May 042020
 


Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

 

‘Biggest Failure In A Generation’: Where Did Britain Go Wrong? (SMH)
UK Chafes At COVID19 Death Toll Comparison With Italy (R.)
UK Health Passports ‘Possible In Months’ (G.)
Boris Johnson: COVID19 Vaccine Hunt ‘Most Urgent Endeavour Of Our Lives’ (PA)
As Lockdowns Ease, Some Countries Report New Infection Peaks (SCMP)
DOJ Intervenes For Church In Virginia Restrictions Challenge (Solomon)
Pompeo: ‘Significant’ Evidence New Coronavirus Emerged From Chinese Lab (R.)
Trump Administration Pushing To Rip Global Supply Chains From China (R.,)
Post-Coronavirus, Expect Manufacturing To Make A Mass Exodus From China (SCMP)
Leaving Amazon (Tim Bray)
Australia, New Zealand Mull Creating ‘Travel Bubble’ (SCMP)
Greece Sees Economy Tanking This Year On Coronavirus Impact (R.)
My Dad Is An ICU Doctor Treating COVID-19 Patients (Bess Kalb)
How Bad is Belgium Doing? (Roosens)
Scrutiny Of FBI Behavior In Russia Case Increases Pressure On Wray (Solomon)

 

 

• U.S. CDC reports 1,122,486 coronavirus cases, 65,735 deaths

• Johns Hopkins University records over 1.15 million cases in the country as of 8:30 pm Sunday (0030 GMT Monday), with 67,674 deaths, with Sunday’s 24-hour toll, which was similar to Saturday’s, showing a decline after hitting 2,502 Wednesday

• Novel coronavirus deaths in the US climb by 1,450 in the past 24 hours, a tally by Johns Hopkins University shows

 

 

Deaths are lower at “only” 3,519, cases not so much.

 

Cases 3,582,889 (+ 82,237 from yesterday’s 3,500,652)

Deaths 248,567 (+ 3,519 from yesterday’s 245,048)

 

 

 

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

 

 

From Worldometer

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

View from Australia.

‘Biggest Failure In A Generation’: Where Did Britain Go Wrong? (SMH)

Says Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an adviser to the World Health Organisation: “The countries that moved fast have curtailed the epidemic. The countries that delayed have not. It’s as simple as that.” Dr Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet medical journal, is even more damning: “The handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the UK is the most serious science policy failure in a generation.” Hancock and Johnson had their first discussion together about the virus on January 7. The government’s crisis committee, COBRA, would meet several times over the following weeks and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies started crunching the numbers.

The government knew a threat existed but did it fully understand just how bad it could get? By March 12 a full-scale outbreak had taken hold in Italy and the illness was spreading across Europe. More than 1000 Italians had already died and thousands more were gravely ill in packed hospitals in the country’s hard-hit north. The deadly potential of an invisible killer was becoming more obvious by the hour. That day, Johnson announced Britain would move from the “contain” phase of the emergency to the “delay” phase. This decision would prove a pivotal moment. The shift meant contact tracing would be abandoned, and testing would be restricted to those only in hospital with symptoms. The move was at odds with the WHO, which urged countries to “test, test, test”, as well as Germany’s much-lauded program of mass testing.

The Prime Minister warned at the March 12 press conference that the “worst public health crisis for a generation” was about to hit the country and that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time”. What he did not announce was a lockdown. Or anything close to it. Tougher measures would come but not yet, Johnson said, citing the need to introduce measures when they would have the most impact. But his chief scientific adviser also cast serious doubt on whether closing schools, banning mass gatherings or stopping international flights would ever be effective levers to pull.

Instead, Brits were encouraged to wash their hands and stay home for seven days if they had symptoms. Schools remained open, restaurants and bars traded as usual, and visitors were still allowed into care homes. Flights were arriving from mainland China, even though Australia had banned them six weeks earlier. Heaving public events were still allowed. A Champions League match in Liverpool drew a crowd of 52,000, about 3000 of whom came from Madrid, where a partial lockdown was already in force. More than 250,000 tickets were sold for the Cheltenham horse racing festival. Both events are now being investigated by health officials who suspect they may have contributed to the rapid spread of the disease in the areas surrounding the venues.

Read more …

Yeah, it’s not fair! Lombardy has a much better health care system!

UK Chafes At COVID19 Death Toll Comparison With Italy (R.)

The British government sought on Sunday to deflect questions over a coronavirus death toll that is Europe’s second worst after Italy, with officials saying it would take a long time before the full picture became clear. Deaths rose to 28,446 as of May 2 – just short of Italy – increasing pressure on the government which has been accused of acting too slowly in the early stages of the outbreak. Cabinet minister Michael Gove, leading a daily coronavirus briefing, sidestepped a question on whether many lives could have been saved if mass testing had been rolled out earlier. “This government, like all governments, will have made mistakes, but it will be impossible to determine exactly which were the areas of greatest concern until some time in the future, when we have all the information that we need,” he said.

Only the United States has suffered more deaths than Italy and Britain. Ministers dislike comparisons of the headline death toll, saying that excess mortality – the number of deaths from all causes that exceed the average for the time of year – is a more meaningful metric. The most recent available data showed there were almost 12,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in the week to April 17. Of these, just under 9,000 were linked on death certificates to the COVID-19 respiratory disease. [..] the medical director of England’s health service, Stephen Powis, said during the briefing it would be some time before international comparisons of excess deaths could be made.

Earlier, the UK National Statistician Ian Diamond also cautioned against relying on rankings. “I’m not saying that we’re at the bottom of any potential league table – it’s almost impossible to calculate a league table – but I’m not prepared to say that we’re heading for the top,” he told BBC News.

Read more …

The UK wants to force people to use these things. What a great idea.

UK Health Passports ‘Possible In Months’ (G.)

Tech firms are in talks with ministers about creating health passports to help Britons return safely to work using coronavirus testing and facial recognition. Facial biometrics could be used to help provide a digital certificate – sometimes known as an immunity passport – proving which workers have had Covid-19, as a possible way of easing the impact on the economy and businesses from ongoing physical distancing even after current lockdown measures are eased. The UK-based firm Onfido, which specialises in verifying people’s identities using facial biometrics, has delivered detailed plans to the government and is involved in a number of conversations about what could be rolled out across the country, it is understood.


Its proposals, which have reached pilot stages in other countries, could be executed within months, it says. The firm could use antibody tests – proving whether someone has had the virus – or antigen tests, which show current infections. Digital identity experts say they are in the “discovery stage” of what could be tailored for the UK government, but developing a type of health certificate through app technology is gaining traction. The government is understood to be moving away from the phrase “immunity passport” as evidence continues to emerge on exactly how immunity develops after someone has had Covid-19. The World Health Organization has also issued a stark warning over attempts to give people false assurance through a passport scheme.

