U.S. stock benchmarks enjoyed a nearly unfettered run-up toward records on the week — with the rally pausing briefly Friday — on the back of the Federal Reserve’s easier monetary-policy stance. Recent gains have put the Dow Jones Industrial Average in position to ring up its best June gain of 7.7% since 1938 when the blue-chip benchmark surged an eye-popping 24.3% on the month, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The S&P 500 index is on track for its best June return, with a gain of about 7.2%, since 1955 when the broad-market benchmark rose 8.2%, while the Nasdaq Composite Index was on track for a 7.8% return in June, which would represent its best June since a 16.6% gain back in 2000.
The S&P 500 notched its first record close since April 30 on Friday, while the Dow is off less than 1% short of its Oct. 3 all-time closing peak. The rally for equities has been partly supported by the Fed, which concluded its Wednesday rate-setting meeting by signaling a willingness too trim rates as soon as the end of the July 30-31 gathering to curb the effects of tariff clashes between the U.S. and international trade partners, notably China, that have roiled global economies and threaten to disrupt global supply chains.
The 18 largest banks operating in the United States took the first step toward doling out capital on dividends, share buybacks and other investments on Friday, after clearing the first stage of their yearly health checks with the U.S. Federal Reserve that assess their ability to weather a major economic downturn. The central bank said lenders, including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp, would face losses of $410 billion under its most severe recession scenario ever, but levels of high-quality capital would still be well above regulatory minimums. “The nation’s largest banks are significantly stronger than before the crisis and would be well-positioned to support the economy even after a severe shock,” Fed Vice Chairman Randal Quarles said in a statement.
The Fed said hypothetical losses were broadly comparable to results from prior years, with the most significant loan losses seen in credit cards, followed by commercial and industrial loans. Friday’s results, the first of the two-part annual “stress test,” showed the country’s biggest lenders could meet minimum Fed standards based on information they submitted to the regulator. But banks could still stumble next Thursday, when the Fed announces whether it will permit banks to dish out dividends and buy back shares. That second test is more rigorous, assessing whether it is safe for banks to implement their capital plans. It also reviews operational controls and risk management. All eyes are on Deutsche Bank, which is bracing for potentially its fourth flunking in five years amid ongoing turmoil in its U.S. operations. Last year, the Fed failed the bank, citing “material weaknesses” in its data capabilities and capital planning.
The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, has said that the UK would be hit automatically by tariffs on exports to the EU in a no-deal Brexit, rejecting a claim made by Boris Johnson that this could be avoided. Tory leadership candidate Johnson said this week that tariffs would not necessarily have to be paid if the UK left the EU without a deal because the UK could rely on article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade (Gatt). Some Brexit supporters have claimed that the Gatt, a treaty under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), would allow a “standstill” in which tariffs are avoided, even in the absence of any agreement on trade.
Many trade experts say this is not the case without agreement from both sides. Carney cited the head of the WTO and Liam Fox, the minister for international trade who backed the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, to contradict Johnson. Talking to the BBC, Carney said: “Gatt 24 applies if you have an agreement, not if you’ve decided not to have an agreement or have been unable to come to an agreement. “Not having an agreement with the EU means that there are tariffs automatically because the Europeans have to apply the same rules to us as they apply to everyone else. If they were to decide not to put in place tariffs they also have to lower their tariffs with the United States, with the rest of the world. And the same would hold for us.”
A frontrunner to buy British Steel has been deterred by the government’s refusal to provide backing for investment in the Scunthorpe steelworks, amid concern there is just a week left to save the company. The government’s Insolvency Service, which is funding British Steel’s operations while seeking a buyer, has given bidders until 30 June to make an offer for the company, whose financial failure last month put 4,500 jobs at risk. About a dozen firms are thought to have made tentative approaches and the deadline could be extended if any ask for more time to draft a takeover plan. But the Guardian understands that Liberty House, previously considered among the most likely to buy British Steel, has cooled its interest after failing to secure government support, including loan guarantees to fund investment.
Liberty wants to convert Scunthorpe’s blast furnaces, which make steel from scratch, into more cost-effective electric arc furnaces that can use recycled steel to make similar products. But the plan would require a major outlay, which according to a person with knowledge of the situation would be in the “low hundreds of millions”. The source said there was a “lack of enthusiasm” in government for the steps that would be required to convert the steelworks. Government officials are understood to be unwilling to provide loan guarantees or help retrain staff who might lose their jobs, although such measures are thought to fall within state aid rules.
In the year 2018, China alone produced 928 Mt of crude steel, up 6.6% up from 2017. This represented 51.3% of annual global production. In the first four months of 2019, China’s crude steel production jumped 10.3% year-over-year to 315 million metric tonnes, bringing its share to 52.5% of global production. For April alone, China’s production soared 12.8% year-over-year to 85 Mt, and its share of global production reached 54.2%. That’s the new record. The US, by comparison, the fourth largest crude steel producer, maintained its minuscule 4.7% share of global production over the 12-month period.
Vietnam, which in April moved up to 15th place, from 17th place for the year 2018, booked a huge jump of 42% in crude steel production in the first four months this year compared to 2018. For now, it’s still only a small producer with a share of less than 1% of global production. In the rest of the world without China, production over the first four months in 2019 declined by 0.6% year-over-year. The chart shows the monthly production of China (red) and the rest of the world (black), including the US in 2018 and 2019; in addition as a memo entry, just to see where we are, I added US production (green):
China’s steel production began surging out of near-nowhere in the late 1990s to end up outproducing the entire rest of the world, according to the data by the World Steel Association.
China’s mostly state-owned steel giants just kept on producing during the Financial Crisis, whether there was demand or not, causing prices to dive. Its market share jumped from 38% in 2008 to 47% in 2009. And its share has continued to grow. The chart below shows the global share of production in China and in North American (US, Canada, and Mexico):
No country comes even close to China’s crude steel production. For example, its production is 11 times the amount produced in the US. But second and third place are just a hair apart. In 2017 India was in third place. In 2018, it moved into second place with 106.5 Mt., having outproduced Japan (104.3 Mt). The US is in fourth place (86.6 Mt). Canada is in 18th place:
Instead of waging a trade war with China, the United States should drop its win-at-all-costs mentality and consider the interests of its own people as well as the global community, the official People’s Daily said an editorial on Saturday. The Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper urged the United States to cancel all tariffs on Chinese goods, saying the only way to resolve trade issues was through “equal dialogue”. Hopes that the two sides can rekindle negotiations were raised in the run-up to a meeting next week between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Donald Trump in Japan, where they will both attend a Group of 20 summit.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is holding seven days of hearings from manufacturers and other businesses likely to be affected by a new round of tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. The People’s Daily said all previous hearings had shown “overwhelming” opposition to tariff increases from all walks of life, but it had made no difference. “It seems that some people in the United States are waving the tariff stick in order to strengthen their so-called ‘industrial competitive advantage’,” it said. “They do not consider public opinion, do not consider national conditions, and do not take the international economic order into account. They just want the renown as ‘winners’ but cannot understand the fact that they basically cannot win.”
Surfing the cable channels the evening before my Friday a.m. blog duties, I came upon Sean Hannity at Fox News completely losing his shit in a colloquy with Geraldo Rivera about the Iran drone incident. “Bomb the crap out of them!” Mr. Hannity ranted, several times, the veins in his neck throbbing visibly on the high-def screen. I thought I was having an acid flashback to Doctor Strangelove. Geraldo himself seemed a bit nonplussed and embarrassed by Mr. Hannity’s tantrum, but his attempts to calm down the raving anchorman only ramped up the hysteria. One wondered: are there any adult producers off-screen on that network?
Perhaps the Golden Golem of Greatness, our president, who is also known to follow the Cable TV news, witnessed the cringeworthy incident and realized that every other head-of-state on this nervous planet would also see it, and might infer he was doing the bidding of a crazed boob-tube performer if he actually went forward with an air strike. Earlier, he’d told reporters, “You’ll soon find out,” what the USA’s response to the drone shoot-down would be. He should have just kept his mouth shut. Planes and ships were on their way to the bottleneck in the Persian Gulf known as the Straits of Hormuz. Before they could deliver any payloads, Mr. Trump called the whole thing off suggesting that maybe some “loose and stupid” Colonel Borat type on Iran’s side had gone rogue in the incident.
Tucker Carlson sets the record straight on John Bolton and the Neocons push for war with Iran. Way to go Tucker! pic.twitter.com/nbPps839A3
Hong Kong police on Saturday slammed anti-government protesters for besieging their headquarters, calling the demonstration “illegal and irrational” as they vowed to pursue the ringleaders. “Police have shown the greatest tolerance of protesters who assembled outside PHQ (police headquarters) but their means of expressing views has become illegal, irrational and unreasonable,” the city’s police said in a statement. “Police will stringently follow up on these illegal activities.” Thousands of protesters blockaded the police headquarters throughout Friday and into the small hours of Saturday morning, the latest manifestation of angry demonstrations sweeping the city.
The international finance hub has been rocked by the worst political unrest since its 1997 handover to China. Millions have marched this month to oppose a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to the Chinese mainland. Officers had used tear gas and rubber bullets last week to clear protesters during a massive demonstration outside the city’s parliament, sparking widespread anger against the police force. [..] During Friday’s demonstrations outside their headquarters, large crowds of protesters blockaded entrances, taped over CCTV cameras and shouted at police. Many chanted “release the righteous” and “shame on police thugs” — references to those detained during violence last week between demonstrators and the police. Officers remained inside their fortified building throughout.
Moderate Democrats have stepped up their opposition to Bernie Sanders as part of a concerted effort to isolate him from the sprawling field of otherwise “mainstream” and “electable” presidential candidates running for their party’s nomination in 2020. Last week, Sanders delivered a searing defense of democratic socialism that set himself apart from the rest of the Democratic party, whose opposition he said he not only anticipated but welcomed. Days later, at a gathering of nearly 250 political moderates convened by the centrist thinktank Third Way in South Carolina, some of the party’s most prominent center-left voices took the bait.
“I believe a gay midwestern mayor can beat [Donald] Trump. I believe an African American senator can beat Trump. I believe a western governor, a female senator, a member of Congress, a Latino Texan or a former vice-president can beat Trump,” said Jon Cowan, president of Third Way, hours before Donald Trump formally launched his re-election campaign with a rally in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday. “But I don’t believe a self-described democratic socialist can win.” In speeches and on panels over the course of two sticky days in Charleston earlier this week, moderate lawmakers, strategists and donors inveighed against the Vermont senator’s populist economic vision.
The approach elevated a conversation that has largely taken place behind closed doors about how to thwart Sanders, who moderates believe would alienate crucial voting blocs in a general election. “He has made it his mission to either get the nomination or to remake the party in his image as a democratic socialist,” Cowan told the Guardian. “That is an existential threat to the future of the Democratic party for the next generation.” [..] “The cat is out of the bag,” Sanders tweeted on Wednesday, sharing a Politico story about how mainstream Democrats are warming to Elizabeth Warren, his closest ideological ally. “The corporate wing of the Democratic party is publicly ‘anybody but Bernie’.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on Venezuela to release jailed dissidents Friday and said the crisis-wracked country faced a “serious” humanitarian situation. Her comments came at the end of a three-day visit to the country on the invitation of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, who has faced allegations of cracking down on political opponents amid rampant hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods. “I call on the authorities to release all those who are detained or deprived of their liberty for exercising their civil rights in a peaceful manner,” said Bachelet, referring to the hundreds of Maduro government opponents who are currently incarcerated.
The UN rights chief met relatives of these detainees, many of whom are accused of “conspiracy” to overthrow the government. She also spoke with relatives of people who died during the anti-Maduro protests of 2017. Rights groups had pushed Bachelet to raise the issue of 715 people they say have been jailed for political reasons, a claim Maduro’s government rejects. [..] Bachelet has previously criticized the government’s response to the crisis and called for Caracas to respect “everyone’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”
Yet it was the Maduro government who invited her to Venezuela, saying the visit would be an opportunity to show its adherence to human rights and the “negative repercussions” of sanctions that prevent it from selling its oil to the United States. Bachelet has also been critical of US sanctions against Maduro imposed by President Donald Trump, raising concerns that restrictions on trade with Venezuela could have negative repercussions for the general population in a country where 96 percent of the budget is based on oil. During her visit, Bachelet also met with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by some 50 countries, including the United States.
A study of whales and dolphins that have washed up dead in Greece over a 20-year period has found alarmingly high levels of plastic trash — mostly bags — in the animals’ stomachs, which can condemn them to a slow and painful death. In the worst case, a researcher said Friday, a 5.3-meter (17-foot) young sperm whale beached on the Aegean island of Mykonos had swallowed 135 plastic items weighing a total of 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds). This blocked its stomach, grossly distending it, while the animal itself was emaciated and had starved to death. Sperm whales are an endangered species already at high risk in the Mediterranean from deadly collisions with ships, entanglement in drift fishing nets and noise pollution from oil and gas exploration.
The study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, which organizers say was the first on such a scale in the Mediterranean, found that sperm whales were also the species worst affected by plastic ingestion. Six out of ten specimens were found to have consumed plastics according to Alexandros Frantzis, scientific director of the Athens-based Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute that conducted the research. “The amount of (debris) we found is very high, and should set off an alarm,” he told The Associated Press. “It is now something common. … It’s not just that some random animal swallowed plastic.” Frantzis is a prominent whale and dolphin expert known for first linking fatal whale beachings to the use of military sonar by warships. In a separate incident outside the scope of the Greek study, an 8-meter (26-foot) pregnant sperm whale was found dead off Sardinia in March with 22 kilograms (48.5 pounds) of plastic in its stomach.
Researchers Alexandros Frantzis and Voula Alexiadou lie on a tennis court next to the plastic that was in the stomach of a dead sperm whale found on the Aegean Sea island of Mykonos. The collection includes a Greek souvlaki restaurant bag, Turkish trash bags and biscuit packaging. (Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute via AP)
America represented a new land for freedom-loving people around the world to come together in, to form a new union governed not by the King, but by a rule of law. Yet, despite these ideals, America was never a democracy. From the onset, it contained internal contradiction manifested in the genocide of natives, the slavery of blacks and the suppression of women. But the words in the Declaration of Independence were a promise and the Constitution was meant to be its fulfillment. The conscience of ordinary people was a vital link that could fill the gap and create a democracy. Out of conscience springs the power of We the People that could truly perform checks and balances of our government.
When the laws themselves become unjust, conscience reminds us of our duty to break these laws in order to uphold our ideals. In our history, we have seen individuals who fought to keep those words of promise through their acts of civil disobedience. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who demonstrated extraordinary courage for the struggle of Black people to fight against racist laws once said: “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘It it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”
Decades after the civil rights movement, a young US soldier in her act of delivering information to WikiLeaks, risked her life to carry on this American tradition of civil disobedience. As a consequence, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison and served seven years until her sentence was commuted in 2017. Now, by refusing to testify against a publisher at a secret grand jury targeting WikiLeaks, she is once again sent back to jail. After having witnessed Manning confessing her role as the WikiLeaks whistleblower at her court-martial, the late attorney Michael Ratner acknowledged how locking her up “for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation”. [..] So, we are now clear what this US extradition case against Assange is all about. This prosecution of Assange and the detainment of Manning are assaults on our conscience.
This is were three years of failed Russiagate conspiracy theorizing and fixation leads you — into the arms of fanatical endless war proponent John Bolton: “John Bolton God bless you, good luck..” one can now hear on “resistance” network MSNBC prime time. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is now championing neocon national security adviser John Bolton’s “humanity” given he apparently went loose cannon this past week, vowing to confront Russia over Venezuela even as his boss President Trump downplayed Moscow’s role in the crisis after a Friday phone call with Putin. “This is what John Bolton, human being, thought his job was this week,” Maddow said on her show Friday night.
Both Pompeo and Bolton had clearly gone a bit rogue with their overly bellicose Venezuela comments, while Trump appeared to be more restrained — and for Maddow this was of course cause for championing the neocon interventionist line: “Hey, John Bolton, hey, Mike Pompeo, are you guys enjoying your jobs right now?” she questioned. On Friday Trump had said following the phone call, Putin is “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen in Venezuela, and I feel the same way.” Maddow, who once prided herself on slamming and deconstructing Bush-era regime change wars, now finds Trump not jingoistic enough. She stridently questioned:
“How do you come to work anymore if you’re John Bolton? Right, regardless of what you thought about John Bolton before this, his whole career and his track record, I mean, just think of John Bolton as a human being. This is what John Bolton, human being, thought his job was this week.” She further cut to a clip of Bolton criticizing Russia’s alleged military involvement in Venezuela to prop up Maduro, because apparently uber-hawk Bolton is now a “fearless truth-teller” in Maddow’s world. “You thought that was your job,” Maddow said. “But it turns out not at all, not after Vladimir Putin gets done with President Trump today.”
Donald Trump has urged Special Counsel Robert Mueller not to testify to the US Congress about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The president’s latest comments arrived after he said he would not allow former White House counsel Don McGahn – a prominent figure in the special counsel’s nearly 400-page report – to testify to the House as it continues probing election interference and the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian operatives. “After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 FBI Agents – all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION – why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller to testify,” Mr Trump said in a tweet.
“Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion?” he continued. “There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION. Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!” The special counsel’s report found numerous examples of potential obstruction of justice on the part of the president, including instances in which he asked Mr McGahn to fire Mr Mueller after his appointment in 2017.
Barr has known Mueller for nearly 30 years; when Mueller was the Criminal Division chief in the Bush 41 Justice Department, he reported to Barr, who was attorney general. It should come as no surprise, then, that Barr was not getting his information from Mueller’s staff; he was getting it from Mueller directly. Nor should it come as any surprise that, before releasing his March 24 letter to the public, Barr gave Mueller an opportunity to review it; nor that Mueller declined that opportunity — given that he knows Barr well, and knew Barr would not misrepresent the report (especially given that the report would soon be public).
Three days after Barr announced the report’s conclusions, Mueller sent his letter, undoubtedly written by his staff. Mueller could simply have called Barr on the phone, as he has done a million times; but the staff’s partisan Democrats wanted a letter, which makes for much better leak material. (The letter was, in fact, strategically leaked to the Washington Post Tuesday night, right before Barr’s Wednesday morning Senate testimony.) The day after receiving Mueller’s March 27 letter, Barr called Mueller and pointedly asked whether he was claiming that Barr’s March 24 letter articulating Mueller’s findings was inaccurate. Mueller responded that he was making no such claim — he was, instead, irritated by the press coverage of Barr’s letter.
Mueller suggested the publication of additional information from the report, including the report’s own executive summaries, to explain more about why he decided not to resolve the obstruction issue. But he did not claim Barr had misrepresented his findings. Again, Barr’s contact was with Mueller, not Mueller’s team. His exchanges with Mueller gave Barr no basis to know about any objection to his description of the report’s findings — from Mueller or anyone else. The fact that Mueller’s staff was leaking like a sieve to the Times, the Washington Post, and NBC News does not mean they were sharing with the attorney general what the Times described as “their simmering frustrations.” That is what Barr said in answer to Crist’s question about the report’s findings. But to avoid the misimpression that he was parsing words deceptively, Barr volunteered his perception that Mueller’s staff wanted more information from the report to be publicized.
So much for months and months of constant leaks, headlines, tweets, and press reports that US-China trade talks are going great, and are imminent amid an ocean of “optimism” (meant solely to sucker in amateurs into the most obvious bull headfake since 1987). Just after noon on Sunday, President Trump tweeted that 10% tariffs paid by China on $200 billion in goods will rise to 25% on Friday, and that – contrary to what he himself and his chief economist, Larry Kudlow has said for months, talks on a trade deal have been going too slowly. And, just to underscore his point, Trump also threatened to impose 25% tariffs on an additional $325 billion of Chinese goods “shortly.”
