The indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose task it is to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and ‘Russians’, that was released yesterday by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, raises so many questions one has to be picky.
Many people have already stated that the report contains no proof of anything it claims, and that Mueller doesn’t have to prove a thing, because the 12 Russians he accuses will never show up in a US court. Many of course also have at least questioned the timing of the release, 3 days before the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki, of information Mueller and Rosenstein have allegedly been sitting on for months.
The idea that the event was not coordinated to inflict maximum damage to the summit seems indeed far-fetched. But something else struck me in the report: the role of WikiLeaks (labeled “Organization 1”). Mueller very much focuses on both Julian Assange -though he doesn’t get named and is not indicted- and his presumed links to the indicted Russians, who -allegedly- posed as Guccifer 2.0:
Use of Organization 1
47. In order to expand their interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Conspirators transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and the chairman of the Clinton Campaign to Organization 1. The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, discussed the release of the stolen documents and the timing of those releases with Organization 1 to heighten their impact on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
a. On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”
b. After failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016, on or about July 14, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent Organization 1 an email with an attachment titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.” The Conspirators explained to Organization 1 that the encrypted file contained instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents. On or about July 18, 2016, Organization 1 confirmed it had “the 1Gb or so archive” and would make a release of the stolen documents “this week.”
48. On or about July 22, 2016, Organization 1 released over 20,000 emails and other documents stolen from the DNC network by the Conspirators. This release occurred approximately three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention. Organization 1 did not disclose Guccifer 2.0’s role in providing them. The latest-in-time email released through Organization 1 was dated on or about May 25, 2016, approximately the same day the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server.
49. On or about October 7, 2016, Organization 1 released the first set of emails from the chairman of the Clinton Campaign that had been stolen by LUKASHEV and his co-conspirators. Between on or about October 7, 2016 and November 7, 2016, Organization 1 released approximately thirty-three tranches of documents that had been stolen from the chairman of the Clinton Campaign. In total, over 50,000 stolen documents were released.
This means Mueller et al claim that WikiLeaks received the DNC files from Russian parties which had hacked into DNC(-related) servers. Something Julian Assange has always denied. Now, remember that the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a group of former US intelligence professionals, as well as others, have said that the speed with which the files were downloaded from the server(s) indicates that they were not hacked, but put onto a hard drive.
The person who is supposed to have done that is Seth Rich. Who was murdered on July 10 2016. Kim Dotcom has long claimed to have evidence that Seth Rich was indeed the person who provided the files to Assange. Today he said on Twitter that his lawyers warned him about exposing that evidence, citing his safety and that of his family.
Half a year after Rich’s -never solved- murder, in the first months of 2017, the US Department of Defense was involved in negotiations with Assange in which the latter was offered -temporary- ‘safe passage’ from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he is holed up, in exchange for Assange ‘redacting’ a batch of files on the CIA known as Vault 7.
These negotiations were suddenly halted in April 2017 through the interference of James Comey -then FBI chief- and Mark Warner, a US Senator (D-VA). In the talks, Assange had offered to prove that no Russians were involved in the process that led to WikiLeaks receiving the files.
Today, of course, Assange is completely incommunicado in the Ecuador embassy, so he cannot defend himself against the Mueller accusations. Mueller really doesn’t have to prove anything: he can say what he wants. Comey and Warner prevented Assange from providing evidence exonerating ‘the Russians’, and Assange has been shut down.
Let me reapeat once again: Assange is fully aware that the smallest bit of non-truth or half-lie would mean the end of WikiLeaks. It is based on ultimate trust. Nobody would ever offer a single file again if they wouldn’t have full confidence that Wikileaks would treat it -and them- with the utmost respect. So the American approach is to smear Assange in any way possible, rape allegations, collusion with Russian agents, anything goes.
And ‘the Russians’ can be ‘freely’ accused in a 29-page indictment released on the eve of the first summit President Trump is supposed to have with his Russian counterpart a year and a half into his presidency, where his predecessors all had such meetings much earlier into their presidencies. With many lawmakers calling on him to cancel it.
Do we all still remember the true meaning of ‘collusion’?
Today the Argentina peso plunged another 5.5% against the US dollar. It now takes ARS 27.7 to buy $1. Over the past 16 years, the peso has gone through waves of collapses. This collapse began on April 20. The central bank of Argentina (BCRA) countered it by selling $1 billion per day of scarce foreign exchange reserves and buying pesos. The peso fell more quickly. The BCRA responded with three rate hikes, to finally 40%! On May 8, the government asked the IMF for a bailout. On May 16, after a chaotic plunge of the peso, the BCRA was able to refinance about $26 billion in maturing peso-denominated short-term debt (Lebacs) at an annual interest of 40%, and the peso bounced. It was a dead-cat bounce, however, and the peso plunged another 13% against the dollar through today.
Since April 20, the peso has plunged 27.5%. The annotated chart shows the daily moves of the collapse, and the various failed gyrations to halt it (the chart depicts the value of 1 ARS in USD). The collapse of the peso comes despite an endless series of measures to halt it. Just this week so far: On Tuesday, the BCRA decided to keep its key interest rate at 40%; and on Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance announced it would hold daily auctions to sell $7.5 billion in foreign exchange reserves and buy pesos, to prop up the peso. But it was apparently the only one buying pesos. With inflation at 25.5% and heading to 27% by year-end, according to government estimates, with a rising budget deficit, a surging current account deficit, soaring borrowing costs, and burned investors, what else is there to do?
The European Central Bank has shrugged off evidence of a slowdown in the eurozone and announced that it will phase out the stimulus provided by its massive three-year bond-buying programme to the eurozone economy by the end of the year. Despite warning that the single currency area was going through a soft patch at a time when protectionist risks were rising, the ECB said it would wind down its bond purchases over the next six months. The ECB is currently boosting the eurozone money supply by buying €30bn of assets each month, but this will be reduced to €15bn a month after September and ended completely at the end of 2018.
The move follows strong pressure from some eurozone countries, led by Germany, that were uncomfortable about the more than €2.4tn of assets accumulated by the ECB since it launched its quantitative easing programme at the start of 2015. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said at the end of a meeting of the bank’s governing council in Latvia that the QE programme had succeeded in its aim of putting inflation on course to meet its target of being below but close to 2%. Eurozone activity has accelerated markedly over the past three years, with some estimates suggesting that QE contributed 0.75percentage points a year to the average 2.25% annual growth rate.
The ECB’s statement reflected the battle between hawks and doves on the bank’s council, with the decision on QE matched by a softening of its approach to interest rates. Draghi said there would be no prospect of an increase in the ECB’s key lending rate – currently 0.0% – until next summer at the earliest. “We decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged and we expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remains aligned with our current expectations of a sustained adjustment path,” Draghi said.
The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Friday and downgraded its view on inflation in a fresh blow to its long-held 2% price goal, further complicating the central bank’s path to rolling back its crisis-era stimulus. Markets are on the lookout for clues from BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s post-meeting briefing on how long the central bank could hold off on whittling down stimulus given recent disappointingly weak price growth. As widely expected, the Bank of Japan kept its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero%.
The move contrasts with the European Central Bank’s decision to end its asset-purchase program this year and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s steady rate increases, which signaled a break from policies deployed to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis. “Consumer price growth is in a range of 0.5 to 1%,” the BOJ said in a statement accompanying the decision. That was a slightly bleaker view than in the previous meeting in April, when the bank said inflation was moving around 1%. The BOJ stuck to its view the economy was expanding moderately, unfazed by a first-quarter contraction that many analysts blame on temporary factors like bad weather.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has taken the first steps in remaking the central bank in his “plain-English” image, which can only be a good thing for financial markets. Earlier this week, news leaked that the central bank was considering holding a press conference following each Federal Open Market Committee meeting instead of after every other one like it does now. The reports set off a mini-storm. Speculation rose the Fed would implement this new policy immediately, which could mean the central bank was considering accelerating the pace of interest-rate increases as soon as August. After all, investors had become accustomed to the Fed only making a major policy move at meetings followed by a press conference. Now, every meeting would be “live.”
But in a masterful move, Chairman Jerome Powell managed to confirm the policy while also putting financial markets at ease. Rather than announcing the change in the official statement outlining the Fed’s plan to raise its target for the federal funds rate for the seventh time since December 2015, Powell waited until the start of his press conference to drop the bomb, noting that the policy wouldn’t start until January. Here’s Powell’s reasoning: “My colleagues and I meet eight times a year and take a fresh look each time at what is happening in the economy and consider whether our policy needs adjusting. We don’t put our interest rate decisions on auto-pilot because the economy can always evolve in unexpected ways.
History has shown that moving interest rates either too quickly or too slowly can lead to bad economic outcomes. We think the outcomes are likely to be better overall if we are as clear as possible about what we are likely to do and why. To that end, we try to give a sense of our expectations for how the economy will evolve and how our policy stance may change. As Chairman, I hope to foster a public conversation about what the Fed is doing to support a strong and resilient economy. And one practical step in doing so is to have a press conference like this after every one of our scheduled FOMC meetings. We’re going to do that beginning in January. That will give us more opportunities to explain our actions and to answer your questions.
Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates. Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis.
The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis. Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019. The chart tells us the Fed is already living dangerously with yesterday’s hike, and further rises will all but guarantee a credit crisis.
Some statesmen by their sheer force of personality and unorthodox ways of politicking arouse disdain among onlookers. US President Donald is perhaps the most famous figure of that kind in world politics today. No matter what he does, Trump attracts criticism. He evokes strong feelings of antipathy among a large and voluble swathe of opinion within half of America. The making of history in a virtual solo act on his part, which is the rarest of efforts, on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday and which the world watched with awe and disbelief, will be instinctively stonewalled. Half of America simply refuses to accept the positive tidings about him coming from Singapore.
The skeptics are all over social media pouring scorn, voicing skepticism, unable to accept that if the man has done something sensible and good for his country and for world peace, it deserves at the very least patient, courteous attention. The problem is about Trump – not so much the imperative need of North Korea’s denuclearization. But western detractors – ostensibly rooting for the “liberal international order” – will eventually lapse into silence because what emerges is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has enough to “bite” here in the deal that Trump is offering – broadly, a security guarantee from the US and the offer of a full-bodied relationship with an incremental end to sanctions plus a peace treaty.
Succinctly put, Trump has offered a deal that Kim simply cannot afford to reject. The ending of the US-ROK military exercises forthwith; Trump’s agenda of eventual withdrawal of troops from ROK; the lure of possible withdrawal of sanctions once 20% of the denuclearization process gets underway, or once the process becomes irreversible; Trump’s hint that he has sought assurances from Japan and the ROK that they will be “generous” in offering economic assistance to the reconstruction of North Korea; China’s involvement in the crucial process – these are tangibles.
The absence of any reference to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program in the joint statement reached at US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s June 12 summit in Singapore is being seen by some as a “negotiation failure” on the US’s part. But an analysis of Trump’s subsequent remarks – and a reading between the lines of the Pyongyang’s official announcement – suggests the US achieved practical gains in terms of a commitment from the North in exchange for the face-saving measure of avoiding use of the “CVID” term due to possible North Korean objections to it.
To begin with, the Singapore joint statement’s language marks a step forward from the Panmunjeom Declaration of Apr. 27 in terms of the final goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The latest statement refers to Kim having “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” While the Panmunjeom Declaration referred to “realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” the new statement includes the additional reference to a “firm and unwavering commitment.”
From the reference to Kim’s “firm and unwavering” commitment to denuclearization, some experts are suggesting North Korea may have agreed to verification in addition to denuclearization – in other words, that the language may be a substitute for the “verifiable” part of the CVID approach demanded by Washington. “You could see them as having used the term out of awareness of North Korea’s discomfort with the word ‘verification,’” Handong Global University professor Kim Joon-hyung said after a Korea Press Foundation debate at Singapore’s Swissotel on June 13. “It may be fair to say North Korea made a definite commitment on the implementation and verification issues,” Kim argued.
“..while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter. ”
Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking of anything sleazier than smearing peace talks in order to gain partisan political points, but that has indeed been the theme of the last few days when it comes to the Singapore summit. Liberal pundits everywhere have been busily circulating the narrative that Kim Jong-Un “played” Trump by getting him to temporarily halt military drills in exchange for suspended nuclear testing. It was the most fundamental beginning of peace negotiations and a slight deescalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but the way they talk about it you’d think Kim had taken off from Singapore in Air Force One with the keys to Fort Knox and Melania on his lap.
I’m not sure how far up the military-industrial complex’s ass one’s head needs to be to think that one single step toward peace is a gigantic take-all-the-chips win for the impoverished North Korea, but many of Trump’s political enemies are taking it even further. Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to make it more difficult for Trump to withdraw US troops from South Korea, because while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter.
Surprising no one, MSNBC’s cartoon children’s program The Rachel Maddow Show took home the trophy for jaw-dropping, shark-jumping ridiculousness with an eighteen-minute Alex Jones impression claiming that the chief architect of the Korean negotiations was none other than (and if you can’t guess whose name I’m going to write once we get out of these parentheses I deeply envy your ignorance on this matter) Vladimir Putin. [..] This president is facilitating acts of military violence and dangerous escalations around the world; anyone who isn’t relieved by the possibility of one powder keg being defused in that rampage actually has a lot more faith in Trump’s competence than they’re pretending to.
Private equity firm Blackstone, the undisputed king of property funds, continues to bet big on global real estate. In the last week it raised $9.4 billion for Asian real estate. It was also given the green light to acquire Spain’s biggest real estate investment fund (REIT), Hispania, for €1.9 billion. The move, after its prior acquisitions, will cement its position as Spain’s biggest hotel owner and fully private landlord. Hispania’s 46 hotels, added to Blackstone’s other hotels, will turn the PE firm into Spain’s largest hotelier with almost 17,000 rooms, far ahead of Meliá (almost 11,000), H10 (more than 10,000) and Hoteles Globales (just over 9,000).
