Jan 222017
 
 January 22, 2017  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Resettlement project, Bosque Farms, New Mexico 1935

The Inauguration, and the Counter-Inauguration (Atlantic)
White House Spokesman Slams Media In Bizarre First Briefing (ZH)
The Demons Have Been Unchained (HB)
How the NYT Plays with History (Robert Parry)
Any Country Leaving Euro Zone Must Settle Bill First: ECB’s Draghi (R.)
Trump Team in Talks with UK on Post-Brexit Trade Deal (BBG)
Utopian Ideas On Climate Change Will Get Us Precisely Nowhere (G.)

 

 

The Automatic Earth ‘celebrates’ its 9th birthday today! Thank you Nicole first of all, and thank all of you, so much, for reading, for commenting, being involved, for your kind donations. A true honor and pleasure.

(Someone had to point it out to me, of course I forgot.)

 

 

I’ve tried hard to understand what the women were/are protesting, and what I find is I’m still confused, since it seems they protest anything and everything. Or, as the Atlantic puts it: “the Women’s March was a protest that celebrated protest.” Looks to me like a surefire recipe for handing it to Trump on a platter.

Trump seems to be part of what’s being protested, but what exactly? His “grab the pussy” nonsense? But that was years ago and he was talking about willing women. Stupid and ugly, but it doesn’t make him a threat to all women. His abortion stance? Some of his supporters are pro-lifers for sure, but so far nothing indicates he’ll lead some big turnaround on the issue.

What I think everybody needs to recognize is that there are, and especially will be, very obvious and clearly definable topics linked to this administration that should be vigurously protested and investigated. But this protest doesn’t do any such thing.

Neither does the Democratic party, who can’t locate their own asses anymore. And most of all neither do the media, which for example covered nothing yesterday but a piece of absurd briefing theater about the number of people attending the inauguration. Once again handing the floor to Trump. It’s embarrassing.

Pointing out silly things Trump says that you know everyone in your respective echo chambers will agree with you on is easy, and Trump will keep feeding you. What it is not, though, is journalism. Or politics, for that matter. Or meaningful protest.

The role of Trump, I think, in America, must be that of a wake-up call. But nobody’s waking up.

The Inauguration, and the Counter-Inauguration (Atlantic)

In the middle of the National Mall, on the same spot that had, the day before, hosted the revelers who had come out for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a crowd of people protesting the new presidency spontaneously formed themselves into a circle. They grasped hands. They invited others in. “Join our circle!” one woman shouted, merrily, to a small group of passersby. They obliged. The expanse—a small spot of emptiness in a space otherwise teeming with people—got steadily larger, until it spanned nearly 100 feet across. If you happened to be flying directly above the Mall during the early afternoon of January 21, as the Women’s March on Washington was in full swing, you would have seen a throng of people—about half a million of them, according to the most recent estimates—punctuated, in the middle, by an ad-hoc little bullseye.

“What is this circle about?” a woman asked one of the circle-standers. “Nobody knows!” the circle-stander replied, cheerfully. The space stayed empty for a moment, as people clasped hands and looked around at each other with grins and “what-now?” expressions. And then: A woman ran through the circle, dancing, waving a sign that read “FREE MELANIA.” The crowd nodded approvingly. Another woman did the same with her sign. A group of three teenage boys danced with their “BAD HOMBRE” placards. The crowd whooped. Soon, several people were using the space as a stage. A woman dressed as a plush vulva shimmied around the circle’s perimeter. The circle-standers laughed and clapped and cheered. They held their phones in their air, taking pictures and videos. They cheered some more.

The Women’s March on Washington began in a similarly ad-hoc manner. The protest sprang to life as an errant idea posted to Facebook, right after Trump won the presidency. The notion weathered controversy to evolve into something that, on Saturday, was funereal in purpose but decidedly celebratory in tone. The march, in pretty much every way including the most literal, opposed the inaugural ceremony that had taken place the day before. On the one hand, it protested President Trump. Its participants wore not designer clothes, but jeans and sneakers and—the unofficial uniform of the event—pink knit caps with ears meant to evoke, and synonymize, cats. It had, in place of somber ritual, a festival-like atmosphere. It featured, instead of pomp and circumstance, people spontaneously breaking into dance on a spontaneously formed dance floor.