With the tariff rate on numerous goods originally set at 10% and set to more than double in 2019, Trump postponed that decision after China and the US agreed to sit down for trade talks; following Trump’s tweet it is now confirmed that trade talks have hit an impasse and that escalation will be needed to break the stalemate. It was as recently as Friday that Vice President Mike Pence told CNBC that Trump remained hopeful that he could strike a deal with China (at the same time as he was urging for a rate cut from the Fed). Curiously, on Wednesday, the White House – clearly hoping to sucker in even more naive bulls to buy stocks at all time highs – said the latest round of talks had moved Beijing and Washington closer to an agreement. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Discussions remain focused toward making substantial progress on important structural issues and re-balancing the US-China trade relationship.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed Sunday for Russia to get out of Venezuela, while his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called on Washington to “abandon its irresponsible plans” in the crisis-wracked country. The push and shove set the stage for a Pompeo meeting with Lavrov in Finland this week, and belied the conciliatory tone taken by US President Donald Trump on Friday after what he said was “a very good conversation” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The top level contacts follow the failure of a US-backed uprising this week aimed at ousting Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, which Pompeo has blamed on Russia.
The secretary has said Maduro had been ready to flee to Havana but the Russians, who had flown military advisers to Caracas to shore up his socialist government, talked him out of it. “The Russians must get out,” Pompeo said in an interview Sunday with ABC’s “This Week.” “I’m going to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov in recent days. It’s very clear, we want the Russians out, we want the Iranians out, we want the Cubans out. It’s very clear,” he said. Trump undercut Pompeo’s position on Friday, telling reporters that Putin had assured him “he is not looking to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.” “And I feel the same way,” Trump added.
The Trump administration is deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack, national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday. With tensions already high between Washington and Tehran, a U.S. official said the deployment has been ordered “as a deterrence to what has been seen as potential preparations by Iranian forces and its proxies that may indicate possible attacks on U.S. forces in the region.”However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was not expecting any imminent Iranian attack.
Bolton – who has spearheaded an increasingly hawkish U.S. policy on Iran – said the decision, which could exacerbate problems between the two countries, was meant to send a “clear and unmistakable message” of U.S. resolve to Tehran. Though he cited no specific Iranian activities that have raised new concerns, Iran has recently warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz if it was barred from using the strategic waterway. About a fifth of the oil consumed globally passes through the strait. “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces,” Bolton said in a statement.
The United States may review its ties with countries it deems as being anti-Israel after what a U.S. envoy said on Sunday was a shift in policy toward equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a March speech that anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel’s existence as a homeland for the Jewish people – was a form of anti-Semitism, or hostility toward Jews, that was on the rise worldwide and that Washington would “fight it relentlessly”. The State Department’s special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, said this U.S. position could spell reviews of ties with foreign governments or leaders.
“The United States is willing to review its relationship with any country, and certainly anti-Semitism on the part of a country with whom we have relations is a deep concern,” he told Reuters during a visit to Israel. “I will be raising that issue in bilateral meetings that I am undertaking all over the world,” he said. “That is something we are going to have frank and candid conversations about – behind closed doors.”
In 2016, as Boeing raced to get the 737 MAX certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a senior company engineer whose job was to act on behalf of the FAA balked at Boeing management demands for less stringent testing of the fire-suppression system around the jet’s new LEAP engines. That June he convened a meeting of all the certification engineers in his unit, who collectively agreed with his assessment. Management initially rejected their position, and only after another senior engineer from outside the MAX program intervened did managers finally agree to beef up the testing to a level the engineer could accept, according to two people familiar with the matter. But his insistence on a higher level of safety scrutiny cost Boeing time and money.
Less than a month after his peers had backed him, Boeing abruptly removed him from the program even before conducting the testing he’d advocated. The episode underscores what The Seattle Times found after a review of documents and interviews with more than a dozen current and former Boeing engineers who have been involved in airplane certification in recent years, including on the 737 MAX: Many engineers, employed by Boeing while officially designated to be the FAA’s eyes and ears, faced heavy pressure from Boeing managers to limit safety analysis and testing so the company could meet its schedule and keep down costs.
That pressure increased when the FAA stopped dealing directly with those designated employees — called “Authorized Representatives” or ARs — and let Boeing managers determine what was presented to the regulatory agency. “The ARs have nobody supporting them. Nobody has their backs,” said one former Authorized Representative who worked on the 737 MAX and who provided details of the engineer’s removal from the program. “The system is absolutely broken.”
Boeing engineers identified a fault with a pilot warning system on its 737 MAX aircraft in 2017, a year before the deadly Lion Air crash, the company said Sunday. Boeing said that management was unaware of the issue until the crash in Indonesia, which killed 189 people, and the planes were not grounded until after another of the type operated by Ethiopian Airlines went down several months later, leaving a further 157 people dead. According to Boeing, a supposedly standard piece of equipment that tells pilot about disagreements between angle of attack (AOA) indicators – which measure the plane’s angle vis-a-vis oncoming air to warn of impending stalls – did not in fact activate unless an additional optional indicator was purchased by airlines.
That left airlines that did not buy the optional indicator – including both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines – without the safety feature. Faulty angle of attack indicator information may have played a role in both of the deadly crashes, causing the 737 MAX anti-stall system to unnecessarily activate and push the nose down toward the ground even as pilots fought to maintain altitude. “In 2017, within several months after beginning 737 MAX deliveries, engineers at Boeing identified that the 737 MAX display system software did not correctly meet the AOA Disagree alert requirements,” the aircraft manufacturer said in a statement.
Sarah Abdallah has this covered: ”Obama gets an “A+” for bombing #Libya to smithereens and turning what was once Africa’s most prosperous country into a balkanized, failed state now ruled by jihadists who sell Black Africans in open air slave markets.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 presidential contender, said Sunday that he wouldn’t give former President Barack Obama a “grade” on his presidency. Speaking to ABC News’s “This Week” host Jon Karl, Sanders conceded that Obama gets an “A+” in his book compared to President Trump. “Barack Obama was a very, very good president,” Sanders said. “What grade would you give him?” Karl asked. “I’m not going to give him a grade,” the Vermont senator continued. “Compared to the guy you have in the White House now, I’ll give him an A+.” Karl then noted that Trump and Republicans have expressed eagerness to run against Sanders and his ideology as a socialist, and asked Sanders if it was time for him to “disavow that label.”
“Anytime you do things for the people and you stand up to the wealthy and powerful, you’ll be labeled this that and the other thing,” Sanders said. “All of the issues that we have talked about, these are ideas that in one form or another are in fact supported by the American people.” Polls have repeatedly showed Sanders, who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, as a front-runner in the 2020 race. He is expected to go head-to-head with Obama’s former Vice President Joe Biden, who has worked to tie himself closely to the former president since launching his campaign.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Sunday proposed a sweeping agriculture and rural investment plan to break up big agriculture monopolies and shift farm subsidies toward small family farmers. “I think a farmer that produces the food we eat may be almost as important as some crook on Wall Street who destroys the economy,” Sanders said during a campaign event in Osage, a town of fewer than 4,000 people. “Those of us who come from rural America have nothing to be ashamed about, and the time is long overdue for us to stand up and fight for our way of life.” Sanders’ plan expands on themes that have been central to his presidential campaign in Iowa since the start, including his emphasis on rural America and pledge to take on and break up big corporations.
During his Sunday speech, Sanders outlined the dire circumstances confronting rural America — population decline, school and hospital closures and rising addiction and suicide rates in many rural counties nationwide — as the impetus for his policy. His plan includes a number of antitrust proposals, including breaking up existing agriculture monopolies and placing a moratorium on future mergers by big agriculture companies. He would also ban “vertically integrated” agribusinesses — companies that control multiple levels of production and processing of a product. One of his competitors in the Democratic race, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, included several of those antitrust planks in the agriculture policy she released in March.
But Sanders’ policy is more expansive than just targeting major agriculture corporations — he’s also proposing greater government involvement in setting price controls and managing supply and demand of agriculture commodities. His plan calls for a shift from the current farm subsidy system toward a “parity system,” which means “setting price floors and matching supply with demand so farmers are guaranteed the cost of production and family living expenses.” Critics of the farm bill have argued that the current government subsidy system favors large family farms and corporate farms over small family farms, and Sanders’ policy aims to make that distribution more equal.
The policy action that the Gilet Jaunes oppose, and the policy inaction that Extinction Rebellion deride, are both the products of economists—and most specifically, the economist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on Climate Change, William Nordhaus. Nordhaus agrees that man-made Climate Change is happening—he is not a “Climate Change Denialist”. However, his research actually encourages policymakers not to take the action that Extinction Rebellion demands, or anything like it. He instead recommends managing Global Warming so that the Earth’s temperature will stabilize at 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels in the mid-22nd century.
Figure 1: Slide 6 in Nordhaus’s 2018 Nobel Prize Lecture (annotated)
Nordhaus also argued that the policy Extinction Rebellion recommends, of restrict Global Warming to 1.5 degrees—even if it is done over the next century, rather than the next six years as Extinction Rebellion demands—would cost the global economy more than 50 trillion US dollars, while yielding benefits of well under US$5 trillion. How is it possible that the optimal temperature for the planet is 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels—and that damages from that level of warming would amount to under 10% of global GDP—when it would also be “catastrophic to all life on Earth”?
Figure 2:Slide 7 in Nordhaus’s 2018 Nobel Prize Lecture
How is it possible that Global Warming of 1.5 degrees would reduce global GDP by a few trillion US dollars—less than 5% of what it would have been in the absence of Global Warming—while the policies to achieve that limit, even if executed over a century rather than just five years, would cost over ten times as much? It isn’t. Instead, either Extinction Rebellion’s claims are vastly overblown, or Nordhaus’s estimates of the economic damages from Global Warming drastically understate the dangers. Both are possible, of course. But categorically, Nordhaus’s estimates of the potential economic damage from Global Warming are nonsense. They are also one of the key reasons why policymakers have not taken the threat seriously. If Extinction Rebellion is going to make policymakers take Climate Change seriously, then one of their first targets must be Nordhaus and his DICE model.
“A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things..”
But that of course is entirely useless to a teenager.
Dahr Jamail’s latest book, “The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption,” stitches together personal introspection and gut-wrenching interviews with leading climate experts. The rapidly receding glaciers of Denali National Park, home to the highest peak in North America, inspired the book’s title. “Seven years of climbing in Alaska had provided me with a front-row seat from where I could witness the dramatic impact of human-caused climate disruption,” Jamail writes.
With vividly descriptive storytelling, Jamail pushes further north into the Arctic Circle where warming is occurring at double speed. He surveys rapid changes in the Pribilof Islands, where indigenous communities have had to contend with die-offs affecting seabirds, fur seals, fish, and more — a collapsing food web. The story continues in the fragile Great Barrier Reef, utterly ravaged by the warming ocean. South Florida is faring no better: Jamail finds that 2.46 million of the state’s acreage will be submerged within his lifetime. Experts are aghast everywhere Jamail visits. In the Amazon, rich in biodiversity, the consequences are especially enormous.
[..] The threat of looming biosphere apocalypse is deeply troubling, panic-inducing, and this all-encompassing environmental, economic, and spiritual problem leaves one feeling helpless and grief-stricken. “The End of Ice” takes on the full weight of the catastrophe at hand. Jamail carries the reader’s emotional pain by acutely expressing his own. “A willingness to live without hope allows me to accept the heartbreaking truth of our situation, however calamitous it is. Grieving for what is happening to the planet also now brings me gratitude for the smallest, most mundane things,” Jamail explains. “I have found that it’s possible to reach a place of acceptance and inner peace, while enduring the grief and suffering that are inevitable as the biosphere declines.”
“The End of Ice” readers won’t find calls for technology-based solutions, politicians, mitigating emissions, or the Green New Deal to save us. “This global capitalist experiment, this experiment of industrialization and burning fossil fuels rampantly is an utter, abject failure,” Jamail told The Intercept. He believes it is time to start adapting. We should act like the climate crisis has arrived and, most significantly, reconnect to the planet.
Something is amiss in Corporate America. Both national and regional surveys reveal a sinking sense that the economy’s tailwinds are shifting to headwinds. The downtrodden confidence is a curiosity given many economists’ forecasts calling for second-quarter growth to have accelerated to a 4.2 percent annualized rate, the fastest since 2014. Soft though the survey data may be, the numbers don’t lie. If something doesn’t give – and fast – what follows is sure to be damaging to the real economy. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey for July revealed that the business outlook had slumped to the lowest level in over two years.
Odds are pretty good this number was dragged down by those with the highest incomes, many of whom are likely also business owners and corporate executives who’ve been on the front line of the rising costs to run their businesses. But there may be more than meets the eye among those whose incomes rank in the top third of households. While the majority of these respondents expressed concern over the tariffs, what they’re reading, hearing and seeing may be dampening their outlooks even further. As things stand, it’s as if January never happened, a month in which confidence was so high, the “news heard” among high income earners hit a 20-year high. By the beginning of July, “news heard” had slid to minus 18, the lowest in two years.
The six-month, 79-point swing is so severe it rivals August 2011, when the euro crisis shook world markets, Standard & Poor’s stripped the U.S. of its AAA credit rating and households were rattled by the debt ceiling debacle. [..] Consider the starting point for many companies. Last year’s weak dollar and natural disasters had many struggling to satisfy overseas demands and the massive needs required to rebuild. Labor and raw material costs were already on the rise to correct for the imbalances. The tariffs were the insult to injury many manufacturers could simply not afford.
“The actual economic impact will really come down to time,” cautioned Boockvar. “The longer this goes on, the more actual business activity will be negatively affected.” To Boockvar’s point, the collapse in business sentiment suggests many companies don’t foresee the ability to withstand further blows to their ability to profitably conduct business. Businesses are saying as much.
Unbelievable garbage from CNN. That they pay attention to Assange now may be a ominous sign. They straight-faced claim that Assange fled rape allegations in Sweden. He did not. Sweden told him he was free to go to London. Only to turn around and issue a warrant for him.
Julian Assange walked into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19, 2012 to claim political asylum. He has been there ever since – a total of 2,230 days – rarely seeing daylight. But multiple sources say his situation is now untenable and he may soon leave, whether he wants to or not. The question is: what will happen to Assange as and when he does walk out of his bolt-hole around the corner from Harrods? The recent indictments issued by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller imply that Assange and WikiLeaks were a conduit for Russian intelligence in distributing hacked Democratic Party emails in 2016. According to the indictment document, “The conspirators (…) discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases with Organisation 1 to heighten their impact.”
Assange has always maintained that he did not receive them from the Russian government. He told Fox News in January 2017: “Our source is not the Russian government, and it is not a state party.” A member of Assange’s legal team, Jennifer Robinson, told CNN this week: “WikiLeaks has made very clear they were not engaged in any way with the Russian state with respect to that publication. There is no connection between WikiLeaks and any of those who have been indicted.” His lawyers argue that all Assange did was publish the hacked emails, as did other media, after being in contact with a hacker called Guccifer 2.0. The Special Counsel alleges that Guccifer 2.0 was a cover for Russian intelligence, saying in the indictment that on July 14th , Guccifer 2.0 sent WikiLeaks an encrypted attachment that contained “instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents.”
Whether a sealed indictment awaits Assange in relation to the Russian hacking investigation is unknown. But according to US officials, charges have been drawn up relating to previous WikiLeaks disclosures of classified US documents. Assange would face arrest if/when he leaves the embassy because he skipped bail in 2012 – when Swedish authorities were seeking his extradition to face accusations of rape. Last year Sweden suspended the investigation, but Assange’s lawyers fear his arrest would be swiftly followed by a US extradition request. Assange maintains his innocence.
This feels like too little too late. We know all this, we have for a long time. And it’s worse: as I wrote in May in I am Julian Assange, the Guardian engaged in an active smear campaign against Assange then. So does CNN -see above. That’s much more relevant than that they don’t defend him.
Last Tuesday a top lawyer for the New York Times named David McCraw warned a room full of judges that the prosecution of Julian Assange for WikiLeaks publications would set a very dangerous precedent which would end up hurting mainstream news media outlets like NYT, the Washington Post, and other outlets which publish secret government documents. “I think the prosecution of him would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers,” McCraw said. “From that incident, from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.” Do you know where I read about this? Not in the New York Times.
“Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself,” activist Ray McGovern wrote for the alternative media outlet Consortium News. “In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.” So let’s unpack that a bit. It is now public knowledge that the Ecuadorian government is actively seeking to turn Assange over to be arrested by the British government. This was initially reported by RT, then independently confirmed by The Intercept, and is today full mainstream public knowledge being reported by mainstream outlets like CNN.
It is also public knowledge that Assange’s asylum was granted by the Ecuadorian government due to a feared attempt to extradite him to the United States and prosecute him for WikiLeaks publications. Everyone from President Donald Trump to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ranking House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff to Democratic members of the US Senate have made public statements clearly indicating that there is a US government interest in getting Assange out of the shelter of political asylum and into prison.
Some people you just can’t reason with, especially the hell-spawned man-beast who personally directed Russian “meddling” and “interference” in our election and stole certain victory from president-designee Hillary. (I know this because The New York Times and The Washington Post said so.) Another astonishment: in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would not recognize Crimea as part of Russia and would demand the return of the region to Ukraine. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. Pompeo is pissing up a rope on that one. Russia will not give up its warm-water naval bases on the Black Sea anymore than the US will return its San Diego naval installation to Mexico, and Mr. Pompeo knows it.
So do the posturing idiots on the senate committee, who apparently forgot that our own government officials fomented the 2014 Ukrainian coup that prompted Russia to annex Crimea and its military assets in the first place. How many of you feel a gnawing disgust and contempt for both sides of the US political spectrum? The news, day and night, reveals a nation unable to think, unable to discern reality from fantasy, avid to dissemble and lie about absolutely everything, eager to support any racketeering operation designed to fleece its own citizens, and utterly ignoring the genuine problems that can drive us into a new dark age.
On balance, and just for now, I’m more disturbed by the side represented by the Democratic Party, aka the “progressives” or “the Resistance,” because they are responsible for politicizing the FBI before, during, and after the 2016 election and that was a dastardly act of institutional debauchery in an agency with the power to destroy the lives and careers of American citizens. The product of that corruption is a dangerous manufactured hysteria inciting hostility and aggression against another nation that could lead to a war that humanity will not recover from.
As the Brexit negotiations roll on, we do see some signs of progress. Our understanding of the underlying causes of the referendum outcome has developed significantly in the last two years. Leave-supporting areas can be easily distinguished from those supporting Remain. Broadly speaking, they are more deprived, have lower levels of income, fewer high status-jobs, a weaker economic structure, and an ageing demographic with lower levels of educational attainment. Further, non-economic factors have also been highlighted as important correlates of support for Brexit . But an open question to economists, though, is what are the economic origins of the relationships between these characteristics and support for Leave?
An important cross-cutting observation that has been made over and over again is that Leave-supporting areas stand out in having an electorate that has been “left behind”, is particularly reliant on the welfare state and is thus exposed to welfare cuts. In a recent paper, I show that austerity-induced reforms, including widespread cuts to the welfare state since 2010, were an important factor behind the decision of many people to shift their political support to UKIP and, subsequently, support Leave in the EU referendum.
The austerity-induced reforms of the welfare state, implemented in the years after 2010, were broad and deep. In 2013, it was estimated that the measures included in the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 would cost every working-age Briton, on average, around £400 per year. Crucially, the impact of the cuts was far from uniform across the UK: it varied from around £900 in Blackpool to just above £100 in the City of London. Aggregate figures suggest that overall government spending for welfare and protection contracted by 16 per cent in real per capita terms, reaching levels last seen in the early 2000s.
Let me preface this open letter of sorts that I’m writing to Senator Bernie Sanders. I’m not penning this missive as though I’m a crestfallen supporter, after falling for the okie doke in 2008 and waking up to the deception of Obama, I decided to stop putting my faith in politicians. Rather, I write this article on behalf of Bernie’s legions of supporters and the millions of Americans who put their faith in someone who spoke against the iniquities that are ravaging our nation and our planet as a whole. Bernie, it was your decision to speak against this consolidated graft that is cratering society that captured the imagination of the disaffected and gave people hope that their voices could be heard above the cash extortion that dominates our government.
