Apr 112019
 


Carl Spitzweg The raven 1845

 

 

In light of the horrible news that Julian Assange was arrested by British police inside the Ecuadorian embassy this morning, what is there to say that we haven’t already said?

We originally published this essay on May 16 2018.

 

 

Julian Assange appears to be painfully close to being unceremoniously thrown out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. If that happens, the consequences for journalism, for freedom of speech, and for press freedom, will resound around the world for a very long time. It is very unwise for anyone who values truth and freedom to underestimate the repercussions of this.

In essence, Assange is not different from any journalist working for a major paper or news channel. The difference is he published what they will not because they want to stay in power. The Washington Post today would never do an investigation such as Watergate, and that’s where WikiLeaks came in.

It filled a void left by the media that betrayed their own history and their own field. Betrayed the countless journalists throughout history, and today, who risked their lives and limbs, and far too often lost them, to tell the truth about what powers that be do when they think nobody’s looking or listening.

Julian is not wanted because he’s a spy, or even because he published a number of documents whose publication was inconvenient for certain people. He is wanted because he is so damn smart, which makes him very good and terribly effective at what he does. He’s on a most wanted list not for what he’s already published, but for what he might yet publish in the future.

He built up WikiLeaks into an organization that acquired the ultimate trust of many people who had access to documents they felt should be made public. They knew he would never betray their trust. WikiLeaks has to date never published any documents that were later found out to be false. It never gave up a source. No documents were ever changed or manipulated for purposes other than protecting sources and other individuals.

 

Julian Assange built an ’empire’ based on trust. To do that he knew he could never lie. Even the smallest lie would break what he had spent so much time and effort to construct. He was a highly accomplished hacker from a very young age, which enabled him to build computer networks that nobody managed to hack. He knew how to make everything safe. And keep it that way.

Since authorities were never able to get their hands on WikiLeaks, its sources, or its leader, a giant smear campaign was started around rape charges in Sweden (the country and all its citizens carry a heavy blame for what happened) and connections to America’s favorite enemy, Russia. The rape charges were never substantiated, Julian was never even interrogated by any Swedish law enforcement personnel, but that is no surprise.

It was clear from the get-go what was happening. First of all, for Assange himself. And if there’s one thing you could say he’s done wrong, it’s that he didn’t see the full impact from the campaign against him, sooner. But if you have the world’s largest and most powerful intelligence services against you, and they manage to find both individuals and media organizations willing to spread blatant lies about you, chances are you will not last forever.

If and when you have such forces running against you, you need protection. From politicians and from -fellow- media. Assange didn’t get that, or not nearly enough. Ecuador offered him protection, but as soon as another president was elected, they turned against him. So have news organizations who were once all too eager to profit from material Assange managed to obtain from his sources.

 

That the Guardian today published not just one, not two, but three what can only be labeled as hit pieces on Julian Assange, should perhaps not surprise us; they fell out a long time ago. Still, the sheer amount of hollow innuendo and outright lies in the articles is astonishing. How dare you? Have you no shame, do you not care at all about your credibility? At least the Guardian makes painfully clear why WikiLeaks was needed.

No, Sweden didn’t “drop its investigation into alleged sexual offences because it was unable to question Assange”. The Swedes simply refused to interview him in the Ecuador embassy in London, the only place where he knew he was safe. They refused this for years. And when the rape charges had lost all credibility, Britain asked Sweden to not drop the charges, but keep the pressure on.

No, there is no proof of links from Assange to Russian hackers and/or to the Russian government. No, there is no proof that DNC computers were hacked by Russians to get to John Podesta’s emails. In fact there is no proof they were hacked at all. No, Ecuador didn’t get tired of Julian; their new president, Moreno, decided to sell him out “at the first pressure from the United States”. Just as his predecessor, Correa, said he would.

Julian Assange has been condemned by Sweden, Britain, the US and now Ecuador to solitary confinement with no access to daylight or to medical care. Without a trial, without a sentence, and on the basis of mere allegations, most of which have already turned out to be trumped up and false. This violates so many national and international laws it’s futile to try and count or name them.

It also condemns any and all subsequent truth tellers to the prospect of being treated in the same way that Julian is. Forget about courts, forget about justice. You’ll be on a wanted list. I still have a bit of hope left that Vladimir Putin will step in and save Assange from the gross injustice he’s been exposed to for far too many years. Putin gets 100 times the lies and innuendo Assange gets, but he has a powerful nation behind him. Assange, in the end, only has us.

What’s perhaps the saddest part of all this is that people like Chelsea Manning, Kim Dotcom, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are among the smartest people our world has to offer. We should be cherishing the combination of intelligence, courage and integrity they display at their own risk and peril, but instead we let them be harassed by our governments because they unveil inconvenient truths about them.

And pretty soon there will be nobody left to tell these truths, or tell any truth at all. Dark days. By allowing the smartest and bravest amongst us, who are experts in new technologies, to be silenced, we are allowing these technologies to be used against us.

We’re not far removed from being extras in our own lives, with all significant decisions taken not by us, but for us. America’s Founding Fathers are turning in their graves as we speak. They would have understood the importance of protecting Julian Assange.

To say that we are all Julian Assange is not just a slogan.

 

 

Apr 082019
 


Pablo Picasso Young girl throwing a rock 1931

 

British Voters Say Give Us A Strong Leader Willing To Break The Rules (R.)
May Faces Intense Cabinet Pressure Over Prospect Of Lengthy Brexit Delay (G.)
Labour Jewish Members Declare Party’s Leadership ‘Antisemitic’ (Ind.)
Sorry Is The Easiest Word – But Should Democrats Stop Their Apology Tour? (G.)
Mulvaney Says Democrats Will ‘Never’ See Trump Tax Returns (AFP)
US Urges Immediate Halt To Military Operations In Libya (R.)
Gold Is Moving Back Into The Center Of The Financial System – Rubino (USAW)
Facebook Are ‘Morally Bankrupt Liars’ – New Zealand Privacy Commissioner (G.)
Chelsea Manning’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Moment (Kiriakou)
Midwest Floods Hammer US Ethanol Industry (R.)
Greek Pensioners Have Become The Biggest Single Group Of Taxpayers (K.)
Pain-Care Specialist Agrees To Testify Against Purdue (R.)
Drinks Bottles Now Biggest Plastic Menace For Waterways (G.)

 

 

History rhymes.

British Voters Say Give Us A Strong Leader Willing To Break The Rules (R.)

British voters want a strong leader who is willing to break the rules and force through wide scale reform after three years of Brexit crisis pushed confidence in the political system to a 15-year low. The 2016 referendum revealed a United Kingdom divided over much more than EU membership, and has sparked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British. Yet more than a week since the United Kingdom was originally supposed to leave the EU on March 29, nothing is resolved: it remains uncertain how, when or if it ever will.


Research by the Hansard Society found that 54 percent of voters want a strong leader who is willing to break the rules while 72 percent said the system needs “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of improvement. Confidence in the system at the lowest level in the 15-year history of the survey, lower even than after the 2009 expense scandal when lawmakers were shown to have charged taxpayers for everything from an ornamental duck house to cleaning out a moat. [..] “People are pessimistic about the country’s problems and their possible solution, with sizeable numbers willing to entertain radical political changes.” Just a quarter of people had confidence in lawmakers’ handling of Brexit.

Read more …

They had people vote for something, and then spent 3 years haggling over what that something was. At the very least that’s the wrong way around.

May Faces Intense Cabinet Pressure Over Prospect Of Lengthy Brexit Delay (G.)

Theresa May is facing intense cabinet pressure to avoid the prospect of a long Brexit delay, amid increasing expectations that last ditch cross-party talks on a compromise departure plan will not produce anything concrete. Before a crucial EU summit later this week, the prime minister is facing a fast-diminishing range of options that could split the Conservative party and prompt a mass cabinet walkout, or could result in the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on Friday. May’s only response on Sunday was a homespun video that called for a compromise solution, but while praised for its conversational style, it lacked any fresh detail on proposals to break the Brexit impasse.

With Labour reiterating it had yet to learn even the basics of concessions May might offer after her dramatic call last week for consensus, the timetable looked tight to agree anything before the European council gathering on Wednesday evening. Under the terms of the previous brief extension agreed with the EU, if Brussels does not agree another delay, a no-deal Brexit will happen on Friday. May has requested a pause until 30 June, but Brussels is keen on a wait of up to a year, which could be broken earlier if a solution is found. On Monday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will hold talks with the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

At the weekend, Varadkar said his own preference was for a longer extension than 30 June. Also on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn is due to hold meetings with Sinn Fein’s leaders in London. The party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, is expected to tell Corbyn that Irish interests must be protected whatever the outcome of his Brexit negotiations with Theresa May.

Read more …

Corbyn talks to May and very predictably this drivel comes out again. Corbyn’s no anti-semite, but he defends Palestinians. That’s why there’s this.

But at the same time, he’s the one who allows this to happen. The Labour Party should be talking about what’s happening to Julian Assange in the heart of London, not be in some nonsense war on alleged anti-semitism.

Labour Jewish Members Declare Party’s Leadership ‘Antisemitic’ (Ind.)

Jewish Labour members have branded the party leadership as antisemitic in a fresh blow to Jeremy Corbyn. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) passed the damning motion at its annual general meeting on Sunday, accusing Mr Corbyn of having “condoned antisemitism and antisemites”. The group said the Labour leader was “unfit to be prime minister” and that a government he led “would not be in the interests of British Jews”. JLM is Labour’s only official Jewish affiliate and has been part of the party for almost 100 years. One source at the meeting told The Independent the decision to approve the motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn was “almost unanimous”.


It reads: “The leadership of the Labour Party have demonstrated that they are antisemitic, and have presided over a culture of antisemitism in which they have failed to use their personal and positional power to tackle antisemitism, and have instead used their influence to protect and defend antisemites. “Jeremy Corbyn is directly responsible, whether through his own actions, where he appears to have condoned antisemitism and antisemites, or through his inaction to tackle the wider problem within the party.” The motion said JLM “has no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to understand, respond to or solve the problem” and claimed “his leadership of the Labour Party combined with his past actions and associations shows a complete disregard for the Jewish community in Britain”.

Read more …

Why the Democrats are toast: long article on tons of apologies, but not a word about what they really should apologize for: Russiagate.

Sorry Is The Easiest Word – But Should Democrats Stop Their Apology Tour? (G.)

For Joe Biden, it was his discomfiting touching of women. For Pete Buttigieg, his use of the phrase “all lives matter”. For Tulsi Gabbard, her comments about homosexuality. For Kirsten Gillibrand, her positions on immigration. For Kamala Harris, her record on criminal justice. For Beto O’Rourke, his jokes about his wife and children. For Bernie Sanders, his staff perpetrating sexual harassment in the last campaign. For Elizabeth Warren, her claim to Native American ancestry. Democrats running for president in 2020 are on an “apology tour”, seeking to atone for past political sins. Some voters welcome it as an antidote to Donald Trump, an overdue attempt to set the social and political bar higher for the 21st century. Others are anxious that the candidates’ supporters will try to tear each other down with “wokeness” tests that could leave the party hopelessly divided.

[..] In February, comedian Bill Maher urged viewers of his HBO show: “No more swiping left on presidential candidates. Let’s give them a chance. Let’s not eat our own the way we nitpicked Hillary [Clinton] to death over her emails and other bullshit.” Maher added: “Kamala Harris has already had to play defence because it’s come out, when she was a prosecutor, she prosecuted people. Not very progressive. She should have found a way to apply more forgiveness, and the fact that she didn’t is unforgivable. Elizabeth Warren claimed to be Native American – so what? Trump claimed to be human.”

Republicans sense an opportunity to frame Democrats as consumed by identity politics and virtue signalling. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote in February: Democrats are about to ≠embark on the first woke primary, a gantlet of political correctness that will routinely wring abject apologies out of candidates and find fault in even the most sure-footed. The passage of time will be no defense. Nor the best of intentions. Nor anything else.

Read more …

“If the Democrats want to know “if the IRS is doing its job auditing the president, they could ask the IRS..”

Mulvaney Says Democrats Will ‘Never’ See Trump Tax Returns (AFP)

A formal request from a Democratic committee chairman to see six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns was forcibly rejected Sunday by a top presidential aide, who said Democrats would “never” see the documents. Trump is the first US president since Richard Nixon to refuse to divulge his tax information. Representative Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sparked a contentious battle on Wednesday when he made the request using a little-known provision in the tax code, saying, “It is critical to ensure the accountability of our government and elected officials.” But when Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was asked Sunday whether Democrats would ever see the returns, he was unequivocal. “Never,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Nor should they.”

Mulvaney asserted that since voters knew ahead of the 2016 election that Trump would not reveal his returns and then elected him anyway, the matter was “already litigated.” He said that while there are legal provisions for the Internal Revenue Service to turn tax papers over to the Ways and Means Committee – the chief tax-writing committee in the House – a “political” attack is not a valid reason. Separately, Jay Sekulow, a private attorney for Trump, argued that the Democratic-controlled House was trying to move beyond its constitutionally mandated role of oversight into the realm of law enforcement. If the Democrats want to know “if the IRS is doing its job auditing the president, they could ask the IRS,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“A Ways and Means hearing about IRS enforcement as a way to get to the president’s private individual and business tax returns makes no sense, both constitutionally and statutorily,” Sekulow said. But Dan Kildee, a Democratic member of Ways and Means, took strong exception. “We’re looking very carefully as to whether or not the IRS is properly auditing and enforcing tax law on the president of the United States, and we’re considering legislative changes toward that end,” he said on ABC.

Read more …

Thank you, Hillary and Obama.

US Urges Immediate Halt To Military Operations In Libya (R.)

The United States called on Sunday for an immediate halt to military operations in Libya as the Libyan National Army headed by Khalifa Haftar advanced on the capital, Tripoli. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that Washington was “deeply concerned about fighting near Tripoli” and urged talks to end the fighting. “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said in urging de-escalation. Eleven people were killed and 23 wounded in clashes in southern Tripoli, the Health Ministry of the U.N.-backed Libyan government of National Accord said late on Sunday.


The ministry gave no details of whether the casualties were civilians or fighters. Lawless since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by rebels backed by NATO air strikes, Libya has become the transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mold of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.

Read more …

“.. in the next recession, we will be taking on huge amounts of new debt at an accelerating rate.”

Gold Is Moving Back Into The Center Of The Financial System – Rubino (USAW)

The end part of this story is how good all this is for gold. . . . The next thing from the Fed will be a rate cut, and it will increase and not decrease its balance sheet. . . . We are going to go preemptively to monetary easing, and that’s really new. This is very, very new. You normally don’t do this. You wait until you see a bear market and a slowdown in the economy that gets people laid off before you start aggressively easing. Apparently, we are going to do that stuff before that stuff starts happening. Who knows what the impact of that will be? If it works the way they want, more people will get hired, wages will pick up and we’ll have inflation in the 4% or 5% range before you know it.”

So, with near record low yields on bonds and near record high prices for stocks, Rubino has just one question. Rubino says, “What’s cheap? Gold and silver. What is down and what is cheap relative to the fundamentals. It’s not just the price of gold and silver, it’s how much gold and silver exists relative to how much paper wealth is in the world. The amount of gold and silver that we are bringing out of the ground is growing at 1% or 2% per year. The amount of paper wealth in the world is growing exponentially. . . .Gold is moving back into the center of the global financial system.”

Another big factor to consider is debt. Rubino says, “Every big country is running deficits that are dramatically bigger than they were five years ago. In the U.S., we are back to $1 trillion a year deficits, which is Obama Administration post Great Recession kind of numbers, and we are doing it 10 years into an expansion. . . . So, in the next recession, we will be taking on huge amounts of new debt at an accelerating rate.

Read more …

Now we’re talking.

Facebook Are ‘Morally Bankrupt Liars’ – New Zealand Privacy Commissioner (G.)

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner has lashed out at social media giant Facebook in the wake of the Christchurch attacks, calling the company “morally bankrupt pathological liars”. The commissioner used his personal Twitter page to lambast the social network, which has also drawn the ire of prime minister Jacinda Ardern for hosting a livestream of the attacks that left 50 dead, which was then copied and shared all over the internet. “Facebook cannot be trusted,” wrote Edwards. “They are morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide (Myanmar), facilitate foreign undermining of democratic institutions.


“[They] allow the live streaming of suicides, rapes, and murders, continue to host and publish the mosque attack video, allow advertisers to target ‘Jew haters’ and other hateful market segments, and refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm. “They #dontgiveazuck” wrote Edwards. He later deleted the tweets, saying they had prompted “toxic and misinformed traffic”. Edwards was responding to an interview given by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to America’s ABC network, in which he failed to commit to any changes to the Facebook live technology, including a time delay on livestreams. Zuckerberg said incidents like the live streaming of the Christchurch mosque attacks were the result of “bad actors”; not bad technology and a time delay would disrupt the enjoyment of users who broadcast events like birthday parties or group hangouts.

Read more …

Pete Seeger did in the 1950’s what Chelsea is doing today.

Chelsea Manning’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Moment (Kiriakou)

Contrary to popular belief, President Obama did not pardon Manning in the final days of his administration. Instead, he commuted her sentence, simply releasing her from prison. The conviction still stands and Manning is still in legal jeopardy. Prosecutors could still decide to charge her with crimes related to the original charges. With that said, was Manning’s subpoena a ham-fisted attempt to get her to contradict herself in new testimony, thus inviting another felony charge for perjury or making a false statement? Were prosecutors trying to get Manning to implicate herself in some process felony? Or were they simply trying to force her to turn rat on Julian Assange?

Again, Manning could have simply answered each question with “I don’t recall.” She would have been home in time for dinner. Instead, she made a political point—one that all of us should want to emulate. That point is “Don’t tread on me.” That point is “I’m willing to jeopardize my freedom to protect yours.” I say often that in my time at the CIA, I learned that CIA culture is such that employees are taught that everything in life is a shade of gray. But that is simply not true. Some things are black and white, right or wrong. This is one of those things. It’s the government that’s the enemy here, not Manning or Assange.

Remember, the American people own the information that Manning and Assange are accused of releasing. We have a right to know what our government is doing in our name. We have a right to know whether the government is covering up crimes. We have a right to know when—and why—those Americans who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity are not being prosecuted. The mainstream media doesn’t tell us. But Wikileaks does. We wouldn’t know about some of the most egregious war crimes of the past two decades without Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to share their politics. You don’t have to want to go out and have a beer with them. But you do have to respect what they’ve done.

Read more …

Stupid industry anyway.

Midwest Floods Hammer US Ethanol Industry (R.)

The March floods that punished the U.S. Midwest have roiled the ethanol industry, hammering prices and trapping barrels in the country’s interior while the U.S. coasts suffer from shortages of the biofuel. The historic March floods have dealt a series of blows to large swaths of an ethanol industry that was already struggling with high inventories and sluggish domestic demand growth. And the ethanol shortages are one factor pushing gasoline prices in Los Angeles and Southern California to the highest in the nation and they could top $4 a gallon for the first time since 2014, according to tracking firm GasBuddy.