Read more …

It better not be. The track record on corona vaccines is dismal.

Boris Johnson: COVID19 Vaccine Hunt ‘Most Urgent Endeavour Of Our Lives’ (PA)

The race for a coronavirus vaccine is “the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes”, Boris Johnson will tell an international conference as he urges countries to “pull together” and share their expertise in a bid to halt the global pandemic. The UK prime minister is co-hosting the virtual coronavirus global response international pledging conference on Monday. As well as the UK, eight other countries and organisations are also co-hosting the forum which aims to bring in more than $8bn (£6.4bn) in funding to support the global response. The UK has pledged to give £388m in aid funding for research into tests, treatments and vaccines – part of a £744m commitment to help end the pandemic and support the global economy.


Johnson is expected to say: “To win this battle, we must work together to build an impregnable shield around all our people and that can only be achieved by developing and mass producing a vaccine. “The more we pull together and share our expertise, the faster our scientists will succeed. The race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries but the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes. “It’s humanity against the virus – we are in this together and together we will prevail.” The government believes tackling the virus globally is crucial to preventing a second wave reemerging in the UK and it will speed up the creation of vaccines, tests and treatment.

Read more …

A growing consensus appears to see 20,000 new US cases and 1,000-2,000 new deaths everyday through the summer.

As Lockdowns Ease, Some Countries Report New Infection Peaks (SCMP)

US President Donald Trump has revised upwards the number of Americans he expects to die from the coronavirus to as many as 100,000, as global cases surpassed 3.5 million on Monday, with deaths nearing a quarter of a million. North America and European countries accounted for most of the new cases reported in recent days, but numbers were rising from smaller bases in Latin America, Africa and Russia. India, second in population only to China, reported its biggest single-day jump yet with more than 2,600 new infections. And in Russia, new coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000 for the first time. The confirmed death toll in Britain climbed near that of Italy, the epicentre of Europe’s outbreak, even though the UK population is younger than Italy’s and Britain had more time to prepare before the pandemic hit.


The United States continues to see tens of thousands of new infections each day, with more than 1,400 new deaths reported Saturday. Health experts warn that a second wave of infections could hit unless testing is expanded dramatically after lockdowns are eased. But pressure to reopen economies keeps building after the weeks-long shutdown of businesses worldwide plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s and wiped out millions of jobs. China, which reported only three new cases on Monday, has seen a surge in visitors to newly reopened tourist spots after domestic travel restrictions were relaxed ahead of a five-day holiday that runs through Tuesday. Nearly 1.7 million people visited Beijing parks on the first two days of the holiday, and Shanghai’s main tourist spots welcomed more than 1 million visitors, according to Chinese media. Many spots limited daily visitors to 30 per cent of capacity.

Read more …

Just a terribly sad story. Junks and hookers.

DOJ Intervenes For Church In Virginia Restrictions Challenge (Solomon)

The Justice Department on Sunday intervened on behalf of a church fighting Virginia Gov. Ralph Northman’s virus restrictions in a federal court case that may determine whether religion is an essential service. The department filed a Statement of Interest in federal court in support of Lighthouse Fellowship Church, a congregation in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, that serves, among others, recovering drug addicts and former prostitutes. The church says it held a 16-person worship service in its 225-seat sanctuary on Palm Sunday while maintaining rigorous social distancing. At the end of the service, Chincoteague police issued Lighthouse’s pastor a criminal citation and summons, based on the Northam’s executive order.


Lighthouse sued on Friday, but a judge denied the church’s request for preliminary relief, ruling that “[a]lthough [professional-services] businesses may not be essential, the exception crafted on their behalf is essential to prevent joblessness.” DOJ’s filing argues the church can’t be treated differently than other businesses and that faith is essential during a pandemic. “For many people of faith, exercising religion is essential, especially during a crisis,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said. “The Commonwealth of Virginia has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and other workers to do the same.”

Read more …

Pompeo has played good cop bad cop all his life. But it only works for a while. Then people stop taking you serious.

Pompeo: ‘Significant’ Evidence New Coronavirus Emerged From Chinese Lab (R.)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the new coronavirus emerged from a Chinese laboratory, but did not dispute U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it was not man-made. “There is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week,” referring to the virus that emerged late last year in China and has killed about 240,000 people around the world, including more than 67,000 in the United States. Pompeo then briefly contradicted a statement issued last Thursday by the top U.S. spy agency that said the virus did not appear to be man-made or genetically modified.


That statement undercut conspiracy theories promoted by anti-China activists and some supporters of President Donald Trump who suggest it was developed in a Chinese government biological weapons laboratory. “The best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” Pompeo said. When the interviewer pointed out that was not the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies, Pompeo backtracked, saying: “I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said. I have no reasonto believe that they’ve got it wrong.” China’s Global Times, run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial responding to Pompeo’s Sunday interview that he did not have any evidence the virus came from the lab in Wuhan and that he was “bluffing,” calling on the United States to present the evidence.

Read more …

Leaving globalization and just-in-time behind will take a lot of effort.

Trump Administration Pushing To Rip Global Supply Chains From China (R.,)

The Trump administration is “turbocharging” an initiative to remove global industrial supply chains from China as it weighs new tariffs to punish Beijing for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, according to officials familiar with U.S. planning. President Donald Trump, who has stepped up recent attacks on China ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, has long pledged to bring manufacturing back from overseas. Now, economic destruction and the massive U.S. coronavirus death toll are driving a government-wide push to move U.S. production and supply chain dependency away from China, even if it goes to other more friendly nations instead, current and former senior U.S. administration officials said.

“We’ve been working on [reducing the reliance of our supply chains in China] over the last few years but we are now turbo-charging that initiative,” Keith Krach, undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment at the U.S. State Department told Reuters. “I think it is essential to understand where the critical areas are and where critical bottlenecks exist,” Krach said, adding that the matter was key to U.S. security and one the government could announce new action on soon. The U.S. Commerce Department, State and other agencies are looking for ways to push companies to move both sourcing and manufacturing out of China. Tax incentives and potential re-shoring subsidies are among measures being considered to spur changes, the current and former officials told Reuters.

“There is a whole of government push on this,” said one. Agencies are probing which manufacturing should be deemed “essential” and how to produce these goods outside of China. [..] “This moment is a perfect storm; the pandemic has crystallized all the worries that people have had about doing business with China,” said another senior U.S. official. “All the money that people think they made by making deals with China before, now they’ve been eclipsed many fold by the economic damage” from the coronavirus, the official said.

Read more …

Not a great take. Japan is furthest ahead in this.

