Sep 292019
 
 September 29, 2019  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  23 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Portrait of Ingeborg Thaulow 1877

 

Pelosi Says Public Opinion Shifting In Support Of Impeachment Inquiry (R.)
Pelosi’s House Rule Changes are Key Part of “Articles of Impeachment” (CTH)
Scott Adams Makes the Case for ‘President for Life’ Trump (Ricochet)
The Problem With Impeachment (Chris Hedges)
On The Motives Behind Whistleblower-gate (MoA)
The Latest Plot To Topple Trump: Politics According To -Groucho- Marx (SCF)
State Dept. Ramps Up Probe Into Clinton Email Server (Hill)
Has Australia Really Had a 28-Year Expansion? (St.Louis Fed)
U.S. Income Inequality Worsens, Widening To A New Gap (NPR)
Edward Snowden’s Julian Assange is an Unfamiliar Julian Assange (MPN)

 

 

She made that up.

Pelosi Says Public Opinion Shifting In Support Of Impeachment Inquiry (R.)

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday that public opinion is now on the side of an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump following the release of new information about his conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Pelosi this week announced her support for an investigation after the surfacing of a whistleblower complaint that said Trump appeared to solicit a political favor from Ukraine’s president aimed at helping him be re-elected next year. Pelosi for months took a cautious approach in weighing the calls of other Democratic House members to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, which grew louder after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified on July 24 about his probe of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“In the public, the tide has completely changed; it could change now – who knows – but right now after seeing the complaint and the IG (Inspector General) report and the cavalier attitude the administration had towards it, the American people are coming to a different decision,” Pelosi said at a journalism event hosted by the Texas Tribune news website. She added that her resistance to holding an impeachment inquiry quickly evolved from urging that fellow Democrats remain cautious of the political fallout ahead of next year’s elections to full steam ahead as details emerged of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s leader. “A president of the United States would withhold military assistance paid for by taxpayers to shake down the leader of another country unless he did him a political favor – that is so, so clear,” Pelosi said.

[..] Several Democratic presidential candidates attended the three-day event in Austin, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, all of whom agreed with Pelosi that the campaign to push Trump from office must focus on policies and not impeachment. While some polls have shown Americans are split on supporting impeachment, Castro, who served under former President Barack Obama, said he thinks the public will increasingly back the inquiry. “Like in Watergate, after more evidence gets out there … you’ll see more people of different political stripes start to support it,” Castro said at the event, referring to moves in 1974 to impeach former President Richard Nixon.

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Pelosi called for impeachment without having seen the transcript or the complaint. That will forever be weird.

Pelosi’s House Rule Changes are Key Part of “Articles of Impeachment” (CTH)

Back in December 2018 CTH noted the significant House rule changes constructed by Nancy Pelosi for the 116th congress seemed specifically geared toward impeachment. {Go Deep} With the House going into a scheduled calendar recess, those rules are now being used to subvert historic processes and construct the articles of impeachment. A formal vote to initiate an “impeachment inquiry” is not technically required; however, there has always been a full house vote until now. The reason not to have a House vote is simple: if the formal process was followed the minority (republicans) would have enforceable rights within it. Without a vote to initiate, the articles of impeachment can be drawn up without any participation by the minority; and without any input from the executive. This was always the plan that was visible in Pelosi’s changed House rules.

Keep in mind Speaker Pelosi selected former insider DOJ official Douglas Letter to be the Chief Legal Counsel for the House. That becomes important when we get to the part about the official full house impeachment vote. The Lawfare group and DNC far-left activists were ecstatic at the selection. Doug Letter was a deep political operative within the institution of the DOJ who worked diligently to promote the weaponized political values of former democrat administrations. Speaker Pelosi has authorized the House committees to work together under the umbrella of an “official impeachment inquiry.” The House Intelligence (Schiff) and Judiciary Committees (Nadler) are currently working together leading this process.

From recent events we can see the framework of Schiff compiling Trump-Ukraine articles and Nadler compiling Trump-Russia articles. Trump-Ukraine via Schiff will likely focus on a corruption angle; Trump-Russia via Nadler will likely focus on an obstruction angle. How many articles of impeachment are finally assembled is unknown, but it is possible to see the background construct as described above. Unlike historic examples of committee impeachment assembly, and in combination with the lack of an initiation vote, Pelosi’s earlier House Rule changes now appear intentionally designed to block republicans during the article assembly process. The minority will have no voice. This is quite a design.

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Not really, but his arguments are interesting, and shared by many: how to put the CIA offside.

Scott Adams Makes the Case for ‘President for Life’ Trump (Ricochet)

No, Scott Adams is not suggesting that Trump be president for life. But Scott is making the case for Trump being the last legitimate president. Hence (my conclusion), if we want our president to be legitimate then we should want Trump to be president for life. And given his age that would not be an oppressively long time. So what is Scott talking about?! He referenced the other day a tweet from the person Scott thinks is the “smartest man he has ever met” — Naval Ravikant: Does it bother anyone else that our elected officials live in a panopticon run by our intelligence agencies? A panopticon is like a one-way mirror where a person can see everything without being seen.

In other words, if you assume that our intelligence service has technological access to conversations, emails, texts by accessing both public networks and “things” owned by elected officials that are connected to the internet, then our intelligence apparatus is in an enormously powerful position vis a vis elected officials. That is, bureaucrats have something on officials that can be used as leverage to override the desires and preferences of constituencies. This delegitimizes the elected politician as acting in the constituents’ interest rather than that of the intelligence community. Earlier Senator Schumer said much the same thing: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Now, according to Scott, Trump is the only elected politician who can resist the threats of the intelligence agencies because his flaws are well-known and flagrant, thus he has the least risk of losing political power from anything the intelligence officials could leak and would be believed. (At this point most voters don’t think or will ever be made to think that Trump is a traitor, intentionally working against the interests of the United States. Nor do they think that he is engaged in any “abuse of power” that is over the line for a president.) This makes him more legitimate as a political leader — from a constituency standpoint — than anyone who could be elected. So why wouldn’t you want Trump to be president for life?

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Chris Hedges has the same reasoning as Scott Adams.

The Problem With Impeachment (Chris Hedges)

Impeaching Donald Trump would do nothing to halt the deep decay that has beset the American republic. It would not magically restore democratic institutions. It would not return us to the rule of law. It would not curb the predatory appetites of the big banks, the war industry and corporations. It would not get corporate money out of politics or end our system of legalized bribery. It would not halt the wholesale surveillance and monitoring of the public by the security services. It would not end the reigns of terror practiced by paramilitary police in impoverished neighborhoods or the mass incarceration of 2.3 million citizens. It would not impede ICE from hunting down the undocumented and ripping children from their arms to pen them in cages. It would not halt the extraction of fossil fuels and the looming ecocide. It would not give us a press freed from the corporate mandate to turn news into burlesque for profit. It would not end our endless and futile wars. It would not ameliorate the hatred between the nation’s warring tribes—indeed would only exacerbate these hatreds.


Impeachment is about cosmetics. It is about replacing the public face of empire with a political mandarin such as Joe Biden, himself steeped in corruption and obsequious service to the rich and corporate power, who will carry out the same suicidal policies with appropriate regal decorum. The ruling elites have had enough of Trump’s vulgarity, stupidity and staggering ineptitude. They turned on him not over an egregious impeachable offense—there have been numerous impeachable offenses including the use of the presidency for personal enrichment, inciting violence and racism, passing on classified intelligence to foreign officials, obstruction of justice and a pathological inability to tell the truth—but because he made the fatal mistake of trying to take down a fellow member of the ruling elite.

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Decent overview of what’s going on.

On The Motives Behind Whistleblower-gate (MoA)

The whistleblower statute says that the matter in question must be an “urgent concern” that is defined as: “… a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operations of an intelligence activity involving classified information, but does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters”. At the core of the complaint in question is a claim that Trump used a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine to press Zelensky to investigate two issues. The call memorandum was declassified and published. During the phone call Zelensky had two requests. He wanted U.S. anti-tank weapons and he wanted an invitation to the White House. (He got both.)

Trump also had a request. He asked that Ukrainian authorities investigate two issues of U.S. public interest. The first is the reported interferences by Ukrainian government officials in favor of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign. This also involved the notorious security company CrowdStrike which made some false claims about Russian hacking in the Ukraine. The second one is the also well-know intervention by then Vice-President Joe Biden against a Ukrainian Attorney General who had an open investigation against a company that was sponsoring his son Hunter Biden. The U.S. and the Ukraine have a treaty that requires them to cooperate on law enforcement matters. That Trump wanted the Ukrainian authorities to investigated these issues was well known.

His personal lawyer Rudi Giuliani had said for several months that he was looking into these questions. The issues pointed out in the complaint are clearly beyond the scope of the whistleblower statute. Trump’s actions with regard to the Ukraine, especially the phone call, were neither outside of any law nor do they involve any intelligence activity. What Trump did during the call was not nefarious. The issue is clearly a question of “differences in opinion concerning public policy matters”. A whistleblower complaint must be send to the relevant agency’s inspector general. If he finds it credible it goes to the head of the agency who decides if it is within the statute and, if it is, sends the complaint to Congress.

The agency’s inspector general Michael Atkinson found the complaint ‘credible’ but, after seeking legal advice, the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire did not forward it to Congress. It was the right thing to do as the content of the complaint is neither ‘whistleblowing’ nor within the relevant statute. What happened next is curious: “The agency’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, notified Congress that the complaint existed but says he and Maguire have reached an “impasse” over whether to turn it over.” I have found no legal analysis if this was a required move or outside of the usual process. After that step was taken details of the complaint leaked to the press as they were supposed to do.

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I increasingly suspect Hillary will emerge.

The Latest Plot To Topple Trump: Politics According To -Groucho- Marx (SCF)

Right after being falsely accused of conspiring with Russia for the past two and a half years, Trump is suddenly accused of the opposite – of conspiring with Ukraine instead! This Reversal of Fortune – and of accusations – demands that the American public be as stupid and brainwashed as the oppressed population of Oceania in George Orwell’s dark and prophetic classic dystopia “1984.” “We are at War with Eurasia! We have always been at War with Eurasia!” “No! We LOVE Eurasia! We are at War with EASTAsia! We have always been at war with Eastasia!” Clearly, the readers and viewers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN and all the rest of America’s media “Powers That Be” have already been well trained in Orwellian Doublethink and witless stupidity.

Suddenly, President Vladimir Putin of Russia is no longer the Evil Bad Guy plotting with Trump. Now it is new President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, himself a former professional comic actor on television. The Marx Brothers would have loved to co-star with him. Perhaps after being forced out of the presidency Trump, himself a former hit TV star across America, could hire Zelenskyy as his sidekick in a revival of his famous reality television show “The Apprentice.” As the late great British satirist Michael Wharton, who wrote under the nom de plume Peter Simple liked to say – the wilder the fantasy, the more rapidly it was bound to ‘collapse” into the realm which we naively and inaccurately describe as “reality.”

And what is the latest terrible crime that the President of the United States is now –suddenly and without warning – accused of? He dared to investigate whether Hunter Biden, the son of another eminent politician, former vice president Joe Biden was guilty of corruption. Just think of the consequences if Trump and his officials were allowed to continue their investigation unhindered: They might – shockingly! – put some other corrupt former US politicians out of business. Obviously, that would be the most terrible threat imaginable to the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free.

No wonder the US Deep State hates Donald Trump! But there is another goal for this concocted scandal. It’s a twofer – a two for one scandal – intended to topple Trump and remove Biden from serious consideration at the same time, clearing the way for the Deep State’s True Candidate – Senator Elizabeth Warren. The shamelessness of this latest concocted scandal would leave Josef Goebbels green with envy and laughing uncontrollably. Unfortunately, it isn’t a joke.

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Hilarious: “It is such an obscene abuse of power and time involving so many people for so many years,” they said. “This has just sucked up people’s lives for years and years.”

I could have sworn they were talking about the Mueller investigation.

State Dept. Ramps Up Probe Into Clinton Email Server (Hill)

The State Department reportedly intensified a probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, contacting dozens of former aides involved in email exchanges that passed through Clinton’s server. The Washington Post reported Saturday that as many as 130 former Clinton aides have been contacted by State Department investigators in recent weeks, with many being informed that they have been found “culpable” for transmitting information that should have been classified at a higher level than it was originally sent. Former Obama administration officials describe the probe to the Post as an extraordinary investigation fueled by political animosity.

But current officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told the newspaper that the probe was structured to avoid the appearance of political bias. The probe, which reportedly reached the stage where former officials began being contacted shortly after Trump’s inauguration, was described by one senior agency official to the Post as having nothing to do with President Trump’s vows to investigate Clinton if elected during the 2016 election. “This has nothing to do with who is in the White House,” the official said. “This is about the time it took to go through millions of emails, which is about three and a half years.” “The process is set up in a manner to completely avoid any appearance of political bias,” another official told the Post.

Former officials involved in the probe described it as a political vendetta, with one telling the Post it was an “abuse of power” by the Trump administration. “It is such an obscene abuse of power and time involving so many people for so many years,” they said. “This has just sucked up people’s lives for years and years.”

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No.

Has Australia Really Had a 28-Year Expansion? (St.Louis Fed)

In July, the U.S. officially entered its longest expansion on record. Naturally, many are wondering if the expansion is sustainable. When asking this question, many turn to the Australian case, as it has been argued that Australia hasn’t had a recession in 28 years. But is this really the case? The figure below shows the growth rate of Australia’s GDP, with recessions shaded gray. (Recessions are defined here as two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.)

According to this, Australia has not had a recession since 1991 and has been growing since. However, when we look at real per capita GDP growth, the story changes. The figure below shows Australia’s per capita GDP growth rate. Again, recessions are shaded gray and defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth.

As shown in the figure, Australia has had three recessions since 1991 when looking at GDP per capita, the most recent one being from the second quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019. This discrepancy between the growth rate of per capita GDP and the growth rate of GDP implies that population growth has been a key factor for Australia’s economic expansion. A rising population increases the size of the economy, and therefore total output increases, which is reflected in the level of GDP. However, the fact that we do see economic downturns in per capita terms means that population is growing faster than GDP. For nearly 40 years, Australia has had a higher population growth rate than other industrialized economies, as seen in the figure below.

In particular, it had a surge in population around 2008—during the height of the global financial crisis—due to migration. This population growth translated to overall positive GDP growth, but its effect on GDP growth hasn’t been enough to prevent recessions in per capita terms. Per capita recessions are not unique to Australia. In the table below, we compare the number of observed recessions when using GDP growth versus per capita GDP growth for several OECD countries. Again, a recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth.

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On a societal level (in)equality is strongly linked to prosperity.

U.S. Income Inequality Worsens, Widening To A New Gap (NPR)

The gap between the richest and the poorest U.S. households is now the largest it’s been in the past 50 years — despite the median U.S. income hitting a new record in 2018, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. U.S. income inequality was “significantly higher” in 2018 than in 2017, the federal agency says in its latest American Community Survey report. The last time a change in the metric was deemed statistically significant was when it grew from 2012-2013. While many states didn’t see a change in income inequality last year, the income gap grew wider in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia.

The disparity grew despite a surging national economy that has seen low unemployment and more than 10 years of consecutive GDP growth. The most troubling thing about the new report, says William M. Rodgers III, a professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center at Rutgers University, is that it “clearly illustrates the inability of the current economic expansion, the longest on record, to lessen inequality.” When asked why the rising economic tide has raised some boats more than others, Rodgers lists several factors, including the decline of organized labor and competition for jobs from abroad. He also cites tax policies that favor businesses and higher-income families.

Income inequality is measured through the Gini index, which measures how far apart incomes are from each other. To do that, the index assigns a hypothetical score of 0.0 to a population in which incomes are distributed perfectly evenly and a score of 1.0 to a population where only one household gets all of the income. In the U.S., the Gini index figure had been holding steady for the past several years. But it moved from 0.482 in 2017 to 0.485 in 2018. While that change may seem small, it’s statistically significant, the Census Bureau says. The agency notes that back in 2006, the figure stood at 0.464.

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I haven’t read the book, but this is a little alarming.

Edward Snowden’s Julian Assange is an Unfamiliar Julian Assange (MPN)

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks’ former editor Julian Assange have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, they share important similarities: both are perceived as dangerous enemies by the United States government, and both have been documentary subjects of filmmaker Laura Poitras. On the other hand, they clearly disagree when it comes to the means of achieving government transparency and accountability. After all, if Snowden had agreed with Assange about publishing practices, it is likely that he would have followed Chelsea Manning’s example and sent the NSA documents he collected and disclosed in 2013 to WikiLeaks.

The recent publication of Permanent Record, Snowden’s 336-page memoir, takes the Snowden-Assange dynamic to new—and problematic—heights. When Assange was forcibly dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in early 2019, Snowden was among the leading voices condemning the arrest of the WikiLeaks founder, calling it a dangerous assault on journalism. But in his memoir, Snowden uses rhetorical tricks to present Assange and WikiLeaks as his deceitful and irresponsible foils in a blatant and seemingly self-serving effort to highlight his own trustworthiness and accountability. Indeed, reviewers at the Washington Post and New Yorker have already seized upon Snowden’s anti-Assange rhetoric to serve their own anti-Assange agendas.

Proponents of press freedom have become accustomed to Pentagon and national security state attacks on Assange, but Snowden’s puzzling claims about the white-haired Australian and his transparency organization are exceptionally dangerous because they come from an otherwise highly respectable and trustworthy source, and at a time when there is otherwise a virtual media blackout on WikiLeaks. To be sure, Snowden deserves recognition as a courageous whistleblower and as a global champion of privacy rights, but in Permanent Record, Snowden appears willing to use a political prisoner for personal gain, deliberately distorting the truth and perpetuating the imperialistic propaganda that threatens not only Assange’s health but also his very life—just like the corporate media and national security state he exposed in 2013.

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Trans I Re by Fredrik Raddum

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 072019
 
 June 7, 2019  Posted by at 9:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


René Magritte L’empire des lumières 1949

 

Assange Persecution Very Similar To Historic Witch-Hunts – Melzer (Can.)
Belmarsh Prison Inmate Provides Photos of Julian Assange (Cassandra)
Police Raids Raise Fears Of Australian Media Crackdown (G.)
The Fed Can’t Help Housing or Autos at This Point (DDMB)
Fed Signals It Will Use QE Aggressively To Fight Next Recession (MW)
That America Is Gone (PCR)
Key Figure Mueller Linked To Russia Was State Department Intel Source (Hill)
Putin Says Russia Prepared To Drop START Nuclear Arms Treaty (AFP)
Russia Must Change Behavior For Better Relations: UK PM May’s Spokeswoman (R.)
Next Tory PM Will Not Be Able To Suspend Parliament – Bercow (G.)
‘Surveillance Capitalism’: Toronto Urged To Abandon Smart City Project (G.)
Microplastics Have Invaded The Deep Ocean – And The Food Chain (NPR)

 

 

Excerpts from an interview the Canary had with UN torture expert Nils Melzer

Assange Persecution Very Similar To Historic Witch-Hunts – Melzer (Can.)