Benchmark price for ethanol used in most supply contracts initially jumped on news of the floods but has been hobbled by rising waters around the Chicago hub that have halted barges and sales. That stands in contrast to prices on the coasts, which rose dramatically – drawing in heavy imports from Brazil, the main U.S. ethanol competitor. The floods inflicted billions of dollars in damage to crops and homes in the U.S. Midwest, and knocked out roughly 13% of ethanol capacity. U.S. ethanol is made from corn and required by the government to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to reduce emissions. While some ethanol plants were flooded, the primary effect of the rising waters was to shut rail lines that serve as the main arteries for corn and ethanol deliveries.

Read more …

Q: how long can you keep an economy running that has more pensioners than workers?

Greek Pensioners Have Become The Biggest Single Group Of Taxpayers (K.)

Pensioners constitute the biggest single group of taxpayers in Greece, confirming the ominous predictions about the impact of an aging population on growth and state finances. The number of pensioners expanded since the starts of the financial crisis more than any other group, coming to outnumber even salaried workers. The relevant data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue are impressive, showing that in nine out of the country’s 13 regions, pensioners make up the biggest group of taxpayers, ahead of salaried workers, farmers and freelance professionals. In certain regions both the number of pensioners and their declared incomes are above those of the other groups.

For instance, in the region of Western Greece, pensioners account for 40.1% of taxpayers and 40% of the total declared income. Statistical data processing reveals that since end-2014 the number of pensioners in Greece has shot up by 233,000. Going back to the outbreak of the crisis at the start of the decade, there is an additional 588,360: From 1,667,428 pensioners in 2010 there are now 2,255,788. The active population is therefore declining at a rapid rate: Before the economic crisis broke out, pensioners accounted for 29% of taxpayers, while today their share has climbed to 35.4%. However, the same data also reveal the dramatic shrinking of pensioners’ incomes during the crisis: Back in 2010 their declared annual income amounted to 27 billion euros, as each one of them declared an average 16,228 euros per year; today the yearly declared income of pensioners comes to just 11,175 euros, reduced by 31.13%.

The regional data are quite astonishing in terms of the growing dominance of pensioners among taxpayers: In Attica, by far the country’s most populated region, salaried workers come to 935,955 and pensioners are 804,755. The annual income of pensioners is 10.3 billion euros, according to 2018 figures, while that of salaried workers is 15.2 billion. In Western Greece, the region that includes Patra – Greece’s third city – pensioners dwarf salaried workers, as there are 153,452 of the former against just 111,979 of the latter.

Read more …

Well, actually he’s a company shill trying to stay out of jail.

Pain-Care Specialist Agrees To Testify Against Purdue (R.)

A physician ally of Purdue Pharma LP whose views helped drive the explosive growth in the use of addictive pain relievers for common aches and pains in the United States has agreed to testify against the OxyContin maker and other drug companies, newly disclosed court records show. Dr. Russell Portenoy, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, was an early advocate for the use of opioids for chronic pain, a position he shared in medical journal articles, with regulators, at physician conferences and in other forums. He also was named as a defendant in some of the lawsuits filed by cities, counties and states seeking to hold opioid makers – including Endo and Mallinckrodt Plc – and their distributors liable for the cost of the U.S. opioid epidemic.


But Portenoy began talking to plaintiffs’ lawyers as early as January 2018 and later struck a deal with the plaintiffs to serve as a cooperating witness, the records show. In exchange for his dismissal from the suits, Portenoy provided the plaintiffs with documentation of opioid makers’ payments to him over the years, as well as a 36-page declaration that lays out what he would say on the witness stand. Portenoy’s previously confidential cooperation agreement and declaration were made public Friday as a part of a discovery ruling by David Cohen, a special master in the federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, where hundreds of the opioid lawsuits have been consolidated. In an email, Cohen said it was possible the records should have been filed under seal out of public view.

Read more …

Is it bad enough yet to call it hopeless?

Drinks Bottles Now Biggest Plastic Menace For Waterways (G.)

Plastic bottles, the detritus of our throwaway water and soft drinks habits, are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways, according to a new report. Food wrappers, including crisp and sweet packets, were the second biggest form of plastic pollution in rivers, followed by cigarette butts. All of these forms of litter can cause problems for wildlife and fish, and are hard to clean up once they have found their way into the water. Plastic bags were found to make up only 1% of plastic rubbish in freshwater, reflecting years of efforts to reduce their use, including charges on them in the UK and many other European countries.

Consumers should be more aware of what they can do to prevent the fouling of waterways, from using cotton buds with paper sticks to binning wet wipes instead of flushing them, and bringing their own receptacles for food takeaways, according to the Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK. “The products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” said Jo Ruxton, chief executive of Plastic Oceans UK. “Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down toilets. This throwaway approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.”

Although most attention on the plastic scourge has focused on the plight of oceans, about 80% of plastic rubbish flows into them from rivers. Many experts believe that focusing on the clean-up of rivers is the best way to choke off the flow of existing rubbish into seas, while the ultimate source of the problem – our dependence on throwaway plastic products – is tackled.

Read more …

Apr 052019
 


Pablo Picasso Crucifixion 1930

 

 

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500.

 

 

Mr. President,

I write to you because I’m seeing something unfold that concerns you, and I have no way of knowing if you’re aware of it, nor have I seen anyone else mention it. That is, sir, you are being set up, a trap is being set for you, and unless you are aware of it, you may well walk into that trap eyes wide open.

It may not be in your briefing this morning, but the WikiLeaks organization has reported that high-ranking Ecuadorean state officials have told them Julian Assange will be expelled from their London embassy in a matter of “hours to days”. Now, I don’t know what your personal opinion is of Mr. Assange, maybe you think he deserves punishment for leaking secret files to the public.

Your personal opinion of Mr. Assange, however, is not the most important issue here, no offense. What’s most important to your own situation, as well as that of Mr. Assange, is that the people who are after him are the very same people who have been after you for 3 years, and who will double their efforts after suffering a huge loss due to Robert Mueller’s No Collusion report.

What the trap set for you consists of is that if you let these -largely anonymous- deep state actors get their hands on Mr. Assange, you will greatly empower them (even further). But, sir, his enemies inside US intelligence are the same as yours, and empowering one’s enemies is not the way to do battle.

 

We know they are the same people because of Robert Mueller. Mr. Assange was the only way Mr. Mueller could think of to link you to “the Russians”. This is a narrative built upon the -false- notion that “Russians” hacked the DNC servers and sent the contents to Mr. Assange. The narrative has been fully discredited by multiple voices multiple times, but Mr. Mueller has never retracted it.

For good reason: this way he -and others- can leave the story, and suspicion, open that there is a link between you, Mr. Assange and the Russians, despite the Mueller report’s no collusion conclusion. And do note: it not only maintains the popular and media suspicion of Mr. Assange, it also leaves suspicion of you alive.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray explained the intricacies -again- a few days ago:

 

Muellergate and the Discreet Lies of the Bourgeoisie

Robert Mueller repeats the assertion from the US security services that it was Russian hackers who obtained the DNC emails and passed them on to Wikileaks. I am telling you from my personal knowledge that this is not true. Neither Mueller’s team, not the FBI, nor the NSA, nor any US Intelligence agency, has ever carried out any forensic analysis on the DNC’s servers. The DNC consistently refused to make them available. The allegation against Russia is based purely on information from the DNC’s own consultants, Crowdstrike.

William Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA (America’s US$40 billion a year communications intercept organisation), has proven beyond argument that it is a technical impossibility for the DNC emails to have been transmitted by an external hack – they were rather downloaded locally, probably on to a memory stick. Binney’s analysis is fully endorsed by former NSA systems expert Ed Loomis. There simply are no two people on the planet more technically qualified to make this judgement. Yet, astonishingly, Mueller refused to call Binney or Loomis (or me) to testify. Compare this, for example, with his calling to testify my friend Randy Credico, who had no involvement whatsoever in the matter, but Mueller’s team hoped to finger as a Trump/Assange link.

The DNC servers have never been examined by intelligence agencies, law enforcement or by Mueller’s team. Binney and Loomis have written that it is impossible this was an external hack. Wikileaks have consistently stressed no state actor was involved. No evidence whatsoever has been produced of the transfer of the material from the “Russians” to Wikileaks. Wikileaks Vault 7 release of CIA documents shows that the planting of false Russian hacking “fingerprints” is an established CIA practice. Yet none of this is reflected at all by Mueller nor by the mainstream media. “Collusion” may be dead, but the “Russiagate” false narrative limps on.

 

Mr. Trump, sir, I don’t doubt you have realized by now that you are not rid yet of Robert Mueller. But Mr. Mueller is but one cog in the large wheel of intelligence running against you. Yes, the same wheel that runs against Mr. Assange. I’m sure you recognize that it’s hugely ironic, but there is a for now unbreakable bond between the two of you.

Not because of anything you did yourselves, but because Russiagate conspirators in the media, the Democratic party and the intelligence community have created it. And you need to be careful on account of that bond, because they’re going to -try to- use it against you.

I may be a lot more sympathetic to Mr. Assange than you are, but as I said before, this has nothing to do with personal opinion. This is about a trap being set for you. And Mr. Assange is an important part of that trap.

Through him, and especially if they keep him incommunicado, they can keep Russiagate alive, which allows for hundreds of billions of dollars in annual arms expenditures and the 24/7/365 threat of war.

Without the empty allegations against Mr. Assange, Robert Mueller would have had to drop his probe much earlier, but in keeping the allegations alive by silencing Mr. Assange, Russiagate can live on, because the link between Russian hackers and WikiLeaks can be left hanging in the air. And that, Mr. President, will be bad news for you, whether you like it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not.

 

We haven’t talked about the media yet, but there’s another giant irony in the US media clamoring about press freedom, and using it to smear you for 3 years, but not saying a single word to defend that same freedom when it comes to Mr. Assange. They, too, will continue to haunt you, using Mr. Assange as their bait. Don’t let them.

I don’t know what you intend to do about Russiagate and its main perpetrators, but I do know you can make things much easier for yourself if you solve the Assange conundrum first. And you can’t do that by allowing your own enemies to get their hands on him and rendition him; that will backfire on you.

You could pardon him, but that may be a step too far for you at this point. It might be better to simply allow him to go home to Australia.

What would amuse me to no end is if you would personally nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize. That would piss off so many of your enemies it would be a sight to see. The biggest bird you can flip them all. And then after that, you know, go talk to Vladimir Putin and tell him you’re sorry for all this bad theater.

There’s this scene in the Godfather where Marlon Brando as the ageing Don tells Al Pacino how to recognize the traitor in his own midst: the one who suggests setting up a meeting. This is very similar: whoever comes to you to suggest the harshest treatment of Julian Assange, will be the one(s) intent on coming after you too.

One last thing, Mr. President: Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are among the best, brightest and bravest people our world has to offer. We need people like them, and we need them badly. And it’s a lot more stupid than it is simply ironic, that they are the ones we are locking up and silencing. That way America will never be great again, guaranteed.

And you, sir (I know, more irony) may be their -and our- best and even last hope. You have the power to set free our best. Please use it wisely. And Mr. President, sir, be careful out there.

Know your enemies.

 

 

 

 

Mar 312019
 
 March 31, 2019  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Banksy Devolved Parliament 2009

 

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Under Fire On Vote Leave’s Law-Breaking (G.)
EU Will Delay Brexit To Allow Another Referendum (Ind.)
May Risks ‘Total Collapse’ Of Government In Brexit Impasse – Sunday Times (R.)
Furious Tory MPs Tell May: We’ll Block Snap Brexit Election (G.)
Corbyn Accuses Government Of ‘Bullying’ MPs (G.)
The Insanity of Global Trade (Roar)
Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers File An Appeal Against Her Detention (Canary)
Who Is Paying For Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are (G.)
$80 Million Roundup Verdict Is Only $2.5M After Taxes, New IRS Math (F.)
EU Bans UK’s Most-Used Pesticide Over Health And Environment Fears (G.)
How The Lion Lost Its Strength (G.)
Chicxulub: Stunning Fossils Record Dinosaurs’ Demise (BBC)

 

 

For anyone who wanted to stop Brexit, this seemed the way out: show illegal activity. Plenty appears to be there, but it’s been swept under the carpet. Why hasn’t it been investigated much more?

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Under Fire On Vote Leave’s Law-Breaking (G.)

Conservative leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are facing growing calls to account for illegal behaviour by the official Vote Leave Brexit campaign. The group has dropped its appeal against the Electoral Commission’s ruling that it broke the law by channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of donations to an ostensibly independent campaign group, BeLeave. When the Observer revealed evidence a year ago that Vote Leave had broken spending rules, Johnson attacked the report on Twitter as “utterly ludicrous” and said it had “won … legally”. A Johnson adviser said on Saturday that the former foreign secretary would not comment on the end of the appeal.

There has been no government response to the appeal being dropped and little media coverage. And while national broadcasters and newspapers gave prime coverage to Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliot when he launched an aggressive media campaign against the watchdog’s initial findings, few covered the decision to to end the appeals process in any depth. After the announcement, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, who was outed by a member of Theresa May’s team, lost his job and was vilified as a fantasist after his revelations about Vote Leave’s spending, said: “The [end of the appeal] feels extremely vindicating, but the way the media has responded to it has been extremely disappointing. The only excuse they had is that they were appealing. Now we know they broke the law, they need to be held to account.”


Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said the confirmation that Vote Leave had broken the law underlined the need for a second referendum. “It is now incumbent on the government to act. We have heard minister after minister say the referendum is valid. This is proof it was not,” she said. “Going ahead with Brexit in these circumstances would be the biggest betrayal of our democracy of all.”

Read more …

Britain can only do what the EU will allow.

EU Will Delay Brexit To Allow Another Referendum (Ind.)

EU leaders are prepared to let Britain delay Brexit again to allow time for a second referendum, The Independent understands. After parliament rejected Theresa May’s deal for a third time, the bloc called a summit on 10 April – two days before the UK is on course to leave without a deal. And senior Brussels officials familiar with leaders’ thinking say that barring a credible plan to get a majority for the withdrawal agreement, the UK would be given more time only if it was for another clear option such as a general election or a referendum. The EU has already warned that a further extension, which could run until at least the end of the year, would also require the UK to take part in European parliament elections scheduled for the end of May.


As reported by The Independent, the prime minister is considering a general election as a way out of the Brexit chaos in Westminster, where MPs have rejected all options – including a no-deal Brexit. Senior officials in Brussels have made clear that an extension would also be justified if it was to make time for a referendum. Indicative votes in the Commons this week showed relatively strong support for a confirmatory referendum among MPs, with numbers such that only around a dozen more would need to be convinced to back one to pass it. One senior EU official said there were “three possible justifications” for a long extension emerging in member states’ thinking following their summit last week.

Read more …

Obviously. But a lot more could collapse.

May Risks ‘Total Collapse’ Of Government In Brexit Impasse – Sunday Times (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May risks the “total collapse” of her government if she fails to get her battered Brexit deal through parliament, the Sunday Times newspaper said, amid growing speculation that she might call an early election. Underscoring the tough choices facing May to break the Brexit impasse, the newspaper said at least six pro-European Union senior ministers will resign if she opts for a potentially damaging no-deal departure from the EU. But at the same time, rival ministers who support Brexit were threatening to quit if May decides to stay close to the EU with a customs union or if she sought a long delay to Brexit, the Sunday Times said.

May’s Brexit strategy is in tatters after the exit deal she hammered out with other EU leaders was rejected for a third time by the House of Commons on Friday, the day that Britain was supposed to leave the bloc. [..] The Mail on Sunday newspaper said May’s advisors were divided over whether she should call an early election if she fails to win support for her Brexit deal from parliament in the coming week. The newspaper said a possible “run-off” vote could take place on Tuesday in parliament between May’s deal and whatever alternative emerges as the most popular from voting by lawmakers on Monday. That meant an election could be called as early as Wednesday, the newspaper said …


The Sunday Telegraph said senior members of the Conservative Party did not want May to lead them into a snap election, fearing the party would be “annihilated” at the polls if she faced down parliament over Brexit in the coming months. An opinion poll in the Mail on Sunday gave the opposition Labour Party a lead of five percentage points over the Conservatives. That lead fell to three points if voters were offered the chance to vote for a new group of independent lawmakers who have not yet created an official party.

Read more …

“The threat of an election immediately angered both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs. May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one..”

Furious Tory MPs Tell May: We’ll Block Snap Brexit Election (G.)

Conservative MPs from across the party are threatening to vote down any attempt by Theresa May to lead them into a snap election, warning it would split the Tories and exacerbate the Brexit crisis. In a sign of the collapse in authority suffered by the prime minister, cabinet ministers are among those warning that there will be a serious campaign by Conservative MPs to vote against an election headed by May, a move she hinted at last week to break the Brexit deadlock. The threat of an election immediately angered both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs. May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one, meaning a serious rebellion by Tories could block it. May would then be forced to secure an election by backing a no-confidence vote in her own government, which only requires a simple majority of MPs.


Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan said: “If we have a general election before Brexit is resolved, it will only make things worse.” Antoinette Sandbach, a Tory MP who backs another referendum being held on any deal agreed by parliament, said she would vote against calling an election. “The answer is not a general election, and I would vote against that. We need to find a way forward in parliament and then put that to the people in a confirmatory referendum.” Mark Francois, a member of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs, said there was “not a chance” that Conservative MPs would back an election under May. “‘Of course they wouldn’t – not after last time. And remember, she needs a super majority to do it.”

Read more …

Then call for a national government, you twit.

Corbyn Accuses Government Of ‘Bullying’ MPs (G.)

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has accused the government of running down the clock and “bullying and threatening” MPs as it tried to force through Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Speaking in Newport, south Wales, before a byelection on Thursday, Corbyn also refused to say what his party’s parliamentary tactics would be during a second round of indicative votes due to take place on Monday. He said that the option of giving the public a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal “is the Labour position so far, but there hasn’t been enough support for that across the floor in the House of Commons”. During this week’s indicative votes, the option for a public vote was whipped by Labour but was defeated by 295 to 268 votes, with 27 of the party’s MPs rebelling.


Corbyn said: “The absolute priority at the moment is to end this chaos the government has brought us to by their endlessly running down the clock and basically bullying and threatening people. The bullying hasn’t worked, the threats haven’t worked. It’s time now for the sensible people to take over.” He cautioned: “This is a very dangerous period, because if we crash out without a deal then the supply chains get interrupted, jobs are at stake, and also the sense of security of many EU nationals living in Britain, and of course British people living across Europe.” [..] “However people voted in the referendum, no one voted to lose their jobs, no one voted to be worse off, and no one voted to deregulate our society.”

Read more …

Maximizing waste production is our economic model. Lovely video.

The Insanity of Global Trade (Roar)

The way trade works in the global economy is often absurd. Food routinely gets shipped halfway across the world to be processed, then shipped back to be sold right where it started. Mexican calves — fed imported American corn — are exported to the United States to be butchered, and then the meat is exported back to Mexico for sale. More than half of the seafood caught in Alaska gets processed in China, and much of it is sent right back to American grocery store shelves. Compounding the insanity of this “re-importation” is the equally head-scratching phenomenon of “redundant trade”. This is a common practice whereby countries both import and export identical quantities of identical products in a given year.

