Feb 192019
 
 February 19, 2019  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Eisenstaedt The kiss (V-J Day in Times Square) 1945

 

16 States Sue Over Trump’s National Emergency Declaration (NPR)
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein To Leave Office Soon (AFP)
Scott Pelley Commits Career Suicide (Kunstler)
US Auto Industry Lines Up Against Possible Tariffs (R.)
China Car Sales Plunge Most In 7 Years (ZH)
Honda Confirms UK Swindon Plant Will Close In 2021 (G.)
Germany Tops Japan With World’s Largest Current Account Surplus In 2018 (R.)
Euroskeptic Parties Could Paralyze EU (K.)
More MPs Ready To Quit Labour, Corbyn Warned (Ind.)
The First Step For Labour’s Exiles: Bring 29 More With Them (G.)
Museums Grapple With Rise In Pleas For Return Of Foreign Treasures (G.)
Majority Of European Firms Have No CO2 Reduction Targets (G.)
How The World Got Hooked On Palm Oil (G.)

 

 

Way ahead of you: “We will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake.”

16 States Sue Over Trump’s National Emergency Declaration (NPR)

A group of 16 states has filed a lawsuit in a Northern California federal court against President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, calling the president’s decision to use executive power to fund a border wall unconstitutional. The complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeks to bar the administration from using emergency powers to divert money from other programs to a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the start of a legal battle anticipated by both the president and his opponents. “The President has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency,” the plaintiffs wrote in California et al. v. Trump et al.

The lawsuit, spearheaded by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, says that the Constitution gives Congress alone the power to control spending, not the president. Trump declared the emergency on Friday to free up billions of dollars for construction of a long-promised border wall, after Congress passed a spending bill that allocated just $1.375 billion for its construction. The president says he plans to allocate a total of $8 billion to the wall, including redirecting $3.6 billion in military construction funds and $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities. Trump acknowledged the likelihood of legal challenges, saying on Friday, “We will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake.”

The White House has argued that the move is routine. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, presidents have declared national emergencies 60 times, including Trump, since the power was codified in the National Emergencies Act of 1976. But Democratic critics, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have advanced the same argument as the California-led lawsuit, claiming Trump’s declaration violates lawmakers’ power to set spending priorities. Experts seem to think the courts are likely to defer to the president on the question of whether there is an emergency, NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported, and the legal fight is likely to boil down to whether the president has the right under existing law to “reprogram” money Congress has appropriated.

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I meant to do that.

US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein To Leave Office Soon (AFP)

The US Justice Department official who once oversaw the Russia probe, Rod Rosenstein, plans to resign in mid-March, US news outlets reported. Rosenstein’s departure from his post as deputy attorney general has been expected for some time. CNN late Monday quoted a department official as saying it has nothing to do with recent explosive claims by the former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. McCabe has said that Rosenstein raised the idea of wearing a wire to tape President Donald Trump and talked about removing him from office under the 25th Amendment after Trump fired FBI director James Comey in May 2017.

CNN said Rosenstein has widely been expected to leave his job after Bill Barr is confirmed to fill the vacant post of attorney general. The network said that a departure by Rosenstein next month could suggest the Russia probe being carried out by special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing completion. Trump abruptly fired Comey as pressure rose over the Russia investigation, setting off alarm bells in the FBI and Justice Department. According to McCabe, in a lengthy interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Rosenstein brought up the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which provides for the removal of a sitting president for incapacity.

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“..the attempt by CBS-News to sell “the sterling career” story of Andrew McCabe (as Mr. Pelley put it), is really just a way for the network to cover its own ass..”

Scott Pelley Commits Career Suicide (Kunstler)

Apparently, one of the main objectives in the 60-Minutes story was to paint Mr. McCabe as an heroic patriot defending America against the wicked, shape-shifting, all-powerful Russia, which had made Mr. Trump its captive. The 60-Minutes piece happens to coincide exactly with the release of Mr. McCabe’s ass-covering book: The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. (Real superheroes fight both.) It also sets up a nice contrapuntal battle between the enigmatic Rod Rosenstein and Mr. McCabe vis-à-vis the idea of “wearing a wire” to record the President en route to running him over with the 25th Amendment. According to Mr. McCabe, there was a lot of lively discussion around this plan.

Mr. Rosenstein has brushed it off as a gag. Mr. McCabe, apparently, thought it was dead serious. They never did get their stories straight. In the meantime, Mr. McCabe’s own colleagues in the FBI’s ethics office and its Inspector General charged him with lying repeatedly about his role in this matter. You had to wonder whether the attempt by CBS-News to sell “the sterling career” story of Andrew McCabe (as Mr. Pelley put it), is really just a way for the network to cover its own ass in acting as a propaganda patsy in the long-running RussiaGate affair. The 60-Minutes segment also coincided with William Barr’s confirmation last week by the senate as the Attorney General, as well as official reports issued by both house and senate committees stating that they found no evidence for the Trump/Russia collusion story.

The ground is shifting under all this seditious hugger-mugger. Whether you are a Trump cheerleader or not (I’m not), there is a reality-based chain of events behind the FBI’s actions from early 2016 on — and the actions of other official players in government — that can only be clarified now in the courts, and chances are pretty good that they will be. It concerns me because the specter of massive institutional failure in federal law enforcement and the news media bodes very darkly for this country’s future.

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Let’s start with no longer calling it a growth industry. And then execute a controlled demolition. There are enough cars already.

US Auto Industry Lines Up Against Possible Tariffs (R.)

The U.S. auto industry urged President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday not to saddle imported cars and auto parts with steep tariffs, after the U.S. Commerce Department sent a confidential report to the White House late on Sunday with its recommendations for how to proceed. Some trade organizations also blasted the Commerce Department for keeping the details of its “Section 232” national security report shrouded in secrecy, which will make it much harder for the industry to react during the next 90 days Trump will have to review it.

“Secrecy around the report only increases the uncertainty and concern across the industry created by the threat of tariffs,” the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association said in a statement, adding that it was “alarmed and dismayed.” “It is critical that our industry have the opportunity to review the recommendations and advise the White House on how proposed tariffs, if they are recommended, will put jobs at risk, impact consumers, and trigger a reduction in U.S. investments that could set us back decades.” The industry has warned that possible tariffs of up to 25 percent on millions of imported cars and parts would add thousands of dollars to vehicle costs and potentially devastate the U.S economy by slashing jobs.

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Actually, “For 2018, the drop was 4.1%, marking the first decrease since the early 1990s.”

China Car Sales Plunge Most In 7 Years (ZH)

Car sales in China continued their relentless descent in January, falling 17.7%, as we recently expected would happen when discussing Europe’s tumbling January auto sales. This follows the country’s first full year slump (2018) in more than two decades and it puts further pressure on the state of the global automotive market. The drop marked the eighth monthly retail sales decline in a row and was the biggest one-month drop in seven years. Gu Yatao, a Beijing-based auto analyst with Roland Berger, confirmed to Bloomberg that the “downward pressure is still there. The government isn’t adopting stimulating policies to give the market a shot in the arm.”

The contraction in China comes at the same time that auto markets in Europe and North America continue to shrink as a result of car sharing services and slowing economies. As we have been reporting for months, the slowdown in China continues to be a result of the country’s slowing economy, coupled with the lagging trade war with the United States. Even discounts for the Chinese New Year, which traditionally can help spur sales, weren’t enough to keep consumers in showrooms early this year. It’s a “historic slump” for China: the wholesale decline in January, to 2.02 million units, accelerated from December’s 15.8% slump. For 2018, the drop was 4.1%, marking the first decrease since the early 1990s.

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Boohoohoo.

Honda Confirms UK Swindon Plant Will Close In 2021 (G.)

Honda has confirmed the closure of its Swindon factory with the loss of 3,500 jobs, dealing another huge blow to Britain’s car industry in the run-up to Brexit. The Japanese carmaker announced it would shut the factory, its only European production site, in 2021, when the current model’s production cycle ends. The Swindon factory produces 150,000 Honda Civics a year – most of them for export to the EU – amounting to about a tenth of total UK vehicle production. It employs 3,500 people but supports many more jobs in the supply chain. Greg Clark, the UK business secretary, said Honda’s plan was “a devastating decision” for Swindon and the UK. “This news is a particularly bitter blow to the thousands of skilled and dedicated staff who work at the factory, their families and all of those employed in the supply chain.”

He said Honda’s move was a “commercial decision based on unprecedented changes in the global market”. Katsushi Inoue, the chief officer for European regional operations and president of Honda Motor Europe, said: “In light of the unprecedented changes that are affecting our industry, it is vital that we accelerate our electrification strategy and restructure our global operations accordingly. “As a result, we have had to take this difficult decision to consult our workforce on how we might prepare our manufacturing network for the future. This has not been taken lightly and we deeply regret how unsettling today’s announcement will be for our people.”

 

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Talking about cars…

How Reuters can write this without indicating with whom Germany has its main surpluses is a valid question.

Germany Tops Japan With World’s Largest Current Account Surplus In 2018 (R.)

Germany’s current account surplus shrank but remained by far the world’s largest last year due to strong exports, according to data from the Ifo institute on Tuesday that is likely to renew criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fiscal policies. The IMF and the European Commission have urged Germany for years to do more to lift domestic demand as a way to boost imports, stimulate growth elsewhere and reduce global economic imbalances. Since he took office, U.S. President Donald Trump has also criticized Germany’s export strength.

Germany’s current account surplus, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments, was the world’s largest for the third year running in 2018 at $294 billion, followed by Japan with $173 billion, the Ifo figures showed. Russia came in third with a surplus of $116 billion. When measured in relation to economic output, Germany’s current account surplus shrank for the third year in a row, however, falling to 7.4 percent in 2018 from 7.9 percent the previous year, according to the Ifo figures. Since 2011, Germany’s current account balance has been consistently above the European Commission’s indicative threshold of 6 percent of GDP and the surplus reached a record high of 8.9 percent in 2015.

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And according to the report, that would be a bad thing.

Euroskeptic Parties Could Paralyze EU (K.)

A new survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) ahead of European Parliament elections in May has found that Euroskeptic parties are on course to win a third of the seats in the assembly, which could potentially undermine the European Union’s cohesion and security. “In the longer term, their ability to paralyze decision-making at the center of the EU would defuse pro-Europeans’ argument that the project is imperfect but capable of reform. At this point, the EU would be living on borrowed time,” said the report, “The 2019 European Elections: How anti-Europeans plan to wreck Europe and what can be done to stop it.” Mark Leonard, director of the London-based think-tank, said that the warning contained in the report, that anti-European parties are gaining strength and could paralyze the EU, should focus the minds of pro-Europeans.

“They must not become trapped into becoming defenders of the status quo in Europe or allowing the election to become a referendum on the issue of migration – which is exactly the battleground that the anti-Europeans want,” he said. “Instead, pro-Europeans need to unmute the silent majority by fighting different elections that Europe’s different publics will vote on – such as the climate change election, the ‘Facebook’ election for those concerned about their data and privacy, the election for those worried about Russian aggression, the prosperity election for those worried about stalled living standards, the rule of law election for those worried about democratic backsliding, and the ‘saving Europe’ election for the EU’s most ardent defenders.”

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Antisemitism sells as much as Trump does. People eat it up.

More MPs Ready To Quit Labour, Corbyn Warned (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn faces a historic Labour rupture after being warned that more MPs are ready to follow the seven who dramatically quit his party on Monday. The leader publicly appealed for unity while his supporters launched savage attacks on the MPs, branding them “cowards”, “traitors” and “splitters” and demanding they give up their seats. But as the crisis deepened, deputy leader Tom Watson said other MPs are also considering leaving Labour, a party he admitted he sometimes no longer recognises, amid visceral anger over antisemitism, Brexit and Mr Corbyn’s leadership. The breakaway MPs headed by prominent backbenchers Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger said they would form a new “Independent Group” in the House of Commons and invited people from other parties to join.

There were some early signs on Monday evening that they might attract support from disenfranchised Conservatives to the new centre-ground anti-Brexit grouping in the chamber. The group who left Labour, in the first major split of a British political party since the SDP were formed in 1981, also included Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie and Ann Coffey. Shortly after the announcement, Mr Corbyn wrote to every party member expressing his disappointment that a “small group” had left and urged the party “must be united”. But in a longer filmed statement, Mr Watson lamented their departure and in particular the antisemtic abuse suffered by Ms Berger that had preceded her announcement.

He said: “Even a single incident of antisemitism in the Labour Party shames us. Now we have lost Luciana, one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs. “If someone like Luciana no longer believes there is a home for her in the Labour Party then many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay. “That’s why time is short for us. To confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences. To keep others from leaving.” [..] As she resigned, Ms Berger said Labour had become “institutionally antisemitic”, while Mr Gapes, a former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the press conference Labour is now a “racist, antisemitic party”. He added: “Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are on the wrong side on so many international issues – from Russia, to Syria, to Venezuela. A Corbyn Labour government would threaten our national security and international alliances.”

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Less than 40 days before Brexit. So what do you do? Of course.

The First Step For Labour’s Exiles: Bring 29 More With Them (G.)

It has no name, no logo, no staff and no money. Yet those who packed into the tiny room above Westminster Bridge as seven MPs announced they were quitting the Labour party were left in no doubt that this was the beginning of a new political party. “The crucial word is yet,” one of the MPs said afterwards. “We are not a new party – yet.” As of Monday, the group are independents with no special status in the House of Commons. They hope to be something much more concrete, depending on their success in persuading other MPs to join them. In the short term the group has one central task – to convince 29 more disgruntled MPs from any party colour to join their group.

That would give them official third party status – overtaking the SNP and access not just to more “Short money” but also a prized guaranteed slot for the group’s leader at every PMQs, replacing the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford. Those MPs involved in the new group’s organisation stress that they hope this week will be dominated by several news cycles’ worth of new developments, including an expectation of more defections. If they do not materialise, the group will find it hard to maintain momentum. Two names mentioned as the most likely Conservative targets are the Tory MPs Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston, both independent-minded and supporters of the People’s Vote campaign.

The most crucial name on the list of seven is Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree who has faced a slew of antisemitic abuse including death threats that have seen more than one abuser put behind bars. Berger, who is nine months pregnant, had not often been talked about in the same breath as MPs like Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie who have been on the brink of quitting for many months over the party’s Brexit policy. Yet it was she who strode into the room first and chaired the event, looking the most like the group’s leader.

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What more to say about this display of dumb f*ckery? The entire article doesn’t mention the Parthenon Marbles even once. But between the lines groups them together with a giant sloth. And some art historian says “[museums] are going to have to figure it out or someone is going to figure it out for them..” Nonsense. Just give it back. You stole it.

Museums Grapple With Rise In Pleas For Return Of Foreign Treasures (G.)

Neanderthal skulls and the remains of an extinct sloth named after Charles Darwin are among the items requested for repatriation from British institutions, as documents reveal museums are facing calls to return some of their most treasured items to their places of origin. The pressure on museums to grapple with the provenance of their collections has been revealed by freedom of information requests submitted by the Guardian. A series of high-profile restitution claims have been received by institutions including the British Museum and the Natural History Museum in recent months. They include a call from the government of Gibraltar for the return of Neanderthal remains, including the first adult skull to be discovered by scientists, and a request from Chile for the repatriation of the remains of a now extinct giant ground sloth.

The letters, almost all of which resulted in the requests being rejected, show that long-running restitution claims for high-profile exhibits such as the Parthenon marbles are the tip of the iceberg as debate rages over the right of museums to keep hold of contested collection items. Last month the Egyptian government called on the National Museum of Scotland to produce certification documents for its Egyptian antiquities after a row broke out over plans to display a casing stone from the Great Pyramid of Giza. In October last year, the British Museum faced calls to return Hoa Hakananai’a, a basalt statue taken from Easter Island in 1868 and given to the museum by Queen Victoria the following year. In April, the ministry of cultural heritage in Italy requested the return of a marble relief depicting the freedmen Publius Licinius Philonicus and Publius Licinius Demetrius.


The Hoa Hakananai’a statue from Easter Island is among the artefacts displayed in the British Museum asked to be returned. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

The art historian Alice Procter, whose Uncomfortable Art Tours seek to inform visitors about the colonial history of museums, said British institutions would increasingly be forced into “soul-searching” about the provenance of their items – and whether they should be returned. “This is a really critical time for museums to work out where they stand on these questions,” she said. “Stop hiding behind historical acts. They have little justification for continuing to cite something like the British Museum Act.” Procter referred to a recent report commissioned by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, which caused a stir in the museum world last November with a call for thousands of African artworks held by French museums to be returned to their countries of origin. “It’s one of those situations where [museums] are going to have to figure it out or someone is going to figure it out for them,” said Procter.

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But 47% already reward their CEOs for climate performance. Wonder what pot of money that comes out of.

Majority Of European Firms Have No CO2 Reduction Targets (G.)

Most European companies have no target for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions even though 80% see climate change as a business risk, a survey has found. Among those that have set climate goals, only one in three stretch beyond 2025, according to the annual Carbon Disclosure Project report. Instead, corporate action has focused in the boardroom, with 47% of firms rewarding their CEOs for climate performance, and a quarter tying incentives to environmental goals. European firms now make up half of the CDP’s environmental “A-list” and the managing director for Europe, Steven Tebbe, praised climate disclosure’s entry into the financial mainstream.

“The next decade is vital if our shift to a sustainable economy is to be successful, and companies lie at the heart of this transition,” he said. A-list companies on the Stoxx global climate change leaders index outperformed their peers by 5.5% per annum this decade, he noted. Although 53% of companies surveyed did not yet have climate goals, 58% reported carbon cuts in 2018, amounting to a total reduction of the equivalent of 85m tonnes of CO2 – as much as Austria’s annual emissions. One third of companies reported increased emissions. One A-listed property management firm, Landsec, has cut its greenhouse gases by 17% since 2014 – on the way to a planned 40% tail-off by 2030.

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There is essentially zero need for palm oil. But Europe throws it in its biofuels. And all of its food. Because Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and orangutans don’t protest.

Zombies ‘R’ Us. We kill anything for profit, including ourselves.

How The World Got Hooked On Palm Oil (G.)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there grew a magical fruit. This fruit could be squeezed to produce a very special kind of oil that made cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting. Because of these wondrous qualities, people came from around the world to buy the fruit and its oil. In the places where the fruit came from, people burned down the forest so they could plant more trees that grew the fruit – making lots of nasty smoke and sending all of the creatures of the forest scurrying away. When the trees were burned, they emitted a gas that heated up the air. Then everybody was upset, because they loved the forest’s creatures and thought the temperature was warm enough already. A few people decided they shouldn’t use the oil any more, but mostly things went on as before, and the forest kept burning.

This is a true story. Except that it is not magic. The fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), which grows in tropical climates, contains the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. It can handle frying without spoiling, and blends well with other oils. Its combination of different types of fats and its consistency after refining make it a popular ingredient in packaged baked goods. Its low production costs make it cheaper than frying oils such as cottonseed or sunflower. It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. Cosmetics manufacturers prefer it to animal tallow for its ease of application and low price. It is increasingly used as a cheap raw material for biofuels, especially in the European Union.


Orangutans rescued near a palm oil plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rex

It functions as a natural preservative in processed foods, and actually does raise the melting point of ice-cream. Palm oil can be used as an adhesive that binds together the particles in fibreboard. Oil palm trunks and fronds can be made into everything from plywood to the composite body of Malaysia’s national automobile. Worldwide production of palm oil has been climbing steadily for five decades. Between 1995 and 2015, annual production quadrupled, from 15.2m tonnes to 62.6m tonnes. By 2050, it is expected to quadruple again, reaching 240m tonnes. The footprint of palm oil production is astounding: plantations to produce it account for 10% of all global cropland. Today, 3 billion people in 150 countries use products containing palm oil. Globally, we each consume an average of 8kg of palm oil a year.

Of this, 85% comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, where worldwide demand for palm oil has lifted incomes, especially in rural areas – but at the cost of tremendous environmental devastation and often with attendant labour and human rights abuses. Fires set to clear forests and create land for more palm plantations are the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, a country of 261 million people. The financial incentive to produce more palm oil is helping to warm the planet, while destroying the only habitat of Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and orangutans – driving them towards extinction.

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Feb 182019
 
 February 18, 2019  Posted by at 10:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Face female study 1925

 

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)
Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)
Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)
Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)
New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)
Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)
UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)
Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)
Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)
Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)
Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)
UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)
Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

 

 

How state propaganda works (and is disseminated by sympathetic media).

“The scene was a vicious verbal interlude..” “The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. “The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks.”

In reality, the French see young people with their eyes missing due to Macron-ordered rubber bullets. The only support that’s eroding is that for Macron.

