Oct 182018
 
 October 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Glass 1914

 

Bondholders Lost Nearly $1 Trillion Since September 26 (CR)
The US Housing Recovery Is Built On Quicksand (MW)
Fed Indicates It’s Staying The Course On Rate Hikes (CNBC)
Trump Is Completely Misguided On Interest Rates (Colombo)
China Not Manipulating Currency But Lacks Transparency – Mnuchin (AFP)
Bank of England Raises Alarm Over Surge In High-Risk Lending (G.)
Theresa May Opens Door To Longer Brexit Transition Period (Ind.)
Germany And France Start To Draw Up No-Deal Brexit Contingency Plans (G.)
Congress Members Pen Letter Demanding Ecuador Hand Over Julian Assange (GWP)
Stephen Hawking: Time Travel More Likely Than The Existence Of God (F.)
Largest, Oldest ‘Living Thing’ On Earth Is Dying (Ind.)

 

 

Interest rates.

Bondholders Lost Nearly $1 Trillion Since September 26 (CR)

At the Daily, we’ve been warning readers for months that rising interest rates will lead to an exodus of investors from the bond markets. Income Exodus (or Income Extermination) is when bond investors get “exterminated” by rising interest rates. As interest rates rise, bond prices drop. So when interest rates rise rapidly (like they are now), bond prices drop a lot. Now, we’re seeing this exodus play out in real time. Since September 26, bondholders lost nearly $1 trillion according to the Bloomberg Barclays Multiverse Index… This index tracks the market value of publicly traded bonds around the world. The reason it’s down is simple: The rate on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury has risen from 2.8% to 3.2% since August 24.

Bloomberg says the bond rout could spark an even worse sell-off than in 1976, the worst year for bond returns over the last four decades. And there’s good reason for fear… The Federal Reserve has already hiked rates three times in 2018… with plans for one more rate hike before the end of the year. And Fed chair Jerome Powell has indicated at least three more rate hikes in 2019 and one more in 2020. We’ve warned you that higher rates were coming for more than a year now. Hopefully, you’ve followed our steps and prepared for Income Exodus… because it’s here.

Read more …

On debt.

The US Housing Recovery Is Built On Quicksand (MW)

Home price gains since 2013 have been much less impressive than you think. While reports show that home prices have recovered nationwide, the increase has been uneven and not as strong as you have been led to believe. Consider RealtyTrac’s latest report on 148 major U.S. metropolitan areas. The average gain on the sale of property was 30%. Not bad, except the average holding period was just over eight years. That comes to an annual price increase of 3.75%. High-yield corporate bonds would have earned you considerably more. Taken together, the average gain for all metros is deceptive. While the average price gain in booming Silicon Valley was a remarkable 116%, it was a pitiful 2% in El Paso, Texas, 10% in Cleveland, and 15% in Chicago. Even the price rise in the New York City metro area was just 25%. The table below shows the great disparity:

At the same time, I am greatly troubled by the consistently weak volume of home sales. During the insane bubble years, sales volume rocketed along with prices. In the hottest metros, desperate buyers dove into the market in record numbers. This has not happened since 2013. Statistics from brokerage Trulia.com show that sales volume has declined substantially in all major metros from the torrid pace of 2005-2006. Most analysts have attributed the weak sales, as well as rising prices, to a lack of available inventory. The number of homes listed for sale has indeed fallen dramatically over the past five years, but look closer: Trulia’s Inventory and Price Watch, first published in March 2016, divides homes for sale into three segments: (1) starter homes — the least-expensive homes for first-time buyers; (2) trade-up homes, and (3) premium homes.

Read more …

What will a normal economy look like?

Fed Indicates It’s Staying The Course On Rate Hikes (CNBC)

Federal Reserve officials remain convinced that continuing to gradually increase interest rates is the best formula to preserve a steady economy, according to minutes released Wednesday of the central bank’s most recent policy meeting. That may not please President Donald Trump, who has been vocal in his criticism of the central bank’s actions. A summary of the Sept. 25-26 Federal Open Market Committee session reflected both confidence in the rate of economic growth and some hesitancy over the impact that tariffs might have on the future path.

Ultimately, the committee unanimously voted to approve a quarter-point hike to its benchmark rate target, with members indicating that more increases are on the way. The increase took the Fed’s overnight target to a range of 2 percent to 2.25 percent. “With regard to the outlook for monetary policy beyond this meeting, participants generally anticipated that further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate would most likely be consistent with a sustained economic expansion, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near 2 percent over the medium term,” the minutes read.

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“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion.”

Trump Is Completely Misguided On Interest Rates (Colombo)

President Donald Trump has been making a big stink about the Federal Reserve’s rate hikes lately. Last week, after the Dow plunged nearly 2,000 points, he blamed the Fed for it, saying “I think the Fed is making a mistake. They’re so tight. I think the Fed has gone crazy…” On Tuesday, Trump said that the Federal Reserve is “my biggest threat.” Since he became president, Trump has been praising the soaring stock market (something I said was very dangerous to do), viewing it as evidence of the success of his administration’s policies. Trump is worried that rising interest rates will put an end to the stock market boom, which will make him look bad.

Unfortunately, the president is extremely misguided about how interest rates work and the role they play in creating booms in the stock market and economy. As I’ve explained in great detail, the U.S. stock market has been booming because the Fed held interest rates at record low levels for a record length of time after the Great Recession. This Fed-driven stock market boom is an unsustainable bubble instead of a genuine, organic boom. The fact that the Fed held rates at record low levels and inflated a credit and asset bubble meant that a crisis was already “baked into the cake” whether the Fed raised interest rates or not. Once a credit expansion or bubble is already in motion, the actions of the central bank from that point on can only determine what type of crisis occurs when the credit expansion ends – not whether a crisis will occur or not.

The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises said it best in his book Human Action: “There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”

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Negotiating.

China Not Manipulating Currency But Lacks Transparency – Mnuchin (AFP)

Beijing is not a currency manipulator but China’s exchange rate practices and the yuan’s recent decline are of “particular concern,” US Treasury Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday. In putting Beijing and five other US trading partners on notice, the Treasury again refrained from escalating a fight over China’s currency as US President Donald Trump had once pledged to do on the campaign trail. “Of particular concern are China’s lack of currency transparency and the recent weakness in its currency,” Mnuchin said in releasing a twice-yearly report to Congress on how country’s manage exchange rates and trade.

“These pose major challenges to achieving fairer and more balanced trade and we will continue to monitor and review China’s currency practices, including through ongoing discussions with the People’s Bank of China.” Washington has long argued that China keeps its currency artificially low to make its exports more competitive but in recent years the yuan or renminbi (RMB) has strengthened and is viewed by economists as more in line with economic fundamentals. Still, as US interest rates have risen, the US dollar has strengthened further, which makes American exports more expensive.

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Yield.

Bank of England Raises Alarm Over Surge In High-Risk Lending (G.)

The Bank of England has issued a stark warning over the rapid growth in lending to indebted companies around the world, drawing parallels with the US sub-prime mortgage market that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. Threadneedle Street said Britain was not immune from a global boom in risky lending that had alarmed financial regulators around the world this year, with the US market for such loans more than doubling since 2010 to surpass $1tn (£763bn). “The global leveraged loan market was larger than – and was growing as quickly as – the US sub-prime mortgage market had been in 2006,” the central bank said of the rapid growth in leveraged loans, which are defined as loans to firms that already have debts worth more than four times their earnings.

The Bank’s financial policy committee (FPC), set up after the crisis to assess the risks to UK financial stability, noted that lending standards were falling and that it would more closely monitor the risks to Britain. Though far from the scale of the US market, which is the largest in the world, gross issuance of leveraged loans by UK companies reached a record £38bn in 2017, while a further £30bn has been issued so far this year. Taken together with high-yield bonds, which are debts of firms with weaker credit ratings, the Bank estimates the total stock of debt to riskier firms in Britain was worth about a fifth of all lending to UK companies.

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Which of course the Brexiteers don’t want. Ministers will leave her government.

Theresa May Opens Door To Longer Brexit Transition Period (Ind.)

Theresa May has opened the door to an even longer Brexit transition period, setting herself on yet another collision course with Tory Eurosceptics and potentially growing the EU divorce bill by billions. The prime minister brought up the possibility of an extension during meetings with EU leaders in Brussels on Wednesday as she sought to find a way to break the deadlock in negotiations. The period – during which the UK would stay completely tied to EU rules without any say on them – is hugely unpopular with Brexiteers, who believe it would make Britain a “vassal state” of the bloc. European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, who was in the room while Ms May spoke with leaders, said the prime minister had listed a longer transition as a possible solution to the current impasse.

“It was mentioned – both sides mentioned the idea of an extension of a transition period as one possibility that is on the table and would be looked into,” Mr Tajani told reporters after Ms May’s address. “Theresa May during her speech said it’s possible to achieve an agreement also on a transition period, but not with a clear position on the timing.” With a smile, he added: “This Council is the transition Council.” The prime minister is also understood to have brought up an extension to the period in a private bilateral meeting with Council president Donald Tusk earlier in the afternoon. One Brussels official told The Independent that the UK’s negotiators had been sounding out a possible extension to the transition “for months” in talks.

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“Britons would be “obliged to present a visa to enter French territory and to hold a residence permit to remain there..”

Germany And France Start To Draw Up No-Deal Brexit Contingency Plans (G.)

Germany and France are starting to step up their preparations for a no-deal Brexit even though both publicly insist an agreement with the UK over the terms of its departure from the EU can still be achieved. Angela Merkel revealed for the first time on Wednesday that Germany was drawing up contingency plans, saying the government had started making “suitable preparations” for the possibility of Britain leaving with no accord. While there was there was still a chance for a deal, it was “only fitting as a responsible and forward-thinking government leadership that we prepare for every scenario”, the German chancellor told MPs in Berlin. “That includes the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without an agreement.”

France has published a draft bill that would allow the government to introduce new legal measures to avoid or mitigate the consequences of a hard Brexit by emergency decree, as opposed to parliamentary vote, within 12 months of the law being passed. It said those consequences would include include Britons needing visas to visit and UK nationals resident in the country being in an “irregular” legal situation. Without emergency measures, British citizens living in France would become third-country nationals, the draft bill states, which would prevent them from holding jobs restricted to EU nationals and limit their access to healthcare and welfare.

Britons would be “obliged to present a visa to enter French territory and to hold a residence permit to remain there”, the bill’s preamble says. A no-deal Brexit would also mean “British citizens with a work contract under French law with a French employer could be asked for a document authorising them to work in France”.

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But Rand Paul still wants him to testify.

Congress Members Pen Letter Demanding Ecuador Hand Over Julian Assange (GWP)

Representatives Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair Emeritus of the Committee, have sent a letter to Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno demanding that Julian Assange be handed over to authorities. The firm stance against press freedom comes as Ecuador is preparing to restore Assange’s communications — with strict limitations that will not allow him to properly continue his work as a publisher. The letter threatens that the United States will be unwilling to provide economic cooperation with Ecuador unless the WikiLeaks founder and political refugee is handed over.

“Many of us in the United States Congress are eager to move forward in collaborating with your government on a wide array of issues, from economic cooperation to counternarcotics assistance to the possible return of a United States Agency for International Development mission to Ecuador. However, in order to advance on these crucial matters, we must first resolve a significant challenge created by your predecessor, Rafael Correa – the status of Julian Assange,” the members wrote in their letter.

“Most recently, we were particularly disturbed to learn that your government restored Mr. Assange’s access to the Internet. On numerous occasions, Mr. Assange has compromised the national security of the United States. He has done so by publicly releasing classified government documents along with confidential materials from individuals connected to our country’s 2016 presidential election. As you yourself have noted, he has repeatedly used his standing in the international media to meddle in the affairs of foreign governments such as Spain and the United Kingdom. This has frayed Ecuador’s relations with like-minded governments. Mr. Assange also remains wanted by British authorities for a bail violation. It is clear that Mr. Assange remains a dangerous criminal and a threat to global security, and he should be brought to justice,” the letter states.

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“These laws may or may not have been decreed by God, but he cannot intervene to break the laws or they would not be laws.”

Stephen Hawking: Time Travel More Likely Than The Existence Of God (F.)

In Stephen Hawking’s universe there was no room for God, because the famous cosmologist came to believe that the entirety of existence was created out of, well… nothing. As he explains in his final book, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions,” before the Big Bang there was nothing, not even a God to create the universe. “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing according to the laws of science,” Hawking writes. “There is no time for a creator to have existed in.” He goes on to explain that the only God who could be consistent with the laws of physics would be a deity who never directly influences the workings of the universe. “These laws may or may not have been decreed by God, but he cannot intervene to break the laws or they would not be laws.”

While the existence of God makes little sense to Hawking, he’s more open to the possibility of something that most people might consider much more far-fetched: time travel. Hawking famously held a party for time travelers but did not send out the invitations until after the party. No one showed up for the festivities. But the scientist writes that there is still some hope that traveling back in time could be possible according to the laws of the universe. He pegs this notion on the promise of something called “M theory” that suggests the universe may contain seven hidden dimensions in addition to the familiar four dimensions of space-time. “Rapid space travel and travel back in time can’t be ruled out according to our present understanding,” he writes. “Science fiction fans need not lose heart: there’s hope in M theory.”

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40,000 tree clones.

Largest, Oldest ‘Living Thing’ On Earth Is Dying (Ind.)

Scientists have warned that an ancient forest widely considered the largest single living thing in the world is dying, despite efforts to preserve it. The Pando aspen is an enormous expanse of 40,000 trees, all of which are clones with identical genetic compositions, meaning they are classified together as one individual. Thought to be up to 80,000 years old, the colony known as the “trembling giant” is a contender for the oldest organism as well as the heaviest and largest. In total the trees, which originate from a single underground parent clone, cover 43 hectares of Utah’s Fishlake National Forest. But in recent years a tragedy has been quietly unfurling. Despite their best efforts, scientists think this natural wonder that has lasted millennia may not survive a few decades of human interference.

“While Pando has likely existed for thousands of years – we have no method of firmly fixing its age – it is now collapsing on our watch,” said Professor Paul Rogers, an ecologist at Utah State University. After analysing Pando’s condition comprehensively, Professor Rogers and his colleague Professor Darren McAvoy examined a 72-year aerial photo sequence that revealed its steady decline. [..] As it has often proved difficult to measure the true extent of such enormous organisms, Pando has some contenders for the largest living thing – including massive fungi growing in Oregon and clonal colonies of underwater Neptune grass.

Read more …

Oct 162018
 
 October 16, 2018  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Doric columns 1945

 

Yemen On Brink Of ‘World’s Worst Famine In 100 Years’ (G.)
Humanity Is ‘Cutting Down The Tree Of Life’ (G.)
‘Hyperalarming’ Study Shows Massive Insect Loss (WaPo)
America’s Budget Deficit Jumps By 17% As Spending Surges (CNBC)
More Free Money: A Carry Trade in Liquidity (Mish)
Powell Has Lost His North Star, And The Fed Is Flying Blind (MW)
Facebook Paid £15.8 Million In UK Tax On £1.2 Billion In 2017 Revenues (BBC)
Ecuador To Assange: No Talking Politics, Pay Own Bills, Look After Cat (RT)
Brexit Deal Slipping To December Amid Deadlocked Talks (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit Is ‘More Likely Than Ever Before’ – Tusk (Ind.)
Syria’s Chessboard (Hallinan)

 

 

As Stormy Daniels and Elizabeth Warren see their ‘cases’ blow up in their faces 3 weeks before the midterms, the best PR and legal teams that money can buy are framing a Khashoggi narrative nobody will be able to credibly deny. Or at least Erdogan is not showing his hand. But now that Pompeo’s in the region anyway, let’s put this on his agenda. 12 to 13 million at risk of starvation.

Yemen On Brink Of ‘World’s Worst Famine In 100 Years’ (G.)

Yemen could be facing the worst famine in 100 years if airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition are not halted, the UN has warned. If war continues, famine could engulf the country in the next three months, with 12 to 13 million civilians at risk of starvation, according to Lise Grande, the agency’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. She told the BBC: “I think many of us felt as we went into the 21st century that it was unthinkable that we could see a famine like we saw in Ethiopia, that we saw in Bengal, that we saw in parts of the Soviet Union – that was just unacceptable. “Many of us had the confidence that would never happen again and yet the reality is that in Yemen that is precisely what we are looking at.”

Yemen has been in the grip of a bloody civil war for three years after Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized much of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the rebels since 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government. Thousands of civilians have been caught in the middle, trapped by minefields and barrages of mortars and airstrikes. The resulting humanitarian catastrophe has seen at least 10,000 people killed and millions displaced. Speaking on Sunday evening, Grande said: “There’s no question we should be ashamed, and we should, every day that we wake up, renew our commitment to do everything possible to help the people that are suffering and end the conflict.”

Read more …

And it’s not just people that we’re killing:

Humanity Is ‘Cutting Down The Tree Of Life’ (G.)

Humanity’s ongoing annihilation of wildlife is cutting down the tree of life, including the branch we are sitting on, according to a stark new analysis. More than 300 different mammal species have been eradicated by human activities. The new research calculates the total unique evolutionary history that has been lost as a result at a startling 2.5bn years. Furthermore, even if the destruction of wild areas, poaching and pollution were ended within 50 years and extinction rates fell back to natural levels, it would still take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover. Many scientists think a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth has begun, propelled by human destruction of wildlife, and 83% of wild mammals have already gone.