For instance, in 2007, Britain imported 15,000 tons of chocolate-covered waffles, while exporting 14,000 tons. In 2017, the US both imported and exported nearly 1.5 million tons of beef and nearly half a million tons of potatoes. On the face of it, this kind of trade makes no economic sense. Why would it be worth the immense cost — in money as well as fuel — of sending perfectly good food abroad only to bring it right back again? The answer lies in the way the global economy is structured. Direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, on the order of $5 trillion per year worldwide, allow the costs of shipping to be largely borne by taxpayers and the environment instead of the businesses that actually engage in it. This allows transnational corporations to take advantage of differences in labor and environmental laws between countries, not to mention tax loopholes, in service of making a bigger profit.


The consequences of this bad behavior are already severe, and set to become worse in the coming decades. Small farmers, particularly in the Global South, have seen their livelihoods undermined by influxes of cheap food from abroad. Trade agreements have made it impossible for companies to compete in the global economy unless they base their operations in places with the weakest protections for workers and the environment. And all the while, the share of global carbon emissions produced by commercial shipping is set to rise to 17 percent by 2050, if action isn’t taken to curb our addiction to trade.

Read more …

So far, the law has not been on Chelsea’s side. Or actually, it has. It just doesn’t count for much anymore.

Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers File An Appeal Against Her Detention (Canary)

Chelsea’s Manning’s legal team have filed an appeal on her behalf. They’ve asked that the fourth circuit court order her release from detention. On 8 March, Manning refused to testify in front of a grand jury about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Judge Claude Hilton found that Manning was in contempt of court and ordered her jailed. Manning will walk free when she either chooses to testify or the grand jury finishes its work. As a result, Manning could be held in jail for a further 18 months. Her support group Chelsea Resists! published a statement about the appeal. It said that her legal team are basing the appeal on three issues. Firstly, it said: “Judge Hilton denied Chelsea’s motion asking the government to disclose the existence of any unlawful surveillance without actually considering the evidence.”

This is important, it argued, because “evidence derived from unlawful surveillance may not be used in a grand jury”. Secondly, it claimed judge Hilton did not get assurances that the government’s subpoenaing of Manning was “properly motivated”. Chelsea Resists! said: “Prosecutors may not use the grand jury for the primary purpose of preparing for trial of an already-secured indictment. Chelsea raised concerns that the government did not need her testimony to further their investigation, and that rather they intended to use the subpoena to preview and perhaps undermine any testimony she might give at trial for an already-pending indictment.” It said this is “an abuse of process” which would void the initial subpoena. It argued that the judge “did not consider the facts or the law on this motion”.


For now, the US government is still holding Manning in detention. As The Canary previously reported, her support group has also accused the government of torturing her. According to Chelsea Resists!, prison authorities confine Manning to her cell for 22 hours a day. It says that “this treatment qualifies as Solitary Confinement” which “amounts to torture” when maintained for over 15 days. In its latest statement, it also said that this confinement: “..is especially egregious given that Chelsea has not been charged with or convicted of a crime.” The US government previously held Manning in solitary confinement from May 2010 to April 2011.

Read more …

“..US district judge Vince Chhabria [..] said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product..”

Who Is Paying For Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are (G.)

The chickens are coming home to roost, as they say in farm country. For the second time in less than eight months a US jury has found that decades of scientific evidence demonstrates a clear cancer connection to Monsanto’s line of top-selling Roundup herbicides, which are used widely by consumers and farmers. Twice now jurors have additionally determined that the company’s own internal records show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks. Both juries found punitive damages were warranted because the company’s cover-up of cancer risks was so egregious.


The juries saw evidence that Monsanto has ghost-written scientific papers, tried to silence scientists, scuttled independent government testing, and cozied up to regulators for favorable safety reviews of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Even the US district judge Vince Chhabria, who oversaw the San Francisco trial that concluded Wednesday with an $80.2m damage award, had harsh words for Monsanto. Chhabria said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product… and does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”

Read more …

Oh dear…

$80 Million Roundup Verdict Is Only $2.5M After Taxes, New IRS Math (F.)

Another Roundup verdict is in. This time, jurors found that Monsanto failed to warn users its product was dangerous and awarded Edwin Hardeman $200,000 for economic losses, $5 million for past and future pain and suffering, and $75 million in punitive damages. Last year, jurors gave $289 million to a man they say got cancer from Monsanto’s Roundup. That verdict was later reduced, and is on appeal. But the latest case is federal, and suggests that others could be headed for big numbers. The jury had already concluded that the weedkiller was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Hardeman’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Monsanto faces over 10,000 claims, and can be expected to continue fighting hard. But even if Monsanto pays up, new tax rules could swallow up many of the verdicts plaintiffs might be hoping to collect. Wait until you see the new tax math.

Under President Trump’s tax bill passed in late 2017, there is a new tax on litigation settlements: no deduction for legal fees. Amazingly, many legal fees can no longer be deducted. That means many plaintiffs must pay taxes even on monies their attorneys collect. Of course, the attorneys must also pay tax on the same money. Here’s the new math. Hardeman was awarded a bit over $5 million in compensatory damages, and $75M in punitive damages. The combined contingent fees and costs Mr. Hardeman pays his attorneys might total as much as 50%. If so, the plaintiff would get to keep half, or $2.5 million of the $5 million compensatory award. Since it is for his claimed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that part for physical injuries should not be taxed.


Then, of the $75 million punitive award, $37.5 million goes to legal fees and costs, and $37.5 million to Hardeman. So before taxes, the plaintiff’s take home is $40 million. What about after taxes? The $75 million in punitive damages are fully taxable, with no deduction for the fees to his lawyer. Between federal taxes of 37% and California taxes of up to 13.3%, Hardeman could lose about 50% to the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board. That makes his after-tax (and after legal fee) haul from an $80 million verdict only $2.5 million.

Read more …

Everything dies baby that’s a fact. We live in a death culture.

EU Bans UK’s Most-Used Pesticide Over Health And Environment Fears (G.)

One of the world’s most common pesticides will soon be banned by the European Union after safety officials reported human health and environmental concerns. Chlorothalonil, a fungicide that prevents mildew and mould on crops, is the most used pesticide in the UK, applied to millions of hectares of fields, and is the most popular fungicide in the US. Farmers called the ban “overly precautionary”. But EU states voted for a ban after a review by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) was unable to exclude the possibility that breakdown products of the chemical cause damage to DNA. Efsa also said “a high risk to amphibians and fish was identified for all representative uses”.

Recent research further identified chlorothalonil and other fungicides as the strongest factor linked to steep declines in bumblebees. Regulators around the world have falsely assumed it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes, according to a chief scientific adviser to the UK government. Other research in 2017 showed farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses, while a UN report denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.


A European commission spokeswoman said: “The [chlorothalonil ban] is based on Efsa’s scientific assessment which concluded that the approval criteria do not seem to be satisfied for a wide range of reasons. Great concerns are raised in relation to contamination of groundwater by metabolites of the substance.” Chlorothalonil has been used across the world since 1964 on barley and wheat, as well as potatoes, peas and beans. The ban will be passed formally in late April or early May and then enter into force three weeks later, the commission spokeswoman said.

Read more …

Inbreeding.

How The Lion Lost Its Strength (G.)

For more than a century, explorers and settlers have warned about the likely impact of the hunting of lions and other wild animals in Africa. One of the most prescient, Frederick Selous, the inspiration for the character Allan Quatermain in the novels of H Rider Haggard, wrote in 1908 that “since my first arrival in 1871, I had seen game of all kinds gradually decrease and dwindle in numbers to such an extent that I thought that nowhere south of the Great Lakes could there be a corner of Africa left where the wild animals had not been very much thinned out”.

Now researchers have uncovered the impact of that predation on the lion. Lion numbers and range have plunged – but it appears their genetic fitness has also declined. An alarming new study has revealed that lions shot by colonial hunters more than 100 years ago were more genetically diverse than the ones that now populate Africa. The discovery is worrying because it indicates that the species’ fight to survive may be even more difficult than had been previously thought. “Loss of genetic diversity means that lions are now less able to withstand new diseases or environmental problems, such as heatwaves or droughts,” said lead author Simon Dures, of the Zoological Society of London. “It means that we will have to be even more careful about how we try to protect them.”


In the late 19th century there were about 200,000 members of Panthera leo roaming the savannahs of Africa. Then European colonialists arrived and began shooting lions – the most social of all cats – in their thousands, first as sport and later to protect the cattle that the newcomers had begun to farm. With fewer than 20,000 of these majestic predators left on the continent, the species has now been designated as “vulnerable”.


Lions have lost some of their ability to cope with diseases, environmental changes or other threats. Photograph: Heinrich van den Berg/Getty Images

Read more …

Always fascinating.

Chicxulub: Stunning Fossils Record Dinosaurs’ Demise (BBC)

Scientists have found an extraordinary snapshot of the fallout from the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Excavations in North Dakota reveal fossils of fish and trees that were sprayed with rocky, glassy fragments that fell from the sky. The deposits show evidence also of having been swamped with water – the consequence of the colossal sea surge that was generated by the impact. Robert DePalma, from the University of Kansas, and colleagues say the dig site, at a place called Tanis, gives an amazing glimpse into events that probably occurred perhaps only tens of minutes to a couple of hours after the giant asteroid hit the Earth.


Fossilised fish piled one atop another as they were flung ashore by the seiche

When this 12km-wide object slammed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, it would have hurled billions of tonnes of molten and vaporised rock into the sky in all directions – and across thousands of kilometres. And at Tanis, the fossils record the moment this bead-sized material fell back down and strafed everything in its path. Fish are found with the impact-induced debris embedded in their gills. They would have breathed in the fragments that filled the water around them. There are also particles caught in amber, which is the preserved remnant of tree resin. It is even possible to discern the wake left by these tiny, glassy tektites, to use the technical term, as they entered the resin.


Dating the tektites gives an age for the impact – 65.76 million years ago

Geochemists have managed to link the fallout material directly to the so-called Chicxulub impact site in the Gulf. They have also dated the debris to 65.76 million years ago, which is in very good agreement with the timing for the event worked out from evidence at other sites around the world. From the way the Tanis deposits are arranged, the scientists can see that the area was hit by a massive surge of water. Although the impact is understood to have generated a huge tsunami, it would have taken many hours for this wave to travel the 3,000km from the Gulf to North Dakota, despite the likely presence back then of a seaway cutting directly across the American landmass.


The outer rim (white arc) of the crater lies partly under Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Read more …

Mar 192019
 
 March 19, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The conquerer 1926

 

Boeing, FAA Under Intense Scrutiny Over 737 MAX Certification (AFP)
7 In 10 Americans Say Economy In Good Shape (CNN)
UK In Constitutional Chaos After Speaker Blocks Third Vote On Brexit Deal (G.)
Are The English Ready For Self-Government? (Fintan O’Toole)
Hardline Tory Brexiteers Threaten Strike If Brexit Delayed By A Year (Sun)
UK Students Studying Abroad Left In Limbo (G.)
Deadly Serious (Jim Kunstler)
Paris Police Chief Sacked After Riots (G.)
Merging Deutsche Bank And Commerzbank Won’t Solve Their Problems (Coppola)
China’s Banks Have a Hidden Wave of Bad Debt (Balding)
Chelsea Manning and the New Inquisition (Chris Hedges)
Bumblebee Added To The Ever-Growing List Of Endangered Species (SNR)

 

 

 

 

“Unlike France, where criminal investigations into aviation accidents seems common, it is very, very rare in the US..”

Boeing, FAA Under Intense Scrutiny Over 737 MAX Certification (AFP)

Boeing and US aviation regulators are coming under intense scrutiny over the certification of the 737 MAX aircraft after news that two recent crashes share similarities. On March 11, just a day after the Ethiopia crash left 157 dead, a grand jury in Washington issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in the plane’s certification, according to a Wall Street Journal article citing people close to the matter. The subpoena, which came from a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s criminal division, seeks documents and correspondence related to the plane, according to the report. A criminal inquiry is “an entirely new twist,” said Scott Hamilton, managing director of the Leeham Company, who recalled a probe of a 1996 ValuJet crash as the only other aviation probe that was not a civil investigation.

“Unlike France, where criminal investigations into aviation accidents seems common, it is very, very rare in the US,” Hamilton added. The Transportation Department’s inspector general also is probing the approval of the 737 MAX by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), The Wall Street Journal also reported. The probe is focusing on the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, implicated in the Lion Air crash, which authorities have said shared similarities with the latest accident. The Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 came less than five months after a 737 MAX 8 operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia, killing 189. While it may take months for definitive conclusions, Ethiopian officials said Sunday there were “clear similarities” between the two catastrophes based on information from the flight data recorder.

Read more …

Still only 19% of Democrats report an improved financial situation?!

7 In 10 Americans Say Economy In Good Shape (CNN)

Americans give the nation’s economy glowing reviews in a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS, and Donald Trump’s approval rating may be reaping the benefits. Overall, 71% say the nation’s economy is in good shape, the highest share to say so since February 2001, and the best rating during Trump’s presidency by two points. A majority give the President positive reviews for his handling of the nation’s economy (51% approve), and his overall approval rating has ticked up to 42% in the new poll. The 51% who say they disapprove of the President’s job performance overall represent the lowest share to do so in CNN polling since the start of his presidency.

Trump’s 42% approval rating at this point in his presidency puts him near the bottom of the list of modern elected presidents, between President Bill Clinton in 1995 (44%) and President Ronald Reagan in 1983 (41%). Both were re-elected to second terms. The President’s approval ratings for other major issues have largely held steady or turned downward. On handling foreign affairs, 40% approve – the same share who said so in early February before the President’s abruptly-ended summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. About 4 in 10 approve of Trump’s handling of taxes (42%), roughly the same as just before the midterm elections last year.

[..] The President’s strong reviews on the economy come as a plurality say their personal financial situation is better off today than it was three years ago — before Trump took office. About 4 in 10 (42%) say they are better off now, a similar share (41%) say they’re about the same, and 15% say they’re worse off than they were three years ago. Those results are closely tied to partisanship, with Republicans most apt to report an improved financial situation (65%), and Democrats far less so (19%).

Read more …

Because 1604.

UK In Constitutional Chaos After Speaker Blocks Third Vote On Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May’s government has been plunged into constitutional chaos after the Speaker blocked the prime minister from asking MPs to vote on her Brexit deal for a third time unless it had fundamentally changed.
With 11 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, May was forced to pull her plans for another meaningful vote because John Bercow said she could not ask MPs to pass the same deal, after they rejected it twice by huge margins. EU officials, meanwhile, were considering offering her a new date for a delayed Brexit to resolve the crisis. Quoting from the guide to parliamentary procedure, Erskine May, Bercow said the question “may not be brought forward again during the same session” and that it was a “strong and longstanding convention” dating back to 1604.

It must be “not different in terms of wording, but different in terms of substance”, he said, suggesting there must be a change in what the EU is offering. Bercow’s surprise intervention means May is likely to have to go to Thursday’s Brussels summit with a request for a long extension to article 50, which could mean the UK has to spend more than £100m on participating in European parliament elections. During the delay, parliament would have to make a decision on how to break the deadlock, potentially with a second referendum, an election or a cross-party proposal for a softer Brexit. Alternatively, government sources suggested May could negotiate a lengthy extension with the EU, with a “get-out clause” enabling it to be cut short if her Brexit deal is passed by parliament before the European parliamentary elections.

Read more …

“..the House of Commons was a Benny Hill chase on acid, running through a Salvador Dali painting in a spaceship on its way to infinity”

Are The English Ready For Self-Government? (Fintan O’Toole)

“The alleged aptitude of the English for self-government,” wrote Bernard Shaw in his preface to Androcles and the Lion, “is contradicted by every chapter of their history.” Shaw was, of course, parodying British imperialist rhetoric and its insistence that lesser peoples – including his own nation, the Irish – were not ready to govern themselves. He was being naughtily provocative, which only the most irresponsible of commentators would dare to be in these grave times. But there is nonetheless some tinge of truth in his words. Aptitude for self-government is not what comes to mind when one looks in from the outside at the goings-on in Westminster last week, when, as Tom Peck so brilliantly put it in the London Independent, “the House of Commons was a Benny Hill chase on acid, running through a Salvador Dali painting in a spaceship on its way to infinity”.

Let’s just say that if Theresa May were the head of a newly liberated African colony in the 1950s, British conservatives would have been pointing, half-ruefully, half-gleefully, in her direction and saying “See? Told you so – they just weren’t ready to rule themselves. Needed at least another generation of tutelage by the Mother Country.” There is a surreal kind of logic to this. If, as the Brexiteers do, you imagine yourself to be an oppressed colony breaking away from the German Reich aka the European Union, perhaps you do end up with a pantomime version of the travails of newly independent colonies, including the civil wars that often follow national liberation.

And without wishing to rub it in, Shaw’s quip does point up two of the deep problems that underlie, and undermine, the whole Brexit project. First, the problem of this imagined effort at self-government is the “self” bit. What is the self of the British polity? As in all nationalist revolts, the easy bit of “Them against Us” is Them: in this case the EU. The hard bit is Us. Brexit appeals to a collective British self but it is itself the most dramatic symptom of the unravelling of that very thing. The anarchy at Westminster is the political expression of anarchy in the UK, the sundering of a common sense of belonging. Brexit is a fabulous form of displacement – it acknowledges a profound and genuine unhappiness about how the British are governed but deflects it on to Europe.

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Get in line.

Hardline Tory Brexiteers Threaten Strike If Brexit Delayed By A Year (Sun)

Hardline Tory Brexiteers have threatened Theresa May they will go on strike if she carries out her vow to delay Brexit by a year. No10 on Monday set a deadline of late on Tuesday for MPs to agree the PM’s exit deal before Thursday’s European summit. But instead of buckling to the pressure, diehard Tory MP Leavers raised the stakes back on the PM with a pledge to withdraw their cooperation. As many as 20 members of the hardline European Research Group have told whips they will carry out “vote strikes” – a move that would push Mrs May’s minority government to the verge of collapse. On another dramatic day in Westminster:

Fears among Tory Brexiteers began to rise that the PM is preparing to put her Brexit deal to a second In/Out referendum rather than go ahead with a long delay, Mrs May was given a boost when ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg signalled he was ready to switch his vote to support her deal, Boris Johnson was accused by his own allies of torpedoing his fading hopes of taking the Tory leadership after he vowed to block Theresa May’s Brexit deal. As Conservative tensions over Brexit reached boiling point around the PM’s ultimatum strategy, one senior Tory backbencher told The Sun: “If she tried to go ahead with a long extension, there will be vote strikes on all Government legislation.

“She will lose us, and lose us permanently if she goes ahead with this, and that has been made crystal clear to her.” Staring down Mrs May in the ultra-high stakes game of bluff, ERG member Lee Rowley added: “The Prime Minister is going to have to reflect very carefully over the next few days. “I don’t think she wants to be a PM who has failed to get a deal through, and then has to enforce a two-year extension. “That won’t look very good.”

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One of countless issues they had over 2 years to prepare for.

UK Students Studying Abroad Left In Limbo (G.)