And yet in many ways, the march was also extremely similar to the inauguration whose infrastructure it had co-opted, symbolically and otherwise, for its own purposes. The Women’s March on Washington shared a setting—the Capitol, the Mall, the erstwhile inaugural parade route—with the ceremonies of January 20. And, following an election in which the victor lost the popular vote, the protest seems to have bested the inauguration itself in terms of (physical) public turnout. During a time of extreme partisanship and division—a time in which the One America the now-former president once spoke of can seem an ever-more-distant possibility—the Women’s March played out as a kind of alternate-reality inauguration: not necessarily of Hillary Clinton, but of the ideas and ideals her candidacy represented. The Women’s March was an installation ceremony of a sort—not of a new president, but of the political resistance to him.

“I DO NOT ACCEPT THIS FILTHY ROTTEN SYSTEM,” read one sign, carried by Lauren Grace, 35, of Philadelphia. She got the quote from Dorothy Day. And she intended it, Grace explained to me, to protest “a system that sort of left me out.” “We’re told that voting is a sacred right in this country,” Grace said. “But even though Hillary won the popular vote, she still lost. I feel pretty conflicted about a country where that could happen.”

The Women’s March was, to be sure, also a protest march in an extremely traditional vein: It featured leaders—celebrities, activists, celebrity activists—who gave speeches and offered performances on a stage with the Capitol in its background; its participants held signs, and chanted (“This-is-what-a-feminist-looks-like!,” “No-person-is-illegal!”), and commiserated. It was also traditional in that its participants were marching not for one specific thing, but for many related aspirations. Women’s reproductive rights. LGBTQ rights. Immigration rights. Feminism in general (“FEMALES ARE STRONG AS HELL,” one sign went, riffing off a famous feminist’s Netflix show). The environment (“CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL,” “MAKE THE PLANET GREAT AGAIN”). Science (“Y’ALL NEED SCIENCE”). Facts (“MAKE AMERICA FACT-CHECK AGAIN”). Some signs argued for socialism. Some argued against plutocracy. Some argued for Kindness. Some pled for Peace. Some simply argued that America is Already Great.

This was a big-tent protest, in other words—a messy, joyful coalescence of many different movements. The Women’s March deftly employed, in its rhetoric, the biggest of the big-tent tautologies: The point of this protest wasn’t so much the specific things being protested as it was the very bigness of the crowds who were doing the protesting. This was another way the protest alternate-realitied the presidential inauguration: Just as the official ceremony is meant to celebrate not only the person occupying the presidency, but the presidency itself, the Women’s March was a protest that celebrated protest.

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Tyler Durden gets the essence: ..what he is seeing is that he once again is controlling the media narrative, which is focusing on a very immaterial and arbitrary issue, instead of spending time on investigative work and reporting on far more serious issues relating to Trump’s new administration.

White House Spokesman Slams Media In Bizarre First Briefing (ZH)

In a bizarre first briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday unloaded a blistering attack on the media and accused it of false reporting about the otherwise irrelevant question of why Trump’s inauguration crowd was visibly smaller than that of Obama’s. Spicer used up virtually all the time in his first official appearance in the Press Briefing Room to denounce news organizations’ focus on the inaugural crowd size, saying “these attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” We wouldn’t necessarily use those words: silly should suffice since if Trump really wanted to “defend” why fewer people attended his inauguration, he can simply say many more of his supporters are employed and had to be at work on Friday, than during either Obama’s 2009 or 2013 inauguration events.

However, the press secretary decided that hyperbole is the better part of valor and said “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the world” Spicer made the allegation despite photographs of the event clearly showed that the Mall was not full in the sections Spicer described, with dwindling-to-nonexistent crowds near the Smithsonian Institution Building and west toward the Washington Monument. There was also sparse attendance along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House. He alleged that some photos of the inauguration were “intentionally framed in a way” that minimized the crowd, without providing examples or evidence.

No official agency provides estimates of the size of gatherings on the Mall. But photos taken from the same vantage point at about the same time of day show that the crowds were far smaller than for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which Washington city officials estimated at 1.8 million people.Ultimately, the whole press briefing episode had a surreal undertone, one in which Trump, via his speaker, appears to continue to troll the press, now in the White House. As a seemingly perturbed NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen summarized it “Wow. Sean Spicer walked to the podium. Unloaded on the media for bias. Accused reporters of dishonesty. Walked off without taking questions.” The reaction among the rest of the press was similar.

Spicer took no questions from reporters and he did not say specifically how many people the White House believes attended the inauguration. He said three large sections of the Mall that each held at least 200,000 people were “full when the president took the oath of office.” Earlier on Saturday, in remarks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Trump said that from his vantage point at the podium, “it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there, and they said Donald Trump did not draw well.” Trump also said parts of the National Mall “all the way back to the Washington Monument” were “packed.”

