.

To drive home the explosive significance of the findings, Dilanian noted just how long the ‘collusion’ incessant drumbeat has lasted: “After two years and interviewing more than 200 witnesses, the Senate intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Dilanian. “That’s according to sources on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle.” And in a prior NBC News article Tuesday morning, Dilanian spelled out: “After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”

MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson and her guest panelists’ faces looked visibly confused and uncomfortable as they learned the Senate report is going in the opposite direction of everything MSNBC and other mainstream outlets have been breathlessly reporting on a near 24/7 basis. More importantly, if this is a precursor of what the Mueller report concludes in a few weeks/months, the TV station that built its current reputation on the premise of Russian collusion, may have no option but to go on indefinite hiatus. Watch the segment above, with host Hallie Jackson appearing to grow exasperated by the 2:20 mark:“If and when the president, as he may inevitably do, points to these conclusions and says look, the Senate intelligence committee found I am not guilty of conspiracy… he would be correct in saying that?”

Dilanian noted that while the Republican chair of the committee made what he characterized as “partisan” comments the week prior, it turned out be unanimous fact. “What I found,” he said, “is that Democrats don’t dispute that characterization.” [..] Dilanian also noted the Senate intel committee has access to classified material, which means “if there was an intercept between officers suggesting they were conspiring with the Trump campaign, [the committee] would see that. And that has not emerged.” “So that evidence does not exist, and Trump will claim vindication,” he repeated.

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McConnell thinks it’s best to be fast in voting it down, before there’s more detailed discussion, for instance about which parts could work and which don’t. He’s probably right.

Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would vote on the Green New Deal introduced last week by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal, and we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record,” McConnell told reporters. The bill, which is not expected to pass the Republican-dominated upper chamber, could force some Democrats to make a politically awkward calculation. Democratic liberals, including all of the senators currently running for president, have come out in support of the legislation, which calls for generating 100% of the nation’s power from renewable sources within 10 years. Scientists have said that dramatic, immediate action is necessary to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Democratic moderates have been less than enthusiastic about the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derisively referred to the House version of the bill as a “green dream,” while only 11 of the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats have signed on to sponsor the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is widely expected to enter into the 2020 race, has declined to say whether he supports the proposal. “I’m not going to take position on every bill that’s coming out,” he said Tuesday, according to Politico. “I support a Green New Deal. I think we need to aggressively support climate change [legislation]. That’s my answer.” Republicans control the Senate, with 53 members of the 100-seat chamber. Democrats control the House of Representatives, but it is not clear if the House will vote on the measure under Pelosi’s leadership.

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Stocks are up when the deficit is up.

For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)

Sometimes losing can pay dividends in unexpected ways, and that seems particularly true in the case of stocks and trade. For the past five decades, the U.S. stock market has comparatively outperformed when the trade deficit widened and vice versa, suggesting that even if the U.S. emerges victorious from its trade war with China, investors may have few reasons to rejoice. At face value, it may seem counterintuitive, but for the U.S., which relies on trade to fuel its economic juggernaut, a deficit can actually be a sign that all is well. “Since at least 1970, U.S. stocks have done best when its trade deficit worsens,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, who explained that if imports rise, it indicates that domestic consumption is healthy.

“And if exports go up, it means foreign demand is strong. So when we have a trade deficit, it means the U.S. is doing better,” he said. A trade balance is the difference between how much a country sells and buys from abroad, and a deficit is often viewed as a negative, chiefly as it means a country is spending more than it is making. But as the chart below demonstrates, U.S. stocks vis-a-vis foreign equities have done quite well notwithstanding all the depressing headlines over the years about how the rest of the world is taking advantage of the U.S.

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And Labour wants part of the Green New Deal fame too. But what do any of these people really know about physics, about energy? It all still looks like a typical dumb politics approach: we’ll get rich while going green, promise!

Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)

Labour is to set out how the UK can move swiftly to a decarbonised future to tackle the unfolding climate crisis and put “meat on the bones” of its promise to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled, unionised green jobs. Trade unionists and industry leaders will come together with academics, engineers and public institutions to build detailed regional plans setting out the challenges and opportunities ahead. The proposal, due to be outlined on Wednesday by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, will involve a national call for evidence and a series of regional events to build “a detailed action plan” to maximise the benefits of moving to a zero-carbon future.

“A decade of austerity and decades of neoliberalism have left many in our country asking: what is Britain for?” Long-Bailey told the Guardian. “This has been brought into focus by the government’s handling of Brexit, which is at its core deeply pessimistic, with nothing to say about the future.” She said a future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities across the UK. “We believe that together, we can transform the UK through a green jobs revolution, tackling the environmental crisis in a way that brings hope and prosperity back to parts of the UK that have been held back for too long.”

[..] Long-Bailey said Labour was determined to move beyond rhetoric about a green revolution and work out exactly how that could be achieved, and how it could translate to new well-paid, unionised jobs across the UK. “We’re launching an unprecedented call for evidence about what this means for your town, your city, your region,” she said. “We want to bring unions, industry, universities, the public sector and others together to build this vision out into a practical reality.” Labour says a key plank of its plan will be to ensure a “just transition” to high quality green jobs for those currently working in carbon-emitting industries. To do that it will have to persuade its trade union backers, who represent people in high-carbon industries, that there is a viable economic alternative.

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More liberalism! No matter that it played a big role in Britons voting for Brexit. These people are one-dimensional.

Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)

Brexit is an acid test of whether it is possible to reshape globalisation in a way that offers the benefits of trade while allaying public fears about the erosion of democracy, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said. Speaking in London, Carney said the ramifications of the UK’s departure from the EU would be felt around the world and would determine whether it was possible to shrug off rising protectionism in favour of a new era of international cooperation. The governor cited trade tensions and the result of the 2016 referendum as examples of fundamental pressures to reorder globalisation. “It is possible that new rules of the road will be developed for a more inclusive and resilient global economy. At the same time, there is a risk that countries turn inwards, undercutting growth and prosperity for all.”

