Jul 032021
 


Julian Assange turns 50 today, in isolation

 

Polymerase-specific T Cells Expand In Seronegative SARS-CoV-2 Infection (Mxiv)
Clot Death Risk To 18-39s From AZ Vaccine Is 2x Covid Death Risk (IE)
French Senate Considers Mandatory Covid Vaccines For Adults Aged 24-59 (RT)
Bali Swept Up In Indonesia’s Harsh Lockdown Despite 71% Vaccination Rate (RT)
Tech Giants Still Not Coming Clean About Covid-19 Disinformation, Says EU (TC)
Vatican In Push Against Vaccine Scepticism (RT)
“Intellectual Capture?” On YouTube’s Demonetization of Bret Weinstein (Taibbi)
Stumbling Toward Reality (Kunstler)
Natural Resource Drain Created By “Net Zero Emission” Targets (ZH)
Biden Aide Charges “Sabotage” Of Harris (Axios)
New Emails Raise New Allegations of Influence Peddling By Hunter Biden (Turley)
Key Assange Witness Recants – With Zero Corporate Media Coverage (Fair)

 

 

Delta Case Fatality Rate in UK appears 8 times higher among the fully vaccinated than the unvaccinated

 

 

Early intervention

 

 

In the strongest immune systems, T cells kill the virus so fast the body has no time (or reason) to create antibodies. So an antibody test will raise an alarm: there are none! A PCR test will likely show the virus though, even though it’s dead. You can’t win. Both test results will lead to a call for a vaccine.

Polymerase-specific T Cells Expand In Seronegative SARS-CoV-2 Infection (Mxiv)

Individuals with likely exposure to the highly infectious SARS-CoV-2 do not necessarily develop PCR or antibody positivity, suggesting some may clear sub-clinical infection before seroconversion. T cells can contribute to the rapid clearance of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronavirus infections1–5 . We hypothesised that pre-existing memory T cell responses, with cross-protective potential against SARS-CoV-26–12, would expand in vivo to mediate rapid viral control, potentially aborting infection. We studied T cells against the replication transcription complex (RTC) of SARS-CoV-2 since this is transcribed first in the viral life cycle13–15 and should be highly conserved. We measured SARS-CoV-2-reactive T cells in a cohort of intensively

monitored healthcare workers (HCW) who remained repeatedly negative by PCR, antibody binding, and neutralisation for SARS-CoV-2 (exposed seronegative, ES). 16-weeks postrecruitment, ES had memory T cells that were stronger and more multispecific than an unexposed pre-pandemic cohort, and more frequently directed against the RTC than the structural protein-dominated responses seen post-detectable infection (matched concurrent cohort). The postulate that HCW with the strongest RTC-specific T cells had an abortive infection was supported by a low-level increase in IFI27 transcript, a robust early innate signature of SARS-CoV-2 infection16.

We showed that the RNA-polymerase within RTC was the largest region of high sequence conservation across human seasonal coronaviruses (HCoV) and was preferentially targeted by T cells from UK and Singapore pre-pandemic cohorts and from ES. RTC epitope-specific T cells capable of cross-recognising HCoV variants were identified in ES. Longitudinal samples from ES and an additional validation cohort, showed pre-existing RNA-polymerase-specific T cells expanded in vivo following SARS-CoV-2 exposure, becoming enriched in the memory response of those with abortive compared to overt infection. In summary, we provide evidence of abortive seronegative SARS-CoV-2 infection with expansion of cross-reactive RTC-specific T cells, highlighting these highly conserved proteins as targets for future vaccines against endemic and emerging Coronaviridae.

Read more …

But the benefits still outweigh the risks, says the Irish health body. Who are these people?

Clot Death Risk To 18-39s From AZ Vaccine Is 2x Covid Death Risk (IE)

The HSE has admitted a greater risk of blood clotting in younger people still exists for the AstraZeneca vaccine, but that risk is now outweighed by a need to speed up public vaccination. A new modelling study published in the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) medical journal has concluded that the dangers presented to younger people by the AstraZeneca vaccine are greater than the benefits. The study, published in the weekly edition of the Eurosurveillance journal, models four months of a vaccine distribution strategy in France involving Vaxzevria (commonly called AstraZeneca) from May 2021, and concludes that using the vaccine on the entire adult population there would avert 10 deaths from Covid among 18-39-year-olds, but would be associated with 21 deaths from blood clotting in the same age grouping over the same time period.


