Syrian government troops have reportedly entered Tell Tamer, a town in the middle of Kurdish-controlled part of the country, amid a continued Turkish offensive against Kurdish militias. Troops of the Syrian Arab Army have entered the town on Monday, according to the news agency SANA. Tell Tamer is a relatively small town, but it’s located on an intersection of several major roads and has strategic importance. Earlier the government troops were reported entering Al-Thawrah, a city in the Raqqa governorate located on the Euphrates River and famous for its proximity to a major dam. The relocation of Syrian troops comes as Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria face an incursion from neighboring Turkey.
Moscow is not blaming U.S. President Donald Trump for failing to improve U.S.-Russian relations, a pledge he had made during his election campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Arab broadcasters. “We know that, including during his previous election campaign, he spoke in favor of a normalization (of U.S.-Russia relations), but unfortunately it has not happened yet,” Putin told Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic. “But we have no claims because we see what’s going on in U.S. domestic politics,” he said, according to a transcript published on the Kremlin’s website on Sunday.
Putin said the “internal political agenda” was not allowing Trump to take steps aimed at a drastic improvement of bilateral relations, adding Moscow would in any case work with any U.S. administration to the extent that Washington itself wants. Putin also said Russia had weapons that neutralize any threat from NATO’s missile deployments in Poland and Romania. “This obviously poses a threat to us because it’s an attempt to level out our strategic nuclear potential. It’s bound to fail, this attempt, it’s already obvious,” he said.
An article published by the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), or Dutch Central Bank, has shocked many with its claim that “if the system collapses, the gold stock can serve as a basis to build it up again. Gold bolsters confidence in the stability of the central bank’s balance sheet and creates a sense of security.” [..] The article, titled “DNB’s Gold Stock” states: “A bar of gold retains its value, even in times of crisis. This makes it the opposite of “shares, bonds and other securities” all of which have inherent risk and prices can go down. According to the IMF’s latest data, the DNB holds 615 tons (15,000 bars) of gold mainly in Amsterdam, with other stores in the U.K. and North America; the value of this gold reserve is over €6 billion ($6.62 billion).
Calling gold the “trust anchor,” the article details briefly why the hard asset is so important to wealth building and the global economy, claiming: “Gold is… the trust anchor for the financial system. If the whole system collapses, the gold stock provides a collateral to start over. Gold gives confidence in the power of the central bank’s balance sheet.” Why this sudden admission of what goldbugs have been saying for years? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that on October 7, the bank announced it would soon be moving a large part of its gold reserves to “the new DNB Cash Center at military premises in Zeist.” Almost as if the Netherlands is preparing for the grand reset, and is moving its most valuable asset to a “military” installation just for that purpose.
An FBI employee who texted with her in-house lover about blocking Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions wrote in 2016 of a ‘quid pro quo’ with the State Department to hide the fact that an email found on Hillary Clinton’s home-brew email server was considered classified. Lisa Page fretted in the closing days of the presidential campaign about a pending Freedom of Information Act disclosure of a discussion between top State and Justice Department officials about the potential trade. Under the arrangement, the State Department would have given the FBI more legal attachés for its overseas division in exchange for altering the basis for keeping one of the Clinton emails from the public.
At the time, the email in question was exempt from FOIA requests because it was classified – a fact that was ultimately made public. The FBI had asked the State Department to ‘change the basis of the FOIA withhold [decision] … from classified to something else.’ The plot was never consummated. But Page, an FBI lawyer, was worried enough about it at the time to alert her colleagues that other employees had told investigators about it. One of those colleagues was Peter Strzok, the married FBI agent she was having an affair with.
The email came to light on Monday as part of a raft of material released by Judicial Watch, a conservative government transparency group whose standard practice is to sue government agencies that slow-walk the disclosure of public records. Page and Strzok became poster children in 2017 for conservatives’ claims that the Burean was biased against Trump and took actions to tilt the election in Clinton’s favor despite the national security threats posed by classified material found on her unsecured private email server.
Queen Elizabeth will on Monday announce several new pieces of legislation to reform Britain’s justice system, in a ceremonial speech setting out Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit plans. The so-called Queen’s Speech is the highlight of a day of elaborate pageantry in Westminster and is used to detail all the bills the government wants to enact in the coming year. It is written for the 93-year old monarch by the government. But, with Brexit unresolved, and any plans beyond even the next seven days likely subject to an unpredictable election, rival parties said Johnson was misusing the politically-neutral Queen for political gain.
The speech will lay out 22 new bills – pieces of proposed legislation – including several covering tougher treatment for foreign criminals and sex offenders, and new protection for victims of domestic abuse. “Keeping people safe is the most important role of any government, and as the party of law and order it is the Conservatives who are cracking down on crime and better protecting society,” a statement from Johnson’s office setting out some details of the speech said. It will almost certainly include a section on a law to enact a Brexit deal. But, while any deal is still in the balance, new details are unlikely. The speech will also touch on election campaign issues like the health service and living standards.
“Having the Queen’s Speech and the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow is ludicrous, utterly ludicrous,” Corbyn said in a Sky News interview broadcast on Sunday. “What we’ve got in effect is a party political broadcast from the steps of the throne.”
China’s exports to the United States fell 10.7% from a year earlier in dollar terms in January-September, while U.S. imports dropped 26.4% during that period, a Chinese customs spokesman said on Monday. Trade frictions with the United States have led to some pressure on Chinese trade, although the latest Sino-U.S. trade talks have yielded favorable outcomes in some areas, customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters.
Emirates doubts it will receive any of the 115 Boeing 777-9s it has ordered next year, its president said on Monday, as the U.S. planemaker grapples with challenges in building the jet. Emirates, a launch customer of the world’s biggest twin engined jet, was to receive its first 777-9 in 2020 but the manufacturer has suspended load testing of the plane. “… By the end of next year we were to have eight of them. Now it doesn’t look like we will have any,” Tim Clark said at a conference in Dubai. Boeing suspended load testing of the new widebody in September when media reports said a cargo door failed a ground stress test.
There have also been issues with General Electric’s new GE9X turbine engine that will power the jet. Boeing has said it expects to hold the initial flight test in 2020 and is aiming for the 777X to enter commercial service in the same year. Clark said he had told Boeing he insists on a 13 to 16 month test period for the new jet. Emirates ordered 150 777X jets, including 777-8 variants, in 2013. It later placed a preliminary order for 40 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets in 2017, which Clark said he still saw a place for in the airline’s fleet plans. Boeing has also been unable to deliver any of its 737 MAX aircraft since the single-aisle plane was grounded worldwide in March…
Ecuador’s government has agreed to restore fuel subsidies in a deal with indigenous leaders to end mass protests that have brought the capital, Quito, to a standstill, the UN says. It came after the two sides held talks brokered by the UN and the Roman Catholic Church. The talks, which were broadcast live on state television, came after nearly two weeks of violent demonstrations. President Lenín Moreno had imposed a curfew enforced by the military. The announcement after Sunday’s meeting sparked late night celebrations in Quito. Fireworks were set off and car drivers honked their horns. A joint statement said the government had withdrawn an order removing the fuel subsidies. “With this agreement, the mobilisations… across Ecuador are terminated and we commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country,” it said.
Spain’s Supreme Court has sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition over their role in an independence referendum in 2017. Three other defendants were found guilty of disobedience but will not serve prison sentences. The 12 politicians and activists had all denied the charges. Separatists in Catalonia were planning mass civil disobedience ahead of the verdict. The prosecution had sought up to 25 years in prison for Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president of Catalonia and the highest-ranking pro-independence leader on trial.
The actual headline of this Guardian piece is “Stop Biodiversity Loss Or We Could Face Our Own Extinction”. Mine is better, because it illustrates, providing it’s accurate, how hopeless the situation is. If only because of what’s already in the pipeline. The prospect of 2 more years of meetings doesn’t change a thing.
The world has two years to secure a deal for nature to halt a ‘silent killer’ as dangerous as climate change, says biodiversity chief
The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief. Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pasca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.” Pasca Palmer is executive director of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends. Its 196 member states will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity. The last two major biodiversity agreements – in 2002 and 2010 – have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs. Eight years ago, under the Aichi Protocol, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.
Wages in the US grew at their fastest pace for nine years last month, the latest official figures show. The US Labor Department said wages grew at an annual rate of 3.1% in October, accelerating from a rate of 2.8% the month before. The economy also added 250,000 jobs last month, beating expectations, while the jobless rate remained at 3.7%. The report quickly became fodder for political debate ahead of next week’s high stakes congressional election. President Donald Trump celebrated the figures on Twitter as “incredible” and urged his followers to “Vote Republican”. In an unusual move, the White House also organised a briefing call for reporters to promote the gains.
The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, issued a statement of his own, aiming to redirect voter attention. The latest numbers “may look good” but should be considered alongside other economic policies, he said. “When the average family sees their health care costs go up because of Republican actions, these numbers will mean little,” he said. Among economists, there was wider agreement that the jobs report pointed to strength in the US economy, despite recent worries that weakness may be emerging in some sectors such as housing and trade.
ZeroHedge posted an interesting chart a few days ago showing how affluent Americans (those making over $50,000 a year) have not been more confident since the dot com bubble. While strong consumer confidence may seem like a good thing when taken at face value, the contrarian in me sees it as a warning of the kind of over-exuberance seen during bubbles like the dot-com bubble and housing bubble.
Unfortunately, I believe that the U.S. is experiencing an unsustainable, artificial household wealth bubble that is causing affluent consumers to be over-optimistic despite the fact that our economic boom is largely driven by cheap credit and is going to end in a painful bust. As I explained in a recent presentation, U.S. household wealth has surged by approximately $46 trillion or 83% since 2009 to an all-time high of $100.8 trillion. Since 1951, household wealth has averaged 379% of the GDP, while the Dot-com bubble peaked at 429%, the housing bubble topped out at 473%, and the current bubble has inflated household wealth to a record 505% of GDP (see the chart below):
Zucker was on the phone talking about why Trump sucks up so much of CNN’s oxygen. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about Trump. I’ve had too much Trump,’ ” he told me. “And yet at the end of the day, all they want to do is talk about Trump. We’ve seen that, anytime you break away from the Trump story and cover other events in this era, the audience goes away. So we know that, right now, Donald Trump dominates.” Zucker, the guy who first brought our president to the small screen when he green-lighted The Apprentice in 2004 while running NBC, had arguably schooled Trump in the art of reality television.
Halfway through Trump’s first term, his instincts remain just as acute. If Fox News represents Trump’s base and MSNBC has become a friendly platform for the resistance, CNN is the arena where both sides show up for cantankerous battle. “On Fox, you rarely hear from people who don’t support Trump,” Zucker told me. “On MSNBC, you rarely hear from people who do support Trump. We want to be home to both those points of view.” He continued, as if rebuking a common critique of the network. “It is true some of these folks are not very good with the facts, but that’s O.K. in the sense that it’s our job then to call them out.”
[..] Even though CNN still trails Fox News and MSNBC in prime-time audience size, its ratings have never been better. The average number of people watching on a given day has been above 700,000 each year since 2016, compared to around 400,000 in the pre-Trump news cycle. That’s also considerably larger than any other time over the past 25 years, an astonishing feat given the ubiquity of news and the decline of cable.
Even though still unproven, charges that the Kremlin put Trump in the White House have cast a large shadow of illegitimacy over his presidency and thus over the institution of the presidency itself. This is unlikely to end entirely with Trump. If the Kremlin had the power to affect the outcome of one presidential election, why not another one, whether won by a Republican or a Democrat? The 2016 presidential election was the first time such an allegation became widespread in American political history, but it may not be the last. Now the same shadow looms over the November 6 elections and thus over the next Congress. If so, in barely two years, the legitimacy of two fundamental institutions of American representative democracy will have been challenged, also for the first time in history.
And if US elections are really so vulnerable to Russian “meddling,” what does this say about faith in American elections more generally? How many losing candidates on November 6 will resist blaming the Kremlin? Two years after the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton and her adamant supporters still have not been able to do so. We know from critical reporting and from recent opinion surveys that the origins and continuing fixation on the Russiagate scandal since 2016 have been primarily a product of US political-intelligence-media elites. It did not spring from the American people – from voters themselves. Thus a Gallup poll recently showed that 58 percent of those surveyed wanted improved relations with Russia. And other surveys have shown that Russiagate is scarcely an issue at all for likely voters on November 6. Nonetheless, it remains a front-page issue for US elites.
Indeed, Russiagate has revealed the low esteem that many US political-media elites have for American voters – for their ability to make discerning, rational electoral decisions, which is the bedrock assumption of representative democracy. It is worth noting that this disdain for rank-and-file citizens echoes a longstanding attitude of the Russian political intelligentsia, as recently expressed in the argument by a prominent Moscow policy intellectual that Russian authoritarianism springs not from the nation’s elites but from the “genetic code” of its people.
Back in the last century, when this was a different country, the Democrats were the “smart” party and the Republicans were the “stupid” party. How did that work? Well, back then the Democrats represented a broad middle class, with a base of factory workers, many of them unionized, and the party had to be smart, especially in the courts, to overcome the natural advantages of the owner class. In contrast, the Republicans looked like a claque of country club drunks who staggered home at night to sleep on their moneybags. Bad optics, as we say nowadays. [..] The Republican Party has, at least, sobered up some after getting blindsided by Trump and Trumpism. Like a drunk out of rehab, it’s attempting to get a life.
Two years in, the party marvels at Mr. Trump’s audacity, despite his obvious lack of savoir faire. And despite a longstanding lack of political will to face the country’s problems, the Republicans are being forced to engage on some real issues, such as the need for a coherent and effective immigration policy and the need to redefine formal trade relations. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has become the party of bad ideas and bad faith, starting with the position that “diversity and inclusion” means shutting down free speech, an unforgivable transgression against common sense and common decency. It’s a party that lies even more systematically than Mr. Trump, and does so knowingly (as when Google execs say they “Do no Evil”).
[..] I hope that Democrats lose as many congressional and senate seats as possible. I hope that the party is shoved into an existential crisis and is forced to confront its astounding dishonesty. I hope that the process prompts them to purge their leadership across the board. If there is anything to salvage in this organization, I hope it discovers aims and principles that are unrecognizable from its current agenda of perpetual hysteria.
The Trump administration will grant eight jurisdictions special exceptions to continue importing oil from Iran after U.S. sanctions on the country snap back into place on Monday, according to cabinet members. President Donald Trump gave oil buyers 180 days to wind down purchases of Iranian crude when he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May. The eight waivers will allow the jurisdictions to more gradually reduce their purchases after the Nov. 4 deadline. Oil market watchers have been closely monitoring the situation to determine how forcefully the Trump administration will enforce the sanctions.
State Department officials initially said importers must cut their purchases to zero by November, but administration officials subsequently telegraphed that some exceptions would be made. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday declined to name the eight jurisdictions during a conference call with reporters. The officials said all of the countries or territories have significantly reduced their purchases and will be given more time to further reduce their imports. [..] Japan, India and South Korea are among the countries, and China is still negotiating a waiver, Bloomberg News reported earlier on Friday, citing a senior administration official. Pompeo confirmed on Friday that the EU is not one of the jurisdictions that will receive a waiver.
European countries have vowed to maintain “effective financial channels” and to keep trading with Tehran after the US announced that the EU is not among those spared from its sweeping sanctions against Iran. European countries suddenly discovered that they were not on the list of the ‘lucky ones’ that their ally, the US, decided to exempt from the new wave of all-encompassing sanctions it plans to unleash on Iran. The sanctions, targeting Iran’s shipping, finance and energy sectors, which come into force on November 5, are also designed to punish those countries that dared to do business with the Islamic Republic in defiance of the US pressure.
Only eight nations were graciously granted exemptions by the US, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, Pompeo made it clear that the EU as a single entity is not on the list, sparking an angry reaction from the US’ western allies. Washington also specifically mentioned that it plans to target the special mechanism the EU has been creating to circumvent the restrictions, prompting its allies to fight back.
In response, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, together with the foreign and finance ministers of Germany, France and the UK, vowed to maintain “effective financial channels with Iran” and in particular to continue buying the Islamic Republic’s oil and gas. They also said that despite Washington’s pressure the EU is still committed to establishing a “Special Purpose Vehicle” for Iran-EU trade. The European nations will seek to protect its companies engaged in “legitimate business with Iran,” the statement said, adding that the EU will cooperate with Russia and China in particular to achieve these goals.
Results of the stress test of Europe’s bigger banks released Friday revealed that all of the financial institutions in the EU wide examination passed the European Central Bank’s “adverse scenario”. The stress tests were carried out by the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) to gauge the health of the European banking system. The EBA said in findings published on their website that all 48 banks beat the common tier ratio of 5.5 percent under adverse stress. British bank Barclays ranked lowest in the test, scoring a common tier ratio of just 6.37 percent in the adverse scenario. Fellow U.K. bank Lloyds also performed poorly with a score of 6.8 percent.
Commenting after the results, the Bank Of England said the results showed that U.K. banks could absorb the effect of the EBA’s worst scenario. Europe’s biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, performed better than some forecasters had predicted, registering a core tier of 8.14 percent, again in an adverse scenario. EBA said under their adverse scenario, the capital depletion across the banks at the end of 2020 was 236 billion euros ($268 billion) and 226 billion euros on a “transitional and fully loaded basis respectively.” The ECB added that the EBA test showed that banks in Europe were now “more resilient to financial shocks.”
Italian banks were also under scrutiny but managed to record satisfactory scores according to banking regulators. Unicredit, Italy’s largest lender, scored a common tier ratio of 9.34 while UBI Banca scored 7.42 percent. The lowest score among Italian banks was for Banco BPM which registered 6.67 percent.
The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was sanctioned at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, trying to play kingmaker in Riyadh and bolster his credentials in the West. “We know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government,” the Turkish leader wrote in a surprise contribution to Friday’s Washington Post, vowing to “reveal the identities of the puppet masters” behind the murder. “No one should dare to commit such acts on the soil of a NATO ally again,” Erdogan wrote dramatically. “Had this atrocity taken place in the United States or elsewhere, authorities in those countries would have gotten to the bottom of what happened.”
“It would be out of the question for us to act any other way,” he added, noting that Ankara has already “moved heaven and earth to shed light on all aspects of this case.” The Turkish leader also used the opportunity to burnish his credentials in the West, saying that as a responsible NATO member, Turkey will not just leave this case uninvestigated and will act in exactly the same way as the US or any of its allies would in its place. Erdogan openly accused Riyadh of “trying to cover up the murder” by stalling the investigation and refusing to cooperate with the Turkish authorities, singling out the Saudi chief prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb, who visited Turkey earlier this week. “The refusal of the Saudi public prosecutor… to cooperate with the investigation and answer even simple questions is very frustrating,” he wrote, adding that Al Mojeb’s “invitation for Turkish investigators to Saudi Arabia … felt like a desperate and deliberate stalling tactic.”
The public prosecution on Friday morning filed its written accusation against Catalan secessionist leaders who are in pretrial detention for their role in the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral independence declaration that followed. As expected, prosecutors are seeking a 25-year prison term for ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras for rebellion and misuse of public funds, and they also want the Catalan Republican Party (ERC) leader barred from holding public office for the next 25 years. Prosecutors are also seeking 17-year jail terms for Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the former heads of civic associations that campaigned actively for independence, and for Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan parliament.
Other defendants in the upcoming trial face penalties ranging from economic fines to prison terms of 16 years. Meanwhile, Spain’s Solicitor General, who represents the Spanish state in the courts, has not accused Catalan secessionist leaders of rebellion. Instead, the written accusation focuses on the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with the referendum and unilateral independence declaration. In its written accusation, the Solicitor General’s Office has called for Junqueras to be sentenced to 12 years in prison and a 12-year ban on holding public office.
Please Note: The mailing lists I’ve used for many years all of a sudden stopped working. This appears to be because there is some sort of discrepancy between Gmail and Apple Mail. I’ve lost all access to one Gmail account in Apple Mail, though it still works in a browser. Two other Gmail accounts still function in Apple Mail, but bounce back all mails sent as part of the mailing lists. Working on a solution.
The strong job market has become a reason for optimism for many Americans in the past couple years in stark contrast to the dark days of the Great Recession and the ensuing “jobless recovery.” The unemployment rate fell beneath 4% for the past several months, weekly jobless claims are at a 49-year low, and wages are growing at their fastest rate since 2009. So, what’s not to like? Obviously, everyone likes good news on the economic front, but these strong job market statistics are a sign that the economic cycle is much closer to the end (including a recession and bear market) rather than the beginning. As the chart below shows, when the U.S. unemployment rate falls under 4%, recessions follow soon after (recessions are marked by the gray shaded areas on the chart).
