Paul Cézanne Bibémus quarry 1898-1900
But blow it up for real then. What are the odds of that given that the Fed protects the riches of the rich?
Last week, President Donald Trump set the economics community aflame by suggesting that he will appoint businessman and presidential aspirant Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board. Even more than political economist Stephen Moore, the critics maintain, Cain represents a threat to the cabal that has controlled the central bank for decades. Why? Because Cain is a successful executive who founded a real business, took risks, and created jobs, things most academic economists will never ever do. Media outlets and other allied constituencies have howled with rage at the prospect of President Trump “packing the Fed,” a distant reference to attempts by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pack the Supreme Court in the 1930s.
Those worried about the independence of the Federal Reserve Board should reconsider. Independence from what exactly? While the Fed is meant to be independent from the executive branch on a day-to-day basis, it is certainly not independent of Congress or the law. Yet the Fed in recent years has shown a troubling tendency to deviate from its legal mandate and make up new authorities to fit the changing economic situation. Case in point: the dubious notion that we should seek a 2 percent rate of inflation. Anybody who cares to read the 1978 Humphrey Hawkins law will know that the Fed is directed by Congress to seek full employment and then zero inflation. Not 2 percent, but zero.
Yet going back a decade and more, the Fed, led by luminaries such as Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, has advanced a policy of actively embracing inflation. And neither Bernanke nor Yellen bothered to consult Congress when they decided to discard their legal responsibilities. Quantitative easing, to take another example, represents a vast inflation of the financial markets and housing, yet Fed officials actually appear in public and talk about the conundrum presented by “low inflation.” The inflation in home prices that occurred during and after the Fed’s purchase of trillions in securities has permanently raised the price of housing in many parts of the country, preventing millions from purchasing homes. Yellen confesses to be “perplexed” by the dearth of home purchases by young families, but she is the cause of the malady.
You are not allowed to know the value of the things you buy.
In the fourth quarter 2018, share repurchases soared 62.8% from a year earlier to a record $223 billion, beating the prior quarterly record set in the third quarter last year, of $204 billion, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices on March 25. It was the fourth quarterly record in a row, the longest such streak in the 20 years of the data. For the whole year 2018, share buybacks soared 55% year-over-year to a record $806 billion, beating the prior record of $589 billion set in 2007 by a blistering 37%! The record buybacks in Q4 came even as stock prices declined on average 5.3%, according to S&P Down Jones Indices. On some bad days during the quarter, corporations were about the only ones left buying their shares.
For the year 2018, these were the top super-duper buyback queens:
Apple: $74.2 billion
Oracle: $29.3 billion
Wells Fargo $21.0 billion
Microsoft: $16.3 billion
Merck: $9.1 billion
But who, outside of corporations buying back their own shares, was buying shares? Goldman Sachs strategists answered this question in a report cited by Bloomberg, that used data from the Federal Reserve to determine “net US equity demand.” These are the largest investor categories other than corporate buybacks, five-year totals:
Foreign investors shed $234 billion.
Pension funds shed $901 billion, possibly to keep asset-class allocations on target as share prices soared.
Stock mutual funds shed $217 billion.
Life insurers added 61 billion
Households added $223 billion.
Also part of Russiagate.
The “absolutely horrific” leak of Donald Trump’s contentious 2017 phone call with Malcolm Turnbull could lead to criminal charges. Devin Nunes, the highest-ranking Republican member on the US House of Representatives intelligence committee, announced on Sunday he was sending eight criminal referrals to the US attorney general, William Barr. One is aimed at finding out who leaked transcripts of the US president’s phone call with Turnbull on 28 January 2017, a call with the then Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s communications with a Russian ambassador.
“You had conversations with the president of the United States and the prime minister of Australia leak,” Nunes told Fox News. “You had leaks of President Trump talking to the president of Mexico leak. “We all know the travesty of General Flynn. “Nobody knows where those supposed transcripts came from. “Those are just three examples that are absolutely horrific but there’s things that are even worse that were leaked, and there were only two or three reporters involved in this, so it would not be hard to get to the bottom of.” The Trump-Turnbull phone call transcript leak to the Washington Post rocked the usually solid US-Australian alliance, with both nations going into damage control when it was revealed the president abruptly cut short the planned hour-long call to just 24 minutes.