“Our results highlight the clear benefit of the distribution of Vaxzevria towards the population aged 55 years and older and provide valuable insight for public health decision making,” the study concludes. Last April, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee’s (Niac) recommended that AstraZeneca should only be given to people over the age of 60 in Ireland due to the risk of very rare blood clots and the fact older people are more susceptible to severe Covid infection than their younger counterparts. The move followed a wave of similar decisions across other European health bodies as details of the clotting risk solidified. However, in light of dire projections earlier in the week from Nphet concerning the potential spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19, the HSE announced that from Monday, July 5, all 18-34-year-olds will be able to avail of Janssen vaccines, administered by 750 pharmacies.

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Illegal. Simple.

French Senate Considers Mandatory Covid Vaccines For Adults Aged 24-59 (RT)

The French Senate is considering implementing obligatory vaccinations for those aged 24-59 to help the country weather the anticipated next spike of coronavirus infections in what would be a fourth wave of cases. The body published a report from its Common Mission of Information on Thursday, advocating for mandatory vaccinations of young to middle-aged adults on the grounds it could significantly lower hospitalization rates and deaths. The report issued a stern warning: “act now to limit impact”. The report follows Prime Minister Jean Castex’s announcement on Wednesday that he will consult elected officials and chairmen of parliament on the compulsory vaccination of caregivers, with senators pushing for this to also include 24-59 year olds.


The age group was chosen as over 90% of people infected with Covid are under 60 in France, the Pasteur Institute said. To prevent hospitalization rates rising like last year, the Institute found that among 12-17 year-olds, a 30% vaccination rate was needed, and 70% among 18-59s. A vaccine uptake of 90% for those over 60 was deemed necessary. However, France’s vaccination campaign – which has prioritized those most susceptible to catching Covid, such as healthcare workers and people over 65 – is lagging behind these targets. Among 18-29 year-olds, 15.36% are fully vaccinated. Just under a quarter of those aged 30-49 have been inoculated, while the figure rises to half among 50-64 year olds.

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260 million people stretched out over countless islands. Give them IVM.

Bali Swept Up In Indonesia’s Harsh Lockdown Despite 71% Vaccination Rate (RT)

Hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints have been erected across Indonesia as authorities attempt to enforce a harsh lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, which has surged in the country in recent weeks. “We are setting up [patrols] in 21 locations where typically there are crowds,” Istiono, the head of Indonesia’s national traffic police, who goes by only one name, told reporters on Friday night. “Where there are street stalls and cafes, we will close those streets, maybe from around 6pm until 4am.” The beefed-up patrols and roadblocks will focus on the islands of Java – the country’s most populous, where the national capital of Jakarta is located – as well as Bali, a common tourist destination.

Some 21,000 police officers and soldiers will enforce the new restrictions, according to a police spokesman cited by Reuters. They will also administer random coronavirus tests at checkpoints. The move comes soon after President Joko Widodo declared a new lockdown earlier on Friday, set to last into late July, though it could be extended. The order requires all “non-essential” businesses to shut their doors, while Java- and Bali-based students will have to learn from home if possible. Parks, malls, indoor restaurants and places of worship, among other public spaces, have also been closed.= Some exceptions were made for those who are both vaccinated and test negative for the virus, as they were permitted to travel long-distance in the affected areas.

Indonesia is currently facing one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, tallying more than 20,000 cases each day in recent weeks – many believed linked to the Delta variant first observed in India – and that only accounts for those verified by testing. The country has smashed its own daily infection record for the last 12 days, according to Reuters, reporting 25,830 cases on Friday, as well as a high of 539 fatalities. While a national vaccination drive is underway, largely relying on a shot developed by China’s SinoVac, only about 5% of Indonesia’s 260 million-strong population has been fully immunized against the virus, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data. That amounts to about 13.7 million people.