Historically, U.S. unemployment under 4% is quite rare and typically occurs after a long, powerful economic expansion. By the time the unemployment rate is under 4%, the economic cycle is already mature, the labor market is tight, and inflation is becoming a concern. At this time, the Federal Reserve has been hiking interest rates steadily, which eventually causes the demise of the economic cycle. According to Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: “The 4 percent number is not exactly a number that economists are necessarily happy with.” “What’s been happening here is, if we look historically at other times when the unemployment rate has fallen below 4 percent, it’s times where it was the boom phase just before recession or just after a major war period.”
Mass evacuations were ordered along the U.S. Atlantic Coast as Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm and the most powerful to menace the region in nearly three decades, barreled toward the region on Tuesday. Governor Ralph Northam issued an evacuation order for about 245,000 residents in flood-prone coastal Virginia beginning at 8 a.m. local time while South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has ordered more than 1 million residents along his state’s coastline to leave starting at noon on Tuesday. “This is a serious storm and it’s going to effect the entire state,” Northam told a news conference. “Everyone in Virginia needs to prepare.”
Florence, packing winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), was expected to grow even stronger before making landfall on Thursday, mostly likely in southeastern North Carolina near the South Carolina border, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference his state was in “the bull’s eye.” At least 250,000 more people were due to be evacuated from the northern Outer Banks in North Carolina on Tuesday after more than 50,000 people were ordered on Monday to leave Hatteras and Ocracoke, the southernmost of the state’s barrier islands.
North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland governors have declared states of emergency. Authorities warned of life-threatening coastal storm surges and the potential for Florence to unleash prolonged torrential rains and widespread flooding, especially if it lingers inland for several days. NHC Director Ken Graham warned of “staggering” amounts of rainfall that may extend hundreds of miles inland and cause flash flooding across the mid-Atlantic region.
It is “realistic” to believe Britain and the EU will sign a Brexit withdrawal agreement before the looming deadline, Michel Barnier has said. Speaking at the Bled Strategic Forum conference in Slovenia the EU’s chief negotiator said a deal was “possible” in the next six to eight weeks – the cutoff date set for talks. The pound jumped by nearly 1 per cent against the dollar on the foreign exchange markets following the comments, after traders apparently over-interpreted the official’s words. “If we are realistic, I want to reach an agreement on the first stage of the negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within six or eight weeks,” Mr Barnier said.
He added: “The treaty is clear, we have two years to reach an agreement before they leave… in March 2019. “That means that taking into account the time necessary for the ratification process in the House of Commons on one side, the European Parliament and the Council on the other side, we must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it is possible.” The episode comes around a week after jumpy financial markets also boosted the pound after Mr Barnier repeated his mantra about wanting to do an ambitious and unique trade deal with the UK. Though little has changed on the ground, both sides of talks are staying publicly positive – if only to give them the upper hand in any ensuing blame game that follows a no deal.
The likely confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh may be a last straw for the “Resistance.” It would certainly affect the adjudication of any new disputes that arise over relations between Mr. Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the weeks ahead. The Mueller investigation into 2016 election “collusion” between Russia and Trump looks more and more like a case of displacement-projection syndrome, since dumpster-loads of evidence now point to collusion between the Hillary campaign, the DNC, a cast of rogue spooks from the CIA, various FBI officers, and British Intelligence in a scheme that is now going to grand juries.
All that nasty business, starting with the news that a grand jury has been secretly grilling former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for weeks, suggests that events are about to unspool dramatically. The story has been coiling for months as fresh documents emerge and officials, such as the DOJ Inspector General, confirm what they mean. It remains to be seen whether the Web chatter about dozens of “sealed indictments” coming down is horse-shit. The baffling part is the role of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. I’m inclined to doubt that Mr. Trump’s regular vilifications of Sessions are a ruse, meant to mislead the media about the AG’s activities in these matters. But the DC Swamp is unnerved by Sessions’ extraordinary absence of presence on the scene. Has he actually been involved in any of this, or is he playing animal lotto on his desk?
U.S. President Donald Trump received a “very warm, very positive” letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un asking for a second meeting and the White House is looking at scheduling one, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday. The two countries have been discussing North Korea’s nuclear programs since their leaders met in Singapore in June, although that summit’s outcome was criticized for being short on concrete details about how and whether Kim is willing to give up weapons that threaten the United States. The likely timing of a second Trump-Kim meeting was unclear.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to have his third summit with Kim next week in Pyongyang, and his government had pushed for a three-way summit involving Trump, with the aim of agreeing a joint declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the U.S.-led United Nations forces including South Korea technically still at war with North Korea. While South Korea had hoped an accord formally ending the conflict could have been unveiled on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month, Moon’s security chief Chung Eui-yong said last week, without elaborating, that the necessary conditions for a three-way meeting were missing.
The United States threatened Monday to arrest and sanction judges and other officials of the International Criminal Court if it moves to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes. White House National Security Advisor John Bolton called the Hague-based rights body “unaccountable” and “outright dangerous” to the United States, Israel and other allies, and said any probe of US service members would be “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation.” “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said. He said the US was prepared to slap financial sanctions and criminal charges on officials of the court if they proceed against any Americans.
“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system,” Bolton said. “We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.” Bolton made the comments in a speech in Washington to the Federalist Society, a powerful association of legal conservatives. Bolton pointed to an ICC prosecutor’s request in November 2017 to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the US military and intelligence officials in Afghanistan, especially over the abuse of detainees. [..] He also cited a recent move by Palestinian leaders to have Israeli officials prosecuted at the ICC for human rights violations.
We are concerned that you may not have been adequately briefed on the upsurge of hostilities in northwestern Syria, where Syrian armed forces with Russian support have launched a full-out campaign to take back the al-Nusra/al-Qaeda/ISIS-infested province of Idlib. The Syrians will almost certainly succeed, as they did in late 2016 in Aleppo. As in Aleppo, it will mean unspeakable carnage, unless someone finally tells the insurgents theirs is a lost cause. That someone is you. The Israelis, Saudis, and others who want unrest to endure are egging on the insurgents, assuring them that you, Mr. President, will use US forces to protect the insurgents in Idlib, and perhaps also rain hell down on Damascus.
We believe that your senior advisers are encouraging the insurgents to think in those terms, and that your most senior aides are taking credit for your recent policy shift from troop withdrawal from Syria to indefinite war. Russian missile-armed naval and air units are now deployed in unprecedented numbers to engage those tempted to interfere with Syrian and Russian forces trying to clean out the terrorists from Idlib. We assume you have been briefed on that — at least to some extent. More important, we know that your advisers tend to be dangerously dismissive of Russian capabilities and intentions. We do not want you to be surprised when the Russians start firing their missiles.
The prospect of direct Russian-U.S. hostilities in Syria is at an all-time high. We are not sure you realize that. The situation is even more volatile because Kremlin leaders are not sure who is calling the shots in Washington. This is not the first time that President Putin has encountered such uncertainty . This is, however, the first time that Russian forces have deployed in such numbers into the area, ready to do battle. The stakes are very high. We hope that John Bolton has given you an accurate description of his acerbic talks with his Russian counterpart in Geneva a few weeks ago. In our view, it is a safe bet that the Kremlin is uncertain whether Bolton faithfully speaks in your stead, or speaks INSTEAD of you.
The Netherlands has decided to end its support to militants in Syria, since the program did not yield “expected” results. The move comes as journalists found one of the groups had been labeled as terrorists by the country itself. “The opportunity to quickly change the situation [in Syria] is extremely small,” reads the letter the lower house of the parliament by Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok and Minister for Foreign Trade Sigrid Kaag, announcing the end of support programs for the militants in Syria. The program to support of “moderate” anti-government groups in Syria was established in close cooperation with “like-minded donors who pursued the same goals as the Netherlands” and cost the country over $80 million over the years, according to the document.
It failed to “bring the expected results,” however, and is to be closed since the Syrian troops “will soon win” the war against militant groups. Over the years, the Netherlands allocated $29 million to the so-called “non-lethal assistance” (NLA) program, $14.5 million were donated to the so-called White Helmets and $17.1 million went to the Access to Justice and Community Service (AJACS) program. The AJACS was supposedly designed to support “community police” work in Syria, specifically the so-called Free Syrian Police (FSP) group. The support for militants is set to end immediately, yet the White Helmets will be funded until December, according to the document.
Since the White Helmets now operate only in the Idlib province, which is believed to be the destination of the looming offensive by the Syrian Army and its allies, their future is quite doubtful, the document states. [..] The “non-lethal” goods supplied by the Dutch government included satellite phones, uniforms, assorted equipment and even the ‘iconic’ Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks, widely used by various militant groups in Syria. At least one of the groups supplied by the Netherlands, Jabhat al-Shamiya, turned out to be labeled a terrorist group by the country’s own justice department, the journalists have revealed. One Dutch man is currently prosecuted for joining the group back in 2015, with the indictment describing it as a “salafist and jihadist” movement which can qualify only as a “criminal organization with terrorist intent.”
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans are expected to fill the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday for the Spanish region’s first commemorative day since its leader declared independence last year and pitched the country into constitutional crisis. Supporters of splitting the wealthy northeastern region from the rest of Spain have in recent years used the Sept. 11 “Diada”, the anniversary of the fall of their coastal capital to Spanish forces in 1714, to promote the cause. This year, Catalonia’s leader Quim Torra, who took over from his exiled predecessor after Madrid ended an unprecedented period of direct rule, has called for a mass rally in support of his bid for a binding referendum on independence.
“Our government has committed to making the republic a reality,” Torra said in a televised address to mark the occasion. “I wish you all a very good Diada. Long live free Catalonia.” He wore a yellow ribbon signifying support for nine politicians whose jailing for their role in the independence bid is one of the Catalan government’s biggest grievances. Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took power in June, has taken a softer approach to one of the thorniest issues in national politics than that of his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy, but he has stood firm against allowing a vote on secession, or any unilateral attempt by Catalonia to secede.
Last year’s Diada, in which marchers often climb on each other’s shoulders in shows of the traditional sport of forming human towers, fell as the regional government was preparing to hold a referendum in defiance of Madrid, which ultimately sent riot police to try to stop the vote.
Greece’s lead creditor warned the country on Monday not to stray from reforms agreed upon before the end of its international bailout, as European monitors arrived to check the nation’s finances. The five-day inspection is expected to focus on government promises over the weekend to offer tax relief as well as plans to scrap promised pension cuts that are due to take effect in 2019. Klaus Regling, managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s rescue fund, told Austria’s Die Presse newspaper that Greece’s needed to stick to its commitments. “We are a very patient creditor. But we can stop debt relief measures that have been decided for Greece if the adjustment programs are not continued as agreed,” he said.
“The debt level appears to be frighteningly elevated. But Greece can live with that as the loan maturities are very long and the interest rates on the loans are much lower than in most other countries.” Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is trailing opposition conservatives in opinion polls and must call a general election within the next 12 months. Amid large protest rallies led by labor unions over the weekend, the prime minister said that relief measures promised to taxpayers would not jeopardize fiscal performance targets and would be introduced gradually. Greece has promised to deliver high primary surpluses — the budget balance before calculating the cost of servicing debt — for years to come, along with a series of reforms in exchange for better debt repayment terms.
The end of the bailout means Greece will have to return to international capital markets to finance itself. However, the country faces a troubled return after the financial turmoil in Turkey and Italy halted a decline in Greek borrowing rates. The yield on Greece’s 10-year-bond remains above 4 percent. The bailout program ended Aug. 20 but the country’s debt level remains near 180 percent of gross domestic product.
The Regional Authority of the Northern Aegean has given the Ministry of Migration Policy 30 days to clean up the overcrowded Moria hot spot for migrants and refugees on the island of Lesvos, or face closure. The announcement is part of a report compiled by environmental and health inspectors from Lesvos’ public health directorate who found the camp is unsuitable and dangerous for public health and the environment. According to the report, inspectors said there is an uncontrolled wastewater spill at the entrance of the camp, which ends into an adjacent stream or even on the road.
In another section of the camp, toilet waste pipes are broken, resulting in a strong stench and creating a danger to public health. Inspectors said the overcrowding living conditions in Moria, in which up to 15 people are squeezed into the small houses and up to 150 in every tent, increases the risk of disease transmission. “There was also a strong stench and insects (flies) due to the inability to properly clean the living quarters,” the report added. North Aegean Regional Governor Christiana Kalogirou says the ministry will have to restore every damage or problem detailed in the report, otherwise the authority will forbid the hot spot’s operation.
American teenagers are starting to prefer communicating via text instead of meeting face-to-face, according to a study published Monday by the independent organization Common Sense Media. Some 35% of kids aged 13 to 17 years old said they would rather send a text than meet up with people, which received 32%. The last time the media and technology-focused nonprofit conducted such a survey in 2012, meeting face-to-face hit 49%, far ahead of texting’s 33%. More than two-thirds of American teens choose remote communication — including texting, social media, video conversation and phone conversation — when they can, according to the study. In 2012 less than half of them marked a similar preference.
Notably, in the six-year span between the two studies the proportion of 13 to 17-year-olds with their own smartphone increased from 41 to 89%. As for social networks, 81% of respondents said online exchange is part of their lives, with 32% calling it “extremely” or “very” important. The most-used platform for this age group is Snapchat (63%), followed by Instagram (61%) and Facebook (43%). Some 54% of the teens who use social networks said it steals attention away from those in their physical presence. Two-fifths of them said time spent on social media prevents them from spending more time with friends in person. The study was conducted online with a sample of 1,141 young people ages 13 to 17, from March 22 to April 10.
Financial writer and gold expert Bill Holter says China has a lot of weapons to fight a trade war with the U.S. China could stop buying Treasury bonds (as it reportedly already has done). It could sell Treasury bonds. It could slash the value of the Yuan, or something much simpler could happen such as a failed delivery of physical precious metals. Holter says, “If what has happened so far in the first three months of the year were to continue for the full year, you would be over three billion ounces (of silver). That is not deliverable.”What happens when the world figures out that three billion ounces of physical silver cannot and will not be delivered to the buyers?
Holter explains, “That’s called an old fashion run on the banks. “It will be a run on the entire system. You would have a run on every metals exchange, and you would probably have runs on many physical commodities. Confidence throughout the whole system would break. You would basically show the western fractional reserve system is a fraud and has been for many, many years. . . . Can London deliver a billion ounces, or two billion ounces or three billion ounces of silver? The answer to that is no.” So, when does this all blow up? Holter says, “I think this whole thing has a very good chance of blowing this year.”
There are a variety of financial trip wires, according to Bill Holter, such as thousands of sealed criminal indictments that will be unsealed in 2018. Holter also points out the explosion of global debt. Holter charges, “It’s now $237 trillion. The amount of debt grew by $21 trillion globally over the last 12 months. That’s roughly 10 %. How much did global GDP grow? 2% or 3%, I mean that is totally unsustainable.” The biggest worry for Holter right now is escalating military action in Syria. Holter warns, “This is so, so dangerous. Obviously, you worry about a hot war because with the weapons you have today, you could have WWIII start in a heartbeat. But look at the market today. It’s up 400 or 500 points. You have talk of trade wars. You have talk of hot wars. It’s amazing the markets can hold together and ignore potential annihilation.”
British police say their investigation into the poisoning of former Russian army colonel Sergei Skripal in Salisbury may take many months, yet prime minister Theresa May has already identified the guilty party, claiming the order came from the Kremlin. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, sees the incident as ‘part of a pattern of reckless behaviour by President Vladimir Putin,’ which is the ‘common thread that joins [the poisoning] with [Russia’s] annexation of Crimea, the cyberattacks in Ukraine, the hacking of Germany’s parliament … interference in foreign elections’ and ‘indulgence of Assad’s atrocities in Syria’. The reasoning goes: if Putin is capable of doing it, then he must be guilty.
From Leon Trotsky, killed with an ice pick in Mexico, to Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium in London, Russia’s security services have undoubtedly liquidated many opponents of the Kremlin living abroad. Other countries have resorted to such measures without triggering the same diplomatic uproar. France, Germany and the US have been involved in the kind of state-sponsored assassination that has so offended Johnson, yet this has not stopped them joining him and May in railing against Russia. Israel has taken great care to avoid commenting, perhaps because it is one of the countries that most frequently ‘carry out this kind of operation, known as an “extraterritorial elimination”’.
The list of Palestinians, including official representatives, killed by Israel’s secret service abroad makes the Russians look like amateurs: at least half a dozen in Paris alone, without serious consequences. Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka also disappeared in Paris; the African National Congress’s chief representative in France, Dulcie September, and more recently three Kurdish activists, were assassinated there. Across the Atlantic, Orlando Letelier, a minister under former Chilean president Salvador Allende, was killed in Washington DC by agents of Augusto Pinochet, which did not stop Ronald Reagan from feting Pinochet; and Margaret Thatcher was happy to drink tea (without polonium) with the dictator and present him with a silver dish.
‘Extraterritorial elimination’ is also a fitting term for the US practice of killing presumed terrorists abroad with drones. Barack Obama officially authorised more than 2,300 such killings during his presidency. For his part, François Hollande has admitted to ordering extrajudicial killings of ‘enemies of the state’ when he was president (an average of one a month during his term), though none of his political allies reproached him for it during the Socialist Party primaries in January 2017. François de Rugy, who has since become president of France’s National Assembly, even said at the time: ‘Yes, it is sometimes necessary.’
An influential tech evangelist has called at the TED 2018 conference for an overhaul of Facebook and Google’s business models. Jaron Lanier, who is often referred to as a “father of virtual reality”, told the Vancouver event that the two firms should let users pay for their services as an alternative to relying on ads. “These companies need to change,” he said. But on Tuesday, Facebook’s chief suggested this would not be popular. “A number of people suggest that we should offer a version where people can not have ads if they pay a monthly subscription, and certainly we consider ideas like that,” Mark Zuckerberg told a panel of senators in Washington.
“But overall, I think that the ads experience is going to be the best one. “I think in general, people like not having to pay for a service. A lot of people can’t afford to pay for a service around the world,” Mr Zuckerberg added. Mr Lanier was a frequent TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) speaker during the 1980s. But, he said, even then he had realised that “the technology we needed and loved could also be our undoing”. “We made a very particular mistake in the 90s when early digital culture had this lefty, socialist mission, which meant that everything on the internet must be available for free,” he added. That decision led directly to the advertising model that allows Google and Facebook to flourish, he explained.
“In the beginning it was cute but as computers became more efficient and algorithms got better, it can no longer be called advertising any more – it has turned into behaviour modification.” It was, he said, a “tragic mistake” rather than a “wave of evil”, pointing out that he knew and loved many people working at the two tech empires. But, he explained, the advertising model had led to addictive social media platforms that rewarded people for sharing their information with “likes”. He also claimed that Google and Facebook had become as “hooked and trapped” on the advertising model as their users. “It is time to turn back the clock and remake that decision. Many people would pay for search and social networks,” Mr Lanier said.
As this hearing made painfully clear, using data to target and shape behaviours is an integral part of social media. It is the potential use of our data that is of real value. Data informed targeting is woven into Facebook’s DNA; the only way to change that is to change its structure and purpose. Under questioning Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook is going through a “broader philosophical shift”, taking them from simply producing tools for “empowering” people to the need now to take a “more proactive role” in “policing the ecosystem”. This implies that they seek an even more powerful position – both as producers and regulators – and a larger roll-out of their particular ideals and philosophies.
The answer to the problems of Facebook, it seemed to be suggested, is more Facebook and more of its current business model. The account was of a purer Facebook that gives you connectivity, voice and control of your information, untainted by any issues, missteps or unwanted players. An enhanced version of what we already have is what was being proposed as the solution. Putting the obvious problems to one side for the moment, the other question is whether we really share the ideals of Facebook.
The tone of this hearing was apologetic, but it leaves us to question if change is actually possible. We might trust Zuckerberg to be responsible, this doesn’t mean that we need to accept the ideals that are wrapped up in these media and the type of world that is being imagined. The problems clearly need attention, but we might also wonder about the ideals that will play such a powerful part in our collective future. The ideals and models of Facebook will continue to expand unless we think a little more about the future that we want to bring into existence.
Asked by Graham if he felt Facebook had a monopoly, Zuckerberg replied, “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.” Senator Kamala Harris, the only Democrat to mention monopoly power during the hearing, noted later that Zuckerberg never really answered Graham’s question. “Every monopolist tries to enlarge the market definition such that his own share of it is insignificant,” said Marshall Steinbaum, the research director at the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. “But the fact that he couldn’t name his competitors spoke volumes: Facebook controls the network over which information is proliferated, and it decides who sees what–always to its own benefit. That is a textbook monopolist and it is a company that in its current form cannot be allowed to exist.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, noted that Zuckerberg told Graham that he didn’t think Facebook was a monopoly. “You’re obviously a big player in the space. That might be an area for competition, correct, if somebody else wants to create a social platform that allows a user to monetize their own data?” Johnson asked. Yes, says Zuckerberg. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, asked Zuckerberg if Facebook was too powerful. “All — really all over the world, the Facebook — 2 billion users, over 200 million Americans, 40 billion in revenue. I believe you and Google have almost 75% of the digital advertising in the U.S. Is — one of the key issues here, is Facebook too powerful? Are you too powerful? And do you think you’re too powerful?” asks Sullivan.