Instead of continuing your rebellion against the establishment and speaking against the corrosive nature of our politics, you are charting a course towards irrelevance by jumping on this cockamamie #Russiagate narrative. Here is what I don’t get about your decision to glom on to this most ridiculous assertion that 12 Russians had more impact on our elections than the billions of dollars that are spent by corporations and plutocrats to bend elected officials like pretzels. The insinuation the punditry is making is that Americans were duped to vote against their own self-interests because they refused to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Never mind that Hillary was one of the most divisive and disliked politician to run for president in modern American history. Never mind that the DNC essentially rigged the primaries to ensure her victory at your expense. Instead of focusing on the structural and systematic flaws that render our votes irrelevant, fingers are pointed at a manufactured villain halfway around the world in order to distract from the fact that our elections have been hijacked by moneyed interests and entrenched leeches who are sucking the citizenry dry. Whatever efforts Russia might have made to influence our elections were outweighed by a kleptocracy that hacked down our democracy with dark money and self-centered politicians who put their interests above that of the people they purportedly serve.
Vladimir Putin says that the adoption of Christianity more than 1,000 years in territory that later became Russia marked the starting point for forming Russia itself. Putin’s comments came Saturday in a ceremony marking the 1,030th anniversary of the adoption by Christianity by Prince Vladimir, the leader of Kievan Rus, a loose federation of Slavic tribes that preceded the Russian state. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of clergy and believers at a huge statue of the prince outside the Kremlin, Putin said adopting Christianity was “the starting point for the formation and development of Russian statehood, the true spiritual birth of our ancestors, the determination of their identity. Identity, the flowering of national culture and education.” The comments underline strong ties between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church.
If you’re online these days, you likely sense that something’s wrong with the internet. You probably feel weird about how many times a day you check Facebook or Instagram, and likely a little uneasy about how annoyed or envious you feel when you do. Maybe the hostility online depresses you. Maybe you worry about the next generation, and how anxious they all seem. Maybe you’ve even considered deleting your accounts. This is exactly what Jaron Lanier, a leader in the tech world, says you should do. Right away. Lanier — a pioneer in the world of internet startups, and virtual reality in particular — has long been a critic of the Silicon Valley status quo. In this slim, highly-readable manifesto, he lays out his case against social media. And it is a devastating one.
In 10 simple arguments, the tech insider paints a picture of a wide-scale behaviour modification apparatus driven by social attention — both the carrot of approval and the stick of criticism, which generates the most intensity or “engagement.” “There is no evil genius seated in a cubicle in a social media company performing calculations and deciding that making people feel bad is more ‘engaging’ and therefore more profitable than making them feel good,” he writes. “Or at least, I’ve never met or heard of such a person. The prime directive to be engaging reinforces itself, and no one even notices that negative emotions are being amplified more than positive ones.”
According to Lanier, the social media apparatus has made people into lab rats, placing them under constant surveillance. He believes the process is making people angrier, more isolated, less empathetic, less informed about the world, and less able to support themselves financially. Add to all that: Lanier says this highly tuned behaviour modification system is for rent to anyone looking to influence the public. The constant stream of data, and the algorithms that tweak subsequent efforts to sway people, aren’t just used to sell soap, he notes, but to influence politics.
Here’s a flicker in the periphery. I notice it because of the way it moves; it’s a sort of fast fidget – staccato and angular in movement and path, like a movie projected at the wrong frame rate. It doesn’t swoop like a swallow, or bumble like a moth. The bat moves like a bat, and like nothing else. I’m sitting near my home under some trees, watching the coming night deepen the navy sky. The day has been airlessly hot, and with nightfall relief creeps into the air like a balm. Animals are out – I can hear twitches in the bushes behind me. Young frogs; hedgehogs maybe. Looking for water. Then I notice this bat. Seconds after I see it, I feel it pass so close that it makes my hair move, with it a split-second rustle of papery wings. I shiver.
Bats are just flying mice, people say, except they’re not, at all. Worldwide there are two main groups: Megachiroptera, big-eyed, placid-faced, small-eared – almost anthropomorphic, a man-bat; and Microchiroptera, the opposite. Nature’s darkness-creature has over time become ours, too. Their thorny outline is so conversant with the sinister that we nearly forget why. Light never catches them. They are opaque, darkly anonymous silhouettes into which humans project all manner of eerie ideas. Unwittingly, bats reinforce these with their habits. They haunt churches. Fly by night. Sleep subversively inverted. And the one far-flung species that feeds on blood bears the name “vampire” all too neatly.
This solitary bat flies about me in rapid loops. This one is maybe a noctule, or a pipistrelle. Catching insects perhaps. I worry that it will hit me but it won’t. It sees by echoing its sounds off nearby objects like aerial sonar, and it’s an excellent way to navigate. Those sounds are too high-pitched for the human ear to detect, and so to us, other than those wings, the bat makes no sound. None at all. I watch it. Bats need to catch air under their wings to fly. They can’t lift off like birds: they must drop. Their flight is a fall, arrested again and again with each frantic flap. That’s why they don’t move like anything else. Except, perhaps, a human trying to fly.
Shelters in the south of Spain are struggling to deal with a huge influx of migrants, many of whom are being left without a proper place to sleep. The arrivals – 1,300 in the past three days – have stretched services to their breaking point with the strain felt particularly hard in Algeciras as well as other municipalities along the coast of Andalusia. The number of undocumented migrants arriving in Spain has doubled since last year. Spain is now the main entry point into Europe, above Italy or Greece. But shelter services have been unable to keep up with the demand, leaving many migrants to sleep in overcrowded centers.
Up to 260 migrants spent the past two nights on the deck of a Maritime Rescue ship, more than 50 huddled together on a small courtyard of a police station in Algeciras, and 90 more jostled for a spot in the port of Barbate. Many more are left to wander the streets of towns like Medina Sidonia and Chiclana after spending the maximum legal 72-hour period in police custody. Immigration officials have traveled to Cádiz to look for a solution to what the Spanish government describes as a “collapse” of services. In a press release, the government said that 400 migrants had nowhere to go and blamed the problem on the former administration of Mariano Rajoy for its “lack of foresight.” “The number of arrivals has not stopped rising since 2017 but despite this nothing was done,” said a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.
• The number of people arriving by sea has tripled in the past year. Since the beginning of the year, 22,711 migrants have reached Spain, 19,586 by sea.
• Spain has overtaken Greece and Italy as the country which received the highest number of migrants.
• An average of 54 people arrived in Spain by sea each day in the first five months of 2018. That average has since shot up to 220 per day.
• Since the beginning of the year, 294 people have died trying to reach Spain – almost double the figure from the same period last year.
Your donations are now also feeding the people in Mati, where conditions are really bad. I’ll have much more on the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund soon, many new and very positive developments, after a bit of a lull. More donations of course are needed and welcome.
A 42-year-old woman who was in intensive care after suffering extensive burns in the deadly wildfire that ripped through the coastal town of Mati in east Attica this week died early Saturday morning, raising the number of fatalities to 88. On Friday night, authorities also identified the bodies of the nine-year-old twin girls and their grandparents that went missing after the wildfires. Their bodies were among a group of victims recovered by emergency crews on Tuesday lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach. The news was reported on broadcaster SKAI by the private investigator the family had hired to find the children. It was confirmed by a reported friend of the family on his Facebook page.
The twins’ father had provided forensic authorities with a DNA sample and appeared on several TV stations seeking help in finding them. A total of 46 adult burn victims are being treated in hospitals in Athens, with nine of them in intensive care. Two children remain in hospital but authorities said their injuries are not life-threatening. Five days after the deadly blaze, there was still confusion over the number of those missing. The Athens Medical School’s Forensics and Toxicology Lab said it has conducted autopsies on 86 bodies, of which only 25 have been identified. As sources explained to Kathimerini, in the first 48 hours after the fires, several authorities wrote up lists of missing persons, which means the same people may have been recorded twice or more.
Since there was no official information on where relatives should report missing persons, police started separate investigations, when the relevant authority in this case would have been the fire service. On Saturday, Dimitra Lambarou, the deputy mayor of Marathonas, which has administrational jurisdiction over the majority of the devastated coastal town on Mati, said she is resigning over the deadly fires. “Since no-one else did it, I will,” she told broadcaster SKAI on Saturday. “I’m really ashamed for all those people who are in positions of responsibility,” she said and accused Marathonas mayor Ilias Psinakis of “not rising to the occasion.”
The best prior estimates of overall default rates come from Looney and Yannelis (2015), who examine defaults up to five years after entering repayment, and Miller (2017), who uses the new BPS-04 data to examine default rates within 12 years of college entry. These two sources provide similar estimates: about 28 to 29% of all borrowers ultimately default. But even 12 years may not be long enough to get a complete picture of defaults. The new data also allow loan outcomes to be tracked for a full 20 years after initial college entry, though only for the 1996 entry cohort. Still, examining patterns of default over a longer period for the 1996 cohort can help us estimate what to expect in the coming years for the more recent cohort.
If we assume that the cumulative defaults grow at the same rate (in percentage terms) for the 2004 cohort as for the earlier cohort, we can project how defaults are likely to increase beyond year 12 for the 2004 cohort. To compute these projections, I first use the 1996 cohort to calculate the cumulative default rates in years 13-20 as a percentage of year 12 cumulative default rates. I then take this percentage for years 13-20 and apply it to the 12-year rate observed for the 2004 cohort. So, for example, since the 20-year rate was 41% higher than the 12-year rate for the 1996 cohort, I project the Year 20 cumulative default rate for the 2004 cohort is projected to be 41% higher than its 12-year rate.
Figure 1 plots the resulting cumulative rates of default relative to initial entry for borrowers in both cohorts, with the data points after year 12 for the 2003-04 cohort representing projections. Defaults increase by about 40% for the 1995-96 cohort between years 12 and 20 (rising from 18 to 26% of all borrowers). Even by year 20, the curve does not appear to have leveled off; it seems likely that if we could track outcomes even longer, the default rate would continue to rise. For the more recent cohort, default rates had already reached 27% of all borrowers by year 12. But based on the patterns observed for the earlier cohort, a simple projection indicates that about 38% of all borrowers from the 2003-04 cohort will have experienced a default by 2023.
Three years after the Swiss National Bank shocked currency markets by scrapping the franc’s peg to the euro, it faces the toughest task of any major central bank in normalising ultra-loose monetary policy. If it raises rates, the Swiss franc strengthens. If it sells off its massive balance sheet, the Swiss franc strengthens. If a global crisis hits, the Swiss franc strengthens. And the abrupt decision to scrap the currency peg on Jan. 15, 2015, means it still has credibility issues with financial markets. “The SNB will most probably be one of the last central banks to change course, and it will take years or even decades for monetary policy to return to ‘normal’,” said Daniel Rempfler, head of fixed income Switzerland at Swiss Life Asset Managers.
The Bank of Japan illustrated the problem of reducing expansive policy when a small cut to its regular bond purchases sent the yen and bond yields higher. The scrapping of the cap – which sought to keep the franc at 1.20 to the euro to protect exporters and ward off deflationary pressure – sent it soaring. On the day of the announcement it went to 0.86 francs buying a euro before easing in later days. Although it weakened last year, SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan said in December it was too early to talk about normalising policy. The SNB has to wait for the European Central Bank to start raising interest rates before it can start hiking its own policy rate from minus 0.75%.
If the SNB acted first, the spread between Swiss and European market rates would narrow, making Swiss investments more attractive and boosting the franc. The ECB has already scaled back its asset purchasing programme, which is expected to end this year, but more action may be someway off. Meanwhile, any attempt by the SNB to cut its balance sheet – which has ballooned to 837 billion francs ($861 billion) – will be hard because 94% of its investments are in foreign currencies, held via bonds and shares in companies such as Apple and Starbucks.
China’s banking regulator pledged to continue its crackdown on malpractice in the $38 trillion industry in 2018, vowing to tackle everything from poor corporate governance and violation of lending policies to cross-holdings of risky financial products. The China Banking Regulatory Commission unveiled its regulatory priorities for the year in a statement on Saturday. They include: • Inspecting the funding source of banks’ shareholders and ensuring they have obtained their stakes in a regular manner • Examining banks’ compliance with rules restricting loans to real estate developers, local governments, industries burdened by overcapacity, and some home buyers • Looking into banks’ interbank activities and wealth management businesses.
The statement comes after China’s financial regulators started 2018 with a flurry of rules to plug loopholes uncovered in last year’s deleveraging campaign, showcasing their determination to limit broader risks to the financial system. Still, analysts have warned that the moves will make it more difficult for companies to obtain financing from loans, equities and bonds and could undermine economic growth. The “CBRC’s regulatory storm continues” with the weekend announcement covering almost all aspects of banks’ daily operations, Bocom International analysts Jaclyn Wang and Hannah Han wrote in a note. “We believe challenges for smaller banks in the current regulatory environment remain high,” they wrote, noting that curbs on off-balance-sheet lending and interbank activities may drag on profitability.
Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it’s not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting. Dozens of crypto units see the light of day every week, as baffled financial experts look on, and while none can match Bitcoin’s €200 billion ($242 bilion) market capitalisation, several have left the media darling’s profitability in the dust. In fact, bitcoin is not even in the top 10 of the crypto world’s best performers. Top of the heap is Ripple which posted a jaw-dropping 36,000% rise in 2017 and early this year broke through the €100 billion capitalisation mark, matching the value of blue-chip companies such as, say, global cosmetics giant L’Oreal.
“Its value shot up when a newspaper said that around 100 financial institutions were going to adopt their system,” said Alexandre Stachtchenko, co-founder of specialist consulting group Blockchain Partners. Using Ripple’s technology framework, however, is not the same as adopting the currency itself, and so the Ripple’s rise should be considered as “purely speculative”, according to Alexandre David, founder of sector specialist Eureka Certification. Others point out that Ripple’s market penetration is paper-thin as only 15 people hold between 60 and 80% of existing Ripples, among them co-founder Chris Larsen. But it still got him a moment of fame when, according to Forbes magazine, Larsen briefly stole Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s spot as the fifth-wealthiest person in the US at the start of the year.
Ether is another rising star, based on the Ethereum protocol created in 2009 by a 19-year old programmer and seen by some specialists as a promising approach. Around 40 virtual currencies have now gone past the billion-euro mark in terms of capitalisation, up from seven just six months ago. The Cardano cryptocurrency’s combined value even hit €15 billion only three months after its creation. In efforts to stand out from the crowd, virtual currency founders often concentrate on the security of their systems, such as Cardano, which has made a major selling point of its system’s safety features.
Carillion, a U.K. government contractor involved in everything from hospitals to the HS2 high-speed rail project, has filed for compulsory liquidation after a last-ditch effort to shore up finances and get a government bailout failed. The company, which employs 43,000 people worldwide – 20,000 of them in the U.K. – had held talks with the government Sunday to ask for the 300 million pounds ($412 million) it needed by the end of the month to stay afloat, the Mail on Sunday reported. On Monday morning, the board of Carillion said in a statement it had “concluded that it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect,” adding that it has obtained court approval for the move.
The challenge for liquidators and the government is now to ensure that the company’s break-up is orderly, with contracts and staff moved to rivals. For Prime Minister Theresa May, the collapse comes as opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn questions the longstanding British policy of getting private sector contractors to deliver public sector projects. “This is very worrying for a lot of groups,” Labour’s business spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey told the BBC. “We expect the government to step up now and take these contracts back into government control. Where it’s possible to take those back in-house it should do.” She also questioned why the company had been awarded further government contracts despite issuing profit warnings.
[..] Carillion’s struggles posed a conundrum for May over the political cost of using public money to assist a private company, or allowing it to fail, putting public services and infrastructure projects nationwide in danger. The company has contracts with many wings of government, including building roads, managing housing for the armed services, and running facilities for schools and hospitals.
The new year brought little cheer for London’s housing market with asking prices dropping to the lowest since August 2015. New sellers cut prices 1.4% in January to an average of 600,926 pounds ($821,500), according to a report by Rightmove on Monday. In a further concerning sign for the market, the average number of days required to sell a house jumped to the longest since January 2012, reaching 78 from 71 a month earlier. The report suggests 2018 won’t be any brighter for the capital’s housing market, which was the worst performing in the U.K. in 2017. Asking prices are down 3.5% from a year ago, according to the report, with the slowdown due to factors including an inflation squeeze, Brexit uncertainty and tax changes affecting landlords and owners of second homes.
[..] all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.
In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers. Not only that, but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, people all over the world are losing their faith in democracy – government by the people, for the people and of the people.
They increasingly recognise that the global economy has been rigged to reward those at the top at the expense of everyone else, and they are angry. Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they did 40 years ago, in both the United States and many other countries. They look on, feeling helpless in the face of a powerful few who buy elections, and a political and economic elite that grows wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer. In the midst of all of this economic disparity, the world is witnessing an alarming rise in authoritarianism and rightwing extremism – which feeds off, exploits and amplifies the resentments of those left behind, and fans the flames of ethnic and racial hatred.
Typical? Sign of the times? Laurie Kellman and Jonathan Drew for AP prove their own point by pretending to write about Americans from all stripes losing faith in news media, but then turn it into a one-sided Trump hit piece anyway.
When truck driver Chris Gromek wants to know what’s really going on in Washington, he scans the internet and satellite radio. He no longer flips TV channels because networks such as Fox News and MSNBC deliver conflicting accounts tainted by politics, he says. “Where is the truth?” asks the 47-year-old North Carolina resident. Answering that question accurately is a cornerstone of any functioning democracy, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson. But a year into Donald Trump’s fact-bending, media-bashing presidency, Americans are increasingly confused about who can be trusted to tell them reliably what their government and their commander in chief are doing. Interviews across the polarized country as well as polling from Trump’s first year suggest people seek out various outlets of information, including Trump’s Twitter account, and trust none in particular.
Many say that practice is a new, Trump-era phenomenon in their lives as the president and the media he denigrates as “fake news” fight to be seen as the more credible source. “It has made me take every story with a large grain, a block of salt,” said Lori Viars, a Christian conservative activist in Lebanon, Ohio, who gets her news from Fox and CNN. “Not just from liberal sources. I’ve seen conservative ‘fake news.'” Democrat Kathy Tibbits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reads lots of news sources as she tries to assess the accuracy of what Trump is reported to have said. “I kind of think the whole frontier has changed,” said the 60-year-old lawyer and artist. “My degree is in political science, and they never gave us a class on such fiasco politics.”
Though Trump’s habit of warping facts has had an impact, it’s not just him. Widely shared falsehoods have snagged the attention of world leaders such as Pope Francis and former President Barack Obama. Last year, false conspiracy theories led a North Carolina man to bring a gun into a pizza parlor in the nation’s capital, convinced that the restaurant was concealing a child prostitution ring. Just last week, after the publication of an unflattering book about Trump’s presidency, a tweet claiming that he is addicted to a TV show about gorillas went viral and prompted its apparent author to clarify that it was a joke. Trump has done his part to blur the lines between real and not. During the campaign, he made a practice of singling out for ridicule reporters covering his raucous rallies.
As president, he regularly complains about his news coverage and has attacked news outlets and journalists as “failing” and “fake news.” He’s repeatedly called reporters “the enemy of the people” and recently renewed calls to make it easier to sue for defamation. About 2 in 3 American adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current affairs, according to a Pew Research Center report last month. The survey found that Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that “fake news” leaves Americans deeply confused about current events. Despite the concern, more than 8 in 10 feel very or somewhat confident that they can recognize news that is fabricated, the survey found.