In today’s information age, the media have an extraordinary power to shape public opinion, and no one is exempt from their influence. The media are a veritable ‘fourth power’ in the state next to the traditional branches of government, controlling not only what is said and shown, but also what is not disseminated and, therefore, is withheld from the public. This enormous power comes with an equally enormous ethical responsibility. Many media outlets and individual journalists have shown a remarkable lack of critical independence and have contributed significantly to spreading abusive and deliberately distorted narratives about Mr Assange.

When the media find it more appropriate to spread humiliating jokes about Mr Assange’s cat, his skateboard and his faeces, than to challenge governments consistently refusing to hold their officials accountable for wars of aggression, corruption and serious international crimes, they demonstrate a deplorable lack of responsibility, decency and respect not only towards Mr Assange, but also towards their own readers, hearers and viewers, whom they are supposed to inform and empower. It is a bit like being served poisoned junk food at a restaurant – a betrayal of trust with potentially serious consequences.

[..] By making Mr Assange ‘unlikeable’ and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school. Once totally isolated, it would be easy to violate Mr Assange’s most fundamental rights without provoking public outrage. If the involved states get away with persecuting Mr Assange without ever prosecuting the crimes exposed by him, they will have established a dangerous precedent of impunity threatening freedom of press and opinion worldwide, and they will also have seriously undermined the accountability of government officials for crime and corruption under the rule of law. So there is much at stake here for every single one of us, and everyone should use the democratic means at their disposal to inform themselves, make their voice heard and hold their government accountable.

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• Note: the photos are from before Assange fell gravely ill.

• New charges vs Assange, to be filed on June 14, are to be based on testimony from a convicted pedophile, Sigi Thordarson, who stole $50,000 from WikiLeaks, then fled to the FBI when caught.

• Next hearing, planned for 12 June has now also been moved to 14 June. The hearing will be in Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court.

• Kim Dotcom on Twitter: “The US Department of Justice has nothing to do with Justice. Here’s just another example. After everything I’ve seen so far I can say with confidence that there will be no extradition of Julian Assange. The charges are ludicrous and the evidence is non-existent. Typical DOJ.”

Belmarsh Prison Inmate Provides Photos of Julian Assange (Cassandra)

The Gateway Pundit has obtained exclusive testimony, as well as photos, from a fellow inmate of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside London’s highest security prison. The inmate, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent multiple photos of Assange from inside Belmarsh maximum security prison and spoke to The Gateway Pundit about the WikiLeaks founder’s situation using a contraband phone he has inside. Along with the photos from inside the prison, the inmate pushed a fundraiser — causing supporters to worry that he was attempting to extort WikiLeaks or harm Assange by violating his privacy. The Gateway Pundit reached out to him to get his side of the story.

This reporter spoke to the inmate through a series of online messages and a phone call for multiple hours on Wednesday evening. At the beginning of the conversation I asked him if he was a prisoner or someone who works there — and if his motive was to extort money from the organization. “I’m in prison right now,” he said, sending a photo from inside his cell. “Extort him for what reason? He exposed the biggest scandals in the world. Whose side do you think someone in prison would be on? The government who have us locked up in here or a fellow prisoner who actually doesn’t deserve to be here?” The photos feature Assange prior to his illness and being moved to the prison’s hospital wing last month. We have not been able to verify if Assange is aware of the existence of the photographs.

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Does Australia have any laws at all?

Police Raids Raise Fears Of Australian Media Crackdown (G.)

Annika Smethurst, the political editor of Australia’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper, was preparing to leave her Canberra home shortly before 9am on Tuesday morning. When she heard a knock at the front door, she assumed it was her cleaner. Instead there were five federal police officers on the doorstep, pursuing evidence relating to a story she had written more than 12 months earlier. The police presented their warrants. The journalist told them she wanted a lawyer. Two legal representatives arrived at her house shortly afterwards. The search started in Smethurst’s bedroom. While that was under way, another two officers arrived with electronic equipment to go through her phone and computers. The police wanted access to all her electronic equipment.

They asked for her passwords, downloaded the contents of her phone on to their computer and used keyword searches to check the stored data. While the electronic dump was under way, police looked under Smethurst’s bed, through her clothes, handbags and sewing basket, through the spare room, through her cookbooks and stored Christmas decorations. They picked up 20 USBs in the house and checked them. The search spanned seven hours, with the group leaving about 4.30pm. “I felt shocked,” Smethurst told the Guardian. “I was very cooperative, and to be fair, they were too. They had a warrant. There was very little I could do apart from sitting down and watching them go through the search.

“But it’s a very confronting thing, watching somebody go through the house you’ve lived in for five years. It was uncomfortable. “I was very stressed when they were on my phone. Obviously as a journalist, my business model relies on people being able to ring me and talk to me anonymously, with that information not being seen by anyone else, then all of a sudden, police had access to it, and it was an incredible invasion of privacy.” Tuesday’s raid in Canberra, which came without any warning, was connected to a scoop revealing a plan by one of Australia’s surveillance agencies, the Australian Signals Directorate, to broaden its powers to spy on citizens without their knowledge. It was published in April 2018, and referred immediately for police investigation.

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Maxumum bubble has been reached.

The Fed Can’t Help Housing or Autos at This Point (DDMB)

Hopes are running high that potential interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve will support the auto and housing sectors, two parts of the economy that are sensitive to borrowing costs. The risk, though, is rising that any relief won’t come until after these critical leaders of the current economic cycle have already fallen into contraction. Headed into the promotion-heavy Memorial Day weekend, analysts spoke of automakers finally succumbing to the need to spur car sales with deep discounts. What’s remarkable is the line manufacturers have been able to hold off on incentives, which fell for 11 straight months, according to TrueCar Inc.’s ALG data and analytics unit. While shareholders have applauded the safeguarding of profit margins as inventories piled up, the pressure to match supply and demand has given way to three months – and counting – of production cuts.

The rapid rate at which auto layoffs are rising suggest a spillover into the broader economy. Challenger, Gray and Christmas notes that the almost 20,000 announced layoffs in the first four months of the year were up 207% over the same period of 2018. “Job cuts in this sector are likely to continue, especially with the implementation of additional tariffs on Chinese goods,” Andrew Challenger, the firm’s vice president, wrote in a report. “Automakers and suppliers will feel the pressure, which may lead to more cuts.” It’s one thing to have a continuation of losses in the beleaguered retail sector, but the loss of high-paying jobs in both autos and industrials threaten to further hobble the housing market.

Connecting autos to housing isn’t a stretch. Fed officials have maintained that the recent slowdown in inflation would be “transitory” in nature. History, however, reminds us that one form of inflation is anything but passing once in nature. Home prices largely held their gains after recovering in the wake of the last recession. Recently, though, there’s been a downtick in the rate of those gains. Home price appreciation fell to an 11-month low in April, based on a three-month moving average of purchases using Federal Housing Finance Agency data.

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Just bonkers.

Fed Signals It Will Use QE Aggressively To Fight Next Recession (MW)

The Federal Reserve’s two-day Chicago strategy conference laid the groundwork for the aggressive use of asset purchases, known as quantitative easing, to counter the next recession, experts who attended the forum said. With short-term interest rates in a range of 2.25%-2.5%, the Fed does not have a lot of ammunition to fight the next downturn. In the past, the Fed was able to slash rates by 5 percentage points to stimulate the economy as needed. So the Fed is going to use “pretty aggressive, desperate, measures,” to stem the next recession, said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “If you thought you saw QE before, this is going to be QE squared,” Posen said. The Fed bought almost $4 trillion in assets during the Great Recession some 10 years ago to bring down long-term interest rates and stimulate the economy.


Posen and former Fed governor Randy Krozner said the Fed used the conference to prepare the public, lawmakers and the markets to the likely implementation again of this unconventional policy tool. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his top deputy, Vice Chairman Richard Clarida, want to short-circuit any political opposition and bottlenecks that greeted former Fed chief Ben Bernanke’s first use of asset purchases during the Great Recession. “The next time policy rates hit the effective lower bound [i.e. zero] — and there will be a next time — it will not be a surprise. We are now well aware of the challenges the ELB presents, and we have the painful experience of the global financial crisis and its aftermath to guide us,” Powell said in a speech opening the conference.

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“Corporate boards and executives achieved “performance” by reducing labor costs by moving jobs offshore and by using profits and borrowing in order to buy back the company’s shares..”

That America Is Gone (PCR)

As the Federal Reserve’s low interest rate policy has not served ordinary Americans or spurred investment in new plant and equipment, who has it served? The answer is corporate executives and shareholders. As the liquidity supplied by the Federal Reserve has gone mainly into the prices of financial assets, it is the owners of these assets who have benefited from the Federal Reserve’s policy. Years ago Congress in its unwisdom capped the amount of executive pay that could be deducted as a business expense at one million dollars unless performance related. What “performance related” means is a rise in profits and share price.

Corporate boards and executives achieved “performance” by reducing labor costs by moving jobs offshore and by using profits and borrowing in order to buy back the company’s shares, thus driving up the price. In other words, corporate leaders and owners benefited by harming the US economy, the careers and livelihoods of the American work force, and their own companies. This is the reason for the extraordinary worsening of the income and wealth distribution in the United States that is polarizing the US into a handful of mega-rich and a multitude of have-nots.

The America I grew up in was an opportunity society. There were ladders of upward mobility that could be climbed on merit alone without requiring family status or social and political connections. Instate college tuition was low. Most families could manage it, and the students of those families that could not afford the cost worked their way through university with part time jobs. Student loans were unknown. That America is gone. The few economists capable of thought wonder about the high price/earnings ratios of US stocks and the 26,000 Dow Jones when stock buy-backs indicate that US corporations see no investment opportunities. How can stock prices be so high when corporations see no growth in US consumer income that would justify investment in the US?

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It’s on. And don’t worry, you don’t have to choose a side.

Key Figure Mueller Linked To Russia Was State Department Intel Source (Hill)

In a key finding of the Mueller report, Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Kilimnik, who worked for Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is tied to Russian intelligence. But hundreds of pages of government documents — which special counsel Robert Mueller possessed since 2018 — describe Kilimnik as a “sensitive” intelligence source for the U.S. State Department who informed on Ukrainian and Russian matters. Why Mueller’s team omitted that part of the Kilimnik narrative from its report and related court filings is not known. But the revelation of it comes as the accuracy of Mueller’s Russia conclusions face increased scrutiny.

The incomplete portrayal of Kilimnik is so important to Mueller’s overall narrative that it is raised in the opening of his report. “The FBI assesses” Kilimnik “to have ties to Russian intelligence,” Mueller’s team wrote on page 6, putting a sinister light on every contact Kilimnik had with Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman. What it doesn’t state is that Kilimnik was a “sensitive” intelligence source for State going back to at least 2013 while he was still working for Manafort, according to FBI and State Department memos I reviewed. Kilimnik was not just any run-of-the-mill source, either. He interacted with the chief political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, sometimes meeting several times a week to provide information on the Ukraine government.

He relayed messages back to Ukraine’s leaders and delivered written reports to U.S. officials via emails that stretched on for thousands of words, the memos show. The FBI knew all of this, well before the Mueller investigation concluded. Alan Purcell, the chief political officer at the Kiev embassy from 2014 to 2017, told FBI agents that State officials, including senior embassy officials Alexander Kasanof and Eric Schultz, deemed Kilimnik to be such a valuable asset that they kept his name out of cables for fear he would be compromised by leaks to WikiLeaks.

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Worst idea ever.

Putin Says Russia Prepared To Drop START Nuclear Arms Treaty (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday Russia was prepared to drop a nuclear weapons treaty with the US and warned of “global catastrophe” if Washington keeps dismantling an international arms control regime. Speaking to heads of international news agencies at an economic forum in the city of Saint Petersburg, Putin said Washington showed no genuine interest in conducting talks on extending the New START treaty which caps the number of nuclear warheads well below Cold War limits. “If no-one feels like extending the agreement — New START — well, we won’t do it then,” Putin said.


“We have said a hundred times that we are ready (to extend it),” Putin said. “There is no formal negotiating process.” The treaty was signed by US President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Prague in 2010. It expires in 2021. Together with another agreement known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, New START is considered a centrepiece of superpower arms control. Moscow suspended participation in the INF treaty in March after President Donald Trump’s White House announced it would ditch the key agreement for alleged Russian violations of the terms.

Putin said he was puzzled by the absence of a global discussion. “Will anyone think about it, speak up, show some concern?” the Russian leader said. “No — total silence.” Putin said he discussed the issue with Trump during their phone talks in early May. “Donald told me that he is also concerned,” Putin said, adding that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whom he hosted the same month also spoke “in a similar vein.” “If they think like this, then it is necessary to take practical steps towards joint work,” the Kremlin chief said. Putin said all nuclear powers — both officially recognised as possessing nuclear weapons and not — should take part in future talks. “We have to create a broad platform for discussions and decision-making,” Putin said. “That could be the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Ha ha. Full of emptiness.

Russia Must Change Behavior For Better Relations: UK PM May’s Spokeswoman (R.)

Britain’s relationship with Russia can only change when Moscow changes its behavior, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman said on Thursday, after President Vladimir Putin said he hoped for better relations under her successor. Putin said he hoped a new British prime minister would work toward improving bilateral relations, badly soured last year by the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England that London blamed on Moscow. The spokeswoman told reporters: “We have been clear that Russia’s pattern of aggression and destabilizing behavior undermines its claims to be a responsible international partner. “We will continue to engage with Russia on matters of international security as this is in the UK’s national interest … however the PM has made clear on numerous occasions we can only have a different relationship if Russia changes its behavior.”

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Don’t like parliament? No problem.

Next Tory PM Will Not Be Able To Suspend Parliament – Bercow (G.)

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has said it is “blindingly obvious” that the new Conservative prime minister will not be able to suspend parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit. The Speaker said it would not be an option after outrage across the political spectrum when the leadership hopeful Dominic Raab suggested he might try to take that path. “That is simply not going to happen. It is just so blindingly obvious that it almost doesn’t need to be stated, but apparently, it does and therefore I have done,” he told MPs. Matt Hancock, another Tory leadership contender, called for all his rivals to rule out the possibility of ending the parliamentary session to stop MPs from voting on whether there should be a no-deal Brexit. He said it undermined parliamentary democracy and risked a general election.


Rory Stewart, another contender, called the suggestion “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic”, adding: “It wouldn’t work.” Andrea Leadsom and Boris Johnson are also among those who have said they would not pursue such an option in order to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October. Amid suggestions it could even be unconstitutional, Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the Commons, asked the government for clarity on whether prorogation to avoid a decision from parliament would be allowed. In response, Mel Stride, the leader of the Commons, said prorogation was “ultimately in the gift of the Queen”, adding: “What I would say is, that I do think Her Majesty should be kept out of the politics of our parliament.

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I guess it’s just that “smart city” sounds kinds good. Better than “surveillance city”.

‘Surveillance Capitalism’: Toronto Urged To Abandon Smart City Project (G.)

A “smart city” project in Canada has hit yet another snag, as mounting delays and privacy concerns threaten the controversial development along the Toronto’s eastern waterfront. The 12-acre Quayside project, a partnership between Google’s Sidewalk Labs and the city of Toronto, has come under increasing scrutiny amid concerns over privacy and data harvesting. This week, the US venture capitalist Roger McNamee warned that technology companies such as Google cannot be trusted to safely manage the data they collect on residents. “The smart city project on the Toronto waterfront is the most highly evolved version to date of … surveillance capitalism”, he wrote to the city council, suggesting Google will use “algorithms to nudge human behavior” in ways to “favor its business”.


McNamee, an early investor in Facebook and Google, is co-founder of Silver Lake Partners, one of the world’s largest technology investors. But in recent years, he has soured on many of the technology giants and their handling of data and privacy concerns. “No matter what Google is offering, the value to Toronto cannot possibly approach the value your city is giving up,” he wrote, pleading with officials to abandon the project. “It is a dystopian vision that has no place in a democratic society.”

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Literally everywhere.

Microplastics Have Invaded The Deep Ocean – And The Food Chain (NPR)

The largest habitat for life on Earth is the deep ocean. It’s home to everything from jellyfish to giant bluefin tuna. But the deep ocean is being invaded by tiny pieces of plastic — plastic that people thought was mostly floating at the surface, and in amounts they never imagined. Very few people have looked for microplastic concentrations at mid- to deep-ocean depths. But there’s a place along the California coast where it’s relatively easy: The edge of the continent takes a steep dive into the deep ocean at Monterey Bay. Whales and white sharks swim these depths just a few miles offshore. [..] “The deep ocean is the largest ecosystem on the planet,” says Van Houtan, “and we don’t know anything about the plastic in the deep ocean.”


Scientists do know about plastic floating on the surface, and have tried to measure how much there is. The Great Pacific garbage patch is just one of many giant eddies in the oceans where enormous amounts of plastic waste collects. But beneath the surface? Not much. So Ventana made several dives to collect water samples at different depths. Technicians filtered the water, looking for microplastic, the tiny fragments and fibers you can barely see. “What we found was actually pretty surprising,” Van Houtan says. “We found that most of the plastic is below the surface.” More, he says, than in the giant floating patches. And also to their surprise, they found that submerged microplastics are widely distributed, from the surface to thousands of feet deep.


The deep ocean is filled with sea creatures like giant larvaceans. They’re actually the size of tadpoles, but they’re surrounded by a yard-wide bubble of mucus that collects food — and plastic. Courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

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Jun 052019
 
 June 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Henri Matisse Notre-Dame, une fin d’après-midi 1902

 

The Fed Has No Choice But to Return to Ultra-Low Interest Rates (Polleit)
Australia’s Economy Slows To Levels Last Seen During The GFC (ABC.au)
Australia Federal Police Raid Home Of News Corp Journalist (SMH)
Australian Police Raids On National Broadcaster, News Corp Prompt Outcry (R.)
Global Semiconductor Sales Plunge 24% from Peak (WS)
CNN, Maddow Ratings In Absolute Freefall After Russia Narrative Collapses (ZH)
Ex-Trump Aide Hicks Agrees To Hand Over Campaign Documents To Congress (R.)
EU Gives Nigel Farage 24 Hours To Explain Arron Banks Funds (G.)
10 Million Acres Of US Farmland Won’t Be Planted With Crops This Year (Snyder)
Brazil Amazon Deforestation Rising At Fastest Rate In A Decade (R.)
Chimpanzees In The Wild Reduced To ‘Forest Ghettos’ (AFP)

 

 

End the Fed before it’s too late.

The Fed Has No Choice But to Return to Ultra-Low Interest Rates (Polleit)

If interest rates and returns hit rock bottom, people have little reason to save, and investors little incentive to invest. Consumption increases at the expense of savings, and capital consumption sets in. Existing capital will be used up and not replaced. It might take a while for people to find out that a central bank monetary policy that pushes the interest rate to ever lower levels does not bring prosperity but is very damaging, even ruinous, for the future prosperity of the commonweal. Once investors realize that the economy is losing its strength, elevated asset prices, previously driven up by an ultra-low interest rate, will come crashing down. In the case of stocks, for instance, profit expectations are scaled back, and a downward adjustment of stock prices sets in.