Post-Coronavirus, Expect Manufacturing To Make A Mass Exodus From China (SCMP)

Already a few years ago, rising manufacturing costs in China along with weakening domestic economies in Japan and Taiwan had prompted some repatriation of manufacturing and decentralisation of supply chains. In 2016 the Japan External Trade Organisation estimated, based on its annual surveys of everything made and sold by Japanese companies, that goods “made and sold” overseas peaked at 58.3 per cent. That year foreign direct investment into China from Japan fell by 14.3 per cent. This year, we may see a mass exodus from China as the Japanese government tries to encourage Japanese firms to hasten the move of their factories back home, something the Europeans and Americans are also keen to do.

With unemployment surging and companies furloughing a significant percentage of staff, less money and more debt will linger after the coronavirus crisis. Like many governments, the UK is pumping enormous amounts of money into businesses to support cashflows and salaries, and Downing Street expects that the funds will put firms in a stronger position to tackle future crises. In my opinion, there are three strategic changes that investors will need to see take place to feel comfortable with business continuity risk.

1. Managers of small and medium-sized businesses as well as the planning departments of large firms will have realised the need to pay greater attention to supply-chain risk. The evidence of this would be some kind of “supply chain continuity planning”, much the same as Business Continuity Planning which has been a fixture of the finance industry for the last 30 years. I expect this to be particularly prevalent in pharmaceutical and medical industries, but it will affect all companies sourcing small and cheap, but critical, components overseas.

2. The dependence on logistics will have been reduced, resulting in greater sourcing of local components and suppliers integrating vertically with manufacturing. Additionally, production of goods will need to move closer to target markets. This year we have seen shipping severely hampered, and airfreight unable to pick up the slack, despite higher costs, due to border restrictions. This especially impacts perishable goods, as highlighted by the problems facing farmers in Europe.

3. Companies will have stocked up on more emergency cash. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the bankruptcy rate of well-known and smaller firms alike is set to rise, and this is likely to continue long after we return to some kind of “normal”.
Activist investors who have long criticised cash hoarding and have pushed for distributions to shareholders will face stronger headwinds. Company management will have good reason to simply say they are saving for a rainy day and point to the cash crisis of 2020. Inefficient use of capital – by activist investor standards – may just become the normal again.

Read more …

Nice letter from an Amazon VP.

Leaving Amazon (Tim Bray)

May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19. What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people. So I’m pretty blue. What happened · Last year, Amazonians on the tech side banded together as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), first coming to the world’s notice with an open letter promoting a shareholders’ resolution calling for dramatic action and leadership from Amazon on the global climate emergency. I was one of its 8,702 signatories.

While the resolution got a lot of votes, it didn’t pass. Four months later, 3,000 Amazon tech workers from around the world joined in the Global Climate Strike walkout. The day before the walkout, Amazon announced a large-scale plan aimed at making the company part of the climate-crisis solution. It’s not as though the activists were acknowledged by their employer for being forward-thinking; in fact, leaders were threatened with dismissal. Fast-forward to the Covid-19 era. Stories surfaced of unrest in Amazon warehouses, workers raising alarms about being uninformed, unprotected, and frightened. Official statements claimed every possible safety precaution was being taken. Then a worker organizing for better safety conditions was fired, and brutally insensitive remarks appeared in leaked executive meeting notes where the focus was on defending Amazon “talking points”.

Warehouse workers reached out to AECJ for support. They responded by internally promoting a petition and organizing a video call for Thursday April 16 featuring warehouse workers from around the world, with guest activist Naomi Klein. An announcement sent to internal mailing lists on Friday April 10th was apparently the flashpoint. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two visible AECJ leaders, were fired on the spot that day. The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing.

Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists. At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people. That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.

Read more …

Will we have such bubbles everywhere? Frannce has said its new quarantine rules don’t count for EU, UK.

Australia, New Zealand Mull Creating ‘Travel Bubble’ (SCMP)

New Zealand and Australia are discussing the potential creation of a “travel bubble” between the two countries, sources said on Monday, even as Australia reported its highest number of coronavirus cases in two weeks. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will take part in a meeting of Australia’s emergency coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday, the Australian government said, stoking speculation that two-way travel could be permitted in the near future. “The idea of a bubble with Australia was floated two weeks ago, and this is an example of the sort of action that could happen within it, while always ensuring the protection of public health,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement. “Officials in both countries are considering all aspects of the trans-Tasman concept, and planning how this could happen more broadly.”


The prospect of two-way travel was first proposed by Peters, though Ardern in April insisted it was a “long-term goal” and would need to include other Pacific countries. Australia and New Zealand have both slowed the spread of coronavirus in recent weeks to levels significantly below the those reported in the United States, Britain and Europe. Both governments attribute their success to social distancing restrictions and widespread testing. However, Australia on Monday reported 26 new cases, including a seven-year-old boy, its biggest daily jump in two weeks. That could rise as more states report throughout the day. Overall, Australia has recorded around 6,800 infections and 95 deaths, and New Zealand 1,137 cases and 20 fatalities.

Read more …

Going down due to the success of the lockdown.

Greece Sees Economy Tanking This Year On Coronavirus Impact (R.)

Greece expects its economy to contract by 4.7% to 8.9% this year under baseline and adverse scenarios taking into account the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the government’s 2020-21 stability programme submitted to the EU Commission projects. “The coronavirus outbreak has imposed a burden on the Greek economy as on the rest of the world economy, reversing the initial favourable short-term forecast,” the finance ministry said. The pandemic clouds the outlook for the global economy with a high degree of uncertainty. Demand, supply and liquidity shocks to the world economy set the stage for a deep global recession, worse than that of the 2008 financial crisis, the report said.


The Greek economy is exposed to external shocks due to a considerable dependency on tourism and transportation receipts,” it said, noting that the government’s main goals now were to bridge the growth gap caused by the health crisis and attract investment. The baseline projection for a 4.7% contraction takes into account the impact of policy response measures and assumes that the public health crisis fades in the second half of 2020. But under an alternative set of more adverse assumptions, the programme projects a significantly deeper contraction of up to 8.9% due to a steeper drop of exports and broader negative spillover effects. Either way, the primary budget balance, which excludes debt servicing outlays, will be in the red, according to the ministry projections – with a deficit of 1.9% under the baseline assumptions and a 2.8% hole under the adverse scenario.

Read more …

A Twitter thread. “You die alone from COVID. And you will be buried alone. Stay home.”