Greece could receive debt relief but with terms attached when its bailout program is concluded in August, according to the outgoing chief of the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG), Thomas Wieser. In an interview in Sunday’s Greek edition of Kathimerini, Wieser said that despite there being no discussion about post-bailout arrangements, he expects that debt relief would be granted conditionally. “If there should be further debt relief after the end of the program then it’s only logical there will be some kind of additional agreements.” His comments imply there will be no clean exit from the bailout program as envisioned in the government’s narrative. Greece’s post-bailout status was raised at last week’s EWG meeting in Brussels where, according to sources, the taboo issue of Greece debt relief was raised.
It was noted in the meeting that if there is to be debt relief, then questions regarding Greece’s post-bailout framework have to be addressed. According to EU regulations, bailout countries including Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus – as well as Greece in the near future – will be monitored until 75% of their loans have been repaid. This means in Greece’s case that it will be monitored until 2060. Wieser added that one of Greece’s biggest problems, which remains unresolved despite eight years of fiscal adjustment programs, is that it doesn’t lure foreign investments like other countries. “I still have the feeling that foreign direct investment is not welcomed in Greece as it is in many other countries,” Wieser said.
While adding that he has the feeling that many domestic rules and regulations over the last eight years have indeed changed, he bemoaned the fact that investments have not picked up. “I think it’s only very recently that international and national investors trust that Greece is finally approaching the time where it can stand on its own feet again financially and that it is not a huge risk to invest in its economy,” he said, adding that one of the main reasons that investors have been reluctant to do business in Greece is its justice system.
The European Parliament is planning to amend the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to register in the first European Union member state they set foot on. That state would also be responsible for processing these requests. The proposed amendment, however, could possible shift that responsibility to wherever any asylum seeker claims to have family in the EU. Under such a change, “Germany would have to accommodate significantly more asylum seekers,” said an Interior Ministry memo, quoted by Der Spiegel. Furthermore, any and all caps on refugees and immigrant intakes would be nullified. This would effectively render Germany’s decision to cap immigrations influxes at around 180,000 to 220,000 as agreed upon by the working groups aiming to form a new German government.
Germany has been struggling to form a new government since the Sept. 24th elections; however, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their sister party the CSU and Social Democrat Party leader Martin Schultz have agreed to go into official coalition talks, now made harder by the proposed EU bill. The proposed reform of the Dublin Agreement was put forth last November and now has to be approved by the European Council, which is composed of every single member states’ government leaders. Despite Germany’s worries, given the circumstances, the proposal is not expected to have much support. Between the nations of Eastern Europe, who never wanted any immigration at all, and the ever-more skeptical western nations, as well as the ones in Southern Europe, such as Greece, Italy and Spain that became the frontlines of the crisis, the proposed reform is not guaranteed to pass.
While the exact number of people that have entered Europe since 2015 is unknown, it is estimated that it is about 2 to 3 million, with the United Nations Human Rights Commission reporting that tens of millions more are on the move, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. While Germany was probably Europe’s biggest supporter of asylum seekers and chain-migration, it now worries that it in particular will be negatively affected by what it sees as immigration on “an entirely different scale.” The German Interior Ministry noted that it was particularly worried by a section of the proposal that stated: “The mere assertion of a family connection was enough.” “As a result, a member state hosting many so-called ‘anchor persons’ will take over responsibility for far-reaching family associations.”
“If every one of the more than 1.4 million people who have applied for asylum in Germany since 2015 becomes an anchor for newcomers arriving in the EU, then we’re dealing with [numbers] on an entirely different scale compared to family reunifications,” said Ole Schröder, a parliamentary state secretary in Germany’s Interior Ministry.
This past November, three bodies were found washed ashore the Greek island of Lesbos. They were later identified as a Turkish husband and wife, Huseyin and Nur Maden, and one of their three children. The Madens were teachers in Turkey, but they were among the 150,000 civil servants dismissed from their jobs after the failed coup in July 2016. Some of those dismissed tried to flee to Greece to avoid arrest or find work. More than 12,000 Turks applied for asylum in Europe for the first time in 2017, according to Eurostat. This figure is triple what it was the year preceding the failed coup and is the highest it has been in the past decade. Since July 2016, Turkish authorities have arrested over 50,000 people, including journalists and intellectuals.
Around 150,000 Turks have both had their passports revoked and lost their jobs as police officers, soldiers, teachers and public servants. For some, the solution was to leave Turkey and find work in another country, where they could have a better life and avoid prosecution. With their passports revoked by the Turkish government, Turks prefer to go to Greece as opposed to other European countries since they can arrange transport by boat via smugglers. The journey from the Turkish coast to certain Greek islands can be short, distance-wise. “Turkish refugees [in Athens] are the most educated and intellectual segment of Turkish society,” said Murat, who fled Turkey for Greece after July 2016. “We can learn a new language or adapt to the culture in Europe really fast.”
Murat has been a member of the Gulen movement since 1994. He worked alongside his wife as a teacher in the Gulen schools in southeastern Turkey, but they were both dismissed from their jobs after the 2016 coup attempt, which the government claims was planned by the Gulen movement. Their children’s school was shut down after the coup attempt, and they were denied registration at a new school in their hometown due to their parent’s affiliation with the Gulen movement. “We tried to start over, but we were already marginalized in the community as ‘putschists,’” said Murat. “Our children were not accepted to schools, and finally, when 50 police arrived at our parent’s village to detain my wife, by chance we were not there. I sold my car within a week and with that money, we came to Greece.”
The Gulenists are not the only ones who have had to leave Turkey following the coup attempt. There are others, like Merve, 21, and her uncle Hasan. Merve was only 19 when she was arrested after the coup attempt and put in jail for a year. “I was studying philosophy in Tunceli and was part of a left-wing student organization at my university,” she said. “Now there are only two possibilities left for us Kurds in Turkey. If you don’t want to be jailed, you should either join the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] fighters or flee into exile.”
T.V. naturalist Sir David Attenborough made his viewers weep last month with an exposé on how plastics are polluting the oceans, harming marine animals and fish. Last week, British prime minister Theresa May announced a slew of new measures to discourage plastics use, including plastic-free supermarket aisles and an expanded levy on plastic bags. A ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force this year. Not to be outdone, the EU is mulling plastics taxes to cut pollution and packaging waste. Is this industry the new tobacco?It’s no wonder politicians feel compelled to act. About 60% of all the plastics produced either went to landfill or have been dumped in the natural environment. At current rates there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 by weight, much of it in the form of small particles, ingestible by wildlife and very difficult to remove.
Public awareness has increased in recent years, yet that hasn’t led to falling consumption. More than half of the total plastics production has occurred since the turn of the millennium. Producers such as DowDuPont, Exxon Mobil, LyondellBasell and Ineos, as well as packaging manufacturers like Amcor, Berry Global and RPC have been happy to meet that demand. They don’t plan on it ending suddenly. Plastic packaging is an almost $290 billion-a-year business and sales are forecast to expand by almost 4 percent a year until 2022, according to research firm Smithers Pira. Demand for polyethylene, the most used plastic, is set to rise at a similar rate, meaning total consumption will rise to 118 million metric tons in 2022, according to IHS Markit. In the U.S., the shale gas boom has encouraged the construction of new ethylene plants. Oil companies are counting too on rising plastics consumption to offset the spread of electric vehicles, as my colleague Julian Lee has explained.
The reasons for the bullishness are obvious. Growing populations, rising living standards and the march of e-commerce mean more demand. In developed countries, per capita polyethylene use is as much as 40 kg per person, whereas in poorer countries like India the figure is just one tenth of that, according to IHS Markit. Plastics are displacing materials like glass and paper because they tend to be cheap, lightweight and sturdy. That plastics don’t easily decompose is an asset – it prevents food going bad – as well as a liability for the natural environment. Cutting consumption will be difficult. While bioplastics are an alternative, they make up only about 1 percent of global plastics demand. Quality and cost issues have prevented wider adoption. “A lot of these materials aren’t really competitive in a world of low to mid oil prices,” says Sebastian Bray, analyst at Berenberg.
“You know as well I do how this crazy debt based fiat money system works. The debt must perpetually increase or the whole financial system breaks down. The best we can hope for is that the ongoing currency debasement merely leads to a subtle erosion of living standards. That’s the best-case scenario. “But, again, no one except maybe a handful of your readers’ gives a rip about the federal debt. Plus, if you’re gonna keep writing about it you need to use better terminology. “The federal debt has grown at such a rapid rate that standard dollar units no longer capture what’s going on. The debt numbers are so large it is difficult to distinguish between hundreds of billions and tens of trillions of dollars. “For better perspective, you need to describe the debt growth in astronomical terms.
You see, astronomers use light years to adjust for large distances. A light year, as its name suggests, is the distance light travels in one year. One light year converts to light traveling about 5.87 trillion miles per year, excluding leap year of course. “You noted that since President Obama took office in early 2009, at about the time the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed, the U.S. federal debt has increased from $10.6 trillion to nearly $20 trillion. Well, you were wrong. “In the several days since you wrote that article, did you see the federal debt jumped to over $20.1 trillion? “Apparently, after Congress suspended the debt limit last Friday, the Treasury went ahead and reported the $300 billion of off balance spending they’d run up over the last six months since hitting the debt ceiling in March.
This is what Treasury Secretary Mnuchin meant by resorting to ‘extraordinary measures’ to keep the government humming. Sounds like Enron accounting to us. “Anywho, over the last 104 months the federal debt has increased by $9.5 trillion – or at an annual rate of about $1.1 trillion. This equals a rate of increase that’s nearly 20% the speed of light. This also pencil’s out to $34,880 of new debt per second. Are you starting to grasp the enormity? “Still, if the speed of light example doesn’t do it for you, how about the speed of sound? When Chuck Yeager first outran sound he reached what was called Mach 1. That equals 767 miles per hour – or 1,125 feet per second. “So, at $34,880 of new debt per second, the federal government is running up the debt at a speed that’s over Mach 30. Yes, things have really gotten out of control!
Like so many companies in America, Boeing has largely neglected the gaping deficit in its employee pension as it doled out lavish rewards to shareholders. What’s raising eyebrows is how it plans to shore up the retirement plan. Last month, Boeing made its largest pension contribution in over a decade. But rather than put up cash and lock in the funding, the planemaker transferred $3.5 billion of its own shares, including those it bought back in years past. (The administrator says it expects to sell them over the coming year.) It’s a bold move, and one cheered by many on Wall Street. Yet to pension experts, it isn’t worth the risk. After a record-setting, 58% rally this year, Boeing is betting it can keep producing the kind of earnings that push shares higher. If all goes well, not only will the pension benefit, but Boeing says it will be able to forgo contributions for the next four years.
But if anything goes awry, the $57 billion pension – which covers a majority of its workers and retirees – could easily end up worse off than before. “It’s an irresponsible thing to do certainly from the perspective of the plan participants,” said Daniel Bergstresser, a finance professor at the Brandeis International Business School. “Ideally, you would like to put assets in the pension plan that won’t fall in value at exactly the same time that the company is suffering.” Under CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s pension shortfall has widened as the Chicago-based company stepped up share buybacks. The $20 billion gap is now wider than any S&P 500 company except General Electric. And relative to earnings, Boeing shares are already trading close to the highest levels in a decade, a sign there might be more downside than upside.
[..] At the end of 2016, its pension had $57 billion in assets and $77 billion in obligations – a funding ratio of 74%, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Boeing froze pensions for Seattle-area Machinist union members last year under a hard-fought contract amendment. It also switched non-union workers to a defined contribution plan. And the stock transfer last month, combined with a planned $500 million cash payment this year, would be equal to all the company’s contributions during the previous five years. Nevertheless, it still leaves Boeing with roughly $15 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, although the shortfall should gradually shrink over the next four years, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. To be clear, Boeing has the money. In the past three years, the company generated enough excess cash to buy back $30 billion of its own shares.
But using equity instead of cash does have its advantages. It allows Boeing to conserve its free cash flow – a key metric for investors – by transferring Treasury shares that were repurchased at far lower values than today’s prices. In addition, Boeing will get a $700 million tax benefit, which will offset the cost of its $500 million cash contribution.
Toys ‘R’ Us Inc could file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks as pressure from skittish suppliers intensifies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. The company and its restructuring advisers are considering filing for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia, according to the WSJ report. The privately-held toy retailer had previously said it was working with investment bank Lazard to help address its approximately $5 billion in debt, of which roughly $400 million comes due next year. The potential Chapter 11 filing could be a result of the company’s suppliers tightening trade terms, including holding back on shipments unless the toy retailer is able to make cash payments on delivery, the newspaper reported.
The move by Toys “R” Us to potentially file for bankruptcy comes at a time when more and more consumers increasingly make purchases from online retailers like Amazon.com and avoid visiting brick-and-mortar shops. There have been more than a dozen significant retail bankruptcies this year, but none for retailers as big as Toys “R” Us, which has more than 1,600 stores worldwide. Toys tapped restructuring attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, CNBC reported this month. The company has been saddled with debt since buyout firms KKR and Bain Capital, together with real estate investment trust Vornado Realty took Toys “R” Us private for $6.6 billion in 2005.
Think bitcoin is in bubble territory? You ain’t seen nothing yet, says one cryptocurrency expert, who believes its value needs to surge by about 300 times over the next several years to be considered a legitimate currency or risk retreating into obscurity and obsolescence. Bitcoin, the No. 1 cryptocurrency, has drawn outsize attention over its parabolic rise—and the recent, brutal plunge it has been enduring in recent trade. Some market participants, however, make the case that despite its roughly 260% year-to-date rise it has to clear a far more stratospheric value hurdle to evolve into a practical form of money alongside fiat units like the U.S. dollar, Europe’s euro or British pound. A single bitcoin was worth about $3,568 in recent trade, off lows of the past few days, according to data site Coindesk.com, amid regulatory headwinds in China and critical comments from Wall Street pros like J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon.
Still, a bitcoin would need to be worth a stunning $1,000,000 to be a bona fide monetary unit, says Iqbal Gandham, U.K managing director at eToro, a trading platform. In other words, the digital currency would need to see a 300 fold run-up from its current level. To be sure, Gandham isn’t making a prediction; though he believes the currency has the ability to scale such lofty levels, Gandham thinks that bitcoin needs to climb to such a level to be truly viable as a monetary unit. To understand why is to understand the tiniest component of bitcoin—the Satoshi. Named after the purported creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. A Satoshi is equal to 0.00000001 bitcoin. Put another way, one bitcoin contains 100 million Satoshis. Satoshi’s value in dollars equated to $0.0000356819 at last check. Gandham argues that a Satoshi needs to be equivalent to a single penny, which it would when one bitcoin is worth $1,000,000.
“It is the Satoshi with which people will buy a cup of coffee,” Gandham told MarketWatch. He said using bitcoin now to purchase goods and services, as one would with dollars, isn’t feasible because bitcoin hasn’t reached the necessary economies of scale. “People don’t use a bar of gold to buy things, they use subdivisions of gold,” he said, saying that using bitcoin now to purchase items is like using a bar of gold to purchase a beverage or a meal. Gandham also said bitcoin really needs to get to that million-dollar mark in the next few years. Some are already wagering that it will get close: John McAfee, founder of his namesake antivirus software company says bitcoin is headed to the $500,000 level within three years. “It needs to get there in the next few years if it is really going to work,” Gandham said. “People will only spend the subdivision of bitcoin—and you can only spend the subdivision—if they are of reasonable value,” he said.
An actual Satoshi note that is redeemable for real money
Unlike Bill, Hillary is a prolific, but graceless and transparent liar. She is also probably the nastiest political figure in America since Nixon. Yet she lacked Nixon’s Machiavellian genius for political manipulation. Hillary wears her menace on her face. She could never hide her aspiration for power; her desire to become a war criminal in the ranks of her mentor Henry Kissinger (symbolized by the laurels of a Nobel Peace Prize, naturally). Americans don’t mind politicians with a lust to spill blood, but they prefer them not to advertise it. Thus, Clinton was miscast from the beginning as a political candidate for elected office. Her skills and temperament were more suited to the role of political enforcer in the mode of Thomas Cromwell or John Erhlichman. But her ambition wouldn’t let her settle for the role of a backstage player.
“One thing I’ve learned over the years is how easy it is for some people to say horrible things about me when I’m not around,” she fumes with Nixonian fury, “but how hard it is for them to look me in the eye and say it to my face.” Hillary has tried to reinvent herself many times and does so yet again in this meretricious coda to her failed campaign. She made herself more domesticated for the southern electorate in Arkansas. She shifted the blame to her advisors after the disaster of her health care bill. She washed off the blood-spatter from the Ken Starr investigations by portraying herself as the target of a witch hunt. She exploited an addled Daniel Patrick Moynihan to justify running as an interloper for Senator in New York. She rationalized her votes for the Iraq War by saying she was duped by Colin Powell and Dick Cheney.
She manufactured a timely tear for the cameras after her loss to Obama. She assumed the mantle of unrepentant war-monger during her belligerent tenure as Secretary of State and transubstantiated into a white dove during her debates with Bernie Sanders. She has weeded and blurred inconvenient episodes from her resumé. She has gone on talking tours. She has appeared in town halls. She has reintroduced herself, again and again. She’s changed her name, hairstyles and fashion designers. She exchanged dresses for pantsuits. She shifted from drinking pinot noir to craft beers. She’s backed wars both before she opposed them and after she condemned them. But she remains the same Hillary Rodham Clinton Americans have known since 1992. Everybody sees this except her. Americans know Hillary better than she does herself.
All of her manufactured mirages are translucent to the very the people she wants to deceive. When Hillary looks in the mirror, she must see what might have been (should have been in her mind) and not what is. And that schism enrages her. “Why am I seen as such a divisive figure and, say, Joe Biden and John Kerry aren’t?” she mopes. “They’ve cast votes of all kinds, including some they regret, just like me? What makes me such a lightning rod for fury? I’m really asking. I’m at a loss.” This self-pitying book should prove a challenge for library cataloguers. Shall they shelve it as non-fiction or fiction?
Meanwhile, it seems as though Trump has determined that he can cut deals with the congressional Democrats without any blowback — it’s the old “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” canard. He believes he’s invincible when it comes to the loyalty of his googly-eyed rally crowds. And he might be right. The same goes for Trump’s seemingly unwavering support among the congressional GOP, given how various Republicans have distanced themselves from him publicly only to vote for him last November or to vote with him on the Hill. If Trump is right and his base is stronger than we think, perhaps there’s a chance for the president to pull another Nixon-to-China maneuver.
Rewinding 45 years, Richard Nixon, with his notorious record of anti-communism, was perhaps the only living politician who could’ve reached out to Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1972 without serious political repercussions. A Democrat or liberal Republican reaching out to China would’ve been pegged as soft on communism, but Nixon was pretty well immune from such an attack. Likewise, only Trump could cut a bipartisan deal protecting immigrant Dreamers, and maybe Trump is the only president who could cut a bipartisan deal on Medicare for All, especially now that fellow populist Bernie Sanders has introduced it in the Senate with the support of 15 other Democrats, including Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren.
Back in 2008, President Obama internally toyed with the idea, but moderate Democrats as well as Republicans would’ve balked, so Obama instead went with the framework for the Affordable Care Act, given its support among moderates on the Hill. If Trump were to back Sanders’ legislation, it’d be difficult for Republicans and moderates to walk away, knowing the loudness of Trump’s base. As with many legislative initiatives and issues, Republican voters tend to run away from anything that’s proposed by liberals and Democrats simply because liberals and Democrats, in their worldview, are weak and can’t be trusted. With a Republican president backing Medicare for All, GOP voters might be more inclined to support it. Politics aside, they’d absolutely benefit from such a program and its considerable savings over private health insurance.
Trump is in the White House today because an open source insurgency put him there. I first wrote about Trump’s open source insurgency a year and a half ago (February 2016). At that point, it was already apparent Trump was very likely to win not just the primary, but the election. However, as prescient as my article was, I did get the plausible promise – the simple goal the effort that unites all of the disparate interests, the goal that animates an insurgency – wrong. At the time, I thought it was about representing forgotten interests (an error many writers are still making). Instead, the real uniting goal of Trump’s insurgency was “opposition to a failed establishment” That goal held the insurgency that put him in office together, despite gaffes, scandals, leaks, etc that would have ended the political career of any other candidate.
