Pablo Picasso Female bust 1922
And what are they gloomy about? Inequality? Species extinction? Warfare? Nope! They are gloomy about growth.
• Pre-Davos Survey Shows Sixfold Rise In Global CEOs’ Gloom (G.)
Pessimism among chief executives has risen sharply in the past 12 months as the leaders of the world’s biggest companies have taken fright at rising protectionism and the deteriorating relationship between the US and China. The survey of chief executives conducted by the consultancy firm PwC to mark the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos showed a sixfold increase to 30% in the number of CEOs expecting global growth to slow during 2019. PwC said the rise in pessimism was unsurpassed in the 22 years it had been conducting the survey, with the downbeat mood a contrast to the bullishness of early 2018, when global growth was strong and stock markets were soaring.
The survey showed that the most pronounced shift was among CEOs in North America, where optimism about global growth dropped from 63% in 2018 to 37%. PwC said this was probably due to the fading impact of Donald Trump’s tax cuts and emerging trade tensions. “CEOs’ views of the global economy mirror the major economic outlooks, which are adjusting their forecasts downward in 2019,” PwC’s global chairman, Bob Moritz, said. “With the rise of trade tension and protectionism it stands to reason that confidence is waning.”
The unease about global economic growth had influenced CEOs’ confidence about their companies’ short-term prospects. Thirty-five percent of CEOs said they were very confident in their own organisation’s growth prospects over the next 12 months, down from 42% last year. While the US retained its position as the top international market for growth over the next year, many CEOs have been turning to other markets, PwC said.
Macron does his own little Davos. And elects to huddle and hobnob with billionaires instead of talking to his people. Just like the King did 226 years ago.
Macron’s idea of reform is weakening labor laws, and more Europe. Precisely what the Yellow Vests don’t want.
• In Versailles, Macron Vows To Reform To Avoid King’s Fate (R.)
President Emmanuel Macron told dozens of the world’s most powerful executives on Monday that he would not follow the path of guillotined French royals and would continue to reform the French economy despite a sometimes violent popular revolt. For the second year running, Macron hosted corporate A-listers like Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon at a pre-Davos dinner at Versailles. Exactly 226 years after the decapitation of Louis XVI, who failed to plug the crown’s dismal finances and quell popular discontent over a sclerotic feudal society, Macron started his speech by invoking the king and his wife Marie-Antoinette. “If they met such an end, it is because they had given up on reforming,” Macron told the guests, according to his office.
His office said earlier that foreign companies including medical products company Microport, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Cisco and others would announce investments in France totaling more than 600 million euros. The dinner was an opportunity to reassure investors of Macron’s resolve to reform the economy after images of protesters angry at his policies attacking public monuments, boutiques, banks and riot police were beamed around the world. “There are questions about the protests’ magnitude, about the violence, because these images are shocking for foreigners,” a source at Macron’s office said before the summit. “Last year, the summit was in a totally different dynamic, it was all about ‘France is back’. Here we’re in a tougher part of the mandate domestically and that requires more explanations,” the source added.
Really, David, you couldn’t have picked a place with more deaf ears for your message than Davos. All those politicians and wealthy folk owe their positions to the very process that eradicated the Garden of Eden.
• The Garden Of Eden Is No More -David Attenborough (G.)
Sir David Attenborough has warned that “the Garden of Eden is no more”, as he urged political and business leaders from around the world to make a renewed push to tackle climate change before the damage is irreparable. Speaking at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, the 92-year-old naturalist and broadcaster warned that human activity has taken the world into a new era, threatening to undermine civilisation. “I am quite literally from another age,” Attenborough told an audience of business leaders, politicians and other delegates. “I was born during the Holocene – the 12,000 [year] period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilisations.” That led to trade in ideas and goods, and made us the “globally connected species we are today”.
That stability allowed businesses to grow, nations to co-operate and people to share ideas, Attenborough explained, before warning sombrely: “In the space of my lifetime, all that has changed. “The Holocene has ended. The Garden of Eden is no more. We have changed the world so much that scientists say we are in a new geological age: the Anthropocene, the age of humans,” he declared. In a stark warning to the world leaders and business chiefs flocking to the WEF this week, Attenborough warned that the only conditions that humans have known are changing fast. “We need to move beyond guilt or blame, and get on with the practical tasks at hand.”
This old-guard wishful thinking seems the point to the opposite of what the headline says. Or maybe it was meant as humor?!
• With Kamala Harris In The Race, Trump Stands No Chance Of Winning (Ind.)