Falling asset prices in general would hit hard consumers’ and corporates’ balance sheets. Their equity positions and credit standing deteriorate. Malinvestment comes to the surface, and the boom is finally turning into bust. The lesson to learn is this: The monetary policy of ever lower interest rate is not the solution to problems caused by a low interest rate policy in the first place. In the short-term it might look promising, but it is a way towards economic destruction. The longer the boom is kept going by central banks’ ultra-low interest rate policy, the bigger will be the ensuing crisis – as the economists of the Austrian School of Economics have pointed out in great detail a long time ago. Murray N. Rothbard put it succinctly:

“It is only when bank credit expansion must finally stop or sharply slow down, either because the banks are getting shaky or because the public is getting restive at the continuing inflation, that retribution finally catches up with the boom. As soon as credit expansion stops, the piper must be paid, and the inevitable readjustments must liquidate the unsound over-investments of the boom and redirect the economy more toward consumer goods production. And, of course, the longer the boom is kept going, the greater the malinvestments that must be liquidated, and the more harrowing the readjustments that must be made.”

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No recession for 27 years.

Australia’s Economy Slows To Levels Last Seen During The GFC (ABC.au)

Australia’s economy has slowed further, with GDP growth tumbling under 2 per cent over the past year. The economy grew at 0.4 per cent in first three months of the year, to be up 1.8 per cent over the year — the slowest growth since the September quarter in 2009. While the quarterly figure was a step up from the moribund 0.2 per cent growth in final quarter of last year, it still fell below market expectations. It was also much weaker than the 1 per cent growth recorded in the March quarter last year. Excluding the impact of population growth, GDP growth was marginally negative for the third consecutive quarter, further extending the so-called GDP per capita recession.


The result was dragged down by weak household spending, slowing further from last year and up just 1.8 per cent over the year, with households cutting back on their discretionary spending, particularly in new household items, recreation and hospitality. However, spending rose in non-discretionary, essential areas such as insurance, power and health. Household spending overall contributed just 0.1 percentage point to growth. The rapidly cooling residential construction sector was also a significant drag, with dwelling investment falling 2.5 per cent over the quarter having been at record levels in late 2018.

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Part of me thinks Australia’s a testing ground. Another part wonders what the link might be to the economic collapse.

Australia Federal Police Raid Home Of News Corp Journalist (SMH)

Police have raided the home of a News Corp journalist in what the media company has called a “dangerous act of intimidation” after she reported on a top secret government proposal to give Australia’s cyber spies unprecedented powers. Australian Federal Police officers presented Annika Smethurst, the national political editor of News Corp’s Sunday tabloids, with a search warrant on Tuesday morning. The warrant granted officers authority to access her home, computer and mobile phone. The actions are in connection to a story published in April 2018 which revealed internal government discussions about introducing new powers for electronic intelligence agency the Australian Signals Directorate.

News Corp’s report included details from a top secret internal document proposing new abilities to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore threats by “hacking into critical ≠infrastructure”. The federal police confirmed the execution of a search warrant on Tuesday as part of an “investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information”. In a statement, the police said they would allege the disclosure of “these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security”. [..] 2GB radio host Ben Fordham also revealed on Tuesday that he has been contacted by Home Affairs this week about his reporting, with the department investigating how he obtained “highly confidential” information about asylum seeker vessels.

Smethurst’s story reported the top secret proposal as one that would for the first time allow the ASD to target Australians, as opposed to enemies on foreign soil. The use of the powers would be subject to approval from the defence and home affairs ministers.

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John Lyons on Twitter: “AFP: I’m still staggered by the power of this warrant. It allows the AFP to “add, copy, delete or alter” material in the ABC’s computers. All Australians, please think about that: as of this moment, the AFP has the power to delete material in the ABC’s computers. Australia 2019.”

Australian Police Raids On National Broadcaster, News Corp Prompt Outcry (R.)

Police raided the offices of Australia’s national broadcaster on Wednesday over allegations it had published classified material, the second raid on a media outlet in two days, prompting complaints that the “outrageous” raids hindered media freedom. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said its officers carried out a search warrant at the head office of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) in Sydney on Wednesday. That came a day after police raided the home of a News Corp editor, although the AFP said the raids were unrelated. “It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way,” ABC Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement.


“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defense matters,” he said. The AFP said the ABC raid was in relation to allegations it had published classified material and followed a referral from the chief of the Australian Defence Force and a former acting defense secretary in 2017. The ABC raid was authorized by a court and based on evidence that provided “sufficient suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed”, the AFP said in a statement. Marcus Strom, president of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance trade union, said on his Twitter account the two raids were “just outrageous”. “Police raiding journalists is becoming normalized. It has to stop,” he said.

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Something’s afoot.

Global Semiconductor Sales Plunge 24% from Peak (WS)

Global semiconductor sales dropped 14.6% in April from April last year, to $32.1 billion, on a three-month moving average basis, the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS) organization reported Tuesday afternoon. The three-month moving average in April has plunged 24% from the peak last October, thus continuing the deepest plunge in semiconductor sales since the Financial Crisis. In dollar terms, semiconductor sales plunged by over $10 billion in April compared to the pace in October 2018, the largest peak-to-trough dollar-drop ever. During the Financial Crisis, chip sales dropped by $9 billion from peak to trough.


But in percentage terms, the current plunge doesn’t quite measure up: 24% versus the 39% collapse during the Financial Crisis and the 45% collapse during the long dotcom bust. The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said in its press release that sales, based on the data compiled by the WSTS, dropped in all major geographic regions in April (three-month moving averages compared to the same period last year): • Americas: -29.5% • Europe: -8.0% • Japan: -10.9% • China: -10.9% • Asia Pacific/All Other: -10.7

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“..Rachel Maddow has lost 500,000 viewers who realized life is too short for her bullshit…”

CNN, Maddow Ratings In Absolute Freefall After Russia Narrative Collapses (ZH)

According to Breitbart’s John Nolte, CNN’s primetime ratings suffered a 16% collapse in May – luring just 761,000 members of the resistance and captive airport audiences alike. Overall, the network’s total day viewers dropped to just 559,000. As Nolte points out, “Fox News earned three times as many primetime viewers (2.34 million) and more than twice as many total day viewers (1.34 million). What’s more, when compared to this same month last year, Fox lost none of its primetime viewers and only four percent of its total day viewers.” “Do you have any idea just how low 761,000 primetime viewers is…? How does a nationally known brand like CNN, a brand that is decades old, only manage to attract 761,000 viewers throughout a gonzo news month in a country of over 300 million?

But his is just how far over the cliff CNN has gone… CNN has lost almost all of its viewers, all of its moral authority, and every bit of trust it once had. Over the past six years, as soon as Jeff Zucker took over, CNN got every major national story exactly wrong, including… • Hispanic George Zimmerman: The White Racist Killer • Hands Up, Don’t Shoot • Trump Can’t Win • Brett Kavanaugh: Serial Rapist • The KKKids from KKKovington High School • Trump Colluded with Russia. And in every one of those cases, CNN got it deliberately wrong because CNN is nothing less than a hysterical propaganda outlet, a fire hose of hate, violence, and lies… -Breitbart

In a separate Tuesday article, Nolte notes that MSNBC’s top conspiracy theorist Rachel Maddow has lost 500,000 viewers who realized life is too short for her bullshit. During the first quarter of 2019, prior to the release of the Mueller Report (which debunked the media’s Russia Collusion Hoax and proved Trump did not obstruct justice), Maddow averaged 3.1 million nightly viewers. Last month, after the release of the Mueller Report (which debunked the media’s Russia Collusion Hoax and proved Trump did not obstruct justice), she averaged only 2.6 million viewers. -Breitbart

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Mueller 2.0.

Ex-Trump Aide Hicks Agrees To Hand Over Campaign Documents To Congress (R.)

Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, once a close aide to President Donald Trump, has agreed to turn over documents related to his 2016 election campaign to congressional investigators, a top Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday. The agreement marks a step forward for House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler in investigations of Republican Trump and his inner circle, digging into the campaign, his turbulent presidency and business interests. Hicks, Trump’s former campaign press secretary, agreed to supply the documents from the campaign, despite a White House directive advising her not to provide the committee with material from her subsequent time at the White House.

She and former White House lawyer Annie Donaldson were subpoenaed on May 21 by the panel as part of its inquiry into whether Trump obstructed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout said in a letter to Nadler that Hicks would not hand over documents related to Trump’s time in the White House and his presidential transition period because administration attorneys believe the papers may be subject to a claim of executive privilege by Trump.

[..] The committee is seeking any material Hicks has on a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York between campaign officials including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russians offering to help Trump’s candidacy. The subpoena also seeks documents relating to any payments made to Trump’s convicted former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen said Trump directed “hush money” payments he made for two women’s silence before the election about their alleged sexual relations with Trump.

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Like he cares. Note that they have no instruments to punish him: “..he could potentially lose the right to make a victory speech in the chamber..”

EU Gives Nigel Farage 24 Hours To Explain Arron Banks Funds (G.)

Nigel Farage has been given 24 hours by the European parliament to explain in person his failure to declare lavish expenses funded by Arron Banks, an insurance tycoon under investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency. The summons came just two hours before the Brexit party leader was spotted arriving at the US ambassador’s residence in London for a meeting with Donald Trump during the US president’s state visit to the UK. Last month Channel 4 News revealed emails, invoices and documents suggesting that Banks had covered Farage’s costs for a £13,000-a-month Chelsea home in the year of the Brexit referendum, visits to the US and a chauffeur-driven car. Should Farage fail to convince the parliament of his reason for not declaring Banks’s funding, he could potentially lose the right to make a victory speech in the chamber in July as head of his parliamentary group.

None of the donations were declared to the European parliament despite the MEPs’ code of conduct stipulating that all members must declare travel, accommodation or subsistence expenses from third parties. The European parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, had referred the matter to a committee of five MEPs who act as watchdogs over the parliament’s code of conduct. They met on Tuesday to agree on an unusually short deadline for Farage to explain the failure to declare the expenses at a hearing in Brussels on Wednesday. Farage, who earns €102,000 (£90,000) each year as an MEP and received up to €700,000 from media appearances in 2014-18, told the Guardian that he had no intention of attending the hearing.

He said: “What is this but an EU kangaroo court where I am given 24 hours notice about allegations picked up from press stories? “I will not be attending at such short notice. And if they try to bar me from the building, who else gives voice to the thousands of people who voted for me? Is this democracy EU style? “I did not receive any private money for political purposes. This committee would better spend its time investigating the waste of public money by well-known MEPs.” A failure to attend the advisory committee’s hearing does not bring with it any sanction in itself…

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What are the costs to Monsanto?

10 Million Acres Of US Farmland Won’t Be Planted With Crops This Year (Snyder)

It looks like 2019 could be the worst year for U.S. agriculture in modern American history by a very wide margin. As you will see below, millions upon millions of acres of U.S. farmland will go unused this year due to cataclysmic flooding. And many of the farmers that did manage to plant crops are reporting extremely disappointing results. The 12 month period that concluded at the end of April was the wettest 12 month period in U.S. history, and more storms just kept on coming throughout the month of May. And now forecasters are warning of another series of storms this week, and following that it looks like a tropical storm will pummel the region. As Bloomberg has pointed out, we have truly never seen a year like this ever before…

“There has never been a spring planting season like this one. Rivers topped their banks. Levees were breached. Fields filled with water and mud. And it kept raining.” Many farmers just kept waiting for the flooding and the rain to end so that they could plant their crops, but that didn’t happen. At this point it is too late for many farmers to plant crops at all, and it is now being projected that 6 million acres of farmland that is usually used for corn will go completely unsown this year… “There has never been weather like this, either. The 12 months that ended with April were the wettest ever for the contiguous U.S. That spurred other firsts: Corn plantings are further behind schedule for this time of year than they have been in records dating to 1980 and analysts are predicting an unheard-of 6 million acres intended for the grain may simply go unsown this year.”

[..] In the end, we could easily see more than 10 million acres of U.S. farmland go completely unused this year. And please don’t assume that the acres that have been planted are going to be okay. In Nebraska, farmer Ed Brummels said that conditions are so bad that it is “like we are trying to plant on top of a lake!”… “It’s like we are trying to plant on top of a lake! Planting will be over soon as farmers continue to be frustrated with these very saturated conditions.”

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“They are removing the lungs of our planet… ”

Brazil Amazon Deforestation Rising At Fastest Rate In A Decade (R.)

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil sped up in May to the fastest rate in a decade, according to data from an early-warning satellite system, as experts pointed to activity by illegal loggers encouraged by the easing of environmental protections under President Jair Bolsonaro. According to the Brazilian space research institute INPE, the DETER alerting system registered deforestation of 739 square kilometers (285 square miles) in May, the first of three months in which logging tends to surge following the region’s rainy season. That is up from 550 square kilometers in May 2018 and more than double the deforestation detected two years earlier.


“If this upward curve continues, we could have a bad year for the Amazon forest,” Claudio Almeida, head of INPE’s satellite monitoring program, said on Tuesday. “It will depend on how much policing there is in the next two critical months,” he added. The data adds to concerns from environmentalists who warn that Bolsonaro’s five-month-old government has dismantled conservation agencies, shown skepticism about fighting climate change and cut the budget to enforce environmental laws. Brazil’s environmental protection agency IBAMA, which has been starved of funds in recent years, lost authority when he took office in January, and the forestry commission was moved to the Agriculture Ministry, which is run by farm industry allies.

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The sadness is deafening.

Chimpanzees In The Wild Reduced To ‘Forest Ghettos’ (AFP)

Urban expansion and hunting have pushed chimpanzees, humanity’s closest relative in the animal kingdom, into shrinking islets of wildness, top experts said Tuesday after a three-day meeting in Germany. All four sub-species of the African primate are threatened with extinction, with at least one – the western chimpanzee – declining in number by more than 80 percent over three generations. Forty chimp experts from around the world – with a combined 300 years of field experience – issued a collective appeal to save the only animal whose DNA overlaps with humans by 98%. “Over the decades that we have been working with wild chimpanzee communities, we have all seen our study groups become isolated,” they said in a statement.


“Chimpanzees are being reduced into living in forest ghettos.” The main threat to chimps and other large mammals is habitat loss. Africa still has large tracts of undisturbed savannah and forest, but these areas are shrinking rapidly due growing cities, mining, deforestation, and industrial agriculture. The continent’s human population of more than 1.2 billion is expected to double by mid-century, and could top four billion by the end of the century.

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Jun 012019
 
 June 1, 2019  Posted by at 1:44 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Rest (Marie-Thérèse Walter) 1932

With the news that Julian Assange is “wasting away” in Belmarsh prison hospital, and with UN rapporteur Professor Nils Melzer’s report detailing how this happens, I’m once again drawn towards the lawlessness that all “authorities” involved in his case have been displaying, and with impunity. They all apparently think they are literally above the law. Their own laws.

But they can’t be, nowhere, not above their respective national laws nor the international ones their countries have signed up to. They can’t, because that would instantly make any and all laws meaningless. So you tell me where we find ourselves today.

There’s this paragraph in an article by Jonathan Cook entitled Abuses Show Assange Case Was Never About Law, which lists “17 glaring anomalies in Assange’s legal troubles”, that sums it all up pretty perfectly:

Australia not only refused Assange, a citizen, any help during his long ordeal, but prime minister Julia Gillard even threatened to strip Assange of his citizenship, until it was pointed out that it would be illegal for Australia to do so.

See, Cook is already skipping a step there. Gillard didn’t take Assange’s citizenship away, because that is against Australian law, but it’s just as much against Australian law for a government to let one of its citizens rot in some kind of hell. Still, they did let him rot, but as an Australian citizen. At that point, what difference does anything make anymore?

This is a pattern that runs through the entire Assange “file”, and it does so to pretty astonishing levels. Where you’re forced to think that the countries involved effectively have no laws, and no courts, because if they did, the actions by their governments would surely be whistled back by parliaments or judges or someone, anyone. They’re all essentially lawless.

 

There are 5 principal countries involved in the case (that doesn’t absolve any other country from its own responsibility for speaking out when international laws are broken). In alphabetical order, they are Australia, Ecuador, Sweden, the UK and the US. We can go through them in that order.

Australia: The above already mostly sums up where Australia comes up short, i.e. fails miserably to such an extent that both its legal and its political system should long have sounded a five alarm -but didn’t-. A government cannot abandon its own citizens abroad, just because it doesn’t agree with what that citizen has done or said.

It can’t do that even if that citizen is a Hannibal Lecter or an Adolf Hitler, and Julian Assange is very far removed from either. Nor has anyone ever even claimed that Assange broke even one Australian law, let alone proven it. What it comes down to then is that it’s the government that has broken its own laws, not Assange. That, too, is a pattern, it holds for all 5 countries I mentioned above.

It’s not Assange who breaks laws and should be persecuted for that, it’s the politicians who form the governments of these countries. Plus of course the parliamentarians tasked with controlling them. And the legal systems as well as the press tasked with controlling the entire system.

UN rapporteur Nils Melzer says in his report: “Australia is a glaring absence in this case. They’re just not around, as if Assange was not an Australian citizen. That is not the correct way of dealing with that.”

 

Ecuador: This country’s former president, Rafael Correa, followed international law on asylum in the exact way it was framed and intentioned, by granting Julian Assange asylum in the summer of 2012. But his successor and former friend Lenin Moreno broke that law in the most flagrant ways imaginable.

Ecuador is a signatory country to both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Moreno’s actions, which have led to UK police dragging Assange out of the Ecuador embassy in London, which international law says is Ecuadorian territory in which the UK has no jurisdiction, violate an entire litany of laws, rules and regulations phrased by both these international bodies, as well as Ecuador’s own laws (if only because they ARE a signatory member of both).

Asylum laws, necessarily international, have zero meaning if and when a country seeks to (re-)interpret them whenever the wind changes direction and/or a new government is installed. Asylum laws are there to last. You can’t throw out a person your country has previously granted asylum just because someone offers you a bag of money. That is the exact reason why there are such laws.

And every single country that is a signatory to these laws MUST protest what Moreno did to Assange, lest the laws covering asylum become invalid overnight. Well, that’s what they have become in April. For every single country, and for every single human being. That’s how far-reaching the events are.

Does phrasing it like that perhaps make it -a little bit- clearer how big an issue this is, that if it doesn’t apply to Assange, it by default doesn’t apply to anyone anymore? That his case wipes out many decades of jurisprudence, established after, and because of, two world wars and many other atrocities? That Assange’s treatment throws us back in time at least a full century?

Everyone NOT protesting what has been done to Assange had better think again. If you are a law student, lawyer, a judge in a democratic country, you have an obligation here, as much as all politicians have. It makes no difference what you think about Assange or what he’s done.

 

Sweden: The Swedes have sex crime laws that apparently are different from anyone else’s, more strict etc. Maybe they think they know better than everyone else?! In Assange’s story, this means they have closed the file on him on 2010, 2013 and 2017, but re-opened it again and again, for reasons that are not immediately clear -to me-.

This appears to indicate that once you’re suspected, let alone accused, of for instance rape, you may never be able to clear your name anymore. And don’t let’s forget that Assange was never charged with anything, not one single thing, all the way back to 2010.