The new work puts this in the context of the evolution and extinction of species that occurred for billions of years before modern humans arrived. “We are doing something that will last millions of years beyond us,” said Matt Davis at Aarhus University in Denmark, who led the new research. “It shows the severity of what we are in right now. We’re entering what could be an extinction on the scale of what killed the dinosaurs. “That is pretty scary. We are starting to cut down the whole tree [of life], including the branch we are sitting on right now.” Ecosystems around the world have already been significantly affected by the extermination of big animals such as mammoths, he said.

[..] Davis said each lost species had its own intrinsic value, but the loss of the most distinct creatures was most damaging: “Typically, if you have something that is off by itself, it does some job that no other species is doing.” The losses are already affecting ecosystems, he said, particularly the vanishing of “megafauna”. These huge creatures roamed much of Earth until humans arrived and included giant cats, deer, beavers and armadillos. “We are now living in a world without giants,” said Davis. “So the seeds of big fruit are not dispersed any more because we don’t have mammoths or gomphotheres or giant ground sloths eating those fruits.” Another example, he said, is the widespread loss of wolves. This means smaller predators like coyotes thrive and more birds are killed, radically changing food chains.

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“Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold..”

“..our study indicates that climate warming is the driving force behind the collapse of the forest’s food web. ”

‘Hyperalarming’ Study Shows Massive Insect Loss (WaPo)

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too. In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates. “This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”

[..] “We went down in ’76, ’77 expressly to measure the resources: the insects and the insectivores in the rain forest, the birds, the frogs, the lizards,” Lister said. He came back nearly 40 years later, with his colleague Andrés García, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. What the scientists did not see on their return troubled them. “Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” Lister said. Fewer birds flitted overhead. The butterflies, once abundant, had all but vanished. García and Lister once again measured the forest’s insects and other invertebrates, a group called arthropods that includes spiders and centipedes. The researchers trapped arthropods on the ground in plates covered in a sticky glue, and raised several more plates about three feet into the canopy.

The researchers also swept nets over the brush hundreds of times, collecting the critters that crawled through the vegetation. Each technique revealed the biomass (the dry weight of all the captured invertebrates) had significantly decreased from 1976 to the present day. The sweep sample biomass decreased to a fourth or an eighth of what it had been. Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold. “Everything is dropping,” Lister said. The most common invertebrates in the rain forest — the moths, the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the spiders and others — are all far less abundant. “Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss.


Comparison of the average dry-weight biomass of arthropods caught per 12-h day in 10 ground (A) and canopy (B) traps within the same sampling area in the Luquillo rainforest.

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If there are no insects left, who cares about deficits? What’s the use?

America’s Budget Deficit Jumps By 17% As Spending Surges (CNBC)

The U.S. federal budget deficit rose in fiscal 2018 to the highest level in six years as spending climbed, the Trump administration said Monday. The deficit jumped to $779 billion, $113 billion or 17 percent higher than the previous fiscal period, according to a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. It was larger than any year since 2012, when it topped $1 trillion. The budget shortfall rose to 3.9 percent of U.S. GDP. The deficit increased by $70 billion less than anticipated in a report published in July, according to the two officials.

Federal revenue rose only slightly, by $14 billion after Republicans chopped tax rates for corporations and most individuals. Outlays climbed by $127 billion, or 3.2 percent. A spike in defense spending, as well as increases for Medicaid, Social Security and disaster relief, contributed to the increase.

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“If the goal was to bail out the banks at public expense (and it was) it’s clear Bernanke had a far better plan than the ECB.”

More Free Money: A Carry Trade in Liquidity (Mish)

Not only do banks earn free money on excess reserves, they can borrow money and make guaranteed free money on that.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis discusses the Carry Trade in Liquidity: “The IOER [interest on excess reserves] has been the effective ceiling of other short-term interest rates. The figure above compares the IOER with overnight rates on deposits and repos. As we can see, the IOER has mostly remained above these two rates, implying that (at least some) banks have been able to borrow funds overnight, deposit them at the Fed and earn a spread, in essence engaging in carry trade in liquidity markets.”

How Much Free Money?

While the Fed has been busy giving banks free money by paying interest on excess reserves, banks in the EU have suffered with negative interest rates, essentially taking money from banks and making them more insolvent. If the goal was to bail out the banks at public expense (and it was), it’s clear Bernanke had a far better plan than the ECB.

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The Fed’s been flying blind at least since Bernanke talked about ‘entering uncharted territory’. That’s what that means.

Powell Has Lost His North Star, And The Fed Is Flying Blind (MW)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is in an unenviable position. Folks expect him to fine-tune interest rates to keep the economy going and inflation tame but he can’t make things much better — only worse. Growth is nearly 3% and unemployment is at its lowest level since 1969. What inflation we have above the Fed target of 2% is driven largely by oil prices and those by forces beyond the influence of U.S. economic conditions — OPEC politics, U.S. sanctions on Iran, and dystopian political forces in Venezuela and a few other garden spots. When the current turbulence in oil markets recedes, we are likely in for a period of headline inflation below 2%, just as those forces are now driving prices higher now.

Overall, long-term inflation has settled in at the Fed target of about 2%. The Fed should not obsess about it but keep a watchful eye. Amid all this, Powell’s inflation compass has gone missing. The Phillips curve, as he puts it, may not be dead but just resting. To my thinking, it’s in a coma if it was ever alive at all. That contraption is a shorthand equation sitting atop a pyramid of more fundamental behavioral relationships. Those include the supply and demand for domestic workers and in turn, an historically large contingent labor force of healthy prime-age adults sitting on the sidelines, the shifting skill requirements of a workplace transformed by artificial intelligence and robotics, import prices influenced by weak growth in Europe and China, and immigration.

Of course, Mariner Powell has his North Star — what economists affectionately call R* (R-Star), but it is no longer at a fixed position in Powell’s sky. R* is the federal funds rate that neither encourages the economy to speed up or slow down. However, with businesses needing much less capital to get started or grow these days and for decades China and Germany—the second and fourth largest economies globally—racking up current account surpluses and savings to invest abroad, it is no wonder the forces of supply and demand have been driving R* down to historically low levels.

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They use what they don’t pay in taxes, to spy on you.

Facebook Paid £15.8 Million In UK Tax On £1.2 Billion In 2017 Revenues (BBC)

Facebook’s UK tax bill has tripled to £15.8m – but the social media giant will see an immediate cut because of a tax credit. The final bill comes to £7.4m, since Facebook will see tax relief of £8.4m after awarding shares to employees. In 2016, Facebook’s tax bill rose to £5.1m, following a major overhaul of the social media firm’s tax structure. However, the company’s profits only climbed by £4m year-on-year from £58.4m to £62.7m in 2017. The company’s UK office provides marketing services and sales and engineering support to the company. Facebook’s revenue rose by a third year-on-year to £1.2bn in 2017, because of increased revenues from inter-company and advertising reseller services in 2017.

“We have changed the way we report tax so that revenue from customers supported by our UK teams is recorded in the UK and any taxable profit is subject to UK corporation tax,” said Facebook’s Northern Europe vice-president, Steve Hatch. [..] The publication of Facebook’s 2017 tax accounts follows extensive criticism from policymakers and the media over the last 12 months of how much tax tech giants typically pay in Europe. Large technology companies have been condemned for moving sales through other countries and paying modest amounts of tax in the UK.

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Hard to gauge what exactly this means, time must tell. Seems good that they talk of medical help. but will he be able to get it?

Ecuador To Assange: No Talking Politics, Pay Own Bills, Look After Cat (RT)

WikiLeaks supporters were thrilled to hear that Ecuador would restore Julian Assange’s internet connection. But his hosts – who have in some ways become his jailers – reportedly imposed a long list of restrictions on his behavior. While stating that he is allowed to exercise his “right of communication and freedom of expression,” a nine-page document already leaked online forbids the journalist from engaging in political activity or doing anything to interfere in the affairs of other states. The document expressly states that Ecuador cannot be held liable for the content of Assange’s communications, but nevertheless prohibits him from engaging in activities that might damage the relationship between Ecuador and other states.

Assange’s communications were cut seven months ago, after he criticized Spanish authorities’ treatment of voters during the Catalan independence referendum. Assange must pay for his own WiFi. He must use only his own devices, absent written government permission, and provide the embassy with serial number, model number, and brand name for those devices. He must also pay for his own medical evaluations, with the option of transferring to a hospital in case of an emergency – an option repeatedly denied him by UK authorities, who refused to guarantee safe passage without arrest in the event of such a transfer. Assange’s health has been the subject of much concern during his six-year confinement in the Embassy.

Visitors are also slapped with new restrictions. They must submit visit requests in writing to the embassy chief, giving their name, nationality, profession and place of work, reason for visiting, email and social media accounts, and even the serial numbers for phones and other devices they wish to bring inside. The new rules even mandate the collection of IMEIs, unique identification numbers specific to a phone handset. While repeat visitors receive a less restrictive screening process, they can have their access revoked at any time without an explanation. All visitor data will be turned over to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other unspecified parties.

The restrictions include a threat to use UK police to arrest visitors or seize communications equipment should the journalist violate the lengthy list of rules. Adding insult to injury, the embassy threatened to remove Assange’s cat to a shelter should they decide he is not cleaning up after the animal properly.

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They lost two years doing nothing but fight amongst themselves. That time was always badly needed.

Brexit Deal Slipping To December Amid Deadlocked Talks (Ind.)

A Brexit deal now looks unlikely until just before Christmas after Theresa May admitted “weeks” may be needed to break the deadlock in talks with Brussels. The delay was also signalled by Ireland’s prime minister who warned of log-jammed negotiations dragging into December, increasing concern that stalled talks could simply collapse into a “disaster” no-deal situation. In a veiled swipe at Brexiteers, European Council President Donald Tusk said solving the vexed issue of the Irish border had proved “more complicated than some may have expected” and said no deal is now “more likely than ever”.

A further sign of slippage came when the EU confirmed it would take a decision this week on whether a special summit once proposed for November to publicly seal a Brexit deal, will be needed given the state of talks. But despite the deadlock, Ms May again came under intense pressure from Conservative Eurosceptics to refuse anything resembling the EU’s proposals, amid signs she is diluting her stance to secure a deal. The October summit was once supposed to be the moment a withdrawal deal was locked in, with expectations already having slipped to a potential specially arranged meeting in November – even under those circumstances the outline would have had to have been agreed at this week’s meeting.

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More likely by the day.

No-Deal Brexit Is ‘More Likely Than Ever Before’ – Tusk (Ind.)

A no-deal Brexit is “more likely than ever before”, the president of the European Council has warned, ahead of a make-or-break summit of EU leaders in Brussels. Donald Tusk, who has described this week’s top-level meeting as “the moment of truth”, said Brexit had “proven to be more complicated than some may have expected”. But he said that “that we are preparing for a no-deal scenario must not, under any circumstances, lead us away from making every effort to reach the best agreement possible”.

Mr Tusk’s warning, made in a letter to EU leaders formally inviting them to the summit, comes a day after negotiations between the European Commission and UK Government hit a a wall over the question of how to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. Over dinner on Wednesday night the heads of state or government of the 27 remaining EU member states will decide whether there is any pointing holding a special Brexit summit in November – or whether the horse has already bolted. It is now confirmed that Theresa May will address the 27 leaders before the dinner in a last-ditch bid to win them over; though she will not be allowed into the main discussion itself.

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Russia and Assad delayed their final offensive to offer the jihadists a way out. But now these are refusing to leave.

Syria’s Chessboard (Hallinan)

The Syrian civil war has always been devilishly complex, with multiple actors following different scripts, but in the past few months it appeared to be winding down. The Damascus government now controls 60 percent of the country and the major population centers, the Islamic State has been routed, and the rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are largely cornered in Idilb Province in the country’s northwest. But suddenly the Americans moved the goal posts—maybe—the Russians have fallen out with the Israelis, the Iranians are digging in their heels, and the Turks are trying to multi-task with a home front in disarray. So the devil is still very much at work in a war that has lasted more than seven years, claimed up to 500,000 lives, displaced millions of people, destabilized an already fragile Middle East, and is far from over.

There are at least three theaters in the Syrian war, each with its own complexities: Idilb in the north, the territory east of the Euphrates River, and the region that abuts the southern section of the Golan Heights. Just sorting out the antagonists is daunting. Turks, Iranians, Americans and Kurds are the key actors in the east. Russians, Turks, Kurds and Assad are in a temporary standoff in the north. And Iran, Assad and Israel are in a faceoff near Golan, a conflict that has suddenly drawn in Moscow. Assad’s goals are straightforward: reunite the country under the rule of Damascus and begin re-building Syria’s shattered cities. The major roadblock to this is Idilb, the last large concentration of anti-Assad groups, Jihadists linked with al-Qaeda, and a modest Turkish occupation force representing Operation Olive Branch. The province, which borders Turkey in the north, is mountainous and re-taking it promises to be difficult.

For the time being there is a stand down. The Russians cut a deal with Turkey to demilitarize the area around Idilb city, neutralize the jihadist groups, and re-open major roads. The agreement holds off a joint Assad-Russian assault on Idilb, which would have driven hundreds of thousands of refugees into Turkey and likely have resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties. But the agreement is temporary—about a month—because Russia is impatient to end the fighting and begin the reconstruction. However, it is hard to see how the Turks are going to get a handle on the bewildering number of groups packed into the province, some of which they have actively aided for years. Ankara could bring in more soldiers, but Turkey already has troops east of the Euphrates and is teetering on the edge of a major economic crisis.

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Oct 152018
 
 October 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Haymaking in Brittany 1889

 

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)
Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)
How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)
Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)
Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)
Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)
The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)
Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)
‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)
The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)
Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)
Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

 

 

The essential discussion of our times.

What’s The Point Of Growth If It Creates So Much Misery? (G.)

The late Prof Mick Moran, who taught politics and government at Manchester University for most of his professional life, had, according to his colleagues, once had “a certain residual respect for our governing elites”. That all changed during the 2008 financial crisis, after which he experienced an epiphany “because it convinced him that the officer class in business and in politics did not know what it was doing”. After his epiphany, Moran formed a collective of academics dedicated to exposing the complacency of finance-worship and to replacing it with an idea of running modern economies focused on maximising social good. They called themselves the Foundational Economy Collective, based on the idea that it’s in the everyday economy where there is most potential for true social regeneration: not top-down cash-splashing, but renewal and replenishment from the ground upwards.

Foundational activities are the materials and services without which we cannot live a civilised life: clean, unrationed water; affordable electricity and gas without cuts to supply; collective transport on smooth roads and rails; quality health and social care provided free at the point of use; and reliable, sustainable food supply. Then there’s the “overlooked economy” – everyday services such as hairdressing, veterinary care, catering and hospitality and small-scale manufacturing – which employ far more people, across a wider geographical range, than the “high-skill, hi-tech” economy with which recent governments have been obsessed.

For the Foundational Economy authors, focusing on the fundamental value of invisible and unglamorous jobs “restores the importance of unappreciated and unacknowledged tacit skills of many citizens”. It’s a way of looking at economics from the point of view of people rather than figures, and doing something revolutionary (yet so blindingly obvious) in the process. What is the point of “growth” if the basic elements of a decent life are denied to a large and growing number?

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A license to kill, then?!

Don’t Rule Out $400 Oil If The US Sanctions Saudi Arabia (MW)

“The Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures, or repeating false accusation,” a government source reportedly told the official Saudi Press Agency. “The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” Hence, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya channel’s general manager Turki Aldakhil, in our call of the day, warned we could see an explosive move in oil prices. “If U.S. sanctions are imposed on Saudi Arabia, we will be facing an economic disaster that would rock the entire world,” he wrote in an op-ed.

“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure.” This mess could ultimately throw the entire Muslim world “into the arms of Iran, which will become closer to Riyadh than Washington,” Aldakhil said. “The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh.”

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Or the end of OPEC?

How Much Damage Can Saudi Arabia Do To The Global Economy? (G.)

Saudi Arabia enjoys a privileged position both in geopolitical and economic terms. It will have a powerful hand to play if tensions with the US and the west escalate and it follows through with Sunday’s warning of retaliation. Its vast oil reserves – it claims to have about 260bn barrels still to extract – afford the most obvious advantage. The kingdom is the world’s largest oil exporter, pumping or shipping about 7m barrels a day, and giving Riyadh huge clout in the global economy because it wields power to push up prices. An editorial in Arab News by Turki Aldhakhil, the general manager of the official Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, offers a hint of what could be in the offing.

He said Riyadh was weighing up 30 measures designed to put pressure on the US if it were to impose sanctions over the disappearance and presumed murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. These would include an oil production cut that could drive prices from around $80 (£60) a barrel to more than $400, more than double the all-time high of $147.27 reached in 2008. This would have profound consequences globally, not just because motorists would pay more at the petrol pump, but because it would force up the cost of all goods that travel by road.

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Wonder why the UN has acted now. And did it do so after consulting with the US?

Ecuador Partly Restores Assange’s Internet (AAP)

The Ecuadorian government has decided to partly restore communications for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. They were cut in March, denying the Australian access to the internet or phones and limiting visitors to members of his legal team. He has been living inside Ecuador’s embassy in London for more than six years. The Ecuadorian government said in March it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.

WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Ecuador has told WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that it will remove the isolation regime imposed on him following meetings between two senior UN officials and Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno on Friday.” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief, added: “It is positive that through UN intervention Ecuador has partly ended the isolation of Mr Assange although it is of grave concern that his freedom to express his opinions is still limited. “The UN has already declared Mr Assange a victim of arbitrary detention. This unacceptable situation must end. “The UK government must abide by the UN’s ruling and guarantee that he can leave the Ecuadorian embassy without the threat of extradition to the United States.”

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Thought PropOrNot was done, but the Atlantic Council did not.

Pages Purged By Facebook Were On Blacklist Promoted By Washington Post (Wsws)

Media outlets removed by Facebook on Thursday, in a massive purge of 800 accounts and pages, had previously been targeted in a blacklist of oppositional sites promoted by the Washington Post in November 2016. The organizations censored by Facebook include The Anti-Media, with 2.1 million followers, The Free Thought Project, with 3.1 million followers, and Counter Current News, with 500,000 followers. All three of these groups had been on the blacklist. In November 2016, the Washington Post published a puff-piece on a shadowy and up to then largely unknown organization called PropOrNot, which had compiled a list of organizations it claimed were part of a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign.”

The Post said the report “identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” The publication of the blacklist drew widespread media condemnation, including from journalists Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, forcing the Post to publish a partial retraction. The newspaper declared that it “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet.” While the individuals behind PropOrNot have not identified themselves, the Washington Post said the group was a “collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

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Long expected.

Sears Files For Bankruptcy (CNBC)

After years of Sears Holdings staying afloat through financial maneuvering and relying on billions of CEO Eddie Lampert’s own money, the 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy. The filing comes more than a decade after Lampert merged Sears and Kmart, hoping that forging together the two struggling discounters would create a more formidable competitor. It comes after Lampert shed assets and spun out real estate, all to pay down the debt the retailer accumulated when that plan went askew. The company still has roughly 700 stores, which have at times been barren, unstocked by vendors who have lost their trust.

Many of the stores have never been visited by a generation of shoppers that can barely recall it was once the the country’s biggest retailer. Lampert, who has a controlling ownership stake in Sears, personally holds some 31 percent of the retailer’s shares outstanding, according to FactSet. His hedge fund ESL Investments owns about 19 percent. Ultimately, it was a $134 million payment that did the company in. The company had a payment due Monday it had not the money to pay.

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Why does this still need to be explained?

The Housing Crisis Will Not Be Solved By Building More Homes (FT)

With great flourish, Theresa May last week announced that she was lifting the borrowing cap which constrains local councils’ ability to finance new housebuilding. “We will only fix this broken market by building more homes,” the prime minister said. “Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that cap.” Nope. In reality, councils – or anyone else for that matter – building more homes will do very little to address the fundamental problem in the housing market, and if you want to understand why, there’s a new book which explains it.

‘Why Can’t You Afford To Buy A Home?’ by Josh Ryan-Collins – a researcher at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose – is about the phenomenon which he dubs ‘residential capitalism’. It follows on from his less snappily-titled volume ‘Rethinking The Economics of Land and Housing’, which was written jointly with fellow economist Laurie Macfarlane and policy wonk Toby Lloyd and published last year. Both books address the question of why a growing number of people are being priced out of the property market, with rising house prices accelerating away from household incomes. The answer is financialisation – and it is not an aberration, according to Ryan-Collins.

The ‘housing crisis’ needs to be understood primarily as a product of the banking system. For starters it’s not just a British problem; this is a trend which has gripped developed economies across the world over the past three decades. “Two of the key ingredients of contemporary capitalist societies, private home ownership and a lightly regulated commercial banking system, are not mutually compatible,” he writes. Instead they “create a self-reinforcing feedback cycle”. [..] In the early 1980s, business lending equated to around 40 per cent of GDP on average in advanced economies, while mortgage lending was around 25 per cent. By the time of the financial crisis, mortgage lending had grown to 75 per cent of GDP while business lending had only grown slightly, to 45 per cent.

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The Chinese will hold Beijing responsible when their housing bubble bursts.

Violence, Public Anger Erupts In China As Home Prices Slide (ZH)

Last March, we discussed why few things are as important for China’s wealth effect and economy, as its housing bubble market. Specifically, as Deutsche Bank calculated at the time, “in 2016 the rise of property prices boosted household wealth in 37 tier 1 and tier 2 cities by RMB24 trillion, almost twice their total disposable income of RMB12.9 trillion.” The German lender added that this (rather fleeting) wealth effect “may be helping to sustain consumption in China despite slowing income growth” warning that “a decline of property price would obviously have a large negative impact.” Naturally, as long as the housing bubble keeps inflating and prices keep rising, there is nothing to worry about as the population will keep spending money buoyed by illusory wealth appreciation.

It is when housing starts to drop that Beijing begins to panic. Fast forward to today, when Beijing may be starting to sweat because whereas Chinese property developers usually count on September and October to be their “gold and silver” months for sales, this year has turned out to be different. As the SCMP reports, not only were sales figures grim for September, but the seven-day national holiday last week also brought at least two “fangnao” incidents – when angry, and often violent, homeowners protest against price cuts offered by developers to new buyers.

These protests are often directed at sales offices, with varying levels of intensity – from throwing rocks to holding banners and putting up funeral wreaths. The risk, of course, is that as what has gone up (wealth effect) will come down, and as home ownership has remained the most important channel of investment for urban households in China in the past decade, price cuts have become increasingly unacceptable and a cause for social unrest. Just last week, angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.

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There is no solution that everyone can accept.

‘Intense Effort’ Fails To Seal UK-EU Brexit Deal After Sunday Talks (AP)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain’s point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said: “Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open” in the divorce talks between the European Union and Britain. Barnier and his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, met in Brussels for surprise talks on Sunday. The discussion prompted rumors that a full agreement might be imminent, but Barnier says the future of the border on the island of Ireland remain a serious obstacle. He says the need “to avoid a hard border” between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland is among the unsettled issues. An EU official says no further negotiations are planned before an EU leaders summit on Wednesday.

The “Irish backstop” is the main hurdle to a deal that spells out the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU and future relationship with the bloc. After Brexit, the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be the U.K.’s only land border with an EU nation. Britain and the EU agree there must be no customs checks or other infrastructure on the border, but do not agree on how that can be accomplished. The EU’s “backstop” solution — to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc — has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

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Budget was accepted by almost two thirds in Senate and Parliament.

The EU Wants Fiscal Austerity In A Sinking Economy (CNBC)

Over the last three years, net exports shaved 0.5 percent off Italy’s quasi stagnant 1.1 percent GDP growth. And while exports in the first seven months of this year increased 4 percent from the year earlier, that did absolutely nothing to revive the country’s manufacturing output. The industrial production during the January-to-July period dropped at an annual rate of 0.5 percent. That, of course, bodes ill for business investments because the weakness in the manufacturing sector indicates plenty of spare production capacity. In other words, Italian businesses need no new machines and bigger factory floors; they already have what they need to meet the current and expected sales demand.

So, what’s left to support Italy’s jobs and incomes? Nothing — emphatically nothing — keeps screaming the German-run EU: Italy has no independent monetary policy, and, according to the EU Commission, the fiscal stance should remain frozen in a restrictive mode of indefinite duration. Italy knows what that means. Before the onset of the last decade’s financial crisis, and the German-imposed fiscal austerity, Italy’s budget deficit in 2007 was whittled down to 1.5 percent of GDP (compared to nearly 3 percent of GDP in France), the primary budget surplus (budget before interest charges on public debt) was driven up to 1.7 percent of GDP, helping to bring down the public debt to 112 percent of GDP from an annual average of 117 percent in the previous six years.

But then all hell broke loose once the Germans — defiantly rejecting Washington’s call to reason — set out to teach a lesson to “fiscal miscreants” by imposing austerity policies on the euro area’s sinking economies. Italy should never allow that to happen again. What, then, should Italy do? The answer is simple: Exactly what it says it wants to do in the 2019 budget passed last Thursday by an overwhelming majority in the Senate (61 percent of the votes) and in the Parliament’s Lower House (63.4 percent of the votes).

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Not just conservatives, the SPD is going going gone as well.

Merkel’s Conservative Allies Humiliated in Bavaria Election (G.)

Angela Merkel’s conservative partners in Bavaria have had their worst election performance for more than six decades, in a humiliating state poll result that is likely to further weaken Germany’s embattled coalition government. The Christian Social Union secured 37.3% of the vote, preliminary results showed, losing the absolute majority in the prosperous southern state it had had almost consistently since the second world war. The party’s support fell below 40% for the first time since 1954. Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, called it a “difficult day” for the CSU, but said his party had a clear mandate to form a government.

Among the main victors was the environmental, pro-immigration Green party, which as predicted almost doubled its voter share to 17.8% at the expense of the Social Democratic party (SPD), which lost its position as the second-biggest party, with support halving to 9.5%. Annalena Baerbock, the co-leader of the Greens, said: “Today Bavaria voted to uphold human rights and humanity.” Andrea Nahles, the leader of the SPD, delivered the briefest of reactions at her party’s headquarters in Berlin, calling the results “bitter” and blaming them on the poor performance of the grand coalition in Berlin.

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But this suggests that gene editing would be very expensive.

Stephen Hawking Predicted Race Of ‘Superhumans’ (G.)

The late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking has caused controversy by suggesting a new race of superhumans could develop from wealthy people choosing to edit their and their children’s DNA. Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who died in March, made the predictions in a collection of articles and essays. The scientist presented the possibility that genetic engineering could create a new species of superhuman that could destroy the rest of humanity. The essays, published in the Sunday Times, were written in preparation for a book that will be published on Tuesday. “I am sure that during this century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts such as aggression,” he wrote.

“Laws will probably be passed against genetic engineering with humans. But some people won’t be able to resist the temptation to improve human characteristics, such as memory, resistance to disease and length of life.” In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking’s final thoughts on the universe, the physicist suggested wealthy people would soon be able to choose to edit genetic makeup to create superhumans with enhanced memory, disease resistance, intelligence and longevity. Hawking raised the prospect that breakthroughs in genetics will make it attractive for people to try to improve themselves, with implications for “unimproved humans”. “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete,” he wrote. “Presumably, they will die out, or become unimportant. Instead, there will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.”

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Sep 282018
 
 September 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Carnival Bistro [Study] 1908

 

Well, I Think We Found Our Supreme Court Justice Today… (F.)
BIS’s Claudio Borio Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick (Auerback)
Italy Agrees High Public Spending Reforms In Potential Clash With EU (G.)
Irish Banks’ Loan Losses Hit €140 Billion In 10 Years After Crash (IT)
Janet Yellen Says It’s Time For “Alarm” As Loan Bubble Runs Amok (ZH)
Why Do Debt Crises Come in Cycles? (Dalio)
Elon Musk Tore Up Last Minute SEC Settlement, Decided To Fight Instead (ZH)
Corbyn Talks With EU Officials Spark Fresh No-Deal Brexit Fears (G.)
Britain, Ecuador Seeking An End To The Assange Standoff (AP)
Seattle Judges Throw Out 15 Years Of Marijuana Convictions (BBC)
Austrian Fruit Grower Sentenced To Prison Over Bee Deaths (AFP)
Orca ‘Apocalypse’: Half Of Killer Whales Doomed To Die From Pollution (G.)

 

 

No, not what I would write. But might as well take an odd approach. One thing that hearing made clear: “..we as a nation are losing our way”.

Well, I Think We Found Our Supreme Court Justice Today… (F.)

Well, I think we found our Supreme Court Justice today. This should be very good news for Republicans, who seem to be in an awful hurry to get this done quickly. It doesn’t look like we have to wait any longer. Let’s all take a deep breath and step back for a moment. All crazy partisan politics aside, let’s consider the qualities a good justice should have. A good justice should be objective and fair-minded, not guided by strong preconceived opinions. A good justice should be empathetic, not focused on oneself. A good justice should be calm, not angry. A good justice should show grace under pressure, not be easily rattled. A good justice should be even-tempered, not short-tempered. A good justice should be thoughtful, not strident. A good justice should in the face of adversity show courage, not petulance.

There are classic lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice about mercy and justice: The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. At the end of the day good leadership is about temperament. Having the kind of calm demeanor and even temperament that enables one to make sound thoughtful decisions under pressure. Not decisions that are reflexive, impulsive, angry or politically driven. When one thinks of the sea of strident bitter recriminations that have engulfed this whole Supreme Court nomination process, and the partisan political football the Supreme Court has become, it feels like we’ve completely lost sight of what a Supreme Court ought to be. It feels, sadly, like we as a nation are losing our way.

Well, cheer up, the good news at least is I think we found someone today with the right temperament to make a fine Supreme Court Justice. Her name is Christine Blasey Ford.

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And it’s the exact same disease.

BIS’s Claudio Borio Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick (Auerback)

When Claudio Borio speaks, the big bankers and investors, the economics profession, and senior policymakers listen quite carefully—even if his sentiments don’t reach the shores of the popular media. Borio, the chief economist for the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers’ central bank, recently remarked on the fragility of the global economy, and suggested that we were on the verge of a significant relapsesimilar to the global crash experienced 10 years ago. Among the parallels he perceives: the proliferation of “collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), which are ‘close cousins’ of the infamous instruments known as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and securities backed by residential mortgages,” the prevalence of which helped to crater the credit system in 2008.

Mindful as central bankers have been about the ready availability of liquidity, they have (as I have written before) omitted to “proactively… [charging] private market participants variable risk premiums commensurate with the risk of the underlying activity they are undertaking when providing credit.” Furthermore, Borio implies that the monetary and fiscal authorities expended excessive efforts toward restoring the status quo ante, instead of directing policy toward broader job creation and income generation, which would place the economy on sounder footing when the next downturn inevitably comes. Finally, the BIS’s chief economist also publicly mooted whether additional “medicine” of the kind that we used last time will be in sufficient supply to respond adequately when the next crisis emerges.

So is Dr. Borio correct in both his diagnosis and concomitant concern about the lack of readily available cures for the prevailing illness? And are there any key omissions in his analysis that could help to mitigate the inevitable relapse that he forecasts?

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UBI vs austerity.

Italy Agrees High Public Spending Reforms In Potential Clash With EU (G.)

The Italian government agreed to a 2019 budget deficit target at 2.4% of GDP on Thursday night in a move that was celebrated by leaders but could bring the heavily indebted country into conflict with the European Union. The economy minister Giovanni Tria succumbed to pressure from the government’s two deputy prime ministers – Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), and Matteo Salvini, who heads up the far-right League – to increase the target in order to pay for election campaign promises such as a universal basic income, flat tax and pension reforms. Tria, an academic who is not affiliated to either party, had been seeking a more conservative 1.9% in order to avoid adding to Italy’s debt pile, which currently stands at around 131% of GDP, the second highest in the eurozone after Greece.

Speculation that Tria would resign has been denied. “There is an accord within the whole government for 2.4%, we are satisfied, this is a budget for change,” Di Maio and Salvini said in a joint statement. Di Maio wrote on Facebook that the agreement marked a historic day and was a victory for Italian citizens, not the government. The means-tested basic income, which will cost €10bn, was a key feature of his party’s election campaign. “For the first time in the history of this country we will erase poverty thanks to the basic income,” he said. “We will finally give a future to the 6.5 million people, who until now have lived in poverty and been completely ignored.”

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“..three-quarters of the size of the Irish economy in 2008.”

Irish Banks’ Loan Losses Hit €140 Billion In 10 Years After Crash (IT)

The State’s main 11 banks and building societies racked up a total of €140 billion in loan losses in the decade since western Europe’s worst property crash, according to data compiled by The Irish Times. That equates to about three-quarters of the size of the Irish economy in 2008. The figures include bad-loan charges that lenders took between 2008 and 2017, as well as losses on the sale of batches of loans to overseas investment firms and the National Asset Management Agency (Nama). As Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the snap guarantee of the Republic’s banking system, property developer Sean Mulryan and former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan have warned in interviews with The Irish Times of risks facing the recovering housing market and State finances.

The guarantee of six Dublin-based lenders would cost taxpayers €64 billion in bailouts and tip the State into an international bailout. Foreign-owned Bank of Scotland (Ireland), Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland also required multibillion-euro capital injections from their parents during the financial crisis. The 11 banks’ net loan losses over the past decade amount to €134.2 billion – or 25 per cent of their total 2008 loans – according to the data, compiled from banks’ annual reports and regulatory filings. [..] Only five of the original lenders remain as standalone companies, as the State continues to grapple with the legacy of the crash. Housebuilding is running at half of estimated annual demand for 35,000 homes and banks are still dealing with high levels of distressed loans.

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These people only warn when they’ve left the job. While in the job, they do exactly what they later warn against.

“Powell said that “overall vulnerabilities” were “moderate”. He also stated that banks today “take much less risk than they used to”.”

Janet Yellen Says It’s Time For “Alarm” As Loan Bubble Runs Amok (ZH)

As rates move higher like they are now, the loans – whose interest rates reference such floating instruments as LIBOR or Prime – pay out more. As a result, as the Fed tightens the money supply, defaults tend to increase as the interest expenses rise and as the overall cost of capital increases. And because an increasing amount of the financing for these loans is done outside of the traditional banking sector, regulators and agencies like the Federal Reserve aren’t able to do much to rein it in. The market for leveraged loans and junk bonds is now over $2 trillion. Escalating the risk of the unbridled loan explosion, none other than Janet Yellen – who is directly responsible for the current loan bubble – recently told Bloomberg that “regulators should sound the alarm. They should make it clear to the public and the Congress there are things they are concerned about and they don’t have the tools to fix it.”

