The US and UK are both at risk of severe legal challenges and hence “barrelling down towards great troubles” as I wrote yesterday in Twisted Pair 1 – US. The reasons are not exactly the same in both cases, but they’re close. It’s about who holds the ultimate power.
Before moving on to the UK’s specific issues, I want to share this from the BBC, one of many pieces yesterday that discuss President Trump talking to foreign leaders, and that all accuse him in one way or another of wanting to ‘dig up dirt’ about Joe Biden (something that could just as well be defined as trying to find out how Russiagate started).
This one is about Trump asking Australia for help because obviously there’s a strong connection to the country in the person of former Australia High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer, who claims Trump ‘aid’ George Papadopoulos told him in May 2016 that Moscow had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos has always denied saying it.
But it appears the world media have made it their task to vilify Trump’s efforts to investigate Russiagate, so expect much more of it. The article for instance also mentions Bill Barr talking to Italian and British intelligence. Yeah, they’re serious about wanting to find out what happened. I’d suggest you get used to that. But here’s what I want to share:
[..] while the Ukraine call is linked to the serious issue of potential influencing of an upcoming US election, the Australian one refers to events around a past election. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley suggested this was uncontroversial. “I’m old enough to remember when Democrats actually wanted to find out what happened in the 2016 election,” he said.
I thought that was pretty good. But on to Albion, where the legal mess is likely much bigger than in the States, because its laws are so opaque. Sure, NOW people are clamoring for a written constitution, but NOW is a tad late. I read the other day in a Dutch paper that Queen Elizabeth had asked her advisors if she could sack Boris Johnson, and couldn’t find coverage of it in any UK paper. Still can’t. Isn’t that curious? We’ll have to do with yesterday’s New York Post: “It was the first time in her 67-year reign that the Queen asked for clarification on how to dismiss a British prime minister, the report claimed.”
The Queen didn’t actually look to fire Johnson, she simply didn’t know the laws surrounding the topic, she wanted to know what her legal position is. And that seems to typify the entire situation unfolding in the country. Nobody has any idea who has the -ultimate- power to execute any far-reaching policies and decisions. That would appear to be a very dangerous conundrum, because it may allow the loudest, -physically- strongest and perhaps even most deceitful to prevail.
There was someone in a recent Automatic Earth comments section who listed all 11 UK Supreme Court judges and concluded they were all “Remainers”. That is a slippery slope too many. Because if you intend to disqualify the highest court in a country, you invite in anarchy. Now, you may favor “Leave”, but that kind of thing will surely come back to bite you in the face.
Besides, the Supreme Court decision to declare Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament unlawful was the only one a highest court could possibly have made. Because Britain, like so many other western nations, is a parliamentary democracy. The only thing I’ve seen that looks like a constitution there says in eight words that parliament is senior to the monarch. That means it is senior to the executive branch as well. It has to.
Whereas a Scottish court ruled a few weeks ago that the prorogation decision was justiciable, and declared it unlawful, a lower UK court said it was non-justiciable, that is was up to Parliament, and that Parliament could “sit” whenever it wanted. But Parliament hasd just been prorogued, and therefore could NOT sit whenever it wanted. That lower court even contradicted itself: “Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation..”
So they have to make up their minds. It would be demonstrably silly if the Queen could fire the Prime Minister. It would be much less silly if Parliament could do it, though. Which would also be less silly than the Prime Minister being allowed to shut down Parliament with impunity in a parliamentary democracy. You have to look at the legal implications.
Now, the world is increasingly divvied up in antagonistic (i.e. twisted) pairs. In the US, if you don’t hammer Trump ten times a day and twice on Sundays, you get accused of effectively supporting him. In the UK, if you question Boris Johnson’s quest towards Halloween Brexit, you’re against ‘the people’, and their will. And that’s why we have laws. It’s just that British laws are terribly vague, and that’s why the courts became involved (as I predicted they would for a long time).
Today, Boris Johnson is sending a ‘plan’ to Europe that he has labeled ‘take it or leave it’. Which leads many to question his desire to reach a deal at all. More importantly, the European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act 2019, aka the Benn Act, was passed by parliament last month and requires the government to ask for an extension until 31 January 2020 if no deal is agreed.
Boris has suggested he will ignore it. But that would mean the executive branch is effectively senior to the legislative branch. It would also mean the end of the parliamentary democracy that Britain has been for what is it, 400 years?! I have no horse in this fight or dog in this race, but that to me looks extremely dangerous. Be careful what you wish for.
The UK Supreme Court is in for the by far busiest time of its existence. And by the way, you can criticize the court, but only really by criticizing the way the judges on it are appointed, and then take action to change that way. If you try to question its credibility, however, you destroy the credibility of the entire judicial system, all of it.
Again, be careful what you wish for. It’s not hard to understand why and how people point to the 2016 Brexit referendum to justify a Brexit strategy, but they too will still have to follow the rules and laws, or they will create mayhem. That goes for both sides, of course, but for Boris Johnson to try and take the UK out of the EU in violation of the Benn Act would unleash a lot of disorder that he and his people may not fully comprehend yet
And there’s something else going on in the UK that I wrote about recently in “The Will of the People”, but which still doesn’t generate much interest. That is, this whole issue is no longer about Leave vs Remain, there is a third group, Leave But With A Deal. Ironically, the Leave side seeks to group these people in with the Remainers, which is both not honest and may not serve their own interests.
That is because Leave But With A Deal may well be the largest group out there. There are Tories and Labour supporters in it, plus independents and some LibDems, and they’re there for the taking for Boris. Only, they insist on a deal with the EU being in place. If there’s no such deal on October 19, they automatically become Boris’s opponents. But why would he let them? Why not get a serious deal on the table?
Johnson will attempt to blame the failure of his latest proposal, plus all previous ones, on the EU. But has Brussels been all that unreasonable in the negotiations? I’m no EU fan, but it’s an honest question. They have one large issue: Ireland. The Good Friday agreement is sacred for them, because it is for Ireland. And Boris today allegedly proposing some kind of border infrastructure regardless will not fly.
A difficult topic, for sure, but then we’re 3,5 years on from the referendum, and what has the UK done since then? London gives the impression that peace in Ireland is less important for them than it is for Brussels, and that is not wise. As former Northern Ireland negotiator Jonathan Powell said in a video I posted earlier today, what will happen is easy to predict:
Even if you just put in a camera on the border, the dissident Republicans will shoot at it. Then you put in police to protect the camera, they’ll shoot at the police. Next up is the army to protect the police, and so on and so forth. Perhaps a unified Ireland is a solution, though that will take time, but a hard Brexit certainly is not. But Boris appears to play games with this, suggesting there will have to be customs facilities some way or another: “Each of the IRA campaigns started as a border campaign”, says Powell.
A hard border undermines the basis of the Good Friday Agreement – Jonathan Powell told us in August.
Summarized, we have this third group, not Leave or Remain but Leave But With A Deal, and they are being ignored and/or labeled Remain. Whereas they could be key to Johnson and his supporters’ desire to Leave. Look, Boris has no majority in Parliament anymore, not even if the DUP he apparently sucked up to vote with him. He needs something else but is running out of time.
Then again, Boris has pledged to Leave by Halloween. Now his personal credibility is at stake, and it’s become more important than the credibility of his party, of Parliament and even of the entire court system. Next up: the Queen. Who didn’t want to sack him but was royally miffed about him advising her to prorogate which put her in a very not amused position when her own Supreme Court declared her decision unlawful.
It would appear to be in Johnson’s own interest, if he wants to carry through Brexit, for him and his team to do a lot more homework. He’s already mightily miffed the Queen, the Supreme Court has accused him of attempting to push through an unlawful act, and he’s lost his party’s majority in Parliament.
Boris’s support may seem solid in his own party conference in Manchester today, but let’s hope he doesn’t get even more blinded by that than he already is, because the consequences could well be catastrophic. And of course I see, and understand, all the people who want the result of the referendum honored, but there’s a whole new ball game underway today, and it would be foolish to ignore that.
You can still go for Brexit, but Good Friday is a giant and unnecessary leap too far to achieve it. As is trying to make the executive branch claim seniority over the legislative one, or the Supreme Court, to achieve your goal. You can wish, but beware.
Let’s start with the foreign policy goals. Both Trump and Zelensky are operating in highly constrained and threatening foreign policy environments at home. At the time of their phonecall, Trump still had the warmonger Bolton to deal with inside the house: and even now he is still under the watchful scrutiny of the Russophobe imperial state figure of his Secretary of State Pompeo, closely though undeclaredly linked to the Washington imperial party on Ukraine-Russia as on other East-West issues. Zelensky is similarly constrained and threatened in Kiev by the anti-Russian fanaticism that has been indoctrinated in large sections of the Ukrainian population by decades of nationalist, often neo-Nazi, Russophobe propaganda.
It is a tribute to the instinctive good sense of the Ukrainian electorate that Zelensky was able to defeat in the polls the discredited NATO stooge Poroshenko so comprehensively and decisively. The maturity of this vote gives me renewed hope for Ukraine. But there is a long way to go still towards political normalisation and economic recovery there. Zelensky is smart enough to see that his country must achieve a normalisation of relations with Russia, but knows that he cannot yet say this openly. Putin wants this also, very much. But both men know it will take a very long time after the accumulated bitter grievances on both sides over recent decades, and especially since the lethal and destructive civil war on Eastern Ukraine that was begun by Poroshenko in April 2014 – no doubt on American advice.
This war has had terrible human consequences: loss of life, wounded and disabled casualties, destroyed communities, massive forced refugee outflows. Neither side can get over this easily or quickly. The reciprocal prisoner release on 7 September was an essential symbolic action. Putin’s release of the navy crews who took part in the provocative and foolish Ukrainian raid on the Kerch Strait bridge a year ago was a key part of building Ukrainian confidence and trust in Zelensky’s leadership. Russophobes in the West are in consternation at new green shots of possible hope for progress towards Kiev-Moscow normalisation under the Normandy diplomacy format.
[..] As I interpret the Trump-Zelensky conversation, both leaders were cautiously but in a friendly way exploring the boundaries of what might be possible for each of them as presidents to revisit the troubled history of the past few years. I see nothing dishonourable or intimidating in this conversation. Trump critics are reading into it only what they want to read.
The government in Kiev has agreed to the so-called ‘Steinmeier Formula,’ the process for Ukraine’s breakaway eastern regions to receive autonomy, which is expected to revitalize the stalled peace process. Named after Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister who suggested it back in 2015, it’s an addition to the second Minsk agreement that explains exactly how elections must be held in eastern regions of Ukraine in order to end the bloodshed and reintegrate the breakaway Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. According to the formula, the “special status” – i.e. autonomy – law must enter into force temporarily on election day and become a permanent one after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deems the elections legitimate.
All members of the three-side contact group – Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE – as well as the ones from the self-proclaimed republics, agreed to the ‘Steinmeier Formula’ on Tuesday, sending letters of agreement to the OSCE special representative in Ukraine, Martin Sajdik. The official confirmed to Interfax that no joint document was signed and “the signatories have been put under separate letters.” It was not immediately clear to what extent the ‘Formula’ has become legally binding, given this quite unusual way of approval. Explaining the move, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the ‘Formula’ will be implemented into the new “special status” law – which is yet to be designed and approved by lawmakers at by the Ukrainian Rada. He also insisted that Kiev should control the border with Russia in the East.
The sides had been expected to sign ‘the formula’ a few week ago, but the negotiations fell through because Ukraine disagreed with some points. While the approval is regarded as a positive sing in peace process by politicians, it was met with a very angry reaction by Ukrainian neo-Nazis and pro-war groups. Shortly after the announcement, a protest dubbed ‘No to capitulation’, was staged outside his office. The protesters waved flags of far-right groups, shouted slogans and brandished flares, demonstrating their dissatisfaction with any attempts by the Kiev authorities to somehow settle the conflict in the east of the country. A similar reaction was voiced by the former president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. He branded the ‘Steinmeier Formula’ a “Putin formula,” claiming that agreeing to it paves the way for deconstruction of Ukraine as a sovereign state.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Wednesday unveil his final Brexit offer to the European Union and make clear that if Brussels does not engage with the proposal, Britain will not negotiate further and will leave on Oct. 31. In his closing speech to his governing Conservatives’ annual conference, Johnson will stick to his hard line on Brexit, offering the party faithful the first details of what he will describe as his “fair and reasonable compromise”. With less than a month until Britain is due to leave the EU, the future of Brexit, the country’s biggest trade and foreign policy shift in more than 40 years, is uncertain. Britain could leave with a deal, without one or not exit at all.
Johnson, who says Britain will leave the bloc on Oct. 31 no matter what, will tell the conference he will send his proposal to Brussels, an attempt to secure a deal to smooth the country’s departure and avoid a potentially damaging no-deal Brexit. “My friends, I am afraid that after three-and-a-half years people are beginning to feel that they are being taken for fools. They are beginning to suspect that there are forces in this country that simply don’t want Brexit delivered at all,” he will say, according to extracts released by his office. “Let’s get Brexit done on October 31 so in 2020 our country can move on.” More than three years after Britain voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, Brexit talks are at an impasse.
Johnson has been firm that the Oct. 31 deadline will be met, but parliament has put roadblocks in his way – passing a law that requires the prime minister to request a Brexit delay if he fails to secure an acceptable deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17. The EU has repeatedly asked Britain to come up with “legal and operational” proposals for the changes Johnson wants to a deal his predecessor negotiated with the bloc last year.
A hard border undermines the basis of the Good Friday Agreement – Jonathan Powell told us in August.
The leaders of three U.S. House of Representatives committees accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of intimidating witnesses on Tuesday, and said doing so is illegal and “will constitute evidence of obstruction.” Pompeo earlier on Tuesday sternly objected to the committees’ efforts to obtain depositions from five current and former State Department officials, as the Democratic-led House looks into President Donald Trump’s request to Ukraine’s president to investigate a domestic political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Representatives Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Elijah Cummings, chairman of the Oversight Committee, made their comments on Pompeo in a statement issued in response to Pompeo’s position. The three Democratic chairmen said Pompeo would be “a fact witness” in the House impeachment inquiry if reports are true that he was on the July call when Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress — including State Department employees — is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” the statement said.
Barr’s inquiry concerns the origins of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, which was ultimately taken over by Mueller. Mueller concluded that Trump’s campaign had extensive contacts with Russians who mounted a sweeping effort to influence the outcome of the election in which Republican Trump was the surprise winner against Democrat Hillary Clinton. Mueller also revealed numerous attempts by Trump to interfere with his investigation, but did not conclude whether or not Trump should be charged with obstruction of justice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently decided not to bring criminal charges.
Trump blasted the Mueller investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt”, and Trump’s allies have questioned whether U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies should have launched the investigation in the first place. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies began examining possible communications between Trump advisers and Russia in July 2016, when the Australian government alerted U.S. officials that a Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, had boasted to an Australian diplomat that the Russian government had material that could be damaging to Clinton. Several months later, the FBI secured a court order to monitor Carter Page, a Trump adviser who had traveled to Russia.
[..] Durham’s probe is “broad in scope and multifaceted,” examining the activity of U.S. and foreign-government intelligence services, as well as non-governmental organizations and individuals, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told Congress in June. As part of that effort, Trump has asked foreign leaders to introduce Barr and Durham to relevant officials in their countries, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Monday.
[..] The Justice Department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, has completed a separate investigation. It is going through the process of removing classified information before it is released to the public. That probe, launched in 2018, focuses on whether the FBI followed proper procedures when it asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to monitor Page, the Trump adviser, in 2016. Separately, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 assigned Utah’s top federal prosecutor, John Huber, to review a wide range of issues that Republicans had complained about, including the FBI’s conduct during investigations related to Clinton. Huber has ceded some portions of his probe to Durham and he is waiting for Horowitz to finish his review.