From what we know, the two women mentioned in the case never wanted to file a complaint against him. But the police did. And then that complaint was thrown out. And revived. He was specifically allowed to leave the country after staying on for over a month, and then shortly after he did leave for London a Swedish prosecutor filed an Interpol Red Notice against him, something hitherto exclusively reserved for terrorists and war criminals.

Prosecutor Marianne Ny refused to interview Assange in London for years, though other such interviews – by Swedish prosecutors in Britain- took place 44 times during Assange’s stay in the Ecuador embassy. The UK even told Sweden not to close the case. And there’s still so much more that happened in Sweden. There is a term for a country that behaves like this: a rogue state.

 

The UK: Former UK ambassador and Assange adviser Craig Murray probably summarizes it best today when he says the UK has become a rogue state. This is true as well for Australia, Ecuador, Sweden and the US. It is the inevitable consequence of flouting the law.

Professor Melzer is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Professor Melzer is Swiss. He is an extremely distinguished lawyer and Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow in addition to Professor of International Humanitarian Law at the Geneva Academy. He served 12 years as a Red Cross Delegate. There is no doubting either Professor Melzer’s expertise or his independence in this matter. When Professor Melzer says that “UK courts have not shown the objectivity and impartiality required by law”, people should sit up and listen.

I have detailed judge Michael Snow calling Assange a “narcissistic personality” in a brief hearing in which Assange had said virtually nothing but “not guilty”, on the basis of prejudice Snow brought with him into the courtroom. Snow convicted him summarily of bail jumping and sentenced him to a virtually unprecedented 50 weeks.

I have detailed Judge Arbuthnot, wife of a former Tory Defence Minister who co-owns a company with a former Head of MI6, mocking Assange and saying he can get all the exercise his health required on a Juliet balcony, as she dismissed a motion to have the bail charges dropped. I have detailed Judge Phillips of the Supreme Court choosing to rely on the French text and discount the English text of a treaty in arguing extradition was in order.

The bias of the British courts has been palpable and stinking.[..] when the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary and Illegal detention ruled that Julian was being held against his will in the Ecuadorean Embassy and should be permitted to leave to Ecuador, in repudiating the UN Working Group – whom the UK had supported in every single one of hundreds of previous cases – then Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stood up in the Commons and denounced the UN Working Group as being “lay people not lawyers”, when in fact every single one of the panel is an extremely distinguished international lawyer.

Hammond’s lie to parliament did not surprise me; but I was genuinely astonished that the entire corporate and state media went along with this most blatant of lies and did not call it out. The BBC, Times, Financial Times, Guardian all reported Hammond’s comment that the UN panel were “not lawyers”. None of them would agree to publish a correction of this basic and easily verifiable fact.

Britain no longer makes a pretence of obeying the rule of international law. It simply refuses to acknowledge the concerns of the UN in the Assange case, happily dependent on the bubble of prejudice the political and media elite have manufactured. This is part of a general pattern of direspecting the UN. Theresa May as Home Secretary refused to let the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women inside Yarls Wood immigration detention centre to inspect conditions there. The Tory government reacted to the recent shocking UN report on poverty in the UK – none of the basic facts of which are challenged – by seeking to have the UN Rapporteur removed.

When you add this together with the UK’s refusal to accept the 13-1 Opinion of the International Court of Justice that the Chagos Islands belong to Mauritius, and the UK’s refusal to accept the ruling of the agreed International Chambers of Commerce Court of Arbitration that Britain must pay its debt to Iran, you get what is a very clear picture that the UK has gone full rogue state and has simply abandoned its support for the system of international law which was in very large part a UK creation.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday thought attack is the best defense and called out Professor Melzer for his criticism of the UK. Melzer responded by implying Hunt doesn’t know his own laws.

 

 

I was thinking when I saw the “conversation” that Hunt is basically implying Assange tortured himself. And that doesn’t just demonstrate poor knowledge of the law, that is full-blast BS. Because no matter what led to Assange seeking refuge in the Ecuador embassy, according to international law he always, under any and all circumstances, has (among other things) the right to proper medical care. The UK has refused him that.

It doesn’t even have anything to do with him being free to leave or not. Which he evidently was not. Moreover, other than skipping bail Assange didn’t do anything illegal, and under asylum laws, he had a right to skip bail. Once again, it’s not Assange who has broken laws, it’s everyone else involved in this tragic saga. And even if Assange had broken a law, he still would have had the right to proper medical care.

 

The US: Where to even start? The American hunt for Assange is a decade old and has recently escalated when they could get heir hands on the new Ecuador president. Then they invoked the much ridiculed 1917 Espionage Act to accuse a foreign national of spying. And whatever Assange has done, spying it is not.

But they obviously think they can get Eastern District of Virginia Judge Leonie Brinkema (aka the hanging judge) to pretend that it is, or at least that some of what he’s done falls under a law that almost everyone agrees should have been abolished long ago.

What Nils Melzer also mentioned in his report on Assange is that certain parts of the Espionage Act allow for the death penalty. Not those that he has been charged under so far, but they could attempt to stick them on. Which would make it illegal for the UK to extradite Julian Assange. But who still thinks these people give one flying hoot about the law?

For them, laws are things they use to further their means, nothing else. Other than that, they care nothing for the laws that govern their countries, even though they are the very same laws that allowed them to assume their power.

They think they’re going to get away with the murder of Julian Assange. Unhindered by any law. That means there no longer is a functioning -international- legal system. There are only rogue states left.

 

 

 

 

May 252019
 


 

What Assange Charges Could Mean For Press Freedom (Jonathan Turley)
A Threat to the Press and the American People (IC)
Professional #Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs (CJ)
The Belligerence of Empire (Orphan)
Australian Government Urged To Intervene In Assange Case (G.)
Trump Wants Investigation Into Australia’s Role In ‘Russian Hoax’ (G.)
The Golem Strikes Back (Kunstler)
Political Media Is a Hucksters’ Paradise (Taibbi)
Trump Declares Emergency To Expedite Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And UAE (CNN)
For The First Time Ever, China Takes Over An Insolvent Bank (ZH)
EU Fraud Watchdog Considering Nigel Farage Investigation (G.)
We’ve Created A Civilisation Hell Bent On Destroying Itself (C.)

 

 

Hundreds of assessments of what the Assange charges mean. Turley’s not a bad place to start.

What Assange Charges Could Mean For Press Freedom (Jonathan Turley)

For over a decade, there has been a raging debate over precisely what Julian Assange is – whistleblower, journalist, or spy. Now that question will have to be answered after the United States hit him with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act for receiving and publishing information from Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The Trump administration has now crossed the line that many counselled it to avoid – and may have triggered the most important press freedom case in the US in 300 years. While the status of Assange has long been hotly debated, his actions in publishing classified information on Wikileaks is a common component of journalism. Indeed, the most celebrated cases in history – such as the failed attempts to stop the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 – were based on the publications of classified evidence.

Assange’s supporters note that his publications revealed alleged war crimes in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that were unlikely to have been exposed otherwise. If it was a crime for Assange to receive and publish such information, much of the journalism in the US would become a de facto criminal enterprise. In April, the government avoided this threshold question by charging Assange with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The charge related to helping Manning obtain access to defence department computers in 2010. In doing so, the justice department stayed clear of charging him as a publisher as opposed to an intruder. That is until Thursday.

The charges were brought under the controversial Espionage Act of 1917. Passed after World War One, it was used to target anti-war activists and political dissidents. The law has long been denounced as unconstitutional in its criminalising of receiving and publishing classified information. It is no surprise that the justice department had to use this much-ridiculed law to achieve this ignoble goal. Counts nine through 17 against Assange concern the publications of “national defence information.” The justice department takes pains to try to argue that Assange is not a journalist and that the publication counts concern the disclosure of not just classified information but the actual names of intelligence sources. That however may establish that Assange is a poor journalist, but a journalist all the same.

Read more …

Everybody does what WikiLeaks does. Just not as successful.

A Threat to the Press and the American People (IC)

The indictment says that Assange and WikiLeaks “repeatedly sought, obtained, and disseminated information that the United States classified due to the serious risk that unauthorized disclosure could harm the national security of the United States.” That is almost a textbook definition of the job of a reporter covering national security at a major news organization. Take a look at the tips pages of most news outlets, and you’ll see a remarkable similarity between what journalists ask for and what WikiLeaks sought. The indictment goes on to say that “WikiLeaks’s website explicitly solicited censored, otherwise restricted, and until September 2010, ‘classified’ materials.”


Today, virtually every major news organization has a similar secure drop box where sources can provide information anonymously. WikiLeaks popularized that technique for soliciting anonymous leaks, but it is now common journalistic practice. “Assange personally and publicly promoted WikiLeaks to encourage those with access to protected information, including classified information, to provide it to WikiLeaks for public disclosure,” the indictment says. Nearly every national security reporter goes on television, gives speeches, or launches book tours to promote their work and hopefully obtain new sources. All of this raises an obvious question: If the government can charge Assange for conspiring to obtain leaked documents, what would stop it from charging the CIA beat reporter at the New York Times for committing the same crime?

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Rachel Maddow is a giant blemish on our world.

Professional #Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs (CJ)

“And, you know, I know you,” Maddow continued, pointing to the camera. “Given everything else that we know about the WikiLeaks guy, I can feel through the television right now your mixed feelings about what I am saying. I can feel what may be, perhaps, a certain lack of concern about Julian Assange’s ultimate fate, given his own gleeful and extensive personal role in trying to help a hostile foreign government interfere in our election in order to install their chosen president with WikiLeaks’ help. Okay? I know. Okay, I feel ya. I got it. But, it is a recurring theme in history, heck, it is a recurring theme in the Bible, that they always pick the least sympathetic figures to try this stuff on first.

Despite anyone’s feelings about this spectacularly unsympathetic character at the center of this international drama, you are going to see every journalistic institution in this country, every First Amendment supporter in this country, left, right and center, swallow their feelings about this particular human and denounce what the Trump administration is trying to do here. Because it would fundamentally change the United States of America.” Wow. Make no mistake, this is a hugely significant development. This isn’t just some columnist for the New York Times or the Guardian, this is Rachel effing Maddow, the Queen Mother of all tinfoil pussyhat-wearing Russiagate insanity.

This same pundit was just a couple of months ago not just smearing but outright lying about Assange, deceitfully telling her audience that the new legal rings closing around Assange were about his 2016 publications then instructing viewers not to Google anything about it because they’ll get computer viruses. Now that she’s recognized that this could actually hurt her and her network directly, she’s finally feeding her audience a different narrative out of sheer enlightened self-interest.

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Violence is the sole language of empire.

The Belligerence of Empire (Orphan)

Violence is the sole language of empire. It is this only currency it uses to enforce its precepts and edicts, both at home and abroad. Eventually this language becomes internalized within the psyche of the subjects. Social and cultural conditioning maintained through constant subtle messaging via mass media begins to mold the public will toward that of authoritarian conformity. The American Empire is emblematic of this process. There is mass compliance to the dictates of the ruling class and this occurs most often without any prompting or debate whatsoever. In this dictatorship of money the poor are looked at with ridicule and contempt, and are often punished legally for their imposed poverty.

But the social conditioning of the American public has led toward a bizarre allegiance to its ruling class oppressors. Propaganda still works here and most are still besotted with the notion of America being a bastion of “freedom and democracy.” The growing gap between the ultra-wealthy and the poor and the gutting of civil liberties are ignored. And blind devotion is especially so when it comes to US foreign policy. Most Americans still believe they live in the greatest country on the planet. They believe the American military to be noble and that they always reluctantly go into or are forced into war. Indeed, both the Democrats and Republicans possess an uncanny ability to bridge their ideological distances when it comes to defending US militarism, the Pentagon and the war machine of imperialism.

But this is tied to the defense of capitalism, the ruling class, and the ultimate reason for war: the protection of that class’s global capital investments. The persecution of Chelsea Manning, much like the case of Julian Assange, is demonstrative of this. It is a crusade against truth tellers that has been applauded from both sides of the American establishment, liberal and conservative alike. It does not matter that she helped to expose American war crimes. On the contrary, this is seen as heresy to the Empire itself. Manning’s crime was exposing the underbelly of the beast. A war machine which targeted and killed civilians and journalists by soldiers behind a glowing screen thousands of miles away, as if they were playing a video game.

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They would have already if they wanted.

Australian Government Urged To Intervene In Assange Case (G.)

The Australian film-maker who spent 15-months in a Cambodian jail on spying charges says he fears Julian Assange is being used as an “example” to other journalists as part of what he described as “a fundamental attack on the fourth estate”. James Ricketson spent more than a year inside the overcrowded Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on spying charges before his release last September after a public outcry and lobbying by the Australian government. On Friday he told Guardian Australia he hoped the Morrison government would make “a forthright public statement” in support of Assange and the principle of press freedom.


“I would like to think the Australian government is woking in the background to forge some kind of resolution that is fair and equitable in the Julian Assange case,” he said. “Although it was not clear to me at the time, it’s now clear that from at least January last year there were fairly high-level representations being made to the Cambodian government on my behalf. “The government had its own reasons for why it needed to keep that secret [but] it would certainly be nice if it were to make a public statement to the effect that we’re concerned about the fate of Julian Assange and the impact of this extradition attempt on investigative journalism in Australia and worldwide.”

Read more …

Talking about Australia…

Trump Wants Investigation Into Australia’s Role In ‘Russian Hoax’ (G.)

Donald Trump has said he wants Australia’s role in setting off the FBI inquiry into links between Russia and his election campaign examined by the US attorney general, William Barr. It is a potentially explosive development for the historically solid US-Australian alliance and the first time Trump has publicly named Australia while discussing what he calls the “Russia hoax” and “witch hunt”. A spokesman for Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, responded to the comments on Saturday by saying: “Australia and the United States are the closest of allies.” “The government has not commented on these matters and doing so could prejudice any ongoing investigation,” he said.

Trump said he had declassified “potentially millions of pages” of intelligence documents related to surveillance activities on his campaign and Barr would be in charge of analysing it. “So what I’ve done is I’ve declassified everything,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving on a trip to Japan. “He can look and I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine. “I hope he looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.” Trump’s former campaign aide George Papadopoulos has claimed that Australia’s former high commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer, spied on him during a meeting at a London bar in May 2016.

Downer has rejected this, but said that during the meeting Papadopoulos had told him Russia had damaging material on Trump’s presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. In an interview with the ABC’s Matt Bevan, Downer said Papadopoulos told him during the meeting he was confident Trump would win the election because the Russians had some information on Clinton which could be damaging to her if released. Downer then passed this information on to Canberra. Papadopoulos denies he ever mentioned Russia and Clinton during the meeting.

Read more …

“..the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton..”

The Golem Strikes Back (Kunstler)

There’s perhaps a lot to dislike about Donald J. Trump, US President No. 45. Despite all the grooming and tailoring, there’s little savoir faire there. He tweets not like a mellifluous songbird, but in snorts like a rooting aardvark. His every predilection is an affront to the refined Washington establishment: his dark business history, his beloved ormolu trappings, his Mickey-D cheeseburgers, the mystifying hair-doo. Even so, the bad faith of his antagonists exceeds even Mr. Trump’s defects and vices. The plot they concocted to get rid of him failed. And, yes, it was a plot, even a coup. And they fucked it up magnificently, leaving a paper trail as wide as Interstate-95.

Now all that paper is about to fall over the District of Columbia like radioactive ash, turning many current and former denizens of rogue agencies into the walking dead as they embark on the dismal journey between the grand juries and the federal prisons. Hence, the desperate rage of the impeachment faction, in direct proportion to their secret shameful knowledge that the entire RussiaGate melodrama was, in fact, a seditious subterfuge between the Hillary Clinton campaign and a great many key figures in government up-to-and-including former president Barack Obama, who could not have failed to be clued-in on all the action. Even before the declassification order, the true narrative of events has been plainly understood: that the US Intel “community” trafficked in fictitious malarkey supplied by Mrs. Clinton to illegally “meddle” in the 2016 election.

[..] The evidence already public indicates that Robert Mueller must have known as early as the date of his appointment (and likely before) that the predicating evidence for his inquiry was false. After all, his lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, was informed of that in no uncertain terms by Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr in 2016. Justice may seek to know why Mr. Mueller did not inform the target of his inquiry that this was so. The answer to that may be that Mr. Mueller’s true mission was to disable Mr. Trump as long as possible while setting an obstruction of justice trap — which also failed tactically.

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“..Democratic organizers realized they’d come within a hair’s breadth of printing bumper stickers and posters for an unraveling one-man Enron.”

Political Media Is a Hucksters’ Paradise (Taibbi)

Avenatti became an instant celebrity after he filed a lawsuit seeking to void the non-disclosure agreement between Trump and Daniels, in which she received a $130,000 payoff to be quiet about what she would later call “the least impressive sex I ever had.” In that, Avenatti had something cable television wanted more than anyone ever wanted anything: details about the president’s “smaller than average” tackle and Daniels’ tale of “getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart.” Avenatti leveraged being the gatekeeper of this story into daily TV appearances, where he quickly became a political figure in his own right, someone who would play the Democrats’ bare-knuckle answer to Trump.

By last summer in Iowa, he was already giving speeches as a presidential hopeful. CNN gushed: “Cribbing but amending Obama, Avenatti added, “When they go low, I say, we hit harder…” Whether by calling Michael Cohen a “thug,” or demanding an “immediate indictment” over the hush money issue, Avenatti could be counted on to take the maximally aggressive posture. Media figures couldn’t praise him enough. He was great, emotionally satisfying TV! Our own version of Trump! Ana Navarro compared him to the “Holy Spirit” on The View, while Joy Behar said “being a lawyer is minimal compared to what he’s doing.” MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle said, ”The Democrats could learn something from you.”

Brian Stelter, who later excused his admiration on the grounds Avenatti showed “Trump-like mastery” of media, said Avenatti should be taken “seriously as a contender.” In another forum he was called the “savior of the Republic.” Avenatti wasn’t the savior of anything. He turned out to be an epic buffoon and massive net minus for Democrat causes. His performance in the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation last fall – where the Maya Angelo-quoting self-described feminist ended up having his own witness tell NBC he’d “twisted” her words – was just one faceplant. He was soon after arrested for domestic violence. This helped lead to cancellation of campaign events, as Democratic organizers realized they’d come within a hair’s breadth of printing bumper stickers and posters for an unraveling one-man Enron.

Read more …

Empire.

Trump Declares Emergency To Expedite Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia And UAE (CNN)

The Trump administration has declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally told lawmakers Friday of the administration’s plans. “These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement that put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.


In a Friday letter to congressional lawmakers, Pompeo said that he “determined that an emergency exists, which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan “in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region,” according to a copy obtained by CNN. The notification comes on the same day as President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is sending an additional 1,500 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. Pompeo noted in his statement that “today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran.”

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First time they announce it anyway.

For The First Time Ever, China Takes Over An Insolvent Bank (ZH)

There was a time when in the years following the financial crisis, every Friday the FDIC would report of one or more small and not small banks failing, as their liabilities exceeded their assets, who were taken over by larger peers with a taxpayer subsidy to cover the capital shortfall. And while this weekly event, also known as “FDIC Failure Friday” has faded from the US, for now, it has made a grand appearance in China. China’s financial regulators said on Friday the country’s banking and insurance regulator and the central bank, will take control of the small, troubled inner Mongolia-based Baoshang Bank due to the serious credit risks it poses.


