Oct 112019
 
 October 11, 2019  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Balthus Girl at a window 1957

 

How the Crybabies on Wall Street Try to Force the Fed into QE-4 (WS)
After Unveiling ‘NotQE’, Fed Eases Liquidity Rules For Foreign Banks (ZH)
America’s Political Implosion (SCF)
Dems Weigh Knee-Capping A Republican Impeachment Criticism (Pol.)
US House Republicans To Seek Sanctions On Turkey Over Kurd Offensive (R.)
Syrian Kurdish Leaders Urge EU To Pull Envoys Over Turkey Offensive (RT)
Explosions Rock Iranian Tanker Near Saudi Port City Of Jeddah (RT)
GM’s Third-Quarter China Vehicle Sales Down 17.5% (R.)
What Jeff Bezos Wants (Atl.)
Facebook Paid Just £28m Tax On Record £1.6bn Earnings In UK (G.)

 

 

2 stories I couldn’t find decent pieces on: new hopes for a Brexit deal, and Giuliani’s ‘associates’ arrested. I was wondering why they were labeled his ‘associates’, but all I could find is they were ’associated’ with him. Right. Now, I always found Rudy a weird character, but these stories simply become part of the entire load of anti-Trump tales we’re doused in every day. It becomes impossible to judge what is real or not.

Meanwhile, while you weren’t looking, the Fed is busy saving Wall Street again. Got to rescue them bonuses.

How the Crybabies on Wall Street Try to Force the Fed into QE-4 (WS)

Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s explanation on Tuesday and the FOMC minutes released yesterday were a bitter disappointment for the Crybabies on Wall Street – the broker-dealers and banks: They’d expected a massive bout of QE, and perhaps some of the players had gleefully contributed to, or even instigated the turmoil in the repo market to make sure they would get that massive bout of QE as the Fed would be forced to calm the waters with QE, the theory went. This QE would include big purchases of long-term securities to push down long-term yields, and drive up the prices of those bonds these Crybabies are holding or have bet on with derivatives.


This is particularly crucial to the “primary dealers” – the 24 US and foreign broker-dealers and banks that are authorized to deal directly with the US Treasury and the New York Fed. They’ve been hoarding Treasury securities with longer maturities. As of October 2, according to the most recent data from the New York Fed, they hoarded $161 billion, double the $81 billion a year ago – though that has come down from the peak in July of $219 billion. Note the top two lines (black): Less than two-year maturities amounting to $74 billion; and 11-year and over maturities amounting to $37 billion. Not included on this chart are the primary dealers’ holdings of Treasury bills, TIPS, Agency securities, and Floating Rate Notes.

Primary dealers are funding their hoard in the repo market. These funding needs were putting pressures on the repo market, the Fed already said in its minutes for the July meeting, before repo rates totally blew out in mid-September. But primary dealers could have sold a large part of those securities, if they’d wanted to. Prices were high and yields were low, a sign that there was heavy demand. But the dealers were holding out for even higher prices and even lower yields. And any heavy selling could have pushed up those yields and steepened the yield curve, very unpalatable for folks clamoring for rate cuts. So these dealers are sitting on a pile of Treasury notes and bonds whose prices they want to rise, and therefore their yields would have to fall. Massive QE, where the Fed buys these types of Treasury securities, would accomplish that.

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Why would the banks not risk going broke? They’ll be saved no matter what.

After Unveiling ‘NotQE’, Fed Eases Liquidity Rules For Foreign Banks (ZH)

Having cracked down on Deutsche Bank in the past, The Fed appears to be playing good-regulator/bad-regulator as The FT reports that Deutsche is expected to benefit most from an imminent change in The Fed’s liquidity rules. Specifically, US banking regulators have dropped an idea to subject local branches of foreign banks to tough new liquidity rules (forcing US branches of foreign banks to hold a minimum level of liquid assets to protect them from a cash crunch). As The FT further details, people familiar with his thinking say Randal Quarles, the vice-chair for banking supervision at the Fed, accepts the banks’ argument that any liquidity rules on bank branches should only be imposed in conjunction with foreign regulators.

“Without some international agreement, we could have the situation where each country is trying to grab whatever isn’t nailed down if there is another scare.” And Deutsche Bank benefits most (or rescued from major liquidity needs) since it has by far the largest assets in US branches… Why would The Fed do this? Simple, it cannot afford another Lehman-like move (or even the fear of one)…

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The whole enchilada is under threat. Time to leave the partisan trenches.

America’s Political Implosion (SCF)

The polarization in American politics has become so extreme there seems no longer to be any center ground. The political establishment is consequently imploding into an abyss of its own making. President Trump is being driven into an impeachment process by Democrats and their media supporters who accuse him of being “unpatriotic” and a danger to national security. Trump and Republicans hit back at Democrats and the “deep state” whom they condemn for conspiring to overthrow the presidency in a coup dressed up as “impeachment”. The White House is being subpoenaed, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives wants to access transcripts to all of Trump’s phone calls to foreign leaders; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blasted congressmen for “harassing the State Department” in their search of evidence to indict Trump.

Trump calls the impeachment bid a “witch-hunt”. Republican Representatives protest that the US is facing a dark day of constitutional crisis, whereby opposing Democratic party leaders are abusing their office by accusing Trump of “high crimes” without ever presenting evidence. It’s an Alice in Wonderland scenario writ large, where the gravest verdict is being cast before evidence is presented, never mind proven; the president is guilty until proven innocent. Trump, in his turn, has berated senior Democrat Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, for “treason” – a capital offense. Are federal police obliged to arrest him? Schiff is accused of colluding with a supposed CIA whistleblower in concocting the complaint that Trump tried to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.


There seems no end to this political civil war in the US. The American political class is literally tearing itself apart, destroying its ability to govern with any normal function. So-called liberal media outlets, in lockstep with the Democrats, inculpate Trump for wrongdoing, while they staunchly assert that credible reports of Joe Biden abusing his former vice presidential office to enrich his son over Ukraine gas business are false. Many Americans don’t see it that way. They see Biden as being up to his neck in past corruption; they also see a flagrant double-standard of the establishment protecting Biden from investigation while hounding Trump at every possible opportunity, even when evidence against Trump is scant.

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Curious way to phrase holding a simple vote.

Dems Weigh Knee-Capping A Republican Impeachment Criticism (Pol.)

House Democrats are grappling with whether to take more steps to formalize their impeachment inquiry and silence a chief Republican criticism of their efforts, with competing factions beginning to emerge. President Donald Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill have hammered Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not holding a vote authorizing the House’s impeachment proceedings — arguing that without a vote, the entire process is illegitimate. Pelosi has refused to cave, dismissing Trump’s demand last week and insisting it is not required under the Constitution or House rules. And allies close to the speaker say her position hasn’t changed, describing the idea as the latest “Republican canard” in a series of stall tactics the GOP will employ to protect Trump.

“It is one act after another of obstruction of justice by the White House, by the State Department, and by the attorney general. And I say, give them more rope to hang themselves,” Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), who flipped his conservative Orange County district in 2018, said in an interview. Yet some Democratic lawmakers and aides have begun to say privately — and, to a lesser extent, publicly — that the House should just vote to formalize the inquiry, robbing the GOP of its main talking point. The debate is threatening to cleave Democrats’ unified front as the White House makes the arcane procedural arguments the centerpiece of its impeachment defense. “If Nancy asked me, I would say sure, let’s have a vote. Everybody’s on record, so they’re not going to vote any differently. What’s the danger in having a vote to formalize it?” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), an early impeachment backer.


But the suggestion has provoked strong objections from some of their colleagues who say they would be abdicating their authority if lawmakers permit other branches of government to dictate their procedures. “If we allow that to happen, Congress would be completely dysfunctional,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) said at a recent town hall event in Glen Ellyn, Ill. “If we have to take a complete show vote, we’ll get the vote. But I find it offensive that they are basically telling us how to do our job with a misreading of the Constitution. Read the freakin’ Constitution. And then let’s honor our oath to it.”

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Will the Democrats support this?

US House Republicans To Seek Sanctions On Turkey Over Kurd Offensive (R.)

Twenty-nine of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Thursday they would introduce legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey, underscoring lawmakers unhappiness about its assault on Kurdish forces in Syria. A day after Republicans and Democrats announced similar legislation in the Senate, the lawmakers – including Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican Whip Steve Scalise and other party leaders – said they wanted a strong response to Ankara’s aggression. “President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and his regime must face serious consequences for mercilessly attacking our Kurdish allies in northern Syria,” Republican Representative Liz Cheney, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, said in a statement.


It was not immediately clear how the legislation would fare in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats. On Sunday, Trump abruptly shifted policy and said he was withdrawing U.S. forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an assault across the border. Turkey began the offensive quickly, pounding Kurdish militias, who recently were fighting alongside U.S. forces against Islamic State militants, on Wednesday and Thursday, killing dozens and forcing many thousands of people to flee.

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Erdogan has threatend to release 3.6 million refugees into Europe, so don’t hold your breath for this one.

Syrian Kurdish Leaders Urge EU To Pull Envoys Over Turkey Offensive (RT)

Kurdish leaders have called on European countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Turkey in protest at Ankara’s military operation against their forces in northern Syria. A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) – the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – traveled to Brussels on Thursday to urge the EU to take concrete measures to punish Turkey, AFP reports. “We want an urgent intervention on this crisis, and these attacks should be stopped quickly. Air space should be closed for Turkish flights so that air attacks can be stopped,” senior SDC figure Ilham Ahmed said in Brussels. “All European states should freeze their relations by withdrawing their ambassadors from Turkey immediately.” The EU has urged Turkey to halt the assault but has not taken any action. The bloc’s foreign ministers will discuss the crisis at a regular meeting on Monday.

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Oh, lovely.

Explosions Rock Iranian Tanker Near Saudi Port City Of Jeddah (RT)

A tanker belonging to Iran’s government-owned oil corporation has been hit by two missiles and caught fire in the Red Sea, 60 miles from Saudi shores. The incident is being treated as a terrorist attack, local media says.
The tanker Sinopa, operated by the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), was sailing through the Red Sea when the explosion occurred. The blast was powerful enough to damage two of its reservoirs, leading to an oil spill in the area. Local media cited unnamed Iranian “technical experts” who believe that the incident could have been caused by a “terrorist attack,” but didn’t provide any evidence to back the claim.


The tanker’s crew wasn’t hurt in the incident, which took place near Jeddah, the largest port in the Red Sea and maritime gateway to Saudi Arabia. NIOC, which once ranked second after Saudi Aramco in terms of crude oil extraction, told state-run IRNA news agency that the vessel was hit by what appears to be two missiles. That report did not expand on where the attack came from.

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Small is beautiful.

GM’s Third-Quarter China Vehicle Sales Down 17.5% (R.)

General Motors Co’s July to September vehicle sales in China fell 17.5%, as the U.S. automaker was hurt by a slowing economy amid the Sino-U.S. trade war and by heightened competition in its key mid-priced SUV segment. GM delivered 689,531 vehicles in China in the third quarter this year, according to a company statement. The drop for the quarter ended September 30 marks the fifth straight quarterly sales decline for GM in China, the world’s biggest auto market. It delivered 2.26 million vehicles in the first nine months this year, according to Reuters calculation.


As GM and Ford Motor Co’s China sales extend declines, U.S. car companies’ share of total China passenger vehicles sales fell to 9.5% in the first eight months of this year from 10.7% in the year-ago period, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). Over the same period, German car makers’ share has risen to 23.8% from 21.6% and Japanese auto makers’ to 21.7% from 18.3%.

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Wasn’t he the guy who wants to live on the moon?

What Jeff Bezos Wants (Atl.)