Japan’s national sales tax was raised to 10% from 8% on Tuesday, amid concerns that the long-delayed move could derail the fragile growth path of the world’s third largest economy. Government officials say ample measures have been taken to minimize the impact of the hike, which took effect Tuesday. Previous tax increases, a 2-point increase to 5% in 1997 and another to 8% in 2014, brought on recessions. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe postponed this hike twice but said it was unavoidable given rising costs for elder care and a growing national debt as the population ages and shrinks. After decades of fiscal deficits that have taken the debt to more than twice the size of the economy, Abe has promised a return to balance by 2025, but that will require the economy to continue expanding at a healthy pace.
The economy expanded at an annual pace of 1.8 percent in April-June, faster than anticipated. But slowing exports and rising prices for oil are expected to drag growth lower in coming months. The increase covers most goods and services from clothes, electronics to transportation and medical fees, but the government has sought to soften its impact with tax breaks for home and car purchases. It also kept the tax for groceries unchanged for low-income households and is providing free pre-school education to families.
The US gross national debt jumped by $110 billion on the last two business days of Fiscal Year 2019, and by a breath-taking $1.2 trillion during the entire fiscal year, after having already jumped by $1.27 trillion in Fiscal 2018, the Treasury Department reported today. This ballooned the US gross national debt to a vertigo-inducing $22.72 trillion. These beautiful trillions whipping by are a joy to behold: so much action in so little time. The flat spots in the chart below are the results of the debt-ceiling charade in Congress. When the debt ceiling is lifted, the debt spikes back to trend, and nothing changed:
During Fiscal 2019, the gross national debt increased by 5.6% and now amounts to 106.5% of current-dollar GDP, up from 105.4% at the end of Fiscal 2018. The thing to remember here is that this isn’t the Great Recession or the Financial Crisis, when over 10 million people lost their jobs and credit froze up and companies went bankrupt and tax revenues plunged while outlays soared to pay for unemployment insurance and the like. This isn’t even the Collapse of Everything, but the longest expansion of the economy in US history. Over the last four quarters, the US economy as measured by nominal GDP (not adjusted for inflation) grew by 4.0%. Over the same period, the US gross national debt grew by 5.6% (not adjusted for inflation).
Major U.S. fund managers have tens of billion of dollars at stake in some of the most popular Chinese stocks on Wall Street, exposing them to potential losses should the White House move to delist Chinese firms from U.S. exchanges. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Monday dismissed reports that the Trump administration was considering delisting Chinese companies from U.S. stock exchanges as “fake news,” helping Chinese stocks including JD.com and Alibaba Group Holding recover some of their declines from Friday after the reports emerged.
As Navarro’s comments reduced investor fears, the S&P/BNY Mellon China Select ADR index rose 1.1% after tumbling more than 3% on Friday. Still, the possibility of a future U.S. move to boot Chinese companies out of U.S. markets remains a topic of concern for investors. “The proposed measures would completely undermine the international ADR/GDR etc. market and would harm the US’s role as a conduit for international capital,” Jefferies equity strategist Sean Darby wrote in a client note. Leading U.S. investors across Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges include Blackrock, T. Rowe Price Associates and the Vanguard Group, with over $40 billion invested, according to Refinitiv data, based on fund filings.
Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg told employees in July that the company would “go to the mat” to defeat Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s expected effort to break up the world’s largest social media company if she were elected president, according to audio of two internal company meetings published by The Verge. “If she (Warren) gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government,” he said, according to the leaked audio. Warren, who in March called for breaking up Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc, quickly issued a retort on Twitter.
“What would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights,” Warren tweeted. In a later series of tweets, Warren noted that Facebook has built more market dominance in recent years by acquiring potential competitors WhatsApp and Instagram. “More than 85% of all social networking traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Facebook,” she wrote. “They’ve got a lot of power—and face little competition or accountability. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, undermined our democracy, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.”
Major Libra backers Visa and Mastercard are second-guessing their participation in the Facebook-led digital payments project, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Against a global regulatory blasting of the proposed cryptocurrency, the financial services pair and unnamed other companies are balking at Facebook’s call for a unified front. The Journal says that few want to boost the project publicly – leaving Facebook to defend Libra by itself. Libra has been a favorite target of world financial regulators since its announcement in June. European Central Bank members said it could destabilize the euro; China’s crypto czar called it potentially “unstoppable;” and U.S. Congressional Representatives have called for an outright freeze on its development. Now members of the Libra Association will meet on Thursday in Washington, D.C. It was not immediately clear what the meeting will be about; the members are scheduled to discuss Libra’s charter in mid-October.
Robert Frank White Tower, New York 1948 (Frank died yesterday, aged 94)
To everyone used to receiving Automatic Earth posts in their email, I’m sorry but since Saturday they’re suddenly bouncing again en masse. This makes me very tired by now, but I’ll look for a solution. I suspect there may be a connection between this and Google accusing me of violating their rules, without telling me what rules I’m supposed to have violated.
Donald Trump said he fired John Bolton, writing in a tweet he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions” and adding he would announce a replacement for his hawkish national security adviser sometime next week. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” the president wrote on Tuesday. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning.” “I thank John very much for his service,” he added. “I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.” Mr Bolton then tweeted a statement of his own shortly after the president’s announcement, writing: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.'”
Mr Bolton also reportedly told CNN’s Robert Costa shortly after his dismissal: “Let’s be clear, I resigned, having offered to do so last night.” The reason for Mr Bolton’s departure was not immediately clear, although it has been suggested that he disagreed with the president’s aborted plan to hold peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David this week, days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mr Bolton was also an outspoken advocate of regime change in Iran. Although Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal that his predecessor Barack Obama signed with Tehran, he is known to oppose military action in the Middle East.
The blowing up of Donald Trump’s attempt to end the 18-year Afghan War was the straw which broke the camel’s back for the US president, who on Tuesday fired his national security adviser John Bolton.
Trump’s attempt to bring to a close the longest war in US history – longer, in fact, than their direct involvement in WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War put together – was to be his own “Camp David moment.” It would have mimicked both Carter and Clinton’s “triumphs” there with Arafat and Begin and Arafat and Rabin (neither of which have in fact turned out to be triumphs but were wonderful photo-ops).
Bolton’s rearguard action and the Taliban’s killing of a single US soldier there in the week of the summit brought the Camp David caper crashing down, much to the president’s fury, and prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to boast that the US had killed a thousand Taliban in the previous 10 days. But it was not one damn thing, but one damned thing after another, which has caused the final forking of the “bureaucratic tape-worm” John Bolton, who has slithered through every right-wing administration in living memory.
[..] John Bolton, like so many others, was a “chicken-hawk,” always ready to fight to the last drop of somebody else’s blood. He evaded the draft during the Vietnam War because as he said himself “I didn’t want to die face down in a South East Asian rice paddy.” Nothing wrong with that, if he hadn’t continued to “support” the war and wave off to the paddy-fields the 58,000 Americans who did die, face-down, in the war he dodged. So, farewell then, John Bolton. You killed a lot of folks. Thanks to God and President Trump you will kill no more.
The last time major central banks shifted gears together, it was a cooperative move to keep the financial crisis of a decade ago from becoming a full-bore, worldwide depression. Now, a new round of global ratecutting risks taking on a competitive edge as policymakers try to stay ahead of rising trade tensions, a volatile investment climate, and a shift in the political mood from shared support for globalization to a more zero-sum battle over a slower-growing world economy.
[..] If the Fed and ECB do as expected at their upcoming meetings, BOJ officials will be torn between how a stressed financial system may respond to ever lower rates, and how Japanese exporters may be damaged if the yen rises in value as a result of the actions of those other central banks. European officials, disappointed that elected leaders haven’t spent aggressively to boost economic growth, are sparring over how much lower already negative rates can go without causing problems, how expansive other ECB programs should become, and what good any of it might do. At the Fed, policymakers are split over whether to cut a lot, a little or not at all.
In each case, officials are reckoning with the fact that their economies and financial systems have become so tied together that fully independent policymaking, insofar as it ever was possible, may be a thing of the past. “We really thought monetary policy had things under control,” and would be able to offset whatever programs elected leaders chose to pursue, even a trade war, said Tara Sinclair, an economics professor at George Washington University. “Does that work in a super low interest rate world and in a very integrated world?” when central banks may have lost much of their traditional influence over the domestic economy.
Earlier this morning, there was an added wobble in European bond prices after an unconfirmed MNI report said the ECB could delay the launch of QE on Thursday and make it data dependent. While skeptics quickly slammed the story, saying it was just a clickbait by MarketNews … it does highlight just how sensitive the bond market is to an announcement of aggressive easing by the ECB when it meets on Thursday, Sept 12, where consensus generally expects a significant easing package, including a -20bp rate cut (followed by -10bp cut later on), coupled with roughly €30 billion in sovereign debt QE for 9-12 months, coupled with enhanced forward guidance.
There is just one problem: while it is unclear if any further easing by the ECB will do anything to stimulate the Eurozone economy, one thing is certain – further easing will only cripple Europe’s banks. In fact, as Goldman writes in its ECB preview, “further rate cuts are a very uncomfortable prospect for the [banking] sector” and estimates that a -20bp cut could lead to an aggregate €5.6bn (-6%) profit cut for 32 €-banks under the bank’s coverage; worse, a further -10bp cut, as per GS macro forecasts, increases the hit to -10% (-€8.3 bn). Overall, 19 banks in Goldman’s coverage face a >10% EPS cut, and 8 banks face as much as a 20% EPS hit.
Then there is Europe’s head on collision with a recession: the weakening rate outlook has been accompanied by >20% fall in €-bank shares (SX7E) since 2H18 and -4% cuts to their consensus Net Interest Incomes (for 2020E). According to Goldman, so far ~40% of the share price decline could be explained by NII cuts; the rest falls into the ‘other’ domain, “where political risk features notably.” Here is the problem in one sentence, and chart: since negative rates were introduced in 2014, European Banks have paid €23BN to the ECB!
Cummings, who alongside fellow campaigner Matthew Elliott, drove Vote Leave to victory in the 2016 referendum is cast by allies as a ruthless strategist who cares little for the conventions of traditional British politics. He provoked a row inside Westminster when he sacked a 27-year-old adviser to finance minister Sajid Javid. The adviser, Sonia Khan, was escorted by armed police from Downing Street without Javid’s knowledge. Former Prime Minister John Major cast Cummings as an overmighty “political anarchist” who should be sacked as Johnson’s de-facto chief of staff before he poisoned British politics beyond repair.
Cummings’s response? “Trust the people” – a slogan used by government advisers to cast Johnson’s Brexit-supporting team as the true servants of the people fighting a London political and financial elite that wants to thwart their will. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that the United Kingdom was in dangerous territory as voters were concluding that parliament was hindering Brexit. He said the government would respect the law but that interpretations of the law can sometimes be complex. “At this point, our view is that resignation is the most likely,” U.S. investment bank JPMorgan said. “In our view, neither seeking to defy the law, nor encouraging the EU not to grant an extension, are likely to succeed.”
The Cabinet Manual, which sets out the laws, rules and conventions on the operation of government, says if the prime minister resigns on behalf of the government then Queen Elizabeth will invite the person who appears most likely to be able to command the confidence of lawmakers to serve as prime minister and form a government. A Conservative Party lawmaker said he thought Johnson would resign soon after the EU summit, ensuring that he is not blamed for any delay to Brexit. “The question is: what has Cummings got up his sleeve?” said a former Conservative adviser. “He is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with. He thinks several steps ahead, thrives on chaos and has sat in a bunker for three years thinking about this: so what is he going to do?”
The British and Irish governments are both eyeing a return to the EU’s original Brexit backstop plan, rejected by Theresa May, as a way of breaking the deadlock, reports suggest. The so-called “Northern Ireland-only” backstop was rejected by the former prime minister during talks because it put a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea – a move strongly opposed by the DUP and many Tories. It was replaced in the withdrawal agreement by the current UK-wide backstop – which was rejected by Brexiteers for another reason: because it could tie the whole UK to the EU customs union indefinitely.
[..] In an interview with the Irish Times, Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan – who is set to be put in charge of trade talks with the UK – said the direction of travel was towards the old backstop. “Yes,” he replied when asked whether it was back on the agenda. “The taoiseach has indicated in the last 24 hours that the Northern Ireland-only backstop is quite an interesting idea to revisit.” He added: “I remain hopeful that the penny is finally dropping with the UK that there are pragmatic and practical solutions can actually be introduced into the debate at this stage – albeit at the eleventh hour – that may find some common ground between the EU and the UK.” British officials in Brussels flatly deny that there is any intention to return to the original backstop. A UK spokesperson said that “any deal must involve the abolition of the anti-democratic backstop”.
[..] A return to something resembling the Northern Ireland-only backstop could ultimately make sense politically for Mr Johnson, given he may no longer have to rely on DUP votes for a majority after a general election – if he wins a majority, as polls suggest is possible. The DUP’s opposition to a border in the Irish sea would no longer be as much of an issue. The change would also technically allow Mr Johnson to claim he had ditched the current backstop, which he has put down as a red line. Whether moving back to a Northern Ireland-only situation would be accepted by Tory Brexiteers as satisfactory is another matter.
One reason to suppose that Johnson is malleable on the detail is that on 29 March he voted for May’s deal – the same one he denounces as an affront to democracy. The hypocrisy is not surprising, but it does illuminate that tension in Johnson’s self-image, between the wannabe statesman and the Trump tribute act. One enjoys the hobnobbing with world leaders at global summits, the other is an accomplice in vandalising the architecture of a rules-based international order.
The same tension is expressed in domestic politics. There is affable Boris who thought he could charm his way to an elegant Brexit solution, unify his party and woo the country with a healing message. He was barged aside by bullying Boris who purges dissent from his party and stokes division in the country. One belongs to the old Tory party that venerated stability and reached out to liberal voters. The other leads a new revolutionary leaver party, recruiting admirers of Nigel Farage for a nationalist insurgency.
The Downing Street calculation appears to be that a majority is most easily won by stripping the Conservative party down and reassembling it as something unconservative. Johnson will run as a populist tribune, the man who would rather be “dead in a ditch” than surrender to tricky continentals and their Westminster collaborators. It might work. Current polling doesn’t offer much of a guide when the vital choices have been punted to the end of October. That doesn’t leave much time for the prime minister to tweak May’s Brexit deal and, in defiance of all the odds, persuade a hostile parliament to vote for it. But that doesn’t mean he has given up on the idea.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex part of the occupied West Bank if he is returned to office next week. He would apply “Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea”, a policy certain to be backed by the right-wing parties whose support he would need for a coalition. Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said such annexation moves would “bury any chance of peace”. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 but stopped short of annexation. Mr Netanyahu, who leads the right-wing Likud party, is campaigning ahead of general elections next Tuesday. Polls suggest Likud is neck-and-neck with the opposition centrist Blue and White party and may struggle to form a governing coalition.
Palestinians claim the whole of the West Bank for a future independent state. Mr Netanyahu has previously insisted that Israel would always retain a presence in the Jordan Valley for security purposes. In a televised speech the PM said: “There is one place where we can apply Israeli sovereignty immediately after the elections. “If I receive from you, citizens of Israel, a clear mandate to do so… today I announce my intention to apply with the formation of the next government Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.” Mr Netanyahu also said he would annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but this would need to wait until the publication of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited plan for a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has been desperate to drum up voter support across various sections of the Israeli population as the September 17 election inches closer, and his most recent pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, a part of the occupied West Bank, is no more than yet another empty campaign promise, political and defense commentator Amir Oren told RT. “He cannot annex any inch of the occupied territories… the most important [reason] is that peace with Egypt and with Jordan is based upon the UN Security Council resolution 242 from November of 1967 forbidding the acquisition of territories by force.”