Quoted by Bloomberg, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Twitter after Spicer’s remarks that “This is called a statement you’re told to make by the president. And you know the president is watching.” He is indeed, and what he is seeing is that he once again is controlling the media narrative, which is focusing on a very immaterial and arbitrary issue, instead of spending time on investigative work and reporting on far more serious issues relating to Trump’s new administration.

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The German press is just like the American one, clinging to consensus, hanging on to what is already lost: “Not only Democrats are hoping for an impeachment proceeding.”

The Demons Have Been Unchained (HB)

That was no presidential speech; that was a veritable declaration of war. Threatening in tone. Cold and calculating in logic. Change minus the hope. Donald Trump used the traditional Inauguration Day address to settle a score with the U.S. political establishment going back decades. With four ex-presidents sitting a few feet behind him, the 45th president delivered a populist manifesto. Until his victory, the nation’s political elite used days like these, he told America, to celebrate amongst themselves. Their triumph was not your triumph. Their well-being was not your well-being. But this time, power would transfer not just from one party to the other, but from Washington back to the people. In the people’s name, he will put America “first.” In their name, he will “take back” America’s factories.

In their name, he will “exterminate” Islamic terrorism, end inner-city drug gang “bloodbaths” and get NATO partners like Germany to pay more for Europe’s security. In domestic policy, the Trump agenda sounds like a blueprint for civil war; in foreign policy, it sounds like the dawn of a new ice age. Not that he’s cold-bloodedly planning either one, but he knows where his fiery rhetoric will lead him. The new president loves a good fight, not consensus. He doesn’t want to hug, but to smother, to overwhelm. Yesterday was his day, but the days that follow may belong to his opponents. There are three main opponents that could bring him down politically.

Opponent No. 1: The other America. Across the country, an anti-Trump movement is growing. While only 10,000 people came to an open-air concert in Washington celebrating his victory on the night before the inauguration, 20,000 people took to the streets in New York to protest his elevation. Their signs shouted: Not My President. The security and surveillance costs around Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 56th Street, is costing taxpayers about a half million dollars – each day.

Opponent No. 2: The Media. Among publishers, producers, filmmakers and journalists, Trump has hardly any friends. CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Hollywood couldn’t warm to the volcanic personality of the new president. Even an unbroken Twitter assault has no chance against such a monolithic wall of media rejection. He hates them, and they hate him right back. He pushes forward his agenda, and they push back unabashedly with theirs. Trump enters The White House with the lowest approval rating ever of an elected president.

Opponent No. 3: The Political Party System. Washington is having an allergic reaction to Trump. Democrats and even Republicans are cooperating on Capitol Hill to investigate the Trump team’s contacts to Russia in a special committee. House Speaker Paul Ryan doesn’t see himself as a Trump follower but as a Trump successor. He is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, biding his time, waiting for an opening. Put another way: Not only Democrats are hoping for an impeachment proceeding. America is now on the brink of a new period of polarization. The demons in this fraternal battle have been unchained. The greatness that Trump seeks will not be borne under these conditions. An icy wind is blowing across the land.

Read more …

Good overview by veteran Parry of late 20th century false news campaigns, Nixon vs Johnson, Reagan vs Carter and more.

How the NYT Plays with History (Robert Parry)

Whenever The New York Times or some other mainstream news outlet holds itself out as a paragon of professional journalism – by wagging a finger at some pro-Trump “fake news” or some Internet “conspiracy theory” – I cringe at the self-delusion and hypocrisy. No one hates fake news and fact-free conspiracy theories more than I do, but the sad truth is that the mainstream press has opened the door to such fantasies by losing the confidence of the American people and becoming little more than the mouthpiece for the Establishment, which spins its own self-serving narratives and tells its own lies. Rather than acting as a watchdog against these deceptions, the Times and its mainstream fellow-travelers have transformed themselves into little more than the Establishment’s apologists and propagandists.

If Iraq is the “enemy,” we are told wild tales about how Iraq’s non-existent WMD is a danger to us all. If Syria is in Washington’s crosshairs, we are given a one-sided account of what’s happening there, black hats for the “regime” and white hats for the “rebels”? If the State Department is backing a coup in Ukraine to oust an elected leader, we are regaled with tales of his corruption and how overthrowing a democratically chosen leader is somehow “democracy promotion.” Currently, we are getting uncritical stenography on every conceivable charge that the U.S. government lodges against Russia. Yet, while this crisis in American journalism has grown more severe in recent years, the pattern is not entirely new. It is reflected in how the mainstream media has missed many of the most significant news stories of modern history and has, more often than not, been an obstacle to getting at the truth.

