Oct 152019
 
 October 15, 2019  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Paul Gauguin A seashore 1887

 

Trump Tells Turkey To Stop Its Syria Invasion (R.)
US Slaps Sanctions On Turkey As Syrian Regime Returns To North (AFP)
‘You’ve Been Duped By Spooks & Terrorists’ (RT)
Bernie Wants You to Own More of the Means of Production (Jac.)
No Choice But To Invest In Oil, Shell CEO Says (R.)
New German Rules Leave 5G Telecoms Door Open To Huawei (R.)
James Comey Is Swimming In Cash (BI)
Ghislaine Maxwell’s Open Secret (Webb)
Behind Hong Kong’s Black Terror (Escobar)
Trio Wins Economics Nobel For Science-Based Poverty Fight (R.)

 

 

Did they plan this in advance?

Trump Tells Turkey To Stop Its Syria Invasion (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday demanded Turkey stop its military incursion in Syria and imposed new sanctions on the NATO ally as Trump scrambled to limit the damage from his much-criticized decision to clear U.S. troops from Turkey’s path. Vice President Mike Pence said Trump had told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call on Monday to agree to an immediate ceasefire. He also said he would travel to the region soon to try to mediate the crisis. Pence said Trump had been firm with Erdogan on the phone. “The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further. We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table,” Pence told reporters.

Turkey launched a cross-border operation into northern Syria on Wednesday just days after Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that he planned to move ahead with a long-planned move against America’s Kurdish allies in the region. Trump abruptly announced a redeployment of 50 American troops from the conflict zone to get them out of harm’s way, dismissing criticism that this would leave the Kurds open to attack. This was widely seen as giving Erdogan a green light for his operation. With lawmakers in the U.S. Congress moving to impose sanctions of their own, Trump issued an executive order authorizing sanctions against current and former officials of the Turkish government for contributing to Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.

In a statement, Trump said he had increased tariffs on imports of Turkish steel back up to 50 percent, six months after they were reduced, and would immediately stop negotiations on what he called a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey. “Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian effects of its invasion,” said Trump.

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Lest we forget: Trump redeployed only 50 troops. That’s supposed to have started all this?!

Also: the hundreds of people that we read everywhere have escaped are all women and children?

US Slaps Sanctions On Turkey As Syrian Regime Returns To North (AFP)

The United States slapped sanctions on Turkey Monday as it demanded an end to the deadly incursion against Syrian Kurdish fighters, accusing its NATO partner of putting civilians at risk and allowing the release of Islamic State extremists. The actions came hours after Syrian regime troops returned for the first time in years to northeastern parts of the country, invited by Kurdish fighters desperate for protection as the United States pulls out. President Donald Trump took extraordinary measures against a country that is officially a US ally as he faces mounting criticism at home, where even usually supportive lawmakers accuse him of abandoning Kurds who had spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State group.

“I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path,” Trump, who until recently had touted his friendship with Erdogan, said in a statement. The Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on Turkey’s defense, interior and energy ministers, freezing their US assets and making US transactions with them a crime. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the sanctions on Twitter, writing they “fall very short of reversing the humanitarian disaster brought about by (Trump’s) own erratic decision-making.” Vice President Mike Pence said he would travel shortly to Turkey and that Trump had telephoned Erdogan on Tuesday to insist that Turkey end the operation. Trump said he was also ending talks on a US-Turkey trade deal he valued at $100 billion and, in perhaps the most biting reprisal, re-imposing tariffs of 50 percent of Turkish steel.

[..] The chaos in areas targeted in the six-day-old Turkish assault has already led to the escape of around 800 foreign women and children linked to IS from a Kurdish-run camp, according to Kurdish authorities. The Kurds had repeatedly warned of that exact scenario when Western countries refused to repatriate their IS-linked nationals and when Trump made it clear he wanted to end the US military presence. Esper said Turkey’s incursion had “resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees,” although Erdogan accused Kurdish forces of deliberately freeing jihadists to “fuel chaos.”

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The New York Times had no credibility left anyway.

‘You’ve Been Duped By Spooks & Terrorists’ (RT)

A damning report by the New York Times, which accused Russia of bombing four UN-protected hospitals in Syria, is a product of misinformation by Western intelligence services and jihadists, the Russian military said. On Sunday, the leading US newspaper said it had irrefutable proof that Russian warplanes had bombed four sites in Syria, which it knew to be locations of civilian hospitals. The accusation stems from analysis of social media, interviews with witnesses, data provided by local plane spotters and records of communications of the Russian military deployed in Syria. The bombings, which happened on May 5 and 6, are just a faction of attacks on civilian infrastructure, for which Moscow carries responsibility, the newspaper alleged.

Responding to the accusation on Monday, the Russian military said Times report was flawed for several reasons, including failure to explain that Idlib Governorate, where the four alleged bombings took place, lives under rule of brutal jihadists. That detail affects the entire narrative, indicating its flawed sourcing. “Gadgets, modern radio scanners, protected notebooks, internet connection are all things that the local civilian population simply cannot afford. They are more interested in daily surviving under the yoke of the terrorists,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov. He was referring to the equipment used by “plane spotters”, who provided their data to Times.

The newspaper said those observers “insisted on anonymity for their safety”, but the Russian military says they shouldn’t have bothered and identified them as the people behind a “combat intelligence system” based on equipment developed by a US company called Hala Systems. The system known as Sentry is a collection of suitcase-sized sensors connected into a network plus an AI-based algorithm, which uses signals from those sensors as well as social media data to analyze and predict airstrikes in Idlib. Hala Systems says it’s a for-profit company that develops and operates the system on grants from governments of Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark the United States, and Germany.

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Electable?

Bernie Wants You to Own More of the Means of Production (Jac.)

Bernie Sanders released a proposal today that would gradually shift 20 percent of corporate equity into funds owned and controlled by the workers in each company. The plan, which would apply to all publicly-traded companies and large closely-held companies, would move 2 percent of corporate stock into worker funds each year for a decade. Once the shares are transferred into the funds, workers would begin receiving dividends and have the ability to exercise the voting rights of the shares, including the right to vote on corporate board elections and on shareholder resolutions. Sanders’s plan is by far the most radical worker ownership proposal put forward by a presidential candidate in recent memory.

By last count, the market value of publicly-traded domestic companies stood at $35.6 trillion. This means that the Sanders plan would shift at least $7.1 trillion of corporate equity into worker funds by gradually diluting the value of previously-issued corporate stock. Those who stand to “lose” from the proposal are the incumbent owners of corporate equity, which are overwhelmingly affluent people. At present, the top 10 percent of families own around 86.4 percent of corporate equities and mutual fund shares, with the top one percent owning 52 percent by themselves.

Closely-held businesses, which will also be affected by the scheme if they are large enough, have similarly concentrated ownership, with the top 10 percent of families owning 87.5 percent of private business equity and the top one percent of families owning 57.5 percent of it. Of course, these incumbent owners will not actually lose anything in an absolute sense. The average historical return of the US stock market has been 9.8 percent per year, while the average return of the last 10 years has been just over 13 percent. The effect of the two percent share issuances is to knock the total rate of return down by two percentage points, meaning that incumbent owners still get richer year-over-year, just less so than they would absent the Sanders plan.

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Well, they’re on oil company. What did you expect?

No Choice But To Invest In Oil, Shell CEO Says (R.)

Royal Dutch Shell still sees abundant opportunity to make money from oil and gas in coming decades even as investors and governments increase pressure on energy companies over climate change, its chief executive said. But in an interview with Reuters, Ben van Beurden expressed concern that some shareholders could abandon the world’s second-largest listed energy company due partly to what he called the “demonisation” of oil and gas and “unjustified” worries that its business model was unsustainable. The 61-year-old Dutch executive in recent years became one of the sector’s most prominent voices advocating action over global warming in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Shell, which supplies around 3% of the world’s energy, set out in 2017 a plan to halve the intensity of its greenhouse emissions by the middle of the century, based in large part on building one of the world’s biggest power businesses. Still, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from Shell’s operations and the products it sells rose by 2.5% between 2017 and 2018. A defiant van Beurden rejected a rising chorus from climate activists and parts of the investor community to transform radically the 112-year-old Anglo-Dutch company’s traditional business model. “Despite what a lot of activists say, it is entirely legitimate to invest in oil and gas because the world demands it,” van Beurden said. “We have no choice” but to invest in long-life projects, he added.

[..][ “We can sustain an upstream portfolio all the way into the 2030s if there is an economic rationale for doing that and a societal rationale for doing that,” van Beurden said. “Fortunately enough, we have more of those than we have money to spend on them.” Van Beurden rejected as a “red herring” arguments that Shell’s oil and gas reserves, which can sustain its current production for around eight years, would be economically unviable, or stranded, in the future. A lack of investment in oil and gas projects could lead to a supply shortage and result in price spikes, he said. “One of the bigger risks is not so much that we will become dinosaurs because we are still investing in oil and gas when there is no need for it anymore. A bigger risk is prematurely turning your back on oil and gas.”

Shell plans to increase its annual spending to around $32 billion by 2025 from the current $25 billion, with up to one tenth allocated to renewables and the power business. The company, the world’s largest dividend payer, plans to return $125 billion to shareholders in the five years to 2025.

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“..banning the Chinese vendor would add years of delays and billions of dollars in costs to launching 5G networks.”

New German Rules Leave 5G Telecoms Door Open To Huawei (R.)

Germany has finalised rules for the build-out of 5G mobile networks that, in a snub to the United States, will not exclude China’s Huawei Technologies. Government officials confirmed that Germany’s so-called security catalogue foresaw an evaluation of technical and other criteria, but that no single vendor would be barred in order to create a level playing field for equipment vendors. “We are not taking a pre-emptive decision to ban any actor, or any company,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference in Berlin on Monday. The United States has piled pressure on its allies to shut out Huawei, the leading telecoms equipment vendor with a global market share of 28%, saying its gear contained ‘back doors’ that would enable China to spy on other countries.