Netanyahu knows that risking the collapse of the entire regional security system is a “non-starter,” and his grand announcement is merely a “way to focus attention on himself,” Oren argued. The PR stunt is also aimed at helping Netanyahu to rebrand himself as a strong leader able to deal with the Iran ‘menace’ and the Palestinian issue, as most recently he has been making headlines for the allegations of corruption he faces. “He is trying to shift attention from his corruption scandals, he could be indicted as early as mid-October, he wants people to talk about himself as a world-class leader in league with Putin and Trump.”
Lawmakers in California have passed a law that paves the way for gig economy workers to get holiday and sick pay. Assembly Bill 5, as its known, will affect companies such as Uber and Lyft, which depend on those working in the gig economy. Some estimates suggest costs for those firms would increase by 30% if they have to treat workers as employees. But opponents of the bill say it will hurt those that want to work flexible hours. The business models of gig economy companies are already under strain – Uber lost more than $5bn in the last quarter alone.
Some estimates suggest that having to treat workers as employees, rather than independent contractors, could increase costs by as much as 30%. Uber and rival ridesharing service Lyft joined forces to push back again the bill. They suggested a guaranteed minimum wage of $21 per hour instead of the sweeping changes the bill would bring. But that pledge wasn’t enough to sway California’s Senate, and the state’s governor Gavin Newsom is expected to soon sign the bill into law.
Conservative television network One America News (OAN) is suing Rachel Maddow for $10 million after she referred to the network as “paid Russian propaganda”. OAN filed the defamation suit in federal court in San Diego, according to AP. OAN is a small, family owned conservative network that is based in San Diego and has received favorable Tweets from the President. It is seen as a competitor to Fox News. OAN’s lawsuit claims that Maddow’s comments were retaliation after OAN President Charles Herring accused Comcast of censorship. The suit said that Comcast refuses to carry its channel because “counters the liberal politics of Comcast’s own news channel, MSNBC.”
It was about a week after Herring e-mailed a Comcast executive when Maddow opened her show by referring to a Daily Beast report that claimed an OAN employee also worked for Sputnik News, which has ties to the Russian government. Maddow said: “In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda. Their on-air U.S. politics reporter is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.” Except Maddow, likely still upset from spending 3 years trying to promulgate a Russian hoax that didn’t exist, didn’t quite get her facts straight. Big surprise.
OAN said in its lawsuit that while reporter Kristian Rouz was associated with Sputnik News, he worked solely as a freelancer for them and was not a staff employee of OAN. And the lawsuit includes a statement from Rouz stating that while he has written some 1,300 articles over the past 4 and a half years for Sputnik, he has “…never written propaganda, disinformation, or unverified information.
To everyone used to receiving Automatic Earth posts in their email, I’m sorry but since Saturday they’re suddenly bouncing again en masse. This makes me very tired by now, but I’ll look for a solution. I suspect there may be a connection between this and Google accusing me of violating their rules, without telling me what rules I’m supposed to have violated.
Really, what is not to like about the Brexit comedy? it’s the British doing what they do best. Parliament will vote for a law that forces Boris to send a letter to Brussels asking for an extension to Article 50, and he plans to send a second letter saying he doesn’t want that extension.
Anyway, Supreme Court it always would be. But can that court tell parliamentarians or a prime minster what to do, or are they above the court in legal standing, as a lower court suggested last week? Too late to get a constitution now. But not too late to make this much more chaotic still.
There is even a plan for the UK to shut down the EU.
The battle for Brexit is heading for a nailbiting showdown in the Supreme Court in late October – when the deadline for crashing out of the EU will be just days away – after Boris Johnson’s new strategy was revealed. Ministers plan to manufacture a legal fight to avoid directly breaking the law when compelled to ask for a further Article 50 extension, while also sidestepping the requirement to comply with it. The “plan B” paves the way for an unprecedented constitutional crisis after parliament’s deadline for seeking a Brexit delay passes on 19 October – with the threat of the prime minister being jailed for contempt of court. With the deadline for crashing out on 31 October, it will be a race against time to force Mr Johnson to Brussels before Halloween, or to bring him down in a vote of no confidence and send a replacement.
Labour condemned the strategy as behaving like “every tinpot dictator on the planet throughout history” – demanding that Mr Johnson obey the “duty” imposed by parliament. No10 is also reported to be considering sending a letter to the EU requesting a Brexit extension, in order to meet the conditions passed by MPs last week, but then immediately sending another saying the government does not actually want a delay. Legal experts, including former attorney general Lord Falconer, warned that this would still breach the law. If Mr Johnson disregards some or all of the bill’s requirements – which is set to receive royal assent on Monday – this could lead to an emergency judicial review in the courts by MPs.
The unprecedented case would start in the High Court and the expectation is that it would very quickly move to the Supreme Court, almost certainly before 31 October. And it triggered an extraordinary warning from the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, to obey “the rule of law”, as he denied he was poised to follow Amber Rudd by resigning.
A former supreme court justice has said Boris Johnson would be in contempt of court if he applied for article 50 extension while simultaneously trying to get the EU to reject it. Reports in the Daily Telegraph suggested that the prime minister has drawn up plans to “sabotage” parliament’s efforts to force through a Brexit extension to prevent the UK leaving the bloc without a deal. He is said to be considering sending an accompanying letter to the EU alongside the request to extend article 50, which would say the government does not want any delay to Brexit. Lord Sumption, a former supreme court justice, said it would not be legal for the prime minister to ask for an extension while rubbishing the request at the same time.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The bill or the act as its about to become says that he’s got to apply for an extension. Not only has he got to send the letter, he’s got to apply for an extension. And to send the letter and then try and neutralise it seems to me to be plainly a breach of the act.” A Downing Street source said: “We intend to sabotage any extension. The ‘surrender bill’ only kicks in if an extension is offered. Once people realise our plans, there is a good chance we won’t be offered a delay. Even if we are, we intend to sabotage that too.” Sumption said he had read the bill and there was not “the slightest obscurity” about what the government was obliged to do. [..] Sumption said Johnson would not only be in contempt of court if he failed to do what the bill states, he risked the resignation of the justice secretary, the attorney general, and other members of his cabinet.
European officials have accused Boris Johnson of reneging on pledges to uphold the Good Friday agreement, ahead of the prime minister’s first meeting with his Irish counterpart. Johnson will meet the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in Dublin on Monday at a tumultuous moment in the Brexit process, with only 52 days until the UK’s departure. Talks are set to be tense as fears grow in Dublin and Brussels that the British prime minister is backsliding on promises to protect the tightly knit economic and social links on the island of Ireland. “The commitment to all aspects and all the provisions of the letter and spirit of the Good Friday agreement recently seems to be taken more lightly than before,” a senior diplomat from a continental member state told the Guardian.
“This avoidance of the hard border, it is not just a desire, it is not just about preferences, it is legal obligation.” A senior official working for the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told diplomats this week that the UK had reneged on commitments to protect north-south co-operation on the island of Ireland, a key pillar of the Good Friday agreement. Alarm bells were set off by Johnson’s recent letter to the European council president, Donald Tusk, which declared his government could not endorse a commitment made by Theresa May in a December 2017 EU-UK joint report. The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, fuelled concerns that the government was seeking to back out of past commitments, when he tweeted that the government was “committed to no infrastructure on the NI border”.
Such comments were seen in Brussels as “meaningless” words that marked a significant dilution of the promise to uphold an open border. The May government pledged to protect “north-south cooperation” on the island of Ireland in the 2017 joint report, widely seen in Brussels as a landmark in Brexit talks.
Brussels’ former top law officer has rubbished Boris Johnson’s extraordinary plan to sabotage the EU and make it ‘no longer legal’, arguing it makes no sense. Downing Street has threatened to render the bloc no longer “legally constituted”, paralysing its decision making, to force EU leaders to cave in to the UK’s demands. But Jean-Claude Piris, formerly the director-general of the EU Council’s legal service, said the idea – refusing to appoint a new commissioner – would fail to shut down the EU, as No 10 hoped. “The Commission can continue to work and decide legally,” Mr Piris wrote on Twitter, citing a precedent dating back to 1999. Instead, he said: “The UK will be brought to the EUCJ [the European Court of Justice] for violation of its obligation.”
Richard Corbett, the leader of Labour’s bloc of Euro-MPs, echoed the criticism, tweeting: “Nonsense idea that Johnson could paralyse EU to force it to expel UK. “If he refuses to nominate a Commissioner, the UK would be in breach of the treaty – that being so, EU Commission not at fault and can operate legally.” In a dramatic escalation of its battle with Brussels, No 10 believes it can put the EU in breach of its own legal duty for all 28 member states to be represented on its executive branch. The UK would be “disrupting” Brussels life to such a degree that member states will then make it clear they will refuse to grant an Article 50 extension – even if asked for – it hopes. A source told The Independent: “We will turn the pressure onto the EU to show how difficult it will be for them if the UK is still hanging around.”
China’s exports unexpectedly fell in August as shipments to the United States slowed sharply, pointing to further weakness in the world’s second-largest economy and underlining a pressing need for more stimulus as the Sino-U.S. trade war escalates. Beijing is widely expected to announce more support measures in coming weeks to avert the risk of a sharper economic slowdown as the United States ratchets up trade pressure, including the first cuts in some key lending rates in four years. On Friday, the central bank cut banks’ reserve requirements for a seventh time since early 2018 to free up more funds for lending, days after a cabinet meeting signalled that more policy loosening may be imminent.
August exports fell 1% from a year earlier, the biggest fall since June, when it fell 1.3%, customs data showed on Sunday. Analysts had expected a 2.0% rise in a Reuters poll after July’s 3.3% gain. That’s despite analyst expectations that a falling yuan would offset some cost pressure and looming tariffs may have prompted some Chinese exporters to bring forward or “front-load” U.S.-bound shipments into August, a trend seen earlier in the trade dispute. China let its currency slide past the key 7 per dollar level in August for the first time since the global financial crisis, and Washington labelled it a currency manipulator.
Air China has no plans to take over Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways, an independent director of the state-owned Chinese carrier told the South China Morning Post newspaper. “Based on what I know, I wouldn’t think that is anywhere on the agenda, no way,” Air China non-executive director Stanley Hui told the newspaper when asked if the carrier, a 30% shareholder, might seek to buy Cathay outright. The Hong Kong airline has become the biggest corporate casualty of anti-government protests after China demanded it suspend staff involved in, or who support, demonstrations that have plunged the former British colony into a political crisis.
Cathay Chairman John Slosar last week announced plans to step down in November, less than three weeks after CEO Rupert Hogg left amid mounting regulatory scrutiny. Air China is Cathay’s second-largest shareholder, behind manager Swire Pacific with a 45% stake. Long-time Swire executive Patrick Healy was last week appointed as Slosar’s replacement.
British Airways says it was forced to cancel “nearly 100 per cent” of flights for Monday and Tuesday after the British pilots union went ahead with a strike. The strike was called for by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) amid a heated dispute over pay with the airline. BALPA said Sunday on Twitter that it put forward a proposal to the carrier’s management Wednesday, but had yet to receive a reply. British Airways said in a statement posted Monday it remains “ready and willing to return to talks with BALPA.”
The airline said it was forced to cancel so many flights because “with no detail from BALPA on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly.” Customers who had flights booked for Monday and Tuesday will likely “not be able to travel as planned,” British Airways said. The airline also advised customers not to go to the airport. Members of the pilots union voted 93% in favor of a strike in July. BALPA said last week that it would be willing to call it off if British Airways returned to the negotiating table. According to its website, BALPA represents more than 10,000 pilots in the United Kingdom — more than 85% of all commercial pilots who fly there.
A group of states led by Texas is expected to announce an investigation into Google on Monday to examine whether the Silicon Valley tech giant has gotten too big and effective at stomping or acquiring rivals. The probe is the latest blow against big tech companies as antitrust investigations ramp up in the U.S. and around the world. A separate group of states announced an investigation into Facebook’s dominance on Friday. The Department of Justice , the Federal Trade Commission and Congress are also conducting probes.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said only that the investigation will look at “whether large tech companies have engaged in anticompetitive behavior that stifled competition, restricted access, and harmed consumers.” Reports in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal say Google will be the primary target. Google expects state attorneys general will ask it about past similar investigations in the U.S. and internationally, senior vice president of global affairs Kent Walker wrote in a blog post Friday . Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has a market value of more than $820 billion and controls so many aspects of the internet that it’s hard to imagine surfing the web for long without running into at least one of its services. Experts believe the antitrust probe could focus on at least one of three aspects of Google’s business that have caught regulators’ eyes.
Background: renowned Greek film director Costa-Gravas has made a movie based on Varoufakis’ book “Adults in the Room,” which recounts Yanis’ dealings with the EU. It was presented at the Venice film festival this week. Well, the Greek press still doesn’t like him (but they dare not ignore Costa-Gavras either). And because of the structure of the press, neither do many Greeks. But they make it about how Yanis presents himself, and sure, maybe it’s too much about him at times. But really, it should be about his ideas, about substance. Unfortunately, those ideas go above their paygrade and understanding. So appearance it is then…
The term “narcissist,” which has become almost a permanent fixture in any description of Yanis Varoufakis – in tones ranging from the deliberate and angry to the lighthearted and playful, sometimes to the point of absolving him of his sins – is inadequate. A man who writes a book while simultaneously envisioning himself as a big-screen hero does not simply fall into the category of garden-variety delusions of stardom because his actions are rife with intent. Viewing reality through the realm of fiction neither clears nor burdens an official of complicity with regard to how he managed the country’s economic affairs and the stance he adopted more generally, and especially when this concerns an exceptionally crucial period.
Walking down the red carpet does not instantly transform Varoufakis from a former finance minister (who is co-credited with a memorandum and capital controls) into a movie star. The Venice International Film Festival – the glamour, the camera flashes, the gowns – and the reviews of critics neither erase nor transfer political responsibility. The publicity shone on Greece as a result of Costa-Gavras’ film “Adults in the Room,” based on Varoufakis’ book of the same title, shifts the focus of the conversation from the intentions and rules according to which officials with institutional responsibilities ought to abide, to the rule-free realm of art. It takes it away from the need for political figures to answer for their actions and omissions, to the extremely capacious realm of film production and artistic creativity.
Faced with a looming ferocious summer with little rain forecast, the New South Wales government has embarked on a Noah’s Ark type operation to move native fish from the Lower Darling – part of Australia’s most significant river system – to safe havens before high temperatures return to the already stressed river basin. Researchers have warned of other alarming ecological signs that the Lower Darling River – part of the giant Murray-Darling Basin – is in a dire state, following last summer’s mass fish kills. Professor Fran Sheldon, from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute, said only one surviving colony of river mussels had been found along the river and there were signs that river red gums were under severe stress.
“If the river red gums die, and some are hundreds of years old, there will be a domino effect. Banks will collapse, there will be massive erosion and it will send sediments down the river.” “These sort of ecological collapses are much harder and expensive to reverse,” she warned. The New South Wales government announced a $10m rescue package last week to mitigate the effects of the river crisis on native fish this summer. The NSW agriculture minister, Adam Marshall, said the unprecedented action would provide “a lifeline for key native species ahead of an expected summer of horror fish kills”. “We’re staring down the barrel of a potential fish Armageddon, which is why we’re wasting little time rolling out this unprecedented action,” Marshall said.
Last weekend, I noticed that two of the main newsmakers were both named Cummings, one in the US, the other in the UK. At first glance they don’t look like family, but I’ll readily admit I can’t be sure of that. What I do know is that both are symbolic of what’s wrong with the political systems they figure in.