Then, if the evidence finally becomes so overwhelming that continued denials are no longer tenable, the mainstream media tries to reclaim its tattered credibility by seizing on some new tidbit of evidence and declaring that all that went before were just rumors but now we can take the long whispered story seriously — because the Times says so.

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How long before Brussels starts begging countries to stay, offering deals and discounts?

Any Country Leaving Euro Zone Must Settle Bill First: ECB’s Draghi (R.)

Any country leaving the euro zone would need to settle its claims or debts with the bloc’s payments system before severing ties, ECB President Mario Draghi said. The comment – a rare reference by Draghi to the possibility of the currency zone losing members – came in a letter to two Italian lawmakers in the European Parliament released on Friday. It coincides with a groundswell of anti-euro sentiment in Italy and other euro zone states, fueled in part by last June’s unprecedented decision by Britain to leave the European Union. “If a country were to leave the Eurosystem, its national central bank’s claims on or liabilities to the ECB would need to be settled in full,” Draghi said in the letter.

Based on data to end-November from the Target 2 payment system, that would leave Italy with a €358.6 billion ($383.1 billion) bill. The system records flows of payments between euro zone countries. The threat of defaults on cross-border debts has often been credited as one element keeping the euro zone together throughout the financial crisis. As these payments are not generally settled, weaker economies including Italy, Spain and Greece have accumulated huge liabilities towards Target 2 while Germany stands out as the biggest creditor with net claims of €754.1 billion. Target 2 imbalances have worsened in recent months, with Harvard economist Carmen Reinhart warning of capital flight from Italy.

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Am I wrong in thinking the UK will have a very hard time signing any deal as long as it’s part of the EU? What are the odds of that even being legal in the first place?

Trump Team in Talks with UK on Post-Brexit Trade Deal (BBG)

The Trump administration this week will begin laying groundwork for a trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K. that would take effect after Britain leaves the European Union, a White House aide said. Prime Minister Theresa May last week declared Britain is “open for business” as she announced plans to pursue a clean break with the EU, paving the way for the U.K. to eventually strike new trade accords with the continent and other countries. May is to visit Washington this week. Trump officials believe their discussions with her government encouraged May to be more aggressive in exiting the union. She can use any American support to argue the U.K. will prosper outside the bloc although she risks inflaming tensions with EU leaders if they suspect her government is actively negotiating trade deals while still an EU member.

Two of President Donald Trump’s senior advisers, Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, met with U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in New York on Jan. 8. The three are preparing for the future pact, the aide said, requesting anonymity because the discussions aren’t public. Bannon, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and other administration officials have also met with British defense and intelligence leaders, the aide said. President Barack Obama warned in April that if the U.K. pursued Brexit, the country would go to the “back of the queue” for U.S. trade deals. U.K. voters chose to leave the EU anyway in a June referendum, and Trump now appears to be scrapping Obama’s position on the matter. Trump’s team is also considering a deal to reduce barriers between U.S. and British banks, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing officials from both sides.

Trump has tapped Woody Johnson, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets NFL team, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the U.K., a person familiar with the matter said on Jan. 19. May and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will make visits to the U.S. this month to meet with Trump, White House officials said. May will meet with Trump on Jan. 27, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee said on Saturday. Pena Nieto will meet with Trump on Jan. 31, said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

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The author starts out promising, then gets lost in the woods.

Utopian Ideas On Climate Change Will Get Us Precisely Nowhere (G.)

Urging people to stop consuming stuff in order to slow the rate of climate change is a gambit that is doomed to fail. It would be helpful if shoppers put off buying a suit or installing a new kitchen, but it’s not going to happen. Demonising those who fly to Barcelona for a long weekend is another tactic that will have almost no impact. It’s not for nothing that economists base many of their assumptions on populations having unlimited wants. Most people strain to acquire stuff that the rich have long taken for granted. Telling them to switch off this desire has never worked and is unlikely to do so now, even when the future of the planet is at stake. In this vein, the accession of Donald Trump to the presidential throne should not be read as a spectacular one-off reaction by a narrow, if electorally important group who missed out on GDP growth.