German operators are all customers of Huawei and have warned that banning the Chinese vendor would add years of delays and billions of dollars in costs to launching 5G networks. The Shenzhen-based company has denied the allegations by Washington, which imposed export controls on Huawei in May, hobbling its smartphone business and raising questions over whether the Chinese company can maintain its market lead. U.S. officials have also argued that, under China’s national intelligence law, all citizens and companies are required to collaborate in espionage efforts.

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No kidding: “It’s a lot!” Comey told the Times. “Seriously, it’s crazy.”

James Comey Is Swimming In Cash (BI)

Losing a job and having your career go up in flames can be scarring. But the smoldering embers sometimes give forth to fertile new soil from which to start anew. Few have had a more public and dramatic firing than former-FBI director James Comey, who President Donald Trump infamously and suddenly ousted in 2017 amid inquiries into Russian meddling and suspicions that he did not have Comey’s loyalty. That fateful decision sent Comey’s law-enforcement career up in smoke — and precipitated the special-counsel investigation by Robert Mueller — but also laid the groundwork to launch a lucrative second-act in media, including six-figure speaking fees, prestigious writing contracts, a TV series, and a multimillion dollar book deal.

In a profile of his post-FBI life by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times, Comey asserts his primary preoccupation now, as a self-described “unemployed celebrity,” is stopping Trump. This vocation, while lacking the official powers of his former post in the FBI, appears well-suited for raking in piles of cash. Comey may have lost a roughly $170,000 annual salary as FBI director, but now he earns as much in a single speaking engagement. He’s been traveling the country giving six-figure paid speeches on leadership, as well as gratis appearances at universities, according to the NYT. “It’s a lot!” Comey told the Times. “Seriously, it’s crazy.”

Comey recently gave talks at Yale, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and the Sacramento Speaker Series, and he’s due to speak at “Politicon” in Nashville later this month. He also has a contract to write opinion columns for The Washington Post, according to the NYT. And then there’s the forthcoming CBS Studios miniseries, in which he’ll be portrayed by actor Jeff Daniels. The series is based on Comey’s bestselling 2018 book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” which reportedly netted him millions as well. Of course, Comey was already a multimillionaire before accepting the job in 2013 as FBI director under President Barack Obama. In financial filings, he reported a net worth of $11 million, not including an anticipated $3 million payout from hedge-fund giant Bridgewater Associates, where Comey spent a couple years as general counsel.

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Whitney Webb continues her series.

Ghislaine Maxwell’s Open Secret (Webb)

Media reports cite Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell as having developed a close relationship at least by February 2000, when Andrew had spent a week at Epstein’s controversial New York penthouse at 9 East 71st Street. One report published in 2000 by London’s Sunday Times claimed that the two were introduced by Andrew’s ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, often referred to as “Fergie” in the press, and further claims that this introduction had taken place several years prior. Epstein is alleged to have first been introduced to Andrew via Maxwell in 1999. Years after this introduction was made, Jeffrey Epstein would provide financial assistance to Ferguson at Prince Andrew’s behest by paying Ferguson’s former personal assistant £15,000, allegedly in order to allow for “a wider restructuring of Sarah’s £5 million debts to take place,” according to The Telegraph.

Oddly, by April of that year, Maxwell and Prince Andrew were spotted by their fellow diners at a posh New York restaurant holding hands, prompting both the Prince and Maxwell to claim that their relationship was merely “platonic.” However, a separate report from 2007 in the Evening Standard refers to Maxwell as one of Prince Andrew’s former girlfriends. Within a year of their close relationship having become public, Andrew and Ghislaine were reported to have gone on eight different vacations together, of which Epstein accompanied them for five. Andrew also brought Maxwell and Epstein to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in 2000 as his personal guests.


Several reports from this period also provide interesting insight into Maxwell’s business activities and private life. One article from 2000, published in London’s Sunday Times, states that “for all her high-profile appearances on Manhattan’s A-List merry-go-round, she [Maxwell] is secretive to the point of paranoia and her business affairs are deeply mysterious.” It goes on to say that Maxwell “has been building a business empire as opaque as father’s” — referencing Robert Maxwell’s business empire, which included multiple front companies for Israeli intelligence — and adds that “her office in Manhattan refuses to confirm even the nature or the name of her business.”

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A slightly different take.

Behind Hong Kong’s Black Terror (Escobar)

The new slogans of Hong Kong’s black bloc – a mob on a rampage connected to the black shirt protestors – made their first appearance on a rainy Sunday afternoon, scrawled on walls in Kowloon. Decoding the slogans is essential to understand the mindless street violence that was unleashed even before the anti-mask law passed by the government of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) went into effect at midnight on Friday, October 4. By the way, the anti-mask law is the sort of measure that was authorized by the 1922 British colonial Emergency Regulations Ordnance, which granted the city government the authority to “make any regulations whatsoever which he [or she] may consider desirable in the public interest” in case of “emergency or public danger”.

Perhaps the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, was unaware of this fine lineage when she commented that the law “only intensifies concern over freedom of expression.” And it is probably safe to assume that neither she nor other virulent opponents of the law know that a very similar anti-mask law was enacted in Canada on June 19, 2013. More likely to be informed is Hong Kong garment and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, billionaire publisher of the pro-democracy Apple Daily, the city’s Chinese Communist Party critic-in-chief and highly visible interlocutor of official Washington, DC, notables such as US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and ex-National Security Council head John Bolton.

On September 6, before the onset of the deranged vandalism and violence that have defined Hong Kong “pro-democracy protests” over the past several weeks, Lai spoke with Bloomberg TV’s Stephen Engle from his Kowloon home. He pronounced himself convinced that – if protests turned violent China would have no choice but to send People’s Armed Police units from Shenzen into Hong Kong to put down unrest. “That,” he said on Bloomberg TV, “will be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre and that will bring in the whole world against China….. Hong Kong will be done, and … China will be done, too.”

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Science fights poverty?! Sounds like absolute BS to me. I asked Steve Keen if he knows the winners. He replied:

“No. Experimental economics is the latest fad, though it’s not supposed to encompass real world experiments like the IMF’s program for Argentina.”

Trio Wins Economics Nobel For Science-Based Poverty Fight (R.)

U.S.-based economists Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer won the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday for work fighting poverty that has helped millions of children by favoring practical steps over theory. French-American Duflo becomes only the second woman to win the economics prize in its 50-year history, as well as the youngest at 46. She shared the award equally with Indian-born American Banerjee and Kremer, also of the United States. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their work had shown how poverty could be addressed by breaking it down into smaller and more precise questions in areas such as education and healthcare, and then testing solutions in the field.

It said the results of their studies and field experiments had ranged from helping millions of Indian schoolchildren with remedial tutoring to encouraging governments around the world to increase funding for preventative medicine. “It starts from the idea that the poor are often reduced to caricatures and even the people that try to help them do not actually understand what are the deep roots of (their) problems,” Duflo told reporters in Stockholm by telephone. “What we try to do in our approach is to say, ‘Look, let’s try to unpack the problems one-by-one and address them as rigorously and scientifically as possible’,” she added.

The team pioneered “randomized controlled trials”, or RCTs, in economics. Long used in fields such as medicine, an RCT could for example take two groups of people and study what difference a treatment makes on one group while the other group is only given a placebo. Applied to development economics, such field experiments found for example that providing more textbooks and free school meals had only small effects, while targeting help for weak students made a big difference to overall educational levels. “It’s a prize not just for us but for the whole movement,” Banerjee later told a joint news conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where they both work. Kremer is a researcher at Harvard University.

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When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set


Lin Yutang

 

 

 

Sep 012019
 


Edouard Vuillard The two sisters 1899

 

Hong Kong Protesters Plan To Disrupt Airport After Night Of Chaos (R.)
The Sheer Scale Of The Crisis Facing Britain’s Decrepit Constitution (O.)
How A Secret Plan To Close Parliament Sparked Uproar Across Britain (O.)
British PM Johnson Challenges Lawmakers To Deliver Brexit (R.)
EU’s Barnier Not Optimistic About Avoiding A No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Lagarde Says Negative Rates Have Helped Europe More Than They’ve Hurt (MW)
Bianco Warns “Negative Rates Are Extremely Toxic” (Gisiger)
Low Interest Rates Compound The Big Problems Facing Pension Funds (MW)
Bernie Sanders Proposes Canceling $81 Billion US Medical Debt (R.)
Breaking The Media Blackout on the Imprisonment of Julian Assange (MPN)
Fifty Shades of Epstein (Hope Kesselring)

 

 

Get the parties involved around a table before people get killed.

Hong Kong Protesters Plan To Disrupt Airport After Night Of Chaos (R.)

Pro-democracy demonstrators planned on Sunday to choke travel routes to Hong Kong’s international airport after a chaotic night of running battles between police and masked protesters, the latest wave of unrest to hit the Chinese-ruled city. Protest organizers have urged the public to overwhelm road and rail links to the airport, one of the world’s busiest, on Sunday and Monday, potentially disrupting flights. People would begin gathering at 1 p.m. (0500 GMT), protest groups said. The airport closed one of its car parks and advised passengers to use public transport, without giving a reason.

A similar so-called “stress test” of the airport last weekend failed to gain momentum. Three weeks ago, some flights were delayed or canceled after protesters swarmed the airport. Late on Saturday and into the early hours, police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and protesters threw petrol bombs, escalating clashes that have plunged the Asian financial center into its worst political crisis in decades. As government helicopters hovered overhead, protesters who had been banned from demonstrating set fires in the streets and threw bricks at police near government offices and Chinese military headquarters.