Where in the pantheon of American commercial titans does Jeffrey Bezos belong? Andrew Carnegie’s hearths forged the steel that became the skeleton of the railroad and the city. John D. Rockefeller refined 90 percent of American oil, which supplied the pre-electric nation with light. Bill Gates created a program that was considered a prerequisite for turning on a computer. At 55, Bezos has never dominated a major market as thoroughly as any of these forebears, and while he is presently the richest man on the planet, he has less wealth than Gates did at his zenith. Yet Rockefeller largely contented himself with oil wells, pump stations, and railcars; Gates’s fortune depended on an operating system. The scope of the empire the founder and CEO of Amazon has built is wider. Indeed, it is without precedent in the long history of American capitalism.


Today, Bezos controls nearly 40 percent of all e-commerce in the United States. More product searches are conducted on Amazon than on Google, which has allowed Bezos to build an advertising business as valuable as the entirety of IBM. One estimate has Amazon Web Services controlling almost half of the cloud-computing industry—institutions as varied as General Electric, Unilever, and even the CIA rely on its servers. Forty-two percent of paper book sales and a third of the market for streaming video are controlled by the company; Twitch, its video platform popular among gamers, attracts 15 million users a day. Add The Washington Post to this portfolio and Bezos is, at a minimum, a rival to the likes of Disney’s Bob Iger or the suits at AT&T, and arguably the most powerful man in American culture.

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“Profits on social media app surged by more than 50% to £797m in latest tax year..”

Facebook Paid Just £28m Tax On Record £1.6bn Earnings In UK (G.)

Facebook’s UK operations paid £28m in tax last year despite attracting a record £1.6bn in British sales. The social media company’s latest UK accounts show that gross income from advertisers rose almost 30% last year to £1.65bn, and pretax profits surged by more than 50% from £63m to £97m. Facebook UK said the net revenues it made from advertisers rose 50% last year to £797m, meaning 12% of its sales were converted to profits. This falls far short of the company’s overall performance – last year Facebook made $25bn (£19.7bn) of profit on total sales of $55.8bn – meaning it converted 44% of its sales into profits.


Facebook’s UK operation expanded rapidly last year with staff numbers rising by more than 50%, from 1,290 to 1,965 year on year, with a total staff wages and pension bill of £431m. The company’s UK office provides marketing services and sales and engineering support to other parts of the company. Facebook said it spent £356m on research, development and engineering in the UK last year. Last month, online retail giant Amazon came under fire for paying just £14.7m in UK corporation tax last year, despite reporting sales of £2.3bn. Earlier this month, Netflix UK’s accounts showed that the streaming giant received a €57,000 (£51,000) tax rebate from the UK government last year, despite making an estimated £700m from British subscribers bingeing on fare from The Crown to Stranger Things.

Read more …

 

A baby Grauer’s gorilla, a critically endangered species, in the forest of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2018, logging began in the protected area, threatening the habitat of the gorillas.

 

 

 

 

Feb 092019
 
 February 9, 2019  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Le pigeon aux petits pois (Pigeon with Peas) – stolen May 20 2010 1911

 

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)
Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)
UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)
Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)
US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)
The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)
Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)
Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)
Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)
US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)
Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)
Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)
Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

 

 

Almost off the news radar, Germany’s problems get serious, and drag Europe down with it.

German Industrial Production Falls Most Since 2009. New Orders Plummet (WS)

“Unexpectedly,” German industrial production fell 3.9% in December 2018 compared to December 2017, after having fallen by a revised 4.0% in November, according to German statistics agency Destatis Thursday morning. These two drops were steepest year-over-year drops since 2009. Even during the European Debt Crisis in 2011 and 2012 – it hit Germany’s industry hard as many European countries weaved in and out of a recession, with some countries sinking into a depression — German industrial production never fell as fast on a year-over-year basis as in November and December:

The declines on a year-over-year basis were broad: Without construction, industrial production fell 3.9% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.5% in November. And just manufacturing production, which includes mining and quarrying, fell 4.0% year-over-year in December, after having fallen 4.6% in November. On a longer-term scale, the industrial production index peaked in May 2018 and has since fallen 4.6%. It is now back where it had first been in February 2017:

And industrial production is not getting a whole lot better any time soon as new orders for the manufacturing sector have plunged – according to data released by Destatis on Wednesday. New orders dropped 7.0% year-over-year in December (adjusted for calendar differences), after having fallen 3.4% in November and 3.0% in October. In fact, orders have fallen seven months in a row on a year-over year basis in ever larger drops. The chart below shows the decline in each month compared to the same month a year earlier — with a sharp deterioration at the end of the year:

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As I’ve said before, tweaking rates is sort of an instant measure, but re-purchasing $434 billion in assets takes much longer. If only because the Fed will cause a panic if they try.

Fed’s QE Unwind Reaches $434 Billion, Remains on “Autopilot” (WS)

The Fed shed $32 billion in assets in January, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended February 6, released this afternoon. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,026 billion, the lowest since January 2014. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $434 billion.

[..] the questions going forward are these: One, will the Fed continue to trim its balance sheet on “autopilot,” or will it deviate from plan and slow or stop the balance sheet reductions; Or two, will the Fed reverse course and restart QE all over again at any moment now, as the biggest Wall Street hype-mongers have prophesied; Or three, will the Fed tweak the roll-off – as a slew of Fed governors have suggested – to where it would get rid of its MBS more quickly by outright selling them; and by replacing some of them with short-term Treasury bills to lower the balance sheet’s average maturity, which currently is over eight years.

Over the next few months, the Fed will likely announce some tantalizing tidbits about how it might tweak the balance-sheet reduction. One of those tidbits will likely relate to how it will shed MBS faster and replace those additional reductions of MBS with short-term Treasury bills. The effects of this may not be what the markets had hoped for in their wildest dreams. And the Fed will likely dole out more clues about how much further it wants to cut its balance sheet. But all this will take months, and until those tweaks are nailed down and announced, the balance sheet normalization will proceed on autopilot at its by now customary glacial pace.

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Dreams of empire. France does the exact same thing.

UK Forcing Poor Nations Into Risky Post-Brexit Trade Deals (Ind.)

Some of the world’s poorest countries are being forced to agree potentially damaging trade deals with the UK by government “threats” in the rush to Brexit, campaigners say. Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, is accused of piling pressure on developing nations to “sign up blind” – without knowing the value of the deals – with a warning they will otherwise be lost. Just three of the 40 agreements the UK enjoys through EU membership, covering 71 countries, have been successfully “rolled over” – as the government promised – with Brexit day just seven weeks away. Now the Department for International Trade is under fire for telling the countries concerned they risk punishing tariffs on crucial exports to the UK, unless they re-sign the deals in time.

Among them are Ghana, which relies on banana sales, Mauritius (tuna), Kenya (flowers), Cote d’Ivoire (cocoa), Namibia (grapes and beef), Swaziland (sugar), and scores of other developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. And, says the fair trade charity Traidcraft Exchange, they risk a legal challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) under an extraordinary plan to treat EU parts as originating from the UK. “The continuity agreements are being rushed because of the threat of no deal. Countries are being asked to sign up blind,” said Liz May, the charity’s head of policy.

“Without the full picture of how the EU and UK will trade in the future, it is impossible for countries to judge what these deals are really worth, how they will work in practice or even how some elements will be enforced. “Instead of acknowledging this difficulty, the government is relying on developing countries being compelled to sign up at the last minute, rather than risk high tariffs being slapped on their key exports. “This type of bad-faith negotiating – using implicit threats to get countries ‘over the line’ – is not a great way to start the UK’s independent trade policy.”

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“I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show..”

The Senate will vote on Barr next week anyway, so why the showboating carnival?

Acting AG Whitaker Says He Has Not Meddled In Russia Inquiry (AP)

The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious congressional hearing in his waning days on the job. The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist, and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Democrats confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings, and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said congressman Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted: “Mr Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.” Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller invesetigation as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management”.

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.” Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller’s inquiry into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general. “I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that’s what this is becoming. It’s becoming a show,” said the Republican congressman Doug Collins ,of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of “character assassination”.

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The US food crisis is exclusively caused by Big Ag and Monsanto. Farmers depending on China is not in their interest.

US Faces A Catastrophic Food Supply Crisis, As Farmers Struggle (SHTF)

American farmers are battling several issues when it comes to producing our food. Regulated low prices, tariffs, and the inability to export have all cut into the salaries of farmers. They are officially in crisis mode, just like the United States’ food supply. “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.” Average farm income has fallen to near 15-year lows under president Donald Trump’s policies, and in some areas of the country, farm bankruptcies are soaring. And with slightly higher interest rates, many don’t see borrowing more money as an option.

“A lot of farmers are going to give the president the benefit of the doubt, and have to date. But the longer the trade war goes on, the more that dynamic changes,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, according to Politico. With no end to the disastrous trade war in sight, many farmers have traveled to Washington to share their plights with the president himself hoping that he’ll end the trade war that’s exacerbating an already precarious food crisis. Farmers make up a fairly large chunk of president Trump’s base, and an unwillingness to put food production in the United States first could be detrimental for Trump reelection chances in 2020. It could also be the beginning of a catastrophic food shortage.

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“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy.”

The State of the American Debt Slaves, Q4 2018 (WS)

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it: Propping up the massive US economy. And consumers are doing it, but in a somewhat lackadaisical manner when it comes to spending money they don’t have. Consumer debt – more enticingly, “consumer credit” similar to “extra credit” – rose 4.7% in the fourth quarter 2018 compared to the fourth quarter last year. In the year 2018, Americans added $179 billion to their balances on their credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. Every dime was spent and added to GDP. It amounted to nearly 1% of GDP. If GDP grew 3.1% in 2018, just under one third of the growth was generated by that additional consumer debt.

Without this additional consumer borrowing, if consumers had just maintained their debt levels, GDP growth might only have been 2.2% in 2018, instead of 3.1%. So, a huge round of applause is due our debt slaves that now owe over $4 trillion for the first time ever, according to the Federal Reserve Thursday afternoon. Consumer debt includes auto loans, student loans, credit-card debt, and personal loans, but it excludes housing related debt, such as mortgages and HELOCs. The $4.01 trillion in consumer debt is up 52% from the peak early in the Financial Crisis in Q3 2008. This is not adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index rose 16% and nominal GDP rose 39%. Thus, Americans are sticking to their time-honored plan of out-borrowing both inflation (by a big margin) and economic growth.

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Summary: Trump accused of using the same FBI that spies on him, to spy on Bezos, who’s in bed with the FBI.

I may have temporarily lost the thread, and the logic.

Bezos, Amazon And Privacy (Greenwald)

On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photographs of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct. [..] Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort).

If Bezos were the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic. That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.” “Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

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The core of the Venezuela crisis: “Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South..”

Leaked Wikileaks Doc Reveals US Military Use of IMF, World Bank (MPN)

In a leaked military manual on “unconventional warfare” recently highlighted by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Army states that major global financial institutions — such as the World Bank, IMF, and the OECD — are used as unconventional, financial “weapons in times of conflict up to and including large-scale general war,” as well as in leveraging “the policies and cooperation of state governments.” The document, officially titled “Field Manual (FM) 3-05.130, Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare” and originally written in September 2008, was recently highlighted by WikiLeaks on Twitter in light of recent events in Venezuela as well as the years-long, U.S.-led economic siege of that country through sanctions and other means of economic warfare. Though the document has generated new interest in recent days, it had originally been released by WikiLeaks in December 2008 and has been described as the military’s “regime change handbook.”