It took Blackstone just three moves to become market leader. First, it acquired the hotel group HI Partners from struggling Spanish lender Banco Sabadell for €630 million in October 2017. Then, a month ago, it bought 29.5% of the hotel chain NH Hoteles, which is currently in the hands of the Chinese conglomerate HNA. Now, by raising its stake in Hispania from 16.75% to 100%, it will take up a dominant position in one of the world’s biggest tourist markets. With this deal, it will also expand its residential property empire in Spain. Blackstone has over 100,000 real estate assets controlled via dozens of companies. Those assets include a huge portfolio of impaired real estate assets, including defaulted mortgages and real estate-owned assets (REOs).
Blackstone also owns 1,800 social housing units, which it acquired from Madrid City Hall in a controversial deal brokered by the son of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar and former Madrid mayor Ana Botella. Blackstone paid €202 million for the apartments in 2013; they are now estimated to be worth €660 million — a 227% return in just five year! Since its purchase of the properties, Blackstone has hiked rents on the flats by 49%. Those who can’t pay have been evicted. Blackstone also played a starring role in one of the world’s biggest real estate operations of 2017, in which it payed €5.1 billion for the defaulted loans Banco Santander inherited from its shotgun-acquisition of Banco Popular.
It has become a familiar scene: tourists in rented kimonos posing for photographs in front of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. They and other visitors have brought valuable tourist dollars to the city and other locations across Japan. But now the country’s former capital is on the frontline of a battle against “tourism pollution” that has already turned locals against visitors in cities across the world such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam. The increasingly fraught relationship between tourists and their Japanese hosts has spread to the short-stay rental market. On Friday a new law comes into effect that requires property owners to register with the government before they can legally make their homes available through Airbnb and other websites.
The restriction has caused the number of available properties to plummet and has cost the US-based company millions of dollars. Thanks to government campaigns, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared since the end of a flat period caused by a strong yen and radiation fears in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. A record 28.7 million people visited last year, an increase of 250% since 2012. Almost seven million were from China, with visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Thailand and the US taking the next five spots. By 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, the government hopes the number will have risen to 40 million.
[..] Under the new private lodging law, which was supposed to address a legal grey area surrounding short-term rentals – known as minpaku – properties can be rented out for a maximum of 180 days a year, and local authorities are permitted to impose additional restrictions. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction. The legislation has forced the firm to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay in unregistered homes after Friday and to compensate clients to the tune of about $10m.
A sign in Kyoto cautions against touching geishas, taking selfies, littering, sitting on fences and eating and smoking on the street. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian
Greece is the least satisfied nation in the European Union, according to a Eurobarometer survey published Thursday. More specifically, the survey, conducted between March 17 and 28, showed that just 52% of Greeks said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a 83% average for the 28-member bloc. Only 35% of Greeks surveyed said they were satisfied with the financial situation of their households, compared to 71% across the EU. A staggering 98% said the state of the country’s economy is bad while one in two Greeks said the country’s financial crisis is not over yet and that it will deteriorate even further. As for the country’s general situation, 94% said it is negative. Just 6% said the general situation was positive compared to the 51% average for EU member-states.
With Greece featuring prominently in Turkey’s election campaigning, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised the tension a notch again Thursday, warning that not even a bird will fly over the Aegean without Ankara’s permission. Responding to criticism by Turkish ultra-nationalists that 18 islands have been “lost” to Greece in recent years, Cavusoglu said that since the crisis over the Imia islets in 1996 there have been no changes in the legal status of the Aegean. “Not only during our own rule, but before that there has been no change in the status of the Aegean. We will not allow this. Even in the case of research we will not give permission, not even to a bird in the Aegean,” he said during an interview with a Turkish radio station.
He went on to say that Turkey will make no concessions in the Aegean and Cyprus, and that Ankara will also begin gas exploration “around” the Eastern Mediterranean island. “We also have a drill,” he said. Turkey has vowed to stop Cyprus from drilling for gas and oil in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), insisting there can be no development of the island’s natural resources without the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the island’s Turkish-occupied north. “In the last few months we have prevented drilling and we drove the Italians away. We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” he said. Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that Nicosia will not be dragged into the “climate of tension” that Turkey is cultivating. He cited international law and said that Cyprus has an established EEZ. Moreover, he said the US, Russia and the European Union have all backed Cyprus’s rights.
James Comey once described his position in the Clinton investigation as being the victim of a “500-year flood.” The point of the analogy was that he was unwittingly carried away by events rather than directly causing much of the damage to the FBI. His “500-year flood” just collided with the 500-page report of the Justice Department inspector general (IG) Michael Horowitz. The IG sinks Comey’s narrative with a finding that he “deviated” from Justice Department rules and acted in open insubordination. Rather than portraying Comey as carried away by his biblical flood, the report finds that he was the destructive force behind the controversy. The import of the report can be summed up in Comeyesque terms as the distinction between flotsam and jetsam.
Comey portrayed the broken rules as mere flotsam, or debris that floats away after a shipwreck. The IG report suggests that this was really a case of jetsam, or rules intentionally tossed over the side by Comey to lighten his load. Comey’s jetsam included rules protecting the integrity and professionalism of his agency, as represented by his public comments on the Clinton investigation. The IG report concludes, “While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”
The report will leave many unsatisfied and undeterred. Comey went from a persona non grata to a patron saint for many Clinton supporters. Comey, who has made millions of dollars with a tell-all book portraying himself as the paragon of “ethical leadership,” continues to maintain that he would take precisely the same actions again. Ironically, Comey, fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and others, by their actions, just made it more difficult for special counsel Robert Mueller to prosecute Trump for obstruction. There is now a comprehensive conclusion by career investigators that Comey violated core agency rules and undermined the integrity of the FBI. In other words, there was ample reason to fire James Comey.
As we digest and unpack the DOJ Inspector General’s 500-page report on the FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation “matter,” damning quotes from the OIG’s findings have begun to circulate, leaving many to wonder exactly how Inspector General Michael Horowitz was able to conclude: “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed” We’re sorry, that just doesn’t comport with reality whatsoever. And it really feels like the OIG report may have had a different conclusion at some point.
Just read IG Horowitz’s own assessment that “These texts are “Indicative of a biased state of mind but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the Presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Of course, today’s crown jewel is a previously undisclosed exchange between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which Page asks “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” to which Strzok replies “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Nevermind the fact that the FBI Director, who used personal emails for work purposes, tasked Strzok, who used personal emails for work purposes, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails for work purposes. Of course, we know it goes far deeper than that…
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel also had plenty to say in a Twitter thread:
1) Don’t believe anyone who claims Horowitz didn’t find bias. He very carefully says that he found no “documentary” evidence that bias produced “specific investigatory decisions.” That’s different
2) It means he didn’t catch anyone doing anything so dumb as writing down that they took a specific step to aid a candidate. You know, like: “Let’s give out this Combetta immunity deal so nothing comes out that will derail Hillary for President.”
3) But he in fact finds bias everywhere. The examples are shocking and concerning, and he devotes entire sections to them. And he very specifically says in the summary that they “cast a cloud” on the entire “investigation’s credibility.” That’s pretty damning.
4) Meanwhile this same cast of characters who the IG has now found to have made a hash of the Clinton investigation and who demonstrate such bias, seamlessly moved to the Trump investigation. And we’re supposed to think they got that one right?
5) Also don’t believe anyone who says this is just about Comey and his instances of insubordination. (Though they are bad enough.) This is an indictment broadly of an FBI culture that believes itself above the rules it imposes on others.
6) People failing to adhere to their recusals (Kadzik/McCabe). Lynch hanging with Bill. Staff helping Comey conceal details of presser from DOJ bosses. Use of personal email and laptops. Leaks. Accepting gifts from media. Agent affairs/relationships.
7)It also contains stunning examples of incompetence. Comey explains that he wasn’t aware the Weiner laptop was big deal because he didn’t know Weiner was married to Abedin? Then they sit on it a month, either cuz it fell through cracks (wow) or were more obsessed w/Trump
8) And I can still hear the echo of the howls from when Trump fired Comey. Still waiting to hear the apologies now that this report has backstopped the Rosenstein memo and the obvious grounds for dismissal.
As the gap between short- and long-term borrowing costs hovers near its lowest in more than 10 years, speculation has risen over whether the so-called yield curve is signaling that a recession could be around the corner. Not to worry, two influential Federal Reserve policymakers said on Friday. Another, whose views are typically outside the mainstream at the Fed, disagreed. Growth prospects look pretty strong, which is why the Fed is raising short-term interest rates, the two sanguine policymakers explained. Those rate hikes, they said, are in and of themselves acting to flatten the yield curve. In addition, they argued, the curve will likely steepen as the U.S. government runs a bigger deficit and issues more debt.
The calming comments, from the New York Fed’s incoming chief John Williams and from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans in back-to-back but separate appearances, appeared calculated to allay concern about a potential slowdown ahead. “The yield curve is not nearly as much of a concern as I might have pointed to a couple months ago,” Evans said in Chicago after a speech, in response to a reporter’s question. Williams, who will leave his current job as San Francisco Fed president in June to take over at the New York Fed, also said he expects the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet will help steepen the curve by putting upward pressure on longer-term rates.
In January the U.S. Congress passed a budget deal that boosts U.S. government spending, following a December tax package that slashes corporate tax rates. Both changes are expected to lead to an increase in government borrowing in coming years. The Fed policymakers reason that a bigger supply of debt should put downward pressure on Treasury prices and deliver a corresponding lift to yields. “We’ve got more fiscal debt in train in the U.S. That has to be funded,” and will likely push up long rates and steepen the yield curve, Evans said. At their March meeting, Fed officials “generally agreed that the current degree of flatness of the yield curve was not unusual by historical standards,” according to the meeting minutes.
The global bond market’s primary benchmark, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield, is knocking on the door of 3 percent, a level it hasn’t topped in more than four years. That’s more than just a nice round number. Higher yields make the burden of everything from mortgages to student loans and car payments even heavier. Some market gurus see it as a turning point with effects that could be felt for years — and not just in bonds. With the Federal Reserve signaling interest rates are going up even more, investors in riskier assets like stocks and high-yield debt are left to wonder if this is how their post-recession party ends.
1. What’s so important about yield? A bond’s yield is a measure of the return an investor can expect from buying it. It’s determined by the bond’s interest rate and the price paid for it. For instance, buying a security that pays a fixed 2 percent (the “coupon”) at face value (known as “par”) results in a yield of 2 percent. Buying it at a cheaper price would raise the yield for the investor, while paying a premium would reduce the overall yield. (Maybe the most confusing aspect of the bond market to outsiders is the inverse relationship between price and yield.)
2. How do you determine the benchmark 10-year yield?In the $14.9 trillion Treasuries market, the benchmark is based on the most recently auctioned 10-year security (known as the “on-the-run”). It’s the best measure because it tends to have a price close to par and a coupon close to the current yield. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.96 percent.
3. Why are yields going up?The Fed is raising its short-term lending rate as the U.S. economy strengthens, after holding it near-zero in the wake of the financial crisis. The three rate hikes last year pushed up two- and five-year Treasury yields in particular, but they’ve also affected 10-year yields as central bankers expect more boosts this year. Another reason: inflation is showing signs of picking up, which erodes the value of bonds’ fixed payments and leads investors to demand higher yields.
4. Why is 3 percent a milestone?Since 2011, it’s been touched only twice, briefly, in 2013 and early 2014, before a bond bull market drove yields to record lows. But 3 percent has also been cited by prominent fixed-income investors like Jeffrey Gundlach at DoubleLine Capital and Scott Minerd at Guggenheim Partners as critical to determining whether the three-decade bull market in bonds is at an end. In the mind of analysts who look at market patterns, once the yield breaks much beyond the 3.05 percent, to levels last reached in 2011, that threshold could flip to a floor from a ceiling.
5. Why does it matter?The 10-year Treasury yield is a global benchmark for borrowing costs. Corporations will have to pay more to issue debt, which they’ve done cheaply in recent years. So will state and local governments, which could jeopardize investments in public infrastructure. Homeowners will face higher mortgage rates (or lose out on refinancing at a lower cost). Taking out loans for cars or college could also become more expensive.
North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have allowed it to secure strategic stability and peace, so there is no need for additional missile and nuclear tests anymore, Kim Jong-un has proclaimed. “From April 21, 2018, nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile tests will be discontinued,” the Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as saying at a plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK). Furthermore, since North Korea’s nuclear test center has “completed” its mission, it “will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the nuclear test suspension,” KCNA reported.
Announcing the new course, the ruling party has declared that North Korea “will never use nuclear weapons, unless there is nuclear threat or nuclear provocation to our country, and in no case we will proliferate nuclear weapons and nuclear technology.” In the announcement, North Korea noted that the “suspension of nuclear testing is an important process for global nuclear disarmament.” Therefore, North Korea is willing to join international denuclearization efforts. North Korea’s last major missile test took place on November 29. Pyongyang announced at the time that it had tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Hwasong-15 that could reach the entire continental United States.
US President Donald Trump, who has traded insults and threats with Kim since taking office, tweeted that the latest decision by Pyongyang is “good news for North Korea and the world,” calling it “big progress.” China has also hailed the move, expressing hope that Pyongyang will continue towards the path of denuclearization and “political settlement” on the Korean Peninsula. “Denuclearization of the peninsula and lasting peace in the region are in line with the common interests of the people of the peninsula,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Did The Democrats’ “The Russians did it” narrative just jump the shark? The Washingtoin Post reports that The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The lawsuit alleges that in addition to the Russian Federation, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0, top Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and pretty much everyone else who has been mentioned in the same paragraph as Trump….
… conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there. [..] The suit filed today seeks millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks. The DNC argues that the cyberattack undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a lawsuit this afternoon in a Manhattan federal court against the Russian Government, the Trump campaign and various individuals it alleges participated in the plot to hack its email servers and disseminate the contents as part of the 2016 election. The DNC also sued WikiLeaks for its role in publishing the hacked materials, though it does not allege that WikiLeaks participated in the hacking or even knew in advance about it; its sole role, according to the DNC’s lawsuit, was publishing the hacked emails.
The DNC’s suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit – that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it “willfully and intentionally disclosed” the DNC’s communications (paragraph 183) – would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of “economic espionage” (paragraph 170).
It is extremely common for media outlets to publish or report on materials that are stolen, hacked, or otherwise obtained in violation of the law. In October, 2016 – one month before the election – someone mailed a copy of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, which published parts of it even though it is illegal to disclose someone’s tax returns without the taxpayer’s permission; in March, 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did the same thing with Trump’s 2005 tax returns.
In April, 2016, the Washington Post obtained and published a confidential internal memo from the Trump campaign. Media outlets constantly publish private companies’ internal documents. Just three weeks ago, BuzzFeed obtained and published a secret Facebook memo outlining the company’s internal business strategies, the contents of which were covered by most major media outlets. Some of the most important stories in contemporary journalism have come from media outlets obtaining and publishing materials that were taken without authorization or even in violation of the law. Both the New York Times and Washington Post published thousands of pages from the top secret Pentagon Papers after Daniel Ellsberg took them without authorization from the Pentagon – and they won the right to publish them in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Guardian and the Washington Post won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for publishing and reporting on huge numbers of top secret documents taken by Edward Snowden from the NSA. The Guardian, the New York Times, and numerous papers from around the world broke multiple stories by publishing classified classified documents downloaded by Chelsea Manning without authorization and sent to WikiLeaks. In 2016, more than 100 newspapers from around the world published and reported on millions of private financial documents known as the “Panama Papers,” which were taken without authorization from one of the world’s biggest offshore law firms and revealed the personal finances of people around the world.
President Trump is eager to go head-to-head with the DNC which filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit on Friday against several parties, including the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization – alleging a “far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.” Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.”
The “Pakistani mystery man” is a clear reference to former DNC CHair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s longtime IT employee and personal friend, Imran Awan – whose father, claims a Daily Caller source, transferred a USB drive to the former head of a Pakistani intelligence agency – Rehman Malik. Malik denies the charge. Of note, the DNC would not allow the FBI to inspect their servers which were supposedly hacked by the Russians – instead relying on private security firm Crowdstrike. Meanwhile, the “Wasserman Schultz Servers” Trump mentions is likely in reference to the stolen House Democratic Caucus server – which Imran Awan had been funneling information onto when it disappeared shortly after the House Inspector General concluded that the server may have been “used for nefarious purposes.”
Imran Awan, his wife Hina Alvi and several other associates ran IT operations for at least 60 Congressional Democrats over the past decade, along with the House Democratic Caucus – giving them access to emails and computer data from around 800 lawmakers and staffers – including the highly classified materials reviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Napolitano: He was arrested for some financial crime – that’s the tip of the iceberg. The real allegation against him is that he had access to the emails of every member of congress and he sold what he found in there. What did he sell, and to whom did he sell it? That’s what the FBI wants to know. This may be a very, very serious national security situation.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general is now conducting an investigation into classification issues concerning the “Comey memos” leaked to the New York Times by former FBI Director James Comey. Sources tell the Wall St. Journal that at least two of the memos which Comey leaked to his “good friend,” Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman, contained information that officials now consider classified – prompting the review by the Office of the Inspector General, headed by Michael Horowitz. “Of those two memos, Mr. Comey himself redacted elements of one that he knew to be classified to protect secrets before he handed the documents over to his friend. He determined at the time that another memo contained no classified information, but after he left the Federal Bureau of Investigation, bureau officials upgraded it to “confidential,” the lowest level of classification.” -WSJ
Comey told Congressional investigators that he considered the memos to be personal rather than government documents. The memos – leaked through Richman, were a major catalyst in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 US election. While Richman told CNN “No memo was given to me that was marked ‘classified,’ and James Comey told Congressional investigators he tried to “write it in such a way that I don’t include anything that would trigger a classification,” it appears the FBI’s chief FOIA officer disagrees.
We previously reported that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said four of the 7 Comey memos he reviewed were “marked classified” at the “Secret” or “Confidential” level – however in January the FBI’s chief FOIA officer reportedly told Judicial Watch – in a signed declaration, that every single Comey memo was classified at the time. “We have a sworn declaration from David Hardy who is the chief FOIA officer of the FBI that we obtained just in the last few days, and in that sworn declaration, Mr. Hardy says that all of Comey’s memos – all of them, were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classified.” -Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch
Therefore, Farrell points out, Comey mishandled national defense information when he “knowingly and willfully” leaked them to his friend at Columbia University. It’s also mishandling of national defense information, which is a crime. So it’s clear that Mr. Comey not only authored those documents, but then knowingly and willfully leaked them to persons unauthorized, which is in and of itself a national security crime. Mr. Comey should have been read his rights back on June 8th when he testified before the Senate. Farrell told Lou Dobbs “Recently retired and active duty FBI agents have told me – and it’s several of them, they consider Comey to be a dirty cop.”
Wells Fargo’s $1 billion fine won’t close the book on fallout from its consumer scandals. The nation’s third-largest bank submitted to an unprecedented order Friday that would give the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency the right to remove some of the lender’s executives or board members. That comes on top of the penalties Wells Fargo will pay to settle U.S. probes into mistreatment of consumers, the largest sanction of a U.S. bank under President Donald Trump. The OCC said it “reserves the right to take additional supervisory action, including imposing business restrictions and making changes to executive officers or members of the bank’s board of directors.” The agency could also veto potential executive candidates.
The bank will pay $500 million in penalties each to the OCC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a statement Friday. Wells Fargo warned shareholders last week it would soon face a fine of that size, which it will book retroactively in the first quarter. The bank remains under a Federal Reserve penalty that bans growth in total assets. “CEOs who hoped the Trump administration would be universally lenient regulators missed the difference between a dislike for rules that stifle innovation and employment and a dislike for rules against wrongdoing,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Poul Thomsen, director of the International Monetary Fund’s European department, on Friday spoke in favor of broadening Greece’s tax base though he stopped short of determining whether the IMF would call for reductions to the tax-free threshold (due to come into effect in January 2020) to apply a year in advance. Speaking in Washington, where the IMF is holding its Spring Meetings, Thomsen said that raising taxes had played a large part in the country’s fiscal adjustment in recent years but that Greece must find a way of meeting fiscal targets that is “growth-friendly.” The IMF will not impose any specific policies, he said but proposed a “discussion” about the timing of tax reforms.
As regards the Fund’s potential role in Greece’s third international bailout, which expires in August, he said at least one bailout review must be carried out before a decision can be made as well as agreement to lighten Greece’s debt. “Time is running short for us to be able to activate the program,” he said. A discussion on debt measures is likely to take place at the next meeting of eurozone finance ministers, scheduled for April 27 in Sofia. Talks there will also focus on a growth plan that the government has presented to bailout auditors. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Friday met in Washington with European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, Eurogroup Chairman Mario Centeno and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and is to meet Thomsen and IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Saturday.
If this doesn’t bring down the government, Britain has a whale of a problem. And no excuses. May suddenly offering them money now, after being exposed, is perhaps the worst part of it. You can’t buy off blatant racism with taxpayer money. And those taxpayers should let that be known, very loudly. Or they’re just as guilty.
In the aftermath of World War II, the British government invited thousands of people from Caribbean countries in the British Commonwealth to immigrate to the United Kingdom and help address the war-torn country’s labor shortages. Now, nearly 70 years later, many of those same people, now elderly, are having their legal status in the country questioned and are facing deportation. Though the deportation threats date as far back as October, the crisis burst into wider view this week after Caribbean diplomats representing a dozen Commonwealth nations chastised the U.K. government publicly. “This is about people saying, as they said 70 years ago, ‘Go back home.’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner from Barbados to the U.K., said at a gathering of the diplomats.
The migrants are known as the “Windrush generation,” named for the HMT Empire Windrush that brought the first group of them to the U.K. in June 1948. Of the half a million people who immigrated to the U.K. from the Commonwealth between then and 1971, an estimated 50,000 lack the proper documentation to prove it. In a meeting with Caribbean leaders on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May apologized “for any anxiety that has been caused” and promised no deportations would take place. Still, such assurances won’t necessarily convince those who remain skeptical of the U.K.’s strict immigration policies—ones May herself championed when she served as home secretary between 2010 and 2016.
During that time, May sought to meet then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s goal of reducing net immigration to the tens of thousands by making the U.K. a “hostile environment” for illegal immigration. In practice, this meant requiring doctors, employers, landlords, and schools to confirm that those whom they served were in the country legally. “The determination was to go systematically through any interaction people might have with the state, short of putting checkpoints in the road, just to have people’s immigration status checked,” Polly Mackenzie, the director of cross-party think tank Demos and the former policy director to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, told me. The Windrush generation wasn’t supposed to be part of that calculus—they had immigrated to the country legally and were thereby entitled to public services, including the right to education, healthcare, and social security.
But after the implementation of the “hostile environment” policies in 2012, these individuals suddenly had to prove their right to live and work in the country—a right which was guaranteed to them under the Immigration Act of 1971, though not everyone obtained the documentation to confirm it. This documentation problem arose in part from the fact that so many people belonging to the Windrush generation immigrated to the U.K. as children, often on their parents’ passport. What’s more, the British government didn’t keep records of who was permitted to stay in the country, nor did they issue documentation confirming it. What little records the government did keep, such as the landing cards documenting the arrival dates of Windrush-era immigrants, were discarded in 2010.
For some, the result was catastrophic. In one case, a woman had lived and worked in the U.K. for 50 years before she was wrongfully declared an illegal immigrant and almost forced on a plane to her native Jamaica. In another, a man who had lived in the U.K. for 59 years received a letter that not only informed him of his illegal status in the country, but also offered him “help and support on returning home voluntarily.” Perhaps one of the most severe cases concerned a man who, after living in the U.K. for 44 years, had his cancer treatment through the National Health Service withheld because he couldn’t provide sufficient documentation to prove he lived in the country continuously since immigrating from Jamaica in 1973.
The regulators, yes, they’ll have to be reformed. But it doesn’t stop there. They were just the elite enablers. The corruption at the heart of the great Australian property bubble seeped into our entire economy and culture. It oozed under every door, entered every home and visited every BBQ. It bent every business. It ruined our media and distorted our politics. It infected our entire place in the world, disenfranchised from the Australian dream entire generations. It has choked our cities. And sold out the national interest to Chinese speculators, threatening our very freedom. There has never been a more comprehensive bubble in any nation. We have been engulfed by it. The world’s first total bubble.
Yet at its heart was not a miracle but prosaic bank corruption. Only the failure to assess expenditures and incomes, the failure to report accurately and honestly, the failure to advise with integrity and responsbility made any of it possible. Everything else flows outward from this black singularity. Your wealth. Your lifestyle. Your retirement plan. The roof over your head not being over someone else’s. All of it stems from the core corruption of a banking system that disgorged massive sub-prime mortgages across our firmament. I really have no idea what attempted snow job we will see next. But it is over. It is now only a matter of time before the Australian housing supernova collapses towards the banking black hole at its centre, sucked back into the void from whence it came. We’re all the royal commission now.
“If we have learned anything from the past, it is that we must be especially vigilant about the health of our financial system in good times, when potential vulnerabilities may be building,” explained Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard in a speech in Washington, D.C., this morning. This was a reference to a time-honored banker adage, now mostly forgotten after nearly nine years of easy money: Bad deals are made in good times. Brainard fills one of the seven slots on the Board of Governors. Two slots are filled by Chairman Jerome Powell and by Randal Quarles. Four slots remain vacant, waiting for Trump appointees to wend their way. She is a strong “dove” in the world of central banks, and she just pointed at why the Fed is tightening – and will continue to tighten: the Everything Bubble.
After rattling off a litany of indicators showing why and how the economy’s “cyclical conditions have been strengthening,” she added this gem, there being nothing like Fed-speak to make your day: “Currently, inflation appears to be well-anchored to the upside around our 2 percent target.” “Well-anchored to the upside” of the Fed’s target – and then she moved on to the “signs of financial imbalances.” “Financial imbalances,” in Fed speak, are asset bubbles, a phenomenon when prices are out of whack with economic reality. In a credit-based economy, assets are collateral for debt. And inflated asset prices put the financial system, meaning the lenders, at risk when those asset prices deflate. Since the Fed has to take care of the financial system, and since it blew up so wonderfully last time due to asset bubbles deflating, the Fed is right to be worried about it. At first the hawks, the rare ones; and now even the doves
The world economy is set for one of its best years since the global financial crisis, with both developed and emerging countries growing while inflation is still subdued and monetary conditions remain largely accommodative. But such a good run could end in the next two to three years, according to UBS Chairman Axel Weber. “We’re at the end of a long recovery and, two to three years from now, at the latest, some of the risks could materialize. The recession risks are increasing,” Weber told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche this week at the Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. The IMF this week kept its forecast for 2018’s global growth at 3.9 percent which, if it materializes, would be the fastest expansion since 2011.
But the agency warned that global debt levels have hit a record, and governments should start reducing their indebtedness and build buffers for “challenges that will unavoidably come in the future.” Financial institutions should also brace for such risks, said Weber, adding that he thinks banks have become better prepared compared to before the last crisis. Like many in the industry, Weber said he doesn’t think a full-fledged trade war will happen as a result of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and China. But, he added that it’s time to reassess Beijing’s role in the World Trade Organization, especially given projections that China will one day become the world’s largest economy. Weber added that companies from around the world should be allowed to do business in China more freely.