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“They simply cannot police themselves alone.” Orwell.

Tech Giants Still Not Coming Clean About Covid-19 Disinformation, Says EU (TC)

European Union lawmakers have asked tech giants to continue reporting on efforts to combat the spread of vaccine disinformation on their platforms for a further six months. “The continuation of the monitoring programme is necessary as the vaccination campaigns throughout the EU is proceeding with a steady and increasing pace, and the upcoming months will be decisive to reach a high level of vaccination in Member States. It is key that in this important period vaccine hesitancy is not fuelled by harmful disinformation,” the Commission writes today. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, TikTok and Twitter are signed up to make monthly reports as a result of being participants in the bloc’s (non-legally binding) Code of Practice on Disinformation — although, going forward, they’ll be switching to bi-monthly reporting.


Publishing the latest batch of platform reports for April, the Commission said the tech giants have shown they’re unable to police “dangerous lies” by themselves — while continuing to express dissatisfaction at the quality and granularity of the data that is being (voluntarily) provided by platforms vis-à-via how they’re combating online disinformation generally. “These reports show how important it is to be able to effectively monitor the measures put in place by the platforms to reduce disinformation,” said Vera Jourova, the EU’s VP for values and transparency, in a statement. “We decided to extend this programme, because the amount of dangerous lies continues to flood our information space and because it will inform the creation of the new generation Code against disinformation. We need a robust monitoring programme, and clearer indicators to measure impact of actions taken by platforms. They simply cannot police themselves alone.”

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You would think the pope has better thinngs to do?!

Vatican In Push Against Vaccine Scepticism (RT)

The official bioethics academy of the Catholic Church has come forward alongside a host of global medical associations to demand an end to the “myths and disinformation” interfering with the fight against Covid-19. The Pontifical Council of Life (VPCL) and several international physicians’ groups spoke with reporters on Friday in what was described as an “all-out effort” to set straight the disinformation surrounding the vaccine’s place in religious doctrine, insisting the pharmaceutical mixture was not only safe and effective but also ethical under the Catholic faith. While acknowledging that some reluctance to take the jab in “disadvantaged communities” was linked to previous “breaches of trust in medical research” and overall “suspicion” of pharma firms, Friday’s joint statement said a “more pernicious form” of vaccine hesitancy was fueled by “unfounded and misleading claims and myths” and amplified on social media.


“Considered one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, vaccines play a vital role in the prevention of infectious diseases,” they said. The groups noted the problem becomes even more complex given the vaccine skepticism within many religious groups, and even the medical community, calling for a united front against disinformation among spiritual leaders and healthcare professionals. All relevant stakeholders must exhaust all efforts to confront vaccine hesitancy by sending a clear message about the safety and necessity of vaccines and counteracting vaccine myths and disinformation The statement followed a day-long online seminar sponsored by the VPCL, along with the World Medical Association of France and the German Medical Association.

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Fitting on Assange’s Bday.

“Intellectual Capture?” On YouTube’s Demonetization of Bret Weinstein (Taibbi)

YouTube’s decision with regard to Weinstein and Heying seems part of an overall butterfly effect, as numerous other figures either connected to the topic or to DarkHorse have been censured by various platforms. Weinstein guest Dr. Robert Malone, a former Salk Institute researcher often credited with helping develop mRNA vaccine technology, has been suspended from LinkedIn, and Weinstein guest Dr. Pierre Kory of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) has had his appearances removed by YouTube. Even Satoshi Omura, who won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for his work on ivermectin, reportedly had a video removed by YouTube this week. There are several factors that make the DarkHorse incident different from other major Silicon Valley moderation decisions, including the fact that the content in question doesn’t involve electoral politics, foreign intervention, or incitement.

The main issue is the possible blurring of lines between public and private censorship. When I contacted YouTube about Weinstein two weeks ago, I was told, “In general, we rely on guidance from local and global health authorities (FDA, CDC, WHO, NHS, etc) in developing our COVID-19 misinformation policies.” The question is, how active is that “guidance”? Is YouTube acting in consultation with those bodies in developing those moderation policies? As Weinstein notes, an answer in the affirmative would likely make theirs a true First Amendment problem, with an agency like the CDC not only setting public health policy but also effectively setting guidelines for private discussion about those policies. “If it is in consultation with the government,” he says, “it’s an entirely different issue.”