WikiLeaks’ recent tweets on the subject drew attention to a single section of the 248-page-long document, titled “Financial Instrument of U.S. National Power and Unconventional Warfare.” This section in particular notes that the U.S. government applies “unilateral and indirect financial power through persuasive influence to international and domestic financial institutions regarding availability and terms of loans, grants, or other financial assistance to foreign state and nonstate actors,” and specifically names the World Bank, IMF and the OECD, as well as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), as “U.S. diplomatic-financial venues to accomplish” such goals.

[..] Given the close relationship between the U.S. government and these international financial institutions, it should come as little surprise that – in Venezuela – the U.S.-backed “interim president” Juan Guaidó – has already requested IMF funds, and thus IMF-controlled debt, to fund his parallel government. This is highly significant because it shows that top among Guaidó’s objectives, in addition to privatizing Venezuela’s massive oil reserves, is to again shackle the country to the U.S.-controlled debt machine. As the Grayzone Project recently noted: Venezuela’s previous elected socialist president, Hugo Chávez, broke ties with the IMF and World Bank, which he noted were “dominated by US imperialism.” Instead Venezuela and other left-wing governments in Latin America worked together to co-found the Bank of the South, as a counterbalance to the IMF and World Bank.”

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So many millions of victims nobody tries to count anymore.

Venezuela: The US’s 68th Regime Change Disaster (AntiWar)

In his masterpiece, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, William Blum, who died in December 2018, wrote chapter-length accounts of 55 US regime change operations against countries around the world, from China (1945-1960s) to Haiti (1986-1994). Noam Chomsky’s blurb on the back of the latest edition says simply, “Far and away the best book on the topic.” We agree. If you have not read it, please do. It will give you a clearer context for what is happening in Venezuela today, and a better understanding of the world you are living in. Since Killing Hope was published in 1995, the US has conducted at least 13 more regime change operations, several of which are still active: Yugoslavia; Afghanistan; Iraq; the 3rd US invasion of Haiti since WWII; Somalia; Honduras; Libya; Syria; Ukraine; Yemen; Iran; Nicaragua; and now Venezuela.

William Blum noted that the US generally prefers what its planners call “low intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. Only in periods of supreme overconfidence has it launched its most devastating and disastrous wars, from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. After its war of mass destruction in Iraq, the US reverted to “low intensity conflict” under Obama’s doctrine of covert and proxy war. Obama conducted even heavier bombing than Bush II, and deployed US special operations forces to 150 countries all over the world, but he made sure that nearly all the bleeding and dying was done by Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Libyans, Ukrainians, Yemenis and others, not by Americans. What US planners mean by “low intensity conflict” is that it is less intense for Americans.

[..] While Venezuelans face poverty, preventable diseases, malnutrition and open threats of war by US officials, those same US officials and their corporate sponsors are looking at an almost irresistible gold mine if they can bring Venezuela to its knees: a fire sale of its oil industry to foreign oil companies and the privatization of many other sectors of its economy, from hydroelectric power plants to iron, aluminum and, yes, actual gold mines. This is not speculation. It is what the US’s new puppet, Juan Guaido, has reportedly promised his American backers if they can overthrow Venezuela’s elected government and install him in the presidential palace.

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“..a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks..”

US In Direct Contact With Venezuelan Military, Urging Defections (R.)

The US is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela’s military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him, a senior White House official said. The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro’s side, the official told Reuters, despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries. “We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.”

With the Venezuelan military still apparently loyal to Maduro, a source in Washington close to the opposition expressed doubts whether the Trump administration has laid enough groundwork to spur a wider mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking. Members of the South American country’s security forces fear they or their families could be targeted by Maduro if they defect, so the U.S. would need to offer them something that could outweigh those concerns, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington. “It depends on what they’re offering,” Farnsworth said. “Are there incentives built into these contacts that will at least cause people to question their loyalty to the regime?”

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A horse felled Troy.

Venezuela’s Maduro Spurns US Aid, Rival Warns Military Not To Block It (R.)

Venezuela’s government on Friday said the United States should distribute humanitarian aid in Colombia where it is being stockpiled, while the opposition warned that blocking much-needed food and medicine could constitute crimes against humanity. A day after the aid convoy arrived in the border city of Cucuta, President Nicolas Maduro ridiculed the United States for offering small amounts of assistance while maintaining sanctions that block some $10 billion of offshore assets and revenue. Rival Juan Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, warned military officers against blocking the arrival of aid amid spiraling disease and malnutrition brought on by a hyperinflationary collapse.

“Take all that humanitarian aid and give it to the people of Cucuta, where there is a lot of need,” Maduro said in a news conference. “This is a macabre game, you see? They squeeze us by the neck and then make us beg for crumbs.” “They offer us toilet paper, like (U.S. President) Donald Trump threw at the people of Puerto Rico,” he said at the conference, which experienced technical difficulties including a blackout and a microphone failure. He was referring to Trump’s improvised 2018 aid distribution in the U.S. territory following a hurricane, during which he threw rolls of paper towels.

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“Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes.”

Dreams Die Hard (Kunstler)

America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying. For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

• Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
• Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
• Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
• Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
• Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder. A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”

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100 million sharks are killed globally each year.

We need to protect, and love, life in all its glory and beauty, because we are life. But we don’t see what connects us to all that we kill, we think we’re some separate entity.

There is no more flagrant failure in our education systems than this: they don’t teach us who we are.

Wiped Out Before Our Eyes’ Hawaii Proposes Ban On Shark Killings (G.)

Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing. Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States. “These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill. Last month, a photo of Ramsey swimming with a 6-metre (20ft) great white shark off the coast of Oahu went viral.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

Along with killing the animals, capturing or harming them would also incur fines and count as a misdemeanor offense. Sharks, Ramsey said, are deeply misunderstood. Their presence in the ocean is unlike any other animal’s, she noted. “Everything else in the ocean swims away from you, but you can have these incredible interactions with sharks because they’re apex predators and they’re not afraid of you.” The threats to Hawaii’s sharks are numerous, proponents of the bill argue. [..] shark fins can sometimes sell for as much as $500 a pound. Shark fin soup, a delicacy once favored by Chinese emperors, has become widely popular as a status symbol in modern China. As a result, nearly 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and species are disappearing.

[..] Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control. When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems.


Photograph: OneOceanDiving

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Oct 122018
 
 October 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Alfred Eisenstaedt Egyptian Fishing Boats. Suez Canal near Port Said 1935

 

According to Middle East Eye, Richard Branson, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Economist editor-In-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, New York Times, Financial Times, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshah, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and AOL founder Steve Case have all withdrawn from Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held this month in Riyadh. Branson also put a $1 billion investment plan on hold.

Also, on Wednesday, former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz said that he had suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega business zone NEOM, to which he was named on Tuesday. The Harbour Group, a Washington firm that has been advising Saudi Arabia since April 2017, ended its $80,000 a month contract on Thursday. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is still scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, but they won’t risk the damage to their reputations.

All this is due, obviously, to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a former close aquaintance of the Saud family, who moved to the US and wrote for the Washington Post (how’s Amazon’s Saudi business, Jeff Bezos?) after falling out with the House of Saud.

As the what someone actually labeled “unfolding diplomatic crisis” takes shape, there is really only one thing to say about these people and organizations: they the worst group of hypocrites ever. And their reasons to boycott the conference must be questioned.

Because before Khashoggi vanished they all apparently though it was quite okay to go feed at the Saud trough, despite the still ongoing slaughter of millions of people in the ‘war’ in Yemen. Which makes one suspect it’s not so much about their principles but about their public image.

Donald Trump said he won’t stop weapons sales to the Saudi’s because they would just buy their arms from someone else, like Russia (it would be interesting to get Putin’s view on Khashoggi). And while Trump is completely wrong here, at least he’s not hypocritical about it.

Not selling guns and tanks is by no means the most forceful action vs MBS and his dad, and not just because they can buy them elsewhere. What’s much stronger as a protest against what apparently happened to Khashoggi is to hit the Sauds where it hurts: in their wallet. That wallet is being filled by the sale of oil.

Simply stop buying their oil. Tell Shell and Exxon and BP and Total to get the hell out of the country. It’s just that to top off the hypocrisy, the best -only?- replacement for Saudi oil is Russian oil, and the US and Europe are engaged in a long drawn out smear campaign to isolate Russia from their world order.

But as long as Richard Branson flies his planes on Saudi oil, what’s the use of him boycotting a conference? Well, other than he hopes it makes him look good in the eyes of the world and feel good about himself? The carnage in Yemen has been going on for years, and all that time Branson has been silent. And was planning to get into a $1 billion investment as emaciated Yemeni babies are fed leaves.

And the idea is not to single him out, those major media organizations and the World Bank are just as bad. They all just hope that no-one will notice or speak out when they grab the Saudi money, and that when they are caught in the middle they will collect applause for making their ‘heroic’ decision not to attend a conference.

That said, it’s interesting to see the story move through the media. Is it the power of Jeff Bezos that gets it so much -and sustained- attention? Did the Saudi’s know that Turkey had their consulate bugged? Isn’t that against international law? How much Saudi oil does Turkey use? Did US intelligence know what was going to happen? Did Turkey?

Why so much more interest in this case than all the other disappearing journalists? Khashoggi is/was no Christ; he was close to the royal family for years while women and gay people and dissidents were under severe threat.

Just more hypocrisy. And if we want to end that, let’s boycott Saudi oil. Let’s use different oil, or none. And until then let’s not fall for the stage performances of all those who all of a sudden want to be seen as principled actors. That’s just about as bad as sawing a guy into pieces.

 

 

Aug 152018
 
 August 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Paul Signac Maison de Van Gogh Arles 1933

 

Two Greek Soldiers Released From Turkish Jail Return Home (K.)
Turkey Shows Damage Of Fading World Order (R.)
Turkey Hikes Tariffs On Imports Of Selected US Products (AFP)
US Household Debt Rises To $13.3 Trillion In Second Quarter (R.)
Has Bezos Become More Powerful In DC Than Trump? (VF)
Trump Criticizes Some Russia Provisions Of Defense Bill (USAT)
Tonga PM Calls On China To Write Off Pacific Debt (AFP)
“Hothouse Earth” And Neoliberal Economics (IC)
We’re In A New Age Of Obesity. How Did It Happen? (Monbiot)
More Recycling Won’t Solve Plastic Pollution (SciAm)
Glyphosate Is Here To Stay In EU – At Least For Now (Pol.eu)
Help Me, My Prince: Guernsey Resident Halts Roadworks With Ancient Plea (G.)

 

 

Here’s what interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year for accidentally stepping across the border, were released by a provincial court, and get back home on a Greek national holiday (August 15). On that same day, another court decides that an appeal for pastor Brunson is denied. Ergo, Erdogan can claim the latter’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides. That victory over Trump is worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have aylum in Greece.

Two Greek Soldiers Released From Turkish Jail Return Home (K.)

Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet early Wednesday after their unexpected release by a provincial court. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece. “This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940,” Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940. “I hope that their release … will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”

The soldiers – 2nd Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis – were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters. The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.

[..] The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey. Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.

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The world order does too much damage. Just look at the IMF.

Turkey Shows Damage Of Fading World Order (R.)

Turkey’s currency crisis was easy to predict. What is more surprising is how weak the global response has been. The old world financial order is badly missed. A big mess was almost certain to arrive in a country that continually relied on short-term loans to finance a large current account deficit. That was not the only invitation to disaster. Heavy domestic borrowing denominated in foreign currencies and high inflation added to the strains. So did a government that spurned the counsel of the foreign financiers who help keep the economy afloat. President Tayyip Erdogan was lucky to avoid serious trouble so far. Now, though, he faces a disaster. The Turkish lira has fallen 42% against the dollar since the beginning of May. It will take a miracle or an international rescue to avoid a domestic banking crisis.