As we noted recently, the risks of such loans defaulting are obvious, including loss of jobs and risk to companies on both the borrowing and the lending side. Tobias Adrian, a former senior vice president at the New York Fed who’s now the IMF’s financial markets chief, told Bloomberg: “…supporting growth is important, but future downside risks also need to be considered.” He also stated that regulators had “limited tools to rein in nonbank credit”. But you’d never know this by listening to the Federal Reserve. According to Fed chairman Jerome Powell, during his press conference Wednesday, the Fed doesn’t see any risks right now. Powell said that “overall vulnerabilities” were “moderate”. He also stated that banks today “take much less risk than they used to”.

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h/t Tyler. Monopoly on steroids.

Why Do Debt Crises Come in Cycles? (Dalio)

If you understand the game of Monopoly®, you can pretty well understand how credit cycles work on the level of a whole economy. Early in the game, people have a lot of cash and only a few properties, so it pays to convert your cash into property. As the game progresses and players acquire more and more houses and hotels, more and more cash is needed to pay the rents that are charged when you land on a property that has a lot of them. Some players are forced to sell their property at discounted prices to raise that cash. So early in the game, “property is king” and later in the game, “cash is king.” Those who play the game best understand how to hold the right mix of property and cash as the game progresses.

Now, let’s imagine how this Monopoly® game would work if we allowed the bank to make loans and take deposits. Players would be able to borrow money to buy property, and, rather than holding their cash idly, they would deposit it at the bank to earn interest, which in turn would provide the bank with more money to lend. Let’s also imagine that players in this game could buy and sell properties from each other on credit (i.e., by promising to pay back the money with interest at a later date). If Monopoly® were played this way, it would provide an almost perfect model for the way our economy operates. The amount of debt-financed spending on hotels would quickly grow to multiples of the amount of money in existence.

Down the road, the debtors who hold those hotels will become short on the cash they need to pay their rents and service their debt. The bank will also get into trouble as their depositors’ rising need for cash will cause them to withdraw it, even as more and more debtors are falling behind on their payments. If nothing is done to intervene, both banks and debtors will go broke and the economy will contract. Over time, as these cycles of expansion and contraction occur repeatedly, the conditions are created for a big, long-term debt crisis.

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The board is behing Musk. But is that enough? It’s not just the SEC, the DOJ is on the case too.

Elon Musk Tore Up Last Minute SEC Settlement, Decided To Fight Instead (ZH)

To many it was clear from the beginning: “It’s an easy case,” said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “He said in the tweet he had financing, and apparently he didn’t. … It’s about as straightforward as you can get.” And on Thursday afternoon, the SEC confirmed that indeed just those two words blasted to the entire world and contained in Elon Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet – it would emerge just days later that funding was not, in fact, secured- would serve as the basis for a securities fraud litigation against Elon Musk; and while Tesla wasn’t named in the suit as a defendant, the SEC is seeking to bar Musk, Tesla’s largest shareholder and its top executive, from serving as an officer or director of any U.S. public company.

It almost didn’t happen that way: according to the WSJ, the SEC complaint only came after a last-minute decision by Musk and his lawyers to fight the case rather than settle the charges. The SEC had crafted a settlement with Mr. Musk—approved by the agency’s commissioners—that it was preparing to file Thursday morning when Mr. Musk’s lawyers called to tell the SEC lawyers in San Francisco that they were no longer interested in proceeding with the agreement, according to people familiar with the matter. After the phone call, the SEC rushed to pull together the complaint that it subsequently filed, the people said. Considering that this is an open and shut case, one wonders if Musk was once again on drugs when he decided that instead of settling, he would fight the charges. Or he simply saw the “playbook” and decided to roll the dice…

In any case, a fighting Elon is just what the SEC – its reputation in tatters after years of not pursuing “big name” stock manipulators – needs to restore its image. The case ranks as one of the highest-profile civil securities-fraud cases in years. Its filing less than two months after the Aug. 7 tweets by Mr. Musk also marks an unusually rapid turnaround by an agency that has been under fire for its perceived failure to promptly bring significant cases in the financial crisis and other episodes. “It means there was not that much investigation they needed to do to get comfortable that it was a case they should bring, but also a case they can win,” said Michael Liftik, a former SEC enforcement lawyer now at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

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“.. he will vote down anything that fails to deliver the same benefits as membership of the single market and customs union.”

Corbyn Talks With EU Officials Spark Fresh No-Deal Brexit Fears (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has sparked fresh fears in Brussels of a no-deal Brexit after saying during talks with senior EU Brexit officials that he will vote down anything that fails to deliver the same benefits as membership of the single market and customs union. The Labour leader spent two hours with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and Martin Selmayr, the most senior official in charge of planning for a cliff-edge Brexit. Emerging from the European commission headquarters, Corbyn said Barnier “was interested to know what our views are in the six tests”, referring to the criteria Labour has said must be met to ensure its MPs back a deal. The EU is increasingly concerned that the UK parliament will vote down any deal put forward by Theresa May.

One of Labour’s tests is that an agreement must offer the “exact same benefits” as membership of the single market and customs union. The Labour leader had initially planned a low-key visit to Brussels to attend the naming of a square in the Belgian capital in honour of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. It is understood, however, that the EU’s most senior officials were anxious to hear directly from Corbyn about his party’s plans, and invited him for a session of talks. After meeting Barnier and Selmayr, who is the secretary general of the European commission and in charge of no-deal planning, Corbyn insisted he was “not negotiating” but that there was an informal agreement that both sides would continue to talk.

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AP makes an ‘error’ and corrects: “The Associated Press reported erroneously that Assange over the past two years had continued to hack the accounts of politicians around the world. It should’ve said Assange had published material from hacked politicians’ accounts.”

Britain, Ecuador Seeking An End To The Assange Standoff (AP)

Ecuador’s president said Wednesday that his country and Britain are working on a legal solution for Julian Assange to allow the Wikileaks founder to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in “the medium term.” President Lenin Moreno told The Associated Press that Assange’s lawyers were aware of the negotiations. He declined to provide more details because of the sensitivity of the case. [..] Moreno said his country will work for Assange’s safety and the preservation of his human rights as it seeks a way for him to leave the embassy. “Being five or six years in an embassy already violates his human rights,” Moreno said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. “But his presence in the embassy is also a problem.”

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Now the rest of the nation. How about New York State?

Seattle Judges Throw Out 15 Years Of Marijuana Convictions (BBC)

Judges in Seattle have decided to quash convictions for marijuana possession for anyone prosecuted in the city between 1996 and 2010. City Attorney Pete Homes asked the court to take the step “to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of colour.” Possession of marijuana became legal in the state of Washington in 2012. Officials estimate that more than 542 people could have their convictions dismissed by mid-November. Mr Holmes said the city should “take a moment to recognise the significance” of the court’s ruling. “We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspires other jurisdictions to follow suit,” he said. Mayor Jenny Durkan also welcomed the ruling, which she said would offer residents a “clean slate.” “For too many who call Seattle home, a misdemeanour marijuana conviction or charge has created barriers to opportunity – good jobs, housing, loans and education,” she said.

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Here’s what it will take.

Austrian Fruit Grower Sentenced To Prison Over Bee Deaths (AFP)

An Austrian fruit grower was handed a rare prison sentence Wednesday for having illegally spread an insecticide which led to the deaths of dozens of neighbouring bee colonies. The 47-year-old man had spread a powerful insecticide called chlorpyrifos over his trees in the Lavanttal area of Carinthia province, at a time when their blossoms were still attracting bees. More than 50 colonies belonging to two neighbouring apiarists perished. The court in the city of Klagenfurt found the fruit grower guilty of “deliberately damaging the environment”, pointing to his experience and role in training others in his field as evidence that he knew the consequences of his actions.

He was sentenced to a year in prison, of which four months will be without probation. Ordered to pay more than 20,000 euros ($23,500) in compensation, he said he will appeal. The court said it hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent and to remind others that the “use of pesticides needs to strike a balance between the environment and economics”. The widespread use of pesticides has been blamed for a steep rise in deaths among bees and other pollinating insects. In April the EU voted to outlaw the use of certain pesticides from the neonicotinoid family blamed for killing off bee populations.

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And we’re still allowing glyphosate? We must insists on precautionary principle.

Orca ‘Apocalypse’: Half Of Killer Whales Doomed To Die From Pollution (G.)

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study. Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves. PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places. “It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.


Photograph: Audun Rikardsen/Science

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Sep 222018
 
 September 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Memory of a voyage 1955

 

Rosenstein Proposed Secretly Recording Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment (ZH)
NY Times, McCabe Give Trump Perfect Cover To Fire Rosenstein, Sessions (Hill)
Grassley Extends Deadline On Kavanaugh Accuser’s Decision To Testify (Pol.)
Ding Dong…. (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May Demands European Leaders Show UK Respect (Ind.)
Legal Action To Revoke Article 50 Referred To European Court Of Justice (G.)
UK PM May Facing Ministerial Resignations Over Brexit Plan (R.)
Russia, Turkey Agree Borders Of Syria Demilitarised Zone (AFP)
Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans To Track Search Users In China (IC)
French Court Orders Psychiatric Assessment of Marine Le Pen (Sp.)
Russia’s Secret Plan To Help Julian Assange Escape From UK (G.)
Ecuador Pledged to Not Kick Out Assange – Lawyer (RT)
Ecuador Reportedly Mulled Sending Assange As A Diplomat To Russia (RT)

 

 

The New York Times now helps Trump, or do they think this hurts him?

Rosenstein Proposed Secretly Recording Trump, Invoking 25th Amendment (ZH)

[..] the NYT recounted on Friday an aborted mutiny attempt organized by Rosenstein, who allegedly tried to organize members of Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to oust Trump from office. In an attempt to persuade the clearly reluctant members of Trump’s cabinet, Rosenstein suggested that he or other officials should secretly tape Trump “to expose the chaos” he said was engulfing the West Wing. According to NYT, the sources were either briefed on Rosenstein’s plans, or learned about it from the files of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired after being disgraced by an inspector general investigation. ABC News, which also reported the story, cited sources familiar with McCabe’s files. A grand jury is also weighing whether to press charges against McCabe for allegedly misleading the inspector general.

“Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversations with other Justice Department and F.B.I. officials. Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments. None of Mr. Rosenstein’s proposals apparently came to fruition. It is not clear how determined he was about seeing them through, though he did tell Mr. McCabe that he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security and now the White House chief of staff, to mount an effort to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

[..] Mr. Rosenstein disputed this account. “The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”

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Yeah, strange things are happening…

NY Times, McCabe Give Trump Perfect Cover To Fire Rosenstein, Sessions (Hill)

It has been a year of ironies: President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, once said he would take a bullet for Trump and now seeks to destroy him (and to do so pro bono). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) once denounced Trump for suggesting Cruz’s father was a presidential assassin but now politically relies on and praises the man who called him “Lying Ted.” The greatest irony of all, however, could be how the newspaper that Trump loves to call “the failing New York Times” succeeded in delivering to him what he has long wanted: a clean shot at firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and then installing a new AG to oversee special counsel Robert Mueller.

To make this more bizarre, Trump could rely for all this on the man he publicly called on to be fired and possibly prosecuted — former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe. The Times dropped a bombshell story late Friday that Rosenstein discussed secretly recording Trump and seeking cabinet support to force him out of office as being incapacitated under the 25h Amendment. Rosenstein denies the story as “inaccurate and factually incorrect,” insisting “there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.” However, McCabe reportedly wrote memos stating that Rosenstein did discuss the possibility of taping and entrapping the president. Trump has previously referred to McCabe’s memos as “fake.”

At least one source has said the comments about secret taping were made in jest. Of course, joking about secretly taping your boss or forcing him from office is not a huge improvement, particularly when you are technically controlling a special counsel’s investigation of the president. Even in jest, it fulfills Trump’s long narrative of a Justice Department set against him from the outset. So how could the Times clear the way for Trump to clean house at Justice and end up with Mueller directly controlled by an attorney general of his choosing? Simple.

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The Kavanaugh story tries hard to be even more absurd than the Rosenstein one.

Grassley Extends Deadline On Kavanaugh Accuser’s Decision To Testify (Pol.)

[..] late Friday, Grassley tweeted: “Five times now we hv granted extension for Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w her desire stated one wk ago that she wants to tell senate her story Dr Ford if u changed ur mind say so so we can move on I want to hear ur testimony. Come to us or we to u.” Minutes later, he added: “Judge Kavanaugh I just granted another extension to Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w the statement she made last week to testify to the senate She shld decide so we can move on I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive.”

Grassley followed with a candid lament that he was being outmaneuvered by Democrats: “With all the extensions we give Dr Ford to decide if she still wants to testify to the Senate I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer is the conductor.” Grassley and other Republicans want Ford to appear on Wednesday, though Ford has requested a Thursday appearance. They accepted some of Ford’s requests after holding a conference call on Friday morning such as allowing one camera in the room, making sure Kavanaugh and Ford aren’t in the same hearing room at the same time and giving Ford breaks during testimony as well as security from the U.S. Capitol Police.

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“Fourth Turning horror show with whipped cream and a cherry on top…”

Ding Dong…. (Jim Kunstler)

This might come as a shock to readers, but the time is not far off when the remaining not-insane cohort of adult Americans gets good and goddamn sick of political sex bombing. Especially given this case of shuck-and-jive. Consider that the same CNN this week produced an entire segment about the shape and size of the President’s generative organ (as reported by an expert in these matters, the porn star and prostitute known as Stormy Daniels). It must be a subject of extraordinary interest to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. On the other flank of the news this week is the much more perilous showdown between the Department of Justice (and the FBI), and Mr. Trump, the cis-hetero-white Golem who happens to be president.

He has ordered these agencies to produce a set of un-redacted documents pertaining to the long-running Russia investigation, set into motion by personnel at these very places. It’s his prerogative under the constitution to do that. In turn, these agencies are being egged on by possibly culpable characters in this melodrama, such as former CIA Director John Brennan and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Cal), to stonewall the Golem. If I were president — and I may get there yet — I’d send federal marshals into Rod Rosenstein’s office to seize these documents before they are mysteriously “lost.” A tremendous tension hangs over this transaction. Imagine the awful possibility that Mr. Trump may have to declare some kind of martial law to roust out these seditious rascals and clean up their departments. There’s your Fourth Turning horror show with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

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There are plenty other plans. She just doesn’t like them.

Theresa May Demands European Leaders Show UK Respect (Ind.)

Theresa May has demanded EU leaders show Britain respect, branding their public rejection of her Brexit proposals “not acceptable”. In a statement at Downing Street, the prime minister hit out at the way European Council President Donald Tusk discarded her plans without giving a detailed explanation or offering alternatives. Ms May said neither of the options previously offered by the EU were acceptable, stated that talks are now at an “impasse” and underlined her willingness to walk away if needs be – finishing with the words “we stand ready”. But the prime minister also made a new pledge to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Her intervention won approval from cabinet Brexiteers and to an extent from MPs on Conservative benches, steadying a volatile political situation which hours earlier had seen critics predicting the collapse of her strategy. Mr Tusk had surprised British officials by making an unexpectedly strong statement at the end of a summit in Salzburg this week, saying Ms May’s proposals for Brexit “will not work” and following it up with a social media post mocking her negotiating strategy. With pressure mounting, Ms May acknowledged from inside No.10 that Mr Tusk said the UK proposals would undermine the single market, but added: “He didn’t explain how in any detail or make any counter-proposal. So we are at an impasse.”

She said: “Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it. “At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals. “So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”

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Someone in Scotland’s been digging into the law.

Legal Action To Revoke Article 50 Referred To European Court Of Justice (G.)

A legal action to establish whether the UK can unilaterally stop Brexit has been referred to the European court of justice by the court of session in Edinburgh. The case was brought by a cross-party group of six Scottish MPs, MEPs and MSPs, who want the ECJ to offer a definitive ruling on whether the UK can halt the article 50 process without needing the approval of all other 27 EU member states. Rejecting the argument put forward by lawyers for the UK government, that ministers have repeatedly made it clear they have no intention of stopping the Brexit process, even if there were no deal with the EU, Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, said: “It seems neither academic nor premature to ask whether it is legally competent to revoke the notification and thus to remain in the EU.”

Carloway, one of three judges to consider the case on appeal after it was initially rejected in June as “academic and hypothetical”, noted that the Commons would be required to vote on whether to ratify any Brexit deal before 29 March 2019, “a date which is looming up”, and that a judgment from the ECJ would “have the effect of clarifying the options open to MPs in the lead-up to what is now an inevitable vote”. Lord Menzies said: “There will have to be a vote, and it appears to me to be legitimate for those who are involved in that vote to know, by means of a judicial ruling, the proper legal meaning of article 50, and in particular whether a member state which has given notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU may revoke that notification of intention unilaterally before the expiry of two years after the notification.”

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Monday could be good. New plans are demanded, but there’s no time for them.

UK PM May Facing Ministerial Resignations Over Brexit Plan (R.)