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)

Paris judicial authorities opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic remarks hurled at a noted philosopher during a yellow vest protest, an incident that raised national concerns about the movement’s ascendant radical fringe. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the investigation was being conducted into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.” A band of men taunted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of a protest through the French capital Paris on Saturday. “Go back to Tel Aviv,” ”Zionist,” and “France is our land” were among the insults captured on video. Finkielkraut, a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, told French television station LCI on Sunday he doesn’t intend to file a complaint.

The scene was a vicious verbal interlude as thousands of protesters made their way through the Left Bank for the 14th Saturday in a row of demonstrations by the yellow vest movement. Several thousand protesters gathered again in Paris on Sunday to mark the three-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement’s protests, which started Nov. 17 with nationwide protests of fuel tax increases. [..] The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks. One yellow vest protester who has tried to put together a candidates list for the European Parliament election was heckled Sunday by detractors.

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Government officials vs a newly elected president. Must be a first. Patriots vs voters.

Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)

Two Trump Cabinet officials were “ready to support” a DOJ scheme to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump, according to Bloomberg and Fox News, citing closed-door testimony from the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker – who said that the claim came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “The testimony was delivered last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Fox News has confirmed portions of the transcript. It provides additional insight into discussions that have returned to the spotlight in Washington as fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revisits the matter during interviews promoting his forthcoming book.” -Fox News

While Baker did not identify the two Cabinet officials, he says that McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page approached him to relay their conversations with Rosenstein, including their discussions of the 25th Amendment scheme. “I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he – this was what was related to me – that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the Congressional committees. The 25th Amendment allows for the removal of a sitting president from office through various mechanisms – including the majority of a president’s Cabinet agreeing that the commander-in-chief is incapable of performing his duties.

Rosenstein – who is slated to leave the Justice Department in the near future, has denied the claims. Baker said McCabe was cool, calm and collected throughout the discussions, telling lawmakers: “At this point in time, Andy was unbelievably focused and unbelievably confident and squared away. I don’t know how to describe it other than I was extremely proud to be around him at that point in time because I thought he was doing an excellent job at maintaining focus and dealing with a very uncertain and difficult situation. So I think he was in a good state of mind at this point in time.” McCabe, meanwhile told “60 Minutes” in an interview set to air Sunday night that Rosenstein was concerned about Trump’s “capacity.”

According to McCabe, Rosenstein “raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort,” adding that Rosenstein was “definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity and about his intent at that point in time.” “Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president?” asks CBS News anchor Scott Pelly, to which McCabe replied: “That’s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.”

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Inevitable, so let’s have it.

“..there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.”

Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)

President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said on Sunday. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.” The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president’s effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges.

After lawmakers in both parties blocked his requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his signature campaign pledge, Trump’s declared national emergency Friday shifts billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction to the border. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action. Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

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“The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.”

Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)

Senior Tories were accused of “sniping” at the huge numbers of campaigners set to take part in a march for a fresh Brexit referendum, a day after it was announced. A Brexit minister, Martin Callanan, came under fire after he branded next month’s Put It To The People march – part of The Independent’s Final Say campaign – “desperate stuff”. James Cleverly, a Conservative vice-chairman, tweeted sarcastically: “The only thing that might make me change my mind is a bloke in a blue hat with yellow stars shouting ‘Stop Brexit’. Yep, that might do it.” The reaction came despite last October’s demonstration attracting up to 700,000 people in London alone – and fuelling support for a new referendum at Westminster.

Anna Turley, a Labour supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the two men were “sniping at the huge numbers of people in this country who want to make their voice heard”. “Ministers should listen to the calls of those who feel betrayed by broken Brexit promises, worried about the damage caused by either this deal or no deal, as well as those who just want clarity and closure about our country’s direction – rather than years more of argument and division,” she said. The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.

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Meaningless without including other taxes, income, wealth, tec.

New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)

New Zealand said on Monday that it plans to update its laws so it can tax revenue earned by multinational digital firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, extending a global effort to bring global tech giants into the tax net. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the cabinet had agreed to issue a discussion document about how to update the country’s tax framework to ensure multinational companies pay their fair share. “Our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals,” Ardern told reporters at her weekly post-cabinet news conference.

Highly digitalized companies, such as those offering social media networks, trading platforms, and online advertising, currently earn a significant income from New Zealand consumers without being liable for income tax, the government said in a statement released after the announcement. The value of cross-border digital services in New Zealand is estimated to be around NZ$2.7 billion ($1.86 billion). The revenue estimate for a digital services tax is between NZ$30 million and NZ$80 million, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in the statement. Digital services taxes (DST) are generally charged at a flat rate of two to three percent on the gross revenue earned by a multinational company in that country. A number of countries including the U.K, Spain, Italy, France, Austria and India have enacted or announced plans for a DST. The EU and Australia are also consulting on a DST.

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Anything here that money won’t buy?

Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)

Facebook deliberately broke privacy and competition law and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation, according to a devastating parliamentary report denouncing the company and its executives as “digital gangsters”. The final report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news accused Facebook of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections. “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” warned the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.

The report:
• Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
• Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
• Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

The committee argues that, had Facebook abided by the terms of an agreement struck with US regulators in 2011 to limit developers’ access to user data, the scandal would not have occurred. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies,” it concludes. The 108-page report makes excoriating reading for the social media giant, which is accused of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights. “Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states, accusing the company of covering up leaks of user data. “It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.”

Zuckerberg is also personally criticised by the committee in scathing terms, with his claim that Facebook has never sold user data dismissed by the report as “simply untrue”. “Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins added in a statement. Watson agreed. “Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has,” he said. “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line.”

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I know you thought this was about the CIA. But no, it’s Russia again.

UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Theresa May must launch an independent investigation into “foreign influence and voter manipulation” in the Brexit vote, a committee of MPs says today, amid growing evidence of lawbreaking by Leave campaigners. A highly critical report – which warns “democracy is at risk” from rogue practices on social media – turns its fire on the prime minister for the failure to probe their effect on the referendum result. No wide-ranging investigation has taken place, despite the main Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, being found by the Electoral Commission to have broken the law. The National Crime Agency, meanwhile, has launched a separate investigation into evidence of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Arron Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

But Downing Street has fought off calls for a “Mueller-style” inquiry, on the scale of the US probe into alleged collusion with Russia by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has insisted an inquiry must be carried out, also looking into the 2017 general election and the 2014 Scottish referendum. It would establish “what actually happened with regard to foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data, so that appropriate changes to the law can be made and lessons can be learnt for future elections and referenda”. Damian Collins, the committee’s Conservative chair, urged the prime minister to come clean about whether “Russian interference in UK politics” was being probed.

“We want to find out what was the impact of disinformation and voter manipulation on past elections including the UK referendum in 2016, and are calling on the government to launch an independent investigation,” he said. [..] The crisis emerged after the Brexit referendum, leading to the finding against Vote Leave which has been referred to the police for busting spending limits Crucially, the cash was used to pay data firm Aggregate IQ and – a whistleblower and an Oxford professor argue – potentially enabled it to precisely target enough voters on social media to have swayed the Brexit result. Mr Banks, Nigel Farage’s ally, could receive a two-year prison sentence if he is found to have “knowingly concealed” that an Isle of Man company handed up to £8m to Leave.EU – which would have been outlawed as a foreign donation.

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Saw that headline and though: elections must be coming up. And yes.

Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)

A cyber attack on Australian lawmakers that breached the networks of major political parties was probably carried out by a foreign government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, but did not name any suspects. As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told this month told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network. The hackers breached the networks of major political parties, Morrison said, as he issued an initial assessment by investigators. “Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he told parliament.

“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected.” Morrison did not reveal what information was accessed, but he said there was no evidence of election interference. Investors are still securing local networks, said Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, the government department responsible for online security. “Our political institutions represent high-value targets,” MacGibbon told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

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Problem is he doesn’t stand a chance of winning anything.

Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)

The enfant terrible of euro-economics and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis reloaded his gun and shot: Profits from the European Central Bank should be used for a European Poverty Fund. Speaking at an event of his party DiEM25 in Thessaloniki, he said about the “New Deal in Europe and the World”, that Europe is currently facing four crises: public-private debt, very low investment, banking system and rising poverty. Especially about poverty, Varoufakis, revealed that last year the European Central Bank had profits of €91 billion, which are distributed to the finance ministries of countries with surplus. “A Fund to Combat Poverty could be founded tomorrow morning, in order to support the poor European family and this would be an integrative move and the fight against intolerance and anti-Europeanism and fascism.”

Addressing his Greek audience, he said “in DieM25/MeRA25 we are deeply European, we are criticizing the euro, we want to upgrade it, we are the only ones that have proposals to change the architecture of the euro. We want to restructure the euro. We do not propose exit from the euro, we are not threatening to exit the euro. This is a fact. He criticized the economic policies of his former SYRIZA comrades saying ‘“It is impossible at this time to have any recovery in Greece when small and medium-size businesses pay 75% of their profits to the state. You can not have a 100% pre-payment of the tax. You do that in a country when it is to destroy it.” [..] “Every eurozone country should have a parallel payment system,” he underlined.

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Well, they did vote to recognize Guiado as head of state.

Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)

Venezuela denied a group of European Parliament deputies entry into the country on Sunday, arguing they had “conspiratorial motives” for flying to Caracas in the throes of a political crisis. The European Parliament last month joined a slew of Western nations in recognizing Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim head of state after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in an election last year that critics denounced as a sham. The four deputies from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) were traveling to Venezuela to meet with Guaido, one of them said in a video distributed via social media.

“They have retained our passports, they haven’t communicated the reason for our expulsion,” Esteban González Pons said. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account that the lawmakers had been advised several days ago they would not be allowed entry into the South American country. Venezuela would “not permit the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its rude, interventionist actions,” he wrote.

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Wonder how much money Monsanto has paid into the report.

..new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious.

..opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity ..

Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)

It is 2040 and Britain’s green and pleasant countryside is populated by robots. We have vertical farms of leafy salads, fruit and vegetables, and livestock is protected by virtual fencing. Changing diets have seen a decline in meat consumption while new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious. This is the picture painted in a report from the National Farmers Union which attempts to sketch out what British food and farming will look like in 20 years’ time. “The Future of Food 2040 report is a catalyst to encourage us all to start the debate about our food and our future so we can plan ahead,” said Andrea Graham, NFU’s head of policy services and author of the report, who interviewed 50 experts across Britain’s food chain to gauge their views.

“It is also a reminder for government, at a critical time in British history, to make domestic food production a strategic priority in all policy making.” While some of the predictions may seem a long way off, others are already in their infancy. “Even now, there are technologies being developed that can care for crops on a plant-by-plant basis or control the grazing of cattle without physical fences, and by 2040 this technology will be commonplace in farming,” Graham said. The British farming sector will need to be more efficient if it is to meet a key NFU goal of producing net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. “Over the next 20 years we will face potentially seismic changes in all aspects of society,” Graham added. “An increase in the global population and the need to mitigate climate change will provide opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity and reduce its impact on the environment.”

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Food must come from sterile enviroments. No life allowed.

Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)

More than a century ago, wolves were hunted to extinction in Germany. These days, they’re back – and their presence is a source of political strife. Wolf attacks on livestock increased drastically in 2017, according to government statistics released at the weekend: they carried out 472 attacks, an increase of 66% over the previous year. The number of killed, injured or missing livestock – mostly sheep and goats – rose 55%, to 1,667. The issue of how to deal with wolves is pitting farmers who want to protect their livestock against environmentalists who prioritise the protection of vulnerable species. Julia Klöckner, the agriculture minister, said the latest figures proved the government needed to act.

Germany should shift its regulations to make it legal to remove individual wolves from a pack, she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. For more than a century, wolves were extinct in Germany. In recent years, however, especially since the country’s reunification in 1990, the animals have been reintroduced and are slowly making a comeback. They are especially prevalent in the former East German states, since many have crossed the border with Poland. Though environmentalists have lauded the return of the wolf, not everyone is happy that they are back – or that they have been awarded protected status. EU regulations outlaw the killing of wolves, allowing exceptions only when there is “no satisfactory alternative” or if people are in danger.

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Instead of simply saying don’t make the stuff anymore. London must think Brits are incredibly stupid people.

UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)

Britain is to set out plans to overhaul its recycling system on Monday, including making plastic packaging producers pay the full cost of dealing with their waste and introducing a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles. The plans, which also aim to make household rubbish collections more consistent around the country, will be introduced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove and go out for consultation for three months. “We will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste, and end the confusion over household recycling,” Gove said in a statement. The tax will be payable by producers who fail to use enough recycled material.

At present, producers pay only around 10 percent of the cost of dealing with plastic packaging waste, the environment ministry said. Under an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, the industry will pay higher fees if its packaging is harder to reuse or recycle. EPR for packaging will raise between 800 million and one billion pounds a year for recycling and disposal, the ministry said. Government will seek views on two options for how a deposit return scheme might work for cans and glass or plastic bottles, it added. The first would target a large amount of drinks on the market, irrespective of container size. The second, known as the “on-the-go” model, would concern smaller container sizes – those most often sold for consumption outside the home.

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These birds spend most of their lives feeding at sea, returning to their nests only to breed.

Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet. Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects. These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food. The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive. “These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher. If fulmar colonies were tested in the North Sea, where levels of plastic consumption are far higher, she said the results could be far more dramatic. “Now the thing is to look at other populations and to see if they have the same chemicals, or other chemicals,” she said. In another study, Dr Provencher and her colleagues examined the eggs of both fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes, and found traces of more chemicals known as UV stabilisers and antioxidants. “We are finding multiple plastic-derived contaminants that are maternally transferred to the egg,” she said. “It’s really tragic.”


Scientists studied the eggs of northern fulmars from an Arctic island in Canada’s Lancaster Sound (Getty/iStock)

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Feb 172019
 
 February 17, 2019  Posted by at 11:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-François Millet The Gleaners 1857 (see more in comments section)

 

Macron Condemns Antisemitic Abuse During Gilets Jaunes Paris Protest (AFP)
French Police Fire Tear Gas As Latest ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Turn Violent (R.)
Yellow Vests Who Have Lost Eyes, Limbs Demand Justice From Macron (RT)
Act XIV: The Last Saturday Of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests In France? (Local)
Remainers Plan Mass March And Key Vote In Last Days Before Brexit (G.)
IS Caliphate On Brink Of Defeat In Syria As Trump Urges Europe To Do More (R.)
Amazon Paid No Federal Taxes On $11.2 Billion In Profits Last Year (WaPo)
Spain Heads Into Election Unknown As PM Runs Out Of Road (G.)
Catalan Separatists Stage Mass Anti-Trial Protest In Barcelona (BBC)
Mass Restoration Of World Forests Would Cancel Out Decade Of Emissions (Ind.)

 

 

After weeks of finding it hard to find any coverage of the Yellow Vests protests, plenty articles today. How come? The media, and Macron, found an antisemitism angle to use against protesters. Interestingly, the second philosopher in a week spoke out, but this one against the movement. And what part is antisemitic? ‘Several’ protesters shouted “we are the people” and “France is ours”. And they called him a dirty Zionist. Which is more a condemnation of Israel Gaza and West Bank policies than of Judaism.

But antisemitism has proved a winning angle in western media. It’s how they got rid of Jeremy Corbyn, it’s what’s used against Trump with his entire Jewish family, and it’s what’s used against anyone critical of today’s version of apartheid.

So you would think if the incident were so terrible, Reuters, too, would loudly condemn it. Not one word (see article below). What do you think the odss are the French staged the so-called antisemitic incident?

Macron Condemns Antisemitic Abuse During Gilets Jaunes Paris Protest (AFP)

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has condemned antisemitic abuse of a leading intellectual by gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protestors and said it would not be tolerated. Police intervened to protect philosopher and writer Alain Finkielkraut after he was targeted by a group of protestors on the fringe of a demonstration in central Paris on Saturday, according to videos posted on social networks. “The antisemitic insults he has been subjected to are the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate it,” Macron tweeted. “The son of Polish immigrants who became a French academician, Alain Finkielkraut is not only a prominent man of letters but the symbol of what the Republic allows everyone,” the president added in another tweet.

Several protestors shouted “dirty Zionist”, “we are the people” and “France is ours”, according to a video broadcast by Yahoo! News. “I felt absolute hatred and, unfortunately, this is not the first time,” Finkielkraut, 69, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper. “I would have been afraid if there had not been the police, fortunately they were there.” He added that not all the demonstrators were hostile towards him and one even suggested he put on a vest and join the demonstration while another hailed his work. Finkielkraut has expressed his solidarity and sympathy with the gilets jaunes protestors from the outset but in an interview published on Saturday in Le Figaro, he criticised the leaders of the movement, saying that “arrogance has changed sides”.

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Reuters instead chooses to go after the protesters in general. “A poll this week showed dwindling support for the “yellow vests” demonstrations..”, that kind of approach, “..police also fired tear gas and charged, to disperse projectile-throwing demonstrators..” The general idea: the protesters are violent.

French Police Fire Tear Gas As Latest ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Turn Violent (R.)

French police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who threw projectiles and set bins on fire in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux on Saturday, as the 14th straight weekend of “yellow vest” protests took a violent turn in the afternoon. In Rouen in the north, four people were injured after a driver tried to force his way through a crowd of protesters, authorities said. Demonstrators gathered peacefully earlier in the day at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a flashpoint of clashes with the police in the early days of the protests, before marching toward the Eiffel Tower. Later in the afternoon, police and hooded protesters clashed at the Esplanade des Invalides in central Paris where the march was expected to end, forcing some into adjoining streets where some skirmishes were reported.

In Bordeaux and Lyon, police also fired tear gas and charged, to disperse projectile-throwing demonstrators after bins were set on fire and properties destroyed. Protesters tried to block a depot operated by online retail giant Amazon and some threw stones at police in Toulouse in the south, BFM Television reported. A poll this week showed dwindling support for the “yellow vests” demonstrations, named for motorists’ high-visibility jackets, which began in November over fuel taxes and morphed into a more general revolt against politicians and a government they see as out of touch.

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But reality in France is not what the MSM report it is.

“France is likely witnessing the worst non-wartime bloodshed since the Paris Commune massacre of 1871.”

Yellow Vests Who Have Lost Eyes, Limbs Demand Justice From Macron (RT)

France gathered for the 14th week of Gilets Jaunes protests, with the injury toll of the worst civil unrest in decades now resembling that of a small war. Yet despite pleas from victims, Emmanuel Macron is tightening the screws. “This is not normal. We are in France, one of the oldest and best democracies in the world,” says Fiorina Jacob Lignier, who lost her eye at a demonstration in Paris on December 8. “We usually condemn from afar other countries where this occurs, that this is happening here is unbelievable.” Lignier, a 20-year-old philosophy student, traveled from the northern city of Amiens to march on the Champs-Elysees to protest against fuel taxes with her boyfriend, Jacob Maxime.

He told RT that they were marching with a column of peaceful demonstrators, when a group of masked radicals began to vandalize a shopfront more than 50 yards away. The police “began shooting ‘Flash Balls’ and throwing grenades in all directions,” during which the couple spent two hours “penned in between a line of gendarmes and a wall, with no chance to flee.” Lignier said the last thing she remembers was the cries of cops clearing the way for firemen, then a gas grenade hit her on the head, and she was on the ground. When she woke up, her nose was broken, her face swollen from fractures, and she couldn’t see through her left eye. Over the next 16 days, Lignier underwent two surgeries, and is still waiting for two more.

For most demonstrations anywhere in the West, Lignier’s story would have made her a poster girl for law enforcement excesses. Among the Gilets Jaunes, her case is just one of many. The sheer scale of concentrated peacetime violence since November is hard to comprehend. [..] While the May 1968 student and worker protests that upturned French history claimed four lives directly, [neurosurgeon Laurent] Thines believes the overall scope, length and intensity of violence was much more contained than the current chaos. If so, France is likely witnessing the worst non-wartime bloodshed since the Paris Commune massacre of 1871.


Protester Fiorina Jacob Lignier before and after she was struck by a police gas grenade.

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Moving from Saturday to Sunday? Will the movement survive it, or merely be divided? “Staging marches on Sunday will allow families to take their baby in strollers out in the street. I doubt Interior Minister Castaner will send cops out with water cannons and rubber bullets if we do..”