Economic growth in the UK is expected to have fallen by half in the opening months of the year, one of Britain’s leading forecasting bodies has said, amid renewed concerns for the health of the economy. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said growth was set to fall to 0.2% in the first quarter of 2018 from 0.4% in the final three months of last year, when the economy enjoyed a mini-recovery despite an overall slowdown in 2017 triggered by the Brexit vote. Amit Kara, head of UK macroeconomic forecasting at the thinktank, said the main reason for the weakness was severe weather in March, dubbed the “beast from the east” in the media, which was likely to have disrupted activity in all major sectors of the economy.
The estimate, which comes ahead of official figures from the Office for National Statistics later this month, followed news that Britain’s factories recorded a surprise fall in production in February, in the first drop in activity in the sector for almost a year. Confirming fears of a slowdown in the UK economy so far this year, figures from the ONS showed manufacturing output declined by 0.2% in February, falling well behind economists’ expectations for growth of 0.2%. There was also a sharp drop in construction output, suggesting continued pain for the industry amid the fallout from the collapse of Carillion. Monthly output unexpectedly fell by 1.6% in February, as builders were hit by the snow at the end of the month.
Tens of thousands more families will be trapped in temporary accommodation across England over the next two years if current homelessness trends continue, a report has warned. More than 100,000 households will be living in B&Bs, hostels and other forms of temporary housing by 2020, as rising housing costs and insecure work continue to “lock” people into poverty, according to research commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). The annual Homelessness Monitor shows that 70% of local authorities in England are struggling to find any stable housing for homeless people in their area, while a striking 89% reported difficulties in finding private rented accommodation.
As a result, many councils have found themselves forced to place ever more homeless people in emergency housing, including B&Bs and hostels, leading to urgent calls for more permanent and genuinely affordable homes to be built. Government figures published last month revealed almost 79,000 families were staying in temporary housing in the last three months of last year because they didn’t have a permanent home, compared with 48,010 in the same period eight years before. There had been a significant reduction in families living in such conditions before the coalition government came into power, with the number having fallen by 52% between 2004 and 2010 under the Labour government.
But the figure has crept up in each of the past seven years, from 69,140 in the last quarter of 2015, to 75,740 in the same period in 2016 and 78,930 at the end of last year. The new report warns that if current trends continue, with housing supply “dwindling” and rents outstripping wages and benefits, more than 100,000 such households will fall into this trap by 2020.
The head of the Congressional Budget Office warned lawmakers that the U.S. government is on track to pay more to its creditors than on its own military, as interest rates and debt levels continue to climb. CBO chief Keith Hall told the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday that America’s net interest payments will triple over the coming decade, outpacing military expenditures. He called the data point “one of my favorite figures” used to highlight the challenges posed by the country’s ballooning debt. His office’s budget and economic forecasts, published Monday, show net interest payments first outstripping defense outlays in fiscal 2023 and reaching $915 billion five years later.
The increase will come as debt held by the public almost doubles to $28.7 trillion in fiscal 2028 from this year, according to the CBO, a non-partisan arm of Congress. “My point is that the interest cost is just starting to swamp things like defense spending,” Hall said. “Whatever the fix is going to be, it needs to be something that’s pretty big.”
Perhaps we have missed something: Like the possibility that the canyons of Wall Street are actually located on another planet several light years from earth! Otherwise, how can you explain the equipoise of a stock market sitting at the tippy-top of a nine-year bubble expansion and confronted with the potential outbreak of World War Three? Folks, like some alien abductors, the Deep State has taken the Donald hostage, and with ball-and-chain finality. Whatever pre-election predilection he had to challenge the Warfare State has apparently been completely liquidated. Trump’s early AM tweet today, in fact, embodies the words of a man who had more than a few screws loose when he took the oath, but under the relentless pounding of the Imperial City’s investigators, partisans, apparatchiks and lynch-mob media has now gone stark raving mad. To wit:
“….Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it! Yes, maybe Wall Street has figured out that the Donald is more bluster than bite. Yet when you consider the broader context and what the Russian side is now saying, it is just plain idiotic to own the S&P 500 at 24X. After all, earnings that have been going nowhere for the past three years (earnings per share have inched-up from $106 in September 2014 to $109 in December 2017), and now could be ambushed by a hot war accident in Syria that would rapidly escalate. Indeed, did the robo-machines and boys and girls down in the casino not ponder the meaning of this message from the Kremlin? It does not leave much to the imagination:
#Russian ambassador in beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on #Syria , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic. Sure, the odds are quite high that the clever folks in the Pentagon will figure out how to keep the pending attack reasonably antiseptic. That is, they will bomb a whole bunch of places in Syria where the Russians and Iranians are not (after being warned); and also deploy stand-off submarine platforms to launch cruise missiles and high-flying stealth aircraft to drop smart bombs, thereby keeping American pilots and ships out of harm’s way. Then, after unleashing the Donald’s version of “shock and awe” they will claim that Assad has just received the spanking of his life and that the Russians and Iranians have been messaged with malice aforethought.
‘How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the president to a mob boss?’ That’s the question ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked James Comey in a teaser for an interview set to air Sunday night at 10 p.m. as a “20/20” special. A source told Axios that what the former FBI director had to say during that interview is “going to shock the president and his team” and “certainly add more meat to the charges swirling around Trump.” The source added that the interview included information that’s never been divulged before and left people in the room “stunned.” Comey apparently answered every question. The five-hour interview was taped Monday at his Washington-area home ahead of the release of his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which comes out Tuesday.
Comey is about to go on a promotional media blitz, according to Politico, including a live interview with CNN on April 19, a visit to MSNBC the same day, an interview on Fox News on April 26 and one with PBS NewsHour on April 30. The book, already topping Amazon’s best-seller list, is expected to reveal details about Trump pressuring Comey to shut down at least part of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election and other related issues. Separately, Dana Boente, the FBI’s general counsel who had led the Russia investigation in the early days of the Trump administration, has been asked to testify by Mueller, according to a letter obtained by MSNBC.
A former Catalan minister fighting extradition from Scotland to Spain faces charges of causing widespread violence against police. BBC Scotland has obtained a copy of the European arrest warrant for former education minister Clara Ponsatí. The St Andrews University professor is wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion and misappropriation of public funds. Ms Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said: “My client Clara Ponsati utterly refutes the charges.” He added: “Clara is an esteemed University professor who has never committed a criminal act in her life.
As an education minister for just over two months along with her government she promoted a peaceful referendum, yet if extradited and convicted could face a sentence of up to 33 years, thus facing the real prospect of spending the rest of her natural life in prison. “We are instructed to submit that this warrant is a desperate and politically motivated prosecution by the Spanish authorities. Across Europe lawyers have already successfully challenged the credibility of the charges of violent rebellion. “Now in Scotland Clara is accused of orchestrating violence, yet the warrant fails in over 19 pages to ever specify a single act of violence or incitement attributable to her.” The warrant includes lengthy details of violent confrontations at polling stations across the region.
Prof Ponsatí is being pursued by the Spanish government over her involvement in last year’s Catalan independence referendum, which was ruled illegal by Spanish courts. She handed herself in to police in Edinburgh in March, and was subsequently released on bail following a preliminary hearing. The case is due to call in the Scottish courts again on Thursday. The arrest warrant says that the more serious crime of rebellion applies to those “who revolt violently and publicly” for purposes including “declaring the independence of a part of the national territory.”
The New Zealand government will grant no new offshore oil exploration permits in a move that is being hailed by conservation and environmental groups as a historic victory in the battle against climate change. The ban will apply to new permits and won’t affect the existing 22, some of which have decades left on their exploration rights and cover an area of 100,000 sq km. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her government “has a plan to transition towards a carbon-neutral future, one that looks 30 years in advance”. “Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country.”
The Labour coalition government was elected last year and made tackling climate change one of the cornerstones of its policies, committing to transition to 100% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2035 and making the economy carbon neutral by 2050. Greenpeace New Zealand said the government’s announcement was a “historic moment” for the country and “a huge win for our climate and people power”. Last month Ardern accepted a 50,000-strong Greenpeace petition calling for an end to offshore oil and gas exploration. “The tide has turned irreversibly against big oil in New Zealand,” said the Greenpeace New Zealand executive director, Russel Norman.
[..] the Forest & Bird conservation group said the ban was a “huge step forward” for the country and sent a message to the oil and gas industry that New Zealand waters were no longer “their playground”. “Half the world’s whale and dolphin species visit or live in New Zealand waters, from the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin to giant blue whales,” said the group’s chief executive, Kevin Hague.
Besides having a disastrous impact on sea levels and weather, a warming climate could also trigger catastrophic volcanic eruptions across the planet Volcanic eruptions alter the climate by spewing smoke and ash into the atmosphere, but scientists now also think the opposite might be true – changes in climate could actually cause volcanic eruptions. According to Gioachino Roberti, a PhD student at the University of Clermont Auvergne, glaciers can suppress volcanic eruptions by providing mountains with structural stability. As the climate becomes warmer, ice melting from these mountains removes support from their slopes, potentially leading to landslides and collapse.
“Imagine the ice like some sort of protective layer – when the ice melts away, the mountain is free to collapse,” said Mr Roberti. “If your mountain is a volcano you have another problem. “Volcanoes are a pressurised system and if you remove pressure by ice melting and landslide, you have a problem.” Presenting his work at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, Mr Roberti explained a case study he and his collaborators had investigated in Canada. Though not famous for its volcanic activity, Canada is home to hundreds of potentially active volcanoes. The scientists chose to focus on Mount Meager, a glaciated volcano north of Vancouver.
Mount Meager’s last eruption was over 2000 years ago, but Mr Roberti chose to focus on Mount Meager for a more recent natural disaster that took place there. In summer 2010, the largest landslide in Canadian history occurred on the southern part of the volcano. “The glacier base of the slope retreated and during the hottest part of the summer, the slope catastrophically failed – the whole mountain started to move at a very high velocity,” said Mr Roberti. This was followed in 2016 by the formation of ice caves in the glacier as hot volcanic gases seeped out of the volcano. “This is the first time this has happened there – so the equilibrium of the mountain is changing,” said Mr Roberti.
It’s called “Day Zero”: when Cape Town, South Africa’s bustling port city, sees its water taps run dry, and its population thrust into a perilous situation. Originally projected for this year, the impending crisis has been delayed in part by severe measures — the city instituted restrictions that amount to less than one sixth of an average American’s water consumption. Yet despite that effort, “Day Zero” is still projected to arrive next year. And when it comes, the crisis will see the government switching off all the taps and rationing the resource through collection points. That future isn’t just Cape Town’s. It’s a scenario cities around the globe may face, experts say.
It may be hard to fathom just how cities could be at risk of a water scarcity crisis when approximately 70% of the world is made up of the resource. The stark reality, however, is that the percentage of fresh water probably only amounts to about 2.5 percent, according to often-cited assessments. Even then, a significant supply is locked up in ice and snow, which means just 1 percent of all fresh water is easily accessible to the global population. Inequality in access to water is also quickly becoming a problem. While the affluent can find ways to get access to water— through deliveries or in-built tanks — poorer populations are left to their own devices. That situation oftentimes leads to water theft — for profit, for survival, or for both.
The warm Atlantic current linked to severe and abrupt changes in the climate in the past is now at its weakest in at least 1,600 years, new research shows. The findings, based on multiple lines of scientific evidence, throw into question previous predictions that a catastrophic collapse of the Gulf Stream would take centuries to occur. Such a collapse would see western Europe suffer far more extreme winters, sea levels rise fast on the eastern seaboard of the US and would disrupt vital tropical rains. The new research shows the current is now 15% weaker than around 400AD, an exceptionally large deviation, and that human-caused global warming is responsible for at least a significant part of the weakening.
The current, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), carries warm water northwards towards the north pole. There it cools, becomes denser and sinks, and then flows back southwards. But global warming hampers the cooling of the water, while melting ice in the Arctic, particularly from Greenland, floods the area with less dense freshwater, weakening the Amoc current. Scientists know that Amoc has slowed since 2004, when instruments were deployed at sea to measure it. But now two new studies have provided comprehensive ocean-based evidence that the weakening is unprecedented in at least 1,600 years, which is as far back as the new research stretches.
President Donald Trump plans to use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to build momentum for sweeping legislation on infrastructure and immigration that could buoy the White House and fellow Republicans ahead of crucial midterm elections. Emboldened by a booming economy and victory in his stare-down with Senate Democrats over government funding, Trump will make the case that the Republican tax cuts passed in December and his administration’s efforts to curb regulations are drawing investment to the U.S. and creating jobs, said a White House official who discussed the speech on condition of anonymity. There are few obvious areas for compromise, and little incentive to do so among increasingly polarized lawmakers whose chief concern remains an upcoming election season primed for a wave of votes protesting Trump.
Yet the president also aims to strike a bipartisan tone, the official said – a stark departure from his address to Congress a year ago. That speech delighted supporters, who saw his on-script performance as evidence that Trump, a mercurial political novice, could seize the power of the bully pulpit. This year, aides say, he’ll offer a future-focused vision. His agenda, the official said, includes a long-anticipated plan to rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, continuing efforts to cut regulations, and an overhaul of the immigration system – campaign promises that got set aside last year as the administration focused on efforts to repeal Obamacare and pass the tax overhaul.
In our habitation within the investment-based social media realm, we have noticed a ongoing discussion between market observers related to the present stock rally. On the one hand, there is a loud chorus from folks (likely many of whom are frustrated non-participants in the rally) pointing out the unusual, and perhaps inorganic, nature of the incessant rally. On the other hand, you have the assured (condescending?) reminders from the other side (i.e., folks “killing it” at the moment) that an upward trajectory is the “normal” course of action for stocks, historically speaking. So which contingent is correct? They both are, to an extent. Yes, it has been far more typical for stocks to rise than fall over the past 100-plus years.
Thus, we should not be surprised by a rally, even in the face of elevated valuations, sentiment, etc. However, an unwillingness to acknowledge the noteworthy, even historic, nature of the current rally, would be an indication of either willful denial or potentially harmful ignorance. This week, we take a look at some of the ways in which our current rally is truly unique from a broad historical basis. Today, we note the torrid pace at which the stock market is racking up new 52-week highs. Specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is in the midst of a historic run of new highs. Over the past 100 days, the index has scored no fewer than 46 new 52-week highs. That is the most new highs the DJIA has ever accumulated over a 100-day stretch.
This new record surpasses the former mark of 45 set in 1954. And looking back over the last 100-plus years, there have now been just 14 unique occasions with even 35 new highs over a 100-year span. So will the new highs continue from here – or is there nowhere to go but down at this point? Well, we’re not going to pretend that a new high is a bad thing. In fact, it’s about the most bullish thing a security or index can do – no resistance at all-time highs, you know. Furthermore, the momentum often generated by moves to new highs can be a powerful and (at least, temporarily) persisting phenomenon. That is, until the final high of the run. Obviously one high will eventually mark the top and the upward momentum will cease. Are we at that point now? Are stocks going to come crashing back to earth – or can the market continue its levitation act a little longer?
A financial smash-up is really the only thing that will break the awful spell this country is in: the belief that everyday life can go on when nothing really adds up. It seems to me that the moment is close at hand. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told the Davos crowd that the US has “a weak dollar” policy. Is that so? Just as his department is getting ready to borrow another $1.2 trillion to cover government operations in the year to come. I’m sure the world wants nothing more than to buy bucket-loads of sovereign bonds backed by a falling currency — at the same time that the Treasury’s partner-in-crime, the Federal Reserve, is getting ready to dump an additional $600 billion bonds on the market out of its over-stuffed balance sheet. I’d sooner try to sell snow-cones in a polar bomb-cyclone.
When folks don’t want to buy bonds, the interest rates naturally have to go higher. The problem with that is your country’s treasury has to pay the bond-holders more money, but the only thing that has allowed the Treasury to keep borrowing lo these recent decades is the long-term drop of interest rates to the near-zero range. And the Fed’s timid 25-basis-point hikes in the overnight Fed Fund rate have not moved the needle quite far enough so far. But with benchmark ten-year bond rate nosing upward like a mole under the garden toward the 3.00% mark, something is going to give.
How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes? What vaporizes with it is a lot of the collateral backing up the unprecedented margin (extra borrowed money) that this rickety tower of financial Babel is tottering on. A black hole is opening up in some sub-basement of a tower on Wall Street, and it will suck the remaining value from this asset-stripped nation into the vacuum of history like so much silage. Thus will begin the harsh era of America screwing its head back on and commencing the salvage operation. We’ll stop ricocheting from hashtag to hashtag and entertain a few coherent thoughts, such as, “…Gee, it turns out you really can’t get something for nothing….” That’s an important thought to have when you turn around and suddenly discover you’ve got nothing left.
As the total debt grows (total debt now essentially equals GDP), the denominator is larger and the resultant debt spending must be that much larger to have the same impact. For example, to have the same impact as the ’09 debt binge, a $4+ trillion increase (annually) would be necessary to have the same impact as the $0.2 trillion spent in ’83 or the $2.1 trillion spent in ’09. However, in the next “crisis”, we should expect a $4 trillion jolt (annual) and perhaps as much as $20 trillion in the next episode of this ongoing “crisis” to achieve an ’83 or ’09 like stimuli. But this may not have nearly the impact as previous.
Typically, deficit spending and interest rate cuts have gone hand in hand but with rates having been at zero for nearly a decade before the recent, minor rise…a move to cut rates from anywhere near current levels back to zero will likely have little impact and not be capable of amplifying the deficit spending. Perhaps significantly greater debt creation will be necessary to have a like impact as that of ’83 or ’09. But, of course, the impact on the debt to GDP ratio will be an irrevocable moon shot into Japan style debt to GDP levels. Perhaps the sanity of an economy built on building new homes for a core population that is now shrinking is highly questionable (chart below)?
And to round it out, the annual growth of the 15-64yr/old US core population versus the Wilshire 5000 (representing the value of all publicly traded US stocks).
What should already be clear will be obvious for everyone…the federal “debt” being created isn’t actually “debt” at all. It is being created and spent with no intention of ever repaying it and the move back to zero % interest rates (or more likely NIRP) on that “debt” will make clear that it is simply centrally created and centrally directed monetization. And the resultant wealth is being centrally directed to a shrinking minority of asset holders at the expense of the vast majority. The founding fathers worst nightmare come true.
Lawmakers in Illinois are so desperate to shore up the state’s massively underfunded retirement system that they’re willing to entertain an eye-popping wager: Borrowing $107 billion and letting it ride in the financial markets. The legislature’s personnel and pensions committee plans to meet on Jan. 30 to hear more about a proposal advanced by the State Universities Annuitants Association, according to Representative Robert Martwick. The group wants Illinois to issue the bonds this year to get its retirement system nearly fully funded, assuming that the state can make more on its investments than it will pay in interest. It would be by far the biggest debt sale in the history of the municipal market, and in one fell swoop would be more than Puerto Rico amassed in the run up to its record-setting bankruptcy.
“We’re in a situation in Illinois where our pension debt is just crushing,” Martwick, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a telephone interview. “When you have the largest pension debt in the world, you probably ought to be thinking big.” Illinois owes $129 billion to its five retirement systems after years of failing to make adequate annual contributions. Because the state’s constitution bans any reduction in worker retirement benefits, the government’s pension costs will continue to rise as it faces pressure to pay down that debt, a squeeze that has pushed Illinois’s bond rating to the precipice of junk. Many American governments have sold bonds for their pensions, albeit on a much smaller scale. Illinois did so in 2003, when it issued a record $10 billion of them.
New Jersey also tried it, only to see its pension shortfall soar again after the state failed to make adequate payments into the system for years. Detroit’s pension-fund borrowing in 2005 and 2006 helped push it into bankruptcy. On the whole, the track record has been mixed, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Much hinges on timing the stock market: While most pension bonds have been profitable because of equity gains since the recession, those sold after the late 1990s rally or before the 2008 crash lost money, the study found. The S&P 500 Index climbed 19 percent last year and has continued to hit new highs.