Much has changed since 2009 when the government, then led by Prime Minister Erdogan, announced that it no longer needed advice from the IMF. The country would “move forward without a walking stick”. Turkey had leaned heavily on the IMF crutch over preceding decades. The country had a standby arrangement with the global lender for more than half the period between 1970 and 2009. The IMF promised support if the government kept working on economic reforms. This time, however, the IMF is still waiting for a phone call from Ankara. The Washington-based institution has the expertise and probably the money needed to stabilise the lira, but Erdogan has cast it in the role of enemy of the Turkish people.

The antipathy fits with the president’s nationalist and authoritarian agenda, but it is also part of a distressing pattern. The traditional authority figures in global financial matters are crippled. The IMF’s reputation has been damaged by what was widely perceived as its blind allegiance to the doctrines of free trade, free capital movements and free markets. Though the multilateral institution’s approach has softened under Christine Lagarde, managing director since 2011, Turkey’s intransigence suggests the IMF lacks its former moral authority.

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And the lira is gaining.

Turkey Hikes Tariffs On Imports Of Selected US Products (AFP)

Turkey is hiking tariffs on imports of certain US products in response to American sanctions on Ankara that caused the value of the lira to plunge, a decree published Wednesday said. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that the rises were ordered “within the framework of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious attacks on our economy by the US administration”. The hikes were published in Turkey’s Official Gazette in a decree signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The move comes after US President Donald Trump announced that the United States was doubling steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey, as the two NATO allies row over the detention by Turkish authorities of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

The tensions and the tariff hike by the United States have caused the Turkish lira to bleed value, fanning fears the country is on the verge of an economic crisis that could spillover into Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly described the crisis as an “economic war” that Turkey will win. The tariff increases amount to a doubling of the existing rate, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, in an apparent parallel response to Trump’s move. The decree said the move brought tariffs to 50% on imports of US rice to 140% on hard alcoholic drinks like spirits, 60% in leaf tobacco and 60% on cosmetics. The tariffs on auto imports are now up to 120% depending on the type of vehicle.

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The rising debt is linked to a ‘solid labor market’. Well, if it were all that solid (as in higher wages etc.), people wouldn’t need to get into debt.

US Household Debt Rises To $13.3 Trillion In Second Quarter (R.)

Americans’ borrowing reached $13.29 trillion in the second quarter, up $454 billion from a year ago, marking a 16th consecutive quarter of increases, a New York Federal Reserve report released on Tuesday showed. The level of U.S. consumer debt was $618 billion higher than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. It was 19.2% above a post global credit crisis low set in the second quarter of 2013, the New York Fed said. The ongoing growth in home, auto, student and credit loans has been linked with a solid labor market. The rise in indebtedness did not make it more difficult for borrowers to meet their monthly payments last quarter.

The rate on seriously delinquent loans, or those that are 90 days or more past due, was 2.3% in the second quarter, unchanged from the prior quarter. Notably, the pace of student loans turning seriously delinquent slowed to 8.6% from 8.9%, the N.Y. Fed survey showed. “While overall delinquency rates have remained stable at relatively low levels, transition rates into delinquency have fallen noticeably for student loan over the past year, reflecting an improved labor market and increased participation in various income-driven repayment plans,” Wilbert van der Klaauw, senior vice president at the New York Fed, said in a statement.

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The Big Tech mix with intelligence and military takes on scary forms.

Has Bezos Become More Powerful In DC Than Trump? (VF)

There’s a new scandal quietly unfolding in Washington. It’s far bigger than Housing Secretary Ben Carson buying a $31,000 dinette set for his office, or former EPA chief Scott Pruitt deploying an aide to hunt for a deal on a used mattress. It involves the world’s richest man, President Trump’s favorite general, and a $10 billion defense contract. And it may be a sign of how tech giants and Silicon Valley tycoons will dominate Washington for generations to come. The controversy involves a plan to move all of the Defense Department’s data—classified and unclassified—on to the cloud. The information is currently strewn across some 400 centers, and the Pentagon’s top brass believes that consolidating it into one cloud-based system, the way the CIA did in 2013, will make it more secure and accessible.

That’s why, on July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion—instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors. But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a “bigger is better” requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.

What’s more, the process of crafting JEDI bears all the hallmarks of the swamp that Trump has vowed to drain. Though there has long been talk about the Defense Department joining the cloud, the current call for bids was put together only after Defense Secretary James Mattis hired a D.C. lobbyist who had previously consulted for Amazon. The lobbyist, Sally Donnelly, served as a top advisor to Mattis while the details of JEDI were being hammered out. During her tenure, Mattis flew to Seattle to tour Amazon’s headquarters and meet with Jeff Bezos. Then, as the cloud-computing contract was being finalized, Donnelly’s former lobbying firm, SBD Advisors, was bought by an investment fund with ties to Amazon’s cloud-computing unit.

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Not enough. He should have refused to sign.

Trump Criticizes Some Russia Provisions Of Defense Bill (USAT)

At a bill signing ceremony in New York on Monday, President Donald Trump took credit for a $716 billion defense policy bill that he said would strengthen America’s military. “I am very proud to be a big, big part of it,” he said. “It was not very hard.” In a written statement hours later, Trump raised objections to 52 provisions of the law – including four of the eight provisions dealing specifically with Russia. The signing statement suggests he may not enforce provisions that he said raise constitutional concerns. As passed by Congress, the defense bill attempts to tie the president’s hands on Russia in a number of ways. It forbids him from using federal funds to recognize Russian control over Crimea and bans military cooperation with Russia until Russia pulls out of Ukraine.

It requires him to report back to Congress on steps he has taken to address Russian violations of the Open Skies Treaty, which allows reconnaissance flights over Russian territory, and the New START Treaty on nuclear weapons. Trump said those provisions undermine the president’s role “as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs.” Trump objected to a section requiring him to send to Congress a strategy to combat “malign foreign influence operations and campaigns.” That strategy, he said, is covered by executive privilege. Though presidential objections in signing statements are not uncommon, Trump’s pushback on Russia-related provisions is notable given his attempts to forge closer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin [..]

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“If we fail to pay, the Chinese may come and take our assets, which are our buildings.”

Tonga PM Calls On China To Write Off Pacific Debt (AFP)

Tonga Prime Minister Akalisi Pohiva has called for China to write-off debts owed by Pacific island countries, warning that repayments impose a huge burden on the impoverished nations. Chinese aid in the Pacific has ballooned in recent years with much of the funds coming in the form of loans from Beijing’s state-run Exim Bank. Tonga has run-up enormous debts to China, estimated at more than US$100 million by Australia’s Lowy Institute think tank, and Pohiva said his country would struggle to repay them. He said the situation was common in the Oceania region and needed to be addressed at next month’s Pacific Island Forum summit in Nauru. “We need to discuss the issue,” he told the Samoa Observer in an interview published on Tuesday.

“All the Pacific Island countries should sign this submission asking the Chinese government to forgive their debts. “To me, that is the only way we can all move forward, if we just can’t pay off our debts.” Tonga took out the Chinese loans to rebuild in the wake of deadly 2006 riots that razed the centre of the capital Nuku’alofa. Beijing has previously refused to write-off the loans by turning them into aid grants but did give Tonga an amnesty on repayments. Pohiva said China now wanted the debts repaid. “By September 2018, we anticipate to pay $14 million, which cuts away a huge part of our budget,” he said. Tonga’s ability to pay has been further dented this year by another massive rebuilding effort in Nuku’alofa, this time after a category five cyclone slammed into the capital in February.

“If we fail to pay, the Chinese may come and take our assets, which are our buildings.” “That is why the only option is to sign a submission asking the Chinese government to forgive our debts.” His comments come as Australia and New Zealand ramp up aid efforts in the Pacific to counter China’s growing presence in the region. Australia has raised fears in recent months Pacific nations’ debts to China leaves them susceptible to Beijing’s influence.

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Not sure climate scientisis talking economics will be taken seriously.

“Hothouse Earth” And Neoliberal Economics (IC)

[..] embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system. Asked what could be done to prevent a hothouse earth scenario, co-author Will Steffen told The Intercept that the “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” Instead, he suggests something “more like wartime footing” to roll out renewable energy and dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture “at very fast rates.”

That “wartime footing” Steffen describes is a novel concept in 2018, but hasn’t been throughout American history when the nation has faced other existential threats. In the lead-up to World War II, the government played a heavy hand in industry, essentially shifting the U.S. to a centrally planned economy, rather than leaving things like prices and procurement of key resources up to market forces. By the end of World War II, about a quarter of all manufacturing in the United States had been nationalized. And while governments around the world continue to intervene heavily in the private sector — including in the U.S. — those interventions tend now to be on behalf of corporations, be it through subsidies to fossil fuel companies or zoning laws that favor luxury real estate developers.

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Who are you educating? A kindergarten?

We’re In A New Age Of Obesity. How Did It Happen? (Monbiot)

The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed.

As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue. The shift has not happened by accident. As Jacques Peretti argued in his film The Men Who Made Us Fat, food companies have invested heavily in designing products that use sugar to bypass our natural appetite control mechanisms, and in packaging and promoting these products to break down what remains of our defences, including through the use of subliminal scents. They employ an army of food scientists and psychologists to trick us into eating more than we need, while their advertisers use the latest findings in neuroscience to overcome our resistance.

They hire biddable scientists and thinktanks to confuse us about the causes of obesity. Above all, just as the tobacco companies did with smoking, they promote the idea that weight is a question of “personal responsibility”. After spending billions on overriding our willpower, they blame us for failing to exercise it.

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Stop making the stuff.

More Recycling Won’t Solve Plastic Pollution (SciAm)

The real problem is that single-use plastic—the very idea of producing plastic items like grocery bags, which we use for an average of 12 minutes but can persist in the environment for half a millennium—is an incredibly reckless abuse of technology. Encouraging individuals to recycle more will never solve the problem of a massive production of single-use plastic that should have been avoided in the first place. Beginning in the 1950s, big beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, along with Phillip Morris and others, formed a non-profit called Keep America Beautiful. Its mission is/was to educate and encourage environmental stewardship in the public. Joining forces with the Ad Council (the public service announcement geniuses behind Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog), one of their first and most lasting impacts was bringing “litterbug” into the American lexicon through their marketing campaigns against thoughtless individuals.

Two decades later, their “Crying Indian” PSA, would become hugely influential for the U.S. environmental movement. In the ad, a Native American man canoes up to a highway, where a motorist tosses a bag of trash. The camera pans up to show a tear rolling down the man’s cheek. By tapping into a shared national guilt for the history of mistreatment of Native Americans and the sins of a throwaway society, the PSA became a powerful symbol to motivate behavioral change. More recently, the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful teams produced the “I Want to Be Recycled” campaign, which urges consumers to imagine the reincarnation of shampoo bottles and boxes, following the collection and processing of materials to the remolding of the next generation of products.

At face value, these efforts seem benevolent, but they obscure the real problem, which is the role that corporate polluters play in the plastic problem. This clever misdirection has led journalist and author Heather Rogers to describe Keep America Beautiful as the first corporate greenwashing front, as it has helped shift the public focus to consumer recycling behavior and actively thwarted legislation that would increase extended producer responsibility for waste management.

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EU inertia.

Glyphosate Is Here To Stay In EU – At Least For Now (Pol.eu)

Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkiller will be used in Europe for years to come, legal experts and campaigners say, despite a U.S. court ruling the company should pay $289 million in damages for causing cancer. The EU last year renewed use of the controversial weedkiller for another five years after a yearslong political debate over its safety and impact on the environment. That means Europe will have to wait until the end of 2022 at the earliest before making any attempt to ban the substance outright. Campaigners also say the mounting legal pressure Monsanto faces in the U.S. from thousands of other plaintiffs filing suits against the company is unlikely to be replicated in Europe, namely because Europe doesn’t have the same legal mechanism of a class action lawsuit as the U.S.