Act XIV: The Last Saturday Of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests In France? (Local)

The southern city of Bordeaux is also expecting another weekend of protest and violence now that anti-capitalism group “black block” is set to join a demo called for 1pm Saturday at the city’s Place de la Bourse. The anarchist group, responsible for some of the violent incidents that have plagued recent gilets jaunes protests in the capital of Gironde, posted their participation on a Facebook group called “black yellow”, in which they also called for the yellow vests and the black blocks to join forces. A “yellow night” march is also planned to start at Paris’s Place de la République from 5pm onwards. Then there are figureheads of the group such as Eric Drouet who want the weekend rallies rallies in Paris to be moved to Sunday to commemorate the three-month “anniversary” of the movement, born on November 17.

The first of its kind will be held this Sunday at 11am at the Arc de Triomphe. This call for changing Saturday demos to Sundays has been replicated by other yellow vest figureheads such as Benjamin Cauchy, who thinks the marches should also return to their original place: France’s roundabouts. “Staging marches on Sunday will allow families to take their baby in strollers out in the street. I doubt Interior Minister Castaner will send cops out with water cannons and rubber bullets if we do,” he wrote on a Facebook post. “The movement wants to return to the city outskirts again, block major shopping centres, big national and international brands and disassociate itself from the thugs who remain in the city centres.”

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This is so late in the game I can’t help thinking of our economic model of ‘just-in-time delivery’.

Look, the French yesterday did their 14th consecutive demo. Britons haven’t even had one yet.

Remainers Plan Mass March And Key Vote In Last Days Before Brexit (G.)

Campaigners against Theresa May’s “my deal or no deal” Brexit strategy are planning to mobilise the public and politicians for a showdown over the UK’s future in Europe in the final six days before Britain is due to leave the EU, the Observer can reveal. The plans will involve a huge march in London on Saturday, 23 March, aimed at demonstrating the scale of public anxiety about the two Brexit options May is offering, which will conclude with speeches outside the Palace of Westminster. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend. Then on 25 and 26 March, MPs of all parties say they will be ready to rally behind a “lethal” amendment that will allow May’s deal to be passed, but only on condition that it is first ratified and approved by the British people in a referendum. Such a referendum would require article 50 to be delayed.

If the British people reject May’s deal in that second public vote, the UK would in all probability stay in the EU on its current terms. MPs who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum – and who are appalled by May’s attempts to “run down the clock” in the hope of forcing parliament to vote for her hugely unpopular deal – believe that the two-pronged approach of involving the public and politicians has a good chance of averting a disastrous Brexit outcome, albeit at the 11th hour. While some at Westminster believe the chances of securing a second referendum have faded, supporters of the latest plans say the Commons will be most likely to back another public vote at the moment when a nervous nation will be on the brink of the biggest decision in its postwar history, one that will affect the futures of millions of British people. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March.

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Read quite a few pieces on this. Not one mention anywhere of the fact that Assad and Russia defeated ISIS, not the US.

IS Caliphate On Brink Of Defeat In Syria As Trump Urges Europe To Do More (R.)

U.S.-backed fighters in Syria are poised to capture Islamic State’s last, tiny enclave on the Euphrates, the battle commander said on Saturday, bringing its self-declared caliphate to the brink of total defeat as U.S. President Donald Trump spoke of “100 percent victory”. Jiya Furat said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had cornered the remaining militants in a neighborhood of Baghouz village near the Iraqi border, under fire from all sides. “In the coming few days, in a very short time, we will spread the good tidings to the world of the military end of Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. He was speaking after Trump said on Friday there would be “great announcements” about Syria over the next 24 hours.

Trump on Saturday said the caliphate was “ready to fall and that the United States was asking European allies to take back more than 800 Islamic State fighters captured in Syria and put them on trial. “The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” he said in a Tweet. “The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them… “….The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe, which is where they are expected to go. We do so much, and spend so much – Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”

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Right. What are we supposed to think when Jeff Bezos owned newspaper WaPo ‘attacks’ Jeff Bezos owned Amazon?

Amazon Paid No Federal Taxes On $11.2 Billion In Profits Last Year (WaPo)

Amazon, the e-commerce giant helmed by the world’s richest man, paid no federal taxes on profit of $11.2 billion last year, according to an analysis of the company’s corporate filings by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a progressive think tank. Thanks to a variety of tax credits and a significant tax break available on pay handed out in the form of company stock, Amazon actually received a federal tax rebate of $129 million last year, giving it an effective federal tax rate of roughly -1 percent. It is the second year in a row the company has enjoyed a negative federal tax rate on a multibillion dollar profit. That would place the company’s effective federal tax rate below the rate paid by the poorest 20 percent of American households, which had an effective federal tax rate of 1.5 percent in 2015, according to the Tax Policy Center.

“Amazon pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate, including paying $2.6 billion in corporate tax and reporting $3.4 billion in tax expense over the last three years,” said an Amazon spokeswoman, Jodi Seth, in a statement. “We have invested more than $160 billion in the U.S. since 2011, building a network of more than 125 fulfillment and sortation centers, air hubs and delivery stations as well as cloud-computing infrastructure and wind and solar farms.” Matthew Gardner, an ITEP senior fellow, called the situation a failure of American tax policy. “Their U.S. profits doubled in the last year. If anyone is ever going to be subject to the corporate income tax, you would hope it would be Amazon,” he said.

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Election April 28. Just a repeat of what went before.

Spain Heads Into Election Unknown As PM Runs Out Of Road (G.)

Spain is heading into what could be months of political uncertainty after its Socialist prime minister called a snap general election for April – the country’s third in less than four years – against the backdrop of a continuing Catalan secession crisis. It was always improbable that Pedro Sánchez, whose administration will be the shortest in Spain’s modern democratic history, would last long. He came to power in June only because his predecessor, the conservative Mariano Rajoy, lost a no-confidence vote after a string of corruption revelations about his People’s Party (PP).

But with just 24% of MPs, Sánchez needed the backing of the anti-austerity Podemos and, critically, Catalan nationalists – whose continuing demands for a referendum on independence were always going to fall foul of the Socialists’ pledge to defend Spain’s constitutional order. The prime minister’s fragile government finally ran out of options to stay in power this week after talks with Catalan separatist MPs broke down and they opted to join forces with the conservative opposition to block his budget proposals. What happens after the 28 April vote, which comes less a month before European, regional and local elections in May, is far from clear. Spain’s two most recent elections have both resulted in hung parliaments and weak governments – and the country’s political landscape is now even more fragmented.

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Some of the leaders could get 25 years in prison. That guarantees 25 years of unrest.

Catalan Separatists Stage Mass Anti-Trial Protest In Barcelona (BBC)

Demonstrators have marched en masse through Barcelona in protest at the trial of Catalan separatist leaders. Some 200,000 people took to the streets, waving Catalan flags and shouting pro-separatist slogans in support of the 12 leaders on trial. The trial, at Madrid’s Supreme Court, follows Catalonia’s independence referendum and failed attempt to secede from Spain in October 2017. If convicted, some of the leaders could face up to 25 years in prison. The Catalonia crisis is thought to be the most serious to hit Spain since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, and the country’s transition to democracy.

Soon after the referendum, Spanish authorities had declared that it was illegal, and the national government imposed direct rule over the semi-autonomous region. Prosecutor Fidel Cadena told the court that the separatists were promoting “subversion and rupture of the constitutional order”. Spain’s 1978 constitution speaks of “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation”. But the separatist leaders’ lawyer, Andreu Van Den Eynde, said the trial was about “the right to self-determination and the democratic principle”. “There is no international or European Union law that prevents the secession of a sub-state entity,” he added. “It does not exist.”

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Plant a Tree, Drive an SUV.

Mass Restoration Of World Forests Would Cancel Out Decade Of Emissions (Ind.)

Replenishing the world’s forests on a grand scale would suck enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to cancel out a decade of human emissions, according to an ambitious new study. Scientists have established there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees to grow in parks, woods and abandoned land across the planet. If such a goal were accomplished, ecologist Dr Thomas Crowther said it would outstrip every other method for tackling climate change – from building wind turbines to vegetarian diets. Lack of accurate information meant for years experts severely underestimated the number of trees on Earth.

Combining data from ground-based surveys and satellites, Dr Crowther and his colleagues arrived at a figure of three trillion – over seven times more than a previous Nasa estimate. The same approach, using machine learning and AI to analyse the enormous data set, allowed the researchers to predict the number of trees that could feasibly be planted in empty patches around the world.Dr Crowther said undervaluing trees means scientists have also been massively underestimating the potential for forests to combat climate change. Project Drawdown, a group that compares the merits of different emission-cutting techniques, currently places onshore wind power and improved recycling of fridges and air conditioners at the top of its list.

If rolled out on a realistic scale, each of these techniques would cut over 80 gigatons of emissions, while growing forests languishes in 15th place with a saving of just 18 gigatons. New research undertaken by Dr Crowther has used the 1.2 billion figure to estimate the potential scale of carbon capture that could be achieved by planting trees, and reveal their true potential. “There’s 400 gigatons now, in the 3 trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere – at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out,” he said.

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Feb 152019
 
 February 15, 2019  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Three women at the edge of the beach 1924

 

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)
Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)
Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)
Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)
Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)
German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)
BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)
As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)
White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)
How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)
School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)
100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

 

 

They’re inventing a narrative as we speak that Mueller may have proof of collusion, but not enough for a criminal case, and therefore that proof may remain hidden. Which would give NBC plenty material for more empty allegations right up until the 2020 elections. In the media, it’s no longer about what you can prove, it’s about what wiggle room you have to smear and accuse. They’ll never give up: the Senate committee comes up nothing, and they prepare their audience for the Mueller probe doing the same, but somehow that means nothing. No matter what happens, the verdict is already there.

NBC Issues Latest Reminder That Mueller Report Might Disappoint (ZH)

“Millions of Americans may be sorely disappointed” by the Mueller report – or lack thereof, according to NBC News. Yes, after nearly three years of DOJ investigation, FBI spying, and what appears to have been a setup involving a mysterious Maltese professor who bragged about his ties to the Clinton Foundation – it looks like that “the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found.” The NBC report comes days after a bipartisan Senate investigation found no collusion between Trumpworld and Russia, and the same day as former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe admitted that he rushed to open the Russia probe out of fear of being fired.

Unless Mueller files a detailed indictment charging members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, the public may never learn the full scope of what Mueller and his team has found — including potentially scandalous behavior that doesn’t amount to a provable crime . The reason: The special counsel operates under rules that severely constrain how much information can be made public. -NBC News And while the Attorney General will be required to notify Congress of Mueller’s findings, those reports must amount to “brief notifications, with an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” “Expectations that we will see a comprehensive report from the special counsel are high. But the written regulations that govern the special counsel’s reporting requirements should arguably dampen those expectations,” said former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg.

[..] When asked about making the Mueller report public, newly minted Attorney General, William Barr, has said “My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” adding “I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and I will not let personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said in January that her vote on Barr’s nomination is contingent upon whether he will release the report publicly. “My vote really depends on whether I believe that that report will come out as written,” said Feinstein. “I served for a long time on the Intelligence Committee, and I know redaction can be excessive.”

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TEXT

Trump Will Sign Spending Bill, Declare Emergency Over Border – McConnell (MW)

President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to keep the government open and at the same time declare a national emergency at the border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. McConnell spoke from the Senate floor after Trump said on Twitter he was reviewing the bill with his team at the White House. Trump has discussed using an emergency declaration to build a proposed wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a move that’s certain to provoke a brawl with Congress and perhaps in the courts.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump would sign the bill and “take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border.” “The president is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country,” Sanders said. The measure passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon by an 83-16 vote, and the House approved it Thursday night with a 300-128 tally. Republicans including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida voted against it.

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As RT states: “Even the most cursory observer will notice the bill treats alleged Russian meddling abroad and “illicit and corrupt activities” of the Russian president as established, proven facts (they are not).”

Russians Told To ‘Prepare For The Worst’ As US Proposes New Sanctions (Ind.)

Moscow has reacted to a proposed new package of United States sanctions with of mix of anger and resignation. As an influential former minister urged Russians to prepare for the worst, the Kremlin accused the US of “racketeering”. “We see clear symptoms of emotional Russophobia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists. “But behind the emotions … is an entirely pragmatic, assertive trade calculation, and … nothing less than an attempt to engage in dishonest competition.” The new round of sanctions, proposed in the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act on Wednesday evening, would target Russia’s security service, sovereign debt, and its financial and energy sectors.

The sanctions package is awaiting congressional approval. m According to the bill’s authors, the measures have been proposed in response to two developments: Russian “interference in democratic processes abroad” and its “aggression against Ukraine”, including the seizing of Ukrainian warships in the Kerch strait in November. On Thursday, the proposed sanctions were met with a predictably angry response by Russian state television and more media-hungry parliamentarians. Perhaps the most memorable response was filed by Frants Klintsevich, the prominent, if excitable, member of the Defence and Security Committee of Russia’s upper house. He described the new sanctions as a “dangerous habit” akin to “smoking a pipe before breakfast, poisoning all those around”.

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In the future, this headline will sow much confusion about the date it applies to. May suffers embarrassing defeats almost every day.

Theresa May Suffers Embarrassing Defeat As Tories Rebel Over No-Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have been dealt a body blow following a “fiasco” in the House of Commons, which saw dozens of Tories inflict an embarrassing defeat on their leader. Eurosceptic Conservatives refused to back a motion reiterating support for the prime minister’s negotiating strategy, deeply suspicious that she might try and use it to rule out a no-deal Brexit. The loss brutally exposes how trust between Ms May and her backbenchers has hit rock bottom, with many still furious over comments made by her chief negotiator in a Brussels bar this week which also appeared to exclude a no-deal scenario. But the defeat has also laid bare the extreme fragility of parliamentary support for her approach, with her ministers having claimed only last week that she had secured a “strong mandate” from the Commons.

On another dramatic night in parliament, Ms May was nowhere to be seen as the result was read out to cheers from the Labour benches. The government motion was defeated by 258 votes to 303. One leading Tory described the night as a “fiasco”, Jeremy Corbyn said the country was heading for a “catastrophe”, and a senior source in Brussels said: “There goes the strong mandate.” The Brexit fault line also cut through Mr Corbyn’s party on Thursday, with a significant number of Labour MPs apparently defying their leader’s will in a separate vote amid suspicions that some are close to breaking away. But the spotlight was firmly on the prime minister’s ailing administration as it contorted in an attempt to avoid defeat on what did not have to be a difficult night for Ms May.

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Rutte is an all-out neo-liberal globalist. The kind that control Brussels today. But will that still be the case after the May EU elections?

Dutch PM On Brexit: UK Is A Waning Country Too Small To Stand Alone (G.)

Britain is a “waning country” and too small to stand alone on the world stage, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has claimed in a withering assessment of the UK’s exit from the EU. Rutte, who has emerged as a key player in the talks over the past two years, also warned in an interview that the UK looked to be sliding off the “precipice” towards a “devastating” no-deal Brexit. “Who will be left weakened by Brexit is the United Kingdom,” he said. “It is already weakening, it is a waning country compared to two or three years ago. It is going to become an economy of middling size in the Atlantic Ocean. It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.”

Rutte, who also claimed the Dutch would replace the UK in the bloc as the pre-eminent voice for free trade, has been regularly consulted by Theresa May on progress in the Brexit negotiations. The Netherlands is one of the EU member states that will be most affected by the barriers to trade that will emerge after the UK leaves the bloc, although it has been the beneficiary of some relocations by big businesses. Figures released last week by the Dutch investment agency revealed 42 companies had relocated to the Netherlands in 2018, citing Brexit as a reason, resulting in the movement of 1,923 jobs. Asked whether a Brexit deal was likely, Rutte said in an interview with European media outlets, including the Spanish newspaper El País: “My impression is that the ball is heading towards the precipice and everyone screams to stop, but nobody does anything to stop it, at least, from the British side.”

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When is Berlin going to start pumping money in?

German Economy Narrowly Avoids Recession As Weaker Exports Take Toll (G.)

Germany narrowly avoided falling into recession in the second half of last year as weaker exports dragged Europe’s largest economy to stalling point during the final three months of 2018. The German economy recorded zero growth in the fourth quarter, managing to just avoid a technical recession after reporting a contraction of 0.2% in the third quarter amid a slump in industrial output. Several economists had previously warned that Germany was on the brink of recession because of consecutive monthly declines in factory output, with the country suffering from weaker levels of global demand and disruption at factories.

Tensions between the US and China have acted as a handbrake on global goods trade, while growth is slowing in the Chinese economy after years of rapid expansion. Sales of cars in China dropped last year for the first time in almost 30 years, affecting manufacturers across Europe. New vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW emissions scandal have also caused disruption to factories across Europe, including in Britain. Manufacturing accounts for about a fifth of the Germany economy, about double the size of Britain’s industrial base. Overall growth for 2018 in Germany was 1.5%, marginally above the 1.4% expansion recorded in Britain.

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How things we’ve all know for years can still be bombshells.

BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma “Gas Attack” Footage “Was Staged” (ZH)

Now approaching nearly a year after the April 7, 2018 alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria — which the White House used as a pretext to bomb Syrian government facilities and bases throughout Damascus — a BBC reporter who investigated the incident on the ground has issued public statements saying the “Assad sarin attack” on Douma was indeed “staged”. Riam Dalati is a well-known BBC Syria producer who has long reported from the region. He shocked his nearly 20,000 twitter followers on Wednesday, which includes other mainstream journalists from major outlets, by stating that after a “six month investigation” he has concluded, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

The “hospital scene” is a reference to part of the horrid footage played over and over again on international networks showing children in a Douma hospital being hosed off and treated by doctors and White Helmets personnel as victims of the alleged chemical attack. The BBC’s Dalati stated on Wednesday: “After almost 6 months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital.” He noted he had interviewed a number of White Helmets and opposition activists while reaching that conclusion.

He continued in a follow-up tweet: “Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.” Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies.

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Yes, Amazon is the company that paid $0 in income taxes. And then people say progressives stand in the way of progress. Some progress.

As Amazon Drops New York City Project, Progressives Claim A Major Coup (R.)

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time on Thursday in calling Amazon’s decision to scrap plans to build a major New York outpost with nearly $3 billion in city and state incentives a big victory for progressive politicians. The democratic socialist congresswoman has become the face of the Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing, thanks in part to her upset victory last year in a district near the proposed Amazon.com Inc development. “Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

Amazon blamed local opposition for its abrupt reversal, which some saw as the latest evidence of the progressive movement’s surging influence ahead of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination next year. “They have shown sufficient power to back off the largest corporation in the world,” Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York and an expert on city politics and public opinion. “They killed Amazon, the biggest beast around.”

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“Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether..”

White Supremacy Is a Key Driver of the Venezuela Coup (Palast)

Four centuries of white supremacy in Venezuela by those who identify their ancestors as European came to an end with the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, who won with the overwhelming support of the Mestizo majority. This turn away from white supremacy continues under Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor. In my interviews with Chavez for BBC beginning in 2002, he talked with humor about the fury of a white ruling class finding itself displaced by a man who embraced his own Indigenous and African heritage. In Venezuela, as in the USA, poverty and race are locked together. Why did so many Mestizo, poor Venezuelans love Chavez? As even the CIA’s surprisingly honest Fact Book states:

“Social investment in Venezuela during the Chavez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment.” But, just as Maduro took office, the price of oil began its collapse, and the vast social programs that oil had paid for were now supported by borrowing money and printing it, causing wild inflation. The economic slide is now made impossibly worse by what the UN rapporteur for Venezuela compared to “medieval sieges.” The Trump administration cut off Venezuela from the oil sale proceeds from its biggest customer, the US.

Everyone has been hurt economically, but the privileged class’s bank accounts have become nearly worthless. So, knowing that the Mestizo majority would not elect their Great White Hope Guaidó, they simply took to the streets — often armed. (And yes, both sides are armed.) I’ve seen this movie before. When I look at today’s news reports of massive demonstrations against the so-called “dictatorship” of Venezuela’s left government, it looks awfully like 2002, when I was first in Caracas reporting for BBC Television. [..] In 2002, George W. Bush’s State Department cheer-led the coup. The plotters kidnapped Chavez and held him hostage. The coup was led by an oil industry leader and head of the Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Carmona, who had seized the nation’s White House, and, like Guaidó today, declared himself president.

Carmona told me proudly about the fancy inaugural ball held by the nation’s elite and attended by Bush’s ambassador. But the Bush/Carmona coup collapsed when a million mostly Mestizo, Indigenous and Black Venezuelans flooded the capital and forced the plotters to return their hero, the supposedly unpopular Chavez, to Miraflores, the presidential palace. “Presidente” Carmona fled. Today, Guaidó’s supporters, like Carmona’s, know they can’t win an election given the overwhelming fact of the newly empowered Mestizo majority. So Guaidó has skipped the idea of an election altogether, simply replacing running for office with the “recognition” from Trump and allies which Guaidó can’t get from Venezuelans.