For Alice Watkins, a Manchester University student, a year in Paris, then Madrid, as part of her degree was a dream. Now, with the turmoil of Brexit, she is preparing to arrive in France this summer with nowhere to live and no idea whether the money will still be there to support her. “It’s horrible not knowing,” Watkins says. “We’ve been told to take at least £1,200 of our own cash to cover us for the first six weeks, and that we can’t realistically sort any accommodation before we arrive. Turning up abroad with nowhere to live is a big stress.” Last Wednesday the European parliament voted to guarantee funding for UK students already studying abroad on the Erasmus+ student exchange programme, in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.

It also promised to continue supporting European students already in the UK on the scheme. But uncertainty hangs over the 17,000 British students who had planned to study in Europe under Erasmus+ from this September. A technical note, published by the government at the end of January, failed to guarantee any funding for the scheme if Britain leaves the EU with no deal. In recent weeks both Spain and Norway have advised their students planning to study in the UK to go elsewhere. [..] Vivienne Stern, director of the international arm of Universities UK, the vice-chancellors’ body, says the organisation had been under the impression that the government would create a national alternative to the Erasmus+ scheme to protect students in the event of no deal. She says, however, there is no evidence of this happening. “As we understand it, there is no money on the table for an alternative scheme, and no work is under way in the DfE to prepare one.”

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American pitchforks.

Deadly Serious (Jim Kunstler)

Last week, coincidental with the New Zealand mosque massacre, Mr. Trump said the following: “You know, the left plays a tougher game. It’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. O.K.? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

As usual, his syntax is disastrous as well as his habit of placing himself at the center of every issue. But, also as usual with Mr. Trump, and because of his filter-less tongue, he lays out matters that should be extremely troubling to all Americans: that the land is full of men with tremendous potential for violence — and most particularly men with military and paramilitary training in killing and warfare, who have, so far, barely expressed in action their discontent with the tactics of their adversaries on the Left. This Pandora’s box of calamity includes the Left’s recent campaign to denigrate men as toxic and without value, especially white men wearing their scarlet letter “P” for privilege.

The Left had better sober up and join an intelligible good faith debate about US immigration policy and the enforcement of existing laws or this will lead to exactly what Brent Tarrant laid out and what Mr. Trump maladroitly hinted at. Instead, of course, we will more likely commence another bootless campaign over guns. Here are some plain facts about that. There are already enough firearms of every sort loose in this land to commence hot civil warfare and they will not be surrendered by their owners. The horses are out of the barn on that one, even if sales of military-style weapons are outlawed. Any effort to confiscate them from people already possessing them will only provoke more overt antagonism between the two poles of American politics — and would probably lead to exactly the sort of violence that sober observers discern on the horizon.

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Basically, for not using enough violence.

Paris Police Chief Sacked After Riots (G.)

The French government has removed the Paris police chief and announced it will shut down all anti-government street protests by the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in central parts of Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse if violent groups are spotted in the crowds. The prime minister, Édouard Philippe, announced the hardline measures on Monday after the government admitted failures in dealing with rioting and arson in Paris this weekend. “From next Saturday, we will ban ‘yellow vest’ protests in neighbourhoods that have been the worst hit as soon as we see sign of the presence of radical groups and their intent to cause damage,” Philippe said in a televised statement. He replaced the Paris police chief, Michel Delpuech, with Didier Lallement, a colleague serving in western France.

The government was on the defensive after security forces were again unable to prevent violence, arson and looting on the Champs Élysées at the weekend. Several hundred black-clad rioters caused havoc for more than seven hours as 10,000 gilets jaunes protesters marched in the capital. More than 90 shops and businesses, including luxury stores such as Longchamp and Bulgari, were damaged and looted, and a bank and a restaurant were burnt. Since the end of December the number of protesters has fallen, but each Saturday thousands of people still take to the streets in the movement, which began as a fuel tax revolt and morphed into a protest against the government. The interior ministry has said violence at the demonstrations is carried out by rioters from far-right and far-left groups as well as anarchists.

The police have been criticised for alleged excessive use of force and weapons against protesters, and the United Nations recently called for a full investigation. Rights groups have tried to force a ban on the handheld rubber bullet launchers used by police, noting that France is one of only a handful of western countries to use them. Lawyers have said a number of people have lost eyes or hands as a result of the use of rubber-bullet launchers and explosive sting grenades. However, the French government argued that not enough force was used by police at the weekend, and urged a greater use of weapons by police.

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A $2 trillion zombie in the heart of Europe. This can blow up the ECB.

Merging Deutsche Bank And Commerzbank Won’t Solve Their Problems (Coppola)

Rumors of a potential merger between Germany’s two biggest banks have now crystallized. Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank are officially engaged in talks. Not that either bank seems enthusiastic about being dragged to the altar. The broker of this marriage appears to be the German government, which has ideas about creating a national bank large enough to compete with American investment banks. But it is not at all clear that a merger would solve the banks’ problems, let alone create a “national champion.” Both banks are zombies. Commerzbank, the smaller of the two, was bailed out after swallowing up Germany’s third largest bank, Dresdner Bank, in the 2007-8 financial crisis: the German government still holds 15% of its shares.

Despite years of “restructuring” (aka cost-cutting), Commerzbank is still struggling to deliver much in the way of returns to shareholders: return on equity for the third quarter of 2018 was a pathetic 4% and earnings per share only 60 euro cents (which is less than 1 dollar). Unsurprisingly, investors are encouraged by the merger talks: the share price rose by 6.81% today. Investors are less impressed with the merger prospects for Deutsche Bank: the share price was only up 4.15%. This might be because Deutsche Bank is in very deep trouble. Although it has now put behind it most of its litigation and conduct issues, the business has enormous structural problems. It has a very high cost/income ratio, large debts and no profitable business lines.

Since 2010 its share price has collapsed from over 76.00 to 8.00, and its market cap is now a paltry $18.35bn, the lowest it has been since the 2008 financial crisis. And after years of losses, it is still barely making a profit, though it has now restored a small dividend. Earnings per share and return on equity are both negative. Quite why the German government thinks that merging two zombie banks would create a national flag-carrier capable of competing successfully with the giant American banks is a mystery. It is surely much more likely that this merger would just create a much larger zombie.

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“..newly soured debt was coming through the front door as fast as banks could shovel it out the back.”

China’s Banks Have a Hidden Wave of Bad Debt (Balding)

China’s banks may have a flood of bad loans waiting in the wings. Not that you’d know it from looking at official levels for 2018, which suggest the problem was broadly contained. The reality is that newly soured debt was coming through the front door as fast as banks could shovel it out the back. Authorities worked hard to restrain financial-system leverage in 2018. Outstanding credit increased a relatively modest 10 percent, with growth in new loans falling 14 percent. The government accomplished this primarily by tightening restrictions on shadow banking and moving that lending into the formal banking system, which recorded a 13 percent jump in new loans last year.

To make way for that increase, and with new deposits falling 1 percent last year, banks sold a lot of nonperforming debt to asset management companies. Sales to AMCs and other disposals totaled almost 1.8 trillion yuan ($268 billion), according to a report by Jason Bedford, executive director of Asian financials research at UBS Group AG in Hong Kong. To put that in perspective, China began the year with 1.7 trillion yuan in bad loans and ended it with 2 trillion yuan. In other words, after selling roughly their entire declared stock of soured advances, lenders still closed the year with more than they started with.

This has a couple of implications. First, banks are having to dedicate more earnings to loan loss-provisions. In the first half of 2018, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. allocated 43 percent of pre-provision profit to boosting capital reserves. At Agricultural Bank of China Ltd., impairment losses were equal to 56 percent of first-half profit, up from 41 percent a year earlier.

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Who among the two dozen Democrat candidates will stand up for her?

Chelsea Manning and the New Inquisition (Chris Hedges)

Manning has always insisted her leak of the classified documents and videos was prompted solely by her own conscience. She has refused to implicate Assange and WikiLeaks. Earlier this month, although President Barack Obama in 2010 commuted her 35-year sentence after she served seven years, she was jailed again for refusing to answer questions before a secret grand jury investigating Assange and WikiLeaks. While incarcerated previously, Manning endured long periods in solitary confinement and torture. She twice attempted to commit suicide in prison. She knows from painful experience the myriad ways the system can break you psychologically and physically. And yet she has steadfastly refused to give false testimony in court on behalf of the government.

Her moral probity and courage are perhaps the last thin line of defense for WikiLeaks and its publisher, whose health is deteriorating in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been holed up since 2012. Manning—who was known as Bradley Manning in the Army—has undergone gender reassignment surgery and needs frequent medical monitoring. Judge Claude M. Hilton, however, dismissed a request by her lawyers for house arrest. Manning was granted immunity by prosecutors of the Eastern District of Virginia, and because she had immunity she was unable to invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination or to have her attorney present. The judge found her in contempt of court and sent her to a federal facility in Alexandria, Va.

Hilton, who has long been a handmaiden of the military and intelligence organs, has vowed to hold her there until she agrees to testify or until the grand jury is disbanded, which could mean 18 months or longer behind bars. Manning said any questioning of her by the grand jury is a violation of First, Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights. She said she will not cooperate with the grand jury. “All of the substantive questions pertained to my disclosures of information to the public in 2010—answers I provided in extensive testimony, during my court-martial in 2013,” she said on March 7, the day before she was jailed. “I will not comply with this, or any other grand jury,” she said later in a statement issued from jail. “Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly-stated ethical objections to the grand jury system.”

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Maybe the saddest thing is the lack of alarm.

Bumblebee Added To The Ever-Growing List Of Endangered Species (SNR)

The bumblebee has been officially added to the list of endangered species along with the gray wolf, grizzly bear, the northern spotted owl, and about 700 other extinct animal species. According to National Geographic: “The rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), once a common sight, is “now balancing precariously on the brink of extinction,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Once thriving in 28 states and the District of Columbia, but over the past two decades, the bee’s population has plummeted nearly 90 percent. There are more than 3,000 bee species in the United States, and about 40 belong to the genus Bombus—the bumblebees.” ”Advocates for the rusty-patched bumblebee’s listing are abuzz with relief, but it may be the first skirmish in a grueling conflict over the fate of the Endangered Species Act under the Trump administration.”

According to James Stranger, a research entomologist, and Bumblebee ecologist: “There are a few little spots where we know they are. But only a really few spots.” The scientific name of the bee, Bombus affinis, was given due to the red patch in its abdomen. Even though the original listing date as an endangered species was set for April 2018, it was not until now that it was listed. According to Xerces Society director of endangered species Sarah Jepsen: “We are thrilled to see one of North America’s most endangered species receive the protection it needs. Now that the Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the rusty-patched bumble bee as endangered, it stands a chance of surviving the many threats it faces — from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to diseases.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Bumblebees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover, and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.” One of the main factors in the declining trend of its population was the human encroachment which led to the subsequent loss of their natural habitat. Therefore, this classification will protect the grasslands needed by these bees and other pollinators.

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Mar 092019
 


Juan Gris Portrait of Pablo Picasso 1912

 

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)
On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)
Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)
Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)
EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)
Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)
Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)
Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)
Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)
A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

Wolf Richter has the entire top-11. I picked a few. Note: this is debt-to-GDP. For debt-to-disposable income, graphs are different. Note 2: Switzerland is always an odd one out because of the role of its banking system.

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)

US household debt inched down to 76.4% of GDP in the third quarter 2018, according to the newest batch of global data from the Bank for International Settlements. This was the lowest level since 2002. It put Americans in the inexplicably wimpy, and for the finance sector, insufferable 11th place:

Canadian households have long been making headlines with their top-notch borrowing binge to support their top-notch housing bubble. By other debt measures, such as debt-to-disposable income, Canadian and Australian households have been battling over first place for years. In the debt-to-GDP measure, Canadian households are in a still respectable 6th place: This debt will pose some issues as the majestic housing bubbles in top metros are now deflating:

Households in the Netherlands were track to be undisputed king of the hill, with a debt-to-GDP ratio nearing 120%, in part because GDP plunged during the Financial Crisis, which caused the spike in the debt-to-GDP ratio and the collapse of some banks. During the subsequent euro debt crisis, GDP declined again. But since then, the economy has grown, and households have curtailed their borrowing, edging away from the brink, and in the process getting demoted to 4th place:

Australian households have been caught up in one of the biggest housing bubbles in the world, financed by debt. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio more than doubled between 1997 and 2016. Now that the housing bubble is deflating at an astounding pace, the debt ratio has begun to tick down, but remains in second place:

[..] the #1 debt slaves in the world: Swiss households. This is one of the reasons interest-rate repression remains the rule in Switzerland. The Swiss National Bank has imposed its negative interest rate policy on the country for years, and there have been stories of mortgages with 0% and even negative interest rates. There is simply too much household debt, and no one wants to see it blow up. Hence the negative interest rate policy. But this policy encourages more household borrowing, and the cycle will continue until it can’t:

China is in a category of its own. And so the chart has a different scale. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio is still in the German neighborhood of just above 50%, but it has quintupled in the 12 years since the BIS data began in 2006. The idea that Chinese households are paying cash to sustain their housing bubble or to buy cars has become a bad joke: Chinese consumers have discovered debt, and they are eagerly turning into debt slaves:

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Daniel Ellsberg: “Chelsea Manning is again acting heroically in the name of press freedom, and it’s a travesty that she has been sent back to jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury. An investigation into WikiLeaks for publishing is a grave threat to all journalists’ rights, and Chelsea is doing us all a service for fighting it. She has already been tortured, spent years in jail, and has suffered more than enough. She should be released immediately.”

Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)

Following a dramatic hearing at a federal district court in Eastern Virginia, activist and former military prisoner Chelsea Manning was jailed by a judge for contempt of court after refusing to testify to a grand jury empaneled in the government’s long running criminal investigation into Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The judge, the Hon. Claude H. Hilton, ruled that Manning must remain in civil detention until she testifies, her lawyer Moira Meltzer-Cohen told the New York Times. Manning was subpoeaned in January to testify before the jury. But she vowed not to cooperate even though prosecutors offered immunity for her testimony. “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles,” she said on Thursday. “I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”

Manning’s jailing offers another glimpse into the government’s secretive investigation into Wikileaks, which was started under the Obama Administration and picked up by the Trump Administration. Manning served seven years in prison for leaking the infamous “collateral murder” tape to Wikileaks, by far the longest prison term ever served for leaking government secrets. Manning, who transitioned to a woman during her time in prison, twice tried to commit suicide before she was pardoned by Obama. Late last year, an accidental leak of some information in the case revealed that Assange had been charged under seal last summer. And while Manning has decided to refuse to cooperate, a Wikileaks volunteer recently agreed to testify against Assange in exchange for immunity. The grand jury has been investigating Assange for nine years.

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This is the worst condemnation of US media to date. And I betcha, no-one sees it that way. Whatever Mueller says, minds are made up. By what then? Can only be unproven accusations.

And it has similarities with the Chelsea Manning disaster: When will the first Republican refuse to testify before Nadler’s committee? In both cases people are looking to confirm pre-established narratives, if need be by force.

On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)

Only a small number of Americans have not yet made up their minds about whether Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign coordinated with Russian officials, according to new Reuters/Ipsos polling, which also showed deep divisions in the United States in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Eight out of 10 Americans decided almost immediately about Trump campaign ties to Moscow and only about two in 10 appear to be undecided, the opinion poll released on Friday showed. About half of Americans believe President Trump tried to stop federal investigations into his campaign, the survey found. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to soon wrap up his investigation into U.S. allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. political process as well as the Trump campaign links and possible obstruction of justice.

Moscow and Trump deny the allegations. Barring bombshell revelations, the survey results suggest the investigation’s influence on voters in the 2020 campaign may already have run its course. The Reuters/Ipsos poll has tracked public opinion of the investigation since Mueller was appointed in May 2017 following Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey, gathering responses from more than 72,000 adults. Public opinion appears to have hardened early, changing little over the past two years despite a string of highly publicized criminal charges against people associated with the Trump campaign. Every time respondents were asked about the investigation, about 8 in 10 Democrats said they thought the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 7 in 10 Republicans said they did not.

With so few voters left undecided, the report expected from Mueller looks unlikely to serve as a significant voter turnout tool for Republicans or Democrats in November 2020 and could backfire on Democrats if they overplay it. “We keep waiting for something to happen during the Trump era to vastly change the way people view him,” said Kyle Kondik, a non-partisan analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “Maybe at this point there just aren’t many minds left to change.”

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The media can’t let go of Russiagate, no matter what Mueller says, it would leave them empty handed. So they play into the fact that Americans have their minds made up anyway. Scary when you think about it.

Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as president he has met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, five times. The details of their conversations remain unknown to the public, and in most cases even to senior administration officials. Democrats in Congress are now demanding more details of communications between the two leaders. Secrecy around such meetings, they say, raises fresh questions about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin at a time when his ties to Russia are the subject of several investigations. The meetings with Putin are not the only subject of such Democratic demands. House leaders left little room for doubt this week that they will utilize their newly minted majority to cast a wide net around the president, his family and their businesses.

The judiciary committee issued document requests to 81 individuals and entities, seeking information on everything from contacts between Trump aides and Moscow to hush money payments to women and possible obstruction of justice. [..] Democrats now say Trump’s reportedly forceful attempts to conceal his communications with Putin raise questions about his motivations in pursuing closer relations with a regime largely regarded as a primary adversary. In a joint letter this week, the chairs of the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees raised “profound national security, counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections.

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Discussions America should have but refuses. The Dem old guard wants things to stay as they were/are. But the party must change in radical ways.

Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) says former President Barack Obama’s promise of “hope and change” was just a mirage in a Politico interview that hit on Friday. The magazine profile explains that when she ran for office in 2016, she was fed up with the Democratic Party — not so much Trumpism or politics in general. Omar also reminded the interviewer that there was “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Obama administration. (Obama was called the “deporter-in-chief” by immigrant rights advocates for the record number of undocumented immigrants deported during his presidency; ICE deportations peaked at 409,849 in 2012. But it dropped to almost half of that by 2017.) mAnd she called out the “droning of countries around the world” under Obama. A 2015 report claimed that nearly 90% of people killed in recent drone strikes in the Middle East “were not the intended targets.”

The interview dropped the day after the House passed a resolution condemning bigotry that included anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination, which was a response to comments made by Omar, who accused people of having allegiances to foreign countries. (It did not mention Omar by name, however.) Her comments to Politico suggest she doesn’t mind being at the center of controversy. “As much as other people are uncomfortable, I’m excited about the change in tone that has taken place that is extremely positive … and my ability, I think, to agitate our foreign policy discussions in a way that many of my colleagues who have been anti-intervention, antiwar have been unable to do in the past,” she said. “So, I’m OK with taking the blows if it means it will ignite conversations that no one was willing to have before.”

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Is the Guardian finally standing up for May? Bit late, isn’t it?

EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)

Theresa May appears set for a second humiliating defeat when she brings her Brexit deal back to parliament next week, after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rebuffed her pleas for last-minute concessions. The prime minister urged MPs to “get it done” and back her deal, in an impassioned speech at a dockside warehouse in the leave-voting town of Grimsby. A vote against the deal would mean “not completing Brexit and getting on with all the other important issues people care about, just yet more months and years arguing”, May told MPs. “If we go down that road we might never leave the EU at all.”