Consumption is how most people measure progress, and that will still be the case next year and in 10 years’ time, when Trump is long gone. Take a look at the figures for flights in and out of the UK, home of some the world’s busiest airports. City Airport, which is embarking on a £344m expansion, saw 4.3 million passengers in 2015. Heathrow, which has the government’s blessing for its own multibillion-pound development, welcomed 75 million passengers in the same year, Gatwick broke 40 million, and Stansted hit double-digit growth with 22.5 million passengers. Last year, Manchester airport boasted annual growth of 11% after it attracted 23.7 million passengers. And these figures don’t include the huge amount of imported and exported goods that flow through Britain’s airports.

If it’s true that trade is in the UK’s DNA – and the figures support this – any government, of whatever colour, will think twice before standing in the way of airport expansion. That doesn’t mean governments should not think about air travel when searching for ways to tackle climate change. Aircraft makers should be forced to make their planes more efficient, and airport owners must clean up the pollution they create. But this is an exercise in minimising the impact of flying, given that its expansion is inevitable. The same analysis should have applied to the country’s steel plants –and to its other polluting industries. Without a reduction in steel consumption, we must live with its continued production.

Read more …

Jan 162017
 
 January 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Collier Japanese restaurant, Monday after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco 1941

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)
The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)
Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)
Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)
NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)
Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)
CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)
Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)
Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)
The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)
Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)
“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)
China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)
Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

 

 

If you find this appealing, seek help. These people mean it, which makes them the biggest danger to your future, bar none. We’re not going to fix the world for profit. The sustainable delusion will kill us.

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)

It is an unremittingly bleak vision of the future: over the next decade the world’s economy stagnates, fossil fuels ramp up global warming and the gap between rich and poor widens, fuelling nationalist tensions based on resentment of the ‘global elite’. But, while a major new report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) warns this appears to be humanity’s current path, it also spells out how to create not quite “heaven on Earth” but a world that is wealthier, more peaceful and fair for all. And their call for the world to start living up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals was backed by more than 80 major companies in a joint letter to Theresa May, which urged the UK Government to take this “essential” step to secure “our long-term prosperity and the well-being of generations to come”.

However, Ms May did not respond personally to the letter, with the Department for International Development instead issuing a response on behalf of the Government in an implicit snub to the letter’s call for all departments, “not only” DfID, to get involved. The UN’s ‘Global Goals’, as they are known, seem at first sight to be almost impossibly ambitious. There should be “no poverty” and “zero hunger” in the world, universal health coverage, a decent education for all, gender equality, access to affordable and clean energy, action on climate change, the list goes on. But the BSDC’s report, compiled after a year of research into their effects, says achieving them is actually key to delivering massive growth. The document, called Better Business, Better World, estimates the Global Goals could be worth up to $36,000bn a year in savings and extra revenue by 2030.

They based this on an analysis of four major economic sectors – food and agriculture; energy and materials; cities; and health and wellbeing – which would benefit to the tune of $12,000bn a year. They then estimated the total economic prize would be two to three times higher. Lifting people out of poverty could bring up to a billion people into the consumer economy. And achieving gender equality alone could add at least $12,000bn to the world’s total GDP by 2025, according to one estimate. “The overall prize is enormous,” the report says. “The results will not be heaven on Earth; there will be many practical challenges. “But the world would undoubtedly be on a better, more resilient path. We could be building an economy of abundance.

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Mommy, tell me the story again about how smart we once were.

The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)

That smoked salmon you bought for the New Year’s festivities has a story to tell. The salmon may have been raised in Scotland – but it probably began life as roe in Norway. Harvested at a coastal farm, the fish may have been sent to Poland to be smoked. It may even have travelled halfway around the world to China to be sliced. It eventually arrived, wrapped in that tempting package, in your supermarket. Globalisation has changed the world in many ways, but fish farming is one of the starkest examples of its benefits and hidden costs. The nexus of the world fish-farming trade is China – the biggest exporter of fish products, the biggest producer of farmed fish and a major importer as well.

With battalions of lost-cost workers, linked to markets by a network of ocean-going refrigerated ships, China is the go-to place for labour-intensive fish processing. In just a few clicks on Alibaba, the Chinese online trading hub, you can buy three tonnes of Norwegian filleted mackerel shipped from the port city of Qingdao for delivery within 45 days. “There is a significant amount of bulk frozen fish sent to China just for filleting,” said a source from an association of importers in an EU country. “The temperature of the fish is brought up to enable the filleting but the fish are not completely defrosted.” The practice has helped transform the Chinese coastal provinces of Liaoning and Shandong into global centres for fish processing.