It was also a goal that allowed the insurgency to continue after winning the election. In most cases, once the goal has been accomplished (i.e. remove Mubarak), the insurgency evaporates. The reason it didn’t: the media. The media is the voice of establishment interests (social, economic, and national security). It locks establishment interests in place. It also explained away failure after failure (nutty Chinese trade policy, lie that led to Iraq war, unpunished financial crisis, etc.) of the US establishment, as if it never occurred. The media kept the insurgency alive through its overwhelming opposition to the Trump Presidency and Trump helped keep it alive by provoking the media at every turn. The alignment of this very public struggle with the plausible promise of the insurgency kept Trump’s support at about ~40% (and more than 50% in more than half of all Congressional districts nationally).
That insurgency is now over. Its OODA loop is smashed. Worried that Trump would end existing US spending/policies (largely, still geared to cold war priorities), the senior military staff running the Trump administration launched a counter-insurgency against the insurgency. They have been successful (if only they were half as good fighting against real world insurgencies). Here’s how: Former generals took control of key staff positions. They purged staff members that were part of the insurgency and tightly limited access to Trump. Finally, and most importantly, they took control of Trump’s information flow. That final step changed everything. General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, has put Trump on a establishment-only media diet. Further, staff members are now prevented from sneaking him stories from unapproved sources during the day (stories that might get him riled up and off the establishment message).
In an interview with RT in 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uttered perhaps one of his most intriguing statements since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Assad stated: “Western propaganda has, from the very beginning, been about the cause of the problem being the president. Why? Because they want to portray the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual; and consequently the natural reaction for many people is that, if the problem lies in one individual, that individual should not be more important than the entire homeland. So let that individual go and things will be alright. That’s how they oversimplify things in the West.” He continued: “Notice what happened in the Western media since the coup in Ukraine. What happened? President Putin was transformed from a friend of the West to a foe and, yet again, he was characterized as a tsar…
This is Western propaganda. They say that if the president went things will get better.” Putting aside Assad’s vast and extensive list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Assad highlighted one of the major flaws in Western thinking regarding America’s hostile policies toward a number of independent states. Just look at the current to-and-fro-ing between North Korea and the United States to gather an accurate picture of what is being referred to here. The problem of North Korea is consistently portrayed in the media as caused by one person (current leader Kim Jong-un), a narrative that ultimately ignores the role America and its allies have played in this current crisis.[..] What the media is really advancing here – particularly when one talks about a military option as a response to dealing with North Korea’s rogue actions – is the notion that if the U.S. could only take out Kim Jong-un, the problem of North Korea would disappear.
[..] The fact that the U.S. evidently doesn’t want to solve any problems at all – that it merely seeks to overthrow leaders that don’t succumb to its wishes – is a topic for a separate article but is certainly worth mentioning here as well. The same can ultimately be said of Donald Trump. Since his election victory, many celebrities, media pundits, and members of the intelligence community have sought to unseat and discredit him. Yet Donald Trump is merely a horrifying symptom of America’s problems; to think he alone caused them and that by removing him from office the U.S. would suddenly become a safe-haven of freedom and liberty is nothing short of idiotic.
If you agree with the latter sentiment, you must also concede that the problems facing North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere could never be solved by the U.S. forcibly removing their leaders. If Assad was removed from Syria, would extremism disappear or would it thrive in the political vacuum as it did in Iraq? Could Syria’s internal issues — which are much more extensive than the corporate media would have us believe — be solved by something as simple as removing its current leader? Can anyone name a country where this has been tried and tested as a true model for solving a sovereign nation’s internal crises? Anyone who truly believes a country’s problems can be solved in this facile way needs to do a bit more reading.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are so out of the news now that people not listening to the mold grow in their sweltering bedrooms probably think these events had something to do with the Confederate defeat. Both The New York Times and the WashPo are much more concerned this morning with doings on the planet Saturn, and the career moves of fashion icon Chelsea Manning, which is perhaps how things should be in Attention Deficit Nation. Standing by on developments there…. In the meantime, personally, I think it would be cruel to deport fully acculturated and Americanized young adults to Mexico and Central America. But there should be no question that it’s up to congress to figure out what to do about the DACA kids, and put it into coherent law. The Golden Golem of Greatness was correct to serve the ball into congress’s court.
The suave and charming Mr. Obama only punted the action on that problem, and rather cynically too, I suspect, since he knew the next president would be stuck with it. It’s hard to overcome the sentimental demagoguery this quandary fetches up. The so-called Dreamers are lately portrayed in the media as a monoculture of spectacularly earnest high-achievers, all potential Harvard grads, and future Silicon Valley millionaires working tirelessly to add value to the US economy. This, again personally, I doubt , and there’s also room to doubt that they are uniformly acculturated and Americanized as claimed by the journalists cherry-picking their stories to support the narrative that national borders and immigration laws are themselves cruel anachronisms that need to be opposed.
[..] It’s right and proper that congress should resolve the fate of the DACA kids by legislation, and that they should actively address reform of the 1965 immigration act, too. Things have changed. This isn’t your great-grandad’s America of burgeoning factories beckoning to the downtrodden abroad. This is a sunset industrial economy not really knowing where its headed, but indulging in grandiose fantasies of perpetual robotic leisure where actual work is obsolete but somehow everybody gets rich. Trump was also correct to set a six month deadline on for congress to act. It is clearly their responsibility to do so, and the deadline is exactly the sort of boundary in thought-and-act that this lazy-ass nation needs to begin accomplishing anything on its long and neglected to-do list of pressing issues.
Armed police in Spain have raided several print works and newspaper offices in Catalonia in recent days in a hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used in an Oct. 1 independence referendum which Madrid vehemently opposes. The searches, which have so far yielded nothing, are part of a concerted effort by the government to prevent the ballot from going ahead, amid fears that a vote to break away could trigger a political crisis even if Spain does not recognize the outcome. On Friday, the government passed measures to tighten control over the region’s spending to stop it using state cash to pay for the ballot, and earlier this week Madrid summoned over 700 Catalan mayors for questioning over their support for the vote. “They’ve lost the plot,” said Albert Batet, mayor of the town of Valls and one of those summoned for questioning.
“They are persecuting mayors, the press, printers. They are stretching the limits of democracy.” Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont, who faces criminal charges for organizing the referendum, says he has over 6,000 ballot boxes ready to deploy next month, but their whereabouts are a secret. Toni Castejon, spokesman for the Catalan police force union, said it was like finding a needle in a haystack. “Right now, we have no idea where they are,” he said. [..] For some supporters of the independence movement, the search for the ballot boxes and voting papers has become a symbol of what they see as state repression. Images of the Catalan police force – the Mossos d‘Esquadra – seizing what for many are symbols of democracy would be highly inflammatory, police say.
The Mossos report to the Catalan regional government and are highly regarded by Catalans, particularly after their handling of the Islamist militant attacks in the region in August that killed 16. But Spanish state prosecutors have ordered all police – including the Catalan force – to act. “What no one wants is the image of the Mossos taking away the ballot boxes,” said Castejon of the police union. “That would lead to a lot of anger and even civil unrest.”
The Spanish government has given the regional government in Catalonia 48 hours to abandon “illegal” referendum plans or lose budgetary powers. Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro said a mechanism had been approved for the state to take control of the autonomous region’s finances. Madrid is seeking to stop the Catalan government spending public money on its planned independence referendum. The Catalans are defying a court order to suspend the 1 October vote. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont launched his campaign for a “Yes” vote on Thursday night in the town of Tarragona, telling a rally at a former bullring: “Vote, and in so doing bring light to darkness that has lasted for too many years.” The crowd shouted back, “Independence”, “We will vote” and “We’re not afraid”, AFP news agency reports.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was taking the unionist cause directly to Barcelona on Friday, addressing a meeting of his Popular Party in the Catalan capital. If the deadline is not met, the central government will take over the funding of most essential public services in the region, Mr Montoro said. “These measures are to guarantee that not one euro will go toward financing illegal acts,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency after a cabinet meeting in Madrid. The takeover would last as long as the “situation”, he explained. Public finances are a particularly sore point for Catalans who for years have contributed more to the state budget than they get back in spending on public services.
In what were perhaps the two biggest news stories of the past month, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey devastated the American south, disrupting local industry, destroying homes and critical infrastructure and dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage onto city streets – leading to the most destructive beginning to hurricane season in years. Meanwhile, cosmopolitan Yankees looked on in horror (with perhaps a touch of smugness) as they watched their southern neighbors being paddled out of flooded Texas homes by national guardsmen, or marooned in the seemingly endless lines of traffic snaking out of southern Florida, northeasterners now have their own storm to worry about.
And now, according to the National Weather Service, those same onlookers might be forced to endure similar hardships thanks to Hurricane Jose, already on its way to becoming a category one storm. Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center say a wide stretch of the eastern and northeastern US, from Maryland up through Cape Cod, is within Jose’s five-day “cone of uncertainty” – meaning that a fully fledged hurricane could make landfall in or around New York City, potentially dealing another crushing blow to the city’s infrastructure after the city’s subway system has not yet finished repairing the damage from Superstorm Sandy, which took place five years ago.
The western world is mired in a mile-deep political crisis and nary a soul seems to notice, or rather: everyone just sees their own little preferred echochamber tidbits of it. Which is not a good thing, because that crisis is bound to trigger other bigger crises that are much more damaging. And I’m sorry to say it, but Donald Trump is not your main problem. Not even close.
The main problem is the collapse of western political systems. While that is what brought Trump to power in the first place, he didn’t cause the collapse. The collapse is also what ‘gave you’ Brexit, and Trump didn’t cause that either. Moreover, in the next step, on the far end of all this, Trump may well be the only thing standing between you and CIA warfare. I know, who wants to hear that, right?! Who’s ready for that next step?
But it’s not that crazy. Trump was the one who stopped the CIA from arming Syrian ‘rebels’, which are just a bunch of extremists gathered by that same CIA in its attempts to unseat Assad, and who Trump saw laughingly beheading a child. And who was it that had previously, and enthusiastically, decided to support these crazies? The US Republican and Democratic parties, in unison, while Obama was president and Hillary slash Joe Biden was Secretary of State. Remember the Chelsea Manning footage of videogame-like drone killings? What did Obama do about that?
Still, that’s not where the core of the demise of our political systems lies. Though it does gave us a flavor of their priorities. The core can be found in economic issues. In both president Bush II and president Obama bailing out banks while letting people’s incomes and wealth tank, and not sueing any banker for anything at all. Obviously, the same scenario played out in Britain as well. And in many other nations.
Now look at the parties themselves. Trump is not a Republican, but he took over the party with hardly any opposition. The only people the GOP could come up with to run against Trump were a full dozen full-blown yokels. And today, they still have no credible leadership. The healthcare vote last week, if we look at it separate from its merits, showed us that the same yokeldom is still in charge. Embarrassing doesn’t cover the feeling.
The Democrats are in the same conundrum. They have no credible candidates either. It’s Hillary or nothing. Which adds up to nothing. And then there’s a whole slew of suspicious ‘operatives’, Rice, Wasserman-Schultz et al, who make the picture even worse, and may soon find themselves on the wrong end of an investigation. Who’s going to vote for that bunch?
Yes, there’s Bernie Sanders, but he will never be allowed near the top as long as these other folk are there (and sorry, but he’s too old too). And there’s the core of the problem: both parties have been run by the same clique for ages, and you can only be part of it if you vote and agree with them (the made men model). Which in turn is why they don’t get the votes. And why Trump could become president. Who pledged to limit their terms and shut the revolving doors but still hasn’t.
That, too, is reflected one on one in Britain. If Theresa May is the best you can come up with as a leader, you have a queen-size problem. And Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has a long way to go anywhere at all yet, especially since he refuses to change his anti-EU stance and all the media are against what the people voted for. Though as far as I can see, the problem with Brexit is not so much the issue itself, but the utter incompetence with which it’s being handled. Which is staggering. You feel like asking for these people’s IDs to check their age.
The only thing I ever see discussed is how much Brexit is going to cost. As if voting for Brexit was always about money only. But the EU is about a lot more. Steve Keen presented it the other day in a much different way. He said that -paraphrased- the UK was the country perhaps hardest hit of all by neoliberalism, and that’s why people voted Brexit. And that Brexit could be its way out of the whole neoliberal austerity nightmare, if used well. Let’s talk about that instead.
But the Tories are not going to interpret Brexit that way. They will instead use it for more austerity, and more neoliberal policies. What they do at the moment is they try and push through as many of those policies as they can, and to cement them in laws and deals with the EU, who will love that. That way when May is voted out of office, Corbyn or whoever will be faced with a whole parade of things (s)he can no longer change or adapt. Fait accompli.
What everyone who is sick of these people, and of the policies, should do, is what Emmanuel Macron did in France: start a new party. Because France suffers from the same disease: the old guard doesn’t represent anyone but themselves anymore. Not that Macron is necessarily such a great alternative, but he has pointed the way to go, the way out of the staleness and the stalemate.
When you look at the US, all these senators and congresspeople talk more to lobbyists than they talk to anyone else. They’re all so beholden to financial backers and campaign funding, they have nothing left for their voters. They get votes, the ones they do still get, through tens of millions worth of slick TV ads in which they promise things they will never deliver. They paint shiny pictures and regurgitate lofty narratives. But they’ve been found out. Enter Trump stage left.
This happens all over the place. Japan PM Shinzo Abe is the latest trophy to be added, and to join Holland, Italy, France, the US etc., in the list of ‘traditional’ parties and politicians being voted, if not out, then certainly down, way down. You can’t run a country in the midst of a crisis like that. The old guard has a solution for that too: they deny the crisis, and their respective housing bubbles, and claim their countries are in a recovery. Which, wouldn’t you know, they claim to have, themselves, cleverly engineered for their people.
All that’s needed in both the UK and US are credible alternatives, and for the ruling classes to be cut down to size. But all we see are voices that derive their identity from pointing out what’s wrong with ‘the others’, be it Trump or Hillary, May or Corbyn. And in the case of Trump, anyone he’s ever talked to.
But now that even the WaPo has declared the Russian collusion story bogus, albeit without identifying its own role in developing that story, maybe it’s time for more pressing matters. Maybe brighter people on all sides of all spectrums can now build their identities on actual policies. And then discuss them, in all due respect, with others who do the same from their point of view.
Because make no mistake about it, with countries essentially ungovernable, as many are, as the US and UK are these days, risks of things like wars emerging ‘out of nowhere’ increase exponentially. If Trump must spend half his time talking about one story after another about someone maybe having met someone who may or may not be not 100% on the up and up, he doesn’t have enough time left to talk to Putin or Xi.
And really, that’s what the American president, any American president, should be doing right now. That alone would be a full-time day-job. Because alphabet soup ingredients like the CIA have created potential mayhem in so many locations around the globe, any one of them might blow anytime now.
Venezuela, North Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, it’s a list that is impossible to complete. How about Bolivia, where Evo Morales once again has called for independence from the IMF and World Bank. The two-party, two pronged, two forked-tongued US political class, and its CIA handlers, don’t like that sort of thing. Not one bit.
Sure, you can argue that perhaps it’s Trump who’s most likely to start a war, but the evidence so far doesn’t point to that. The evidence points to all sorts of Shakespearean antics in the Oval Office, I told you!, plenty of Scaramouches, but not that one, not trigger-happiness. That’s all the other guys and gals, lest you forget. The evidence points to a two-party war machine, which hopes to be able to do its thing while you wallow in your self-righteous attitudes about Trump and Priebus and Scaramucci and Don Jr.
You want war? Denounce Trump. You don’t? Think again.
The risk of all this is that Da Donald will see no other way to stay in the White House than to start a war, somewhere, anywhere. Even the New York Times will declare him the greatest president since the last one who went to battle.
The risk embedded within that risk is that neither he nor anyone else will have any idea where it may lead. The risk is that the CIA, perhaps more than ever, will decide US -foreign- policy. And believe you me, that’s not what we should want. None of us.
Ever since the November 8 election, it’s been hard to write anything that makes actual sense, as evidenced by just about everything I’ve read in the past two weeks, little of which was particularly elevating, because just like before the vote, and just like in pre- and post-Brexit Britain, all there is left in the US are deeply dug-in heels.
Everything and everyone is standing still; dug-in heels do that for you. Problem is, of course, that standing still doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re going to have to move or you’ll be left behind. Somehow it’s wonderfully ironic that Donald Trump is the only main character in this play who’s moving, and he does so in more ways than one. It’s like he’s going head first against the latest braindead internet craze, mannequin. If he does it on purpose, I commend him for it.
Sure, one might say Obama has moved a little too, suggesting that a smooth transition of power is paramount, talking a whole different book from what he said about the Donald before November 8. But then Obama doesn’t have many other options. His job requires him to do it, and say it. Over the past few months, the impression has crept upon me that Obama is a mannequin, though not still and silent, but one machine-trained to say the perfect thing at the perfect moment. And then still lost.
As predicted pre-election by the precious few willing to ponder a view that’s not entirely partisan or one-sided, Trump now rolls back his most extreme views, and is not afraid to revisit climate change, or a potential Hillary investigation, nor does he shy away from denouncing the most outrageous right wing movements and viewpoints among his voters and supporters.
Not even if every single person he talks to as he builds his administration is automatically labeled a racist, or worse, by US media, politicians and others that have gotten lost in their anti-Trump trenches.
Donald Trump will keep doing what he’s always done: throw ideas out there, see where they land and show that he’s flexible about them. In the process he will make many of his supporters more flexible too. He is the leader, he is their leader. When he reconsiders his views of issues, he ‘invites’ them to do the same. As we move forward, we’ll see this attitude shave off a lot of the sharp edges. It’s all entirely predictable, it’s almost a better story than the Pied Piper.
Of course you san say that some of the views expressed by Trump voters, and the acts committed, don’t belong in America. You would be right. But what you can’t say is that Trump is the source of these acts and views. They were there already. They were ignored and left to fester for years, however, and because of that grew sharper and more pronounced as time went on, until someone finally came along and did not ignore them. Talk about predictable.
But without an actual conversation taking place, without people from both sides, gaping as their differences may seem, willing to leave their trenches and talk to Donald Trump, and about him, from something other than the moral heights they have convinced each other and themselves were theirs and theirs alone, without that conversation there’s only so much he can do. They have to move; he already does.
Mind you, he’s got plenty room to maneuver in what he does, because he won the election, and nobody else. He can fill his government with a bunch of weirdos and radicals, he’s got the mandate. But that’s not what he wants. Trump meant it when he said he wants to be a president for all Americans.
The last thing Donald Trump wants is to fail as president. he instead wants to be the best. That requires motion from all sides, though. What Trump wants and needs right now is for people to reach out to him, to tell him they’re willing to talk, that they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and work with him.
Don’t forget, he has to take on his own right wing camp -which will be a hard enough fight- as much as all those who see themselves as more liberal than he is (liberal is just a word in a country in which there is no left left). While at the same time those ‘liberals’ seem to spend all their waking hours exclusively trying to agree on what to call the people they see as America’s worst: are they neo-nazi’s, racists, white supremacists, bigots?
And as if that is not enough, all this comes with an outspoken implication that Trump is as bad as the worst of his voters. The anti-Trump camp are so busy with this that they fail to see the president-elect has long since moved away from what they thought his position was (was it ever?), and that they are the ones unwilling to talk, not him.
Mind you, this is as true for the right wing as for the left. Trump risks facing a lot of backlash from the right for not investigating Hillary, for softening his climate change view, for keeping some aspects of Obamacare, or some parts of the trade deals he has previously dismissed. He knows the risks.
The extreme right has misunderstood him as much as the ‘extreme liberal’ (a.k.a. the Hillary camp including the media). And if Britain is any guide, where 5 months after Brexit the main dish served is still made up of name calling and various other civilized pastimes, Trump has a long, windy and especially bumpy road ahead of him. America should perhaps count itself lucky that he’s a whole lot more flexible than the clowns performing on all sides of the aisles in the UK.