My Dad Is An ICU Doctor Treating COVID-19 Patients (Bess Kalb)

My dad is an ICU doctor treating COVID-19 patients. In the past WEEK he has set more “I’ve never seen a heart rate/RBC count/etc. like this” records than in his decades-long career. What this virus does to the body is like “sticking your finger in an electric socket.” Stay home. He had a patient who needed 8 blood transfusions in a morning even though he wasn’t bleeding. The coronavirus was just eating his red blood cells faster than his bone marrow could make them. It’s fucking mystifying and brutal. EIGHT. Eight blood transfusions. If you are lucky enough to make it off a ventilator (the equivalent exertion required for that is running a marathon without training), you will likely get put on dialysis and a feeding tube next.

It’s a nightmare. It’s hell. It’s what you’re risking on your beach day. Young, healthy people are dying from a COVID-19 effect called a “cytokine storm.” Basically, you make it off a ventilator (maybe!), you get your appetite back a little, you think you’re turning a corner, and then your immune system rips through your lung tissue and you drown. The other common way young people are falling off the face of the earth from this are the random strokes it causes. Talking one minute, stroking out the next, and then the nurses have to go through the cell phone to find “Dad” because “Mom” usually insists on coming.

There have been a few “Papa Bear”s or “Daddy-O”s in the cell phones who have tried to come in to hold the bodies. They can’t, of course. You die alone from COVID. And you will be buried alone. Stay home. Send this thread to any idiot fucker who posts an Instagram at the beach or a crowded park. Tell them my dad says see you later.

Read more …

Not as bad as we think. But still bad. Another Twitter thread.

How Bad is Belgium Doing? (Roosens)

For all those at home and abroad who think that small and densely populated Belgium has been worst hit by COVID19 on a per capita basis, and at the same time wonder why you haven’t seen pictures of flooded hospitals and/or field hospitals being set up in our country. A thread. 1/ As a densely populated country at the crossroads of all big transport axes in Europe, Belgium has indeed been hit severely by COVID19. We had our share of COVID19-outbreaks in care homes, but COVID19-hospital capacity was never filled more than 2/3rds. 2/


How come then we get the highest per capita numbers of officially registered COVID19-patients? Well, that’s because we count the COVID19-victims in an extremely correct and exhaustive way. Including in care homes and including the non-confirmed (but suspected COVID) cases. 3/ As a result, at the moment we are one of the rare countries where COVID19-death count is roughly a match with the excess deaths reported through mortality statistics. Indeed, between mid March and mid-April our official COVID19 death count, accounted for 93% of excess deaths. 4/

This of course makes us jump up in international ‘worst hit’-rankings of ‘officially recorded’ COVID19-deaths on a per capita basis. But that’s because we’re about the only country with correct figures… The only good comparison that can be done, is on excess death-figures…5/ So that’s what we’ve done for the mid March-mid April periode, based on The Economist-Euro MoMo figures on excess deaths. We just added population statistics to get to a per capita result. And this is what we then get as a reasonable comparison of the worst hit countries/regions.

Read more …

They’re all up against Sidney Powell. Flynn will be exonarated just to get rid of her role in digging up the dirt.

Scrutiny Of FBI Behavior In Russia Case Increases Pressure On Wray (Solomon)

The IG report in December and subsequent declassified information showed the FBI engaged in 17 major mistakes and acts of misconduct in seeking a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign starting in October 2016, including the falsification of a document, the submission of false information to a court, and the submission of unsubstantiated evidence in a warrant application marked as “verified.” In addition, newly declassified footnotes from the report showed the FBI had strong reasons to distrust the information in Christopher Steele’s dossier — including denials from his main source and warnings he was being fed Russian disinformation — but nonetheless proceeded to use the dossier as the key evidence in seeking a year’s worth of surveillance warrants.

The problems exposed during the Russia case started with the Comey regime, but have stretched into Wray’s watch. An IG report last fall flagged widespread failures in the FBI’s handling of confidential human sources like Steele. And a new IG report a few weeks ago found that 29 of 29 FISA applications — many filed during Wray’s tenure — contained significant flaws that violated the bureau’s own rules designed to ensure the accuracy of evidence submitted to the courts. The concerns about Wray were exacerbated by the revelations last week — from documents long withheld from a federal court — that FBI agents had recommended in January 2017 closing down a Russia-related probe of Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lack of evidence, only to be overruled by the bureau’s leadership.

The extraordinary intervention of FBI leaders — then under the command of Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe — led one official to write handwritten notes questioning whether the bureau was “playing games” and trying to get Flynn to lie “so we could prosecute him, or get him fired.” The double-barreled revelations about FISA and Flynn have left Republican lawmakers with grave concerns about Wray’s leadership and his willingness to recognize the magnitude of problems inside the bureau exposed by the Russia case fallout. “Director Wray owes the American people an explanation about the FBI’s misconduct with General Flynn,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s becoming more and more apparent that the FBI ruined the life of a respected general in its goal to take down President Trump.”

Jordan added: “The FBI’s actions were part of a larger pattern of wrongdoing, which were all directed against the president and his advisers. If they can do it to a president, they can do it to any of us.” Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, was even more harsh in her assessment, accusing Wray’s FBI of hiding the truth. “Wray knew about the evidence we were requesting for General Flynn,” Powell told Just the News. “My request was even discussed in the Director’s meeting. Most of what has been produced so far and what will be produced has been in FBI files all along–now more than three years. If the Prosecutors refused to produce it, he should have taken it to the AG or filed a whistle blower complaint himself. Instead, it would appear he was part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice and Congress, and we don’t know what else.”

Read more …

 

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Dec 192018
 
 December 19, 2018  Posted by at 10:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Francisco Goya Fire at night 1793-94

 

Fed Expected To Move Forward With Rate Hike, Despite Trump (CNBC)
Has “BTFD” Become “STFR”? (Roberts)
Oil Slump Could Get Much Worse Amid Oversupply Concerns (CNBC)
Alan Greenspan Has A New Warning For Investors: ‘Run For Cover’ (CNBC)
Revenge Of The Spies: Flynn Case Shows Extent Of Anti-Trump #Resistance (Malic)
This Radical Plan to Fund the ‘Green New Deal’ Just Might Work (Ellen Brown)
Thousands Of British Troops On Standby For No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
New ‘Integrity Initiative’ Leaks: Military Ties, Infiltration of European Media (RT)
Either The EU Ditches Neoliberalism Or Its People Will Ditch The EU (Wight)
Belgian PM Charles Michel Resigns After No-Confidence Motion (G.)
France, Hungary, Serbia: Is Half Of Europe Protesting? (DW)
Hungary’s Opposition Plans More Protests After ‘Slave Law’ Passes (G.)
One of Earth’s Largest Living Things Even Bigger Than Previously Thought (Ind.)

 

 

As long as Powell hints that hikes will be slower, the ‘markets’ will cheer.

