Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907
The last graph is not from the article, not BIS, but from H o l g e r Z s c h a e p i t z on Twitter.
• Global Debt Up 50% Over Past Decade, But S&P Says Next Crisis Not As Bad (CNBC)
Global debt has jumped since the financial crisis, though one ratings agency thinks that it poses significantly less danger than the last time around. Corporate, government and household indebtedness rose to $178 trillion as of June 2018, a 50 percent increase from a decade ago, according to figures S&P Global Ratings released Tuesday. The expansion was especially acute at the government level, which stood at $62.4 trillion, or 77 percent higher than it did before the public borrowing binge began. “Global debt is certainly higher and riskier today than it was a decade ago, with households, corporates, and governments all ramping up indebtedness,” S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Terry Chan said in a statement. “Although another credit downturn may be inevitable, we don’t believe it will be as bad as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.”
The lower danger level is due largely to the nature of the debt — primarily driven by government borrowing in sovereign countries rather than the private sector surge that led to the housing market collapse and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In addition, much of the gain on the corporate side came from Chinese companies that borrowed from domestic institutions, lowering the probability that defaults would cause global contagion.
[..] while the level of debt has amped up considerably, the amount of leverage, or debt to GDP, is up less dramatically, from 208 percent in June 2008 to 231 percent in June 2018. Households also have been more conservative. That’s particularly true in the U.S., which showed a gain of just more than $1 trillion during the decade to $15.3 trillion, just a 7 percent increase, or less than 1 percent a year. In China, that level has risen to $6.6 trillion, or 716 percent. The euro zone also is notable for restraint, with total debt in all categories rising just 4 percent in the period to $34.7 trillion.
One of the areas of particular worry that S&P cited was corporate debt, especially on the lower end of the scale. On a global basis, companies have racked up $23.8 trillion since the crisis, an increase of 51 percent. However, the triple-B category of near-junk debt showed a 170 percent gain since 2008, with analysts worried that “Fallen Angels,” or companies that go from lower investment-grade to high-yield debt, could cause default problems if they aren’t able to refinance.
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May suffers record losses in Parliament, but here’s the latest poll:
Westminster Voting Intention:
CON: 41% (+1)
LAB: 31% (-4)
LDM: 8% (-2)
UKIP: 6% (+3)
GRN: 6% (+2)
• Theresa May’s Heart Was Never In It – And Now She Is Done And Dusted (Galloway)
What happens next in the short term is easy to predict. A “No deal” Brexit will be rejected Wednesday evening but only thanks to opposition votes. She released her own MPs from party discipline by announcing a “free-vote” because she could not countenance at least half of her own side voting for No Deal (not least because they were all elected on precisely that platform). But the government’s own members – the so-called “payroll vote” of a hundred plus, together with almost all of the opposition members will comfortably (for now) bury the “zero-option” of No-Deal. The next night the House will vote again comfortably in favour of seeking an extension of Article 50 thereby abandoning the pledge repeated like a mantra so often that Britain would leave the EU on March 29th. Assuming the EU agrees Britain then sails not just into uncharted waters but an uncharted raging torrent of bitterness, confusion, currency tumult, uncertainty and certain political change.
[..] Not only did Leave win the referendum, parliament overwhelmingly voted to trigger the implementation of withdrawal in Article 50, and then 80% of the voters in the general election of 2017 voted for the two main parties which BOTH promised to honour and implement the referendum result. And they haven’t. If that’s not a recipe for cooked geese its hard to imagine what would be. And then there’s the practical problems which now face the government. How long will be the extension they will now seek? And what can be done during that time to change this paradigm? An extension of a couple of months will change nothing. The EU have no intention of making further meaningful concessions – certainly not to this prime minister – and so further votes in parliament on the current package are the very definition of pointless.
A longer extension as long as this current parliament is in place will achieve nothing either. Except this. Both Nigel Farage and myself – both of us heavily involved in the referendum victory in 2016 – have announced that we will field lists of candidates to “Tell them Again” in the European Parliament elections which Britain will unexpectedly participate in should the extension take us past the deadline for those elections in the third week of May. With the state of confusion in the mainstream parties – and the large number of “Remainer” options to vote for it is likely that a focused Real Brexit electoral challenge will reap handsome political rewards. A disproportionate turn-out by angry Leave voters with a cause will change politics in Britain and in a likely Euro-sceptic new European Parliament too.