The last time U.S. drillers pumped 10 million barrels of crude a day, Richard Nixon was in the White House. The first oil crisis hadn’t yet scared Americans into buying Toyotas, and fracking was an experimental technique a handful of engineers were trying, with meager success, to popularize. It was 1970, and oil sold for $1.80 a barrel. Almost five decades later, with oil hovering near $65 a barrel, daily U.S. crude output is about to hit the eight-digit mark again. It’s a significant milestone on the way to fulfilling a dream that a generation ago seemed far-fetched: By the end of the year, the U.S. may well be the world’s biggest oil producer. With that, America takes a big step toward energy independence. The U.S. crowing from the top of a hill long occupied by Saudi Arabia or Russia would scramble geopolitics. A new world energy order could emerge.
That shuffling will be good for America but not so much for the planet. For one, the influence of one of the most powerful forces of the past half-century, the modern petrostate, would be diminished. No longer would “America First” diplomats need to tiptoe around oil-supplying nations such as Saudi Arabia. OPEC would find it tougher to agree on production guidelines, and lower prices could result, reopening old wounds in the cartel. That would take some muscle out of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, while Russia’s oligarchs would find it more difficult to maintain the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. President Donald Trump, sensing an opportunity, is looking past independence to what he calls energy dominance. His administration plans to open vast ocean acreage to offshore exploration and for the first time in 40 years allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
It may take years to tap, but the Alaska payoff alone is eye-popping—an estimated 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude. It sounds good, but be careful what you wish for. The last three years have been the hottest since recordkeeping began in the 19th century, and there’s little room in Trump’s plan for energy sources that treat the planet kindly. Governors of coastal states have already pointed out that an offshore spill could devastate tourism—another trillion-dollar industry—not to mention wreck fragile littoral environments. Florida has already applied for a waiver from such drilling. More supply could lower prices, in turn discouraging investments in renewables such as solar and wind. Those tend to spike when oil prices rise, so enthusiasm for nonpolluting, nonwarming energies of the future could wane. For now, though, the petroleum train is chugging. And you can thank the resilience of the U.S. shale industry for it.
Saudi Arabia freed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen from detention, clearing out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail for the country’s elite during a controversial crackdown on corruption. Prince Alwaleed, the billionaire chairman of Riyadh’s Kingdom Holding Co. who owns stakes in Citigroup and Twitter, returned home on Saturday after reaching a settlement with authorities, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. He will remain at the helm of his company, the official said, declining to provide the other terms of the deal. Waleed al-Ibrahim, head of a major media firm, and retail billionaire Fawaz Al Hokair were also freed after agreeing to deals, another government official said.
The prince’s release came just hours after Alwaleed told Reuters in an interview that he expected to go home soon and retain control of his company, calling his detention a “misunderstanding” and expressing support for the kingdom’s rulers. With the suspects’ names and evidence against them never officially announced, the detentions had raised concerns about transparency among foreign investors – vital to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to diversify the economy away from oil. The departures from the hotel mark the end of the first phase of Prince Mohammed’s anti-corruption campaign, which shook the kingdom when it was launched in November. Hundreds of suspects were arrested, including some of the country’s richest men and its top economic policymaker.
Officials say the government expects to reap more than $100 billion from settlements with detainees in exchange for their freedom. Others have been transferred to prison to face trial, the Wall Street Journal reported. Also released after agreeing to settlements were Khalid al-Tuwaijri, head of the royal court under the late King Abdullah, and Prince Turki bin Nasser, who was involved in a massive arms sale that led to corruption probes in the U.K. and the U.S., one of the government officials said. Several of those released from detention earlier appear to be returning to their lives as usual. Among them is former finance minister and minister of state, Ibrahim al-Assaf, who recently led Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Germany wants to acquire the legal means to take a closer look at bids from Chinese companies to acquire German and European companies in order better to protect technologies, a German minister told newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Matthias Machnig, state secretary in Germany’s economics ministry, said it was urgent that proposed Europe-wide measures to police surging Chinese investment be adopted by the end of this year. “It is essential that we get a tougher law in the European Union this year to resist takeover fantasies or outflows of technology or know-how,” he said in an interview, excerpts of which were made available on Saturday.
The paper cited a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research that showed the volume of known Chinese investments in Germany had risen to €12.1 billion ($15.03 billion) in 2017 from around €11 billion the year before and just €100 million seven years ago. Concern has been growing across Europe at China’s buying spree on the continent, with investors snapping up often iconic businesses in a way many fear could threaten Europe’s position as a high-value economy. “With its innovative companies, the EU is attractive for many around the world,” Machnig said. “Takeovers are becoming more frequent, often under market-distorting conditions.”
Spain’s constitutional court on Saturday announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action. The court said in a statement that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”. Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was earlier this week chosen as candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote on the issue in Barcelona on Tuesday . This despite the fact that he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.
He has said he could be sworn in to office remotely, via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes. The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture. The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency. Puigdemont has said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest. “The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.
The bumpy journey toward Brexit reaches another fork in the road this week as the upper chamber of the British parliament plans to rewrite a key piece of Prime Minister Theresa May’s legislation. What happens to the European Union Withdrawal Bill in the predominantly pro-EU House of Lords could lead to a smoother divorce, a showdown with the government or even a constitutional crisis. It makes planned changes by the peers more than just a perfunctory stage in the sometimes complex democratic machinery of Westminster. The law aims to replicate thousands of existing EU regulations so there’s no legal black hole on the day Britain’s membership ceases, currently set for March 29 next year. That process could go awry if the lords halt or, more likely, demand changes that might include delaying the exit date or increasing the chance of second public vote on the issue.
“Drama is not a word usually associated with the House of Lords,” said Tom Strathclyde, a Conservative peer who used to guide legislation through the upper house. “On this occasion, there really could be high drama.” Already the passage of the law has been far from smooth as opponents of May’s vision for Brexit – taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union – try to tear it up. She suffered a serious defeat in the House of Commons last month at the hands of mutineers from her own Conservative party who are opposed to Brexit in its current form. She slapped down Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond last week after he said Brexit would only herald modest changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU. Now more rebels are set to vent their frustration in the Lords.
The role of the unelected lords is supposed to be to revise rather than block legislation that the elected members of parliament have passed. In the case of Brexit, a majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons also opposed it, although most cite the need to uphold the result of the referendum in 2016 that kicked off the whole Brexit process dominating U.K. politics. The key Commons amendment last month was that parliament will now get a final vote on the Brexit deal after an agreement with the EU on the cost of the divorce and future trading relationship. The lords can start proposing more changes on Jan. 31. A list of them will be published two days later and the government will decide how to proceed. “There is a large majority of people in the Lords who feel that Brexit is a national disaster, and we will be trying to mobilize that majority as we go through,” said Dick Newby, who leads the Liberal Democrat peers.
Jeremy Corbyn has called key members of his shadow cabinet to an “away day” to re-examine the party’s policy and strategy on Brexit amid growing frustration in Labour ranks that it is failing to exploit mounting Tory turmoil over Europe. Party sources confirmed to the Observer that the meeting, scheduled for early February, would look at adapting and developing Labour’s approach during “phase two” of the Brexit process. The gathering – which will be seen as a response to unrest and the threat of rebellions by dozens of Labour MPs – will be held at a location “away from Westminster”, and will involve senior shadow cabinet members in policy areas most affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.
The news suggests Labour may soon announce a major shift in policy that would see it back permanent membership of some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit – opening a potentially decisive dividing line with Theresa’s May’s increasingly fractured government. A senior figure aware of the meeting said: “There are several among those who will attend who want the party to move on the single market and customs union. But Jeremy is a lifelong eurosceptic and there is still opposition to doing so. “The greatest pressure for change is from those who insist we must back permanent membership of a customs union with the EU after Brexit, not just a fudge position of backing it during a transition and leaving open what happens after, which we have at present.”
Those who have been asked to attend are understood to include members of the shadow cabinet Brexit subcommittee. They include the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, the shadow home secretary Emily Thornberry, and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. Shadow ministers responsible for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also attend. With Theresa May’s government increasingly split over Brexit, and the EU withdrawal bill heading into the House of Lords on Tuesday, where it is expected to be savaged by pro-Remain peers of all parties as well as crossbenchers, a growing number of Labour MPs and peers are pressing the leadership to open up clearer dividing lines with the Tories.
Facebook’s crushing blow to independent media arrived last fall in Slovakia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and three other nations. The social giant removed stories by these publishers from users’ news feeds, hiding them in a new, hard-to-find stream. These independent publishers reported that they lost as much as 80% of their audience during this experiment. Facebook doesn’t care. At least, it usually seems that way. Despite angry pushback in the six countries affected by Facebook’s algorithmic tinkering, the company is now going ahead with similar changes to its news feed globally. These changes will likely de-prioritize stories from professional publishers, and instead favor dispatches published by a user’s friends and family. Many American news organizations will see the sharp traffic declines their brethren in other nations experienced last year—unless they pay Facebook to include their stories in readers’ feeds.
At the heart of this change is Facebook’s attempt to be seen not as a news publisher, but as a neutral platform for interactions between friends. Facing sharp criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, and possibly in tipping elections in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Facebook is anxious to limit its exposure by limiting its role. It has long been this way. This rebalancing means different things for the company’s many stakeholders—for publishers, it means they’re almost certainly going to be punished for their reliance on a platform that’s never been a wholly reliable partner. Facebook didn’t talk to publishers in Slovakia because publishers are less important than other stakeholders in this next incarnation of Facebook. But more broadly, Facebook doesn’t talk to you because Facebook already knows what you want.
Facebook collects information on a person’s every interaction with the site—and many other actions online—so Facebook knows a great deal about what we pay attention to. People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices. Publishers in Slovakia and in the United States may warn of damage to democracy if Facebook readers receive less news, but Facebook knows people will be perfectly happy—perfectly engaged—with more posts from friends and families instead. For Facebook, our revealed preferences—discovered by analyzing our behavior—speak volumes. The words we say, on the other hand, are often best ignored.
Among scientists who work on climate change, perhaps the most anticipated information each year is how much the Earth has warmed. That information can only come from the oceans, because almost all heat is stored there. If you want to understand global warming, you need to first understand ocean warming. This isn’t to say other measurements are not also important. For instance, measurements of the air temperature just above the Earth are really important. We live in this air; it affects us directly. A great commentary on 2017 air temperatures is provided by my colleague Dana Nuccitelli. Another measurement that is important is sea level rise; so too is ocean acidification. We could go on and on identifying the markers of climate change.
But in terms of understanding how fast the Earth is warming, the key is the oceans. This important ocean information was just released today by a world-class team of researchers from China. The researchers (Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu) found that the upper 2000 meters (more than 6000 feet) of ocean waters were far warmer in 2017 than the previous hottest year. We measure heat energy in Joules. It turns out that 2017 was a record-breaking year, 151×1022 Joules hotter than any other year. For comparison, the annual electrical generation in China is 600 times smaller than the heat increase in the ocean. The authors provide a long history of ocean heat, going back to the late 1950s.
By then there were enough ocean temperature sensors to get an accurate assessment of the oceans’ warmth. Their results are shown in the figure below. This graph shows ocean heat as an “anomaly,” which means a change from their baseline of 1981–2010. Columns in blue are cooler than the 1981-2010 period, while columns in red are warmer than that period. The best way to interpret this graph is to notice the steady rise in ocean heat over this long time period.
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We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):
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The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been and at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.
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In just the past year, the markets set a record by going 12-straight months without a loss. That liquidity driven surge was accompanied by extremely low volatility as noted last week by Dana Lyons: “Specifically, the average daily closing price of the VIX in 2017 was 11.10 (through 12/26/17). That is the lowest of any year — by more than one and a half points — since the VIX inception in 1986 (by comparison, the ‘average yearly average’ is over 20).”
Of course, with very little volatility, there were very few draw downs along the way as markets continued their advance higher. “Accordingly, we took a look at the amount of losses incurred by the stock market during the year as a measure of adversity faced along the way to its solid full-year gains. Specifically, we tabulated the amount of losses incurred during every down day in the market. We used the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as it has a longer history than the S&P 500. And based on these calculations, the stock market enjoyed less adversity in 2017 than any other year in history going back over 100 years (our daily DJIA data begins in 1915).”
All that exuberance has got Wall Street already prognosticating that next year could be as good, or better, than 2017. “‘I would expect 2018 to be an almost repeat of 2017,’ said Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James. ‘People are still way underinvested. Earnings are starting to come in better than expected. And with the tax reform, and especially the corporate tax cuts, I think earnings are going to continue to surprise on the upside. The professional investors are all in for the most part but the individual investor is not all in.’” Maybe. But there is more than sufficient evidence that not only professional investors, but individuals, are “all in.”
And, not only are they “all in,” they are all in with leverage as I noted previously: “While investors have been chasing returns in the “can’t lose” market, they have also been piling on leverage in order to increase their return.”
During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different – it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance. It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those a heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion – a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered. Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse.
During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry – rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X. And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy – meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices. Wrong again! During the 20 months from the July 2007 peak to the March 2009 bottom, the RUT gave it all back. And we mean every bit of it – as the index bottomed 60% lower at 340.
This time the value of household equities plunged by $6 trillion, and still millions more baby-boomers were carried out of the casino on their shields never to return. Now has come the greatest central bank fueled bubble ever. During nine years of radical monetary experimentation under ZIRP and QE, the value of equities owned by US households exploded still higher – this time by $12.5 trillion. Yet this eruption, like the prior two, was not a reflection of main street growth and prosperity, but Wall Street speculation fostered by massive central bank liquidity and price-keeping operations. Nevertheless, this time is, actually, very different. This time the central banks are out of dry powder and belatedly recognize that they have stranded themselves on or near the zero bound where they are saddled with massively bloated balance sheets.
China’s foreign exchange regulator will cap overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards at 100,000 yuan ($15,370) per year in an effort to target money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion, it said on Saturday. Individuals who exceed the annual quota will be suspended from overseas transactions for the remainder of the year and an additional year, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) said in a notice posted on its website. Under the new rules SAFE will submit a daily list of individuals banned from making overseas bank card withdrawals, and banks must suspend the users by no later than 5 p.m. the same day, the notice said.
Domestic card users will also be barred from withdrawing more than 10,000 yuan a day overseas, it said. The new rules come into effect on Jan. 1, and reporting adjustments must be adopted by banks by April 1, 2018, it said. China has strengthened regulatory oversight of overseas card transactions in the past year, targeting illegal cross-border transfers and money laundering. In September SAFE brought in regulations requiring Chinese banks to report daily their bank card holders’ overseas withdrawals as well as every transaction exceeding 1,000 yuan. China’s foreign exchange reserves rose for the 10th straight month in November due to tighter regulation and a stronger yuan, which continue to discourage capital outflows.
Bitcoin investors are claiming Australia’s banks are freezing their accounts and transfers to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a viral tweet slamming the big four and an exchange platform putting a restriction on Australian deposits. Cryptocurrency trader and Youtuber Alex Saunders called out National Australia Bank, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corporation on Twitter for freezing customer accounts and transfers to four different bitcoin exchanges – CoinJar, CoinSpot, CoinBase and BTC Markets. Bitcoin, a currency once known for its use by criminals trading online through a ‘Silk Road’ for drugs and weapons, has become a popular investment option.
After hundreds of shares and responses to the social media posts calling the banks’ alleged behaviour “disgusting” and “appalling” with some threatening to move their accounts, some users said their activities with the cryptocurrency had still been described as a “security risk” by their financial institutions. Banks were remaining tight-lipped on whether bitcoin activity was causing specific accounts to be closed or frozen, though its understood none had company-wide policies banning cryptocurrency investment activity. Yet the terms and conditions in some cases do reference Bitcoin. Commonwealth Bank’s June 2017 terms and conditions for CommBiz accounts specifically excludes this activity, saying it can refuse to process an international money transfer or an international cash management transaction “because the destination account previously has been connected to a fraud or an attempted fraudulent transaction or is an account used to facilitate payments to Bitcoins or similar virtual currency payment services”.
A Commonwealth Bank spokesman said it was receptive to innovation in alternative currencies and payment systems “however, we do not currently use or recommend any existing virtual currencies as we do not believe they have yet met a minimum standard of regulation, reliability, and reputation compared to other currencies that we offer to our customers”. “Our customers can interact with these currencies as long as they comply with our terms and conditions and all relevant legal obligations,” he said.
[..] what happens in South Korean crypto trading, does not stay in South Korea: the country is the world’s third-largest market in bitcoin trading after Japan and the US, with roughly 2 million digital-currency investors by one estimate – one in every 25 citizens. The country is also home to one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency trading exchanges, Bithumb. The country’s crypto-trading craze is so pervasive that the country has developed the term “bitcoin zombie” referring to people who check the cryptocurrency’s price around the clock. Even the country’s prime minister Lee Nak-yeon expressed concerns over Korea’s bitcoin craze, warning that “young people and students are rushing into virtual currency trading to earn huge profits in just a short period of time,” and that “it is time for the government to take action as it could lead to serious pathological phenomena if left unchecked” forcing young people into illegal activities like drug dealing.
For now, the “bitcoin zombies” are winning. As an example, as Reuters details in its just released deep dive in South Korea’s crypto-community, on a recent weeknight at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, more than a dozen students crammed into a classroom not to study, but to share tips on investing in so-called cryptocurrencies, which have driven tales of fantastic returns for savvy investors. “The group sat in rapt silence – broken only by a sudden shout of “there was just a big jump!” from someone monitoring his virtual currencies – as one student gave a presentation on how to read financial data and predict future trends.” Make no mistake: it’s a countrywide craze: “I no longer want to become a math teacher,” said 23-year-old Eoh Kyong-hoon, who founded the club, Cryptofactor.
“I’ve studied this industry for more than 10 hours a day over months, and I became pretty sure that this is my future.” [..] Eoh said the talk of more regulation had not dented his plans, especially after making what he said was a 20-fold gain on his investments over the past six months. He added that many students were bringing laptops to class to track the movements of their investments and participate in actual trading. “Even when professors are giving lectures right in front of them,” he said. Meanwhile, with Bitcoin soaring to record levels, younger investors have gravitated toward “altcoins” which often trade at much lower values, analysts say. Today’s surge in Ripple is just one such example. Another is Iota, which traded at $0.82 in late November and now stands at $3.89, a gain of 375%. Energo gained 400% during the same period.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll team up with France to hold the European Union together and pledged to her form next government “without delay.” In a New Year’s Eve speech to the nation, Merkel outlined a vision for her fourth term that includes an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen Europe’s economic clout and control migration, while upholding values of tolerance and pluralism within the EU and abroad. “Twenty-seven countries in Europe must be impelled more strongly than ever to remain a community,” Merkel said in a copy of the speech provided by her office in advance of the televised address on Sunday.
“That will be the decisive question of the next few years. Germany and France want to work together to make it succeed.” Merkel’s effort to combine the strengths of the euro area’s two biggest economies has been hamstrung by Germany’s longest post-election party deadlock since World War II, which has left her a caretaker chancellor since September. Exploratory talks on renewing her coalition with the Social Democrats are due to start on Jan. 7. After a poll this week suggested that Germans increasingly don’t want Merkel, 63, to serve another full term, the chancellor sought to put her stamp on the political debate. Merkel said she’s committed to forming “a stable government for Germany without delay in the new year.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said 2018 would be a year of “renewed confidence and pride” for Britain as it confronts the challenges of negotiating Brexit, in her New Year message out Sunday. Divorce talks between London and Brussels are set to move on to transition arrangements, trade and security next year as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019. May said 2017 had been a year of progress for Britain as it struck agreement on its departure bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens, in the first phase of Brexit negotiations. “I believe 2018 can be a year of renewed confidence and pride in our country,” the premier said. “A year in which we continue to make good progress towards a successful Brexit deal, an economy that’s fit for the future, and a stronger and fairer society for everyone.
“And whatever challenges we may face, I know we will overcome them by standing united as one proud union of nations and people.” However, the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents thousands of firms across the country, warned that business was losing patience waiting for clarity on what will happen once Britain leaves the EU. “That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers,” director general Adam Marshall told The Observer newspaper. “Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity – after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation.”
Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Saturday demanded Madrid reinstate his regional government, which was deposed after an independence referendum that Spanish courts judged illegal, as part of a political settlement. “As president, I demand the Spanish government and those who support it… restore all they have expropriated from the Catalans without their say-so,” Puigdemont said from Brussels as he called on Madrid to “negotiate politically.” Puigdemont’s administration followed up the October 1 referendum by declaring independence but Madrid promptly sacked him and his team and, facing arrest, he fled into Belgian exile while colleagues were arrested and jailed. Puigdemont campaigned for the region’s December 21 snap election from his Brussels exile after a Spanish court charged him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
But a solid showing by pro-independence parties in the poll strengthened the hand of the secessionists, albeit they did not capture a majority of votes cast. In a seven-minute recorded message Puigdemont insisted he was still Catalonia’s “legitimate” leader and that the electorate had shown themselves to be “democratically mature, winning the right to constitute a republic of free men and women.” After the divisive regional elections, how the independence camp intends to rule remains a mystery, with other secessionist leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, behind bars pending trial. “The ballot box has spoken,” said Puigdemont, who said he hoped the election outcome could kickstart moves towards “dialogue and negotiation.” “So what is (Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy waiting for to accept the results?”