Fed Expected To Move Forward With Rate Hike, Despite Trump (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates by a quarter point Wednesday and also signal it will not be raising rates as much as it had previously forecast. Strategists say that may soothe volatile financial markets, but the Fed has a tough task in terms of explaining its actions in a way that will not sound too alarmist about the economy or too unconcerned about deteriorating financial conditions. The Fed will be taking the fed funds rate range to 2.25 to 2.50 percent, and Fed watchers expect it to remove language in its post-meeting statement that says it will continue with ‘gradual’ rate increases.

According to its forecast, the Fed was expected to raise interest rates three more times next year, but economists now expect that will change to show two more hikes next year, with another possible in 2020. “The economy is decelerating. They were too optimistic on their outlook, but by the same token, they’re going to have to walk a fine line that they’re not overly concerned. They’re just going to take it down a notch,” said George Goncalves, head of fixed income strategy at Nomura. The Fed’s rate hike is coming against a backdrop of financial market turbulence. Markets have been reacting to concerns about rising interest rates as well as concerns trade wars and weaker global data could lead to a recession.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, unlike other Fed chairs, has also faced a stream of criticism from the White House, with President Donald Trump protesting rate hiking policy and in a tweet on Tuesday, the Fed’s balance sheet policy. “I do think the Fed will try and likely succeed in sending a comforting tone to the equity market. I think the market is forcing the Fed to deliver a very dovish hike. We think 2019 dots will come to two. 2020 will show one hike but just above 3 percent. The Fed will make some changes to show they are less on a pre-set course and more data dependent,” aid Mark Cabana, head of U.S. short rate strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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“..what happens when these algo’s reverse course and rather than “buying the f***ing dip,” they begin to “sell the f***ing rallies” instead..?”

This is where I leave Lance Roberts behind. That graph simply tells me, to the extent that further graphs lose their meaning, that every single thing, the only thing, that happened since 2009 was central banks.

Has “BTFD” Become “STFR”? (Roberts)

Kevin Wilson recently penned a piece for Seeking Alpha that made a great point about where the markets are currently. To wit: “Famous market observer Art Cashin mentioned a metaphor in October 2017 that resonated with me. He said (words to the effect that) at that moment, market players had only the protection provided by pictures of lifeboats, not the lifeboats themselves. This is just like the Titanic, whose measly 16 lifeboats looked nice, but left many hundreds on board with no means of escape when the ship sank. That is the current market situation in a nutshell. Players seem to believe that their positions are diversified enough to protect them in a downturn, and in any case, many appear to expect no major drawdown in spite of many months of extreme volatility. I would argue that the risk is far greater than perceived by many, and the protections most have in place are quite inadequate.”

Indeed, that is the case. As I noted in this past weekend’s newsletter, while the S&P 500 has declined only marginally for 2018, the devastation across markets has been dramatically worse. In other words, traditional diversification, which is considered the “defacto” portfolio protection strategy by the mainstream media, has not worked. Over the last several weeks, I have been discussing the transition of the market from “bullish” to “bearish.” “The difference between a ‘bull market’ and a ‘bear market’ is when the deviations begin to occur BELOW the long-term moving average on a consistent basis.”

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There goes the Saudi budget: ‘Uncertainty and volatility reign once again. ‘

Oil Slump Could Get Much Worse Amid Oversupply Concerns (CNBC)

Oil prices are likely to fall even further over the coming weeks, analysts told CNBC Tuesday, as a sharp sell-off in global equities combines with intensifying fears about a market that could soon to be awash with crude. The latest wave of energy market selling comes amid reports of swelling inventories and forecasts of record U.S. and Russian output. Heightened worries of a possible economic slowdown in 2019 have also added downward pressure to the value of a barrel of oil. “The only way is down,” Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note published Tuesday.

“There are lots of variables regarding next year’s oil balance but based on available data, information and sentiment, it is fair to say that any price rally will be met by fierce resistance from the sellers’ side,” Varga said. Brent crude fell as much as 4 percent to as low as $57.20 a barrel on Tuesday, on track to register its third consecutive session of declines. The international benchmark has since trimmed some of its losses to trade down 2.7 percent. Meanwhile, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) dipped further below $50 a barrel on Tuesday, after settling below the psychologically important level for the first time in more than a year in the previous session. U.S. crude stood at $47.94 at around 11:00 a.m. ET, trading 4 percent lower.

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Scrooge and the Grinch in one person.

Alan Greenspan Has A New Warning For Investors: ‘Run For Cover’ (CNBC)

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chief who called out the tech-fueled rally of the mid-1990s as “irrational exuberance,” is now giving investors a new warning. In a CNN interview, Greenspan said it was unlikely that the current market would stabilize and then take another big leg higher. “It would be very surprising to see it sort of stabilize here, and then take off again,” Greenspan said. Markets could still go up, but “at the end of that run, run for cover.” Greenspan told CNN the bull market is over, pointing to how stocks have fumbled in recent days.

On Tuesday, stocks rallied but they tumbled on Monday and have been in a decline since October, weighed by concerns over global trade conflict and slowing global economies. The S&P was on track, as of Monday’s close, for the worst December since 1931. [..] In the CNN interview, Greenspan said the U.S. could be headed into “stagflation,” an economy characterized by high inflation and high unemployment such as was seen in the 1970s. “How long it lasts or how big it gets, it’s too soon to tell.”

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Strangest thing for me yesterday was the judge accusing Flynn of treason, only to apologize for that accusation minutes later.

Revenge Of The Spies: Flynn Case Shows Extent Of Anti-Trump #Resistance (Malic)

President Donald Trump’s ill-fated first national security adviser Michael Flynn will twist in the wind for another three months or more, before he can face a sentence for getting caught in a FBI ambush while doing his job. Flynn was supposed to be sentenced on Tuesday, ending the year-long legal saga that destroyed his reputation, nearly bankrupted him, and even endangered his family. Then, in a bizarre last-minute twist, his lawyers asked for a delay. The next status hearing will be in March, with the actual sentencing who knows when. At one point in the hearing, Judge Emmett Sullivan urged Flynn to reconsider his guilty plea, telling him that the violation he was admitting to amounted to treason – only to walk back the comments minutes later.

The media, predictably, gave far more coverage to the original statement than the retraction. It’s the perfect example of the collective hysteria that has followed Flynn’s case from the very beginning. Despite the publication of FBI documents showing that agents interviewing Flynn in January 2017 did not think he misled them, intentionally or otherwise, about the content of his conversations with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, Flynn chose to stand by his guilty plea from a year ago. His reasons for this are a mystery. What is not a mystery, however, is how the people involved in railroading Flynn are the same ones implicated in the institutional #Resistance to the Trump administration.