The regulator’s control of Baoshang will last for a year starting on Friday, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) said on their websites. China Construction Bank (CCB) will be entrusted to handle the business operations of the small lender, based in the industrial city of Baotou, the statement said. Such a takeover by national authorities is extremely rare, and takes place amid gathering concerns among regulators and financial analysts about a renewed surge in bad debts…

… a record pace of corporate defaults, amounting to 39.2 billion yuan of domestic bond defaults in the first four months of the year, 3.4 times the total for the same period of 2018…

Moody’s analyst Yulia Wan told the WSJ that regulators likely decided to take over Baoshang to limit any fallout to businesses in Inner Mongolia. “The move is to reduce the risk of a shock to the local economy,” said said, adding that the Baoshang takeover appeared to be the first time that national authorities seized control of a bank since Chinese lenders started listing on stock markets in the 1990s. In the past when banks came under pressure, local authorities would pull together funds from local state-owned firms and investors, or have another bank stage a takeover.

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He’ll claim it’s a witch hunt.

EU Fraud Watchdog Considering Nigel Farage Investigation (G.)

The European Union’s anti-fraud watchdog is considering whether Nigel Farage should be investigated for any illegal activity over lavish payment from Arron Banks, the Guardian has learned. The agency, which goes by its French acronym, Olaf, revealed it was carrying out an assessment, which could lead to a formal investigation. This “initial assessment … does not mean that the individuals in question are guilty of any wrongdoing”, it said. While not a full-blown inquiry, it is a rare and significant step for Olaf to consider investigating a member of the European parliament. The European parliament this week opened an investigation into revelations made by Channel 4 that the insurance tycoon Arron Banks funded a lavish lifestyle for Farage in the year of the Brexit referendum.


In 2016, Farage received expenses of about £450,000, including rent on a Chelsea home, furniture, security and promotional trips to the US, where he attended the Republican national convention. Nothing was declared, an apparent violation of the European parliament’s code of conduct, which states that MEPs must report expensive gifts and attendance at events bankrolled by third parties. “We are aware of the press reports and public statements on the matter you are referring to,” a spokesperson for Olaf said, in response to questions from the Guardian. “It is only after such an initial assessment, which is currently ongoing, that Olaf decides whether or not to open an investigation.” The agency usually takes two months to carry out an assessment, which will examine whether the case falls under its remit and if there is “sufficient suspicion of fraud, corruption or any illegal activity affecting the EU’s financial interests”.

Read more …

Death cult.

We’ve Created A Civilisation Hell Bent On Destroying Itself (C.)

The coffee tasted bad. Acrid and with a sweet, sickly smell. The sort of coffee that results from overfilling the filter machine and then leaving the brew to stew on the hot plate for several hours. The sort of coffee I would drink continually during the day to keep whatever gears left in my head turning. Odours are powerfully connected to memories. And so it’s the smell of that bad coffee which has become entwined with the memory of my sudden realisation that we are facing utter ruin. It was the spring of 2011, and I had managed to corner a very senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during a coffee break at a workshop. The IPCC was established in 1988 as a response to increasing concern that the observed changes in the Earth’s climate are being largely caused by humans.

The IPCC reviews the vast amounts of science being generated around climate change and produces assessment reports every four years. Given the impact the IPPC’s findings can have on policy and industry, great care is made to carefully present and communicate its scientific findings. So I wasn’t expecting much when I straight out asked him how much warming he thought we were going to achieve before we manage to make the required cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. “Oh, I think we’re heading towards 3°C at least,” he said. “Ah, yes, but heading towards,” I countered: “We won’t get to 3°C, will we?” (Because whatever you think of the 2°C threshold that separates “safe” from “dangerous” climate change, 3°C is well beyond what much of the world could bear.)

“Not so,” he replied. That wasn’t his hedge, but his best assessment of where, after all the political, economic, and social wrangling we will end up. “But what about the many millions of people directly threatened,” I went on. “Those living in low-lying nations, the farmers affected by abrupt changes in weather, kids exposed to new diseases?” He gave a sigh, paused for a few seconds, and a sad, resigned smile crept over his face. He then simply said: “They will die.”

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 092019
 


Paul Cézanne Bibémus quarry 1898-1900

 

Trump is Right to Blow Up the Fed (Christopher Whalen)
What Would Stocks Do in “a World Without Buybacks,” Goldman Asks (WS)
Nunes Sends AG Barr Eight Criminal Referrals For Leaks (G.)
Theresa May Forced To Delay Brexit After Historic Win For MPs (G.)
Theresa May To Ask Merkel And Macron For Brexit Delay (R.)
May Risks Wrath Of Tory Brexiters To Plead With EU For More Time (G.)
IMF Economist Warns On Australia Property Slide (AFR)
Stretched Australians Unable To Reduce Debt (AFR)
US Proposes New Tariffs On EU Products Over Airbus Subsidies (AFP)
The Curse of the Thinking Class (Kunstler)
Ecuador Removes Official Close To Assange From London Embassy (SBS)
Brexiteers to Communists And Everything Between Unite For Julian Assange (CF)
Pesticides And Antibiotics Polluting Streams Across Europe (G.)
Nepal Expedition To Remeasure Height Of Mount Everest (AFP)

 

 

But blow it up for real then. What are the odds of that given that the Fed protects the riches of the rich?

Trump is Right to Blow Up the Fed (Christopher Whalen)

Last week, President Donald Trump set the economics community aflame by suggesting that he will appoint businessman and presidential aspirant Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board. Even more than political economist Stephen Moore, the critics maintain, Cain represents a threat to the cabal that has controlled the central bank for decades. Why? Because Cain is a successful executive who founded a real business, took risks, and created jobs, things most academic economists will never ever do. Media outlets and other allied constituencies have howled with rage at the prospect of President Trump “packing the Fed,” a distant reference to attempts by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pack the Supreme Court in the 1930s.

Those worried about the independence of the Federal Reserve Board should reconsider. Independence from what exactly? While the Fed is meant to be independent from the executive branch on a day-to-day basis, it is certainly not independent of Congress or the law. Yet the Fed in recent years has shown a troubling tendency to deviate from its legal mandate and make up new authorities to fit the changing economic situation. Case in point: the dubious notion that we should seek a 2 percent rate of inflation. Anybody who cares to read the 1978 Humphrey Hawkins law will know that the Fed is directed by Congress to seek full employment and then zero inflation. Not 2 percent, but zero.

Yet going back a decade and more, the Fed, led by luminaries such as Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, has advanced a policy of actively embracing inflation. And neither Bernanke nor Yellen bothered to consult Congress when they decided to discard their legal responsibilities. Quantitative easing, to take another example, represents a vast inflation of the financial markets and housing, yet Fed officials actually appear in public and talk about the conundrum presented by “low inflation.” The inflation in home prices that occurred during and after the Fed’s purchase of trillions in securities has permanently raised the price of housing in many parts of the country, preventing millions from purchasing homes. Yellen confesses to be “perplexed” by the dearth of home purchases by young families, but she is the cause of the malady.

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You are not allowed to know the value of the things you buy.

What Would Stocks Do in “a World Without Buybacks,” Goldman Asks (WS)

In the fourth quarter 2018, share repurchases soared 62.8% from a year earlier to a record $223 billion, beating the prior quarterly record set in the third quarter last year, of $204 billion, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices on March 25. It was the fourth quarterly record in a row, the longest such streak in the 20 years of the data. For the whole year 2018, share buybacks soared 55% year-over-year to a record $806 billion, beating the prior record of $589 billion set in 2007 by a blistering 37%! The record buybacks in Q4 came even as stock prices declined on average 5.3%, according to S&P Down Jones Indices. On some bad days during the quarter, corporations were about the only ones left buying their shares.

For the year 2018, these were the top super-duper buyback queens:
Apple: $74.2 billion
Oracle: $29.3 billion
Wells Fargo $21.0 billion
Microsoft: $16.3 billion
Merck: $9.1 billion


But who, outside of corporations buying back their own shares, was buying shares? Goldman Sachs strategists answered this question in a report cited by Bloomberg, that used data from the Federal Reserve to determine “net US equity demand.” These are the largest investor categories other than corporate buybacks, five-year totals:
Foreign investors shed $234 billion.
Pension funds shed $901 billion, possibly to keep asset-class allocations on target as share prices soared.
Stock mutual funds shed $217 billion.
Life insurers added 61 billion
Households added $223 billion.

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Also part of Russiagate.

Nunes Sends AG Barr Eight Criminal Referrals For Leaks (G.)

The “absolutely horrific” leak of Donald Trump’s contentious 2017 phone call with Malcolm Turnbull could lead to criminal charges. Devin Nunes, the highest-ranking Republican member on the US House of Representatives intelligence committee, announced on Sunday he was sending eight criminal referrals to the US attorney general, William Barr. One is aimed at finding out who leaked transcripts of the US president’s phone call with Turnbull on 28 January 2017, a call with the then Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with a Russian ambassador.

“You had conversations with the president of the United States and the prime minister of Australia leak,” Nunes told Fox News. “You had leaks of President Trump talking to the president of Mexico leak. “We all know the travesty of General Flynn. “Nobody knows where those supposed transcripts came from. “Those are just three examples that are absolutely horrific but there’s things that are even worse that were leaked, and there were only two or three reporters involved in this, so it would not be hard to get to the bottom of.” The Trump-Turnbull phone call transcript leak to the Washington Post rocked the usually solid US-Australian alliance, with both nations going into damage control when it was revealed the president abruptly cut short the planned hour-long call to just 24 minutes.

The transcript showed Turnbull pushing Trump to support the asylum seeker deal struck with the former US president Barack Obama. It was Trump’s last of numerous calls with world leaders that day, including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump told Turnbull. “This is ridiculous.” Nunes said the eight referrals “are classified or sensitive” so he was unable to offer details. “Five of them are what I would call straight up referrals, so just referrals that name someone and name the specific crimes,” Nunes said. “Those crimes are lying to Congress, misleading Congress, leaking classified information.”

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How far removed are we from the Article 50 activation being withdrawn by the UK?

Theresa May Forced To Delay Brexit After Historic Win For MPs (G.)

Backbench MPs have passed historic legislation to delay article 50, forcing the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK exiting the EU with no deal. In extraordinary circumstances, the bill devised by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved by the Commons that evening. The swift passage of the bill, which took just three sitting days to complete, was made possible by the success of an unprecedented amendment which allowed MPs to seize control of parliamentary business on particular days, meaning the government could not block its progress.


The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11pm on Monday night, forcing the prime minister to extend the article 50 process and to set out the length of the extension in the Commons on Tuesday. The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said the government would no longer block the progress of the bill after it was passed by the Lords on Monday evening, but she called it a “huge dog’s dinner” and criticised how little time for debate the bill had been given.

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Take back control! Ask for permission!

Theresa May To Ask Merkel And Macron For Brexit Delay (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to argue for a Brexit delay while her ministers hold crisis talks with Labour to try to break the deadlock in London. Britain’s departure from the EU has already been delayed once but May is asking for yet more time as she courts veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, whose opposition Labour Party wants to keep Britain more closely tied to the bloc after Brexit. “The Prime Minister has not yet moved off her red lines so we can reach a compromise,” Corbyn said ahead of further talks between his team and government ministers on Tuesday. While May travels to Berlin and Paris ahead of an emergency EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday, British lawmakers will hold a 90-minute debate on her proposal to delay Britain’s EU departure date to June 30 from April 12.

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There is no way out anymore.

May Risks Wrath Of Tory Brexiters To Plead With EU For More Time (G.)

Theresa May will go to Paris and Berlin to plead with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for a Brexit extension on Tuesday, promising to be a good member of the European Union until departure day and claiming talks with Labour have a serious chance of reaching a deal. Before an emergency European summit this week, the prime minister will head to the continent to make the case for extending article 50 only until the end of June. However, she is also being forced to make pledges that the UK would abide by EU rules for however long it is a member, given that a longer delay and participation in European elections now look like the most likely option.

EU leaders will decide at the talks on Wednesday night whether to grant an extension to article 50 at all but are most likely to offer a longer delay of up to a year involving strict conditions forcing the UK into “sincere cooperation” with the rest of the bloc. That prospect appeared to be acknowledged on Monday when the Conservative party drew the ire of hard Brexiters – already seeking an indicative confidence vote in the prime minister – by telling potential local election candidates it is preparing to fight in the European elections in May, and asking potential MEPs to put themselves forward.

To avoid EU elections, May would probably have to pass her deal by 12 April and have all the necessary legislation pushed through parliament by the day of the polls on 23 May. If no extension is granted and no withdrawal agreement passed, the UK will leave the EU without a deal on Friday.

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I don’t understand things like this: “..whichever party wins the next election will have its work cut out for it sustaining Australia’s near three-decade run of continuous economic growth.

You’re going to have to accept that growth may halt over 30 years, and to realize that may be a good thing.

IMF Economist Warns On Australia Property Slide (AFR)

Australia’s housing market contraction is worse than first thought, says a top IMF analyst, leaving the economy in what he called a “delicate situation” that boosts the need for faster infrastructure spending and even potential interest rate cuts. In an exclusive interview, the International Monetary Fund’s lead economist for Australia, Thomas Helbling, endorsed last week’s federal budget forecasts for recognising the “weaker outlook” and its use of sober commodity price forecasts. However, Dr Helbling warned the negative fallout from what the IMF will this week admit is a greater-than-anticipated property market downturn in Australia requires more effort by governments to deliver new sources of growth to make up for a worsening shortfall.


Dr Helbling implied the pace of infrastructure spending – as measured in the national accounts – has fallen short of what was scheduled in recent budget figures. “I think given where the economy is now, that this growth impetus comes forward is important in the current cyclical setting. “The ambition [on infrastructure spending] is in many senses welcome,” he said. “The housing market downturn is sort of sagging on the demand side, so you want to have other demand sources pulling.” The assessment by Dr Helbling suggests whichever party wins the next election will have its work cut out for it sustaining Australia’s near three-decade run of continuous economic growth.

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3 decades of growth, right?

Stretched Australians Unable To Reduce Debt (AFR)

Less than a third of Australians expect to reduce their debt load this year – down from 60 per cent last year – and not because they don’t want to but because they can’t, a survey by EY shows. Australia’s household debt-to-income ratio is 190 per cent, and the Reserve Bank of Australia says it remains one of the biggest vulnerabilities in the economy. The heightened level of debt is unlikely to change even with interest rates expected to fall over the coming year, and the introduction of income tax cuts helping some to reduce debt rather than increase spending.

When survey respondents were asked whether they expected to reduce, increase or keep personal and household debt at the same level, 28 per cent said they would reduce their debt level, down from 60 per cent in last year’s survey. In 2018, 73 per cent of high-income earners ($150,000 or more) said they expected to pay down debt. That has fallen to 37 per cent. “Given that our survey also showed that over 60 per cent of Australians are ‘extremely’ concerned about the increasing cost of living – the cost of essential services and increasing energy prices – it seems that more households are not paying down debt because they do not have the capacity to do so,” EY chief economist Jo Masters said.


[..] The number who said they would increase their debt level over the next 12 months has risen to 16 per cent, up from 4 per cent last year. In the income bracket of $70,000-$149,999 the number of people looking to increase debt has risen to 21 per cent up from just 6 per cent last year. The number in that income bracket who were looking to decrease their debt dropped to 34 per cent from 62 per cent last year.

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Dear Americans, you’re going to pay more for your European wine and cheeses so attention is deflected from Boeing.

US Proposes New Tariffs On EU Products Over Airbus Subsidies (AFP)

The US on Monday threatened to impose tariff counter measures of up to $11.2 billion on a host of European products in response to subsidies received by aircraft maker Airbus. In a statement, the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said the World Trade Organization (WTO) had repeatedly found that EU subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States. “This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action,” said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.


“Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft. When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional US duties imposed in response can be lifted.” The statement added that the final amount it would seek in duties was subject to arbitration at the WTO, the result of which was expected this summer. The USTR’s preliminary list extends to 14 pages and contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.

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“.. a hopeless attempt to preserve their reputations and perhaps even their livelihoods.”

The Curse of the Thinking Class (Kunstler)

What is a bigger emergency: the destruction of all those towns, cities, and lives in flyover-land, or the S & P stock index going down twenty points? The choice made by the “experts” the past ten years is obvious: pump the financial markets at all costs by using dishonest policy interventions which they are smart enough to know will eventually blow up the banking system. They did it to preserve their reputations long enough to retire out of their jobs. The trouble is that the damage is now so extreme that when the time comes for them to apologize it will not be enough. They will lose their freedom and perhaps their heads. The neuroticism and dishonesty is exactly what turned two of this country’s most sacred and noble endeavors, higher education and medicine, into disgraceful rackets.

Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes covered both bases in their lead story about how the NYU medical school recently declared its program tuition-free. This great triumph was due to an enormous cash gift from one of the founders of the Home Depot company, billionaire Ken Langone. Nowhere in the broadcast did CBS raise the question as to how the cost of a degree became so outrageous in the first place. Or how Mr. Langone made his fortune by putting every local hardware store in America out of business, which enabled him to capture the annual incomes of ten thousand small business owners and their employees. NYU’s grand gesture is just a way to paper over the shame of the University executives’ role in the college loan racket that may destroy countless lives.

[..] RussiaGate, of course, has been the most acute locus of neurotic dishonesty across this land the past two years. The primary information organs of the thinking class — The New York Times, The WashPo, CNN, MSNBC — have not only omitted to apologize for the dangerous hysteria they knowingly propagated, but they persist in supporting the matrix of fantasies at all costs in what must now be seen as a hopeless attempt to preserve their reputations and perhaps even their livelihoods. The repudiation of this nonsense by chief inquisitor Robert Mueller could not be more absolute, even if he was compelled by reality against his own wishes and instincts to do it. And now, what avenue will all this diseased animus of the thinking class go down in its destructive, shame-fueled frenzy to justify itself?

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I thought they’d already gotten rid of everyone even a little sympathetic to him.

Ecuador Removes Official Close To Assange From London Embassy (SBS)

The Ecuadorian government has removed an official from its London embassy accused of having a close rapport with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Foreign Minister Jose Valencia has told Democracia radio in Quito the civil servant “worked in a very close way” with Assange. Valencia did not provide the official’s name or go into any detail, other than to say that embassy workers must respond first to the Ecuadorian state. The removal comes as tensions between Ecuador and Assange continue to mount. Ecuador recently accused WikiLeaks of helping spread leaked personal documents belonging to President Lenin Moreno.

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Cassandra’s been reporting from the street in front of the embassy. Undercover cops galore.

Brexiteers to Communists And Everything Between Unite For Julian Assange (CF)

The mainstream media tells us we live in an age of “hyper-partisanship.” But that’s not what I witnessed outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where populist right-wingers, anti-imperialist socialists, Brexit supporters and even liberals stood united against the political establishment’s seven-year persecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Protesters from nearly every part of the political spectrum could be found outside the embassy during my three-day expedition, galvanized by reports that Assange may soon be expelled from the building where he has been living under political asylum since 2012.

