Jul 282020
 
 July 28, 2020  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Migrant cotton picker’s children, live in government tent, Shafter Camp, CA 1938

 

Barr To Come Out Swinging In House Testimony (Solomon)
How Did Russia Get A Possible COVID19 Vaccine So Fast? (RT)
China Reports 68 New Coronavirus Cases, Including Two In Beijing (R.)
Mike Rowe Explains That Reality Is Going To Win With The Wuhan Virus (AT)
How The Eviction Crisis Across The US Will Look (CNBC)
The Insane Leading the Blind (Kunstler)
Assange Defence Team Concerned US is Seeking ‘Improper’ Delay of Case (Sp.)
Oil Giants Help Fund Powerful Police Groups In Top US Cities (G.)
Post-Brexit Agrochemical Apocalypse for the UK? (OffG)
CNN’s Stelter Breaches Confidentiality Agreement With Sandmann (Fox)
Emus Banned From Pub In Outback Australia Town (G.)
Facebook Vows To Break Up US Government Before It Becomes Too Powerful (Onion)

 

 

“Low” new cases for the world and US. US deaths also lower. We can hope and pray.

Biggest show in town is Bill Barr being grilled in the House. All conclusions have already been drawn in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest show in town today.

Barr To Come Out Swinging In House Testimony (Solomon)

Attorney General Bill Barr is planning a full-throated defense of his work inside the Justice Department and that of police nationwide when appearing before hostile House Democrats on Wednesday, condemning both the “bogus Russiagate scandal” and the senseless violence rocking U.S. cities. In prepared testimony released Tuesday evening on the eve of his House Judiciary Committee testimony, Barr declared that liberal activists’ “demonization of police is not only unfair and inconsistent with the principle that all people should be treated as individuals, but gravely injurious to our inner city communities.” “When a community turns on and pillories its own police, officers naturally become more risk averse and crime rates soar,” his prepared testimony states.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing that now in many of our major cities. This is a critical problem that exists apart from disagreements on other issues. The threat to black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct. The attorney general also lambastes liberal mayors for allowing serial violence to persist in their cities since George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and supporting efforts to undercut police department authorities and funding. “Unfortunately, some have chosen to respond to George Floyd’s death in a far less productive way — by demonizing the police, promoting slogans like ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards), and making grossly irresponsible proposals to defund the police,” he plans to tell lawmakers.

Later he adds, “To tacitly condone destruction and anarchy is to abandon the basic rule-of-law principles that should unite us even in a politically divisive time.” Barr also directly challenges Democrats’ claims he has been a lapdog for Trump, declaring the president has not interfered in his decisions. “My decisions on criminal matters before the Department have been my own, and they have been made because I believed they were right under the law and principles of justice,” he said. Barr suggested Democrats’ criticisms may be aimed at undercutting his efforts to investigate abuses in the now-discredited FBI investigation of Trump-Russia collusion.

“Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions,” Barr is set to testify. “Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today.”

Read more …

No way Big Pharma will tolerate such a thing.

How Did Russia Get A Possible COVID19 Vaccine So Fast? (RT)

This month, Moscow’s famed Sechenov University announced that the first phase of clinical trials for a vaccine had been a success. Some 38 volunteers who took part in human trials have been released with little or no side effects recorded. Researchers will now push forward, testing the vaccine’s efficiency, and prepping it for registration with the Health Ministry. Other prototypes are to follow, with some about to finish phase-one trials – which usually demonstrates the new vaccine’s safety for use in humans. It’s fairly easy to grasp why Russia is so keen to get a Covid-19 vaccine. Having reported more than 811,000 cases and 13,249 fatalities, it is among the five countries worst affected by the epidemic.

But how did it make a vaccine so fast, given that the coronavirus – or its deadly, crown-shaped SARS-CoV-2 strain – wasn’t known to scientists before 2020? Russia has over 20 years of experience in developing technology for producing vaccines. This helped to create the unique Covid-19 vaccine in a very short period of time by normal drug-development standards, Vadim Tarasov, head of Sechenov University’s Institute for Translational Medicine and Biotechnology, told RT Arabic in a comprehensive interview. “Nothing can be done from scratch,” he explained. Virologists at the Sechenov Institute and the Gamalei Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – another coronavirus research hub in Moscow – benefited from that “huge backlog” to decode the genome and structure of Covid-19 and quickly create a vaccine prototype.

The technology behind the Russian vaccine in question is based upon adenovirus, the common cold. Created artificially, the vaccine proteins replicate those of Covid-19 and trigger “an immune response similar to that caused by the coronavirus itself,” Tarasov revealed. In other words, getting immunized is slightly similar to having survived the coronavirus, but without its life-threatening risks. The vaccine, of course, won’t be a magical wand preventing everyone from getting sick. It may not stop the entire spread of coronavirus, but will make the symptoms much milder.

Read more …

Hong Kong over 100 several days in a row.

China Reports 68 New Coronavirus Cases, Including Two In Beijing (R.)

China reported 68 new coronavirus cases for July 27, up for the fourth consecutive day, including two in Beijing, the country’s health authority said on Tuesday. China is battling the most aggressive return of COVID-19 in months, driven by infections in the far western region of Xinjiang and a separate flare-up in the northeast. Of the new local infections for July 27, 57 were in Xinjiang, according to a statement by the National Health Commission. That brings the total number of cases in the region’s current outbreak to 235 since the first infection was reported on July 16. Xinjiang has yet to explain how patient zero, a 24-year-old woman who worked in a mall in its capital Urumqi, contracted the virus.


The northeastern province of Liaoning reported six new cases as of July 27. The current outbreak in Liaoning, which began on July 22, centred mostly on the port city of Dalian, east of Beijing. The first case in Dalian worked at a seafood processing company, and had not travelled out of the city in recent weeks. To contain the spread of the virus, Xinjiang and Dalian have tested millions of people for COVID-19, but the coronavirus is already on the move.

Read more …

Apparently many people experience panic and fear, induced by a faulty choice of media. I have no such thing. Maybe I should too. Rowe is mostly right. Get tested often, wear a mask where needed, and live your life. Rocket science it ain’t.

Mike Rowe Explains That Reality Is Going To Win With The Wuhan Virus (AT)

[..] for the last three months, I’ve been operating from the assumption that this is a year-round virus that’s eventually going to infect 100 million people and kill roughly 1/2 of one percent of those infected, conservatively. I’ve accepted those numbers. Unfortunately, millions of others have not. Many people have no sense of where this is headed, and I understand why. They’ve been betrayed by a hysterical media that insists on covering each new reported case as if it were the first case. Every headline today drips with dread, as the next doomed hotspot approaches the next “grim milestone.” And so, for a lot of people, everyday is Groundhogs Day. They’re paralyzed by the rising numbers because the numbers have no context. They don’t know where it will end.

But Dr. Osterholm says he does, and I’m persuaded that he’s correct. He might be wrong, and frankly, I hope he is, but either way, he’s presented us with a set of projections based on a logical analysis, and accepting those projections has allowed me to move past denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, and get on with my life with a better understanding of what the risks really are. Fact is, we the people can accept almost anything if we’re given the facts, and enough time to get evaluate the risk and make our own decisions. [..] don’t misunderstand. I’m not ignoring COVID, or downplaying COVID, or pretending the risks at hand aren’t real. Nor am I comparing COVID cases to car accidents – I’m simply comparing the fear of each to the other, and the fear that always accompanies uncertainty.

I don’t want to get this disease or give it to someone else, any more than I want to be in a car car wreck that injures someone else. But I’ve accepted certain things about the pandemic, and now, I’ve gotten used to the risk as I understand it. I take precautions. I get tested as often as I can, and if I can’t physically distance, I wear a mask – especially around higher risk people. Likewise, I wear a seatbelt, obey the speed limits, and check my mirrors before changing lanes.

Read more …

There’s an eviction stop in the new GOP proposal, far as I know.

How The Eviction Crisis Across The US Will Look (CNBC)

An unprecedented eviction crisis will soon hit the U.S. On Friday, the federal moratorium on evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing expired. The Urban Institute estimated that provision covered nearly 30% of the country’s rental units. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday that he would extend that moratorium, but these tenants are now unprotected from eviction. At the same time, some 25 million Americans will stop receiving the $600 weekly federal unemployment checks by July 31. And most of the statewide eviction moratoriums are winding down. The proceedings have resumed in more than 30 states. The moratorium in Hawaii and Illinois end this week, and in August, evictions will pick up in New York and Nevada.


By one estimate, some 40 million Americans could be evicted during the public health crisis. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. In 2016, there were 2.3 million evictions, Pollock said. “There could be that many evictions in August,” he said. Massive unemployment has left more than 40% of renter households at risk of eviction, according to a new analysis by global advisory firm Stout Risius Ross. Some states will be harder hit than others, Stout found. For example, nearly 60% of renters in West Virginia are at risk of eviction, compared to 22% in Vermont. People of color are especially vulnerable. While almost half of White tenants say they’re highly confident they can continue to pay their rent, just 26% of African-American tenants could say the same.

Read more …

But peacefully.

The Insane Leading the Blind (Kunstler)

In Louisville, Saturday, just after lunchtime, the self-styled Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC) was mustering for action and “inspecting firearms” (according to NFAC comandante Grand Master Jay) when one of said weapons accidently discharged and mowed down three NFAC warriors — nicely demonstrating the hazards of fucking around with loaded weapons. In Austin Saturday night, one feckless BLM mob marcher name of Garrett Foster brought his AK-47 to the street party. When he pointed it at a motorist trapped by the crowd, he got blown away to that great struggle session in the sky, the surprise of his life, I’m sure. In Portland, OR, police found a bag of loaded rifle magazines and Molotov cocktails in the nearby park that serves as the rioters’ marshaling yard. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler did not attend the evening’s frolics at the sore beset federal courthouse, having successfully subjected himself to ritual humiliation himself a few nights earlier. After midnight Sunday, police declared the Antifa actions “a riot” and made a few arrests.


Up Seattle way, a federal judge struck down the city council’s order against police using tear gas and pepper spray on rioters just in time for another weekend of rioting. SPD Chief Carmen Best declared, “In the spirit of offering trust and full transparency, I want to advise you that SPD officers will be carrying pepper spray and blast balls today, as would be typical for events that carry potential to include violence.” Hours later, after Antifas smashed the windows of ground-floor businesses, set fire to a construction site, and trashed the SPD’s East Precinct building, pepper spray and blast balls were deployed and forty-five of the mob were arrested (on rioting, assault, and other charges), while twenty-one SPD officers were injured. Down in LA, Antifas broke into the federal Bureau of Prisons Detention Center. In Richmond, VA, rioters set fire to a city dump truck used as a barrier to protect a police station.

Read more …

Next hearing August 14. “..despite its decade-long-head-start, the prosecution is still unable to build a coherent and credible case.”

Assange Defence Team Concerned US is Seeking ‘Improper’ Delay of Case (Sp.)

Julian Assange’s substantive extradition hearings are due to restart on 7 September at the Old Bailey, where it will be decided whether or not he should be sent the US to face up to 175 years in prison. Julian Assange’s defence team informed the court on 27 July 2020 that they fear Donald Trump’s administration may be seeking to delay the substantive extradition hearings until after the US elections in November 2020. Ed Fitzgerald QC attended the hearing in person for the first time since the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. He told Judge Vanessa Baraitser at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that he is “concerned at a fresh [indictment] being brought [by the US government] at this stage, with the potential consequence to de-rail the proceedings”.

Mr Fitzgerald expressed his worry that the US attorney general is “doing this for political purposes” and suspected there is “some manipulation or some political motivation” on the part of the US authorities, something which he said would be wholly “improper”. The judge refused to discuss the matter further because the prosecution has, to date, failed to formally submit the superseding indictment upon the court. Joel Smith, the barrister who attended the hearing on behalf of the prosecution, told the court that he would “not able to commit to any time table” in terms of the second superseding indictment being formally served on the court and that it would “have to go through the usual channels” before he could say any more.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, followed the hearing remotely from Iceland. He told Sputnik that “the political nature of the entire thing is becoming more and more clear to everybody”. He described as “absolutely unacceptable” the fact that the US administration has failed to serve the second superseding indictment onto the court. “We were at least expecting this to be served in the court today and the fact that the judge has only heard of it through email exchange from the defence is of course outrageous”, Mr Hrafnsson continued. “The ‘new’ superseding indictment actually contains nothing new. All the alleged events have been known to the prosecution for years. It contains no new charges. What’s really happening here is that despite its decade-long-head-start, the prosecution is still unable to build a coherent and credible case.”, Mr Hrafnsson also said.

[..] Judge Baraitser listed the next call-over hearing for 14 August and confirmed that the second part of Julian Assange’s substantive extradition hearings should begin on 7 September at the Old Bailey. Judge Baraitser said she expected the entire process to last three weeks though Mr Fitzgerald reminded her that the defence had previously stated that they would likely require a fourth week given the latest developments in the case.

Read more …

Climate and racism at the same time. Sounds very convenient. So who else is funding the police?

Oil Giants Help Fund Powerful Police Groups In Top US Cities (G.)

Big corporations accused of driving environmental and health inequalities in black and brown communities through toxic and climate-changing pollution are also funding powerful police groups in major US cities, according to a new investigation. Some of America’s largest oil and gas companies, private utilities, and financial institutions that bankroll fossil fuels also back police foundations – opaque private entities that raise money to pay for training, weapons, equipment, and surveillance technology for departments across the US. The investigation by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government accountability research institute, and its research database project LittleSis, details how police foundations in cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Washington, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are partially funded by household names such as Chevron, Shell and Wells Fargo.

Police foundations are industry groups that provide substantial funds to local departments, yet, as nonprofits, avoid much public scrutiny. The investigation details how firms linked to fossil fuels also sponsor events and galas that celebrate the police, while some have senior staff serving as directors of police foundations. The report portrays the fossil fuel industry as a common enemy in the struggle for racial and environmental justice. “Many powerful companies that drive environmental injustice are also backers of the same police departments that tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors pollute,” it states.

[..] Carroll Muffett, the president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said: “This report sheds a harsh light on the ways police violence and systemic racism intersect with the climate crisis.” A spokeswoman for Chevron said the firm is a “good neighbor” wherever it operates. “Across the world, Chevron invests millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours on numerous programs and partnerships, helping communities improve their lives, achieve their aspirations and meet their full potential.”

Read more …

“It is the industry that does the testing.”

Post-Brexit Agrochemical Apocalypse for the UK? (OffG)

The British government, regulators and global agrochemical corporations are colluding with each other and are thus engaging in criminal behaviour. That’s the message put forward in a new report written by environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason and sent to the UK Environment Agency. It follows her January 2019 open letter to Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer CropScience, where she made it clear to him that she considers Bayer CropScience and Monsanto criminal corporations. Her letter to Baumann outlined a cocktail of corporate duplicity, cover-ups and criminality which the public and the environment are paying the price for, not least in terms of the effects of glyphosate. Later in 2019, Mason wrote to Bayer Crop Science shareholders, appealing to them to put human health and nature ahead of profit and to stop funding Bayer.

Mason outlined with supporting evidence how the gradual onset of the global extinction of many species is largely the result of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. She argued that Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide and Bayer’s clothianidin are largely responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and that the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoid insecticides are wiping out wildlife species across the globe. In February 2020, Mason wrote the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. She noted that PM Boris Johnson plans to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards.

In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, Johnson talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations. Mason pondered just who could be pulling Johnson’s strings. A big clue came in February 2019 at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector where UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of Bayer Crop Science. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made the priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known.

Dave Bench was also a speaker. Bench is a senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan and has previously stated that the regulatory system for pesticides is robust and balances the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society. In an open letter to Bench, Mason responded: “That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.”

Read more …

Pending suits vs “ABC, CBS, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, NPR, Slate, The Hill, and Gannett, which owns the Cincinnati Enquirer, as well as miscellaneous other small outfits”.

CNN’s Stelter Breaches Confidentiality Agreement With Sandmann (Fox)

CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter may have landed himself in hot water, according to the attorney of Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann. Last week, Sandmann announced that The Washington Post settled the $250 million defamation lawsuit he filed over its botched coverage of a viral confrontation with a Native American elder that had portrayed the Kentucky teen as the aggressor. This followed the multi-million dollar settlement CNN made with the teenager back in January. However, Sandmann’s attorney Lin Wood spotted a retweet from Stelter of a tweet written by attorney Mark Zaid, who speculated about how much money the teen walked away with from the settlement.

“Those with zero legal experience (as far as I can tell) should not be conjecturing on lawsuits they know nothing about. What kind of journalism is that?” Zaid asked. “I’ve litigated defamation cases. [Sandmann] was undoubtedly paid nuisance value settlement & nothing more.” Wood accused the “Reliable Sources” host of breaching his network’s own confidentiality agreement with his client. “This retweet by @brianstelter may have cost him his job at @CNN. It is called breach of confidentiality agreement. Brian Stelter is a liar. I know how to deal with liars,” Wood tweeted with a screenshot of Stelter’s retweet. Sandmann knocked the media guru, tweeting “Brian Stelter just can’t learn some basic lessons over at CNN.”

“I can’t decide if it’s worse to be Brian Stelter or believe Brian Stelter. He was never in any court hearing or meeting I was. So why does he act like he knows anything?” Sandmann added. CNN analyst Asha Rangappa appeared to agree with Zaid as well. “I’d guess $25K to go away,” Rangappa wrote. Responding to Rangappa’s tweet, Wood wrote “Heads are going to roll at CNN or @N1ckSandmann is going to filing another lawsuit & reveal truth.” Wood leveled a similar charge against Washington Post reporter Dan Zak, who suggested on Friday that the Post settled “for a small amount… in order to avoid a more expensive trial,” later adding that it’s the “American way.”

Read more …

This is the sort of indepth quality reporting we want to see from the Guardian. They suck at everything else anyway.

Emus Banned From Pub In Outback Australia Town (G.)

It can’t be easy being an emu in outback Australia at the best of times what with the heat and the perennial droughts. But to be banned from your local pub for bad behaviour must now be added to the list of grievances inflicted upon the big birds. Such is the problem Kevin and Carol – two emus in Yaraka, south of Longreach in western Queensland – now face after an edict was passed down by the only hotel in town last week. Gerry Gimblett, who owns the Yaraka Hotel with her husband Chris, told Guardian Australia they were left with no other option after the birds’ recent “bad behaviour”. “They’ve been stealing things from the guests, especially their food. They’d stick their heads in and pinch toast out of the toaster,” Gimblett explained.