A few weeks ago, we shared a note about Tesla from the hedge fund Vilas Capital Management. The firm, which is short the shares, said “Tesla is going to crash in the next 3-6 months.” I received an update from Vilas this morning explaining why they’re even more bearish on Tesla today. The firm pared its short positions after the recent selloff. And Telsa now comprises about 98% of their short book. Clearly Vilas thinks Tesla’s reckoning is imminent. You can read the rest of Vilas’ thoughts on Tesla below:
We added meaningfully to our Tesla position in the first quarter at prices in the $340 range. We continue to believe that Tesla is extremely overvalued and that it will experience significant financial difficulties over time. All companies in a capitalistic system need to earn profits and those profits need to be attractive relative to the amount of shareholder capital employed. Tesla has never earned an annual profit. Along with digital currencies and Unicorns, Tesla appears to be caught up in a gold-rush-fever type of emotional response, both from a “they will take over the world” and a “they will save the world” combination of hopes, instead of their owners looking at the numbers.
Tesla bulls will argue that their production will rise to 5000 Model 3’s per week soon and, therefore, the stock will trade meaningfully higher. Given that the company lost $20,000 per Model S and X sold for roughly $100,000 each last year, due to the fact that it cost more to build, sell, service, charge and maintain these cars than they collected in revenue, as it is important to include all costs when evaluating a business, we predict it will impossible for Tesla to make a profit on a $35,000 to $50,000 car. As anyone with automotive experience knows, profit margins are far higher on bigger, more expensive cars. Therefore, the faster Tesla makes Model 3’s, the more money they will lose.
To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. But to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century-and-a-half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. And yet Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing-all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.
Of course, the predictive failure of The Communist Manifesto has long been exaggerated. I remember how even leftwing economists in the early 1970s challenged the pivotal manifesto prediction that capital would “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. Drawing upon the sad reality of what were then called third world countries, they argued that capital had lost its fizz well before expanding beyond its “metropolis” in Europe, America and Japan.
Empirically they were correct: European, US and Japanese multinational corporations operating in the “peripheries” of Africa, Asia and Latin America were confining themselves to the role of colonial resource extractors and failing to spread capitalism there. Instead of imbuing these countries with capitalist development (drawing “all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation”), they argued that foreign capital was reproducing the development of underdevelopment in the third world. It was as if the manifesto had placed too much faith in capital’s ability to spread into every nook and cranny. Most economists, including those sympathetic to Marx, doubted the manifesto’s prediction that “exploitation of the world-market” would give “a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country”.
As it turned out, the manifesto was right, albeit belatedly. It would take the collapse of the Soviet Union and the insertion of two billion Chinese and Indian workers into the capitalist labour market for its prediction to be vindicated. Indeed, for capital to globalise fully, the regimes that pledged allegiance to the manifesto had first to be torn asunder. Has history ever procured a more delicious irony?
The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has expressed concern about the market power wielded by the US technology giants and called for more competition to protect economies and individuals. Speaking at a press conference to mark the start of the IMF’s spring meeting in Washington, Lagarde said breaking up companies was not the solution, but added that her organisation was monitoring their impact on prosperity, financial stability and the workplace. “Competition is needed. From competition you get productivity growth and innovation. Too much concentration, too much market power in the hands of the few is not helpful to the economy or to the wellbeing of individuals.”
Pressure has been building in the US for antitrust laws to be used to break up some of the biggest companies, with Google, Facebook and Amazon all targeted by critics. Lagarde said: “I am not sure breaking up some of the tech titans in this country [the US] or in other countries will be the right answer. It used to be the right answer, but when most of the assets are intangible, how do you break them up? How do you facilitate access and allow market disruptors to operate? I think that is where a lot of new thinking has to be done.”
The IMF is carefully monitoring new digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which it says are prone to fraud and can be used for money laundering. “We have seen a flourishing of cryptocurrencies. There are now more than 100. That has stability implications eventually. We do not think it is systemic at this point in time but regulators and supervisors have to be watchful.” Lagarde expressed concern at the growing threat of a trade war between the US and China, saying that protectionism posed a threat to the upswing in the global economy and to an international system that had served countries well.
EarthNow is a new company looking to provide satellite imagery and live video in virtually real-time. Its unsettling pitch describes a network of satellites that can see any corner of the globe and provide live video with a latency of about a second. And a look at the startup’s top investors gives a lot of confidence that this thing is happening. On Wednesday, EarthNow announced that it will emerge from the Intellectual Ventures ISF Incubator to become a full-scale commercial business. Its first round of investors is comprised of a small group of complimentary powerhouses: AirBus, the SoftBank Group, Bill Gates, and satellite-industry vet Greg Wyler.
The amount of the initial investment hasn’t been disclosed, but the announcement says the funding “focuses primarily on maturing the overall system design to deliver innovative and unique real-time Earth observation services.” That makes it sound like the company is in its very early stages, but don’t be so sure. Wyler’s OneWeb has already deployed highly advanced satellites with a blazing fast 130ms latency and its goal is to have a constellation of hundreds of satellites beaming broadband around the globe by 2020.
EarthNow will use an upgraded version of OneWeb’s technology with a lot of hardware power packed into a 500-pound unit. “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined,” the announcement says. The satellites will also do an onboard analysis of the live imagery using machine learning, but the company doesn’t go into detail about what it will analyze or why it would be necessary to dedicate that processing onboard.
High above the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, a former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group—most large financial institutions have one—used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees, ostensibly to protect against perfidious traders and other miscreants. Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir, which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations.
Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel. Over time, however, Cavicchia himself went rogue. Former JPMorgan colleagues describe the environment as Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now, with Cavicchia as Colonel Kurtz, ensconced upriver in his office suite eight floors above the rest of the bank’s security team.
People in the department were shocked that no one from the bank or Palantir set any real limits. They darkly joked that Cavicchia was listening to their calls, reading their emails, watching them come and go. Some planted fake information in their communications to see if Cavicchia would mention it at meetings, which he did. It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched, and what began as a promising marriage of masters of big data and global finance descended into a spying scandal. The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home.
Update 3: President Trump is up late tonight, we suspect reading through former FBI Director Comey’s leaked memos as he exclaims: “James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.” Trump is also quick to remind Americans of one of the reasons he fired him: “Also, he leaked classified information,” and ended with a jab at the endless farce: “WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?”
Update 2: Less than an hour after Comey’s memos were released by DOJ to Congress, the 15 pages have miraculously “become available” to The Associated Press. Given that no source is provided, we assume they were leaked with the intent to embarrass President Trump. Comey’s memos detail private dinner conversations with the President in January 2017, during which Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty. Another conversation about former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is also detailed in the memos. In a memo dated Jan. 28, 2017, Comey recounted a dinner he had with Trump at the White House shortly after the president’s inauguration.
Trump asked Comey who he thought he should be in contact with in the administration, and Comey mentioned the national security adviser. The president said Flynn had “serious judgment issues,” Comey wrote in his memo. Trump then explained to Comey that when the president had complimented British Prime Minister Theresa May on being the first to congratulate him on his election, Flynn interjected that another leader had called first. That was the first time Trump learned of the other leader’s call, Comey wrote.
Several ships carrying cargoes of sorghum from the United States to China have changed course since Beijing slapped hefty anti-dumping deposits on U.S. imports of the grain, trade sources and a Reuters analysis of export and shipping data showed. Sorghum is a niche animal feed and a tiny slice of the billions of dollars in exports at stake in the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies, which threatens to disrupt the flow of everything from steel to electronics. The supply-chain pain felt by sorghum suppliers on the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans underscores how quickly the mounting trade tensions between the U.S. and China can impact the global agricultural sector, which has been reeling from low commodity prices amid a global grains glut.
Twenty ships carrying over 1.2 million tonnes of U.S. sorghum are on the water, according to export inspections data from the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service. Of the armada, valued at more than $216 million, at least five changed course within hours of China’s announcing tariffs on U.S. sorghum imports on Tuesday, Reuters shipping data showed. The five shipments, all headed for China when they were loaded at Texas Gulf Coast export terminals owned by grain merchants Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland would be liable for a hefty deposit to be paid on their value, which could make the loads unprofitable to deliver. Beijing, which is probing U.S. imports for damage to its domestic industry, announced Tuesday that grains handlers would have to put up a deposit of 178.6% of the value of the shipments.
European Union officials are set to reject a potential U.K. solution to the crucial issue of what happens to the Irish border after Brexit, deepening the stalemate in negotiations. While the U.K. hasn’t made a formal proposal, it has indicated that the bloc’s “backstop” solution for maintaining an invisible border should apply to the whole of the U.K., according to three people familiar with the EU position. It would mean the whole U.K. stays in parts of the single market and customs union as a last resort to avoid a border on the island of Ireland. But the European Commission opposes it and only wants to offer that special status to Northern Ireland, according to the people, who declined to be named.
Finding a way to avoid customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit is proving the biggest obstacle for U.K. and EU negotiators trying to get a deal on Britain’s divorce from the bloc. While both sides agree that withdrawal treaty must include a “backstop” on Ireland in case a better option doesn’t emerge from the final trade deal, they can’t agree on what it should look like. As talks fail to yield solutions, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Theresa May at home to backtrack on one her main Brexit pledges and keep the U.K. in the EU’s customs union after Brexit.
That would go a long way to solve the Irish border issue and would also please businesses that are keen on keeping cross-border trade easy. The Commission’s proposal would effectively cut Northern Ireland off from mainland Britain and May has said no British prime minister could accept that. In December, the two sides agreed on a backstop that would have applied to the whole of the U.K., rather than just Northern Ireland. The U.K. stands by that agreement, which also pledged that “no regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Turkey’s president surprised markets Wednesday by announcing that he would hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections in June with experts saying the move is a sign of both panic and genius. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said elections will be held on June 24, far earlier than previously expected, saying uncertainty over Turkey’s neighbor Syria, and macroeconomic imbalances, were a reason not to delay the vote originally scheduled for November 2019. He also said the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency, implementing changes to the Turkish constitution which give the president more power.
Fadi Hakura, Turkey analyst at Chatham House, told CNBC Thursday that the move was a sign of panic amid a deteriorating economy. “Erdogan’s calling of the election is a sign of panic and despair. Erdogan has previously viewed early elections as weakness and dishonorable to democracy, but now he’s panicking over the state of the Turkish economy,” Hakura said. “The very fact he’s called brought them forward by almost a year and a half should mitigate the fallout of a worsening economy on his popularity,” he said. [..] If Erdogan wins the election, as widely expected, he will be able to consolidate power following changes to the constitution which have changed Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, concentrating power in the hands of the president.
It will not be plain sailing for the president, however, with Turkey’s economy dealing with high inflation (at 10.2 percent) fueled by fiscal and monetary policies that have promoted rampant growth — the economy expanding 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the last reading available. The Turkish lira has been on a rollercoaster ride in recent months, reflecting wider fears on the prioritization of growth over inflation control, but the announcement of a snap election — and the likelihood that Erdogan will win – has calmed the currency somewhat.
A Brazilian prosecutor warned of “ecocide” in recommending against a drilling license for French oil major Total close to a huge coral reef near the mouth of the Amazon River. The prosecutor’s office for Amapa state said “the only way to guarantee avoiding environmental damage to the area is to deny the license.” “Authorizing oil drilling activity without adequate studies violates the international obligations that Brazil has signed,” the prosecutor’s office said late Wednesday, warning of “large-scale environmental destruction that would amount to ecocide and a crime against humanity.”
The recommendation was sent to the government environmental agency Ibama, which has 10 days to respond. On Tuesday, environmental campaigners Greenpeace said that a previously discovered coral reef had been found to extend right into where Total plans to drill. The enormous reef was found in 2016, but is only now said to overlap directly with Total’s blocks, 75 miles (120 km) off the Brazilian coast, the group said. The finding, made during a research expedition, invalidates Total’s environmental impact assessment, which is based on the reefs being located at least five miles (eight kilometers) from drilling, Greenpeace said.
The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world. The spread of hominims – early humans and related species such as Neanderthals – from Africa thousands of years ago coincided with the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the glyptodon, an armadillo-like creature the size of a car. “There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominims out of Africa,” the study’s lead author, Felisa Smith, of the University of New Mexico, said of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday..
Humans apparently targeted big species for meat, while smaller creatures such as rodents escaped, according the report, which examined trends over 125,000 years. In North America, for instance, the mean body mass of land-based mammals has shrunk to 7.6kg (17lb) from 98kg after humans arrived. If the trend continues “the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg”, the researchers wrote. That would mean the loss of elephants, giraffes and hippos. In March, the world’s last male northern white rhino died in Kenya. [..] Smith said “my optimist hat would like to say that it’s not going to happen because we love elephants”. But she said populations of large land mammals were falling and “declining population is the trajectory to extinction”.
On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. The title reflects part of the speech’s introduction, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect. Lincoln read the speech to him before delivering it, referring to the “house divided” language this way: “The proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
On April 12, 2018, the Washington Post runs this headline:
We need to go big in Syria. North Korea is watching.
The WaPo is undoubtedly disappointed that James Mattis prevailed over more hawkish voices in Washington and the least ‘expansive’ attack was chosen.
Then after the attack, Russian President Putin warns of global ‘chaos’ if the West strikes Syria again. And I’m thinking: Chaos? You ‘Predict’ Chaos? You mean what we have now does not qualify as chaos?
Yes, Washington Post, North Korea is watching. And you know what it sees? It sees a house divided. It sees an America that is perhaps as divided against itself as it was prior to the civil war. An America that elects a president and then initiates multiple investigations against him that are kept going seemingly indefinitely. An America where hatred of one’s fellow countrymen and -women has become the norm.
An America that has adopted a Shakespearian theater as its political system, where all norms of civil conversation have long been thrown out the window, where venomous gossip and backstabbing have become accepted social instruments. An America where anything goes as long as it sells.