Carney’s recent comments about Brexit have highlighted the short-term risks to the economy of leaving the EU next month without an agreement in place, but he used his speech on the state of the global economy to provide a more upbeat assessment. “In many respects, Brexit is the first test of a new global order and could prove the acid test of whether a way can be found to broaden the benefits of openness while enhancing democratic accountability,” he said, speaking at a Financial Times event in London. “Brexit can lead to a new form of international cooperation and cross-border commerce built on a better balance of local and supranational authorities. In these respects, Brexit could affect both the short and long-term global outlooks.”

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Just trying to make friends, I guess. Best of all, he has no idea it could just as well be him on that guillotine.

EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)

The politicians pushing Brexit should be careful not follow in the footsteps of revolutionary leaders who “ended up on the guillotine”, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief has said. At a press conference in Strasbourg Guy Verhofstadt compared Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre – leading figures in the French revolution who were ultimately executed by their former comrades. He said it was “important to remind” the senior Conservatives that their historical counterparts had ended up losing their heads.

“I know that within the Tory party the hard Brexiteers are compared to the leaders of the French revolution. I think Gove is Brissot, and Boris Johnson is Danton, and Rees-Mogg is compared to Robespierre,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “We should not forget that the efforts of these men were not appreciated by the common man they claimed to represent – because they all ended up on the guillotine. So that’s important to remind [them].” His comments come a week after European Council president Donald Tusk caused a story in the UK by saying there was a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers who had advocated leaving the EU without a serious plan of how to do it.

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44 days.

Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)

Theresa May’s high-stakes Brexit strategy may have been accidentally revealed after her chief negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying MPs will be given a last-minute choice between her deal and a lengthy delay. The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the government intends to leave the EU as planned on 29 March, and urged MPs to “hold our nerve”, while she tries to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop. “So our work continues,” she told MPs on Tuesday. “Having secured an agreement with the European Union for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process. The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time.”

But Robbins, the most senior civil servant involved in the Brexit process, was overheard by a reporter from ITV, holding a late-night conversation in which he appeared to suggest she would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50. According to the broadcaster, Robbins said the government had “got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March … extension is possible, but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.” The tactic appears to be aimed squarely at members of the backbench Tory European Research Group (ERG), who may fear Brexit could ultimately be cancelled altogether, if MPs accept a delay.

“The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension,” Robbins was overheard saying. “In the end they will probably just give us an extension.” On the backstop, Robbins appeared to confirm that the government’s initial plan was for the backstop, which effectively keeps the UK in a customs union, to form a temporary “bridge” to the long-term trading relationship. “The big clash all along is the ‘safety net’,” Robbins said. “We agreed a bridge but it came out as a ‘safety net’.”

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I don’t think Monbiot should be writing about this, not his field. But nobody else does, either, and the issue will re-appear very very bigly if Brexit becomes reality.

Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)

In Britain, for example, we now know that the EU referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. We still don’t know the origins of much of the money spent by the leave campaigns. For example, we have no idea who provided the £435,000 channelled through Scotland, into Northern Ireland, through the coffers of the Democratic Unionist party and back into Scotland and England, to pay for pro-Brexit ads. Nor do we know the original source of the £8m that Arron Banks delivered to the Leave.EU campaign. We do know that both of the main leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activities, and that the conduct of the referendum has damaged many people’s faith in the political system.

But, astonishingly, the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events. And now it’s happening again. Since mid-January an organisation called Britain’s Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Most of them target particular constituencies. Where an MP is deemed sympathetic to the organisation’s aims, the voters who receive these ads are urged to tell him or her to “remove the backstop, rule out a customs union, deliver Brexit without delay”. Where the MP is deemed unsympathetic, the message is: “Don’t let them steal Brexit; Don’t let them ignore your vote.”

So who or what is Britain’s Future? Sorry, I have no idea. As openDemocracy points out, it has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it and who has been paying for these advertisements. The only person publicly associated with it is a journalist called Tim Dawson, who edits its website. Dawson has not yet replied to the questions I have sent him. It is, in other words, highly opaque. The anti-Brexit campaigns are not much better. People’s Vote and Best for Britain have also been spending heavily on Facebook ads, though not as much in recent weeks as Britain’s Future.

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He has 84 of the 350 seats in congress… And is propped up by the Catalans.

Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)

Spain’s socialist government could be forced to call a snap general election if rightwing parties and Catalan secessionists make good on their threats to reject the national budget in a key vote on Wednesday. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, faces an uphill battle to secure approval for the budget in the face of opposition from critics of his minority government. Sánchez’s PSOE, which holds 84 of the 350 seats in congress, relied on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to seize power from the conservative People’s party in a confidence vote last year. If, as seems likely, the budget is rejected by rightwing parties as well as the Catalan Republican Left and the Catalan European Democratic party, Sánchez is expected to call a snap general election in April or May.

The next general election is due to be held next year. The prime minister had been banking on the fact that the prospect of an early election – and a possible win for rightwing parties that fiercely oppose Catalan secession – would make the two big Catalan pro-independence parties swing behind the budget. But, speaking to the Guardian and other European media, the Catalan leader, Quim Torra, said the secessionist groupings would not be forced into supporting Sánchez’s budget plans. “Are we meant to approve the budget because we’re afraid of the Spanish right?” said Torra. “Mr Sánchez can obviously decide to call elections whenever he wants – he’s the prime minister. But why would he make dialogue conditional on approving the budget?

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia were the first to fall into crisis. It hasn’t had a recession in I think 27 years, and that is like saying a homeowner hasn’t done a proper spring cleaning in decades.

Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)

The sharpest fall in home loans since the depths of the global financial crisis has prompted calls for the Reserve Bank to slice interest rates and cast doubt over the state of the budget leading into the federal election. As the NAB said the Reserve may have to cut rates within months, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed first time buyers and investors deserting the property market in a sign house prices may fall even further. Home loans in December fell by 5.9%. It was the second largest monthly fall since 2008-09 while the annual fall of 19.8% was the worst since the global financial crisis.