Asked specifically after Weinstein’s demonetization if the “guidance” included consultation with authorities, YouTube essentially said yes, pointing to previous announcements that they consult other authorities, and adding, “When we develop our policies we consult outside experts and YouTube creators. In the case of our COVID-19 misinformation policies, it would be guidance from local and global health authorities.”

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“Dr. Fauci’s role looks like a species of generic egomania with a top hat of greed (considering his financial interests in vaccines).”

Stumbling Toward Reality (Kunstler)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who answers to the title “The Science” in certain circles, said this week that there are going to be two Americas, the vaxed and the unvaxed. Earth to Dr. Fauci: we are already two Americas: the reality-onboard and the reality-optional. One reality is that vaccines developed at “warp speed” appear to have gnarly side-effects that can outweigh the risk of the disease they’re engineered to protect against. Another reality is that the Delta variant of SARS-Covid-19 is more contagious, but also weaker, less likely to result in hospitalization among the unvaxed. Yet another reality is that the Delta variant also infects the fully-vaccinated. Oh, what to do?

Consider not allowing yourself to be jerked around by US health officials who have trouble keeping their story straight, for instance, Dr. Anthony Fauci (a.k.a. The Science) who, records show, apparently assisted the bio-warfare division of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at the Wuhan lab in the development of a world-beating, gain-of-function bat virus — which, halfway through year-two of its run, seems to be following the usual trajectory of viral epidemics by growing weaker before it disappears altogether. And then we’ll see what happens longer-term among the vaxed, who were subjected to flurries of toxic spike proteins.

It’s the opinion of some — though not myself — that the Covid-19 episode was unleashed upon the world to allow “the elite” to execute a “controlled demolition of the global economy” so as to quash climate change (by reducing carbon emissions), and therefore ensure a brighter future for said elite, while cruelly throwing the rest of the world’s population overboard. Oh, I dunno…. Klaus Schwab and his minions of The Great Reset seem more like hapless control freaks than persons actually able to control anything, least of all the whole world. Dr. Fauci’s role looks like a species of generic egomania with a top hat of greed (considering his financial interests in vaccines). The reality is that the global economy, such as it’s a high-tech industrial economy, is shooting its own wad very nicely without a whole lot of assistance from alleged nefarious parties.

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Green turns sour.

Natural Resource Drain Created By “Net Zero Emission” Targets (ZH)

While the idea of implementing net zero emissions by certain deadlines has sounded great for the companies, countries and states that have set targets, the reality of making it happen is slightly more difficult. That’s what the U.K. is finding out after Natural History Museum Head of Earth Sciences Prof Richard Herrington penned a letter to the Committee on Climate Change on the vast amount of natural resources that will be necessary to make the conversion. The letter was delivered to Baroness Brown, who chairs the Adaption Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change. In addition to noting that the U.K. would need a 20% increase in UK-generated electricity, the release also notes that “to meet UK electric car targets for 2050 we would need to produce just under two times the current total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production.”

The letter reads: “The urgent need to cut CO2 emissions to secure the future of our planet is clear, but there are huge implications for our natural resources not only to produce green technologies like electric cars but keep them charged. “Over the next few decades, global supply of raw materials must drastically change to accommodate not just the UK’s transformation to a low carbon economy, but the whole world’s. Our role as scientists is to provide the evidence for how best to move towards a zero-carbon economy – society needs to understand that there is a raw material cost of going green and that both new research and investment is urgently needed for us to evaluate new ways to source these. This may include potentially considering sources much closer to where the metals are to be used.”

It then points out obvious challenges in meeting the needs of converting all cars and vans to electric vehicles, especially as it relates to cobalt: To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copper. This represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of European industry.

Read more …

Strange battle going on.