On Saturday afternoon, England’s Yellow Vests and Brexit supporters flooded the area in support of the WikiLeaks publisher. A few steps away from them, also flying the flag for WikiLeaks, was an out-and-proud communist wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, wheeling around a slogan-adorned cart praising Cuban revolutionaries. It was the first sign that both the far-left and the populist right, despite the gulf of their differences, could stand together in support of a free press. Both leftists and the pro-Brexit right wing crowd chanted “which side are you on” together to the police. They also found common cause in their distrust of the mainstream media, chanting “Fake News BBC” for several minutes – a reference to the notoriously biased British Broadcasting Corporation, the U.K,’s state-backed broadcaster.


Over the next few days, more than one leftist activist told me of their special disdain for BBC reporter John Sweeney, and one even expressed quiet praise for the populist Islam critic Tommy Robinson’s work exposing the BBC in general and Sweeney in particular. The following day, it was the turn of Latin American leftists to have a show of force. Scattered right-wing activists danced along with an upbeat protest organized by socialist Ecuadorian expats in support of Assange. The group held signs branding Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno a traitor along with banners demanding that the WikiLeaks founder be protected — while standing around Che Guevara flags.


Ciaron O’Reilly has been camped outside the embassy for over 130 days

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“The pollution was so severe in places that the ditchwater itself could have been used as a pesticide.”

Don’t allow Monsanto and Syngenta to play the good guys, as they do here.

Pesticides And Antibiotics Polluting Streams Across Europe (G.)

Pesticides and antibiotics are polluting streams across Europe, a study has found. Scientists say the contamination is dangerous for wildlife and may increase the development of drug-resistant microbes. More than 100 pesticides and 21 drugs were detected in the 29 waterways analysed in 10 European nations, including the UK. A quarter of the chemicals identified are banned, while half of the streams analysed had at least one pesticide above permitted levels.

[..] One of the world’s biggest pesticide makers, Syngenta, announced a “major shift in global strategy” on Monday, to take on board society’s concerns and reduce residues in the environment. “There is an undeniable demand for a shift in our industry,” said Alexandra Brand, the chief sustainability officer of Syngenta. “We will put our innovation more strongly in the service of helping farms become resilient to changing climates and better able to adapt to consumer requirements, including reducing carbon emissions and reversing soil erosion and biodiversity decline.” Another major pesticide manufacturer, Bayer, said on Monday it was making public all 107 studies submitted to European regulators on the safety of its controversial herbicide glyphosate.

[..] The testing techniques used in the new research meant only a subset of pesticides could be detected. Two very common pesticides – glyphosate and chlorothalonil – were not included in the study.. [..] Irish Water said on Monday that EU pesticide levels were being breached in public water supplies across Ireland. In Switzerland, another new study found that soils in 93% of organic farms were contaminated with insecticides, as were 80% of the areas farmers set aside for wildlife. Research revealed in 2013 that insecticides were devastating dragonflies, snails and other water-based species in the Netherlands. The pollution was so severe in places that the ditchwater itself could have been used as a pesticide.

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1000s of highly sophisticated satellites in orbit but they still need climbers to measure a mountain.

Nepal Expedition To Remeasure Height Of Mount Everest (AFP)

Nepal is sending a team of government-appointed climbers up Mount Everest to remeasure its height, officials said Monday, hoping to quash persistent speculation that the world’s tallest mountain has shrunk. Four government surveyors will depart Wednesday for Everest, which lies on the Himalayan range straddling the border of Nepal and China. Its official height is 8,848 metres (29,029 feet), first recorded by an Indian survey in 1954. Numerous other teams have measured the peak, although the 1954 height remains the widely accepted figure. But a heated debate erupted in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in Nepal in 2015, with suggestions the powerful tremor had knocked height off the lofty peak.

Nepal’s Survey Department commissioned a team of surveyors in 2017 to prepare for an Everest expedition in the hope of putting the matter to rest. “We are sending a team because there were questions regarding the height of Everest after the earthquake,” the expedition’s co-ordinator from the Survey Department, Susheel Dangol, told AFP. Four government surveyors have spent two years fine tuning their methodology for measuring the peak, collecting readings from the ground and training for the extreme conditions they will encounter at the top of the world. They will ascend the treacherous mountain armed with advanced equipment to collect the remaining data to derive the true height of the peak, officials say.

[..] In May 1999 an American team added two metres to Everest’s height when it used GPS technology to survey the peak. That figure is now used by the US National Geographic Society, but otherwise not widely accepted. Later, Nepal became embroiled in a diplomatic row with China after the latter claimed the peak was four metres shorter than the accepted height.

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Apr 062019
 


Dante Gabriel Rossetti Monna Vanna 1866

 

Cross-Party Talks Fail As Labour Says May Unable To Compromise (G.)
France, Spain and Belgium ‘Ready For No-Deal Brexit Next Week’ (G.)
Sucker Punch (Jim Kunstler)
The Russian Collusion Hoax Meets An Unbelievable End (Nunes)
Boeing Slashes 737 Production By 20% (ZH)
Trump Says Economy Would Take Off Like ‘A Rocket Ship’ If Fed Cut Rates (CNBC)
Ray Dalio Says Capitalism Needs Urgent Reform (MW)
Kondratiev – Riding the Economic Wave (Kerevan)
EU Charges BMW, Daimler and VW With Collusion Over Emissions (G.)
Australian Housing Downturn Becomes Widespread |(ZH)
Saudi Arabia Threatens To Ditch Petrodollar (R.)

 

 

6 days to April 12. May can’t offer Labour anything the Brexiteers don’t want. And vice versa. Thing is, that was obvious 3 years ago.

The problem is not the idea of Brexit, it’s purely the execution.

Cross-Party Talks Fail As Labour Says May Unable To Compromise (G.)

Theresa May’s prospects of cobbling together a cross-party majority to convince EU leaders to grant a short Brexit delay next week appear to be slipping away after Labour claimed she had failed to offer “real change or compromise” in talks. The prime minister made a dramatic pledge to open the door to talks with Labour on Tuesday after a marathon cabinet meeting. But after two days of negotiations and an exchange of letters on Friday, Labour issued a statement criticising the prime minister for failing to offer “real change or compromise”.= “We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in parliament and bring the country together,” a spokesperson said.


The pessimistic note came after May wrote to the European council president, Donald Tusk, on Friday morning, asking for Brexit to be delayed until 30 June, while cross-party talks continue. Even before Labour’s statement, EU politicians responded with bemusement to her failure to offer a concrete plan for assembling a coalition behind a workable deal – increasing the risk that they will take a tough line at next Wednesday’s summit. May’s letter suggested that the UK was preparing to field candidates in European parliamentary elections on 23 May if no deal could be reached.

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Don’t be surprised if one country just says NO. Or more than one. For a new extension, May will need a new plan. She has none.

France, Spain and Belgium ‘Ready For No-Deal Brexit Next Week’ (G.)

France has won the support of Spain and Belgium after signalling its readiness for a no-deal Brexit on 12 April if there are no significant new British proposals, according to a note of an EU27 meeting seen by the Guardian. The diplomatic cable reveals that the French ambassador secured the support of Spanish and Belgian colleagues in arguing that there should only be, at most, a short article 50 extension to avoid an instant financial crisis, saying: “We could probably extend for a couple of weeks to prepare ourselves in the markets.” The chances of Theresa May’s proposal of an extension to 30 June succeeding appeared slim as France’s position in the private diplomatic meeting was echoed by an official statement reiterating its opposition to any further Brexit delay without a clear British plan.


May wrote to the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, on Friday to ask for the delay until 30 June while she battles to win cross-party agreement on a way forward. EU states are extremely sceptical that an extension to 30 June will resolve anything in Westminster. Tusk is pushing the EU to offer at a summit next Wednesday what he has described as a “flextension” in which the UK would be given a year-long extension with an option to come out early if the deal is ratified.

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“Mr. Mueller produced a brief of arguments pro-and-con about obstruction for others to decide upon. In doing that, he was out of order, and maliciously so.”

Sucker Punch (Jim Kunstler)

Having disgraced themselves with full immersion in the barren RussiaGate “narrative,” the Resistance is now tripling down on RussiaGate’s successor gambit: obstruction of justice where there was no crime in the first place. What exactly was that bit of mischief Robert Mueller inserted in his final report, saying that “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him?” It’s this simple: prosecutors are charged with finding crimes. If there is insufficient evidence to bring a case, then that is the end of the matter. Prosecutors, special or otherwise, are not authorized to offer hypothetical accounts where they can’t bring a criminal case. But Mr. Mueller produced a brief of arguments pro-and-con about obstruction for others to decide upon.

In doing that, he was out of order, and maliciously so. Of course, Attorney General Barr took up the offer and declared the case closed, as he properly should where the prosecutor could not conclude that a crime was committed. One hopes that the AG also instructed Mr. Mueller and his staff to shut the fuck up vis-à-vis further ex post facto “anonymous source” speculation in the news media. But, of course, the Mueller staff — which inexplicably included lawyers who worked for the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee — at once started insinuating to New York Times reporters that the full report would contain an arsenal of bombshells reigniting enough suspicion to fuel several congressional committee investigations.

The objective apparently is to keep Mr. Trump burdened, hobbled, and disabled for the remainder of his term, and especially in preparation for the 2020 election against whoever emerges from the crowd of lightweights and geriatric cases now roistering through the primary states. It also leaves the door open for the Resistance to prosecute an impeachment case, since that is a political matter, not a law enforcement action. This blog is not associated with any court other than public opinion, and I am free to hypothesize on the meaning of Mr. Mueller’s curious gambit, so here goes: Mr. Barr, long before being considered for his current job, published his opinion that there was no case for obstruction of justice in the RussiaGate affair. By punting the decision to Mr. Barr, Mr. Mueller sets up the AG for being accused of prejudice in the matter — and, more to the point, has managed to generate a new brushfire in the press.

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Investigate the road the Steele dossier traveled. Might be all you need.

The Russian Collusion Hoax Meets An Unbelievable End (Nunes)

It is astonishing that intelligence leaders did not immediately recognize they were being manipulated in an information operation or understand the danger that the dossier could contain deliberate disinformation from Steele’s Russian sources. In fact, it is impossible to believe in light of everything we now know about the FBI’s conduct of this investigation, including the astounding level of anti-Trump animus shown by high-level FBI figures like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, as well as the inspector general’s discovery of a shocking number of leaks by FBI officials.

It’s now clear that top intelligence officials were perfectly well aware of the dubiousness of the dossier, but they embraced it anyway because it justified actions they wanted to take – turning the full force of our intelligence agencies first against a political candidate and then against a sitting president. The hoax itself was a gift to our nation’s adversaries, most notably Russia. The abuse of intelligence for political purposes is insidious in any democracy. It undermines trust in democratic institutions, and it damages the reputation of the brave men and women who are working to keep us safe. This unethical conduct has had major repercussions on America’s body politic, creating a yearslong political crisis whose full effects remain to be seen.

Having extensively investigated this abuse, House Intelligence Committee Republicans will soon be submitting criminal referrals on numerous individuals involved in these matters. These people must be held to account to prevent similar abuses from occurring in the future. The men and women of our intelligence community perform an essential service defending American national security, and their ability to carry out their mission cannot be compromised by biased actors who seek to transform the intelligence agencies into weapons of political warfare.

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The only thing they talk about is software. But if anything goes wrong, these people will be guillotined.

Boeing Slashes 737 Production By 20% (ZH)

Just a few hours after Ethiopian Airlines warned of a “stigma” associated with the 737 Max that may make them choose not to take delivery of the planes they ordered, Boeing has released a statement after-hours that the company will slash production of the 737 plane from 52 to 42 airplanes per month. Bloomberg reports that Boeing plans to coordinate with customers and suppliers to blunt the financial impact of the slowdown, and for now it doesn’t plan to lay off workers from the 737 program. “When the Max returns to the skies, we’ve promised our airline customers and their passengers and crews that it will be as safe as any airplane ever to fly,” Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement Friday after the market close.


Boeing had planned to hike output of the 737, a workhorse for budget carriers, about 10 percent by midyear, to meet the backlogs. [..] if the issues are not resolved in a timely manner and production of the 737 MAX needs to be halted for an extended period of time, it would take about 0.15% off the level of GDP, or about 0.6%-point off the quarterly annualized growth rate of GDP in the quarter in which production is stopped. [..] the value of total shipments of aircraft by domestic producers in the US totaled $129 billion in 2016. Extrapolating that figure using monthly shipments data by the aircraft and parts industry implies a similar figure for 2018, around $130 billion.

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End the Fed.

Trump Says Economy Would Take Off Like ‘A Rocket Ship’ If Fed Cut Rates (CNBC)

President Donald Trump said Friday the U.S. economy would climb like “a rocket ship” if the Federal Reserve cut interest rates. Commenting after a strong jobs report for March, Trump said the Fed “really slowed us down” in terms of economic growth, and that “there’s no inflation.” “I think they should drop rates and get rid of quantitative tightening,” Trump told reporters, referring to the Fed’s policy of selling securities to unwind its balance sheet, a stimulus put in place during the financial crisis. “You would see a rocket ship. Despite that we’re doing very well.” White House aides have called for the Fed to cut interests rates by as much as 50 basis points. Following the Fed’s most recent meeting in March, the central bank decided to maintain interest rates and hold off on any further increases this year.

As Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow did on Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell highlighted the slowing global economy. “We’re facing a worldwide slowdown [as] Europe is not doing well,” Kudlow said on Bloomberg TV. But unlike the White House, the Fed did not conclude in March that slowing global growth means the bank should begin cutting rates. Trump has been heavily critical of Powell’s decisions at the Fed, going as far as to say that “the Fed has gone crazy” with raising rates. Trump has blamed Powell’s decision-making for drops in the stock market, calling him “loco” for steadily raising rates in 2018 and saying choosing Powell for Fed chairman was the worst mistake of his presidency,

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Capitalism needs capitalism first of all. For that to happen, the Fed will have to be dismantled. You can’t have capitalism without functioning markets. Ergo: America doesn’t appear to like capitalism, or it would make sure it exists.

Ray Dalio Says Capitalism Needs Urgent Reform (MW)

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates LP, the world’s biggest hedge fund, says capitalism has developed into a system that is promoting an ever-wider wealth gap that puts the very existence of the United States at risk. In a two-part series published on LinkedIn, the noted investor argues that capitalism is now in need of reform — and offered ways to accomplish it: ‘I have also seen capitalism evolve in a way that it is not working well for the majority of Americans because it’s producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots. This is creating widening income/wealth/opportunity gaps that pose existential threats to the United States because these gaps are bringing about damaging domestic and international conflicts and weakening America’s condition.’

[..] Today, however, the system has produced little or no real income growth for most people for decades, according to the Dalio essay on LinkedIn. Prime-age workers in the bottom 60% have had no real (inflation-adjusted) income growth since 1980, and the percentage of children who grow up to earn more than their parents has fallen to 50% from 90% in 1970. The wealth gap is at its widest point since the late 1930s, with the top 1% owning more than the bottom 90% combined, “which,” Dalio notes, “is the same sort of wealth gap that existed during the 1935-40 period (a period that brought in an era of great internal and external conflicts for most countries).”

Most people in the bottom 60% “are poor,” he writes. About 40% of all Americans would struggle to raise $400 in the event of an emergency, he says, citing a recent Federal Reserve study. The childhood poverty rate stands at 17.5% and has not shown meaningful improvement in decades. That, in turn, leads to poor academic achievement, low productivity and low incomes.

Read more …

It’s good when people who are not familar with it learn about Kondratieff (though I’ve seen better write-ups), but again: the Fed has become the economy, so what is real anymore?

Kondratiev – Riding the Economic Wave (Kerevan)

There is a rich literature trying to identify the cause, in particular the work of the Belgian economist, the late, great Ernest Mandel. Crudely, it works like this. Social and economic conditions mature to spark a runaway investment boom in the latest cluster of new technologies. After a period, excess investment and increased competition lower rates of profitability, curbing the boom. At the same time – because this is as much a sociological as an economic process – growth expands the global workforce, both in numbers and geographically. The new, militant workforce launches social struggles to capture some of the wealth created in the boom.


This, in turn, adds to the squeeze on profits. The peak and early down wave are characterised by violent social conflicts, whose outcome determines the length of the contraction. To date each K-wave has seen a crushing of social protest and a halt to wage growth, if not a fall in real incomes for the working class. Thus conditions accumulate for a fresh investment boom, as profitability recovers. The ultimate trigger for the new upcycle is investment in the next bunch of new technologies, which simultaneously provide monopoly profits and a new set of markets.

Where precisely are we in the Kondratiev cycle? There is a dispute about this. Economists convinced by the Kondratiev theory largely agree there was a strong up-phase following the Second World War, lasting till the early 1970s. This was driven by the collapse in European wages imposed earlier by the Nazis and by the universal adoption of Fordist, mass production techniques. This expansion turned into a downswing in the 1970s and early 1980s, as profitability declined and the revived European economies (linked through the early Common Market) eroded American competitiveness.


The dispute concerns what happened next – the era of Reagan, Thatcher, neoliberalism and globalisation, running up to the present. In 1998, the American economic historian Robert Brenner published a hugely influential account of global capitalism which claimed to identify a super downswing running from circa 1970 to the turn of the millennium. Brenner rejected the notion global capitalism had (or was likely) to regain profitability, citing excess capacity rather than working class resistance as the primary driver. He pointed to the sudden stagnation in the Japanese economy, in the 1990s, as a precursor for the West’s future.

Read more …

Youi’re going to have to go after individuals, not allow them to hide behind corporations.

EU Charges BMW, Daimler and VW With Collusion Over Emissions (G.)

The European commission has charged BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen with colluding to limit the introduction of clean emissions technology, in the preliminary findings of an antitrust investigation. The car manufacturers have 10 weeks to respond and could face fines of billions of euros – up to 10% of their global annual turnover – if their explanations are rejected. A similar cartel case the commission took out in 2014 against MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco and DAF ended with €2.93bn (£2.53bn) of penalties being levied. The EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said: “Companies can cooperate in many ways to improve the quality of their products. However, EU competition rules do not allow them to collude on exactly the opposite: not to improve their products, not to compete on quality.”


She added: “Daimler, VW and BMW may have broken EU competition rules. As a result, European consumers may have been denied the opportunity to buy cars with the best available technology.” The EU announcement follows raids on the auto manufacturers in July 2017 after allegations in Der Spiegel that they had met in secret working groups in the 1990s to coordinate a response to diesel emissions limits. Between 2006 and 2014, the commission suspects that the “circle of five” carmakers – including VW’s Audi and Porsche divisions – colluded to limit, delay or avoid the introduction of selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs) and “Otto” particle filters.

Read more …

The drought comes one drop at a time.