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Wonderful summary of upcoming book.

How The US Has Hidden Its Empire (Immerwahr)

There aren’t many historical episodes more firmly lodged in the United States’s national memory than the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is one of only a few events that many people in the country can put a date to: 7 December 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,” as Franklin D Roosevelt put it. Hundreds of books have been written about it – the Library of Congress holds more than 350. And Hollywood has made movies. But what those films don’t show is what happened next. Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawaii, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another US territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Harbor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that – an attack. Japan’s bombers struck, retreated and never returned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos – US nationals who saluted the stars and stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief – fell under a foreign power. Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

At first, “Pearl Harbor” was not the way most people referred to the bombings. “Japs bomb Manila, Hawaii” was the headline in one New Mexico paper; “Japanese Planes Bomb Honolulu, Island of Guam” in another in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, described the event as “an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines”. Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of 7 December, when she spoke of Japan “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines”. That was how the first draft of FDR’s speech went, too: it presented the event as a “bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines”. Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out.

At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines. Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the US. But he faced a problem. Were Japan’s targets considered “the United States”? Legally, they were indisputably US territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt’s audience didn’t care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental US supported a military defense of those remote territories.


The Greater United States as it was in 1941

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Get them when they’re young. They dragged this girl over to Davos, letting her think that means something. Well, it did, it meant she became a puppet. Davos, Brussels; kids, you’re being used. You’re now part of a propaganda campaign that says ‘leaders’ actually give a damn. But they just want your future vote.

School Climate Strikes: ‘The Beginning Of Great Change’ (G.)

Greta Thunberg is hopeful the student climate strike on Friday can bring about positive change, as young people in more and more countries join the protest movement she started last summer as a lone campaigner outside the Swedish parliament. The 16-year-old welcomed the huge mobilisation planned in the UK, which follows demonstrations by tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Japan and more than a dozen other countries. “I think it’s great that England is joining the school strike in a major way this week. There has been a number of real heroes on school strike, for instance in Scotland and Ireland, for some time now. Such as Holly Gillibrand and the ones in Cork with the epic sign saying ‘the emperor is naked’,” she told the Guardian.

With an even bigger global mobilisation planned for 15 March, she feels the momentum is now building. “I think enough people have realised just how absurd the situation is. We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it. I think what we are seeing is the beginning of great changes and that is very hopeful,” she wrote. Thunberg has risen rapidly in prominence and influence. In December, she spoke at the United Nations climate conference, berating world leaders for behaving like irresponsible children. Last month, she had similarly harsh words for the global business elite at Davos. She said: “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

The movement she started has morphed and grown around the world , and, at times, linked up with older groups, including Extinction Rebellion, 350.org and Greenpeace. Next week she will take the train – having decided not to fly due to the high carbon emissions of aviation – to speak at an event alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, in Brussels, and then on to Paris to join the school strikes now expanding in France. Veteran climate campaigners are astonished by what has been achieved in such a short time. “The movement that Greta launched is one of the most hopeful things in my 30 years of working on the climate question. It throws the generational challenge of global warming into its sharpest relief, and challenges adults to prove they are, actually, adults. So many thanks to all the young people who are stepping up,” said Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org.

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Eh, school strikers?

100s Of Endangered Animals At Risk Of Extinction Due To Wildlife Trade (Ind.)

Hundreds of animal species are at risk of extinction because wildlife trade restrictions are taking too long to come into effect, a major new study warns. Over a quarter of animals on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list – the world’s most critically endangered – are not protected by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Cites is regarded as the primary international framework for preventing species extinction due to international wildlife trade. It came into force in 1975 in order to coordinate and regulate trade in wildlife products, and can put into effect bans on sales of certain species or their body parts.

The research also revealed the long wait species have to gain recognition by Cites. Even among IUCN’s red-list species, 62 per cent of those protected by Cites had waited as long as 19 years for recognition or are still waiting to be listed up to 24 years after being first considered. “It’s absolutely critical that policymakers allow science to inform a speedy protection process,” said Eyal Frank, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. He said: “New trends in wildlife trade can develop quickly, with some species going from common to near extinction in just a few years.

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Feb 142019
 
 February 14, 2019  Posted by at 10:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Guitar 1925

 

Australia’s $7 Trillion Question: How Low Will House Prices Go (SMH)
US Mortgage Applications Drop Despite Lower Rates: Industry is Baffled (WS)
Surge In Delinquencies Threatens US Auto Loan Bubble (Colombo)
$1 Trillion Amazon Pays $0 In Income Taxes, Gets $129 Million Rebate (RT)
EU Officials: UK Only ‘Pretending To Negotiate’ Over Brexit (G.)
UK Has Rolled Over Just £16bn Out Of £117bn Trade Deals (G.)
Labour MPs Warn Corbyn: Back A Second Referendum Or We Quit (G.)
Hardline Brexiters Threaten To Vote Down Theresa May’s Motion (G.)
Maduro Claims Foes ‘Totally Failed’ To Topple Him As Efforts Falter (G.)
Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams Loses His Cool In Congress (ZH)
Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and Washington over Nordstream 2 (SCF)
Bikes Put Spanner In Works Of Dutch Driverless Car Schemes (G.)
Exposure To Glyphosate Increases Risk Of Cancer By 41% – Study (G.)

 

 

As I said yesterday, after 27 years without a recession, the no. 1 instrument to battle complacency, excesses and zombies, Australia is a fire hazard. At the same time, of course, after 27 years so many people have never seen a recession that nobody expects one anymore.

Australia’s $7 Trillion Question: How Low Will House Prices Go (SMH)

Industry experts say property prices in Sydney and Melbourne, which have led a slump in Australia’s $7 trillion residential property market, are likely headed lower before they hit rock bottom. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures this week showing new lending to owner occupiers fell 6.4% during December last year, outpacing the fall in lending to property investors, which dropped by 4.6%. The total value of new lending to households has now dropped 19.8% in the past year — the biggest annual fall in home loans since the height of the global financial crisis. “The lending numbers are atrocious; it tells us that property markets in Sydney and Melbourne are in a tailspin,” says Louis Christopher, managing director of property researcher SQM Research.

The issue is mostly access to credit and, for at least for past six months, banks have been scrutinising the spending of borrowers more closely when assessing their loans, Christopher says. Doron Peleg, chief executive of RiskWise Property Research, says the weak lending figures also show how those who would normally be entering the property market are now shying away in anticipation of lower prices. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index out this week showed consumers in Sydney and Melbourne have poor property price expectations. “Buyer sentiment has been hit as residential property, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is seen as a depreciating asset,” Peleg says.

[..] Many property experts are expecting a peak-to-trough drop in property prices of between 15% and 20%. “Without an interest-rate cut or regulatory changes there will be tough times ahead for the property market,” RiskWise’s Peleg says. [..] Tim Lawless, the head of research at property researcher CoreLogic, is expecting a peak-to-trough fall of up to 20% for both Sydney and Melbourne before prices start to level out in 2020. However, Lawless says the price declines should be kept in perspective. Sydney house and apartment prices have risen by more than 70% in the past decade, while Melbourne prices have gained even more, he says. This is despite recent price falls of more than 12% from their peak in Sydney in mid-2017 and 8% in Melbourne from a top in late 2017, he says.

Read more …

The Omen.

US Mortgage Applications Drop Despite Lower Rates: Industry is Baffled (WS)

A month ago, mortgages reappeared in the housing-hype circus, when it was widely reported that mortgage applications “soared” and “jumped.” Both types of mortgage applications did so: those used to purchase a home (purchase mortgages) and those used to refinance an existing mortgage (refinance mortgages). The jump in mortgage applications was ascribed to “plunging” mortgage interest rates. It was seen as a big sign that the weakening housing market was about to turn around. But that hope has gotten unwound.

Today, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported that its purchase mortgage index – which tracks applications (not approvals) for conventional and government mortgages to purchase a single-family house – fell 6% from the prior week and was down 5% from the same week last year – despite falling mortgage rates, which should have cranked up home buying and mortgage activity. It was the fourth week in a row of drops:

The Purchase Mortgage Index is considered a reliable indicator of impending home sales, and so this decline, given the lower mortgage rates, mystifies the industry.“Application activity fell last week – even with rates decreasing – as renewed uncertainty about the domestic and global economy likely held potential homebuyers off the market,” said MBA Associate VP of Industry Surveys and Forecasts, Joel Kan, in the report. “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to its lowest level since last March, and was 52 basis points lower than its recent high last November,” he said.

You can practically hear between the lines, so to speak, the bafflement in his voice about this decline in purchase mortgage applications in light of the decline in mortgage rates. The MBA also reported today that the average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances inched down to 4.65%, back where it had been last April (chart via Investing.com):

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AKA the Thelma and Louise economy.

Surge In Delinquencies Threatens US Auto Loan Bubble (Colombo)

My concerns about the U.S. automobile bubble are being confirmed. As Bloomberg reports: “More Americans than ever are at least three months behind on their auto loans, a sign that the U.S. economy may have little growth left in the tank. The number of loans at least 90 days late exceeded 7 million at the end of last year, the highest total in the two decades the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has kept track. Expressed as a percentage of total debt, the delinquency rate is the highest since 2012, as overall borrowing has also increased.

The data show not all Americans are benefiting from the strong labor market, New York Fed economists say. Consumers with the weakest credit have driven deteriorating performance of auto debt: The share of subprime borrowers who fell well behind on car payments the last three months of the year was the highest since the second quarter of 2010.

As I’ve been warning for the past couple years, the U.S. automobile sales boom is a byproduct of a bubble in auto loans:

The auto sales and auto loan bubble is a byproduct of ultra-cheap credit conditions in the past decade since the Great Recession. Interest rates are now rising, which threatens the auto bubble: It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. auto sales and loan bubble experiences a serious bust. Rising delinquencies are just the start, I’m afraid. Booms fueled by cheap credit always end the same way – in a terrible bust. Ignore the voices that say “this time will be different!”

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And the people who lost their retail jobs don’t pay income taxes either anymore.

$1 Trillion Amazon Pays $0 In Income Taxes, Gets $129 Million Rebate (RT)

Trillion-dollar-company Amazon skated through 2018’s tax filings without paying a cent for the second year in a row. The e-commerce behemoth, which made $11 billion last year, will pay no taxes at all, thanks to 2017’s tax reform. Rather than pay the standard 21% corporate income tax rate, Amazon is actually claiming a tax rebate of $129 million, which works out to a logic-defying rate of -1%. Aside from the nebulous “tax credits,” which the company does not have to spell out in its public filings, Amazon is also claiming a tax break for executive stock options, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy – a longstanding loophole that permits profitable corporations to dodge federal and state income taxes on almost half their profits.

While President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax reform legislation lowered corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%, it was sold as an incentive for companies to keep their money in the US, instead of stashing it overseas where the IRS couldn’t touch it. Now that Amazon and Netflix have both made headlines for using the new regulations to avoid paying anything at all, it remains to be seen whether the legislation’s failure to close corporate loopholes will leave the US holding the bag for fiscal year 2018 as the country’s national debt inches past $22 trillion – a record high.

Amazon’s tax windfall doesn’t even take into account the billions in tax breaks the state governments of Virginia and New York offered the company to open a second (and third) headquarters in their states, though there are rumors that New York is getting cold feet about the unprecedented corporate giveaway. Amazon didn’t pay any taxes in 2017 either, though it raked in a comparatively paltry $5.6 billion in profits and extracted a slightly larger $137 million refund.

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“Verhofstadt asked Lidington four times what the British proposal was and “four times didn’t get an answer”, according to the EU official, who described the encounter as “very surreal”.”

EU Officials: UK Only ‘Pretending To Negotiate’ Over Brexit (G.)

The British government is “pretending to negotiate” with the European Union and has not presented any new proposals to break the Brexit deadlock, according to EU officials. Theresa May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, and the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, met senior EU officials and MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg this week, but the talks yielded no obvious results. The British side thinks a crucial process has begun and hopes progress will have been made by 27 February when MPs are expected to have another crunch Brexit vote. However, on Wednesday night European council president Donald Tusk said the EU27 was still waiting for proposals. “No news is not always good news,” he tweeted, after meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London on how to break Brexit impasse,” Tusk said. Barnier, has said current talks with the UK do not even qualify as negotiations. In a call on Tuesday morning with Guy Verhofstadt, chief Brexit representative for the European parliament, Barnier said there were “no negotiations” with the British. “These are courtesy calls at best and we have nothing new to say,” Barnier was reported to have said, by a source familiar with the conversation. Verhofstadt had asked the EU negotiator for an update, following Barnier’s meeting with Barclay over dinner at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels, where they dined on North Sea sole, roast duck and British cheese, washed down with sancerre and saint-émilion wines.

“They are pretending to negotiate while they still don’t know what they want and how they want it,” the source said, who described this week’s meetings as “kicking up dust” and a series of “photo opportunities and pictures”. “We are willing to negotiate, but there is nothing on the table from the British side.” Verhofstadt asked Lidington four times what the British proposal was and “four times didn’t get an answer”, according to the EU official, who described the encounter as “very surreal”.

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Don’t be so negative: they got a hard-fought deal with the Seychelles!

UK Has Rolled Over Just £16bn Out Of £117bn Trade Deals (G.)

The government’s push to roll over EU trade deals from which the UK currently benefits has yielded agreements covering only £16bn of the near-£117bn of British trade with the countries involved. Despite frenetic efforts by ministers to ensure the continuity of international trade after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, has so far only managed to secure deals with seven of the 69 countries that the UK currently trades with under preferential EU free trade agreements, which will end after Brexit.

Fox’s department has yet to sign agreements with several major UK trading partners – including Canada, Japan, South Korea and Turkey – while sources have said that sufficient progress is unlikely to be made before the Brexit deadline in less than 50 days’ time. Canada, Japan, South Korea and Turkey alone accounted for goods exports worth £25bn in 2017 and imports of merchandise worth £28.6bn, with the UK currently able to access these markets on preferential terms as part of membership of the EU. Fox sought to downplay the significance of the deals in parliament on Wednesday, saying all of the countries involved only accounted for about 11% of total UK trade in 2018, with the smallest 20 nations worth less than 0.8%.

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I’ve been wondering why any politician in Britain is still in their jobs.

Labour MPs Warn Corbyn: Back A Second Referendum Or We Quit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn faces up to 10 resignations from the Labour frontbench if he fails to throw his party’s weight behind a fresh attempt to force Theresa May to submit her Brexit deal to a referendum in a fortnight’s time, frustrated MPs are warning. With tension mounting among anti-Brexit Labour MPs and grassroots members, several junior shadow ministers have told the Guardian they are prepared to resign their posts if Corbyn doesn’t whip his MPs to vote for a pro-referendum amendment at the end of the month. Corbyn has been struggling to balance the conflicting forces in his party over Brexit, as the clock ticks down towards exit day on 29 March..

Many party members and MPs would like him to take a lead in seeking to block Brexit before time runs out – but some frontbenchers are equally adamant they could never support a referendum. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union and a close ally of Corbyn, risked stoking the conflict in the party on Wednesday when he argued that stopping Brexit was “not the best option for our nation”. “My view is that, having had a 2016 referendum where the people have voted to come out of the EU, to try and deflect away from that threatens the whole democratic fabric on which we operate,” he told Peston on ITV. “I’m saying that in reality it is not the best option for our nation.”

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43 days. Both extremities, hard brexit and 2nd referendum, think they have a chance of winning it all.

Hardline Brexiters Threaten To Vote Down Theresa May’s Motion (G.)

Hardline Brexit supporters are threatening to inflict yet another Commons defeat on Theresa May because they fear the government is effectively ruling out leaving the EU with no deal. Members of the Tory European Research Group are unhappy with the wording of a No 10 motion because it endorses parliament’s vote against any Brexit without a withdrawal agreement. The motion for debate on Thursday simply affirms “the approach to leaving the EU” backed by the Commons on 29 January, when an amendment was passed in favour of an attempt to replace the Northern Ireland backstop with “alternative arrangements”.

The motion was thought to be fairly uncontroversial until pro-Brexit supporters realised it also encompassed a second amendment passed on that day, which ruled out a no-deal Brexit. The amendment, tabled by Dame Caroline Spelman, “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship”. The ERG group, led by arch-Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg, is planning either to vote against or abstain on Thursday’s government motion, potentially causing another embarrassing parliamentary loss for the prime minister. However, talks with government whips will continue on Thursday in an attempt to find a compromise.

An ERG MP said many of its members were “not minded to support such a clumsily worded motion” that effectively ruled out a no-deal Brexit. Another said the group would not trust verbal assurances from No 10 that no deal was still on the table as such promises from the dispatch box had not been honoured many times in the past.

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How far away is a false flag?

Maduro Claims Foes ‘Totally Failed’ To Topple Him As Efforts Falter (G.)

Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, has claimed he has seen off a dramatic opposition challenge to his rule, as those efforts appeared to falter and the United States conceded it was “impossible to predict” how long he might remain in power. In an interview with Euronews, Maduro boasted that his political foes had “failed totally” in their quest to topple him. Opponents “could march every single day of their lives” and achieve nothing, Maduro said. Venezuela’s newly emboldened opposition continues to insist Maduro’s days are numbered, with about 50 governments now recognizing its leader, Juan Guaidó, as the country’s legitimate president.

Tens of thousands of supporters poured back on to the streets of Caracas and other major cities on Tuesday to demand the resignation of a politician they accuse of leading their oil-rich country into economic ruin. But three weeks after Guaidó electrified the previously rudderless opposition movement by declaring himself interim leader, there are signs his campaign risks losing steam. An anticipated mass defection of military chiefs – which opposition leaders admit is a prerequisite to Maduro’s departure – has not materialized, and Maduro’s inner-circle has begun claiming it has weathered the political storm. “In the end, nothing will come of [this challenge]. We will prevail,” Maduro’s second-in-command, Diosdado Cabello, tweeted on Wednesday.

[..] Opposition leaders have spent recent days trying to dampen expectations that Maduro’s exit is imminent. Juan Andrés Mejía, an opposition leader and Guaidó ally, admitted that goal “could take some time”. “We want it to end very soon because we know that every day that passes by people are suffering. But Maduro still has control of the military and basically that is the reason we haven’t been able to move things forward,” he told the Guardian.

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Shaking up US politics since 2016. And c’mon, Abrams is a war criminal, he should be facing a court, not Congress.

Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams Loses His Cool In Congress (ZH)

Rep. Ilhan Omar clashed with newly minted Venezuela Envoy Elliott Abrams during a Wednesday hearing in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee discussing the role of the US military in Central America. “Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by president George H.W. Bush,” began Omar. “I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.” “If I could respond to that…” interjected Abrams. “It was not a question,” shot back Omar.

After a brief exchange in which Abrams protested “It was not right!” Omar cut Abrams off, saying “Thank you for your participation.” Omar: “On February 8, 1982, you testified before the Senate foreign relations committee about US policy in El Salvador. In that hearing you dismissed as communist propaganda, a report about the massacre of El Mozote in which more than 800 civilians – including children as young as two-years old – were brutally murdered by US-trained troops. During that massacre, some of those troops bragged about raping 12-year-old girls before they killed them. You later said that the US policy in El Salvador was a “fabulous achievement.” “Yes or no – do you still think so?” asked Omar.

Abrams replied: “From, the day that Duarte was elected in a free election, to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy. That’s a fabulous achievement.” Omar shot back: “Yes or no, do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?” Abrams protested: “That is a ridiculous question- to which Omar shot back, “Yes or no,” cutting him off. “Yes or no, would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, if you believe they were serving US interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?” “I am not going to respond to that question, I’m sorry. I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, and so I will not reply.” said Abrams.

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US accuses Russia of energy blackmail, tries to blackmail Germany. Germans will never accept not being independent when it comes to energy. Moreover, their economy is teetering.

Germany Pulls Rank on Macron and Washington over Nordstream 2 (SCF)

It was billed politely as a Franco-German “compromise” when the EU balked at adopting a Gas Directive which would have undermined the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia. Nevertheless, diplomatic rhetoric aside, Berlin’s blocking last week of a bid by French President Emmanuel Macron to impose tougher regulations on the Nord Stream 2 gas project was without doubt a firm rebuff to Paris. Macron wanted to give the EU administration in Brussels greater control over the new pipeline running from Russia to Germany. But in the end the so-called “compromise” was a rejection of Macron’s proposal, reaffirming Germany in the lead role of implementing the Nord Stream 2 route, along with Russia. The $11-billion, 1,200 kilometer pipeline is due to become operational at the end of this year.