“But the main reason we’ve banned them is their droppings. They’re enormous, very large and very smelly, and they created great stains,” she said. Gimblett, who took over the pub after she retired as a teacher, installed a barrier – a piece of rope – across the hotel’s entrances last week after the “much-loved” emus began entering the pub and disrupting patrons. Gimblett said the emus had become a tourist attraction after several eggs were hatched at the end of 2018, and while at one point there were nine emus in town, most had wandered away from town or been hit in accidents. Just two large emus remain, Kevin and Carol, who circle the area around the pub.


[..] Despite the emu population shrinking to just two, Gimblett said they remained noticeable given there “are only about 16 other” human residents in Yaraka, which is about a 13-hour drive west of Queensland’s capital, Brisbane. “We love them as part of the Yaraka community, but they’re not welcome inside any more.”

Read more …

“Zuckerberg closed his remarks with repeated assurances that despite a likely legal battle ahead, no one government could stand up to the fortitude of Facebook.”

Facebook Vows To Break Up US Government Before It Becomes Too Powerful (Onion)

In an effort to curtail the organization’s outsized influence, Facebook announced Monday that it would be implementing new steps to ensure the breakup of the U.S. government before it becomes too powerful. “It’s long past time for us to take concrete actions against this behemoth of governance that has gone essentially unchecked since its inception,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, noting that while the governing body may have begun with good intentions, its history showed a culture of recklessness and a dangerous disregard for the consequences of its decisions. “Unfortunately, those at the top have been repeatedly contemptuous of the very idea of accountability or reform, and our only remaining course is to separate the government into smaller chunks to prevent it from forming an even stronger monopoly over the public.” Zuckerberg closed his remarks with repeated assurances that despite a likely legal battle ahead, no one government could stand up to the fortitude of Facebook.

Read more …

 

 

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Jun 262020
 
 June 26, 2020  Posted by at 11:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  47 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Depression refugee family from Tulsa, Oklahoma 1936

 

US Coronavirus Cases ‘May Have Topped 20 Million’ (BBC)
Pompeo Says US, EU Working To Resume Trans-Atlantic Travel (R.)
House Defense Bill Targets Troop Drawdowns In Africa, South Korea (Hill)
No More Crossing Borders For Work (Salmon)
The Fed Said It Could Supply $2.3 Trillion. It Hasn’t Come Close So Far (CNBC)
Parents To Sue Trump, Meme Creator Carpe Donktum Over Manipulated Video Of Toddlers
Why Joe Biden Can Do No Wrong (Turley)
Bayer Wants To Resolve Future Roundup Liability In A Class Action (R.)
New Assange Indictment Only Adds ‘Window Dressing’ to ‘Continue Smear Campaign’ (Sp.)
Doctors for Assange: UK Officials May be Legally Culpable for His Torture (CN)

 

 

Say what you will, but that virus is not sitting still, got to give it that. And as for us, we’re either not sitting still enough, or we’re making the wrong moves.

And I still can’t decide what I find scarier, that or the fast deteriorating political and media climate stateside.

Worldometer reports new cases for June 25 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 179,718.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New cases past 24 hours in:

• US + 41,317
• Brazil + 40,673
• India + 17,720

 

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is where you say all bets are off, I guess.

US Coronavirus Cases ‘May Have Topped 20 Million’ (BBC)

At least 20 million people in the US may already have been infected with Covid-19, according to the latest estimate by health officials. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the true number of cases is likely to be 10 times higher than the reported figure. It comes as the state of Texas halted its reopening as infections and hospitalisations surged. The US has recorded 2.4m confirmed infections and 122,370 deaths. Some southern and western states have been reporting record numbers of cases in recent days. The University of Washington predicts 180,000 US deaths by October – or 146,000 if 95% of Americans wear masks.

“Our best estimate right now is that for every case that was reported, there actually were 10 other infections,” CDC Director Dr Robert Redfield told reporters. This was because testing was restricted to people with symptoms and asymptomatic carriers were not tested, he said. “We probably recognized about 10% of the outbreak by the methods that we use to diagnosis between the March, April and May,” he said. Dr Redfield said that between 5% and 8% of the population had been exposed to the virus and urged Americans to keep social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands. “As we go into the fall, in the winter, these are going to be really, really important defence mechanisms,” he said.

[Texas], which has been at the forefront of moves to end lockdown measures, has seen thousands of new cases, prompting Republican Governor Greg Abbott to call a temporary halt to its reopening. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business,” he said. Texas confirmed a record 5,996 new cases on Thursday. There were also 47 new deaths, the highest daily toll for a month. The state has also seen record number of people requiring hospital treatment for 13 days in a row. Elective surgery has been suspended in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio areas to free up beds. More than 10% of the tests carried out over the past week have come back positive. All but 12 of the state’s 254 counties have reported cases.

Read more …

Yeah, Europeans can’t wait to invite a bunch of infected Usaians to their homes.

Pompeo Says US, EU Working To Resume Trans-Atlantic Travel (R.)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down concerns Thursday that the European Union might refuse to allow Americans into the 27-nation bloc as it considers lifting restrictions on overseas travelers starting next week, due to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States. “It’s a challenge for all of us to decide how and when to open up our economies and our societies. Everybody’s trying to figure that out,” Pompeo said during a videoconference organized by the German Marshall Fund think tank. “We’re working with our European counterparts to get that right.” European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1. Their envoys to Brussels are debating what virus-related criteria should apply when lifting entry restrictions on travelers from outside the EU that were imposed in March.

As the criteria are narrowed down, a list of countries whose citizens might be allowed in is being drawn up. The list would be updated every 14 days based on how the coronavirus is spreading around the world. The EU’s executive commission recommends that “travel restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where the situation is worse” than the average in the 27 EU member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. That is likely to rule out people living in the United States, where new coronavirus infections have surged to the highest level in two months, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Beyond epidemiological concerns, any country being considered would first be expected to lift its own travel restrictions on visitors from all 31 European nations. This would also rule out the US. In a March 11 decree, President Donald Trump suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel area. More than 10 million Europeans usually visit the United States each year.

Read more …

The war party has two wings.

House Defense Bill Targets Troop Drawdowns In Africa, South Korea (Hill)

The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill seeks to put roadblocks on withdrawing U.S. troops from Africa and South Korea. The so-called chairman’s mark of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – the version of the bill drafted by Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) – would require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the effects, implications and costs of a troop drawdown in Africa on military, diplomatic, development and humanitarian efforts. It would also require a report on the effects of a drawdown within 90 days if the number of troops dips below 80 percent of current force posture.

Reports first surfaced earlier this year that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was eying slashing the number of U.S. troops in Africa as part of a global review of U.S. force posture to redirect troops to counter Russia and China. He later confirmed he was considering a reduction but insisted it would not be a full withdrawal. The plan received bipartisan backlash from lawmakers who argued the troops are needed not only to fight terrorism, but also to serve as a buttress against Russian and Chinese efforts to increase their influence in Africa.

More recently, President Trump announced he plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Germany. Trump has framed the drawdown as a punitive measure in response to Germany not meeting NATO’s defense spending goal, while national security advisor Robert O’Brien argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed the forces are needed in the Indo-Pacific region.

Read more …

Picked this from Felix Salmon for this crazy stat:

“..pre-coronavirus Apple was buying 50 business class seats per day just from San Francisco to Shanghai…”

No More Crossing Borders For Work (Salmon)

Another area where there’s no sign of any recovery is in the movement of workers across borders, especially when it comes to movement in and out of the U.S. Why it matters: Multinational U.S. corporations are built on international travel. Apple spends $150 million a year on air travel, for instance, and pre-coronavirus was buying 50 business class seats per day just from San Francisco to Shanghai. That level of investment in cross-border ties helped to create a company that’s now worth $1.6 trillion. Driving the news: U.S. borders remain shut to travelers from China and Europe. There are only eight flights per week between the U.S. and China; the United Airlines SFO-SHA route where Apple used to spend $35 million a year currently has no flights at all. The EU is almost certain to ban U.S. travelers when it reopens on July 1. And Donald Trump has banned thousands of nonimmigrant workers from entering the country this year.

Read more …

Because it only supports member banks.

The program is too complicated on purpose: the banks all have legal departments that have no trouble deciphering it.

The Fed Said It Could Supply $2.3 Trillion. It Hasn’t Come Close So Far (CNBC)

When the coronavirus pandemic locked up capital markets and pulled the economy into recession, the Federal Reserve took aim with a $2.3 trillion bazooka to try to help. Thus far, though, the central bank has only fired off surprisingly few rounds. In the three months since a slew of programs were announced, the Fed has loaned out just $143 billion, or a mere 6.2% of its total firepower. The most ambitious initiative, the Main Street Lending Program, has yet to make a loan, according to the most recent Fed balance sheet data, though officials expect that to change in a matter of days.

As for the rest of the measures, from municipal lending to corporate credit to the Fed’s role in the Paycheck Protection Program, there are several likely explanations for why what was supposed to be an infusion of cash into the economy instead has been a comparative trickle. One is simply that the programs, particularly in the case of Main Street, are complicated and have proven difficult to launch as the Fed gathers feedback and works through logistics. Another is that there is simply less demand from entities that are finding other ways to make do. And on that same point, the notion that the U.S. economy is recovering more quickly than expected from a recession that began in February has negated the need for the arsenal that the Fed launched starting in March.

“The economy is getting better, so you’re not seeing as many firms short of cash as you’d seen in March and April,” said Yiming Ma, an assistant finance professor at Columbia University Business School. “Some of the terms are just not very attractive to firms who potentially do need the funds.”

Read more …

Newsflash: we don’t all have the same kind of humor. But this goes very far.

Parents To Sue Trump, Meme Creator Carpe Donktum Over Manipulated Video Of Toddlers

The parents of two toddlers featured in a manipulated video posted on social media by President Donald Trump plan to file a lawsuit against the president, his campaign and the creator of the video, pro-Trump meme creator Carpe Donktum, escalating the fallout from the doctored video, which was taken down by Facebook and Twitter. Lawyers representing the parents of the children featured in the video are drafting a lawsuit alleging the video was altered and shared as an “advertisement and political propaganda” without permission or parental consent. Logan Cook, who goes by the username Carpe Donktum, altered footage of the two children in which one, who is Black, is running away from the other, who is white, and added a fake CNN chyron reading “Terrified toddler runs away from racist baby.”

The original clip, which went viral last year, actually shows the two toddlers running up to each other and hugging. (The edited video appears to be a satirical attempt criticize how the media takes statements out of context and reports on race.) Both Facebook and Twitter took the video down after the parents of the children filed a copyright complaint, and before that Twitter labeled the video “manipulated media.” Twitter late Tuesday permanently banned Cook for repeated copyright violations.

“The fact that Twitter and Facebook disabled this fake video within 24 hours of President Trump and his campaign tweeting it, coupled with Twitter permanently banning Cook, is very strong evidence that a jury will likely find that all of these people broke the law by using this video as advertisement and political propaganda,” said Ven Johnson, one of the attorneys representing the parents. Cook’s work is frequently shared by Trump, and the president reportedly called him a “genius” when he visited the White House last year. Twitter previously suspended Cook for eight days after he posted an edited video showing Trump as a cowboy attacking CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Facebook and Twitter usually leave controversial posts from world leaders online, though Twitter has taken to labeling tweets with misinformation or those that “glorify violence” in recent weeks. But there’s one rule even world leaders can’t break: copyright. In October last year, another video posted by Trump featuring a Nickelback song was taken down after a copyright notice was filed. And earlier that year Twitter took down another video that included music from the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises without permission.

Read more …

It’s going to be an absolutely crazy election.

Why Joe Biden Can Do No Wrong (Turley)

In the 11th century, Pope Urban II formalized the use of indulgences, which could be purchased to forgive sins. A papal bull of the Crusade accompanied those who fought in the Holy Land and committed atrocities in the name of a higher order. The practice was defended as essentially drawing from the “treasury of merit” created by Jesus Christ, the saints and the faithful. Now the 2020 election has become the ultimate crusade, and President Trump’s critics seem to be enjoying indulgences in tossing aside moral and ethical considerations. The freedom that is Biden is nowhere more evident than in a recent column by The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, who wrote about the allegations of sexual assault made by former Biden staffer Tara Reade.

Pollitt dispensed with any struggle over feminist or moral qualms, declaring, “I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them.” As Pollitt explained, “We do not have the luxury of sitting out the election to feel morally pure or send a message about sexual assault and #BelieveWomen.” Otherwise, Pollitt would have to deal with her column during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, in which she denounced “some of his defenders [who] seem to be saying that even if the allegations are true, it shouldn’t really matter.” For years, critics have expressed disgust at Trump’s statement that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Yet they now afford Biden the same immunity even if he turns into the ancient god Cronus and starts snacking on boiled babies. The same indulgence has been claimed by politicians and commentators in dealing with other Biden allegations of sexual assault. Many of them demanded during the Kavanaugh controversy that all women must simply be believed when alleging sexual harassment. Those who questioned the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford were denounced for insensitivity, if not complicity, in the abuse of women. Today, some of us have said that Biden has the stronger case thus far, but we still support an investigation.

Yet many Kavanaugh critics quickly declared Biden to be innocent and opposed any search of his records — including those under lock and key at the University of Delaware — for any allegations of sexual abuse. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) simply cut off questions by testily declaring, “I don’t need a lecture” when confronted with her prior statements. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) declared she sees no need for an investigation because she knows Biden and believes him, adding that she resented being asked about it as a victim of sexual assault. She cut off questions from CNN’s Jake Tapper by saying, “And you know what? That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Read more …

They sponsor a legal panel that absolves them from most future claims. How sick is that?

Bayer Wants To Resolve Future Roundup Liability In A Class Action (R.)

The headlines Wednesday in the mass tort litigation over Bayer’s Roundup weedkiller were all about the company’s decision to pay as much as $9.6 billion – a lot of money! – to settle about 94,000 suits alleging that Roundup is associated with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. But the bigger news, at least for this case’s impact on mass tort litigation, may be in a novel proposal to address all future claims against Bayer. If the mechanism – a class action to determine threshold issues of causation while preserving plaintiffs’ individual rights to sue – ends up winning court approval, it’s going to change the way defendants buy global peace in these sprawling cases.

The Roundup future claims settlement is via a newly-filed prospective class action on behalf of everyone who was exposed to Roundup but has not hired a lawyer to bring a tort claim. (There are subclasses for people who already have cancer and those who don’t.) In a simultaneously-filed motion for preliminary approval of the settlement of the new class action, Bayer and plaintiffs lawyers from Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Audet & Partners and The Dugan Law Firm agreed to establish a panel of five scientific experts to decide the threshold questions of whether Roundup can cause cancer and, if so, at what levels of exposure. (For the true class action nerds: The settlement calls for the certification of an issues class to resolve the predominant common question of causation.)

The panel, which Reuters described Wednesday as “a calculated gamble” for Bayer, has at least four years to reach a determination, which is binding on all class members. After the panel’s decision, class members will be free to bring individual tort claims, with the caveat that those threshold causation and exposure questions have already been decided.

In the meantime, Bayer will put up $1.1 billion for diagnostic services for the class and for assistance to class members who develop cancer during the years before the scientific panel’s decision. The proposed settlement features an incredibly elaborate notice program to get the word out to prospective class members, taking into account that the class includes agricultural workers who may not speak English or have permanent residences. Class members have 150 days from the launch of the notice program to opt out of the class. As part of the settlement, future claimants will give up the right to seek punitive damages and medical monitoring fees in individual suits following the scientific panel’s causation decision.

Read more …

The shame of our generation.

New Assange Indictment Only Adds ‘Window Dressing’ to ‘Continue Smear Campaign’ (Sp.)

A US federal grand jury has unveiled a new superseding indictment against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange. However, the filing brings no new charges. A journalist told Sputnik that what Assange does is no different from other reporters and the indictment is an attempt to sour Assange’s name in the media again. “It’s a continuation of the smear campaign against this man, to turn public opinion against him,” Joe Lauria, the editor in chief of Consortium News and author of the book “How I Lost, By Hillary Clinton,” told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Thursday. “It’s started to turn for him in certain instances recently, so the timing of this is interesting.” Lauria characterized the new accusations as “window dressing,” noting much of the document is simply a recapitulation of the previous charges against Assange.

According to the US Department of Justice’s Wednesday news release announcing the indictment, the new accusations “broaden the scope of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Assange was previously charged,” alleging he worked with hacker groups like Anonymous and LulzSec to gain access to classified files that WikiLeaks then published. “This is new: they write negatively about him helping [former NSA analyst-turned-whistleblower Edward] Snowden to get out of Hong Kong and that Assange had booked various other flights for Snowden to provide a diversion, so that he could get out on the one he did,” Lauria noted. “But there’s no charge of ‘aiding a fugitive to get away’ or anything like that, so that’s just thrown in there. We don’t know why.”

“The real essence is, as you say, the details to broaden this first indictment against him, which was for computer intrusion. And, essentially, it says that Assange directed hackers to get material. For example, one example is the recordings of high-level NATO officials, telephone calls that he wanted; also members of parliament of a NATO nation that is apparently Iceland.” Lauria said that to understand if this is a crime or not, he turns to investigative journalist Robert Parry, who founded Consortium News. Lauria noted a piece Parry wrote in 2010, anticipating Washington’s line of attack against Assange, in which he said that what Assange had done was no different than what he did as an investigative reporter, including encouraging sources to give information, and even to commit a small crime in order to prevent a larger one.

“This is key, because here we have in this expanded, superseding indictment, that Assange somehow committed a conspiracy with these hackers to get this information,” Lauria said. “Now, first of all, he’s not being accused of doing the hacking himself; he is accused of encouraging or directing – but not for money, by the way – these hackers to get documents and other materials that he wanted. So maybe two crimes are being committed there: one being the hack, and two, the unauthorized release of information. But Assange is not directly involved, so he’s doing what Bob Parry said he did as a reporter, and that was to get your source to commit a small crime [in order] to prevent a larger one. An example of that is Assange getting from [former US Army analyst Chelsea] Manning the ‘Collateral Murder’ video … the idea being to try to end the illegal war in Iraq,” Lauria told Sputnik.

Read more …

But doctors are not lawyers.

Doctors for Assange: UK Officials May be Legally Culpable for His Torture (CN)

Doctors have warned that UK officials could be held accountable for the torture of Julian Assange in an open letter published in The Lancet on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The 216 undersigned physicians and psychologists from 33 countries have accused UK and U.S. government officials of intensifying Julian Assange’s psychological torture in spite of the world’s leading authorities on human rights and international law calling for his immediate release from prison. Clinical Psychologist and Australian co-author of the publication, ‘The ongoing torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange’, Dr Lissa Johnson said the failure to properly treat Mr Assange may amount to an act of torture in which state officials, from parliament to court to prison, risk being judged complicit.