The transcript showed Turnbull pushing Trump to support the asylum seeker deal struck with the former US president Barack Obama. It was Trump’s last of numerous calls with world leaders that day, including the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “Putin was a pleasant call,” Trump told Turnbull. “This is ridiculous.” Nunes said the eight referrals “are classified or sensitive” so he was unable to offer details. “Five of them are what I would call straight up referrals, so just referrals that name someone and name the specific crimes,” Nunes said. “Those crimes are lying to Congress, misleading Congress, leaking classified information.”
— James Hirsen (@thejimjams) April 9, 2019
How far removed are we from the Article 50 activation being withdrawn by the UK?
Backbench MPs have passed historic legislation to delay article 50, forcing the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK exiting the EU with no deal. In extraordinary circumstances, the bill devised by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved by the Commons that evening. The swift passage of the bill, which took just three sitting days to complete, was made possible by the success of an unprecedented amendment which allowed MPs to seize control of parliamentary business on particular days, meaning the government could not block its progress.
The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11pm on Monday night, forcing the prime minister to extend the article 50 process and to set out the length of the extension in the Commons on Tuesday. The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said the government would no longer block the progress of the bill after it was passed by the Lords on Monday evening, but she called it a “huge dog’s dinner” and criticised how little time for debate the bill had been given.
Take back control! Ask for permission!
British Prime Minister Theresa May will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to argue for a Brexit delay while her ministers hold crisis talks with Labour to try to break the deadlock in London. Britain’s departure from the EU has already been delayed once but May is asking for yet more time as she courts veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn, whose opposition Labour Party wants to keep Britain more closely tied to the bloc after Brexit. “The Prime Minister has not yet moved off her red lines so we can reach a compromise,” Corbyn said ahead of further talks between his team and government ministers on Tuesday. While May travels to Berlin and Paris ahead of an emergency EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday, British lawmakers will hold a 90-minute debate on her proposal to delay Britain’s EU departure date to June 30 from April 12.
There is no way out anymore.
Theresa May will go to Paris and Berlin to plead with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for a Brexit extension on Tuesday, promising to be a good member of the European Union until departure day and claiming talks with Labour have a serious chance of reaching a deal. Before an emergency European summit this week, the prime minister will head to the continent to make the case for extending article 50 only until the end of June. However, she is also being forced to make pledges that the UK would abide by EU rules for however long it is a member, given that a longer delay and participation in European elections now look like the most likely option.
EU leaders will decide at the talks on Wednesday night whether to grant an extension to article 50 at all but are most likely to offer a longer delay of up to a year involving strict conditions forcing the UK into “sincere cooperation” with the rest of the bloc. That prospect appeared to be acknowledged on Monday when the Conservative party drew the ire of hard Brexiters – already seeking an indicative confidence vote in the prime minister – by telling potential local election candidates it is preparing to fight in the European elections in May, and asking potential MEPs to put themselves forward.
To avoid EU elections, May would probably have to pass her deal by 12 April and have all the necessary legislation pushed through parliament by the day of the polls on 23 May. If no extension is granted and no withdrawal agreement passed, the UK will leave the EU without a deal on Friday.
I don’t understand things like this: “..whichever party wins the next election will have its work cut out for it sustaining Australia’s near three-decade run of continuous economic growth.
You’re going to have to accept that growth may halt over 30 years, and to realize that may be a good thing.
Australia’s housing market contraction is worse than first thought, says a top IMF analyst, leaving the economy in what he called a “delicate situation” that boosts the need for faster infrastructure spending and even potential interest rate cuts. In an exclusive interview, the International Monetary Fund’s lead economist for Australia, Thomas Helbling, endorsed last week’s federal budget forecasts for recognising the “weaker outlook” and its use of sober commodity price forecasts. However, Dr Helbling warned the negative fallout from what the IMF will this week admit is a greater-than-anticipated property market downturn in Australia requires more effort by governments to deliver new sources of growth to make up for a worsening shortfall.
Dr Helbling implied the pace of infrastructure spending – as measured in the national accounts – has fallen short of what was scheduled in recent budget figures. “I think given where the economy is now, that this growth impetus comes forward is important in the current cyclical setting. “The ambition [on infrastructure spending] is in many senses welcome,” he said. “The housing market downturn is sort of sagging on the demand side, so you want to have other demand sources pulling.” The assessment by Dr Helbling suggests whichever party wins the next election will have its work cut out for it sustaining Australia’s near three-decade run of continuous economic growth.
3 decades of growth, right?
Less than a third of Australians expect to reduce their debt load this year – down from 60 per cent last year – and not because they don’t want to but because they can’t, a survey by EY shows. Australia’s household debt-to-income ratio is 190 per cent, and the Reserve Bank of Australia says it remains one of the biggest vulnerabilities in the economy. The heightened level of debt is unlikely to change even with interest rates expected to fall over the coming year, and the introduction of income tax cuts helping some to reduce debt rather than increase spending.