Investor loans have tumbled 28% over the past year while those for owner-occupiers have slumped by 16%. Since their peak in mid-2015, investor lending has dropped by almost 48%. First home buyers have been a key part of the market over the past year as they have taken advantage of falling prices but even they are now resisting the chance to enter the market. The number of loans to first time buyers fell 8% in the month to be 12% lower over the past year. NSW and Victoria are leading down the national market with sharp falls in total loan numbers through 2018. It’s not just housing. Business loans dropped by 9.7% in December to be 6.2% lower over the year.

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China and borrowing, not a happy marriage: “recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16% ..”

Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)

Chinese banks are wise to resist maxing out their credit cards. Lenders have issued hundreds of millions of them to local consumers, facilitating debt-fuelled shopping sprees. It’s a lucrative but risky supplement to other types of loans, and some now appear to be pulling back. Banks in the People’s Republic issued more than 650 million credit cards as of the third quarter of 2018, up from less than 450 million three years earlier, official data show. Balances payable on cards reached 6.6 trillion yuan ($980 billion), an increase of more than 120% over the same period. Lenders are keen on the business. There’s a big opportunity for growth given relatively low penetration: the average Chinese individual has only half of a credit card, whereas the average American has three.

Plastic can be profitable, too, yielding higher interest rates and fees than typical corporate loans. That boosts net interest margins. Yet a reassessment may be underway, according to analysts at Citi Research. At Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, for instance, credit card lending made up 35% of total new loans in 2017. In the first half of 2018, that figure collapsed to negative 5%. It’s a similar story at China Merchants Bank and other lenders covered by the analysts – although some are still aiming at rapid growth, including Ping An Bank and Postal Savings Bank of China. Household credit stood at around half of GDP by the middle of last year, up from 18% a decade earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Fitch Ratings projects household debt might reach 100% of disposable income by 2020, just below the 105% ratio in the US.

The current economic slowdown could make bankers’ affection for plastic look rash. Individuals tend to default on card debt first, and chasing after them in court is time-consuming, while recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16%, compare poorly with between 50% to 60% for corporate borrowers.

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Firms guaranteeing each other’s debt. Never seen a bigger Ponzi. Click the pic for a much larger version. It’s brilliant insanity very strongly bordering on fraud.

China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)

The collapse in China of a complex web of debt guarantees involving several private firms highlights risks in its financial system and opens up a potentially hazardous front for an economy in the grip of its slowest growth in nearly three decades. It is the last thing Beijing needs as it tries to fight off intensifying pressure on growth from a months-long trade dispute with the United States. Yet, as the government steps up economic support measures and moves to loosen gummed-up funding, it might be inadvertently inflaming financial risks with its call on state banks to sharply boost lending to the private sector.

The warning bells are already sounding in the once-prosperous eastern city of Dongying, a hub for oil refining and heavy industry in Shandong province. Here, at least 28 private companies are seeking to restructure their debts and avoid bankruptcy, mainly due to souring loans that they guaranteed for other firms, court rulings seen by Reuters show. Among the 28 firms are Shandong Dahai Group and Shandong Jinmao Textile Chemical Group, which were on the 2018 top 500 best-run private enterprises in China. For a private firm to get bank loans in China, especially those in traditional, capital-intensive industries, it often needs substantial collateral or the guarantee of another company. The guarantor itself is very likely to have taken on loans guaranteed by other firms.

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Wonder how many other countries are protecting themselves this way.

Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

Russia is preparing itself to be disconnected from the World Wide Web. The Lower House of Parliament passed in the first reading a law ensuring the security of the Russian part of the internet. The bill envisions the ‘Runet’ – the Russian segment of the internet – being able to operate independently from the rest of the world in case of global malfunctions or deliberate internet disconnection. The measures to ensure internet stability include the creation of a national DNS system that stores all of the domain names and corresponding IP numbers. The new legislation was drafted in response to the new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using cyber tools to “undermine” its economy and democracy.

It also threatens dire consequences for anyone conducting cyber activity against the US. The autonomous system would ensure that Russia doesn’t face a total internet shutdown if relations with the West completely collapse and the US goes as far as cutting off Russian IP addresses from the World Wide Web. Back in 2012, then-US President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing him to take control of all communications on American soil, including those crucial for the normal operation of the internet. The US National Security Agency actually caused a three-day internet blackout in Syria in November 2012, whistleblower Edward Snowden told Wired magazine. NSA hackers accidently ‘bricked’ one of the core routers while trying to install spyware on it.

Read more …

Feb 112019
 


Johannes Vermeer Woman holding a balance 1662-63

 

 

The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise.
-Hazel Henderson

It’s often hard to understand how people can be aware of something but then fail to link it to a perfectly logical next step, or even multiple steps, and see where it fits in a larger scheme. There really are people out there, believe it or not, who look at economic and political developments over the past decade in any particular western country and believe they are unique to that country.

In reality, while things may play out slightly differently from one place to the other, the core causes of what’s been unfolding are the exact same ones in every single location. The reactions of incumbent politicians and economics has been the same as well: massage the numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you and yours are on the ‘right side’ of the line.

In France, the main complaint that the Yellow Vests movement has now taken into its 13th consecutive weekend is crystal clear: people can’t pay their bills anymore. In the UK, austerity has demolished wages, social care, the NHS and much else. In the US, many millions of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency payment, have ever scarcer access to healthcare and live from paycheck to paycheck.

Rinse and repeat for every western nation. The storylines vary somewhat, but they all tell the same tale, they could be, they are, chapters in the same book. And it makes one think if people are not connecting them.