But globalised fish farming leaves a mighty carbon footprint and has other impacts, many of which are unseen for the consumer. Don Staniford, an activist and director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, called the fish industry’s production and transportation chain “madness”. “The iconic image of Scottish salmon – a wild salmon leaping out of the river – has gone. The Scottish salmon farming industry is dominated, 60-70%, by Norwegian companies,” he said. The biggest such company, Marine Harvest, is the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, some 420,000 tonnes in 2015. Scottish salmon farms import eggs from Norway, the fish food from Chile and then send the fish to Poland – “because it’s cheaper” – for smoking, said Staniford.

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Lots of coverage of Trump’s weekend interviews in Europe. Too many details to cover them all in this format. Overall impression: he makes a lot of sense. Likes Brexit, doesn’t like NATO, sees EU as a project to benefit Germany, wants far less nukes, far less US regime change-focused interventionism.

Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)

Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect. Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal. Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade.

For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild. The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government. “They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’ Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.” “It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share. While those comments expanded on doubts Trump expressed about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting in 2016 to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders coming in to “destroy it,” he said. The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a vehicle for Germany,” the Times quoted Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he said. Trump told the Times that he plans to quickly pursue a trade deal with the U.K. after taking office and will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May soon. “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it’ll be, I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”

Read more …

ZH has a good summary of the interviews.

Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)

In two separate, and quite striking, interviews with Germany’s Bild (paywall) and London’s Sunday Times (paywall), Donald Trump did what he failed to do in his first US press conference, and covered an extensive amount of policy and strategy, much of which however will likely please neither the pundits, nor the markets. Among the numerous topics covered in the Bild interview, he called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would join the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to a Sunday interview granted to Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations. Furthermore, in his first “exclusive” interview in the UK granted to the Sunday Times, Trump said he will offer Britain a quick and “fair” trade deal with America within weeks of taking office to help make Brexit a “great thing”.

Trump revealed that he was inviting Theresa May to visit him “right after” he gets into the White House and wants a trade agreement between the two countries secured “very quickly”. Trump told the Times that other countries would follow Britain’s lead in leaving the European Union, claiming it had been deeply damaged by the migration crisis. I think it’s very tough, he said. People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. [..] Trump discussed his stance on Russia and suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.” “[NATO] is obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Bild quoted Trump as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.” He further elaborated on this stance in the Times interview, where he said he was willing to lift Russian sanctions in return for a reduction in nuclear weapons. When asked about the prospect of a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, Trump told the newspaper in an interview: “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.” Additionally, Trump said Brexit will turn out to be a “great thing.” Trump said he would work very hard to get a trade deal with the United Kingdom “done quickly and done properly”.

Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

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Goal-seeked ‘reporting’: “Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments..” AFP didn’t stand out so far as having joined the anti-Trump ranks, but there you go.

NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)

NATO is “obsolete”, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” on refugees, Brexit will be “great” and the US could cut a deal with Russia: Donald Trump unleashed a volley of broadsides in interviews with European media. Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments about European allies in interviews with British newspaper The Times and Germany’s Bild. He extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by a string of sanctions under his predecessor Barack Obama over Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election. “Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in remarks carried by The Times.

The US president-elect suggested a deal in which nuclear arsenals would be reduced and sanctions against Moscow would be eased, but gave no details. “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Washington’s European allies imposed sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in 2014. Those measures were renewed on December 19.

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Trump grants an interview to the WaPo? He has a big heart!

Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump aims to replace Obamacare with a plan that would envisage “insurance for everybody,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday night. Trump did not give the newspaper specifics about his proposals to replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law, but said the plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil it alongside the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican president-elect takes office on Friday. “It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles,” without elaborating. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” Trump was also quoted as saying in the interview that he would target pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing and insist they negotiate directly with the Medicare and Medicaid government health plans for the elderly and poor. U.S. House Republicans won passage on Friday of a measure starting the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing the law.

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All these people, CIA, media, who actively attempted to undermine Trump’s campaign and candidacy, are now shocked (I tell you, shocked!) that he doesn’t ignore what they did.

CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)

CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday offered a stern parting message for Donald Trump days before the Republican U.S. president-elect takes office, cautioning him against loosening sanctions on Russia and warning him to watch what he says. Brennan rebuked Trump for comparing U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany in comments by the outgoing CIA chief that reflected the extraordinary friction between the incoming president and the 17 intelligence agencies he will begin to command once he takes office on Friday. In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Brennan questioned the message sent to the world if the president-elect broadcasts that he does not have confidence in the United States’ own intelligence agencies.