When survey respondents were asked whether they expected to reduce, increase or keep personal and household debt at the same level, 28 per cent said they would reduce their debt level, down from 60 per cent in last year’s survey. In 2018, 73 per cent of high-income earners ($150,000 or more) said they expected to pay down debt. That has fallen to 37 per cent. “Given that our survey also showed that over 60 per cent of Australians are ‘extremely’ concerned about the increasing cost of living – the cost of essential services and increasing energy prices – it seems that more households are not paying down debt because they do not have the capacity to do so,” EY chief economist Jo Masters said.
[..] The number who said they would increase their debt level over the next 12 months has risen to 16 per cent, up from 4 per cent last year. In the income bracket of $70,000-$149,999 the number of people looking to increase debt has risen to 21 per cent up from just 6 per cent last year. The number in that income bracket who were looking to decrease their debt dropped to 34 per cent from 62 per cent last year.
Dear Americans, you’re going to pay more for your European wine and cheeses so attention is deflected from Boeing.
The US on Monday threatened to impose tariff counter measures of up to $11.2 billion on a host of European products in response to subsidies received by aircraft maker Airbus. In a statement, the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said the World Trade Organization (WTO) had repeatedly found that EU subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States. “This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action,” said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft. When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional US duties imposed in response can be lifted.” The statement added that the final amount it would seek in duties was subject to arbitration at the WTO, the result of which was expected this summer. The USTR’s preliminary list extends to 14 pages and contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.
“.. a hopeless attempt to preserve their reputations and perhaps even their livelihoods.”
What is a bigger emergency: the destruction of all those towns, cities, and lives in flyover-land, or the S & P stock index going down twenty points? The choice made by the “experts” the past ten years is obvious: pump the financial markets at all costs by using dishonest policy interventions which they are smart enough to know will eventually blow up the banking system. They did it to preserve their reputations long enough to retire out of their jobs. The trouble is that the damage is now so extreme that when the time comes for them to apologize it will not be enough. They will lose their freedom and perhaps their heads. The neuroticism and dishonesty is exactly what turned two of this country’s most sacred and noble endeavors, higher education and medicine, into disgraceful rackets.
Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes covered both bases in their lead story about how the NYU medical school recently declared its program tuition-free. This great triumph was due to an enormous cash gift from one of the founders of the Home Depot company, billionaire Ken Langone. Nowhere in the broadcast did CBS raise the question as to how the cost of a degree became so outrageous in the first place. Or how Mr. Langone made his fortune by putting every local hardware store in America out of business, which enabled him to capture the annual incomes of ten thousand small business owners and their employees. NYU’s grand gesture is just a way to paper over the shame of the University executives’ role in the college loan racket that may destroy countless lives.
[..] RussiaGate, of course, has been the most acute locus of neurotic dishonesty across this land the past two years. The primary information organs of the thinking class — The New York Times, The WashPo, CNN, MSNBC — have not only omitted to apologize for the dangerous hysteria they knowingly propagated, but they persist in supporting the matrix of fantasies at all costs in what must now be seen as a hopeless attempt to preserve their reputations and perhaps even their livelihoods. The repudiation of this nonsense by chief inquisitor Robert Mueller could not be more absolute, even if he was compelled by reality against his own wishes and instincts to do it. And now, what avenue will all this diseased animus of the thinking class go down in its destructive, shame-fueled frenzy to justify itself?
I thought they’d already gotten rid of everyone even a little sympathetic to him.
The Ecuadorian government has removed an official from its London embassy accused of having a close rapport with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Foreign Minister Jose Valencia has told Democracia radio in Quito the civil servant “worked in a very close way” with Assange. Valencia did not provide the official’s name or go into any detail, other than to say that embassy workers must respond first to the Ecuadorian state. The removal comes as tensions between Ecuador and Assange continue to mount. Ecuador recently accused WikiLeaks of helping spread leaked personal documents belonging to President Lenin Moreno.
Cassandra’s been reporting from the street in front of the embassy. Undercover cops galore.
The mainstream media tells us we live in an age of “hyper-partisanship.” But that’s not what I witnessed outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where populist right-wingers, anti-imperialist socialists, Brexit supporters and even liberals stood united against the political establishment’s seven-year persecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Protesters from nearly every part of the political spectrum could be found outside the embassy during my three-day expedition, galvanized by reports that Assange may soon be expelled from the building where he has been living under political asylum since 2012.
