Pablo Picasso Weeping woman 1937
The circus comes to town one week later but with a much longer show and added attractions. This will be nuts.
• Robert Mueller’s Testimony Extended, Postponed By One Week (G.)
The special counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress about the findings of the Russia investigation on 24 July, one week later than his appearance was originally planned, under an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question him. Mueller had been scheduled to report on the inquiry into Russian election meddling and ties between Russia and the campaign of Donald Trump on 17 July. But lawmakers in both parties complained that the short length of the hearings would not allow enough time for all members to ask questions. Under the new arrangement, Mueller will testify for an extended period of time, three hours instead of two, before the House judiciary committee. He will then testify before the House intelligence committee in a separate hearing.
The two committees said in a statement that all members of both committees will be able to question him. In the joint statement, the panels said the longer hearing “will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power”. Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what is in his 448-page report. But Democrats have been determined to highlight its contents for Americans who they believe have not read it. They want to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against Trump.
Democrats are expected to ask Mueller about his conclusions, including that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice after detailing several episodes in which Trump tried to influence the investigation. Mueller also said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin. One thing judiciary members want to focus on in questioning Mueller is whether Trump would have been charged with a crime were he not president. Mueller said at the news conference that charging a president with a crime was “not an option” because of longstanding justice department policy. But Democrats want to know more about how he made that decision and when.
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Michael Cohen couldn’t deliver.
• Trump Organization Probe Likely to End With No Charges (CNN)
A federal investigation into whether Trump Organization executives violated campaign-finance laws appears to be wrapping up without charges being filed, according to people familiar with the matter. For months, federal prosecutors in New York have examined whether company officials broke the law, including in their effort to reimburse Michael Cohen for hush-money payments he made to women alleging affairs with his former boss, President Donald Trump.
In recent weeks, however, their investigation has quieted, the people familiar with the inquiry said, and prosecutors now don’t appear poised to charge any Trump Organization executives in the probe that stemmed from the case against Cohen.
In January, one month after Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, prosecutors requested interviews with executives at the company, CNN reported. But prosecutors never followed up on their initial request, people familiar with the matter said, and the interviews never took place. Meanwhile, there has been no contact between the Manhattan US Attorney’s office and officials at the Trump Organization in more than five months, one person familiar with the matter said.
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“..the obliteration of moral and ethical boundaries by the people who ended up running things in this fretful moment of US history.”
• Nemesis Rising (Kunstler)
Where are Clintons, these dog days of summer? The Hamptons? Salty, sunny Martha’s Vineyard? Under a rock somewhere in the Chappaqua woods? Fate is turning in more than one uncomfortable way for the once-charmed couple of Boomerdom. There is, of course, the freshly re-issued Jeffrey Epstein underage sex scandal, come ‘round again with a vengeance this time because there are fewer Clinton partisans left in the Department of Justice where the matter has festered for decades like a fistula slowly seeping its rot through the body politic. The vengeance emanates from the Clinton’s nemesis, the uppity Golden Golem of Greatness who dared to “steal” Hillary’s place in the Oval Office (and history).
To put it plainly, Mr. Trump had enough of the two-year-plus persecution he endured from the Clinton-inspired Mueller investigation into the Clinton-propagated Russia Collusion flim-flam. And having patiently survived this audacious, seditious effrontery, is now out to squash the Clintons like a pair of palmetto bugs. [..] And now there is the Epstein matter, which threatens not only former president Bill Clinton, but a cosmos of political, financial, and entertainment “stars” in countless ugly incidents that involve a kind of personal corruption that has no political context but says an awful lot about the obliteration of moral and ethical boundaries by the people who ended up running things in this fretful moment of US history. President Clinton has already kicked off this debacle by lying to the media about the number of rides he took on Mr. Epstein’s notorious airplane.
I voted for Bill Clinton twice. When they came up from the backwater of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1992, they seemed like the fresh, bright antidote to twelve years of fusty Reaganism with the GHW Bush moldy cherry-on-top. Governor Bill, so glib and charming. Tall and catnip to the ladies, too! And almost immediately he was in deep shit over that part of his act, but he wiggled through it all with the aid of his perky, stalwart wife and partner, who defended him sedulously on nationwide TV. (America had never even heard about her misadventures on the Watergate Committee, where, age 27, she gained a reputation for being less than honest.) And that was followed by the first instance of Hillary moneygrubbing when she turned a few thousand bucks into a six-figure bonanza almost overnight in a wired commodities trade.
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There is so much ugliness still hidden in this. Will we ever know?