Addressing workers from Ørsted, a Danish energy and wind turbine firm, May also urged the EU to make new concessions over the Irish backstop – the issue that caused many of her MPs to vote against the deal the first time – before last-ditch talks in Brussels this weekend. The EU “has to make a choice too”, the prime minister said. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote. “European leaders tell me they worry that time is running out and that we only have one chance to get it right. My message to them is: now is the moment for us to act.”

But Barnier immediately appeared to rebuff the prime minister, by responding with an offer of reverting to his original plan, the Northern Ireland-only backstop, which May repeatedly said no prime minister could accept, because it risked creating a border in the Irish Sea. The EU’s chief negotiator said in a series of tweets that the EU was committed “to give the UK the option to exit the single customs territory unilaterally, while the other elements of the backstop must be maintained to avoid a hard border. [The] UK will not be forced into a customs union against its will.” The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, immediately replied: “With a very real deadline looming, now is not the time to rerun old arguments. The UK has put forward clear new proposals. We now need to agree a balanced solution that can work for both sides.”

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If a tree falls in a forest….

Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned Theresa May not to make a third attempt to ram through her Brexit deal if it crashes to its expected defeat next week, saying it must be “the end of the road”. The prime minister has not ruled out a third “meaningful vote” if MPs reject her agreement next week – even with the scheduled exit day from the EU just three weeks away. But, speaking to Labour activists in Scotland, Mr Corbyn said Ms May must accept that defeat on Tuesday would “represent an unprecedented failure in British political history”. “Having already failed once to get her deal through, I want to make it clear to the prime minister if she fails again it will be the end of the road for her deal,” the Labour leader said.

“There is no coming back from it. There can be no more playing for time.” Mr Corbyn again insisted Labour’s softer Brexit proposals could secure agreement both at Westminster and in Brussels, following his “discussions with Michel Barnier” [the EU negotiator]. However, he also insisted Labour was not “obsessed” by Brexit like other parties – pointing to poverty and climate change as the issues that really matter. “Turn on the news at the moment and you’ll hear endlessly about constitutional issues. Brexit. Independence. It borders on the obsessive,” he told a conference in Dundee. “You don’t hear so much about the children arriving hungry to school or how the teachers at one nursery have had to arrange for Tesco and Greggs to donate their leftovers so they can feed the kids.”

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I think Moore has at least a partial burden of proof here. Just shouting out stuff isn’t good enough at this stage. Suggesting that research is good only if it’s paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M is quite the stretch. Even if politics and business are indeed eyeing huge profits off of going green and off people’s ignorance about what that means.

Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore had harsh words for the modern environmental movement, calling global warming “the greatest scam in history” and denouncing the use of “fear and guilt” to push the message. “The climate catastrophe is strictly a fear campaign – well, fear and guilt,” Moore told Breitbart radio host Rebecca Mansour. “You’re afraid you’re killing your children because you’re driving them in your SUV and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and you feel guilty for doing that. There’s no stronger motivation than those two.” “This abomination that is occurring today in the climate issue is the biggest threat to the enlightenment that has occurred since Galileo.”

“Nothing else comes close,” Moore insisted, likening the contemporary environmental movement to “a toxic mix of ideology, of politics and religion.” “CO2 is the food for life! It’s not pollution,” the would-be heretic declared, claiming that the use of fossil fuels had actually “saved life from an early demise” because CO2 had been declining since the last ice age, with barely enough for the earth’s plant life to sustain itself, until humanity stepped into the breach during the Industrial Revolution. Moore, who founded the pioneering environmental activist group almost 50 years ago to protest nuclear war, met with an outpouring of support from conservatives and weary Democrats alike, after tweeting a scathing rebuke earlier this week to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose quixotic Green New Deal has become the standard-bearer of the 21st century environmental movement.

“And so you’ve got the green movement creating stories that instill fear in the public. You’ve got the media echo chamber — fake news — repeating it over and over and over again to everybody that they’re killing their children, and then you’ve got the green politicians who are buying scientists with government money to produce fear for them in the form of scientific-looking materials, and then you’ve got the green businesses, the rent-seekers and the crony capitalists who are taking advantage of massive subsidies, huge tax write-offs, and government mandates requiring their technologies to make a fortune on this, and then of course you’ve got the scientists who are willingly, they’re basically hooked on government grants.

When they talk about the 99 percent consensus [among scientists] on climate change, that’s a completely ridiculous and false numbers, but most of the scientists — put it in quotes, scientists — who are pushing this catastrophic theory are getting paid by public money. They are not being paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M to do this research, where private companies expect to get something useful from their research that might produce a better product and make them a profit in the end because people want it — build a better mousetrap type of idea — but most of what these so-called scientists are doing is simply producing more fear so that politicians can use it control people’s mind and get their votes because some of the people are convinced, ‘Oh, this politician can save my kid from certain doom.’

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The collapse may happen soon, but likely not because of an old topic like this.

Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)

With the Italian government seemingly on the verge of collapse every few months, and with tensions between the two parties in the ruling coalition – Five Star and the League, especially as the former has been sliding in the polls at the expense of the latter’s rising popularity – escalating in recent weeks, it was only a matter of time before Italian bondholders had a PTSD flashback to May 2018 when the populist government first stormed on the stage, sending Italian bonds plunging. All that was missing was a catalyst. Said catalyst emerged as a lingering dispute within Italy’s ruling coalition over the future of a train, or technically a high-speed rail link with France, escalated suddenly on Thursday, once again raising the risk of a government collapse, with the 5-Star chief accusing his partner of acting irresponsibly.

The Alpine rail line has been backed by the ruling League party but is fiercely opposed by its coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, which argues Italy’s share of the funding would be better spent upgrading existing roads and bridges. And after League leader, the outspoken Matteo Salvini who continues to enjoy rising popularity with every new poll, said in an evening television interview he would not back down and his party would “never sign” a decree to block the project, 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio accused him of threatening to bring down the government.

While the tensions between Di Maio and Salvini were for the most part contained before closed doors, the animosity between the two “equal” vice premiers erupted in public when Di Maio said in a statement that Salvini “will bear the responsibility before millions of Italians” adding that he considers “this to be irresponsible behavior” adding that he was “stunned by the threat of a government crisis” coming from Salvini. The TAV project (Treno Alta Velocita) is a joint venture between the Italian and French states to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps on which work has already begun. According to Reuters, the EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of costs, Italy up to 35 percent and France up to 25 percent.

Earlier on Thursday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that recently updated traffic projections for the line warranted a review of the project’s long-term viability and, if necessary, a renegotiation of the way the funding is split. Conte told reporters he had strong personal doubts about the validity of the venture and he would take responsibility for a final decision based on a cost-benefit analysis already carried out by the government. That analysis, commissioned by Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, a 5-Star politician, found the TAV was a waste of public money, estimating the economic return would be a negative balance of $7.9-$8.8 billion. Conte, who is technically not a member of either party but is closer to 5-Star, called the funding of the TAV “iniquitous” and said he would speak to France and the EU “to share our doubts and perplexities.”

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Like the part where Big Pharma gets the big subsidies.

Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)

In a radiation-proof room at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Emar Thomasa sits behind shielded glass as he carefully measures and mixes lutetium octreotate, an intravenous treatment for certain types of cancer. The Dutch hospital has been offering it to patients for more than a decade at 16,000 euros ($18,000) for one course of treatments. Drug firm Novartis, which in 2018 acquired rights to sell it in Europe, is asking more than five times that for its proprietary version, Lutathera. Thomasa is part of a protest against high drug prices launched by an unlikely group of rebels: Dutch pharmacies.

Three – Erasmus, Amsterdam’s University Medical Center (UMC) and the Transvaal Pharmacy in The Hague – have vowed to bypass drug company products and make treatments for a handful of rare diseases themselves, exercising their right to “compound” medicines. The Dutch market is small, with only hundreds of patients for the diseases in question. But the dispute is part of a growing global backlash against high drug prices, from the United States and Canada to Japan, and campaigners said it was being closely watched by health experts elsewhere. “People with rare diseases are dependent on medicines that are so expensive that they can’t afford them, when they could be offered for a much lower price,” said UMC pharmacist Marleen Kemper.

“The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in developing good products, but we think it’s not fair if these firms make big money off these patients.” Compounding is the ancient practice of preparing medicines for individual patients. Pharmacists are trained to compound, though nowadays most medicines are made by industrial producers. Drug companies have raised concerns about the safety of compounded medicines that have not been approved by European regulators. But the specialized compounding pharmacies, which have on-site laboratories, have been backed by the Dutch government as part of efforts to tame rapidly rising medicine costs.

[..] The first two drugs targeted by Dutch pharmacies are Novartis’s Lutathera and a drug called CDCA, registered in Europe by Leadiant. High prices are not unusual for new rare disease drugs, as companies must recoup development costs from a relatively small group of patients. Novartis charges 92,000 euros for a one-off course of four Lutathera injections. But while the drug is innovative, its development costs were relatively small and cannot justify the price tag, said Erasmus MC Chief Executive Ernst Kuipers. Main development costs amounted to about 40 million euros, including 15 million euros in public funding, according to Erasmus – where most of the testing took place – and a review published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine.

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Jim at his best.

A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

I don’t think you can overstate the damage we’ve done to ourselves in the sheer material arrangement of our national life. A decade ago, I sat in on many zoning board meetings called to approve new WalMarts and other chain-stores around my region of upstate New York and southern Vermont. Inevitably, the companies organized a claque of locals in the meeting hall — itself a depressing, low-ceilinged chamber of cinder blocks and fluorescent lighting — to fill the seats and yell in support of “bargain shopping.” That was some bargain they got. The chain-stores got approved and the Main Streets died, but that wasn’t the end of it. This dynamic also destroyed networks that gave local citizens an economic and social place.

Locally owned business people were the caretakers of the town. They took care of two buildings — their place of business and their home. They sat on library, school, and hospital boards and donated money to running local institutions. They employed people who lived in town and there were consequences for treating them well or badly. There was even a time in this country when local business people wouldn’t dare to put up an insultingly ugly building. A lot of this economic behavior has produced the social perversities of our time. Exterminating an entire class of local merchants has eliminated the heart of the American middle-class and grotesquely concentrated the nation’s wealth among corporate leviathans who comprise one percent of the population.

It also eliminated the place where young people learned how to do business, preparing themselves to try ventures of their own, and to make a place for themselves in the world. What is your place now? A cubicle in the marketing department of Old Navy? An aisle in the Home Depot? A desk in the Diversity and Inclusion office of some State University, pushing to sort the student population into racial and sexual categories because all other ways of belonging in society are gone? Or do you occupy ten square feet of sidewalk with a tarp and a shopping cart? None of those places are liable to furnish a personal sense that life is worth living.

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Mar 082019
 
 March 8, 2019  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Visage 1928

 

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 47 Months In Prison (ZH)
ECB’s Surprise Policy Moves Send Shivers Through Global Stock Markets (MW)
US Dollar Hits 52-Week High on New ECB Stimulus (WS)
China Exports Fall 20.7% In February; Trade Data Much Weaker (CNBC)
China’s February Trade Surplus With US Narrows Sharply To $14.72 Billion (R.)
US Households See Biggest Decline In Net Worth Since Financial Crisis (CNBC)
Fed QE Unwind Reaches $501 Billion, Balance Sheet Falls Below $4 Trillion (WS)
Germany Won’t Ban Huawei, Says Ready To Oppose US Pressure (RT)
May Urges EU To Agree Brexit Backstop Changes (BBC)
Corbyn Backtracks On Final Say Referendum (Ind.)
British Life Expectancy Falls By Six Months (G.)
Default Or Exit: A Battle Between Italy And The EU Is Inevitable (OR)
Blackout Darkens Much Of Venezuela (AFP)
This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct” (Cohen)
Chelsea Manning Risks Jail To Fight WikiLeaks Grand Jury (SP)

 

 

Shimon Prokupecz from the courtroom: “Judge tells the courtroom that Manafort is not being sentenced for anything related to the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference. Ellis said “He is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government”

So what’s the Guardian headline? “Trump-Russia figure Paul Manafort jailed”.

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 47 Months In Prison (ZH)

In a surprise decision that stands as a slap in the face to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Judge Ellis handed Paul Manafort a surprisingly light sentence of 47 months -or just under four years in prison – rejecting federal sentencing guidelines that recommended Manafort face up to 24 years in prison – a sentence that would have effectively condemned him to die in jail. Manafort was also fined $50,000 (equivalent to a few of Manafort’s bespoke suits) and ordered to pay restitution of $25 million. At this rate, Manafort might be out before Mueller finally wraps up his probe.

Early in the trial, Manafort appeared headed for a stiff sentence despite showing up in court in a wheelchair and green prison jumpsuit. Initially, after a lengthy review of Manafort’s charges, Ellis, who presided over Manafort’s August trial, said he would reject his lawyers’ request for leniency and accused the former Trump campaign executive of not being entirely forthcoming with the court about his finances. Furthermore, he refused to give him credit for accepting responsibility for his crimes, and also rejected his lawyers’ argument that the fact that Manafort hadn’t been found complicit in Russian collusion detracted from the charges for which he was convicted. When it came time for their statement, prosecutors told the judge Manafort offered little meaningful help during his 50 hours of meetings with investigators, and that the main reason he spent so much time with investigators was because he had lied.

But when it came his turn to speak, Manafort sounded genuinely contrite, telling the judge he felt “humiliated and ashamed” for what he’d done, and that the last two years had been “the most difficult years for my family and I.” “I appreciate the fairness of the trial you conducted,” he said. “My life is professionally and financially in shambles.” In the first indication that the sentence would be lighter than many had anticipated, the judge told Manafort and the court that he felt the federal sentencing guidelines were too stiff, and that Manafort had led an “otherwise blameless” life. Ellis recommended that Manafort – who is reportedly suffering from gout and other unspecified health issues – serve his sentence in a Cumberland, Maryland prison camp. He also credited him with nine months already served.

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The power of central banks is destructive in every possible sense.

ECB’s Surprise Policy Moves Send Shivers Through Global Stock Markets (MW)

Mario Draghi has been grumbling about the deleterious side effects of trade tensions and other geopolitical worries for months, but the ECB’s surprise policy moves in the face of a slowing global economy appeared to bring the danger home to investors. Stocks on Wall Street fell alongside European equities, underlining rising worries among investors that weakness in the global economy could prove to be a drag on U.S. growth. While analysts had expected the ECB president to strike a dovish tone, policy makers went much further than anticipated.

First, the ECB extended its so-called forward guidance on ultralow interest rates, saying it doesn’t expect to begin lifting them until at least early 2020. That’s compared to its earlier plan to leave them on hold at least through the end of this summer. Second, the ECB launched its third iteration of a program of cheap loans — known as targeted long-term refinancing operations, or TLTROs — to eurozone banks. It all came as ECB staff slashed their macroeconomic forecasts, including reducing the outlook for 2019 GDP growth to 1.1% from a previous 1.7% and signaling that inflation will take even longer to reach the central bank’s target of near but just below 2%. Price stability is the ECB’s sole policy mandate.

Draghi’s comments on the economy were getting the blame from analysts and investors for a decline in European and, in part, U.S. stocks. The pan-European Stoxx Europe index ended 0.4% lower, while on Wall Street, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended with a loss of more than 200 points, or 0.8%, after declining 320 points at its session low. European government bonds rallied and the euro extended a decline versus the U.S. dollar.

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Draghi just scared friend and foe. Get rid of him, and his job. The damage is unthinkable.

US Dollar Hits 52-Week High on New ECB Stimulus (WS)

The Dollar Index (DXY), which tracks the dollar against the euro, yen, pound sterling, Canadian dollar, Swedish krona, and Swiss franc, and which is dominated by the euro, jumped 0.83% to 97.71 at the moment, hitting at least briefly its 52-week high, as the euro slumped 1.1% against the dollar, following the ECB’s announcement earlier today. But it wasn’t just a one-day event for the dollar, but an eight-day rally in an uptrend that started in early February. The real worry is the economy in the Eurozone – despite the fabulous stimulus the ECB has heaped on it for years, including a brutal negative-interest-rate policy and massive QE that has inflated the ECB’s balance sheet to over 40% of Eurozone GDP (by comparison, the Fed’s balance sheet is down to 19.5% of US GDP).

The Eurozone economy is deteriorating rapidly. In the post-meeting press conference today, ECB president Mario Draghi announced that the ECB had slashed its economic growth forecast for the Eurozone to 1.1% for 2019, a sharp cut from its forecast of 1.7% growth at the December meeting, and down from its 1.9% growth forecast last summer. “Incoming data have continued to be weak, in particular in the manufacturing sector, reflecting the slowdown in external demand compounded by some country and sector-specific factors,” the statement says.

Instead of admitting that its radical experimental monetary policies were a colossal error as the economic growth is now dwindling despite or because of the stimulus, and instead of gradually raising its policy rates above the rate of inflation to end its brutal “financial repression,” and instead of shedding the bonds on its balance sheet to push up long-term interest rates and force a restructuring of the bogged-down European economy so that it would liquidate or restructure the debts of zombie companies and lighten the load of restructured companies to allow them to have a fresh start – all of it at investors expense – the ECB does the opposite.

It promises new bank liquidity programs in the Eurozone which is already drowning in central-bank liquidity, to get banks to lend more to these zombie companies and keep them from restructuring their debts.

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When did that big Party meeting end?

China Exports Fall 20.7% In February; Trade Data Much Weaker (CNBC)

China on Friday reported worse than expected trade data for the month of February, customs data showed amid Beijing’s trade dispute with the U.S. Dollar-denominated exports plunged 20.7 percent for the month of February from a year ago, missing economists’ expectations of a 4.8 percent decline, according to a Reuters poll. January exports had risen 9.1 percent from a year ago. Dollar-denominated imports fell 5.2 percent in February from a year ago, missing economists’ forecast of a 1.4 percent fall. January imports had fallen 1.5 percent on-year. China’s February trade balance was also significantly weaker than expected at $4.12 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the overall trade balance to come in at $26.38 billion.

The country’s trade balance in January had been $39.16 billion. China’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. narrowed sharply to $14.72 billion in February from $27.3 billion in January. Although the 20.7 percent decline in Chinese exports for the month of February was a “big number” and the market will be “clearly disappointed,” the negative number should not come as a surprise as investors have been expecting a slowdown both globally and in China, said Sarah Lien, director and client portfolio manager at Eastspring Investments. “There are a lot of headwinds; there’s a lot of moving parts in market,” Lien told CNBC.

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So no currency manipulation needed?

China’s February Trade Surplus With US Narrows Sharply To $14.72 Billion (R.)

China’s trade surplus with the United States narrowed to $14.72 billion in February, from $27.3 billion in January, customs data showed on Friday. For January-February combined, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. stood at $42.1 billion. China’s large trade surplus with the United States has long been a sore point with Washington, and is at the center of a bitter dispute between the two countries. In 2018, the two governments imposed tit-for-tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Do note: what wealth there is, or is measured, sits in real estate and stocks, the very two biggest bubbles blown by the Fed. Net worth my donkey.