Also last weekend, I saw a comment somewhere, think it was Twitter, that said something in the vein of: let’s hope the British don’t make the same mistake with Boris Johnson that the Americans made -and make- with Donald Trump, that is, labeling every single thing he does as “Bad”, because then they would lose all of their credibility, fast.
Elijah Cummings and Dominic Cummings. Not related.
And I thought: that could have been my comment, that’s how I look upon the whole political circus too. The entire blind demonization of Trump has only made him stronger, and the loss of credibility of the ‘accusers’ is a major factor in that. Not everything that goes wrong in America is Trump’s fault, it can’t be. But for large segments of the press, and their affiliated politicians, that has been the message for three years now.
And then you wake up one morning after -another- hearing, this time that of Robert Mueller, which you lost again, and you find that nobody believes you anymore, or cares, except for those who’d believe anything you say whatever it is anyway, and all of the time. But that also means you don’t reach anyone new, anyone not already in your echo chamber.
Right before the Mueller hearings, Jerry Nadler once again stated that Mueller had ‘very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors'”. But not one iota of any such ‘substantial evidence’ was addressed by Mueller in the hearings. And that hurts Nadler’s credibility to no end.
After three years, there’s no more time and space for empty allegations. Just watch Rachel Maddow’s plunging ratings. She lost some 25% of her viewers in the first half of this year. The Democrats would do well to take that into consideration before they speak out again. The latest episode a week ago started with Trump calling out Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on his comments about the border and telling him to take care of Baltimore first.
When Trump said Baltimore was rat infested, a million Democrats called him a racist for it, as in: he wasn’t talking about rats, he was really talking about black people. And subsequently we find out that Baltimore indeed has a substantial problem with rats, various other rodents, garbage, you name it. And one thinks: stop doing it, stop calling him names, stop calling every single thing he does “Bad”. Elijah Cummings has been one of many people doing just that.
Y’all need to stop it because you’re losing. You have been losing for those entire three years. You helped Maddow and the WaPo and NY Times make a fortune with their 24/7 empty allegations, but in the process you’ve been murdering your own party. If you want to fight Trump, you’ll have to do it with facts and evidence, mere innuendo no longer works, those days are gone. You need to change strategy, urgently, you have less than a year to do so.
And talking about the MSM, you also need to stop only watching and reading those sources. Because they don’t provide a wide enough picture, they put blinders on you. It’s what’s been so profitable for them. But not for your party, though it may seem to be.
But yeah, you look at the line-up of ‘candidates’, most of whom appear completely lost in the ‘field’, and you must wonder what 2020 will bring for your party. There’s Kamala and Biden on the right, and then there’s Bernie and Warren on the left. And you just know the DNC is going to pull another Bernie 2016 move. They don’t want the left, they don’t want the Squad, and they’re conspiring against Tulsi Gabbard too. It’s not the empire that’s coming for Tulsi, it’s the DNC.
If I were you, I’d first make sure the DNC gets no say in the choice of your candidate. I’d say disband the whole thing. They are responsible to a large extent for the losing pro-Hillary tactics that have made Trump that much stronger and got him elected. They are behind the whole Russiagate disaster, and the party must urgently distance itself from that. How you can do that without major internal cleansing, I don’t see.
If I were you, I would get rid of Nadler and Adam Schiff and Cummings and a whole lot more faces. Make a fresh start. As things are, the only people who will vote for you are those who would anyway, the echo chamber inhabitants. But the Democrats need additional voters too, swing voters, the already converted are simply not enough.
I see voices promoting an everything-on-red gamble for Michelle Obama, but that reeks far too much of desperation. Then again, betting on Biden or Kamala doesn’t look to be a winner either. The best person might well be Bernie, but the party made clear in 2016 they don’t want him. Personally, I would like to see a Bernie/Warren ticket, because it would give Americans a choice between truly different ideas and options.
Then again, Bernie keeps you far too close to being the War Party with his Russia comments. Americans deserve better. Embrace Tulsi Gabbard’s voice, even if you don’t want her as your candidate. The people love her, even if the DNC does not. She can get you votes you wouldn’t otherwise get. But overall, I don’t see much hope for you next year. Unless you manage to crash the economy before Christmas. Or Easter at the latest. How about Halloween?
If only because then there’s the other Cummings who made the news this week, Boris Johnson’s special adviser Dominic Cummings. I referenced the movie The Uncivil War a while back, and one thing I think I learned from it is that this Mr. Cummings doesn’t play second fiddles. He only agreed to run the VoteLeave campaign that in the end won the Brexit vote when he was given free rein. I think the same thing might have happened now.
He’s agreed to run Boris Johnson’s “Brexit by Halloween” program on the condition that nobody, very much including Boris himself, gets in his way. In 2016, Cummings pushed Boris forward because his polling data told him Nigel Farage was too unpopular and would cost too many votes (yes, the same Farage who has since pretended he was the big winner). But Cummings had no high opinion of Boris either, and still doesn’t.
What that adds up to is that the real boss in no. 10 is not even the PM nobody elected, it’s a guy who got handed the power by that unelected PM in a backroom meeting. And once Dominic Cummings has delivered Brexit, he’ll vanish into the shadows again, where he feels best. Given his past criticisms of Brexit, as well as the entire political system, it could all be more about the win, the kill, then about the value of what it will achieve. He’s not a politician anyway because he’s not a puppet. Cummings is a puppeteer. Boris, well, you get the picture.
Mind you, Brexit may well be a great idea. Just not this way, certainly not this way. The EU has turned into a very questionable club, no doubt. But does anyone at all have the idea that the UK will be well-prepared when they leave that club at Halloween? The thing I find problematic is that all UK laws, regulations, treaties over the past 40 years were agreed to in team efforts with Brussels. London signed them all.
That is a lot of laws and treaties and pieces of paper. Everything modern, everything that didn’t exist 40 years ago, think communications, internet etc. etc., will be part of that. Are they going to leave but still use all those thousands of pages of legislation anyway to regulate their “new” country? I don’t know how they see that, and frankly I don’t think they know either. They seem to just have been bickering amongst themselves for 3 years, and left preparation on the backburner.
Are their businesses prepared for reams upon reams of new paperwork, digital or not? I can’t be sure, but I don’t see it. And then there’s the Irish border, and the backstop. Westminster largely acts as if that’s a minor nuisance, and Paddy will fall into line, but today it’s not just a matter of talking to Dublin, but of talking to Brussels as well.
And you can despise the EU all you want, but they have no choice but to stand with Ireland. They can’t say: let’s ditch the backstop, that is not an option, Brexit would make the Irish border the border of the EU. And if Cummings and Boris want to head for a no-deal Brexit regardless, Good Friday will be as good as dead. Does Dominic Cummings really want to be held responsible for that? Hard to believe. Boris perhaps, but Cummings?
Boris and his people insist there won’t be new border crossings, that technology can save the day, and do the work away from the border. Haven’t seen them explain it though, and certainly not in any detail. But I did see a video the other day of someone involved in the Good Friday negotiations explaining what would happen.
He said, paraphrased: “you put cameras on -or near- that border, there’ll be militants shooting them down. Then you need police to protect the cameras, and they’ll shoot at the police. So you must bring in the army to protect the police, and you’re right back to the Troubles”. The Irish border is still a highly fragile combustible situation. And if Boris insists on not having a backstop, it’s hard to see how new Troubles can be avoided. The Good Friday Agreement came into effect less than 20 years ago, in December 1999.
The dysfunctional political systems Elijah Cummings and Dominic Cummings are part of may appear to be dysfunctional for different reasons. But the role of the media in both cases is very similar. The media wants to be -and define- the message, because that’s where the money is, and the power.
In currency markets, sterling is still worth 10% more than the euro, not 15% less. Three years ago it was worth 25% more. Scary to think what a no-deal Brexit could do. Well, unless you’re a short seller.
The pound has sunk well below €1 at Britain’s biggest airports – while the dollar is at parity. At the ICE desk at Heathrow airport on Tuesday morning, The Independent was quoted £117 for buying €100 – making each pound worth just 85 euro cents. At Gatwick airport on Monday night, the rate was £1 = €0.90. With commission added to a €100 transaction, the cost in sterling was £116. The interbank rate at 7am sank below £1 = €1.09, as the downward pressure on the pound continued. The currency market has marked down sterling as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit appears increasingly likely. At the peak of the holiday season, prices for British travellers will be at a two-year high.
The best rates for the euro found by The Independent were for “click and collect” transactions at London bureaux de change: €1.08 at branches of Thomas Exchange Global or ICE at Waterloo station. The interbank rate for dollars was £1 = $1.21, but Moneycorp at Gatwick airport was quoting parity: £1 = $1. Anyone changing £1,000 into the US currency and immediately back to sterling would lose over one-third of their money, receiving just £648.
I don’t see how they could scrap the backstop, Brussels must stand up for its member state, Ireland. No choice. For Brussels, Ireland is a full-fledged nation. For London, it still doesn’t appear to be.
Boris Johnson is refusing to sit down for talks with EU leaders until they agree to ditch the Irish backstop from the Brexit withdrawal agreement, despite invitations to meetings from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron. His official spokeswoman said the prime minister had made clear that he wanted to strike a deal, but that there was no point in holding face-to-face talks unless the EU agreed to reopen the agreement. But on a visit to the Trident nuclear base at Faslane in Scotland on Monday, Johnson painted a more optimistic picture of the prospects for talks, telling reporters there was “ample scope” to achieve a new deal.
He said: “We are not aiming for a no-deal Brexit at all. What we want is to get a deal and I’ve had some interesting conversations with our European partners. I’ve talked to [the European commission president] Jean-Claude [Juncker] and Angela Merkel and we’re reaching out today to [the Irish prime minister] Leo Varadkar. The feeling is, yes there’s no change in their position, but it’s very, very positive.” But he added: “They all know where we are: we can’t accept the backstop, it was thrown out three times, the withdrawal agreement as it stands is dead and everybody gets that. But there is ample scope to do a new deal and a better deal.”
While Johnson has spoken to Merkel and Macron, there are no plans to accept their invitations to visit without a change in their position on the backstop. Irish officials are understood to view the delay in contacting Varadkar as indicative of an unwillingness to enter serious talks. Varadkar is adamant that the backstop must stay to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the integrity of the single market.
Remember this? We ignored the crimes, subversion, contempt of parliament. And now he’s in charge. Determined to take us out of Europe on Oct 31. By any means possible. That’s why he’s back. Because Johnson knows:he’ll do *anything* to get it over the linepic.twitter.com/DHGc9kO8BS
European Union officials have rejected Dominic Raab’s claim that negotiating a free-trade deal would be “much easier” after a no-deal Brexit. While the foreign secretary contends that leaving the EU without an agreement would ease the way to solving the disputed Irish border question, European sources fear a no-deal Brexit would trigger an acrimonious blame game. “It would mean the complete breakdown of political relations and I don’t think there would be much trust on the EU side with the Tories, or with the prime minister,” a senior diplomat said. “Eventually we would get around it because we are pragmatic, but this would be really, really bad, because of all the rhetoric around blaming.”
A second diplomat, speaking before Raab’s intervention, argued that all contact would cease after a no-deal Brexit. “Our phones will not be connected at that time … I don’t think they will be connected to someone who has reneged on their obligations,” they said. European officials agree that a precondition of talks would be a British pledge to honour the three core parts of the withdrawal agreement – citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the financial settlement. At the weekend, the EU budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, told Der Tagesspiegel the UK’s credit rating would be hit if Boris Johnson carried out his threat not to honour payments promised to the EU. Tanja Fajon, the Social Democrat member of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said: “To negotiate a free trade agreement usually takes years and I believe the UK doesn’t have that time after a no-deal Brexit.”
Boris Johnson’s new Brexit chief wants to scrap Theresa May’s commitment to protect British workers’ rights, and has suggested Brexit is an opportunity to escape the EU’s “heavy labour market regulation”, The Independent can reveal. Just two months ago David Frost said he was opposed to the approach advocated “by the leaders of both major political parties”, and argued that EU rights should not automatically be written into law after Brexit. Mr Frost, former chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was appointed last week by Mr Johnson to replace Olly Robbins as Downing Street’s EU chief, a role that will see him leading any future talks with Brussels.
“Business organisations have often in the past criticised the EU’s drift towards heavy labour market regulation,” Mr Frost said in May 2019 in an article reproduced on the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry website. “So I will take some persuading it will be a good outcome if the EU is able to set new UK labour market rules without any UK say – as currently seems to be envisaged by the leaders of both major political parties.” Theresa May committed the government to maintaining the current level of European Union workers rights, and also went even further, legislating for parliament to automatically be given votes on staying aligned with the bloc’s rules when future legislation emerges.
The “dynamic alignment” plans were unveiled by the government in a failed bid to get Labour MPs to back the withdrawal agreement. Additionally, during the transition period included in the withdrawal agreement, the UK would have to accept rights with no say at all, as rejected by Mr Frost. Brussels has also suggested the UK would have to stay aligned with future EU workers’ rights, as well as environmental and social legislation, past the end of the transition period – if it wants a trade agreement. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the bloc would seek non-regression clauses to ensure Britain does not backslide on rules and try to undercut its neighbours.
The economic contraction ahead will put this borderline psychotic country through some interesting ch-ch-ch-changes. Mr. Trump now fully owns the Potemkin status quo of record stock markets poised against a withering rot of human capital at the core of an industrial society in sunset mode. Leadership at every corner of American life — politics, business, media — expects an ever-higher tech magical updraft of fortune from an increasingly holographic economy of mere fugitive appearances in which everybody can get more of something for nothing. The disappointment over how all this works out will be epic.
Globalism is wobbling badly. It was never what it was cracked up to be: a permanent new plateau of exquisitely-tuned international economic cooperation engineered to perfection. It was just a set of provisional relations based on transient advantage. As it turned out, every move that advantaged US-based corporations blew back ferociously on the American public and the long-term integrity of the social order. Sinister as it seems, the process was simply emergent: a self-organizing evolution of forces previously set in motion. And, like a lot of things in history, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Off-shoring” US industry jacked up corporate profits while it decimated working class livelihoods. In return, that large demographic got “bargain shopping” at Walmart, a life of ever-upward revolving debt, and dead downtowns. The country got gigantic trade deficits and government debt loads. In effect, globalism compelled America to borrow as much as possible from the future to keep running things the way they were set up to run. Now, there is just suspicion that we’ve reached the limits of borrowing. Soon it will be a fact and that fact will upend everything we’ve been doing.
On Monday, Jinhe Biotechnology and Liande Automatic Equipment disclosed in filings that they had been ordered by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to suspend their plans to sell bonds. On Sunday night, four companies — Hunan Baili Engineering Sci&Tech, Jiaao Enprotech Stock, MLS Co., and Woer Heat-Shrinkable Material Co. – disclosed in filings that they had been ordered by the CSRC to suspend their IPOs in Shanghai and Shenzhen. Regulators also stopped four IPOs on Shanghai’s Star Market, which itself debuted just last week with great fanfare. The 25 stocks listed on it gained 140% on the very first day, followed by steep declines the second day.
[..] On Sunday, two companies disclosed that their bond offerings were stopped by regulators, according to Yicai. On Friday, seven companies disclosed that their bond offerings have been halted. In total, regulators suspended 46 IPOs and bond offerings, based on filings made at the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, including Shanghai’s Star Market, as of Monday, according to the South China Morning Post. The reason: these companies had chosen Ruihua Certified Public Accountants as their auditors. Ruihua, the second largest audit firm in China, has been embroiled in scandals involving large amounts of fake data, including fake cash, on its clients’ books. The fakeness of this cash became obvious when these companies defaulted on debt that they could have easily serviced with the cash they claimed to have on their books but didn’t. And Ruihua had just signed off on those fake books.