“Our letter is published just two days after the US Department of Justice announced a new superseding indictment against Assange representing yet another escalation in psychological torture tactics,” said Dr Johnson. “Introducing extra charges at this late stage, right before the defence evidence deadline and over a year after the indictment deadline, when documents given to the prison generally take two weeks to be passed on, when he has not been supplied with a computer and when he is unable to meet with lawyers under Coronavirus lockdown, serves to ramp up his helplessness jn the face of threat and is a key psychological torture tactic,” she said.

The doctors note that torture is prohibited under UK law, warning that UK officials could be judged “complicit”, including for their “silent acquiescence and consent”. They write that Assange at medical risk due to escalating abuses of his “fundamental human and legal rights at the hands of judicial, prison, and contracted security authorities”. The letter follows Julian Assange’s failure to attend four court hearings in a row on medical grounds. The authors charge UK and US authorities with “collective persecution and judicial harassment” in which “Mr Assange has been unable to engage in his own defence or even participate in his own hearings.”

A copy of the Lancet letter has been sent to the UK Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland. It coincides with two open letters to Buckland from 36 members of the European Parliament and 11 current and former politicians from 9 nations, calling for Julian Assange’s immediate release on bail in light of Covid-19, which places him “at grave medical risk” given his medical history, including persistent respiratory issues, the doctors warn. In a 60 Minutes Australia interview on Sunday night, Julian Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, stressed that Julian Assange is “very unwell”, expressing her fears that he may not survive.

Read more …

 

 

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Jun 242020
 
 June 24, 2020  Posted by at 12:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  34 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Arkansas flood refugee family near Memphis, Texas 1937

 

80% of COVID19 Cases In The US Went Undetected In March (CNN)
What the US Stock Market Looks Like Minus APPL, MSFT, AMZN, GOOG, FB (WS)
Putin Reviews Military Parade On Eve Of Vote That Could Extend His Rule (R.)
‘The Skripal Case And The Decline Of Russia’s Spy Agencies (G.)
Johnson And May Ignored Claims Russia Had ‘Likely Hold’ Over Trump (G.)
Siberia Is On Fire And Off The Charts (Canary)
Bayer Pays $10 Billion To Settle Thousands Of Monsanto Glyphosate Lawsuits (ZH)

 

 

It’s still a bit of a battle to get started again, as you can see, but we’ll get there. All day yesterday for instance my head was much more occupied with the banning of Mark Twain and Harper Lee than with corona. But I already wrote about To KIll A Mockingbird.

 

 

Worldometer reports new cases for June 23 (midnight to midnight GMT+0) at + 162,994 .

 

 

As Texas, where our resident GP is located, continues to surge:

 

 

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-:

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

But how about now?

80% of COVID19 Cases In The US Went Undetected In March (CNN)

A new study suggests that as many as 8.7 million Americans came down with coronavirus in March, but more than 80% of them were never diagnosed. A team of researchers looked at the number of people who went to doctors or clinics with influenza-like illnesses that were never diagnosed as coronavirus, influenza or any of the other viruses that usually circulate in winter. There was a giant spike in these cases in March, the researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. “The findings support a scenario where more than 8.7 million new SARS-CoV-2 infections appeared in the U.S. during March and estimate that more than 80% of these cases remained unidentified as the outbreak rapidly spread,” Justin Silverman of Penn State University, Alex Washburne of Montana State University and colleagues at Cornell University and elsewhere, wrote.

Only 100,000 cases were officially reported during that time period, and the US still reports only 2.3 million cases as of Monday. But there was a shortage of coronavirus testing kits at the time. The team used data collected from each state by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for influenza-like illness. The CDC uses this data to track the annual seasonal flu epidemic. It asks doctors to report all cases of people coming in for treatment for fever, cough and other symptoms caused by influenza. “We found a clear, anomalous surge in influenza-like illness (ILI) outpatients during the COVID-19 epidemic that correlated with the progression of the epidemic in multiple states across the US,” Silverman and colleagues wrote.

“The surge of non-influenza ILI outpatients was much larger than the number of confirmed cases in each state, providing evidence of large numbers of probable symptomatic COVID-19 cases that remained undetected.”

Read more …

Makes me think of playing Monopoly.

What the US Stock Market Looks Like Minus APPL, MSFT, AMZN, GOOG, FB (WS)

The market capitalization of the five largest stocks combined – the “Giant 5:” Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, and Facebook – rose to a new record today of $6.18 trillion. Since their combined low point on March 16, their market capitalization has soared by 51%. That’s an increase of $2.1 trillion in a little over three months. Since January 2017, my Giant 5 index has soared by 164% (market cap data via YCharts):

So how big did they get? The overall stock market capitalization, as measured by the Wilshire 5000 Market Cap Index tracking 3,451 US-listed companies, ticked up to $31.8 trillion, up by 41.6% from its low on March 23. Today, the “Giant 5” accounted for 19.4% of the total US stock market capitalization, as measured by the Wilshire 5000, a new record. On January 3, 2017, the Giant 5 had accounted for 10% of the Wilshire 5000. In the three months since the crash in March, the share of the Giant 5 has soared from abound 16% to 19.4% today (Wilshire 5000 data via YCharts):

Let’s take the five largest stocks out of the largest stock market in the world, with 3,451 companies, and see what’s left over. What’s left over is now valued at $25.7 trillion. It’s up by 28.4% from the March 23 low, and while that’s till strong for a three-month rally, it’s a far cry from the 51% for the Giant 5. And here is the thing: All these companies combined, minus the “Giant 5,” are way below their peak in February 2020, and below a whole bunch of other dates before then, and below where they’d first been in at the end of January 2018. For the entire rest of the stock market – all its winners and losers combined – minus the “Giant 5” the period since January 2018 was a very rough and unpleasant ride to nowhere. It declined 1%. You would have been better off putting your money in one of those despicable freaking savings accounts:

Seen the other way around: If you had shorted on January 26, 2018, the entire stock market minus the “Giant 5,” you would have had a wild unpleasant ride and made 1%. But if you had shorted the “Giant 5” over the same period, you would have lost 70%. This is how dependent the stock market, and broad portfolios reflecting it, have become on the Giant 5. It’s not that there aren’t a bunch of other companies that have gained as much or more than the Big 5 in percentage terms – there are – but in dollar terms, and in weight in the market, they just don’t measure up to these five giants. Apple and Microsoft both are now worth over $1.5 trillion. Amazon is at nearly $1.4 trillion, Alphabet at $1.0 trillion. These are gigantic valuations. They also speak of an immense concentration of power in a single company.

Read more …

Russia holds its parade to honor the victims of WWII. The western press needs to make that look sinister. As Putin simply calls for cooperation. He must have sinister reasons for doing so.

Putin Reviews Military Parade On Eve Of Vote That Could Extend His Rule (R.)

President Vladimir Putin reviewed a spectacular Red Square military parade on Wednesday, a patriotic display critics said was designed to lift his lower-than-usual ratings on the eve of a nationwide vote that could extend his rule until 2036. Putin watched as intercontinental ballistic missile launchers trundled past, nuclear-capable bombers flew overhead, and columns of tanks and over 14,000 troops, including some from allies like China, marched past under hot sunshine. The parade, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War Two victory over the Nazis, was postponed from May 9 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, but critics said it was still irresponsible to go ahead with it.

The Kremlin dismissed that assertion, saying new daily infections, though still in the thousands, were on the wane, especially in the Russian capital, the original epicentre of the outbreak, and that all safety precautions were taken. Volunteers gave masks and gloves to those watching on Red Square and ordered them to sit two seats apart. Putin, flanked by veterans, did not wear a mask, but people around him had been tested for the coronavirus, including veterans quarantined at a resort outside Moscow beforehand. Thousands of people thronged Moscow’s streets to watch tanks roll through the city on what was a public holiday. Putin struck a conciliatory tone towards the West, despite complaining beforehand about what he called attempts by some European countries to rewrite history.

He said Moscow would never forget the contribution made by the Soviet Union’s wartime allies, including their opening of a second front in 1944. Putin also made an indirect reference to his desire for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to hold a summit to try to tackle the world’s problems. “We are open to dialogue and cooperation on the most current international questions,” said Putin. “Among them is the creation of a reliable and general system of security, which the complex fast-changing modern world needs. Only together can we defend it from new dangerous threats,” he said.

Read more …

“A Chain Of Stupidity” is what Assange smearer Luke Harding sees in Russia’s intelligence. But the smart folks at Atlantic Council-sponsored Bellingcat will save us from their stupidity. By claiming that Assad conducted chemical attacks on his people. By claiming that Russia downed MH17.

‘The Skripal Case And The Decline Of Russia’s Spy Agencies (G.)

A man named Eliot Higgins was following events in Libya, too – not from the front line, but from his home in the east Midlands. Specifically, from his sofa. It was a safer place to be – and, as it turned out, as good a perch as any from which to analyse the conflict, and to consider questions that, in the heat of battle, were interesting, but seemingly unanswerable. Questions such as: where did the rebels get their arms? Higgins recalls growing up as a shy “nerd”. According to his brother Ross, Higgins was an obsessive gamer and early computer enthusiast. He liked Lego, played Pong on an antediluvian 1980s Atari and was a fan of Dungeons and Dragons. He spent hours immersed in the online roleplay game World of Warcraft, where participants pooled skills and collaborated across virtual borders. His instincts were completist: he wanted to finish and win the game. This would prove useful later on.

Higgins tried for a career in journalism and enrolled on a media studies course in Southampton. It didn’t work out, and he left without a degree. Next, he earned a living via a series of unlikely administrative jobs. One day Higgins logged on to the Guardian’s Middle East live blog. Libya was the centre of international attention. Higgins made his own contributions to the comment section of the Guardian blog, using the name Brown Moses – taken from a Frank Zappa song. The blog often featured videos uploaded by anti-regime fighters. There was fierce debate as to whether these images were authentic or bogus.

One such video showed a newly captured town. The rebels claimed it was Tiji, a sleepy settlement with a barracks that had been recently bombed by Nato jets, close to the border with Tunisia, and on the strategic main road leading to Tripoli. There was a mosque, a white road and a few little buildings with trees around them. The video showed a rebel-driven tank rolling noisily down a two-lane highway. There were utility poles. Higgins used satellite images to see if he could identify the settlement and thereby win the discussion. The features were sufficiently distinctive for him to be able to prove he was correct: the town was Tiji. “I’m very argumentative,” he says. It was the first time he had used geolocation tools. He realised he could collect user-generated videos and later work out exactly where they had been filmed.

Read more …

Ah, Harding has a new book out and that needs to be promoted. So let’s use the Steele Dossier for that. Its credibility hasn’t survived Mueller, but who in Britain knows that? Just throw in that Russia especially hates Britain, that’ll do it.

Johnson And May Ignored Claims Russia Had ‘Likely Hold’ Over Trump (G.)

Boris Johnson and Theresa May ignored claims the Kremlin had a “likely hold” over Donald Trump and may have covertly funded Brexit, the former spy Christopher Steele alleges in secret evidence given to MPs who drew up the Russia report. In testimony to MPs, the MI6 veteran accused the government led by May and in which Johnson was foreign secretary for two years of turning a blind eye to allegations about Trump because they were afraid of offending the US president. Steele first presented a dossier about Trump to senior UK intelligence figures in late 2016, who he says took it seriously at first. But, he writes, “on reaching top political decision-makers, a blanket appeared to be thrown over it”.

“No inquiries were made or actions taken thereafter on the substance of the intelligence in the dossier by HMG [Her Majesty’s government],” Steele says in the critical document. The allegation is contained in a short summary of a larger file of information presented in August 2018 by Steele to parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC), inquiring into Kremlin infiltration into British politics and public life. Steele accuses May’s government of selling British interests short by not taking matters further: “In this case, political considerations seemed to outweigh national security interests. If so, in my view, HMG made a serious mistake in balancing matters of strategic importance to our country.”

The Russia expert concluded: “A prospective trade deal should never be allowed to eclipse considerations of national security.” Steele’s confidential testimony is revealed for the first time in a book by the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West, to be published next week.

Read more …

Siberia has an extreme climate. But it’s now even more extreme.

Siberia Is On Fire And Off The Charts (Canary)

Scientists have expressed concerns about the implications for the rest of the world after a heatwave in Russia’s Siberia region. On Saturday, the thermometer hit a likely record of 38C – or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit – in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk in Russia’s Sakha Republic. The World Meteorological Organisation said it is looking to verify the temperature reading, which would be a record for the region north of the Arctic Circle. The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to wildfires that grow bigger and more severe every year, as well as the thawing of the permafrost.

University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, said: “The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire – it’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires. “The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions.” Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year that were beyond unseasonably warm. From January through to May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 8C above average, according to the climate science non-profit organisation Berkeley Earth.

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures. It is a place where the thermometer has swung by 106C (190 degrees Fahrenheit), from a low of minus 68C to 38C.

Read more …

Very scary people, the lot of them.

Bayer Pays $10 Billion To Settle Thousands Of Monsanto Glyphosate Lawsuits (ZH)

After decades of widespread use as company scientists played down research showing a definitive link between the product and growing rates of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Monsanto parent company Bayer has agreed to pay up to $10 billion to settle claims that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, causes cancer. Citing people familiar with the matter, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the company has agreed to settle tens of thousands of glyphosate-related lawsuits in the US for between $8 billion to $10 billion. Of that number, $2 billion is considered a “reserve” which can be used to settle future claims. The rest will be used to settle all of the lawsuits pending in the United States from users of the controversial weed killer, the number of active lawsuits against the Roundup purveyor recently numbered more than 50k.


Talks for an out of court settlement have been ongoing since last summer. Last year, scientists evaluated a batch of existing studies and determined that Monsanto’s ubiquitous weed-killer Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate increased cancer risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) by 41%, according to a research published in February 2019. Back in 2018, a San Francisco Jury awarded $289 million in damages to a former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who said Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller gave him terminal cancer. That award consisted of $40 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

Read more …

 

 

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Feb 172020
 


Jack Delano Discarded oil cans at truck service station on U.S. 1, New York Avenue, Washington, DC 1940

 

Japan Braces For Hundreds More Cases Onboard Cruise Ship (G.)
Taiwan Confirms First Coronavirus Death On Island, Cases At 20 (R.)
Pay Attention To Shanghai, Beijing, Japan Infection Rates (F.)
Japan’s Economy Shrinks At Fastest Rate Since 2014 (BBC)
Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China, Recession Looms In Japan, Singapore (R.)
Americans Disembark From Virus-Hit Cruise; China Says New Cases Slow (R.)
Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers After Virus Case Found (R.)
‘Animals Live For Man’: China’s Appetite For Wildlife To Survive Virus (R.)
Armed Robbers Steal Hundreds Of Toilet Rolls In Hong Kong (BBC)
Devin Nunes Says Trump ‘Has To Tweet’ To Combat ‘Hard Left’ Media (Fox)
1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign (NPR)
German Court Halts Work On New Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ (BBC)
Australia Broadcaster Loses Newsroom Raid Case (BBC)
Breakdown or Breakthrough? Degrowth and the Great Transition (NC)
US Peach Grower Awarded $265 Million From Bayer, BASF In Weedkiller Suit (R.)

 

 

Well, we do have some numbers:

 

• Cases 71,330, up 2,076 from yesterday

• Deaths 1,775, up 106 from yesterday

• 760 million Chinese under quarantine

 

We also have plenty confusion. For instance, Reuters has two headlines that say Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China and China Says New Cases Slow. That clears things up.

But the most dramatic event over the weekend must be the repatration of various nationalities to their homelands. About 400 Americans were evacuated from the Diamond Princess, with Australian Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers set to follow soon. 44 of these Americans are infected with the virus, and they won’t be going home. The rest will, though.

This is happening while “Japan is bracing for the possibility of hundreds of additional cases of the coronavirus onboard the stricken Princess Diamond”, says the Guardian. So the Americans that are flown home go into quarantine, right? Well… Some Diamond Princess passengers face another two weeks in isolation if they have shared a cabin with someone who tests positive.”

Remember, as of the start of the evacuation, there were 3,711 people on board. 1,219 had been tested of which 355 have been confirmed positive for the virus (among them the 44 Americans). Ergo, 2,492 people were not tested, among them the remaining 356 Americans. Who will only go into isolation if they shared a cabin with a positive case. The rest can do what they want.

We see the issue here, don’t we? How many of those 356 Americans may be infected? How many of the other nationalities which will fly home? There have been suggestions that the onboard air circulation system on the ship may have played a role in spreading the virus. If so, it could be everywhere. And yes, there could be “hundreds of additional cases”.

Then there’s the Werkendam cruise ship, from which hundreds were allowed to spread all over the world, taking off from Cambodia and/or Malaysia, before a positive case was found. Now it’s a “Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers”. Sort of like a modern version of the biblical “Go Forth and Multiply”. Where were these decisions made? Anyone ask the WHO, or China?

 

Meanwhile, China keeps trying. In Hubei province, Xiaogan city – with a population of nearly 5 million people, 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the second highest number in China, and 70 deaths, “all vehicles including motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles and tricycles are prohibited from driving on the road”. Try that in NYC, LA, Paris, Moscow, name a major city.

And the economic effects get increased attention as well. “Barclays analysts estimate that real [Japan] GDP contracted 3.2% on a quarterly basis, a little better than market consensus of -3.8%. This is all pre-coronavirus…] Take it from there. At this point hearing from economists, bankers, investors is pretty useless, because they have little idea what goes on, and, like politicians, they won’t consider really bad scenarios until it’s too late.

But it’ll come trickling through. Served in a sauce of “we’ll be fine”.

UPDATE: 99 additional people tested positive aboard the Diamond Princess. 14 American evacuees who tested positive made the flight anyway, in a separate compartment

 

 

 

 

“Xiaogan, 70km from the city of Wuhan, has 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded 70 deaths.”

Japan Braces For Hundreds More Cases Onboard Cruise Ship (G.)

Japan is bracing for the possibility of hundreds of additional cases of the coronavirus onboard the stricken Princess Diamond, as experts warned the country was still in the “early stages” of the outbreak. The passengers evacuated from the ship face further uncertainty too, with the US and Australian citizens set for a further two weeks of quarantine after arriving homeHundreds of American passengers have flown back to the US and Australia said it would follow suit on Wednesday. Onboard the Diamond Princess, 355 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 out of an original total of about 3,600 passengers and crew, and after testing 1,219. Forty American passengers who were diagnosed with the virus have been transferred to hospitals in Japan.

Some Diamond Princess passengers face another two weeks in isolation if they have shared a cabin with someone who tests positive. The total number of people infected around the world climbed to more than 71,000 on Monday, including a further 2,048 confirmed cases in China, where the total number of deaths stands at 1,770. Five people have died outside China. Of the 105 deaths reported in China on Monday, 100 were in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak. Cities in Hubei have stepped up measures to stop the virus’s spread.