Kamala Harris just ruined Donald Trump’s day. With her much anticipated declaration today, she immediately installed herself as a front-runner in the race to be the Democrat intent on taking down the president in 2020. “Let’s do this together: For ourselves, for our children, for our country,” she said. And with those carefully chosen words, Trump’s chances of reelection entered a death spiral. She is everything he is not. In US elections the White House often swings to the opposite of what has gone before. And whether it is gender, race, age, or ideals, Harris represents the diametric opposite of the present incumbent. She is, in many ways, the “female Obama”.
The political symbolism of a woman of colour declaring her candidacy on Martin Luther King Jr Day was lost on precisely no one. Certainly not on Trump, who will be feverishly trying to dream up a dismissive nickname for Harris. Such schoolyard tactics are unlikely to work. This daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Indian-born mother is a candidate of substance. She will spend the next year hammering Trump on his race relations record, specifically his comments after the neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville. And voters will soon come to know the story of how, as a toddler, Harris was taken to civil right marches by her parents and shouted “Fweedom!” from her stroller. Within her own party too Harris is breaking the mould. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are widely expected to enter the race in the coming weeks. But both are septuagenarian white men.
Beto O’Rourke, for all his progressive credentials, is a millionaire internet entrepreneur. None of that is representative of the Democratic Party today. It was notable in a recent analysis of social media interactions that Harris was an easy second to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young congresswoman, for the most engagement among Democrat politicians. She is connecting with the youth of the party. At 54 she is two decades younger than Biden and Sanders. Videos of her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s controversial pick for the US Supreme Court, went viral, as have other episodes from her time on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And although she was only elected to the Senate in 2016, inexperience does not seem an argument that will fly for her opponents.
[..] When it came to announcing, Harris got one of the biggest platforms, a spot on Good Morning America, a sign the US TV networks know she is the real deal. It was a typically direct announcement, and Harris sought to address some of the concerns more national security-focused Democrat voters might have. She stressed her 20 years as a prosecutor in California, and her commitment to “keeping America safe”. Spelling out areas where she would take on Trump, she vowed to restore “America’s moral authority in the world”, working with allies he has snubbed. Most of all, she vowed to “stand up and fight”. And that is what the Democratic base most wants to hear.
Forget Kamala. Chris Cillizza of all people gets it right: “..the social media profiles of both [AOC and Trump] allow them to “end-run the so-called ‘media filter’ and deliver their preferred message… directly to supporters.” Both expose the hollow sound of the system, each from their own side, but in the end it’s the same thing, because it’s the same system.
AOC is too young to be elected, but not to become very powerful inside the party. Incumbent heads will roll because of her, and whoever becomes the candidate can’t risk losing her support.
For me it’s nothing more to do with supporting AOC than it does with supporting Trump. It’s about exposing the rot in the system. Davos and all that.
• Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Crusher of Sacred Cows (Matt Taibbi)
The Beltway press mostly can’t stand her. A common theme is that, as a self-proclaimed socialist, she should be roaming the halls of Rayburn and Cannon in rags or a barrel. Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her in a suit, saying she didn’t look like “a girl who struggles.” High priest of conventional wisdom Chris Cillizza, with breathtaking predictability, penned a column comparing her to Donald Trump. He noted the social media profiles of both allow them to “end-run the so-called ‘media filter’ and deliver their preferred message… directly to supporters.” The latter issue, of course, is the real problem most of Washington has with “AOC”: her self-generated popularity and large social media presence means she doesn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to say anything.
[..] I have no idea if Ocasio-Cortez will or will not end up being a great politician. But it’s abundantly clear that her mere presence is unmasking many, if not most, of the worst and most tired Shibboleths of the capital. Moreover, she’s laying bare the long-concealed fact that many of their core policies are wildly unpopular, and would be overturned in a heartbeat if we could somehow put them all to direct national referendum. Take the tax proposal offered by Ocasio-Cortez, which would ding the top bracket for 70 percent taxes on all income above $10 million. The idea inspired howls of outrage, with wrongest-human-in-history Alan Greenspan peeking out of his crypt to call it a “terrible idea,” Wisconsin’s ex-somebody Walker saying a 5th grader would know it was “unfair,” and human anti-weathervane Harry Reid saying “you have to be careful” because voters don’t want “radical change quickly.”
Except polls show the exact opposite. Almost everyone wants to soak the rich. A joint survey by The Hill and Harris X showed 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents, and even 45 percent of Republicans endorse the Ocasio-Cortez plan. Is it feasible? It turns out it might very well be, as even Paul Krugman, who admits AOC’s rise makes him “uneasy,” said in a recent column. He noted the head of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated the top rate should be even higher, perhaps even 80 percent. We’ve been living for decades in a universe where the basic tenets of supply-side economics — that there’s a massive and obvious benefit for all in dumping piles of money in the hands of very rich people — have gone more or less unquestioned.