In an intriguing development, while Trump pleased the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC, his declared arch-enemies until the rockets flew, his own base turned on him. While the ‘liberals’ (what’s in a word) cheered and smelled the blood, the right wing reminded the Donald that this is not what he was elected on – or for.
Can Trump afford to lose his base? Isn’t the right wing supposed to be the side that calls for guns and bombs? It’s unlikely that he can do without his base, it would weaken him a lot as the Lady Macbeths watch his every move looking for just that one opportunity, that one moment where his back is turned.
As for the right wing not being the bloodthirsty one, that is quite the shift. Not that it’s a 180 on a dime, it has been coming for a while. It’s not just interesting with regards to Trump, there are many war hawks who -will- see their support crumble too if or when they speak out for more boots in deserts. Maybe John McCain should consider changing parties?
So yeah, what does North Korea see? Should it be afraid? Will it have become more afraid? Kim Jong-Un will have watched for China’s reaction, much more important to him that what the US does. And China has condemned the attack. It would do the same if America were to attack North Korea, and a lot stronger. Therefore Kim Jong-Un doesn’t believe Washington will dare attack him.
“A weak country has no diplomacy. As a hundred years have passed, China is no longer that [weak] China, but the world is still that world.”
That is how China, and in its wake, North Korea, see America. And so does Russia. Americans may -and do- think that they are still no. 1, and the most powerful, economically, politically, militarily, but that’s no longer what the rest of the world sees.
Is the US still mightier than China militarily? Probably, but not certainly. Still, how do you conquer 1.3 billion people and keep them subdued? Xi Jinping is very aware of that, and he bides his time.
Is the US still mightier than Russia militarily? Almost certainly not. To quote Paul Craig Roberts once more (and he’s no amateur):
The Russians know that they can, at will within a few minutes, sink the entire US fleet, destroy every US airplane & ship in the ME & within range of the ME, completely destroy all of Israel’s military capability & wipe out the military of the two-bit punk state of Saudi Arabia.
I’ve written this before in the past: there is a big difference between how America sees and treats its military, and how Russia does it. A difference that explains how Russia can, with one tenth of American defense spending, still be militarily superior, or at least make any wars against it unwinnable.
That is, in the US the focus is not on making the best weapons, it’s on making the most money on weapons. Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed will develop those weapons that are most profitable, not those that are most effective. The interminable story of the development of the Joint Strike Fighter is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others. The Pentagon is a money pit.
Americans can perhaps still make the best weapons for the least money, but they don’t do it. Russia does. For Putin, the best weapons are a matter of survival. Russia has been under American threat as long as he can remember.
While Americans believe so strongly in their supremacy, and have grown so accustomed to the idea, that they no longer see having the best weapons as a matter of survival for the nation. They have come to see their superiority as something automatic and natural.
The attack on Syria is seen as a sign of weakness. Because there was no need for it. Because the evidence is flimsy at best. Because the world has international bodies to deal with such issues. Because there is no logic in allowing the blood to flow in the Gaza and Yemen but cite humanitarian reasons for bombing alleged chemical facilities elsewhere.
What the world sees is bluster emanating from a deeply divided nation (and we haven’t even tackled Britain). It sees that less than 48 hours after the airstrikes, a former FBI chief talks about his former boss in terminology that nobody would dare use in most countries, and throughout most of history,
James Comey is beyond Shakepeare. And in America, the issue is who’s right in the Comey-Trump conflict. In Russia, China et al it’s not. They see a house, a country divided. A weak country has no diplomacy.
That’s how all empires end. Complacency and division. That is what North Korea sees when it watches America, what China, and Russia see. And they may even know how Jesus put it. He didn’t just say a kingdom divided would become less powerful or wealthy, he said:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.
With the start of the first-quarter earnings season, U.S. stock-market investors are waiting to see whether the results point to a business environment that is thriving and supportive of the market’s rally over the past several years, or whether the move has been overdone. Turns out, both bulls and bears have data they can marshal in their favor. According to data from FTSE Russell and Thomson Reuters, the U.S. stock market was recently trading at its most expensive levels since the dot-com era, and — even after the first correction for the DJIA and the S&P 500 in about two years — it continues to trade one standard deviation above a historical range. The data is based on the forward price-to-earnings ratio for stocks, which is currently above 17, compared with the long-term average of about 15.
This measure of valuation can be seen mapped out in the following chart. The recent peak of the forward P/E represented a nearly 20-year high, per FTSE Russell.
In another potential warning sign for investors, the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio gives the S&P 500 a ratio of 31.6, nearly twice its long-term mean of 16.85, and at its highest level since the dot-com era. Both of these statistics may give investors pause, as they suggest a market’s that is overstretched and could have more room to fall. However, they only tell half the story. The forward P/E comes at a time when first-quarter earnings growth isn’t just expected to be strong, but coming in at its strongest rate in years. According to FactSet, earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are estimated to grow 17.3% in the first quarter, while sales grow 10%. For both, such rates would represent the fastest pace of growth since the first quarter of 2011.
Accounting for that high level of expansion paints a very different picture for stock valuations, so much so that they go from being at or near multiyear highs, to being at multiyear lows. FTSE Russell also provided the following chart to MarketWatch, which looks at the market in terms of its PEG, or a P/E ratio that accounts for earnings growth. Based on this metric, stocks have a PEG of 1.2, which means they’re not only trading one standard deviation below their long-term average of a little more than 1.3, but also at their cheapest level since 2012.
A toughening of lax lending standards in Australia is threatening an already-cooling property market. An inquiry into misconduct in the financial industry is likely to lead to greater regulation of the nation’s A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) mortgage market. Banks have routinely relied on an unrealistically low estimate of homebuyers’ living expenses, and a more genuine assessment of spending could reduce borrowing power by as much as 35 percent, according to UBS analysts. That would mean many new buyers simply couldn’t afford current prices – a further drag on home prices that are already falling as a seven-year property boom tails off.
“What drives house prices is credit availability,” said Sean Fenton, director at Sydney-based Tribeca Investment Partners, which manages about A$2.5 billion. “A tightening of lending standards directly impacts the ability of the marginal buyer to buy a house.” The heat is already coming out of the housing market. Prices in Sydney, the world’s second-most expensive property market, fell 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic Inc. A year ago, annual price growth was running at almost 16 percent. The top end of the market has recorded the biggest falls, the data shows.
[..] “It’s really obvious that a lot of people have a lot of unmanageable debt,” said Karen Cox, coordinator of Sydney’s Financial Rights Legal Centre, which fielded 25,000 calls last year from people seeking financial help. “Because it’s such a benign interest rate environment, the problems can only get worse.” Based on historic income and price relationships, property prices in Sydney and Melbourne are overvalued by between 25 percent and 30 percent, according to Paul Dales, chief Australian economist at Capital Economics. For now, he’s predicting prices will just edge lower, with the crunch coming if interest rate increases coincide with tighter credit conditions. “All properties in those cities are particularly vulnerable.”
President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term”, adding that French air strikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention was legitimate and urged international powers to now push for a diplomatic solution to the brutal seven-year war. “We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” the 40-year-old centrist said at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.
But Macron again argued his first major military intervention as president was necessary to send a signal that the use of chemical weapons against civilians would not go unpunished. Saturday’s strikes targeted three alleged chemical weapons facilities in response to what the West says was a gas attack on the town of Douma that killed dozens of people. “We have full international legitimacy in intervening in this case,” Macron said. He said the US, France and Britain targeted “extremely precise sites of chemical weapons use” in an operation that went off “perfectly”. And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing Trump’s mind on the need to stay involved in the conflict.
President Donald Trump erupted in anger when he learned the U.S. was expelling 60 Russian diplomats in March, while France and Germany were only expelling four each, the Washington Post reported late Sunday. Trump reportedly only wanted to match the number of allies’ expulsions, and not to be seen as taking the lead. Trump believed his aides misled him, the Post said. “There were curse words,” one official told the Post, “a lot of curse words.” The expulsions were the most ever by the U.S. against Russia, and came in response to a suspected Russian nerve-agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in England. Separately, the Trump administration appears ready to impose more sanctions on Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that a new round of sanctions will target Russian companies that aid Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.
If there’s any strategy in the world of President Donald Trump, it’s a simple one: Play on my field. And the Trump playing field is a salacious one. The scandals and affairs are literally too numerous to be chronicled in a single article. Large and small, Trump University to Trump Steaks, bankruptcies and legal judgements, all manner of infidelity and aberrant behavior, real or imagined. Former FBI Director James Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller were each charged with looking into an allegation of the most serious variety — colluding with a foreign hostile power to alter the presidential election. This week the headlines emanating from Mueller’s investigation, and Comey’s book, involve a porn star, a Playboy bunny, a pee tape, the size of Trump’s hands and a doorman with a history of fibbing apparently alleging the existence of an illegitimate child.
That is playing on Trump’s field. But wait. Isn’t it a violation of campaign law if Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels just ahead of the election? If Cohen used a home-equity loan to fund the payment, did he lie to the bank? Doesn’t it speak to Trump’s truthfulness on a variety of a matters — including alleged collusion with Russia — whether his persistent denials of engaging with prostitutes in Moscow are truthful? Doesn’t it have relevance to the question of whether payoffs were legal if Trump bought off a doorman? And didn’t Mueller actually hand off the investigation on Daniels? Yeah, sure, all of that. Those are all on the level of the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s perjury — legal matters, yes, that aren’t really the stuff of high crimes and misdemeanors.
They’re all gotchas reinforcing what we basically knew about Trump and his behavior before the election. By contrast, the consequences of playing on Trump’s field are enormous. For Comey, baiting Trump into a reaction, which sure as water is wet came on Friday morning, will result in better book sales. But it will come at the expense of holding any future higher office. His legacy as FBI director — already tarnished for the ridiculous, torturous inconsistencies in how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — is forever tarnished. Who in Washington could hire this guy? “Untruthful,” as Trump called him? No. “Slime ball?” Hmm.
Mueller, too, looks set to emerge damaged, if perhaps not as fatally. The question of whether Trump can, or should, fire him has returned. Mueller, also a former FBI director, does still have the support of both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to finish his investigation, and a few key Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, have expressed willingness to support legislation to protect him. But the idea of his dismissal is definitely more plausible — and, for that matter, the outrage it would generate a good bit lessened.
Here’s another bone to pick with Facebook. Nearly one-third of Americans (31.7%) think the embattled social network is having a “negative impact on society,” according to a survey conducted in recent months by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s former personal pollster, Tavis McGinn. That view was even more widely held among respondents in Australia (33.4%), Canada (33.3%) and the U.K. (32.2%), per the results reported by Recode. The survey research was conducted on 10,000 respondents across 10 nations in January and February, prior to recent revelations that the British data firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested personal data from up to 87 million Facebook users to create targeted political ads.
Facebook had already come under fire for its role in the proliferation of fake news on the platform during the 2016 election. While McGinn and his Honest Data company didn’t delve into specifics of this “negative” societal impact, the pollster had some ideas. “In the U.S. obviously we’re very focused on election interference, and in the U.K. they’ve been focused on that as well with Brexit,” he told Recode. “But there are also things like, ‘how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction, how does the platform encourage extremism, how does the platform push American values onto other countries?’”
While GAFA in the US essentially controls the politics limiting the capacity for regulation, Brussels will continue to insist the only path towards healthy regulation comes from the EU. The other model is of course China. Beijing has domesticated its sprawling digital industry – which is a de facto extension of the state apparatus as well as a growing instrument of global influence. When Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook should be broken up – the monopoly issue once again – he said that would weaken the US’s competitive advantage against China, which by the way is fast disappearing. Facebook’s customer base though is not American; it’s global. Inside the Facebook HQ, the consensus is that it is a global company.
So all these issues at stake – from monopoly to regulation to privacy – are indeed global issues. Zuckerberg dodged extremely serious questions. Who owns “the virtual you?” Zuckerberg’s response was that you own all the “content” you upload, and can delete that content any time you want. Yet the heart of the matter is the advertising profile Facebook builds on each user. That simply cannot be deleted. And the user cannot alter it in any way. The GAFA galaxy, in fact, owns you when you click accepting those massive terms and conditions of use. As argued by philosopher Gaspard Koenig, director of the GenerationLibre think tank in France, data property should logically follow the evolution of property rights, land property, financial property and property of ideas, thus replacing the current figure of the “proletarian 2.0” at the heart of the value chain of the digital economy.
Statistics are a staple of journalistic accuracy issues, but rarely is a number so big, consequential and hard to verify as the number of Facebook users directly affected by the still emerging Cambridge Analytica story. Is it no more than 30 million, as Cambridge Analytica says? Fifty million, as estimated by the Observer and Guardian journalists who have done so much to disclose the issue? Or 87 million, as Facebook has ventured? Facebook’s estimate has a fine-print caveat: “We do not know precisely what data the app shared with Cambridge Analytica or exactly how many people were impacted. Using as expansive a methodology as possible, this is our best estimate of the maximum number of unique accounts that directly installed the thisisyourdigitallife app as well as those whose data may have been shared with the app by their friends.”
The numbers seem to be calculated by multiplying the number of people known as “seeders” by the average number of Facebook friends seeders are thought to have. A seeder was a Facebook user who installed certain apps that permitted the apps’ controllers to harvest data from the user and the seeder’s (unknowing) Facebook friends. The wide variation in the estimates of people affected results partly from different estimates of seeders – 185,000, 275,000, 300,000 – and different average-number-of-friends figures – 160, 180, 250, 340.
Does it matter, in the sense that it is now evident that many, many other entities – academic, commercial, governmental – could have harvested the data of users under previous Facebook policies, for which Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s ethically callow controller, apologised before committees of the US Congress last week, without apparent loss of face? A sense of perspective was given by the Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, a sophisticated observer of the social and democratic impacts of digital technologies: “The Cambridge Analytica dataset from Facebook is itself but a lake within an ocean, a clarifying example of a pervasive but invisible ecosystem where thousands of firms possess billions of data points across hundreds of millions of people – and are able to do lots with it under the public radar.”