Renowned French philosopher Michel Onfray summarizes Emmanuel Macron’s ongoing Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) problem in these words: “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

That is true in France, and it is also true in the UK, US and many other countries. People may not see liberalism as their problem, or even know, let alone understand the term, but what they do understand is they can’t pay their bills anymore. And Macron’s response, just like that of Washington and London, is more neoliberalism, or, again in Onfray’s words:

“This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong”. [..] “The [liberal] Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”

The sign in the picture below says: “We live in a world where those who make 100,000 a month convince those who make 1,800 that everything is going wrong because of those who live on 535 euro. And it works… (thanks to the media)” That’s what the Yellow Vests are about.

 


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

 

Again, it’s not about the term (neo-)liberalism, and it’s not some ideological question or fight, it’s about people not being able to pay their bills, and about politicians leaving them hanging all alone in a freezing wind. Nor is it a left against right issue. Western countries only have formerly left parties left; people who can’t pay their bills have been left to fend for themselves, no matter what they vote, and they finally understand that.

In Italy, traditional parties were all but wiped out to be replaced with the Lega and M5S. In France, ditto, but there Macron was the ‘new’ guy. In Germany, Merkel still holds the CDU/CSU ship somewhat steady, but she’s a goner and the right rises.

In Britain, there’s still only the two main parties, but they’re already history. It makes no difference what Jeremy Corbyn does or doesn’t do, he’ll be crushed by the betrayal Tony Blair inflicted on the nation in name of the same Labour Party now ‘led’ by Corbyn. While the Tories, like the Democrats in the US, rely on having taken over the media.

But it’s still a bit bewildering to see Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer’s “award-winning chief political commentator”, no less, write an entire article about what’s ailing British politics without linking this to the rest of the world, where the exact same issues play out. Of course it’s obvious that Brexit has become a divisive issue, not only in UK politics but also there, and not just between parties but also within them.

But if anything, Brexit is not a cause but a mere symptom of the British variety of the Great Discontent. The cause is that in Britain, too, people can’t pay their bills anymore. One country gets Trump, the next one Yellow Vests, and the third gets Brexit.

 

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits

It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election. But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible.

It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither.

More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties. Many politicians can’t stand the parties they represent. Some actively and publicly rage about what has become of them. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime when so many MPs have expressed so much disgust and despair with the state of their own parties.

Mr. Rawnsley manages to avoid any mention of anything at all existing outside of the British borders in the entire article, other than chiding Corbyn for failing to condemn Maduro. And you’re right, if that is the extent of your media, or even that of the formerly left-leaning bit, you may need an extra decade or so to figure out what the rest of the world already knows.

 

In the US, Trump replaced and/or took over the Republican Party, while Ocasio-Sanchez -AOC- is the only strong voice for the Democrats. Sure, she’s 29 and can’t run for the White House, but given that the alternative is Pelosi/Schumer and much more of that exact same cabal, anyone with presidential dreams had better get her blessings.

And sure, her Green New Deal/Dream can easily be dismissed as crazy, but pray tell what the difference is between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve has financed its QE schemes. Perhaps the big difference is who profits; in one instance, the banks, in the other, society at large.

Or from a different perspective, there, too, AOC is like Trump: first, you start big and after, you see what can be done. Her version of the art of the deal. Besides, she has a plan, and nobody else has one. Except perhaps for Bernie, but his credibility was fatally wounded by letting the DNC waltz all over him in 2016.

And his age is not going to help: if you’re really fed up with what’s there because it’s disappointed you three ways to Sunday and now you can’t pay your bills, you’re not going to vote for grandpa, you’re going to go for someone young. Still, if Bernie hooks up with Ocasio, he may have a shot.

For all the others in the already crowded field, it’s what have you done for me lately, and they all either haven’t done dick all or they can’t string two words together without looking like someone wrote it all down for them. Look for a whole bunch from the Clinton/Wasserman mold (i.e. every candidate so far) to support the Green New Deal, but only to sabotage it, and Ocasio, at the first available opportunity.

 

If people already find the very large and very obvious political changes too much to comprehend, here’s some awkward news for you, and it’s not just that the media vs social media fight must inevitably lead to an ever stronger tsunami of ‘news’ overkill. Though that’s a big one: the media once upon a time reported the news, an outdated business model; today they don’t report the news, they manufacture it.

It’s more profitable because people are more gullible and/or they’re drowning in the giant overkill waves. I like that tsunami metaphor for news dissemination: people think social media will work to their advantage, like when the waters recede after a quake, that they have more control over their news. But then it all comes back in one big go and they’re completely lost.

The main upcoming event in media and politics won’t be the Great Political Discontent, it will be the economic one. Those who can’t pay their bills today will be the first victims of the massaged economic numbers finding themselves subject to gravity once again. Central banks won’t be able to prop up the zombies anymore, or the facade. The media will turn against the prevailing order when they deem it profitable. Or, rather, in a desperate attempt at survival.

What once was the middle class will join the various Yellow Vest groups around the world. So will whatever it is you call what took the place of the middle class. Certainly after their housing bubble mortgages become eligible for margin calls. Then all that’s left will be the very rich and the very poor. It’ll be back to the Middle Ages. Just with 20 times as many people. And with over half the wildlife gone, and the arable land, and 80% of insects gone since 1980 alone.

But yeah, we can also pretend that any problem we encounter can only possibly be a temporary blip, and there’s sunshine on the way around the corner, not pitchforks. Still, I’m pretty sure it’s precisely because we do nothing but pretend, that we gather all the problems in the first place that make one think of pitchforks, if even so briefly.

And I’m also pretty sure that we’re a lot less smart than we tell ourselves we are considering we kill off that without which we have zero chance of survival, and considering we let people starve in the richest human society the world has ever seen (make that: will ever see), but we still have trouble seeing our own noses, let alone following them.

We’re such blind masters of pretence that we hardly ever noticed the Great Discontent entering our nations, our communities and our homes. What then are the odds we will perceive the arrival of the Great Unraveling?