Now we see: once a popular, media-savvy politician who doesn’t owe rich donors starts asking such questions, the Potemkin justifications for these policies can tumble quickly. There is a whole range of popular policy ideas the Washington political consensus has been beating back for decades with smoke and mirrors, from universal health care to legalized weed to free tuition to expanded Social Security to those higher taxes on the rich. As we’ve seen over and over with these swipes on Ocasio-Cortez, the people defending those ideas don’t realize how powerful a stimulant for change is their own negative attention. If they were smart, they’d ignore her. Then again, if politicians were smart, they’d also already be representing people, not donors. And they wouldn’t have this problem.
First one to jump party lines wins.
• Theresa May: Second Referendum Would Threaten ‘Social Cohesion’ (G.)
Theresa May reiterated her opposition to a second Brexit referendum on Monday night, claiming it would threaten Britain’s “social cohesion” and insisting the centrepiece of her strategy remained negotiating changes to the Irish backstop. With just 67 days to go until Britain is due by law to leave the European Union, May exasperated MPs and business groups by offering scant evidence that she was willing to change course. Giving a statement in the House of Commons, the prime minister outlined three changes she claimed had emerged from discussions with colleagues in the six days since her Brexit deal was rejected by MPs with a crushing margin of 230:
• A more consultative approach to the next phase of negotiations, with MPs, business groups and unions more involved. • Stronger reassurances on workers’ rights and environmental standards, “with a guarantee that not only will we not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment but we will ensure this country leads the way”. • Another attempt to address the concerns of Tory and Democratic Unionist party MPs about the Irish backstop – which she could then discuss with Brussels. May dismissed the idea of extending article 50 and stepped up warnings about the potential consequences of asking the public to vote again on Brexit. “There has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy,” she said.
Corbyn doesn’t want a referendum. He dreams of elections, and even of winning those.
• Labour Calls For Vote On Holding Second Brexit Referendum (G.)
Labour has said the Commons should be able to vote on whether to hold a second referendum in an amendment the party submitted on Monday night to Theresa May’s Brexit update. It is the first time the party has asked MPs to formally consider a second poll, although the carefully worded compromise amendment did not commit the party’s leadership to backing a referendum if such a vote were to take place. The wording called for May’s government to hold a vote on two options – its alternative Brexit plan and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” that is supported by a majority in the Commons.
The intervention came as the party’s leadership seeks to deal with divisions between Jeremy Corbyn and some of the leader’s closest allies who are sceptical about a second referendum and those who are more enthusiastic such as Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer. The party’s alternative Brexit plan, which would be the subject of a separate vote if the amendment were carried, proposes that the UK remain in a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union and have a strong relationship with the single market. Citizens’ rights and consumer standards would be harmonised with the EU’s. Corbyn said: “Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no-deal. It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”
Xi gets nervous.
• Xi Warns China Against ‘Black Swans’ Of Economic Volatility (G.)
Chinese president Xi Jinping has warned officials to be vigilant against any threats to the party’s “political security”, underlining uncertainty in Beijing as the economy falters. Xi spoke at a study session for top provincial leaders, ministers, and other party leaders on Monday, the same day official economic data showed the Chinese economy last year grew at its weakest pace in almost 30 years, pulled down by weakening spending, investment, and trade. Yet Xi’s remarks focused more on the “political” and “ideological security” as the country’s main priorities going forward. He stressed the campaign would be focused on training the next generation to uphold “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the Chinese Communist party’s adaptation of Marxism-Leninism.
“Now the main front of the ideological struggle is on the internet, and the main audience of the internet is young people. Many domestic and foreign forces are trying to develop supporters of their values and even to cultivate opponents of the government,” Xi said. A slowing Chinese economy risks rising rates of unemployment and financially squeezed households and businesses, threatening social stability. “There is no political security. There is only regime security,” said Li Datong, a former journalist and outspoken commentator. “They see the risks of rebellion. As the economy becomes worse, people from all walks of the society can become opponents.”
Canada’s ambassador to the United States complains that Canadians pay the price for Justin bending over backwards for the US.
• US To Formally Seek Extradition Of Huawei Executive Meng Wanzhou (R.)