IN September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country. The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials.
[..] Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents. But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is.
A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.” As the Times notes, this rationale appears dubious or at least inconsistently applied: Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram. But just consider the incredibly menacing implications of Facebook’s claims. What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced?
One of eight Turkish servicemen who sought protection in Greece in the wake of a botched coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016 was granted asylum on Saturday. The Asylum Appeals Committee that examines applications in the second degree approved a request for protection from the copilot of the helicopter that flew the eight servicemen into the northern Greek town of Alexandroupoli on July 16, 2016, a day after the attempted takeover by the military in Turkey.
According to the ANA-MPA news agency, the committee upheld an opinion from human rights groups, the Council of Europe and other international agencies decrying human rights violations in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup. The panel said that there is no evidence to suggest that the copilot was involved in the coup attempt, yet is nevertheless, being sought by Turkey for “political crimes” and on these grounds may not receive a fair trail if extradited. The other seven Turkish officers remain in custody until a decision is reached on their respective applications.
The Greek government said on Saturday that it had filed a request for the cancellation of the asylum granted to a Turkish soldier accused of involvement in last year’s coup attempt. Greece’s administrative court of appeal will now look into the case. Eight Turkish soldiers fled to Greece following Turkey’s abortive July 2016 coup. Seven of them applied for asylum and were rejected, but have been kept in preventive custody. Angered by a decision to grant asylum to the eighth soldier by the Greek asylum service committee, a panel of judges and experts, Turkey said earlier in the day that the move would affect bilateral relations and cooperation. Athens said it was following its standing position regarding the eight soldiers, “as it has been repeatedly expressed, also in public”, a government official said.
The Greek government has said that it does not support coup plotters and that the country’s justice system is independent. A Greek police official said the soldier who was granted asylum would be released from custody. “By granting asylum to one of eight coup plotters involved in the July 15 coup, Greece has once again showed that it is a country that protects and embraces coup plotters with this decision,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Turkish authorities, drawing an angry rebuke from Ankara and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over various issues. During his visit to Greece earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara did not want Greece to turn into a safe haven for coup plotters.
Temperatures have dropped so low in Canada that Calgary Zoo has had to move its penguins indoors. As an extreme-cold warning was in effect for the country – temperatures hit a frosty -25C late this week – zookeepers thought it safer to move the penguins to their indoor enclosure. Larissa Mark, manager of communications at Calgary Zoo told Global News that: “On cold days like this, we have to make that choice for them because it is so cold, but on other days, we do give them the option of coming in and out as they please.” Ms Mark explained that king penguins, like the ones at Calgary zoo, are not as accustomed to sub-zero temperatures as their cousins, the emperor penguins.
King penguins, characterised by the bright orange spots on the sides of their heads and feathers at the nape of their necks, are generally found in sub-Antarctic regions in Chile and Argentina and temperate places like the Falklands, Macquarie and the Sandwich islands. However, the cold snap has not stopped people from going to the zoo. “Calgarians are a hardy bunch. A cup of hot chocolate and a warm fire and they are still coming out and enjoying Zoolights. Our attendance is doing well, it is on par with where we were last year,” said Ms Mark of the annual holiday-lights display event put on by the zoo.
Ansel Adams Evening at McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park 1942
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The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been and at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.
Therefore, even if the generosity of our readership has been nothing short of miraculous, we must continue to humbly ask you for more support. Because our work is not done. Our latest essay on this is here: The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018 . It contains links to all 14 previous articles on the situation.
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Global stock markets have ended 2017 on record highs, gaining $9tn in value over the year due to a strong worldwide economy, President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and central banks’ go-slow approach to easing financial support. The FTSE 100 hit a new peak in London, with an all-time closing high of 7687.77, having earlier hit a new all-time peak of 7697.62. The leading UK index was boosted by a late surge in mining stocks as commodity prices rose against a weaker dollar and optimism grew about the Chinese economy, leaving the index up 7.6% over the year. In global terms, the MSCI all-country world index gained 22% or $9tn on the year to an all-time high of 514.53.
Even the rival attractions of bitcoin, up nearly 14 times over the year, and concerns about war with North Korea, political upheaval in Europe with the Catalan separatist movement in Spain and an inconclusive German election failed to dampen the party mood. Craig James, chief economist at Sydney-based fund manager CommSec, said that of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year. The key for 2018 will be whether central banks maintain a benign approach to reducing their financial support, he added, with the Federal Reserve and Bank of England raising borrowing costs only gradually this year. Low interest rates and quantitative easing, where central banks buy bonds from financial institutions, have been a major support for investors and asset prices in recent years.
“For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,” said James. “Globalisation and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.”
The total value of all homes in the U.S. increased in 2017 to a total $31.8 trillion, according to the latest report from Zillow. This is up from last year’s record high of $29.6 trillion, data from 2016 shows. This is so high, that total homes in Los Angeles and New York City metro areas are worth $2.7 trillion and $2.6 trillion, respectively, the size of the U.K. and French economies. To put it in perspective, the total value of the housing market is 1.5 times greater than the GDP of the U.S., and nearly three times that of China. This is an increase of $1.95 trillion over the past year, more than all of Canada’s GDP or two companies the size of Apple, Zillow’s report showed. And renters are also now spending more money than ever before on housing, spending a record $485.6 billion in 2017.
This is an increase of $4.9 billion from 2016. Renting in San Francisco is especially expensive as renters collectively paid $616 million more than renters in Chicago, despite having 467,000 fewer renters in San Francisco. Of the 35 largest U.S. markets, most home value growth occurred in Columbus, Ohio, which saw an increase of 15.1% to $152.3 billion in 2017. But home prices continue to increase, fueling the housing market’s value growth. Home prices recently increased in October, and experts are beginning to fear 2018 could lock many potential buyers out of the housing market, forcing them to rent, according to the latest report released by S&P Dow Jones Indices and CoreLogic.
If financial market volatility was given up for dead in 2017, then get ready for a resurrection. To understand why, take a look at the incoming economic data. When the underlying dynamics of the economy change, the data tend to become more volatile before markets react. Economic volatility as expressed by the standard deviation of changes in the monthly data has been on the rise since the summer as the global economy gained strength. Financial market volatility, though, has fallen amid a lack a surprises in central bank policies, receding geopolitical tensions and upbeat corporate earnings. But as history shows, such divergences between economic and financial market volatility only last for brief periods. As such, a rebound in market volatility has the potential to be a key driver of risk premiums, bond yields and valuations in 2018.
Volatility is also linked to “financial vulnerability,” which is an aggregate of indicators such as fiscal and current-account balances, the share of local currency bonds held by nonresidents, and short-term external debt as a percentage of currency reserves. Such vulnerabilities picked up in 2017 as portfolio flows into local emerging-market bond and currency funds swelled by $7.5 billion to 15% of local GDP with the growing popularity of exchange-traded funds. And although the data coming from emerging-market economies have been solid, it’s become more volatile, which contrasts with the drop in financial market volatility brought on by large portfolio flows. Countries such as South Africa and Turkey that are political hot spots have seen portfolio flows increase even though their current-account balances have deteriorated. Historically, market volatility has closely tracked economic volatility in emerging markets.
Goldman Sachs has said Donald Trump’s radical US tax changes will knock about $5bn (£3.7bn) off its profits this year. The investment bank said most of the cost would come from Trump’s “repatriation tax” designed to encourage multinationals to bring back the trillions of dollars they hold overseas to avoid tax. Goldman, which made profits of $7.4bn last year, said: “The enactment of the tax legislation will result in a reduction of approximately $5bn in the firm’s earnings for the fourth quarter and year ending 31 December 2017, approximately two-thirds of which is due to the repatriation tax. “The remainder includes the effects of the implementation of the territorial tax system and the remeasurement of US deferred tax assets at lower enacted corporate tax rates,” the bank said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
Last week Congress approved the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years, which includes big tax cuts for companies and wealthy people. The reduction in corporation tax – from 35% to 21% – is designed in part to encourage multinational to repatriate cash from overseas. US companies were estimated, by Citigroup, to hold $2.5tn of capital overseas. Companies had previously explained that they had a duty to shareholders to keep the money abroad, rather than bring it back to the US and pay large tax bills. The tax overhaul will allow Apple to bring back its $252.3bn foreign cash mountain without a major tax hit. The huge amount of untaxed profits Apple holds overseas has become a major political football and a headache for the world’s most valuable company. Drugmaker Amgen said last week that it expected to pay $6bn to $6.5bn repatriating its cash to the US.
Justin’s note: Earlier this year, Fed Chair Janet Yellen explained how she doesn’t think we’ll have another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.” It’s a crazy idea. After all, it feels like the U.S. is long overdue for a major crisis. Below, Doug Casey shares his take on this. It’s one of the most important discussions we’ve had all year. Justin: Doug, I know you disagree with Yellen. But I’m wondering why she would even say this? Has she lost her mind?
Doug: Listening to the silly woman say that made me think we’re truly living in Bizarro World. It’s identical in tone to what stock junkies said in 1999 just before the tech bubble burst. She’s going to go down in history as the modern equivalent of Irving Fisher, who said “we’ve reached a permanent plateau of prosperity,” in 1929, just before the Great Depression started. I don’t care that some university gave her a Ph.D., and some politicians made her Fed Chair, possibly the second most powerful person in the world. She’s ignorant of economics, ignorant of history, and clearly has no judgment about what she says for the record. Why would she say such a thing? I guess because since she really believes throwing trillions of dollars at the banking system will create prosperity.
It started with the $750 billion bailout at the beginning of the last crisis. They’ve since thrown another $4 trillion at the financial system. All of that money has flowed into the banking system. So, the banking system has a lot of liquidity at the moment, and she thinks that means the economy is going to be fine. [..] The whole banking system is screwed-up and unstable. It’s a gigantic accident waiting to happen. People forgot that we now have a fractional reserve banking system. It’s very different from a classical banking system. I suspect not one person in 1,000 understands the difference… Modern banking emerged from the goldsmithing trade of the Middle Ages. Being a goldsmith required a working inventory of precious metal, and managing that inventory profitably required expertise in buying and selling metal and storing it securely.
Those capacities segued easily into the business of lending and borrowing gold, which is to say the business of lending and borrowing money. Most people today are only dimly aware that until the early 1930s, gold coins were used in everyday commerce by the general public. In addition, gold backed most national currencies at a fixed rate of convertibility. Banks were just another business—nothing special. They were distinguished from other enterprises only by the fact they stored, lent, and borrowed gold coins, not as a sideline but as a primary business. Bankers had become goldsmiths without the hammers.
There he is, our president, both immovable object and irresistible force, unsmiling with slitty eyes beneath that car-hood of a hair-doo, lumbering from one presidential prerogative to the next through squalls of opprobrium, perplexing leaders from foreign lands, punking congressmen and senators, inducing swoons of un-safeness among the zhes, theys, and thems on campus, provoking the op-ed bards of The Times to mouth-foaming hysterics, tweeting any old thing that flies through the interstices of his brain-pan, our Golden Golem of Greatness, MAGA sword in smallish hand against a swirling red sky. Well, he made it through the year. I thought the fucker would be sandbagged by a claque of Pentagon patriots inside of three months, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
What seems to be forgotten is that Donald Trump brought his own swamp to Washington, as in a history of hinky real-estate wheelings-and-dealings, stiffed vendors, bankruptcies, lowbrow TV hijinks, and dark adventures in the Manhattan nightlife of the late 20th century. So, it’s swamp versus swamp. You may detect that I’m not exactly a fan of the president, but I rather admire his standing up to the permanent bureaucracy that we call the Deep State, and especially its elite poobahs, who have driven this polity into a deeper ditch than the voters realize. The Mueller investigation hangs over Trump’s head like a piñata filled with dog-shit, but he soldiers on.
After more than a year, the RussiaGate narrative is looking like something fished out of the Goodwill Industries dumpster, its chief sponsor, the FBI, riddled with conflicts-of-interest, suspicious political motivations, and flat-out partisan animosity. Right now, there’s more reason to suppose Mueller will have to start asking some hard questions about Russia collusion among the Hillary cohort —and don’t forget, there’s that stinky business featuring ex-DNC-Chief Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her mysterious Pakistani IT go-fer, Imran Awan, waiting in the wings.
[..] I’m skeptical of Trump’s MAGA program. We’re not going to replay the industrial age in North America, and we’re for sure not going to return to the life-ways of 1962. I also doubt that we are heading into a Silicon Valley inspired robotic A-I nirvana of “creative” weenies in flying, pilotless Ubers. Rather, I think we’re more likely to land in a return to something more like 1834, with scant central heating, and a lot of suspense about getting a hot meal at sundown. I want a mule.
We define poverty, I suppose, as that living condition which is unable to acquire enough dollars to purchase some, or most, of the basic necessities of life. It also seems to be an accepted notion that a certain amount of “poverty” is a necessary condition of our modern market economy—that a certain segment of the population will always be “unemployable” by the profit-oriented business community, either because they lack skills or because the business community simply does not need their services in order to generate its profits. Nobody really knows what to do with these “unneeded” people. We talk about “retraining” them—but there is no guarantee the profit-seeking business community will need them even with their newly acquired skills. In the meantime, these “unneeded” people don’t know what do with themselves either.
This is, perhaps, the biggest problem of all—though I will not, in this short essay, go into the details of that (except to say that it is contributing to a tragedy that is now disrupting the lives of too many of us). The point is this: It is time to begin imagining specific, concrete solutions to what is becoming a fundamental dilemma of our time. Imagine, for example, that every American citizen over the age of 16 can choose to earn a living-wage in exchange for providing a useful service to their local or regional community. Imagine that every local community has a free health and pharmacy clinic (in conjunction with a free methadone and counseling center)—where some of the employees are the living-wage earners. Imagine further that every local community has a housing co-op system (built in part by some of the living-wage earners) that makes available—to every family that needs it—a basic dwelling unit that is warm, dry, well-ventilated, and which provides for cooking, bathing, sleeping, and family gathering.
Imagine that every local community has at least one community garden and rookery (managed by some of the living-wage earners) which grows, harvests, and processes vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheese—and perhaps fish—for local consumption. Imagine that every local community has at least one pre-school day-care (manned at least in part by some of the living-wage earners) which provides, free of charge, a safe, early child-hood learning environment between the hours of 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. Imagine that every local community has a system of retirement co-housing villages (built and staffed, in part, by the living-wage earners). Imagine, in other words, replacing what we now define as “poverty” with another kind of living condition—we might call it “community subsistence.”
Andrew Adonis quit as Theresa May’s infrastructure czar, but not before delivering a blistering verdict on the Brexit policy being pursued by the U.K. prime minister and her Conservative Party. The Labour peer and former transport secretary described Brexit as a “populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump” in a resignation letter published by the Guardian that he confirmed as “accurate” on Twitter. As for May’s flagship piece of Brexit legislation, which cleared the House of Commons in December, Adonis described it as “the worst legislation of my lifetime,” and indicated he’ll oppose it when the House of Lords debates it. “I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly from the Labour benches,” Adonis wrote.
“You are pursuing a course fraught with danger…If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction.” Adonis was appointed to the National Infrastructure Commission in 2015 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, to push cross-party consensus over long-term decisions to invest in infrastructure. His departure and pledge to oppose May’s Brexit strategy is another sign that even as Britain leaves the EU, divisions permeate throughout the political establishment.
His departure means 2017 is bookended by resignations for May. Three days into the year, her EU envoy Ivan Rogers unexpectedly quit, depriving her of a key figure in dealing with EU negotiators. And now, days from the end of the year, Adonis is departing with an excoriating verdict on the country’s direction. “Brexit is causing a nervous breakdown across Whitehall,” Adonis wrote. “The government is hurtling towards the EU’s emergency exit with no credible plan for the future of British trade and European cooperation, all the while ignoring – beyond sound-bites and inadequate programs – the crises of housing, education, the NHS and social and regional inequality which are undermining the fabric of our nation and feeding a populist surge.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy set in motion the process for convening a new Catalan parliament and said he wouldn’t allow a new separatist administration to blackmail his government. A session to swear in lawmakers in Barcelona will take place on Jan. 17 before a vote days later to appoint a new regional president if there is a candidate, Rajoy said in an end-of-year news conference in Madrid. Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament in October after drawing on emergency constitutional powers to respond to a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. Elections held last week in the region produced a majority for parties that support independence in a result that threatens to prolong a secession crisis that is damaging Spain’s economy.
“I hope that very soon in Catalonia we can count on a government dedicated to reversing the grave social and economic effects of the crisis of recent months,” Rajoy said. “There’s no room for more appeals for rupture or illegality because the law will not allow it.” Choosing a president for Catalonia won’t be easy for the pro-independence parties with former President Carles Puigdemont in Brussels avoiding arrest and his former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, already in jail. A Supreme Court judge is investigating whether the campaign to split from Spain amounted to a rebellion against the government. Rajoy said his most pressing task for the start of the year would be the need to build consensus for his minority government to pass a budget for 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in a new year’s greeting that Russia will continue supporting Syria’s efforts to defend its sovereignty, the Kremlin said on Saturday. Earlier this month Putin ordered the Russian forces in Syria to start withdrawing from the country, but said Russia would keep its Hmeymim air base in Syria’s Latakia Province as well as its naval facility at Tartous “on a permanent basis”.
Greek lenders are proposing huge haircuts, ranging from 70% to 90%, for borrowers with debts from consumer loans, credit cards or small business loans without collateral. In the context of the sale of a €2.5 billion bad-loan portfolio named Venus, Alpha Bank is using the incentive of major haircuts in letters it has sent to some 156,000 debtors. The fact that this concerns some 240,000 bad loans means that some debtors may have two or three overdue loans. Eurobank is employing the same strategy for a set of loans adding up to €350 million. Most of them range between €5,000 and €7,000 each and have been overdue for over a decade. This means that the banks are expecting to collect a small amount of those debts, coming to €250 million for Alpha and €35 million for Eurobank – in effect accepting that the rest of the debt is uncollectible.
The great Florida coral reef system stretches hundreds of miles down the eastern seaboard of the US. It is the world’s third largest, and nearly 1,400 species of plants and animals and 500 species of fish have been recorded there. But last year marine scientists found nearly half the reef was missing. They took the latest satellite images, compared them with precisely drawn 250-year-old British admiralty charts and found them nearly identical. But where the historic charts showed there had been extensive coral reefs close to the shore in the 1760s, the satellite maps revealed just sea grasses and mud. Only those reefs far from the shore were still intact and alive with fish and plants. So when and why did so much of the world’s third largest reef system just disappear?
Natural forces like spells of extreme rainfall and heatwaves may have played some part, but it is more likely that man was responsible. In those 250 years, fishing off the Florida Keys intensified, causeways and cities were built, pollution increased and the flow of freshwater, sediments and nutrients from the land all changed. Any of these factors could have led to the stress and decline of the reef, but it probably took a combination to kill off half the corals. Something similar to what took place over 250 years off the Florida coast is now accelerating across reefs around the world as natural and new anthropogenic threats emerge and combine with deadly effect.
Corals are intolerant both of temperature and salinity change and it just takes a rise of 1C for a few weeks or extreme rainfall for them to begin to die. In the past 20 years, extreme weather linked to El Niño events and climate change has hit the world’s shallow reefs hard. Abnormally warm water caused the world’s first recorded widespread coral bleaching in 1998. Stretches of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and other reefs off Madagascar, Belize and the Maldives, were left white and seemingly dead. Most recovered because corals survive if conditions return to normal. But since then, widespread bleaching and other events have occurred nearly every year, leaving many of the world’s reefs stressed and vulnerable to disease.
As many people turn towards their Christian and Jewish faiths this Christmas and Hanukkah in an attempt to make sense of the year that was, at least one economist says we have been reading the bible in an anachronistic way. In fact he has written an entire book on the topic. In ‘…And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption’ (available this spring on Amazon), Professor Michael Hudson makes the argument that far from being about sex, the bible is actually about economics, and debt in particular. “The Christianity we know today is not the Christianity of Jesus,” says Professor Hudson. Indeed the Judaism that we know today is not the Judaism of Jesus either. The economist told Renegade the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our sins even as we forgive all who are indebted to us’, refers specifically to debt.