[..] Is it unreasonable to wonder whether the potential dataset for the team’s work is 2 billion, the total number of Facebook users?
Many observers have drawn comfort from the likelihood that Germany’s new “grand coalition” and French President Emmanuel Macron will indeed reform the basic architecture of monetary union. The language will be warm and encouraging, but the substance less so. In recent months I’ve been struck by the dissonance between, on the one hand, a common French and German determination to move ahead on the principle of reform to the monetary union, and, on the other, their governments’ clashing ideas about how to do it. Macron wants a fiscal union and a finance minister for the euro area. Germany doesn’t: It insists that countries must be responsible for their own fiscal position.
The likely compromise is that any fiscal transfers will be kept as small as possible – no larger than needed to get past the immediate problem. That might suffice in reasonably normal times, but not if market confidence disappears as it did in 2010-12. At that point, the issue can no longer be fudged. As these events unfold, Draghi and his successor, due to take over in October 2019, can expect to face many tests. The rise of populist parties in southern Europe is one — but the greatest challenge is likely to come from opinion in Germany. So far, the monetary union has been good for German exporters and politicians but less so for German consumers, who’ve been denied the higher standard of living that an appreciating currency would have delivered.
[..] U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson famously remarked about his FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” I’ve no doubt Johnson would be strongly recommending the appointment of Jens Weidmann, the current president of the Bundesbank, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Europe’s governments see it the same way. My advice to Jens? Think twice before accepting.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg drew attention to already existing NATO presence in Turkey and called on all allies to provide more support to the country. “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks. NATO immediately condemned the coup attempt that targeted Turkey’s democratic institutions,” the secretary-general said. Stoltenberg spoke to Anadolu Agency (AA) at the NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of his official visit to Turkey on April 16. The NATO chief said the aim of his trip to Ankara is to “to prepare for the upcoming [NATO] summit in Brussels in July..”
[..] Stoltenberg said he highly values the visit to Turkey, as he sees the country it is “a highly valued and key ally for many reasons, not just for its strategic location.” He added that during the visit he will “discuss the preparations for the important summit where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment.” He said that NATO functions with the solidarity principle “one for all and all for one” and added: “We have deployed missile batteries that are augmenting the missile air defenses of Turkey. We have Italy and Spain deploying Patriot batteries and also SAMP-T batteries, and we conduct surveillance flights with our AWACS planes over Turkey. We have also increased our naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
[..] When asked about NATO’s approach to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, Stoltenberg said NATO welcomed Turkey’s transparency. “We’re aware that there are some challenges related to the situation in northern Syria and around Afrin. NATO has been a platform for direct dialogue between Turkey and the U.S. We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, which we expect to be addressed in a proportionate and measured way,” NATO chief said. “We all understand that Turkey has to address these threats. We welcome that Turkey has been transparent and briefed NATO several times on the operation in Afrin, both the military operations and the humanitarian assistance.”
An American pastor Monday went on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. Brunson, wearing a white shirt and a black suit, was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said. In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.
Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says is behind the failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes. If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, his lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP. [..] The Brunson case has further raised the temperature of heated relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Relations are already tense over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey.
Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam. Turkey has sent a spate of documents to back up its repeated request for Gulen’s extradition from the United States, which has so far shown no sign of interest in expelling the preacher. In September last year, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, raising the idea of a swap deal. “They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back,” Erdogan said then. The idea was brushed off by the United States.
The leaders of Greece and Turkey need to address the issues that have been causing tension between the two countries in recent months and this is “not an issue for NATO,” the head of the alliance of which both countries are members said on Sunday. Speaking to Turkey’s Anadolou news agency ahead of a visit to Turkey on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey are “two highly valued NATO allies” and “both contribute to our collective defense.” “I expect that the differences we see on some issues are solved between Turkey and Greece in the spirit of good relations,” he added.
“In this context, I welcome that the PMs of both countries have recently held a phone conversation and that they have agreed to resolve these differences through dialogue.” Stoltenberg’s visit is planned in preparation for a crucial NATO summit in Brussels in July, “where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” he said. Asked to respond to criticism that NATO is not doing enough to help Turkey in its fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg said “there’s a lot of NATO presence in Turkey but I call on the allies to provide even more support.” “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks,” the alliance chief told Anadolou.
Consider what Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is up against. As Greece prepares to free itself from an eight-year European bailout, its 43 year-old premier is confronting challenges at home and abroad. On the domestic front: preparations for post-bailout economic life and the first general election since the end of the program, including feuds with both allies and rivals. On the foreign-policy front: increased tensions with traditional rival Turkey and regional instability stemming from a dispute over a neighboring country’s name. Tsipras’s ability to navigate through all this could determine just how stable the country and its region will be in coming years, experts say, and the European Union, the U.S. and NATO are all watching with interest.
“The worst problem for Tsipras, for the government, but also for Greece is the evolving ‘rogueness’ of Turkey,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “Diminishing American influence on the region is a destabilizing factor and the stakes are very high,” Hatzis said, adding that Greece is not a primary concern for Turkey, but a part of an overall plan by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish hegemony in the region. Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated in March after two Greek soldiers, who Greece says wandered across the border during a routine patrol, were arrested by Turkey. Greece has demanded their return. Relations between Greece and Turkey, always fraught, worsened further after a Greek court declined to extradite eight Turkish soldiers allegedly involved in a military coup attempt in July 2016.
The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied – from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm wide – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straws, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces. Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has spent the past 15 years studying the impacts of plastics.
In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote spots on the planet – the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific – to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes – the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production. Just one washed-up fishing net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surrounding sand a lucid green splash. “You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that,” she says.
Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called “ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles. “Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere,” says Lavers. “No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”
Financial writer and gold expert Bill Holter says China has a lot of weapons to fight a trade war with the U.S. China could stop buying Treasury bonds (as it reportedly already has done). It could sell Treasury bonds. It could slash the value of the Yuan, or something much simpler could happen such as a failed delivery of physical precious metals. Holter says, “If what has happened so far in the first three months of the year were to continue for the full year, you would be over three billion ounces (of silver). That is not deliverable.”What happens when the world figures out that three billion ounces of physical silver cannot and will not be delivered to the buyers?
Holter explains, “That’s called an old fashion run on the banks. “It will be a run on the entire system. You would have a run on every metals exchange, and you would probably have runs on many physical commodities. Confidence throughout the whole system would break. You would basically show the western fractional reserve system is a fraud and has been for many, many years. . . . Can London deliver a billion ounces, or two billion ounces or three billion ounces of silver? The answer to that is no.” So, when does this all blow up? Holter says, “I think this whole thing has a very good chance of blowing this year.”
There are a variety of financial trip wires, according to Bill Holter, such as thousands of sealed criminal indictments that will be unsealed in 2018. Holter also points out the explosion of global debt. Holter charges, “It’s now $237 trillion. The amount of debt grew by $21 trillion globally over the last 12 months. That’s roughly 10 %. How much did global GDP grow? 2% or 3%, I mean that is totally unsustainable.” The biggest worry for Holter right now is escalating military action in Syria. Holter warns, “This is so, so dangerous. Obviously, you worry about a hot war because with the weapons you have today, you could have WWIII start in a heartbeat. But look at the market today. It’s up 400 or 500 points. You have talk of trade wars. You have talk of hot wars. It’s amazing the markets can hold together and ignore potential annihilation.”
British police say their investigation into the poisoning of former Russian army colonel Sergei Skripal in Salisbury may take many months, yet prime minister Theresa May has already identified the guilty party, claiming the order came from the Kremlin. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, sees the incident as ‘part of a pattern of reckless behaviour by President Vladimir Putin,’ which is the ‘common thread that joins [the poisoning] with [Russia’s] annexation of Crimea, the cyberattacks in Ukraine, the hacking of Germany’s parliament … interference in foreign elections’ and ‘indulgence of Assad’s atrocities in Syria’. The reasoning goes: if Putin is capable of doing it, then he must be guilty.
From Leon Trotsky, killed with an ice pick in Mexico, to Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium in London, Russia’s security services have undoubtedly liquidated many opponents of the Kremlin living abroad. Other countries have resorted to such measures without triggering the same diplomatic uproar. France, Germany and the US have been involved in the kind of state-sponsored assassination that has so offended Johnson, yet this has not stopped them joining him and May in railing against Russia. Israel has taken great care to avoid commenting, perhaps because it is one of the countries that most frequently ‘carry out this kind of operation, known as an “extraterritorial elimination”’.
The list of Palestinians, including official representatives, killed by Israel’s secret service abroad makes the Russians look like amateurs: at least half a dozen in Paris alone, without serious consequences. Moroccan opposition leader Mehdi Ben Barka also disappeared in Paris; the African National Congress’s chief representative in France, Dulcie September, and more recently three Kurdish activists, were assassinated there. Across the Atlantic, Orlando Letelier, a minister under former Chilean president Salvador Allende, was killed in Washington DC by agents of Augusto Pinochet, which did not stop Ronald Reagan from feting Pinochet; and Margaret Thatcher was happy to drink tea (without polonium) with the dictator and present him with a silver dish.
‘Extraterritorial elimination’ is also a fitting term for the US practice of killing presumed terrorists abroad with drones. Barack Obama officially authorised more than 2,300 such killings during his presidency. For his part, François Hollande has admitted to ordering extrajudicial killings of ‘enemies of the state’ when he was president (an average of one a month during his term), though none of his political allies reproached him for it during the Socialist Party primaries in January 2017. François de Rugy, who has since become president of France’s National Assembly, even said at the time: ‘Yes, it is sometimes necessary.’
An influential tech evangelist has called at the TED 2018 conference for an overhaul of Facebook and Google’s business models. Jaron Lanier, who is often referred to as a “father of virtual reality”, told the Vancouver event that the two firms should let users pay for their services as an alternative to relying on ads. “These companies need to change,” he said. But on Tuesday, Facebook’s chief suggested this would not be popular. “A number of people suggest that we should offer a version where people can not have ads if they pay a monthly subscription, and certainly we consider ideas like that,” Mark Zuckerberg told a panel of senators in Washington.
“But overall, I think that the ads experience is going to be the best one. “I think in general, people like not having to pay for a service. A lot of people can’t afford to pay for a service around the world,” Mr Zuckerberg added. Mr Lanier was a frequent TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) speaker during the 1980s. But, he said, even then he had realised that “the technology we needed and loved could also be our undoing”. “We made a very particular mistake in the 90s when early digital culture had this lefty, socialist mission, which meant that everything on the internet must be available for free,” he added. That decision led directly to the advertising model that allows Google and Facebook to flourish, he explained.
“In the beginning it was cute but as computers became more efficient and algorithms got better, it can no longer be called advertising any more – it has turned into behaviour modification.” It was, he said, a “tragic mistake” rather than a “wave of evil”, pointing out that he knew and loved many people working at the two tech empires. But, he explained, the advertising model had led to addictive social media platforms that rewarded people for sharing their information with “likes”. He also claimed that Google and Facebook had become as “hooked and trapped” on the advertising model as their users. “It is time to turn back the clock and remake that decision. Many people would pay for search and social networks,” Mr Lanier said.
As this hearing made painfully clear, using data to target and shape behaviours is an integral part of social media. It is the potential use of our data that is of real value. Data informed targeting is woven into Facebook’s DNA; the only way to change that is to change its structure and purpose. Under questioning Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook is going through a “broader philosophical shift”, taking them from simply producing tools for “empowering” people to the need now to take a “more proactive role” in “policing the ecosystem”. This implies that they seek an even more powerful position – both as producers and regulators – and a larger roll-out of their particular ideals and philosophies.
The answer to the problems of Facebook, it seemed to be suggested, is more Facebook and more of its current business model. The account was of a purer Facebook that gives you connectivity, voice and control of your information, untainted by any issues, missteps or unwanted players. An enhanced version of what we already have is what was being proposed as the solution. Putting the obvious problems to one side for the moment, the other question is whether we really share the ideals of Facebook.
The tone of this hearing was apologetic, but it leaves us to question if change is actually possible. We might trust Zuckerberg to be responsible, this doesn’t mean that we need to accept the ideals that are wrapped up in these media and the type of world that is being imagined. The problems clearly need attention, but we might also wonder about the ideals that will play such a powerful part in our collective future. The ideals and models of Facebook will continue to expand unless we think a little more about the future that we want to bring into existence.
Asked by Graham if he felt Facebook had a monopoly, Zuckerberg replied, “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.” Senator Kamala Harris, the only Democrat to mention monopoly power during the hearing, noted later that Zuckerberg never really answered Graham’s question. “Every monopolist tries to enlarge the market definition such that his own share of it is insignificant,” said Marshall Steinbaum, the research director at the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. “But the fact that he couldn’t name his competitors spoke volumes: Facebook controls the network over which information is proliferated, and it decides who sees what–always to its own benefit. That is a textbook monopolist and it is a company that in its current form cannot be allowed to exist.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, noted that Zuckerberg told Graham that he didn’t think Facebook was a monopoly. “You’re obviously a big player in the space. That might be an area for competition, correct, if somebody else wants to create a social platform that allows a user to monetize their own data?” Johnson asked. Yes, says Zuckerberg. Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, asked Zuckerberg if Facebook was too powerful. “All — really all over the world, the Facebook — 2 billion users, over 200 million Americans, 40 billion in revenue. I believe you and Google have almost 75% of the digital advertising in the U.S. Is — one of the key issues here, is Facebook too powerful? Are you too powerful? And do you think you’re too powerful?” asks Sullivan.