US Households See Biggest Decline In Net Worth Since Financial Crisis (CNBC)

Americans’ net worth fell at the highest level since the financial crisis in the fourth quarter of 2018 as sliding stock market prices ate into the household balance sheet. Net worth dropped to $104.3 trillion as the year came to an end, a decrease of $3.73 trillion from the third quarter, according to figures released Thursday by the Federal Reserve. The fall amounted to a drop of 3.4 percent. Much of the slide came due to Wall Street’s woes, as the stock market suffered a precipitous decline that started in October and briefly reached bear market status. Equities skidded as investors began to fear that the Fed would keep raising interest rates even as economic conditions began to deteriorate. By the time the market drop ended in late December, households saw $4.6 trillion worth of equity value deteriorate.

The decline was offset somewhat by a $300 billion increase in real estate value. The overall move was the second-highest quarterly dollar drop since the Fed began tracking the statistic. Overall, financial assets totaled just more than $85 trillion at the end of the year, while real estate value was $29.2 trillion. Household net worth has been rising strongly since the crisis and is up 73 percent since 2009. After suffering their worst Christmas Eve in history, stocks staged a turnaround and ultimately saw their best two-month start to a year since at least 1991. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is off about 1.6 percent in March though still up more than 9 percent year to date.

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Cui bono.

Fed QE Unwind Reaches $501 Billion, Balance Sheet Falls Below $4 Trillion (WS)

Over the next few months, the Fed is expected to announce its new plan for its balance sheet. Meanwhile, as we’re riveted to the edge of our seat, the old plan continues on autopilot, and February was one of the few months when the Treasury “roll-off,” as Chairman Jerome Powell likes to call it, hit the “caps.” In February, the Fed shed $57 billion in assets, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended March 6, released this afternoon. This slashed the assets on its balance sheet to $3,969 billion, the lowest since December 2013. Via its “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $501 billion. And since peak-balance-sheet at the end of 2014, the Fed has shed $547 billion:

During peak-balance-sheet at the end of 2014, total assets ($4.52 trillion) amounted to 26% of GDP. Today’s assets amount to 19.4% of GDP. In the years before QE started, the balance sheet ran around 6% of GDP. By comparison, the ECB’s balance sheet assets now exceed 40% of GDP, and the Bank of Japan’s assets amount to 101% of GDP. February’s drop of $57 billion is larger than the scheduled QE unwind that is capped at $50 billion. But the Fed has other activities that impact the balance sheet. QE revolved around Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). And so does the QE unwind.

[..] On February 15, three issues of Treasury securities on the Fed’s balance sheet totaling $43.5 billion matured. On February 28, three issues totaling $12.5 billion matured. This brought the total for the month to $56 billion – above the cap of $30 billion. So the Fed reinvested $26 billion in new Treasury securities and allowed $30 billion of Treasuries to “rolled off” the balance sheet without replacement. This reduced the total balance of Treasury securities by $30 billion, to $2,175 billion, the lowest since December 2013 – and down by $290 billion since the QE unwind began. This has whittled down the Treasuries acquired during the infamous “QE Infinity” by about one-third:

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When it comes to things like 5G networks, which cross borders, the rest of Europe has little choice but to follow Germany.

Germany Won’t Ban Huawei, Says Ready To Oppose US Pressure (RT)

Germany does not intend to prevent Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing 5G networks, the country’s economy minister said, adding that the EU stands ready to defend its interests, should a trade war with Washington escalate. Berlin will not pre-emptively ban any specific companies from bidding for contracts to develop the country’s next generation 5G mobile network, despite immense pressure from the United States to ostracize Huawei, Peter Altmaier said on Thursday evening, during a debate on ZDF television. “No, we will not want to exclude any company,” he stressed, explaining that the government is capable of implementing enough safeguards to protect Germany’s future networks.

Ignoring Washington’s earnest ‘concerns’ that, through Huawei systems, the Chinese government is planning to spy on the entire world, German authorities produced a list of telecom security requirements on Wednesday. Part of the new German rules requires certifying any security-related components with Germany’s IT security agency. The 5G network “may only be sourced from trustworthy suppliers whose compliance with national security regulations and provisions for the secrecy of telecommunications and for data protection is assured,” Germany’s Economic Ministry and the Federal Network Agency said in their guidelines. Thus Huawei, which has recently sued the US government demanding to see any proof behind their claims, can participate in the tendering process if it meets the requirements set out by Berlin.

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3 weeks to D-Day. Cue blame game.

May Urges EU To Agree Brexit Backstop Changes (BBC)

Theresa May will urge the EU to help get her Brexit deal through the Commons by agreeing legally binding changes to the controversial backstop. On Friday, she will say the EU’s actions will “have a big impact on the outcome” when MPs vote on it next week. But Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said it was now “clear” the PM “will not be able to deliver the changes she promised to her failed Brexit deal”. The EU says the UK must come forward with new ideas to break the deadlock. The UK is due to leave on 29 March.

Mrs May will visit workers in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, on Friday, days before the second “meaningful vote” in the Commons on the withdrawal deal she has negotiated with the EU. She will tell them: “Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. “We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.”

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Has Corbyn done anything not wrong?

Corbyn Backtracks On Final Say Referendum (Ind.)

Labour has admitted it will not support a new referendum on Brexit in all circumstances, in a major blow to those in the party campaigning for one. Sources close to the Labour leadership confirmed that the party is not advocating a referendum on anything other than a “damaging Tory Brexit” and will not support one if Britain leaves the EU on terms that Labour backs. The Independent has learnt that the issue was the subject of a row between Mr Corbyn’s shadow ministers that pitted Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry against Brexit-backing frontbenchers led by Jon Trickett. As it dawned on Labour Remainers today, a prominent MP who backs the People’s Vote campaign warned that a failure of the party to follow through on the pledge to back a new referendum would be seen as a “betrayal”.

It comes as deputy leader Tom Watson is in the process of forming a new “social democrat” group within the party, while eight MPs have quit the party, in large part over Brexit policy, to form the new Independent Group. Labour said last week that it would support a vote on any “credible” exit plan passed by parliament, and shadow ministers took to the airwaves to promise to demand a “confirmatory referendum” on “whatever deal may or may not pass through parliament”. However, sources have now told The Independent that the party will only support a referendum on a “damaging Tory Brexit” deal. Crucially, it is understood that Labour does not consider this to include the type of arrangement being proposed by former Conservative ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles, who Mr Corbyn held talks with yesterday. Their plan would keep the UK in the single market and a customs union with the EU.

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This should panic the country like nothing else. But instead all the talk is Brexit and they’re signaling the advantages for pension schemes of people dying younger.

British Life Expectancy Falls By Six Months (G.)

British adults’ life expectancy has been cut by six months in the biggest reduction in official longevity forecasts. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy on behalf of the UK pension industry, declined to speculate on why longevity is deteriorating for men and women in England and Wales. Some analysts, however, blame austerity and cuts in NHS spending, others point to worsening obesity, dementia and diabetes. The institute said it now expects men aged 65 to die at 86.9 years, down from its previous estimate of 87.4 years, while women who reach 65 are likely to die at 89.2 years, down from 89.7 years. The actuaries said the evidence of slowing life expectancy that first emerged around 2010-11 is “a trend as opposed to a blip”. Falling longevity has accelerated.

Last year’s analysis cut forecasted life expectancy by two months. This year it took off another six months. Compared with 2015, projections for life expectancy are now down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women. Flat or falling longevity has major implications for health, finance and government policy. The state pension age is planned to rise to 68 in 2037, and the government has floated the idea of increasing it to 70 but will come under pressure to backtrack if longevity drops. [..] Pension companies have already begun to cash in on falling expectations. This week Legal & General said it was releasing £433m of the reserves it holds to pay future pensions because of the reductions in longevity expectations.

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European parliament elections in May. That will bring a lot into the open.

Default Or Exit: A Battle Between Italy And The EU Is Inevitable (OR)

There is a dual Italian crisis brewing in the European Union. On the one hand, it is a political, or even geopolitical, crisis. Italy is undermining the unity of the European Union; blocking the EU’s recognition of those behind the coup in Venezuela as the legitimate authority; preventing the expansion of sanctions against Russia; and even supporting the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France, which is arousing the anger of the French government. On the other hand, the crisis is economic in nature. Italy is once more sliding into a recession (economic growth was negative in the country); Italian banks are again facing financial problems; and the business media has already estimated that the Italian economic crisis could blow up the entire European banking system.

There is a strong possibility that the EU’s leaders will soon be faced with a choice: try to save Italy (and the whole of Europe) from yet another crisis or set an example by punishing the Italian government for the country’s independent economic and foreign policies. In turn, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government will most likely have its own dilemma to deal with: bow down and sell its principles to get help from Brussels or go all out and regain Italian independence. The choice will not be easy and either decision will be painful. Neither ending to this Italian drama could really be called happy. As this headline in The Telegraph quite rightly notes: “Crisis brewing in Italy will lead to default, exit from the euro, or both.”

[..] To really understand the Italian problem, it should be borne in mind that, as a member of the European Union and the eurozone, Italy does not have full national sovereignty, especially when it comes to economic matters. It does not control the monetary policy of the European Central Bank and cannot even prepare a budget in line with the wishes of its own government or parliament without the risk of running into sanctions or fines from the European Commission. What’s more, Italian eurosceptic politicians suspect that the European Commission (in which the main roles belong to people hand-picked by Germany, France and the US) is punishing Italy and literally strangling its economy because of a political dislike of the Italian government’s geopolitical actions.

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If this happens more often it won’t be a coincidence.

Blackout Darkens Much Of Venezuela (AFP)

Most of Venezuela plunged into darkness on Thursday evening as a blackout served up more misery for people enduring an economic crisis that has fueled a potent challenge to President Nicolas Maduro’s rule. The socialist government quickly blamed the outage affecting 23 of the country’s 24 states on what it called sabotage of a major hydroelectric dam. In Caracas, traffic lights went out and the subway system ground to a halt, triggering gridlock in the streets and huge streams of angry people trekking long distances to get home from work. The blackout in the capital was total and hit at 4:50 pm (2050 GMT), just before nightfall. Caracas is one of the world’s most crime-ridden cities so people set out for home early, well before the sun went down.

Commerce was shut down because most transactions are done with debit or credit cards. Hyperinflation has rendered the local currency, the bolivar, almost worthless. Telephone services and access to the internet were also knocked out. The capital’s international airport was hit, according to social media posts from would-be travelers. A Copa Libertadores football game in the city of Barquisimeto was postponed. As night set in, the nationwide outage dragged on and some people in Caracas banged pots and pans – a traditional Latin American method of letting off steam. About seven hours after the mess started, the lights did come back on in some buildings in eastern Caracas.

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But campaign finance!

This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct” (Cohen)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reportedly still considering a symbolic “show vote” in Congress on an anti-Semitism and “hate” resolution – which would offer all the authenticity and honesty of a Soviet show trial. If Pelosi proceeds, it will prove Rep. Ilhan Omar’s point about the inordinate influence wielded over Congress by the “Israel-right or-wrong”/AIPAC lobby and its power to stifle criticism of Israel. The anti-Omar resolution, whether mentioning Omar or not, was originated by two Democrats who are among Congress’s most longstanding pro-Israel diehards: Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey. Both endorsed Bush’s Iraq invasion. Both opposed Obama’s Iran nuke deal. Both supported Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

I’m a proud Jew raised in a liberal family that supported civil rights and human rights. My experience growing up during the 1950s and 1960s was typical of many Jewish Americans. Like many Jews with this background, I’ve grown increasingly ashamed of Israel. For 40 years, Israel has been ruled mostly by a series of right-wing governments – more and more openly racist and abusive of Palestinian rights. It’s not the land of tree-planting, kibbutzim and “a country treating its Arab minority nicely” that we were sold as youngsters. That’s why a large number of proud Jewish Americans – raised to believe in civil liberties and open discussion – are appalled by the campaign to muzzle Rep. Ilhan Omar, as well as Speaker Pelosi’s role in it. We’re also appalled that human-rights-abusing Israel is virtually off-limits to debate.

[..] Rep. Omar has made a simple and undeniable point – that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the funding it [receives] influences exert extraordinary power over Congress. Disputing that point is flat-earther terrain. The Capitol Hill farce of an “anti-hate” resolution would provide still more evidence on behalf of her argument.

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We lock up our best, brightest and bravest. It’s the only way we can continue on our present paths. But there should be a big Hollywood movie in the works about Chelsea Manning as a role model for all young Americans.

Chelsea Manning Risks Jail To Fight WikiLeaks Grand Jury (SP)

Chelsea Manning will face a closed contempt hearing after she refused to answer questions during proceedings held by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that is investigating WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks grand jury investigation has been ongoing in some form or another in Alexandria since at least December 2010. It was convened by the Justice Department in response to disclosures Manning made to WikiLeaks in 2010, when she was an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. What Manning disclosed exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable conduct by U.S. government officials. But she arrested, subject to a court-martial, and convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other related offenses.

She received a 35-year sentence and was released after six years in military prisons because a grassroots campaign successfully pressured President Barack Obama to commute her sentence. “A judge will consider the legal grounds for my refusal to answer questions in front of a grand jury. The court may find me in contempt and order me to jail,” Manning stated. On March 6, Manning appeared before the grand jury after she was granted immunity for her testimony. “All of the substantive questions pertained to my disclosures of information to the public in 2010—answers I provided in extensive testimony during my court-martial in 2013. I responded to each question with the following statement: ‘I object to the question and refuse to answer on the grounds that the question is in violation of my First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment, and other statutory rights.’”

Manning added, “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles. I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.” She could face up to 18 months in jail if she is found “in contempt” of court. A legal attempt to quash the subpoena prior to her appearance before the grand jury was rejected by a federal judge on March 5. Grand juries can be empaneled for 18 months, or if they are “special” grand juries, they may last up to 36 months. Over the past eight years, the grand jury has presumably gone through multiple iterations, either being renewed or relaunched.

According to a report from the Washington Post, the grand jury is interested in whether WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange solicited Manning to disclose documents. Manning testified during her court-martial about accounts linked to WikiLeaks, or WLO, that she communicated with. It is possible she communicated with Assange, but they never exchanged identifying information. “No one associated with the WLO pressured me into giving more information. The decisions that I made to send documents and information to the WLO and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Manning asserted. The grand jury would like to try and poke holes in Manning’s testimony to try and build a case against Assange and possibly other staff members of WikiLeaks.

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Mar 032019
 


Pablo Picasso The artist and his model 1926

 

US is Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)
Trump Just Might Have Won the 2020 Election Today (Reason)
Massive Cuts Are Coming To Social Security (MW)
Balance Sheet “Error” Hits UK’s Fastest Growing, Most Popular Bank (DQ)
Brexit Supporters Give May Three Tests For EU Deal (R.)
Will Brexit Be UK’s Constitutional Moment? (IT)
Guaido To Return To Venezuela After Touring Neighbor Countries (R.)
Europe’s Leaders Are Aiding Italy’s Populists (Varoufakis)
France’s ‘Yellow Vests’ March Largely Without Violence As Tensions Ease (R.)
Chelsea Manning Ordered To Testify Before Grand Jury In Assange Probe (WaPo)
Chelsea Manning Shows Federal Grand Juries Are Tools of Repression (IC)

 

 

Great set of graphs from Wolf Richter. Makes one wonder what will happen once this becomes clear outside of graphs.

US is Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)

The global slowdown in manufacturing progressed another notch in February. Among the top four manufacturing giants in the world, the US is the cleanest dirty shirt. Together, they produced 58% of the world’s “value added in manufacturing” in 2016: • China: $3.08 trillion (26% of global total) • US: $2.18 trillion (18% of global total) • Japan: $979 billion (8% of global total • Germany: $718 billion (6% of global total) In February, [China] manufacturing output declined for the third month in a row, and at the steepest rate since March 2016, according to the official Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. For these PMI measures, a value below 50 means “contraction,” and a value above 50 means “expansion”:

Small-sized manufacturers in China got hit the worst, with their PMI falling to 45.3, while the index for mid-sized manufacturers dropped to 46.9. Large manufacturers showed growth, at 51.5.[..] The Nikkei Japan Manufacturing PMI fell to a 32-month low of 48.9 in February. New orders declined at a quickened pace as new export orders continued to fall “amid lower sales to China.” “Deteriorating demand conditions were signaled in the February PMI survey,” according to IHS Markit, which compiles the survey. New orders for Japanese manufacturers “dropped at the fastest rate in over two-and-a-half years.” And the decline in orders was “broad-based across both domestic and foreign markets, with falling new export sales also recorded.”

The IHS Markit/BME Germany Manufacturing PMI in February dropped below 50 for the second month in a row, and at 47.6 to the lowest level – the fastest contraction – since December 2012, “showing a deepening downturn in new orders and the first drop in output in almost six years”. All sub-indices except employment were in contraction mode. Hardest hit were the intermediate and capital goods sectors. Only manufacturers of consumer goods recorded an increase in output. IHS Market added that the downturn in new orders is “gathering pace, led by a sharp and accelerated decline in export sales. The level of new business from abroad fell the most since October 2012.”

But it’s not just in Germany… The IHS Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI fell to 49.3. Germany led the decline. The index for Spain (49.9) entered contraction mode for the first time since November 2013. The index for Italy (47.7) was in contraction mode for the fifth month in a row, and at the lowest level since May 2013. The chart below is on the same scale as the chart for Germany above; so you can see that the peak, and the decline from the peak, have been less pronounced than in Germany alone, with the manufacturing sectors in several Eurozone countries still in expansion mode – including in France, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, and Greece:

Operating conditions in the US manufacturing sector in February showed “softer, but still solid improvement … amid slower expansions in output and new orders,” according to the IHS Markit US Manufacturing PMI. Backlogs were still increasing, as was employment. The index, at 53.0, shows the slowest expansion in 18 months, “with firms reporting a marked easing in production growth in February, linked to a similar slowdown in order book growth.

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Others say the CPAC speech was just rambling. Fact remains there’s no-one anywhere close to running against him, none have a chance. And that’s pretty scary when you think about it: the Democrats haven’t advanced a single inch from 2016. The only thing they can think of, after seeing Russigate die, is to dig for more smear.

But if you can’t let go of oyour echo chamber hate of Trump, how are you ever going to understand him, a prerequisite for beating him?!

Trump Just Might Have Won the 2020 Election Today (Reason)

It’s way too early to be thinking this, much less saying it, but what the hell: If Donald Trump is able to deliver the sort of performance he gave today at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual meeting of right-wingers held near Washington, D.C., his reelection is a foregone conclusion. There is simply no potential candidate in the Democratic Party who wouldn’t be absolutely blown off the stage by him. I say this as someone who is neither a Trump fanboy nor a Never Trumper. But he was not simply good, he was Prince-at-the-Super-Bowl great, deftly flinging juvenile taunts at everyone who has ever crossed him, tossing red meat to the Republican faithful, and going sotto voce serious to talk about justice being done for working-class Americans screwed over by global corporations.

In a heavily improvised speech that lasted over two hours, the 72-year-old former (future?) reality TV star hit every greatest hit in his repertoire (“Crooked Hillary,” “build the wall,” “America is winning again,” and more all made appearances) while riffing on everything from the Green New Deal to his own advanced age and weird hair to the wisdom of soldiers over generals. At times, it was like listening to Robin Williams’ genie in the Disney movie Aladdin, Howard Stern in his peak years as a radio shock jock, or Don Rickles as an insult comic. When he started making asides, Trump observed, “This is how I got elected, by going off script.” Two years into his presidency and he’s just getting warmed up.