Biden Aide Charges “Sabotage” Of Harris (Axios)

Top White House officials are mobilizing to defend Vice President Kamala Harris amid a gusher of leaks about dysfunction and infighting in her office. Driving the news: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Axios in a statement: “The President’s trust and confidence in her is obvious when you see them in the Oval Office together.” Biden senior adviser Cedric Richmond said in an interview late Thursday night: “It’s a whisper campaign designed to sabotage her.” Their responses came after Axios approached the White House with new reporting about growing tensions between West Wing officials and the Harris team, including chief of staff Tina Flournoy.

Some White House officials have been frustrated by a series of missteps from Harris and increasingly public bickering in her orbit, which spilled out in a Politico story on Wednesday. Flournoy’s old boss, former President Bill Clinton, came to her defense with a statement calling her “an extraordinary person. 2024 is the elephant in the room. While Biden aides overwhelmingly believe he’ll be the Democratic nominee, they also know he’d be 81 when seeking re-election. An operation sometimes visibly out of sync with Biden’s — and missteps during a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, following a scrutinized interview with NBC’s Lester Holt — have reignited questions from Harris’ 2020 primary bid.

Harris would be the presumptive nominee if Biden didn’t run. Administration sources believe it would be nearly impossible to unseat the first Black woman vice president. Yet many Democrats, including some current senior administration officials, are concerned she could not defeat whomever the Republican Party puts up — even if it were Donald Trump. One Democratic operative tells Axios’ Alayna Treene that most Democrats aren’t saying, “‘Oh, no, our heir apparent is f***ing up, what are we gonna do?’ It’s more that people think, ‘Oh, she’s f***ing up, maybe she shouldn’t be the heir apparent.'” Some Democrats close to the White House are increasingly concerned about Harris’s handling of high-profile issues and political tone deafness, and question her ability to maintain the coalition that Biden rode to the White House, sources tell Axios’ Hans Nichols.

Relations between the West Wing and the Vice President’s office are tense. Several administration officials used “shitshow” when describing Harris’ office, and contrast her operation with disciplined, virtually leakproof Biden aides. Some Biden officials view the Harris operation as poorly-managed and staffed with people who don’t have long-term relationships with her. They feel she’s gotten bad advice from her press and communications shop and think it’s telling that she’s already lost two advance aides and a digital director.

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“It is clear that Hunter Biden was selling access and influence. It appears that Joe Biden was aware of that effort. That is very serious.”

New Emails Raise New Allegations of Influence Peddling By Hunter Biden (Turley)

The new emails include references to the use of Air Force II by Hunter Biden to pursue the deals — a similar pattern revealed with regard to the China dealings. The emails detail a number of visits to Mexico, including a February 2016 flight on Air Force II with his father. On the plane was his business partner Jeff Cooper, who ran Illinois-based SimmonsCooper. That is one of the largest asbestos litigation firms in the country and Hunter was given 3 percent of Cooper’s venture capital firm Eudora Global, according to emails. President Biden’s brother (who featured in past controversial deals) was also reportedly involved in some of these efforts. These dealings continued into 2018 as Hunter pushed for deals with Slim. One text message from July 24, 2018 reads “Spoke to my dad about ‘Slim ask” and Cooper responds “Oh that sounds SO F’ING GOOD.”

It obviously does not sound quite so good if you are a reporter who has been repeatedly assured by President Biden that he had no knowledge or involvement in any dealings with Hunter. That was previously refuted by various sources. Hunter himself contradicted his father’s repeated denial. Then there are the emails referring to the “Big Guy”, which witnesses say was Joe Biden. Then there is Tony Bobulinski who stated that he personally met with Joe Biden to discuss Hunter’s business dealings. Bobulinski is repeatedly praised by Hunter Biden in the emails and identified as the person in control of transactions for “the family.” He has directly contradicted Joe Biden’s denial of any knowledge or involvement in his son’s dubious dealings.

The new emails contain additional information directly contradicting President Biden. In addition to earlier pictures from golf trips and references to his involvement or knowledge, new material refers to a notable dinner arranged in Washington, D.C. Hunter arranged for then Vice President Biden to have dinner on April 16, 2015 with his Ukrainian, Russian and Kazakhstani business associates. They appropriately chose a private room at Café Milano, a Georgetown restaurant that brags that it is “Where the world’s most powerful people go.” After the dinner, Hunter received an email from Vadym Pozharskyi, an executive with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, to thank him for introducing him to his father: “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.”