The United States will proceed with the formal extradition from Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Canada’s ambassador to the United States told the Globe and Mail, in a move certain to ratchet up tensions with China. David MacNaughton, in an interview with the Canadian newspaper published on Monday, said the U.S. has told Canada it will request Meng’s extradition, but he did not say when the request will be made. The deadline for filing is Jan. 30, or 60 days after Meng was arrested on Dec. 1 in Vancouver. Meng, the daughter of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested at the request of the United States over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
She was released on bail last month and is due in court in Vancouver on Feb. 6. Relations between China and Canada turned frosty after the arrest, with China detaining two Canadian citizens and sentencing to death a Canadian man previously found guilty of drug smuggling. [..] In an article published on Monday, a former Canadian spy chief said Canada should ban Huawei from supplying equipment for next-generation telecoms networks, while Canada’s government is studying any security implications. Some of Canada’s allies such as the United States and Australia have already imposed restrictions on using Huawei equipment, citing the risk of it being used for espionage. Huawei has repeatedly said such concerns are unfounded, while China’s ambassador to Canada last week said there would be repercussions if Ottawa blocked Huawei.
[..] In Monday’s interview, MacNaughton said he had complained to the United States that Canada was suffering from Chinese revenge for an arrest made at the U.S.’s request. “We don’t like that it is our citizens who are being punished,” the Globe and Mail cited MacNaughton as saying. “(The Americans) are the ones seeking to have the full force of American law brought against (Ms. Meng) and yet we are the ones who are paying the price. Our citizens are.”
Strange headline. What they mean is value. And yeah, property prices are ‘recovering’, because foreigners are buying up the country. If you don’t think that’s a problem, imagine the same happening where you live.
• Greek Households Have Lost 28% Of Their Assets (K.)
Greek households lost 27.9 percent of their assets in the decade from 2008 to 2018, Alpha Bank notes in its weekly financial bulletin. The lender’s analysts say that this drop was the biggest in the eurozone, followed by those recorded in Spain, Italy and Cyprus, while Germany recorded significant gains during the same period. Portugal also saw a rise, even though the country also went through an economic streamlining program, as it has benefited from the increase in property prices in recent years.
Households in Greece have recorded the biggest decline in the eurozone’s non-financial wealth after their counterparts in Spain, a development that mainly results from the slide in the Greek property market in previous years. Nevertheless, realty is currently showing signs of recovery in terms of both residential and commercial properties, with the house price index climbing 1.3 percent in January-September 2018 on an annual basis, while the price indexes for offices and retail spaces have climbed 7.4 percent and 3.1 percent respectively. The Alpha bulletin notes that household expectations regarding their spending capacity, employment conditions and the general economic situation are on the rise.
For Facebook and Twitter, read CIA and MI6.
• Facebook And Twitter Can Work Out Who You Are Even If You Don’t Use Them (Ind.)
Facebook and Twitter can be used to work out huge details of your personal life – even if you never actually use them, according to a new study. It is still possible to predict the kind of things you might say simply by looking at the sort of people you hang around with, a new study has found. The research undermines the idea that personal choice is the central part of privacy and that it is possible to opt out of tracking and data collection by social networks on your own, the researchers say. In the research, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide took more than more than thirty million public posts on Twitter from 13,905 users.
They found it was possible to use the messages from eight or nine of a person’s contacts to predict what a person might post next – as accurately as if they were looking at a person’s own Twitter feed. Even if a person left the social network or never actually joined, researchers can guess a person’s future posting or activities with 95 per cent accuracy, the scientists write. It also means that signing up to a social network like Facebook really means you are handing over possible data on your friends, too, the researchers warn. “There’s no place to hide in a social network,” says Lewis Mitchell, a co-author on the new study.
The researchers actually showed that there is a mathematical upper limit on how much predictive information about a person can be held on a social network. But it doesn’t matter whether that information is being provided by the person being profiled or someone else entirely, they found. “You alone don’t control your privacy on social media platforms,” said UVM professor Jim Bagrow. “Your friends have a say too.”
Oh well, talk to Davos and they’ll solve it all.
• Greenland’s Ice Melting Four Times Faster Than In 2003 (Ind.)
Greenland‘s ice is melting far faster than initially thought and may have reached a “tipping point”, with the rate of ice loss now four times quicker than it was in 2003, a new study suggests. Scientists researching rises in global sea levels examined the country’s southeast and northwest regions and found that the largest amount of ice loss was sustained away from Greenland’s glaciers. “Whatever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” said Michael Bevis, the study’s lead author. “It had to be the surface mass – the ice was melting inland from the coastline. It’s because the atmosphere is, at its baseline, warmer,” Mr Bevis added. “What’s happening is sea surface temperature in the tropics is going up; shallow water gets warmer and the air gets warmer.”
The team’s study suggests that an increasing amount of water will flow from Greenland into the ocean during the summer months, further contributing to the rising sea levels. “We knew we had one big problem with increasing rates of ice discharge by some large outlet glaciers,” said Mr Bevis. “But now we recognise a second serious problem: increasingly, large amounts of ice mass are going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea.”