“I’m not very confident that the decision in the U.S. will expedite a ban in Europe as it’s a complicated legal process that takes time,” said Arnaud Apoteker, managing director of the NGO Justice Pesticides. “Countries could go back to the Commission to say that the proposal [to renew glyphosate] could be re-tabled, but this is a very lengthy process.” Apoteker has compiled all lawsuits involving pesticides into a single database and has so far only discovered two made against Monsanto in the EU. One dates back to 2007 and was filed by a farmer named Paul François, who alleged Monsanto’s Lasso herbicide caused his chronic illness and that the product was inadequately labeled. The other was filed at a court in Lyon last year by Sabine Grataloup, who accuses Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller of causing severe malformations in her 11-year-old son Théo.

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What’s not to love?

Help Me, My Prince: Guernsey Resident Halts Roadworks With Ancient Plea (G.)

A woman has activated the ancient Norman rite of Clameur de Haro to protest against the narrowing of a road which she claims would endanger pedestrians and motorists. Rosie Henderson, from Guernsey, raised the clameur by kneeling and calling for help and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Norman French. Fully enforceable in Guernsey and Jersey law, it means the construction work in St Peter Port must stop until a court decides the case. Henderson, a parish councillor, raised the clameur on Tuesday by the roads of Les Échelons and South Esplanade, near the construction site. The clameur states: “Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide, mon prince, on me fait tort”, translated as “Come to my aid, my prince, for someone does me wrong”.

Whoever calls the clameur has 24 hours to register it in court, but whoever it is called against must stop all work immediately. Legend says the raising of a clameur stretches back to the early Norman period in the Channel Islands and is thought to have been a plea to Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. The feudal law dates back to the 10th century as a form of self-policing when there was no law enforcement. In 2016, plans to overhaul St Peter Port’s sunken gardens, by levelling the site with the street and moving the war memorial, were withdrawn after protesters pledged to use the Clameur de Haro to block the proposals.

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Aug 022018
 
 August 2, 2018  Posted by at 7:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Henri Matisse Music 1910

 

People Spend Most Of Their Waking Hours Staring At Screens (MW)
Fifth of Britons Feel Stressed If They Can’t Access Internet (G.)
Jeff Bezos’s $150 Billion Fortune Is a Policy Failure (Atlantic)
Assange May Finally Leave Ecuadorian Embassy In London As Health Worsens (RT)
Trump Threatens To Raise Tariffs On Chinese Goods To 25%, Up From 10% (AFP)
German Sources Deny Brexit Deal Offer Amid Panic In Remain Campaign (G.)
German Parliament Approves Last Loan Installment To Greece (K.)
Brussels Defends Greek Debt Relief (K.)
Should The Bank Of England Raise Interest Rates? (Coppola)
Nomi Prins Exposes The Power Grab Of Central Bankers (Salon)
On The Beach (Kunstler)
Google ‘Working On Censored Search Engine’ For China (G.)
European Commission Boosts Migration Aid To Greece (K.)
95% Of World’s Lemur Population Facing Extinction (AFP)

 

 

We don’t want to know how harmful this is. Because it’s so popular. We have no answer because it’s going so fast. And our governments don’t want the answer because it’s the mightiest spy tool ever.

People Spend Most Of Their Waking Hours Staring At Screens (MW)

Swipe. Click. Binge. Repeat. Americans spend more time than ever watching videos, browsing social media and swiping their lives away on their tablets and smartphones. American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media, according to a new study by market-research group Nielsen. That’s up from nine hours, 32 minutes just four years ago. In the first quarter of the year, U.S. adults spent three hours and 48 minutes a day on computers, tablets and smartphones. This is a 13-minute increase from the previous quarter, and 62% of that time is attributed to app/web browsing on smartphones. Television still accounts for most media usage, with four hours and 46 minutes spent watching TV every day in the first quarter of this year.

[..] Media use is reaching new levels of intensity. Parents with children aged eight to 18 years of age spend over nine hours with screen media each day, according to a 2016 survey of 1,700 such parents by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based organization that examines the impact of technology and media on families. That compares to the more than 4.5 hours tweens spend on screen media on average every day and 6.5 hours spent by teenagers every day, according to a separate 2015 survey of more than 2,650 children by the same organization. Based on Nielsen’s latest report, however, the time people spend online has increased significantly, even over the last four years.

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I see so many people doing so many weird things with their phones. Walking the street, getting out of transport, cycling, all glued to these things. And it’s all just to check Facebook etc. At some point, this will turn into a full-blown crisis.

Fifth of Britons Feel Stressed If They Can’t Access Internet (G.)

The average Briton now checks a mobile phone every 12 minutes and is online for 24 hours a week, finds an Ofcom study revealing the extent to which people now rely on the internet. Ofcom also found that, for the first time, the time spent making phone calls from mobile phones fell, as users instead used messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The media regulator’s annual Communications Market Report found that a fifth of British adults felt stressed if they could not access the internet, while for the first time ever women were spending more time online than men. The report also showed the rapid growth of addiction to technology. According to Ofcom, just 12% of British adults said they never used the internet.

The total amount of time spent online by Britons has also doubled over the last 10 years, with a quarter of adults saying they spent more than 40 hours a week on the internet – a move driven by the uptake of smartphones. The internet has seeped into many aspects of our lives; two in five British adults – rising to 65% of those aged under 35 – said they looked at their phone within five minutes of waking up35. A third of adults checked their phones up until the moment they went to sleep, a figure which rose to 60% for the under-35s. The prevalence of mobile phones has also meant that attitudes to their use in public had changed. While 83% of Britons aged over 55 said they thought it unacceptable to check a phone during a meal, this figure almost halved among people aged 18-34 who were more comfortable with looking at notifications while eating with other people.

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Or is it a mentality crisis? We never shook off Greed is Good, did we?

Jeff Bezos’s $150 Billion Fortune Is a Policy Failure (Atlantic)

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, has accumulated a fortune worth $150 billion. That is the biggest nominal amount in modern history, and extraordinary any way you slice it. Bezos is the world’s lone hectobillionaire. He is worth what the average American family is, nearly two million times over. He has about 50 percent more money than Bill Gates, twice as much as Mark Zuckerberg, 50 times as much as Oprah, and perhaps 100 times as much as President Trump. (Who knows!) He has gotten $50 billion richer in less than a year. He needs to spend roughly $28 million a day just to keep from accumulating more wealth. This is a credit to Bezos’s ingenuity and his business acumen.

Amazon is a marvel that has changed everything from how we read, to how we shop, to how we structure our neighborhoods, to how our postal system works. But his fortune is also a policy failure, an indictment of a tax and transfer system and a business and regulatory environment designed to supercharging the earnings of and encouraging wealth accumulation among the few. Bezos did not just make his $150 billion. In some ways, we gave it to him, perhaps to the detriment of all of us. Bezos and Amazon are in many ways ideal exemplars of the triumph of capital over labor, like the Waltons and Walmart and Rockefeller and Standard Oil before them. That the gap between executives at top companies and employees around the country is so large is in and of itself shocking.

Bezos has argued that there is not enough philanthropic need on earth for him to spend his billions on. (The Amazon founder, unlike Gates or Zuckerberg, has given away only a tiny fraction of his fortune.) “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel,” he said this spring. “I am going to use my financial lottery winnings from Amazon to fund that.” In contrast, half of Amazon’s domestic employees make less than $28,446 a year, per the company’s legal filings. Some workers have complained of getting timed six-minute bathroom breaks. Warehouse workers need to pick goods and pack boxes at closely monitored speeds, handling up to 1,000 items and walking as many as 15 miles per shift.

Contractors have repeatedly complained of wage-and-hour violations and argued that the company retaliates against whistleblowers. An Amazon temp died on the floor just a few years ago. The impoverishment of the latter and the wealth of the former are linked by policy. Take taxes. The idea of America’s progressive income-tax system is that rich workers should pay higher tax rates than poor workers, with the top rate of 37% hitting earnings over $500,000. (The top marginal tax rate was 92% as recently as 1953.) But Bezos takes a paltry salary, in relative terms, given the number of shares he owns. That means his gains are subject to capital-gains taxes, which top out at just 20%; like Warren Buffett, it is possible he pays effective tax rates lower than his secretary does.

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His health may be worse than we know. They’d love for him to ‘voluntarily’ leave.

Assange May Finally Leave Ecuadorian Embassy In London As Health Worsens (RT)

Julian Assange, who has spent more than 2,230 days in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is expected to leave the building soon with his health deteriorating, sources say. This latest information about the WikiLeaks founder, who was already expected to leave the embassy “in the coming weeks,” was broken Wednesday by Bloomberg which cited “two people with knowledge of the matter.” The news agency reported that the whistleblower’s health “has declined recently.” The news comes days after Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno announced that Assange must “eventually” leave the embassy. “Yes, indeed yes, but his departure should come about through dialogue,” the Ecuadorian president said in answer to a reporter’s question on whether he will eventually have to leave.

“For a person to stay confined like that for so long is tantamount to a human rights violation,” Moreno said, stressing that Ecuador wants to make sure that nothing “poses a danger” to the whistleblower’s life. The whistleblower’s health is deteriorating, according to the Courage Foundation, a group that fundraises for the legal defense of whistleblowers. Assange is in “a small space” and has “no access to sunlight,” the group says, adding that this has a serious impact “on his physical and mental health.” [..] Washington simply “wants revenge” for the “embarrassment” WikiLeaks caused it, and wants it to serve “as a deterrent to others,” human rights activist Peter Tatchell told RT earlier in July. “Someone who’s published that information in the same way that the New York Times or the Guardian publish information, I don’t think they should face risk 30 or 40 years in jail in the United States,” Tatchell added.

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25% is a lot in one go.

Trump Threatens To Raise Tariffs On Chinese Goods To 25%, Up From 10% (AFP)

The United States may jack up the tariff rate on the next $200 billion in Chinese imports it plans to target as it pressures Beijing to reform its trade practices, US officials said Wednesday. President Donald Trump asked the US Trade Representative to consider increasing the proposed tariffs to 25 percent from the planned 10 percent, USTR Robert Lighthizer said. “We have been very clear about the specific changes China should undertake. Regrettably, instead of changing its harmful behavior, China has illegally retaliated against US workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

Officials however downplayed suggestions the move was intended to compensate for the recent decline in the value of the Chinese currency, which has threatened to take much of the sting out of Trump’s tariffs by making imports cheaper. The US dollar has been strengthening since April as the central bank has been raising lending rates, which draws investors looking for higher returns. “It’s important that countries refrain from devaluing currencies for competitive purposes,” a senior administration official told reporters. “But I wouldn’t draw the conclusion that the announcement we’re making today is directly linked to any one practice.”

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Brussels thinks they’ll be dealing with Boris Johnson soon. Their strategy is geared toward that,

German Sources Deny Brexit Deal Offer Amid Panic In Remain Campaign (G.)

Reports that Germany is willing to offer Theresa May a vague Brexit deal so as to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal have set alarm bells ringing in the Remain campaign in the UK and prompted denials from German sources. The Remain campaign, now called People’s Vote, is focused on calling for a second referendum on leaving the EU. It warned against what it described as a “blind Brexit”, and in a rare criticism of the European commission said the EU should not offer May a face-saving deal in which many of the major issues were deferred for negotiation during the transition after the UK has legally left the bloc.