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They thought the Tories would make them richer. And only now do they wake up.
• UK Business Leaders: It’s Time To Stop This Circus (PA)
Business leaders reacted with frustration to the continued uncertainty caused by MPs rejecting the Brexit deal. The Commons defeated Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 149, with further votes expected this week on whether to back a no-deal Brexit or delay the UK’s departure beyond 29 March. Industry leaders urged the Commons to reject the possibility of a no-deal Brexit this month, but stressed the need to find a way out of the impasse. Confederation of British Industry director general Carolyn Fairbairn called on MPs to “stop this circus” and said people’s jobs depended on a new approach. “Enough is enough. This must be the last day of failed politics,” she said.
“A new approach is needed by all parties. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it. Extending Article 50 to close the door on a March no-deal is now urgent. It should be as short as realistically possible and backed by a clear plan. “Conservatives must consign their red lines to history, while Labour must come to the table with a genuine commitment to solutions. It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus.”Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is profoundly obvious that neither Government nor many businesses are ready for a disorderly exit – and this must not be allowed to happen on 29 March, whether by default or by design. Businesses have been failed over and over again by Westminster in recent months, but allowing a messy and disorderly exit on March 29 would take political negligence to new extremes.”
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A powerless voice.
• Corbyn Calls For General Election After May’s Brexit Defeat (G.)
Jeremy Corbyn has demanded a general election in response to Theresa May’s 149-vote Brexit deal defeat – but made no mention of a second referendum. The Labour leader also pledged that his party would vote against a no-deal Brexit outcome in Wednesday’s vote and signalled that he would continue to press for a customs union with the EU. “The prime minister has run down the clock and the clock has been run out on her,” he said in the House of Commons. “It’s time that we have a general election and the people can choose who their government should be.” But despite Corbyn’s call for another poll, the party is understood to not have immediate plans to call for a vote of no confidence that could precipitate what would be the third general election in four years.
The opposition will initially focus on opposing no deal – which is expected to be defeated on Wednesday – and believes that an extension to the 29 March deadline is inevitable because more time is needed to negotiate an alternative. [..] Corbyn made no mention of a second referendum – which the party is theoretically committed to supporting if it cannot secure a general election – in his remarks after the vote, and hardly referred to it in his earlier speech in the Commons debate. “If this deal narrowly scrapes through tonight – I don’t think it will – we believe the option should be to go back to the people for a confirmatory vote on it,” Corbyn said, suggesting there is little sign that Labour will reactivate the idea soon.
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I don’t think people realize that this is the main next step in the circus. May won’t simply get any extension she wants. She can’t make Brussels part of her groundhog schemes, or not more than she already has. They’re going to ask billions, and tell her to accept a 1 or 2 year extension. Or leave.
• Donald Tusk: UK Must Have A Credible Reason To Delay Brexit (G.)
Donald Tusk has warned after the second big defeat of Theresa May’s deal that he expects a credible reason for any delay to Brexit. Moments after the prime minister announced that the House of Commons would vote on an extension to the article 50 negotiating period beyond 29 March, the European council president issued an EU red line. “Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity,” a spokesman for Tusk said. “The EU27 will expect a credible justification for a possible extension and its duration. The smooth functioning of the EU institutions will need to be ensured.” There is frustration in Brussels at the failure by Downing Street to lay down any groundwork over a potential extension, raising the risk that leaders could reject any request.
At an EU-Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh last month, the prime minister had broached the issue of an extension of a few weeks during a meeting with Tusk to allow legislation to go through the Commons should her deal be ratified. But she declined to engage in any further discussion of the options if the deal failed again in the Commons. After losing by 149 votes, the fourth largest defeat ever on a government motion, May nevertheless told the Commons she would allow a free vote in her party on an article 50 extension. She said such an extension would be short, and that it risked a new cliff-edge in June, suggesting the British government is looking at a three-month delay. The EU’s 27 heads of state and government are set to discuss any request next Thursday afternoon at a leaders’ summit on 21 March in Brussels.
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Maybe the UK should focus on survival right now.
• UK In Fresh Attempt To Curb Power Of Tech Giants (G.)