A month after President Donald Trump said he would allow U.S. companies to resume selling to blacklisted Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei HWT.UL, his administration has done little to clarify what sales will be permitted. The lack of clarity on what U.S. firms can supply to the world’s top producer of telecommunications equipment as long as it’s on a so-called “entity list” is likely to cast a shadow over this week’s U.S.-China trade negotiations in Shanghai. Trump had pledged to allow the sales as a goodwill gesture to President Xi Jinping when the two met last month and agreed to restart talks to try to resolve their year-long trade war.
China, for its part, agreed to restart large-scale agricultural purchases. U.S. chipmakers cheered Trump’s announcement, which administration officials clarified afterwards meant the government would issue export licenses in cases where there is no national security risk and where the items are “non-sensitive” and readily replaced by rivals. But the department has yet to respond to any of a total of around 50 license requests from about 35 companies, sowing uncertainty in the industry and in Beijing. “At this stage, there is mass confusion,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce official, adding that the plan for case-by-case decisions “maximizes the uncertainty.”
Capital One Financial Corp said on Monday that personal information including names and addresses of about 100 million individuals in the United States and 6 million people in Canada were obtained by a hacker who has been arrested. The suspect, a 33-year-old former Seattle technology company software engineer identified as Paige Thompson, made her initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. According to a complaint filed in the District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle, Thompson posted information from her hack, which occurred between March 12 and July 17, on coding platform GitHub. Another user saw the post and notified Capital One of the breach.
Law enforcement officials were able to track Thompson down as the page she posted on contained her full name as part of its digital address, the complaint said. Capital One said it identified the hack on July 19. A representative for the U.S. Attorney’s office said it was not immediately clear what the suspect’s motive was. The incident is expected to cost between $100 million and $150 million in 2019, mainly because of customer notifications, credit monitoring and legal support, Capital One said. The hacker did not gain access to credit card account numbers, but about 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 linked bank account numbers were compromised, Capital One said. Other personal information accessed included phone numbers and credit scores.
Earth Overshoot Day came on July 29 this year. This is the second time the day, which marks the time at which humanity has used up its allotment of natural planetary resources for the year, occurred in the month. It had occurred in August between 2010 and 2017. The day, whose existence is highlighted by the NGO Global Footprint Network, means that all humans on Earth for this year have already used up more natural resources than mother nature can reproduce annually. Emissions, but also of resources like wood or fish and the use of land for crops, are among the things counted in when calculating Earth Overshoot Day.
Industrialized nations have the biggest share in pushing its date forward, as seen in the organization’s country profiles. The U.S. is the biggest offender. If all nations lived like U.S. residents, the resources of five Earths would be needed each year in order for the natural environment to regenerate. The U.S. overshoot day is therefore on March 15. Australia, which had been ahead of the U.S. for some years, now had its overshoot day on March 31, with 4.1 “Earths” used annually. India was among the countries whose style of living would use up less than a whole Earth each year if practiced globally, which also has to do with poverty still being widespread in the country.
Not far from my grandmother’s house is a ghost city. At Angel Mounds on the Ohio river about eight miles west of Evansville, there are a few visible earthworks and a reconstructed wattle-and-daub barrier. There is almost nothing left of the people who build these mounds; in a final insulting erasure, the site is now named after the white settler family who most recently farmed the land. There are traces of other dead villages along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, mounds scattered from present-day Indiana to Arkansas and Alabama. In southern Illinois, a few miles from the Missouri border, hidden among empty corn and soy fields, is the center of that dead civilization’s gravity: the lost city of Cahokia.
Cahokia was larger than London, centrally planned, the Manhattan of its day. Most people there would have come from somewhere else. There were defensive foundations, playing fields, and a magnificent temple. There would have been sacred ceremonies and salacious gossip. It must have been a very exciting place to live. And then, relatively abruptly, it ceased to exist. We know of the city only because of the physical traces left behind. Few stories of Cahokia have survived; it disappeared from oral tradition, as if whatever happened to it is best forgotten. The archaeological record shows traces of the desperation and bloodshed that almost always accompany great upheavals: skeletons with bound hands, pits full of strangled young women.
The North American Drought Atlas, a historical record of climate conditions pieced together from the rings of old trees, provides a hint of what might have happened. The tenth century CE, when the Cahokia civilization would have developed, marked a distinct shift in the regional climate from persistent drought to rainier conditions more suitable for agriculture, centralization, and civilization. But the good times were not to last. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the climate swung back toward drought. This shift was likely associated with shifting temperature patterns in the ocean that affected the jet stream, pulling cool air down from the Arctic and displacing rainfall patterns.
These changes are attributable to some combination of natural internal climate variability and externally forced changes from solar activity and increased volcanic eruptions. Their effects were profound. In Europe around the same time, a confluence of natural factors perhaps related and perhaps separate from the forces drying out the Mississippi Valley caused it to rain heavily in the summer of 1314. The rains continued into the winter, and then into the next year, and then the next. Crops rotted in the fields, and the entire continent went hungry. Contemporaneous historical records complain of rain and famine, villages forced to eat dogs and cats, the dead, and even each other.
The eyes of America will be trained on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, as Robert Mueller testifies before two House committees about his report on Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president. On Sunday, the chairman of the judiciary committee indicated the stakes when he said the 448-page report contained “very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours” – the benchmark for impeachment. “It’s important that we not have a lawless administration and a lawless president,” the New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler told Fox News Sunday.
“And it’s important that people see what we’re doing and what we’re dealing with.” Nadler’s committee would initiate impeachment proceedings. Mueller, a former director of the FBI, will also appear before the intelligence panel. “The report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours,” he said, “and we have to present, or let Mueller present those facts to the American people and then see where we go from there because the administration must be held accountable and no president can be above the law.”
The president has nothing to fear from the testimony from Robert Mueller because nothing Mueller could possibly say will change the result of the report he delivered. He conclusively found that there was no collusion with the Russians by the Trump 2016 campaign, and he did not bring any indictments for obstruction of justice against the President or even a referral. What Mueller left open with regard to obstruction — if at all — was conclusively dealt with by the Justice Department through the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who found that there was no probable cause to bring criminal charges against the president.
Congress is not bound by the Mueller investigation or its findings. Congress on its own could bring on impeachment proceedings in the House based on the report — if there was evidence contained therein to warrant such actions. Mueller’s testimony will add nothing other than to further politicize an investigation that was supposed to be apolitical. Mueller reminds me of the patient who decides not to be resuscitated only to find that doctors did so against his wishes. At best, Mueller is a reluctant witness and at worst — for Democrats — a hostile witness. He made it clear in his press conference months ago that he would like the report to speak for itself and that he would not go beyond his own reporting. Congress now runs the risk of further being seen as conducting a witch-hunt against the president by calling a witness who clearly has nothing further to add.
Boris Johnson’s hoped-for triumphant march into Downing Street this week is set to be dampened by a carefully timed series of resignations by senior ministers, who will retreat to the backbenches with a vow to thwart any moves towards a no-deal Brexit. The announcements by Philip Hammond and David Gauke that they will step down on Wednesday, immediately before Johnson is likely to head to Buckingham Palace, highlight the perilous political climate for Theresa May’s expected successor. It comes amid predictions that the Conservatives’ already wafer-thin working Commons majority of three could entirely disappear by the time MPs return from their summer recess, with mooted defections to the Lib Dems coming on top of a predicted byelection defeat.
Barring a hugely unexpected twist, Johnson is expected to be announced on Tuesday as the victor over Jeremy Hunt in the vote of Conservative members, formally taking over the next day, after May holds a valedictory prime minister’s questions. However, some of the gloss will be removed with the promised resignations of Hammond, the chancellor, and Gauke, the justice secretary, with predictions that other ministers and junior ministers opposed to no deal, such as the international development secretary, Rory Stewart, could follow.
Headline is just wrong. The EU has seen Boris coming from miles away. They know he will put the blame with Brussels. They know he wants to ditch the backstop, and they won’t let him. Then Boris will be known as the man who broke the Good Friday Agreement.
While Westminster has been gripped by the Conservative leadership race, Brussels has been on a Brexit break. That respite will soon be over. And despite rumours of Brussels compromises in the works, the EU has no off-the-shelf Brexit plan for the new prime minister, who is expected to be announced on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t make any sense to start working on this now,” one senior EU source said. “Because we really need to know [what he wants]. The only thing we have seen are his public statements.” EU negotiators have had no contact with the teams of Boris Johnson – the widely presumed winner – or his rival, Jeremy Hunt. Danuta Hübner, a Polish centre-right member of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group, said there was a “worrying” lack of time to find a compromise before Britain’s departure day on 31 October.
She could not imagine the EU putting anything new on the table, but said it remained open to renegotiating the political declaration on future relations. “We cannot change the major red lines on our side, that there is no possibility of renegotiating the agreement, including the backstop.” Johnson and Hunt have vowed to tear up the backstop, the fallback plan to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which both men have voted for at least once. Recent reports have suggested the EU is ready to offer a five-year transition to break the deadlock over the backstop. But three EU sources said this was a rehash of debates from the negotiation period, rather than fresh ideas. “It’s all quite ancient” and “not something that we are considering at all”, an official said.
As Mr Johnson takes over as Leader of the Conservative Hard Brexit Cult, and by virtue thereof as Prime Minister, it is timely to take a quick look at what his economic and fiscal policy options are – at least in the lead up to DD-Day (Do or Die) on 31st October. It’s equally important to take stock of Mr Hammond’s record as he quietly fades away after three years as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Johnson proposes tax cuts for corporates (reduction in corporate tax rate, already one of the lowest of major economies), and praises President Trump’s example: “He has been very clever in allowing businesses to offset capital investment in tax, with capital allowances. I think we should think about that sort of thing for start-ups, in addition to cutting corporation tax, which would also be effective.” (Via Tom Newton Dunn, The Sun)
Johnson also promises significant tax cuts for the rich and well-to-do, notably by a big rise in the 40% income tax threshhold to £80,000 and by raising the starting-level of earnings for national insurance contribution (NIC) purposes. On the higher tax threshold, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says this “costs about £9 billion and benefits the 4 million or so income taxpayers with the highest incomes. Most of the gain goes to those in the top 10% of the income distribution would gain an average of nearly £2,500 a year.” On the NIC issue, he calculates this costs £3 billion for every £1,000 the starting level is raised. All these measures will reduce the immediate tax take for government, probably by £20 to 30 billion per year initially, which is 1-1.5% of GDP.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed victory Sunday for his ruling coalition in the upper house election, but appeared to fail to secure a “super majority” in the chamber in support of his dream to amend the nation’s pacifist constitution. With the results, the 64-year-old Abe, who is on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, aims to shore up his mandate ahead of a crucial consumption tax hike later this year, along with trade negotiations with Washington. “The ruling parties were given a majority … as people decided to urge us to firmly push for policies under the stable political base,” Abe told public broadcaster NHK.
“I want to meet their expectations soundly,” he said at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party. Abe’s LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are forecast to take at least 69 of the 124 seats – about half the chamber – up for election on Sunday, with six seats still undecided, according to NHK. The two parties control 70 seats in the half of the 245-seat chamber that is not being contested, putting them on track to maintain their overall majority. [..] Local media did predict that forces in favor of revising the constitution, led by Abe’s LDP, were certain to fail to reach 85 of the seats up for grabs, which would have given them a two-thirds “super majority” in the chamber.
Following the vote, however, Abe said he would continue trying to expand support for the revision even if the pro-revision group eventually misses the target, necessary for proposing a constitutional amendment. Abe has pledged to “clearly stipulate the role of the Self-Defence Forces in the constitution,” which prohibits Japan from waging war and maintaining a military. The provisions, imposed by the United States after World War II, are popular with the public at large, but reviled by nationalists like Abe, who see them as outdated and punitive.
Hong Kong has been left in shock after a night of violence on Sunday which saw dozens of masked men storm a train station. The men – dressed in white shirts and suspected to be triad gangsters – assaulted pro-democracy protesters and passers-by in the Yuen Long area. This is the first time this kind of violence has been seen in the ongoing anti-extradition demonstrations. Several lawmakers questioned why police were slow to arrive at the scene. Footage posted on social media showed dozens of men attacking people with batons inside the station. Forty-five people were injured, with one person in critical condition.
Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said police had taken more than an hour to arrive. “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio,” said another pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan in a tweet. “Where were [they?]” Police on Monday said they had not made any arrests but were still carrying out investigations. The mob attack followed a pro-democracy rally on Sunday in the centre of Hong Kong, where riot police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. The masked men stormed Yuen Long MTR station at about 22:30 local time (14:30 GMT), attacking passengers and people making their way back from the protest.
Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico Saturday, marking the eighth straight day of rallies calling for the resignation of the island’s governor. The crowds show no sign of ebbing, and analysts say that the protests are quickly becoming the biggest political demonstration in the US territory’s modern history. The protests arose in response to the leak of Telegram app messages in which Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his inner circle make light of the casualties caused by Hurricane Maria and disparage political opponents using vulgar, homophobic, and sexist language.
The text message leak came days after another scandal: The FBI arrested two former top officials in Rosselló’s government as part of a corruption probe over their handling of $15.5 million in contracts. The officials, former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Ángela Ávila-Marrero (former chief of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration), are accused of funneling the contracts to businesses they had personal ties to, regardless of those companies’ relevant experience or ability. The incidents have galvanized a public that feels neglected and exploited by political and economic elites, and one that has endured great suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a seemingly unresolvable debt crisis.
Calls for Rosselló’s resignation were growing following the corruption scandal; they exploded after the group chat scandal. Two cabinet officials have resigned in the wake of the scandals, but so far Rosselló has said that he plans to stay in office. Pressure on the governor is rising, however. The protests have garnered international attention, and a number of Puerto Rican celebrities like singer Ricky Martin (who was mocked in the leaked texts), Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reggaeton star Bad Bunny have backed the demonstrations. “They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity. It’s enough. This cannot be,” Martin said in a video on Twitter.
Many politicians from the US mainland have started to weigh in on the issue as well. President Donald Trump — who has called Puerto Rican officials “incompetent or corrupt” and who has opposed increased Hurricane Maria aid to the territory — was critical of Rosselló on Twitter. “The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much of which was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again,” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Populism is a direct result of significant shifts in the global distribution of power. Namely, it is a reaction to the loss of power by a formerly hegemonic West. The populist parties competing for power in many European countries are reminiscent of the nationalist movements of the 1800s and 1900s in developing countries, which won support from people tired of feeling dependent on Europe and the United States. In particular, they sensed that their ancient civilizations had come to abandon their way of life for Western ideas. They lamented that their countries had been so deeply Westernized that only the sense of emptiness remained. “Our country resembles a hospital,” the Turkish writer Kazim Nami wrote in Turkish Country, a journal published between 1911 and 1931, “deprived of medicine, doctors and care.”
In Russia, a Europeanized aristocracy existed in an entirely different world from the peasantry. They spoke French, listened to different music and songs, ate different food, and had a radically different view of religion and the ends of life. It was as two countries rather than as two classes that they looked at each other, plotting a final and decisive struggle over Russia’s soul. Even in France, England, Germany, and the United States, a creeping sense of alienation was slowly developing between the classes, but it was of a different sort. Because these were the world’s ruling nations, elites assumed the responsibility of managing the affairs of foreign countries. Their outlook was more universal in character, although rooted in colonialism, and that created an inevitable distance with their compatriots.