• Epstein Accused Of Paying Witnesses $350K In Hush Money (ZH)
Federal prosecutors allege in a new court filing that Jeffrey Epstein may have engaged in witness tampering by paying off two potential witnesses days before the Miami Herald began publishing a series of explosive exposés about the registered sex offender and his victims. According to financial records, Epstein wired $350,000 to two ‘possible co-conspirators’ who could testify against him. $100,000 was wired from “Institution-1” to one person, while just three days later $250,000 was wired to another individual. Neither of the payments appear to be recurring based on five years of bank records. Is one of the co-conspirators Ghislaine Maxwell? The daughter of a British media barron, Maxwell was described by one Epstein accuser in a 2017 lawsuit as “the highest ranking employee” of his alleged enterprise, in which she was said to have managed both Epstein’s household and his sex life.
Via the Wall Street Journal: “Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of a British media baron, was a fixture for years in Manhattan’s social scene, often written about in tabloids for her close ties to British royalty and to a mysterious financier named Jeffrey Epstein. But Mr. Epstein’s arrest last week on sex-trafficking charges has brought renewed attention to her alleged role as one of his top aides. Ms. Maxwell, 57 years old, has been accused by three women in affidavits and other court filings of recruiting young women for Mr. Epstein and training them for sex. Two of the women have alleged that Ms. Maxwell, together with Mr. Epstein, sexually assaulted them, according to the filings.
What’s more, “Juan Alessi, who said in one of the depositions that he served as the Palm Beach house manager from around 1992 through 2002, described a basket of sex toys in Ms. Maxwell’s bathroom closet. He said he would find them around when he cleaned up after visits from the young women,” according to the Journal.
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Only Big Ag deals with Wall Street.
• Wall Street Banks Bailing On Troubled US Farm Sector (R.)
In the wake of the U.S. housing meltdown of the late 2000s, JPMorgan Chase & Co hunted for new ways to expand its loan business beyond the troubled mortgage sector. The nation’s largest bank found enticing new opportunities in the rural Midwest – lending to U.S. farmers who had plenty of income and collateral as prices for grain and farmland surged. JPMorgan grew its farm-loan portfolio by 76 percent, to $1.1 billion, between 2008 and 2015, according to year-end figures, as other Wall Street players piled into the sector. Total U.S. farm debt is on track to rise to $427 billion this year, up from an inflation-adjusted $317 billion a decade earlier and approaching levels seen in the 1980s farm crisis, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But now – after years of falling farm income and an intensifying U.S.-China trade war – JPMorgan and other Wall Street banks are heading for the exits, according to a Reuters analysis of the farm-loan holdings they reported to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The agricultural loan portfolios of the nation’s top 30 banks fell by $3.9 billion, to $18.3 billion, between their peak in December 2015 and March 2019, the analysis showed. That’s a 17.5% decline.
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I meant to do that?!
• Fed Rate Cut Would Ease Pressure On China’s Central Bank (CNBC)
A widely expected interest rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve would give China more breathing room in shoring up its slowing economy, some analysts said. Overnight, markets took Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s comments during the first of a two-day Congressional testimony as affirming expectations for easier monetary policy in the U.S. The S&P 500 briefly topped 3,000 for the first time, and Treasury yields edged lower. A looser monetary policy environment would reduce pressure on China’s central bank to ease monetary policy. Amid trade tensions with the U.S., China’s economy has struggled to gain momentum.
Private surveys released last week by Caixin showed services activity fell in June to its lowest since February, and the manufacturing sector contracted, after three months of expansion. Among several measures to support the economy over the last several months, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has made targeted attempts to lower financing costs to privately run enterprises, which account for the majority of the country’s economic growth and employment. “If the Fed does go ahead and cut rates, which I don’t think is a given … it simply means the PBoC has a little breathing room to see if the policies it has implemented have an impact on the real economy,” Hannah Anderson, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC on Thursday by phone.
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“Between 2000 and 2017, other countries’ debt owed to China soared ten-fold, from less than $500 billion to more than $5 trillion..”
“..debt has increased on average from less than 1% of their GDP in 2015, to more than 15% in 2017..”
• About Half Of China’s Loans To Developing Countries Are ‘Hidden’ (CNBC)
China’s lending to other countries has surged in the past decade, causing debt levels to jump dramatically, and as much as half of such debt to developing economies is “hidden,” a new study has found. Such “hidden” debt means that the borrowing isn’t reported to or recorded by official institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, or the Paris Club — a group of creditor nations. Between 2000 and 2017, other countries’ debt owed to China soared ten-fold, from less than $500 billion to more than $5 trillion — or from 1% of global economic output to more than 5%, according to the study from Germany-based think tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. “This has transformed China into the largest official creditor, easily surpassing the IMF or the World Bank,” the report’s researchers said.