[..] In the orgy of sensationalist reporting that has gripped the US mainstream media for the past two years, Flynn’s actual transgression has been lost to the din of shouting “treason” and “RUSSIA.” What he pleaded guilty to is lying to FBI investigators about his calls with Kislyak. The contacts themselves were right and proper, mind you: it was literally his job to reach out to foreign diplomats on behalf of the president-elect. So, why was the FBI even probing them?

That is where things get interesting. Somebody from the Obama administration – we still don’t know who – “unmasked” Flynn’s name from the classified NSA intercepts of his conversations with the Russian ambassador. This somehow got to Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who testified that she reached out to the White House with concerns about Flynn being blackmailed. It also somehow got to the Washington Post. There was talk of the Logan Act, an obscure 200-year-old law never used to prosecute anyone.

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I have a bunch of questions and doubts, but I like Ellen Brown.

Question 1: Is it a good idea to spend trillions on Green New Deals? How much of it would be geared towards decreased energy use?

Question 2: Is Abenomics really the success Ellen claims it is?

This Radical Plan to Fund the ‘Green New Deal’ Just Might Work (Ellen Brown)

[..] the “Green New Deal” promoted by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., appears to be forging a political pathway for solving all of the ills of society and the planet in one fell swoop. Her plan would give a House select committee “a mandate that connects the dots” between energy, transportation, housing, health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee and more. But even to critics on the left, it is merely political theater, because “everyone knows” a program of that scope cannot be funded without a massive redistribution of wealth and slashing of other programs (notably the military), which is not politically feasible.

A network of public banks could fund the Green New Deal in the same way President Franklin Roosevelt funded the original New Deal. At a time when the banks were bankrupt, he used the publicly owned Reconstruction Finance Corp. as a public infrastructure bank. The Federal Reserve could also fund any program Congress wanted, if mandated to do so. Congress wrote the Federal Reserve Act and can amend it. Or the Treasury itself could do it, without the need to even change any laws. The Constitution authorizes Congress to “coin money” and “regulate the value thereof,” and that power has been delegated to the Treasury. It could mint a few trillion-dollar platinum coins, put them in its bank account and start writing checks against them.

What stops legislators from exercising those constitutional powers is simply that “everyone knows” Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation will result. But will it? Compelling historical precedent shows that this need not be the case. Michael Hudson, professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has studied the hyperinflation question extensively. He writes that disasters such as Zimbabwe’s fiscal troubles were not due to the government printing money to stimulate the economy. Rather, “Every hyperinflation in history has been caused by foreign debt service collapsing the exchange rate. The problem almost always has resulted from wartime foreign currency strains, not domestic spending.”

As long as workers and materials are available and the money is added in a way that reaches consumers, adding money will create the demand necessary to prompt producers to create more supply. Supply and demand will rise together and prices will remain stable. The reverse is also true. If demand (money) is not increased, supply and GDP will not go up. New demand needs to precede new supply. Infrastructure projects of the sort proposed in the Green New Deal are “self-funding,” generating resources and fees that can repay the loans. For these loans, advancing funds through a network of publicly owned banks would not require taxpayer money and could actually generate a profit for the government. That was how the original New Deal rebuilt the country in the 1930s at a time when the economy was desperately short of money.

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The title of my article yesterday very much reflects Brexit: Chaos in 2018, Mayhem in 2019.

Thousands Of British Troops On Standby For No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

Thousands of troops have been put on standby to handle any fallout of Britain crashing out of the European Union without having secured a withdrawal deal. The government has said that, with 100 days to go until Brexit day on 29 March, it will implement all of its no-deal planning “in full” – following a clash in cabinet reflected in the wider Tory Party. Senior ministers went head-to-head, with one group demanding “no deal” become Britain’s central planning assumption, while others including the chancellor branded departing without an agreement a “unicorn” idea. Jeremy Hunt, foreign secretary, is said to have told colleagues their party would never be forgiven if it fails to deliver Brexit, but other Conservatives vowed to do everything in their power to stop a no-deal scenario.

In yet another day of Brexit high drama, defence secretary Gavin Williamson revealed he had made 3,500 troops ready to “support any government department on any contingencies they may need”. While he told MPs there had been no request for the troops yet, he said “What we are doing is putting contingency plans in place, and what we will do is have 3,500 service personnel held at readiness, including regulars and reserves, in order to support any government department on any contingencies they may need.” The Ministry of Defence later confirmed the troops would be put on alert in addition to the 5,000 already on standby to deal with potential terror attacks.

[..] Ministers have already announced plans to stockpile food and medicines, chartering ferries to bring in extra supplies and providing extra resources for border agencies. Downing Street said that advice on no-deal preparations would also be going out to households by various channels over the coming weeks. The Treasury will supply an additional £2bn on top of the £2bn already provided, with the Home Office receiving £500m for border security and handling the settlement scheme for EU nationals who want to remain in the country. Another £400m will go to Defra, the environment department, for projects including ensuring clean drinking water, which the UK treats with chemicals and gases imported from the EU.

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More British troops, just with different weapons.

“The goal was to establish “key influencers” on social media and determine who is “friendly” to the UK.”

New ‘Integrity Initiative’ Leaks: Military Ties, Infiltration of European Media (RT)

It’s been over a month since hackers began exposing the Scotland-based ‘Integrity Initiative’ as a UK government-funded propaganda outfit — and gradually new details of the organization’s clandestine activities have come to light. The documents were leaked by a group which claims to be associated with the Anonymous hackers. The first batch of leaks revealed the Integrity Initiative (II) was stealthily operating “clusters” of influencers across Europe working to ensure pro-UK narratives dominate the media. The second batch showed that the organization was also running disinformation campaigns domestically — specifically a smear campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn; all done under the guise of combatting “Russian propaganda.”

Now, a third batch of leaks has exposed that the project allegedly operated much like a modern-day version of Operation Mockingbird — a secretive 1950s project whereby the CIA worked hand-in-glove with willing journalists in major media outlets to ensure certain narratives were adhered to. Only this time, it’s a UK-funded organization with deep links to the intelligence services and military passing itself off as a non-partisan “charity.”

[..] 3. Skripal ‘monitoring campaign’ The II leapt into action after the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in March and supposedly put together a proposal to monitor social media discussion to “evaluate how the incident is being perceived” across Europe. The goal was to establish “key influencers” on social media and determine who is “friendly” to the UK. Lists of tweets on the Skripal affair were put together, along with country reports detailing how journalists in Europe were responding, the leak suggests. One report noted that in Italy, doubts about the UK narrative had been raised by “high-quality newspapers” and suggested that an “effective, discrete and articulated information campaign” must be directed at key figures in Italian politics and media.

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Neoliberalism simply failed to rise people’s living standards, so why should they support it any longer?