A fresh bid to curb the market power of US tech giants will be signalled by Philip Hammond on Wednesday when he welcomes the findings of an independent review calling for government action to ensure companies including Google, Facebook and Apple face stiffer competition. The chancellor will use his annual spring statement to promise action after a review conducted for the Treasury by Jason Furman, Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, concluded that the dominance of the big digital players was curbing innovation and reducing consumer choice. Furman, now a Harvard professor, said a new digital markets unit should be set up in Whitehall staffed by people with technological expertise and equipped with the powers to set and enforce greater competition.
The review says individuals should be given more control over their personal data to enable them to switch between platforms more easily, that the biggest tech companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple – should have to sign up to an enforceable code of conduct, and that merger policy should be toughened up. “Over the last 10 years the five largest firms have made over 400 acquisitions globally. None has been blocked and very few have had conditions attached to approval, in the UK or elsewhere, or even been scrutinised by competition authorities,” the review said.
“Ensuring that competition is vibrant requires ensuring that there are competitors. Merger control has long had this role and in the context of the digital economy it needs to become more active with an approach that is more forward-looking and more focused on innovation and the overall economic impact of mergers.”
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If anyone needed more proof that Facebook has far too much power….
• Facebook Lifts Ban On Zero Hedge Articles After ‘Mistake’ (MW)
The popular financial blog Zero Hedge emerged from a three-day Facebook ban Tuesday, which the social network reportedly called “a mistake.” The bearish, markets-focused blog apparently noticed its content was being blocked Monday, two days into it. The blog does not have a Facebook page, but its articles were unable to be shared by Facebook users. The decision “surprised us,” Zero Hedge said in a blog post Tuesday night. “Not only do we not have an official Facebook account, but Facebook did not approach us even once with a warning or even notification.” Zero Hedge has a right-leaning, anti-establishment bent, and is a frequent Facebook critic. Some had speculated it had been caught up in Facebook’s ongoing efforts to root out “fake news” and misinformation, or to silence a critical, conservative voice.
Donald Trump Jr., Infowars writer Paul Joseph Watson and Brexit backer Nigel Farange were among those who condemned Facebook for the ban. But the site’s articles were available to share once again Tuesday morning. Zero Hedge said Facebook had not offered an explanation directly, but a Facebook spokesperson told Breitbart News on Tuesday: “This was a mistake with our automation to detect spam and we worked to fix it yesterday. . . . We use a combination of human review and automation to enforce our policies around spam and in this case, our automation incorrectly blocked this link. As soon as we identified the issue, we worked quickly to fix it.” In a blog post, Zero Hedge welcomed the news, saying Facebook users will “be presented with contrasting opinions, which even if wrong, will allow countless readers to make more informed opinions than if served with preapproved, uniform, and ideologically palatable content.”
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A 2016 Swiss study only now first translated into English. Missed this when it came out last Friday. But everyone should read it, or at least leaf through (it’s long). It makes you realize once more how important independent voices are. Yes, like the Automatic Earth.
• The Propaganda Multiplier (Off Guardian)
It is one of the most important aspects of our media system – and yet hardly known to the public: most of the international news coverage in Western media is provided by only three global news agencies based in New York, London and Paris. The key role played by these agencies means that Western media often report on the same topics, even using the same wording. In addition, governments, military and intelligence services use these global news agencies as multipliers to spread their messages around the world. A study of the Syria war coverage by nine leading European newspapers clearly illustrates these issues: 78% of all articles were based in whole or in part on agency reports, yet 0% on investigative research. Moreover, 82% of all opinion pieces and interviews were in favor of the US and NATO intervention, while propaganda was attributed exclusively to the opposite side.
The Propaganda Multiplier: Governments, military and intelligence services using global news agencies to disseminate their messages to a worldwide audience.
“The Invisible Nerve Center Of The Media System”. So what are the names of these news agencies that are “always at the source of the story”? There are now only three global agencies left:
• The American Associated Press (AP) with over 4000 employees worldwide. The AP belongs to US media companies and has its main editorial office in New York. AP news is used by around 12,000 international media outlets, reaching more than half of the world’s population every day.
• The quasi-governmental French Agence France-Presse (AFP) based in Paris and with around 4000 employees. The AFP sends over 3000 stories and photos every day to media all over the world.