 

 

Feb 082019
 


Salvador Dali They were there 1931

 

AOC, The Little Socialist That Could (Strassel)
Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step (IC)
Are Billionaires The American Dream? (NYMag)
China Is Unlikely To Become The World’s Largest Economy Anytime Soon (Colombo)
European Economy Raises Fresh Global Growth Fears (MW)
US Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion; Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High (ZH)
Corbyn Sparks Labour Civil War Over Referendum (Ind.)
Brexit Deal May Not Be Put To MPs Until Late March (G.)
France Recalls Rome Envoy Over Worst Verbal Onslaught ‘Since The War’ (G.)
Rome’s War Of Words With Macron May Prove Self-Defeating (G.)
Fiat Chrysler Shares Plummet 12% On Weak Outlook (CNBC)
‘Globish’: Why France Has A Love-Hate Relationship With Global English (G.)
Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion (Bovard)
Albert Edwards: Negative Rates, 15% Budget Deficits And Helicopter Money (ZH)
Fed’s Powell On The Biggest Challenge Over The Next Decade (CNBC)

 

 

AOC is a step too far for Kimberley Strassel- and many others. She tweets: “The Republican Party has a secret weapon for 2020. It’s especially effective because it’s stealthy: The Democrats seem oblivious to its power. And the GOP needn’t lift a finger for it to work. All Republicans have to do is sit back and watch 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez . . . exist.”

That reminds me a lot of what many people said about Trump a few years ago, and that is no coincidence. AOC shakes up things like the Donald did, things in desperate need of shaking up.

She unveiled her Green New Deal, and got tons of ridicule. But 9 senators and 64 congressmen already sponsor her resolution. Perhaps her biggest danger is that they, the old guard, line up with her, and she becomes one of them. Or no, her biggest risk is in criticizing Trump and falling into the old guard that way. While her biggest danger is calling herself a socialist, which is a death sentence in the US.

And there’s her limited knowledge of energy issues, which apparently leads her to think present systems can be replaced 1-on-1 by renewable ones, while the no. 1 energy plan should be to use much less.

But she got something to say, this piece is pretty solid, and it will appeal to many disgruntelds:

AOC, The Little Socialist That Could (Strassel)

AOC, as she’s better known, today exists largely in front of the cameras. In a few months she’s gone from an unknown New York bartender to the democratic socialist darling of the left and its media hordes. Her megaphone is so loud that she rivals Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the face of the Democratic Party. Republicans don’t know whether to applaud or laugh. Most do both. For them, what’s not to love? She’s set off a fratricidal war on the left, with her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, this week slamming the “radical conservatives” among the Democrats holding the party “hostage.” She’s made friends with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour Party, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

She’s called the American system of wealth creation “immoral” and believes government has a duty to provide “economic security” to people who are “unwilling to work.” As a representative of New York, she’s making California look sensible. On Thursday Ms. Ocasio-Cortez unveiled her vaunted Green New Deal, complete with the details of how Democrats plan to reach climate nirvana in a mere 10 years. It came in the form of a resolution, sponsored in the Senate by Massachusetts’ Edward Markey, on which AOC is determined to force a full House vote. That means every Democrat in Washington will get to go on the record in favor of abolishing air travel, outlawing steaks, forcing all American homeowners to retrofit their houses, putting every miner, oil rigger, livestock rancher and gas-station attendant out of a job, and spending trillions and trillions more tax money.

Oh, also for government-run health care, which is somehow a prerequisite for a clean economy. It’s a GOP dream, especially because the media presented her plan with a straight face – as a legitimate proposal from a legitimate leader in the Democratic Party. Republicans are thrilled to treat it that way in the march to 2020, as their set-piece example of what Democrats would do to the economy and average Americans if given control. The Green New Deal encapsulates everything Americans fear from government, all in one bonkers resolution.

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AOC already has 9 senators and 64 congressmen sponsoring her resolution. Look for them distancing themselves as soon as it hurts them in the polls.

Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step (IC)

Over the last few months, support for the Green New Deal has become a litmus test for 2020 Democratic hopefuls, and the resolution serves dual purposes: to unite lawmakers around the idea of a Green New Deal, and to offer a basic definition of what that means. For 2020 contenders who have conceptually supported the Green New Deal, the resolution makes clear that the phrase isn’t just a talking point, but connected to a specific set of policy priorities. Confirmed and rumored presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders will be among the nine senators co-sponsoring the resolution. Sixty-four House Democrats will also be co-sponsoring the legislation, including Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

“We’re going to be pressuring all of the 2020 contenders to back this resolution,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, which helped launched the Green New Deal into the national spotlight with its sit-in at Pelosi’s office last November. “That’ll make it clear who’s using the Green New Deal as a buzzword and who’s actually serious about what it entails. For our generation, the difference between the Green New Deal as a buzzword and substantive policy is life and death.” [..] On Tuesday, the Sunrise Movement hosted some 500 watch parties around the country for a livestream laying out its next steps to support the resolution. As of Wednesday, the group was in the process of organizing visits to 600 congressional offices nationwide, for constituents to demand that their representatives co-sponsor Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s measure. Supported by Justice Democrats — the group that backed Ocasio-Cortez’s primary run — Sunrise will also be launching a 15-city campaign tour through early primary states.

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2 weeks old but relevant.

Are Billionaires The American Dream? (NYMag)

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville produced one of the earliest accounts of the American dream. In his famous study of the Jacksonian U.S., the Frenchman wrote that Americans possessed “the charm of anticipated success” — a ubiquitous optimism that he attributed to our country’s democratic character, and to the “general equality of condition” that prevailed among its “people.” On Wednesday night, Sean Hannity took de Tocqueville to task. In the Fox News’ host’s telling, general economic equality is not a precondition for the American dream, but rather, an insurmountable obstacle to it — because the American dream is (apparently) to earn more than $10 million year without having to pay a top marginal tax rate higher than 37 percent.