“What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany. I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” Brennan said. Brennan’s criticism followed a tumultuous week of finger-pointing between Trump and intelligence agency leaders over an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump. The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump has accused the intelligence community of leaking the dossier information, which its leaders denied. They said it was their responsibility to inform the president-elect that the allegations were being circulated. Later on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to berate Brennan and wrote, “Was this the leaker of Fake News?” In a separate posting, Trump scolded “those intelligence chiefs” for presenting the dossier as part of their briefing. “When people make mistakes, they should APOLOGIZE,” he wrote.

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Excellent. The elite press do not deserve their status.

Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)

The incoming Trump administration is considering moving White House press briefings out of the West Wing to accommodate more than the “Washington media elite,” President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary said. “This is about greater accessibility, more people in the process,” Sean Spicer said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz.” Involving more people, including bloggers and others who aren’t from the mainstream media, “should be seen as a welcome change,” he said. Their comments followed a report Saturday by Esquire, citing unidentified officials from the transition team, that the new administration may move the press corps out of the main White House building altogether because of antagonism between Trump and the media.

Any change would be made for logistical reasons, in response to heavy demand from media organizations, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Sunday. “The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said in a statement Sunday. “We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.” Mason said he was meeting with Spicer “to try to get more clarity on exactly what” the proposal is. “There’s such a tremendous amount of interest in this incoming administration that they’re giving some consideration to finding a larger venue on the 18 acres in the White House complex, to accommodate that extraordinary interest,” Pence said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“The interest of the team is to make sure that we accommodate the broadest number of people who are interested and media from around the country and around the world,” Pence said. On ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said demand for press-conference credentials far exceeds the “49 people” who can fit into the current briefing room. “The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to move the initial press conferences into the Executive Office Building,” Priebus said, adding, “you can fit four times the amount of people.”

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Oh well, with Trump praising Brexit and promising a swift deal, this may reverse.

Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)

Fears of the consequences of a hard Brexit have sent the pound to a fresh 31-year-low against the dollar, excluding last October’s flash crash. The pound hit new lows after reports said that Prime Minister Theresa May will on Tuesday signal plans to quit the EU’s single market to regain control of Britain’s borders, in a speech which is expected to give the most detailed insight yet into her approach to the forthcoming negotiations with Brussels. Sterling fell against all of its major peers, dropping below $1.1985 against the dollar in early Asian trade on Monday, before recovering slightly to just above $1.20. This is a more than three-decade low for the currency, excluding the flash crash on 7 October that sent the pound plunging more than six per cent to $1.18.

Fears among currency traders and investors that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit – in which access to the EU’s single market would be sacrificed in favour of tighter control over immigration – have tended to weaken the pound while suggestions that the UK could retain access to the EU single market have helped it recover. Sterling is down against the dollar by about 19 per cent since the Brexit vote, with declines since mainly sparked by concerns that Mrs May would pursue a so-called hard Brexit. City analysts are anticipating Mrs May’s speech on Tuesday with a sense of gloom.

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I know, I know, we should ignore this drivel. But there’s a few good take downs, this being one. I still wonder how the peeing hookers tale -apparently- ended up in Steele’s report. Because it came from the US, not Russia. Then again, of course, Steele hasn’t been to Russia in decades. If this report says anything, it’s that they can’t find dirt on Trump.

The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)

Some critics have been ungrateful enough to suggest that claims published without the least scintilla of supporting evidence by intelligence agencies which have a rich history of lying to the American people as well as everyone else, and which are in addition led by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, may not be above suspicion. But the latest revelation, a 35-page sequence of linked texts published on January 10 by BuzzFeedNews, gives what simpletons are expected to interpret as unimpeachable evidence of soundness and credibility. The document is authored “by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official,” and its sources, identified by letters of the alphabet, include a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” as well as another “senior Kremlin official.”

(How could one fail to doff one’s cap in acknowledgment of the spy-craft of those Brits, who are able so deftly to penetrate the inner counsels of the wicked Mr. Putin and induce his close associates to sing like canaries?) The texts which make up this document propose that Mr. Trump and his entourage had routine treasonous contacts with Russian state authorities over a long period leading up to the election, and that Mr. Putin was interfering in that election in every way possible—including by exploiting “TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.” The document’s most lurid claim—certified by Sources B, D, E and F—is made on its second page. It’s not clear what form of perverse pleasure Mr. Trump was supposed to have obtained by having “a number of prostitutes” urinate on his bed in the Moscow Ritz Carlton’s presidential suite.