Australian Housing Downturn Becomes Widespread |(ZH)

After a three-decade boom, the Australian economy is finally facing a recession. The outlook for the economy is exceptionally bleak this year, as the decline in housing prices is more widespread than thought, according to a new report from CoreLogic. National home prices recorded a month-on-month decline of 0.60% in March, which CoreLogic noted was the smallest rate of monthly decline since October. “While the pace of falls has slowed in March, the scope of the downturn has become more geographically widespread,” CoreLogic head of research Tim Lawless said. All eight capital cities in Australia posted declines, with Sydney recording the most significant price drop of .90% month-on-month.

Quarterly, the value of single-family homes and condos declined 3.9%, followed by Melbourne (3.4%), Sydney (3.2%), Perth (2.9%), and Brisbane (1.1%). Prices in Canberra were unchanged. Sydney recorded the most significant annual decline of 10.9%. Melbourne followed with 9.8%. Australia’s regional housing markets have also deteriorated. Regional areas outside Sydney declined by 3.6% over the past year while regional Queensland saw a 1.6% decline. Regional Western Australia experienced a 9.5% decline over the past year, and for the past five years, values in the region have collapsed by 25.8%

Read more …

It’s not entirely Fake News, but it’s certainly No News. There’s one competitor for the USD, and that’s the renminbi, which nobody wants because it’s not traded freely. End of story.

Saudi Arabia Threatens To Ditch Petrodollar (R.)

Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy said. They said the option had been discussed internally by senior Saudi energy officials in recent months. Two of the sources said the plan had been discussed with OPEC members and one source briefed on Saudi oil policy said Riyadh had also communicated the threat to senior U.S. energy officials.


The chances of the U.S. bill known as NOPEC coming into force are slim and Saudi Arabia would be unlikely to follow through, but the fact Riyadh is considering such a drastic step is a sign of the kingdom’s annoyance about potential U.S. legal challenges to OPEC. In the unlikely event Riyadh were to ditch the dollar, it would undermine the its status as the world’s main reserve currency, reduce Washington’s clout in global trade and weaken its ability to enforce sanctions on nation states. “The Saudis know they have the dollar as the nuclear option,” one of the sources familiar with the matter said. “The Saudis say: let the Americans pass NOPEC and it would be the U.S. economy that would fall apart,” another source said.

Read more …

Mar 152019
 


Raphael The miraculous draught of fishes 1515

 

 

There are days, though all too scarce, when very nice surprises come my way. Case in point: yesterday I received a mail from David Holmgren after a long period of radio silence. Australia’s David is one of the fathers of permaculture, along with Bill Mollison, for those few who don’t know him. They first started writing about the concept in the 1970s and never stopped.

Dave calls himself “permaculture co-originator” these days. Hmm. Someone says: “one of the pioneers of modern ecological thinking”. That’s better. No doubt there. These guys taught many many thousands of people how to be self-sufficient. Permaculture is a simple but intricate approach to making sure that the life in your garden or backyard, and thereby your own life, moves towards balance.

My face to face history with David is limited, we spent some time together on two occasions only, I think, in 2012 a day at his home (farm) in Australia and in 2015 -a week- in Penguin, Tasmania at a permaculture conference where the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss was one of the key speakers along with Dave. Still, despite the limited time together I see him as a good and dear friend, simply because he’s such a kind and gracious and wise man.

In his mail, David asked if I would publish this article, which he originally posted on his own site just yesterday under the name “The Apology: From Baby Boomers To The Handicapped Generations”. I went for a shorter title (it’s just our format), but of course I will.

Dave has been an avid reader of the Automatic Earth for the past 11 years, we sort of keep his feet on the ground when they’re not planted and soaking in that same ground: “Reading TAE has helped me keep up to date..”

In light of the children’s climate protests today, which I have yet to voice my qualms about (and I have a few), it only makes sense to put into words a baby boomer’s apology. To have that phrased by someone with the intellect and integrity of David should have everyone sit up and pay attention, if you ask me. And perhaps it would be good if more people would try and do the same: apologize to those kids.

Here’s my formidable friend David Holmgren:

 

 

David Holmgren: It is time for us baby boomers to honestly acknowledge what we did and didn’t do with the gifts given to us by our forebears and be clear about our legacy with which we have saddled the next and succeeding generations.

By ‘baby boomers’ I mean those of us born in the affluent nations of the western world between 1945 and 1965. In these countries, the majority of the population became middle class beneficiaries of mass affluence. I think of the high birth rate of those times as a product of collective optimism about the future, and the abundant and cheap resources to support growing families.

By many measures, the benefits of global industrial civilisation peaked in our youth, but for most middle class baby boomers of the affluent countries, the continuing experience of those benefits has tended to blind us to the constriction of opportunities faced by the next generations: unaffordable housing and land access, ecological overshoot and climate chaos amongst a host of other challenges.

I am a white middle class man born in 1955 in Australia, one of the richest nations of the ‘western world’ in the middle of the baby boom, so I consider myself well placed to articulate an apology on behalf of my generation.

In the life of a baby boomer born in 1950 and dying in 2025 (a premature death according to the expectations of our generation), the best half the world’s endowment of oil – the potent resource that made industrial civilisation possible – will have been burnt. This is tens of millions of years of stored sunlight from a special geological epoch of extraordinary biological productivity. Beyond our basic needs, we have been the recipients of manufactured wants and desires. To varying degrees, we have also suffered the innumerable downsides, addictions and alienations that have come with fossil-fuelled consumer capitalism.

It is also true that our generation has used the genie of fossil fuels to create wonders of technology, organisation and art, and a diversity of lifestyles and ideas. Some of the unintended consequences of our way of life, ranging from antibiotic resistance to bubble economics, should have been obvious, while others, such as the depression epidemic in rich countries, were harder to foresee. Our travel around the world has broadened our minds, but global tourism has contaminated the amazing diversity of nature and traditional cultures at an accelerating pace. We have the excuse that innovations always have pluses and minuses, but it seems we have got a larger share of the pluses and handballed more of the minuses to the world’s poorest countries and to our children and grandchildren.

We were the first generation to have the clear scientific evidence that emergent global civilisation was on an unsustainable path that would precipitate an unravelling of both nature and society through the 21st century. Although climate chaos was a less obvious outcome than the no-brainer of resource depletion, international recognition of the reality of climate change came way back in 1988, just as we were beginning to get our hands on the levers of power, and we have presided over decades of policies that have accelerated the problem.

Over the years since, the adverse outcomes have shifted from distant risks to lived realities. These impact hardest on the most vulnerable peoples of the world who have yet to taste the benefits of the carbon bonanza that has driven the accelerating climate catastrophe. For the failure to share those benefits globally and curb our own consumption we must be truly sorry.

 


David Holmgren

 

In the 1960s and 70s, during our coming of age, a significant proportion of us were critical of what was being passed down to us by our parent’s generation who were also the beneficiaries of the western world system, which some of us baby boomers recognised as a global empire. But our grandparents and parents had been shaped by the rigours and grief of the first global depression of the 1890s, the First World War, The Great Depression of the 1930s and, of course, the Second World War. Aside from those who served in Vietnam, we have cruised through life avoiding the worst threats of nuclear annihilation and economic depression, even as people in other countries suffered the consequences of superpower proxy wars, coups, and economic and environmental catastrophes.

While some of us were burnt by personal and global events, we have mostly led a charmed existence and had the privilege to question our upbringing and culture. We were the first generation in history to experience an extended adolescence of experimentation and privilege with little concern or responsibility for our future, our kin or our country.

Most baby boomers were raised in families where commuting was the norm for our fathers but a home-based lifestyle was still a role model we got from our mothers. In our enthusiasm for women to have equal access to productive work in the monetary economy, few of us noticed that without work to keep the household economy humming we lost much of our household autonomy to market forces. By our daily commutes, mostly alone in our cars, we entrenched this massively wasteful and destructive action as normal and inevitable.

As we came into our power in middle age, the new technology of the internet, workshop tool miniaturisation and other innovations provided more options to participate in the monetary economy without the need to commute, but our generation continued with this insane collective addiction. In Australia, we faithfully followed the American model of not investing in public transport, which moderated the adverse impacts of commuting in European and other countries not so structurally addicted to road transport. By failing to build decent public transport and the opportunities for home-based work, and wasting wealth in a frenzy of freeway building that has choked our cities, our generation has consumed our grandchildren’s inheritance of high quality transport fuels and accelerated the onset of climate chaos. For this we are truly sorry.

In pioneering the double income family, some of us set the pattern for the next generation’s habit of outsourcing the care of children at a young age, making commuting five days a week an early childhood experience. This has left the next generation unable to imagine a life that doesn’t involve leaving home each day.

These patterns are part of a larger crisis created by the double income, debt-laden households with close to 100% dependence on the monetary economy. Without robust and productive household economies, our children and grandchildren’s generations will become the victims of savage disruptions and downturns in the monetary economy. For failing to maintain and strengthen the threads of self-provision, frugality and self-reliance most of us inherited from our parents, we should be truly sorry.

 

Some of us felt in our hearts that we needed to create a different and better world. Some of us saw the writing on the walls of the world calling for global justice. Some of us read the evidence (mostly clearly in the 1972 Limits To Growth) that attempting to run continuous material growth on finite planet would end in more than tears.

Some of us even rejected the legacy of previous generations of radicals’ direct action against the problems of the world, and instead decided we would boldly create the world we wanted by living it each day. In doing so, we experienced hard-won lessons and even created some hopeful models for succeeding generations to improve on in more difficult conditions. That our efforts at novel solutions often created more sound than substance, or that we flitted from one issue to another rather than doing the hard yards necessary to pass on truly robust design solutions for a world of less, leaves some of us with regrets for which we might also feel the need to apologise.

These experiences are shared to some degree by a minority in all generations but there is significant evidence that the 1960s and 70s was a time when awareness of the need for change was stronger. Unfortunately, a sequence of titanic geopolitical struggles that few of us understand even today, a debt-fuelled version of consumer capitalism, and propaganda against both the Limits to Growth and the values of the counterculture, saw most of us following the neoliberal agenda like sheep into the 1980s and beyond.

 

 

After having played with the privilege of free tertiary education, most of us fell for the propaganda and sent our children off to accumulate debts and doubtful benefits in the corporatised businesses that universities became. We convinced our children they needed more specialised knowledge poured down their throats rather than using their best years to build the skills and resilience for the challenges our generation was bequeathing to them. For this we must be truly sorry.

Many of us have been the beneficiaries of buying real estate before the credit-fuelled final stages of casino capitalism made that option a recipe for debt slavery for our children. Without understanding its mechanics we have contributed to – and fuelled with our faith – a bubble economy on a vast scale that can only end in pain and suffering for the majority. While some of us are members of the bank of Mum and Dad, when the property bubble bursts we could find ourselves following the bank chiefs apologising for the debt burden we encouraged our children to take on. Some of us will also have to apologise for losing the family home when we went guarantor on their mortgages. For not heeding the warnings we got with the GFC, we will be truly sorry.

Some of us have used our windfall wealth from real estate and the stock market to do good works, including creating small models of more creative and lower footprint futures that have inspired the minority of the next generations who can also see the writing on the wall. But most of us used our houses as ATMs for new forms of consumption that were unimaginable to our parents, from holidays around the world to endless renovations and a constant flow of updated digital gadgets and virtual diversions. For this frivolous squandering of our windfall wealth we must be truly sorry.

 

While our parents’ generation experienced the risks of youth through adversity and war we used our privilege to tackle challenges of our own choosing. Although some of us had to struggle to free ourselves from the cloying cocoon of middle class upbringing, we were the generation that flew like the birds and hitchhiked around the country and the world. How strange that on becoming parents (many of us in middle age) we believed the propaganda that the world was too dangerous for our children to do the same around the local neighbourhood. Instead we coddled them, got into the chauffeuring business, and in doing so encouraged their disconnection from both nature and community. As we see our grandchildren’s generation raised in a way that makes them an even more handicapped generation, we must be truly sorry for the path we took and the dis-ease we created.

After so many of us experimented with mind-expanding plants and chemicals, some of us were taken down in chemical addictions, but it was dysfunctional and corrupt legal prohibitions more than the substances themselves that were to blame for the worst of the damage. So how strange that when in middle age we got our hands on the levers of power, most of our generation decided to continue to support the madness of prohibition. For this we must be truly sorry: to have seen the light but then continued to inflict this burden on our children and grandchildren. For having acquiesced in the global ‘war on drugs’ that spread pain and suffering to some of the poorest peoples of the world we should be ashamed.

When the ‘war on drugs’ (a war against substances!) became the model for the ‘war on terror’ (war against a concept!) some of us reawakened the anti-war activism of the Vietnam years but in the end we mostly acquiesced to an agenda of trashing international law, regime change, shock and awe, chaos, and the death of millions; all justified by the 9/11 demolition fireworks that killed a small fraction of the number of citizens that die each year as a result of our ongoing addiction to personal motorised mobility.

While the shadow cast by climate change darkens our grandchilden’s future, the shadow of potential nuclear winter that hung over our childhood as not gone away. Many of us were at the forefront of the international movement to rid the world of nuclear weapons and thought the collapse of the Soviet Union had saved us from that threat. Coming into our power after the end of the cold war, our greatest crime on this geopolitical front has perhaps been the tacit support of our generation for first, the economic rape of Russia in the 1990s, and then its progressive encirclement by the relentless expansion of NATO. In Australia we have meekly added our resources and youth to more or less endless wars in the Middle East and central Asia justified by the fake ‘war on terror’. For this weakness as accessories to global crimes wasting wealth and lives to consolidate the western powers’ control of the first truly global empire, we should hang our collective heads in shame.

While some of our generation’s intellectuals continued to critique the ‘war on terror’ as fake, the vast majority of the public intellectuals of our generation, including those on the left, have supported the rapid rise of Cold War 2.0 to contain Russia, China and any other country that doesn’t accept what we now call ‘the rules based international order’ (code for ‘our empire’). This is truly astonishing when looked at in the context of our lived history. Let us hope that sanity can prevail as our empire fades and future generations don’t brand us as the most insane, war-mongering generation of all time. For our complicity in this grand failure of resistance we should be truly sorry.

 


click to order David’s latest

 

On another equally titanic front, the mistake of giving legal personhood to corporations was not one that our generation made. However most of us have contributed our work, consumption and capital to assist these self-organising, profit-maximising, cost-minimising machines of capitalism morphing into emergent new life forms that threaten to consume both nature and humanity in an algorithmic drive for growth. At a time of our seniority and numbers, we failed to use the Global Financial Crisis as an opportunity to bring these emergent monsters to heel. Do our children have the capacity to tame the monsters that we nurtured from fragile infants to commanding masters?

And if they do find the will to withdraw their work, consumption and capital enough to contain the corporations, will the economy that currently provides for both needs and wants unravel completely? This is a burden so great most of us continue to believe we have no responsibility or agency in such a dark reality. We trust that history will not place the burden of responsibility on our generation alone. But for our part in this failure of agency over human affairs we apologise. Further, we should accept with grace the consequences for our own wellbeing.

Most of us feel impotent when thinking of these failures to control the excesses of our era, but on a more modest scale we have mindlessly participated in taking the goods and passing on the debt to future generations. No more so than in our habitual acceptance of antibiotics from doctors to fix the most mundane of illnesses. For our parents’ generation, antibiotics represented the peak of medical science’s ability to control what killed so many of their parents and earlier generations.

For us, they became routine tools to keep us on the job and our children not missing precious days at school. Through this banal practice we have unwittingly conspired with our doctors to rapidly breed resistance to the most effective and low-cost antibiotics. We took for granted that future generations would always be able to work out ways to keep ahead of diseases with an endless string of new antibiotics. For having squandered this gift we are truly sorry.

 

Further, despite the fact that some of us have became vegetarian or even vegan, our generation’s demand for cheap chicken and bacon has driven the industrial dosing of animals with antibiotics on a scale that has accelerated the development of antibiotic resistance far faster than would have been the case from us dosing ourselves and our children. For supporting this and other such obscene systems of animal husbandry we apologise to our grandchildren and succeeding generations and hope that somehow an accommodation between humanity, animals and microbes is still possible.

We experienced and benefited from the emergent culture of rights and recognition for women, minorities and the people of varied abilities, and many of us who fought to extend and deepen those rights have pride in what we did. However some of us are beginning to fear that in doing so we contributed to creating new demands, disabilities, and fractious subcultures of fear and angst unimagined in previous generations. While we might not be in the driving seat of identity politics and culture wars, we raised our children to demand their rights in a world that is unravelling due to its multiple contradictions.

In this emerging context, strident demands for rights are likely to be a waste of valuable energy that younger people might better focus on becoming useful to themselves and others. For overemphasising the demand for rights and underplaying the need for responsible self- and collective-reliance, perhaps we should also be sorry.

And is this escalating demand for rights by younger people itself connected, even peripherally, to the increasing callous disregard for the rights of others? Especially in the case of refugees, this careless disregard has allowed political elites to use tough treatment of the less fortunate to distract from the gradual loss of shared privilege that once characterised the ‘lucky country’. To the shame of those in power over the last two decades (mostly baby boomers) those policies are now being adopted on a larger scale in Europe and the US.

 

 

In our lifetimes religious faith has declined. For many of our generation, this change represents a measure of humanity’s progress from a benighted past to a promising future. But the collective belief in science and evidence-based decision making has now become a new faith, “Scientism”, which seeks to drive out all other ways of thinking and being from the public space. At the same time, religious fundamentalism is now resurgent. Is this too something that our generation unleashed by preaching tolerance while enforcing an ideology we didn’t even recognise as such?

A significant sign of the good intentions of our generation has been our recognition that the ancient war against nature, which has plagued human life since the beginnings of agriculture, and indeed civilisation, must end. One powerful expression of our efforts has been the valuing of the biodiversity of life, especially local indigenous biodiversity. In the ‘New Europes’ of North America and the Antipodes, seeking to save indigenous biodiversity has grown into an institutionalised form of atonement for the sins of the forefathers.

While this seems like one of our achievements, even this we have bastardised with a new war against naturalised biodiversity. Perhaps the worst aspect of this renewed war against novel ecologies is that we have accepted the helping hand of Monsanto in using Roundup as the main weapon in our urban and rural habitats. The mounting evidence that Roundup may be worse than DDT will be part of our legacy. While history may excuse our parent’s generation for naïve optimism in relation to DDT, our generation’s version of the war on nature will not save us from harsh judgement. For this we should be truly sorry.

Of course any public apology in this country invites comparisons to the apology by governments to the stolen generation of Australian indigenous peoples for the wrongs of the past. This unfinished sorry business is beyond the scope of this apology, but it is an opportunity to reflect critically on our common self-perception of supporting indigenous peoples’ rights in contrast to the normalised racism of previous generations.

 

Our generation’s invitation to, and enabling of, Australians of indigenous descent to more fully participate in mainstream Australian society may have been a necessary step towards reconciliation; or could it have been a poison chalice drawing them even deeper into the dysfunctions of industrial modernity that I have already outlined. We can only hope that people with such a history of resilience and understanding in the face dispossession will take these additional burdens in their stride.

In any case, this apology is not one that comes from a position of invulnerable privilege, giving succour to those who are no threat to that privilege. For many baby boomers, now caring for parents and dealing with their deaths, we are more inwardly focused. For some of us, especially those estranged from parents, through this both painful and tender processes we are finally growing up. But a comic tragedy could play out in our declining years if a combination of novel disabilities, the culture of rights and amplified fears lead to our children and grandchildren’s generations mostly experiencing harder times as far worse than they might really be, and deciding we are the cause of their troubles.