Of course, as long as Western hegemony persisted, the spoils of empire flowed to the lower classes and reconciled them with those in power. But as the balance of power shifted, cosmopolitan elites appeared in a different light. It was implausible for them to dictate to the rest of the world from a position of growing weakness, and some had learned too well to incorporate the interests of the rest of humanity when formulating their positions. Today, many voters in Europe and the United States are starting to regard the elites as profoundly disconnected from what they see as the national interest. Distrust and alienation will keep growing.
In April 1941, nationalist army officers known as the Golden Square staged a coup in Iraq, overthrowing the pro-British regime, and signalled they were prepared to work with German and Italian intelligence. In response, the British embarked on a military campaign and eventually crushed the coup leaders two months later. But Suarez discovered in the files that the British were already wanting such a “military occupation of Iraq” by November 1940 – well before the Golden Square coup gave them a pretext for doing so. The reason was that Britain wanted to end “the mufti’s intrigues with the Italians”. One file notes: “We may be able to clip the mufti’s wings when we can get a new government in Iraq. FO [Foreign Office] are working on this.”
Suarez notes that a prominent thread in the British archive is: “How to effect a British coup without further alienating ‘the Arab world’ in the midst of the war, beyond what the empowering of Zionism had already done.” As British troops closed in on Baghdad, a violent anti-Jewish pogrom rocked the city, killing more than 180 Jewish Iraqis and destroying the homes of hundreds of members of the Jewish community who had lived in Iraq for centuries. The Farhud (violent dispossession) has been described as the Iraqi Jews’ Kristallnacht, the brutal pogrom against Jews carried out in Nazi Germany three years earlier.
There have long been claims that these riots were condoned or even orchestrated by the British to blacken the nationalist regime and justify Britain’s return to power in Baghdad and ongoing military occupation of Iraq. Historian Tony Rocca noted: “To Britain’s shame, the army was stood down. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct insubordination to express orders from Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety. Instead, Sir Kinahan went back to his residence, had a candlelight dinner and played a game of bridge.” Could this be the reason that UK government censors want the file to remain secret after all these years? It would neither be the first, nor the last time that British planners used or created pretexts to justify their military interventions.
“Between 1910 and 1997, African-Americans lost about ninety per cent of their farmland. This problem is a major contributor to America’s racial wealth gap; the median wealth among black families is about a tenth that of white families.”
In the spring of 2011, the brothers Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels were the talk of Carteret County, on the central coast of North Carolina. Some people said that the brothers were righteous; others thought that they had lost their minds. That March, Melvin and Licurtis stood in court and refused to leave the land that they had lived on all their lives, a portion of which had, without their knowledge or consent, been sold to developers years before. The brothers were among dozens of Reels family members who considered the land theirs, but Melvin and Licurtis had a particular stake in it. Melvin, who was sixty-four, with loose black curls combed into a ponytail, ran a club there and lived in an apartment above it. He’d established a career shrimping in the river that bordered the land, and his sense of self was tied to the water. Licurtis, who was fifty-three, had spent years building a house near the river’s edge, just steps from his mother’s.
Their great-grandfather had bought the land a hundred years earlier, when he was a generation removed from slavery. The property—sixty-five marshy acres that ran along Silver Dollar Road, from the woods to the river’s sandy shore—was racked by storms. Some called it the bottom, or the end of the world. Melvin and Licurtis’s grandfather Mitchell Reels was a deacon; he farmed watermelons, beets, and peas, and raised chickens and hogs. Churches held tent revivals on the waterfront, and kids played in the river, a prime spot for catching red-tailed shrimp and crabs bigger than shoes. During the later years of racial-segregation laws, the land was home to the only beach in the county that welcomed black families. “It’s our own little black country club,” Melvin and Licurtis’s sister Mamie liked to say.
In 1970, when Mitchell died, he had one final wish. “Whatever you do,” he told his family on the night that he passed away, “don’t let the white man have the land.” Mitchell didn’t trust the courts, so he didn’t leave a will. Instead, he let the land become heirs’ property, a form of ownership in which descendants inherit an interest, like holding stock in a company. The practice began during Reconstruction, when many African-Americans didn’t have access to the legal system, and it continued through the Jim Crow era, when black communities were suspicious of white Southern courts. In the United States today, seventy-six per cent of African-Americans do not have a will, more than twice the percentage of white Americans.
Many assume that not having a will keeps land in the family. In reality, it jeopardizes ownership. David Dietrich, a former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, has called heirs’ property “the worst problem you never heard of.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land—3.5 million acres, worth more than twenty-eight billion dollars. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.
I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.
Donald Trump’s double strangulation of Iran and Venezuela is reducing spare capacity in the global oil markets to wafer-thin levels very fast. If anything goes wrong in the geopolitical cauldron of world energy over the next six months, we will discover whether Saudi Arabia really is capable of cranking up an extra 2 million barrels a day of crude. What we learnt from the rare glimpse of Saudi Aramco’s books this month is that the legendary Ghawar field is badly depleted. It cannot pump more that 3.8m barrels a day. This is a first-order shock. The company has always asserted with magisterial confidence that it can produce 5m barrels a day without difficulty.
Jean-Louis Le Mee, from Westbeck Capital, says the physical oil markets are on fire. They are heading for a supply deficit of 1.3m barrels a day by the third quarter even if OPEC matches every barrel of lost oil from Iran sanctions. “These numbers should have every investor worried,” he said. Global spare capacity is arguably as low today as it was during the great oil shocks of the last half century. We are skating on thin ice. The immediate wild card is renewed fighting in Libya but other supply problems are stacking up fast. Draconian new rules on shipping fuel to lower sulphur emissions imply a surge in demand for variants of diesel. Bank of America says this will add 1.1m barrels a day in short-term crude demand over coming months. “We see a risk of $US100 Brent by year-end,” it said.
The options markets are not priced for this so the theatrics could be spectacular. Libya is again on the cusp of full-blown civil war after the fateful march on Tripoli by general Khalifa Haftar, the mercurial Nasserist of Benghazi. The National Oil Corporation warns that a free-for-all by rival militias could cause a near total collapse in crude exports. The world could lose another 700,000 barrels a day. Brent crude has risen to a six-month high of $US74.50, up 25 per cent from its average levels over the winter. It has not yet reached the pain threshold for Europe or emerging markets but it is getting close. Oil has of course been much higher in the past – $US148 in 2008 – but the nominal price is not the macro-economic variable that matters. Trouble starts earlier if crude is rising because of a negative supply shock. That is what we face today.
President Donald Trump has decided to cease cooperating with what he sees, not incorrectly, as a Beltway conspiracy that is out to destroy him. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump said Wednesday. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are out to win in 2020.” Thus the Treasury Department just breezed by a deadline from the House Ways and Means Committee to deliver Trump’s tax returns. Thus the White House will invoke executive privilege to deny the House Judiciary Committee access to ex-White House counsel Don McGahn, who spent 30 hours being interrogated by Robert Mueller’s team. Thus the Justice Department is withholding from the Oversight Committee subpoenaed documents dealing with the decision to include a question on the 2020 Census about citizenship status.
Across the capital, the barricades are going up figuratively as they did physically in the 1960s and ’70s. Once more, it’s us against them. Cognizant of the new reality, Trump seems to be saying: These House investigations constitute a massive political assault, in collusion with a hostile media, to destroy my presidency. We do not intend to cooperate in our own destruction. We are not going to play our assigned role in this scripted farce. We will resist their subpoenas all the way to November 2020. Let the people then decide the fate and future of the Trump presidency — and that of Nancy Pelosi’s House.
[..] Whatever may be said about the “deplorables,” they are not obtuse. They do not believe that people who call them racists, sexists, nativists and bigots are friends and merely colleagues of another party or persuasion. Trump’s defiance of subpoenas, however, will force the more moderate Democrats to join the militants in calling for hearings on impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee, which is where we are headed. The media are already salivating over the possible removal of a president they have come to loathe more than their great nemeses of the 20th century — Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. And the media will reward those who echo the call for impeachment. This week, two more Democrats running for president, including Sen. Kamala Harris, came aboard. Soon, the House will capitulate to the clamor and the stampede will be on.
Trump unloaded on Democrats, accusing them of an “attempted coup” in his first interview since the release of the Mueller report. Rehashing his usual rhetoric, Trump called the ‘Russiagate’ flop “bigger than Watergate.” On a victory lap since his election campaign was cleared of collusion with Moscow, Trump relied on a few tried and trusted tropes as he bashed the “13 angry Democrats” and “dirty cops” from the FBI for sparking the Russia investigation in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The long-awaited publication of the redacted version of the Mueller report appears to have given Trump a huge boost of confidence as he sounded more assertive than ever, taking aim at his political opponents and doubling down on his innocence.
“The greatest scandal in the history of our country. Bigger than Watergate, because it means so much. This wasn’t stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup. It’s inconceivable. Like a third world country.” Trump lashed out at former rival Hillary Clinton for “destroying the lives” of his staffers, and blasted the FBI for going light on her during her private server investigation. But now, he said, the “tables have turned” and “it’s time to look at the other side,” calling the Russia investigation an “attempted overthrow of the United States government” and “a disgraceful thing.”
Right after the London police carried Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, the United States demanded his extradition. A March 2018 indictment charges him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. But that is not the entire truth. Only one day after writing the indictment, the US Attorney’s Office admitted it was also investigating Assange for the „unauthorized receipt and dissemination of secret information“. That is what the Department of Justice wrote in a letter to former WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, which we are publishing in full.
This accusation can be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, a World War I era federal law intended to protect military secrets which has also been used to charge Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Convictions under the Espionage Act can be punished by death. The death penalty is not only inhumane and archaic, it has legal consequences: The United Kingdom is not allowed to extradite Assange if he faces the death penalty. Charging Assange for publishing classified information is an attack on press freedom, „obtaining and disseminating secret information“ is the very task of journalism. If WikiLeaks is charged, every journalist and media outlet publishing secret information will be on trial. While the Obama administration debated this dangerous precedent, the Trump government shows no restraints.
[..] In Virginia, a federal grand jury is secretly investigating Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2017, an FBI agent filed an affidavit to support charging Assange with a computer hacking conspiracy. Based on that, the grand jury issued an indictment against Assange on March 6, 2018. This document was unsealed and published immediately after his arrest in London. It is the official justification for the extradition request. But that is not the whole story. Just one day after writing the indictment, on March 7, 2018, the same US Attorney, Tracy Doherty-McCormick, wrote a letter to the lawyers of Daniel Domscheit-Berg in Germany.
Sporting the Department of Justice seal, the chief federal prosecutor requests a „voluntary questioning“ of Domscheit-Berg, explicitly „about possible violations of US federal criminal law regarding the unauthorized receipt and dissemination of classified information“ – a drastic accusation under the Espionage Act. The US Attorney goes on to explain some conditions for Domscheit-Berg. He must answer all questions fully and truthfully, the US may use all statements and information for criminal investigations and cross-examination. In return, whatever Domscheit-Berg testifies will not be used for prosecutions against him.
He is the first person who has been able to visit Julian Assange at the Belmarsh prison besides Assange’s lawyers. In fact, although two weeks have passed since the arrest of the WikiLeaks’ founder, no other visitors are allowed apart from his lawyers. The UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Professor Joe Cannataci, just visited Julian Assange at the Belmarsh prison, a high security prison marked by the strictest prison regime in the UK, and in fact even visitors have to undergo to intensive controls, including police interviews, and of course meetings are monitored. Repubblica just interviewed the UN Rapporteur Cannataci.
Professor Cannataci, how did Assange seem to be doing? «My visit went well, Mr Assange was ready to answer my questions. We have already started gathering facts and asked questions of Assange’s legal team and of the Ecuadorian ambassador in London»
How is Julian Assange? We were all shocked by his appearance the day of his arrest… «I am not a physician, and so I am unable to make a medical assessment of him and of course I met him in prison, which is never a pleasant place to meet, however, it seemed to me he was in fairly good condition».
Were you able to talk to him with some privacy, or were you under surveillance? «No, my impression was that the UK authorities assured us a level of privacy intended for meetings with legal counsel. Usually in the UK prisons you have the following rules: for social meetings, like meetings with relatives, you don’t expect privacy, whereas meetings with legal counsels are usually not subjected to monitoring. These kinds of meetings are held in special places, usually 10-15 small rooms where detainees can meet their lawyers confidentially. I had asked for a confidential meeting and I am happy that the UK government agreed to provide us such a private meeting».
What are you investigating exactly, in relation to this meeting with Julian Assange? «At the end of March Mr Assange submitted an official complaint, which said that his right to privacy had been infringed during his time in the embassy of Ecuador. Together with my team, I made a preliminary assessment to see if his privacy has been infringed, therefore I am gathering the facts, these facts lead to a number of questions about behaviour which took place in the embassy. Today we are still in the preliminary stage. After my meeting with Mr Assange, I had a meeting with his legal team and then a meeting with the ambassador of Ecuador».
Emmanuel Macron has vowed to make his style of politics more “humane”, but insisted he would press on with his project to liberalise the French economy and overhaul its welfare state despite five months of demonstrations by gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government protesters. In his first press conference in two years as president, Macron promised €5bn worth of cuts to income tax for lower and average earners as well as pension rises for the poorest and vowed no more schools or hospitals would be closed during his presidency, as he responded to protests.
The centrist politician conceded that he needed to inject more “humanity” into his style of governance but insisted he would not make changes to his pro-business programme, despite the ongoing anti-government Saturday protests by gilets jaunes, which resulted in sporadic rioting and arson in Paris and other cities. Macron said he recognised the protesters’ “just demands” and “anger and impatience for change” and their feeling of not being taken into account by the “elites”, including the presidency, but public order must now be restored. He said although he respected the demonstrators who gathered at the start of the movement in November, he said it had “transformed progressively” and been marred by episodes of antisemitic violence, homophobia and rioting.
He said he stood by his project to liberalise the French economy, defending his controversial cuts to its wealth tax, which protestors sought to overturn. He said France was unique in Europe in not having dealt with its structural problem of mass unemployment so he would not go back on his planned “transformation” of the country. He said: “I asked myself: ‘Should we stop everything that was done over the past two years? Did we take a wrong turn?’ I believe quite the opposite.” [..] He promised to scrap the École nationale d’administration elite graduate training school for French civil servants and public officials. Saying the French style of governance needed to shift, Macron said he planned to make it easier for citizens to propose national referendums, and also would introduce 20% proportional representation into the lower house of parliament.
The Schengen agreement and the current migrant-sharing mechanism are deeply flawed and need urgent fixing, French President Emmanuel Macron has said. Europe must “have borders” even if it means a smaller Schengen zone, he said. In the first major press conference since the Yellow Vest movement took off in November, Macron unveiled a range of policy measures to placate the protesters, including a proposed overhaul of the European-wide migration policy and the Schengen agreement. The embattled French leader argued that the agreement that guarantees free movement across the Schengen area, while “wonderful,” does not work anymore. The same, he said, applies to the Dublin Regulation that determines which EU member-state is responsible for accepting asylum seekers.
Under the current version of the agreement, which came into force in 2013 and applies to all EU member-states except Denmark, the main criteria for determining responsibility is the first point of entry. “The common borders, Schengen, Dublin agreements do not work anymore,” Macron said, adding that it is essential for Europe to make “profound” changes in its way of handling migrant arrivals. Macron called for reinforced border security, which might entail having a Schengen “with fewer states.” The Schengen area comprises 26 states, including 22 EU member-states and four non-EU countries: Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is named after the 1985 agreement that abolished internal borders allowing people within the zone to travel freely from one country to another.
It is a dastardly trap, designed to lock freedom-loving Britain into the European Union’s protectionist customs union: that is the argument against the so-called backstop, cited by hardline Brexit advocates as the main reason why they have thrice voted down Theresa May’s deal with the European Union. But as the dust settles after months of chaos in Westminster, suspicions are growing on the other side of the Channel that the backstop could in fact be the very opposite: a brilliant deception device constructed by crack UK negotiators, which would allow a more reckless British prime minister to undermine the EU’s green and social standards while still keeping access to the European single market.