There are concerns amongst some Remain backers that the chief EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is prepared to make the offer if it has the endorsement of Germany and France, on the basis that the majority of EU leaders fear the possibility of no-deal scenario. There is also a concern that details of the future relationship cannot be negotiated in the short time available. Until now it had been assumed that France and Germany would insist that any political declaration on future relations would include details of the planned future trading relationship after Brexit. A relatively brief declaration on future ties will not be a formal treaty, unlike the withdrawal agreement, which will give details of future UK payments, the Irish border and citizens’ rights. A vague deal on future relations is more likely to be acceptable to May’s MPs, and harder for the Labour party to oppose.

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Taxed to death. People close their businesses because taxes are higher than income. That leads to less tax revenue, so taxes must be raised again. Greece cannot recover.

German Parliament Approves Last Loan Installment To Greece (K.)

The German Parliament’s budget committee rubber-stamped on Wednesday the disbursement of the last loan installment of Greece’s adjustment program, totalling 15 billion euros. Germany had blocked the release of the last tranche in July, after the Greek government announced it would postpone the increase of value-added tax on five islands of the Aegean hit by the influx of migrants, a measure that had been agreed on with the country’s creditors. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) had approved the disbursement in principle, while it awaited German lawmakers to sign-off the deal. The revenue losses from the lower VAT amount to 28 million euros, which the Greek government will compensate by savings in the defense budget, the German Parliament’s press release said. After Wednesday’s vote, Germany can consent to the payment of the last instalment by the ESM.

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They’ll re-examine the issue in 2032. That’s minimum 14 more years of strangulation. IMF/EU is classic good cop bad cop.

Brussels Defends Greek Debt Relief (K.)

The European Commission on Wednesday defended the Greek debt relief measures that the Eurogroup decided in June, in a manner of response to the IMF, which had deemed the debt easing inadequate to render the debt sustainable in the long term. In a regular press update, Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva stressed that the IMF forecasts on Greece are permanently pessimistic and that the Fund has in the past been forced to revise them. “The European Commission, the European Stability Mechanism and the ECB have made their own assessment and we, as Europeans, are funding the program and our conclusion is that the debt relief is sufficient,” the Bulgarian official stated.

She went on to highlight the eurozone’s commitment to re-examine the Greek debt in the future should further easing measures be required: “We have also said we will examine the issue again in 2032,” Andreeva said. The IMF said in its Debt Sustainability Analysis on Tuesday that the eurozone’s optimistic scenarios on the Greek growth and primary surpluses make the debt’s long-term sustainability uncertain, particularly after 2038.

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Yeah, define ‘normal’.

Should The Bank Of England Raise Interest Rates? (Coppola)

It’s a momentous week for the Bank of England. On Thursday, August 2, 2018, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) could decide to raise interest rates by a quarter percent. This would mark the end of the post-Lehman crisis era in the UK and the start of the return to “normal.” But ten years on from Lehman, what is “normal”? The British central bank, like the Fed, is not at all sure what a “normal” level of interest rates would look like, nor how big a “normal” balance sheet should be. The consensus appears to be that the long-term neutral rate of interest is lower than pre-crisis estimates, perhaps somewhere between 2-3%, and that the Bank’s balance sheet will need to remain permanently larger than it was before the crisis.

Given that, one has to ask what the imperative is to start raising rates right now, when the U.K. is careering headlong towards a potentially disastrous no-deal Brexit. The rational reason why the MPC might start raising rates now starts with inflation. Currently, CPI inflation is running at 2.3%, slightly above the Bank’s target of 2%. It has been above 2% for over a year now – indeed in the fall of 2017 it was approaching 3%. In November, the Bank raised interest rates by 0.25%, which removed the additional rate cut imposed after the Brexit vote in 2016. But apart from that, it has so far preferred not to act to dampen inflation. Will it do so this time?

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A tiny circle of close friends.

Nomi Prins Exposes The Power Grab Of Central Bankers (Salon)

Three of the last four books that I’ve written, including this new one “Collusion,” all examine the juxtaposing of power and money. In all of them, I explore how elected leaders or those in positions of great unelected economic or political influence, use both of them to create or enforce policy. There is a time component as well, “It Takes a Pillage” examined the financial crisis and causes within the framework of a relatively tight temporal lens and I had a very short time to write it as well. “All the Presidents’ Bankers” was a much more expansive book from a historical sense, going back over a century to examine the relationships of key bankers and presidents, and the institutions with which they collaborated to fashion domestic and foreign policy.

“Collusion” is really a book about the future, though it spans the decade since the financial crisis from multiple geographical locations (traveling to which I amassed lots of air miles, and exploring which, I worked with a crack team of internal researchers). It delves into the global connectivity of a body of central banks that provide varying amounts of money to their respective local systems and by extension to the world, and examines how not all central banks are created equal.

In “Collusion,” neither the Fed, nor the U.S. has its own chapter like the other countries or regions. This is by design. The Fed acts as the global influencer, directly and indirectly, as does the U.S. through all of what I call the “pivot regions” in the book that unfold in each chapter. I wanted to show how deeply co-dependent the entire world is on the US monetary policy decisions made since the financial crisis, in various ways, that we are still finding out about. All of my books though, are ultimately, about the people behind their roles of power, and the decisions they make out of ideology, necessity, ego or fear.

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“It’s a little hard to picture old horse-face popping a third beer at the clambake..”

On The Beach (Kunstler)

If one word defines the preoccupying affairs of the USA these days it’s tiresome. The entire population seems to be enacting the old myth of Sisyphus, every, man, woman, child, swamp-creature, and non-binary child-of-God in the land, legal and undocumented, pushing that boulder uphill to the tippy top, only to have it roll back down to the bottom… repeat ad infinitum. Take Mr. Robert Mueller, for example, the sphinx-like figure looming over the political landscape with his lawyer’s attaché case full of radioactive secrets. He has already done yeoman’s service in his mission by indicting two dozen Russian Facebook trolls and Internet hackers — who will never be extradited or set foot in a US courtroom, sparing taxpayers the expense of trying them (and testing the theory of “collusion” with the current POTUS).

It’s a little hard to picture old horse-face popping a third beer at the clambake, let alone the stories he might tell around the fire (with necessary redactions). When he awakes hung over in the sand the next morning to the shrieking gulls, next to someone not-his-wife, will he be overwhelmed with regret for a year spent chasing gremlins from the Kremlin? The public appears to be good and goddamn sick of him. Even The New York Times has stopped squealing about Russia. Standing by for September histrionics….

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Good and evil. And profits.

Google ‘Working On Censored Search Engine’ For China (G.)

Google is working on a mobile search app that would block certain search terms and allow it to reenter China after exiting eight years ago due to censorship and hacking, according to US media reports. The California-based internet company has engineers designing search software that would leave out content blacklisted by the Chinese government, according to a New York Times report citing two unnamed people familiar with the effort. News website The Intercept first reported the story, saying the Chinese search app was being tailored for Google-backed Android operating system for mobile devices. The service was said to have been shown to Chinese officials. [..] The state-owned China Securities Daily, citing information from “relevant departments”, denied the report.

There was no guarantee the project would result in Google search returning to China. However, the Chinese human rights community said Google acquiescing to China’s censorship would be a “dark day for internet freedom”. “It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google’s ‘Do the right thing’ motto, and we are calling on the company to change course,” said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International. “For the world’s biggest search engine to adopt such extreme measures would be a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom. In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.”

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Always too little, always too late. By design. Brussels keeps saying: look at all the money we gave! While conditions in the camps remain abysmal.

European Commission Boosts Migration Aid To Greece (K.)

The European Commission said Wednesday that an additional 37.5 million euros in emergency assistance would be disbursed to improve reception conditions for migrants in Greece as arrivals from Turkey continue by both sea and land. In a statement, the EU’s executive branch said Greek authorities will receive 31.1 million euros to support the “provisional services” offered to migrants, including healthcare, interpretation and food, as well as to improve the infrastructure of the Fylakio reception center in Evros, northern Greece, which has seen an increase in arrivals from Turkey in recent months.

The extra funding will also go toward the creation of additional accommodation within facilities on the Greek mainland, the Commission said. It said a further 6.4 million euros has been awarded to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to improve conditions at reception conditions on the Aegean islands and mainland. Commenting on the decision, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the Commission was “doing everything in its power to support all member-states facing migratory pressures.” “Migration is a European challenge and we need a European solution, where no member-state is left alone,” he said.

“Greece has been on the frontline since 2015 and while the situation has greatly improved since the EU-Turkey statement, we continue to assist the country with the challenges it is still facing,” he added, noting that the EC’s “political, operational and financial support for Greece remains tangible and uninterrupted.”

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For Christ’s sake.

95% Of World’s Lemur Population Facing Extinction (AFP)

Ninety-five percent of the world’s lemur population is “on the brink of extinction,” making them the most endangered primates on Earth, a leading conservation group said Wednesday. The arboreal primates with pointed snouts and typically long tails are found only in Madagascar, where rainforest destruction, unregulated agriculture, logging and mining have been ruinous for lemurs, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said. “This is, without a doubt, the highest percentage of threat for any large group of mammals and for any large group of vertebrates,” Russ Mittermeier of IUCN’s species survival commission said in a statement.

Out of a total of 111 lemur species and subspecies, 105 are under threat, IUCN said, as it released its first update on the lemur population since 2012. Among the most concerning trends is an “increase in the level of hunting of lemurs taking place, including larger-scale commercial hunting,” Christoph Schwitzer, director of conservation at the Bristol Zoological Society, said in the statement. He described the hunting as “unlike anything we have seen before in Madagascar.” One of the species identified as “critically endangered” is the northern sportive lemur, of which there are thought to be only 50 individuals left, IUCN said. “Lemurs are to Madagascar what giant pandas are to China — they are the goose that laid the golden egg, attracting tourists and nature lovers,” said Jonah Ratsimbazafy of the domestic primate research group GERP.

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Nov 162017
 
 November 16, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi 1513

 

Landmark Study Links Tory Austerity To 120,000 Deaths (Ind.)
Jeremy Corbyn Will Inevitably Become UK Prime Minister – Varoufakis (BI)
Why Care More About Benefit Scroungers Than Billions Lost To The Rich? (G.)
No Evidence Of Russian Interference In Brexit, PM May Admits In Parliament (RT)
China’s Outbound Investment Plunged 41% On Year In January To October (BBG)
Senior China Minister Says Some Officials Practice Sorcery (R.)
Corruption in China Could Lead To Soviet-Style Collapse – Graft Buster (ToI)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Biggest Risks In China (ZH)
Why the Anti-Corruption Drive in Saudi Arabia is Doomed to Fail (CP)
Saudi Walks Back Escalation As Dramatic Moves Backfire (AP)
Friendly Reminder That Jeff Bezos Is Trying To Take Over The Universe (CJ)
Why Japan Knocks Down Its Houses After 30 Years (G.)
Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change (GR)
Lesvos Reaches Breaking Point, Mayor Declares General Strike (G.)
Monsanto, US Farm Groups Sue California Over Glyphosate Cancer Warnings (R.)
Plastics Found In Stomachs Of Deepest Sea Creatures (G.)

 

 

It doesn’t get much more damning than this. Nothing Monty Python about it.

Landmark Study Links Tory Austerity To 120,000 Deaths (Ind.)

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths. The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels. On this trajectory that could rise to nearly 200,000 excess deaths by the end of 2020, even with the extra funding that has been earmarked for public sector services this year. Real terms funding for health and social care fell under the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2010, and the researchers conclude this “may have produced” the substantial increase in deaths.

The paper identified that mortality rates in the UK had declined steadily from 2001 to 2010, but this reversed sharply with the death rate growing again after austerity came in. From this reversal the authors identified that 45,368 extra deaths occurred between 2010 and 2014, than would have been expected, although it stops short of calling them “avoidable”. Based on those trends it predicted the next five years – from 2015 to 2020 – would account for 152,141 deaths – 100 a day – findings which one of the authors likened to “economic murder”. The Government began relaxing austerity measures this year announcing the end of its cap on public sector pay rises and announcing an extra £1.3bn for social care in the Spring Budget. Over three years the additional funding for social care is expected to reach £2bn, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said was “patching up a small part of the damage” wrought by £4.6bn cuts.