Of course, Hannity did not actually frame his argument as a rebuke of de Tocqueville. His true target was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After popularizing the idea of a 70 percent top marginal tax rate earlier this month, the freshman congresswoman recently suggested that the mere existence of billionaires was both immoral, and a threat to American democracy. “I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez told the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, during an interview on Martin Luther King Day.

One day later, the congresswoman approvingly quoted an op-ed by the economists Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, which argued that the purpose of high taxes on the wealthy wasn’t merely to generate revenue, but rather, to safeguard “democracy against oligarchy.” Hannity’s not buying it. The Fox News host informed his audience Wednesday that Ocasio-Cortez had “called the American dream immoral,” and that she wants to “empower the government to confiscate” said dream. “Better hide your nice things,” Hannity advised his audience (whom he ostensibly believes to be composed primarily of billionaires), “because here come the excess police.”

[..] “Power and property may be seperated for a time, by force or fraud — but divorced never, ” Benjamin Leigh, a conservative legislator in Virginia’s House of Delegates, argued at that state’s Constitutional Convention in 1830. “For, so soon as the pang of separation is felt … property will purchase power, or power will take property.”

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Good to see my longtime friend Jesse Colombo slowly moves to my position on markets, now spelling them “markets”. And we see China largely the same too.

China Is Unlikely To Become The World’s Largest Economy Anytime Soon (Colombo)

As I have been warning for several years, China is experiencing a credit and asset bubble like Japan was in the 1980s. China’s powerful credit expansion in the past decade (as the chart below shows) is one of the main reasons why the global economy recovered from the Great Recession. China’s credit bubble of the past decade will prove to be a one-shot deal – in the next global economic downturn, there won’t be another large economy like China to binge on debt and create a temporary growth party that bails everyone else out.

An economic stagnation or slowdown in China is the least of our worries, I’m afraid. I am worried about a full-blown popping of their credit and asset bubble (like Japan in the early-1990s), which would reverberate around the world. In that scenario, Western exports to China would plunge, commodity-exporting economies from Australia to emerging markets would suffer, and the global economy would experience another severe recession if not an outright depression. The world has played with fire over the past decade and it’s just a matter of time before we all pay the price.

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Caught on Twitter: “Asked at a presser if he wakes up each morning regretting that he’s the @bankofengland governor in the age of Brexit, @markcarney1 replies: “I don’t wake up in the morning any more … I wake up in the middle of the night.”

European Economy Raises Fresh Global Growth Fears (MW)

The Bank of England and the European Commission both offered downbeat outlooks on Thursday, reaffirming growing fears about the health of Europe’s economy. Although, the BOE left interest rates unchanged, as expected, it cut its forecast for 2019 GDP to 1.2% versus its previous estimate of 1.7%, with its current level representing the weakest growth since 2009 when a crisis sparked by complex mortgage bonds cast a pall over the global financial system. “Naturally, the uncertainty over Brexit means considerable uncertainty over the U.K. macro outlook, and therefore monetary policy,” said Bill Diviney, senior economist at ABN Amro.

Both the BOE and Diviney still see a soft Brexit — where Britain leaves the European Union with a trade agreement in place — as the most likely scenario, but the U.K. economy seems destined to slow, notwithstanding any expectations of a trade resolution. [..] And it doesn’t look rosy on either side of the English Channel. On Thursday, the European Commission cut its forecast for 2019 eurozone growth to 1.3% in 2019, compared with the 1.9% expected in November. Underlining its forecast was weaker-than-expected industrial and manufacturing data for the eurozone’s biggest economy Germany. “We think there are a number of important take-aways,” said Diviney. “First of all, despite the large downgrade in economic growth forecasts, they probably do not go far enough, and further revisions are likely.”

Read more …

From revolving into non-revolving credit. Progess in America 2019.

US Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion; Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High (ZH)

After a few months of wild swings, in December US consumer credit normalized rising by $16.6 billion, just below the $17 billion expected, after November’s whopping $22.5 billion. The surge in borrowing in November brought the total to just above $4 trillion for the first time ever on the back of a America’s ongoing love affair with auto and student loans. Revolving credit increased by $1.7 billion to $1.045 trillion, a modest slowdown since November’s $4.8 billion.

[..] while the slowdown in December credit card use may prompt fresh questions about the strength of the US consumer during the all-important holiday spending season, the recent dramatic upward revision to personal savings notwithstanding, one place where there were no surprises, was in the total amount of student and auto loans: here as expected, both numbers hit fresh all time highs, with a record $1.593 trillion in student loans outstanding, an impressive increase of $10.3 billion in the quarter, while auto debt also hit a new all time high of $1.155 trillion, an increase of $9.5 billion in the quarter. In short, whether they want to or not, Americans continue to drown even deeper in debt, and enjoying every minute of it.

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Is it too late for Corbyn to take control of the conversation? is he even capable?

Corbyn Sparks Labour Civil War Over Referendum (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is battling to calm a growing Labour civil war over his refusal to support a fresh Brexit referendum, as some of his MPs threatened to quit the party in protest. The Labour leader was forced to justify his intentions after his new offer to help Theresa May deliver Brexit triggered accusations that he had torpedoed his party’s policy of keeping a public vote on the table. Amid growing tensions, Mr Corbyn wrote to party members to insist that party backing for a Final Say referendum remained an option – hours after furious Labour MPs accused their leader of helping enable Brexit.

The backlash was triggered when Mr Corbyn wrote to Ms May on Wednesday evening offering continued discussions in “constructive manner” with the aim of “securing a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together”. Labour would support an exit deal if five conditions were met, he said, including a customs union with the EU and guarantees on workers’ rights. The move infuriated anti-Brexit MPs pushing for Labour to back giving the public the final say on Brexit, with two suggesting they were considering quitting the party over the issue. Owen Smith, who stood against Mr Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016, said Labour should be opposing the “disaster” that is Brexit.