Stretching from Russian mainland under the Baltic Sea, it will double the natural gas supply from Russia to Germany. The Berlin government and German industry view the project as a vital boost to the country’s ever-robust economy. Gas supplies will also be distributed from Germany to other European states. Consumers stand to gain from lower prices for heating homes and businesses. Thus Macron’s belated bizarre meddling was rebuffed by Berlin. A rebuff was given too to the stepped-up pressure from Washington for the Nord Stream 2 project to be cancelled. Last week, US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and two other American envoys wrote an op-ed for Deutsche Welle in which they accused Russia of trying to use “energy blackmail” over Europe’s geopolitics.

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Why on earth is that government pushing driverless cars?

Bikes Put Spanner In Works Of Dutch Driverless Car Schemes (G.)

The Dutch government is working with Germany and Belgium on establishing “truck platooning” – where one human-driven vehicle leads a convoy of autonomous ones — on major roads. Under the plans, about 100 driverless trucks would drive the “Tulip corridors” at night – from Amsterdam to Antwerp, and from Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley – fully maximising the routes through which the Netherlands distributes its goods using 5G technology and 1,200 smart traffic lights. The Dutch infrastructure minister, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, has announced a “driving licence” for self-driving cars, through which it would certify new autonomous models, and a framework of legislation – known as the Experimenteerwet zelfrijdende auto’s – is being prepared.

But a report by the professional service company KPMG highlights a major problem for Dutch ministers in introducing the technology to urban centres, where the bicycle is increasingly king. Driverless cars detect other road users using a variety of cameras or laser-sensing systems to ensure that they stop if an object is detected in their path. But the varying sizes and agility of cyclists, with their sudden changes in speed and loose adherence to the rules of the road, present a major challenge to the existing technology. That challenge is particularly stark in the Netherlands, where 17 million people own 22.5m bicycles. More than a quarter of all trips made by Dutch residents are by bike. Of all trips of a distance of up to five miles, a third are made by bicycle, with the rate only dropping to 15% for trips up to 10 miles in length.

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Is it that hard to understand that pesticides and herbicides are the worst idea ever? Poison kills, cut it out.

Exposure To Glyphosate Increases Risk Of Cancer By 41% – Study (G.)

A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weed killing products in the world, has found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41% increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence “supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded, though they said the specific numerical risk estimates should be interpreted with caution. The findings by five US scientists contradict the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assurances of safety over the weed killer and come as regulators in several countries consider limiting the use of glyphosate-based products in farming.

Monsanto and its German owner Bayer face more than 9,000 lawsuits in the US brought by people suffering from NHL who blame Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides for their diseases. The first plaintiff to go to trial won a unanimous jury verdict against Monsanto in August, a verdict the company is appealing. The next trial, involving a separate plaintiff, is set to begin on 25 February , and several more trials are set for this year and into 2020. Monsanto maintains there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. Company officials say the EPA’s finding that glyphosate is “not likely” to cause cancer is backed by hundreds of studies finding no such connection.

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Feb 132019
 


Edouard Manet Osny, The road-menders, Rue de Berne 1878

 

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)
Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)
NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)
Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)
For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)
Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)
Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)
EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)
Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)
Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)
Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)
Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)
China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)
Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

 

 

My friend Jesse Colombo is right to point out the impact of imploding asset bubbles is the main takeaway. But I think even more than that, it’s who will be the main victims of that: those who have no assets. The losses will land on their shoulders.

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)

It’s not fashionable to wear flapper dresses and do the Charleston, but 1920s-style wealth inequality is definitely back in style. New research says America’s ultra-rich haven’t held as much of the country’s wealth since the Jazz Age, those freewheeling times before the country’s finances shattered. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” wrote Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Zucman said all the research on the issue also points to large wealth concentrations in China and Russia in recent decades. The same thing is happening in France and the U.K., but at a “more moderate rise,” the paper said.

In 1929 — before Wall Street’s crash unleashed the Great Depression — the top 0.1% richest adults’ share of total household wealth was close to 25%, according to Zucman’s paper, which was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Those rates plunged in the early 1930s and continued dropping to below 10% in the late 1970s, findings show. Rates have been on the rebound since the early 1980s, and are currently close to 20%. It’s become especially hard to measure the full extent of riches these days. “Since the 1980s, a large offshore wealth management industry has developed which makes some forms wealth (namely, financial portfolios) harder to capture,” the paper added.


MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto, Everett Collection

[..] Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; the recent federal government’s partial government shutdown forced some federal workers to food pantries, and cast a harsh light on Americans’ lack of savings. Jesse Colombo says people should be more worried about issues other than the current gap between the rich and poor. “America’s wealth inequality is not a permanent situation, but a temporary one because the asset bubbles behind the wealth bubble are going to burst and cause a severe economic crisis,” he added. “My argument is that our society should be worrying more about these asset bubbles than the temporary inequality.” “What is the common denominator between U.S. wealth inequality during the Roaring Twenties and now?” he said. “A massive stock market bubble.”

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The inevitable fall-out of a press that no longer reports the news, but manufactures it.

Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Last week, Sen. Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman, told CBS News that, while more facts may be uncovered, “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.” Democratic Senate investigators told NBC News on condition of anonymity that Burr’s characterizations, while accurate, lacked context. One aide said, “We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude.'”

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For MS(NBC), Russigate has been a major investment. And they’re still trying to squeak past it by saying an official report will take many more months etc., but it’s done as far as the Senate is concerned. And Mueller has given zero indication of having anything collusion-related.

NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)

We knew this day was coming, but watching an MSNBC anchor and guest pundits squirm during a live Tuesday morning update in which NBC News intelligence and national security correspondent, Ken Dilanian, read aloud that the Senate Intelligence Committee admits it has found “no direct evidence” of collusion between President Trump and Russia, is a segment that itself perhaps belongs to the history books. Mediaite described of the “stunned” MSNBC host’s demeanor: “The report met surprise first, then skepticism, with Jackson and her guests.” They awkwardly and visibly try to make sense of hard and unambiguous reporting that runs contrary to everything being parroted in the MSNBC echo chamber over the past 2 years.

To drive home the explosive significance of the findings, Dilanian noted just how long the ‘collusion’ incessant drumbeat has lasted: “After two years and interviewing more than 200 witnesses, the Senate intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Dilanian. “That’s according to sources on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle.” And in a prior NBC News article Tuesday morning, Dilanian spelled out: “After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”

MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson and her guest panelists’ faces looked visibly confused and uncomfortable as they learned the Senate report is going in the opposite direction of everything MSNBC and other mainstream outlets have been breathlessly reporting on a near 24/7 basis. More importantly, if this is a precursor of what the Mueller report concludes in a few weeks/months, the TV station that built its current reputation on the premise of Russian collusion, may have no option but to go on indefinite hiatus. Watch the segment above, with host Hallie Jackson appearing to grow exasperated by the 2:20 mark:“If and when the president, as he may inevitably do, points to these conclusions and says look, the Senate intelligence committee found I am not guilty of conspiracy… he would be correct in saying that?”

Dilanian noted that while the Republican chair of the committee made what he characterized as “partisan” comments the week prior, it turned out be unanimous fact. “What I found,” he said, “is that Democrats don’t dispute that characterization.” [..] Dilanian also noted the Senate intel committee has access to classified material, which means “if there was an intercept between officers suggesting they were conspiring with the Trump campaign, [the committee] would see that. And that has not emerged.” “So that evidence does not exist, and Trump will claim vindication,” he repeated.

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McConnell thinks it’s best to be fast in voting it down, before there’s more detailed discussion, for instance about which parts could work and which don’t. He’s probably right.

Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would vote on the Green New Deal introduced last week by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal, and we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record,” McConnell told reporters. The bill, which is not expected to pass the Republican-dominated upper chamber, could force some Democrats to make a politically awkward calculation. Democratic liberals, including all of the senators currently running for president, have come out in support of the legislation, which calls for generating 100% of the nation’s power from renewable sources within 10 years. Scientists have said that dramatic, immediate action is necessary to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Democratic moderates have been less than enthusiastic about the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derisively referred to the House version of the bill as a “green dream,” while only 11 of the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats have signed on to sponsor the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is widely expected to enter into the 2020 race, has declined to say whether he supports the proposal. “I’m not going to take position on every bill that’s coming out,” he said Tuesday, according to Politico. “I support a Green New Deal. I think we need to aggressively support climate change [legislation]. That’s my answer.” Republicans control the Senate, with 53 members of the 100-seat chamber. Democrats control the House of Representatives, but it is not clear if the House will vote on the measure under Pelosi’s leadership.

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Stocks are up when the deficit is up.

For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)

Sometimes losing can pay dividends in unexpected ways, and that seems particularly true in the case of stocks and trade. For the past five decades, the U.S. stock market has comparatively outperformed when the trade deficit widened and vice versa, suggesting that even if the U.S. emerges victorious from its trade war with China, investors may have few reasons to rejoice. At face value, it may seem counterintuitive, but for the U.S., which relies on trade to fuel its economic juggernaut, a deficit can actually be a sign that all is well. “Since at least 1970, U.S. stocks have done best when its trade deficit worsens,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, who explained that if imports rise, it indicates that domestic consumption is healthy.

“And if exports go up, it means foreign demand is strong. So when we have a trade deficit, it means the U.S. is doing better,” he said. A trade balance is the difference between how much a country sells and buys from abroad, and a deficit is often viewed as a negative, chiefly as it means a country is spending more than it is making. But as the chart below demonstrates, U.S. stocks vis-a-vis foreign equities have done quite well notwithstanding all the depressing headlines over the years about how the rest of the world is taking advantage of the U.S.

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And Labour wants part of the Green New Deal fame too. But what do any of these people really know about physics, about energy? It all still looks like a typical dumb politics approach: we’ll get rich while going green, promise!

Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)

Labour is to set out how the UK can move swiftly to a decarbonised future to tackle the unfolding climate crisis and put “meat on the bones” of its promise to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled, unionised green jobs. Trade unionists and industry leaders will come together with academics, engineers and public institutions to build detailed regional plans setting out the challenges and opportunities ahead. The proposal, due to be outlined on Wednesday by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, will involve a national call for evidence and a series of regional events to build “a detailed action plan” to maximise the benefits of moving to a zero-carbon future.

“A decade of austerity and decades of neoliberalism have left many in our country asking: what is Britain for?” Long-Bailey told the Guardian. “This has been brought into focus by the government’s handling of Brexit, which is at its core deeply pessimistic, with nothing to say about the future.” She said a future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities across the UK. “We believe that together, we can transform the UK through a green jobs revolution, tackling the environmental crisis in a way that brings hope and prosperity back to parts of the UK that have been held back for too long.”

[..] Long-Bailey said Labour was determined to move beyond rhetoric about a green revolution and work out exactly how that could be achieved, and how it could translate to new well-paid, unionised jobs across the UK. “We’re launching an unprecedented call for evidence about what this means for your town, your city, your region,” she said. “We want to bring unions, industry, universities, the public sector and others together to build this vision out into a practical reality.” Labour says a key plank of its plan will be to ensure a “just transition” to high quality green jobs for those currently working in carbon-emitting industries. To do that it will have to persuade its trade union backers, who represent people in high-carbon industries, that there is a viable economic alternative.

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More liberalism! No matter that it played a big role in Britons voting for Brexit. These people are one-dimensional.

Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)

Brexit is an acid test of whether it is possible to reshape globalisation in a way that offers the benefits of trade while allaying public fears about the erosion of democracy, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said. Speaking in London, Carney said the ramifications of the UK’s departure from the EU would be felt around the world and would determine whether it was possible to shrug off rising protectionism in favour of a new era of international cooperation. The governor cited trade tensions and the result of the 2016 referendum as examples of fundamental pressures to reorder globalisation. “It is possible that new rules of the road will be developed for a more inclusive and resilient global economy. At the same time, there is a risk that countries turn inwards, undercutting growth and prosperity for all.”

Carney’s recent comments about Brexit have highlighted the short-term risks to the economy of leaving the EU next month without an agreement in place, but he used his speech on the state of the global economy to provide a more upbeat assessment. “In many respects, Brexit is the first test of a new global order and could prove the acid test of whether a way can be found to broaden the benefits of openness while enhancing democratic accountability,” he said, speaking at a Financial Times event in London. “Brexit can lead to a new form of international cooperation and cross-border commerce built on a better balance of local and supranational authorities. In these respects, Brexit could affect both the short and long-term global outlooks.”

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Just trying to make friends, I guess. Best of all, he has no idea it could just as well be him on that guillotine.

EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)

The politicians pushing Brexit should be careful not follow in the footsteps of revolutionary leaders who “ended up on the guillotine”, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief has said. At a press conference in Strasbourg Guy Verhofstadt compared Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre – leading figures in the French revolution who were ultimately executed by their former comrades. He said it was “important to remind” the senior Conservatives that their historical counterparts had ended up losing their heads.

“I know that within the Tory party the hard Brexiteers are compared to the leaders of the French revolution. I think Gove is Brissot, and Boris Johnson is Danton, and Rees-Mogg is compared to Robespierre,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “We should not forget that the efforts of these men were not appreciated by the common man they claimed to represent – because they all ended up on the guillotine. So that’s important to remind [them].” His comments come a week after European Council president Donald Tusk caused a story in the UK by saying there was a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers who had advocated leaving the EU without a serious plan of how to do it.

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44 days.

Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)

Theresa May’s high-stakes Brexit strategy may have been accidentally revealed after her chief negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying MPs will be given a last-minute choice between her deal and a lengthy delay. The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the government intends to leave the EU as planned on 29 March, and urged MPs to “hold our nerve”, while she tries to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop. “So our work continues,” she told MPs on Tuesday. “Having secured an agreement with the European Union for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process. The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time.”

But Robbins, the most senior civil servant involved in the Brexit process, was overheard by a reporter from ITV, holding a late-night conversation in which he appeared to suggest she would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50. According to the broadcaster, Robbins said the government had “got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March … extension is possible, but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.” The tactic appears to be aimed squarely at members of the backbench Tory European Research Group (ERG), who may fear Brexit could ultimately be cancelled altogether, if MPs accept a delay.

“The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension,” Robbins was overheard saying. “In the end they will probably just give us an extension.” On the backstop, Robbins appeared to confirm that the government’s initial plan was for the backstop, which effectively keeps the UK in a customs union, to form a temporary “bridge” to the long-term trading relationship. “The big clash all along is the ‘safety net’,” Robbins said. “We agreed a bridge but it came out as a ‘safety net’.”

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I don’t think Monbiot should be writing about this, not his field. But nobody else does, either, and the issue will re-appear very very bigly if Brexit becomes reality.

Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)

In Britain, for example, we now know that the EU referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. We still don’t know the origins of much of the money spent by the leave campaigns. For example, we have no idea who provided the £435,000 channelled through Scotland, into Northern Ireland, through the coffers of the Democratic Unionist party and back into Scotland and England, to pay for pro-Brexit ads. Nor do we know the original source of the £8m that Arron Banks delivered to the Leave.EU campaign. We do know that both of the main leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activities, and that the conduct of the referendum has damaged many people’s faith in the political system.

But, astonishingly, the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events. And now it’s happening again. Since mid-January an organisation called Britain’s Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Most of them target particular constituencies. Where an MP is deemed sympathetic to the organisation’s aims, the voters who receive these ads are urged to tell him or her to “remove the backstop, rule out a customs union, deliver Brexit without delay”. Where the MP is deemed unsympathetic, the message is: “Don’t let them steal Brexit; Don’t let them ignore your vote.”

So who or what is Britain’s Future? Sorry, I have no idea. As openDemocracy points out, it has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it and who has been paying for these advertisements. The only person publicly associated with it is a journalist called Tim Dawson, who edits its website. Dawson has not yet replied to the questions I have sent him. It is, in other words, highly opaque. The anti-Brexit campaigns are not much better. People’s Vote and Best for Britain have also been spending heavily on Facebook ads, though not as much in recent weeks as Britain’s Future.

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He has 84 of the 350 seats in congress… And is propped up by the Catalans.

Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)

Spain’s socialist government could be forced to call a snap general election if rightwing parties and Catalan secessionists make good on their threats to reject the national budget in a key vote on Wednesday. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, faces an uphill battle to secure approval for the budget in the face of opposition from critics of his minority government. Sánchez’s PSOE, which holds 84 of the 350 seats in congress, relied on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to seize power from the conservative People’s party in a confidence vote last year. If, as seems likely, the budget is rejected by rightwing parties as well as the Catalan Republican Left and the Catalan European Democratic party, Sánchez is expected to call a snap general election in April or May.

The next general election is due to be held next year. The prime minister had been banking on the fact that the prospect of an early election – and a possible win for rightwing parties that fiercely oppose Catalan secession – would make the two big Catalan pro-independence parties swing behind the budget. But, speaking to the Guardian and other European media, the Catalan leader, Quim Torra, said the secessionist groupings would not be forced into supporting Sánchez’s budget plans. “Are we meant to approve the budget because we’re afraid of the Spanish right?” said Torra. “Mr Sánchez can obviously decide to call elections whenever he wants – he’s the prime minister. But why would he make dialogue conditional on approving the budget?

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia were the first to fall into crisis. It hasn’t had a recession in I think 27 years, and that is like saying a homeowner hasn’t done a proper spring cleaning in decades.

Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)

The sharpest fall in home loans since the depths of the global financial crisis has prompted calls for the Reserve Bank to slice interest rates and cast doubt over the state of the budget leading into the federal election. As the NAB said the Reserve may have to cut rates within months, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed first time buyers and investors deserting the property market in a sign house prices may fall even further. Home loans in December fell by 5.9%. It was the second largest monthly fall since 2008-09 while the annual fall of 19.8% was the worst since the global financial crisis.

Investor loans have tumbled 28% over the past year while those for owner-occupiers have slumped by 16%. Since their peak in mid-2015, investor lending has dropped by almost 48%. First home buyers have been a key part of the market over the past year as they have taken advantage of falling prices but even they are now resisting the chance to enter the market. The number of loans to first time buyers fell 8% in the month to be 12% lower over the past year. NSW and Victoria are leading down the national market with sharp falls in total loan numbers through 2018. It’s not just housing. Business loans dropped by 9.7% in December to be 6.2% lower over the year.

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China and borrowing, not a happy marriage: “recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16% ..”

Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)

Chinese banks are wise to resist maxing out their credit cards. Lenders have issued hundreds of millions of them to local consumers, facilitating debt-fuelled shopping sprees. It’s a lucrative but risky supplement to other types of loans, and some now appear to be pulling back. Banks in the People’s Republic issued more than 650 million credit cards as of the third quarter of 2018, up from less than 450 million three years earlier, official data show. Balances payable on cards reached 6.6 trillion yuan ($980 billion), an increase of more than 120% over the same period. Lenders are keen on the business. There’s a big opportunity for growth given relatively low penetration: the average Chinese individual has only half of a credit card, whereas the average American has three.

Plastic can be profitable, too, yielding higher interest rates and fees than typical corporate loans. That boosts net interest margins. Yet a reassessment may be underway, according to analysts at Citi Research. At Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, for instance, credit card lending made up 35% of total new loans in 2017. In the first half of 2018, that figure collapsed to negative 5%. It’s a similar story at China Merchants Bank and other lenders covered by the analysts – although some are still aiming at rapid growth, including Ping An Bank and Postal Savings Bank of China. Household credit stood at around half of GDP by the middle of last year, up from 18% a decade earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Fitch Ratings projects household debt might reach 100% of disposable income by 2020, just below the 105% ratio in the US.

The current economic slowdown could make bankers’ affection for plastic look rash. Individuals tend to default on card debt first, and chasing after them in court is time-consuming, while recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16%, compare poorly with between 50% to 60% for corporate borrowers.

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Firms guaranteeing each other’s debt. Never seen a bigger Ponzi. Click the pic for a much larger version. It’s brilliant insanity very strongly bordering on fraud.

China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)

The collapse in China of a complex web of debt guarantees involving several private firms highlights risks in its financial system and opens up a potentially hazardous front for an economy in the grip of its slowest growth in nearly three decades. It is the last thing Beijing needs as it tries to fight off intensifying pressure on growth from a months-long trade dispute with the United States. Yet, as the government steps up economic support measures and moves to loosen gummed-up funding, it might be inadvertently inflaming financial risks with its call on state banks to sharply boost lending to the private sector.

The warning bells are already sounding in the once-prosperous eastern city of Dongying, a hub for oil refining and heavy industry in Shandong province. Here, at least 28 private companies are seeking to restructure their debts and avoid bankruptcy, mainly due to souring loans that they guaranteed for other firms, court rulings seen by Reuters show. Among the 28 firms are Shandong Dahai Group and Shandong Jinmao Textile Chemical Group, which were on the 2018 top 500 best-run private enterprises in China. For a private firm to get bank loans in China, especially those in traditional, capital-intensive industries, it often needs substantial collateral or the guarantee of another company. The guarantor itself is very likely to have taken on loans guaranteed by other firms.