[..] The papers’ senior author and a researcher at UCL, Dr Ben Maruthappu, said that while the paper “can’t prove cause and effect” it shows an association. And he added this trend is seen elsewhere. “When you look at Portugal and other countries that have gone through austerity measures, they have found that health care provision gets worse and health care outcomes get worse,” he told The Independent. One of his co-author’s, Professor Lawrence King of the Applied Health Research Unit at Cambridge University, said it showed the damage caused by austerity “It is now very clear that austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits – it is bad economics, but good class politics,” he said. “This study shows it is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”

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After a report like that, yes. The Tories have taken things too far.

Jeremy Corbyn Will Inevitably Become UK Prime Minister – Varoufakis (BI)

Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece and author of “Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment,” explains that Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister may be a likely scenario and that this would be beneficial for the UK economy. The following is a transcript of the video. Isn’t it astonishing that after Jeremy Corbyn was being described as “the longest suicide note by the Labour Party” about a year ago, today there is an air of inevitability in a Corbyn-led government. I think it’s a delicious irony and I’m very excited by this transition from impossibility to inevitability. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a friend of Jeremy Corbyn, a supporter, I’ve worked with his team and will continue to do so.

I believe that the re-orientation of British politics under Corbyn and in particular of the Labour Party is highly beneficial, not only to the large strata within British society that have been discarded in the last 20 to 30 years, but interestingly also for British business that produces real stuff as opposed to the City of London and various other service sectors that produce precarious jobs and nothing much of substance. British manufacturing has been left in the margins for far too long and the dearth of investment in fixed capital is something that this Conservative government has absolutely no interest in, or no concept of. A Labour, Corbyn-led government, might be what is necessary in order to create better circumstances both for labour and manufacturing capital in the United Kingdom.

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“Quite simply, people get hurt when the rich don’t pay their taxes.”

Why Care More About Benefit Scroungers Than Billions Lost To The Rich? (G.)

Will the Paradise Papers shift the public’s focus? The leaks alone are seemingly not enough. The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey was conducted just four months after the release of the Panama Papers. Even then, the British public remained more concerned about benefit claimants than tax avoiders. Fundamentally, the Paradise Papers are about numbers – vast sums of money disappearing offshore that could be spent on public services here in the UK. However, as the former chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, has often pointed out, people are bad at dealing with numbers on this scale. Unless you are an economist or a statistician, numbers in the millions and billions are just not particularly meaningful.

The key is to link these numbers to their consequences. The money we lose because people like Lewis Hamilton don’t pay some VAT on their private jet means thousands more visits to food banks. The budget cuts leading to rising homelessness might not have been necessary if Apple had paid more tax. Fewer people might have killed themselves after a work-capability assessment if companies like Alphabet (Google) had not registered their offices in Bermuda, and the downward pressure on benefits payments was not so intense. The causal chains connecting these events are complex and often opaque, but that does not make their consequences any less real, especially for those who have felt the hard edge of austerity.

The Paradise Papers have dragged the murky world of offshore finance into the spotlight. However, calls for change may founder against the British public’s persistent focus on the perceived crimes of the poor. That is, unless we – as academics, politicians, journalists and others – can articulate how the decisions of the very rich contribute to the expulsion of the vulnerable from the protection of state-funded public services. Quite simply, people get hurt when the rich don’t pay their taxes.

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Oh, cut it out.

No Evidence Of Russian Interference In Brexit, PM May Admits In Parliament (RT)

Theresa May has rejected allegations that Russia interfered in the Brexit referendum. Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, she stated: “If they care to look at the speech on Monday, they will see that the examples I gave were not in the UK.” During a speech May gave at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, the British leader accused Russia of meddling in European elections, hacking attacks on western government institutions, and spreading fake news. During the customarily confrontational Prime Minister’s Questions, May said that, in her speech, she had indeed cited “Russian interference” occurring “in a number of countries in Europe.” However, she denied that this applied in any way to her own country.

Following the session, a spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that “I think we need to see more evidence about what’s being talked about. “In relation to Russia and tensions between NATO and Russia and western powers and Russia more generally, Jeremy has made clear on a number of occasions that we need to see an attempt through dialogue to ratchet down tensions with Russia.” May was responding to a question from Labour MP Mary Creagh, who referred to an assertion by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that he had seen no evidence of Russia interfering in the Brexit referendum. Johnson made the comment during an appearance before a Commons committee hearing on November 1. Upon prompting by a senior civil servant, Johnson replied “nyet,” and added in English that there was “not a sausage” of evidence.

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Once again: China needs its foreign reserves.

China’s Outbound Investment Plunged 41% On Year In January To October (BBG)

China’s non-financial outbound investment slumped to $86.3 billion in January to October, plunging 41% from a year earlier, as projects in some industries dried up. There were no new real estate, sports or entertainment deals for the period, the Commerce Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Most outbound investment was in leasing and business services, manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales and information technology services. “Irrational” outbound investment has been curbed further, the ministry said, repeating the language it has used this year as authorities push to halt capital outflows.

That’s reversing an unbroken streak of acceleration since at least 2010: Outbound investment soared 44.1% last year to $170.1 billion, about four times the 2009 level, Mofcom data show. “The combination of hardened capital controls and a crackdown on outbound M&A has dented China’s overseas investment,” said Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg Economics in Beijing. “A short-term downturn was necessitated by the pressing need to stabilize the yuan. Sustained for too long, falling overseas investment would be tough to square with ambitions for greater international influence through the Belt and Road program.”

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In which sorcery is somehow the opposite of socialism.

Senior China Minister Says Some Officials Practice Sorcery (R.)

Some top Chinese officials are guilty of practicing sorcery and would rather believe in gurus and Western concepts of democracy than the Communist Party, a senior minister wrote on Thursday, warning of the danger they presented to its survival. China guarantees freedom of religion for major belief systems such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, but party members are meant to be atheists and are barred from what it calls superstitious practices, such as visits to soothsayers. Recent years have seen several cases of officials jailed as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption being accused of superstition, part of the party’s efforts to blacken their names.

Some senior officials in leadership positions had “fallen morally”, their beliefs straying from the correct path, wrote Chen Xi, the recently appointed head of the party’s powerful Organisation Department that oversees personnel decisions. “Some don’t believe in Marx and Lenin but believe in ghosts and gods; they don’t believe in ideals but believe in sorcery; they don’t respect the people but do respect masters,” he wrote in the official People’s Daily, referring to spiritual leaders or gurus. People in China, especially its leaders, have a long tradition of turning to soothsaying and geomancy to find answers to their problems in times of doubt, need and chaos. The practice has grown more risky amid Xi’s war on graft, in which dozens of senior officials have been imprisoned.

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Large scale arrests in the future?

Corruption in China Could Lead To Soviet-Style Collapse – Graft Buster (ToI)

China must step up its battle against corruption in order to safeguard against a Soviet-style collapse, the country’s second most senior graft buster said in an editorial on Wednesday. Yang Xiaodu, the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, who was promoted to the ruling Communist Party’s 25-strong Politburo last month, said failure would risk the “red country changing colour”. In unusually direct and strongly worded criticism of previous administrations, Yang said “in a previous period”, corruption had been allowed to fester to such an extent that the party’s leadership had weakened, with supervision soft, and ideology apathetic. “It had developed to the point where if not rectified, the country could change colour,” Yang wrote in the official People’s Daily.

“The future fate of the party and the country’s people could follow the same old road to ruin as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.” President Xi Jinping, like many officials before him, is steeped in the party’s long-held belief that loosening control too quickly or even at all could lead to chaos and the break up of the country. The party regularly implores cadres to study the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Yang’s editorial is the latest salvo signalling that the intensity of Xi’s signature war on corruption would not wane despite the departure of Xi’s right-hand man, Wang Qishan, who was widely seen as China’s second most powerful politician before being replaced as anti-corruption chief in a leadership reshuffle last month. Wang’s replacement, Zhao Leji, wrote a similarly strongly worded editorial in the People’s Daily on Saturday.

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Not doing well. At all.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Biggest Risks In China (ZH)

With both commodities and Chinese stocks suffering sharp overnight drops, it is hardly surprising that today trading desks have quietly been sending out boxes full of xanax their best under-25 clients (those veterans who have seen one, maybe even two 1% market crashes), along with reports explaining just what China is and why it matters to the new generation of, well, traders. One such analysis, clearly geared to the Ritalin generation complete with 3 second attention spans, comes from Deutsche Bank which in a few hundred words seeks to explain the key risks threatening the world’s most complex centrally-planned economy, and ground zero of the next financial crash. Which, one day after our summary take on why the Chinese commodity, economic and financial crash is only just starting (as those who traded overnight may have noticed), is probably a good place to reiterate some of the more salient points.

As Deutsche Bank’s Zhiwei Zhang writes in “Risks to watch in the next six months”, the key thing to keep in mind about China now that the 19th Party Congress is in the rear-view mirror, is that the government is likely to tolerate slower growth in 2018. Han Wenxiu, the deputy head of the Research Office of the State Council, said that GDP growth at 6.3% in 2018-2020 would be sufficient to achieve the Party’s 2020 growth target. And while this is a positive message for the long term, it indicates growth will likely slow in 2018. And, as DB warns, recent economic data suggest the economic cycle has indeed cooled down. For all those seeking key Chinese inflection points, here are the three big red flags involving China’s economy:

For the first time since Q4 2004, fixed asset investment (FAI) growth turned negative in real terms in Q3 this year.

Growth of property sales for the nation turned negative as well in October, the first time since 2015.

The property market boom in Tier 3 cities is also losing momentum.

We hope not to have lost by now all the Millennial traders who started reading this post. To those who persevered, here – in addition to the risks facing the economy – are the other two main risks facing China’s investors: (rising) inflation and (rising) interest rates.

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The most corrupt are the most powerful. Cue China.

Why the Anti-Corruption Drive in Saudi Arabia is Doomed to Fail (CP)

The problem in resource-rich states is that corruption is not marginal to political power, but central to acquiring it and keeping it. Corruption at the top is a form of patronage manipulated by those in charge, to create and reward a network of self-interested loyalists. It is the ruling family and its friends and allies who cherrypick what is profitable: this is as true of Saudi Arabia as it was true of Libya under Gaddafi, Iraq under Saddam Hussein and his successors, or Iraqi Kurdistan that was supposedly different from the rest of the country. Corruption is a nebulous concept when it comes to states with arbitrary rulers, who can decide – unrestrained by law or democratic process – what is legal and what is illegal. What typifies the politics of oil states is that everybody is trying to plug into the oil revenues in order to get their share of the cake.

This is true at the top, but the same is the case of the rest of the population, or at least a large and favoured section of it. The Iraqi government pays $4bn a month to about seven million state employees and pensioners. These may or may not do productive work, but it would be politically risky to fire them because they are the base support of the regime in power. Anti-corruption drives don’t work, because if they are at all serious, they soon begin to cut into the very roots of political power by touching the “untouchables”. At this point principled anti-corruption campaigners will find themselves in serious trouble and may have to flee the country, while the less-principled ones will become a feared weapon to be used against anybody whom the government wants to target.

A further consequence of the traditional anti-corruption drive is that it can paralyse government activities in general. This is because all officials, corrupt and incorrupt alike, know that they are vulnerable to investigation. “The safest course for them is to take no decision and sign no document which might be used or misused against them,” a frustrated American businessman told me in Baghdad some years ago. He added that it was only those so politically powerful that they did not have to fear legal sanctions who would take decisions – and such people were often the most corrupt of all.