“Most religious leaders say that Christianity is all about sin, not debt,” he says. “But actually, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language.” “‘Schuld’, in German, means ‘debt’ as well as ‘offense’ or, ‘sin’. It’s ‘devoir’ in French. It had the same duality in meaning in the Babylonian language of Akkadian.” Professor Michael Hudson has achieved near complete consensus with the assyriologists & biblical scholars that the Bible is preoccupied with debt, not sin. The idea harks back to the concept of ‘wergeld’, which existed in parts of Europe and Babylonia, and set the value of a human life based on their rank, paid as compensation to the family of someone who has been injured or killed. “The payment – the Schuld or obligation – expiates you of the injury caused by the offense,” Dr Hudson said.
People tend to think of the Commandment ‘do not covet your neighbour’s wife’ in purely sexual terms but actually, the economist says it refers specifically to creditors who would force the wives and daughters of debtors into sex slavery as collateral for unpaid debt. “This goes all the way back to Sumer in the third millennium,” he said. Similarly, the Commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ refers to usury and exploitation by threat for debts owing. The economist says Jesus was crucified for his views on debt. Crucifixion being a punishment reserved especially for political dissidents. “To understand the crucifixion of Jesus is to understand it was his punishment for his economic views,” says Professor Hudson. “He was a threat to the creditors.”
Bitcoin sank as much as 21% on Friday, extending its loss from its intraday high this month toward 40%. The digital currency dropped to as low as $12,191.80 before trading at $12,601.75 as of 3:29 p.m. in Hong Kong. Bitcoin, which is down 38% from its peak of $19,511, is still up more than 1,100% this year. Investors are having a “reality check,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda. “At the heart of the matter was a frenzied demand for coins with limited supply has now led to unsophisticated investors holding the bag at the top.” Bitcoin’s drop comes amid concern that an offshoot is becoming a stronger rival to the more well-known cryptocurrency. Bitcoin cash, which emerged earlier this year amid a split between factions over proposed software upgrades, was added to Coinbase offerings this week.
The carnage across cyrptocurrencies has escalated with Bitcoin back to a $13K handle, Ethereum back below $700, and Bitcoin Cash below $2,600… Bitcoin is now almost $6,000 off its record high…
ETH and BCH in trouble too…
The question is – which happens first – Bitcoin $10,000 or Gold $1,300?
[..] renowned analyst Peter Schiff issued a foreboding warning to investors buying Bitcoin at current prices. Even with a shaky week, Bitcoin is hovering around the $15,000 mark, after a two-month bull run that saw the price rise by more than 200%. Schiff says those trying to ride the bubble are too late: “People who got it years ago, even people who got it at the beginning of the year have the opportunity to cash out and make a lot of money. But people who are buying it at these prices or higher prices are going to lose practically everything.” The old adage, “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” seems to be the perfect way to sum up Schiff’s sentiments: “These currencies are going to trade to zero or pretty close to it when the bubble pops. Right now, the only reason why people are buying Bitcoin is because the price is going up. When it turns around, they are not going to sell it for the same reason.”
Record high stock and bond prices are flashing danger signs to former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman. Stockman contends, “I don’t think we are going to have a liquidity crisis. I think it’s going to be a value reset. I think there is going to be a jarring downward price adjustment both in the stock market and in the bond market. This phantom or phony wealth that has been created since the last crisis is going to basically evaporate.” So, what asset is safe? Stockman says gold and goes onto explain, “I think the time to buy (gold and silver) is ideal. Gold is the ultimate and only real money. Gold is the only safe asset when push comes to shove. They tell you to buy the government bond, that’s a safe asset. It’s not a safe asset at its current price. I am not saying the federal government is going to default in the next two or three years.
I am saying the yield on a 10-year bond of 2.4% is way below of where it’s going to end up. So, the only safe asset left is gold. This crazy Bitcoin mania has drained off what would otherwise be a demand for gold. . . . When Bitcoin collapses, spectacularly, which it will because it’s sheer mania in the markets right now. When it collapses, I think a lot of that demand will come back into gold, as well as people fleeing the standard stock and bond markets for the first time in 9 or 10 years.” What about the so-called Trump tax cuts? Stockman predicts, “I think it’s going to be a fiscal calamity of Biblical proportions. I want to be clear. I am always for tax cuts and shrinking the size of government, but you have to earn it. You have to cut spending and entitlements and this massive defense budget. Obviously, they didn’t do that.
If you look at honest accounting . . this bill will add $2.5 trillion to the public debt which, and this is a key point, is already going to rise by $10 trillion over the next decade based on the current law and taxes that is still in.” “More importantly,” Stockman says, “The central banks realize they cannot keep printing money at these crazy rates, and by that I mean the bond buying. Now, they are going to begin to normalize and shrink their balance sheet . . By the fall (of 2018), they (the Federal Reserve) will be shrinking their balance sheet by $600 billion a year. What that means in plain simple English is that they (the Fed) are dumping $600 billion a year of existing bonds into the market just as Uncle Sam will be attempting to borrow $1.25 trillion more. Now, if you don’t think that is a financial collision waiting to happen, then I am not sure what would be.
The new tax law is larded with goodies for Corporate America, but there is one shift – a much needed shift – in this debt-obsessed world that will punish over-indebted companies, discourage companies from taking on too much leverage, and perhaps, just maybe, make these companies less risky: The new law sharply limits the deductibility of corporate interest expense. Starting in 2018, a company can only deduct interest expense of up to 30% of its Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Any amount in interest expense beyond it will no longer be deductible. This will tighten further in 2022, when the deductibility of corporate debt will be capped at 30% of earnings before interest and taxes but after depreciation and amortization expenses.
This is a much smaller number than Ebitda. And interest expense deduction is capped at 30% of that much smaller amount. This will raise the tax bill further. Most impacted will be highly indebted companies, which often have a junk credit rating. And due to this junk credit rating, they also pay higher interest rates. This made the interest expense deduction very valuable. But now it is getting partially gutted. Businesses have long been incentivized to borrow, not only by the extraordinarily low interest rates even for junk-rated companies, but also by the full deductibility of interest expense. And thus encouraged by the tax code, corporate debt has surged. Mergers & acquisitions, share buybacks, leveraged buyouts, and dividends have often been funded at least partially with debt. And over the years, companies have piled on an enormous amount of debt.
According to estimates by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, cited by The Wall Street Journal, the first phase of curtailing interest-expense deductibility – the phase that kicks in next year – would raise $171 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. The second phase that commences in 2022 would raise $307 billion over 10 years. This would be the billions of dollars that highly indebted companies would pay more in taxes because they’re losing the deductible of some of their debts. It will be a significant hit to their after-tax income. It won’t kill them, but it will lower the incentive to borrow.
Private-equity firms that plunged headlong into subprime auto lending are discovering just how hard it might be to get out. A Perella Weinberg Partners fund has been sitting on an IPO of Flagship Credit Acceptance for two years as bad loan write-offs push it into the red. Blackstone has struggled to make Exeter Finance profitable, despite sinking almost a half-billion dollars into the lender since 2011 and shaking up the C-suite multiple times. And Wall Street bankers in private say others would love to cash out too, but there’s currently no market for such exits. In the years after the financial crisis, buyout firms poured billions into auto finance, angling for the big profits that come with offering high-interest loans to buyers with the weakest credit.
At rates of 11% or more, there was plenty to be made as sales boomed. But now, with new car demand waning, they’ve found the intense competition – and the lax underwriting standards it fostered – are taking a toll on profits. Delinquencies on subprime loans made by non-bank lenders are soaring toward crisis levels. Fresh investment has dried up and some of the big banks, long seen as potential suitors, have pulled back from the auto lending business. To top it off, state regulators are circling the industry, asking whether it preyed on borrowers and put them in cars they couldn’t afford. “The PE guys sailed into this thing with stars in their eyes. Some of the businesses have done fine and some haven’t,” said Chris Gillock at Colonnade Advisors, a boutique investment bank. But right now, “it’s about as out-of-favor a sector as I can think of.”
While the metrics noted above can accurately indicate the peak of an equities bubbles several months in advance, they cannot tell us anything years ahead of time. For this, we must turn to the research of the original wizard of Wall Street, W.D. Gann. He was a finance trader who developed technical analysis tools and forecasting methods based on geometry, astronomy, astrology and ancient mathematics. He was a successful and wealthy speculator, spending decades investigating patterns in equities markets. He concluded that equities exhibited a cyclical trend over decades and thus prices could be predicted long in advance. In 1908, Gann constructed his financial timetable, which tabulated the booms and busts, peaks and troughs of the US equities market.
Just like the Geoist land market cycle, there is a repeating 18-year average between every major cycle. Gann managed to predict the crash of 1929 years in advance. He realised that the timetable would have to be recalibrated on the 25th December 1989. The updated timetable is amazingly accurate from that date onward, predicting the Dot-Com bubble peak in 2000 and its collapse. The GFC peak was off by one year; 2007 instead of one year earlier in 2006. The trough was in 2009, followed by a minor panic in 2015, when the S&P500 dipped but has since boomed. According to the timetable, 2020 will be the peak of the equities bubble, followed by a major crash similar to that of the Dot-Com bubble.
To the economists we’ve spoken to, the peak could range between 2019M09 to 2020M03. Given how large the S&P500 bubble has become, it is worth treading very carefully during this period for those exposed to US equities. Gann is famous for saying: “Every movement in the market is the result of a natural law and of a Cause which exists long before the effect takes place and can be determined years in advance. The future is but a repetition of the past, as the Bible plainly states…”
Catalonia’s separatists look set to regain power in the wealthy Spanish region after local elections on Thursday, deepening the nation’s political crisis in a sharp rebuke to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Union leaders who backed him. With nearly all votes counted, separatist parties won a slim majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tensions which have damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus from the region. Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.
The unexpected result sets the stage for the return to power of deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who campaigned from self-exile in Brussels. State prosecutors accuse him of sedition, and he faces arrest if he were to return home. “Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country,” Puigdemont, said in a televised speech. He was flanked by four former cabinet members that fled with him. At jubilant pro-independence rallies around Barcelona, supporters chanted “President Puigdemont” and unfurled giant red-and-yellow Catalan flags as the results came in. Puigdemont’s spokesman told Reuters in a text message: “We are the comeback kids.” The result unnerved global markets, contributing to a softer euro and subdued sentiment in stock markets.
Opinion polls had predicted secessionists to fall short of a majority. More than 3,100 firms have moved their legal headquarters outside Catalonia, concerned that the indebted region, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, could split from Spain and tumble out of the EU and the euro zone by default. Spain has trimmed its growth forecasts for next year, and official data shows foreign direct investment in Catalonia fell 75% in the third quarter from a year earlier, dragging down national investment. The EU’s major powers, Germany and France, have backed Rajoy’s stance despite some criticism of his methods at times.
Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will. As Sri Lanka’s handover of the strategic Hambantota port shows, states caught in debt bondage to the new imperial giant risk losing both natural assets and their very sovereignty. This month, Sri Lanka, unable to pay the onerous debt to China it has accumulated, formally handed over its strategically located Hambantota port to the Asian giant. It was a major acquisition for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which President Xi Jinping calls the “project of the century” – and proof of just how effective China’s debt-trap diplomacy can be.
Unlike International Monetary Fund and World Bank lending, Chinese loans are collateralized by strategically important natural assets with high long-term value (even if they lack short-term commercial viability). Hambantota, for example, straddles Indian Ocean trade routes linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. In exchange for financing and building the infrastructure that poorer countries need, China demands favorable access to their natural assets, from mineral resources to ports. Moreover, as Sri Lanka’s experience starkly illustrates, Chinese financing can shackle its “partner” countries. Rather than offering grants or concessionary loans, China provides huge project-related loans at market-based rates, without transparency, much less environmental- or social-impact assessments.
As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it recently, with the BRI, China is aiming to define “its own rules and norms.” To strengthen its position further, China has encouraged its companies to bid for outright purchase of strategic ports, where possible. The Mediterranean port of Piraeus, which a Chinese firm acquired for $436 million from cash-strapped Greece last year, will serve as the BRI’s “dragon head” in Europe. By wielding its financial clout in this manner, China seeks to kill two birds with one stone. First, it wants to address overcapacity at home by boosting exports. And, second, it hopes to advance its strategic interests, including expanding its diplomatic influence, securing natural resources, promoting the international use of its currency, and gaining a relative advantage over other powers.
China’s continents-spanning Belt and Road network threatens to “shackle” partner countries and deprive them of valuable natural assets, according to one critic. Beijing is financing and executing massive infrastructure projects across the 68 nations participating in the ambitious scheme, which snakes along Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These recipient countries, many of them emerging economies in dire need of investment, obtain funding in various forms such as sovereign loans from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration and credit from Chinese state-owned banks. But concerns of developing countries taking on unrealistic financial obligations have sparked allegations of what’s being called ‘dept-trap diplomacy.’
Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration released a statement warning of unsustainable debt burdens being created by Belt and Road. “Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will,” according to Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, who described Beijing’s policies as “creditor imperialism.” In a stinging editorial published on Project Syndicate, Chellaney — a former adviser to India’s National Security Council — pointed to Sri Lanka as an example. The South Asian state, unable to pay back onerous bills to China, recently handed over its Hambantota port to state owned China Merchants Port Holdings in a $1.1 billion deal that was widely viewed as an erosion of sovereignty.
“As Hambantota shows, China is now establishing its own Hong Kong-style neocolonial arrangements,” Chellaney said. “Like the opium the British exported to China, the easy loans China offers are addictive. And, because China chooses its projects according to their long-term strategic value, they may yield short-term returns that are insufficient for countries to repay their debts,” he explained. As a result, the world’s second-largest economy holds political leverage over governments and can “force borrowers to swap debt for equity, thereby expanding China’s global footprint by trapping a growing number of countries in debt servitude.”
Since the US government nationalized the two GSEs in 2008 in a $187 billion bailout of the mortgage giants, there have been consistent calls for them to be wound down and for the private sector to fill the void. As we discussed, this view is, or was, shared by new Fed Chairman, Jay Powell. Mr. Powell has called on Congress to overhaul the housing finance system, saying he’d like to see the country’s two large mortgage-finance firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, move out from under government conservatorship. More private capital in those firms would reduce the risk of a taxpayer-funded bailout in the event of a downturn, he said in a speech in July. Although the Fed isn’t responsible for housing finance, it supervises some of the country’s largest lenders who frequently sell their loan to the two agencies. “No single housing finance institution should be too big to fail,” he said.
In August this year, Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), published the results of its latest annual stress tests on the two GSE’s. The FHFA outlined a “severely adverse” scenario in which US real GDP decline 6.5%, the unemployment rate rises to 10.0%, equity prices decline almost 50%, home prices decline 25% and commercial real estate prices by 35%. Under these conditions, it estimates Fannie and Freddie would need a bailout of up to $100 billion in the form of a draw on the Treasury (depending on how they treat assets to offset tax). Sadly, after almost a decade of federal ownership, the hope that Fannie and Freddie could be wound down has evaporated. Senators on both sides of the political divide have concluded that they are too big and too risky to replace. Proposed legislation in 2018 will see them retained at the centre of the US mortgage industry, rather than replacing them as a previous senate proposal tried and failed four years ago.
Mortgages guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie amount to about $4 trillion and account for about 40% of the total US market.
For months, journalists tried to get their hands on government papers setting out how leaving the European Union will affect different parts of the British economy. They contained, according to Brexit Secretary David Davis, “excruciating detail.” But despite boasting about their contents, ministers were reluctant to let anyone else see the documents. In November, after being forced to give way by a vote in Parliament, the government allowed lawmakers to read them under controlled conditions. Their phones were confiscated, and they were only permitted to make notes with pen and paper, lest too much information leak into the public domain. “These documents in aggregate represent the most comprehensive picture of our economy on this issue to date,” Davis wrote this month, explaining why he was being cautious about publication.
On Thursday, the documents were released online. There was detail, as promised. “The parts of an aircraft can be simplistically split into three areas,” began the first, on aerospace. It was explained what the industry makes: “structures which include the nose, fuselage, wings, engine nacelles (which encase the engines) and tail; propulsion system which includes engines and propellers, or fan blades; and systems which include the electronics used in the flight system.” It went on to reveal that there are two companies in the world that make large passenger aircraft. Now that the documents are public, these firms can be named as Boeing and Airbus. The paper covering the insurance and pensions sector, which employs one in every 100 British workers, is 2,732 words long. “Insurance business operates by firms writing insurance policies for clients, intermediated by brokers,” it reveals.
Greek supermarkets were forced to withdraw several food and beverage products from their shelves this week, after a group threatened to contaminate them with acid as part of an environmentally influenced protest of Christmas consumerism. Authorities urged residents in Athens and the city of Thessaloniki not to buy or consume certain types of Coca-Cola, a Greek milk brand and packages of meat. Thessaloniki and Athens combined have about 1 million residents who were affected by the precautionary measures. The “Blackgreen Arsonists” — whose name suggests an eco-anarchist outlook — threatened to inject the products with hydrochloric acid, a powerful, colorless corrosive used in research and industry.
They said it was because the thousands of people doing their Christmas shopping meant “the sacrifice of millions of living creatures, slaughtered and drained to the last drop to satisfy consumers’ needs.” To protest this need every year for people to fill their empty lives with “consumer garbage with beautiful and glittering wrappings,” the sabotaged products would be placed on supermarket shelves in the run-up to Christmas. Authorities said they have no information on the identities of the group members. Similar threats have emerged in the past and nothing has happened, though in this case the group included photos of its members injecting something into the products as part of their online threat.
Mount Taranaki in New Zealand is to be granted the same legal rights as a person, becoming the third geographic feature in the country to be granted a “legal personality”. Eight local Maori tribes and the government will share guardianship of the sacred mountain on the east coast of the North Island, in a long-awaited acknowledgement of the indigenous people’s relationship to the mountain, who view it as an ancestor and whanau, or family member. The new status of the mountain means if someone abuses or harms it, it is the same legally as harming the tribe. In the record of understanding signed this week, Mount Taranaki will become “a legal personality, in its own right”, said the minister for treaty negotiations, Andrew Little, gaining similar rights to the Whanganui river, which was granted legal personhood earlier this year.
Little said the agreement offered the best possible protection for the landmark, which is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction after Lonely Planet named the Taranaki region the second best place to visit in the world last year. “As a New Plymouth local I grew up under the gaze of the maunga [mountain] so I’m particularly pleased with the respect accorded to local tangata whenua [local people] and the legal protection and personality given to the mountain,” Little said. “Today’s agreements are a major milestone in acknowledging the grievances and hurt from the past as the Taranaki iwi experienced some of the worst examples of Crown behaviour in the 19th century.” As part of the agreement the New Zealand government will apologise to local Maori for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi against the mountain, although local tribes will receive no financial or commercial redress.
President Donald Trump plans to sign the tax bill on Jan. 3 to ensure automatic spending cuts to Medicare and other programs don’t take effect, according to a House Republican aide familiar with the plans. The White House informed House GOP members of the timetable, following the likely decision by House Republicans to leave the so-called PAYGO provision out of a year-end spending deal to avoid a government shut down before Friday, the person said who asked not to be named because the plan hasn’t been publicly announced. Trump and GOP leaders have repeatedly said the president would sign the legislation before Christmas. White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn signaled Wednesday morning that the signing date could be pushed back because of the potential for triggering the cuts.
Under the PAYGO law, automatic cuts to Medicare and other spending categories would be triggered by the tax bill in January because the bill is scored as increasing the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Waiting until January means that those cuts would be delayed until 2019, according to budget expert Ed Lorenzen of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. White House officials insisted that no firm timetable had been set. Trump could sign the tax legislation earlier if Congress passed a waiver to the PAYGO rules, but that is unlikely to happen before lawmakers leave Washington for a holiday recess. “I think we’re just working out some of the logistics on that,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on Fox News. “He’ll sign it as quickly as he can.”
Back in October 2016, the “millionaire, billionaire, private jet owners” of America’s elitist, liberal mega-cities (A.K.A. New York and San Francisco) celebrated the tax hikes that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have undoubtedly jammed down their throats proclaiming them to be a ‘patriotic duty’. Unfortunately, now that Trump has given them exactly what they apparently wanted…an amazing opportunity to ‘spread their wealth around”…they’re suddenly feeling a lot less patriotic. Of course, as we’ve noted numerous times, while most people across the country and across the income spectrum will benefit from the Republican tax reform package, the folks who stand to lose are those living in high-tax states with expensive real estate as their SALT, mortgage interest and property tax deductions will suddenly be capped. And, as Bloomberg points out today, that has a lot of Wall Street Traders in New York drowning their sorrows in expensive vodka and considering a move to Florida.