A new report, commissioned by the German Green party and seen by the Guardian, will exacerbate concerns in Berlin over the small print of the withdrawal agreement in its current form. The deal, agreed between the EU and the UK in November 2018 but voted down three times in the House of Commons, states that the whole of the UK would remain in a de facto customs union with the EU until a trade and security agreement has been reached that prevents the setting up of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. nTo prevent Britain from diverting from EU standards on environmental or social protection after the backstop has come into effect, the customs territory would “include the corresponding level playing field commitments and appropriate enforcement mechanisms to ensure fair competition between the EU27 and the UK”.
The new German report, however, warns that the wording of the deal means the EU side will find it impossible to stop a more aggressive Britain led by a Boris Johnson or a Jacob Rees-Mogg from flouting such standards while still being able to export British products into the single market. “If the EU wants to have a level playing field, it must not just set up the goals but also assign a referee,” said the author of the report, EU law expert Dr René Repasi. “At the moment it has even given the UK licence to assign its own players with officiating the match.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says he won’t bar Chinese firms like Huawei from doing business with Europe, as long as they respect market rules, despite continued US pressure to ban the company. “We are not rejecting someone because he is coming from faraway, because he is Chinese, the rules have to be respected,” Juncker said at a press conference with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe on Thursday. Asked about his response to the US call to “eliminate” Chinese telecoms equipment from Europe’s 5G buildout, Juncker was defiant. “The European Union and our internal market are open markets and all those respecting our rules governing this internal market are welcome,” he said.
Last month, Europe’s Parliament passed a resolution “expressing their deep concern” about alleged Chinese cybersecurity threats, but a subsequent statement from the European Commission regarding 5G cybersecurity did not include such language, instead merely urging member states to develop a “toolbox of mitigating measures” to combat cybersecurity risks to their growing 5G infrastructure. The US has leaned heavily on allies to keep Huawei and other Chinese telecoms out of their countries, claiming the company could act as a spy for the Chinese government. Washington has even threatened to withhold intelligence from Germany over their refusal to ban the Chinese firm, pressure China’s foreign minister has called “abnormal” and “immoral.”
Leaks from deep within Theresa May’s bitterly divided administration have become widespread and common: as one despairing official remarked recently, “this government is a sieve”. But the revelation of the highly sensitive news that ministers have decided to set aside cybersecurity concerns and involve the Chinese firm Huawei in the creation of Britain’s 5G network is regarded by many as a leak too far. The decision was taken at the national security council, on which ministers sit alongside officials and members of the security services. The secrecy of its discussions has never before been breached. A full-scale inquiry is now expected to be launched, but a slew of other briefings and counter-briefings from private meetings in recent weeks and months has not just gone unpunished but become almost unremarkable.
There are several, allied reasons for this pervasive culture of briefing and counter-briefing, which means multiple competing accounts of cabinet meetings are available shortly after ministers walk out of Downing Street. One is simply the ready availability of instant electronic communication – a string of WhatsApp messages is a lot quicker and more straightforward than the old-fashioned gossip over lunch or in a Westminster bar (though that still happens too, of course). Another is the historic significance of the issues at stake and the lack of trust on both sides of the Brexit debate, which means all the key players want to ensure their point is heard even if they lost the argument in the room.
European equities may start to finally see some love, as they are now positioned to take advantage of one significant coming tailwind from the U.S., according to Bloomberg. Over the next 12 months, US stocks are going to lose a significant amount of support that they have received from buybacks, as the nearly $1 trillion buyback bonanza that has fueled stock purchases in the United States starts to come to an end, according to Sanford C. Bernstein strategists. This could be an area where European stocks, due to their low dependence on buybacks, could see help as a result. Bernstein strategists led by Inigo Fraser-Jenkins said: “This would remove one advantage of U.S. equities over Europe. As the buyback support is reduced it will make a stronger relative case for Europe.”
And the decision of the U.S. central bank to hold off on rate increases may have temporarily reduced concerns about debt hurting equities, but the topic is still on the table and credit spreads are expected to keep widening over the next year. Furthermore, the significance of share repurchases to the US rally has been pronounced, with $1 trillion in buybacks in just 2018 alone, far overshadowing the $100 billion in net inflows from active and passive funds. And even though European equities have rallied to the tune of more than $1.5 trillion since December’s lows, shorting these stocks remains a popular trade globally, according to Bank of America Corp.’s latest fund manager survey. And many traders are still on the sidelines, as Europe’s ugly politics and mixed economic data continues to weigh on sentiment.
The universe is expanding considerably faster than it should be, Nasa has confirmed. The space agency’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that it is growing about 9 per cent faster than had been expected, based on the trajectory it started with shortly after the Big Bang, according to astronomers. While such a discrepancy had already been suggested, the new measurements reduce the chance this is a mistake to just one in 100,000. Such a confirmation could require astronomers to find new physics theories to explain the universe‘s strange behaviour. “This mismatch has been growing and has now reached a point that is really impossible to dismiss as a fluke.
This is not what we expected,” says Adam Riess, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, Nobel laureate and the project’s leader. The speed of the universe’s expansion, known as the Hubble constant, is a central part of physics and our understanding of the universe. But it has repeatedly been observed to behave unexpectedly – the more astronomers find out about it, the more wrong it appears – in ways that have forced scientists to wonder whether our assumptions about it had been wrong. The new study confirms that speculation, and requires further work to explain how exactly the universe is growing.
The research saw Professor Riess and his team analyse light from 70 stars in a galaxy near ours, known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, using a new method that allowed them to capture the stars quickly. The stars they observed are called Cepheid variables, and change brightness predictably, allowing them to be used to measure intergalactic distances. The new method allowed the researchers to measure many more of those stars far more quickly. Normally, Hubble can only look at one star each time it takes one of its 90-minute orbits around Earth, but the new method allowed it to see dozens in that same time.
Trying to patch together an idea of what was decided. It all appears vacuous. May assures Britain that the EU can’t make the backstop permanent, but 1) it can, and 2) it never wanted to, provided Ireland is taken care of properly. I can’t get rid of the notion that the UK can’t get rid of the notion that Ireland is a second-class country.
Biggest ‘gain’ for May: the UK can unilaterally declare that it believes it can unilaterally halt the backstop.
Today will be all lawyers trying to translate the hollow terms into legalese, but I haven’t found anything that could convince anyone anything has changed since two days ago. Maybe she’ll swing a handful votes, but she lost by 203 last time around.
WSJ: “The EU offered a new legal instrument that would allow the U.K. to seek independent arbitration if it believed the EU was not negotiating a new trade agreement in good faith. If the U.K. claim were upheld and the EU continued to drag its feet, the U.K. could be freed from the customs arrangement. The EU also offered a legally binding pledge to work quickly on a future trade agreement to ensure that the backstop is temporary. The two sides also agreed that the U.K. would set out its own interpretation of the deal, which would state that the U.K. believes it has the option to bring the customs union arrangement to an end.”
Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter: “The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. Last night’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for.”
Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato on Twitter: “I’ve never before seen a prime minister deliberately try to mislead her own Parliament. There have been no legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. This is action worthy of an autocratic leader from a banana republic not the leader of a democratic country.”
Theresa May claims to have secured significant changes to her Brexit deal in a last-minute dash to Europe just hours before she must put her plan to a critical vote in parliament. In a late night statement on Monday in Strasbourg she argued the new-look deal meant Britain could not be trapped in the “Irish backstop” so hated by Eurosceptic Tories and her DUP allies, but major doubts remain over whether it is enough to win their backing on Tuesday. The prime minister’s deputy David Lidington warned that if her deal is rejected for a second time by MPs it will “plunge the country into a political crisis”. European leaders warned there would be no “third chance”, but Conservative Brexiteers insisted there are still “very worrying features” to the agreement, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “MPs must reject this deal tomorrow”.
The announcement came after another dramatic day in Westminster on Monday, which began with talk of Ms May potentially delaying Tuesday’s vote on her deal after a seemingly fruitless weekend of talks. But speaking an hour before midnight, she said: “MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.” The backstop is an arrangement in the existing withdrawal agreement that comes into play if the EU and UK fail to agree future trading arrangements by the end of 2020, thus keeping the Irish border open, but also locking the UK into a customs union with the EU on a potentially indefinite basis.
[..] In a commons statement Mr Lidington revealed that the UK had secured two new documents, a “joint legally binding instrument on the withdrawal agreement” and a “joint statement to supplement the political declaration” on future relations. There is also a third element – a unilateral declaration from the UK setting out what actions it would take if it felt the backstop is being abused by the EU. Mr Lidington said the new legal “instrument” confirmed that the EU could not try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely, because commitments they had made to not do so were now legally binding.
Uncertainty continued to hang over Tuesday night’s (12 March) big vote on Brexit in the UK parliament, as British MPs tried to make sense of last-minute tweaks to the exit deal. The opposition Labour party indicated it would vote against the accord. “This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes [British prime minister] Theresa May promised parliament and whipped her MPs to vote for,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday. “It sounds again that nothing has changed,” his shadow Brexit minister, Keir Starmer said. Two MPs from May’s ruling Conservative party said the same. “Seems UK is still permanently locked into the EU, but can ‘argue’ it can leave. The catch? EU decides if we can leave,” Adam Afriyie said.
“We’re being played,” Sam Gyimah, a former Tory minister said. Nigel Farage, the EU-phobic British MEP for the UK Independence Party, was the most outspoken. “Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” he said. Meanwhile, the so-called Independent Group of ex-Labour and ex-Tory MPs said Brexit ought to be delayed in order to hold a second referendum. Dominic Grieve, Britain’s former attorney general, echoed their position. “The proper thing to do is to put it back to the public in a people’s vote, in a second referendum,” he said on Monday. Afriyie’s comment on being “locked into the EU” referred to the so-called ‘backstop’ – the previous deal that the UK would remain in the EU customs union until it found a mutually acceptable way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The backstop prompted a historic majority of 230 MPs to reject the withdrawal deal in January, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. But EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and British prime minister Theresa May agreed three new documents at a meeting in Strasbourg, France, late on Monday designed to assuage those fears. The first one said the UK could start a dispute in an arbitration court to quit the backstop if the EU did not want to let it out. The second one said the EU and UK would try to find alternative arrangements to the backstop by the end of 2020. The third one was a unilateral British declaration in which the UK said it could quit the backstop if the talks on alternative arrangements broke down.
Both May and Juncker were emphatic in saying that the tweaks gave the UK the “legally binding” guarantees it needed to avoid being locked in to EU customs rules. “It [the backstop] would never be a trap, if either side were to act in bad faith, there is a legal way for either side to exit,” Juncker said.
Think of what the ERG and the Democratic Unionists object to about the key stumbling block: the Northern Irish backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. They don’t like the fact that it has no time limit, that it could, theoretically, go on forever. And yet the best that May’s new motion laid before parliament could say is that the new legally binding joint instrument “reduces the risk that the UK could be held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely”. “Reduces the risk” is not the same as “eliminates the risk” – and it’s that that many of those Brexiters wanted to hear. (Put aside the fact that it was always an unrealistic demand: you could say the same about the entire case for Brexit.)
A second demand of the Brexiters, one bizarrely endorsed in January by May herself and a majority of the Commons, was that the backstop be replaced by “alternative arrangements.” Gamely, May tried to pretend that she’d won an EU concession on that too, and that those alternative arrangements will be in place by December 2020. As indeed they will – if they exist by then. But for now, the technological wizardry so great that it would render the backstop redundant does not exist. And so this was another hollow victory.
Finally, the Brexit crowd wanted the UK to have the unilateral right to exit the backstop whenever it liked. May did indeed get something unilateral – the right to issue her own unilateral declaration, in which she could freely state that “it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop.” This is rather like my son winning the right to declare that it is his position that he should get more pocket money. It doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to give him more pocket money. The clue is in the word “unilateral.” The EU is not bound by this UK declaration and has, in fact, conceded nothing.
Britain must leave the European Union by the time EU voters elect a new European Parliament on May 23-26 or will have to elect its own EU lawmakers, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday. Writing to EU summit chair Donald Tusk after agreeing a deal to break Brexit deadlock with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Juncker wrote: “The United Kingdom’s withdrawal should be complete before the European elections that will take place between May 23-26 this year.” “If the United Kingdom has not left the European Union by then, it will be legally required to hold these elections.”
The claims that British trade with the Commonwealth can make up for leaving the EU is “the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments” advanced by Brexit supporters and “utter bollocks”, the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has said. In a lacerating piece for the Guardian, Rudd dismissed the claims by some Brexit supporters that the UK could strike deals with his country, New Zealand, Canada and India to soften the blow and said the UK risked undermining western values by leaving the EU in a weaker position when it left.
“I’m struck, as the British parliament moves towards the endgame on Brexit, with the number of times Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India have been advanced by the Brexiteers in the public debate as magical alternatives to Britain’s current trade and investment relationship with the European Union,” he wrote. “This is the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments that have emerged from the Land of Hope and Glory set now masquerading as the authentic standard-bearers of British patriotism. It’s utter bollocks.” Of the prospect of a free trade deal with Delhi, he writes: “As for India, good luck!”
[..] he cast serious doubt on suggestions the UK could quickly come to a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, pointing out that talks he began with the nation on behalf of Australia a decade ago are still going on. “A substantive India-UK FTA is the ultimate mirage constructed by the Brexiteers. It’s as credible as the ad they plastered on the side of that big red bus about the £350m Britain was allegedly paying to Brussels each week. Not.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the team he assembled to investigate U.S. President Donald Trump and his associates have been funded through the end of September 2019, three U.S. officials said on Monday, an indication that the probe has funding to keep it going for months if need be. The operations and funding of Mueller’s office were not addressed in the budget requests for the next government fiscal year issued by the White House and Justice Department on Monday because Mueller’s office is financed by the U.S. Treasury under special regulations issued by the Justice Department, the officials said. “The Special Counsel is funded by the Independent Counsel appropriation, a permanent indefinite appropriation established in the Department’s 1988 Appropriations Act,” a Justice Department spokesman said.
There has been increased speculation in recent weeks that Mueller’s team is close to winding up its work and is likely to deliver a report summarizing its findings to Attorney General William Barr any day or week now. Mueller’s office has not commented on the news reports suggesting an imminent release. Representatives of key congressional committees involved in Trump-related investigations say they have received no guidance from Mueller’s office regarding his investigation’s progress or future plans. The probe, which began in May 2017, is examining whether there were any links or coordination between the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin and the 2016 presidential campaign of Trump, according to an order signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Senator Marco Rubio, the most outspoken cheerleader of US regime change in Venezuela, lashed out at several major outlets for not using his preferred terminology, going so far as to accuse CNN of ‘Russian collusion.’ “In order to undermine the constitutional basis for [Juan Guaido’s] interim Presidency [sic], Putin’s Russia repeatedly describes him as the ‘self-proclaimed’ president of Venezuela. And so does CNN,” Rubio (R-Florida) tweeted on Wednesday, adding, “Russian collusion?” It was the latest in a string of tweets by the senator whom President Donald Trump is, for some unknown reason, allowing to drive US foreign policy on Latin America.
On Tuesday, Rubio targeted the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for their coverage of Guaido, this time objecting to their use of the term “opposition leader.” Rubio’s badgering of the media came shortly after State Department spokesman Robert Palladino tried to do the same thing with diplomatic correspondents in Foggy Bottom. Referring to Guaido as anything other than “interim president” was feeding “the narrative of a dictator who has usurped the position of the presidency and led Venezuela into the humanitarian, political, and economic crisis that exists today,” Palladino argued.