Xiaogan city – which has a population of nearly 5 million people and the second highest number of confirmed cases in China – ordered residents to stay in their homes or face detention of up to 10 days. State media reported that “all vehicles including motorcycles, electric bikes, bicycles and tricycles are prohibited from driving on the road”. Xiaogan, 70km from the city of Wuhan, has 3,279 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and has recorded 70 deaths.

Read more …

Fifth location outside China.

Taiwan Confirms First Coronavirus Death On Island, Cases At 20 (R.)

A taxi driver has died from the coronavirus in Taiwan, marking the first such death on the island and the fifth fatality outside mainland China from an epidemic that has curbed travel and disrupted global supply chains. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said during a news conference on Sunday that the deceased person was a 61-year-old man who had diabetes and hepatitis B. Taiwan has to date accumulated 20 confirmed cases. The deceased person had not traveled abroad recently and was a taxi driver whose clients were mainly from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, the minister said. One of his family members was also confirmed to have the virus.

The pair constituted Taiwan’s first local transmission cases, the minister said, adding that authorities were trying to find out as soon as possible the source of contraction. “So far, we are not able to gather his contact history, so we are actively making investigations, hoping to find out the source of the contraction,” Chen said. The island will on Monday start testing all patients who show symptoms associated with coronavirus and had traveled abroad recently, the health ministry said.


The coronavirus, thought to have emerged at a wildlife market in the central Chinese province of Hubei, has killed 1,665 people in China with latest figures showing 68,500 cases of the illness. Taiwan has banned entry to Chinese visitors and foreigners with a recent history of travel to China and suspended most flights to its giant neighbor. Many schools have also extended their Lunar New Year holiday to late February to curb the spread of the virus. In a response to panic buying of masks on the island, the government scrambled to build several mask production lines and Premier Su Tseng-chang has vowed to more than double its daily mask production to 10 million by early March.

Read more …

Economic consequences. Japan was doing awful under Abenomics already.

Pay Attention To Shanghai, Beijing, Japan Infection Rates (F.)

Beijing and Shanghai have under 1,000 reported cases and only four deaths, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Their data is sourced from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the European Center for Disease Control and two China health agencies. China is the main source of the numbers. There are many people outside of China who doubt Beijing and Shanghai’s low case load. Watch for those numbers to rise in the weeks ahead. [..]

Covid-19 remains a mystery pathogen. It can be deadly. It’s like a bad pneumonia. Scientists believe it came from a species of bat. There is also concern that it escaped a virology research lab in Wuhan. There is no vaccine for Covid-19 yet, so those who have it are being treated with a variety of anti-viral medications and have to wait for the virus to work its way out of the body. Markets are repricing everything China related. Barclays Capital analysts released a 20-page report on the coronavirus on Friday where they said they were pushing out the recovery period, and think Japan heads into a technical recession because of it. Japan will release its fourth quarter GDP numbers on Monday.

Barclays analysts led by Tetsufumi Yamakawa in Tokyo estimate that real GDP contracted 3.2% on a quarterly basis, a little better than market consensus of -3.8%. This is all pre-coronavirus and mostly due to domestic tax matters. Yamakawa does see an increasing risk in first quarter weakness due to the Covid-19 impacts, and if that leads to negative growth, and it could, Japan hits a technical recession with back to back contraction. Weaker China tourism and a decrease in trade with China is a huge headwind for Japan. For Barclays, the probability of a recession there has surged to 69%.


Barclays’ China view is basically Wall Street consensus: so long as the virus stays concentrated in Hubei, they are going to trust China keeps it that way. [..] Xi Jinping last week called for even tighter restrictions on Hubei, and put two new Party bosses in charge to make sure the clampdown is enforced. “We think these efforts showed the urgency and determination of the government to stabilize the epicenter as soon as possible,” says Eric Zhu, an economist with Barclays in Hong Kong. “We expect incremental improvements,” he says.

Read more …

How is Abe still the PM there?

Japan’s Economy Shrinks At Fastest Rate Since 2014 (BBC)

Japan’s economy shrank at the fastest rate in five years at the end of 2019 as it was hit by a sales tax rise, a major typhoon and weak global demand. Annualised GDP fell by a much steeper than expected 6.3% in October-December. There are also concerns the coronavirus outbreak will mean the slump continues this quarter. That has raised fears that the world’s third-biggest economy may fall into recession. During the period Japanese consumer spending fell 2.9% after the country’s sales tax was raised in October to 10% from 8%. In the same month Typhoon Hagibis hit large parts of the country.


Last quarter, capital spending dropped by 3.7% and exports slipped 0.1% amid the ongoing US-China trade war. Investors are now watching to see whether the economy will rebound after the coronavirus forced China to shut down factories and led to a big drop in Chinese tourists visiting Japan. In response to today’s data economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the Japanese government was ready to take all necessary steps to deal with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy and tourism.

Read more …

Recession looms everywhere by now. We just don’t want to know it.

Coronavirus Cases Rise Again In China, Recession Looms In Japan, Singapore (R.)

Japan and Singapore appeared to be on the brink of recession on Monday as the coronavirus epidemic disrupted tourism and supply chains around the world, and as China imposed tougher restrictions to try and stop the virus spreading further. The number of reported new cases of coronavirus in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, rose on Monday by more than 1,933, after two days of falls, and there were 100 deaths reported since Sunday. Across mainland China, officials said the total number of cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548, with 1,770 deaths. Nearly 90% of new cases were in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where the virus is believed to have originated at a market illegally trading wildlife late last year.

The virus, which is believed to have a 14-day incubation period, has forced thousands of people to be quarantined around the world. In Cambodia, authorities were scrambling to track down hundreds of passengers who disembarked from the Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam after an American woman left the ship and was tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia. More than 100 have already left the country, while some 300 are reportedly still in Cambodia. “I believe there’s 300 Americans here at this hotel plus a few hundred from other countries. We will all be tested for the coronavirus today and tomorrow by the Cambodian Ministry of Health,” said passenger Holley Rauen, a public health nurse and midwife from Fort Myers, Florida.


“We have no idea when we get to get home…” American passengers were taken off another cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan. Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board the Carnival Corp. Diamond Princess in Yokohama. The 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3. Some 355 people on board have tested positive for the disease, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.

Read more …

It’s just a matter of waiting for new clusters to pop up now.

Americans Disembark From Virus-Hit Cruise; China Says New Cases Slow (R.)

American passengers were taken off a cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan, while China said the rate of new coronavirus cases had slowed, calling that proof its steps to fight the outbreak were working. An announcement aboard the Diamond Princess, where 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3, told Americans to get ready to disembark on Sunday evening for charter flights home. Passengers wearing masks could later be seen waving through the windows of buses parked near the ship. Of the roughly 400 Americans on the cruise, more than 40 are infected with the virus and will stay in Japan for treatment, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” Fauci told the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “People who have symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane. Others are going to be evacuated starting imminently to air force bases in the United States.” Kyodo News Agency said the flights carrying U.S. passengers left Haneda Airport at around 1700 ET (2200 GMT). Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow soon, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers. “Leaving in a few hours. No details. Might be going to Texas or Nebraska,” U.S. passenger Gay Courter told Reuters.


Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board, bringing the total on the ship to 355, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Fauci told the Washington Post there were 44 infected Americans. Within China, authorities reported 2,009 new cases on Sunday, noting that this was down from more than 2,600 the previous day. They said this showed their efforts to halt the spread of the virus were bearing fruit.

Read more …

Is anyone criminally responsible?

Scramble To Track Cambodia Cruise Ship Passengers After Virus Case Found (R.)

Holland America Line said it is working with governments and health experts to track passengers who disembarked from its Westerdam cruise ship docked in Cambodia after an American woman tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia. The cruise line, which is owned by cruise giant Carnival Corp, said none of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew have reported any symptoms. “Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information,” a statement from the company said. Passengers had been cleared to travel by Cambodian authorities after health checks when the cruise ship docked on Thursday. It had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.


But on Saturday, Malaysia said an American woman who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday on a chartered flight had tested positive for the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,700 people, the vast majority in China. The woman’s husband tested negative for the coronavirus. About 137 of the 145 passengers on the chartered flight had already left for other countries as of Sunday after showing no signs of illness, Malaysian authorities said. Dozens more of the Westerdam passengers had flown through Thailand and onward to other countries, Thai officials said. At least 236 passengers and 747 crew remain aboard the vessel off the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, Holland America said. Others were in hotels in Phnom Penh, the capital.

Read more …

Did you know the Chinese see the world the same way Christian religions do? G-d appointed man the master of the world! Must be the dumbest facet of religion: man declares himself G-d.

‘Animals Live For Man’: China’s Appetite For Wildlife To Survive Virus (R.)

For the past two weeks China’s police have been raiding houses, restaurants and makeshift markets across the country, arresting nearly 700 people for breaking the temporary ban on catching, selling or eating wild animals. The scale of the crackdown, which has netted almost 40,000 animals including squirrels, weasels and boars, suggests that China’s taste for eating wildlife and using animal parts for medicinal purposes is not likely to disappear overnight, despite potential links to the new coronavirus. Traders legally selling donkey, dog, deer, crocodile and other meat told Reuters they plan to get back to business as soon as the markets reopen. “I’d like to sell once the ban is lifted,” said Gong Jian, who runs a wildlife store online and operates shops in China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region.

“People like buying wildlife. They buy for themselves to eat or give as presents because it is very presentable and gives you face.” Gong said he was storing crocodile and deer meat in large freezers but would have to kill all the quails he had been breeding as supermarkets were no longer buying his eggs and they cannot be eaten after freezing. Scientists suspect, but have not proven, that the new coronavirus passed to humans from bats via pangolins, a small ant-eating mammal whose scales are highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine. [..] “In many people’s eyes, animals are living for man, not sharing the earth with man,” said Wang Song, a retired researcher of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


[..] Much of the farming and sale of wildlife takes place in rural or poorer regions under the blessing of local authorities who see trading as a boost for the local economy. State-backed television programs regularly show people farming animals, including rats, for commercial sale and their own consumption. However, activists pushing for a ban describe the licensed farms as a cover for illegal wildlife trafficking, where animals are specifically bred to be consumed as food or medicine rather than released into the wild.

Read more …

Brace for much more of this.

Armed Robbers Steal Hundreds Of Toilet Rolls In Hong Kong (BBC)

Armed robbers in Hong Kong made off with hundreds of toilet rolls worth more than HKD1,000 ($130). Toilet rolls are currently in short supply in Hong Kong due to shortages caused by panic-buying during the coronavirus outbreak. Knife wielding men robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket in the Mong Kok district, police said. Police have arrested two men and recovered some of the stolen loo rolls, local media reports said. The armed robbery took place in Mong Kok, a district of Hong Kong with a history of “triad” crime gangs, early on Monday.


According to local reports, the robbers had threatened a delivery worker who had unloaded rolls of toilet paper outside Wellcome Supermarket. An Apple Daily report said that 600 toilet paper rolls, valued at around HKD1,695 ($218), had been stolen. Stores across the city have seen supplies massively depleted with long queues when new stock arrives. Despite government assurances that supplies remain unaffected by the virus outbreak, residents have been stocking up on toilet paper. Other household products have also seen panic-buying including rice, pasta and cleaning items.

Read more …

“What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration, but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco…”

Devin Nunes Says Trump ‘Has To Tweet’ To Combat ‘Hard Left’ Media (Fox)

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., fired back at Democrats who criticized Attorney General William Barr for his role in former Trump associate Roger Stone’s sentencing and defended the president’s use of Twitter after he used the platform to comment about the ongoing criminal case. “What’s happening here with Barr, I think people need to understand that he’s cleaning up the mess from not only the Obama administration, but also the mess that was left with the whole Russia-gate fiasco,” Nunes told “Fox & Friends Weekend,” saying taxpayers paid tens of millions of dollars to fund then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team “that went chasing and trying to put us into a status of a permanent coup against the president of the United States.”

Nunes’ comments came days after Barr himself publicly swiped at Trump, declaring Thursday that the president’s tweets about Justice Department prosecutors and open cases “make it impossible for me to do my job.” [..] “I think what the attorney general said was very clear, that the president should be careful making comments about criminal investigations. One should not see that as anything other than but what it is,” Nunez said, adding that Barr “didn’t say to stop tweeting, because the fact of the matter is, with 90 percent of the media being hard left and really just working for the Democratic Party, the president has to be able to tweet.”


Earlier in the week, Trump applauded Barr on Twitter for the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendation, writing: “Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.” “He’s built a powerful tool reaching millions of Americans, millions of people around the globe,” Nunes added, “so the president has to tweet. At the same time, the attorney general has to be able to do his job.” He also said, “It’s understandable that the president can be frustrated,” and called Stone’s dramatic early-morning arrest by federal agents in January 2019 “ridiculous.”

Read more …

It’s ilke the interagency debate in the House testimonies. The civil servants think they have the right to set policy. And don’t you dare question that. But wasn’t it perhaps high time someone did?

1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call On Barr To Resign (NPR)

More than 1,100 former Department of Justice officials are calling on Attorney General William Barr to resign after his department lowered the prison sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump, in a move that’s led to accusations of political interference. In a letter released Sunday, the former DOJ officials, who have worked across Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote that Barr’s intervention in the Stone case has tarnished the department’s reputation. “Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice,” the former officials wrote.

“In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.” On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington had recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Stone’s 2019 conviction on charges including making false statements to Congress and witness tampering. On Twitter, Trump said the sentencing recommendation amounted to “a horrible and very unfair situation.” But then on Tuesday, the Justice Department intervened, ordering a new sentencing memo and calling for lighter punishment. A senior DOJ official told NPR that officials were “shocked” at the original recommendation.


[..] To Julie Zebrak, who’s among the former DOJ officials who signed the letter, Barr’s behavior shatters a cardinal norm that has been in place for decades: that the Justice Department’s prosecutorial decisions should not be influenced by the White House. Zebrak told NPR that Barr’s move “sent shockwaves through the former DOJ alumni.” She added: “We are all watching in a really rapid and terrifying way the undermining of the department and the diminishment of the rule of law. We have to sort of speak up and speak out when we can.”

Read more …

“Clean cars” require cutting forests. This is where the environmental movement meets its Armageddon; there’s just not enough knowledge, they’ll believe anything that sounds good.

German Court Halts Work On New Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ (BBC)

Tesla has been ordered to temporarily halt preparations for a car factory in Germany after environmentalists won a court injunction on Sunday. The electric carmaker had been clearing forest land near the capital, Berlin, ahead of building its first European car and battery plant. The court emphasised the injunction was temporary and subject to further hearings, probably this week. Protesters say the factory is a threat to local wildlife and water supplies. To much fanfare, Tesla’s boss Elon Musk announced plans last November to build a European facility known as a “gigafactory” in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.


But the factory has become a flashpoint between environmentalists and Germany’s pro-business Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties, who fear the issue could damage the country’s image as a place to do business. The dispute highlights the risks for the US carmaker, which has not been officially granted permission to build the factory. Tesla was, however, granted permission by Germany’s environment ministry to begin site preparations “at its own risk”. This has involved clearing about 91 hectares (225 acres) of forest and the felling of thousands of trees – something that outraged an alliance of environmentalists called the Green League. In a statement on Sunday, the court representing the Berlin and Brandenburg region cautioned: “It should not be assumed that the motion seeking legal protection brought by the Green League lacks any chance of succeeding.”

Read more …

If the goverment can let its journalists rot in Belmarsh, this shouldn’t be a surprise. How loud has ABC been in its defense of Assannge?

Australia Broadcaster Loses Newsroom Raid Case (BBC)

Australia’s national broadcaster has lost its legal challenge to controversial police raids on its Sydney newsroom last year. In June, police searched the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a newspaper journalist over articles which relied on leaks from government whistleblowers. The raids sparked public outrage and protests across the nation’s media. However, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled the searches were legal. ABC’s managing director David Anderson said the decision was “disappointing”. He said the raids had been a high-profile “attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their job”. Australian Federal Police alleged the stories and reporters at the centre of its searches had breached national security laws.


In the raid last year, they seized thousands of documents over a 2017 ABC investigation which alleged Australian armed forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Police also raided the home of News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst. In 2018, she had reported an alleged attempt by a government agency to spy on Australian citizens. Australia’s conservative government tightened its security laws in 2018 to make it a criminal offence for journalists to receive classified information from military or intelligence sources. Canberra has previously said it backs press freedom but that “no one was above the law”.

Read more …

Never voluntarily.

Breakdown or Breakthrough? Degrowth and the Great Transition (NC)

When mainstream approaches to sustainability fail to challenge economic growth they provide limited, sometimes even false solutions to today’s crises. Technological and political interventions that reduce environmental impacts and enhance overall efficiency – though contributing to sustainability in a narrow sense – end up adding to global inequality and ecological overshoot, insofar as they accelerate growth. Growth is one of the chief drivers of social inequality and environmental degradation; it is also what sustains the global capitalist economy. Sustainability solutions that promote growth under the banner of “green growth” are the easiest to accept and implement, but they are the least able to address the roots of today’s crises.

Proponents of green growth believe that growth can be decoupled from environmental impacts, yet there is no empirical evidence that this is possible. Meanwhile, acting on such an unproven assumption obscures the real harm being done by sustaining extractive and exploitative capitalism. We have already surpassed the known limits to growth, so degrowth is our only option. Sustainability is an outcome of healthy metabolic relationships between an organism and its environment. When consumption depletes resources faster than their rate of regeneration – which is what we are currently doing – it is by definition unsustainable.

Although essential, today’s most progressive reforms, including the Green New Deal and the circular economy, will only be effective when combined with a more equitable distribution of resources and decreasing per capita consumption in advanced economies. For sustainability efforts to be effective, they must be part of a comprehensive degrowth agenda focused on systems change. Contrary to common misunderstandings, degrowth does not mean negative growth or imply sacrifices to one’s quality of life. Rather, it is focused on reducing a society’s material and energy throughput while actually enhancing quality of life. [..]


The next 30 years constitute what systems theorists call a ‘decision window.’ How societies decide to respond to mounting social and ecological pressures will determine whether the system evolves or collapses. Once the decision window ends and the global system passes the chaos point, the system irreversibly changes, and there are only two futures left – breakthrough or breakdown. There is no chance that a wildly optimistic techno-future can sustain growth beyond social and planetary boundaries. Civilization will either collapse or it will follow a path of managed descent and sustainable reorganization. The only breakthroughs remaining follow paths of degrowth.

Read more …

They’ll appeal. Check back in a decade.

US Peach Grower Awarded $265 Million From Bayer, BASF In Weedkiller Suit (R.)