Asked if Mr Corbyn’s letter paved the way for Labour MPs to support a Brexit deal put forward by Ms May, he told BBC 5Live: “I think that’s probably right. My fear is that this is the leadership rolling the pitch for accepting a version of Theresa May’s deal, and I think that will be at odds with our values and damaging to our country and damaging to the politics that we’ve traditionally believed it. “Brexit is a right-wing ideological project and we should be opposing it on those terms.”

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And by then, why bother?

Brexit Deal May Not Be Put To MPs Until Late March (G.)

The Brexit negotiations are being pushed to the brink by Theresa May and the EU, with any last-minute offer by Brussels on the Irish backstop expected to be put to MPs just days before the UK is due to leave. In strained talks on Thursday, during which Donald Tusk suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan could help resolve the Brexit crisis, Theresa May and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to hold the next face-to-face talks by the end of February. That move cuts deep into the remaining time, piling pressure on the British parliament to then accept what emerges or face a no-deal scenario.

It is understood that EU officials are looking at offering May a detailed plan of what a potential technological solution to the Irish border might look like, which could be included in the legally non-binding political declaration on the future trade deal. The blueprint would pinpoint the problem areas and commit to breaching the technical gaps where possible to offer an alternative to the customs union envisaged in the withdrawal agreement’s Irish backstop. But officials believe it is increasingly likely that any renegotiated deal will only be put to the Commons at the end of March, necessitating even then an extension of the article 50 negotiating period to get legislation through parliament.

On Thursday the German finance commissioner, Günther Hermann Oettinger, suggested the chance of a no-deal Brexit was now as high as 60%. “If the British side asks for an extension of two or three months and there are reasons for that, I think there’s a good chance that the member states would accept that unanimously,” he said. “But in the eight or 12 weeks there needs to be the possibility of achieving progress and that there must be a withdrawal agreement at the end of that.”

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Old paradigms are dying everywhere. Given the state we find ourselves in, how bad can that be?

France Recalls Rome Envoy Over Worst Verbal Onslaught ‘Since The War’ (G.)

Paris has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassador from Rome, in the worst crisis between the two neighbouring countries since the second world war. France blamed what it called baseless verbal attacks from Italy’s political leaders, which it said were “without precedent since world war two”. Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, the far-right Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, have in recent months criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on a host of inflammatory issues, from immigration to the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government demonstrations.

Di Maio this week met leaders of the gilets jaunes seeking to run in May’s European parliament elections as he declared the “wind of change has crossed the Alps” and a “new Europe is being born of the yellow vests”. France said the comments were an unacceptable “provocation”. Announcing the immediate return to Paris of its ambassador for talks, the French foreign office said in a statement: “For several months, France has been the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements. Having disagreements is one thing but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another. “All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France.”

Salvini responded by saying the Italian government did not want to fall out with France and suggested a meeting with Macron to fix the relationship. “I don’t want to row with anyone, I’m prepared to go to Paris, even by foot, to discuss the many issues we have,” he said. But, in a further dig at Macron, he said France must first address three issues: French police must stop pushing migrants back into Italy, end lengthy border checks blocking traffic and hand over around 15 Italian leftist militants who have taken refuge in France in recent decades.

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Macron with his sub-30% approval rating is not a threat.

Rome’s War Of Words With Macron May Prove Self-Defeating (G.)

Diplomatic etiquette would normally classify the recall of an ambassador for “consultations” as a middle-order symbol of displeasure. During the cold war, the summoning, or withdrawal, of an ambassador was mundane. More recently, Hungary pulled its ambassador from the Netherlands in 2017, in response to criticism by the outgoing Dutch ambassador in Hungary. But for France to withdraw its ambassador to Rome for the first time since the second world war represents a genuine diplomatic shock. For two European powers to fall out to this extent shows how far European populists are prepared to break the rules. Only a fortnight ago, faced by persistent insults from Rome, the Elysée chose to take the high road, saying it would not enter a stupidity contest.

President Emmanuel Macron had also promised not answer back, saying that is what the Italian populists wanted. But faced by Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio’s repeated courting of leaders of the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protests that have repeatedly sparked violence in Paris, French patience snapped. It marks an extraordinary collapse in Franco-Italian relations since the recent high water mark of January 2018 when Macron signed a bilateral treaty of friendship alongside Italy’s previous prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni. That was only two months before the Italian elections in May. Macron had signed the treaty partly to reassure the Italians that Paris would not only face toward Berlin after Brexit.

But perhaps the seeds of the collapse were sown the day the treaty was signed. In Rome, Macron could not resist saying he hoped the Italians in their elections would make a pro-European choice – advice that Italians, fixated by migration from Libya, totally ignored by bringing a populist coalition government to power. [..] Italy, in recession and heading for only 0.2% growth this year, will need some allies in Europe and in Brussels. Its banking system remains undercapitalised. The Five Star Movement is determined to show it is on the side of the people, and not the bankers, but translating that emotion into practical budgetary policy is proving difficult. Insults by contrast come easier, and cheaper.

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Oh, well, it’s just cars.

Fiat Chrysler Shares Plummet 12% On Weak Outlook (CNBC)

Fiat Chrysler shares crashed by nearly 12 percent Thursday after the Italian-American automaker forecast a weak outlook for 2019. The automaker said it expects results in the first half of the year to be down over last year, in part because the company will not be selling two generations of the Jeep Wrangler side-by-side, as it did in 2018. It is also planning some Wrangler production downtime to retool factories for launch of the plug-in hybrid version of the iconic off-road machine in early 2020. The company also said continued actions to manage dealer inventories will hit its finances in the first half of the year. It is also facing higher-than-expected capital expenditures, shelling out roughly €500 million in connection with U.S. diesel emissions cases. It’s also paying an effective tax rate that’s about 25% higher than it was in 2018, mostly due to changes in the US.

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Best English must be Jamaican. Shows that languages are alive.

‘Globish’: Why France Has A Love-Hate Relationship With Global English (G.)