Former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for acting as an unregistered agent for Ukraine. But looking at the media coverage of the case one would never know that “taking down” Manafort was not all about Russia collusion. Reporting…or propaganda?
The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp called for an enforced break-up of Alphabet Inc’s Google, acknowledging the measure would involve global coordination but calling it necessary to preserve advertising and the news media. The demand, published on Tuesday as part of a government inquiry, goes beyond the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which crossed swords with Google by requesting a new regulatory body to oversee global tech operators. In an 80-page submission largely centered on Google, News Corp Australia said the U.S. company had created an “ecosystem” where it could control the results of people’s internet searches and then charge advertisers based on how many people viewed their advertisements.
Efforts to curtail Google’s market dominance around the world had failed because of the search engine operator’s record of “avoiding and undermining regulatory initiatives and ignoring private contractual arrangements”. When Google had agreed to change its methods in response to investigation or new regulations in other countries, it often soon replaced the conduct with new methods which had the same effect: directing traffic and sales to its own sites and hurting competition. Calling Google’s behavior “anti-competitive”, News Corp accused the Mountain View, California-based internet company of damaging publishers’ ability to generate revenue and ultimately the sustainability of the news industry.
Facebook removed several ads placed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign that called for the breakup of Facebook and other tech giants. But the social network later reversed course after POLITICO reported on the takedown, with the company saying it wanted to allow for “robust debate.” The ads, which had identical images and text, touted Warren’s recently announced plan to unwind “anti-competitive” tech mergers, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram. “Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google,” read the ads, which Warren’s campaign had placed Friday. “We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”
A message on the three ads said: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the ads had been taken down but said the company is in the process of restoring them. “We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” the spokesperson said. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.” Warren swiped at Facebook over the removal, citing it as evidence the company has grown too powerful. “Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power,” she tweeted. “Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”
Over the weekend, we were surprised to learn that some readers were prevented by Facebook when attempting to share Zero Hedge articles. Subsequently it emerged that virtually every attempt to share or merely mention an article, including in private messages, would be actively blocked by the world’s largest social network, with the explanation that “the link you tried to visit goes against our community standards.” We were especially surprised by this action as neither prior to this seemingly arbitrary act of censorship, nor since, were we contacted by Facebook with an explanation of what “community standard” had been violated or what particular filter or article had triggered the blanket rejection of all Zero Hedge content.
To be sure, as a for-profit enterprise with its own unique set of corporate “ethics”, Facebook has every right to impose whatever filters it desires on the media shared on its platform. It is entirely possible that one or more posts was flagged by Facebook’s “triggered” readers who merely alerted a censorship algo which blocked all content. Alternatively, it is just as possible that Facebook simply decided to no longer allow its users to share our content in retaliation for our extensive coverage of what some have dubbed the platform’s “many problems”, including chronic privacy violations, mass abandonment by younger users, its gross and ongoing misrepresentation of fake users, ironically – in retrospect – its systematic censorship and back door government cooperation (those are just links from the past few weeks).
When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.” On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment — at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president.
When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning: “Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.” The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance:
• “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.” • “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.” • Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.”
“..you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse..”
What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.” Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).
Interlocutor Scott Pelley asked the oracle about “those half-a-million people who have given up looking for jobs.” Did he pull that number out of his shorts? The total number out of the workforce is more like 95 million, and when you subtract retirees, people still in school, and the disabled, the figure is more like 7.5 million. There was some blather over the “opioid epidemic,” the upshot of which was learn to code, young man. Personally, I was about as impressed as I was ten years ago when past oracle Ben Bernanke confidently explained to congress that the disturbances in Mortgage-land were “contained.”
David Leonhardt of The New York Times had a real howler in his Monday column on the state of the economy: “Americans are saving more and spending less partly because the rich now take home so much of the economy’s income — and the rich don’t spend as large a share of their income as the poor and middle class.” Suggestion to Mr. Leonhardt: Learn to code.
Sales of synthetic chemicals will double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment, according to a global study that highlights government failures to rein in the industry behind plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. The second Global Chemicals Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Monday, said the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, the study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that the industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.
“When you consider existing pollution, plus the projected growth of the industry, the trends are a cause for significant concern,” said Achim Halpaap, who led the 400 scientists involved in the study. He said the fastest growth was in construction materials, electronics, textiles and lead batteries. More and more additives are also being used to make plastics smoother or more durable. Depending on the chemical and degree of exposure, the risks can include cancer, chronic kidney disease and congenital anomalies. The World Health Organization estimated that the burden of disease was 1.6 million lives in 2016. Halpaap said this was likely to be an underestimate.
In addition to the human health dangers, he said chemicals also affect pollinators and coral reefs. Global chemical production has almost doubled since 2000 and is now – if the pharmaceutical business is taken into account – the world’s second largest industry, the report noted. This is expected to continue for at least the next decade owing to massive increases in the expanding economies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By 2030, the industry is projected to almost double again from 2017 levels to hit $6.6tn (£5tn) in sales; China is forecast to account for 49.9% of the world market.
Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”. The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels. Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.
More than 275 financial firms are moving a combined $1.2 trillion in assets and funds and thousands of staff from Britain to the European Union in readiness for Brexit at a cost of up to $4 billion, a report from a think tank said on Monday. UK lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on an EU divorce settlement. But with less than three weeks to go before Brexit day on March 29, it is still unclear whether the deal will be approved, whether departure from the EU will be delayed, or whether it will happen without agreement. The report by the New Financial think tank, one of the most detailed yet on the impact of Brexit on financial services, said Dublin alone accounted for 100 relocations, ahead of Luxembourg with 60, Paris 41, Frankfurt 40, and Amsterdam 32.
The independent think tank said half of the affected asset management firms, such as Goldman Sachs Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Vanguard, had chosen Dublin, with Luxembourg the next port of call, attracting firms like Schroders, JP Morgan Wealth Management and Aviva Investors. Nearly 90 percent of all firms moving to Frankfurt are banks, while two-thirds of those going to Amsterdam are trading platforms or brokers. Paris is carving out a niche for markets and trading operations of banks and attracting a broad spread of firms.
We humans are a social lot. We just love being part of a pack, a member of a team. We crave acceptance, to the point where isolation or banishment ranks among the worst forms of punishment. Even when it comes to the dodgy art of forecasting, everyone seems to cluster around a central position, which kind of defeats the point of forecasting. And so, in July two years ago, when the groundswell of opinion began to shift — that the Reserve Bank would be raising interest rates — arguing otherwise was a fairly lonely position. As time went on, almost everyone shifted position as we dug in here, here and here.
To be fair, most of the highly paid, well-heeled professional market economists were being egged on by the authorities, and particularly the Reserve Bank, which was spinning the line that the next rate move was up. In the past fortnight, however, the pack suddenly has turned on its tail as fears about the global economy and a sudden slowdown in our own growth forced a rethink. The switch to a rate cut has turned into a stampede. Put aside all the complex formula. Forget the high-level macro-economic analysis. There’s a very simple reason the Reserve Bank couldn’t and can’t raise interest rates. There’s too much debt. Australian households are among the world’s most indebted when compared with their income.
And we’ve spent most of it on real estate. What these two graphs show is how the Reserve Bank, effectively, snookered itself. Back in 2012, when debt and housing prices already were elevated, it fired up the east coast housing market, and construction, to take up the employment slack as the mining boom unwound. But it created a monster. As housing went on a tear, the short-term sugar hit turned toxic. Employment took off. But housing became unaffordable to almost everyone under 35. And our household debt levels reached for the stars. The end result? It couldn’t cut rates if it needed. That would add heat to a dangerously inflated housing bubble. And it could never raise rates, because that would kill household spending.
A decade after Ben Bernanke appeared on “60 Minutes”, vowing that the Fed could easily crush inflation, as it could “raise interest rates in 15 minutes”, of course with the occasional “pause” along the way should the S&P dip by 20% or so, current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will follow in his footsteps on Sunday night, when surrounded by former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen, he will try to reach beyond the Fed’s traditional audience of markets, journalists and lawmakers to counter the attacks from President Trump, even after the Fed’s paused on raising interest rates, said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, quoted by MarketWatch.
“He wants to counter the president’s message that policy is all wrong,” Binder said. Binder said she was struck by the still photo of the “60 Minutes” interview that shows Powell alongside his two predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. “This puts a human face on the central bank. It says, ‘we’re the Fed and we’re here to help,’” Binder said. Bernanke also faced criticism when he went on “60 Minutes” in March 2009. The Fed was facing concerted attacks by lawmakers and populist “End the Fed” groups, who considering the record wealth divide in the US created by the central bank, were spot on.
If China’s bad debts were written down, its economic growth rate would be half the recorded number, a US economist at a prominent Chinese university has warned. In a speech in Shanghai this week, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, warned that China’s debt is closely linked to the government’s perceived overstatement of its GDP. The government is accused of perpetuating the existence of “zombie companies”, by granting loss-making companies loans. Banks in turn treat these companies as creditworthy, whereas in reality they should be written off as bad debt, Pettis said. “If you believe there is bad debt that has not been sufficiently written down, you must believe that China’s GDP is overstated, relative to what it would be in any other country. That must be true,” Pettis said.
“If we are able to calculate GDP correctly, it would probably be half of the recorded number.” Pettis is not alone seeing troubles with China’s official growth number. In December, Xiang Songzuo, an outspoken professor from the Renmin University of China, who previously served as chief economist for Agricultural Bank of China, cited unidentified internal reports as saying that said China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative, a far cry from the official figures. Furthermore, a group of four economists published a paper this week arguing that China might have overstated its annual growth rate by 2 percentage points on average from 2008 to 2016. China’s official statistics agency said the country’s economic growth rate was 6.6 per cent in 2018.
The Chinese government said it would try to achieve an economic growth rate between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent in 2019, a moderate slowdown from previous years, but nevertheless a much faster rate compared with other major economies. Pettis is a renowned expert on China’s economy. For decades, he has been commenting on financial affairs in China and was among the early observers of the imbalances in the Chinese economy. He said in his speech on Wednesday that China’s growth will significantly decelerate as the country’s debt level rises.
Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its “official” GDP figures, playing “guess the real growth rate” has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US).
But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country’s GDP figures, while estimating that China’s economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.
Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it’s the latest evidence that China’s economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year – China’s worst since the early 1990s – might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as “a legacy of Maoist state planning”, authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. “China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level,” the study’s authors said.
Deutsche Bank has begun tentative merger talks with rival Commerzbank, which would create Europe’s second biggest bank behind HSBC and fend off unwanted potential bidders such as French giant BNP Paribas. Reports in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag suggest that the banks have come under political pressure to consider a merger and avert a foreign takeover of Commerzbank, much the smaller partner in any deal. Deutsche is regarded as a bank of global importance, but has been plagued by three years of losses, boardroom battles, money laundering issues and its role as the biggest lender to the Trump business empire.
Despite Germany’s industrial dominance in Europe, it has only one bank in the continent’s top 20, and Berlin is understood to be keen to create a larger national champion. The combination of the two banks mean that Deutsche, currently fifth biggest, and Commerzbank, currently 23rd, will become Europe’s second biggest bank and only marginally behind HSBC. Deutsche Bank’s chief executive Christian Sewing was seen to be the main opponent of a merger, but investor pressure – Deutsche’ shares are trading at around €7.68 compared with €32 five years ago – is understood to have forced his hand. The talks are believed to be at a very early stage – “unofficial contacts in a very small group” according to Welt am Sonntag – but are likely to be welcomed by major shareholders.
Steele was cut off by the FBI for revealing his relationship with the Bureau to the media – but Ohr continued to pass information from Steele to his colleagues, regularly spoke to him via email and phone, and met up with him face-to-face on several occasions. Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele’s status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016.
“These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it’s clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view – for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his “sympathy and support”. “If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks,” Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could “certainly” give him an FBI contact “if it becomes necessary”.
On 6 March that year, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to then-FBI Director James Comey, seeking clarity on the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. The next day, Steele texted Ohr to say he was “very concerned” by the letter, and its “possible implications for our operations and sources…We need some reassurance…Really fundamental issues at stake here”. Days later, with Comey scheduled to testify before Congress, Steele told Ohr he was “a bit apprehensive” and hoped “important firewalls will hold”. On 24 March, Ohr and Steele discussed their “response” to the testimony, as he understood “an approach from the Senate Intelligence Committee” to Orbis was imminent.
On 26 October, Steele said he’s “very concerned” about documents the FBI intended to turn over to Congress about his work and “relationship with them”. “Can we have a word tomorrow please? Just seen a story in the media about the Bureau handing over docs to Congress…Peoples live may be engangered [sic],” he despaired.
[..] on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces. [..] on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie.
The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie. [..] While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.
On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grayzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote: “I did not see any Venezuelan government forces set fire to US aid trucks on the Colombian side of the border. And neither did you. Actually, the evidence so far is pointing in the other direction.”
In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday. RAND’s wargames show how US Armed Forces – colored blue on wargame maps – experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can’t thwart Russia or China – which predictably is red – from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces. “We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he warned.
In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts. The simulated war games showed, the “red” aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. “In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with years of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”
So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.” “That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question,” said Breaking Defense.
Many people are unaware about California’s importance in the U.S. oil industry. In fact, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. California oil production rose throughout most of the 20th century, briefly eclipsing one million barrels per day in the early 1980s. Oil production began to decline there after peaking in 1985. The same pattern took place in many other states, and in fact was the case for the entire U.S., where oil production peaked in 1970, and then declined over the next 35 years. But the shale boom changed the trajectory of U.S. oil production.
Oil production that had fallen for decades reversed direction and began to surge about a decade ago. Almost every state with shale oil resources saw a similar surge in production. Since 2010, U.S. oil production has increased by 131%, with huge gains in oil production in the following states (among others): • North Dakota – up 634% • Colorado – up 508% • New Mexico – up 377% •Texas – up 330% • Oklahoma – up 238%. In fact, only three major oil-producing states have seen a decline in oil production since 2010: California, Louisiana, and Alaska. One of the graphics I created for my presentation shows the stark contrast between oil production in Texas and California as the shale boom unfolded.
During the 1980s and 1990s, oil production in Texas was declining faster than it was in California. Had that trajectory been maintained, Texas oil production may have fallen below California’s in about 2010. Instead, the shale boom has added nearly four million BPD of oil production in Texas. Millions of barrels were added in other states as well, and California began to slide down the ranks of leading oil producers. Just a few years ago California was still in 2nd place, but now it has slipped to 6th, behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska.
As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly coming to an end, elderly and sick Americans are trying to hold on to their lives so they can read the highly-anticipated report that has been nearly two years in the making. World War II veteran Mitchell Tendler—a man who survived numerous historic milestones, including the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate and President BIll Clinton’s impeachment—fell sick on Dec. 29, at 93 years old, reported NPR. “I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well—he really can’t stand,'” Tendler’s son, Walter, recalled. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”
Tendler survived two implantable defibrillators throughout his life. But while on his third, he started to fade. After he was provided painkillers by doctors, Tendler voiced his final thoughts. “It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler told the news outlet, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.” Richard Armstrong, a 94-year-old currently in hospice care in New Jersey, related to Tendler’s sentiments. “I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way. I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Armstrong told NPR.
“I was hoping to live to see the outcome of what I think it should be—justice. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t.” After seeing Tendler’s words—shared on Twitter by Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—Kristina Makansi, who lives in Arizona, thought about her mother who passed away at the age of 94 in January. “When I saw that tweet about the Mueller report and the old man on his deathbed, I thought, Oh my gosh, that’s the kind of thing that my mother would say,” she said. “I think she really wanted to see that justice was done… and that the investigation was allowed to proceed without any shenanigans and obstruction.”