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Wonder how many other countries are protecting themselves this way.

Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

Russia is preparing itself to be disconnected from the World Wide Web. The Lower House of Parliament passed in the first reading a law ensuring the security of the Russian part of the internet. The bill envisions the ‘Runet’ – the Russian segment of the internet – being able to operate independently from the rest of the world in case of global malfunctions or deliberate internet disconnection. The measures to ensure internet stability include the creation of a national DNS system that stores all of the domain names and corresponding IP numbers. The new legislation was drafted in response to the new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using cyber tools to “undermine” its economy and democracy.

It also threatens dire consequences for anyone conducting cyber activity against the US. The autonomous system would ensure that Russia doesn’t face a total internet shutdown if relations with the West completely collapse and the US goes as far as cutting off Russian IP addresses from the World Wide Web. Back in 2012, then-US President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing him to take control of all communications on American soil, including those crucial for the normal operation of the internet. The US National Security Agency actually caused a three-day internet blackout in Syria in November 2012, whistleblower Edward Snowden told Wired magazine. NSA hackers accidently ‘bricked’ one of the core routers while trying to install spyware on it.

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Feb 122019
 
 February 12, 2019  Posted by at 11:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh On the outskirts of Paris 1887

 

Global Insect Decline May See ‘Plague Of Pests’ (BBC)
Complex, Dynamic Environmental Destabilisation (BBC)
Politicians Are Complicit In The Killing Of Our Insects (G.)
Should We Really Not Worry About The Fed’s Balance Sheet? (Roberts)
Party Leaders Reach Deal To Avoid Fresh US Government Shutdown (AP)
Warren’s Foreign Policy Shows She’s Missing Why Trump Was Elected (G.)
Mistaken Futures (Kunstler)
May To Ask MPs For Further Fortnight’s Grace In Brexit Talks (G.)
Europeans Must Get Rid Of The Failing EU One Way Or Another (MW)
“Insane” Deutsche Bank Drowning Under Soaring Funding Costs (ZH)
Nearly A Fifth Of The EU’s Budget Goes On Livestock Farming (G.)
China Has No Use For Democracy. It Needs A Strong Leader Like Xi (SCMP)
History’s 10 Most Culturally Significant Dick Pic Scandals (Taibbi)

 

 

Roaches in a nuclear winter.

Global Insect Decline May See ‘Plague Of Pests’ (BBC)

A scientific review of insect numbers suggests that 40% of species are undergoing “dramatic rates of decline” around the world. The study says that bees, ants and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles. But researchers say that some species, such as houseflies and cockroaches, are likely to boom. The general insect decline is being caused by intensive agriculture, pesticides and climate change. Insects make up the majority of creatures that live on land, and provide key benefits to many other species, including humans. They provide food for birds, bats and small mammals; they pollinate around 75% of the crops in the world; they replenish soils and keep pest numbers in check.

Many other studies in recent years have shown that individual species of insects, such as bees, have suffered huge declines, particularly in developed economies. But this new paper takes a broader look. Published in the journal Biological Conservation, it reviews 73 existing studies from around the world published over the past 13 years. The researchers found that declines in almost all regions may lead to the extinction of 40% of insects over the next few decades. One-third of insect species are classed as Endangered. “The main factor is the loss of habitat, due to agricultural practices, urbanisation and deforestation,” lead author Dr Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, from the University of Sydney, told BBC News.

“Second is the increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture worldwide and contamination with chemical pollutants of all kinds. Thirdly, we have biological factors, such as invasive species and pathogens; and fourthly, we have climate change, particularly in tropical areas where it is known to have a big impact.” [..] “Fast-breeding pest insects will probably thrive because of the warmer conditions, because many of their natural enemies, which breed more slowly, will disappear,” said Prof Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex who was not involved in the review. “It’s quite plausible that we might end up with plagues of small numbers of pest insects, but we will lose all the wonderful ones that we want, like bees and hoverflies and butterflies and dung beetles that do a great job of disposing of animal waste.” Prof Goulson said that some tough, adaptable, generalist species – like houseflies and cockroaches – seem to be able to live comfortably in a human-made environment and have evolved resistance to pesticides.

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Nobody listened so far; why would they now?

Complex, Dynamic Environmental Destabilisation (BBC)

• Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes • Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion • 95% of the Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050 • Since 2005, the number of floods has increased by a factor of 15, extreme temperature events by a factor of 20, and wildfires sevenfold • Vertebrate populations have fallen by an average of 60% since the 1970s, and insect numbers – vital for pollination – have declined even faster in some countries.

Scientists warn of a potentially deadly combination of factors. These include climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans. The report from the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research says these factors are “driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilisation that has reached critical levels. “This destabilisation is occurring at speeds unprecedented in human history and, in some cases, over billions of years.” The UK is described as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Some 2.2 million tonnes of UK topsoil is eroded annually, and over 17% of arable land shows signs of erosion. Nearly 85% of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia has been lost since 1850, with the remainder at risk of being lost over next 30–60 years. The IIPR says many scientists believe we have entered a new era of rapid environmental change.

The report warns: “We define this as the ‘age of environmental breakdown’ to better highlight the severity of the scale, pace and implications of environmental destabilisation resulting from aggregate human activity.” Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London, told BBC News: “IPPR are right to say that environmental change is happening ever-faster and threatens to destabilise society. “Future problems with food supplies could cause price spikes that drive civil unrest, while increases in levels of migration can strain societies. “Both together could overload political institutions and global networks of trade. “This century will be marked by rapid social and environmental change – that is certain. What is less clear is if societies can make wise political choices to avoid disaster in the future.”

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Written of course by a politician. Who thinks politicians can turn this around. Because they can do anything.

Politicians Are Complicit In The Killing Of Our Insects (G.)

Most of us spend more time swatting away or avoiding wasps and moths than we do contemplating their importance to the web of life. But it is no exaggeration to say that the horrifying decline in the number of these creatures – the most widespread on Earth – is a barometer for the whole planet. The new global scientific review into the perilous condition of our insects reports that more than 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction while the mass of insects is declining by 2.5% a year. This catastrophic decline is a direct cause of the existential threat to other animals, insects being at the bottom of the chain and the primary food source. Since 1970, 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been wiped out.

The review identifies a key driver towards this mass extinction: habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture with its associated use of pesticides. Given this is a manmade disaster, surely we are capable of tackling and reversing it? As a member of the European parliament’s agriculture committee, I regularly debate the use of pesticides in farming with my colleagues. I have lost count of the number of times I have begun meetings with what feels like a sermon on the Armageddon taking place in our countryside. I am always greeted with patient, patronising smiles from many of my fellow MEPs, before they go on to ignore the warnings and refuse to limit the use of pesticides in our fields.

Some of the members of this committee are themselves farmers who have grown increasingly dependent on powerful and toxic pesticides. But others have taken the agribusiness shilling and believe that their role in policymaking is simply to support the corporations that sell these poisons. And this is the nub of the issue. What might accurately be dubbed insectageddon is being driven by the agrichemicals industry. This situation is compounded by compliant politicians and policymakers who fall prey to lobbying pressure and then refuse to implement science-driven policy to protect wildlife.

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What we should do is end the Fed. And replace it with markets.

Should We Really Not Worry About The Fed’s Balance Sheet? (Roberts)

Bill Dudley, who is now a senior research scholar at Princeton University’s Center for Economic Policy Studies and previously served as president of the New York Fed and was vice-chairman of the Federal Open Market Committee, recently penned an interesting piece from Bloomberg stating: “Financial types have long had a preoccupation: What will the Federal Reserve do with all the fixed income securities it purchased to help the U.S. economy recover from the last recession? The Fed’s efforts to shrink its holdings have been blamed for various ills, including December’s stock-market swoon. And any new nuance of policy — such as last week’s statement on “balance sheet normalization” — is seen as a really big deal. I’m amazed and baffled by this. It gets much more attention than it deserves.”

[..] In his opening paragraph, Bill attempts to dismiss the linkage between the balance sheet and the financial markets. “Yes, it’s true that stock prices declined at a time when the Fed was allowing its holdings of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to run off at a rate of up to $50 billion a month. But the balance sheet contraction had been underway for more than a year, without any modifications or mid-course corrections. Thus, this should have been fully discounted.” While this is a true statement, what Bill forgot to mention was that Global Central banks had stepped in to flood the system with liquidity. As you can see in the chart below, while the Fed had stopped expanding their balance sheet, everyone else went into over-drive.

The chart below shows the ECB’s balance sheet and trajectory. Yes, they are slowing “QE” but it is still growing currently.

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Far from over.

Party Leaders Reach Deal To Avoid Fresh US Government Shutdown (AP)

Democratic and Republican leaders announced late Monday that they had reached a deal to avoid a government shutdown when funding under a stopgap agreement expires at midnight on Friday. The proposal would require the signature of Donald Trump to avert a new shutdown. The agreement would allocate far less money for Trump’s border wall than the White House’s $5.7bn wish list, settling for a figure of nearly $1.4bn, according to congressional aides. The funding measure is through the fiscal year, which ends 30 September. The agreement means 55 miles of new fencing — constructed through existing designs such as metal slats instead of a concrete wall — but far less than the 215 miles the White House demanded in December. The fencing would be built in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

At a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday Trump said he had been informed about the committee’s progress. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway”, he added. Negotiators have been trying to reach a deal to fund nine government departments that partially closed for 35 days in December and January. Trump and congressional Democrats agreed on 25 January to temporarily fund the departments and negotiate a funding solution by 8 February. Talks most recently broke down on Sunday, reportedly over a disagreement about the maximum number of undocumented immigrants who might be detained at any one time.

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Warren is irrelevant.

Warren’s Foreign Policy Shows She’s Missing Why Trump Was Elected (G.)

The United States, Warren says, has embarked on “a series of seemingly endless wars, engaging in conflicts with mistaken or uncertain objectives and no obvious path to completion”. It’s fine rhetoric but the obvious path to completion is merely to end the wars. And yet the Bush White House couldn’t or didn’t want to. And Obama vacillated and expanded to the point where bombing and killing was being pursued in almost a dozen countries when he left office. And as for Trump? He’s done little and he’s been publicly admonished by his own secretary of defense when he decided he wanted to end just one of those conflicts.

But “the United States”? Really? Other than Afghanistan after 9/11 – and that’s all – “the United States” didn’t embark on these wars. The national security community did. The government. Overtly, covertly, with high hopes or unwarranted self-confidence, they got their way. Who is the real culprit then? It isn’t Warren’s “elites”, the corporation, or Trump. It is Washington and its ability, indeed even its self-appointed duty, to stand in the way of anything that it sees as not in its interest.

She may not think it, but Warren is merely genuflecting before this deep state, declaring her allegiance to a “muscular military” and calling for “strong yet pragmatic security policies”. She of course offers a laundry list of things that must be preserved or strengthened that’s non-military – from technological superiority to diplomacy to strong alliances. And she decries the military and civilian policymakers who “seem [in]capable of defining success”. But in her innocence as to why we are stuck in seemingly endless wars she also seems oblivious to the fact that she is already capitulating to the very forces that ensure that we can’t change anything.

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Will the Green New Deal Make America Great Again?

Mistaken Futures (Kunstler)

The self-proclaimed socialists are actually seeing the world through a rear-view mirror. What they are really talking about is divvying up the previously-accumulated wealth, soon to be bygone. Entropy is having its wicked way with that wealth, first by transmogrifying it into ever more abstract forms, and then by dissipating it as waste all over the planet. In short, the next time socialism is enlisted as a tool for redistributing wealth, we will make the unhappy discovery that most of that wealth is gone. The process will be uncomfortably sharp and disorientating. The West especially will not know what hit it as it emergently self-reorganizes back into something that resembles the old-time feudalism.

We have a new kind of mass squalor in America: a great many people who have nothing to do, no means of support, and the flimsiest notions of purpose in life. The socialists have no answers for them. They will not be “retrained” in some imagined federal crusade to turn meth freaks into code-writers for Google. Something the analysts are calling “recession” is ploughing across the landscape like one of those darkly majestic dust-storms of the 1930s, only this time we won’t be able to re-fight anything like World War Two to get all the machines running again in the aftermath. Nor, of course, will the Make America Great Again fantasy work out for those waiting in the squalid ruins of the post-industrial rust-belt or the strip-mall wastelands of the Sunbelt.

Most of the beliefs and attitudes of the present day will be overturned with the demise of the industrial orgy, like the idea that humanity follows an unerring arc of progress, that men and women are interchangeable and can do exactly the same work, that society should not be hierarchical, that technology will rescue us, and that we can organize some political work-arounds to avoid the pain of universal contraction. There are no coherent ideas in the political arena just now. Our prospects are really too alarming. So, jump on-board the socialism ship and see if it makes you feel better to sail to the end of the earth. But mind the gap at the very edge. It’s a doozie.

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And 2 more weeks after that etc. till the clock runs out.

May To Ask MPs For Further Fortnight’s Grace In Brexit Talks (G.)

Theresa May hopes to convince the House of Commons on Tuesday to give her another fortnight’s grace to keep pushing for changes to the Irish backstop – despite the insistence of Michel Barnier that it is Britain that must compromise. With 45 days to go until Britain is due by law to leave the EU, with or without a deal, the prime minister will address MPs about progress in the Brexit talks, No 10 announced on Monday. She is unlikely to signal any shift towards a closer future relationship with the EU, after writing to Jeremy Corbyn to underline her continued objections to a customs union, and instead she will focus on the backstop.

“We are absolutely clear on this: we’re not considering Jeremy Corbyn’s customs proposals, we’re not considering any proposals to remain in the customs union. We must have our own, independent trade policy,” May’s spokesman said on Monday. May will stress her continued focus on the backstop, but the EU’s chief negotiator insisted on Monday there was no question of Brussels giving in to Downing Street’s demands. “We’re waiting for clarity and movement from the United Kingdom,” Barnier told reporters after talks in Luxembourg with the country’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel.

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The EU has the exact same flaws as its member states, but in the latter the losers can get voted out.

Europeans Must Get Rid Of The Failing EU One Way Or Another (MW)

Populism is sweeping Europe, because the European Union and its constituent governments have become as unresponsive as the 18th century aristocracies those replaced.The EU antecedent, the European Economic Community (1957) was created to prevent another World War by integrating the continent’s iron and steel industries and then its broader continental markets for goods, services, capital and labor. The process created a politically unaccountable bureaucracy, whose broad policy directions are set by consensus among the national heads of government and cabinet ministers. However, Brussels enjoys wide administrative discretion in supervising the customs union, agricultural and fisheries management, and national subsidies, anticompetitive practices, and other behavior that could undermine the “single market.”

Through a succession of treaties and agreements, national leaders “pooled sovereignty” to empower the European Commission to issue edicts that member states must directly obey or conform national laws and regulations in areas such as social policy and human rights, consumer protection and product standards, transportation, and immigration. European Court rulings have direct application in national courts, and 19 of the 28 states have ceded monetary policy to the European Central Bank by adopting the euro. To win votes, mainstream national politicians have endemically statist impulses, and hue to globalist views regarding the virtues of freer trade and more open immigration, regulatory responses to environmental challenges like climate change rather than mitigation, and impelling cultural diversity as opposed to preserving local cultures.

In Europe, national leaders have empowered the commission to impose the pain and constraints on private freedoms that such globalist policies require. Then they can point to Brussels to alibi they are just advancing a stronger European Union.

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Deutsche is a wager gone horribly wrong.

“Insane” Deutsche Bank Drowning Under Soaring Funding Costs (ZH)

Following years of dismal performance, uncovered attempts at market manipulation and fraudulent activities, and painful corporate reorganizations which its latest earnings report showed have “cut deeply into the muscle”, Deutsche Bank is a shadow of its former self, with its stock price trading just shy of all time lows. But an even bigger problem for Germany’s biggest lender is that it is now forced to pay the highest financing rates on the euro debt market for a leading international bank this year according to the FT, and also the highest rates among large banks to raise debt this year according to Bloomberg, in a further sign of the German lender’s uphill struggle to turn its operations around and reduce its funding costs.

As the FT first reported, followed promptly by Bloomberg, the bank raised eyebrows last week when it sold a total of €3.6BN in euro-denominated debt, paying 180 bps over the benchmarks for a two-year bond, a steep rate for short-term funding. Deutsche Bank also paid 230 bps over benchmarks for a senior seven-year bond that can absorb losses in a crisis. By comparison, French banking giant BNP Paribas SA last month offered 50 bps less for equally-ranked notes that mature one year later. More embarrassing, Deutsche Bank paid a higher rate than Spanish lender CaixaBank, which recently raised five-year bonds at 225bp.

In a latest note to clients, Corinna Dröse, a Frankfurt-based bond analyst at DZ Bank, said: “The high spreads reflect [Deutsche’s] high idiosyncratic risk, which is rooted in the lender’s chronic weakness in earnings.” “Deutsche has to pay significantly higher risk premiums than almost all other large European banks . . . [the] high spreads express severe doubts, mainly triggered by its poor revenue,” said Michael Hünseler, head of credit portfolio management at Assenagon. Intimately linked with the bank’s deteriorating fortunes – and stock price – investors are increasingly demanding that Deutsche Bank pay higher rates of return than even some of Europe’s “most troubled banks” as the firm grapples with a prolonged decline in revenue.

Finance chief James von Moltke said last year that the bank was caught in a “vicious circle” of declining revenue, sticky expenses, a lowered credit rating and rising funding costs. While the firm cut expenses, revenue and the price of funding remain a concern. “A key priority for us now is lowering our funding costs and improving our credit ratings,” von Moltke said during a call with fixed-income investors last week. “We must not compromise on the strength of our capital, funding, or liquidity, but we have to prove that we can generate long-term, sustainable profitability.”

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It’s not about eating meat, it’s about industrial farming. All these scientists telling people what to eat are useless.

Nearly A Fifth Of The EU’s Budget Goes On Livestock Farming (G.)

Nearly a fifth of the EU’s total budget – more than £24bn of taxpayer money – goes to support livestock farming across Europe, according to new research by Greenpeace. At a time when scientists are calling for significant reductions in meat consumption, the report’s authors say taxpayers’ money should be redirected away from grain-fed, industrial animal farming. Last month, the Eat-Lancet Commission of scientists called for a new plant-focused diet to help avoid dangerous levels of climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Such a diet would require cutting red meat consumption in Europe by 77%.

Public Health England’s dietary guidelines recommend that meat and dairy, including non-animal-based protein alternatives such as beans and pulses, should make up no more than our 20% of dietary intake. Yet, Europeans eat more than twice as much meat as national dietary authorities recommend, as well as twice the global average. “Adopting diets lower in meat and dairy would not only tackle health problems but would also reduce the pressure on land, freeing up more space for nature,” said the Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero. [..] Researchers calculated that 125 million hectares (308 million acres) of land in Europe is used to graze livestock or produce feed – this includes more than 60% of arable land that could otherwise be used to grow food directly for human consumption.

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China has no idea what democracy is. But it has a ruling class just like our countries.

China Has No Use For Democracy. It Needs A Strong Leader Like Xi (SCMP)

Throughout my life, I have had the opportunity to meet nearly every Chinese leader since the 1930s (with the exception of Mao Zedong), including Chiang Kai-shek, Wang Jingwei and more contemporary figures such as Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Xi. As individuals, they frequently came off as kind, caring and intelligent. From afar, as I watched them govern, I would view them in a different light, as dictators. This is the reality of leadership in China. Previously, emperors in China were said to rule because of their “Mandate of Heaven”. When Mao seized power, it was clear that he had won his position through revolution. Yet the selection of Xi, like the selection of his predecessors since Mao’s death in 1976, is cloaked in secrecy.

Even those in the US who question whether, and to what degree, Russian interference influenced the 2016 election will concede that, based on US law, Trump is a legally elected president. These results are publicly available, and have been analysed repeatedly by the media, politicians and the American public. But China lacks such luxuries. Its citizens have no official records to turn to for an explanation of why and how Xi was chosen. [..] Under Xi’s leadership, China has adopted a more aggressive stance internationally, imprisoned thousands of party members on corruption charges and removed constitutional limitations on presidential term limits. Amid these developments, the question of how Xi was chosen again comes to mind. The short answer is, we can only guess.

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Why, why and why?