“One trader, sipping a Bloody Mary on a morning flight to somewhere more tropical, said he’s going to stop registering as a Republican. En route, he sent more than a dozen text messages ripping the tax bill. A pair of hedge fund managers said the tax bill is too tilted toward corporations, rather than individuals who should get more relief. “My clients are hard-working young professionals on Wall Street. I don’t have a lot of good news for them,” said Douglas Boneparth, a financial adviser in lower Manhattan who counsels people throughout the industry. Most are coming to terms with it. “I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised by the economic reality.” “This provides a clear incentive for financial advisers to go independent,” said Louis Diamond of Diamond Consultants. “We’re hearing from a lot of clients on this; it’s just another reason why it makes a ton of sense, economically, to become self-employed.”
[..] global diversification has enhanced portfolio returns this year. Spreading wealth among different markets and sectors has allowed investors to capture strong equity performance. You see, on the trend higher, investors may seek to employ a series of risk horses to fully participate in the race. Fixed income or bonds, and cash equivalents do a good job of helping investors manage risk through bear markets as they are negatively correlated to stocks. On the way down, stocks across markets connect and head south in sync; some fall faster than others. Unfortunately, when stock diversification is needed the most, it fails. With current valuations and stock prices extended well beyond their long-term trends, investors must be aware of reversions that have the probability of wiping out a decade or longer in gains.
Stock diversification will not protect you if or when this occurs (let me know if you’ve heard this from your broker’s research hub as of late; I bet you haven’t). Strategists for big-box financial retailers are consistently wishy-washy when it comes to the current unsustainable altitude of stock prices. It’s not in their best interest to take a stand. It would be a death knell for their careers. Recently, one of the paunchiest of the brethren shared on CNBC: Stocks are “slightly overvalued;” followed by – “that doesn’t mean you should do anything here.” Perfect. Well done. That’s how seven-figure compensation packages are earned, folks. When it comes to retail investors, time is as or more precious a commodity as money; we at RIA consistently write and research the math of investment losses to make sure you remain emotionally grounded and don’t allow greed to blind your judgment. We are not afraid to outline the risks inherent in extended markets.
Personally, I’m not willing to give up a decade or two to break even. Are you? Don’t worry about your friendly neighborhood talking heads. They’ll continue to collect big paychecks and hefty year-end bonuses as long as they play senior managements’ game. A broker’s research department superstar spokesperson is paid handsomely to point out when markets reach new highs but rarely expound on how long it takes to achieve or in most cases, reclaim them. A big-box financial retail investment strategist’s primary role is to forge and fortify a firm’s presence or brand and help front-line brokers keep investors fully invested through rough market cycles, nothing more.
If you’re still holding out hope that the following chart is anything but another massive housing bubble in the making then you should probably ignore the disturbing evidence to the contrary that we’re about to present below… Back in 2005/2006, one of the key signs that housing markets across the country were overheating was the number of houses that, thanks to soaring demand from speculators, were suddenly selling at prices well in excess of their asking price. That said, as a local CBS affiliate in San Francisco points out, the premiums of 2005/2006 pale in comparison to homes in Silicon Valley today that are selling for as much as $1-$2 million over their original asking prices.
But if you thought they area housing market couldn’t get any more outrageous, consider a home on Colorado Avenue in Palo Alto. It listed for $2.9 million, but sold for $3.9 million, $1 million over asking price. Another home on Anacapa Drive in the Los Altos hills listed for $2.8 million, but sold for $4.5 million. That is $1.67 million over asking. Finally, there is this home on University Avenue in Los Altos that listed at $7.9 million, but sold for $1.8 million over asking. In 2017, 10 homes in the mid-Peninsula area sold for $1 million over asking. Six of those listings belonged to Deleon Realty.
He’s taken on President Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve. Now, libertarian former congressman Ron Paul is taking on bitcoin. According to Paul, cryptocurrencies have become an asset that rivals the bubble he sees in stocks. “I think it’s going to continue to do exactly what it’s doing. It’s going higher and it’s going lower,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “We can look at what’s happening now, which to me is a climactic end of QEs.” Paul, who has done commercials touting currency competition for a company that benefits from bitcoin’s rise, views the crypto craze as a side effect of central banks doing several rounds of quantitative easing to cope with the last financial crisis. “I look at the problems we face. I think they’re gigantic and people are desperate and looking everywhere. Why would they buy bonds that pay negative interest rates? Why would they buy stocks, and say well this time it’s different? ” asked Paul.
“Cryptocurrency is a reflection of the disaster of the monetary dollar system.” Paul, who’s also a medical doctor and former Republican presidential candidate, argues that cryptocurrencies are in an “exponential bubble” where trying to calculate its real value is extremely difficult. Bitcoin, the largest of the cryptocurrencies, has been trading above $17,000. He hasn’t been able to pinpoint when a plunge could happen in cryptocurrencies or the stock market. But Paul says the danger is real. “They’re both big bubbles in the sense that it occurred because there was excessive credit. But if you look at the curves, I think that the cryptocurrency curve looks more threatening,” Paul said.
Uber Technologies Inc. will be regulated in European Union countries as a transport company after the bloc’s top court rejected its claim to be a digital service provider, a decision that could increase legal risks for other gig-economy companies including Airbnb. While the EU Court of Justice’s ruling covered UberPop – which used drivers without taxi licenses and has already been shuttered in many countries due to the legal issues – it’s a real blow as the first definitive finding that Uber must be regulated by transport authorities. The decision clarifies for the first time that connecting people via an app to non-professional drivers forms an integral part of a transport service. It rejects Uber’s view that such services are purely digital and could fuel further scrutiny of other gig-economy firms.
Paris regulators are already clamping down on Airbnb, treating the home-rental service more like a hotel, and British food-delivery start-up Deliveroo is in the spotlight for its treatment of workers. In the EU judges’ view, “the most important part of Uber’s business is the supply of transport – connecting passengers to drivers by their smartphones is secondary,” said Rachel Farr at law firm Taylor Wessing. “Without transport services, the business wouldn’t exist.” Uber has argued that it’s a technology platform connecting passengers with independent drivers, not a transportation company subject to the same rules as taxi services. The case has been closely watched by the technology industry because of its precedent for regulating the gig economy, where freelancers make money by plying everything from spare rooms to fast-food deliveries via apps on smartphones and PCs.
“After today’s judgment innovators will increasingly be subject to divergent national and sectoral rules,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which speaks for companies like Uber, Amazon.com, Google and Facebook. “This is a blow to the EU’s ambition of building an integrated digital single market.” While the ruling is valid EU-wide, it remains limited to Uber’s services and won’t directly affect other disputes Uber is facing over how its drivers are treated. One such case is pending at the U.K. court of appeal.
The IMF has strongly defended its gloomy forecasts for the UK after Brexit, saying pre-referendum warnings of slower growth were coming true. Christine Lagarde, the fund’s managing director, said the vote to leave the EU in June 2016 was already having an impact and Britain’s weaker growth this year was in contrast to accelerating activity in the rest of the world. Speaking at the Treasury as the IMF announced the results of its annual health check of the UK economy, Lagarde hit back at those who lambasted the fund when predictions of an immediate post-referendum recession failed to come to pass. “We feared that if Britain decided to leave, it would most likely entail a depreciation of sterling, higher inflation leading to a squeeze on disposable income and a reduction in investment,” she said.
“People said ‘Oh those experts’, but we are seeing the narrative we identified as a potential risk being rolled out as we speak. This is not the experts speaking, it’s what the economy is demonstrating.” The IMF trimmed its forecast for UK growth this year from 1.7% in October to 1.6%, and said it expected the economy to grow by 1.5% in 2018. It was one of several economic forecasters to say the UK would suffer a downturn should voters back leaving the EU. Last year, the fund had said growth for 2017 would be 1.1%, before raising the forecast to 2%. Since the turn of the year, Lagarde said activity had slowed notably and the UK’s recent performance was a disappointment in the light of the best showing by the global economy since the financial crash.
The Bank of England plans to allow European banks to maintain their UK operations under current rules following Brexit, in a direct challenge to European Union regulators to adopt the same policy towards UK-based banks. The Bank said it wanted to press ahead with assessing the risks posed by the 177 banks and insurance companies based in the European Economic Area that have branches in London, following the agreement between Theresa May and EU officials to move to the second stage of Brexit talks. In a move that pre-empts trade talks between the UK and EU, the Bank said it would assess each foreign bank’s branch operation to decide whether it needed to be converted into a subsidiary, which effectively separates it from its overseas parent with its own capital.
Banks domiciled in the EEA will be keen to maintain UK branches, which are cheaper to run and come under more direct head office control. They also maintain their chief regulator in their home country. Most branches are expected to retain their current status despite needing to satisfy stringent rules. The BoE said it would carry out a broad assessment of the risks posed by branches, though it would rely heavily on cooperation with regulators across the EU. Branches that are considered to pose a systemic risk to London’s financial centre could be forced to convert to being subsidiaries. The Treasury is expected to give the Bank additional powers to supervise foreign bank branches in the UK, a job largely done by regulators based inside the EU.
Some pro-Brexit campaigners are expected to view the move as throwing away a major bargaining chip in trade talks. The UK might have threatened to block EU access to facilities in the City as the price of concessions in other areas, such as manufacturing and fishing rights. However, Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, told MPs on the Treasury select committee on Wednesday that the decision to allow EU banks to continue operating under existing UK rules had been taken on the assumption that a “high degree of supervisory cooperation with the EU” would continue after Brexit.
Fresh from sacking her trusted deputy, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Poland on Thursday to attempt to get close – but not too close – to its new government. May was forced to tell First Secretary of State Damian Green to resign Wednesday afternoon after an inquiry into his behavior found he’d made misleading statements over pornography found on his parliamentary computer by police nearly a decade ago. Green is the third Cabinet minister to quit in two months. A couple of recent Brexit-related successes mean the prime minister is better equipped to handle Green’s departure than she might have been a month ago: The European Union has agreed to move negotiations on to the next phase, and late Wednesday, May’s flagship Brexit Bill completed the detailed scrutiny stage of its journey through the House of Commons.
Still, his departure leaves her without her closest ally in Cabinet. The flight to Warsaw will give May a chance to consider how she manages without him. She’ll be accompanied by her most senior ministers for a summit where she’ll promise cooperation on defense and security as part of a charm offensive to win friends in Europe before negotiations on post-Brexit trade start in March. But Poland’s rift with the EU over judicial reforms – and its government’s fears of a shortfall in EU funding after Britain leaves the bloc – threaten to overshadow the meeting with new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “The prime minister will raise her concerns with the prime minister when they meet,” May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in London.
“We place importance on respect for the rule of law and we expect all our partners to abide by international norms and standards.” Britain’s rush to forge links with Morawiecki’s populist administration reflects a desire both to win friends for the talks ahead and to reassure former eastern European countries that it will continue to support them against Russian expansionism after Brexit. British troops are already stationed in Poland, and May will announce increased cooperation on cyber security.
The Polish government has accused the European commission of a politically motivated attack after the EU’s executive body triggered a process that could see the country stripped of voting rights in Brussels, over legal changes that the bloc claims threaten the independence of the judiciary. In a highly symbolic moment, Poland’s fellow 27 EU member states were advised by the commission on Wednesday that the legislative programme of Poland’s government was putting at risk fundamental values expected of a democratic state by allowing political interference in its courts. The row represents the greatest crisis in the EU since Britain’s decision to leave the EU last year, with the Polish government showing little inclination to back down.
Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the commission, told reporters in Brussels that in two years 13 laws had been adopted that put at serious risk the independence of Poland’s judiciary and the separation of powers. “Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country’s judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority. In the absence of judicial independence, serious questions are raised about the effective application of EU law,” Timmermans, a former Dutch diplomat, said. “We are doing this for Poland, for Polish citizens.” Poland’s new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, responded on Twitter: “Poland is as devoted to the rule of law as the rest of the EU.” The Polish foreign ministry said in a statement: “Poland deplores the European commission’s launch of the procedure […] which is essentially political, not legal.”
Catalans head to the polls on Thursday to vote in an extraordinary and bitterly contested election that will pit secessionists against unionists and determine the next phase of the long-running campaign for independence from Spain. The election was called by the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, at the end of October when the central government took control of Catalonia and sacked the regional government after it staged an illegal independence referendum and made a unilateral declaration of independence. Polls suggest Catalonia is set for a hung parliament, with the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) vying for first place with the unionist, centre-right Citizens party.
With no clear winner in sight, Thursday’s result is likely to lead to coalition negotiations to form a government that will either maintain the drive for independence in some form or defend the constitutional status quo. Tensions remain high in the region following the referendum and the Spanish police’s heavy-handed efforts to stop it. Secessionists believe that Madrid’s imposition of direct rule and the jailing of senior independence leaders could increase support for their cause. Unionists, however, argue that Catalans are sick of the social unrest and economic uncertainty generated by the unilateral actions of the government of deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont.
The exceptional circumstances surrounding the election are compounded by the fact that Puigdemont has been campaigning from Belgium. He fled to Brussels hours before Spain’s attorney general asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against his cabinet almost two months ago. Puigdemont’s former number two, Oriol Junqueras, has been fighting the election from prison, where he and two prominent independence leaders are being held as part of a judicial investigation into October’s events. “This is not a normal election,” Puigdemont told supporters via video link on Tuesday evening as the campaign drew to a close.
Due to a historic data-dump on December 10th, the biggest swindle that occurred in the 20th Century (or perhaps ever) is now proven as a historical fact; and this swindle was done by the US Government, against the Government and people of Russia, and it continues today and keeps getting worse under every US President. It was secretly started by US President George Herbert Walker Bush on the night of 24 February 1990; and, unless it becomes publicly recognized and repudiated so that it can stop, a nuclear war between the US and all of NATO on one side, versus Russia on the other, is inevitable unless Russia capitulates before then, which would be vastly less likely than such a world-ending nuclear war now is.
This swindle has finally been displayed beyond question, by this, the first-ever complete release of the evidence. It demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt (as you’ll verify yourself from the evidence here), that US President G.H.W. Bush (and his team) lied through their teeth to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (and his team) to end the Cold War on Russia’s side, when the US team were secretly determined never to end it on the US-and-NATO side until Russia itself is conquered. And this swindle continues today, and keeps getting worse and worse for Russians.
Until now, apologists for the US-Government side have been able to get away with various lies about these lies, such as that there weren’t any, and that Gorbachev didn’t really think that the NATO issue was terribly important for Russia’s future national security anyway, and that the only limitation upon NATO’s future expansion that was discussed during the negotiations to end the Cold War concerned NATO not expanding itself eastward (i.e., closer to Russia) within Germany, not going beyond the then-existing dividing-line between West and East Germany — that no restriction against other east-bloc (Soviet-allied) nations ever being admitted into NATO was discussed, at all. The now-standard US excuse that the deal concerned only Germany and not all of Europe is now conclusively disproven by the biggest single data-dump ever released about those negotiations.
Years ago, camping in Alaska’s Arctic national wildlife refuge, I watched a herd of caribou – 100,000 bulls, cows and their three-week-old calves – braid over the tundra, moving to a rhythm as old as the wind. “Not many places like this left today,” said my friend Jeff, sitting next to me above an ice-fringed river. And so Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski believes this refuge – 80 miles east of Prudhoe Bay – could generate $1bn over 10 years once it’s opened to oil leasing. She and her Republican colleagues slipped this drilling provision into the Senate Republican tax bill. Murkowski repeatedly says this development would cover just 2,000 acres, “about one ten-thousandth of ANWR”.
The acronym ANWR conveniently deletes the words “wildlife” and “refuge”, with no regard for the polar bears, Arctic fox, musk oxen and migratory ground-nesting birds that come there every summer, some species from as far away as Patagonia. Alaska’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, has said that drilling in ANWR is necessary to deal with climate change. His caddywhompus logic: we need to drill for more oil to raise money to address a problem that’s caused by humanity’s addiction to oil. Why not just say the truth? We want the money. Murkowski adds: “We have waited nearly 40 years for the right technology to come along for a footprint small enough for the environment to be respected.” They have not. Alaskans have been trying to drill here for decades, using one crazy rationale after another.
At one hearing the state’s lone congressman, Don Young, put a blue pen mark on his nose to show how small the industry footprint would be. Clever man. The development would in fact be a spider web of roads, pipelines, well pads and landing strips smack in the middle of the biological heart of the refuge. It would look less like a refuge and more like Prudhoe Bay, where thousands of spills have been reported. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington says the whole idea is “ludicrous”, noting that the Republican tax plan would add roughly $1.5tn to the national deficit in five years [with the richest 1% of Americans reaping half of the tax cuts]. “I am disturbed,” she says. She should be. Christopher Lewis, a retired BP manager of exploration, has said: “I do not believe that there are any adequate, commercially viable reservoirs in the Arctic refuge.” The reality is “there are other less sensitive and less costly places to explore”.
George Kachmazov, a Russian realtor, is buying up property in Athens. The Moscow-based chief executive officer of real-estate platform Tranio.com has bought a building in the Greek capital and is in the process of acquiring five others with a view to selling apartments to international investors. For Kachmazov, the sales pitch is clear: buying property in Greece can give an investor a so-called golden visa to the country – and with it an entree into much of Europe. What’s more, the country’s real estate market may be poised for a rebound, helping buyers make some money on their purchase. “Greece’s real estate market is one of the remaining few in Europe that hasn’t recovered since the 2008 economic crisis,” Kachmazov said in an interview in Athens.
Prices in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Poland and Hungary are heading toward pre-crisis levels because of high liquidity in Europe, he said. Kachmazov is among agents making a beeline for Greece to help property hunters from Russia, China, Turkey and elsewhere bet on a market that may be on the cusp of a revival as the country exits its bailout program in August 2018. Property prices in Greece have fallen more than the 25% contraction in the economy since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis began in 2008. Prices of apartments in Athens more than five years old shrank by 45% between 2008 and June 2017, according to Bank of Greece data.
“The belief is that the worst is over and that this is a good time to take advantage of the low prices and to benefit from future capital gains as the market recovers,” said Carrie Law, CEO of Juwai.com, a Chinese international property website. Juwai this year signed an agreement with Warren Buffett’s real estate brokerage firm to advertise homes in the U.S. The average price per square meter in Greece is 2,846 euros ($3,369), according to Germany-based statistics company Statista. That’s almost 1,000 euros cheaper than Portugal, which has a similar golden visa program for property buyers, one and a half times cheaper than in Spain and Germany, and almost three times cheaper than in Italy and Austria. Greece is more expensive than Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Estonia.
The mayor of the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos has filed suit against all responsible parties over the conditions at the Moria refugee and migrant processing center. Spyros Galinos filed his suit in Lesvos’s Court of Misdemeanors, claiming that the law is being broken at the government-run facility, which is supervised by the military. His action comes two days after foreign media published videos shot covertly inside the camp and showing the squalor and cramped conditions to which thousands of refugees and migrants are being subjected. The mayor stressed that the facility, a former military base, should not be accommodating more than 1,800 people at a time if decent living standards are to be ensured.
“Unfortunately, though, for the past two years and this year especially there is an extremely large number of third-country citizens and vulnerable groups (men, women – among which pregnant women – and children) indiscriminately trapped and cramped together, coming to more than 6,000 individuals,” Galinos said in his lawsuit. He also stressed poor safety and sanitation standards, saying that an inadequate water and sewerage network is putting the lives of the camp’s residents and workers at risk. People living at the camp “every day experience serious psychological problems and have been led to suicide attempts and self-harm, while others are compelled to serious acts of lawlessness in order to survive,” Galinos said.
His suit came just hours after about a dozen people were injured in a brawl that went on for hours between rival groups at the camp and resulted in extensive destruction. The mayor further stressed the impact of conditions at Moria on the lives of the island’s residents, saying that authorities are failing in their duty to control and monitor such a large number of refugees and migrants. Galinos added that overcrowding at the camp has forced hundreds of migrants to move into the main town of Mytilene in search of some kind of shelter, “taking over public spaces, the city’s parks, sidewalks and courtyards of public and municipal buildings.” In the suit, Galinos asks that “all responsible parties” are taken to task over the situation, as “their actions and omissions are malicious and deliberate, and put at risk the desperate and poor people trapped in [Moria’s] illegal facilities.”
“The disruption of social cohesion and the risk of criminal offenses in defense of life and property by a part of the island’s native population is evident and very likely,” Galinos warned. Since the onset of the refugee crisis at the start of 2015, the residents of Lesvos and its mayor have been distinguished for the support they have given to tens of thousands of migrants that have landed on the island’s shores.
Many economists suggest China is on the cusp of significant growth in domestic consumer demand. That this rising domestic demand coupled with continued growth as the global exporter will push the global economy further. However, I’ll briefly show why neither of these outcomes is remotely likely.