Some of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ministers will demand a “Plan B” on her Brexit proposal next week and could quit if she does not change course, the Telegraph newspaper reported late on Friday, citing unnamed sources. Ministers will demand an alternative plan to her “Chequers” proposal at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, the Telegraph said. That plan had already been savaged by European Union leaders in Salzburg earlier in the week, prompting May to defiantly challenge leaders of the bloc to come up with its own plans. Pro-Brexit members of May’s party on Friday had welcomed her defiant tone, but her Chequers proposal has many domestic critics, too.

The Telegraph said there was “speculation” that work and pensions minister Esther McVey might walk out of Monday’s meeting if no new proposal was presented, while international development minister Penny Mordaunt was also tipped as a possible resignation candidate, though the newspaper said friends denied she would resign. Earlier on Friday, Mordaunt said that the EU’s attitude was increasing support within Britain for an exit from the bloc, even if it meant leaving without a deal. .

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Let’s hope Russia got this one right.

Russia, Turkey Agree Borders Of Syria Demilitarised Zone (AFP)

Russia and Turkey have agreed on borders of a demilitarised zone in northern Syria, Russia’s top diplomat said Friday, part of a deal that could check an assault on the last rebel enclave in Idlib. “Just yesterday or the day before, the militaries of Russia and Turkey agreed the concrete frontiers of the demilitarised zone,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Bosnian counterpart Igor Crnadak. Moscow says the demilitarised zone would help stop attacks from Idlib on Syrian army positions and Russia’s military bases in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed the establishment of the 15 to 20 kilometre (9.3-12 miles) buffer zone on Monday after talks that lasted more than four hours.

Security in the zone, which includes parts of Idlib and neighbouring provinces including the city of Aleppo, will be overseen by Turkish contingents and Russian military police. The agreement will prevent military action against the city of Idlib, Russia’s defence minister said. “It’s an intermediate step… but a necessary step,” Lavrov said of the zone. “By mid-October, all (fighters of the Al-Nusra Front) must leave this demilitarised zone, and all heavy military equipment must be pulled out of there,” he said.

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Practising for the west?

Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans To Track Search Users In China (IC)

Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China, The Intercept has learned. The memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location — and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have “unilateral access” to the data. The memo was shared earlier this month among a group of Google employees who have been organizing internal protests over the censored search system, which has been designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.

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For posting ISIS execution pictures.

French Court Orders Psychiatric Assessment of Marine Le Pen (Sp.)

The request is connected with a series of images she posted on Twitter showing Daesh* executions. France’s National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen took to Twitter to express her anger with the court order. “I thought I had been through it all: well, no! For denouncing the horrors of Daesh (Isis) with tweets, the “justice system” has referred me for a psychiatric assessment. How far will they go?!” she said. “This regime is really starting to be frightening,” Le Pen added. Le Pen noted that, contrary to French media reports, the procedure was not customary. According to a decision made on September 11, which Le Pen posted on Twitter, the purpose of the psychiatric assessment was to answer the question: “Can she [Le Pen] understand the statements and answer the questions.”

In the list of questions given to the experts, there were eight points, among which were: “whether she acted under the influence of forces or circumstances of force majeure” as well as “is she in a dangerous state from the standpoint of psychiatry or forensic science, and what is the forecast,” among others. The National Assembly (lower house of parliament) of France in November 2017, at the request of the Nanteré Prosecutor’s Office, deprived Le Pen of parliamentary immunity in connection with the publication on Twitter. If the French court finds her guilty, the leader of the party may face up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros.

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More Guardian smear, sources that are known have long been discredited, Mueller’s allegations have been keelhauled, anonymous sources are suspect.

Russia’s Secret Plan To Help Julian Assange Escape From UK (G.)

Russian diplomats held secret talks in London last year with people close to Julian Assange to assess whether they could help him flee the UK, the Guardian has learned. A tentative plan was devised that would have seen the WikiLeaks founder smuggled out of Ecuador’s London embassy in a diplomatic vehicle and transported to another country. One ultimate destination, multiple sources have said, was Russia, where Assange would not be at risk of extradition to the US. The plan was abandoned after it was deemed too risky. The operation to extract Assange was provisionally scheduled for Christmas Eve in 2017, one source claimed, and was linked to an unsuccessful attempt by Ecuador to give Assange formal diplomatic status.

The involvement of Russian officials in hatching what was described as a “basic” plan raises new questions about Assange’s ties to the Kremlin. The WikiLeaks editor is a key figure in the ongoing US criminal investigation into Russia’s attempts to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Robert Mueller, the special counsel conducting the investigation, filed criminal charges in July against a dozen Russian GRU military intelligence officers who allegedly hacked Democratic party servers during the presidential campaign. The indictment claims the hackers sent emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton to WikiLeaks. The circumstances of the handover are still under investigation. According to Mueller, WikiLeaks published “over 50,000 documents” stolen by Russian spies. The first tranche arrived on 14 July 2016 as an encrypted attachment. Assange has denied receiving the stolen emails from Russia.

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Very promising.

Ecuador Pledged to Not Kick Out Assange – Lawyer (RT)

Despite widespread speculation a few months ago that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the country’s new leadership, his asylum seems to be safe for now, his lawyer told RT. In July, there were numerous reports that Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, may revoke the political asylum given to Assange by his predecessor, Rafael Correa, as part of an effort to establish closer ties with the US. The threat never materialized, but his long-time lawyer said “anything could happen at any time.” “Ecuador has made it clear in the past few months – after this wide-spread speculation that he would be forced to leave – that they will respect the asylum,” she said.

Assange remains cut off from all communications and kept in what is effectively solitary confinement with no access to outdoor areas. His health is deteriorating, and the UK authorities have made sure that he won’t get treatment without leaving the embassy, she said. Assange was granted asylum in August 2012, skipping bail in the UK justice system. At that time, he was fighting extradition to Sweden, where he faced prosecution over a now-closed case over alleged sex offenses. He said he had to seek Ecuador’s protection because if forced to go to Sweden, he could be extradited to the US and face serious charges over his actions as WikiLeaks founder.

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Would have been a good solution.

Ecuador Reportedly Mulled Sending Assange As A Diplomat To Russia (RT)

London refused to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange diplomatic immunity so he could escape the confinement of the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK and relocate to Russia, Reuters reports, citing government communications. The persona of Julian Assange has become a thorn in Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno’s side and, ever since assuming office in May of last year, Moreno has made every effort to make sure the Australian’s stay at Ecuador’s embassy in London comes to an end as soon as possible. To shift the responsibility for Assange’s protection against US persecution, Ecuador allegedly mulled offering the WikiLeaks founder a diplomatic post in Russia, which the country hoped would enable him –protected by diplomatic immunity– to finally leave the embassy after six years of arbitrary detention.

London, however, refused to honor Moreno’s move to authorize “special designation” for 47-year-old to carry out diplomatic functions in Moscow, and declined to grant the whistleblower a free passage out of the country, Reuters reports, citing a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla. According to the letter, Quito abandoned its idea to relocate the whistleblower to Moscow after the UK Foreign Office refused to recognize Assange’s special status, or any privileges and immunities awarded under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The “special designation” status awarded by the Ecuadorian president would allow Assange to hold diplomatic posts abroad even if the whistleblower is not career diplomat. However, under English law, the 47 year-old can only enjoy diplomatic privileges, such as immunity, only if his credentials are accepted by the Foreign Office.

[..] Citing at least four, traditionally anonymous, sources, the Guardian wrote that Moscow was plotting to smuggle Assange out of London on Christmas eve last year, but dropped the plan because it was “deemed too risky.” The paper, claimed that Ecuador’s former London consul, Fidel Narvaez, was in talks with Russian diplomats and in constant contact with a ‘Russian businessman’ who coordinated the proposed operation with the Kremlin. It took the newspaper a mere five paragraphs of its 1,000-word report to bring up “questions about Assange’s ties to the Kremlin” in the context of the notorious Mueller probe and alleged ‘Russian hacking’ of the US elections.

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Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Green field 1888

 

Global Economic Growth Has Peaked, Warns OECD (G.)
Why Trump’s Stock Market Cheering Is Dangerous (Colombo)
Post Crisis Measures Have Failed To Tame Derivatives Risks (Yves Smith)
Woodward: “No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Looked Hard” (DV)
Brexit: It’s A Border In The Irish Sea Or The Customs Union (G.)
Emmanuel Macron Calls Brexit Campaign Leaders ‘Liars’ (Ind.)
‘Not Enough Time’ To Hold Referendum On Final Deal Before Brexit Day (G.)
Historical Monuments and Museums Moved to Greece’s Privatization Fund (KTG)
Propping Up Glaciers To Avoid Cataclysmic Sea Level Rise (AFP)
558 Million-Year-Old Fossils Identified As Oldest Known Animal (G.)
Assange’s Last Interview Before Blackout (RT)

 

 

Presented as a surprise.

Global Economic Growth Has Peaked, Warns OECD (G.)

The west’s leading economic thinktank has warned that the expansion in the global economy may have peaked after cutting its growth forecasts for an array of rich and developing countries. In its latest update on the health of the world economy, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said the outlook for both 2018 and 2019 was less good than it had predicted in May. The Paris-based OECD called for immediate action to halt the “slide towards protectionism”, noting that trade tensions were already having an impact on confidence and investment. “The expansion may now have peaked,” the OECD said in its interim economic outlook. “Global growth is projected to settle at 3.7% in 2018 and 2019, marginally below pre-crisis norms, with downside risks intensifying.”

The OECD said it was cutting its 2018 forecast by 0.1 percentage points and its 2019 forecast by 0.3 points. Britain has had its growth forecast shaved by 0.1 points in both years to 1.3% and 1.2%, respectively – with the OECD saying the squeeze on living standards was affecting consumer spending and uncertainty about Brexit leading to soft investment. [..] The US is expected to be the fastest growing of the G7 group of industrialised countries in both 2018 and 2019, and the OECD said that in contrast to the broad-based expansion in late 2017 there were widening differences in growth performance between countries.

Read more …

You break it, you own it.

Why Trump’s Stock Market Cheering Is Dangerous (Colombo)

The S&P 500 hit another all-time high today and president Donald Trump tweeted, in his usual fashion, “S&P 500 HITS ALL-TIME HIGH Congratulations USA!” Though I am a conservative myself, president Trump’s stock market cheerleading angers me because he’s fanning the flames of a dangerous asset bubble, which is extremely irresponsible. I believe that the current stock market bubble will cause severe damage to the economy and our society when it ultimately pops. Imagine if George W. Bush constantly touted how surging U.S. housing prices were making Americans rich in the mid-2000s? We all know how that ended. Well, that’s what president Trump is doing with his stock market cheerleading – history will not look kindly upon it.

To make matters worse, Donald Trump knew that we were in a dangerous stock market bubble back in 2016 before he became president – he even called it a “big, fat, ugly bubble.” Now, the S&P 500 is 35% higher (and even more overvalued), but Trump is acting as if it’s an organic, sustainable boom rather than the debt-driven bubble that it really is. This is disingenuous behavior, plain and simple. The S&P 500 has surged over 300% since March 2009 due to the Federal Reserve’s pro-asset inflation policies:

[..] According to the U.S. stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio (also known as Warren Buffett’s “favorite indicator”), the market is more overpriced and inflated than it was during even the dot-com bubble:

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“..the crisis was a derivatives crisis, and not a housing crisis, as it is too commonly depicted.”

Post Crisis Measures Have Failed To Tame Derivatives Risks (Yves Smith)

One of the frustrating aspects of the orgy of “ten years after Lehman” stories is that writers and pundits, many of whom are old enough to have missed the credit excesses that were evident in 2006 and 2007, are now screeching “A crisis is nigh” without necessarily focusing on likely triggers. As an aside, we are already in the midst of emerging market crises. The IMF agreed to give yet another monster bailout to Argentina. Pakistan is seeking an IMF rescue (or more accurately, trying to get shored up by any one other than the IMF but keeping the agency on the front burner in case other options fail). Turkey is still on the ropes. So calling a crisis is trivial because they are on now.

However, many of these writers are presumably anticipating something more like the global financial crisis, and too often are looking in the wrong places. There is a difference between market crashes that don’t impair the financial system, like the dot-com bust, because the assets that fell in price weren’t highly leveraged. You get real economy damage but not a financial crisis. You can also have lots of loans go bad and not impair the banking system because the credit risk was either well distributed among banks and/or significantly shifted onto investors who losses aren’t leveraged back to the financial system. However, one of the sources of systemic risk being overlooked is derivatives. That is particularly worrisome since the crisis was a derivatives crisis, and not a housing crisis, as it is too commonly depicted.

Even though the US and other housing markets were certain to suffer a nasty bust, a housing crisis alone would have resulted in something like a bigger, badder saving and loan crisis, not the financial coronary of September and October 2008. Derivatives allowed speculators to create synthetic exposures to the riskiest subprime housing debt that were 4-6 times its real economy value. Those bets wound up heavily at systemically important, highly leveraged financial institutions like Citigroup, AIG, the monolines, and Eurobanks.

Read more …

“’I did not, and of course, I looked for it, looked for it hard..’

Woodward: “No Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion, I Looked Hard” (DV)

After two years of exhaustive research for his book, Woodward says that he has found no evidence of collusion between Putin’s government and Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. Zilch, nada, zero. And Woodward strained very hard looking for it. This largely ignored blockbuster admission came in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt reported by Real Clear Politics [..] “In an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Friday, Bob Woodward said that in his two years of investigating for his new book, ‘Fear,’ he found no evidence of collusion or espionage between Trump and Russia. Woodward said he looked for it ‘hard’ and yet turned up nothing.

“’Did you, Bob Woodward, hear anything in your research in your interviews that sounded like espionage or collusion?’ Hugh Hewitt asked Woodward. “’I did not, and of course, I looked for it, looked for it hard,’ Woodward answered. ‘And so you know, there we are. …..’ “’But you’ve seen no collusion?’ Hewitt asked again to confirm. “’I have not,’ Woodward affirmed. “Hewitt would once again ask Woodward about collusion at the conclusion of the interview. “’Very last question, Bob Woodward, I just want to confirm, at the end of two years of writing this book, this intensive effort, you saw no effort, you, personally, had no evidence of collusion or espionage by the president presented to you?’ Hewitt asked. “’That is correct,’ Woodward said.”

Read more …

“The most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that it is not a negotiation..”

“..no amount of diplomatic politesse can conceal Brexit’s reality: one part of the UK will be economically split from another.”

Brexit: It’s A Border In The Irish Sea Or The Customs Union (G.)

Donald Tusk’s clear rejection of Theresa May’s Chequers plan at the Salzburg summit yesterday should not come as a surprise. The most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that it is not a negotiation, and never has been. Blessed with superior size, wealth and power, the EU has been able to dictate the framework and substance of the talks, and has refused any deviation from its red lines. The second most important lesson of the Brexit negotiation is that the EU will prioritise its economic and political cohesion above all else. That cohesion rests on two key outcomes: an undivided single market and an open border on the island of Ireland. It is these principles that have led us to Salzburg. The EU will not accept the Chequers plan, which proposes a single market in goods but not in services, capital or people.

It will also not accept any possibility of border infrastructure in Ireland, which is anathema to Dublin and, according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, presents a credible risk of sectarian violence. That has duly paved the way for the Brexit endgame, which EU negotiator Michel Barnier has now confirmed: there will be a border for goods in the Irish Sea. The EU does not, however, want to antagonise or humiliate the UK, and has scrambled to defuse the drama of this development. Barnier stresses that most checks between Britain and Northern Ireland will take place in offices and warehouses, and only live animals and food products will need to be examined at ports themselves. But no amount of diplomatic politesse can conceal Brexit’s reality: one part of the UK will be economically split from another.

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“..they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.”

Emmanuel Macron Calls Brexit Campaign Leaders ‘Liars’ (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has branded the leaders of the campaign for Brexit “liars”, in an extraordinary attack at the close of the Salzburg summit. The Leave victory was “pushed by those who predicted easy solutions”, the French president said, adding: “Those people are liars. They left the next day so they didn’t have to manage it.” At the press conference, Mr Macron also made clear he would not accept a “blind deal” – which would leave the nature of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU to be decided after departure day. The stance is another blow to Theresa May, given that the EU’s rejection of her Chequers plan has increasingly left a “blind Brexit” as the only possible agreement.

Mr Macron did not name the “liars” behind Brexit, but he targeted those who had promised that leaving the EU would “bring a lot of money home”. The Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, infamously pledged it would deliver an extra £350m a week for the NHS – a claim now widely discredited. “Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it’s going to bring a lot of money home, are liars,” Mr Macron added. “It’s even more true since they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it.” Mr Macron made clear the prime minister would need to come up with fresh proposals by the next summit in October. “We all agreed on this today, the proposals in their current state are not acceptable, especially on the economic side of it. The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it.”

Read more …

Someone’s going to take this to court.

‘Not Enough Time’ To Hold Referendum On Final Deal Before Brexit Day (G.)

A referendum on the Brexit deal would take at least six months to organise legally, making it very difficult to have a second vote before the UK is scheduled to exit the EU on 29 March next year, constitutional experts have said. As EU leaders including the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis called on Theresa May to change firm government policy and put a vote to the people, academics said there was not enough time if article 50 is enacted as scheduled. There are indications that a delay to the enactment of article 50 could be acceptable to the EU, but without this agreement time stands in the way of a second referendum, experts believe.

“It is just possible to hold one within six months, but the shorter the timescale, the higher the chance of the question or other aspects of the referendum being challenged over their legitimacy,” said Prof Robert Hazell of the constitution unit at the department of political science, University College London. Fresh legislation, testing of the question by the Electoral Commission and a 10-week regulated period for a campaign are all required before a referendum can take place, he pointed out. David Cameron’s Brexit referendum took just over a year to get to the ballot box.