History’s 10 Most Culturally Significant Dick Pic Scandals (Taibbi)

The AMI-Jeff Bezos scandal is set up to dominate headlines for a while. Who knows where it will lead? In the third world, an oligarch-president proxy war playing out in public like this usually presages a coup. If this were Thailand or Uruguay, bookies would already have odds on a Bezos-Mark-Zuckerberg-Sundar-Pichai junta being in power by May. This scandal will at least drag us through unprecedented legal and ethical conundrums. Can the president use the surveillance powers of the state to go after political enemies? Can a billionaire intelligence contractor and administrator of one of earth’s largest private data collections — including the so-called “Secret Region” cloud — fight back using his own surveillance trove through a newspaper he owns?

This story could blur the lines between public and private power to the point of meaninglessness. America could very well find its fate decided by a series of pre-dawn phone calls, after which we’d wake up to find Trump flying to Switzerland, Amazon lieutenants in the Joint Chiefs office and the presidency replaced by an executive board. At the center of all of this: a dick pic. Nothing could be more American than the fate of our democracy now hanging (!) on what Enquirer editor Dylan Howard euphemistically describes as a “below-the-belt selfie.”

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Feb 112019
 


Johannes Vermeer Woman holding a balance 1662-63

 

 

The problem is, of course, that not only is economics bankrupt but it has always been nothing more than politics in disguise.
-Hazel Henderson

It’s often hard to understand how people can be aware of something but then fail to link it to a perfectly logical next step, or even multiple steps, and see where it fits in a larger scheme. There really are people out there, believe it or not, who look at economic and political developments over the past decade in any particular western country and believe they are unique to that country.

In reality, while things may play out slightly differently from one place to the other, the core causes of what’s been unfolding are the exact same ones in every single location. The reactions of incumbent politicians and economics has been the same as well: massage the numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you and yours are on the ‘right side’ of the line.

In France, the main complaint that the Yellow Vests movement has now taken into its 13th consecutive weekend is crystal clear: people can’t pay their bills anymore. In the UK, austerity has demolished wages, social care, the NHS and much else. In the US, many millions of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency payment, have ever scarcer access to healthcare and live from paycheck to paycheck.

Rinse and repeat for every western nation. The storylines vary somewhat, but they all tell the same tale, they could be, they are, chapters in the same book. And it makes one think if people are not connecting them.

Renowned French philosopher Michel Onfray summarizes Emmanuel Macron’s ongoing Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) problem in these words: “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

That is true in France, and it is also true in the UK, US and many other countries. People may not see liberalism as their problem, or even know, let alone understand the term, but what they do understand is they can’t pay their bills anymore. And Macron’s response, just like that of Washington and London, is more neoliberalism, or, again in Onfray’s words:

“This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong”. [..] “The [liberal] Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”

The sign in the picture below says: “We live in a world where those who make 100,000 a month convince those who make 1,800 that everything is going wrong because of those who live on 535 euro. And it works… (thanks to the media)” That’s what the Yellow Vests are about.

 


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

 

Again, it’s not about the term (neo-)liberalism, and it’s not some ideological question or fight, it’s about people not being able to pay their bills, and about politicians leaving them hanging all alone in a freezing wind. Nor is it a left against right issue. Western countries only have formerly left parties left; people who can’t pay their bills have been left to fend for themselves, no matter what they vote, and they finally understand that.

In Italy, traditional parties were all but wiped out to be replaced with the Lega and M5S. In France, ditto, but there Macron was the ‘new’ guy. In Germany, Merkel still holds the CDU/CSU ship somewhat steady, but she’s a goner and the right rises.

In Britain, there’s still only the two main parties, but they’re already history. It makes no difference what Jeremy Corbyn does or doesn’t do, he’ll be crushed by the betrayal Tony Blair inflicted on the nation in name of the same Labour Party now ‘led’ by Corbyn. While the Tories, like the Democrats in the US, rely on having taken over the media.

But it’s still a bit bewildering to see Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer’s “award-winning chief political commentator”, no less, write an entire article about what’s ailing British politics without linking this to the rest of the world, where the exact same issues play out. Of course it’s obvious that Brexit has become a divisive issue, not only in UK politics but also there, and not just between parties but also within them.

But if anything, Brexit is not a cause but a mere symptom of the British variety of the Great Discontent. The cause is that in Britain, too, people can’t pay their bills anymore. One country gets Trump, the next one Yellow Vests, and the third gets Brexit.

 

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits

It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election. But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible.

It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither.

More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties. Many politicians can’t stand the parties they represent. Some actively and publicly rage about what has become of them. I cannot recall a period in my lifetime when so many MPs have expressed so much disgust and despair with the state of their own parties.

Mr. Rawnsley manages to avoid any mention of anything at all existing outside of the British borders in the entire article, other than chiding Corbyn for failing to condemn Maduro. And you’re right, if that is the extent of your media, or even that of the formerly left-leaning bit, you may need an extra decade or so to figure out what the rest of the world already knows.

 

In the US, Trump replaced and/or took over the Republican Party, while Ocasio-Sanchez -AOC- is the only strong voice for the Democrats. Sure, she’s 29 and can’t run for the White House, but given that the alternative is Pelosi/Schumer and much more of that exact same cabal, anyone with presidential dreams had better get her blessings.

And sure, her Green New Deal/Dream can easily be dismissed as crazy, but pray tell what the difference is between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve has financed its QE schemes. Perhaps the big difference is who profits; in one instance, the banks, in the other, society at large.

Or from a different perspective, there, too, AOC is like Trump: first, you start big and after, you see what can be done. Her version of the art of the deal. Besides, she has a plan, and nobody else has one. Except perhaps for Bernie, but his credibility was fatally wounded by letting the DNC waltz all over him in 2016.

And his age is not going to help: if you’re really fed up with what’s there because it’s disappointed you three ways to Sunday and now you can’t pay your bills, you’re not going to vote for grandpa, you’re going to go for someone young. Still, if Bernie hooks up with Ocasio, he may have a shot.

For all the others in the already crowded field, it’s what have you done for me lately, and they all either haven’t done dick all or they can’t string two words together without looking like someone wrote it all down for them. Look for a whole bunch from the Clinton/Wasserman mold (i.e. every candidate so far) to support the Green New Deal, but only to sabotage it, and Ocasio, at the first available opportunity.

 

If people already find the very large and very obvious political changes too much to comprehend, here’s some awkward news for you, and it’s not just that the media vs social media fight must inevitably lead to an ever stronger tsunami of ‘news’ overkill. Though that’s a big one: the media once upon a time reported the news, an outdated business model; today they don’t report the news, they manufacture it.

It’s more profitable because people are more gullible and/or they’re drowning in the giant overkill waves. I like that tsunami metaphor for news dissemination: people think social media will work to their advantage, like when the waters recede after a quake, that they have more control over their news. But then it all comes back in one big go and they’re completely lost.

The main upcoming event in media and politics won’t be the Great Political Discontent, it will be the economic one. Those who can’t pay their bills today will be the first victims of the massaged economic numbers finding themselves subject to gravity once again. Central banks won’t be able to prop up the zombies anymore, or the facade. The media will turn against the prevailing order when they deem it profitable. Or, rather, in a desperate attempt at survival.

What once was the middle class will join the various Yellow Vest groups around the world. So will whatever it is you call what took the place of the middle class. Certainly after their housing bubble mortgages become eligible for margin calls. Then all that’s left will be the very rich and the very poor. It’ll be back to the Middle Ages. Just with 20 times as many people. And with over half the wildlife gone, and the arable land, and 80% of insects gone since 1980 alone.

But yeah, we can also pretend that any problem we encounter can only possibly be a temporary blip, and there’s sunshine on the way around the corner, not pitchforks. Still, I’m pretty sure it’s precisely because we do nothing but pretend, that we gather all the problems in the first place that make one think of pitchforks, if even so briefly.

And I’m also pretty sure that we’re a lot less smart than we tell ourselves we are considering we kill off that without which we have zero chance of survival, and considering we let people starve in the richest human society the world has ever seen (make that: will ever see), but we still have trouble seeing our own noses, let alone following them.

We’re such blind masters of pretence that we hardly ever noticed the Great Discontent entering our nations, our communities and our homes. What then are the odds we will perceive the arrival of the Great Unraveling?

 

 

Feb 112019
 
 February 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Glass, bread and cheesee 1923

 

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)
IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)
UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)
Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)
May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)
All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)
Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)
Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)
Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)
China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)
Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)
Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)
Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

 

 

This should be the only topic left on all media and political agendas. Instead, everyone’s talking about music awards. Mankind had its promises, but they came with fatal flaws. The ability to lie to ourselves and others -including about the relative importance of various events- is doing us in.

We do have the brain structure to foresee future dangers, but also to discard them. We can see ourselves do things we know are devastatingly stupid, but we cannot stop ourselves from doing them. In the end, no matter how smart we think we are, only stupidity is left.

Even here, when people talk about the collapse of nature, the media present it as something separate from us. While we’re right in the middle of it, and we know it only too well.

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.” The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

[..] “The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades. He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said. [..] “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

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“It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.”

IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)

For the fourth time since October, the IMF revised its global growth forecast lower. The Wall Street Journal reports IMF Lowers 2019 Global Growth Forecast. “The global economy is starting the year on weaker footing, according to new quarterly forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.” That report was on January 21. For details, see the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update, January 2019.

“Last month, the IMF lowered its global economic growth forecast for this year from 3.7% to 3.5%. Lagarde cited what she called “four clouds” as the main factors undermining the global economy and warned that a “storm” might strike. The risks include “trade tensions and tariff escalations, financial tightening, uncertainty related to (the) Brexit outcome and spillover impact and an accelerated slowdown of the Chinese economy”, she said. Lagarde said trade tensions — mainly in the shape of a tariff spat between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies – are already having a global impact. “We have no idea how it is going to pan out and what we know is that it is already beginning to have an effect on trade, on confidence and on markets,” she said, warning governments to avoid protectionism.”

“Lagarde also pointed to the risks posed by rising borrowing costs within a context of “heavy debt” racked up by governments, firms and households. “When there are too many clouds, it takes one lightning (bolt) to start the storm,” she said.” The IMF is perpetually far behind the curve. It never sees the clouds or the lightening bolts in real time. It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.

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As if things are not bad enough. Get out while you can.

UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)

Many British public services risk ongoing real-terms cuts for years to come, despite a softer fiscal stance from Chancellor Philip Hammond, a major think tank predicted ahead of a half-yearly budget update next month. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) expects Hammond to give more details of the money available for a multi-year review of public spending when he updates budget plans on March 13, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. In his annual budget in November, Hammond loosened the government’s purse-strings, giving support to the economy as it slowed ahead of Brexit. However, rising healthcare spending leaves little spare for other public services, the IFS said.

“This suggests yet more years of austerity for many public services — albeit at a much slower pace than the last nine years,” IFS research economist Ben Zaranko said. Public services outside of health, defence and overseas aid saw budgets fall by an average of 3 percent a year in real terms after 2010, and now look set for declines of 0.4 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms going forward, the IFS predicts. [..] “In the short run … government might well raise spending to support the economy, mitigate the impacts for the worst-hit sectors or areas and provide funding to departments now required to perform additional functions, notably at the border,” the IFS said. In the long run, higher taxes or further spending cuts would be required to pay for this spending, as well as to compensate for weaker growth caused by trade restrictions, the IFS added.

[..] Brexit uncertainty has damaged the economy already and will slow growth further over the long term, even with a deal. Last week the Bank of England estimated the costs to date at 1.5 percent of GDP — more than the forecast budget deficit for 2018/19. During 2016’s referendum campaign, Brexit supporters including former foreign minister Boris Johnson said leaving the EU would free as much as 350 million pounds a week to spend on public services such as healthcare.

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OK, where are the street fighting men?

Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”. The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals. But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February, if not later. The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions. “If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

May remains officially committed to getting the EU to agree to significant changes to the Irish border backstop as a way of winning over the DUP and agitated Tory backbenchers who helped bring about the heavy defeat of her plan. But with the PM’s meetings in Brussels last week yielding no real hope of this, there had been speculation she might embrace suggestions from Corbyn, who last week outlined five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal, including joining a customs union. In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

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“..she successfully took another four days off the clock.”

May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)

On February 6, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered UK Prime Minister Theresa May a Customs Union Deal in which the Labour party would back a deal with May. She could have easily rejected Corbyn’s offer on the spot. Instead, she successfully took another four days off the clock. Today we see, May Rejects Corbyn’s Offer as Businesses Warn of Brexit Cliff Edge. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?” Great Question! Actually, the question itself is not great. May could have just as easily asked anything else. Thus, the question was irrelevant.

The importance is Corbyn now has to respond. How long will that take? Even if it’s a single day, that another day off the March 29 Brexit clock. Theresa May has effectively splintered the Labour party. Some want a new referendum, some want Brexit, and some want a custom’s union. Corbyn is now a clear loser in May’s tactics. The other side of May’s gambit is the Tories are now united. They still do not want her deal. [..] The biggest fear for the Tories was a new election. May’s gambit remains what it has always been, to play on the fears of both sides such that they would support her silly deal. While May succeeded on one front, she categorically failed on another. She now needs to win over DUP and splinter the Tories. If she can do that, then she wins. Meanwhile, the clock is running down.

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There are many more ways than these.

All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)

Reality bites. While millennials garner much of the negative press around financial issues — they live with their parents because they can’t get jobs! They spend all their money on avocado toast! — Gen Xers may be the ones who are really in trouble. Just 16% of Gen Xers say that they included financial planning in their 2019 goals, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life. That’s compared with 27% of millennials. And when asked what 2019 resolution they were most likely to make, and to keep, just 38% mentioned managing money better and saving more; meanwhile 50% of millennials said that. That lack of planning and goal-keeping could make a bad situation worse — as Gen X may already be financially worse off than other generations in a number of ways.

They’ve got the most credit card debt of anyone — yet still spend more than anyone on non-essentials. Members of Gen X have higher levels of credit card debt — which tends to carry a higher interest rate than most other debt — than other generations. Indeed, credit card debt levels peak between the ages of 45-54 at $9,096, with the second highest levels of debt being or those who are 35-44 at $8,235. Meanwhile, the under 35 set has just $5,808. “Millennials and individuals over 74 years old held the least credit card debt. These two groups are also among the least likely to have a credit card, which can serve as a potential explanation behind the trend we are seeing here,” ValuePenguin explains of their data.

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Don’t do it, Elizabeth. Dumb move.

Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)

Back in Iowa as a full-fledged presidential candidate, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took aim at President Donald Trump on Sunday, saying he “may not even be a free person” by next year’s election. The Massachusetts senator’s comments came a day after Trump renewed his criticism of her past claims of Native American heritage. In a tweet, Trump called Warren “Pocahontas” and said he would see her “on the campaign TRAIL.” The White House didn’t explain what the president was referring to in his tweet, though some Democrats accused him of making light of the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of Cherokee and several other Native American tribes from their lands in the 1830s. Warren’s campaign wouldn’t say what the senator believes Trump was referencing.

Warren has largely avoided talking about Trump since she began testing the waters for a campaign more than a month ago. During her first of three events Sunday in eastern Iowa, Warren said the president shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the direction of the campaign with divisive attacks. “Every day there is a racist tweet, a hateful tweet — something really dark and ugly,” she said. “What are we as candidates, as activists, as the press, going to do about it? We’re going to chase after those every day?” She continued: “Here’s what bothers me. By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person.”

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Orban’s success: “..a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.”

Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)

Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has promised that women who have four or more children will never pay income tax again, in a move aimed at boosting the country’s population. Orbán, who has emerged as Europe’s loudest rightwing, anti-immigration voice in recent years, said getting Hungarian families to have more children was preferable to allowing immigrants from Muslim countries to enter. “In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the west to this is migration,” said Orbán in his annual state of the nation address on Sunday. “They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids, so that the numbers will add up. We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”

Orbán’s Fidesz party won a third consecutive electoral victory last year on an anti-migration platform, and the Hungarian prime minister rarely gives a speech without presenting the upcoming years as a do-or-die battle for the future of Europe. He has voiced a hope that after elections in May, all European institutions will be controlled by “anti-migration forces”. He has repeatedly claimed that the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros, a favoured target of the far right across the globe, is masterminding a conspiracy to destroy Europe by promoting mass migration. “The people of Europe have come to a historic crossroads,” Orbán said on Sunday, criticising the “mixed population countries” that result from allowing migration.

The process was moving so quickly, he said, that the transformation of previously Christian countries into those where Christians were a minority would happen in his lifetime. “There is no return ticket,” he said. [..] As the prime minister spoke, anti-Orbán protesters gathered in Budapest for the latest in a series of rallies against the government which began in December after parliament passed a “slave law” allowing employers to demand more overtime from workers. The law is seen as another result of the demographic problems in the country, as a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.

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And who does Pompeo visit first? Orban of course. Operating in the EU’s own back yard.

Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say. On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited. On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years. “This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose.

“Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.” Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland. [..] Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe. Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion. It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.

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Xi’s conundrum: does he play up how great this is, how it makes his economy look great, or does he try and cut down on borrowing even more, scared that Chinese are borrowing far too much?

China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)

China’s retailer and catering enterprises earned over 1 trillion yuan ($148.3 billion) during the Lunar New Year holiday, defying an economic slump to rise 8.5 percent from last year, the country’s commerce ministry said late on Sunday. The increase was down to the rapid growth in sales of new-year gifts, traditional foods, electronic products and local speciality products over a six-day holiday period ending on Saturday, the Ministry of Commerce said in a notice on its website. Domestic tourism during the new year break generated total revenues of 513.9 billion yuan, up 8.2 percent on the year, with the number of trips rising 7.6 percent to 415 million, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing official data.

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The US is pricing itself out of the market: OPEC+ output cuts are meant to support prices, not to allow the US to fill in the gaps.

Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)

Crude prices fell by around 1 percent on Monday as U.S. drilling activity picked up and as Russia’s biggest oil producer pressured President Vladimir Putin to end the supply cut deal with Middle East-dominated producer club OPEC. [..] In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday. Companies added 7 oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, pointing to a further rise in U.S. crude production, which already stands at a record 11.9 million bpd. Elsewhere, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has written to the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow’s deal with the OPEC to withhold output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States.

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Mea culpa. On the news yesterday that the Catalan court cases begin this week, I said nothing appeared to have changed from Rajoy’s days. Not true.

Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)

Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid on Sunday to protest Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to ease tensions with Catalan separatists, in a demonstration uniting the leaders of conservative and far-right parties. The protest of an estimated 45,000 people marked the first time that the leaders of the conservative Popular Party (PP), centrist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox were photographed together, El País reported. Protesters accused Sánchez of “stabbing [Spain] in the back” and called for a snap election because of his government’s decision to accept a long-held demand of Catalan secessionists to appoint a facilitator in talks between pro-independence and pro-unity political parties.

The ruling regional pro-independence parties in Barcelona have rejected the Socialists’ proposed framework for talks and are calling for a new independence vote, which the government opposes. “The time of Pedro Sánchez has ended,” said PP leader Pablo Casado. “There is no more room for surrendering by the Socialists, or further extortion from the separatists. Today, the reconquest begins.” Sánchez said at a separate rally on Sunday that “the government is working for the unity of Spain, and this means uniting Spaniards and not pitting people against one another like the right is doing.” He added: “Democracy is not heads or tails, there are many alternatives. Ours is coexistence, law and dialogue in Catalonia.”

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Off topic. What these works show, after you’ve watched them for 2 seconds, is how good Escher was, and others are not. The first one, cats and dogs, depends on cartoon animals. Escher used only real animals. The second comes closest to Escher’s work, but that makes it a bland imitation. The third is straight-up cartoon, not at all something Escher would have done.

Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

Alain Nicolas, aged 73, was inspired to create his own tessellations on seeing the work of Escher four decades ago. Escher’s tessellations of interlocking birds, fish and lizards are some of the most recognisable mathematical art of the twentieth century; striking and playful as well as breathtakingly ingenious. Nicolas’ work is also stunning and witty.

Now retired, he spends half his free time designing tessellations and recently finished his 400th. You can see many of them on his extensive website (but don’t peek until you have solved the puzzles!). Drawing tessellations is not easy. It takes a lot of geometrical acuity to make shapes that fit together and are convincing representations.

David Bailey, a British tessellation artist, believes that Nicolas is the best tessellation artist in the world. “His work has everything, recognisable silhouettes, quality, variety, number, level of innovation, next to no padding, and all rendered to a most pleasing standard of finish. Bravo, Alain!” Nicolas has – like Escher – no background in maths, but says all that is required is a sense of wonder and a desire to always do better. Here is a self portrait, sitting in a bar, reading his own book, and calling the waiter with his finger.