We baby boomers will increasingly find that in our growing dependence on young people we will be subject to their perspectives, whims and prejudices. Hopefully we can take what we are given on the chin and along with our children and our grandchildren’s generations we can all grow up and work together to face the future with whatever capacities we have.

We might hope this apology is itself a wake-up call to the younger generations that are still mostly sleepwalking into the oncoming maelstroms. In raising the alarm we might hope our humble apology will galvanise the potential in young people who are grasping the nettle of opportunities to turn problems into solutions.

We hope that this apology might lead to understanding rather than resentment of our frailty in the face of the self-organising forces of powerful change that have driven the climaxing of global industrial civilisation. Finally, the task ahead for our generation is to learn how to downsize and disown before we prepare to die, with grace, at a time of our choosing, and in a way that inspires and frees the next generations to chart a prosperous way down.

 

 

Feb 262019
 


Salvador Dali The Feeling of Becoming 1931

 

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)
18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)
Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)
Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)
With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)
Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)
Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD
Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)
Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)
Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)
Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

 

 

“..almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years..”

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)

Remember all those sub-prime mortgages that blew up in 2007 and popped the housing bubble? The widely-held consensus is that millions of them were foreclosed as housing markets cratered. [..] The truth is these mortgages are still dangerous and could soon undermine the housing recovery. Collectively, loans from the bubble period that were not guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac were called non-agency securitized mortgages. Researcher Black Box Logic had an enormous database of non-agency loans until it was sold to Moody’s three years ago. At the peak of the buying madness — November 2007 — its database showed 10.6 million loans outstanding with a total balance of $2.43 trillion.

In 2016, Fitch Ratings first published a spreadsheet showing what percentage of these loans had been delinquent for more than three-, four-, or five years. Here is an updated table showing the 10-worst states and how the number of deadbeat borrowers has soared.

In 2012, just 2% of all these delinquent borrowers had not paid for more than five years. Two years later that number had skyrocketed to 21%. Why? Mortgage servicers around the country had discontinued foreclosing on millions of delinquent properties. Homeowners got wind of this and realized they could probably stop making payments without any consequences whatsoever. So they did. Take a good look at the figures for 2016. Nationwide, almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years.

In the worst four states, more than half of them were long-term deadbeats. Notice also that four of the other states were those you would not expect to have this rampant delinquency — North Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland. Another way to gauge the extent of the problem is to look at the major metros with the highest delinquency rate. Here is a table of the 10 metros with the worst delinquency rate in early 2016, taken from Black Box Logic’s database.

Within the last two years, important graphs and tables showing the extent of the delinquency mess have disappeared from reports issued regularly by Fannie Mae, mutual fund provider TCW, and data provider Black Knight Financial Services. According to a TCW spokesperson, the graph is no longer published in the firm’s Mortgage Market Monitor because there did not seem to be much demand for it. Really? This graph had appeared in their report for years and showed the extremely high percentage of modified non-agency loans where the borrower had re-defaulted. Meanwhile, the omitted Fannie Mae table also showed the rising percentage of modified Fannie Mae loans that had re-defaulted. Its last published table showed re-default rates of almost 40%. Do you think these important omissions are just coincidence?

Read more …

25% in 2019 alone?!

18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)

The housing market has taken a turn for the worse moving deeper into the decline of a debt-financed asset bubble, possibly driving house prices to fall by as much as 25 per cent in 2019 on nominal terms, according to housing bear and analyst LF Economics. The group made up of Lindsay David and Philip Soos, who have authored books on boom and bust in housing markets, lists 18 factors that are putting extreme pressure on the Sydney and Melbourne markets. Their baseline prediction is a 15 per cent to 20 per cent fall in prices just in 2019 although 25 per cent is possible.

One of the main factors driving the pressure is $120 billion worth of interest-only loans that are transitioning to principal and interest loans between now and 2021. “Banks and regulators have already softened their stance on these borrowers, allowing some greater time to sell or extending the interest-only period ,” LF Economics said in a new report “Let The Bloodbath Begin”. “Nevertheless, with debt repayments rising anywhere between 20 [per cent] to 50 per cent upon conversion, many recent borrowers will be placed under considerable financial stress.”

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Question: how are the shadow banks linked to international trade?

Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)

Imports by China and other emerging Asian economies in December plunged to the lowest level in two years, in the steepest one-month plunge since 2008, after having already plunged in November, according to the Merchandise World Trade Monitor, released on Monday by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. For November and December combined, imports by China and other Emerging Asian Economies plunged 13%, the steepest two-month plunge since November and December 2008 (-18%). In point terms, it was the largest plunge in the data going back to 2000. “Emerging Asia” includes China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Singapore. But China is by far the largest economy in the group, and by far the largest importer in the group.

The fact that imports into Emerging Asia are plunging is a sign of suddenly and sharply weakening demand in China. This type of abrupt demand-downturn was clearly visible in the double-digit plunge in new-vehicle sales in China over the last four months of 2018, plunging demand in many other sectors in China, and record defaults by Chinese companies. When it comes to China, “plunge is no longer an exaggeration. So the US trade actions against China – the variously implemented, threatened, or delayed tariffs – was largely geared toward hitting exports by China to the US. But it was imports that plunged! Exports from Emerging Asia too dropped in November and December, but not nearly as brutally as imports, down by 6.7% over the two months combined. And these drops were not all that unusual in the export index:

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Xi has lost control. There are reports about him being replaced, but that would be way into the future, if it happens.

Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)

For almost two years, the question has lingered over China’s market-roiling crackdown on financial leverage: How much pain can the country’s policy makers stomach? Evidence is mounting that their limit has been reached. From bank loans to trust-product issuance to margin-trading accounts at stock brokerages, leverage in China is rising nearly everywhere you look. While seasonal effects explain some of the gains, analysts say the trend has staying power as authorities shift their focus from containing the nation’s $34 trillion debt pile to shoring up the weakest economic expansion since 2009.

The government’s evolving stance was underscored by President Xi Jinping’s call for stable growth late last week, while on Monday the banking regulator said the deleveraging push had reached its target. “Deleveraging is dead,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. Investors reacted positively to the official remarks, with the more than 30 brokerages listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen up by the 10 percent daily limit on Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest lender by assets, rose 6.3 percent.

[..] China’s overall leverage ratio stood at 243.7 percent at the end of 2018, with corporate debt reaching 154 percent, household borrowings at 53 percent and government leverage at 37 percent, according to Zhang Xiaojing, deputy head of the Institute of Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Before that, the nation’s leverage ratio climbed at an average 12 percentage points each year between 2008 and 2016. China’s total debt will rise relative to GDPthis year, after a flat 2017 and a decline in 2018, Wang Tao, head of China economic research at UBS in Hong Kong, predicted in a report this month. While Wang cautioned that “re-leveraging” may increase concerns about China’s commitment to ensuring financial stability, investors have so far cheered the prospect of easier credit conditions.

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The shadows reign supreme in China.

“..a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019.”

With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)

Eager to pile into the world’s most-volatile major stock market with 10-to-1 leverage? China’s shadow bankers are happy to help – and that has the nation’s policy makers worried. Just hours after China’s CSI 300 Index notched a 6 percent surge on Monday, its biggest gain in more than three years, the country’s securities regulator warned of a rise in unregulated margin debt and asked brokerages to increase monitoring for abnormal trades. The China Securities Regulatory Commission’s statement followed a pickup in advertising by margin-finance platforms, which operate with little to no supervision and offer far more leverage than the country’s regulated securities firms.

While margin debt in China is much lower today than when it helped precipitate a market collapse in 2015, investors are taking on leverage quickly as they chase a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019. The risk is that a sudden reversal would force leveraged traders to sell, exacerbating volatility in a market that posted bigger swings than any of its peers over the past 30 days. That prospect may unnerve Chinese policy makers, who have a history of trying to protect the nation’s 147 million individual investors from outsized losses. “If the market continues to go up, the situation will get worse and so will the risks,” said Yang Hai, an analyst at Kaiyuan Securities Co. in Shanghai. “Under the current regulatory scope, investors have to shoulder risks themselves.”

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Finally someone talks to Volcker and he doesn’t say anything.

Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker has some serious fears about the banking industry. And he believes supporting regulators to combat those fears is imperative. Speaking to analyst Mike Mayo in a CFA Enterprising Investor interview published on Monday, Volcker said that he’s “concerned” about the current “culture of the financial system, banking in particular.” He told Mayo that banks have been dominated by “how much profit the firm (and you) make.” And he believes that the focus on profitability could ultimately affect corporate oversight. “What’s the role of directors in keeping culture under control?” he asked. “Can the directors of a big bank really do an effective job of overseeing an institution? Or do they see their job as protecting the CEO who they appointed?

Or maybe the CEO appointed them, so there is a certain amount of built in mutual interest in ducking emphasis on internal controls.” Volcker, who served as Fed chairman during the Carter and Reagan administrations, has been one of the more vocal supporters of controlling and regulating banks. He’s the namesake for the Volcker Rule, which aims at limiting banking activity and bank interaction with hedge funds and private equity funds. It also puts the onus on banks to protect customers. In his interview with Mayo, Volcker talked about the importance of banks protecting their customers. He said that a right and good banking culture is one where “the customer comes first.” The issue, however, is that banks sometimes fail in doing that, Volcker said.

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No kidding.

Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD

The global economy faces escalating risks from rising levels of corporate debt, with companies around the world needing to repay or refinance as much as $4tn (£3.1tn) over the next three years, according to the OECD. Sounding the alarm over the scale of the debt mountain built up over the past decade since the last financial crisis, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that global company borrowing has ballooned to reach $13tn by the end of last year – more than double the level before the 2008 crash. Nearly the equivalent of the entire US Federal Reserve balance sheet – roughly $4tn – will need to be repaid or refinanced over the coming years, the report said. However, the task is complicated by cooling economic growth from trade tensions and a slower rate of expansion in China ..

Financial market investors have grown increasingly concerned that high debt levels in the US could turn a looming slowdown for the world’s largest economy into a full-blown recession. High debt levels in several other nations as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates has also rattled financial markets in recent months. According to research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, a potential meltdown in the US bond market is the second biggest risk to the world economy after the US-China trade standoff, amid a combination of global economic headwinds “more wide-ranging and complex than at any point since the great recession”. The IMF has previously warned of gathering “storm clouds” for the world economy, including from trade tensions and heightened levels of debt – particularly in China.

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.. since 1999, Germans on average cumulatively richer by $26,120. Italians poorer by $84,000.

Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)

The eurozone’s single currency, the euro, has been a serious drag on the economic growth of almost every member of the bloc, according to a study by German think tank, the Centre for European Politics (CEP).
Germany and the Netherlands, however, have benefited enormously from the euro over the 20 years since its launch, the study showed. The currency triggered credit and investment booms by extending the benefits of Germany’s low interest-rate environment across the bloc’s periphery. However, those debts became hard to sustain after the 2008 financial crisis, with Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus forced to seek financial aid as growth slowed and financing became scarce.

According to CEP, over the entire period since 1999, Germans were on average estimated to be cumulatively richer by €23,000 ($26,120) than they would otherwise have been, while the Dutch were €21,000 ($23,850) wealthier. To compare, Italians and French were each €74,000 ($84,000) and €56,000 ($63,600) poorer, respectively. The survey did not include one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies, Ireland, due to a lack of appropriate data. [..] In the first few years after its introduction, Greece gained hugely from the euro but since 2011 has suffered enormous losses,” the authors wrote, explaining that over the whole period, Greeks were each €190 ($216) richer than they would have been.

The study concluded that since the loser countries could no longer restore their competitiveness by devaluing their currencies, they had to double down on structural reforms. Spain was highlighted as a country that was on track to erase the growth deficit it had built up since the euro’s introduction. “Since 2011, euro accession has resulted in a reduction in prosperity. Losses reached their peak in 2014. Since then, they have been falling steadily,” said the report, adding: “The reforms that have been carried out, are paying off.”

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Corbyn should have been much more concerned about his credibility. This late in the game, does it even matter anymore?

Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has finally thrown his party’s weight behind a second EU referendum, backing moves for a fresh poll with remain on the ballot paper if Labour should fail to get its own version of a Brexit deal passed this week. The decision to give the party’s backing to a second referendum follows a concerted push by the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, and deputy leader, Tom Watson, who fear any further delay could have led to more defections to the breakaway Independent Group (TIG), whose members all back a second referendum. Although the move has delighted MPs who are backing the People’s Vote campaign, Corbyn is likely to face determined opposition from dozens of MPs in leave seats if the party whips to back a second referendum, including a significant number of frontbenchers.

The former shadow minister Lucy Powell said she believed at least 25 MPs would vote against any whip to back a second referendum, meaning that it would face an uphill struggle to pass the Commons without significant Conservative support. A private briefing sent to Labour MPs on Monday night and seen by the Guardian makes it clear that Labour’s policy would be to include remain as an option in any future referendum. “We’ve always said that any referendum would need to have a credible leave option and remain,” the briefing said. “Obviously at this stage that is yet to be decided and would have to be agreed by parliament.”

The briefing also makes it clear that the party would not support no deal being included on the ballot paper. “There’s no majority for a no-deal outcome and Labour would not countenance supporting no deal as an option,” the briefing says. “What we are calling for is a referendum to confirm a Brexit deal, not to proceed to no deal.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1100294356706168832

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No matter how big the political mess,

UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)

The US has lent its backing to Britain to protect the City from losing trillions of pounds of complex financial derivatives business after Brexit, warding off a potential banking industry land grab by the EU. In a joint announcement heralded as a sign of the special relationship between the UK and the US, the two countries said they would take every step to ensure the continued trading of derivatives across the Atlantic under every Brexit eventuality. Derivatives are financial contracts widely used by companies to manage risks, ranging from hedging against changes in central bank interest rates to fluctuations in commodity prices. Brexit threatens to unpick trading in the UK, even with the US, as City banks currently operate under EU rules while Britain is a member of the bloc.

Under the steps announced by the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, firms working in the US and the UK will continue to meet the requirements required to operate in both countries, even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. London and New York sit at the centre of the world’s multitrillion-pound derivatives market, with the US and the UK controlling 80% of the $594tn (£454tn) a year business – worth more than five times world GDP. About a third of the £230tn of derivatives contracts traded in the UK every year come from US companies, more than any other jurisdiction. The development comes as Brussels prepares rules that would force clearing houses – financial institutions key to the trading of derivatives – outside the EU to come under the supervision of its regulators.

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This is getting awfully close to class justice. Monsanto has hundreds of the top lawyers, and what do the plaintiffs have?

Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)

Monsanto is facing its first federal trial over allegations that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, but a US judge has blocked attorneys from discussing the corporation’s alleged manipulation of science. In an extraordinary move in a packed San Francisco courtroom on Monday, US judge Vince Chhabria threatened to sanction and “shut down” a cancer patient’s attorney for violating his ban on talking about Monsanto’s influence on government regulators and cancer research. “You’ve completely disregarded the limitations that were set upon you,” the visibly angry judge said to attorney Aimee Wagstaff, threatening to prevent her from continuing. “If you cross the line one more time … your opening statement will be over … If I see a single inappropriate thing on those slides, I’m shutting you down.”

The unusual conflict in the federal courtroom has fueled concerns among Monsanto’s critics that the trial may be unfairly stacked against the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man who alleges that his exposure to Roundup over several decades caused his cancer. Building on longstanding allegations, Hardeman’s lawyers and other critics have argued that Monsanto has for years suppressed negative studies and worked to promote and “ghostwrite” favorable studies about its herbicide to influence the public and regulators.

In a blow to the plaintiffs, Chhabria this year approved Monsanto’s request to prohibit Hardeman’s attorneys from raising allegations about the corporation’s conduct, saying issues about its influence on science and government were a “significant … distraction”. That means jurors must narrowly consider the studies surrounding Roundup’s cancer risks, and if they rule that Monsanto caused Hardeman’s illness, then in a second phase the jury would learn about the company’s conduct when assessing liability and punitive damages.

[..] Wagstaff told the Guardian last week before trial began that the limitations on evidence in the first phase meant the “jury will only hear half of the story”. “The jury will hear about the science, but they won’t get to hear about how Monsanto influenced it,” she said. “The jury won’t have a complete understanding of the science. If we win without the jury knowing the complete science, that’s a real problem for Monsanto.” Chhabria repeatedly interrupted Wagstaff’s opening statement Monday morning, reminding jurors that her comments did not constitute evidence and should be taken with a “grain of salt”. He also asked her to speed up when she was introducing Hardeman and his wife and discussing how they first met in 1975.

Wagstaff spoke in detail about the research on cancer and glyphosate, about some of Monsanto’s involvement in studies, and about the company’s communications with the Environmental Protection Agency. [..] The restrictions on testimony about Monsanto’s conduct and alleged manipulation of science is likely to be a major detriment to Hardeman and future plaintiffs, said Jean M Eggen, professor emerita at Widener University Delaware Law School. “It was a brilliant move on the part of the defendant Bayer to try to keep [out] all of that information,” she said. “And it may pay off for them.”

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We paved paradise. Which is a much wider and bigger issue than just a climate one.

Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

Because of the heat needed to decompose rock and the natural chemical processes involved in making cement, every tonne made releases one tonne of C02, the main greenhouse warming gas. Including the new Crossrail line through London, the building of Britain’s four largest current construction projects will, if completed, together emit more than 10m tonnes of CO2 – roughly the same amount as a city the size of Birmingham, or what 19 million Malawians emit in a year. Nearly 6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 8% of the world’s, are now sourced from cement production. If it were a country, the cement industry would be the third largest in the world, its emissions behind only China and the US.

So great is its carbon footprint that unless it is transformed and made to adopt cleaner practices, the industry could, on its own, jeopardise the whole 2015 Paris agreement which aims to hold worldwide temperatures to a 2C increase. To bring it into line, the UN says its annual emissions need to fall about 16% in the next 10 years, and by far more in the future. While some of the biggest cement companies have reduced the carbon intensity of their products by investing in more fuel-efficient kilns, most improvements gained have been overshadowed by the massive increase in global cement and concrete production. Population increases, the urban explosion in Asia and Africa, the need to build dams, roads and houses, as well as increases in personal wealth have stoked demand.

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Feb 222019
 


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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Canadians Continue To Plunder Equity From Their Homes (ZH)

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

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

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

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

That could topple a lot more than only a government.

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

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

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

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

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Doesn’t she want to run down the clock?

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

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

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

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

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Chances that Parliament will vote her deal through are slim.

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

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

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

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The wonders of strip-mining social programs.

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

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

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

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Who in the party will defend Corbyn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stop suing the banks. Sue their execs instead.

Philadelphia Sues Seven Big Banks For Bond Collusion (RT)

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

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

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

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

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

FBI Lawyer Reveals Infiltration In Trump Campaign (ET)

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

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

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

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

Judge Imposes Sweeping Gag Order On Roger Stone (MW)

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

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I had no idea.

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Assange Gets A New Australian Passport (SMH)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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