Read more …

Liquidation. But: “Monuments are protected by the Constitution, they cannot be transferred or be sold..”

Historical Monuments and Museums Moved to Greece’s Privatization Fund (KTG)

Archaeologists and sites Guards are up in arms after the Greek Finance Ministry issued a decision ordering the trasnfer several historical sites and buildings, museums, monuments and historical buildings to the Super Privatization Fund. “They belong de facto to the state and are off any trade,” the Greek Archaeologists Association said in a statement with the title “No to sale of the country’s monuments” issued on Wednesday. According to the archaeologists a total of 10,119 archaeological sites, museums and historical buildings have been transferred to the Privatization Fund, many of them from the area in and around Chania on the island of Crete.

“Monuments are protected by the Constitution, they cannot be transferred or be sold,” the Association said, adding that this unprecedented transfer became known when the catalogue of the monuments in and around Chania became public. Among those monuments and museums in Chania are the new Archaeological Museum, the archaeological museum located inside the St Francis Church, the National Museum Eleftherios Venizelos, the Historical Archive of Crete, several Venetian and Byzantine moats, fortifications and bastions as well as properties where important Minoan architectural remains have been discovered. “Is Acropolis next?” the Association of Guards at archaeological sites said in an equally angry statement on Thursday adding that also land plot where excavations take place have been transferred. They threaten with strikes.

“Our response will be very tough. Our cultural heritage belongs to all Greeks, no government has the right to negotiate about it or transfer ownership,” they said in their statement.

Read more …

Yeah, smart species.

Propping Up Glaciers To Avoid Cataclysmic Sea Level Rise (AFP)

As global warming outpaces efforts to tame it, scientists have proposed building massive underwater structures to prevent an Antarctic glacier the size of Britain from sliding into the sea and lifting the world’s oceans by several metres. The more modest of two engineering schemes — which is still on the scale of a Panama or Suez Canal — to shore up Thwaites Glacier would require the construction of Eiffel Tower-sized columns resting on the seabed to support the glacier’s ocean-facing edge, or ice shelf. Option Two is a 100-metre tall underwater wall, or berm, running 80-100 kilometres (55-60 miles) beneath the ice shelf to block bottom-flowing warm water that erodes the glacier’s underbelly, rendering it unstable.

The ambitious projects, detailed Thursday in the European Geophysical Union journal The Cryosphere, reflect a gathering awareness that slashing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions — while essential — may not happen quickly enough to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts. “Thwaites could easily trigger a runaway ice sheet collapse that would ultimately raise global sea levels by about three metres,” said lead author Michael Wolovick, a researcher at Princeton University’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Nor will reducing carbon pollution be enough: any credible pathway to a world in which global warming is capped below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (3.6º Celsius) — the target enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate treaty — depends on sucking large quantities of CO2 out of the air.

Read more …

In the beginning there was nothing.

558 Million-Year-Old Fossils Identified As Oldest Known Animal (G.)

A fossilised lifeform that existed 558m years ago has been identified as the oldest known animal, according to new research. The findings confirm that animals existed at least 20m years before the so-called Cambrian explosion of animal life, which took place about 540m years ago and saw the emergence of modern-looking animals such as snails, bivalves and arthropods. The new fossils, of the genus Dickinsonia, are the remains of an oval-shaped lifeform and part of an ancient and enigmatic group of organisms called Ediacarans. These creatures are some of the earliest complex organisms on Earth, but their place within the evolutionary tree has long puzzled scientists. Suggestions as to what they were have ranged from lichens to failed evolutionary experiments to bacterial colonies.

Now, by identifying the remains of organic matter on newly discovered Ediacaran fossils as ancient cholesterol, the scientists have been able to confirm Dickinsonia was an animal, which makes it the oldest known animal. “It is the exact type and composition of that fat that was the giveaway that Dickinsonia was in fact an animal”, said Jochen Brocks of the Australian National University, one of the authors on the study. He added that the study solves “a decades-old mystery that has been the holy grail of palaeontology”. The fossils were discovered on two surfaces on a cliffside in the remote wilderness of north-west Russia by PhD student Ilya Bobrovskiy, who is lead author on the paper, published in the journal Science.


Dickinsonia fossils found in north-west Russia. Composite: Ilya Bobrovskiy/Ilya Bobrovskiy/ANU

Read more …

“This generation being born now… is the last free generation..”

Assange’s Last Interview Before Blackout (RT)

Before his links to the world was cut by his Ecuadorian hosts, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave an interview on how technological advances are changing humankind. He said global surveillance will soon be totally unavoidable The interview was provided to RT by organizers of the World Ethical Data Forum in Barcelona. Assange, who is currently stranded in the Ecuadorean embassy in London with no outside communication except with his legal team, has a pretty grim outlook on where humanity is going. He says it will soon be impossible for any human being to not be included into global databases collected by governments and state-like entities.

This generation being born now… is the last free generation. You are born and either immediately or within say a year you are known globally. Your identity in one form or another –coming as a result of your idiotic parents plastering your name and photos all over Facebook or as a result of insurance applications or passport applications– is known to all major world powers. “A small child now in some sense has to negotiate its relationship with all the major world powers… It puts us in a very different position. Very few technically capable people are able to live apart, to choose to live apart, to choose to go their own way,” he added. “It smells a bit like totalitarianism – in some way.”

Read more …

Sep 182018
 
 September 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Development II 1939

 

Trump Orders More Russia-Related Probe Documents To Be Declassified (R.)
David Stockman Exposes The “$20 Trillion Elephant In The Room” (ZH)
An Economic Recovery Based Around High Debt Is Really No Recovery (G.)
Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis (F.)
Trump Is ‘A Symptom And Not The Cause’ Of The Trade War With China (CNBC)
UK Will Shift Brexit Stance In Its ‘Darkest Hour’ Claim EU Officials (G.)
Christine Lagarde Warns Of ‘Dire Consequences’ Of Disorderly Brexit (G.)
Monsters All the Way Down (Kunstler)
Vulnerable Migrant Groups Must be Removed from Greek Island – MSF (GR)
WikiLeaks Slams AP “Assange Letter” As Fake, Denies He Sought Russian Visa (ZH)

 

 

As I said would happen a few weeks ago. Inevitable. But what a curious choice of headline for Reuters. The docs are related to the probe, not to Russia.

Trump Orders More Russia-Related Probe Documents To Be Declassified (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump has directed the Justice Department to immediately declassify more information related to the investigation into possible election meddling by Russia, the White House said on Monday. Trump’s demands mark his latest effort to turn up the heat on the Justice Department, whom he and his Republican allies have accused of running a tainted probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Among the documents Trump ordered the Justice Department and the director of national intelligence to make public are 20 additional pages of FBI surveillance warrant applications related to his former campaign adviser Carter Page.

Trump also ordered the release of FBI interview reports with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr related to the Russia probe, and FBI interview reports related to the Page surveillance warrant applications, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Finally, Trump directed the Justice Department to release, without redactions, text messages relating to the Russia probe from former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and other officials, including FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, originally citing the Russia probe, and then saying that the firing was not “because of the phony Russia investigation.” McCabe was fired in March by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Strzok was also recently fired, and has been criticized for sending texts disparaging Trump as a presidential candidate.

Read more …

Look at that graph. And keep looking.

David Stockman Exposes The “$20 Trillion Elephant In The Room” (ZH)

In a recent interview with Sprott Media in Vancouver, Stockman reiterated that he remains a skeptic, particularly in an era where central banks (thanks to their $20-trillion-plus aggregate balance sheet) have destroyed price discovery and contributed to the blowing of a debt bubble that – when it finally pops – will make the aftermath of the financial crisis appear tame by comparison. Stockman begins his interview by clarifying that he would be optimistic about the long-term prospects for growth and markets if it wasn’t for this $20 trillion ‘elephant in the room’.

“I am an optimist, I truly am – if it weren’t for the fact that central banks are totally out of control. So my talk centered on the Great $20 trillion elephant in the room, which is the balance sheets of all the central banks in the world, in excess of what it probably should be in a rational stable historically prudent world”. As central banks have bought up assets, they’ve repressed interest rates, rigged equity prices and provided the fuel for the explosion of debt that has occurred over the past 20 years, Stockman said.And when the music finally stops – as they say – it will be the central banks that bear the brunt of the blame.

“And it’s that $20 trillion, built up over the last two decades, that has basically distorted everything – falsified prices, repressed interest rates, caused an explosion of debt. Twenty years ago there was $40 trillion of debt in the world today there is $250 trillion worth of debt in the world. The leverage of the world has gone from 1.3 times which is stable…to 3.3 times, which basically means the world has created a huge temporary prosperity by burying itself in debt.

Read more …

Same difference.

An Economic Recovery Based Around High Debt Is Really No Recovery (G.)

Rickard Nyman and Paul Ormerod have compared economic forecasting by humans and machines in both the US and the UK, and come up with some stark conclusions. At the start of 2008 the survey of professional forecasters in the US failed to predict that within a year their country would be in a deep recession. Had US policymakers relied on machine-learning algorithms they would have been much better prepared for the trouble ahead. Even more impressive results using machine learning were obtained for the UK. There’s more, however. Nyman and Ormerod sift through all the economic and financial variables that might have been responsible for causing the downturn and come up with a conclusion that explodes the myth that overspending governments were to blame.

“The evidence suggests quite clearly that public sector debt played no causal role in generating the Great Recession” they say. “In contrast, the ratio of private sector debt to GDP does appear to have played a significant role, especially in the UK.” In truth, the idea that state profligacy caused the Great Recession has never been credible. What really happened was that the expansion of the global marketplace led to cheap goods flooding the west. Inflationary pressure abated and that persuaded central banks to cut interest rates. Financial deregulation meant the only remaining constraint on excessive borrowing – high interest rates – was removed – and so credit was cheap and readily available. The private sector loaded up on debt, which was fine so long as the assets on the other side of the balance sheet were going up in value. When the markets turned, things went pear-shaped very quickly.

Read more …

Excellent example.

Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis (F.)

Let’s say you know three people: Alexandra, Meg and Melanie. Alex owes Meg $5, and Meg owes Melanie $5. Further say that they have run into financial trouble. You, the government, believe that if this is not addressed then it could have terrible consequences for the rest of the macroeconomy. So you decide to come to the rescue by paying the $5 . . . but to whom? You have three choices, each of which costs exactly $5: i. Give the money to Alexandra, who passes it to Meg, who passes it on to Melanie. All debts are retired and the economy returns to financial health. ii. Give the money to Meg, who passes it on to Melanie. They both return to economic health, while Alexandra remains saddled with debt. iii. Give the money to Melanie, who then becomes viable once again. Alexandra and Meg remain weighed down.

Guess which one we did? The one that bailed out Wall Street while leaving Main Street indebted. This has two huge consequences. One, higher levels of debt reduce spending and therefore represent a drag on the economy. Second, they increase “financial fragility,” or the likelihood of system-wide insolvency. If the second part sounds like the financial crisis, it should. Fortunately, however, we have avoided such a consequence. Reuters suggests that the structure of debt has changed in a positive way and we should be especially thankful for the low unemployment rate which has meant that people have not had difficulty making payments.

But data from the Bank for International Settlements (displayed below) show two things: 1) the ratio appears to be making an upward turn and 2) it remains much closer to the dangerous levels of the 2000s than those of the New Economy of the 1990s. It was precisely that 2000s level that raised red flags to analysts like Steve Keen, who went on to be recognized as the economist who most accurately forecast the financial crisis. Incidentally, he’s worried again.

Read more …

It should have been resolved years ago.

Trump Is ‘A Symptom And Not The Cause’ Of The Trade War With China (CNBC)

George Yeo, Singapore’s former foreign minister, said at the conference that the “big story” here was the rise of China. The trade war is but one manifestation in the tensions between the world’s two largest economies which could go on for years, he added. There’s a growing anxiety in the U.S. about China’s rise, said Yeo, who is currently chairman of logistics company Kerry Logistics Network. He pointed to how former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said it was an “economic war” and not a trade war. “For Peter Navarro, it’s Death by China,” Yeo added, referring to Trump’s trade advisor and fierce China critic, who wrote a book of that title. “It’s not difficult for an economic war to become a political war to become a real war,” he said.

Both superpowers need to find some kind of “accommodation” in this multi-polar world, Rodrik stressed. China may say that it knows how to manage its economy, and the West needs to recognize Asia’s largest economy has its own model. “On the other hand, I think China will need to understand that it has been a free rider on the system created by the U.S., of openness, and it would have to provide a certain amount of … policy space for the Europeans and the Americans too,” he said, adding that this would be an example of “peaceful co-existence.” “China is playing the long game,” Rodrik said, and the question is how the world can accommodate such a new power. “I view Trump really as a temporary phenomenon, there are deeper issues,” he concluded.

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Oil on fire.

UK Will Shift Brexit Stance In Its ‘Darkest Hour’ Claim EU Officials (G.)

The British government will have to experience its “darkest hour” and stare into the abyss of a no-deal Brexit before it will cave in to Brussels demands, senior EU diplomats have predicted. Ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Salzburg, diplomats in Brussels privately warned that Theresa May still needed to make a significant shift on her red lines for a deal to be possible, with the Irish border issue remaining a major hurdle in the talks. The stark prediction came as a French government official said that the president, Emmanuel Macron, wanted to nail down the key terms of the future deal now, rather than allow any ambiguous drift on the major issues after 29 March 2019.

That was at odds with the UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, who had claimed over the weekend that any deal with the EU on the political declaration could be undone by MPs after Brexit, as he urged his Tory colleagues to support the Chequers proposals “for now”. Brussels wants credible assurances from May that any deal will not be unpicked by her successor. The prime minister was only to be given “a few minutes” to talk to leaders at a dinner on Wednesday night in Salzburg before the 27 talk among themselves the following day, in a sign of the low expectation that she will have anything significant to say until after the Conservative party conference.

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Let’s hope someone pays attention.

Christine Lagarde Warns Of ‘Dire Consequences’ Of Disorderly Brexit (G.)

The UK economy would rapidly start to contract in the event of a disruptive exit from the EU next spring, according to a stark International Monetary Fund report that highlights the recession risks of a no-deal Brexit. Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, added that there would be costs to the UK under any outcome that involves leaving the EU. Expressing the IMF’s growing concern at the possibility of an acrimonious divorce next March, Lagarde said: “If that happened there would be dire consequences. It would inevitably have consequences in terms of reduced growth, an increase in the [budget] deficit and a depreciation of the currency. “In relatively short order it would mean a reduction in the size of the economy.”

Lagarde said the IMF’s forecast of 1.5% growth next year was based on a smooth exit from the EU. Her remarks were seized upon by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, as evidence that the UK had to strike a deal that would safeguard jobs and prosperity. “As the IMF has said, no deal would be extremely costly for the UK as it would be for the EU,” Hammond said. “Despite contingency planning, it would put at risk the significant progress made over the past 10 years in repairing the economy.” No 10, however, pointedly refused to endorse Hammond’s gloomy predictions. When asked about what he had said, her spokesman referred to what Theresa May told the BBC in an interview broadcast earlier: “The PM said very clearly that she believes our best days are ahead of us and that we will have plans in place for us to succeed in all scenarios.”

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All roads lead to Podesta.

Monsters All the Way Down (Kunstler)

Robert Mueller’s fishing crew was out trawling for Manafort, a blubbery swamp mammal valued for its lubricating oil when, by happenstance, a strange breed of porpoise called a Podesta got caught up in the net. Turns out it was a traveling companion of the Manafort. Back in 2014, the pair swam all the way to a little country called Ukraine via the Black Sea where the Podesta used some Manafort SuperLube on then-president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych. The objective was to grease the wheel of NATO and the EU for Ukraine to become a member. But the operation went awry when Yanukovych got a better offer from the Eurasian Customs Union, a Russian-backed trade-and-security org.

And the next thing you know, the US State Department and the CIA are all over the situation and, whaddaya know, the Maidan Square in Kiev fills up with screaming neo-Nazis and Mr. Yanukovych gets the bum’s rush — and despite the major screw-up, the Manafort and the Podesta swim off with a cool few million in fees and return to the comforts of the swamp where they finally part ways. Mr. Mueller is apparently concerned about just what happened with those fees. Possibly the loot ended up getting washed and rinsed through an international banking laundromat, and somehow went unreported to the federal tax authorities.

Of course, the charge raises some interesting questions, such as: were Manafort and Podesta over in Ukraine as opportunistic freelancers, or were they part of phase one of a US government effort to get Ukraine to sign up for Team West against its old Uncle Russia, the manager of Team East? Kind of seems like that was exactly what they were doing, so it will be interesting to see whether Mr. Mueller may have stepped into a big pile of dog shit on his way to the Manafort plea session in federal court.

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Please stop it.

Vulnerable Migrant Groups Must be Removed from Greek Island – MSF (GR)

Greek authorities must remove children and other vulnerable groups from the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos as their physical and mental health is in danger, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) aid agency said on Monday. A total 615 migrants arrived on Lesvos island in the past three days, local authorities say, adding to the already overcrowded Moria migrant registration center and making living conditions hazardous to public health. The MSF suggests that at least the vulnerable groups (children, elderly, ill) must me moved to the mainland. Overall, there are 11,000 asylum seekers on Lesvos at the moment, with 9,000 of them at the Moria camp.