The explanation given for the motivation behind this command performance – that the same bed had previously been slept in, on one of their official visits to Russia, by Barack and Michelle Obama (“whom he hated”) – seems bizarre. After all, on the night in question, whose soggy bed was it now? [..] The most immediate concern raised by this literally filthy story may be humanitarian. It seems well attested that Mr. Trump is not merely fastidious, but germaphobic: where is he supposed to have slept out the rest of the night? On the perhaps undefiled sofa, or on the carpet? And what are we to make of the claim by trolling posters at 4Chan that this “golden showers” story was a hoax they had foisted onto a Republican operative known to despise Trump, who then shopped it around to news media, other politicians, and intelligence agencies? If this story is a fiction, then are the document’s Sources B, D, E and F, who confirmed it, also fictional? And if some of the document’s sources are made up, what kind of fool would want to believe that any of the rest are authentic?

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We call these people success stories. We need to redefine ‘success’.

Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)

The world’s eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam. The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was “far greater than feared”. Oxfam’s report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth. “As an ‘anti-poverty’ charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich,” said the director-general of the free market think tank. For those concerned with “eradicating absolute poverty completely”, the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world’s rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world’s poor, which was improving every year. “Each year we are misled by Oxfam’s wealth statistics. The data is fine – it comes from Credit Suisse – but the interpretation is not.” The annual event in Davos, a Swiss ski resort, attracts many of the world’s top political and business leaders. Katy Wright, Oxfam’s head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to “challenge the political and economic elites”. “We’re under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world’s elite, but we try and use that focus,” she added.

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But that would sink it. A band of 25%?!

“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)

China should stop intervening in the foreign exchange market, devalue the yuan and let it float freely to restore stability, a senior researcher at a government-backed think tank said. Xiao Lisheng, a finance expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, made the remarks in an article on Monday in the official China Securities Journal amid a growing debate among the country’s economists on whether authorities should let the closely-managed currency trade more freely. The yuan lost 6.6% against the dollar last year, the biggest annual loss since 1994. “The more the government delays the release of depreciation pressure, the greater the impact and destructive power of the release of depreciation pressure will be,” Xiao wrote.

The authorities should “let the yuan exchange rate have a one-off adjustment to realize a free float” of the currency, he said. The yuan is allowed to trade in a band of 2% on either side of a daily reference rate managed by the central bank. Authorities have said repeatedly there was no basis for continued depreciation of the unit, but many currency strategists predict a further weakening this year if the U.S. dollar remains strong, spurring further capital outflows from China. Xiao said the current mid-point formation mechanism, adopted in 2015, is still immature and in transition, although it has eased depreciation pressure and curbed sharp declines in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. “But any foreign exchange rate mechanism without a free float cannot fundamentally reach a market clearing (price),” he wrote.

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Much more of that to come, even if -or especially if- their economy tanks.

China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)

Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way. A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows. In China the mountain of discarded TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and small appliances grew by 6.7m tonnes in 2015 alone. That’s an 107% increase in just five years. To get a sense of scale, if every woman, man and child in China had an old LCD monitor and dumped it the pile would not equal the 2015 tonnage. The region’s fast-increasing middle class is the main driver of e-waste increases, not population growth, the report by the United Nations University found.

However, Asia’s 3.7kg per person of waste is still tiny compared to Europe’s 15.6 kg per person, it said. “Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia,” said co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University. Electronics and electrical devices have a big eco footprint, meaning their manufacture consumes a lot of energy and water, along with valuable and sometimes scarce resources, making recycling and recovery very important. The increasing volumes of e-waste combined with a lack of environmentally sound management is a cause for concern, says Kuehr. “We risk future production of these devices and very high costs without recycling the materials,” he said.

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The numbers start to be confusing. It’s good to realize that Kathimerini is not a fan of Tsipras. What we know is the EU prefers to donate millions to NGOs rather than Greece.

But the point stands: where is the money going, what is it being spend on, and why is there no public accounting of this? Why are refugees freezing to death?

Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

Greece is struggling to make use of EU money for migrants and refugees after having absorbed just a fraction of the 509 million euros in funding for up to 2020. So far, Athens has used about 2% of 294.6 million euros from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and around 25% of 214.8 million euros from the Internal Security Fund. Greek authorities blame the slow absorption rate on emergency conditions caused by the migrant influx, whereas Brussels has pointed to technical faults on the other end.

Athens, however, appears more flexible absorbing separate EU emergency funding: From about 350 million euros for 2015-16, some 175 million has gone to state agencies and an equal sum to the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Service. “Were it not for the emergency funds, we would be able to do nothing. Or we would have to spend money from the state budget. Regular funding requires a lot of bureaucracy,” a Labor Ministry official told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity.

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