First and foremost, Trump was frequently funny and outre in the casually mean way that New Yorkers exude like nobody else in America. “You put the wrong people in a couple of positions,” he said, lamenting the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special prosecutor, “and all of a sudden they’re trying to take you out with bullshit.” He voiced Jeff Sessions in a mock-Southern accent, recusing “muhself” and asked the adoring crowd why the former attorney generally hadn’t told him he was going to do that before he was appointed.

Democrats backing the Green New Deal (GND) “are talking about trains to Hawaii,” he said. “They haven’t figured out how to get to Europe yet.” He begged the Democrats not to abandon the GND because he recognizes that the more its details and costs are discussed, the more absurd it will become. “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your energy,” he said at one point. “Did the wind stop blowing, I’d like to watch television today, guys?” “We’ll go back to boats,” he said, drawing huge laughs when he added, “I don’t want to talk [the Democrats] out of [the GND], I just want to be the Republican who runs against it.”

He railed against Never-Trump Republicans: “They’re on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” he said, adding “they’re basically dishonest people” that no one cares about. He joked about being in the White House all alone on New Year’s because of the government shutdown. “I was in the White House and I was lonely, so I went to Iraq,” he said, recounting that when his plane was approaching the U.S. airstrip in Iraq, all lights had to be extinguished for landing. “We spend trillions of dollars in the Middle East and we can’t land planes [in Iraq] with the lights on,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “We gotta get out.”

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Every western country, and even China, should think about this.

Massive Cuts Are Coming To Social Security (MW)

The mother of all political battles is coming, and it’s about a wall. No, not that one. It’s another, much bigger wall. One that fewer people are talking about — so far. It’s the wall that Social Security is due to run into in just 15 years. That’s when, say Social Security’s trustees, the program’s trust fund is scheduled to run out of money. If nothing else is done, they say, after 2034 Social Security’s annual income will only be enough to pay “about three-quarters of scheduled benefits.” We’re talking about a 25% cut in payments. How big a deal will this be? As it happens, the Federal Reserve just put out a report that tackles this.

According to Fed data, at most one quarter of people currently nearing retirement are going to be able to shrug off any cuts at all in Social Security. Actually, it’s probably considerably less than one quarter. And everyone else will be in serious trouble. Half of those nearing retirement will end up in dire straits. That’s because most of them have little or nothing in private retirement plans. The country’s 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts? The old-fashioned company pension plans? Most of these assets are owned by the wealthiest 25% of the country, the Fed calculates. Between 83% and 85% of the total balance is in the hands of the highest-earning one-fourth.

For everyone else? It’s down to Social Security or bust. And that’s especially so for the bottom half of the income distribution. “Social Security is the key to understanding retirement resources for most families,” says the Fed. For example, the Fed looked at the balance sheets of those currently in their 50s who are nearing retirement. For the middle two quartiles by income — in other words, the middle 50% — Social Security accounts for somewhere between 47% and 64% of their total retirement wealth. For those in the bottom 25% it’s nearly all of it. They hold, on average, just $28,000 in private retirement plans.

[..] In 10 years’ time, when this issue becomes urgent, people in or near retirement will make up more than half the voting age population. They’ll make up and even bigger share of the actual likely voters. And those people, as we’ve just seen, can’t do without Social Security — no way, and no how. According to the U.S. Census, by 2030 those over age 65 will account for 26% of the voting age population, and those aged 45 to 59 and nearing retirement another 29%. And according to the U.S. Elections Project, in the last presidential elections just 43% of those in their 20s bothered to vote. The figure for the over 60 was 71%. Put those two things together, and by 2030 around 60% of likely voters will be over 45 — and half of those — will already be over 60. Good luck passing a 25% Social Security cut.

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“In the last five weeks the lender has lost 60% of its market cap..”

Balance Sheet “Error” Hits UK’s Fastest Growing, Most Popular Bank (DQ)

Shares of the UK’s fastest growing high street lender, Metro Bank, are in free fall. They tumbled 16% on Tuesday, 25% on Wednesday and 6.86% on Thursday, to come to rest at a price of 889 pence, the lowest since the London-based bank went public in 2016. In the last five weeks the lender has lost 60% of its market cap and is now worth just £866 million, down from £4 billion a year ago. The crisis began in earnest on January 22 when Metro’s shares crashed almost 40% — the worst one-day fall suffered by any British lender since the financial crisis — following an announcement by the bank’s management that it had incorrectly classified a huge chunk of commercial property loans and loans to commercial buy-to-rent operators that should have been among its “risk-weighted assets”.

The “error” left a gaping £900 million hole on Metro’s balance sheet. On Tuesday this week, things got even worse when the bank revealed that the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), the institution that had first flagged up Metro Bank’s accountancy error, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) are investigating the circumstances behind the error. The bank also announced plans for a £350 million rights issue, after raising £303 million from investors last July. But investors — led perhaps by well-connected investors — have been smelling a rat since March 2018. By the time the initial disclosure whacked the shares on January 22, 2019, they’d already dropped 45%. Now they’re down 77% from March 2018:

Metro’s tribulations are a timely reminder of how important a force trust can be in the financial markets, particularly when it comes to banks. To gauge how much of a credit risk a bank could pose to market participants, including the bank’s bondholders and counterparties, investors rely on the bank’s capital ratio, which itself depends on the amount of risk assigned to each portfolio. By assigning a lower risk weight to its mortgage lending portfolio, whether by accident or intentionally, Metro left investors thinking it was safer than it actually is.

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Not going to happen. Why give the Brexiteers what they want, and thereby leave the rest of the people alone?

Brexit Supporters Give May Three Tests For EU Deal (R.)

Brexit-supporting lawmakers who voted down British Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union withdrawal deal in January have outlined demands for a revised treaty to ensure their support, the Sunday Times newspaper said. Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected May’s deal in January. Many were unhappy with the “Irish backstop”, insurance to prevent return of hard border controls between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland. Critics said it could leave the country tied to EU rules indefinitely. Britain, due to exit the bloc on March 29, is attempting to amend the deal to provide assurances that the backstop would not be indefinite.

The Sunday Times said hardline Brexit supporters from May’s Conservative Party had drawn up a document outlining three tests the deal must pass to gain their support. These are a “clearly worded, legally binding, treaty-level clause which unambiguously overrides” the text of the withdrawal agreement, with language that goes beyond emphasizing the temporary nature of the backstop and a clear means to exit the backstop if subsequent trade talks fail. [..] In a further sign that former opponents of May’s deal might now back a revised version, Graham Brady, a senior Conservative lawmaker, said he would support it with legally binding assurances on the backstop.

“Once we have that, my colleagues in parliament need to recognize the strength of feeling,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “The whole country is tired of vacillation and delay. When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the European Union on March 29.”

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No haveng a written constitution leaves you open to havening more people insisting their multiple interpretations are the only correct one.

Will Brexit Be UK’s Constitutional Moment? (IT)

Does Brexit pose a constitutional crisis for the United Kingdom? Can its constitution be remade after Brexit or is it too late for that to happen? What are the consequences for Ireland and Northern Ireland? Constitutions are the set of fundamental rules governing a political system, usually defined as a nation. Typically they are written, short and legally entrenched, making them difficult to amend. Highly untypically, the UK’s constitution is unwritten and largely uncodified, sprawling over its common law and informal political conventions – even though the word was coined when the deposed King James II was accused in 1688 of having violated the “fundamental constitution of the kingdom”.

That continuing ideology was perfectly caught when the novelist AS Byatt last year told a disbelieving German writer, Matthias Matussek, in London: “You know, we British don’t need a constitution. We are the oldest democracy in the world.” She paused briefly before continuing: “For young countries like you Germans, constitutions could very well be useful.” The unwritten rules are now precariously balanced between the doctrine of absolute parliamentary sovereignty subject in principle to the monarch, and the shift to entrenchment represented by the 2016 Scotland Act which declared its self-government permanent, only to be abolished by a popular referendum.

At a conference last week in Mansfield College Oxford on remaking the UK constitution, the political theorist Stuart White said there is a real tension between these two conceptions of parliamentary and popular sovereignty. The Brexit maxim to “take back control” draws on both the notion of reversible treaty commitments and the 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union. They are especially difficult to reconcile in a multinational polity like the UK where there is no longer a single people or demos.

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Can he be resuscitated? Or will he be arrested?

Guaido To Return To Venezuela After Touring Neighbor Countries (R.)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Saturday he would return home after a visit to Ecuador and called for new protests next week against President Nicolas Maduro, whose government had banned him from traveling abroad. Guaido has spent the past few days touring between Latin American countries to muster support for his campaign to form a transition government and oust Maduro, whom he denounces as an illegitimate usurper. He had visited Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay after leaving Venezuela last week for Colombia to coordinate efforts there to send humanitarian aid into his country, though troops loyal to Maduro blocked a convoy of aid trucks and turned them back.

“As for the next steps for Venezuelans, I announce my return home from Ecuador,” Guaido told a news conference in the coastal town of Salinas alongside Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno. Guaido did not say when exactly or how he would return to Venezuela. He is expected to leave Ecuador at 9.30 a.m. local time on Sunday, according to the Ecuadorean government’s schedule for his visit. His return opens the possibility that Venezuelan authorities will try to arrest him. The Supreme Court had imposed a travel ban on him after he invoked the country’s constitution on Jan 23 to assume an interim presidency, which most Western nations now recognize as legitimate.

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“The fact that Italy’s public debt has a lower credit rating than private debt is a reflection not of public debt’s intrinsic inferiority but of a political choice made by European leaders. And, by bolstering an authoritarian politician, that choice is now blowing back on them.”

Europe’s Leaders Are Aiding Italy’s Populists (Varoufakis)

Italy is now the frontline in the battle of the euro. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is being propelled by a political tailwind that may, after the European Parliament elections in May, enhance his capacity to inflict serious damage on the European Union. What is both fascinating and disconcerting is that the xenophobia underpinning Salvini’s ever-increasing authority is being generated by the eurozone’s faulty architecture and the ensuing political blame game. In its recent report on the economic imbalances afflicting each EU member state, the European Commission blames the Italian government for its failure to rein in debt, which, it says, results in tepid income growth.

According to the Commission, the government’s reluctance to cut its budget deficit has spooked the bond markets, pushed interest rates up, and thus shrunk investment. Salvini could not be more pleased. The report presents a splendid opportunity to blame the Commission itself for Italy’s travails, by arguing that it was actually the EU’s fiscal austerity policies which constricted growth, pushed the economy to the brink of a new recession, and led to the election of the populist government now dominated by Salvini. And, as if that were not enough, it was the Commission’s threats of penalizing Italy unless it imposed even greater austerity that unnerved bond traders and pushed interest rates up.

Italy’s tragedy is that the Commission and Salvini are both right – and also both wrong. It is correct that Salvini’s announcement that the government would rescind its promise to impose pre-agreed levels of austerity alarmed investors, made Italian debt less viable, and caused capital flight. But it is also correct that the Commission’s fiscal rules, were they to be implemented fully, would have caused a recession that would have made Italian debt less viable anyway.

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BS headline. In France the protesters’ numbers are treated much as unemployment numbers are: whenever people ain’t looking, you push them down. And Reuters complies. Various videos tell a different story.

France’s ‘Yellow Vests’ March Largely Without Violence As Tensions Ease (R.)

Turnout for a 16th round of “yellow vest” protests in France on Saturday was below last week’s levels and marches were largely peaceful, in a relief for President Emmanuel Macron who has struggled to find a response to the movement. While turnout figures at midday were only half of last week, by nightfall the Interior Ministry counted a total of 39,300 protesters nationwide, of which 4,000 were in Paris. Last Saturday there had been 46,600 marchers, including 5,800 in Paris, compared with 41,000 the week before and 51,400 the week before that – well down on the more than 300,000 who marched at the start of the movement in November in a protest which degenerated into clashes with police in subsequent weeks.

Protesters marched largely peacefully on Saturday from the Arc de Triomphe to Place Denfert-Rochereau on the residential left bank, though water cannon were briefly used to douse protesters on the Champs Elysees boulevard. Tear gas and water cannon were also used in Bordeaux, and in Toulouse, where some protesters marched behind a “cacatov party” banner – a play on Molotov cocktail firebombs – encouraging people to throw “poo-bombs” at police. There were no reports of anyone being hit by a “catatov”, but the threat of excrement projectiles was of concern to reporters covering the marches in Toulouse and Paris. Large parts of central Paris were in lockdown as thousands of police cordoned off key areas around the presidential palace and government buildings.

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Word is they want Assange for harm to US operatives.

Chelsea Manning Ordered To Testify Before Grand Jury In Assange Probe (WaPo)

Chelsea Manning has been called to testify before a grand jury in the investigation of Julian Assange, officials said. The summons is one of several indicators that prosecutors remain interested in WikiLeaks‘ publication of diplomatic cables and military war logs in 2010. Prosecutors in Virginia have been pursuing a case based on conduct that predates WikiLeaks’ publication of hacked emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, and it is not clear investigators are interested in that activity. Officials discussed the investigation of Mr Assange, who founded WikiLeaks, on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the grand jury process.

Ms Manning, whose subpoena was first reported by the New York Times, is a former Army private who served seven years in a military prison for passing secret State Department cables and military documents to WikiLeaks before receiving a commutation from Barack Obama. Ms Manning’s attorneys have filed a motion to quash the subpoena. “I object strenuously to this subpoena, and to the grand jury process in general,” Ms Manning said in a statement. “We’ve seen this power abused countless times to target political speech. I have nothing to contribute to this case and I resent being forced to endanger myself by participating in this predatory practice.”

The subpoena was signed last month by Gordon Kromberg, a national security prosecutor on the Assange case. Mr Kromberg last month persuaded a judge to leave sealed an indictment against Mr Assange despite its inadvertent exposure in an unrelated court filing last year. Under Mr Obama, Justice Department officials had decided not to pursue charges against Mr Assange and WikiLeaks after concluding that to do so could set a precedent that paved the way for prosecuting news organisations for publishing classified information. But the case got a fresh look under Donald Trump.

Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said the Justice Department probably indicted Mr Assange last year to stay within the 10-year statute of limitations on unlawful possession or publication of national defence information, and is now working to add charges. “There’s nothing else that would make sense,” he said. “The heart of the controversy is, there’s never been a successful prosecution” for publishing classified information, Mr Vladeck said. “There has always been the spectre of a First Amendment defence.”

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Secret Courts and Secret Juries and Secret Documents and Secret Accusations. Nice country.

Chelsea Manning Shows Federal Grand Juries Are Tools of Repression (IC)

Chelsea Manning was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury and give testimony on March 5. The whistleblower filed a motion to quash the subpoena. As such, Manning risks incarceration under the coercive operations of the federal grand jury system. For Manning, the threat of further imprisonment is a particularly brutal one. Beginning in 2010, she was arrested, court-martialed, imprisoned, and tortured for exposing some of the worst crimes and brutalities of the Iraq and Afghan wars. She was released in 2017. Given the secrecy of federal grand jury procedures, we can’t know with any certainty to which potential case the subpoena pertains, or what Manning would be asked.

But since it was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia, we can make the informed speculation that it relates to inadvertently disclosed charges filed under seal against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in that same district. The New York Times reported that “there were multiple reasons to believe that the subpoena is related to the investigation of Mr. Assange,” including the district where the subpoena was issued and the assistant United States attorney that requested the subpoena, who is tied to the Assange prosecution. Another Assange associate, David House, told the Washington Post that he testified before the grand jury as well. “It was all related to disclosures around the war logs,” House said, a reference to the Iraq war documents that Manning released and Wikileaks published.

Manning’s decision to fight her subpoena, however, is not a question of protecting Assange, nor obstructing valid government investigations into federal crimes. Her challenge is an act of resistance against government repression and in defense of a free press.

Read more …

Mar 012019
 


Salvador Dali Eggs on the plate (without the plate) 1932

 

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)
The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)
China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)
China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)
Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)
CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)
Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)
Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)
The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)
Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)
Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)
The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

 

 

Well, they delivered something. But that’s a much bigger topic than just tax cuts, that’s Fed policy.

Lance is trying to utterly confuse us with an absolute overkill of graphs all in one place. But the gist is clear.

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)

I received a lot of push back on my views when the “mainstream” analysis was the tax cuts would jump start economic growth. Of course, with 2017’s Q1 economic growth coming in at a meager 0.7% annualized, it would certainly seem to be needed. But as I questioned then: “Do tax reductions lead to higher economic growth, employment and incomes over the long-term as promised?” Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, VP Mike Pence argued at the time he was confident that eventually, the deficit would decline as it would be overcome by surging economic “growth” thanks to the tax cuts it will fund. [..] As shown in the chart below, changes to tax rates have a very limited impact on economic growth over the longer term.

Reagan’s tax cuts were effective because they were “timely” due to the economic, fiscal, and valuation backdrop which is diametrically opposed to the situation today. “Importantly, as has been stated, the proposed tax cut by President-elect Trump will be the largest since Ronald Reagan. However, in order to make valid assumptions on the potential impact of the tax cut on the economy, earnings and the markets, we need to review the differences between the Reagan and Trump eras. My colleague, Michael Lebowitz, recently penned the following on this exact issue.

‘Many investors are suddenly comparing Trump’s economic policy proposals to those of Ronald Reagan. For those that deem that bullish, we remind you that the economic environment and potential growth of 1982 was vastly different than it is today.” [..] The differences with today’s economic and market environment could not be starker. The tailwinds provided by initial deregulation, consumer leveraging, declining interest rates, and inflation provided huge tailwinds for corporate profitability growth. The chart below shows the ramp up in government debt since Reagan versus subsequent economic growth and tax rates.

While wages did rise marginally over the last, due more to tightness in the labor market rather than tax cuts, corporations failed to share the wealth. In fact, the ratio of profits to workers wages have materially worsened since the enactment of tax cuts.

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Going to the mattresses. To be honest, it’s always been clear that trying turn the US into a cashless society is the stuff for revolution.

The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)

The stock market is coming off its best January in years, the economy appears to be holding up well, interest rates are still low, cryptos and mobile payments continue to gain traction — it’s not exactly a cash-friendly climate at the moment. Then what’s going on with the $100 bill? A decade ago, $20 and $1 bills were both far more prevalent than the Benjamins. As you can see by this chart from Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok, the currency hierarchy has shifted dramatically since then.

In 2017, the $100 bill took the crown as the most popular U.S. bill, doubling since 2007, which has helped drive the sharp rise in currency and other liquid assets as a share of GDP:

But why? Deutsche Bank’s Slok mulled a few possibilities. “It could be driven by a global fear of negative interest rates in Europe and Japan,” he said. “Or it could be a savings vehicle for U.S. households worried about another financial crisis, or it could be driven by more demand from the global underground economy.” Of course, we know it’s not because more people are using the $100 bill as pocket money. Smaller bills are still far more popular in that regard. Just look at the average lifespan of each bill:

So what’s that telling us? Mattresses everywhere are getting increasingly stuffed with $100 bills instead of being put to work in the stock market or elsewhere. That speaks to the frame of mind of the Average Joe as much as anything else.