The policy of over-concentrating migrants and refugees in the Greek islands has led to more than 9,000 people — one third of them children — to be packed in the Moria camp, which has a maximum capacity of 3,000 people, MSF says. “Every week, Medecins Sans Frontieres teams see incidents of adolescents who have attempted suicide or make self-inflicted wounds. They also offer help in serious incidents of violence and self-harm. The lack of access to emergency medical care shows the significant gaps in the protection of children and other vulnerable groups,” the aid agency statement says.

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Picked the story up yesterday on Twitter. Tyler doesn’t do the greatest write-up, but I can’t really repost the AP thing either. WikiLeaks was very clear in its reaction:

“”Mr. Assange did not apply for such a visa at any time or author the document. The source is document fabricator & paid FBI informant Sigurdur Thordarson who was sentenced to prison for fabricating docs impersonating Assange, multiple frauds & pedophilllia.”

Pointing to this 3-year old Iceland news article: https://grapevine.is/news/2015/09/25/siggi-the-hacker-gets-3-years-in-prison/.

“Thordarson distributed these docs to Scandinavian media outlets years ago who found them to be untrustworthy. Thorsdarson, a proven serial document fabricator & media hoaxer has been released, so the docs are being recycled yet again.”

Looks like AP was had. Why they run with it anyway is unclear. Due diligence, anyone? Yeah, they claim to have talked to FIVE different Wikileaks people, all anonymous of course. AP claims to have 1000s of docs, and this is the best they can get out of all that?

WikiLeaks Slams AP “Assange Letter” As Fake, Denies He Sought Russian Visa (ZH)

For years international media outlets worked collaboratively with WikiLeaks to publish leaked files on subjects ranging from the Iraq and Afghan wars to Syria to State Department diplomatic cables, but now it’s WikiLeaks itself that media outlets are attempting to expose. An exclusive Associated Press story claims that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought to obtain a Russian visa as his legal troubles and pressures from Western politicians grew. This comes after US officials have long sought to smear Assange as a Russian asset and the WikiLeaks organization as a whole as working with Russian intelligence.

The AP has published a letter it says is from a WikiLeaks laptop and penned by Julian Assange only days after the group made world headlines by publishing hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables in 2010, however WikiLeaks immediately disputed the authenticity of the letter. The AP story begins as follows: “Julian Assange had just pulled off one of the biggest scoops in journalistic history, splaying the innards of American diplomacy across the web. But technology firms were cutting ties to his WikiLeaks website, cable news pundits were calling for his head and a Swedish sex crime case was threatening to put him behind bars. Caught in a vise, the silver-haired Australian wrote to the Russian Consulate in London. “I, Julian Assange, hereby grant full authority to my friend, Israel Shamir, to both drop off and collect my passport, in order to get a visa,” said the letter, which was obtained exclusively by The Associated Press.

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Amazon is scary.

Sep 102018
 
 September 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory 1954

 

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)
Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)
Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)
Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)
US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)
What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)
Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)
Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)
Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)
US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)
Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

 

 

Nice way to start the week. I said this would happen, become a trend. Open thee, Sesame.

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)

President Trump is expected to declassify documents connected to the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election, according to Axios, citing allies of the president who say it could happen as soon as this week. Specifically mentioned are documents concerning former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as well as the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months. • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS – the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election – a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.) • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page – all to take down Trump. -Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill’s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele. Three weeks ago, Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions “Justice” Department? A total joke!” According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign. “Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help

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To reiterate once again: not long after Lehman, Bernanke said the Fed had entered ‘uncharted territory’. They’re still there, groping in the dark. Not a clue, but faking it like pros.

Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)

When Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren switched from advocating low interest rates to tighter monetary policy, he argued it was time to start crawling back toward “normal” rates even with 5% unemployment and weak growth and inflation. Two years later, Rosengren has joined colleagues in beginning to lay the groundwork for those rate hikes to potentially continue longer and to a higher level than currently expected as the outlook for the economy strengthens. Rates may not only need to become “restrictive,” but the definition of that may be moving up as well, Rosengren said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday following an economic conference here.

“This is not hair on fire. There is upward pressure on inflation, and given that we are already at 2%, labor markets are already tight … that is going to be a situation where we start persistently having inflation above what our target is,” Rosengren said. “There is an argument to normalize policy and probably be mildly restrictive.” The Fed maintains a 2% inflation target, which it is only now reaching after a decade struggling to consistently hit and maintain it. He said the Fed does not need to move faster than the current gradual pace, which has translated into roughly one rate hike per quarter, with the next expected later this month. That steady pace is a luxury gained by starting early, he said, skirting the need to move more quickly and catch up with a tightening economy.

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Incompetent one and all.

Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)

When Boris Johnson decides to go on leadership manoeuvres he tends to be noisy. His latest line is that the prime minister is like some sort of incompetent suicide bomber, handing over the ignition button on her suicide vest to none other than Michel Barnier. Presumably, Mr Johnson would like us to believe that he would in fact willingly blow himself to kingdom come, shouting “Leave means Leave” on his way to enjoying the company of the promised 72 virgins of the Leave campaign. These may prove as mythical as the extra £350m a week for the NHS he once promised his own fanatical supporters. Or something like that.

As Mr Johnson has discovered, metaphors around Brexit can easily get misconstrued and extended way too far. With the suicide bomber analogy, Mr Johnson displayed his usual contempt for good taste and, as ever, took delight on winding up his opponents. These include two of his own former ministers at the Foreign Office, Alistair Burt and Sir Alan Duncan, who know his ways well and may be forgiven for letting off steam. Sir Alan called it disgusting. True, but it did the trick: Johnson is dominating the headlines again, just ahead of the Tory conference and crucial EU summits. It’s pretty obvious what he is up to.

On the substance though, there was little new in this intervention. Mr Johnson has, at least privately, let it be known that he regards the issue of the Irish border as a subsidiary one, unnecessarily getting in the way of his vision of Brexit. He apparently now regards the whole question as a plot by closet Remainers to keep the UK either in the EU or as close to the EU as makes no difference – Brexit in name only.

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The EU can’t solve these issues by moving back to laws that cover traditional media. They need education, or this will fail spectacularly.

Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week. After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work. Proposed in 2016 to update copyright law for the age of Facebook and Google, the directive has unleashed a ferocious lobbying war. Lawmakers have been bombarded with millions of emails and thousands of calls, many based on standard scripts written by lobbyists. Some have even received death threats, according to the French MEP Virginie Rozière.

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”. Amid last-minute writing and rewriting of amendments, the final outcome cannot be predicted. The proposals were rejected by the European parliament in July, despite earlier support in a relevant committee. Among the latest to mobilise in favour were 165 film-makers and screenwriters, including the British director Mike Leigh, who launched an appeal at the Venice film festival last week calling on EU lawmakers to pass the law. In July McCartney pressed MEPs to stop tech firms exploiting musicians.

Europe’s biggest news agencies have also urged MEPs to vote for the law, as they accused Google and Facebook of “plundering” the news and their ad revenues, resulting in a “threat to democracy”. “For the sake of Europe’s free press and democratic values, EU lawmakers should press ahead with copyright reform,” said a statement signed by 20 agencies, including the Press Association and Agence France-Presse. Opponents are no less forceful. Wikipedia shut down its pages in some countries in protest at the plans, which it claims would force the closure of its user-generated encyclopaedia. Berners-Lee is among 70 internet luminaries to oppose the law, arguing it would be transform the internet from an open platform into a tool for “automated surveillance and control”. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has raised concerns about “prepublication censorship”.

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RT reports first US chemical attck in Syria over the weekend.

US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)

Fresh off a sitdown with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Virginia state senator Richard Black turned up on Arab TV last week making an extraordinary claim about one of the US’ closest allies. Mr Black said Britain’s MI6 intelligence service was planning a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, which it would then blame on Mr Assad. “Around four weeks ago, we knew that British intelligence was working towards a chemical attack in order to blame the Syrian government, to hold Syria responsible,” Mr Black said on Al Mayadeen, an Arab news channel based in Beirut. Mr Black said later that he meant the British were planning not to carry out an attack themselves, but to either direct rebels to do so or stage a phoney attack, with actors posing as victims.

Mr Black also said some chemical attacks previously reported to have occurred in Syria were British fakes, pulled off with help from volunteer first responders known as “White Helmets”. “From what I can tell, they have been planning a fake attack, not a genuine one, but one where they actually move people out of a town and they have trained people to portray victims of a gas attack,” Mr Black said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And the plan is to use the White Helmets who have always been involved in these notorious deceptions, to portray an attack.” The State Department flatly rejected Mr Black’s allegations, which echoed what it called “outrageous” Russian and Assad-regime claims that Britain and the US have carried out chemical attacks with help from the White Helmets.

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Not sure looking backward is the way to go. Tempting because of choice details that seem to fit, but this is new.

What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)

In the autumn of 2008 events unfolded in Wall Street that the crushing majority of people around the world had been led to believe could never occur. It was the financial equivalent of watching the sun spinning out of control soon after it rose above the horizon. Humanity watched on in collective disbelief. The ancient Greeks had a term for moments like that one: aporia – a state of intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The Crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly, the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom.

Before long, the repercussions were felt everywhere. The certainties created by decades of of establishment thinking were gone, along with around $40 trillion of equity globally, $14 trillion of household wealth in the US alone, 700,000 US jobs every month, countless repossessed homes everywhere; the list is as long as the numbers it includes are unfathomable. Even McDonald’s, for goodness’ sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America! The collective aporia intensified by the response of governments that had hitherto clinged tenaciously onto fiscal conservatism, as perhaps the 20th century’s last surviving ideology: the pouring of trillions of dollars, euros, yen etc. into a financial system which had been, until a few months before, on a huge roll, accumulating fabulous profits and provocatively professing to have found the pot of gold at the end of some globalised rainbow.

And when that response proved too feeble, our Presidents and Prime Ministers, men and women with impeccable anti-statist neoliberal credentials, embarked upon a spree of nationalising banks, insurance companies and automakers that put even Lenin’s 1917 exploits to shame. Ten years on, the crisis unleashed in Wall Street in 2008 is still with us. It takes different forms in different countries (i.e. a Great Depression in places like Greece, a scourge of middle class savers in countries like Germany, history’s greatest sponsor of brutal inequality in the United States, a permanent cause of geopolitical and trade tensions in Asia, Eastern Europe etc.). It migrates from continent to continent, from country to country. It morphs from an unemployment-generator to a deflation-machine, to another banking crisis, to a maximiser of trade and capital global imbalances.

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Given their role in the whole crisis, why do these banks still exist?

Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)

The return of Greek banks to profit becomes particularly fragile as long as the credit contraction persists. The reduction of loan issues, which has gone on for almost a decade, is depriving the credit system of its main source of revenues – takings from interests – while undermining efforts to improve the expenditure index that in the first half of the year deteriorated for local banks. Domestic lenders’ January-June financial results point to a fresh reduction in interest revenues, ranging from -1.5% to -22.5%, depending on the bank.

At the same time, revenues from commissions have increase by between 0.5% and 5.5% as banks have shifted their focus to increasing takings from commissions, especially after the imposition of capital controls in June 2015. However, the commissions are just a fraction of the interest revenues and cannot offset the losses from the main source of operating profits of banks. The biggest drop in interest revenues in the first half of the year belonged to National Bank (-22.5% to 564.4 million euros), which is attributed to the application of the new accounting standards (IFRS 9) in the first quarter and the repricing of mortgage loans amounting to 800 million euros. At the same time the NBG’s loan issues dropped 7.1% year-on-year.

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Perfecting the art of faking it.

Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a raft of relief measures “to mend wounds” created during Greece’s prolonged economic crisis, as he attempts to recover the popularity he has lost since enforcing contentious austerity measures. In his first major policy address since debt-stricken Athens ended more than eight years of foreign tutelage under international bailout in August, the leftist leader pledged to raise wages, cut taxes and forge ahead with welfare spending. Far from backsliding on the fiscal progress the crisis-plagued country has made, the counter measures would help kickstart growth, Tsipras said, hailing a “new era of rebirth”.

“Higher wages, labour market regulation and respect for labour rights … are a prerequisite for growth,” he told delegates attending the Thessaloniki International Fair where annual economic policy goals are traditionally laid out. “The Greek economy is stabilised … we are a normal country now.” Tsipras said the tax cuts will include dramatically reducing a property levy for those worst affected by the crisis in 2019, and lowering sales VAT in 2021. Corporate tax, the bane of business development in the nation long on the frontline of the euro crisis, would be reduced from 29% to 25% by 2022. “It is the least we can do to mend wounds, reduce great burdens and create a growth dynamic in the Greek economy,” Tsipras said.

Other measures ranged from reinstating collective wage bargaining – a highly sensitive point among international creditors who have sought to trim the power of unions – and applying retroactive pay rises worth €1bn for university professors, the police, military and judiciary. [..] On Sunday, in his annual state of the nation press conference, Tsipras said because Greece was “outperforming all fiscal targets” his government would not only meet the new goals but argue that other cuts Athens has committed to were no longer necessary. At the behest of eurozone creditors the government has agreed to further scale back pensions in January 2019. “The economy is doing well,” Tsipras told reporters assembled in Thessaloniki. “I don’t know if you understand that, but the economy is doing well.”

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By someone who doesn’t support it.

Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)

A petition with thousands of signatures supporting Julian Assange’s political asylum will be presented to New Zealand’s parliament. Labour Party politician Greg O’Connor said while he personally does not support Assange obtaining asylum in NZ, he will present the petition to parliament after more than 2,000 people signed their names in support of the WikiLeaks founder, reports Newstalk ZB. The parliamentary petition, launched in July 2018, will now be delivered to the Clerk of the house for allocation to a select committee for formal consideration. The ‘Free Assange NZ’ group said they haven’t forgotten the Australian’s plight and are following whistleblower Chelsea Manning on her tour of the country to remind people of the petition and its political progress. On Saturday night Assange supporters gathered outside the Embassy Theatre where Manning was speaking.

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Let’s see them.

US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)

US lawyers say they have “explosive” documents about crisis-hit agribusiness giant Monsanto and their affairs in Europe. Those involved in a successful lawsuit against the firm have been in Brussels, addressing a European Parliament special committee. Last month, Monsanto was ordered to pay 289 million dollars to a former school groundskeeper dying of cancer, after it was agreed the firm’s Roundup weedkilled contributed to his disease. “What we have is the tip of the iceberg. And in fact we have documents now in our possession, several hundreds documents, that have not been declassified and some of those are explosive,” said US lawyer Robert Jr. Kennedy.

“And many of them are pertinent to what Monsanto did here in Europe. And that’s just the beginning.” Beyond the environmental battle, what’s happened also raises the issue of transparency. For one Green MEP, the US legal battle is also one for democracy. “They are fighting a fight for more democracy and for transparency and to get a better insight in how big corporation such as Monsanto act and try to manipulate the facts,” said Belgium’s Bart Staes. Last November, the EU approved the use of glyphosate, a chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup product, for five years after a heated debate over whether it causes cancer.

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Britain has shrunk to a sixe too small to have overseas territories.

Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

Whales migrating across the Atlantic Ocean, turtles in the Caribbean and unique cloud forests in St Helena are all under threat as EU conservation projects are set to grind to a halt after Brexit. Following reports of the Falkland Islands’ penguins entering troubled waters as European funding dries up, conservationists working across Britain’s overseas territories have raised the alarm about the wider impact of this lost money. Due to their unusual status as neither fully parts of the UK nor independent states, these territories cannot access most domestic and international funding. This means EU money has offered a lifeline, and supports around a third of their conservation efforts.

There is currently no plan to make up for the shortfall that will emerge when existing projects finish. Stretching from the British Antarctic Territory to the Cayman Islands, the 14 UK overseas territories are home to hundreds of creatures found nowhere else on Earth. “There’s lots still unknown about the territories, they are quite a frontier,” said Jonathan Hall, who leads the RSPB’s overseas territories operations. “But they do hold at least 1,500 unique species – compared to the UK which has about 90.” These forgotten corners of the globe are home to more penguins than any other nation, a third of the world’s albatrosses and the largest coral atoll on the planet.

Many of the animals and plants found in these territories are critically endangered, and scientists estimate there are more than 2,000 species still awaiting discovery in their forests and lagoons. As the Brexit date looms, the government has promised to continue supporting ongoing projects in these regions, but beyond that local environmental groups are worried about how they will stay afloat. “It’s a huge concern,” said Charlie Butt, Caribbean territories programme manager at the RSPB. “The loss of a third of funding would be catastrophic from a conservation perspective.”

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Sep 092018
 
 September 9, 2018  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh A Restaurant at Asnieres 1887

 

The ‘Most Striking Development’ In 40 Years Of The US Economy (BI)
This Insider Betrayal Is A Sorry Precedent (Observer ed.)
Argentina, Turkey, Mexico … Fear Of Contagion Haunts Emerging Markets (G.)
No-Deal Brexit Could Lead To “Military On The Streets” (Ind.)
Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse (Ind.)
Bombshell Poll Reveals Heavy Union Backing For Second Brexit Vote (G.)
YouGov Poll Shows Support For A People’s Brexit Vote Is Solid (G.)
Fresh From End Of Bailout, Greek PM Announces Tax Breaks (R.)
Protect Assange From US Extradition, Amnesty International Tells UK (RT)
The Latest Incarnation of Capitalism (Jacobin)
What’s The Biggest Influence On The Way We Think? (G.)