Either The EU Ditches Neoliberalism Or Its People Will Ditch The EU (Wight)

De Gaulle took a dim view of the UK in the postwar period, considering London a proxy of Washington. It was a view that gained common currency within French political circles after the debacle known to history as the Suez Crisis, when in 1956 the French and British entered into an ill-fated military pact with Israel to seize control of the Suez Canal from Egypt and effect the overthrow of the country’s Arab nationalist president Gamal Abdul Nasser. President Eisenhower forced the British into a humiliating retreat, threatening a series of punitive measures to leave London in no doubt of its place in the so-called special relationship. The French had been eager to continue with the Suez operation and were disgusted at London’s craven climb down in the face of Eisenhower’s intervention.

In 1958, two years after the Suez debacle, De Gaulle entered the Elysee Palace as French president. Thereafter, the humiliation of Suez still raw, he embarked on an assertion of the country’s independence from Washington that contrasted with Britain’s slavish and unedifying subservience. The French leader withdrew France from NATO’s integrated command and twice blocked Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) – the previous incarnation of today’s EU – on the basis that London would be a US Trojan horse if admitted. There is, given this history, delicious irony in the fact that the country responsible for injecting the poison of neoliberalism into the EU – the UK under its fanatical leader Margaret Thatcher – is currently embroiled in a messy divorce from the bloc.

The EU in its current form is a latter-day prison house of nations locked inside a neoliberal straitjacket and single currency. Not only can’t it survive on this basis, but it also does not deserve to. Ultimately, either Europe’s political establishment decouples from Washington and its works – the Trump administration notwithstanding – or its peoples will decouple from them and theirs. As things stand, the latter proposition is far more likely.

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Belgian Cabinets are notorious for taking forever to form.

Belgian PM Charles Michel Resigns After No-Confidence Motion (G.)

Belgium’s government of four years has fallen on the issue of migration after the country’s parliament rejected an appeal from prime minister, Charles Michel, for its support for a minority administration. Michel was forced to offer his resignation to the King of the Belgians, Philippe, after the Socialist party, with support from the Greens, proposed a vote of no confidence in his administration. The country is now braced for a snap election in January. The head of Michel’s party said the opposition had rejected the government’s “fair offer” in order to secure a political scalp. “The Socialist opposition and Greens wanted a trophy and have it”, said David Clarinval, chairman of the liberal Reform Movement party.

[..] The N-VA, a Flemish nationalist party with hardline views on immigration, walked out of the government earlier this month over Michel’s signature to a UN migration pact providing for a common global approach to migrant flows. The draft UN accord lays down 23 objectives to open up legal migration and better manage a global flow of 250 million people, 3% of the world population. The US dropped out of talks on the pact last year and countries including Italy, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Australia have rejected it. The deal is expected to be ratified at the UN headquarters in New York on 19 December.

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Employers can ‘ask’ employees to work 400 hrs of overtime per year without compensation.

France, Hungary, Serbia: Is Half Of Europe Protesting? (DW)

People have taken to the streets to protest against a labor law in Hungary, against tuition costs in Albania and against state violence in Serbia. Germany, meanwhile, has seen its first “yellow vest” style demonstration. Looking at the photos, one could mistake the sea of lights in Budapest for a festive holiday event. The people who gathered in Hungary’s capital Sunday night weren’t holding candles, however, but smartphones. And their message is political, not religious. They are demanding Prime Minister Viktor Orban take back a law that allows companies to ask their employees to work 400 hours overtime per year.

Since the measure was passed in parliament last Wednesday, more and more people have been protesting what has been called a “slave law.” In some cases, the rallies were overshadowed by violence. The protests on Sunday started off peaceful, but police later resorted to teargas again. With around 10,000 or even 15,000 participants, Sunday’s rally was the biggest event so far in a series of protests the likes of which Hungary hasn’t seen during Orban’s eight years in power. France is experiencing similar unrest with the “yellow vest” protests. Is the climate in Europe’s streets growing more heated?

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Of course Orban blames it all on Soros. He may come to regret ignoring his people’s anger. Same feelling as with Macron.

Hungary’s Opposition Plans More Protests After ‘Slave Law’ Passes (G.)

Hungary’s beleaguered political opposition has vowed to keep up the pressure on the country’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, after a week of protests in which thousands came on to the streets of Budapest, and four MPs were roughed up by security guards after attempting to get their demands across on state television. The protests were triggered by a so-called “slave law”, passed amid chaotic scenes in the Hungarian parliament last Wednesday, which allows employers to force employees to work overtime, and lets them delay payment for up to three years. It was passed together with legislation that provides for greater government control over the court system, the latest move by Orbán’s Fidesz party to capture independent state institutions.

A number of different opposition parties are cooperating on a joint strategy to keep pressure on the government. “We’re closely cooperating on a daily basis, and are planning roadblocks and further demonstrations if the president signs this into law,” said Tímea Szabó, of the opposition LMP party. She also said the opposition would announce civil disobedience action, though she refused to specify what it had in mind.

[..] “Brace yourselves for a new kind of democracy, one born of a carefully managed revolution by remote control,” wrote government spokesman Zoltán Kovács in a blogpost about the protests. “The revolution unfolds with protest leaders from a band of the usual suspects, many of them trained abroad and with close ties to Soros networks.” Kovács also pointed the finger at the international media, claiming they were overselling the protests, and at the “stomach-churning opportunism” of the liberal Belgian politician Guy Verhofstadt, who tweeted his support for the protests and used the hashtag #O1G, which refers to a Hungarian meme insulting Orbán in vulgar language. Kovács described Verhofstadt as “one of Soros’s henchmen in Brussels”.

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Living organisms that are 1000s of years old and span 100s a of acres.

One of Earth’s Largest Living Things Even Bigger Than Previously Thought (Ind.)

A giant honey mushroom considered a contender for the largest organism on the planet is both much larger and much older than previously thought. Scientists first studied the enormous fungus, which lives deep underground in a Michigan forest, in 1992. Then they estimated it was 1,500 years old, and the extensive mass of underground fibres and mushrooms that formed it weighed 100,000kg and stretched 15 hectares. Returning to the site, the same team used more rigorous testing to estimate the fungus was in fact closer to 2,500 years old.

They also discovered that it weighed 400,000kg and stretched over 70 hectares. This makes the enormous honey mushroom, which mostly consists of an underground network of tendrils wrapped around tree roots, heavier than three blue whales. “I view these estimates as the lower bound… The fungus could actually be much older,” said Professor James Anderson, a biologist at the University of Toronto who undertook both studies. [..] While the Michigan fungus is large, it is outclassed by another honey mushroom from Oregon that is even larger. There is also the Pando aspen in Utah, a forest originating from a single underground parent clone that is thought to weigh up to 6 million kg.