He’s willing to adapt, but that won’t do a lot of good if the other players are not. People may try to mock him for first bashing the New York Times and then, within 24 hours, calling it “a great great American jewel – world jewel”, but that’s only bad or inconsistent if you refuse to try and think like him.
Of course the New York Times, through history, has been a jewel of global media; it just didn’t act like one in the run-up to November 8. Pointing that out is not inconsistent from Trump’s angle: instead, it’s not difficult to make the case that it’s the New York Times that has been inconsistent, by leaving its journalistic standards -i.e. objectivity- behind to go after Trump.
After all, it’s hard to argue that the New York Times was NOT a partisan channel in the election. That so many other news media took the same position may have made it seem normal, but that doesn’t make it so.
Americans from all corners will have to come down from their morally righteous and politically correct mountains. They will then find that Donald Trump was way ahead of them.
And no, I am not a Trump supporter. But given the alternatives presented, I do find myself wondering if there was a single one amongst them more fit for the job than the Donald. Not that it matters anymore, the election is over and he won, recounts and discussions about electoral collages or not.
Is that really such a bad thing? Trump won. Which means the Democrats and Republicans did not. The Bush dynasty and Clinton dynasty did not. The incumbent elites did not. That is quite the clean up job. Does anyone want to argue such a clean up was not needed? Donald Trump is shaking up a world in which too many people and institutions across the political scene have been able to gain too much power and influence and wealth for too long, and it’s hard to see that as a big negative.
Besides, whether you like it or not, he’s your president. May I humbly suggest y’all make the best of what you got? Perhaps, and I must say perhaps because I should learn more about this, Trump’s talk Monday with Bernie Sanders-territory left-wing Democrat -and Hindu- Tulsi Gabbard, which may well land her a cabinet post, is indicative of what we may expect. So you got someone who’s left-wing, a woman, and very much not Christian. How many prejudices is that?
Gabbard wants the US to stop killing people in Syria. Is that a bad thing, anyone? She broke with the DNC when she figured out then-Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was favoring Hillary and working against Bernie.
If Gabbard’s move is not enough to make you move and un-dig your heels, how about Bernie Sanders himself taking a seat in the Trump government? Would that do the trick? The Donald would love it. Bernie would be told he’s betraying his party, for sure, but we all know the party betrayed him first. He’s either got a few years left to do something real, or he can see himself be betrayed all over again in 2020.
By now, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities. A National Government is something many nations have tried through history. It might not be a bad idea for the US, because the future sure is not made exclusively of moonshine and roses.
The keyword is flexibility, guys. You have a president-to-be who gets that. How about you?
Dear President Trump, The key source of America’s economic weakness today is something you have experience with: private debt. All leaders before you have obsessed about government debt while ignoring private debt, which is far higher (150% of GDP versus 100%) and far more dangerous. You can do something about this, and unlike your purely political predecessors, your experience tells you that it can be done—the only question is how to do it. The private debt mound sitting on top of American households and businesses is the reason demand is depressed right now. With that debt mountain weighing them down, firms are reluctant to borrow and invest, while households are reluctant to use credit to consume. Credit demand is now back to the average of the 1950s to 1970s—the “Golden Age” of America, when your supporters today and their parents had well-paying manufacturing jobs.
But it will easily turn negative again like it did during the Great Recession, given how enormous the debt burden still is today, since your immediate predecessor put more effort into rescuing Wall Street than he did into rescuing Main Street. The Washington insider economists who are now going to attempt to get your ear will tell you that this private debt doesn’t matter, and that nothing can be done about it anyway. They’re wrong on both counts. On whether it matters, they’ll say that one person’s debt is another person’s asset, so the total level of debt doesn’t matter. What they ignore is that banks create money and demand when they lend, and both money and demand fall when debt is repaid. They ignore the evidence shown in Figure 2, which I’ve been shoving in front of their faces for over a decade now (from early 2006, well before the Great Recession began).
On whether it can be done, they’ll tell you that this is “helicopter money”, and that it’s a dreadful idea. But the reality is that they’re doing it already. It’s just that the Fed’s helicopter, which they call “Quantitative Easing”, has been dropping that money on Wall Street rather than Main Street. When the Fed buys bonds off a pension fund under QE, it creates the money that it buys that pension’s funds bonds with. The pension fund then does what pension funds do with money: they buy shares and other bonds. This drives up share markets, which benefits Wall Street and the 1% directly. Brokers get paid lots of commission, most of which they stuff in their offshore bank accounts. They spend a fraction of this on Main Street, buying the odd hamburger.
But there would be far more money in Main Street’s hands if you put it there directly. There are many ways to do this, and it’s important to do it in a way that doesn’t favour people who borrowed over people who didn’t. But the easiest way to illustrate it is to imagine that you tell the Federal Reserve to buy mortgages directly from the public. For the Federal Reserve, there’s little practical difference what it’s doing right now, only 100% of the money it creates turns up in Main Street bank accounts rather than those of Pension Funds and Wall Street brokers. With less debt, there’ll be more spending by Main Street, and, as a result, more employment. The only sufferers will be bankers and Wall Street, who will have far less income-earning assets than they have now, and may even have to work for a living.
Asia markets soared on Thursday with the Nikkei jumping close to 7%, as traders reassessed the economic impact of Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election. The Nikkei 225 ended up 6.72%, or 1,092.88 points, at 17,344.42, as the yen weakened against the dollar, trading at 105.42 as of 2:50 pm HK/SIN. The dollar/yen had plunged to 101 levels on Wednesday. “U.S. yields surged higher on the back of expected increased fiscal spending by Trump. This has helped the dollar rally sharply against other currencies but especially the low yielding yen and the euro,” Anthony Darvall, chief market strategist at easyMarkets, said in a note on Thursday.
“A weaker yen has helped propel Japanese stocks up…completely erasing yesterday’s losses.” The Australian benchmark index closed up 3.34%, or 172.27 points, at 5,328.8. The ASX’s strength was underpinned by its energy subindex, up 3.29%, and the materials subindex, up 5.75%. The gold subindex shed 4.82%. New Zealand’s NZX 50 ended up 1.04%, or 69.51 points, at 6,733.72. Before markets opened, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand cut rates by 25 basis points to a record low of 1.75%. The RBNZ statement warned that “numerous uncertainties remain, particularly in respect of the international outlook, and policy may need to adjust accordingly.”
U.S. stocks surged more than 1% Wednesday with financials and health care leading after Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election, defying market expectations for a Hillary Clinton win. The day’s rally took the major averages within 2% of their all-time intraday highs, and marked a stunning recovery from a sharp plunge in stock index futures overnight. Trade volume Wednesday was roughly 12 billion shares, the highest since the surprise U.K. vote to leave the European Union in June. “Overnight was all about uncertainty. Today we know” the result,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. He said part of the day’s rally was fueled by short covering, and that volatility will likely continue as traders eye Trump’s potential Cabinet picks.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up more than 250 points at 18,589, with Goldman Sachs and Caterpillar contributing the most to gains. With about half an hour to the close, the Dow briefly added more than 300 points and was tracking to close at a record high. The index came within about 25 points of its all-time intraday high of 18,668.44 touched in August and closed within half a% of that level. Financials leaped 4% in their best day since 2011 to lead S&P 500 advancers, followed by health care. Banks and diversified financials such as Morgan Stanley led financial sector gains, while biotech stocks led health care gains. “Within financial services, there is a guarded view that there may be less regulation [under Trump] than under a Clinton presidency,” said John Stadtler, head of U.S. financial services at PwC.
America’s voters fired their ruling elites last night. After 30 years of arrogant misrule and wantonly planting the seeds of economic and financial ruin throughout Flyover America, the Wall Street/Washington establishment and its mainstream media tools have been repudiated like never before in modern history. During the course of the past year, upwards of 70 million citizens – 59 million for Trump and 13 million for Bernie Sanders – have voted for dramatic change. That is, for an end to pointless and failed wars and interventions abroad and a bubble-based economic policy at home. The latter showered Wall Street and the bicoastal elites with vast financial windfalls – even as it left 90% of Flyover America behind, where households struggled with stagnant wages, vanishing jobs, soaring health costs, shrinking living standards and diminishing hope for the future.
The voters also said in no uncertain terms that they are fed-up with a “rigged” system that has one set of rules for establishment insiders and another for everyone else. In essence, that’s what servergate, the Clinton Foundation pay-to-play scandals and the trove of Wikileaks DNC/Podesta hacks was all about. Indeed, in his brawling style, the Donald in effect convinced a huge slice of the electorate that the Clintons amounted to America’s leading crime family. And while he may have exaggerated the extent of their personal crimes and misdemeanors, the latter functioned as a proxy for the beltway racketeering that has become the modus operandi of the Imperial City. Stated differently, the people did connect the dots. There is a straight line from repeal of Glass-Steagall by the Rubin-Clinton democrats in the late 1990s through the resounding repudiations of the Clintons last night.
This string includes the M&A roll-up of the giant Wall Street banks after 1998; the subprime mortgage scams, housing booms and subsequent crash during the next decade; the panicked multi-trillion bailouts of the Wall Street gambling houses in the fall of 2008 and the lunatic spree of central bank money pumping that followed; the soaring stock market fueled by the Fed’s free money that arose therefrom; and the egregious global fund-raising and shakedowns of the Clinton Foundation and personal wealth accumulations by the Clinton’s personally, capped by Hillary’s notorious $250,000 off-the-record speeches to Goldman Sachs.
What happened was that during the eight Obama years, Washington essentially borrowed $10 trillion, or nearly as much as the first 43 presidents did over 220 years, while the Fed expanded its balance sheet by 5X more than had happened during its first 94 years of existence. [..] For months and years to come, the Imperial City will be ungovernable and the nation will be racked with fiscal, financial, political and even constitutional crisis. By kicking the can in a ruinous direction for decades, America implicitly opted eventually for the bleeding cure. To wit, the giant stock market bubble will now crash. The stock-price obsessed C-suites of corporate America will now panic and begin pitching inventory and workers overboard. We will be in an official recession within 6 months. The Federal budget will plunge back into trillion dollar annual deficits very soon.
Accordingly, Washington will descend into permanent warfare over the debt ceiling and an exploding $20 trillion+ public debt. Any notion of a Trump economic revival program – even if it could now be confected – will be stillborn in the financial and fiscal chaos ahead. And most important of all, the almighty Fed will be stranded high and dry – out of dry powder and under political attack like never before from angry politicians and citizens alike. The jig is up.
Earlier today I read what looks to be an apt observation: ‘Every white person in New York who didn’t vote for Trump is now out in the streets protesting against him’. Chaotic scenes in LA and other places too. But the people who protest now are miles off target and months too late: they should have stood up for Bernie when the Hillary camp and the DNC conspired to oust him. Indeed, Bernie himself should have stood up back then, not for himself but for his supporters; they would have stood up with him. Whether they all like it or not, being asleep and/or silent when big things happen that count, does carry a price. If you drop the ball, you can’t just pick it back up again and pretend it didn’t fall. Shouting ‘not my president’ in the wake of an election is a sign of weakness, no matter how well-intentioned. The protests should have taken place before the election, not after.
The raw divisions exposed by the presidential race were on full display across America on Wednesday, as protesters flooded city streets to condemn Donald Trump’s election in demonstrations that police said were mostly peaceful. From New England to heartland cities like Kansas City and along the West Coast, many thousands of demonstrators carried flags and anti-Trump signs, disrupting traffic and declaring that they refused to accept Trump’s triumph. In Chicago, where thousands had recently poured into the streets to celebrate the Chicago Cubs’ first World Series victory in over a century, several thousand people marched through the Loop. They gathered outside Trump Tower, chanting “Not my president!”
Chicago resident Michael Burke said he believes the president-elect will “divide the country and stir up hatred.” He added there was a constitutional duty not to accept that outcome. A similar protest in Manhattan drew about 1,000 people. Outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in midtown, police installed barricades to keep the demonstrators at bay. Hundreds of protesters gathered near Philadelphia’s City Hall despite chilly, wet weather. Participants — who included both supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost to Clinton in the primary — expressed anger at both Republicans and Democrats over the election’s outcome.
The White House on Wednesday wouldn’t rule out issuing a pardon to protect Hillary Clinton from prosecution by the incoming administration over her use of a private e-mail server. President-elect Donald Trump threatened during his campaign to assign a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton. He blamed a “rigged system” for protecting her from prosecution after FBI director James Comey announced in July and again on Nov. 6, two days before the election, that his agency wouldn’t seek charges against the Democrat. “You’d be in jail,” Trump memorably warned Clinton during their final debate. Asked whether President Barack Obama might issue Clinton a pardon before he leaves office in January, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration doesn’t discuss such cases in advance.
Earnest indicated Obama was hopeful a pardon wouldn’t be necessary, noting that Trump was gracious toward Clinton in his victory speech early Wednesday morning. “We’ve got a long tradition in this country of people in power not using the criminal justice system to exact political revenge,” Earnest said. “We go to great lengths to insulate our criminal justice system from partisan politics.” Crowds at Trump’s rallies frequently chanted “lock her up” when the Republican mentioned Clinton’s name. Trump would occasionally join them. On Wednesday, as he claimed victory in the presidential race, Trump complimented Clinton for her campaign and her public service. “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said.
Comey said in July that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified information, but that criminal prosecution wasn’t warranted. The Justice Department agreed. But proactively offering a pardon isn’t unprecedented. In 1974, Gerald Ford gave former president Richard Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he might have committed while in the Oval Office. That move, derided by critics, underscored the political risks of such a move. Ford lost re-election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Obama and Clinton are in a less perilous situation; Obama cannot run for president again, and Clinton’s political career is also likely over.
“Right now in every major poll, national poll and statewide poll done in the last month, six weeks, we are defeating Trump often by big numbers, and always at a larger margin than Secretary Clinton is.” So spoke Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rival in the primary, when he appeared on the May 29 2016 edition of NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’. It was not the first time the socialist former Mayor of Burlington had made the claim. And it was something that his supporters believed passionately. Time after time, supporters of the white-haired, frequently cantankerous Democratic socialist, said the media was helping prepare a coronation for Ms Clinton in a way that was neither fair or democratic.
At a rally in the Bronx, New York, in April, Paul Nagel, 58, a gay rights and housing activist, told The Independent that Mr Sanders would go into the Oval Office on the back of a popular movement and that he could continue to listen to the people. “What we’re seeing now feels 1969,” he said. At rallies for the 74-year-old across the country, there was a sense of euphoria and excitement that simply did not exist at those for Ms Clinton. Ms Clinton’s supporters said they had made a calculation to vote for her as they believed she would be the best candidate to lead the country, but there was no sense of the passion witnessed at her rivals’ events, or those of Barack Obama eight years earlier.
But it was not just anecdotal evidence. A series of polls suggested that Mr Sanders – with his calls for free college tuition, the removal of student debt, a national health service and the removal of big money from politics – would stand a better chance against Mr Trump than Ms Clinton. A poll by NBC News-Wall Street Journal on May 15 said Ms Clitnon would beat Mr Trump by three points, but said Mr Sanders would win by 15 points. A CBS News-New York Times on May 3 gave Ms Clinton a six-point advantage over Mr Trump, but said Mr Sanders would win by 13 points. At the same time, Fox News said Ms Clinton would lose to Mr Trump by three points, but said Mr Sanders would win by four.
WikiLeaks capped off Tuesday’s surprising presidential election with a tweet appearing to mock Democrats for picking Hillary Clinton as their nominee. “By biasing its internal electoral market the DNC selected the less competitive candidate defeating the purpose of running a primary,” the official account tweeted near midnight. Throughout the campaign, WikiLeaks published hacked DNC emails that it said showed the party was biased toward Clinton over her primary rival, Bernie Sanders. Some emails showed DNC staffers discussing how to expedite Sanders’s exit from the primary race after it was clear Clinton would win. Others appeared to show then-CNN analyst Donna Brazile leaking questions to the Clinton campaign in advance of town hall debates between the two Democrats.
Donald Trump’s campaign also seized on the hacked emails to argue that Clinton and Democrats had treated Sanders unfairly, as he made a play for the Vermont senator’s supporters. On Tuesday, WikiLeaks head Julian Assange posted a winding statement on his site expressing his dislike of both candidates, saying that the site had an obligation to leak the Clinton-related emails even though it did not have a similar set of Trump documents. “Publishing is what we do. To withhold the publication of such information until after the election would have been to favour one of the candidates above the public’s right to know,” Assange wrote.
As the tally turned towards a victory for Donald Trump in the middle of the European night, comments began to appear on social media to the effect that Russian intelligence had won its biggest victory in the country’s history. More than this, that the Kremlin had actually captured the United States. The prominent, if spectral, role played by Russia was one of the stranger aspects of this already strange US election. And these comments were alarmist, if logical, extensions of the claims made by the Clinton camp during the campaign that Trump was somehow in cahoots with President Vladimir Putin and that the Russian state was interfering in the election on his behalf. There was precious little evidence for such claims, and Putin himself ridiculed them at his annual Valdai meeting with international Russian specialists two weeks ago.
Was the US a banana republic, he asked, that its elections could be so easily manipulated? Of course not. But they were useful to the Democrats’ campaign in showing off Hillary Clinton as a tough foreign policy president-in-waiting and demonising Trump by association. They were not useful enough, though, given the result. Either the voting public dismissed them, or perhaps they agreed with Trump that improved relations with Russia might be a good thing. In any case, they turned out not to be the black mark the Clinton campaign expected. There is no mystery about why the accusations took hold. It was in part because Trump had said early on that he thought he could do business with Putin, earning him the reputation of being soft on big bad Russia. Then the Democrats at their convention chose to divert blame for the hacking of their computer system on to Russian intelligence.
This was never conclusively proved and all the supposedly corroborating statements from US officials contained get-out clauses. People with intelligence connections suggested that everyone tried to hack everyone’s computers, especially at election time, without any intention of actually interfering. The truth of any Russian involvement will probably never be known. But certain myths that gained currency need to be dispelled. One was that Trump was receiving privileged information from Russia. In fact, anything he said was already openly available before he said it. Another was that Trump had complicated and suspect business dealings with Russia. No evidence was ever produced – despite what must have been exhaustive efforts by the Clinton campaign[..]. There also seems to have been some confusion between Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, which hardly reflects well on the accusers.
Donald Trump’s successful insurgent bid for the White House promised to upend a global power structure that benefited large corporations. Now, several Wall Street financiers and other successful business leaders could be in line to run top posts in his presidential administration. People close to Mr. Trump have said he is considering Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker who became his national campaign finance chairman in May, as his pick for Treasury secretary. If tapped for the job, Mr. Mnuchin would become the third Goldman alumnus in the last 20 years to head the Treasury, following Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson, who both served as the bank’s chief executive.
After a 17-year career at Goldman, where Mr. Mnuchin led the mortgage-trading department and was the bank’s chief information officer, he turned to investing. He briefly worked for a hedge fund tied to George Soros, the big Democratic donor. In his closing campaign ad, Mr. Trump featured both Goldman and Mr. Soros as “the establishment…who control the levers of power in Washington.” Advisers to Mr. Trump have said promptly filling senior appointments would help calm jittery markets, which saw volatility soar after it became apparent that Mr. Trump, a political outsider who broke with the political philosophy that has defined both parties, would win the election.
“Just as he comforted a lot of people when he picked Mike Pence as his running mate, they’ll be much more comfortable when they see what the team will be,” predicted Wilbur Ross, the private-equity investor who has advised Mr. Trump on economic policy. Business leaders have been “incorrectly worried about what might happen under Trump,” Mr. Ross said.