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Feb 102019
 
 February 10, 2019  Posted by at 11:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh On the outskirts of Paris near Montmartre 1887

 

More Violence In Paris As Gilet Jaunes Protests Enter 13th Weekend (R.)
‘Macron Unleashed Violence Against Yellow Vests, Each Casualty Is On Him’ (RT)
Italy Saves Europe’s Dignity Over US Bullying Of Venezuela (ZH)
Plan To End Brexit Deadlock: Back May’s Deal, Then Hold People’s Vote (G.)
UK Cancels Brexit Ferry Contract Awarded To Firm With No Ferries (PA)
250 UK Firms Discuss Moving To Netherlands (G.)
Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits (G.)
MSM Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt (Fair)
IMF Chief Lagarde Warns Of High Arab Public Debt (AFP)
Trump’s World Bank Pick, An Ally For The Lender’s Critics? (AFP)
Catalan Separatists Trial To Start: Not Just Legal Battle, Media One Too (AFP)
Carmageddon for Tesla Model 3: US Deliveries Plunge 55% to 60% (WS)

 

 

Another Sunday of looking in vain for Yellow Vests articles in the western media.

Best detail: the house of Macron’s leader of the National Assembly was attacked. Nobody knows who, nobody knows why. Yellow Vests? Who knows.

Well, Little Napoleon knows, apparently: “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic..”

On the other hand, intimidations and violence towards his own people is fine. Gory photos galore of another guy who lost most of one of his hands to a police grenade.

More Violence In Paris As Gilet Jaunes Protests Enter 13th Weekend (R.)

Thousands of French gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators marched on Saturdayin what was their 13th weekend of action. There were scuffles in Paris and a demonstrator’s hand was mangled by a small explosive. There was also an overnight arson attack on the Brittany residence of the National Assembly head, Richard Ferrand, though no immediate link was made to the actions against President Emmanuel Macron. The demonstrations, named for high-visibility jackets worn by the protesters, began in mid-November over fuel taxes. They have since broadened into a more general revolt against a political class they view as out of touch with common people. In Paris, several thousand people marched on Saturday beside symbols of power such as the National Assembly and Senate.

The demonstrations were mainly peaceful, but some protesters threw objects at security forces, a scooter and a police van were set on fire and some shop windows were smashed. One participant’s hand was severely injured when he tried to pick up a so-called “sting-ball grenade” used by police to disperse crowds with teargas, a police source told Reuters. [..] Politicians from across the spectrum condemned the arson attack on the home of Ferrand, a close ally of Macron and president of parliament’s lower house. He published pictures on Twitter of a scorched living room, saying police found materials soaked in fuel. Ferrand said criminal intent was the likely cause, although the perpetrators’ identity was unclear. “Nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic,” Macron tweeted in relation to the incident.

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Strong against the weak, and weak against the strong. Does Macron want to fight Onfray?

“Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.”

‘Macron Unleashed Violence Against Yellow Vests, Each Casualty Is On Him’ (RT)

One of France’s foremost public intellectuals has posted a 4,000-word screed exposing collusion between “the brute” Emmanuel Macron and the mainstream media to put down the Gilets Jaunes, all while blaming them for the violence. “Emmanuel Macron has chosen not to maintain order, but to suppress public protest,” writes Michel Onfray in his blog, in an attempt at a definitive account of the protests that have gripped France since November. “Intentionally, the president did not restrain the violence of protesters, and unleashed it on the part of the authorities. As the head of state, he carries responsibility for choosing repressive measures, so every single injury sustained is on him.” A household name in France, Onfray is the author of over 100 books on subjects ranging from philosophy to religion to politics, many of them non-fiction bestsellers.

He is also the founder of a tuition-free private university in Caen, which is part-funded by his publications. He is one of the most respected figures to try to give an overview of the crisis that goes beyond headlines and political allegiances. Onfray writes that the protest did not begin as a “peasants’ revolt of disgruntled right-wingers” refusing to pay an environmental fuel tax – as it is being portrayed by newspapers – but was simply a result of ordinary Frenchmen saying, “We cannot pay!” Instead of listening, however, Macron decided to escalate the conflict “using it for his own benefits, and the interests of the Maastricht camp [the pro-EU establishment].” The philosopher, who has previously aligned with leftist movements, details six “symbolic slaps” the president dealt out to the protesters, in addition to the physical violence they suffered in their weekly clashes during the demonstrations.

Onfray sees the roots of the problem in the “liberal Maastricht state” created in 1992 with the establishment of the European Union, “to promoting which Macron has dedicated his entire short adult life.” “This is an order that is strong against the week, as we can see on the streets, and weak against the strong, as is evident from the abolition of the wealth tax and the failure to root out tax havens,” writes the 60-year-old Onfray. “Macron is trying to explain that there is not enough liberalist Europe in our lives, while the Gilets Jaunes are saying back to him that there is too much – not too much Europe, but too much liberalism.” The Maastricht state is “cruel to those who carry the burdens of globalization” and “simply by declaring their poverty, these people have been ideologically criminalized.”


©Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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The EU cares a whole lot more about Macron than about its dignity. Perhaps it should rethink that before it’s too late.

Italy Saves Europe’s Dignity Over US Bullying Of Venezuela (ZH)

The row between France and Italy is but the latest in a long-running spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and the newly elected coalition government in Rome. The Italian government is an unlikely coalition between the left-leaning Five Star Movement (5SM) and a rightwing party, La Lega (The League). Both parties are highly critical of the EU establishment and neoliberal capitalist polices which France’s former Rothschild banker-turned-president Macron embodies. Rome has also slammed France for its responsibility in fomenting massive immigration problems for Europe and Italy in particular through Paris’ criminal military interventions, along with the US and other NATO powers, in the Middle East and North Africa.

Things came to a head this week when it emerged that Italian deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio (and 5SM leader) had met with members of the Yellow Vest protest movement in France. The Yellow Vest movement has been holding nationwide demonstrations for the past 12 weeks protesting against Macron’s economic policies and what they call his elitist style of government. Di Maio and the other Italian deputy premier Matteo Salvini (leader of The League) have been openly supporting the French protesters, whom they identify with as part of a popular revolt across Europe against neoliberal austerity.

Reacting to reports of Italian government contact with the French protesters, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was “outrageous interference” in his country’s internal affairs. The row has further escalated after France recalled its ambassador from Rome. The last time that happened was in 1940 during the Second World War. This is a major breakdown in relations between two of the EU’s founding members. Here is where the irony descends into farce. France is blustering with rage at Italy’s alleged meddling in its sovereign affairs while at the very same time the French government is party to an international effort led by the US to bring about regime change in Venezuela. The hypocritical arrogance is priceless.

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The revolutionary new plan among MPs from both sides: Vote for May’s deal, and then let the people vote it down. That way, whatever happens is not your fault.

Plan To End Brexit Deadlock: Back May’s Deal, Then Hold People’s Vote (G.)

Theresa May could win parliament’s approval for her controversial Brexit deal in return for guaranteeing another referendum, under a new plan being drawn up by a cross-party group of MPs. The new vote would give the British people a simple choice: to confirm the decision or stay in the EU. The initiative, aimed at breaking the political impasse, is being advanced by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson and has won the support of prominent Remainers in the Tory party including Sarah Wollaston, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry. Kyle says the idea, which is likely to be put forward as an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill, is also being taken seriously by “people at a high level in government” as a potential way to resolve the Brexit crisis.

The amendment would offer all MPs the chance to support, or abstain on, the withdrawal bill and would specify that, if passed, the decision would be implemented on the condition it was put to the public for approval in a second referendum. If the amendment passed through parliament but the deal was rejected in the subsequent referendum, the UK would stay in the EU under current arrangements. If, however, the British people confirmed the decision of MPs to leave the EU under the terms of May’s deal, Brexit on these terms would immediately come into effect without any need for it to return to parliament.

“The beauty of this plan is that it holds attractions for both Leavers and Remainers. For Leavers, if the deal is confirmed by the British people, it offers a definitive end to the withdrawal process with Brexit sealed once and for all. For Remainers, on the other hand, it offers the chance to make the case to stay in the EU to the public, based on facts not promises as before,” said Kyle.“Remainers could vote for May’s deal, or abstain, even though they might not like it, in the knowledge that they could campaign against it later in the referendum. “The key is that Labour and Tory MPs could choose their own way of allowing the bill to pass, yet both will still be able to campaign in the referendum for their real objectives and their principles will remain intact,” he added.

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These clowns are paid generous salaries to make these decisions. May that’s a good place to start.

UK Cancels Brexit Ferry Contract Awarded To Firm With No Ferries (PA)

A controversial no-deal Brexit ferry contract awarded to a firm with no ships has been cancelled by the UK’s department for transport. Transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to award Seaborne Freight a contract worth £13.8 million (€15.7 million) had attracted widespread criticism. The department said it had decided to terminate the contract after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed Seaborne Freight, stepped away from the deal. A department of transport spokeswoman said: “Following the decision of Seaborne Freight’s backer, Arklow Shipping, to step back from the deal, it became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the government. We have therefore decided to terminate our agreement.

“The government is already in advanced talks with a number of companies to secure additional freight capacity — including through the port of Ramsgate — in the event of a no-deal Brexit.” Mr Grayling last month defended the Seaborne Freight contract, insisting it was “not a risk”. It was one of three firms awarded contracts totalling £108 million (€123 million) in late December to lay on additional crossings to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain leaves the EU, despite having never run a Channel service. The department said it had been Arklow Shipping’s backing that gave it confidence in the viability of the deal, and that it stands by the robust due diligence carried out on Seaborne Freight.

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How close Brexit is getting. 47 days. A Bloomberg headline this morning says it all:

“Cargo ships are about to set sail from Britain for Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but their goods will arrive in an uncertain post-Brexit world.”

250 UK Firms Discuss Moving To Netherlands (G.)

The Dutch government has said it is in talks with more than 250 companies about moving their operations from the UK to the Netherlands before Brexit. The economic affairs ministry said it had lured 42 companies or branch offices and 1,923 jobs from the UK last year, as it increases its efforts to gain Brexit business. Among those who have chosen to invest in the Netherlands are the Discovery Channel, Sony and Bloomberg. Sony announced last month it was moving its European headquarters to Amsterdam, as companies in the UK continue to progress with contingency plans. Its rival Panasonic has already moved to the Dutch capital.

The government report said another Japanese company, the investment bank Norinchukin, was also moving to Amsterdam, along with the global content company TVT Media, the financial services providers MarketAxess and Azimo, and the maritime insurer UK P&I Club. While Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, recently said he did not see Brexit as a business opportunity, countries including Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg have been actively looking for opportunities to capitalise on Brexit ever since the EU referendum. Banks and other financial services are obliged to have operations in a member state if they want to serve a pan-EU market, while broadcasters who transmit across the EU need to have a licence in one member state to meet regulations.

The BBC is considering setting up an international base in Belgium. The Dutch economic affairs ministry said: “In 2019, several companies including Discovery and Bloomberg have already announced their intention to invest in the Netherlands because of Brexit. “Additionally, the Netherlands foreign investment agency is talking with more than 250 foreign companies considering setting up operations in the Netherlands following Brexit.” Most of the 250 companies were British, but some were American or Asian firms reconsidering their European branch structures, the report said.

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Oh Christ, Britons who think this is a British issue. Lord have patience.

Why The Sickly Ugly Sisters Of UK Politics Deserve To Suffer The Splits (G.)

If they did not exist, would we invent them? Given the chance to start from scratch, would Britain regard the Conservative and Labour parties, the two old and ugly sisters of our politics, as the best we can do? Are they fit for the purpose of representing and reconciling the diversity of opinions in a modern and complex country? And for offering it a choice of decent governments? A growing number of us have been saying not and for a long time. Even before Brexit split both parties and scrambled voter allegiances, much of the electorate was expressing its dissatisfaction with the big two. The Tories have not won a solid parliamentary majority since 1987.

The last Labour leader who was not called Tony Blair to secure a healthy Commons majority was Harold Wilson in 1966. The number of voters who enthusiastically identify as red or blue has been in long-term decline. Party membership has also been shrivelling. The Tories, who once boasted that they were a million strong, bump along at around 100,000. Labour enjoyed a trend-defying surge in its membership during the Ohhh Jeremy Corbyn phase of his leadership, but that is going downhill as the magical uncle turns out not to be so wondrous after all. It is true that the big two can still gather up a lot of votes. After decades of decline in their combined vote share, it blipped up at the last election.

But I don’t think that truly indicated renewed enthusiasm for either of them. It was a false positive induced by an electoral system that compels many voters to make a forced choice between the unappetising and the inedible. It doesn’t mean that these nose-holding voters like what’s put before them. The current choice on offer is so disdained that, when pollsters ask who would make best prime minister, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are regularly beaten into second and third place by Neither. More than half of the electorate say their views are not properly represented by the existing political parties.

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No, you got that really really wrong, they didn’t fall for anything, they are an integral part of the process.

MSM Fall in Lockstep for Cheap Trump/Rubio Venezuela Aid PR Stunt (Fair)

The Trump administration’s now completely overt effort to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had a very successful public relations effort this week, as major Western media outlets uniformly echoed its simplistic, pre-packaged claim that the Venezuelan government was heartlessly withholding foreign aid. All of the articles—and scores more like it—repeated the same script: Maduro was blocking aid from the US “out of refusal to relinquish power,” preferring to starve “his own people” rather than feed them. It’s a simple case of good and evil—of a tyrannical, paranoid dictator not letting in aid to feed a starving population.

Except three pieces of key context are missing. Context that, when presented to a neutral observer, would severely undermine the cartoonish narrative being advanced by US media. 1) Both the Red Cross and UN warned the US not to engage in this aid PR stunt. 2) The bridge in question is a visual metaphor contrived by the Trump administration of little practical relevance. 3) The person in charge of US operations in Venezuela has a history of using aid as a cover to deliver weapons to right-wing mercenaries. (1) Not only has the international aid community not asked for the “aid,” earlier this week, both the International Red Cross and United Nations warned the US to explicitly not engage in these types of PR stunts. As Washington Post contributor Vincent Bevins pointed out, the transparent cynicism of these efforts was preemptively warned about by the groups actually charged with keeping starving people fed.

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“..oil producing countries should look to renewable energy in the coming decades..”

IMF Chief Lagarde Warns Of High Arab Public Debt (AFP)

Public debt has rapidly increased in many Arab countries since the 2008 global financial crisis, due to persistently high budget deficits, the International Monetary Fund warned Saturday. “Unfortunately, the region has yet to fully recover from the global financial crisis and other big economic dislocations over the past decade,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. “Among oil importers, (economic) growth has picked up, but it is still below pre-crisis levels,” she told the Arab Fiscal Forum in Dubai. Lagarde said public debt among Arab oil importing nations had increased from 64 percent to 85 percent of GDP in the decade since 2008.

Nearly half of these countries now have public debt of over 90 percent of GDP, she said. Public debt among oil exporters — including the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council – rose from 13 percent of GDP to 33 percent of GDP, accelerated by the crash in oil prices around five years ago, Lagarde said. “The oil exporters have not fully recovered from the dramatic oil price shock of 2014,” she said. “Modest growth continues, but the outlook is highly uncertain.” Lagarde said oil producing countries should look to renewable energy in the coming decades, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which stipulates a reduction in greenhouse emissions.

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Ironically, the World Bank is a facade for US rule.

Pelosi manages to utter that “Trump’s choice threatens to “undermine the institution’s mission.” An institution whose funds “internal audits and outside reports have tied to forced labor in Uzbekistan, death squads in Honduras and a Chadian oil pipeline that enriched the undemocratic local government all while child mortality rose..” Thanks, Nancy.

Trump’s World Bank Pick, An Ally For The Lender’s Critics? (AFP)

President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the World Bank is a firebrand critic of the world’s largest anti-poverty lender – an institution he has called wasteful, corrupt and overly generous to China. Those complaints are similar to those voiced by others in the development community. But that does not mean they have found a new ally in David Malpass, the senior US Treasury official who has pledged to reform the bank. Nancy Pelosi, the newly reinstalled Democratic speaker of the US House of Representatives, says Trump’s choice threatens to “undermine the institution’s mission.” And Liberia’s former minister of public works W. Gyude Moore tweeted that “an incorrigible arsonist will now be our fire chief.”

Malpass’ many criticisms of the Washington-based lender certainly echo familiar refrains. Many activists have long called for reforms at the World Bank, citing a litany of alleged human rights failures and scandals, and saying projects all too often left the world’s poorest even worse off, harmed the environment or entrenched the power of oligarchies and despots. Those critics might well have nodded their heads in accord in 2017 when Malpass said international financial institutions such as the World Bank “spend a lot of money” but are “not very efficient.” “They are often corrupt in their lending practices and they don’t get the benefit to the actual people in the countries,” he said in congressional testimony.

Internal audits and outside reports have tied World Bank funds to forced labor in Uzbekistan, death squads in Honduras and a Chadian oil pipeline that enriched the undemocratic local government all while child mortality rose, to name just a few examples.

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Spain went from right-wing to socialist government, and nothing changed. A familiar global pattern.

Catalan Separatists Trial To Start: Not Just Legal Battle, Media One Too (AFP)

The trial on Tuesday of 12 Catalan leaders over their role in Catalonia’s failed independence bid will be fought between Madrid and the separatists in the international media as much as in the courtroom. “We have to use this trial as a tool of denunciation, use it in our goal to make Catalonia independent,” the head of influential grassroots separatist group ANC, Elisenda Paluzie, said before the start of the trial at Spain’s Supreme Court on February 12. The separatists who govern the wealthy northeastern region have for years tried to convince the world of the legitimacy of their cause and make the case that Spain lacks political freedoms. But with over 600 journalists from 150 media outlets from around the world accredited to cover the trial, Spain’s central government does not want to remain on the sidelines.

The arrival in power in June of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez marked a change in Madrid’s strategy. The previous conservative government of Mariano Rajoy was largely passive in the face of the separatists’ international campaign. But Sanchez’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell – a Catalan who fiercely opposes independence – and his team spare no efforts to refute their arguments. “We are starting a completely different chapter,” the Global Spain spokesman said, adding the posture of the Rajoy government had “a very high cost in terms of misinformation”.

Officials from Spain’s justice ministry and the Supreme Court also met with foreign correspondents based in Madrid before the trial. And on Thursday Sanchez defended Spain’s judiciary during a visit to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in France. Many separatists are convinced that their leaders were jailed for political reasons and will not have a fair trial. And they see the central government’s public relations push as proof of this. “If the Spanish government is forced to carry out a campaign of marketing and misinformation, that means they feel insecure,” Alfred Bosch, in charge of foreign affairs in Catalonia’s regional government, said during a recent visit to London.

The Catalan government will respond to Madrid’s campaign by explaining “the truth….about a trial which is a political trial” and ease the work for foreign journalists and observers so they “reach their own conclusions”, he added. Catalonia’s public television will offer coverage of the trial in English to give it an “international dimension”. Grassroots separatist organisations ANC and Omnium Cultural are preparing their own information campaigns targeting an international audience which include videos made in several languages and meetings in cities across Europe. The lawyers of several of the defendants, who face long prison sentences if convicted, have demanded the presence of international observers at the trial. But the request was turned down by the Supreme Court..

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What did Elon say, there’s lots of interest but people can’t afford Tesla’s?!

Carmageddon for Tesla Model 3: US Deliveries Plunge 55% to 60% (WS)

Details trickling out over the 3,200-plus layoffs Tesla announced on January 18 are starting to paint a picture of what is happening on the demand side for the Model 3 in the US. According to two laid-off employees cited by Reuters, the company has gutted its delivery team of 230 people at its Las Vegas facility that delivered tens of thousands of Model 3s to buyers mostly in the US but also in Canada. About 150 of the 230 employees on the team have been let go, the two sources said who were among those let go, as the company struggles with deliveries that have plunged from the pace in the fourth quarter last year.

The federal tax credit of $7,500 was cut in half to $3,750 at the beginning of the year after Tesla’s EV sales rose past the 200,000-threshold in 2018. Yet the $35,000 Model 3 that CEO Elon Musk promised in 2016 remains a distant promise. The company already slashed its Model 3 price twice this year to stimulate demand, yet the least expensive Model 3 still has a price tag of $42,900. “There are not enough deliveries,” one of the laid-off employees told Reuters. “You don’t need a team because there are not that many cars coming through.”

The two laid-off employees said that in the first quarter, delivery targets for North America – mostly buyers in the US but also in Canada – are down 55% to 60% from what they were in Q4 2018. After a herculean effort late last year, Tesla delivered 145,610 Model 3s in 2018, all of them high-priced luxury versions. During this effort to deliver as many Model 3s as possible while the full federal tax credit of $7,500 was still in effect, the reservation list was “plucked clean” of American buyers “willing to pay current prices,” as Reuters put it, citing those two laid-off employees on the delivery team.

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