Officers fired two warning shots in the air to scare off a group of protesters who had them surrounded and were trying to steal their pistols, the police said, only the second time live rounds have been used in more than three months of unrest. Police sprayed demonstrators with blue-dyed water to make it easier to identify them later. Parts of the metro system ground to a halt as skirmishes spread to the subway, with television showing images of people being beaten as they cowered on the floor behind umbrellas. Police said they arrested 40 people inside Prince Edward metro station on suspicion of obstructing officers, unlawful assembly and criminal damage. Three stations stayed shut on Sunday.

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“..the eight-word British constitution established in 1689 – What The Crown Assents In Parliament Is Law – is a decaying, time-worn construct on which to protect and advance today’s democracy..”

The Sheer Scale Of The Crisis Facing Britain’s Decrepit Constitution (O.)

To prorogue parliament for no better reason than to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of a no-deal Brexit may have been an intolerable abuse of power, and an affront to democracy, but in Britain it is constitutionally possible. As a result, for all the threats of judicial review and court actions, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to challenge. For the prime minister controls everything, from the business of the House of Commons to the ability to prorogue it. He or she is lent monarchial sovereignty, the same sovereignty that Charles 1 tried to justify because the monarch was supposedly God’s representative on Earth: the divine right of kings, now transmuted into the divine right of Boris.

Part of the-then cleverness of the 17th-century deal was that it co-opted the crown into being the above-the-fray, holder-of-the-ring of proper parliamentary procedure and process. But today, that capacity has evaporated. So when Jacob Rees-Mogg travelled to Balmoral last week to ask the Queen to prorogue parliament, there was virtually no prospect of her refusing – as an elected head of state might have done. She did have the option of saying that on such a controversial use of prerogative power she wanted to go beyond the minimum quorate of three for a privy council meeting (the chief whip and leader of the House of Lords accompanied Rees-Mogg on a separate plane to Balmoral to avoid suspicion) and call for a full meeting including former ministers from other parties, purportedly the constitutional forum to advise her on use of the royal prerogative.

But that would have been seen as a political act. She folded. Exposed as a constitutional cipher, the case for an elected head of state has suddenly become unanswerable. It is but one of the many constitutional earthquakes triggered by Brexit whose aftershocks will be felt for decades. Even the character of the referendum itself is testament to our lack of a constitution. No super-majority was required for this fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Europe, any more than it was for the Scottish referendum: amazingly, a 42-year and a 300-year union could be ripped apart by a majority of one citizen’s vote.

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It is a peculiar chain of events no matter what you think of it.

How A Secret Plan To Close Parliament Sparked Uproar Across Britain (O.)

For much of August the plan to shut down parliament for five weeks was kept a very tight secret at the heart of government. For the few Whitehall officials who were made aware of it early on, however, it was not difficult to decipher whose fingerprints were all over it. It was clear to that small group that the bombshell idea had been hatched by Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, and No 10’s director of legislative affairs, Nikki da Costa. Cummings has long been known at Westminster for his disdain for Whitehall and the way the entire system of British government works. He doesn’t mince his words or tolerate those he regards as fools. “If he meets resistance from ministers or officials he will just tell them to fuck off, whoever they are,” said one Whitehall source, who has worked with him.

[..] Last Friday an email between a Whitehall official and No 10 was leaked to this newspaper. It made clear that Johnson had approached Cox for advice on a five-week suspension from around 9 September to 14 October. Cox’s initial view, the correspondence made clear, was that it would probably be legal, unless various court actions being planned by Remainers to block prorogation were successful. Downing Street’s official response when asked about the leak was, at first, muted. “No 10 officials ask for legal and policy advice every day,” said a government source.

But when the Observer story broke last Saturday evening, as Johnson and his team were in Biarritz for the G7 summit preparing for meetings with US president Donald Trump and EU council president Donald Tusk the next day, Downing Street changed tack and tried to dismiss the story in a way that was to backfire spectacularly. Johnson’s press team issued a statement saying that “the claim that the government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false”. It did not deny that the attorney general had been consulted about prorogation but its intent was clear: to create the impression that shutting down parliament was not going to happen.

But less than 72 hours later more leaks were to follow from people inside the government machine to media organisations saying that the prime minister was to make an announcement about prorogation on Wednesday morning. After the BBC got wind of the new leaks, some senior staff were initially dubious that they were genuine, given No 10’s previous denials. When Johnson announced the exact same plan on which his team had poured buckets of cold water four days earlier, large sections of the media, as well as MPs and much of the country, were understandably furious.

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Johnson is just a figurehead.

British PM Johnson Challenges Lawmakers To Deliver Brexit (R.)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged lawmakers to deliver on the Brexit vote and not thwart his plans to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31. Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit with or without a deal, but opposition lawmakers – and several lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservatives – want to act to rule out a no deal Brexit when parliament returns from recess on Tuesday. Previous votes have indicated a majority in parliament opposing a no-deal Brexit, but in a newspaper interview, Johnson said that backing opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn risked there being no Brexit at all.


“The fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum? Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people — and plunge this country into chaos?,” Johnson told the Sunday Times. “Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda? That’s the choice.”

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He’s seen enough.

EU’s Barnier Not Optimistic About Avoiding A No-Deal Brexit (R.)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario as the EU could not meet Britain’s demands that the backstop for the Irish border is removed from the withdrawal agreement. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Barnier said that the so-called “backstop” had to stay to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market while ensuring an open border on the island of Ireland. “I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario, but we should all continue to work with determination,” Barnier said, according to extracts of his article on the newspaper’s front page.


“The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31. Opposition lawmakers plan to act next week to stop no-deal in parliament. Writing in the same newspaper, Johnson’s de facto deputy Michael Gove said that to remove the option of a no-deal Brexit on Oct 31 would “diminish” the “chances of securing changes” to the Brexit deal that could get it passed through parliament.

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Translation: the new ECB head does not have confidence in free markets. She thinks central bankers can do a better job.

Lagarde Says Negative Rates Have Helped Europe More Than They’ve Hurt (MW)

The next head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, appears to be as much of a fan of negative interest rates as the current chief, Mario Draghi. In written answers provided to the European Parliament that were released on Thursday, Lagarde said negative interest rates have helped Europe. The ECB’s deposit rate is negative 0.4%. “On the one hand, banks may decide to pass the negative deposit rate on to depositors, lowering the interest rates the latter get on their savings,” she wrote. “On the other hand, the same depositors are also consumers, workers, and borrowers. As such they benefit from stronger economic momentum, lower unemployment and lower borrowing costs.


“All things considered, in the absence of the unconventional monetary policy adopted by the ECB – including the introduction of negative interest rates – euro area citizens would be, overall, worse off.” European banks have complained about the impact on profitability, but even there the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund defended the move. “With regard to the impact of negative rates on banks’ profitability, empirical analysis suggests that the negative effects on banks’ net interest income have been so far more than offset by the benefits from more bank lending and lower costs for provisions and impairments due to the better macroeconomic environment, which to a significant extent is a result of accommodative monetary policy,” she wrote.

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“..Trump is “going to eleven” on trade: He’s going to turn it up so high that there is going to have to be a deal. That’s the way he wants to do this. He will just make it intolerable so everybody has to sit down and cut a deal.”

Bianco Warns “Negative Rates Are Extremely Toxic” (Gisiger)

Jim Bianco, President of Bianco Research, cautions against evermore unconventional monetary policy interventions. He fears that the global slowdown is going to get worse and he spots opportunities in long-term bonds and gold. The global economy is on the brink: Europe is headed for recession, Japan as well and China’s growth rate is the slowest in almost thirty years. Only the economy in the United States seems to hold up. But for how long? «We live in a global world and if Japan and Europe are struggling and the world has a problem it’s going to come to the US eventually», says Jim Bianco. According to the internationally renowned macro strategist, the biggest threat to the US economy is the inverted yield curve.

«This is the market’s way of saying the Federal Funds Rate is too high and must come down», Mr. Bianco is convinced. Against this backdrop, the founder and President of Chicago based Bianco Research argues that the Federal Reserve should cut its target rate by 50 basis points at the next FOMC meeting. He also cautions against introducing negative interest rates in the United States during the next recession because in his view that would cripple the global financial system.

[..] First, the trade and currency wars where the situation reminds me somewhat of «This Is Spinal Tap». It’s a cult satire movie from the eighties about a rock band and they coined the phrase «up to eleven» because that’s how high their amplifier went. So the expression «turning it up to eleven» refers to the act of taking something to an extreme. I’m saying this because I think Trump is “going to eleven” on trade: He’s going to turn it up so high that there is going to have to be a deal. That’s the way he wants to do this. He will just make it intolerable so everybody has to sit down and cut a deal.

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Pension funds are dead.

Low Interest Rates Compound The Big Problems Facing Pension Funds (MW)

The largest public pension funds have over $1 trillion in aggregate unfunded liabilities. Low interest rates are going to make it harder for these and other pension plans to rely on investment returns alone to meet their obligations to retirees. Interest rates in the U.S. have been declining for over 20 years, and short-term rates have been hovering close to zero over the last decade. Negative interest rates in Japan and Europe and mounting expectations of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve have expanded the pool of bonds with negative yields to more than $16 trillion, or around 27% of the global bond market. Initially, low interest rates are good for asset prices.

Simplistically, this is because investors seeking similar returns as before are now forced to take capital that they would have otherwise invested in safe government bonds and deploy it into riskier assets (equities, high yield bonds, etc.), thereby driving up prices of these assets. In addition to stronger economic growth coming out of the 2008 financial crisis, this is one of the factors leading to strong performance of equities over the past decade. However, going forward it is unlikely that asset returns are going to be similar to what we witnessed over the last decade. One of the reasons is that risky asset returns are generally priced as a spread over risk-free real returns (i.e. inflation-adjusted returns). This makes intuitive sense, as investors would demand additional return for taking on risk.