A Missouri jury’s $265 million award to peach grower Bill Bader in his lawsuit against herbicide providers Bayer and BASF has raised the stakes for the two companies as at least 140 similar cases head to U.S. courts later this year. A jury in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, handed Bader, the state’s largest peach farmer, $15 million in actual and $250 million in punitive damages. He sued the companies saying his 1,000-acre orchard was irreparably harmed by herbicide that they produce, which drifted onto its trees from nearby farms. The three-week trial was the first case in the United States to rule on the use of dicamba-based herbicides alleged to have damaged tens of thousands of acres of U.S. cropland.

The herbicide can become a vapor and drift for miles when used in certain weather, farmers have claimed. Bayer said it was “disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” and plans to appeal. BASF also said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision and plans to appeal. Both companies said their dicamba-based herbicides are safe when used as directed. Bayer faces separate multi-billion-dollar litigation over the Roundup weedkiller made by Monsanto, the U.S. firm it took over for $63 billion in 2018. Monsanto made Roundup and dicamba, and Bayer is being sued over both products.


[..] Bayer and BASF face other dicamba lawsuits that could begin late his year before the same judge in Missouri, said attorney Billy Randles, whose firm represented Bader and also represents dozens of others with similar claims. “These are all the same” allegations, said Randles. “They claim negligent design, failure to warn and all allege a joint venture” between Bayer and BASF. The jury found the two equally liable for the damages.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Sep 022018
 
 September 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Salvador Dali Portrait of Picasso 1947

 

Is The US Economic Boom Beginning To Fizzle Out? (Coppola)
Former Eurogroup Head Dijsselbloem Says Demands On Greeks Were Too Heavy (R.)
The IMF Abetted The European Union’s Subversion Of Greek Democracy (Mody)
Ethiopia Debt Woes Curtail China Funding (R.)
May Vows No Compromise With EU On Brexit Plan (BBC)
Pentagon Cancels Aid To Pakistan Over Record On Militants (R.)
Monsanto-Bayer: Eliminating The Name Will Not Erase The Criminal History (CD)
What’s Happening To Our Weather? The Answers Are Hiding In Arctic Air (G.)

 

 

Bit short today. I think because all the focus is one two funerals I don’t care much about. In one, a bishop grabs boobs, in the other the one person not invited gets all the attention.

Is that a surprise?

Is The US Economic Boom Beginning To Fizzle Out? (Coppola)

President Trump is not going to be too happy with the New York Fed’s latest nowcast for Q3 2018. The staff projection, based upon the latest data, shows annualized quarter-on-quarter GDP growth slowing to 2% per annum. At the end of 2017 it was 4%, and even at the end of Q2 it was 3%.

The Atlanta Fed’s nowcast, which calculates GDP growth in the same way as the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, also shows GDP growth slowing in Q3, though from a higher level. The Atlanta Fed’s growth estimate for Q3 is 4.1%. President Trump will no doubt be happy with this, but not so happy with the fact that at the beginning of August the estimate was 5%.

So what has gone wrong? Why are the nowcasts suggesting that U.S. economic growth is beginning to slow? The indicators that go into the NY Fed’s nowcasts have been gradually turning red for some time now. There appears to be something of a downturn going on in the housing market; both new starts and sales have fallen. Exports have fallen and imports have risen, apparently because of worsening terms of trade, most likely due to the strong dollar. Most recently, manufacturers have drawn down inventories, and there is a fall in orders and shipments for durable goods. There are no dramatic drops, but it all adds up to a gradual economic slowdown.

Read more …

How long have you realized this, Jeroen, and what have you done to repair it?

Former Eurogroup Head Dijsselbloem Says Demands On Greeks Were Too Heavy (R.)

Euro zone countries have asked for too much from the Greek people in return for international bailout loans, former Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in an interview on Dutch television on Saturday. “On reforms, we have asked a lot from the Greek people, too much,” Dijsselbloem told current affairs program Nieuwsuur. “Reforms are hard enough to accomplish in a society with a well-functioning government, but this was obviously not the case in Greece.” Greece emerged from the biggest bailout in economic history on Aug. 20, after receiving 288 billion euros in financial aid since 2010, with the European Union as its biggest lender.

During the crisis, the Greek economy shrank by a quarter, pushing a third of the population into poverty and driving thousands to move abroad. “Greece is obviously not a success story,” Dijsselbloem said. “Their crisis has been so deep, that you can’t call it a success.” Dijsselbloem chaired the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers from 2013 until the beginning of 2018, and led dozens of lengthy emergency meetings during which bailouts for Greece, Cyprus and the Spanish banking sector were grudgingly pieced together.

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Sister act.

The IMF Abetted The European Union’s Subversion Of Greek Democracy (Mody)

European authorities never allowed a conversation around the core imperative of reducing Greece’s debt burden. Syriza formed a government on January 25, 2015. On January 31, Erkki Liikanen, governor of Finland’s central bank and, in that capacity, a member of the ECB’s Governing Council, threatened that the ECB would stop funding Greek banks if the Greek government did not agree to the terms of the creditors. And on February 4, the ECB decided Greece’s fate. In an aggressive move that took everyone by surprise, the ECB cut off funding to Greek banks, preemptively immobilizing the Greek government before it could begin negotiations with its creditors.

The ECB withdrew an earlier arrangement under which Greek banks used their government bonds as collateral (security) to obtain funds for running their day-to-day operations. Although Greek government bonds had a junk rating and normally only higher-rated bonds qualified as collateral, the ECB had waived that requirement to help the banks stay afloat. With its February 4 decision, the ECB revoked that waiver. Greek banks could now borrow only from the Greek central bank under an Emergency Liquidity Arrangement (ELA); ELA funds carried a higher interest rate and, moreover, could be turned off at any time, thus choking the Greek financial system.

Stock prices of Greek banks fell sharply, and two days later, the rating agency S&P pushed the government bonds’ rating further into junk territory. With continuing deposit flight from Greek banks and the threat of a financial meltdown, the Syriza government rapidly lost all leverage before it could use its economic argument in a political negotiation.

Read more …

More Belt and Road.

Ethiopia Debt Woes Curtail China Funding (R.)

Ethiopia has been lauded by experts from China’s ruling Communist Party as a “model country” in Beijing’s $126 billion Belt and Road initiative to build rail, road and sea links tying China to Eurasia and Africa. But as the Horn of Africa nation of 100 million people faces debt distress, there are signs that China, a major creditor, is slowing financing to Ethiopia as doubts grow over the profitability of some infrastructure projects there. “The intensifying repayment risks from the Ethiopian government’s debt reaching 59 percent of GDP is worrying investors,” China’s mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa said on its website in July.

It said that Chinese investment in the country was cooling and that the China Export and Credit Insurance Corp was reducing the scale of its investment there. Against a backdrop of rising worry over African indebtedness to China, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will visit Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which starts on Monday. He is due to meet Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and is expected to court investment from Chinese firms into Ethiopia’s agro-industrial and pharmaceutical businesses, China’s Xinhua news agency said. Ethiopia has been a top destination for Chinese loans in Africa, despite its lack of natural resources, with state policy banks extending it more than $12.1 billion since 2000, according to the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington (SAIS).

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Not your call, Theresa.

May Vows No Compromise With EU On Brexit Plan (BBC)

Theresa May has insisted she will not be forced into watering down her Brexit plan during negotiations with the EU. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister says she will “not be pushed” into compromises on her Chequers agreement that are not in the “national interest”. But Mrs May also warns she will not “give in” to those calling for a second referendum on the withdrawal agreement. She says it would be a “gross betrayal of our democracy and… trust”. The People’s Vote, a cross-party group including some MPs, is calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal. The UK is on course to leave the EU on 29 March and the government had previously ruled out another referendum.

The prime minister writes that the coming months are “critical in shaping the future of our country”, but that she is “clear” about her mission in fulfilling “the democratic decision of the British people”. She adds that following the Chequers agreement in July – which led to the resignation of two cabinet ministers – “real progress” has been made in Brexit negotiations. While there is more negotiating to be done, Mrs May writes: “We want to leave with a good deal and we are confident we can reach one.” The government has been preparing for a no-deal scenario, even though this would create “real challenges for both the UK and the EU” in some sectors, she says. But the PM adds: “We would get through it and go on to thrive.”

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Just as they’ve voted in Imran Khan, who once suggested he might order the shooting down of U.S. drones if they entered Pakistani airspace, [and] has opposed the United States’ open-ended presence in Afghanistan.

Pentagon Cancels Aid To Pakistan Over Record On Militants (R.)

The U.S. military said it has made a final decision to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan that had been suspended over Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against militants, in a new blow to deteriorating ties. The so-called Coalition Support Funds were part of a broader suspension in aid to Pakistan announced by President Donald Trump at the start of the year, when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.” The Trump administration says Islamabad is granting safe haven to insurgents who are waging a 17-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan, a charge Pakistan denies. But U.S. officials had held out the possibility that Pakistan could win back that support if it changed its behavior.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in particular, had an opportunity to authorize $300 million in CSF funds through this summer – if he saw concrete Pakistani actions to go after insurgents. Mattis chose not to, a U.S. official told Reuters. “Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 (million) was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said. Faulkner said the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on “other urgent priorities” if approved by Congress. He said another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million. The disclosure came ahead of an expected visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. military officer, General Joseph Dunford, to Islamabad. Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that combating militants would be a “primary part of the discussion.”

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8,000 lawsuits. And Bayer is not a US company, big difference.

Monsanto-Bayer: Eliminating The Name Will Not Erase The Criminal History (CD)

Cancelling out Monsanto’s name and keeping only that of Bayer, does not mean forgetting the wrongdoings of a company which, according to the verdict of the Monsanto Tribunal of The Hague, is stained with crimes of ecocide. With Bayer’s official takeover of Monsanto, the giant multinational also inherits its liabilities. On the eve of the start of the integration process, Monsanto has been held liable for causing cancer through the use of its glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup and ordered to pay $289 million of damages to the plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson in the first landmark case, settled in California in mid August 2018. The jury also found that Monsanto “acted with malice or oppression.”

According to Reuters, the number of lawsuits brought against Bayer’s newly acquired Monsanto is approximately 8000 in the US alone. UN experts Ms Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food and Mr. Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, defined the ruling “a significant recognition of the human rights of victims, and the responsibilities of chemical companies.” Revelations in reports published last year, most notably the “Monsanto Papers” and the “Poison Papers“, have shed light on strategies of big agrochemical groups to expand their empires: from lobbying, interference in government agencies’ proceedings, attacks in collusion with institutions on independent science, to mega mergers and acquisitions.

For the first time part of these documents were shown to a jury, which were able, among other things to also see that, “at least starting 20 years ago, Monsanto has known that their product can cause cancer, and has gone out of its way to ignore it and/or fight any science that suggests a link”, as declared to Democracy Now by Brent Wisner, the lead trial counsel for Dewayne Lee Johnson in his lawsuit against Monsanto. Added to this, in the same week, California’s Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Monsanto to the state’s decision to include glyphosate in its Proposition 65 list of carcinogens.

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How clean is the air?

What’s Happening To Our Weather? The Answers Are Hiding In Arctic Air (G.)

I am standing on the ocean. Ahead of me, the world is split into two perfect halves: blue sky above, white sea ice below. The view is clean and simple, but a continuous waltz of swirling and shunting is hidden inside those two colours: the inner workings of the Arctic engine. This place is special for many reasons, and to appreciate one of the most unusual all I need to do is to live; to breathe. The air is -2C, but the air coming from my lungs is invisible. The familiar wisps of cold breath that I associate with crisp winter air in Britain are absent. They cannot form here. And that anomaly is connected in a fundamental way to our presence here, on a scientific expedition to study this environment. For two months, the Swedish icebreaker Oden is home to 74 of us, living and working at the top of the world to tap into the stories that the blue and the white have to tell.

The Arctic has held on to its mystique for centuries. Many western explorers have pitted their wits, strength, and endurance against this environment, while traditional Arctic communities have learned to work with the complexities of the ice rather than against them. Those of us who live well south of the Arctic circle hear a lot about how the white in the north is changing, but less about how it is. It’s hard to construct a secondhand mental image of what it’s like here. There are no landmarks and you cannot step in the footprints of the past. This is an ocean with an icy shell that cracks and shifts as it’s pushed by the wind, breaking apart into separate floes or piling up to form ridges.

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Aug 242018
 
 August 24, 2018  Posted by at 7:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Café, le soir, Arles 1888

 

Thoughts On The ‘Longest Bull Market Ever’ (Black)
New Reality of China’s Failing Economy Is Coming Soon (Rickards)
UK Tells Drug Companies To Stockpile Medicine In Case Of No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
Big Oil Asks Government To Protect It From Climate Change (AP)
Scott Morrison New Australian PM As Turnbull Denounces ‘Insurgency’ (G.)
Saudi Modernisation Drive Is Reflected In Aramco’s Faltering Sale (G.)
Libya Refuses To Take Migrants Rejected By Italy (AFP)
Italy Threatens To Stop EU Funding Unless Other States Accept Refugees (ZH)
Inflation Adjusted Gold Is At Historical Lows (von Greyerz)
Monsanto Faces A Surge In Lawsuits Following Cancer Ruling (BBC)
‘Monsanto’s History Is One Full of Vast Lies’ (Spiegel)
After 70 Years, Korean Father, Son Share A Drink For First, Last? Time (H.)

 

 

“..a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK..”

Thoughts On The ‘Longest Bull Market Ever’ (Black)

Well, it happened. Yesterday the US stock market broke the all-time record for the longest bull market ever. This means that the US stock market has been generally rising for nearly a decade straight… or even more specifically, that the market has gone 3,453 days without a 20% correction. That’s a pretty big milestone. And there’s no end in sight. So it’s possible this market continues marching higher for the foreseeable future. But if you step back and really look at the big picture, there are a lot of things that might make a rational person scratch his/her head. For example– the Russell 2000 index (which is comprised of smaller companies whose shares are listed on various US stock exchanges) is currently right at its all-time high.

Yet simultaneously, according to the Wall Street Journal, a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK. How is that even possible– a junk debt rating coupled with an all-time high? It’s as if investors are saying, “Well, there’s very little chance these companies will be able to pay their debts… but screw it, I’ll pay a record high price to buy the stock anyhow.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Looking at the larger companies in the Land of the Free (which make up the S&P 500 index), the current ‘CAPE ratio’ is now the second highest on record. ‘CAPE’ stands for ‘cyclically-adjusted price/earnings ratio’. Essentially it refers to how much investors are willing to pay for shares of a company, relative to the company’s long-term average earnings.

And right now investors are willing to pay 33x long-term average earnings for the typical company in the S&P 500. The median CAPE ratio based on data that goes back to the 1800s is about 15.6. So at 33, investors are literally paying more than TWICE as much for every dollar of a company’s long-term average earnings than they have throughout all of US market history. And it’s only been higher ONE other time– just before the 2000 stock market crash (when the dot-com bubble burst). 33 is higher than right before the 2008 crisis. It’s even higher than it was before the Great Depression.

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Building zombies for the future.

New Reality of China’s Failing Economy Is Coming Soon (Rickards)

There’s no denying China’s remarkable economic progress over the past thirty years. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty and found useful employment in manufacturing or services in the major cities. Infrastructure gains have been historic, including some of the best trains in the world, state-of-the-art transportation hubs, cutting edge telecommunications systems, and a rapidly improving military. Yet, that’s only half the story. The other half is pure waste, fraud and theft. About 45% of Chinese GDP is in the category of “investment.” A developed economy GDP such as the U.S. is about 70% consumption and 20% investment. There’s nothing wrong with 45% investment in a fast-growing developing economy assuming the investment is highly productive and intelligently allocated.

That’s not the case in China. At least half of the investment there is pure waste. It takes the form of “ghost cities” that are fully-built with skyscrapers, apartments, hotels, clubs, and transportation networks – and are completely empty. This is not just western propaganda; I’ve seen the ghost cities first hand and walked around the empty offices and hotels. Chinese officials try to defend the ghost cities by claiming they are built for the future. That’s nonsense. Modern construction is impressive, but it’s also high maintenance. Those shiny new buildings require occupants, rents and continual maintenance to remain shiny and functional. The ghost cities will be obsolete long before they are ever occupied.

Other examples of investment waste include over-the-top white elephant public structures such as train stations with marble facades, 128 escalators (mostly empty), 100-foot ceilings, digital advertising and few passengers. The list can be extended to include airports, canals, highways, and ports, some of which are needed and many of which are pure waste. Communist party leaders endorse these wasteful projects because they have positive effects in terms of job creation, steel fabrication, glass installation, and construction. However, those effects are purely temporary until the project is completed. The costs are paid with borrowed money that can never be repaid. China might report 6.8% growth in GDP, but when the waste is stripped out the actual growth is closer to 4.5%. Meanwhile, China’s debts grow faster than the economy and its debt-to-GDP ratio is even worse than the U.S.

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It’s beginning to hit home that time has run out. Wait till the days shorten for real.

UK Tells Drug Companies To Stockpile Medicine In Case Of No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

Health secretary Matt Hancock has told drug companies to ensure they have six weeks additional supplies of medicines on top of their normal stockpiles to avoid disruption caused by a possible no-deal Brexit. The remarks from Mr Hancock came as Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, released the first tranche of technical notes outlining the government’s preparations and warnings to businesses if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal. Among the 24 detailed papers it was also revealed that credit card users could be hit with a new “Brexit tax” amounting to £166m, UK citizens living in Europe face the prospect of losing access to pension income and new red tape could delay foreign sperm donations arriving in Britain.

In one of the most stark warnings, Mr Hancock told NHS staff and service providers that the move to increase pharmaceutical companies’ stockpiles was necessary “in case imports from the EU through certain routes” are affected if Theresa May fails to strike a deal with negotiators in Brussels. The request, according to the chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, Steve Bates, would be a “massive challenge” for the industry to deliver in less than 200 days. But Mr Hancock also warned that hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies should not hoard or stockpile additional drugs “beyond their business” as usual levels.

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Priceless.

Big Oil Asks Government To Protect It From Climate Change (AP)

As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast. Like other oceanfront projects, this one would protect homes, delicate ecosystems and vital infrastructure, but it also has another priority — to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it.

The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.

That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington’s spending list. “Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” said Matt Sebesta, a Republican who as Brazoria County judge oversees a swath of Gulf Coast. But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change’s validity, doesn’t sit well with some.

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Another rightwing anti-immigrant yokel. That’s all they have down under.

Scott Morrison New Australian PM As Turnbull Denounces ‘Insurgency’ (G.)