It is clear that Hunter Biden was selling access and influence. It appears that Joe Biden was aware of that effort. That is very serious. If these emails are false, this is a major story. If they are true, this is a major scandal. Presumably, however, this story will result in another run to the nearest ice cream shop for breathless coverage on the current frozen delights of the President.

Read more …

Lots of similarities between Assange coverage and that of vaccines.

Key Assange Witness Recants – With Zero Corporate Media Coverage (Fair)

A key witness in the Department of Justice’s case against Julian Assange has admitted that his entire testimony is false, a revelation that could be the death knell for US attempts to prosecute the Wikileaks founder. Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, often known as “Siggi the Hacker,” made the confession to Icelandic outlet Stundin (6/26/21) last weekend. The article details how Thordarson, a convicted felon, pedophile and diagnosed sociopath, used his position to steal money from Wikileaks, and received immunity from prosecution from the FBI in a quid pro quo. Such a blatant and juicy piece of important news should have made worldwide headlines. But, instead, as of Friday, July 2, there has been literally zero coverage of it in corporate media; not one word in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC News, Fox News or NPR.

A search online for either “Assange” or “Thordarson” will elicit zero relevant articles from establishment sources, either US or elsewhere in the Anglosphere, even in tech-focused platforms like the Verge, Wired or Gizmodo. The other major development in the case, according to the Canary (6/30/21), is Jeremy Corbyn delivering a letter from 20 MPs to the prison where Assange is held, demanding the right to visit him and treating him as a political prisoner. The news is not some sort of esoteric knowledge known only to those carefully watching Icelandic affairs. The story trended worldwide on Twitter on the weekend, with a number of prominent accounts or figures like Wikileaks itself, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald tweeting about it.

Not only that, Thordarson’s confession was well covered by alternative news sites with a tiny fraction of the resources establishment media have (e.g., Consortium News, 6/27/21; World Socialist Web Site, 6/27/21; Canary, 6/30/21). The story led Democracy Now!’s Monday show (6/28/21), which featured an in-depth interview with Assange’s legal advisor, Jennifer Robinson. This distinction once again highlights the gaping chasm between corporate and alternative media, suggesting that certain subjects are simply no-go zones for the former. It is not that the corporate press are completely uninterested in Assange. A number of outlets have covered the news this week that he and his partner Stella Morris are planning to get married (e.g., SBS, 6/27/21; Daily Mail, 6/28/21; Evening Standard, 6/28/21; London Times, 6/29/21). Yet none of these articles mentioned the far more consequential news about Thordarson and how it undermines the entire prosecution of Assange.

Read more …

 

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Mar 162018
 


Pablo Picasso Women of Algiers (after Delacroix) 1955

 

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)
UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)
Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)
Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)
UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)
UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)
More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)
European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)
Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)
EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)
The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)
Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

 

 

Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.

 

 

Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)

[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.

Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:

“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:

“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”

[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’

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People are subject to abuse for questioning the official story. At least Corbyn has the decency to ask for evidence.

UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)

It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.

The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.

[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”

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Casino.

Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)

It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.

And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.

The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!

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Household debt. That’s the focal point.

Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)

There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.

So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.

I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).

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You can see the wall ahead that hey’re about to crash into.

UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)

Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.

Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.

He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.

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What QE has brought us. This is a global phenomenon revealed stronger and sooner in Britain because of, but not caused by, Brexit.

UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)

The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.

“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.

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Third world here we come.

More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)

More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.

The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.

[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”

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This is Brussels. Simple as that. The next crony case is already known in the person of Selmayr. More on that soon. There are a few decent people in Brussels, but they don’t have much time left.

European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)

An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.

She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.

[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..

The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”

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Abe had better leave while he can.

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)

A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.

Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…

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How to spell recovery.

Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)

Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.

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That EU-Turkey refugee deal looks darker by the minute. Dirty politics.

EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)

The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.

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No, really, it’s an industry.

The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)

Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.

My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.

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There are still a few smart people left.

Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.

This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”

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