Economic growth in the UK is expected to have fallen by half in the opening months of the year, one of Britain’s leading forecasting bodies has said, amid renewed concerns for the health of the economy. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said growth was set to fall to 0.2% in the first quarter of 2018 from 0.4% in the final three months of last year, when the economy enjoyed a mini-recovery despite an overall slowdown in 2017 triggered by the Brexit vote. Amit Kara, head of UK macroeconomic forecasting at the thinktank, said the main reason for the weakness was severe weather in March, dubbed the “beast from the east” in the media, which was likely to have disrupted activity in all major sectors of the economy.
The estimate, which comes ahead of official figures from the Office for National Statistics later this month, followed news that Britain’s factories recorded a surprise fall in production in February, in the first drop in activity in the sector for almost a year. Confirming fears of a slowdown in the UK economy so far this year, figures from the ONS showed manufacturing output declined by 0.2% in February, falling well behind economists’ expectations for growth of 0.2%. There was also a sharp drop in construction output, suggesting continued pain for the industry amid the fallout from the collapse of Carillion. Monthly output unexpectedly fell by 1.6% in February, as builders were hit by the snow at the end of the month.
Tens of thousands more families will be trapped in temporary accommodation across England over the next two years if current homelessness trends continue, a report has warned. More than 100,000 households will be living in B&Bs, hostels and other forms of temporary housing by 2020, as rising housing costs and insecure work continue to “lock” people into poverty, according to research commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). The annual Homelessness Monitor shows that 70% of local authorities in England are struggling to find any stable housing for homeless people in their area, while a striking 89% reported difficulties in finding private rented accommodation.
As a result, many councils have found themselves forced to place ever more homeless people in emergency housing, including B&Bs and hostels, leading to urgent calls for more permanent and genuinely affordable homes to be built. Government figures published last month revealed almost 79,000 families were staying in temporary housing in the last three months of last year because they didn’t have a permanent home, compared with 48,010 in the same period eight years before. There had been a significant reduction in families living in such conditions before the coalition government came into power, with the number having fallen by 52% between 2004 and 2010 under the Labour government.
But the figure has crept up in each of the past seven years, from 69,140 in the last quarter of 2015, to 75,740 in the same period in 2016 and 78,930 at the end of last year. The new report warns that if current trends continue, with housing supply “dwindling” and rents outstripping wages and benefits, more than 100,000 such households will fall into this trap by 2020.
The head of the Congressional Budget Office warned lawmakers that the U.S. government is on track to pay more to its creditors than on its own military, as interest rates and debt levels continue to climb. CBO chief Keith Hall told the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday that America’s net interest payments will triple over the coming decade, outpacing military expenditures. He called the data point “one of my favorite figures” used to highlight the challenges posed by the country’s ballooning debt. His office’s budget and economic forecasts, published Monday, show net interest payments first outstripping defense outlays in fiscal 2023 and reaching $915 billion five years later.
The increase will come as debt held by the public almost doubles to $28.7 trillion in fiscal 2028 from this year, according to the CBO, a non-partisan arm of Congress. “My point is that the interest cost is just starting to swamp things like defense spending,” Hall said. “Whatever the fix is going to be, it needs to be something that’s pretty big.”
Perhaps we have missed something: Like the possibility that the canyons of Wall Street are actually located on another planet several light years from earth! Otherwise, how can you explain the equipoise of a stock market sitting at the tippy-top of a nine-year bubble expansion and confronted with the potential outbreak of World War Three? Folks, like some alien abductors, the Deep State has taken the Donald hostage, and with ball-and-chain finality. Whatever pre-election predilection he had to challenge the Warfare State has apparently been completely liquidated. Trump’s early AM tweet today, in fact, embodies the words of a man who had more than a few screws loose when he took the oath, but under the relentless pounding of the Imperial City’s investigators, partisans, apparatchiks and lynch-mob media has now gone stark raving mad. To wit:
“….Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it! Yes, maybe Wall Street has figured out that the Donald is more bluster than bite. Yet when you consider the broader context and what the Russian side is now saying, it is just plain idiotic to own the S&P 500 at 24X. After all, earnings that have been going nowhere for the past three years (earnings per share have inched-up from $106 in September 2014 to $109 in December 2017), and now could be ambushed by a hot war accident in Syria that would rapidly escalate. Indeed, did the robo-machines and boys and girls down in the casino not ponder the meaning of this message from the Kremlin? It does not leave much to the imagination:
#Russian ambassador in beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on #Syria , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic. Sure, the odds are quite high that the clever folks in the Pentagon will figure out how to keep the pending attack reasonably antiseptic. That is, they will bomb a whole bunch of places in Syria where the Russians and Iranians are not (after being warned); and also deploy stand-off submarine platforms to launch cruise missiles and high-flying stealth aircraft to drop smart bombs, thereby keeping American pilots and ships out of harm’s way. Then, after unleashing the Donald’s version of “shock and awe” they will claim that Assad has just received the spanking of his life and that the Russians and Iranians have been messaged with malice aforethought.
‘How strange is it for you to sit here and compare the president to a mob boss?’ That’s the question ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked James Comey in a teaser for an interview set to air Sunday night at 10 p.m. as a “20/20” special. A source told Axios that what the former FBI director had to say during that interview is “going to shock the president and his team” and “certainly add more meat to the charges swirling around Trump.” The source added that the interview included information that’s never been divulged before and left people in the room “stunned.” Comey apparently answered every question. The five-hour interview was taped Monday at his Washington-area home ahead of the release of his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which comes out Tuesday.
Comey is about to go on a promotional media blitz, according to Politico, including a live interview with CNN on April 19, a visit to MSNBC the same day, an interview on Fox News on April 26 and one with PBS NewsHour on April 30. The book, already topping Amazon’s best-seller list, is expected to reveal details about Trump pressuring Comey to shut down at least part of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election and other related issues. Separately, Dana Boente, the FBI’s general counsel who had led the Russia investigation in the early days of the Trump administration, has been asked to testify by Mueller, according to a letter obtained by MSNBC.
A former Catalan minister fighting extradition from Scotland to Spain faces charges of causing widespread violence against police. BBC Scotland has obtained a copy of the European arrest warrant for former education minister Clara Ponsatí. The St Andrews University professor is wanted in Spain on charges of rebellion and misappropriation of public funds. Ms Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said: “My client Clara Ponsati utterly refutes the charges.” He added: “Clara is an esteemed University professor who has never committed a criminal act in her life.
As an education minister for just over two months along with her government she promoted a peaceful referendum, yet if extradited and convicted could face a sentence of up to 33 years, thus facing the real prospect of spending the rest of her natural life in prison. “We are instructed to submit that this warrant is a desperate and politically motivated prosecution by the Spanish authorities. Across Europe lawyers have already successfully challenged the credibility of the charges of violent rebellion. “Now in Scotland Clara is accused of orchestrating violence, yet the warrant fails in over 19 pages to ever specify a single act of violence or incitement attributable to her.” The warrant includes lengthy details of violent confrontations at polling stations across the region.
Prof Ponsatí is being pursued by the Spanish government over her involvement in last year’s Catalan independence referendum, which was ruled illegal by Spanish courts. She handed herself in to police in Edinburgh in March, and was subsequently released on bail following a preliminary hearing. The case is due to call in the Scottish courts again on Thursday. The arrest warrant says that the more serious crime of rebellion applies to those “who revolt violently and publicly” for purposes including “declaring the independence of a part of the national territory.”
The New Zealand government will grant no new offshore oil exploration permits in a move that is being hailed by conservation and environmental groups as a historic victory in the battle against climate change. The ban will apply to new permits and won’t affect the existing 22, some of which have decades left on their exploration rights and cover an area of 100,000 sq km. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her government “has a plan to transition towards a carbon-neutral future, one that looks 30 years in advance”. “Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country.”
The Labour coalition government was elected last year and made tackling climate change one of the cornerstones of its policies, committing to transition to 100% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2035 and making the economy carbon neutral by 2050. Greenpeace New Zealand said the government’s announcement was a “historic moment” for the country and “a huge win for our climate and people power”. Last month Ardern accepted a 50,000-strong Greenpeace petition calling for an end to offshore oil and gas exploration. “The tide has turned irreversibly against big oil in New Zealand,” said the Greenpeace New Zealand executive director, Russel Norman.
[..] the Forest & Bird conservation group said the ban was a “huge step forward” for the country and sent a message to the oil and gas industry that New Zealand waters were no longer “their playground”. “Half the world’s whale and dolphin species visit or live in New Zealand waters, from the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin to giant blue whales,” said the group’s chief executive, Kevin Hague.
Besides having a disastrous impact on sea levels and weather, a warming climate could also trigger catastrophic volcanic eruptions across the planet Volcanic eruptions alter the climate by spewing smoke and ash into the atmosphere, but scientists now also think the opposite might be true – changes in climate could actually cause volcanic eruptions. According to Gioachino Roberti, a PhD student at the University of Clermont Auvergne, glaciers can suppress volcanic eruptions by providing mountains with structural stability. As the climate becomes warmer, ice melting from these mountains removes support from their slopes, potentially leading to landslides and collapse.
“Imagine the ice like some sort of protective layer – when the ice melts away, the mountain is free to collapse,” said Mr Roberti. “If your mountain is a volcano you have another problem. “Volcanoes are a pressurised system and if you remove pressure by ice melting and landslide, you have a problem.” Presenting his work at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, Mr Roberti explained a case study he and his collaborators had investigated in Canada. Though not famous for its volcanic activity, Canada is home to hundreds of potentially active volcanoes. The scientists chose to focus on Mount Meager, a glaciated volcano north of Vancouver.
Mount Meager’s last eruption was over 2000 years ago, but Mr Roberti chose to focus on Mount Meager for a more recent natural disaster that took place there. In summer 2010, the largest landslide in Canadian history occurred on the southern part of the volcano. “The glacier base of the slope retreated and during the hottest part of the summer, the slope catastrophically failed – the whole mountain started to move at a very high velocity,” said Mr Roberti. This was followed in 2016 by the formation of ice caves in the glacier as hot volcanic gases seeped out of the volcano. “This is the first time this has happened there – so the equilibrium of the mountain is changing,” said Mr Roberti.
It’s called “Day Zero”: when Cape Town, South Africa’s bustling port city, sees its water taps run dry, and its population thrust into a perilous situation. Originally projected for this year, the impending crisis has been delayed in part by severe measures — the city instituted restrictions that amount to less than one sixth of an average American’s water consumption. Yet despite that effort, “Day Zero” is still projected to arrive next year. And when it comes, the crisis will see the government switching off all the taps and rationing the resource through collection points. That future isn’t just Cape Town’s. It’s a scenario cities around the globe may face, experts say.
It may be hard to fathom just how cities could be at risk of a water scarcity crisis when approximately 70% of the world is made up of the resource. The stark reality, however, is that the percentage of fresh water probably only amounts to about 2.5 percent, according to often-cited assessments. Even then, a significant supply is locked up in ice and snow, which means just 1 percent of all fresh water is easily accessible to the global population. Inequality in access to water is also quickly becoming a problem. While the affluent can find ways to get access to water— through deliveries or in-built tanks — poorer populations are left to their own devices. That situation oftentimes leads to water theft — for profit, for survival, or for both.
The warm Atlantic current linked to severe and abrupt changes in the climate in the past is now at its weakest in at least 1,600 years, new research shows. The findings, based on multiple lines of scientific evidence, throw into question previous predictions that a catastrophic collapse of the Gulf Stream would take centuries to occur. Such a collapse would see western Europe suffer far more extreme winters, sea levels rise fast on the eastern seaboard of the US and would disrupt vital tropical rains. The new research shows the current is now 15% weaker than around 400AD, an exceptionally large deviation, and that human-caused global warming is responsible for at least a significant part of the weakening.
The current, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), carries warm water northwards towards the north pole. There it cools, becomes denser and sinks, and then flows back southwards. But global warming hampers the cooling of the water, while melting ice in the Arctic, particularly from Greenland, floods the area with less dense freshwater, weakening the Amoc current. Scientists know that Amoc has slowed since 2004, when instruments were deployed at sea to measure it. But now two new studies have provided comprehensive ocean-based evidence that the weakening is unprecedented in at least 1,600 years, which is as far back as the new research stretches.
When slow news becomes no news. I must have seen 100 different versions of the non-story of one of Trump’s not-so-bright sons meeting with a Russian lady, a story that’s supposed to prove what nothing else has yet proven, not even Bob Mueller, Russian meddling. Yeah, Russia spies, and it hacks, and so does everyone else. But that’s clearly not news, and you can’t make it so be endlessly repeating it. That Comey leaked classified information is apparently much less newsworthy. Only, it is not. It just serves the machine to a lesser degree. Be careful, America, or you’ll have no news sources left soon. Not a great prospect.
As much as the U.S. mainstream media wants people to believe that it is the Guardian of Truth, it is actually lost in a wilderness of propaganda and falsehoods, a dangerous land of delusion that is putting the future of humankind at risk as tension escalate with nuclear-armed Russia. This media problem has grown over recent decades as lucrative careerism has replaced responsible professionalism. Pack journalism has always been a threat to quality reporting but now it has evolved into a self-sustaining media lifestyle in which the old motto, “there’s safety in numbers,” is borne out by the fact that being horrendously wrong, such as on Iraq’s WMD, leads to almost no accountability because so many important colleagues were wrong as well.
Similarly, there has been no accountability after many mainstream journalists and commentators falsely stated as flat-fact that “all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies” concurred that Russia did “meddle” in last November’s U.S. election. For months, this claim has been the go-to put-down whenever anyone questions the groupthink of Russian venality perverting American democracy. Even the esteemed “Politifact” deemed the assertion “true.” But it was never true. It was at best a needled distortion of a claim by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he issued a statement last Oct. 7 alleging Russian meddling. Because Clapper was the chief of the U.S. Intelligence Community, his opinion morphed into a claim that it represented the consensus of all 17 intelligence agencies, a dishonest twist that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton began touting.