If the risk-free rate is low, and there is high demand for risky assets, then the total investment return (risk free rate + risk premia/spread) will likely be lower than in a scenario with higher interest rates, all else being equal. According to Voya Investment Management’s capital market assumptions, expected returns for equities over the next 10 years is likely to be around 1.50 percentage points to 3.3 percentage points lower than assumptions in 2013.

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Like with student debt, helping only some people appears counter-productive.

Bernie Sanders Proposes Canceling $81 Billion US Medical Debt (R.)

U.S. presidential contender Bernie Sanders proposed a plan on Saturday to cancel $81 billion in existing past-due medical debt for Americans, but offered no details on how it would be financed. Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, said in a statement that under his plan, the government would negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills that have been reported to credit agencies. The proposal, he said, would also repeal some elements of the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill and allow other existing and future medical debt to be discharged. “In the United States of America, your financial life and future should not be destroyed because you or a member of your family gets sick,” said Sanders.


“That is unacceptable. I am sick and tired of seeing over 500,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because they cannot pay off the outrageous cost of a medical emergency or a hospital stay.” According to Sanders, medical debt is the leading cause of consumer bankruptcy, with more than half a million Americans filing due to medical expenses each year. He said the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill made it difficult to discharge medical debt by imposing strict means tests and eliminated fundamental consumer protections for Americans. “It also trapped families with medical debt in long-term poverty, mandated that they pay for credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy, and increased the need for expensive legal services when filing a case for medical bankruptcy,” the senator said.

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“..the strategy of the powerful appears to be to know as much as possible about the rest of us while ensuring that we know as little as possible about them and how they operate..”

Breaking The Media Blackout on the Imprisonment of Julian Assange (MPN)

The role of journalism in a democracy is publishing information that holds the powerful to account — the kind of information that empowers the public to become more engaged citizens in their communities so that we can vote in representatives that work in the interest of “we the people.” There is perhaps no better example of watchdog journalism that holds the powerful to account and exposes their corruption than that of WikiLeaks, which exposed to the world evidence of widespread war crimes the U.S. military was committing in Iraq, including the killing of two Reuters journalists; showed that the U.S. government and large corporations were using private intelligence agencies to spy on activists and protesters; and revealed how the military hid tortured Guantanamo Bay prisoners from Red Cross inspectors.

It’s this kind of real journalism that our First Amendment was meant to protect but engaging in it has instead made WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange the target of a massive smear campaign for the last several years — including false claims that Assange is working with Vladimir Putin and the Russians and hackers, as well as open calls by corporate media pundits for him to be assassinated. The allegations that Assange conspired with Putin to undermine the 2016 election and American democracy as a whole fell completely flat earlier this month when a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed this case as “factually implausible,” with the judge noting that at no point does the prosecution’s “threadbare” argument show “any facts” at all, and concluding that the idea that Assange conspired with Russia against the Democratic Party or America is “entirely divorced from the facts.”


[..] It is important to ask ourselves what Julian Assange’s real crime is. In an era, dubbed the Information Age, where the strategy of the powerful appears to be to know as much as possible about the rest of us while ensuring that we know as little as possible about them and how they operate, Assange worked to prevent that imbalance from becoming a rout, and stuck like a bone in the throat of the mighty.

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Interesting take for sure.

Fifty Shades of Epstein (Hope Kesselring)

A few weeks ago, half the top ten Amazon best sellers in romantic erotica were based around the trope of the BDSM billionaire, with Grey by E. L. James holding firm in the top ten. In the world of erotic romance, the 50 Shades of Grey series has been a continuous presence for over seven years. Thousands of riffs on the sexy and sadistic billionaire exist: Russian billionaire, billionaire blackmailer, billionaire stepbrother. I’m not trying to kink shame, but it would take a lot of money to convince me to write detailed descriptions of torture sessions in a gilded dungeon. This is especially true in the shadow of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death. Mental and sexual abuse by an obscenely wealthy man now just seems, well, obscene.


I should point out that James’ character, Christian Grey, strikes me as more a domestic abuser than a real BDSM enthusiast. He is a billionaire in the tech industry who fixates on Ana, a 21-year old virgin. He puts surveillance software on her phone. He harasses her to sign a submissive’s contract, and even though she never signs it, he still treats her like a sex slave. He manipulates Ana into doing sex acts for which she doesn’t give consent. Blatant consumerism sits on the page in stark contrast to real life. 50 Shades of Grey eroticizes money and abuse. The writing is universally panned and mocked by critics, yet it’s sold 125 million copies. How in the world of publishing did it even come to be? Let’s go back to 2008. That year the economy was melting down, Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to a felony sex offense, and the Twilight series of vampire romance novels for teen girls were bestsellers.

Twilight was a young adult twist on the long-popular vampire romance, which had flourished in that market since Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire appeared. Probably some of Epstein’s victims read the Twilight books. 50 Shades of Grey marks a shift in the erotic romance genre from vampires to billionaires. In 2009, E. L. James started publishing her version of Twilight on fanfiction websites, churning out a chapter every couple of days. Master of the Universe, as it was called then, was popular but criticized for being too racy, so she moved it to her own website and renamed the characters. James didn’t know it yet, but she was about to be catapulted to international fame by some upper middle class moms in the suburbs of New York City.


[..] In the autumn of 2011, news about Occupy Wall Street, a movement that began in reaction to the deeds of the predatory class, dominated headlines. Posters portrayed the 1% as greedy Monopoly men, far from sexy. Occupy protesters had the media’s attention for a short time before the idea was squashed. That November, Jeffrey Epstein registered as a sex offender in New York after completing his jail term and moving back into his Manhattan mansion, free to continue abusing girls. 2012 was E. L. James’ year. A prominent lifestyle blog (started by an NYU communications graduate married to a talent manager) promoted James’ fanfiction novel as sexually liberating to fashion-conscious moms in upscale suburban New York. James got a book deal and “mommy porn” was born. Paperbacks with necktie covers appeared on bookshelves and in beach bags everywhere.

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Aug 272019
 


Pablo Picasso Female bust (Dora Maar) 1938

 

Brexit: Shutting Down Parliament ‘Gravest Abuse Of Power In Living Memory’ (G.)
Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With US Until Sanctions Lifted (R.)
Brazil To Reject $20m Pledged By G7 To Fight Amazon Fires (G.)
The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession (Crooke)
Bernie Sanders Media Plan Decrying Corporate Control Of The Press (Hill)
German Economy Contracted On Weaker Exports In Q2 (R.)
Lifting Of Greek Capital Controls Signals Return To Normalcy (K.)
Johnson & Johnson Gets $572mn Slap On Wrist For Opioid Crisis In Oklahoma (RT)
How Did the 737 Max Get Approved in the First Place? (Spiegel)
Pluto Is A Planet, NASA Chief Says (Ind.)

 

 

Don’t know why they’re not in court already.

Brexit: Shutting Down Parliament ‘Gravest Abuse Of Power In Living Memory’ (G.)

Boris Johnson would be committing the “gravest abuse of power and attack on UK constitutional principle in living memory” if he shuts down parliament to help force through a no-deal Brexit, according to legal advice obtained by Labour. In a six-page document prepared for Jeremy Corbyn, the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, laid out how any such move by the prime minister would be open to immediate legal challenge in the courts. She said it could be subject to judicial review and the courts “might well even grant interim injunctive relief in order to allow both houses of parliament to continue to sit and discharge their primary and sovereign constitutional role in this current moment of national crisis”.

The advice from Chakrabarti, a barrister, was commissioned by Labour after leaked emails showed No 10 had sought the counsel of Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, on whether a five-week prorogation from 9 September might be possible to avoid a confidence vote and help enable a no-deal Brexit. The initial legal guidance for No 10 was that shutting parliament may be possible, unless action being taken in the courts by anti-Brexit campaigners succeeds in the meantime. Johnson was pressed repeatedly on Monday on what he would do if MPs tried to thwart his Brexit policy – at a press conference at the close of the G7 summit in Biarritz. He declined to rule out temporarily shutting down parliament.

“I think that this [is] really a matter for parliamentarians to get right ourselves,” he said. “We asked the people to vote on whether they wanted to stay in or leave the EU; they voted to leave by a big majority. [..] Parliament could be shut from 9 September until 14 October – two weeks before Johnson has promised to implement Brexit with or without a deal – under the plan being considered by No 10. The official reason would be a break before a Queen’s speech setting out Johnson’s legislative programme, but it would have the effect of stopping MPs legislating against a no-deal Brexit or ousting the prime minister.

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“Tehran has never wanted nuclear weapons.”

Iran’s Rouhani Says No Talks With US Until Sanctions Lifted (R.)

Iran will not talk to the United States until all sanctions imposed on Tehran are lifted, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump said he would meet his Iranian counterpart to try to end a nuclear standoff. Trump said on Monday he would meet Iran’s president under the right circumstances to end a confrontation over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and that talks were underway to see how countries could open credit lines to keep Iran’s economy afloat. Rouhani said Iran was always ready to hold talks. “But first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran.”


Speaking at a G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz, Trump ruled out lifting economic sanctions to compensate for losses suffered by Iran. European parties to the deal have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy. Iran has scaled back its commitments under the pact in retaliation to U.S. sanctions. “We will continue to scale back our commitments under the 2015 deal if our interests are not guaranteed,” said Rouhani in a speech broadcast live. “Tehran has never wanted nuclear weapons.”

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Money pledged by the west to fight Amazon fires: $20 million.
Money pledged by billionaires to rebuild Notre-Dame: $835 million.

Brazil To Reject $20m Pledged By G7 To Fight Amazon Fires (G.)

Brazil will reject the offer from G7 countries of $20m to help fight fires in the Amazon, government sources have said, with a senior official telling French president Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies.” “We appreciate [the offer], but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe,” Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website. Lorenzoni was referring to a US$20m pledge made at the G7 summit in France to fight the rainforest blaze, which environmental campaigners dismissed as “chump change” in the efforts to fight the fires that have ravaged the Amazon. “Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site. What does he intend to teach our country?” he continued, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral.