French writers were up in arms this week after the Salon du Livre book fair in Paris announced a celebration of young adult books that would feature a “Bookroom”, a “Photobooth”, and even a “Bookquizz”, a prospect so exciting it needs two zs. Such anglicisms, critics wrote, were an “unconscionable act of cultural vandalism”, employing the “sub-English known as Globish”. It is a lamentable irony, then, that Globish has been so energetically popularised by a Frenchman. In 2004, the former IBM executive Jean-Paul Nerrière began selling his system of simplified English (only 1,500 words) to students around the world. (Globish is a portmanteau of “globe” and “English”.)

The earliest attested use of the term, however, described in 1997 a more natural linguistic hybridisation of various “non-western forms of English” that had become just as “creative and lively” as the standard tongue. “Globish” is therefore both a trademark for one man’s singular vision of international communication, and a way of describing the branching of English into multiple exotic planetary species. But the literary Parisians see it simply as yet more Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. Well, as the French do sometimes say, c’est la life.

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A widespread idea, singling out Trump is not very useful.

Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion (Bovard)

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump received rapturous applause from Republicans for his declaration: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.” But this uplifting sentiment cannot survive even a brief glance at the federal statute book or the heavy-handed enforcement tactics by federal, state, and local bureaucracies across the nation. In reality, the threat of government punishment permeates Americans’ daily lives more than ever before: The number of federal crimes has increased from 3 in 1789 to more than 4000 today.

Congress has criminalized “transporting alligator grass across a state line; unauthorized use of the slogan ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’; and pretending to be a 4-H club member with intent to defraud,” as the Buffalo Criminal Law Review noted. Law enforcement agencies arrested over 10 million people in 2017— roughly three percent of the population. Trump momentarily noticed the existence of government coercion last month when he complained about the FBI using “29 people” and “armored vehicles” for the arrest of Roger Stone. But SWAT teams conduct up to 80,000 raids a year, according to the ACLU, mostly for drug arrests or search warrants. Many innocent people have been killed in such raids.

Trump on Tuesday highlighted the case of Alice Johnson, unjustly sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Trump’s commutation of her sentence is no consolation to the targets of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2017 – and it is not like those individuals showed up voluntarily at police stations asking to be “cuffed-and-stuffed.” More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined, according to FBI statistics. No coercion? Tell that to the scores of thousands of victims of asset forfeiture laws, which entitle law enforcement to confiscate people’s cash, cars, and other property based on the flimsiest accusation.

Federal law-enforcement agencies seized more property via asset forfeiture provisions in 2014 year than all the burglars stole from homeowners and businesses nationwide. Since 1970, the number of people confined in American prisons has increased by over 500 percent. Almost 10 percent of all American males will end up in prison at some point in their lives, according to an a 1997 Justice Department report. More than 10 percent of black males aged 20 to 34 were behind bars as of 2006, according to the Journal of American History.

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Jay Powell flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Albert Edwards: Negative Rates, 15% Budget Deficits And Helicopter Money (ZH)

Earlier this week, when the San Fran Fed published a paper that suggested that the recovery would have been stronger if only the Fed had cut rates to negative, we proposed that this is nothing more than a trial balloon for the next recession/depression, one in which the Federal Reserve will seek affirmative “empirical evidence” that greenlights this unprecedented NIRPy step (in addition to QE of course). Today, in his latest note to clients after returning from a 2 week vacation in Jamaica, SocGen’s Albert Edwards picks up on this point and cranks it up to 11 writing that “as central banks thrash around for new tools, I have long thought the next recession would trigger the adoption of helicopter money and deeply negative Fed Funds. Clients have been sceptical of the latter because of the negative impact on bank margins, but now I am more convinced than ever that we will see negative Fed Funds.”

Predictably, Edwards takes aim at the SF Fed “analysis”, writing that “just because the San Fran Fed has published this paper doesn’t mean the Washington Fed will adopt the policy in the next recession, but with this economic cycle clearly now in its final act, one can sense that a number of trial balloons are being floated on what the Fed might do in the next recession. This is just one of them.” More to the point, Edwards also focuses on the recent resurgence of interest in Modern-Money Theory, i.e., MMT, or government-mandated helicopter money, which is predictably a “theory” espoused by socialists everywhere most notably Bernie Sanders and his economic advisors…

… and writes that “many of the more radical Democrats in the US seem to be adopting the idea and since I expect the US budget deficit to soar to 15% of GDP in the next recession, the ideas of MMT will surely become even more popular.” Edwards is convinced that “the Fed and other central banks will be desperate enough to adopt outright monetisation (aka helicopter money, that is to say the direct central bank financing of public sector deficits) in the next recession. And as that will coincide with public sector deficits in the mid teens, we will be conducting a live MMT experiment. Welcome to a brave new world!”

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If there’s anything that typifies how today’s institutions view the world, it must be that they see themselves in the frontline fighting against the problems they first caused.

Fed’s Powell On The Biggest Challenge Over The Next Decade (CNBC)

Sluggish productivity and widening wealth gap are the biggest challenges facing the U.S. over the next decade, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. Speaking at a town hall in Washington D.C. to a group of educators, the central bank leader said his greatest economic fears lie outside the Fed’s purview. Specifically, he called for more aggressive policies to address income inequality. Wages at the middle and lower levels have “grown much more slowly” than those at the higher end, he said. “We want prosperity to be widely shared. We need policies to make that happen,” Powell added.

For the chairman, the forum was a chance to take some lighter questions — he revealed that to relax he plays guitar and rides his bicycle — but he also turned serious when addressing the issues of the future. Powell stressed the importance of increasing labor force participation and improving mobility between income classes, which is an area where he said the U.S. has lagged in recent years. “That’s not our self-image as a country, nor is it where we want to be,” he said. “There are policies that we need to do that everyone should be able to agree on that will change mobility, improve people’s chances and enable people to better take part in the workforce of the future,” Powell added.

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