The study, which looked at nearly 2,000 Chinese loans to 152 countries from 1949 to 2017, was undertaken by well-known debt expert Carmen Reinhart from Harvard University, as well as Kiel Institute’s Christoph Trebesch and Sebastian Horn. For 50 developing countries which have borrowed from China, that debt has increased on average from less than 1% of their GDP in 2015, to more than 15% in 2017, according to estimates by the study’s researchers. “Advanced and higher middle income countries tend to receive portfolio debt flows, via sovereign bond purchases of the People’s Bank of China, ” the report said. “As a result, many advanced countries have become highly indebted towards the Chinese government.”
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There’s Adam Schiff for you in all his glory. Watch for him in the Mueller hearings too.
• CIA Invokes WikiLeaks in Push For Expansion Of Secrecy Law (SP)
When the CIA and other agencies in the United States government pushed for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in 1981, it was crafted to exclude “covert agents” who resided in the U.S. There was consideration by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of how the legislation might “chill or stifle public criticism of intelligence activities or public debate concerning intelligence policy.” More than three decades later, the CIA is apparently unsatisfied with the protections the bill granted “covert agents. It has enlisted a select group of senators and representatives to help expand the universe of individuals who are protected, making members of the press who cover intelligence matters more vulnerable to prosecution.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, was involved in adding language to expand the IIPA to the Intelligence Authorization Act moving through Congress. “Schiff is once again putting the interests of the intelligence agencies in concealing their misdeeds ahead of protecting the rights of ordinary Americans by criminalizing routine reporting by the press on national security issues and undermining congressional oversight in his Intelligence Authorization bill,” declared Daniel Schuman, who is the policy director for Demand Progress. Schuman added, “Schiff’s expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act beyond all reason will effectively muzzle reporting on torture, mass surveillance, and other crimes against the American people—all at the request of the CIA. Schiff is clearly the resistance to the resistance, and he should drop this provision from his bill.”
The CIA put their specific request for what language they would like amended in writing and sent it to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Their request was essentially copied and pasted, with no changes, into the intelligence bill. “Undercover agency officers face ever-evolving threats, including cyber threats,” the CIA argued. “Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaks are willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past agency programs, such as the RDI investigation [CIA torture report], the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of ‘covert agent’ no longer remains valid.”
“This proposal would provide protection for all undercover agency officers by allowing for the prosecution of individuals responsible for disclosing the identities of those officers, regardless whether the undercover officer serves inside or outside of the United States,” the agency additionally stated. Schiff supports the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and shares the CIA’s view that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” not a media organization. In 2018, when Assange was willing to speak with investigators about the Russia probe, he replied, “Our committee would be willing to interview Julian Assange when he is in U.S. custody, not before.”
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Do I want to read this report?
• CIA Torture Unredacted (Bureau)
In December 2014, the Bureau, alongside The Rendition Project, began a major project to trace the history of the RDI programme. The impetus for our investigation came from the long-awaited publication of a report into CIA torture by the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee. The authors of this report had high-level access to internal CIA documents, which they mined to produce a damning assessment of the torture programme’s brutality, mismanagement and ineffectiveness. But they were compelled by the Obama administration, and by the CIA itself, to censor — “redact” — all parts of the report that could identify specific times and places where abuses had occurred.
This is important, because without being able to tie illegal activities to specific times and places, the quest for redress is hamstrung, and meaningful accountability — legal, public, historical — remains a mirage. The Senate report did offer a crucial insight, however: the first complete list of prisoners held in the CIA’s black sites. 119 names, each with a date of custody (redacted) and a record of how many days they were held (also partly redacted). In the days after the publication of the Senate report, we set to work reconstructing this list to reveal the hidden dates. Figuring out a date often meant that we could match it to a flight record; matching to a flight record meant that we could determine where a prisoner was brought from or sent to.
As we cross-correlated thousands of data points — from declassified government documents, footnotes in the Senate report, aviation data, records of corporate outsourcing of rendition flights, legal cases, media reporting and NGO investigations — the contours of the CIA’s programme of secret detention and torture began to emerge more clearly. Rather than just understanding certain individual histories, we could begin to discern the entire scope of the programme’s development. More than four years later, we’re publishing the results of our investigation in a 400-page report entitled CIA Torture Unredacted. It is the first time that the entirety of the CIA’s detention programme has been systematically revealed.
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“Other EU countries including Austria, Britain, Spain and Italy have also announced plans for their own digital taxes.”
• US To Hold Hearing On French Tax On Big Tech (R.)