• The British agency Reuters in London, which is privately owned and employs just over 3000 people. Reuters was acquired in 2008 by Canadian media entrepreneur Thomson – one of the 25 richest people in the world – and merged into Thomson Reuters, headquartered in New York.
The three global news agencies Reuters, AFP and AP, and the three national agencies of the German-speaking countries of Austria (APA), Germany (DPA) and Switzerland (SDA).
In this case study, the geopolitical coverage in nine leading daily newspapers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland was examined for diversity and journalistic performance using the example of the Syrian war. The results confirm the high dependence on the global news agencies (63 to 90%, excluding commentaries and interviews) and the lack of own investigative research, as well as the rather biased commenting on events in favor of the US/NATO side (82% positive; 2% negative), whose stories were not checked by the newspapers for any propaganda.
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Aaron is one of the few sane voices on this out there. I have written about it too many times to count, and it’s good there are others too.
• A Skeptic’s Guide to the Russiagate Fixation (Aaron Maté)
Robert Mueller has yet to allege collusion, and Democrats who accuse Trump of being a Kremlin conspirator are silent when his policies escalate tensions with Russia. As we await the rumored delivery of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the document will allege a Trump-Russia conspiracy. To date, Mueller’s numerous indictments and voluminous court filings have not accused a single American of collusion with Russia. And, tellingly, prominent media and political voices, who have spent two years raising expectations that Mueller will find collusion, are now quietly moving the goalposts.
A significant hurdle in the hunt for collusion is that every close associate to “flip” on President Donald Trump has stated that they did not witness it. In his recent congressional testimony, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen said that he has seen no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and knocked down several pillars of the conjecture surrounding it. In re-avowing that he has never been to Prague, Cohen rebuked a central claim of the Steele dossier that he traveled there to pay off Russian hackers. Cohen’s denial deals a serious blow to the credibility of the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele. It also underscores the credulousness of FBI officials, members of Congress, and the many news outlets that relied on and amplified Steele’s material. Cohen also poured cold water on suspicions fueled by Steele that Russians have compromising material on Trump.
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As the low hanging fruit is gone, this will get worse.
In 2015, the global fossil fuel industry received $5.3 trillion in subsidies, which amounts to 6.5% of global GDP – IMF.
• Resource Extraction Causes Half Of CO2 Emissions, 80% Of Biodiversity Loss (G.)
Extraction industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally undertaken of mining and farming. While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought. Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Tuesday. Each year, the world consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year.
Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% a year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes. Up until 2000, this was a huge boost to the global economy, but since then there has been a diminishing rate of return as resources become more expensive to extract and the environmental costs become harder to ignore. “The global economy has focused on improvements in labour productivity at the cost of material and energy productivity. This was justifiable in a world where labour was the limiting factor of production. We have moved into a world where natural resources and environmental impacts have become the limiting factor of production and shifts are required to focus on resource productivity,” says the study.
The economic benefits and environmental costs are broken down by sector. Land use change – mostly for agriculture – accounts for over 80% of biodiversity loss and 85% of water stress as forests and swamps are cleared for cropland that needs irrigation. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The biggest surprise to the authors was the huge climate impact of pulling materials out of the ground and preparing them for use. All the sectors combined together accounted for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions – even before accounting for any fuel that is burned.
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“The EU is lagging a long way behind..”
• Air Pollution Kills 800,000 People A Year In Europe (G.)
The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking. The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world. The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases.
The analysis builds on research published in September and confirms that calculation of 8.8m early deaths a year from outdoor air pollution around the world, double previous estimates. “To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking,” said Prof Thomas Münzel at the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and one of the scientists behind the new study. “Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.” Prof Jos Lelieveld of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and also part of the team, said: “Since most air pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources of energy urgently. When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates by up to 55%.”
[..] The estimates of early deaths varied significantly between countries. In Germany, there were 154 early deaths per 100,000 people, with an average reduction of 2.4 years in life expectancy. In the UK, there were 98 deaths per 100,000 and a cut in lifespan of 1.5 years. Lelieveld said the UK’s lower number may be because Atlantic winds help to disperse pollution. Münzel said small particles, less than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5), are not paid sufficient attention when tackling cardiovascular disease. “The prevention guidelines for CVD must adopt air pollution as an important risk factor,” he said. The EU’s PM2.5 limit is more than double the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline used by Canada and Australia. “The EU is lagging a long way behind,” Münzel said.