AFP later confirmed the comments. Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 950,000 hectares (2.3m acres) and prompted the deployment of the army. But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course. “Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron,” Lorenzoni said. The announcement of the $20m assistance package was the most concrete outcome of the three-day summit of major industrialised democracies in Biarritz and aimed to give money to Amazonian nations such as Brazil and Bolivia, primarily for more firefighting planes.

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History lessons always useful. But beware of causation and correlation.

The Geo-Politics of Looming Recession (Crooke)

[..] the ‘pattern’ starts with Woodrow Wilson’s observation in 1916, that “Britain has the earth, and Germany wants it”. Well, actually it was also about British élite fear of rivals (i.e. Germany arising), and the fear of Britain’s élites of appearing weak. Today, it is about the American élite fearing similarly, about China, and fearing a putative Eurasian ‘empire’. The old European empires effectively ‘died’ in 1916, Tooze states: As WWI entered its third year, the balance of power was visibly tilting from Europe to America. The belligerents simply could no longer sustain the costs of offensive war. The Western allies, and especially Britain, outfitted their forces by placing larger and larger war orders with the United States.

By the end of 1916, American investors had wagered two billion dollars on an Entente victory (equivalent to $560 billion in today’s money). It was also the year in which US output overtook that of the entire British Empire. The other side to the coin was that staggering quantity of Allied purchases called forth something like a war mobilization in the United States. American factories switched from civilian to military production. And the same occurred again in 1940-41. Huge profits resulted. Oligarchies were founded; and America’s lasting interest in its outsize military-security complex was founded. Wilson was the first American statesman to perceive that the United States had grown, in Tooze’s words, into “a power unlike any other.

It had emerged, quite suddenly, as a novel kind of ‘super-state,’ exercising a veto over the financial and security concerns of the other major states of the world.” Of course, after the war – there was the debt. A lot of it. France “was deeply in debt, owing billions to the United States and billions more to Britain. France had been a lender during the conflict too, but most of its credits had been extended to Russia, which repudiated all its foreign debts after the Revolution of 1917. The French solution was to exact reparations from Germany”. “Britain was willing to relax its demands on France. But it owed the United States even more than France did. Unless it collected from France—and from Italy and all the other smaller combatants as well—it could not hope to pay its American debts.”

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Can the press in the US still be saved?

Bernie Sanders Media Plan Decrying Corporate Control Of The Press (Hill)

Presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday released a plan to protect independent news outlets and journalists from the effects of widespread media consolidation. Sanders, decrying the mega-mergers he says have led to a handful of large corporations acting as gatekeepers for the information most Americans receive, calls for concrete steps “to rebuild and protect a diverse and truly independent press so that real journalists can do the critical jobs that they love” in an editorial for the Columbia Journalism Review. “Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read, and download, Sanders writes.


“Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.” Sanders proposes policies to better protect both local and national independent journalism. The plan includes undoing moves by the Trump administration that have made corporate media mergers easier to complete and an immediate freeze on major media mergers until their effects on the free press can be studied. “In the spirit of existing federal laws, we will start requiring major media corporations to disclose whether or not their corporate transactions and merger proposals will involve significant journalism layoffs,” Sanders writes.

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Will Germany start applying stimulus, even at the risk of rising debt?

German Economy Contracted On Weaker Exports In Q2 (R.)

Germany’s economy contracted on weaker exports in the second quarter, detailed data showed on Tuesday, highlighting the Achilles heel of Europe’s largest economy due to escalating trade disputes and waning foreign demand. The Federal Statistics Office confirmed a preliminary gross domestic product contraction of 0.1% quarter-on-quarter from April to June after a 0.4% expansion in the first three months of the year. The outlook for the German economy is uncertain as sentiment indicators point to a bumpy road ahead and most economists expect another quarter of contraction which would be a technical recession. Exports fell more strongly than imports in the second quarter which meant that net trade deducted 0.5 percentage points from overall economic expansion.


Construction investment was also a drag, falling 1.0% on the quarter. Household spending, state expenditure and private-sector investment in machinery and equipment all increased, but they were not strong enough to counter the massive drag of net trade. “The details of the growth components show that the contraction was almost exclusively driven by weak exports,” Carsten Brzeski from ING said, adding that the GDP figures showed that not everything was bad. “Some relief from trade could easily lead to a rebound toward the end of the year. Fiscal stimulus could boost confidence and improve structural growth in the years ahead.” Senior government officials have hinted that Berlin is mulling more fiscal stimulus linked to a comprehensive package of climate protection measures. Some suggested the government could even take on new debt to finance those steps.

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The new government wants all the applause, but given they’ve been in power mere weeks, that doesn’t fly.

More worrying is that police have started evicting migrants and refugees from Exarchia, known as an anarchist neighborhood, where 1000s are living in squats. Where will they go now?

Tsipras was a big disappointment, but Greece in no country for a right wing government right now. It can only lead to violence.

Lifting Of Greek Capital Controls Signals Return To Normalcy (K.)

In what is seen as a move symbolizing Greece’s return to normalcy, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Monday announced the full lifting of capital controls, earlier than the government had initially envisaged. “Capital controls are as of today a thing of the past,” Mitsotakis declared in Parliament, adding that the restrictions had been imposed in June 2015 as a result of SYRIZA-led government policies that resulted in the flight of millions of euros from bank deposits. Stressing that “a four-year cycle of insecurity” has come to an end, he said a “new cycle of optimism has begun for the economy and the banking system” and added that since his center-right New Democracy party was elected in July “faith has been restored in the Greek economy and banking system.”

For his part, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras lamented the capital controls as “a destabilizing factor, an instability factor for the banking system.” He added that the complete abolition of restrictions will be effective as of September 1. The prime minister’s announcement came after officials of the Finance Ministry met with members of the country’s banks and the Capital Markets Commission earlier in the day. Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras had recommended in July that the final restrictions be lifted after observing a continuing increase in bank deposits. One of the key aims of the abolition of all restrictions is Greece’s upgrading by credit agencies, a move that will bolster investor interest.

Meanwhile, hours after the premier’s announcement, former finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos accused the government of piggybacking on his administration’s efforts to lift restrictions. “The only reason that capital controls had not been fully lifted was the banks’ reluctance due to political uncertainty [caused by] the elections. In any case, this is a positive step, which was fully prepared by SYRIZA,” Tsakalotos said. He said that the New Democracy government was benefiting from the SYRIZA administration’s economic legacy, adding that “we are still far from seeing a clear [ND] initiative.” “Of course, in the case of New Democracy, not having its own economic policy is probably better than having one,” he added.

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The state demanded $17 billion.

Johnson & Johnson Gets $572mn Slap On Wrist For Opioid Crisis In Oklahoma (RT)

Johnson & Johnson caused Oklahoma’s opioid crisis by pushing pain pills on the state and lying about their safety, a judge has declared in a landmark ruling, imposing a penalty on the pharma giant that amounts to pocket change. The company “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court ruled on Monday, declaring the “misleading marketing and promotion” of its products had “compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans.”

Johnson & Johnson’s drugs division, Janssen, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients used to manufacture the deadly painkillers and lied about the safety and effectiveness of its products, state prosecutors charged. Using misleading promotional tactics to convince doctors to overlook the addiction risk, Janssen pushed opioids – including its own drugs, Duragesic and Nucynta – on medical professionals by colluding with pain patient advocacy organizations to enshrine pain as the “fifth vital sign” and opioids as the obvious remedy. The Johnson & Johnson suit is the first public-nuisance lawsuit against a drug company to go to trial, and Oklahoma’s victory means that the case will likely pave the way for future legal action against drug companies.

The state had sought $17 billion from Johnson & Johnson to remediate the crisis – a process Oklahoma officials claimed would end up costing between $12.7 and $17.5 billion. It was awarded just $572 million, a sum Balkman said was the maximum allowed under the public nuisance law and which pales in comparison to the company’s annual revenues, which totaled $82 billion last year. However, he left the door open to “additional programs and funding” that could be required “over an extended period of time.”

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Germany’s Der Spiegel sent entire teams of reporters all over the globe for comprehensive coverage. 3 long articles.

How Did the 737 Max Get Approved in the First Place? (Spiegel)

As has always been the case with large scandals, it is difficult to pinpoint the beginning. But there are plenty of reasons for identifying the year 2008 as the start of the 737 Max crisis, when Lufthansa made an announcement at the Farnborough Airshow that it planned to buy 30 Bombardier CS100s for its subsidiary Swiss. The jets, which are a bit smaller than the A320 and the Boeing 737, were a completely new model and, according to a former senior Lufthansa executive, that model was “the best on the market at the time.” The deal came as a provocation to the management of Airbus and Boeing, spoiled as they had been by success, and they reacted. But Airbus reacted more quickly and rapidly developed the A320neo.

The Dec. 1, 2010 announcement by the Europeans that the entire A320 family would be re-engineered and outfitted with new, unusually fuel-efficient and quiet engines must have hit Boeing’s Chicago headquarters like a bolt of lightning. Airbus promised to sink kerosene consumption by an entire 15 percent. And the year after the announcement, Airbus promptly sold more than 1,000 A320neo planes — with many longtime Boeing customers among the purchasers. At the time, Boeing had no fully developed plan for a new model or an acceptable new version of the 737. Most importantly, the company was not in a position to be able to install the new generation of jet engines on its planes. So, the industry was quite surprised when Boeing, just nine months later, appeared to catch up to Airbus.