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“Lighthizer said after the testimony [..] that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods.”

China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday that trade talks between the U.S. and China are going great, noting the two countries are making “fantastic” progress in meetings last week. “Last week was fantastic,” Kudlow told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “We’re making great headway on nontariff barriers and tariffs regarding various commodities such as soybeans and energy and beef. We have mechanisms with regard to enforcement, which is -I think- unparalleled.” “The progress has been terrific,” Kudlow added. But “we have to hear from the Chinese side. We have to hear from President Xi Jinping, of course. I think we’re headed for a remarkable, historic deal.” U.S. equities briefly pared some of their losses following Kudlow’s remarks.

Kudlow also said China has expressed willingness to make key structural changes to prevent intellectual property theft, a highly contested issue in these negotiations. Kudlow’s comments follow testimony from Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that China needed to do more than just buy more U.S. goods for the two countries to strike a permanent trade deal. But Lighthizer said after the testimony, according to The Wall Street Journal, that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods. This is a clear signal that a trade deal could come in the near future. “Lighthizer has worked miracles on this Chinese deal,” Kudlow said. “We’ve never come this far on China trade.”

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News item by news item my long held ideas of the importance of the shadow banks for China’s official growth numbers are being confirmed.

China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)

[..] a team of S&P credit analysts warned in an October report that China’s debt burden might be much larger than previously believed. Against a backdrop of soaring corporate defaults, the team from S&P warned that investors could safely tack on another ~40% of debt/GDP to China’s total (with even more likely hidden from view) after a careful analysis of a new source of shadow debt being tapped by local governments to further their development plans. These Local Government Financing Vehicles, or LGFVs, represented “an iceberg with titanic credit risks” as local officials had increasingly turned to these sources of shadow financing to finance development projects while bureaucrats in Beijing struggled to turn off the credit taps.

Now that Beijing has reckoned with the idea that now is not the time to try and contain the country’s massive debt load, even as the percentage of bad debt balloons, it increasingly appears that these measures might be too little, too late for investors who financed these LGFVs, as the Wall Street Journal revealed in a report about how a local government in China’s impoverished South had caused a stir by stiffing its creditors after racking up a debt pile – largely through these LGFVs – equivalent to roughly three times the government’s annual revenue.

While putting a number on the amount of shadow debt in the system is difficult due to the opacity of the Chinese financial system, one economist at a domestic think tank estimated that off-balance-sheet borrowings by local governments could be as much as 23.6 trillion yuan, as of the end of 2017, meaning that total is likely higher today, as governments have been forced to tap these vehicles during Beijing’s deleveraging campaign. The proliferation of private funds and other money-raising channels for local governments makes it difficult for economists and for Beijing to track the total amount of borrowings. Official figures pegged the sum of local and central government debt at 29.95 trillion yuan ($4.457 trillion) in 2017, roughly 36% of the economy.

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South Korea “exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.”

Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)

Weak demand in China and growing global fallout from the Sino-U.S. trade war took a heavier toll on factories across much of Asia in February, business surveys showed on Friday. Activity in China’s vast manufacturing sector contracted for the third straight month, pointing to more strains on its major trading partners and raising questions over whether Beijing needs to do more to stabilize the slowing economy. In many cases, business conditions were the worst Asian companies have faced since 2016, with demand weakening not only in China but globally. Japan’s factory gauge fell at the sharpest pace in 2-1/2 years as slumping orders prompted plants to cut production, while separate data from South Korea showed its exports plummeted.

“The weakening trend in Chinese import demand weighed heavily on exports across the rest of the region,” said Sian Fenner, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics. [..] China watchers are looking to Premier Li Keqiang’s work report to the annual meeting of parliament next week for clues on further stimulus plans. Li will set out the government’s economic targets for the year on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters Beijing will set a 2019 growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent, down from around 6.5 percent in 2018. China reported economic growth cooled to 6.6 percent last year, its weakest pace since 1990, but some analysts believe actual activity is much weaker.

[..] In Japan, the Markit/Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell into contraction territory as both domestic and foreign orders slumped. “We need to be mindful that uncertainty over the global economic outlook is heightening,” Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki said on Thursday, after data showed the biggest drop in industrial output in a year in January. Readings from South Korea — the first economy in Asia to report trade data each month – were equally grim. Its exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.

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“Once deeply resistant to Trump, CPAC is now like a religious gathering full of Trump idolatry. “Make America Great Again” (Maga) hats and sweaters are much in evidence..”

CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)

“The favourite in the Democratic race is Bernie Sanders because the way he makes socialism sound,” said Brandon Morris, 32, wearing a Maga cap. “Most citizens don’t know how the system works; once I tell them, they see it will fall apart.” Morris, a nurse from Gainesville, Florida, who is African American, added: “I’m against socialism because I see it as a form of slavery. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris talk about Medicare for All and that will kill doctors’ incentives to work hard. Look at Cuba.” Like Trump, Sanders ran in 2016 warning of a rigged system and the downsides of global trade and, like Trump, he thrived in midwestern states against Hillary Clinton. Less than a week after declaring his 2020 candidacy, Sanders had already raised $10m, well ahead of any of his rivals.

Wearing a Maga cap and stars and stripes jacket, Sam Lee, the communications director of conservative group Grand Opportunity USA, said: “I think Sanders has the ability to generate a base. He’s genuine. It’s the same thing as Trump: they’re very upfront about who they are. But Trump will win, 100%.” Lee rejected candidates such as Harris and Elizabeth Warren as “background noise”, adding: “Every election has people who aren’t going to make it and I don’t think they could.” Fran Wendelboe, the treasurer of the conservative organisation the 603 Alliance in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, said: “Among the young voters, Bernie Sanders still seems popular. I think he still has great traction. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t seem to be getting much – she should get out of the race. But they’re all trampling themselves to get as far to the left as they can. Nobody’s going to beat Trump.”

Mike Wertz, a self-employed property appraiser, said: “It’s hard to run against Santa Claus: Bernie Sanders is Santa Claus because he says he would give everything away free. But Trump is still popular.” Wertz, 52, from Stevensville, Maryland, dismissed the prospects of Joe Biden, the former vice-president who is yet to declare whether he will mount a third bid for the White House. “Biden would get exposed. He stumbles around and says silly things. Trump would bring that out of him; he wouldn’t let Biden get away with it. If Biden said something stupid, Trump would tweet it in about 30 seconds.”

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Just to show you my views are not alone. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté.

Someone mailed me yesterday talking about the conservatism of my columns. Never saw that before. And I don’t agree. Raging against the empty narratives of the anti-Trump machine does not make me a Trump supporter. People should read more carefully. The world is not divided into two camps.

Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)

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Cohen and the Democrats lost it all when he said at the start he never wanted a White House job.

Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)

Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that Michael Cohen lied about almost everything during his explosive congressional testimony the day before – but told the truth by saying he had no evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. Speaking in Vietnam after meeting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong un, Trump said Cohen, his former legal fixer, lied “95% instead of 100%” of the time during a hearing of the House oversight committee on Wednesday. “I was impressed,” said Trump. Trump falsely claimed several times that Cohen had testified that there had been “no collusion”. In fact, Cohen said he did not know any “direct evidence” of collusion. “But I have my suspicions,” he told members of Congress.

Trump said of Cohen: “He lied a lot, but it was very interesting, because he didn’t lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax. And I said, ‘I wonder why he didn’t just lie about that too, like he lied about everything else.’” Cohen delivered a scathing account of his 10 years as Trump’s enforcer, calling the president a racist conman, implicating him in a series of felonies and estimating that Cohen had threatened 500 people on Trump’s behalf. He said Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, had been involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay hush money to a pornographic actor, Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with the elder Trump. Federal prosecutors in New York continue to investigate.

Cohen confirmed that Trump was under federal investigation for undisclosed crimes and warned that Trump may try to cling to power even if his re-election campaign fails next year. He also alleged that Trump knew in advance of plans by WikiLeaks to publish Democratic party emails, which US authorities say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives, and that Donald Jr was to meet with Russians at Trump Tower. But, Cohen said, he knew of no direct evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election campaign. US intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian operation was aimed at boosting Trump’s chances.

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Trudeau’s riding has lots of SNC-Lavalin jobs. But he may have gone too far.

The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)

What is going on in Canada? Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing the biggest political scandal of his administration. The affair centres around allegations that his former attorney general, Jody-Wilson Raybould, was improperly pressured by some of his closest advisers to prevent the prosecution of a large Canadian engineering firm over accusations of fraud and bribery. Thus far, the scandal has been politically costly; Gerald Butts, a longtime friend of Trudeau’s, and his closest adviser, resigned two weeks ago. Wilson-Raybould has resigned, too. A handful of polls are showing the scandal is politically unpopular for the governing Liberals – which is worrying for them, given there is a federal election in October.

What is the company accused of? SNC-Lavalin, based in Montreal, is accused of paying C$48m worth of bribes in Libya to Muammar Gaddafi’s family, in order to secure lucrative contracts. The bribery is alleged to have occurred between 2001 and 2011. If found guilty, the company would be barred from bidding on federal projects for a decade. SNC-Lavalin employs nearly 50,000 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Quebec. Company executives have been lobbying fora “deferred prosecution agreement”, which in effect allows them to pay a fine in lieu of a criminal prosecution, with no ban on bidding for contracts. But federal prosectors have decided to pursue a trial.

This is where the scandal is centred: the prime minister and his aides, along with the finance minister, have been accused of pressing Wilson-Raybould to intervene and asking prosecutors to accept a deferred prosecution agreement. Wilson-Raybould declined to override the judgment of her top legal team.

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Nobody is willing to say yes to intervention.

Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)

Venezuela’s opposition has formally urged the international community to keep all options on the table, after deadly clashes broke out in border towns over the weekend. On Saturday, at least three people were killed and hundreds more were left injured, Reuters reported, as opposition activists tried to defy a government ban to bring food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements into the country. It comes at a time when the South American nation is in the midst of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. President Donald Trump has consistently refused to rule out the prospect of military intervention in Venezuela and the country’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, has called on the international community to “keep all options open.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted over the weekend that Washington would “take action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” To be sure, the prospect of U.S.-led military intervention is clearly being signaled as a form of “action.” “I think large-scale U.S. military intervention remains unlikely, though the chances are increasing — that’s worrying,” Tom Long, assistant professor in the department of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick, told CNBC via email. “More than the deadly clashes, what I worry could push towards military action is the lack of options remaining for the opposition and its international allies to increase pressure,” he added.

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We can only guess as to why Chelsea picks the NYT to divulge details about this. We don’t have to guess as to why the NYT picks it up; it wants to repeat this one again:

” In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.”

And Chelsea now helps them do it.

Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted in 2013 of leaking archives of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, revealed in an interview on Thursday that she had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury — and vowed to fight it. The subpoena does not say what prosecutors intend to ask her about. But it was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia and comes after prosecutors inadvertently disclosed in November that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been charged under seal in that district. Ms. Manning, who provided a copy of the subpoena to The New York Times, said that her legal team would file a motion on Friday morning to quash it, arguing that it would violate her constitutional rights to force her to appear.

She declined to say whether she would cooperate if that failed. “Given what is going on, I am opposing this,” she said. “I want to be very forthright I have been subpoenaed. I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.” [..] Ms. Manning said that her lawyers have been talking about the subpoena with an assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District, Gordon D. Kromberg. After an inadvertent court filing revealed that Mr. Assange has been charged under seal, it was Mr. Kromberg who successfully argued before a judge that any such charges remain a secret and should not be unsealed. Moreover, she said, Mr. Kromberg told her lawyers in vague terms that prosecutors wanted to talk to her about her past statements.

During her court-martial, Ms. Manning delivered a lengthy statement about how she came to copy archives of secret documents and send them to WikiLeaks, including her online interactions with someone who was likely Mr. Assange. “It’s disappointing but not surprising that the government is continuing to pursue criminal charges against Julian Assange, apparently for his role in uncovering and providing the public truthful information about matters of great public interest,” said Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange. [..] In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.

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“Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century.”

The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

In the suburbs south of Beijing, what could one day be the world’s busiest airport is rapidly taking shape. Nicknamed “the starfish” due to the striking design by Zaha Hadid Architects, the Beijing Daxing international airport is set to open in October, and could eventually handle more than 100 million passengers a year. While the 52,000-tonne steel exoskeleton covering the airport’s six concourses immediately catches the eye, what lies beneath is familiar to many Chinese mega-projects: concrete – 1.6m cubic metres of it. Located 67km south of the capital, the airport sprawls across 780,000 sq metres – about a third of the size of Edinburgh. It aims to process 72 million passengers a year, and will have four runways by 2025, but there is a longer-term vision for additional runways and talk of 200 million passengers. Beijing’s existing international airport in the north-east, which will stay open, already handles around 96 million passengers a year.


Photograph: Sipa Asia/Rex/Shutterstock

The new airport is just the latest chapter in the story of how China became the concrete superpower of the 21st century. Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century. Even after a dip in recent years, China uses almost half the world’s concrete. The construction sector – roads, bridges, railways, urban development and other concrete-and-steel projects – accounted for one-third of the expansion of the Chinese economy in 2017. China is already home to the largest concrete structure in the world – the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River. Sometimes touted as China’s “new Great Wall”, the dam includes 27.2m cubic metres of concrete and its hydroelectric power station is the world’s largest power station in terms of capacity.

Like all of China’s concrete achievements, the Three Gorges Dam has been mired in controversy. Around 1.4 million people were displaced by the project, and there were complaints that the rehousing settlements were inadequate or that compensation money disappeared into local government coffers. More than 100 workers died in the construction process, and archaeological and cultural sites were flooded. None of this prevented Li Yongan, general manager of the Three Gorges Corporation, from declaring in 2006 that the dam was “the grandest project the Chinese people have undertaken in thousands of years”.

Li only had to wait seven more years to be outdone by yet another Chinese feat of concrete. In 2013, the eastern route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project opened, connecting the Grand Canal in China’s east with the capital in the north. The project is a multi-decade plan to divert the water from China’s lush south to its arid north, where water scarcity is an acute problem. The waterway has already cost around $80bn (£61bn), making it the most expensive infrastructure project in the world. In the first phase alone, it has used more than double the amount of concrete in the Three Gorges Dam: 65m cubic metres. The project ultimately aims to transport fresh water a distance of more than 4,300km.

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May 162018
 


Carl Spitzweg The raven 1845

 

Julian Assange appears to be painfully close to being unceremoniously thrown out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. If that happens, the consequences for journalism, for freedom of speech, and for press freedom, will resound around the world for a very long time. It is very unwise for anyone who values truth and freedom to underestimate the repercussions of this.

In essence, Assange is not different from any journalist working for a major paper or news channel. The difference is he published what they will not because they want to stay in power. The Washington Post today would never do an investigation such as Watergate, and that’s where WikiLeaks came in.

It filled a void left by the media that betrayed their own history and their own field. Betrayed the countless journalists throughout history, and today, who risked their lives and limbs, and far too often lost them, to tell the truth about what powers that be do when they think nobody’s looking or listening.

Julian is not wanted because he’s a spy, or even because he published a number of documents whose publication was inconvenient for certain people. He is wanted because he is so damn smart, which makes him very good and terribly effective at what he does. He’s on a most wanted list not for what he’s already published, but for what he might yet publish in the future.

He built up WikiLeaks into an organization that acquired the ultimate trust of many people who had access to documents they felt should be made public. They knew he would never betray their trust. WikiLeaks has to date never published any documents that were later found out to be false. It never gave up a source. No documents were ever changed or manipulated for purposes other than protecting sources and other individuals.

 

Julian Assange built an ’empire’ based on trust. To do that he knew he could never lie. Even the smallest lie would break what he had spent so much time and effort to construct. He was a highly accomplished hacker from a very young age, which enabled him to build computer networks that nobody managed to hack. He knew how to make everything safe. And keep it that way.

Since authorities were never able to get their hands on WikiLeaks, its sources, or its leader, a giant smear campaign was started around rape charges in Sweden (the country and all its citizens carry a heavy blame for what happened) and connections to America’s favorite enemy, Russia. The rape charges were never substantiated, Julian was never even interrogated by any Swedish law enforcement personnel, but that is no surprise.

It was clear from the get-go what was happening. First of all, for Assange himself. And if there’s one thing you could say he’s done wrong, it’s that he didn’t see the full impact from the campaign against him, sooner. But if you have the world’s largest and most powerful intelligence services against you, and they manage to find both individuals and media organizations willing to spread blatant lies about you, chances are you will not last forever.

If and when you have such forces running against you, you need protection. From politicians and from -fellow- media. Assange didn’t get that, or not nearly enough. Ecuador offered him protection, but as soon as another president was elected, they turned against him. So have news organizations who were once all too eager to profit from material Assange managed to obtain from his sources.

 

That the Guardian today published not just one, not two, but three what can only be labeled as hit pieces on Julian Assange, should perhaps not surprise us; they fell out a long time ago. Still, the sheer amount of hollow innuendo and outright lies in the articles is astonishing. How dare you? Have you no shame, do you not care at all about your credibility? At least the Guardian makes painfully clear why WikiLeaks was needed.

No, Sweden didn’t “drop its investigation into alleged sexual offences because it was unable to question Assange”. The Swedes simply refused to interview him in the Ecuador embassy in London, the only place where he knew he was safe. They refused this for years. And when the rape charges had lost all credibility, Britain asked Sweden to not drop the charges, but keep the pressure on.

No, there is no proof of links from Assange to Russian hackers and/or to the Russian government. No, there is no proof that DNC computers were hacked by Russians to get to John Podesta’s emails. In fact there is no proof they were hacked at all. No, Ecuador didn’t get tired of Julian; their new president, Moreno, decided to sell him out “at the first pressure from the United States”. Just as his predecessor, Correa, said he would.

Julian Assange has been condemned by Sweden, Britain, the US and now Ecuador to solitary confinement with no access to daylight or to medical care. Without a trial, without a sentence, and on the basis of mere allegations, most of which have already turned out to be trumped up and false. This violates so many national and international laws it’s futile to try and count or name them.

It also condemns any and all subsequent truth tellers to the prospect of being treated in the same way that Julian is. Forget about courts, forget about justice. You’ll be on a wanted list. I still have a bit of hope left that Vladimir Putin will step in and save Assange from the gross injustice he’s been exposed to for far too many years. Putin gets 100 times the lies and innuendo Assange gets, but he has a powerful nation behind him. Assange, in the end, only has us.

What’s perhaps the saddest part of all this is that people like Chelsea Manning, Kim Dotcom, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are among the smartest people our world has to offer. We should be cherishing the combination of intelligence, courage and integrity they display at their own risk and peril, but instead we let them be harassed by our governments because they unveil inconvenient truths about them.

And pretty soon there will be nobody left to tell these truths, or tell any truth at all. Dark days. By allowing the smartest and bravest amongst us, who are experts in new technologies, to be silenced, we are allowing these technologies to be used against us.

We’re not far removed from being extras in our own lives, with all significant decisions taken not by us, but for us. America’s Founding Fathers are turning in their graves as we speak. They would have understood the importance of protecting Julian Assange.

To say that we are all Julian Assange is not just a slogan.