Australia will have a new prime minister in Scott Morrison – the socially conservative architect of Australia’s hardline anti-asylum seeker policies – after he mounted a late challenge during a drawn-out struggle for power in the governing Liberal party. On Friday, incumbent Malcolm Turnbull failed in his attempt to stare down a challenge from hard right MP Peter Dutton, with insurgents in his party gathering enough signatures to call for a “spill” of the leadership. It led to a three-way challenge that included Morrison, Turnbull’s treasurer, and Julie Bishop, the foreign minister. Turnbull himself stood aside from the contest.

In a party room ballot, Bishop was eliminated in the first round, and Morrison won against former home affairs minister Dutton in a subsequent run-off, 45 votes to 40, suggesting the party is still deeply divided. There appears no end in sight to the civil war consuming the ruling Liberal-led coalition government. The country may be headed to an election, with Turnbull saying he will not stay in parliament. His resignation in between general elections would erase the government’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Australia has now had five prime ministers in just over five years. Since 2010 four prime ministers have lost office not at the ballot box, but torn down by their own parties, earning Canberra the unhappy appellation “the coup capital of the Pacific”.

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Selling 5% of Aramco was supposed to finance ‘diversification’.

Saudi Modernisation Drive Is Reflected In Aramco’s Faltering Sale (G.)

For the Saudis, the implications of the Paris agreement were obvious: the drive to decarbonise the world economy would mean that a considerable part of their oil reserves would have to stay in the ground. This made a warning at the turn of the millennium by the former Saudi energy minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, seem suddenly urgent. “Thirty years from now, there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers”, Yamani said. “Oil will be left in the ground. The stone age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”

It was not long before Saudi’s rulers responded to this twin challenge. In the short term, they sought to persuade fellow oil producing nations to agree production curbs that would limit supply, drive up crude prices and so ease the pressures on the public finances. At the current oil price of around $70 a barrel, the Saudis can make their budget arithmetic stack up. In the longer term, there was a plan to diversify the economy away from oil. Saudi Vision 2030 was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April 2016, shortly after the oil price reached its trough. The idea was to make Saudi Arabia a global investment giant, to turn the country into a hub linking the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and to be the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The proposed sale of part of the state-owned oil company – Saudi Aramco – was a key part of this attempt to transform and modernise the economy. Proceeds were earmarked for the country’s sovereign wealth fund so it could continue investing in companies such as the electric car company Tesla and the ride-hailing app Uber.

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Thank you Barack and Hillary.

Libya Refuses To Take Migrants Rejected By Italy (AFP)

Libya has refused to take in a group of 177 migrants stranded on an Italian coastguard boat off a Sicilian port after Rome insisted they would not be allowed to disembark. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini threatened earlier this week to return the migrants to the North African country unless other European governments offered to take some of them in. But Mohamed Siala, foreign minister of the UN-backed Libyan unity government, said that “Libya does not accept this unjust and illegal measure because it already has more than 700,000 migrants” on its territory.

In a statement late Wednesday, he called on the international community “to put pressure on the countries of departure to repatriate their nationals”, adding that Libya had only served as a transit point. The Italian boat “Diciotti” arrived on Monday night off the Sicilian port of Catania. Plunged into chaos following the fall and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya has become a prime transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants making dangerous clandestine bids to reach Europe. The country takes in migrants whose boats are intercepted in its waters by the Libyan coastguard, but it has repeatedly rejected those rescued by foreign navies or by humanitarian organisations off its coast.

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Who’s going to blame them?

Italy Threatens To Stop EU Funding Unless Other States Accept Refugees (ZH)

On Thursday, out of the blue, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio threatened to stop financial contributions to the European Union next year unless other states agreed to take in migrants being held on a coastguard ship in Sicily. The Italian’s ultimatum comes less two months after Europe triumphantly announced a “vaguely worded” deal on how to resolve the continent’s migrant influx. “If tomorrow at the meeting of the European Commission nothing is decided on the redistribution of migrants and the Diciotti ship, I and the entire Five Star Movement are not willing to give 20 billion to the European Union,” Di Maio said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

He echoed statements by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who has refused to allow 177 migrants to leave the Italian coastguard ship Ubaldo Diciotti, which is docked in the Sicilian port of Catania. While Italian prosecutors opened an investigation into the detention of the migrants and 29 children were allowed to disembark, Salvini still won’t allow the rest of the people to come ashore and has attacked the EU for its “cowardly silence.” Salvini described those aboard as “illegal immigrants,” and said they won’t be allowed to step foot on Italian soil. Instead, he insisted fellow European Union nations take in some of the asylum-seekers. “Italy’s no longer Europe’s refugee camp,” he tweeted. “Upon my authorization, no one is disembarking from the Diciotti.”

Salvini, who is also interior minister, was defiant in the face of a criminal probe into possible kidnapping charges for forcing the migrants to remain on the vessel. The chief prosecutor from the Agrigento court, Luigi Patronaggio, on Wednesday boarded the Diciotti and said afterwards he had opened a probe against “unknown” persons for holding the migrants against their will. “There’s a court that is investigating whether those illegally on board the ship have been kidnapped,” Salvini said in a radio interview. “I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini… I’m the Interior Minister and I think it is my duty to defend the security of this country’s borders.”

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Just liked the graph, don’t want to tell anyone to buy anything.

Inflation Adjusted Gold Is At Historical Lows (von Greyerz)

Gold at $1,220, adjusted for real inflation, is almost as cheap as it was in 1999 at the $250 low. More importantly, inflation adjusted gold is now very near the 300 year low of 1999. So right now gold is again unloved and undervalued and therefore a bargain. On an inflation adjusted basis, the 1980 high of $850 would today be $16,650. Long before we get hyperinflationary gold prices, that $16,600 level should be easily reached. Owning physical gold for wealth protection purposes is the best preserved secret in the West. In this part of the world, virtually nobody holds gold. At the same time, the wise people in the East continue to buy all the gold that is produced annually. China, India, Iran, Turkey, Russia and many more Eastern nations understand history and economics. That is why they are accumulating major gold reserves at these levels.

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Bayer really didn’t see this coming.

Monsanto Faces A Surge In Lawsuits Following Cancer Ruling (BBC)

American agro-chemicals company Monsanto is facing a surge in lawsuits that may cost its new owners, Bayer, billions in damages. Monsanto manufactures glyphosate-based weedkillers which some believe are carcinogenic. Last month it lost a $289m (£225m) court case that alleged its products Roundup and RangerPro had led to a Californian man’s terminal cancer. Bayer said the number of outstanding cases had risen from 5,200 to 8,000. The German firm’s shares have lost 11% of their value since it lost the case in a California court to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who claimed Monsanto herbicides containing glyphosate, had caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Bayer shares fell another 1.7% on Thursday. Chief executive Werner Baumann said that when it bought Monsanto, Bayer “could not foresee the scope of the current lawsuits.” The $63bn deal was completed earlier this month. “In the course of the acquisition, we carried out due diligence as is standard practice when taking over a listed company. In doing so, we of course also considered the legal risks,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper. In a conference call on Thursday, Mr Baumann added: “Our view is that the number is not indicative of the merits of the plaintiffs’ cases”.

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“..Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything.”

‘Monsanto’s History Is One Full of Vast Lies’ (Spiegel)

On Aug. 10, lawyer Brent Wisner, 34, scored a landmark verdict on behalf of his client, cancer patient Dewayne Johnson. A court in San Francisco ruled that Monsanto was guilty of concealing the potential health risks associated with its weed killer glyphosate, which is sold in the United States under the brand name Round Up. The jury ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages to the plaintiff, who had used Round Up at his job as a janitor for a school district. The court said Monsanto should have labeled the product’s possible dangers for consumers. Monsanto, which was recently acquired by German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has denied any link between the product and the disease. Wisner spoke to DER SPIEGEL about the case in an interview.

[..] DER SPIEGEL: How much does Monsanto have to do with the fact that a verdict was reached only now? Wisner: A lot! Monsanto has an internal program called “Let Nothing Go.” The aim of this program is to attack scientists who are critical of Monsanto products. They go after people directly and discredit them. They also pay others to do so. DER SPIEGEL: Are there other such PR strategies? Wisner: Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything. As part of that effort, they also engage lobbyists – scientists who Monsanto pays for their opportunism. Such programs reflect a corporate culture that shows no interest whatsoever in public health, only in profits.

DER SPIEGEL: Monsanto continues to dispute that it tried to influence scientific research. What was the critical factor for jurors in reaching the verdict? Wisner: I believe it was the scientific findings themselves. The 12 jurors were not lightweights after all. There was a molecular biologist, an environmental engineer, a lawyer. Some colleagues told me: “Be careful Brent, so much intelligence can be an impediment.” But I was certain that the arguments in the critical studies, parts of which were suppressed, were the strongest evidence we had.

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Sad and joyful. Why Korea’s really want peace.

After 70 Years, Korean Father, Son Share A Drink For First, Last? Time (H.)

As soon as 91-year-old Lee Gi-sun got up on the morning of Aug. 22, he pulled out one of the bottles of soju, a potent distilled liquor, that he’d stashed in the bottom of his suitcase. He’d brought this precious liquor to accompany a ceremony for which he’d waited his entire life – a daytime drink with his son! At 10 am on Aug. 22, the final day of the three-day reunion for families divided by the Korean War, family members met in the banquet hall on the second floor of the Mt. Kumgang Hotel to say their goodbyes. A few hours hence, they would return to their respective homes in South and North Korea, with no guarantee of seeing each other again. The father filled a cup with the soju he’d brought.

After taking a sip himself, he silently passed the cup to his son. Gi-sun’s North Korean son, Gang-son (69 years old himself), was also silent as he took the cup and brought it to his lips. This was the first drink shared by the white-haired father and son, and it very well might be their last. It was a heartrending moment when the father’s lifelong dream came true. “We were separated when he was two years old. Two years old,” the father said, letting the last phrase linger in the air. In Jan. 1951, he and his older brother had left their families behind in their home of Yonbaek County, Hwanghae Province, fleeing south with UN troops beaten back by the Chinese onslaught. Gi-sun had assumed he would soon be able to return.

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Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 2:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Everything That Dies Does Not Come Back


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

 

 

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

Anyway, when reading John Vidal in the Guardian yesterday, I was struck by some numbers. Bayer-Monsanto, soon to be just Bayer, own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals in the world. That’s roughly comparable to the numbers of vertebrates and insects that have vanished from the countrysides of Germany, France and England. Life itself is dying. Species extinction is now a bigger threat than climate change. Vidal:

 

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals?

“Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.

It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.” It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by.

But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers. Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds.

Do note that although Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta may be large companies, Bayer-Monsanto alone own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals. Since they ‘only’ own 60% and 70%, they can’t be accused of running a monopoly. But their main product, glyphosate (Roundup) is also produced by Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. So together they do effectively run a monopoly. Just not ‘technically’. These guys have the world’s best and biggest legal, lobbying and PR teams. Because they’re after global control.

[..] because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard. Instead, it is coming from the likes of Debal Deb, an Indian plant researcher who grows forgotten crops and is the antithesis of Bayer and Monsanto. While they concentrate on developing a small number of blockbuster staple crops, Deb grows as many crops as he can and gives the seeds away.

This year he is cultivating an astonishing 1,340 traditional varieties of Indian “folk” rice on land donated to him in West Bengal. More than 7,000 farmers in six states will be given the seeds, on the condition that they also grow them and give some away.

This seed-sharing of “landraces”, or local varieties, is not philanthropy but the extension of an age-old system of mutualised farming that has provided social stability and dietary diversity for millions of people. By continually selecting, crossbreeding and then exchanging their seeds, farmers have developed varieties for their aroma, taste, colour, medicinal properties and resistance to pests, drought and flood.

The battle is between biodiversity and Monsanto, and the latter is winning big. Monsanto-Bayer wants farmers to grow only a few crops, that it has patents on, and to kill off everything else with the chemicals without which these crops will not grow. Monoculture on steroids, raised in sterile environments bereft of life. 75% of insects gone in Europe’s countrysides, 60% of vertebrates, birds and butterflies becoming a rarity.

It is insanity in its purest form. Insanity of individual people, insanity of legal systems, insanity of governance. No-one, and no country, should be obliged to prove that Monsanto’s products are killing off biodiversity. We have an instrument called the precautionary principle, and we must use it. Like Hippocrates’ First Do No Harm. It is not complicated.

But I must admit I sometimes think it’s already too late. Once you kill off 70% of any form of life, in any ecosystem, how is it going to recover? Because mind you, with the Bayer-Monsanto merger being approved worldwide, things are only going to get worse at ever increasing speed. The agro-chemical industry is a culture of death that relies for its profits on a giant die-off, probably worse than whatever it is that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

And the odds that mankind will survive this one are slim to none. Our survival depends one on one on the diversity in the ecosystems we reside in. But yeah, I hear you: intelligent species.

 

 

Here’s something I first published in December 2016. Things have gotten much worse much faster than I could have predicted back then. Kill Monsanto before it kills your children.

 

 

Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity

 


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

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

 

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

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Jun 052018
 


John French Sloan East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia 1901

 

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)
The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)
US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)
India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)
China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)
Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)
Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)
Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)
Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)
Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)
A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)
Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)
Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

 

 

Don’t think it will happen without an overall economic collapse.

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)

Trillions of dollars of fossil fuel wealth will be wiped out at some point over the next 17 years even if governments fail to impose binding carbon emissions limits on industry to curb global warming, according to a major new study. Environmentalists and policymakers have long warned of the threat of a “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” for listed energy companies, based on the possibility they will never be able to realise the value of their vast stores of oil, gas and coal if politicians actually deliver on their decarbonisation promises.

But today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case. “Our analysis suggests that, contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuels assets may happen even without new climate policies. This suggests a carbon bubble is forming and it is likely to burst,” said Professor Jorge Viñuales from Cambridge University. If policymakers did deliver on the decarbonisation programmes, the loss for investors would be even more rapid.

The research is at odds with work from the International Energy Agency, which projects steady price rises for fossil fuels until 2040. And Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has also done nothing to persuade most investors to take the stranded assets warning seriously. But the researchers’ new “simulation-based, energy-economy-carbon-cycle climate” model suggests investing in fossil fuel firms today is likely to prove a disastrous bet, suggesting that between $1 trillion and $4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035.

Read more …

Steel and concrete prices better not rise.

The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)

Electricity production is heavily dependent on materials like steel, concrete, copper and aluminum, for both producing electricity and moving it around to where it’s needed (see figure). Solar and Wind energy take more steel than any other energy source. Natural gas and nuclear take the least. Solar needs 1,600 tons of steel per MW, wind energy needs over 400 tons of steel, while gas and nuclear need only 4 and 40 tons, respectively. Wind and solar also require ten times more transmission, also heavily steel-intensive, since they are usually sited far away from where the energy is used.

The average high-voltage transmission tower includes about 30 tons of steel and transmission wire contains about a ton of steel per mile. Going from our biggest solar array, located in the Mohave Desert, to Los Angeles is almost 300 miles, requiring on the order of 10,000 tons of steel depending on specific design. While we tend to think of renewables as associated with Blue States, they are actually growing faster in Red States. Four of the five states with the most installed wind energy are Texas (20,321 MW), Iowa (6,917 MW), Oklahoma (6,645 MW) and Kansas (4,451 MW). The only Blue State in the top five is California (5,662 MW).

Read more …

Prop up your stock some more.

US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)

Money is pouring into the U.S. economy and in turn helping provide support for the otherwise struggling stock market. If current conditions persist, corporations are likely this year to inject more than $2.5 trillion into what UBS strategists term “flow” — the combination of share buybacks, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity. The development comes as companies find themselves awash in cash, thanks primarily to years of stashing away profits plus the benefits of a $1.5 trillion tax break this year that slashed corporate rates and encouraged firms to bring back money idling overseas. Companies have nearly $2.5 trillion in cash parked domestically, according to the Federal Reserve, and as much as $3.5 trillion overseas, various estimates have shown.

When all is said and done for 2018, UBS expects dividend issuance to top $500 billion, buybacks to range from $700 billion to $800 billion, and M&A to constitute about $1.3 trillion. If the numbers pan out, they would equate to about 10% of the S&P 500’s market cap and 12.5% of GDP. “Assuming improving growth and stable rates, we expect the positive positioning/flow backdrop to support US equities, which is important as the daily corporate flow slows from mid-June to mid-July,” UBS strategist Keith Parker said in a note. Parker pointed out that the firm has overweight positions in both tech and health care as the two sectors are leading the buyback boom.

Buybacks specifically have been on a torrid pace and are helping provide a floor to a market that for much of 2018 had looked tired and volatile after a 20% S&P 500 gain the year before. Repurchases are up 83% year to date, far ahead of the 9% gain in dividends, while M&A activity involving U.S. companies has surged 130%, according to UBS. [..] UBS estimates that the combination of buybacks, dividends and demand flows account for some 40% in performance this year. The S&P 500 has nudged 2.6% higher and the Dow industrials are just ahead of breakeven.

Read more …

The Fed retreats and the Treasury issues new debt.

India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)

In an op-ed published overnight in the FT, a central banker writes that when it comes to the turmoil gripping the world’s Emerging Markets, whether it is the acute, idiosyncratic version observed in Argentina and Turkey, which according to JPM may be doomed, or the more gradual selloffs observed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and India, don’t blame the Fed’s rate hike cycle. Instead blame the “double whammy” of the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet coupled with the dollar draining surge in debt issuance by the US Treasury.

That’s the message from the current Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel, who writes that “unlike previous turbulence, this episode cannot be attributed to the US Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rates, which have been rising steadily since December 2016 in a calibrated manner.” But does that mean that the Fed is not to blame for what increasingly looks like another budding EM crisis? Not at all: according to Patel, the dollar funding shortage “upheaval” stems from what he sees as the confluence of two significant events of which the Fed’s balance sheet reduction is one, while the second is the dramatic increase in US Treasury issuance to pay for Trump’s tax cuts; what is notable is that both events are drastically soaking up dollar liquidity.

As a result, Patel blames a lack a coordination between the Fed and Treasury on the adverse flow through across global funding markets as a result of this decline in dollar liquidity, and writes that “given the rapid rise in the size of the US deficit, the Fed must respond by slowing plans to shrink its balance sheet. If it does not, Treasuries will absorb such a large share of dollar liquidity that a crisis in the rest of the dollar bond markets is inevitable.” Putting these two parallel processes – which threaten to materially impair dollar funding markets – in context, on one hand there is QT, or the gradual decline in the Fed’s balance sheet which is set to peak at a rate of $50BN/month by October, while at the same time US net Treasury issuance is set to jump to $1.2 trillion in 2018 and 2019 to cover the forecasted budget deficit of $804BN and $981BN in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

And in a curious coincidence, the withdrawal of dollar funding by the Fed in monthly terms, as it reduces its reinvestment of income received, is proceeding at roughly the same pace as that of net issuance of debt by the US government. Furthermore, both processes are open ended which means that over the next few years, the government’s net issuance will stabilize, albeit at a high level, whereas the Fed’s balance-sheet reduction will keep rising. Both are terrible news for Emerging Markets, which are in desperate need of reversing the ongoing dollar outflows; however as long as Trump continues to make America great, and funds said stimulus with excess debt issuance, emerging market turmoil is virtually guaranteed.