Armillaria mellea, Honey Fungus, taken in Whitewebbs Wood, Enfield, UK

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Nov 042017
 
 November 4, 2017  Posted by at 2:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Claude Monet The house at Yerres 1876

 

If there is one thing the Spain vs Catalonia conflict reminds us of, it has got to be Turkey. And that is a much bigger problem for the EU than it realizes. First of all, Brussels can no longer insist that this is an internal, domestic, Spanish issue, since Catalan president Puidgemont is in…Brussels. So are 4 members of his government.

That moves decisions to be made about his situation from the Spanish legal system to its Belgian counterpart. And the two are not identical twins. Even if both countries are EU members. This may expose a very large European problem: the lack of equality among justice systems. Citizens of EU member countries are free to move and work across the Union, but they are subject to different laws and constitutions.

The way the Spanish government tries to go after Puidgemont is exactly the same as the way Turkish president Erdogan tries to get to his perceived archenemy, Fethullah Gülen, a longtime resident of Pennsylvania. But the US doesn’t want to extradite Gülen, not even now Turkey arrests US embassy personnel. The Americans have had enough of Erdogan.

Erdogan accuses Gülen of organizing a coup. Spanish PM Rajoy accuses the Catalan government of the same. But they are not the same kind of coup. The Turkish one saw violence and death. The Spanish one did not, at least not from the side of those who allegedly perpetrated the coup.

Brussels should have intervened in the Catalonia mess a long time ago, called a meeting, instead of claiming this had nothing to do with the EU, a claim as cowardly as it is cheap. You’re either a union or you’re not. And if you are, the well-being of all your citizens is your responsibility. You don’t get to cherry pick. You got to walk your talk.

Belgian news paper De Standaard today makes an interesting distinction. It says the Belgian judicial system is not asked to “extradite” Puidgemont to Spain (uitlevering), but to “surrender” him (overlevering). Legal gibberish.

The paper also states that the case will go through three different courts, each of which has 15 days to announce a decision, so Puidgemont is safe for at least a month and a half. And then on December 21, Rajoy had called elections in Catalonia. For which, reportedly, he will seek to ban several parties. Don’t be surprised if that includes Puidgemont’s.

Moreover, even if the democratically elected president of Catalonia loses all appeals available to him, he could then ask for asylum in Belgium (apparently, Belgium is the only EU member country in which EU citizens can ask for asylum). And then you would really get into a mix-up of EU versus Belgian versus Spanish laws. In a way this is good, it would test a system that is not prepared at all for such divergences.

But what a disaster this is, once more, for the EU. It has shown zero leadership in the case, neither from the likes of European Commission head Juncker nor from Angela Merkel, its most powerful head of state. How can one not conclude that the Union is completely rudderless? This is just as bad as the refugee crisis, and the beheading of the Greek economy.

Threatening people with 30-year jail terms for organizing a peaceful vote is not what the EU should stand for. And now that is does, it threatens its own survival. Europe cannot be the land of Erdogan or Franco, it cannot look the other way and live.

That may be why the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have prepared a report that looks at future scenarios for Europe, including worst-case ones. The article in Der Spiegel is in German only, and my command of the language is a tad rusty, but the translation through Google is surprisingly accurate, I only had to change a few words.

The authors don’t seek the worst case option in either Spain or Greece, but perhaps they should. Then again, some of their projections are stark enough to offer plenty food for thought.

 

Military planners think EU collapse is conceivable

According to SPIEGEL information, the Bundeswehr played through social and political trends until 2040 for the first time. Strategists are also developing a worst-case scenario. The Bundeswehr believes that an end to the West in its current form over the next few decades is possible. This is according to information from Der Spiegel from the “Strategic Perspective 2040”, which was adopted at the end of February by the top of the Ministry of Defense and since then kept under wraps.

For the first time in its history, the Bundeswehr’s 102-page document shows how social trends and international conflicts could influence German security policy in the coming decades. The study sets the framework in which the Bundeswehr of the future is likely to move.

The paper does not yet provide any concrete conclusions for equipment and strength. In one of the six scenarios (“The EU in Disintegration and Germany in Reactive Mode”), the authors assume a “multiple confrontation”. The future projection describes a world in which the international order erodes after “decades of instability”, value systems worldwide diverge and globalization is stopped.

“The EU enlargement has been largely abandoned, other states have left the community, Europe has lost its global competitiveness,” write the Bundeswehr strategists: “The increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment of Germany and Europe.” In the fifth scenario (“West against East”), some eastern EU countries are freezing the state of European integration while others have “joined the Eastern bloc”.

In the fourth scenario (“multipolar competition”), extremism is on the rise and there are EU partners who “even occasionally seem to seek a specific approach to Russia’s” state capitalist model “. The document expressly makes no prognosis, but all scenarios are “plausible with the 2040 time horizon,” write the authors. The simulations were developed by scientists of the Federal Armed Forces Planning Office.

Funny, that ‘future projection’ looks a lot like how I see the EU today, not in 2040.

There’s a longer article behind a paywall at Der Spiegel, but this should be sufficient to get a conversation going. Angela Merkel may be all EU all the time, just like all her EU peers, but her own army has serious questions about that. And given the Catalonia swamp, who could doubt that they are right about having doubts?

Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement is all set towards democratizing the EU, but how realistic is that goal? How divergent does a Union have to get before you give up on it? Poland, Hungary, Czechia all want completely different things from what Holland and Germany want. New French president Macron is finding out as we speak that he can only do what Merkel allows him to.

And then along comes Spain and tries to inflict Franco era laws and violence on its citizens. But Brussels does nothing, and neither does Berlin. Refugees can rot away on Greek islands if eastern Europe doesn’t want them, and Catalan grandmas can get beaten to a pulp by the remnants of Franco’s troops, Brussels has zilch.

The way the EU functions today is no accident, and it’s not some new development. Present-day Brussels is the culmination of 50-60 years of institutionalization. You don’t change that with an election here or there.

Will Catalonia be the endgame of Brussels? Will it be the refugee crisis? Brexit? It’s impossible to say, but what is certain is that in its present state, the Union has no future. And at the same time, there’s no solution in sight. The powers that be are deeply invested, and they’re not going to let go just because some country, or part of a country, or political party, or group of voters wants them to.

The EU is profoundly anti-democratic, and it intends to stay that way. But imagine that Belgium ‘surrenders’ Puidgemont, a man whose movement has lifted anti-violence to a whole new and modern level, and Rajoy jails him for 30 years, and the next day sits in on some meeting in Brussels, what picture does that paint for the 500 million EU citizens?

They’re crazy if they think they can get away with this.