Mexico said on Wednesday it would work with Donald Trump for the benefit of both nations after his surprise U.S. election win, but reiterated it would not pay for his planned border wall, which stirred up deep resentment during a fraught presidential campaign. As Trump strode toward victory, the peso plunged 13% in its biggest fall since the Tequila Crisis devaluation 22 years ago, before paring losses to trade down 8.7% at 19.91 per dollar. Still, officials held back from taking action to support the peso despite it hitting lifetime lows overnight. Trump’s threats to dump the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada, and to tax money sent home by migrants to pay for the controversial wall on the southern border, have made the peso particularly vulnerable to events in the U.S. presidential race.
“Very hard times are coming to Mexico,” said analyst Gabriela Siller of Mexican bank BASE. Still, President Enrique Pena Nieto said he called to congratulate Trump, and had agreed to meet the New Yorker during the transition phase to discuss joint cooperation, which he hopes would strengthen the competitiveness of North America. Welcoming Trump’s victory speech pledge to seek “common ground” and partnership with other countries, Pena Nieto said in a televised statement that Mexico shared the same vision. [..] Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu reiterated that Mexico would not pay for Trump’s proposed wall. The vow to make Mexico pay for the barrier was a key feature of his stump speeches.
[..] when I woke up this morning here in Thailand and flipped on the TV, the first thing I saw was Wolf Blitzer having an orgasm every time Hillary won an electoral vote. It’s almost comical to suggest there was any semblance of objectivity throughout the entire cycle. Hillary Clinton had the full and unabashed backing of the entire media establishment. And the banking establishment. And the political establishment. And countless billionaires, Hollywood celebrities, rock stars, international press, foreign leaders, and even the President of the United States. Yet all of those big guns proved to be ineffective against a citizenry that’s fed up with the status quo.
At least the losing side has accepted its defeat with quiet dignity. University students across the country have come out of their safe spaces to protest by the thousand, chanting “F*ck Donald Trump” and “Not my President”. The students’ sudden fury may be what caused the Canadian government’s immigration website to temporarily go down (though I’m sure this will somehow be blamed on the Russians). Liberal papers like the Huffington Post are running headlines like “An American Tragedy”, while NYT bloggers are calling Trump voters “racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic.” Celebrities had some real gems like “Well, congratulations America you f–ked this one up,” and “I feel like I’m about to give birth to a baby that’s already dead.”
Comedian Chelsea Handler posted one of the most bizarre Tweets of the night, saying “My condolences to the President and First Lady. We will keep aiming high. We may not have you honored you this time, but we will honor you.” So apparently this exercise of American democracy has dishonored the President. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman commented that tumultuous financial markets would “never” recover. Wow. Never. But the word “never” apparently means 49 minutes to a Nobel laureate, because that’s how long it took for the S&P 500 to turn positive for the day once the market opened. Investors ostensibly realized that, despite the Trump victory, Disney will keep making superhero movies, Coke will keep distributing poisonous flavored water, and Mark Zuckerberg will keep selling your personal data to advertisers.
[..] I thought the late-night quickie from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta summed it up perfectly. While Hillary stayed in her $20,000/night suite at the Peninsula Hotel, Podesta was sent to tell the crowd of Clinton supporters that “She is not done yet!” Nonsense. It was a big fat lie. Minutes later she called Donald Trump to concede the election. Anyone trying to understand why she lost might take note of this deceit– even at the bitter end. She lied to her own supporters.
Want to keep your million-dollar luxury pad in Vancouver empty? Get ready to pay C$10,000 ($7,450) annually in extra taxes. Lie about it? That’ll be C$10,000 a day in fines. Canada’s most-expensive property market, suffering from a near-zero supply of rental homes, announced the details of a new tax aimed at prodding absentee landlords into making their properties available for lease. The empty-home tax will take effect by Jan. 1 and will be calculated at 1% of the property’s assessed value, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters at City Hall. “Vancouver is in a rental-housing crisis,” Robertson said. “The city won’t sit on the sidelines while over 20,000 empty and under-occupied properties hold back homes from renters.”
The measure is among efforts to make housing more accessible and affordable in Vancouver, ranked the world’s third-most-livable city, and has drawn attention for its sky-high prices fomented by global money flows. Public scrutiny has focused on absentee landlords, particularly from overseas, who are accused of sitting on investment properties where windows remain dark throughout the year. In August, the provincial government imposed a 15% tax on foreign buyers, and last month the federal government tightened mortgage insurance eligibility requirements. The city of Vancouver has focused its efforts on the rental market, where vacancies can get scooped up within hours while bidding wars drive up leasing costs.
Indians struggled to pay for basic goods like food and fuel on Wednesday and fretted about their savings, after the government withdrew 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation in a bid to flush out money hidden from the tax man. The shock measure also sent shudders through the investment community on a day when the markets were also reeling at the election of Republican candidate Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. India’s National Stock Exchange share index slumped as much as 6.3% in early trade before recovering most losses to close the day off 1.3%.
The currency move, announced late on Tuesday night by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to bring billions of dollars worth of unaccounted wealth into the mainstream economy and curb corruption. The biggest disruption in decades to cash transactions, which power much of the rural economy, comes months before a series of state elections including in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state. Critics have warned that ordinary people who do not have access to the banking system will be hardest hit, and that Modi risks upsetting his ruling party’s support base of small traders and businessmen who largely deal in cash.
A hand grenade attack outside the French Embassy in central Athens lightly wounded a policeman early Thursday, police said, days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit the Greek capital. Authorities said the policeman, who had been on guard outside the embassy, was wounded when unknown assailants threw a hand grenade outside the embassy building, located opposite Parliament on a major avenue. Police shut down the area to vehicles and pedestrians, while anti-terrorism forensics experts combed the scene for evidence.
Police said the attack was apparently carried out by two people on a motorbike, and a bike matching the description was later found in a central Athens neighborhood popular with anarchists and was being examined to determine whether it was the one that had been used in the attack. Authorities said it appeared the policeman had only been lightly wounded because he had been inside an armored guard post outside the embassy entrance. The attack came days before Obama is to arrive in Athens next week for an expected overnight visit. Left-wing organizations have announced they will hold protests during the visit.
For the first time since the Great Depression, the world is in a global liquidity trap. The unintended consequence of many central banks pushing negative interest rate policy is conjuring deflationary headwinds, stronger currencies, and slower growth — the exact opposite of what struggling economies need. But when monetary policy is the only game in town, negative rates are likely to beget even more negative rates, creating a perverse cycle with important implications for investors. When central banks reduce policy rates, their objective is to stimulate growth. Lower rates are designed to spur savers to spend, redirect capital into higher-return (ie riskier) investments, and drive down borrowing costs for businesses and consumers. Additionally, lower real interest rates are associated with a weaker currency, which stimulates growth by making exports more competitive.
In short, central banks reduce borrowing costs to kindle reflationary behaviour that helps growth. But does this work when monetary policy is driven through the proverbial looking glass of negative rates? There is a strong argument that when rates go negative it squeezes the speed at which money circulates through the economy, commonly referred to by economists as the velocity of money. We are already seeing this happen in Japan where citizens are clamouring for 10,000-yen bills (and home safes to store them in). People are taking their money out of the banking system to stuff it under their metaphorical mattresses. This may sound extreme, but whether paper money is stashed in home safes or moved into transaction substitutes or other stores of value like gold, the point is it’s not circulating in the economy.
The empirical data support this view — the velocity of money has declined precipitously as policymakers have moved aggressively to reduce rates. A decline in the velocity of money increases deflationary pressure. Each dollar (or yen or euro) generates less and less economic activity, so policymakers must pump more money into the system to generate growth. As consumers watch prices decline, they defer purchases, reducing consumption and slowing growth. Deflation also lifts real interest rates, which drives currency values higher. In today’s mercantilist, beggar-thy-neighbour world of global trade, a strong currency is a headwind to exports. Obviously, this is not the desired outcome of policymakers. But as central banks grasp for new, stimulative tools, they end up pushing on an ever-lengthening piece of string.
The BOJ and the ECB are already executing massive quantitative easing programmes, but as their balance sheets expand, assets available to purchase shrink. The BoJ now buys virtually all of the Japanese government bonds that are issued every year, and has resorted to buying exchange traded funds to expand its balance sheet. The ECB continues to grow the definition of assets that qualify for purchase as sovereign debt alone cannot satisfy its appetite for QE. As options for further QE diminish, negative rates have become the shiny new tool kit of monetary policy orthodoxy. If Doctor Draghi and Doctor Kuroda do not get the outcome they want from their QE prescriptions – which is highly likely – then more negative rates will be on the way.
The profits recession is global – and that’s bad news for the world economy and for equity markets. So say researchers at the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based association that represents close to 500 financial institutions from 70 countries. In their April “Capital Markets Monitor,” IIF executive managing director Hung Tran and his team blamed the global decline in earnings on poor productivity growth, weak demand and a general lack of pricing power. U.S. companies also are being squeezed by rising labor costs as they add people to their payrolls. The pervasiveness of the downturn means there’s nowhere for corporations to turn. “In the past, if you had poor performance at home, you could recoup and compensate for that with overseas investment,” Tran said in an interview.
“But if you suffer declines in profits domestically and internationally, you tend to retrench.” That in turn raises the odds of an economic recession. He put the chances of a U.S. downturn within two years at around 30 to 35% due to the earnings slump, up from 20 to 25%. The prolonged profits recession makes Tran and his associates skeptical that the recent rebound in global stock markets can last. They see prices stuck in a downward trend. “With profits expected to remain under pressure for the foreseeable future, this situation will eventually exert downward pressure on equity prices,” they wrote in their report.
Global bond yields fell to a record, a warning sign on the worldwide economy. The yield on the Bank of America Global Broad Market Index plunged to 1.3%, the lowest level in almost 20 years of data. Bonds in the gauge have returned 3.6% in 2016, while the MSCI All Country World Index of shares has slumped 1.5%, including dividends. “This is a sign of global disinflation,” said Hideaki Kuriki at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management. “The U.S. cannot pull up the world economy.” The Treasury 10-year note yield was little changed on Wednesday at 1.73% as of 10:19 a.m. in Tokyo, based on Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The price of the 1.625% security due in February 2026 was 99 2/32. The yield dropped to a record 1.38% in 2012. The Federal Reserve is scheduled to issue the minutes of its March 15-16 meeting Wednesday. Chair Janet Yellen said last week U.S. central bankers need to “proceed cautiously” in raising interest rates because the global economy presents heightened risks.
The era of low growth known as Japan’s “Lost Decade” commenced in 1990, and persists to this day. While most authors acknowledge that the seeds for the Lost Decade were sown by excessive credit growth in the preceding Bubble Economy years, only Richard Koo and Richard Werner have systematically argued that insufficient credit growth during the “Lost Decade” explains Japan’s now quarter-century long slump. Yet these arguments tell us more about the dilemmas facing today’s world economy than many more commonly accepted explanations of the current slowdown.
The insufficient credit growth story is rejected out of hand by most economists, for reasons summed up by Paul Krugman. From the perspective of mainstream economics, any event that negatively affects debtors is, to a large degree, offset by the positive effects of that event for creditors. Krugman therefore sees no possibility of Koo’s argument of “an entire economy being “balance-sheet constrained”: Maybe part of the problem is that Koo envisages an economy in which everyone is balance-sheet constrained, as opposed to one in which lots of people are balance-sheet constrained. I’d say that his vision makes no sense: where there are debtors, there must also be creditors, so there have to be at least some people who can respond to lower real interest rates even in a balance-sheet recession. (Krugman, 2013)
Koo is, however, correct: it IS possible for an entire economy to be balance-sheet constrained. Understanding why requires an appreciation of private credit creation that goes beyond the mere accounting truism that every entity’s liability is another entity’s asset. This paper will argue that the assumptions made by mainstream economists about the role of credit and banking in the economy are incorrect. When taking into account the “money creation” functions of banking, it becomes clear that the USA and most advanced economies as well as many emerging economies have joined Japan in being balance-sheet constrained, and face their own “lost decade” as a consequence of low credit growth. I will start with the empirical data and its implications, and then move on to the argument that an entire economy can be balance-sheet constrained.
Investors worried by a potential second wave of defaults in the U.S. should be even more concerned about emerging markets.Moody’s Investors Service says default rates currently stand at about 4% and could soar to as high as 14.9% by the end of the year under the most pessimistic scenario, Bloomberg News reports today. Its best-case projection is a 5.05% rate.Edward Altman, New York University professor and creator of the widely used Z-Score method for predicting bankruptcies, has also forecast rising U.S. defaults this year, saying in January that recession could follow even with a rate of less than 10%, given the increase in debt since the financial crisis.
Altman, a specialist in credit markets, hasn’t been able to create successful default rate statistics for emerging markets due to a lack of historical data, he told an audience at Hong Kong University last year. However, it was safe to assume that they would normally exceed those of developed markets such as the U.S., he concluded. If that’s the case, there’s trouble on the way. According to Standard & Poor’s, emerging markets recorded their highest number of defaults for 11 years in 2015, a tally of 26. The Bank of America Merrill Lynch High Yield Emerging Markets Corporate Plus index currently comprises 696 bonds, a number that’s risen from 346 eight years ago. Based on those numbers, the delinquency rate stands at only 3.7% (though the S&P figures don’t capture the entire universe of defaults).
A study by Moody’s published in February 2009 showed that the default rate among high-yield emerging-markets issues could reach as high as 22% in the five years following severe banking and sovereign crises. So far, most countries in the asset class have suffered currency and liquidity crises but have skirted the more severe sovereign and banking kind. A further cause for concern: Fitch Ratings said in January that 24% of companies in seven of the biggest emerging markets have raised money offshore. That increases their vulnerability to weakening currencies, an issue that’s dogging Chinese issuers. Fitch also said that the share of banks and sovereign ratings on negative outlook is at the highest since 2009.
[..] Chinese buyers, by and large, are far more indebted than the firms they are acquiring. Of the deals announced since the start of 2015, the median debt-to-equity ratio of Chinese buyers has been 71%, compared with 44% for the foreign targets, according to The Economist’s analysis of S&P Global Market Intelligence data. Cash cushions are generally also much thinner for Chinese buyers: their liquid assets are roughly a quarter lower than their immediate liabilities. The forbearance of their creditors makes these heavy debts more bearable in China than they would be elsewhere. But the Chinese buyers are financially stretched, all the same. Where, then, are they getting the money for the deals? For many, the answer is yet more debt. Chinese banks see lending to Chinese firms abroad as a safe way of gaining more international exposure.
The government has encouraged them to support foreign deals. As long as the firms to be acquired have strong cash flows, the banks are happy to lend against the targets’ balance-sheets, bringing debt to levels usually only seen in leveraged buy-outs. Foreign banks are also getting involved in some of the deals: HSBC, Credit Suisse, Rabobank and UniCredit are helping to arrange syndicated loans for ChemChina, which agreed to buy Syngenta, a Swiss seed and pesticide firm, for $43 billion. When the acquirers’ finances look shaky, bankers say they find solace in two things: that the deals themselves will generate returns and that the political pedigree of the buyers, especially that of state-owned companies, will protect them. “You have to trust that the acquirer has become too big to fail,” says an M&A adviser.
For the buyers, there are two strong financial rationales for the deals, albeit ones that highlight distortions in the Chinese market. First, debt-funded buyouts can actually make their debt burdens more tolerable. Take the case of Zoomlion, a construction-equipment maker with 83 times more debt than it earns before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. It wants to buy Terex, an American rival with debt just 3.5 times larger than its earnings, for $3.4 billion. Even if the purchase consists entirely of borrowed cash, the combined entity would still have a debt-to-earnings multiple of roughly 18, a marked improvement for Zoomlion.
Second, Chinese buyers know that one key financial metric works to their advantage: valuations in the domestic stockmarket are much higher than abroad. The median price-to-earnings ratio of Chinese buyers is 56, twice that of their targets. In effect, this means they can issue shares domestically and use the proceeds to buy what, from their perspective, are half-price assets abroad. This also gives them the firepower to outbid rivals in bidding wars. To foreign eyes, it might look like the Chinese are overpaying. But so long as their banks and shareholders are willing to stump up the cash, Chinese companies see a window of opportunity.
The definition of a China “bull” used to be those who saw the Chinese economy rushing full speed ahead into the distant future. Their vision wasn’t so far-fetched. Remember: Annual growth was still hitting double digits until 2010. As recently as 2014, Justin Lin Yifu, a former World Bank chief economist, was publicly confident that growth could roll along at 8% a year for another 20 years, with the right mix of economic overhauls to oil the wheels. The minority “bear” proposition was for a severe slowdown, somewhere in the mid-to-low single digits. An even rarer breed of “permabears” warned of collapse. How quickly calculations have changed. We haven’t yet reached the point where the former bear case has become the bull case, but we’re getting close.
At a recent workshop hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan U.S. think tank, participants—35 or so academic economists, Wall Street professionals and geopolitical strategists—lined up around three different growth scenarios for China. Only 31% chose the optimistic one, defined as 4% to 6% annual growth, dependent on leaders successfully implementing reforms; 61% foresaw a “lost decade” of 1% to 3% growth; the rest thought a so-called hard-landing, or contraction, was most likely. Of course it wasn’t a scientific survey, but what’s interesting is that apparently nobody considered the possibility that the Chinese government could deliver on its promise of “medium to fast” growth, meaning 6.5% or higher.
If the old-style bulls are virtually extinct as a species, a major reason is widespread skepticism that the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping is focused on economic transformation. Instead, Mr. Xi’s attention seems to be fixated on his anticorruption drive, cracking down on internal dissent, bringing the media to heel, firming up his control over the security forces and challenging the U.S. for dominance in the South China Sea. Ironically, those predicting a hard landing in the Council on Foreign Relations workshop might have had the best rationale for optimism. Michael Levi, a council fellow and one of the organizers, says this crowd thought that the economy hitting rock-bottom would galvanize the leadership into action and that China would “come out better on the other side.”
A rush for credit exposure in Europe is manifesting in the swaps market because investors are struggling to find enough bonds to satisfy their demand. The ECB’s plan to purchase corporate bonds is fueling demand for securities in anticipation of a rally when the purchases start. Investment-grade bond funds in euros had inflows each week since the ECB said on March 10 that it would expand measures to stimulate the economy. That’s already suppressed yields and made it harder to obtain the notes, making credit derivatives more attractive. Wagers on European credit-default swap indexes have more than doubled since the ECB’s announcement. Investors had sold a net $25 billion of protection as of March 25, near the highest since at least December 2013 and up from $11 billion as of March 4.
“There’s a dearth of bonds investors can get their hands on,” said Mitch Reznick at Hermes Investment Management. “In this liquidity vacuum, managers can use credit-default swaps as a proxy for the bonds that they can’t obtain in order to get longer in credit.” Investors placed the equivalent of $379 million into investment-grade bond funds in euros in the week through March 30, the fourth straight week of inflows, according to Bank of America. That helped push average borrowing costs for investment-grade companies to 1.07%, the lowest in almost a year, the bank’s bond index data show. They’re putting money into euro funds even as they withdraw from other segments, Bank of America said, citing EPFR Global data. Dollar and sterling funds had a combined $249 million of withdrawals in the period, the data show.
The ECB said it will start buying bonds from investment-grade companies in the euro area toward the end of the second quarter and investors are rushing to buy securities before then because they expect the purchases to sap liquidity and suppress yields even further. Some investors are also hoarding bonds, compounding the situation and making it more efficient to sell credit protection, Reznick said. “The quickest way to go long credit is by selling contracts tied to indexes in large size,” said Roman Gaiser at Pictet Asset Management. “That’s easier than buying lots of individual bonds. It’s a quick way of getting exposure to credit.”
The revelation that the rich and wealthy are shovelling money in overseas tax havens is not a particularly surprising one. Nevertheless, the sheer scale of the 11.5 million document leak from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonesca has whipped up an overdue storm and forced the issue of tax justice back on the agenda. It is likely that the Panama papers is just the tip of the iceberg, and if even more is revealed about the financial affairs of world leaders, the implication for global politics will be huge. The Democratic presidential primaries in the US have been characterised by surging anger at the global elite. The Panama papers scandal will only fuel popular indignation at the actions of perceived establishment figures – those who have stood idly by and allowed this huge miscarriage of justice to take place.