In late August 2011, the construction of the 737 Max was announced, and the company even promised that the plane could be operated 7 percent more cheaply than the A320neo. It seems safe to assume that it was a difficult period for Boeing engineers. Even the smaller CFM56 turbines could only be crammed under the wings of the old 737 by resorting to a handful of tricks. But the CFM LEAP, which Airbus intended to use, has an air intake that is almost two meters in diameter — and the Boeing engineers had to fit them onto a plane where they didn’t fit at all. Once again, they tried to compress the engine shape. And once again, they commissioned a customized, smaller version of the engine. They tried pretty much everything to create more space under the plane, even lengthening the landing gear by 20 centimeters. The most important change, though, was installing the turbines a bit higher on the wings and quite a bit further forward.

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Some people have weird hobbies.

Pluto Is A Planet, NASA Chief Says (Ind.)

Pluto’s status as a planet has once again been called into question after the head of Nasa said he believed the celestial body to be a planet. Speaking at the FIRST Robotics event in Oklahoma, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine went against convention by placing himself firmly on one side of the Pluto debate. “Just so you know, in my view Pluto is a planet,” he said. “You can write that the Nasa administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.” Pluto was first declared a planet in 1930 after it was discovered by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.


At the time it was believed to be the ninth planet from the Sun, existing on the outer edges of the solar system in the Kuiper belt. Its status as a planet was called into question 62 years later after other similarly-sized objects were discovered in the same region of space. In 2005, astronomers discovered a dwarf planet called Eris that was 27 per cent larger than Pluto. A year later, the International Astronomical Union laid out its official definition for what constituted a planet. Pluto was not included. Since then it has been classified as a dwarf planet, though the icy object has attracted a dedicated following of people who claim Pluto should be considered a planet.

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Aug 032019
 


Edward Hopper The long leg 1935

 

Last weekend, I noticed that two of the main newsmakers were both named Cummings, one in the US, the other in the UK. At first glance they don’t look like family, but I’ll readily admit I can’t be sure of that. What I do know is that both are symbolic of what’s wrong with the political systems they figure in.

Also last weekend, I saw a comment somewhere, think it was Twitter, that said something in the vein of: let’s hope the British don’t make the same mistake with Boris Johnson that the Americans made -and make- with Donald Trump, that is, labeling every single thing he does as “Bad”, because then they would lose all of their credibility, fast.

 

Elijah Cummings and Dominic Cummings. Not related.

 

And I thought: that could have been my comment, that’s how I look upon the whole political circus too. The entire blind demonization of Trump has only made him stronger, and the loss of credibility of the ‘accusers’ is a major factor in that. Not everything that goes wrong in America is Trump’s fault, it can’t be. But for large segments of the press, and their affiliated politicians, that has been the message for three years now.

And then you wake up one morning after -another- hearing, this time that of Robert Mueller, which you lost again, and you find that nobody believes you anymore, or cares, except for those who’d believe anything you say whatever it is anyway, and all of the time. But that also means you don’t reach anyone new, anyone not already in your echo chamber.

Right before the Mueller hearings, Jerry Nadler once again stated that Mueller had ‘very substantial evidence’ Trump is ‘guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors'”. But not one iota of any such ‘substantial evidence’ was addressed by Mueller in the hearings. And that hurts Nadler’s credibility to no end.

 

After three years, there’s no more time and space for empty allegations. Just watch Rachel Maddow’s plunging ratings. She lost some 25% of her viewers in the first half of this year. The Democrats would do well to take that into consideration before they speak out again. The latest episode a week ago started with Trump calling out Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on his comments about the border and telling him to take care of Baltimore first.

When Trump said Baltimore was rat infested, a million Democrats called him a racist for it, as in: he wasn’t talking about rats, he was really talking about black people. And subsequently we find out that Baltimore indeed has a substantial problem with rats, various other rodents, garbage, you name it. And one thinks: stop doing it, stop calling him names, stop calling every single thing he does “Bad”. Elijah Cummings has been one of many people doing just that.

Y’all need to stop it because you’re losing. You have been losing for those entire three years. You helped Maddow and the WaPo and NY Times make a fortune with their 24/7 empty allegations, but in the process you’ve been murdering your own party. If you want to fight Trump, you’ll have to do it with facts and evidence, mere innuendo no longer works, those days are gone. You need to change strategy, urgently, you have less than a year to do so.

And talking about the MSM, you also need to stop only watching and reading those sources. Because they don’t provide a wide enough picture, they put blinders on you. It’s what’s been so profitable for them. But not for your party, though it may seem to be.

But yeah, you look at the line-up of ‘candidates’, most of whom appear completely lost in the ‘field’, and you must wonder what 2020 will bring for your party. There’s Kamala and Biden on the right, and then there’s Bernie and Warren on the left. And you just know the DNC is going to pull another Bernie 2016 move. They don’t want the left, they don’t want the Squad, and they’re conspiring against Tulsi Gabbard too. It’s not the empire that’s coming for Tulsi, it’s the DNC.

 

If I were you, I’d first make sure the DNC gets no say in the choice of your candidate. I’d say disband the whole thing. They are responsible to a large extent for the losing pro-Hillary tactics that have made Trump that much stronger and got him elected. They are behind the whole Russiagate disaster, and the party must urgently distance itself from that. How you can do that without major internal cleansing, I don’t see.

If I were you, I would get rid of Nadler and Adam Schiff and Cummings and a whole lot more faces. Make a fresh start. As things are, the only people who will vote for you are those who would anyway, the echo chamber inhabitants. But the Democrats need additional voters too, swing voters, the already converted are simply not enough.

I see voices promoting an everything-on-red gamble for Michelle Obama, but that reeks far too much of desperation. Then again, betting on Biden or Kamala doesn’t look to be a winner either. The best person might well be Bernie, but the party made clear in 2016 they don’t want him. Personally, I would like to see a Bernie/Warren ticket, because it would give Americans a choice between truly different ideas and options.

Then again, Bernie keeps you far too close to being the War Party with his Russia comments. Americans deserve better. Embrace Tulsi Gabbard’s voice, even if you don’t want her as your candidate. The people love her, even if the DNC does not. She can get you votes you wouldn’t otherwise get. But overall, I don’t see much hope for you next year. Unless you manage to crash the economy before Christmas. Or Easter at the latest. How about Halloween?

 

If only because then there’s the other Cummings who made the news this week, Boris Johnson’s special adviser Dominic Cummings. I referenced the movie The Uncivil War a while back, and one thing I think I learned from it is that this Mr. Cummings doesn’t play second fiddles. He only agreed to run the VoteLeave campaign that in the end won the Brexit vote when he was given free rein. I think the same thing might have happened now.

He’s agreed to run Boris Johnson’s “Brexit by Halloween” program on the condition that nobody, very much including Boris himself, gets in his way. In 2016, Cummings pushed Boris forward because his polling data told him Nigel Farage was too unpopular and would cost too many votes (yes, the same Farage who has since pretended he was the big winner). But Cummings had no high opinion of Boris either, and still doesn’t.

What that adds up to is that the real boss in no. 10 is not even the PM nobody elected, it’s a guy who got handed the power by that unelected PM in a backroom meeting. And once Dominic Cummings has delivered Brexit, he’ll vanish into the shadows again, where he feels best. Given his past criticisms of Brexit, as well as the entire political system, it could all be more about the win, the kill, then about the value of what it will achieve. He’s not a politician anyway because he’s not a puppet. Cummings is a puppeteer. Boris, well, you get the picture.

 

Mind you, Brexit may well be a great idea. Just not this way, certainly not this way. The EU has turned into a very questionable club, no doubt. But does anyone at all have the idea that the UK will be well-prepared when they leave that club at Halloween? The thing I find problematic is that all UK laws, regulations, treaties over the past 40 years were agreed to in team efforts with Brussels. London signed them all.

That is a lot of laws and treaties and pieces of paper. Everything modern, everything that didn’t exist 40 years ago, think communications, internet etc. etc., will be part of that. Are they going to leave but still use all those thousands of pages of legislation anyway to regulate their “new” country? I don’t know how they see that, and frankly I don’t think they know either. They seem to just have been bickering amongst themselves for 3 years, and left preparation on the backburner.

Are their businesses prepared for reams upon reams of new paperwork, digital or not? I can’t be sure, but I don’t see it. And then there’s the Irish border, and the backstop. Westminster largely acts as if that’s a minor nuisance, and Paddy will fall into line, but today it’s not just a matter of talking to Dublin, but of talking to Brussels as well.

And you can despise the EU all you want, but they have no choice but to stand with Ireland. They can’t say: let’s ditch the backstop, that is not an option, Brexit would make the Irish border the border of the EU. And if Cummings and Boris want to head for a no-deal Brexit regardless, Good Friday will be as good as dead. Does Dominic Cummings really want to be held responsible for that? Hard to believe. Boris perhaps, but Cummings?

Boris and his people insist there won’t be new border crossings, that technology can save the day, and do the work away from the border. Haven’t seen them explain it though, and certainly not in any detail. But I did see a video the other day of someone involved in the Good Friday negotiations explaining what would happen.

He said, paraphrased: “you put cameras on -or near- that border, there’ll be militants shooting them down. Then you need police to protect the cameras, and they’ll shoot at the police. So you must bring in the army to protect the police, and you’re right back to the Troubles”. The Irish border is still a highly fragile combustible situation. And if Boris insists on not having a backstop, it’s hard to see how new Troubles can be avoided. The Good Friday Agreement came into effect less than 20 years ago, in December 1999.

The dysfunctional political systems Elijah Cummings and Dominic Cummings are part of may appear to be dysfunctional for different reasons. But the role of the media in both cases is very similar. The media wants to be -and define- the message, because that’s where the money is, and the power.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1156316342141759492

 

 

 

 

Jul 262019
 


Edward Hopper Sailing 1911

 

It’s a development that has long been evident in continental Europe, and that has now arrived on the shores of the US and UK. It is the somewhat slow but very certain dissolution of long-existing political parties, organizations and groups. That’s what I was seeing during the Robert Mueller clown horror show on Wednesday.