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Wishful thinking?

Saudi Walks Back Escalation As Dramatic Moves Backfire (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s dramatic moves to counter Iran in the region appear to have backfired, significantly ratcheting up regional tensions and setting off a spiral of reactions and anger that seem to have caught the kingdom off guard. Now it’s trying to walk back its escalations in Lebanon and Yemen. On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh. The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on Nov. 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with the Shiite militants, his rivals in his coalition government.

The two developments suggest that Saudi Arabia’s bullish young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, may be trying to pedal back from the abyss of a severe regional escalation. “This represents de-escalation by the Saudis,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The general trend is that the Saudis are going to back off and this is largely because of the unexpected extent of international pressure, and not least of all U.S. pressure.” Mohammed bin Salman, widely known by his initials, MBS, has garnered a reputation for being decisive, as well as impulsive. At just 32 years old and with little experience in government, he has risen to power in just three years to oversee all major aspects of politics, security and the economy in Saudi Arabia. As defense minister, he is in charge of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

He also appears to have the support of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, who visited the Saudi capital earlier this month. Saudi partners in the Gulf and the Trump administration rushed to defend the kingdom publicly after a rebel Houthi missile was fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, from Yemen last week. A top U.S. military official also backed Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran. However, Saudi Arabia’s move to tighten an already devastating blockade on Yemen in response to the missile was roundly criticized by aid groups, humanitarian workers and the United Nations, which warned that the blockade could bring millions of people closer to “starvation and death.” Saudi Arabia’s decision to ease the blockade after just a week suggests it bowed to the international criticism, and did not want the bad publicity of even more images of emaciated Yemeni children and elderly people circulating online and in the media.

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“WaPo ran sixteen smear pieces on Bernie Sanders in the span of sixteen hours at the hottest point in the Democratic presidential primary battle.”

Friendly Reminder That Jeff Bezos Is Trying To Take Over The Universe (CJ)

Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest human being on planet Earth, did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he was expecting newspapers to make a lucrative resurgence. This self-evident fact doesn’t receive enough attention. I will say it again for emphasis: Jeff Bezos, who has used his business prowess to become the wealthiest person in the world, did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he was expecting newspapers to make a profitable comeback. That did not happen. What did happen is the world’s richest plutocrat realizing that he needed a mouthpiece to manufacture public support for the neoliberal corporatist establishment that he is building his empire upon. This is why WaPo ran sixteen smear pieces on Bernie Sanders in the span of sixteen hours at the hottest point in the Democratic presidential primary battle.

[..] Last year Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya said that Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.” In June Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, wrote that Amazon is trying to “control the underlying infrastructure of the economy.”\ Bezos continues to get cozier and cozier with the US power establishment as his empire metastasizes across human civilization. He kicked WikiLeaks off Amazon servers in 2010, he scored a 600 million dollar contract with the CIA in 2013, he joined a Pentagon advisory board in 2016, he hung out with Defense Secretary James Mattis in August, and he’s spent nearly ten million dollars this year lobbying the federal government, which is likely what led to an NDAA amendment gifting Amazon a $54 billion market it’s expected to dominate as a supplier to the Pentagon. Billion. With a ‘b’.

[..] I gave this story a jokey headline, but seriously, watch Jeff Bezos very closely. Your future is increasingly more likely to be imperiled by new money tech plutocrats like him than by old money plutocrats like Soros and the Rothschilds.

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Interesting. Earthquakes are no. 1 incentive.

Why Japan Knocks Down Its Houses After 30 Years (G.)

In the suburban neighbourhood of Midorigaoka, about an hour by train outside Kobe, Japan, all the houses were built by the same company in the same factory. Steel frames fitted out with panel walls and ceilings, these homes were clustered by the hundreds into what was once a brand new commuter town. But they weren’t built to last. Daiwa House, one of the biggest prefabricated housing manufacturers in Japan, built this town in the 60s during a postwar housing boom. It’s not unlike the suburban subdivisions of the western world, with porches, balconies and rooflines that shift and repeat up and down blocks of gently curving roads. Most of those houses built in the 60s are no longer standing, having long since been replaced by newer models, finished with fake brick ceramic siding in beiges, pinks and browns.

In the end, most of these prefabricated houses – and indeed most houses in Japan – have a lifespan of only about 30 years. Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes gradually depreciate over time, becoming completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house, unlike the land it sits on, has no resale value and is typically demolished. This scrap-and-build approach is a quirk of the Japanese housing market that can be explained variously by low-quality construction to quickly meet demand after the second world war, repeated building code revisions to improve earthquake resilience and a cycle of poor maintenance due to the lack of any incentive to make homes marketable for resale. In Midorigaoka, even the newer homes built in the 80s and 90s are nearing the end of their expected lifespan.

Under normal circumstances, their days might be numbered. But down at the end of one block, there’s a sign things are changing. Scaffolding surrounds a vacant house on a corner and workers from Daiwa House are clanging away inside. They’re not demolishing the house but refurbishing it – reorganising the floor plan, knocking down walls, opening up the kitchen and enhancing the insulation. Rather than tear down the house so the next buyer can build something new, they’re rebuilding it from the inside and putting it back on the market. It’s a relatively rare commodity, but something that is increasingly common across Japan: a secondhand home.

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I’ve long predicted that Greece will be much less peaceful once Syriza loses power. But yeah, the whole country’s put up for sale, so foreigners are certain to take over.

Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change (GR)

Hedge fund manager, Kyle Bass, believes that Greece will come out of the crisis and investors will pour billions into its economy once the government changes, according to a CNBC report. The founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management; which manages an estimated $815 million in assets, is closely following the course of the Greek economy and political situation, and has invested in Greek bank stocks. Bass says that foreign investors are waiting on the sidelines for a political shift to take place in 2018. “My best guess is a snap election for prime minister will be called between April and September of next year and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will lose power. When that happens, there will be a massive move into the Greek stock market. Big money will flow in as investors feel more confident with a more moderate administration,” Bass said.

“It’s going to take Kyriakos Mitsotakis; president of New Democracy, the Greek conservative party, to be voted in as prime minister to reform the culture and rekindle investor confidence,” the investor said. “I have no doubt 15 billion euros in bank deposits will come back to Greek banks if he’s elected. The stock and bond markets will also jump following the election.” Bass says that global investors are waiting for the political change in order to invest in real estate, energy and tourism. So far, the hedge fund manager noted, Greece has proceeded with privatizations of its main port; regional airports; its railway system; the largest insurance company, and there are more important ones to be completed within the next two years. “There is so much potential in Greece,” Bass said, noting that investors are waiting for the right moment to enter, the CNBC report concludes.

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Europe just lets it get worse.

Lesvos Reaches Breaking Point, Mayor Declares General Strike (G.)

With reception centers on Lesvos bursting at the seams and dozens more migrants arriving daily, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, on Tuesday declared a general strike for Monday in protest. Currently, some 1,500 people – including hundreds of small children – are stranded on the island living in tents, and fears are growing that winter may bring a new humanitarian crisis. In total, there are more than 8,000 migrants and refugees on Lesvos, a favored destination of traffickers bringing people over from neighboring Turkey. “Lesvos has a population of 32,000 residents and there are at the moment 8,300 migrants and refugees,” Galinos told Kathimerini. Moreover, local police union members held a protest over deteriorating working conditions.

“The situation on Lesvos has fueled insecurity among citizens. The police force is dealing exclusively with the migrant issue,” the union chief Dimitris Alexiou said. “We are not expendables,” he added. And with flows to the eastern Aegean islands from Turkey showing no signs of letting up, locals and migrants have reached the end of their tether. Since the beginning of November, 1,603 people have arrived on the islands. In September, 6,000 people arrived from Turkey, the same number as in October. On Monday, another 101 migrants landed on eastern Aegean islands, while more than 400 arrived over the weekend. The situation in the Moria camp on Lesvos is a case in point.

“Conditions at Moria have reached breaking point as the facility is three times over capacity,” said Michael Bakas, coordinator of the northern Aegean branch of the Ecologist Greens, who escorted visiting Group of the Greens MEP and vice chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler. Bakas said about 1,000 children are currently stranded at the camp. The issue will be discussed at the EU assembly on Wednesday.

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Monsanto must now have as many lawyers as scientists on its payroll. Time to say enough is enough.

Monsanto, US Farm Groups Sue California Over Glyphosate Cancer Warnings (R.)

Monsanto and U.S. farm groups sued California on Wednesday to stop the state from requiring cancer warnings on products containing the widely used weed killer glyphosate, which the company sells to farmers to apply to its genetically engineered crops. The government of the most populous U.S. state added glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, to its list of cancer-causing chemicals in July and will require that products containing glyphosate carry warnings by July 2018. California acted after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”. For more than 40 years, farmers have applied glyphosate to crops, most recently as they have cultivated genetically modified corn and soybeans.

Roundup and Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant seeds would be less attractive to customers if California requires warnings on products containing the chemical. In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, Monsanto and groups representing corn, soy and wheat farmers reject that glyphosate causes cancer. They say the state’s requirement for warnings would force sellers of products containing the chemical to spread false information.“Such warnings would equate to compelled false speech, directly violate the First Amendment, and generate unwarranted public concern and confusion,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said in a statement.

The controversy is an additional headache for Monsanto as it faces a crisis around a new version of an herbicide based on another chemical known as dicamba that was linked to widespread U.S. crop damage this summer. The company, which is being acquired by Bayer AG for $63.5 billion, developed the product as a replacement for glyphosate following an increase of weeds resistant to the chemical. Monsanto has already suffered damage to its investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in glyphosate products since California added the chemical to its list of products known to cause cancer, according to the lawsuit.

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Weep.

Plastics Found In Stomachs Of Deepest Sea Creatures (G.)

Animals from the deepest places on Earth have been found with plastic in their stomachs, confirming fears that manmade fibres have contaminated the most remote places on the planet. The study, led by academics at Newcastle University, found animals from trenches across the Pacific Ocean were contaminated with fibres that probably originated from plastic bottles, packaging and synthetic clothes. Dr Alan Jamieson, who led the study, said the findings were startling and proved that nowhere on the planet was free from plastics pollution. “There is now no doubt that plastics pollution is so pervasive that nowhere – no matter how remote – is immune,” he said. Evidence of the scale of plastic pollution has been growing in recent months. Earlier this year scientists found plastic in 83% of global tapwater samples, while other studies have found plastic in rock salt and fish.

Humans have produced an estimated 8.3bn tonnes of plastic since the 1950s and scientists said it risked near permanent contamination of the planet. Jamieson said underlined the need for swift and meaningful action. “These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris.” He said it was “a very worrying find.” “Isolating plastic fibres from inside animals from nearly 11 kilometres deep (seven miles) just shows the extent of the problem. Also, the number of areas we found this in, and the thousands of kilometre distances involved shows it is not just an isolated case, this is global.”

[..] The team examined 90 individual animals and found ingestion of plastic ranged from 50% in the New Hebrides Trench to 100% at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The fragments identified include semi-synthetic cellulosic fibres, such as Rayon, Lyocell and Ramie, which are all microfibres used in products such as textiles, to plastic fibres that are likely to come from plastic bottles, fishing equipment or everyday packaging. Jamieson said deep-sea organisms are dependent on food “raining down from the surface which in turn brings any adverse components, such as plastic and pollutants with it.” “The deep sea is not only the ultimate sink for any material that descends from the surface, but it is also inhabited by organisms well adapted to a low food environment and these will often eat just about anything.”


This microscopic arrow worm has eaten a blue plastic fibre that is blocking the passage of food along its gut. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

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