Read more …

China retreats, too.

China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)

China’s debt crackdown is a key risk to the country’s economic growth and will have significant knock-on effects for the global economy, particularly emerging markets with high commodity dependence or close Chinese trade links, Fitch Ratings said. Beijing’s campaign to put a lid on debt could also lead to a sharp slowdown in business investment, Fitch said late on Sunday, forecasting that growth in the world’s second-biggest economy would slow to around 4.5% over the medium term. Fitch said the implications of this scenario for the global economy would be significant but not dramatic, unlike a full-scale hard landing.

One of the most significant effects would be on commodity prices, with Fitch expecting oil and metal prices to fall 5 to 10% from its baseline scenario, reflecting China’s large role as a commodity consumer. In April, a Reuters poll of 72 institutions showed economists expected China’s economic growth to slow to 6.5% this year and 6.3% next year as Beijing extends its crackdown on riskier lending practices. GDP in 2017 expanded 6.9% in real terms and 11.2% in nominal terms. Beijing’s financial crackdown, now in its third year, has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is choking off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.

The ratio of Chinese corporate debt to GDP is already very high by international standards – at 168% in 2017 – and is expected to start rising again as nominal GDP growth declines towards 8% from the unusually high rate of more than 11% in 2017, Fitch said. If the government aims to stabilize its corporate debt ratio by 2022, Fitch said China’s nominal economic growth rate could fall by 1 percentage point a year over the medium term while business investment growth would drop 5percentage points per year.

Read more …

Restructuring Target2. That should be fun.

Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)

The political upheaval and social unrest fueling the current crisis in Italy should surprise no one. On the contrary, the only uncertainty was when exactly matters would come to a head. Now they have. Italy’s per capita GDP in 2018 is about 8% below its level in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. And the International Monetary Fund’s projections for 2023 suggest that Italy will still not have fully recovered from the cumulative output losses of the past decade. Among the 11 advanced economies that were hit by severe financial crises in 2007-2009, only Greece has suffered a deeper and more protracted economic depression.

Greece and Italy were the two economies carrying the highest debt burdens at the outset of the crisis (109% and 102% of GDP, respectively), leaving them poorly positioned to cope with major adverse shocks. Since the crisis erupted a decade ago, economic stagnation and costly banking weaknesses have propelled debt burdens higher still, despite a decade of exceptionally low interest rates. Greece has already faced more than one “credit event” and, while Italy has also had a couple of close calls, the spring of 2018 is turning out to be its most tumultuous episode yet. The summer will probably be worse, bringing Italy closer to a sovereign debt crisis. On the surface, general government debt appears to have stabilized since 2013, at around 130% of GDP. However, as I have stressed here and elsewhere, this “stability” is misleading.

General government debt is not the whole story for Italy, even setting aside the private debt loads and the recent renewed upturn in nonperforming bank loans (a daunting legacy of the financial crisis). When evaluating Italy’s sovereign risk, the central bank’s debts (Target2 balances) must be added to those of the general government. As the most recent available data (through March) show, these balances increase the ratio of public-sector debt to GDP by 26%. With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.

Read more …

What the euro has meant for Greece and Italy: lower wages, higher unemployment and higher current account deficit.

Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)

[..] we thought it would be a good idea to remind readers why the euro exists in the first place. The briefest possible answer: to make sure the Deutsche Mark does not. As presented in the chart below – which shows the performance for each of the EU12 countries against the German DEM in every decade from the 1950s to the start of the Euro in 1999 – apart from a small revaluation of core countries in the 1990s, every country devalued to Germany in every decade between the 1950s and the start of the Euro. Said otherwise, the Deutsche Mark appreciated in value against all of its European peers for 5 consecutive decades, a condition which if left unchanged, would have led to an economic and trade crisis.

And as a bonus chart, here is same data (with the US and UK added) from the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 to the start of the Euro (Lira -82% devaluation to German DM) and during the 1990s (-24% devaluation) – the decade immediately leading up to the Euro start. As can be seen Italy is amongs the weakest performers relative to the German DM over these periods and showed the momentum that existed in the period leading up to the start of the Euro.

And while the fixed exchange of the Euro for European nations allowed the German export industry to go into overdrive, the lack of the possibility for an external, i.e. currency, devaluation, meant that Italy has been forced to do it all by engaging in internal devaluation, i.e., lower wages, higher unemployment and boosting its current account deficit, which however is made virtually impossible given Italy’s deteriorating demographics. This is what DB’s Jim Reid said of Italy’s potential future: Looking forward, Italy will not find it easy to grow out of its problems as its facing one of the worst set of demographics of the G20 countries. Its population size has peaked (according to the UN) and is expected to decline out to 2050. Its working age population (15-64 year olds as a proxy) is set to fall -24% over the same period and is again one of the worst placed in the G20.

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“Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago..”

Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)

Housing in the Greater Toronto Area is, let’s say, retrenching. Canada’s largest housing market has seen an enormous two-decade surge in prices that culminated in utter craziness in April 2017, when the Home Price Index had skyrocketed 32% from a year earlier. But now the hangover has set in and the bubble isn’t fun anymore. Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago, to 7,834 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). It affected all types of homes, even the once red-hot condos: • Detached houses -28.5% • Semi-detached houses -29.4% • Townhouses -13.4% • Condos -15.5%.

It was particularly unpleasant at the higher end: Sales of homes costing C$1.5 million or more plummeted by 46% year-over-year to 508 homes in May 2018, according to TREB data. Compared to the April 2017 peak of 1,362 sales in that price range, sales in May collapsed by 63%. But it’s not just at the high end. At the low end too. In May, sales of homes below C$500,000 – about 68% of them were condos – fell by 36% year-over-year to 5,253 homes. The TREB publishes two types of prices – the average price and its proprietary MLS Home Price Index based on a “composite benchmark home.” Both fell in May compared to a year ago.

The average price in May for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) fell 6.6% year-over-year to C$805,320, and is now down 12.3%, or an ear-ringing C$113,000, from the crazy peak in April 2017. There are no perfect measures of home prices in a market. Each has its own drawbacks. Average home prices can be impacted by the mix and by a few large outliers – but over the longer term, it gives a good impression of the direction. The chart below shows thepercentage change in average home prices in the GTA compared to a year earlier:

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Because the boom was a bubble.

Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)

It doesn’t feel all that long ago that Australian banks were the envy of the world. In March 2009, when stress-testing of US financial institutions drove the final spasm of the previous year’s credit crisis, you could have bought all the shares in Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays with their $US8.4 trillion ($11 trillion) of gross assets for less than you’d pay for the equity of Westpac, with $US347 billion of assets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price peaked six years later just a sliver south of three times the value of its net assets, an extraordinary level in a business where price-book ratios have struggled to break above one times over the past decade.

With the current Royal Commission inquiring into practices in the country’s financial services industry and a slew of court cases, those high-flyers have come to earth with a bump. CBA on Monday agreed to pay $700 million to settle a money laundering case in which it admitted that a software update allowed about 54,000 reportable transactions to go unreported over a period of almost three years. On Friday, ANZ and local units of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they were facing possible criminal cartel charges over their handling of a $2.5 billion placement of ANZ shares in 2015. Having executives hauled up before government inquiries and paying out hundreds of millions in court settlements isn’t great for headlines, but it would be a mistake to see the declines in Australia’s banking sector as purely a result of this.

When your annual net income is in the region of $10 billion, as CBA’s is, a $700 million charge is more than just a rounding error. But the 1.2 per cent jump in the company’s stock after the settlement was announced Monday is an indication that the cost is worth less to shareholders than the benefit of putting the issue firmly in the past. The greater risk to Australia’s banks lurks not in the papers of regulators and inquisitors, but on the streets of the country’s sprawling suburbs. As we’ve argued before, the most ominous indicator to watch is also a favourite one of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Rents, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have been increasing at less than 1 per cent for nine consecutive quarters , the worst performance for the measure since the housing crash of the early 1990s.

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The spirit of Steve Jobs?!

Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)

Apple will attempt to frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems. “We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference. He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity. The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – held in San Jose, California – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of. “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. “Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?” “You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move. “Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont. “Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much. “Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

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Building on the Ring of Fire.

A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)

It’s only been in the last thirty years that Seattle hoisted up its tombstone cluster of several dozen office and condo towers. That’s what cities do these days to demonstrate their self-regard, and Seattle is perhaps America’s boomingest city, what with Microsoft’s and Amazon’s headquarters there — avatars of the digital economy. A megathrust earthquake there today would produce a scene that even the computer graphics artistes of Hollywood could not match for picturesque chaos. What were the city planners thinking when they signed off on those building plans?

I survived the journey through the Seattle tunnel, dogged by neurotic fantasies, and headed south to California’s Bay Area, another seismic doomer zone. For sure I am not the only casual observer who gets the doomish vibe out there on the Left Coast. Even if you are oblivious to the geology of the place, there’s plenty to suggest a sense of impossibility for business-as-usual continuing much longer. I got that end-of-an-era feeling in California traffic, specifically driving toward San Francisco on the I-80 freeway out in the suburban asteroid belt of Contra Costa County, past the sinister oil refineries of Mococo and the dormitory sprawl of Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette.

Things go on until they can’t, economist Herb Stein observed, back in the quaint old 20th century, as the USA revved up toward the final blowoff we’ve now entered. The shale oil “miracle” (so-called) has given even thoughtful adults the false impression that the California template for modern living will continue indefinitely. I’d give it less than five years now.

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Snowden deserves as much support as Assange does.

Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)

Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. In a phone interview to mark the anniversary of the day the Guardian broke the story, he recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.

Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.” What has happened in the five years since? He is one of the most famous fugitives in the world, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, a Hollywood movie, and at least a dozen books. The US and UK governments, on the basis of his revelations, have faced court challenges to surveillance laws. New legislation has been passed in both countries. The internet companies, responding to a public backlash over privacy, have made encryption commonplace.

Snowden, weighing up the changes, said some privacy campaigners had expressed disappointment with how things have developed, but he did not share it. “People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.” The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

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Bayer-Monsanto: “It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits..”

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn). The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”.

Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get. It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.

Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds. You might think that these mergers would alert the government, but because political parties in Britain are so inward-looking, and because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard.

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May 312018
 


Vincent van Gogh The sower 1888

 

Liquidity Crisis Coming: Here, There, Everywhere (Mish)
The Trump Effect Is Keeping Bull Market Alive – Robert Shiller (CNBC)
Global Growth Too Dependent On Cheap Borrowing – OECD (G.)
The Euro Has To Be Abandoned If Europe Is To Be Saved (Syll)
Italy Crisis: Workers Are Paying For Decisions Made Nearly 30 Years Ago (Clark)
Italy Crisis Dents Greek Hopes Of Returning To Bond Markets (G.)
Eurozone, IMF Seek Last-Minute Deal On Greek Debt Relief At G7 This Week (R.)
Fed Proposes Changes To Rule Limiting Risky Trading On Wall Street (AP)
US To Hit EU With Steel And Aluminum Tariffs (G.)
Abe Slams US Vehicle Tariff Hikes As ‘Unacceptable’ (JT)
George Osborne’s London Evening Standard Sells Its Editorial Independence (OD)
Bayer Wins US Nod For Monsanto Deal To Create Agrochemical Giant (R.)
The British Countryside Is Being Killed By Herbicides And Insecticides (G.)

 

 

Nuts all around.

Liquidity Crisis Coming: Here, There, Everywhere (Mish)

The problem is global. Central bank actions explain most of what you need to know. Italian bonds provide a good example. Despite the recent, massive selloff in Italian bonds, 10-year Italian bonds still trade at roughly the same yield as US 10-year bonds. Is there no default risk? No eurozone exit risk? Of course there is. But those bonds trade where they do because the ECB is engaged in QE to a far greater extent than the the Fed ever did. How nuts is that? 88% of the S&P is with Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street. How nuts is that? Close to $7 trillion in bonds trade with a negative yield. The figure was close to $10 trillion at one point. How nuts is that?

According to LCD, covenant-lite loan now account for a record 75% of the roughly $970 billion in outstanding U.S leveraged loans. Covenant-lite agreements vary, but they allow things like paying interest with more debt rather than cash or skipping repayments entirely for periods of time. How nuts is that? This is totally nuts, across the board. Puplava calls it “mindless”. I suspect he would be the first to admit that he seriously understated the concern. My “totally nuts” position is also too mild, but I also struggle for the precise words. A global liquidity crisis looms. It is entirely central-bank sponsored. Just don’t expect me, Puplava, or anyone else to tell you precisely when the crisis will hit. But it will. And when it does, don’t fool yourself into believing that you can necessarily escape in time.

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How to keep everything overpriced.

The Trump Effect Is Keeping Bull Market Alive – Robert Shiller (CNBC)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller hasn’t been the most optimistic voice on Wall Street, but he isn’t writing off the bull market. His chief reason: President Donald Trump’s pro-business influence. “There is a sort of optimism about the markets under Trump, and that’s continuing. I don’t see a reason for it about to change,” the Yale professor said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “There’s something about how the world is reacting to the president. Something about his self-confidence which is gradually lifting our spirits.” Shiller believes the momentum is so powerful, it’s essentially propping up a bull market that is getting long in the tooth.

“We’ve seen an overpriced stock market. We’ve seen concerns about that for years now,” he said. Shiller acknowledged it’s definitely possible the U.S. stock market could generate gains this year, but he warned the Trump effect “is not a very reliable thing.” So, he said the best strategy is to diversify abroad in this environment. “If you have been overexposed to the United States in your portfolio, this is a time to reconsider that,” Shiller said. “Not to pull out, but to balance things … Europe is cheaper than the U.S..”

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These clowns really believe this: “self-sustaining growth”.

Global Growth Too Dependent On Cheap Borrowing – OECD (G.)

Unemployment will drop to its lowest level since 1980 across the world’s richest nations, but global growth remains dependent on cheap borrowing and government spending, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) has warned in its latest global economy health check. The rise of tit-for-tat protectionist trade barriers, the return of volatile financial markets, and soaring oil prices also spell trouble for the global economy as it heads towards the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 banking collapse, the OECD said.

“The economic expansion is set to continue for the coming two years, and the short-term growth outlook is more favourable than it has been for many years,” said Angel Gurría, secretary general of the OECD, the Paris based thinktank for the world’s 35 richest nations, including the US, Britain, Brazil, Mexico and Russia. “However, the current recovery is still being supported by very accommodative monetary policy, and increasingly by fiscal easing. This suggests that strong, self-sustaining growth has not yet been attained.” Central banks in Britain, the eurozone, Japan and the US have kept interest rates low and pumped funds into their economies via quantitative easing to maintain investment and promote growth. Governments have eased back on austerity measures, allowing more state funds for infrastructure projects and welfare payments, especially pensions.

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In the end, people want to keep sovereignty. Which has largely been sold off by their leaders.

The Euro Has To Be Abandoned If Europe Is To Be Saved (Syll)

The euro has taken away the possibility for national governments to manage their economies in a meaningful way – and in Italy, just as in Greece a couple of years ago, the people have had to pay the true costs of its concomitant misguided austerity policies. The unfolding of the repeated economic crises in euroland during the last decade has shown beyond any doubts that the euro is not only an economic project but just as much a political one. What the neoliberal revolution during the 1980s and 1990s didn’t manage to accomplish, the euro shall now force on us.

But do the peoples of Europe really want to deprive themselves of economic autonomy, enforce lower wages and slash social welfare at the slightest sign of economic distress? Is increasing income inequality and a federal Uberstate really the stuff that our dreams are made of? I doubt it. History ought to act as a deterrent. During the 1930s our economies didn’t come out of the depression until the folly of that time, the gold standard, was thrown on the dustbin of history. The euro will hopefully soon join it.

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Countries will be forced to leave.

Italy Crisis: Workers Are Paying For Decisions Made Nearly 30 Years Ago (Clark)

You could say that Italy’s current problems – indeed all of Europe’s economic woes – go back to the early 1990s, when wrong-headed decisions were made by the European elite and enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty – which workers have been paying for ever since. Cuts in public spending have increased unemployment, which in turn has increased the deficit, which has led to more cuts, and so on and so on. Italy‘s National Debt is now 132% of its GDP. Although growth rates are now positive, its average annual rate of growth from 1999-2016 was zero. With 31.7% youth unemployment, La Dolce Vita and Ryan Paris’s catchy song, is a long distance memory.

The tragedy is that it was all so predictable. One man who warned what Europe was letting itself in for in the rush to squeeze as many countries as possible into the Eurozone, was the late Labour politician Peter Shore, the UK’s secretary of state for economic affairs from 1967-69 and trade minister from 1974-6. In the early-to-mid 1990s I was teaching economics in Switzerland and was in correspondence with Shore. He very kindly sent me copies of parliamentary debates where he had railed against the Maastricht Treaty and its imposition of a financial strait-jacket on EEC/EU members – regardless of the state of their economies.

Shore told the House of Commons on March 24, 1993: “The most astonishing omission from the treaty is the fact that it never faces the issue of the counter-recession policy, about which it contains not a word. One lesson that we should have learned from the disasters of the inter-war years was that tendency to go too high in a boom, and too low in recession and slump. “Why is that aspect not written into the protocol? Why does it not say that we must recognise those counter-cyclical problems, and will certainly do so if unemployment grows by X per cent? Instead of having merely 3% and 60% for borrowing and debt, why not have 3, 4 or 5% of the level of unemployment or the fall in GDP?”

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“Events in Italy are changing everything.”

Italy Crisis Dents Greek Hopes Of Returning To Bond Markets (G.)

Greece is watching the unfolding crisis in Italy with growing nervousness. Events in Rome are eliciting a sense of deja vu in Athens, the capital long on the frontline of the eurozone crisis. And nerves are being rattled. “We want a stable, democratic and pro-European Italy,” the country’s foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, told reporters. “We are worried that if there is instability and it has an impact on the financial situation, this could create problems for us.” The turmoil in Italy could not come at a worse time for Greece. After almost a decade of exclusion from international markets, the debt-stricken nation had set its sights on returning to much-needed normality this summer.

Hopes had been high that when it emerged from its third multi-billion EU-funded bailout programme, Athens would regain market access. But on Wednesday government officials, bankers and analysts were decidedly downbeat. All agreed that with political uncertainty raging across the Ionian Sea, and global investors jittery, the prospect of Greece tapping markets any time soon was beginning to resemble a pipe dream. With soaring bond yields – interest rates on government borrowing – it was out of the question the country could afford the interest rates that would allow it to assume the mantle of post-bailout normality.