Mueller was not just the Democratic Party’s last hope, he was their identity. He was the anti-Trump. Well, he no longer is, he is not fit to play that role anymore. And there is nobody to take it over who is not going to be highly contested by at least some parts of the party. In other words: it’s falling apart.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a natural process, parties change as conditions do and if they don’t do it fast enough they disappear. Look at the candidates the Dems have. Can anyone imagine the party, post-Mueller, uniting behind Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris? And then for one of them to beat Donald Trump in 2020?

I was just watching a little clip from Sean Hannity, doing what Trump did last week, which is going after the Squad. Who he said are anti-Israel socialists and, most importantly, the de facto leaders of the party, not Nancy Pelosi. That is a follow-up consequence of Mueller’s tragic defeat, the right can now go on the chase. The Squad is the face of the Dems because Trump and Hannity have made them that.

The upcoming Horowitz and Durham reports on their respective probes into “meddling into the meddling” will target many people in the Democratic Party, US intelligence services, and the media. In that order. Can the Dems survive such a thing? It’s hard to see.

 

There’s Bernie and the Squad, the declared socialists, who will never be accepted as leaders by a party so evidently predicated upon support for the arms industry. And they in turn can’t credibly support candidates who do. The Democratic Party will never be socialist, they will have to leave the label behind in order to share that message and remain believable.

But without them, what will be left? Joe Biden, or perhaps Hillary silently waiting in the wings? I don’t see it. Not after Mueller, not after two-three years of gambling all on red anti-Trump. At least the Squad have an identity, got to give them that. Whether it will sell in 2019 America is another thing altogether.

I personally think the term socialist is too tainted, on top of being too misinterpreted, for it to be “electable”, but I also understand there are large swaths of the US population who are in dire straits already with a recession on the horizon, but 2020 seems too soon. And I would ditch the term regardless. It’s like painting a target on your back for Trump and Hannity to aim at.

If you remember the 2016 campaign and the clown parade on stage with the likes of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush glaring at the headlights, you know that the GOP has issues that are very similar to those of the Dems. But Trump came along.

The Dems have no Trump. They do have a DNC that will stifle any candidate they don’t like (Bernie!), though. Just think what they would have done if Trump had run as a Democrat (crazy, but not that crazy).

 

The UK’s issues are remarkably similar to those of the US. Only, in their case, the socialists have already taken over the left-wing party (if you can call the Dems left-wing). This has led to absolute stagnation. Tony Blair had moved Labour so far to the right (which he and his Blairites call center, because it sounds so much better), that injecting Jeremy Corbyn as leader was just too fast and furious.

So they labeled Corbyn an anti-semite, the most successful and equally empty smear campaign since Julian Assange was called a rapist. Corbyn never adequately responded, so he couldn’t profile himself and now the Blairites are again calling on him to leave. Oh, and he never gave a direct answer to the question of Brexit yes or no either. Pity. Corbyn’s support among the people is massive, but not in the party.

Which is why it’s now up to Boris Johnson to ‘deliver the will of the people’. And apparently the first thing the people want is 20,000 more policemen. Which were fired by the very party he at the time represented first as first mayor of London and then foreign minister, for goodness sake. His very own Tories closed 600 police stations since 2010 and will have to re-open many now.

Some survey must have told him it polled well. Just like polling was an essential part of pushing through Brexit. There’s a very revealing TV movie that came out 6 months ago called Brexit: The Uncivil War, that makes this very clear. The extent to which campaigns these days rely on data gathering and voter targeting will take a while yet to be understood, but they’re a future that is already here. Wikipedia in its description of the film puts it quite well:

 

After the opening credits, [Dominic] Cummings rejects an offer in 2015 by UKIP MP Douglas Carswell and political strategist Matthew Elliott to lead the Vote Leave campaign due to his contempt for “Westminister politics”, but accepts when Carswell promises Cummings full control.

The next sequences show Cummings outlining the core strategy on a whiteboard of narrow disciplined messaging delivered via algorithmic database-driven micro-targeting tools. Cummings rejects an approach by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks of Leave.EU to merge their campaigns, as his data shows Farage is an obstacle to winning an overall majority.

[..] In a eureka moment, Cummings refines the core message to “Take Back Control”, thus positioning Vote Leave as the historical status quo, and Remain as the “change” option. Cummings meets and hires Canadian Zack Massingham, co-founder of AggregateIQ, who offers to build a database using social media tools of [3 million] voters who are not on the UK electoral register but are inclined to vote to leave.

[..] In the final stages, high-profile senior Tory MPs Michael Gove and Boris Johnson join the Vote Leave campaign emphasising the need to “Take Back Control”, while Penny Mordaunt is shown on BBC raising concerns over the accession of Turkey. Gove and Johnson are shown as having some reticence over specific Vote Leave claims (e.g. £350 million for NHS, and 70 million potential Turkish emigrants) but are seen to overcome them.

 

Dominic Cummings, played in the movie by Benedict Cumberbatch, is an independent political adviser who belongs to no party. But guess what? He was the first adviser Boris Johnson hired after his nomination Wednesday. Cummings didn’t want Nigel Farage as the face of Brexit, because he polled poorly. He wanted Boris, because his numbers were better. Not because he didn’t think Boris was a bumbling fool, he did.

And now Cummings is back to finish the job. Far as I can see, that can only mean one thing: elections, and soon (it’s what Cummings does). A no-deal Brexit was voted down, in the same Parliament Boris Johnson now faces, 3 times, or was it 4? There is going to be a lot of opposition. Boris wants Brexit on October 31, and has practically bet his career on it. But there is going to be a lot of opposition.

He can’t have elections before September, because of the summer recess. So perhaps end of September?! But he has Dominic Cummings and his “algorithmic database-driven micro-targeting tools”. Without which Brexit would never have been voted in. So if you don’t want Brexit, you better come prepared.

Cummings and his techies weren’t -just- sending out mass mails or that kind of stuff. That’s already arcane. They were sending targeted personalized messages to individual voters, by the millions. Algorithms. AI. Tailor made. If you’re the opposition, and you don’t have those tools, then what do you have exactly?

Already thought before it all happened that it was funny that Boris Johnson’s ascension and Robert Mueller’s downfall were scheduled for the same day. There must be a pattern somewhere.

You can find the movie at HBO or Channel 4, I’m sure. Try this link for Channel 4. Seeing that movie, and thinking about the implications of the technology, the whole notion of Russian meddling becomes arcane as well. We just have no idea.

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 222019
 


Pablo Picasso Composition (Minotaur And Woman) 1 1936

 

The Dow Is On Pace For Its Best June Return In 80 Years (MW)
US Banks Clear First Hurdle Of Federal Reserve’s Annual Stress Test (R.)
Carney Rejects Boris Johnson’s No-Deal Brexit Trade Claim (G.)
Just One Week Left To Save British Steel (G.)
Crude Steel Production: China Knocks the Socks off Rest of the World (WS)
China State Media Urges US To Drop Win-At-All-Costs Trade Stance (R.)
Crazyland (Kunstler)
Hong Kong Protesters ‘Besiege’ Police HQ (AFP)
Bernie Sanders Faces Mounting Opposition From Moderate Democrats (G.)
UN Rights Chief Says Venezuela Should Release Jailed Opponents (AFP)
Lethal Plastic Trash Now Common In Greece’s Whales (AP)

 

 

As three quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. The Dow is virtual reality.

The Dow Is On Pace For Its Best June Return In 80 Years (MW)

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.

Read more …

US banks, too, are virtual reality.

US Banks Clear First Hurdle Of Federal Reserve’s Annual Stress Test (R.)

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.

Read more …

He’s saying Boris is lying.

Carney Rejects Boris Johnson’s No-Deal Brexit Trade Claim (G.)

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.”

Read more …

Should a government spend hundreds of millions to save its steel industry?

Just One Week Left To Save British Steel (G.)

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.

Read more …

Depending solely on China for steel may not be the way to go either.

Crude Steel Production: China Knocks the Socks off Rest of the World (WS)

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:

Read more …

Preparing for a meeting the Chinese way.

China State Media Urges US To Drop Win-At-All-Costs Trade Stance (R.)

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.”

Read more …

Tucker Carlson now appears to be Trump’s main foreign adviser. And he’s ripping into Bolton.

Crazyland (Kunstler)

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.

Read more …

Doesn’t look as if they will go away before getting what they demand.

Hong Kong Protesters ‘Besiege’ Police HQ (AFP)

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.

Read more …

“The corporate wing of the Democratic party is publicly ‘anybody but Bernie’.”

Bernie Sanders Faces Mounting Opposition From Moderate Democrats (G.)

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’.”

Read more …

Free the coup plotters so they can do it again?!

UN Rights Chief Says Venezuela Should Release Jailed Opponents (AFP)

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.

Read more …

“..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..”

Lethal Plastic Trash Now Common In Greece’s Whales (AP)

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)

Read more …

 

 

 

 

May 062019
 


James Ensor The intrigue 1890

 

The Fight to Defend the Conscience of America (Hayase)
Bolton and Pompeo, Rachel Maddow’s Latest Resistance Heroes (ZH)
Trump Says Mueller Should Not Testify Before Congress (Ind.)
The Big Lie That Barr Lied (McCarthy)
Trump Says 10% China Tariff Rising To 25% On Friday (ZH)
US, Russia Butt Heads Over Venezuela (AFP)
US Deploying Carrier, Bombers To Middle East To ‘Deter Iran’ (R.)
US May Review Ties With Countries Deemed Anti-israel (R.)
Engineers Say Boeing Pushed To Limit 737 MAX Safety Testing (ST)
Boeing Knew Of 737 MAX Safety System Glitch Year Before Deadly Crash (AFP)
Bernie Sanders Says Obama’s Presidency An “A+” Compared To Trump (Hill)
Bernie Sanders Calls For Breaking Up Big Agriculture Monopolies (AP)
Climate Change and the Nobel Prize in Economics (Steve Keen)
The End of Ice (IC)

 

 

“..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.”