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What happens when the burden of proof is put on its head. The US justice system doesn’t appear to offer any relief. Monsanto should be trying to prove glyphosate is safe, not the other way around.
Note: the Monsanto name is vanishing.
• Bayer Roundup Cancer Trial Goes To Jury After Closing Arguments (R.)
A trial in which a California man alleged his use of Bayer’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused his cancer went to a federal U.S. jury after lawyers for both sides delivered their closing arguments on Tuesday. The closely-watched case brought by plaintiff Edward Hardeman is only the second of some 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States. Another California man was awarded $289 million in August after a state court jury in August found Roundup caused his cancer, sending Bayer shares plunging. Hardeman’s case has proceeded differently from the earlier trial, with an initial phase exclusively focused on scientific facts while omitting evidence of alleged corporate misconduct by company representatives.
Following the first phase, the six jurors in San Francisco federal court were asked by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria to decide whether Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing Hardeman’s cancer. If the jury finds Roundup to have caused Hardeman’s cancer, the trial will proceed into a second stage, where his lawyers can present evidence allegedly showing the company’s efforts to influence scientists, regulators and the public about the safety of its products. Hardeman’s lawyer, Aimee Wagstaff, during her closing arguments on Tuesday said Hardeman had “extreme” exposure to Roundup, spraying the chemical more than 300 times over 26 years. “The dose makes the poison. The more you use, the higher the risk,” Wagstaff said. She urged jurors to consider all studies, including of rodents and cells, which she said showed an elevated cancer risk.
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Washing up on the beaches where your children play: 100 billion tiny petri dishes with harmful and potentially deadly bacterial cultures. Mermaid’s tears. Lovely.
• Pathogens Hitchhiking On Plastics ‘Could Carry Cholera From India To US’ (G.)
Dangerous sewage pathogens have been found “hitch-hiking” on plastic litter washed up on some of Scotland’s finest bathing beaches, raising concerns from scientists the phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for human health worldwide. The findings, by the University of Stirling, have confirmed environmentalists’ fears that ubiquitous, persistent and tiny plastic beads, or “nurdles”, found on beaches and in rivers and seas around the world, act as rafts for harmful bacteria, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds. The findings raise the potential for “cholera in India to be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator.
“The danger is that pathogens could be transported over large distances and survive for much longer than normal,” Quilliam said. “When a pathogen is bound to a piece of plastic it’s going to be protected, as it can hide from things that normally kill it, like UV light. “And once you are sitting on a piece of plastic that is designed to be persistent for hundreds of years, and you are floating in the ocean currents, you have the opportunity to move great distances.” The scientists found 45% of nurdles, the size and shape of a lentil, collected from five EU-designated beaches in East Lothian were polluted with E coli, a bacteria that causes diarrhoea and severe cramps. Up to 90% of them were contaminated with Vibrio, which causes gastroenteritis. While harmful in itself, E coli is also an indicator of sewage pollution. On a bathing beach, the contaminated nurdles, also known as “mermaids’ tears”, are a risk to children in particular, the researchers said.
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Something tells me the actual number is much higher. Nice maps though.
• More Than 1,200 Species Globally Face Almost Certain Extinction (G.)
More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research. Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss. The project is from the same team of researchers that found just five countries are responsible for 70% of the world’s remaining wilderness.
The most affected biomes were in southern Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Thailand. Photograph: PLOS Biology
The new research, published in PLOS Biology, maps “hotspots” where species are most affected by threats such as agriculture, urbanisation, night lighting, roads, rail, waterways and population density, and “coolspots” that provide refuge from these threats. The team looked only at threats that were known to affect a species within its habitat range and found that for the majority of wildlife studied, intrusions were “extensive” across most habitat, “severely limiting the area within which species can survive”. They said most concerning was their finding that 1,237 species – nearly a quarter of the animals assessed – were affected by threats across more than 90% of their distribution. The situation was worse for 395 species, or 7%, which were found to be affected by at least one relevant threat across their entire habitat range.
The countries with the greatest areas of coolspots were also in south-east Asia, as well as the Amazon rainforest, parts of the Andes and Liberia. Photograph: PLOS Biology
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