Problem #1- China as Consumer: According to the UN data, China’s 15-40yr/old childbearing population peaked in 2005 and has been rapidly shrinking since. Since ’05, China’s population capable of producing more Chinese has fallen by 83 million persons or a 14.3% decline. By 2030, China’s childbearing population will have declined by 157 million or a 27% reduction of those capable of childbirth (no estimate here…this is simply moving the existing population forward in adulthood). Couple a massive decline in the childbearing population and the ongoing negative birthrate and serious depopulation (particularly among the rural regions) is not only possible but growing more likely. Minor increases in wages will be no match for the massive declines in the consumer base. The chart below shows China’s total 15 to 40 year old population (in blue) and the annual change (in red).
Problem #2- China as Exporter:
Who will China continue to export to? The primary importers of China’s goods are N. America (US/Canada), Europe (including Russia and Eastern Europe), Australia/New Zealand. These nations represent roughly one seventh of the world’s population but consume over half of all the worlds oil production. But here again I have the same problem; combined childbearing population peaked in 1988 and has been declining since. The population capable of childbirth has fallen over 40 million or nearly 10% since the ’88 peak. By 2030, despite many of these nations allowing, promoting, and/or enduring large immigrations of precisely this age of migrants, the population is anticipated to be 60 million fewer than during the peak, or a 15% fall from peak. The basis of present and future demand growth simply is non-existent.
Bitcoin.com is one of the world’s largest bitcoin sites, having grown its profile thanks to the insane price surge of the cryptocurrency this year. But its co-founder and CTO, Emil Oldenburg, a Swedish native, is extremely skeptical of bitcoin’s future. “I would say an investment in bitcoin is right now the riskiest investment you can make. There’s an extremely high risk,” he says in an interview with Swedish tech site Breakit. “I have in fact sold all my bitcoins recently and switched to bitcoin cash,” says Oldenburg, referring to the problems with bitcoin’s high transaction costs and lead times. Indeed, by some counts, bitcoin transaction fees are doubling every three months, and it now takes on average 4.5 hours to confirm a bitcoin transaction. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $US26 ($34) per trade recently. Bitcoin.com operates in everything that has to do with bitcoins.
Today, the site – based out of Tokyo but registered on St Kitts – has tens of millions of unique monthly visitors, according to Similarweb, a web analytics site. The company’s biggest single revenue stream is its so called bitcoin “mining pool”, where it forges new units of the cryptocurrency that are released on the market. Oldenburg doesn’t want to disclose any revenue numbers, more than revealing “it’s an awfully lot of money”, he says to Breakit. Even on a personal level. “All my salary in the past three years has come in bitcoin,” just as those of his 60 colleagues in Tokyo, Oldenburg says. But according to the Swedish bitcoin expert, it’s time to change to bitcoin cash. There’s a big reason for that switch, and it’s all about the market liquidity — or lack thereof — of bitcoin.
The reason why people haven’t understood the risks inherent in owning bitcoins, according to Oldenburg, is simply because most have so far only bought the cryptocurrency — but never sold or traded with them. “As soon as people realise that this is how it works, they will start to sell,” he tells Breakit. “The old bitcoin network is as good as unusable.” While buying, selling or trading in bitcoins is not an issue today, according to Oldenburg, the problems surface when bitcoin transactions are recorded on the blockchain, the digital ledger that records each transaction. The problem centres on the limited amount of transactions per second you can make in the bitcoin network, which in turn depends on the formation of the memory “block size” that store the transactions. This, according to Oldenburg, makes for a very illiquid and unusable cryptocurrency.
[..] In what may be considered somewhat ironic, Oldenburg says bitcoin.com is distancing itself from bitcoin and has even stopped developing services for it — to mostly focus on bitcoin cash, the currency that split from bitcoin back in August, and recently overtook Ethereum as the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency. “It only costs $0.012 (10 Swedish “öre”, the centesimal subdivision of krona) to send a [Bitcoin Cash transaction] and there are no lead times. The only drawback is that you need larger hard drives, but that’s not a problem for most people,” Oldenburg says to Breakit.
Germany joined European governments pushing for global bitcoin regulation amid mounting alarm that the world’s most popular digital currency is being used by money-launderers, drug traffickers and terrorists. Germany’s Finance Ministry said it welcomed a proposal by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire to ask his counterparts in the Group of 20 to consider joint regulation of bitcoin. The concerns are shared by the Italian government, which is also open to discussing regulation, while the European Union is bringing in rules backed by the U.K. that would apply to bitcoin. “It makes sense to discuss the speculative risks of virtual currencies and their impact on the financial system at international level,” the Finance Ministry in Berlin said in an email. The next meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors would be “a good opportunity to do so.”
Signs of growing European concern came as bitcoin took another step toward acceptability with the launch of futures trading Sunday night at CME’s venue. That’s a week after Chicago rival Cboe Global Markets introduced similar derivatives on the volatile cryptocurrency that was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as an alternative to banks and government-issued currencies. Bitcoin was closing in on a fresh record of $20,000 on Monday. The Finance Ministry in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, “monitors developments in the financial market very closely,” it said. “This also applies to the current development of bitcoin.” While Europe’s concerns have been voiced before in select forums about a currency which is stepping further into the mainstream financial world, Le Maire made those worries public in a weekend interview. “I don’t like it,” Le Maire said of bitcoin. “It can hide activities such as drug trafficking and terrorism,” and he has concerns for savers. “There is an obvious speculative risk, we need to look at it, study it,” he said.
Uber Technologies is set to reach the end of the road in a legal battle over a question that’s reached the European Union’s top court – is the world’s most valuable startup a taxi company or not? Uber has argued that it’s a technology platform connecting passengers with independent drivers, not a transportation company subject to the same rules as taxi services. The decision is being closely watched by the technology industry because it could set a precedent for how other companies in the burgeoning gig economy are regulated across the 28-nation bloc. “The judgment will either promote the digital single market or lead to more market fragmentation for online innovators,” said Jakob Kucharczyk, of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which speaks for companies like Uber, Amazon.com, Google and Facebook. “The court should make a clear distinction between the online intermediation and the underlying service it facilitates.”
The case centers around UberPop, an inexpensive ride-hailing service Uber launched in several European cities that allowed drivers without a taxi license to use their own cars to pick up passengers. Legal challenges have forced Uber to shutter its UberPop services in most major European companies in favor of UberX, which requires drivers to get a license. A loss for Uber would mean countries in the EU will have to classify Uber as a transportation service. While Uber adheres to many taxi laws in countries where it operates, the case could lead to new regulations and fees. “Any ruling will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law,” Uber said in a statement. “However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours. As our new CEO has said, it is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber. We want to partner with cities to ensure everyone can get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.”
The question of whether Uber is a transport service has long vexed regulators and lawmakers across Europe. Uber has faced roadblocks, real and regulatory, across Europe, amid complaints brought by taxi drivers who say the company tries to unfairly avoid regulations that bind established competitors. Without the pressure from regulators, companies in the gig economy will force other businesses to employ similarly aggressive business practices, said Andrew Taylor, who earlier this year was commissioned by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to come up with recommendations to regulate the gig economy. “There’s a danger of a race to the bottom,” said Taylor. “Major American companies are treating national norms, culture, regulators and tax systems in a cavalier way.”
Britain cannot have a special deal for the City of London, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator has told the Guardian, dealing a blow to Theresa May’s hopes of securing a bespoke trade agreement with the bloc. Michel Barnier said it was unavoidable that British banks and financial firms would lose the passports that allow them to trade freely in the EU, as a result of any decision to quit the single market. “There is no place [for financial services]. There is not a single trade agreement that is open to financial services. It doesn’t exist.” He said the outcome was a consequence of “the red lines that the British have chosen themselves. In leaving the single market, they lose the financial services passport.”
The stark declaration quashes the hopes of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, for a unique trade deal that would include financial services. The Brexit secretary has called for a “Canada plus plus plus” deal with the EU, a reference to the free trade agreement struck between Ottawa and Brussels in 2016, but with the crucial addition of financial services. In an exclusive interview with European newspapers, including the Guardian, Barnier gave examples of his own three pluses – judicial cooperation, defence and security and aviation.
The negotiator also said: • A trade deal could be agreed within a two-year transition period, but would have to be ratified by more than 35 national and regional parliaments. • The UK could not stop Brexit unilaterally, arguing that overturning the decision to leave would require the consent of 27 EU member states – a view at odds with one of the authors of article 50, Lord Kerr. • The UK must follow all rules and regulations of the EU during the transition period, including new laws passed after the UK has left. • The UK could negotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world during the transition, but they could not come into force. • He would not confirm British estimates that the final Brexit bill – the UK’s outstanding obligations to the EU – would be no more than €45bn (£39bn).
President Obama lay very much in the globalist ‘struggle for a democratic-liberal world’ mould, (though he did try to make the ‘ruling interests’ understand that there were limits: that there had to be boundaries to US commitments). In other words, Obama accepted the globalist premise, though he tried to mitigate some of its military impulses. Notably however, he acquiesced to re-heating the Russia ‘threat’ (after Medvedev gave place to Mr Putin (thus ending Obama’s hope to seduce Russia into the embrace of the global economic order). But then Donald Trump, elected President by his deplorables’ base, made clear that he wished for détente with Russia, and even disdained the claims made on ordinary Americans by the maintenance of America’s unipolar global ‘order’.
For this heresy, he has been punished by the manufactured ‘Russiagate’ non-scandal. “Can a president, concerned that he might be removed from office by a special prosecutor or possibly assassinated, resist the march toward war?” – asks Paul Craig Roberts, who asserts that the President has been effectively caged, by a trifecta of Establishment generals, on the one hand; and by a Goldman Sachs posse, on the other. That the ‘ruling interests’ have managed substantially to contain President Trump is undeniable, but what is new, and perhaps – or perhaps, not – alters the calculus, is that these ‘ruling interests’ have had to come out from the shadows into the open.
The former Acting Director of the CIA, Mike Morrell, an early voice peddling the Russian collusion meme now publicly admits in a surprisingly frank interview with Politico, his leading role in the intelligence community waging political war against President Trump, describing his actions as something he didn’t “fully think through”, adding that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to leak against, and bash a new president: “There was a significant downside”, Morrell acknowledges. Just to recall: Not only had Morell in an early NY Times op-ed piece asserted that he was committed to doing “everything I can to ensure that she [Hillary Clinton] is elected as our 45th president”, but he went so far as to call then candidate Trump “a threat to our national security”, while making the extraordinary claim that “in the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”
There was a sinister plot to meddle in the 2016 election, after all. But it was not orchestrated from the Kremlin; it was an entirely homegrown affair conducted from the inner sanctums – the White House, DOJ, the Hoover Building and Langley – of the Imperial City. Likewise, the perpetrators didn’t speak Russian or write in the Cyrillic script. In fact, they were lifetime beltway insiders occupying the highest positions of power in the US government. Here are the names and rank of the principal conspirators: John Brennan, CIA director; Susan Rice, National Security Advisor; Samantha Power, UN Ambassador; James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence; James Comey, FBI director; Andrew McCabe, Deputy FBI director; Sally Yates, deputy Attorney General, Bruce Ohr, associate deputy AG; Peter Strzok, deputy assistant director of FBI counterintelligence; Lisa Page, FBI lawyer; and countless other lessor and greater poobahs of Washington power, including President Obama himself.
To a person, the participants in this illicit cabal shared the core trait that made Obama such a blight on the nation’s well-being. To wit, he never held an honest job outside the halls of government in his entire adult life; and as a careerist agent of the state and practitioner of its purported goods works, he exuded a sanctimonious disdain for everyday citizens who make their living along the capitalist highways and by-ways of America. The above cast of election-meddlers, of course, comes from the same mold. If Wikipedia is roughly correct, just these 10 named perpetrators have punched in about 300 years of post-graduate employment – and 260 of those years (87%) were on government payrolls or government contractor jobs.
As to whether they shared Obama’s political class arrogance, Peter Strzok left nothing to the imagination in his now celebrated texts to his gal-pal, Lisa Page: “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support……I LOATHE congress….And F Trump.” You really didn’t need the ALL CAPS to get the gist. In a word, the anti-Trump cabal is comprised of creatures of the state.
The Tax “Reform” bill working its way painfully out the digestive system of congress like a sigmoid fistula, ought be re-named the US Asset-stripping Assistance Act of 2017, because that’s what is about to splatter the faces of the waiting public, most of whom won’t have a personal lobbyist / tax lawyer by their sides holding a protective tarpulin during the climactic colonic burst of legislation. Sssshhhh…. The media has not groked this, but the economy is actually collapsing, and the nova-like expansion of the stock markets is exactly the sort of action you might expect in a system getting ready to blow. Meanwhile, the more visible rise of the laughable scam known as crypto-currency, is like the plume of smoke coming out of Vesuvius around 79 AD — an amusing curiosity to the citizens of Pompeii below, going about their normal activities, eating pizza, buying slaves, making love — before hellfire rained down on them.
Whatever the corporate tax rate might be, it won’t be enough to rescue the Ponzi scheme that governing has become, with its implacable costs of empire. So the real aim here is to keep up appearances at all costs just a little while longer while the table scraps of a four-hundred-year-long New World banquet get tossed to the hogs of Wall Street and their accomplices. The catch is that even hogs busy fattening up don’t have a clue about their imminent slaughter. The centerpiece of the swindle, as usual, is control fraud on the grand scale. Control fraud is the mis-use of authority in applying Three-Card-Monte principles to financial accounting practice, so that a credulous, trustful public will be too bamboozled to see the money drain from their bank accounts and the ground shift under their feet until the moment of freefall.
Control fraud is at work in the corporate C-suites, of course, because that is its natural habitat — remember that silver-haired CEO swine from Wells Fargo who got off scot-free with a life-time supply of acorns after scamming his account-holders — but their errand boys and girls in congress have been superbly groomed, pampered, fed, and trained to break trail and cover for them. The country has gotten used to thinking that the game of pretend is exactly the same as what is actually going on in the world. The now-seminal phrase coined by Karl Rove, “we make our own reality,” is as comforting these days to Republicans from Idaho as it is to hairy, “intersectional” professors of post-structural gender studies in the bluest ivory towers of the Ivy League. Nobody in this Republic really wants to get his-hers-zhe’s-they’s reality on.
The jailed leader of Catalonia’s main pro-independence party has backed away from demands for unilateral secession from Spain, days before a regional election that polls suggest will produce a hung parliament. The independence drive has tipped Spain into its worst political crisis since the return of democracy in the 1970s, dividing opinion in the region, denting an economic rebound and prompting a business exodus to other parts of the country. In reply to written questions from Reuters passed to him in prison where he is being held on allegations of rebellion and sedition, Oriol Junqueras struck a conciliatory tone. He wrote that he would continue to pursue independence if he became Catalonia’s next president, but also “build bridges and shake hands” with representatives of the Spanish state.
“I can assure you that we are democrats before we are separatists and that the aim (of gaining independence) does not always justify the means,” he said in comments that appeared to drop his party’s earlier demand for unilateral secession. Junqueras’ Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left) party is tipped to become the largest separatist force in parliament in Thursday’s ballot, but surveys suggest neither the pro-independence nor the pro-unity camp will win a majority. He was deputy leader of the Catalan government that was sacked in October after the regional assembly unilaterally declared independence following a referendum that central authorities had deemed illegal. Madrid also dissolved the assembly and called fresh elections.
The Spanish justice system’s actions against the region’s leaders has since then hamstrung the pro-independence camp and further muddied the electoral waters before Thursday’s vote. Catalonia’s ex-president Carles Puigdemont is campaigning from self-imposed exile in Brussels and Junqueras doing so from jail along with several other politicians. It is unclear if many of those likely to be elected will be able to attend parliament.
Throughout 2017, America’s control of NATO policymaking has become more evident than ever, with the sole objective of war-making against Russia. NATO and Russia continue to build up arms, equipment, and troops along the eastern region of Europe, but there is a new development that has NATO worried. Germany’s operational readiness of its entire submarine fleet is dead in the water. Yes, you heard that correctly, Germany’s prized submarines are currently on maintenance calls or in desperate need of repairs. On October 15, Germany lost the last of its submarines when the Type 212a vessel was performing a diving maneuver off the Norweigan coast when it suffered a catastrophic blow to one of its four fins after the submarine struck a boulder. The submarine was quickly rendered not operational and had to be towed back to the German port of Kiel for maintenance work.
In the latest operational summary provided by RT, there are six submarines in the German fleet and all are out of service. Two Type 212a vessels are undergoing scheduled maintenance, and will be redeployed in the second half of 2018, while another two are in a critical state for repairs, with no estimated time of completion. The fifth submarine, as we mentioned above, crashed in October. The sixth submarine was commissioned in October and is currently undergoing rigorous sea trials before it will become operational in May 2018. Germany’s submarine fleet will be paralyzed for the next 4-5 months, which presents an enormous national security risk for the country. The submarines’ most fundamental feature is stealth, coupled with defense capabilities and surveillance, but as mentioned above, there is currently a major gap in Germany’s military defense at the moment, which we hope is not exploited by an adversary.
The German parliament’s Defense Commissioner Hans-Peter Bartels told ARD, “this a real disaster for the navy and it’s the first time in history that none [of the U-boats] would be operational for months.” Bartels blamed the lack of spare parts for the broken submarines with the lack of government funding. Ever since the Cold War, German authorities have decided against stockpiling spare parts due to its high costs.
Here’s a Grinchian question for the holidays: How much do Americans spend on stuff they don’t really need? A very rough analysis suggests they’re blowing more money on nonessential items than they have in more than 17 years. Back in the 1950s, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith made a bleak argument about modern capitalism: Advertising can create artificial wants – say, for the latest gadget or skin cream – that spur ever-greater consumption without actually making people better off. As a result, economies can grow without improving the lot of humanity. Whether or not he’s right – it remains a matter of debate – the idea raises an interesting empirical question: How much of what we consume is related to wants rather than needs?
This isn’t easy to answer using even the most detailed data on consumer spending, because many categories could go either way. A car, for example, could be pure transportation or a Ferrari. That said, a number of categories – such as gambling, hairdressers and recreational vehicles – are pretty clearly nonessential. Following them consistently over time can give at least a sense of trend. So how are we doing? In the third quarter of this year, nonessential items (of my own subjective selection 1) accounted for almost 18.5 percent of total U.S. consumer spending. That’s the highest share since June 2000. Here’s a chart:
This is about liquidity, not about the refusal to include in the ECB bond purchases. But it’s equally unjustifiable politically as well as economically. The ECB should not be able to do these things under cover of darkness.
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and a German parliamentarian are suing the ECB to gain access to a document underpinning the ECB’s decision to freeze vital funding to Greek banks in 2015. That move left Alexis Tsipras’ government with little choice but to shut down banks and impose capital controls, weakening his negotiating position with the country’s international lenders during bailout negotiations. Eventually, hard-liner Varoufakis resigned and Tsipras made a deal that gave Greece cash in return for austerity measures and reforms. Varoufakis and a German leftist parliamentarian, Fabio De Masi, are asking the EU’s top court to force the ECB to disclose a legal opinion that informed that decision, which they say might be unlawful.
“By restricting liquidity to the Greek banking sector to force cuts in pensions, tax increases and fire-sale privatizations, the ECB overstepped its mandate,” De Masi said. After their request was rejected by the ECB, Varoufakis and De Masi are turning to the General Court of the European Union to obtain the document. An ECB spokesman said the legal opinion preceded the decision to withhold funding by at least two months. The ECB decided not to disclose it to protect its legal advisers and its internal deliberations, he said. The ECB’s Agreement on Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), published earlier this year, prohibits national central banks from providing ELA if it “interferes with the objectives and tasks” of the Eurosystem, such as maintaining price stability and safeguarding payments.
“There is an overriding public interest in knowing how far the ECB … weighed different goals against each other and how they themselves and their legal experts have interpreted the legal framework in this respect,” the complainants’ lawyer, Andreas Fischer-Lescano, said in the appeal.
Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more. The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system. In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.”
Until roughly a decade or so ago, the region was holding up relatively well, despite warming at roughly twice the rate of the planet as a whole. But in recent years, it’s undergone an abrupt change, which now defines it. The Arctic is our glimpse of an Earth in flux, transforming into something that’s radically different from today. At a press conference announcing the new assessment, acting NOAA Administrator Timothy Gallaudet emphasizes the “huge impact” these changes were having on everything from tourism to fisheries to worldwide weather patterns. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic — it affects the rest of the planet,” Gallaudet said.
[..] Take, for instance, the hypothesis of University of Alaska-Fairbanks permafrost scientist Vladimir Romanovsky: So far, 2017 has seen the highest permafrost temperatures in Alaska on record. If that warming continues at the current rate, widespread thawing could begin in as few as 10 years. The impact of such defrosting “will be very very severe,” Romanovsky says, and could include destruction of local infrastructure — like roads and buildings — throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the release of additional greenhouse gases that have been locked for generations in the ice.