The Fight to Defend the Conscience of America (Hayase)

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.

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Someone find a toilet to flush that woman through.

Bolton and Pompeo, Rachel Maddow’s Latest Resistance Heroes (ZH)

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.”

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He’s just trolling them now: “No redos for the Dems!”

Trump Says Mueller Should Not Testify Before Congress (Ind.)

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.

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“Barr has known Mueller for nearly 30 years..”

It’s Mueller’s team, not the man himself, who have added the “confusion”.

Still wondering at what point the Dems are really going to turn against Mueller.

The Big Lie That Barr Lied (McCarthy)

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.

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Xi can’t afford to lose face.

Trump Says 10% China Tariff Rising To 25% On Friday (ZH)

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.”

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Pompeo and Lavrov meet this week. The latter is the far superior diplomat.

US, Russia Butt Heads Over Venezuela (AFP)

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.

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So after that complete failure in Venezuela, they turn against a country they could never defeat even in the best of times. Putin and Xi will tell them all about it.

US Deploying Carrier, Bombers To Middle East To ‘Deter Iran’ (R.)

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.

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And here’s why there’s that new Iran threat.

US May Review Ties With Countries Deemed Anti-israel (R.)

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.”

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This is not a little business dispute. 346 lives were lost because of this.

Engineers Say Boeing Pushed To Limit 737 MAX Safety Testing (ST)

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.”

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They knew, and still a plane crashed. Then they really knew. But they still let another plane crash. Time to go after these people personally.

Boeing Knew Of 737 MAX Safety System Glitch Year Before Deadly Crash (AFP)

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.

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Bye bye Bernie, we hardly knew ya.

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.”

Bernie Sanders Says Obama’s Presidency An “A+” Compared To Trump (Hill)

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.

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After the arms industry, Big Ag is the biggest power block.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Breaking Up Big Agriculture Monopolies (AP)

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.

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Don’t think my friend Steve used to talk much about the topic, though a bit more recently, but this is a good find.

Nordhaus got the Fauxbel BECAUSE of his climate change work, and it’s a complete shambles. Who, me, surprised?

Climate Change and the Nobel Prize in Economics (Steve Keen)

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.

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So you got this former war reporter saying:

“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.

The End of Ice (IC)

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.

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Jul 292018
 


Pablo Picasso The old guitarist 1903-4

 

What the GDP Report Won’t Tell You About the Economy (DDMB)
Julian Assange Looks For Deal To End ‘Diplomatic Isolation’ (CNN)
In Refusing To Defend Assange, Mainstream Media Exposes Its True Nature (CJ)
Round the Bend (Jim Kunstler)
David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Led Directly To The Brexit Vote (Ind.)
An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: ‘No Bernie, It Wasn’t the Russians’ (MPN)
Putin Calls Christianity Foundation Of Russian State (AP)
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Star)
Nature’s Darkness-Creature Has Become Ours, Too (G.)
Migrant Arrivals Push Shelters To Breaking Point In Southern Spain (El Pais)
Number Of Fatalities In Greek Wildfires Rises To 88 (K.)

 

 

GDP may look strong, but sentiments are crumbling.

What the GDP Report Won’t Tell You About the Economy (DDMB)

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.

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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 Looks For Deal To End ‘Diplomatic Isolation’ (CNN)

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 [2016], 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.

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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.

In Refusing To Defend Assange, Mainstream Media Exposes Its True Nature (CJ)

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.

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The state of the media is something to behold. Can it slide even further? You bet.

Round the Bend (Jim Kunstler)

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.

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Austerity leads to right wing support everywhere.

David Cameron’s Welfare Cuts Led Directly To The Brexit Vote (Ind.)

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.

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What is Bernie thinking?

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: ‘No Bernie, It Wasn’t the Russians’ (MPN)

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.

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This one’s for you, bible belt.

Putin Calls Christianity Foundation Of Russian State (AP)

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.

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Book review. Hope the book itself is better. What social media do to people’s brains and social lives is far more relevant.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Star)

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.

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Wonderful tale. But given the demise of insect numbers, bats must be under severe threat.

Nature’s Darkness-Creature Has Become Ours, Too (G.)

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.

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And so the issue keeps shifting. But it doesn’t get resolved.

Migrant Arrivals Push Shelters To Breaking Point In Southern Spain (El Pais)

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.

IN NUMBERS
• 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.

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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.

Number Of Fatalities In Greek Wildfires Rises To 88 (K.)

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.”

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Jan 152018
 
 January 15, 2018  Posted by at 10:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Elliott Erwitt Jack Kerouac 1953

 

Nearly 40% May Default On Their Student Loans By 2023 (Brookings)
3 Years After Currency Shock, Swiss Central Bank Can’t Get Back To Normal (R.)
China Vows to Toughen Rules on $38 Trillion Banking Industry
Bitcoin Not Even In Top 10 Of Crypto World’s Best Performers (AFP)
UK’s Carillion Files for Liquidation After Failing to Get Bailout (BBG)
London Housing Woe Endures as Prices Drop to 2 1/2-Year Low (BBG)
Let’s Wrench Power Back From The Billionaires (Bernie Sanders)
Trust in News Media Takes a Hit During Trump Presidency (AP)
Outgoing EWG Chief Says Greece May Get Debt Relief With Conditions Attached (K.)
Berlin Worried EU Reform Will Boost Immigration Influx (DS)
A New Refugee Flow To Europe: Turkish Refugees (AM)
Why We’re Losing the War on Plastic (BBG)

 

 

The reality of -personal- debt.

Nearly 40% May Default On Their Student Loans By 2023 (Brookings)

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.

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The reality of central banking.

3 Years After Currency Shock, Swiss Central Bank Can’t Get Back To Normal (R.)

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.

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The reality of Chinese borrowing.

China Vows to Toughen Rules on $38 Trillion Banking Industry

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.

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There’s no such thing as the reality of crypto.

Bitcoin Not Even In Top 10 Of Crypto World’s Best Performers (AFP)

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.

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After having been given numerous gov’t contracts just to stay alive. Biy, that country is sick.

UK’s Carillion Files for Liquidation After Failing to Get Bailout (BBG)

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.

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Timber!

London Housing Woe Endures as Prices Drop to 2 1/2-Year Low (BBG)

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.

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Now find the language that the people respond to.

Let’s Wrench Power Back From The Billionaires (Bernie Sanders)

[..] 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.

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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.

Trust in News Media Takes a Hit During Trump Presidency (AP)

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.

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Greece will be monitored till 2060. I’m going to bet that’s not going to happen.

Outgoing EWG Chief Says Greece May Get Debt Relief With Conditions Attached (K.)

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.

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Unlimited?

Berlin Worried EU Reform Will Boost Immigration Influx (DS)

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.

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It only gets messier.

A New Refugee Flow To Europe: Turkish Refugees (AM)

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.”

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Nope, there is no war on plastic. So we can’t be losing it either.

Why We’re Losing the War on Plastic (BBG)

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.

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Sep 162017
 
 September 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Garcon à la Pipe 1905

 

To Hell In A Bucket: America Is Going Broke At Mach 30 (Gordon)
Down $20 Billion, Boeing Stuffs Pension Fund With Its Own Shares (BBG)
Toys ‘R’ Us Mulls Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing (R.)
Bitcoin Needs To Be Worth $1,000,000 To Be A Legitimate Currency (MW)
Hillary Happened (Jeffrey St. Clair)
Trump And The Democrats: What’s Next: A Deal With Bernie? (Salon)
The OODA Loop Of Trump’s Insurgency Has Been Smashed (GG)
A Flaw In US Foreign Policy That No One Wants To Talk About (TAM)
This Isn’t Your Great-Grandad’s America (Jim Kunstler)
Police In Catalonia Hunt For Hidden Ballot Boxes In Bid To Foil Referendum (R.)
Spanish State Poised To Seize Catalan Finances (BBC)
New York City Is Within Hurricane Jose’s 5-Day “Cone Of Uncertainty” (ZH)

 

 

$34,880 of new debt per second..

To Hell In A Bucket: America Is Going Broke At Mach 30 (Gordon)

“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!

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I’m sure it’s entirely legal.

Down $20 Billion, Boeing Stuffs Pension Fund With Its Own Shares (BBG)

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.

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“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.”

Toys ‘R’ Us Mulls Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing (R.)

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.

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Interesting take.

Bitcoin Needs To Be Worth $1,000,000 To Be A Legitimate Currency (MW)

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

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“After 25 years of writing about her, my very last words on Hillary Clinton. Please shoot me if I violate this pledge..” Me too, this is it.

Hillary Happened (Jeffrey St. Clair)

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?

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“..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..”

Trump And The Democrats: What’s Next: A Deal With Bernie? (Salon)

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.

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OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act).

The OODA Loop Of Trump’s Insurgency Has Been Smashed (GG)

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).

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Making things ‘personal’ works for a narrative. In practice, though, not so much.

A Flaw In US Foreign Policy That No One Wants To Talk About (TAM)

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.

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Congress has left a lot of things alone that are their responsibility

This Isn’t Your Great-Grandad’s America (Jim Kunstler)

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.

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Where are the defenders of democracy? Where’s the EU?

Police In Catalonia Hunt For Hidden Ballot Boxes In Bid To Foil Referendum (R.)

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.”

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Then again, this fits in quite well with how Brussels treats democracy, votes, referendums.

Spanish State Poised To Seize Catalan Finances (BBC)

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.

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Someone posted a similar cone for José on Twitter about ten days ago. The idea is not new.

New York City Is Within Hurricane Jose’s 5-Day “Cone Of Uncertainty” (ZH)

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.

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