“What is happening in Italy worries us immensely,” a senior Bank of Greece official said. “The bond markets have gone mad in southern Europe. With such yields it is totally prohibitive that Greece could return to them when the programme ends.” [..] Italy’s financial turmoil has put hopes of “a clean exit,” on the back burner. “The government’s narrative of clean breaks, and going it alone, is over for now,” a well-placed official conceded. “Events in Italy are changing everything.”

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With Italy on the horizon? It amkes little difference, nobody wants to reduce the principal of the debt. And that is what is needed.

Eurozone, IMF Seek Last-Minute Deal On Greek Debt Relief At G7 This Week (R.)

Euro zone policy-makers will seek last-minute backing this week from the IMF for their debt-relief offer to Greece, to ensure it is credible with markets and draws investors back to Greece after it exits its bailout. The talks are to take place on the sidelines of a meeting of in Canada of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s top seven economies, the G7, in June, officials involved in the negotiations said. The bailout ends on Aug. 20. “This thing has to be done now,” one senior official involved in the talks said. If no deal is agreed by next Monday, the official said, the IMF would most likely not take part in the bailout at all.

After three successive bailouts since Athens lost market access in 2010, euro zone governments are now Greece’s main creditors, with total loans of €230 billion so far. The IMF took part in the first two bailouts, but has refused to join in the third, which began in 2015. It says the euro zone must agree on how to make Greek debt, now at 179% of GDP, sustainable. Euro zone finance ministers have argued they can only give such details towards the end of the three-year bailout. So the IMF has remained only an observer over the past three years. [..] The IMF and the euro zone agree there should be no “haircut” – a reduction in the principal of the debt – but only an extension of maturities and grace periods.

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I smell bailouts.

Fed Proposes Changes To Rule Limiting Risky Trading On Wall Street (AP)

The Federal Reserve is proposing to ease a rule aimed at defusing the kind of risk-taking on Wall Street that helped trigger the 2008 financial meltdown. The Fed under new leadership on Wednesday unveiled proposed changes to the Volcker Rule, which bars banks’ risky trading bets for their own profit with depositors’ money. The high-risk activity is known as proprietary trading. The proposed changes would match the strictest applications of the rule to banks that do the most trading – 18 banks with at least $10bn in trading assets and liabilities. They account for 95% of all US bank trading and include some foreign banks with US operations, Fed officials said.

Less stringent requirements would apply to banks that do less trading. The idea is to make it easier for banks to comply with the Volcker Rule without sacrificing the banks’ safety and soundness, the officials said. “The proposal will address some of the uncertainty and complexity that now make it difficult for firms to know how best to comply, and for supervisors to know that they are in compliance,” Fed chair Jerome Powell said at a meeting of the Fed governors. “Our goal is to replace overly complex and inefficient requirements with a more streamlined set of requirements.”

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The EU is not about to give in.

US To Hit EU With Steel And Aluminum Tariffs (G.)

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to impose import tariffs on European steel and aluminum after finding no satisfaction in its effort to win trading concessions on the issue. An announcement dropping the EU from an exemption to global tariffs of 25% on imported steel, and 10% on aluminum, could come on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move is likely to bring retaliatory action from European Union trade regulators who have warned they will target American products as motorcycles, jeans and bourbon if additional US tariffs are imposed.

Signs of increasing friction between the US and Europe over trade came early Wednesday when Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, drew a sharp line with the EU over Chinese trade negotiations, telling counterparts at a trade development panel in Paris that Europe is using tariffs as an “excuse” to refuse trade negotiations. “China are paying their tariffs,” Ross told the panel. “China hasn’t used that as an excuse not to negotiate … It’s only the EU that is insisting we can’t negotiate if there are tariffs,” he added. Ross’s comments were made in response to EU criticism of import tariffs the Trump administration imposed on dozens of trade partners in March. On Tuesday, the White House added $50bn in new tariffs despite telling China the trade dispute was “on hold” while negotiations continued.

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Make Detroit great again.

Abe Slams US Vehicle Tariff Hikes As ‘Unacceptable’ (JT)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported move to impose tariffs of up to 25% on imported vehicles as unwarranted and offensive. “If the U.S. slaps Japan, its ally, with tariffs like this, that would be incomprehensible and unacceptable,” Abe told the head of the Democratic Party for the People, Yuichiro Tamaki, during a debate between party leaders in the Diet. The Trump administration recently launched a Section 232 national security probe into whether vehicle and parts imports are harming the U.S.’s domestic auto industry — a step that could provide Trump with the legal basis to institute tariffs.

The move followed yet another surprise announcement by the Trump administration in March that Japan, unlike Washington’s other key allies and partners, wouldn’t be excluded from steel and aluminium tariffs. Tamaki said the hike, if realized, would “deal a severe blow to Japan’s economy.” “Did you get an advance notice on this measure?” Tamaki asked Abe. “You yourself often claim that Japan and the U.S. are 100% together. If there had been no heads-up from the U.S. side on this matter, I’d have to suspect that we may not be seen as their ally.” Abe dodged Tamaki’s question, but stressed he had explained to Trump in their past conversations that Japanese automobile makers are “vastly contributing” to the U.S. economy by creating jobs.

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Why am I not surprised?

George Osborne’s London Evening Standard Sells Its Editorial Independence (OD)

London’s Evening Standard newspaper, edited by the former chancellor George Osborne, has agreed a £3 million deal with six leading commercial companies, including Google and Uber, promising them “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment coverage, openDemocracy can reveal. The project, called London 2020, is being directed by Osborne. It effectively sweeps away the conventional ethical divide between news and advertising inside the Standard – and is set to include “favourable” news coverage of the firms involved, with readers unable to differentiate between “news” that is paid-for and other commercially-branded content.

Leading companies, most operating global businesses, were given detailed sales presentations by Evening Standard executives at the newspaper’s west London offices in an effort to sign them up to the lucrative deal. Among those that have paid half a million pounds each to be involved are international taxi-app firm Uber, which is facing an imminent court appeal against the decision to cancel its licence to operate in London. The Evening Standard has previously come under fire for not declaring Osborne’s £650,000-a-year part time job with the fund managers BlackRock, who hold a £500m stake in Uber.

The global tech giant, Google, still recovering from reputational damage over its low UK tax bills and criticism over its close relationship to the Cameron-Osborne government, has also signed up. Some companies, including Starbucks, walked away from the Evening Standard’s pitch, rejecting the offer of paying to boost their reputations through tailored news and comment. London 2020 is scheduled to start on June 5. Unbranded news stories, expected to be written by staff reporters – but paid for by the new commercial “partners” as part of the 2020 deal – have already been planned for inclusion in the paper’s news pages within a week of the project’s launch.

The London Evening Standard has a circulation of close to 900,000 and distributes more copies within a two-mile radius of Westminster than the Times does across the UK nationally. Many London commuters, who pick up their free copy of the Standard at underground and rail stations, will be unaware that they will be reading paid-for news coverage that is part of a wider commercial deal. An increasing number of British newspapers often carry “native advertising”, essentially paid-for commercials designed to look like independent editorial articles.

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It is a sad day.

Bayer Wins US Nod For Monsanto Deal To Create Agrochemical Giant (R.)

Bayer won U.S. approval for its planned takeover of Monsanto after agreeing to sell about $9 billion in assets, clearing a major hurdle for the $62.5 billion deal that will create by far the largest seeds and pesticides maker. Makan Delrahim, who heads the U.S. Justice Department’s (DoJ) Antitrust Division, said the asset sales agreed to by Bayer were the “largest ever divestiture ever required by the United States.” A Bayer spokesman said the planned sale of businesses with 2.2 billion euros ($2.54 billion) in sales to BASF already agreed to address antitrust concerns, mainly in Europe, were not materially different from the DoJ’s demands. “Receipt of the DOJ’s approval brings us close to our goal of creating a leading company in agriculture,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement.

Bayer’s move to combine its crop chemicals business, the world’s second-largest after Syngenta, with Monsanto’s industry-leading seeds business, is the latest in a series of major agrochemicals tie-ups. U.S. chemicals giants Dow Chemical and DuPont merged in September 2017 and are now in the process of splitting into three units. In other consolidation in the sector, China’s state-owned ChemChina purchased Syngenta and two huge Canadian fertilizer producers merged to form a new company, now called Nutrien. Bayer committed to selling its entire cotton, canola, soybean and vegetable seeds businesses and digital farming business, as well its Liberty herbicide, which competes with Monsanto’s Roundup.

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As the industry that produces them gets bigger.

The British Countryside Is Being Killed By Herbicides And Insecticides (G.)

In June 2011 I took a long drive up the A1, the Great North Road. At Scotch Corner I turned for Barnard Castle. The villages were well kept, the countryside was green, the fields dotted with sheep. Everything was normal. Or so I thought. Beyond Barnard Castle I took a narrow lane into part of Upper Teesdale and suddenly colours exploded along the roadside. I stopped the car and jumped out. There was a bed of orchids, hundreds of them, and behind that, billowing banks of violet, scarlet, white, yellow and cornflower blue. I had seen alpine meadows, but this took my breath away. Further into the dale I found a footpath that led me down beside a shady brook. There were more orchids of a different species and a grass snake hunting frogs in a pool.

Out in the open again, there was the haunting cry of curlews overhead, then redshanks, plovers and snipe. I spent two days up there, talking to environmentalists and farmers involved in the upland hay meadow project for the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The landowners were being paid to restrict the use of fertiliser, not employ herbicides, and stop grazing after mid-May. Together with some seeding programmes and careful monitoring, the meadows had become magnificent. When I drove back home, I came down to a countryside where the only flowers were dandelions, watched over by crows. The monotonous green of the rye grass was unbroken. Compared to what I had just experienced, it felt like a desert. I felt cheated. My entire adult life had been spent admiring a shoddy and simplified reproduction, a poor impersonation of a much-loved friend.

[..] Seven years on, the statistics for the British countryside are heartbreaking. Over a quarter of all British birds are under threat, eight species are almost extinct. Three-quarters of all flying insects have disappeared since 1945, including a staggering 60 different moths. Orchid ranges have shrunk by half; two species are gone. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. [..] 40% of all species are in moderate or steep decline. Over a quarter of the hedgehog population has disappeared in a decade. Toads are down 68% in 30 years, water voles are no longer found in 94% of the places where they once lived. Likewise mountain hares are in steep decline, as are rabbits. Even that great survivor, the fox, has lost over 40% of its population.

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Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Herbert Ponting Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Antarctica 1911

 

Something must be terribly wrong with the world. A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Bernie Sanders agrees with him about Amazon. What’s happening?

 

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined.

“And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders.

A backlash against Facebook, a backlash against Amazon. Are these things connected? Actually, yes, they are connected. But not in a way that either Trump or Sanders has clued in to. Someone who has, a for now lone voice, is David Stockman. Here’s what he wrote last week.

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion:

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity.

The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

The bubble economy, the everything bubble, that we have been forced into, with QE, ultra-low rates, central banks buying trillions in what at least used to be assets, and massive buybacks that allow companies to raise their ‘value’ into the stratosphere, has enabled a company like Amazon to kill off its competition, which consists of many thousands of retailers, that do have to run a profit.

It’s a money scheme that allows many of the most ‘valuable’ tech companies to elbow their way into our lives, in ways that may seem beneficial to us at first, but in reality will only leave us behind with much less choice, far less competition, and many, many fewer jobs. Once it’s done someone will mention ‘scorched earth’. But for now they are everybody’s darlings; they are, don’t you know, the tech giants, the brainchildren of the best that the best among us have to offer.

They don’t all work the exact same way, which may make it harder to recognize what they have in common. For some it’s easier to see than for others. It’s also difficult to list them all. Here’s a few: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Monsanto. Let’s go through the list.

 

Apple ? Yes, Apple too. But they make real things! Yes, but just as Apple CEO Tim Cook seeks to distance his company from the likes of Facebook on morals and ethics, he can’t deny that Apple sells a zillion phones to a large extent because everybody uses them to look at Facebook and Alphabet apps until their faces are blue. If data ethics are the only problem Cook sees, he’s in trouble.

Silicon Valley infighting shows that the industry does have an idea what is going wrong, in ways that should have already led to many more pronounced worries and investigations.

 

Silicon Valley Rivals Take Shots At Facebook

Mr. Cook, who has long sought to differentiate Apple on privacy matters, contrasted its focus on selling devices with Facebook and Google’s ad-based businesses that are built on user data. Asked what he would do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

[..] Days earlier, François Chollet, an artificial intelligence engineer at Google, sought to draw a line between his company and Facebook. He tweeted that Google products like search and Gmail help users “to do more, to know more.” Facebook’s newsfeed, he wrote, “manipulates your worldview and seeks to maximally waste your time.”

[..] In January, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company sells business software services, said that the addictive nature of social media means it should be regulated like a health issue.“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Mr. Benioff told CNBC when asked how Facebook should be regulated. Some of the most cutting rebukes have come from people who know Facebook well.

In November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said that Facebook executives, including himself, were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by designing a platform built on social validation. Mr. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook generally hasn’t responded to the criticism, but it did after sharp comments from its former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Mr. Palihapitiya said at a talk at Stanford University in November.

I would expect to hear a lot more of that sort of thing. Big Tech is changing the world in more ways than one. And spying on people Facebook-style is merely one of a long list of them. So yes, Apple certainly also belongs in that list. Facebook doesn’t build the devices people use to see what their friends had for breakfast, Apple does that. Moreover, Apple profits hugely from stock buybacks, so it fits in Stockman’s bubble finance definition of Amazon, too.

The failure of politics to investigate, and act against, those dopamine-driven feedback loops which exploit a vulnerability in human psychology in order to maximally waste your time and sell you product after product that you never (knew you) wanted is downright bizarre. Politicians only started talking about Facebook when a topic connected to Trump and Russia was linked to it.

 

Amazon: Trump can’t act fast enough on the tax situation and the US Postal deal. Not that that will solve the issue. Amazon, like all the companies on my list, can only be cut down to size if and when the everything bubble is. They are, after all, its children.

The most pernicious aspect of the Amazon ‘business model’, which all these firms share, and all are able to live by thanks to the central banks and the “greatest den of speculation in human history” they have created, is the prospect of world domination in their respective fields. They all hold in front of speculators the promise that they can crush all competition, or nearly all. Scorched earth, flat earth.

 

Facebook: their place in the list is obvious. What is it, 2.5 billion users? And what they don’t have is divvied up between them and Google when they buy up apps like Instagram. Officially competitors, but they have the exact same goals. And, like me, you may think: what’s the problem, just ban them from collecting all that data. Facebook has no reason to know, at least not one that serves us, where you were last Friday, and with whom. And just in case you missed that bit, they do.

But there their connection to the intelligence world comes in. Their platforms are better than anything the NSA has ever been able to develop. So we can say we don’t want Zuckerberg and Alphabet spying on us, but our own spies do want to do just that. That makes any kind of backlash much harder to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook account, they’ll find you anyway. Friend of a friend. We all have friends who are on Facebook, rinse and repeat.

The only hope there is, with Facebook as with the other companies, is for investors and speculators to dump their holdings in massive numbers. And that will only happen when the central bank Ponzi collapses. And it will, but by then we have a whole new set of problems.

 

Google: largely the same set of issues that Facebook has. Its tentacles are everywhere. Former CEO Eric Schmidt’s connections to the Pentagon should be really all you need to know. The EU may have issued all sorts of complaints and fines on competition grounds, but that makes no difference.

The one country with an effective response to Google and Facebook is China, that has largely banned both and built its own versions of their products. Which allows Beijing to ban people from boarding planes, buying homes etc., if their ‘social credit’ is deemed too low. If you want to be scared about where Big Tech’s powers can lead, look no further.

 

Tesla: Elon Musk has built a fantasy (and maybe I should put Paypal in this list too) on what everyone thinks must be done to ‘save the planet’ (yeah, build cars…) by grossly overstating the number of cars he can build, and financing his growth on not only speculation, but also on spectacular amounts of government subsidies (politicians want to save the planet, too).

And now he needs additional financing again. He will probably get it, again, but the Amazon backlash might have people take another look. One fine day… Fits David Stockman’s complaint to a t(ee), doesn’t have to make a profit. Musk has perfected that model.

 

Uber and Airbnb: why anyone anywhere would want to send money generated in their community, by renting out cars and apartments in that same community, to a bunch of people in Silicon Valley, is beyond me. Someone should set this up as an international effort that makes it easy for a community, a city etc., to provide this kind of service and make the profits benefit their own cities.

But like Amazon, they are free to run any competition into the ground because no profits are required until they have conquered the world. And then they can go nuts. It may look like a business model, but it isn’t. It’s a soon to be orphaned bubble child..

 

Monsanto: less obvious perhaps as an entry in the Big Tech list, but very much warranting a spot. And of course it stands for the entire chemical-seeds field. From Agent Orange to your children’s dinner plate. Monsanto has more lawyers and lobbyists on its payroll than it has scientists, but then its lofty goals outdo even those of Google or Amazon.

Facebook may focus on your addiction to human contact, but Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta et al have decided to make your food so addicted to their chemicals that they will in the future profit from every bite served on your table. How they will grow that food long term without any insects, bees or birds left is unclear, but they don’t seem to care much. As for profits? Monsanto seeks to rule the world, and for now care as little about profits as they do about insects.

 

Zuckerberg may claim that he only wants to improve Facebook’s service, but when that is done through for instance the 2012 so-called Transmission of Anger experiment in which the company tried to alter their users’ emotional states -and succeeded-, by manipulating their friends’ postings, that claim becomes pure ridicule. Selling off user data to scores of developers doesn’t help either. But do you see Congress tackling him in any serious way next week? Neither do I.

Because there’s one huge catch to the scenario that David Stockman -and I- painted, of the whole tech bubble collapsing when the financial bubble does. It is the links tech companies have built to intelligence. A group of Google employees wrote a letter to their CEO Sundar Pichai to protest the company’s involvement in “weaponized AI”, in the shape of Project Maven, a military surveillance engine to-be.

These people undoubtedly mean well, but they’re far too late. They will have to leave the “don’t be evil” company to actually not be evil. Because it’s not a big step from weaponized AI to killer robots. Microsoft is also part of the project, and Amazon is. If you work there and don’t want to be evil, you know what to do.

Yeah, it’s about our safety, and security, and political and military and economic power. But it’s also about spying on people, in even worse ways than Facebook does. So even as the central bank bubble, and the tech bubble, go poof, some of these companies may be saved by their military ties.

That sound you hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.