The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Office will hold a hearing on Aug 19 in its probe of France’s new planned tax on big technology companies, calling the proposal “unreasonable.” President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered an investigation into the tax, which could lead to the United States imposing new tariffs or other trade restrictions. USTR said in a public notice the levy was an “unreasonable tax policy.” The plan departs from tax norms because of “extraterritoriality; taxing revenue not income; and a purpose of penalizing particular technology companies for their commercial success,” it said. USTR added that statements by French officials suggest the tax will “amount to de facto discrimination against U.S. companies… while exempting smaller companies, particularly those that operate only in France.”
The tax is due to apply retroactively from the start of 2019. USTR said that calls into question the fairness of the tax. On Thursday, the French Senate approved the 3% levy that will apply to revenue from digital services earned in France by firms with more than 25 million euros in French revenue and 750 million euros ($845 million) worldwide. Other EU countries including Austria, Britain, Spain and Italy have also announced plans for their own digital taxes. They say a levy is needed because big, multinational internet companies such as Facebook and Amazon are currently able to book profits in low-tax countries like Ireland, no matter where the revenue originates. Political pressure to respond has been growing as local retailers in high streets and online have been disadvantaged.
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• EPA Expands Use Of Pesticide Considered ‘Very Highly Toxic’ To Bees (Hill)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday it would allow for the expanded use of a pesticide it considers toxic to bees, a move that comes just days after the Trump administration said it was suspending data collection on bee populations. The pesticide known as sulfoxaflor will be permitted for use on certain crops for the first time, and in other areas that were prohibited under the Obama administration. The agency considers sulfoxaflor “very highly toxic” to bees. In a call with reporters to announce the decision, a top EPA official emphasized the agency’s research on the pesticide’s effects on bees and said the rule was designed with pollinators in mind.
“To reduce exposure to bees, the product label will have crop-specific restrictions and important pollinator protection language,” including limits on how close to bloom sulfoxaflor can be sprayed, the official said. But it may be difficult to monitor whether the regulations spare bees as intended. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week it was suspending one of the few remaining government data sets that monitor bee populations and loss. “At a time when honeybees and other pollinators are dying in greater numbers than ever before, Trump’s EPA decision to remove restrictions on yet another bee-killing pesticide is nothing short of reckless,” Earthjustice, which fought sulfoxaflor use in the 2015 suit, said in a statement Friday. “Scientists have long said pesticides like sulfoxaflor are the cause of the unprecedented colony collapse. Letting sulfoxaflor back on the market is dangerous for our food system, economy, and environment.”
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“..perhaps I will abstain from telling them of the heart-shattering, breath-snatching moment I gazed into the deep eyes of the last of a species, every sense trembling with anticipation.”
• Meeting the last Malaysian Sumatran Rhino on Earth (Lack)
Deep set beady eyes peer from folds of thick leather skin. They close slowly in a leisurely, ponderous blink. Nostrils flare with each warm, damp exhalation, causing a slight rise of the stubby nasal horn that rests on those cavernous nostrils. I stare at this primitive, prehistoric creature which seems to have just trundled out of the Jurassic Period. Her skin is leather-thick, her face is topped by a firm horn and her species is over 20 million years old. She seems invincible. Somehow our soft-skinned species has managed to mangle her population down and down until today, when only one Malaysian Sumatran Rhino exists on earth. And there I stand looking into her eyes. She is called Iman. Iman means faith.
Faith is a funny concept when you stand looking at the very last individual of a species and your ears ring with her plaintive cries. Rather than feel faith in humanity, I felt a deep loss, a deep hopelessness. That was only after five minutes of meeting Iman. Yet behind me stood Dr Junaidi Payne and Dr Zainal Zahari Zainuddin, who have been working on protecting the Sumatran Rhino in Sabah for almost their whole lives. They were there in 2017 when Puntung had to be euthanised. They were there in May this year when Tam, the last male, died. They will, most likely, be there when Iman breathes her last breath. The last breath of a species. They have front row seats of the sixth mass extinction, directed and produced wholly by humans.
Iman cannot be saved. It is the brutal yet undeniable truth that one day she will be gripped by illness or old age and will leave us. If I choose to have children, their world will be undoubtedly different to ours today. Perhaps they will cry at the abundance of life that has been ravaged by their ancestors. Perhaps they will listen to the story of the time I met Iman. But perhaps I will abstain from telling them of the heart-shattering, breath-snatching moment I gazed into the deep eyes of the last of a species, every sense trembling with anticipation. Rhino and girl. We were two, yet we were alike. Our hearts both pounding as we watched each other, our gazes both narrowed and our breath quickened.
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