 

 

This is going spectacularly wrong. Somone better stop it.

The ‘Most Striking Development’ In 40 Years Of The US Economy (BI)

French economist Thomas Piketty is one of the world’s leading researchers of global income and wealth inequality, and became well-known in the United States when the English translation of his book “Capital in the 21st Century” became a surprise bestseller. For the past year, Piketty has been speaking about the 2018 World Inequality Report, published by the Paris School of Economics’ World Inequality Lab last December. Piketty coauthored the report alongside Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman. In his talks in the US, Piketty has paid special attention to the following chart, which shows what he and his coauthors called “perhaps the most striking development in the United States economy over the last four decades.”

The authors write that “the incomes of the top 1% collectively made up 11% of national income in 1980, but now constitute above 20% of national income, while the 20% of US national income that was attributable to the bottom 50% in 1980 has fallen to just 12% today.” Further, “while average pre-tax income for the bottom 50% has stagnated at around $16,000 since 1980, the top 1% has experienced 300% growth in their incomes to approximately $1,340,000 in 2014. This has increased the average earnings differential between the top 1% and the bottom 50% from 27 times in 1980 to 81 times today.”

Read more …

The Guardian/Observer, leading anti-Trump voice, has a piece ‘Unfit for President, but…” Look, just like the NYT, you no longer are a voice, because you’ve spent two years 24/7 denouncing the man with rumors and half-truths -like you did with Corbyn being anti-semite. You can’t now turn around and be a voice for democracy. You’re done.

This Insider Betrayal Is A Sorry Precedent (Observer ed.)

[..] the president’s discomfort, and his detractors’ glee, should not obscure more serious issues raised by this affair and by similarly critical revelations contained in a new exposé by the celebrated Watergate reporter Bob Woodward. Whatever one’s opinion of Trump, it is a matter of concern that unelected, unnamed officials are apparently willing and able to act in ways contrary to an elected president’s stated wishes and calculated to thwart his policies. Trump’s worst instincts must undoubtedly be resisted, as Barack Obama, rejoining the fight last week, has declared. The best way to achieve that, as ever in a democracy, is through public scrutiny and open debate. Every leader needs candid advisers.

But who are these self-described “adults in the room” to clandestinely decide what is in the best interests of the country? Their motives may be sound, but their illicit actions, boasted of publicly, set a worrisome precedent. They have also gifted Trump a golden opportunity to peddle his favourite narrative of an establishment conspiring against him, aided and abetted by media organisations – which he terms “enemies of the people”. Speaking in Montana on Thursday, he seized his chance. “Unelected, deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself,” he declared.

The anonymous writer tried to provide reassurance that things in the White House are not as bad as they seem. Woodward’s new book, Fear, suggests the exact opposite: they are worse. It describes a “Crazytown” of tantrums, endless crises, serial lying, unhinged behaviour, and an administration in a recurring state of nervous breakdown.

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It’s not so much dominoes falling one by one, it’s the USD that crashes down everything.

Argentina, Turkey, Mexico … Fear Of Contagion Haunts Emerging Markets (G.)

In the past six months, some of the world’s fastest-growing economies have found themselves flat on the floor, gasping for breath and, in one case, seeking help from the global financial rescue centre otherwise known as the IMF. Argentina’s $50bn bailout by the Washington-based lender of last resort is the most extreme event so far, but it sits alongside the dramatic collapse of the Turkish lira, a recession in South Africa and dire economic predictions for the Philippines, Indonesia and Mexico. Making matters worse, the US is poised to slap tariffs as high as 25% on as much as $200bn worth of Chinese goods. If the US goes ahead, Beijing has already threatened to retaliate, which would only incense President Donald Trump further.

This tit-for-tat might only end when tariffs are applied to the entire $500bn of Chinese goods imported by America each year. In response, the stock markets of many developing nations have slumped in value, leaving investors to ask themselves whether they are witnessing an emerging-markets meltdown akin to the Asian crisis of 1997: a panic that wrecked the finances of several hedge funds and proved to be an hors d’oeuvre before the dotcom crash of 1999 and the global financial crisis of 2008. Investors have run for safety to such an extent that the MSCI Emerging Markets index, which measures the value of shares in emerging economies, has tumbled by more than 20% since the beginning of the year.

That slump appeared to be over in July, when Turkey and Argentina were seen as being isolated, and more importantly ringfenced, economic trouble spots. But figures last week showing that the US economy is steaming along like a runaway train – underlining the likelihood of more US interest rate rises – have sent the currencies and stock markets of most emerging-market economies tumbling again. Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at currency dealer FXTM, says that a sense of doom is lingering in the financial markets as fears of contagion from the “brutal emerging-market sell-off” rattle investor confidence. “More pain seems to be ahead for emerging markets as the combination of global trade tensions, prospects of higher US interest rates and overall market uncertainty haunt investor attraction,” he says.

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Now we’re talking.

No-Deal Brexit Could Lead To “Military On The Streets” (Ind.)

A no-deal Brexit could lead to the “real possibility” of police calling upon the military to help with civil disorder, a leaked document claims. Contingency plans are being drawn up by police chiefs if there is chaos on the streets due to shortages of goods, food and medicine, The document prepared by the National Police Co-ordination Centre (NPoCC) warns of traffic queues at ports with “unprecedented and overwhelming” disruption to the road network. Concerns around medical supplies could “feed civil disorder”, while a rise in the price of goods could also lead to “widespread protest”, the document obtained by the Sunday Times said.

The potential for a restricted supply of goods raised concerns of “widespread protest which could then escalate into disorder”. It could also trigger a rise in non-Brexit-related acquisitive crime such as theft. The document, set to be considered by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) later this month, also sets out concerns of increased data costs, loss of warrant cards and queues at ports and docks around the country. Shadow police minister Louise Haigh lashed out at the Government’s handling of the situation. “This is the nightmare scenario long feared; according to the UK’s most senior police officers a no-deal Brexit could leave Britain on the brink,” she said.

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May keeps pushing the same button after it’s failed 1000 times. The EU won’t give.

Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse (Ind.)

Brexit talks are at risk of collapse as a planned EU compromise on the critical question of the Irish border has been branded “unacceptable” by British cabinet ministers. The Independent has learnt that EU officials believe they have struck upon “the only way” to bring the two sides together on the Irish border in a bid to secure a withdrawal agreement later this year. But their proposal has already been outright rejected by at least two cabinet ministers, with one going further and branding the EU’s suggestion “bollocks”. The impasse over the Irish border threatens to bring the talks crashing down with Theresa May’s beleaguered Chequers proposal already lacking support both in Europe and among her own MPs in Westminster.

The Independent now understands that the EU will try to break the deadlock in negotiations by offering the UK a vague political declaration on the future UK-EU relationship in return for a deal on the Irish border. A well-placed Brussels source said: “This may well prove the only way to respect the EU’s red lines and allow Theresa May to win approval for a deal in the UK parliament. “The political declaration holds the key to reaching a deal.” Since the start of Brexit talks Brussels has insisted the UK sign up to a legally binding “backstop”, which would come into play if no arrangement to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland is found before Brexit day. It would see Northern Ireland effectively remain in the EU’s customs union and single market, creating a customs border down the Irish sea – something both Ms May and her DUP partners say is unacceptable.

[..] The strength of opposition indicates Ms May could face a further round of cabinet resignations if she were to consider agreeing to such a proposal, with Boris Johnson and David Davis having already quit earlier this year. A government spokesman said: “We don’t comment on speculation. The proposals we have put forward for our future relationship would allow both sides to meet our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland in full and we are working hard to get a deal on that basis. “But we are clear the EU backstop proposals are unacceptable.”

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The Tories are thinking: we got rid of unions, didn’t we?

Bombshell Poll Reveals Heavy Union Backing For Second Brexit Vote (G.)

Members of Britain’s three biggest trade unions now support a new referendum on Brexit by a margin of more than two to one, according to a bombshell poll that will cause political shockwaves on the eve of the party conference season. The survey of more than 2,700 members of Unite, Unison and the GMB by YouGov, for the People’s Vote campaign, also finds that a clear majority of members of the three unions now back staying in the EU, believing Brexit will be bad for jobs and living standards. The poll comes as union delegates gather in Manchester for the annual TUC conference, where Brexit will be debated on Monday, and two weeks before the Labour party conference in Liverpool, where delegates are expected to debate and vote on Brexit policy. They will also consider calls to keep open the option of a fresh referendum on any deal Theresa May may strike on the UK’s exit from the EU.

In an interview with the Observer before the poll findings were released, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said his preferred option was still for voters to be offered a say on the government’s handling of Brexit – and any deal brought back from Brussels by May – in a general election. But he said that if Labour was unable to force one in the coming months, he wanted to “keep all options open”, including supporting a new referendum. McDonnell said he was sure there would be a full debate, and votes, on Brexit at the Labour conference. And he went out of his way to praise the People’s Vote campaign, which he said had been very “constructive” and had made clear that its attempts to influence Labour policy should not be seen “as an attack on Jeremy Corbyn or positioning around the leadership. It should be a constructive debate and that is right.”

The poll found that members of Unite, the country’s biggest union, and Labour’s largest financial backer, now support a referendum on the final Brexit deal by 59% to 33% and support staying in the EU by 61% to 35%. GMB’s members support putting the issue back to the people by 56% to 33% and its members want the UK to stay in the EU by 55% to 37%. Unison members back another referendum by 66% to 22% and would opt to stay in the EU by 61% to 35%.

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That second vote will come, or else…

YouGov Poll Shows Support For A People’s Brexit Vote Is Solid (G.)

Thirty years ago this week, Jacques Delors came to Bournemouth to urge Britain’s trade unions to change their stance on Europe. The president of the European commission told TUC delegates that the EU was good for workers’ jobs, workers’ rights and workers’ living standards. It was a decisive moment in the union movement’s relationship with Brussels. This week could be equally decisive for the TUC – perhaps even more so – given the precarious balance of forces at Westminster. And the clear message from YouGov’s poll of more than 2,700 members of the TUC’s three biggest unions is that most trade union members think Brexit is bad for jobs; they want a fresh public vote and the chance to keep the UK in the EU.

Can we be sure that YouGov’s figures are right? Do the people it polled accurately reflect the views of all the members of the three big unions? I recall the same questions being asked when YouGov first showed Jeremy Corbyn well ahead in the race for the Labour leadership three years ago. Nonsense, said the critics. YouGov’s respondents, they claimed, were hopelessly biased towards leftwing activists. When it came to it, Corbyn won by almost precisely the majority reported in the final poll. And the methods YouGov used in the latest union survey are essentially the same as it used in Labour’s leadership election three years ago.

It’s not that trade union members are indulging in gesture politics or ideological breast-beating. They are worried about the impact of Brexit on jobs, taxes, living standards and the NHS. They fear a Brexit Britain would find it harder to sell products and services abroad. Their attitudes to immigration are especially significant. In the 2016 referendum, one of the arguments for Brexit was that immigrant workers were undercutting the pay of low-paid British workers. Brexit, so the argument ran, would allow Britain to stop this. As a result, there would be more, and better-paid, jobs for British workers.

Many Unite, Unison and GMB members earn below-average wages. They might be expected to support that part of the Brexit agenda. They don’t. Overwhelming majorities, ranging from 74% to 85%, want EU citizens either to have complete freedom of movement to come to the UK, or the freedom to settle here if they have a job or university place lined up.

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Tsipras is trying to create the impression that he decides and is bold. He has no say at all.

Fresh From End Of Bailout, Greek PM Announces Tax Breaks (R.)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday unveiled plans for tax cuts and pledged spending to heal years of painful austerity, less than a month after Greece emerged from a bailout program financed by its EU partners and the IMF. Tsipras, who faces elections in about a year’s time, used a keynote policy speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki to announce a spending spree that he said would help fix the ills of years of belt-tightening, and help boost growth. But he said Athens was also committed to sticking to the fiscal targets and reforms promised to its lenders. Greece has agreed to maintain an annual primary budget surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – of 3.5 percent of GDP up to 2022.

So far, it has outperformed on fiscal goals and the economy has returned to growth. “We will not allow Greece to revert to the era of deficits and fiscal derailment,” he told an audience of officials, diplomats and businessmen. He said would beat its primary surplus target again this year and, following a debt relief deal in June, he could “safely plan its post-bailout future”. Government officials have put this year’s fiscal room at 800 million euros. Tsipras promised a phased reduction of corporate tax to 25 percent from 29 percent from next year, as well as an average 30 percent reduction in a deeply unpopular annual property tax on homeowners, rising to 50 percent for low earners.

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Amnesty’s Aussie branch. Timing?!

Protect Assange From US Extradition, Amnesty International Tells UK (RT)

Amnesty International has backed calls to not extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, arguing that this would put his human rights at serious risk of abuse. The statement, issued Friday by the group’s Australian branch, backed Assange’s lawyers and supporters’ claim that if he is sent to the US, “he would face a real risk of serious human rights violations due to his work with WikiLeaks.” Amnesty said that Assange could face several human rights violations in the event that he is extradited to the US, including: violation of his right to freedom of expression; right to liberty; right to life if the death penalty were sought; and being held in conditions that would violate his right to humane treatment.

While Amnesty said it took “no position” on Ecuador’s decision to grant, and then withdraw, Assange’s diplomatic asylum, it did call on the UK government to recognize the “need for international protection vis-a-vis the USA” in relation to the whistleblower’s case. Amnesty has joined several other humanitarian organizations by backing Assange and denouncing any extradition attempt. These include the UN Human Rights office, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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How cheap money saved and doomed the world at the same time.

The Latest Incarnation of Capitalism (Jacobin)

Financialization — “the increasing importance of financial markets, financial motives, financial institutions, and financial elites in the operation of the economy” — is a process that began in the 1980s with the removal of barriers to capital mobility. Global capital flows rose from about 5 percent of world GDP in the mid-1990s to about 20 percent in 2007. This is about three times faster than world trade flows. Increases in capital mobility helped facilitate the emergence of large imbalances between creditor countries with large current account surpluses and debtors with large current account deficits. According to textbook economic theory, these imbalances should be self-correcting.

When a country runs a deficit, currency is flowing out of the country. If this currency does not return in the form of capital inflows, the resulting increase in supply will exert downward pressure on the currency. A less valuable currency makes your exports cheaper to international consumers and should therefore increase demand for those exports. Played out over the scale of the global economy, this should lead to equilibrium. In the lead-up to the crisis, the fact that this equilibrium was not forthcoming puzzled some economists. Deficit countries should have been experiencing large currency depreciations, given the size of their current account deficits. These depreciations should, in turn, then have increased the competitiveness of their goods.

Ben Bernanke, then chairman of the Fed, accused a number of emerging economies of “hoarding” savings to protect themselves from future crises, preventing the global economy from reaching equilibrium. In fact, deficit countries were able to maintain strong currencies because, even though there was relatively little demand for their goods, there was strong demand for their assets — particularly financial assets. The main reason for the high demand for UK and US assets was the financial deregulation undertaken by neoliberal governments in these states in the 1980s, which facilitated a dramatic expansion in the provision of private credit to individuals, businesses, and financial institutions.

In the UK, consumer debt — primarily composed of mortgage lending — reached 148 percent of household disposable incomes in 2008, the highest it has ever been. While UK banks’ lending to the non-financial economy rose 50 percent between 2005-8, their lending to other financial institutions rose by 260 percent. Capital from the rest of the world flowed into banks in the UK and the US, which were generating significant returns from this lending.

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Google shapes are thought and we have no idea.

What’s The Biggest Influence On The Way We Think? (G.)

Google search is in a different league from earlier tools, and so the consequences of being dependent on it are more serious and far-reaching – for two inter-related reasons. The first is that it can influence what you think you know and shape the way you think because it knows more about you than you realise. And secondly, it’s not a passive tool that you own and control, but the property of a huge corporation that has acquired strange – and in some ways unprecedented – powers. Ten years ago, Nicholas Carr published a striking article – “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” – in the Atlantic. The title was misleading because the thrust of the piece was actually about how the internet might be messing with our brains, and in that sense Carr was using Google as a proxy for the technology in general.

Which is a pity because there are plenty of important questions to be asked about Google’s impact on the way we think. Its search results, for example, are heavily influenced by how many websites it finds that are supposedly relevant to a query. Sometimes, that’s fine. But sometimes it’s toxic – yet many people think it provides the “truth”. And because people’s search queries can sometimes be very revealing, the company knows more about people’s innermost secrets, fears and fantasies than even their friends or partners. We ask Google questions that we would not breathe to any living soul.

So Google, as philosopher Benjamin Curtis points out, is anything but a passive cognitive tool. Its current offerings, boosted by machine learning algorithms, are increasingly suggestive. Its Maps not only provide navigational help but give us “personalised location suggestions that it thinks will interest us”. Gmail makes helpful suggestions about what to type in a reply and Google News highlights stories that it believes we will find interesting. “All of this,” says Curtis, “removes the very need to think and make decisions for ourselves.” It “fills gaps in our cognitive processes, and so fills gaps in our minds”.

In two short decades, therefore, Google has gone from being a geeky delight to something that influences the way we think. All of which brings to mind something that John Culkin, a buddy of Marshall McLuhan, said many years ago: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Amen to that. And you can Google him to check the quote.

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