Although there have been no major American casualties over the leak at this stage, all of the presidential candidates will be questioned about the scandal. And nobody is going to be under more pressure than Hillary Clinton. For some Americans, she is the embodiment of a “global elite”, while Bernie Sanders is its antithesis. The huge leak exposes governments across the globe wilfully ignoring tax avoidance by the rich. Although Clinton has not been linked to any malfeasance in the leak, there is a sense that she is among the elite rich, some of whose members have benefited from such schemes. It has been revealed Clinton pushed through the Panama Free Trade Deal at the same time that Sanders vocally opposed it, citing research warning that it would strictly limit the government’s ability to clamp down on questionable or even illegal activity.
Even if the Clintons remain unmentioned in future tax bombshells, Sanders can continue to exploit the narrative that Clinton is part of the demographic responsible, and has assisted in flagrant abuses of the system through trade deals. As this scandal looks intent on dragging on, it is now increasingly likely that undecided voters will swing towards the Sanders camp in the vital primaries coming up, including New York. In a general election, Republican favourite Donald Trump’s alleged historic tax dodging will leave him in hot water in comparison to Sanders’ squeaky clean record. He is the only candidate who even speaks in terms of the 1% vs the 99%. Should he secure the Democratic nomination, early general election polls suggest Sanders would knock Trump out of the park.
[..] the Panama Papers implicate 140 world leaders from 50 countries in stashing enormous sums of untaxed money in offshore shell corporations. Of course, this is part and parcel of the 1%, but the ubiquitousness shown in the leaks is astonishing. [..] No American leaders have been named in the leak as yet, but the editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung told other journalists “Just wait for what is coming next” in regards to American empire. Nevertheless, Senator and Democratic primary contender Bernie Sanders may very well have already come out ahead. In October 2011, Sanders criticized the Panama trade pact on the Senate floor.“Panama’s entire annual economic output is only $26.7 billion a year, or about two-tenths of one% of the U.S. economy. No one can legitimately make the claim that approving this free trade agreement will significantly increase American jobs.”
Sanders then asks the Senate, “why would we be considering a standalone free trade agreement with Panama?” The agreement in question, which was ultimately passed despite Sanders’ objections, is called The United States—Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA). Sanders then answered his own question in a haunting premonition of things to come: “Well it turns out that Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade U.S. taxes by stashing their cash in offshore tax havens; and the Panama free trade agreement will make this bad situation much worse. Each and every year, the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations evade about $100 billion in U.S. taxes through abusive and illegal offshore tax havens in Panama and other countries…”
The D.C.-based progressive think tank Citizens for Tax Justice proclaims “that tax haven use is ubiquitous among America’s largest companies,” citing its volumes of research. In 2014, Fortune 500 companies held more than $2.1 trillion in accumulated profits offshore in order to evade taxes. Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ opponent in the Democratic primary, argued vehemently for the TPA in 2011. “The Free Trade Agreements passed by Congress tonight will make it easier for American companies to sell their products to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will create jobs here at home,” part of Clinton’s 13 October, 2011 statement read. Strangely enough, her full statement no longer exists on the State Department’s website. Sanders has opposed all free trade agreements in recent memory, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Clinton has supported them and even criticized Sanders for his lack of support.
What we have not yet seen is any U.S. individual implicated in the leak, which seems unlikely given our stable of international wealth. The editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper which first received the documents, promises there will be more to come. But one reason why Americans haven’t yet been implicated is that they already have a perfectly good place for their tax avoidance schemes: right here in the United States. While several developed countries are already moving to reduce the anonymity behind shell companies, including a public registry of “beneficial ownership” information in the United Kingdom and a directive to collect similar information throughout the European Union, the United States has resisted such transparency. According to recent research, the United States is the second-easiest country in the world to obtain an anonymous shell corporation account. (The first is Kenya.) You can create one in Delaware for your cat.
While we force foreign financial institutions to give up information on accounts held by U.S. taxpayers through the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2010, we don’t reciprocate by complying with international disclosure requirements standardized by the OECD and agreed to by 97 other nations. As a result, the U.S. is becoming one of the world’s foremost tax havens. Several states – Delaware, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming – specialize in incorporating anonymous shell corporations. Delaware earns between one-quarter and one-third of their budget from incorporation fees, according to Clark Gascoigne of the FACT Coalition. The appeal of this revenue has emboldened small states, and now Wyoming bank accounts are the new Swiss bank accounts. America has become a lure, not only for foreign elites looking to seal money away from their own governments, but to launder their money through the purchase of U.S. real estate.
In addition, if the United States really wanted to stop Panama or the Cayman Islands or other offshore tax havens from allowing the wealthy to avoid hundreds of billions in payments, they could do so in about 15 minutes. Our recent free trade deal with Panama allegedly prevents Americans from creating offshore tax havens there, but in general, such tax information exchanges are insufferably weak. And the little America does abroad to police tax evasion dwarfs the next to nothing we do at home. The intertwining of global and political elites makes tax avoidance, whether legal or illegal, a secondary concern for the country, regardless of how it robs the country of resources and promotes the conception of a two-tiered economic and justice system where the upper class need not follow the same rules as the rest of us. Our politicians made a consistent choice that this rampant tax avoidance doesn’t bother them.
“Anonymous shell companies have been used to rip off Medicare,” said Gascoigne. “They’ve been used to evade U.S. sanctions. Arms dealers like Viktor Bout, the so-called Merchant of Death, used U.S. shell companies to launder money.” Indeed, Mossack Fonseca has affiliated offices in Wyoming, Nevada, and Florida. America is up to its eyeballs in this style of corruption.
“..the U.S. is just as big a secrecy jurisdiction as so many of these Caribbean countries and Panama. We should not want to be the playground for the world’s dirty money, which is what we are right now.”
Panama and the U.S. have at least one thing in common: Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money. Over the past several years, amid increased scrutiny by journalists, regulators and law enforcers, the global tax-haven landscape has shifted. In an effort to catch tax dodgers, almost 100 countries and other jurisdictions have agreed since 2014 to impose new disclosure requirements for bank accounts, trusts and some other investments held by international customers – standards issued by the OECD, a government-funded international policy group. Places like Switzerland and Bermuda are agreeing, at least in principle, to share bank account information with tax authorities in other countries.
Only a handful of nations have declined to sign on. The most prominent is the U.S. Another, Panama, is at the center of a storm over tax evasion and global cash flight that broke out over the weekend. A law firm there helped set up tens of thousands of shell companies, according to a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. ICIJ and other news organizations published reports they said showed global efforts to hide wealth, undertaken by global politicians and the ultra-rich, with the aid of banks and lawyers. The central tool: shell companies that people used to shield the identity of the owners’ assets. While such structures can be legal, they can also support efforts to avoid taxes.
The latest reporting “underscores the secrecy in Panama,” said Stefanie Ostfeld, the acting head of the U.S. office of the anti-corruption group Global Witness. “What’s lesser known, is the U.S. is just as big a secrecy jurisdiction as so many of these Caribbean countries and Panama. We should not want to be the playground for the world’s dirty money, which is what we are right now.” Advisers around the world are increasingly using the U.S. resistance to the OECD’s standards as a marketing tool — attracting overseas money to U.S. state-level tax and secrecy havens like Nevada and South Dakota, potentially keeping it hidden from their home governments.
[..] “The U.S. doesn’t follow a lot of the international standards, and because of its political power, it’s able to continue,” said Bruce Zagaris an attorney at Berliner Corcoran & Rowe who specializes in international tax and money laundering regulations. “It’s basically the only country that can continue to do that. Others like Panama have tried, but Panama can’t punch as high as the U.S.” Indeed, in a statement issued Monday by OECD secretary general Angel Gurria, the OECD said “Panama is the last major holdout that continues to allow funds to be hidden offshore from tax and law-enforcement authorities.” The statement didn’t mention the U.S., which is the OECD’s largest funder.
The Panama secrecy leak claimed its first casualty after Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned following allegations he had sought to hide his wealth and dodge taxes. The decision was announced in parliament after the legislature had been the focus of street protests that attracted thousands of Icelanders angered by the alleged tax evasion efforts of their leader. Gunnlaugsson, who will step down a year before his term was due to end, gave in to mounting pressure from the opposition and even from corners of his own party. “What this exemplifies more than anything else is that there’s a growing lack of tolerance over the way that the international financial system has been gamed and rigged by corrupt elites,” Carl Dolan, director of Transparency International’s EU division, said in a phone interview from Brussels.
The Panama files, printed in newspapers around the world, showed that the 41-year-old premier and his wife had investments placed in the British Virgin Islands, which included debt in Iceland’s three failed banks. The leaked documents therefore also raise questions about Gunnlaugsson’s role in overseeing negotiations with the banks’ creditors. Ironically, the offshore investments were held while Iceland enforced capital controls. Gunnlaugsson is the second Icelandic premier to resign amid a popular uprising, after Geir Haarde was forced out following protests in 2009. Gunnlaugsson always looked to be the most vulnerable of the politicians implicated in the documents. From Moscow to Islamabad and Buenos Aires, most public figures have managed to beat off the revelations with either outrage, denial or indifference.
None of those tactics worked for Gunnlaugsson, whose first response was to walk out of an interview with Swedish TV, a clip that went viral after the leaks were published on Sunday. “The Iceland PM is the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much political instability we’ll see long-term on the basis” of the leaks, Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, said by phone on Tuesday. Iceland’s electorate balked at the alleged tax evasion and Gunnlaugsson’s initial refusal to budge. Police on Monday erected barricades around the parliament in Reykjavik as protesters beat drums and pelted the legislature with eggs and yogurt. Almost 10,000 people gathered, according to police, while organizers said the figure was twice as high. Thousands more had signed up on Facebook to attend a second round of protests that was due to take place on Tuesday afternoon.
The Panamanian lawyer at the center of a data leak scandal that has embarrassed a clutch of world leaders said on Tuesday his firm was a victim of a hack from outside the company, and has filed a complaint with state prosecutors. Founding partner Ramon Fonseca said the firm, Mossack Fonseca, which specializes in setting up offshore companies, had broken no laws and that all its operations were legal. Nor had it ever destroyed any documents or helped anyone evade taxes or launder money, he added in an interview with Reuters. Company emails, extracts of which were published in an investigation by the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other media organizations, were “taken out of context” and misinterpreted, he added.
“We rule out an inside job. This is not a leak. This is a hack,” Fonseca, 63, said at the company’s headquarters in Panama City’s business district. “We have a theory and we are following it,” he added, without elaborating. “We have already made the relevant complaints to the Attorney General’s office, and there is a government institution studying the issue,” he added, flanked by two press advisers. Governments across the world have begun investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful after the leak of more than 11.5 million documents, dubbed the “Panama Papers,” from the law firm that span four decades. The papers have revealed financial arrangements of prominent figures, including friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the prime ministers of Britain and Pakistan and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the president of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, resigned, becoming the first casualty of the leak. “The (emails) were taken out of context,” Fonseca said. He lamented what he called journalistic activism and sensationalism, extolling his own investigative research credentials as a published novelist in Panama. “The only crime that has been proven is the hack,” Fonseca said. “No one is talking about that. That is the story.” France announced on Tuesday it would put the Central American nation back on its blacklist of uncooperative tax jurisdictions. Alvaro Aleman, chief of staff to President Juan Carlos Varela, told a news conference the government could respond with similar measures against France, or any other country that followed France’s lead.
David Cameron was left dangerously exposed on Tuesday after repeatedly failing to provide a clear and full account about links to an offshore fund set up by his late father, as the storm over the Panama Papers gathered strength in both the UK and elsewhere around the world. The prime minister and his office have now offered three partial answers about the fund set up by his father Ian, which avoided ever paying tax in Britain. The key unanswered question is whether the prime minister’s family stands to gain in the future from his father’s company, Blairmore, an investment fund run from the Bahamas. After Downing Street said on Monday that the fund was a “private matter”, a journalist asked Cameron about it during a visit to Birmingham on Tuesday. Cameron replied: “I own no shares, no offshore trusts, no offshore funds, nothing like that. And, so that, I think, is a very clear description.”
He dodged the key part of the question about whether he or his family stood to benefit. Having failed to satisfy reporters, Downing Street issued a further statement that Cameron’s wife and children also do not benefit from offshore funds but again left the main question about the future unanswered. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who had called earlier in the day for an independent investigation, told the Guardian: “Three times Downing Street has been asked to provide a full and comprehensive answer. The public has a right to know the truth. “We need to know the full extent of the links between Britain and the web of tax avoidance and evasion revealed by the Panama Papers at all levels.”
[..] The row embroiling Cameron picked up pace on Tuesday morning when Corbyn responded to Downing Street’s assertion that the matter was private by telling reporters: “Well, it’s a private matter insofar as it’s a privately-held interest. But it’s not a private matter if tax is not being paid. So an investigation must take place, an independent investigation, unprejudiced, to decide whether or not tax has been paid.” Later in the day, Cameron told reporters: “In terms of my own financial affairs, I own no shares. I have a salary as prime minister and I have some savings, which I get some interest from and I have a house, which we used to live in, which we now let out while we are living in Downing Street and that’s all I have.”
The excellent new book by Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, is inevitably noticed mainly for its views on banking regulation and the outlook for the eurozone. For me the most important message of The End of Alchemy is its emphasis on radical uncertainty — or, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, former US defence secretary: “The things we do not know we do not know.” That emphasis reflects the parallel intellectual paths Lord King and I have taken since we were young dons 40 years ago. In a book published in 1976, economist Milton Friedman disparaged a tradition that “drew a sharp distinction between risk, as referring to events subject to a known or knowable probability distribution, and uncertainty, as referring to events for which it was not possible to specify numerical probabilities”.
Friedman went on: “I have not referred to this distinction because I do not believe it is valid. We may treat people as if they assigned numerical probabilities to every conceivable event.” Asked, “Who will win the war?”, Churchill might have responded, “Britain, with probability 0.7”; and Hitler with a similar answer but perhaps different number. However absurd, this is what we were taught and what we passed on to the next generation of students. It seemed an exciting time for young turks in finance; insider trading in an old-boy network was to be superseded by a new generation of quants and rocket scientists. We had the mathematical tools to revolutionise investment banking. Our theory came to underpin the risk models used in financial institutions and imposed by regulators.
But Friedman was wrong. There really are limits to the range of problems susceptible to the mathematics of classical statistics. He was, erroneously, rejecting the concept of radical uncertainty described 50 years earlier by the economists John Maynard Keynes and Frank Knight. “By uncertain knowledge,” wrote Keynes in 1921, “I do not mean merely to distinguish what is known for certain from what is only probable. The sense in which I am using the term is that in which the prospect of a European war is uncertain…There is no scientific basis to form any calculable probability whatever. We simply do not know.”
While the long-term future of interest rates or copper prices, about which Keynes also speculated, might be approached probabilistically, questions about the social system 50 years hence are too open-ended, and the outcomes too varied and insufficiently specific, to be described in probabilistic terms. A recent book on superforecasters, co-written by Philip Tetlock, illustrates the point well. By trying to turn multi-faceted questions into ones precise enough to enable those who proffer answers to be assessed for their accuracy, he makes the questions narrow and uninteresting: “How will the Syrian war develop” and “How will Europe manage its refugee crisis?” become: “How many Syrian refugees will land in Europe in 2016?”
The EU’s executive will propose on Wednesday a raft of technical measures to strengthen its external borders as it seeks to tackle both an uncontrolled influx of migrants and security threats following deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. More than 160 people were killed in the November shooting and bombing attacks in Paris and suicide bombings in Brussels in March. The deadly strikes, claimed by Islamic State, strengthened the hand of those campaigning for tighter security checks and data sharing against those who warn of the risks of abuse and undermining privacy through enhanced surveillance. In its proposal on Wednesday, seen by Reuters ahead of official publication, the European Commission said the carnage in Paris and Brussels “brought into sharper focus the need to join up and strengthen the EU’s border management, migration and security cooperation.”
Europol chief Rob Wainwright highlighted separately on Tuesday an “indirect link” between Europe’s migration crisis, which saw more than a million people arriving over the last year, and the Islamist militant threat, saying some militants had used the chaotic migrant influx to sneak in. EU border agency Frontex also said that two of the perpetrators of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris had entered through Greece and been registered by Greek authorities after presenting fraudulent Syrian documents. “EU citizens are known to have crossed the external border to travel to (Middle East) conflict zones for terrorist purposes and pose a risk upon their return. There is evidence that terrorists have used routes of irregular migration to enter the EU,” the Commission said in its proposal.
But the EU has a dozen-or-so different sets of fragmented databases for border management and law enforcement that are plagued with gaps and often not inter-operable. Custom authorities’ data are held largely separate. The Commission on Wednesday will therefore set out technical proposals to beef them up and improve the way they communicate with one another, including a joint search interface.
Through a barbed wire fence, 17-year-old Syrian refugee Asma attempted to tell us about her journey to Greece. We didn’t have much time to listen. Greek police officers were breathing down our necks, threatening to arrest us unless we left. We learned that Asma traveled alone on a tiny rubber boat from Turkey, and broke her arm – still wrapped in a white bandage – when a building collapsed in her hometown of Daraa, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising. As she started to tell us about her hope for a fresh start in Germany, the policemen issued their final warning before escorting us off Moria camp’s fenced perimeter. “We’re animals now,” Asma shouted after us. “We’re no longer humans.” If Turkey is a crowded departure hall to a better life, Greece is now a transit lounge for those who’ve missed their connection.
Many will never move onward to northern Europe; others will only move backward. With more than 52,000 refugees and migrants stranded in the country, Greece has become exactly what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned months ago: a “warehouse of souls.” And the new deal between the EU and Turkey, intended to stem the refugee flow into Europe, only redirects it. Under the terms of the deal, most asylum seekers who illegally travel to Greece from Turkey are to be sent back to Turkey. The first returns took place Monday at dawn. For every returnee to Turkey, a Syrian living in a Turkish refugee camp will be legally resettled by plane to EU countries. As such, a refugee’s rights come down to luck. If Asma had arrived in Greece last month, she’d likely be in Germany by now.
If she had arrived three weeks ago, she’d likely be trapped in a makeshift camp on the Greece-Macedonia border – not much of an upgrade, but she’d have more access to the outside world than she does in Lesbos, where more than 3,000 refugees are locked in a former military base. For refugees like her, who arrived after the deal took effect March 21, most will be sent back to Turkey; that is, unless they can individually prove Turkey is “unsafe” for them. Even many Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans – who have special protections under international law and qualify for the EU’s official “relocation” program – will be returned to Turkey. Officials insist the deal isn’t about restricting access to asylum in Europe, but eliminating illegal smuggling routes that sent more than 1 million refugees and migrants to Europe from Turkey over the past year.
Indeed, as ferryboats carrying migrants returned to Turkey on Monday, Syrians from Turkish refugee camps were being resettled in Germany and Finland. But this “one-for-one” deal struck in Brussels – which creates a kind of human carousel – is disconnected from the reality on the ground in Greece. The deal’s byzantine complexities have sowed confusion, fear and anxiety among asylum-seekers and authorities alike. Humanitarian groups such as the United Nations refugee agency, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children have suspended activities on several Greek islands to protest its terms. They argue that the deal turns reception centers for refugees into inhumane, de facto detention facilities.
Authorities in Greece have temporarily suspended deportations to Turkey and acknowledged that most migrants and refugees detained on Greek islands have applied for asylum. The EU began sending back migrants Monday under an agreement with Turkey, but no transfers were planned Tuesday. Maria Stavropoulou, director of Greece’s Asylum Service, told state TV that some 3,000 people held in deportation camps on the islands are seeking asylum, with the application process to formally start by the end of the week. She says asylum applications typically take about three months to process, but would be “considerably faster” for those held in detention.