On Saturday afternoon, England’s Yellow Vests and Brexit supporters flooded the area in support of the WikiLeaks publisher. A few steps away from them, also flying the flag for WikiLeaks, was an out-and-proud communist wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, wheeling around a slogan-adorned cart praising Cuban revolutionaries. It was the first sign that both the far-left and the populist right, despite the gulf of their differences, could stand together in support of a free press. Both leftists and the pro-Brexit right wing crowd chanted “which side are you on” together to the police. They also found common cause in their distrust of the mainstream media, chanting “Fake News BBC” for several minutes – a reference to the notoriously biased British Broadcasting Corporation, the U.K,’s state-backed broadcaster.
Over the next few days, more than one leftist activist told me of their special disdain for BBC reporter John Sweeney, and one even expressed quiet praise for the populist Islam critic Tommy Robinson’s work exposing the BBC in general and Sweeney in particular. The following day, it was the turn of Latin American leftists to have a show of force. Scattered right-wing activists danced along with an upbeat protest organized by socialist Ecuadorian expats in support of Assange. The group held signs branding Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno a traitor along with banners demanding that the WikiLeaks founder be protected — while standing around Che Guevara flags.
Ciaron O’Reilly has been camped outside the embassy for over 130 days
“The pollution was so severe in places that the ditchwater itself could have been used as a pesticide.”
Don’t allow Monsanto and Syngenta to play the good guys, as they do here.
Pesticides and antibiotics are polluting streams across Europe, a study has found. Scientists say the contamination is dangerous for wildlife and may increase the development of drug-resistant microbes. More than 100 pesticides and 21 drugs were detected in the 29 waterways analysed in 10 European nations, including the UK. A quarter of the chemicals identified are banned, while half of the streams analysed had at least one pesticide above permitted levels.
[..] One of the world’s biggest pesticide makers, Syngenta, announced a “major shift in global strategy” on Monday, to take on board society’s concerns and reduce residues in the environment. “There is an undeniable demand for a shift in our industry,” said Alexandra Brand, the chief sustainability officer of Syngenta. “We will put our innovation more strongly in the service of helping farms become resilient to changing climates and better able to adapt to consumer requirements, including reducing carbon emissions and reversing soil erosion and biodiversity decline.” Another major pesticide manufacturer, Bayer, said on Monday it was making public all 107 studies submitted to European regulators on the safety of its controversial herbicide glyphosate.
[..] The testing techniques used in the new research meant only a subset of pesticides could be detected. Two very common pesticides – glyphosate and chlorothalonil – were not included in the study.. [..] Irish Water said on Monday that EU pesticide levels were being breached in public water supplies across Ireland. In Switzerland, another new study found that soils in 93% of organic farms were contaminated with insecticides, as were 80% of the areas farmers set aside for wildlife. Research revealed in 2013 that insecticides were devastating dragonflies, snails and other water-based species in the Netherlands. The pollution was so severe in places that the ditchwater itself could have been used as a pesticide.
1000s of highly sophisticated satellites in orbit but they still need climbers to measure a mountain.
Nepal is sending a team of government-appointed climbers up Mount Everest to remeasure its height, officials said Monday, hoping to quash persistent speculation that the world’s tallest mountain has shrunk. Four government surveyors will depart Wednesday for Everest, which lies on the Himalayan range straddling the border of Nepal and China. Its official height is 8,848 metres (29,029 feet), first recorded by an Indian survey in 1954. Numerous other teams have measured the peak, although the 1954 height remains the widely accepted figure. But a heated debate erupted in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in Nepal in 2015, with suggestions the powerful tremor had knocked height off the lofty peak.
Nepal’s Survey Department commissioned a team of surveyors in 2017 to prepare for an Everest expedition in the hope of putting the matter to rest. “We are sending a team because there were questions regarding the height of Everest after the earthquake,” the expedition’s co-ordinator from the Survey Department, Susheel Dangol, told AFP. Four government surveyors have spent two years fine tuning their methodology for measuring the peak, collecting readings from the ground and training for the extreme conditions they will encounter at the top of the world. They will ascend the treacherous mountain armed with advanced equipment to collect the remaining data to derive the true height of the peak, officials say.
[..] In May 1999 an American team added two metres to Everest’s height when it used GPS technology to survey the peak. That figure is now used by the US National Geographic Society, but otherwise not widely accepted. Later, Nepal became embroiled in a diplomatic row with China after the latter claimed the peak was four metres shorter than the accepted height.