However, for people who understand how the U.S. Intelligence Community works, the claim of a 17-agencies consensus has a specific meaning, some form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE) that seeks out judgments and dissents from the various agencies. But there was no NIE regarding alleged Russian meddling and there apparently wasn’t even a formal assessment from a subset of the agencies at the time of Clapper’s statement. President Obama did not order a publishable assessment until December – after the election – and it was not completed until Jan. 6, when a report from Clapper’s office presented the opinions of analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency – three agencies (or four if you count the DNI’s office), not 17.
The report also contained no hard evidence of a Russian “hack” and amounted to a one-sided circumstantial case at best. However, by then, the U.S. mainstream media had embraced the “all-17-intelligence-agencies” refrain and anyone who disagreed, including President Trump, was treated as delusional. The argument went: “How can anyone question what all 17 intelligence agencies have confirmed as true?” It wasn’t until May 8 when then-former DNI Clapper belatedly set the record straight in sworn congressional testimony in which he explained that there were only three “contributing agencies” from which analysts were “hand-picked.”
On the same day that President Donald Trump said “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia,” and the day after he said “I had a tremendous meeting yesterday with President Putin,” the ignorant, stupid, Nikki Haley, who Trump appointed as US UN Ambassador, publicly contracted her president, forcefully stating: “we can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia.” The ignorant stupid Haley is still in office, a perfect demonstration of Trump’s powerlessness. The ignorant stupid Haley has gone far beyond Obama’s crazed UN Ambassador, neocon Smantha Power in doing everything in her power to ruin the prospect of normal relations between the two major nuclear powers. Why does Nikki Haley work in favor of a confrontation between nuclear powers that would destroy all life on earth?
What is wrong with Nikki Haley? Is she demented? Has she lost her mind, assuming she ever had one? How can President Trump normalize relations with Russia when every one of his appointees wants to worsen the relations to the point of nuclear war? How is President Trump going to improve relations with Russia when President Trump stands powerless in face of his dressing down by his UN Ambassador? Clearly, Trump is powerless, a mere cipher. Joining Nikki Haley was Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson, allegedly a friend of Russia, is also working overtime to worsen relations between the two nuclear powers by publicly contradicting the President of the United States, thereby making it clear that Trump is barely even a cipher.
Tillerson, a disgrace, said that Putin’s refusal to admit that Putin elected Trump by interferring in the US election “stands as an obstacle to our ability to improve the relationship between the US and Russia and it needs to be addressed in terms of how we assure the American people that interference into our eletions will not occur by Russia or anyone else.” Trump’s incompetence is illustrated by his appointments. There is no one in “his” government that supports him. Everyone of them works to undermine him. And he sits there and Twitters. So, what is President Putin’s belief that an understanding can now be worked out with Washington worth? Not a plugged nickel. Trump has zero authority over “his” government. He can be contradicted at will by his own appointees. The President of the United States is a joke.
You can find him on Twitter, but nowhere else, not in the Oval Office making foreign or military policy. The president Twitters and thinks that that is policy. The Trump administration was destroyed when the weak Donald Trump allowed the neoconservatives to remove his National Security Advisor, General Flynn. Trump has never recovered. “His” administration is staffed with violent Russophobes. Wars can be the only outcome. We know two things about the alleged Russian inteferrance in the Trump/Hillary presidential election. One is that John Brennan, Obama’s CIA director, and Comey, Obama’s FBI director, implied repeatedly that Trump was elected by Russian interference in the election, but neither the CIA nor the FBI have provided any evidence whatsoever that any such interference occurred. Indeed, months into the case, the special prosecutor, the former FBI director, can produce no evidence.
The whole thing is a sham, but it is ongoing. There will be no end to it as it is designed to undermind President Trump with the people who elected him. The message is: “Trump is not for America. Trump is for Russia.”
Comey’s troubles started when he testified under oath last month that he considered the memos he prepared to be personal documents and that he shared at least one of them with a Columbia University lawyer friend. As Comey later disclosed, he asked that lawyer to leak information from one memo to the news media in hopes of increasing pressure to get a special prosecutor named in the Russia case after Comey was fired as FBI director. The Hill recounts that particular exchange with Senator Roy Blunt: “So you didn’t consider your memo or your sense of that conversation to be a government document?,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked Comey on June 8. “You considered it to be, somehow, your own personal document that you could share to the media as you wanted through a friend?”
“Correct,” Comey answered. “I understood this to be my recollection recorded of my conversation with the president. As a private citizen, I thought it important to get it out.” Comey insisted in his testimony he believed his personal memos were unclassified, though he hinted one or two documents he created might have been contained classified information. “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership,” he testified about the one memo he later leaked about former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Additionally, he added, “My view was that the content of those unclassified, memorialization of those conversations was my recollection recorded.”
That’s when the problems escalated, because according to The Hill – which for the first time disclosed that the total number of memos linked to Comey’s nine conversations with Trump – when the seven memos Comey wrote regarding his nine conversations with Trump about Russia earlier this year were shown to Congress in recent days, the FBI claimed all were, in fact, deemed to be government documents. Oops. As The Hill reveals, four, or more than half, of the seven memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the “secret” or “confidential” level, according to officials directly familiar with the matter. This is a major problem for Comey because FBI policy forbids any agent from releasing classified information or any information from ongoing investigations or sensitive operations without prior written permission, and mandates that all records created during official duties are considered to be government property.
“Unauthorized disclosure, misuse, or negligent handling of information contained in the files, electronic or paper, of the FBI or which I may acquire as an employee of the FBI could impair national security, place human life in jeopardy, result in the denial of due process, prevent the FBI from effectively discharging its responsibilities, or violate federal law,” states the agreement all FBI agents sign. FBI policy further adds that “all information acquired by me in connection with my official duties with the FBI and all official material to which I have access remain the property of the United States of America” and that an agent “will not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”
“What should we do?” began Yellen. “A decade of easy monetary policies has turned financial markets into a Las Vegas casino while the economy’s lazed around like my smelly house cats. What the heck was Bernanke thinking?” “Hell, Janet,” remarked New York Fed President William Dudley. “He wasn’t thinking. He soiled his pantaloons and then he soiled them again.” “So now we must clean up his stinky pile while he promotes his revisionist courage to act shtick. The reality is we must orchestrate a take-down of financial markets, and we must do it by year’s end.” “Well, gawd damn Bill!” barked St. Louis Fed President James Bullard. “With the exception of Neel, the $700 billion dollar bailout boy, don’t you think we all know that?”
“Hey, now!” interjected Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari. “Don’t blame me. I was just carrying out Hank Paulson’s will, right Bill? Saving our boys’ bacon back at Goldman so they could continue doing god’s work.” “Besides Fish, it was you all who lined up behind Bernanke and tickled the poodle with his crazy QE experiment while I was busy chopping wood at Donner Pass and getting my fanny spanked in the California Governor’s race by retread Jerry Moonbeam Brown, of all people.” “Fair enough,” continued Bullard. “The point is, taking down the stock market will cause an extreme upset to the economy’s applecart. The mobs will come after us with torches and pitchforks.” “You see, the real trick is to do the dirty deed then disappear behind a fog of confusion. That’s what Greenspan would do. How can we pull that off?”
After a moment of silent contemplation, and a licked finger held up to the cool political winds drafting across the country… “Eureka! We can pin it on President Donald J. Trump!” exclaimed Chicago Fed President Charles Evans. “Could our good fortune be any better? Not since Herbert C. Hoover has there been a more perfect scapegoat for an economic depression of the Fed’s making.” “Hear, hear!” approved Yellen. “Damn the economy,” they bellowed in harmony… minus Kashkari. “This one’s on Trump!” “Bill, one last thing,” closed Yellen. “After the meeting, remember to give the public that shake n’ bake you dreamed up about crashing unemployment. We have to give off an air of being data dependent.” “That misdirection should twist them up until NFL football starts. Shortly after that, our work will be done…” “…and by the New Year, Congress and Joe public will be begging us to rescue the economy from the Fed’s… I mean… Trump’s disastrous economic program.”
Everyone who’s watching the stock market has their own reasons for their endless optimism, their doom-and-gloom visions, their bouts of anxiety that come with trying to sit on the fence until the very last moment, or their blasé attitude that nothing can go wrong because the Fed has their back. But there are some factors that are like a tsunami siren that should send inhabitants scrambling to higher ground. Since July 2012 – so over the past five years – the trailing 12-month earnings per share of all the companies in the S&P 500 index rose just 12% in total. Or just over 2% per year on average. Or barely at the rate of inflation – nothing more. These are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) but “adjusted earnings” as reported by companies to make their earnings look better.
Not all companies report “adjusted earnings.” Some just stick to GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But many others also report “adjusted earnings,” and that’s what Wall Street propagates. “Adjusted earnings” are earnings with the bad stuff adjusted out of them, at the will of management. They generally display earnings in the most favorable light – hence significantly higher earnings than under GAAP. This is the most optimistic earnings number. It’s the number that data provider FactSet uses for its analyses, and these adjusted earnings seen in the most favorable light grew only a little over 2% per year on average for the S&P 500 companies over the past five years, or 12% in total. Yet, over the same period, the S&P 500 Index itself soared 80%.
And these adjusted earnings are now back where they’d been on March 2014, with no growth whatsoever. Total stagnation, even for adjusted earnings. And yet, over the same three-plus years, the S&P 500 index has soared 33%. This chart shows those adjusted earnings per share for all S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked July 2012 and March 2014:
Given that there has been zero earnings growth over the past three years, even under the most optimistic “adjusted earnings” scenario, and only about 2% per year on average over the past five years, the S&P 500 companies are not high-growth companies. On average, they’re stagnating companies with stagnating earnings. And the price-earnings ratio for stagnating companies should be low. In 2012 it was around 15.5. Now, as of July 7, it is nearly 26. In other words, earnings didn’t expand. The only thing that expanded was the multiple of those earnings to the share prices – the P/E ratio. Such periods of multiple expansion are common. They’re part of the stock market’s boom and bust cycle. And they’re invariably followed by periods of multiple contraction. How long can this period of multiple expansion go on? That’s what everyone wants to know. Projections include “forever.” But “forever” doesn’t exist in the stock market. The next segment of the cycle is a multiple contraction.
The Great Recession, and the financial crisis that preceded it, were such enormous and terrible events that they occupied most of our economic thinking for a decade. But now that the smoke has cleared and the economy has returned to a semblance of normality, we’re starting to think more about long-term trends. And evidence is mounting that the Great Recession may have drawn attention away from a slow rot that has been eating the U.S. economy since the turn of the century. Some of the top macroeconomists in the business have a new paper that reaches this conclusion. In “The Disappointing Recovery of Output after 2009,” John G. Fernald, Robert E. Hall, James H. Stock and Mark W. Watson break down the declines in growth and employment into a structural, long-term component and a short-term part related to the crash.
That’s an inherently hard thing to do, since there’s no universally accepted theory of how recessions work. But Fernald et al. use two accounting methods, and find basically the same thing – although the recession hurt the economy a lot, it happened to coincide with two trends that were slowly eroding the U.S.’s fundamentals. Those two trends are slowing productivity and reduced labor-force participation. Slow productivity growth is hardly news – Bloomberg View recently ran a whole series of articles about the phenomenon. This unhappy trend appears to have begun three years before the financial crisis:
As for labor-force participation, this has been falling since the turn of the century, though the last two years have seen a small uptick:
Both of these trends might have been exacerbated by the Great Recession. That economic disaster caused businesses to stop investing, which may have deprived them of the technology needed to increase productivity. Workers thrown out of employment by the recession might have seen their skills, connections and work ethic degrade, preventing them from going back to work even after the economy recovered.
Theresa May is to insist she has the right vision for Britain and an “unshakeable sense of purpose” to build a fairer nation as she launches a fightback after her General Election gamble backfired. The Prime Minister will acknowledge that the loss of her Commons majority means she will have to adopt a different approach to government, signalling she is prepared to “debate and discuss” ideas with her opponents. But amid rumours of unrest within Tory ranks about her position, Ms May will insist her commitment is “undimmed” almost 12 months after entering Number 10 as Prime Minister. Her comments in a speech on Tuesday will be viewed as an attempt to relaunch her premiership after the humiliation of the election result and the need to strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her administration in the Commons.
Ms May will return to her core message from when she succeeded David Cameron: a “commitment to greater fairness” and tackling “injustice and vested interests” in recognition that the EU referendum result was a “profound call for change across our country”. She will say: “Though the result of last month’s General Election was not what I wanted, those defining beliefs remain, my commitment to change in Britain is undimmed; my belief in the potential of the British people and what we can achieve together as a nation remains steadfast; and the determination I have to get to grips with the challenges posed by a changing world never more sure. “I am convinced that the path that I set out in that first speech outside Number 10 and upon which we have set ourselves as a Government remains the right one.
“It will lead to the stronger, fairer Britain that we need.” The fragile nature of Ms May’s position in the Commons will not stop her being “bold”, she will insist. “I think this country needs a Government that is prepared to take the bold action necessary to secure a better future for Britain and we are determined to be that Government. “In everything we do, we will act with an unshakeable sense of purpose to build the better, fairer Britain which we all want to see.”
A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire for southwest Syria held through the day, a monitor and rebels said on Sunday, in the first peacemaking effort of the war by the U.S. government under President Donald Trump. The United States, Russia and Jordan reached the “de-escalation agreement,” which appeared to give Trump a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany this week. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said “calm prevailed” in the southwest since the truce began at noon (0900 GMT) on Sunday despite minor violations. Combatants briefly exchanged fire in Deraa province and in Quneitra around midnight, but this “did not threaten the ceasefire,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman.
Major Issam al Rayes, spokesman of the Southern Front coalition of Western-backed rebel groups, said “a cautious calm” continued into the evening. “The situation is relatively calm,” Suhaib al-Ruhail, a spokesman for the Alwiyat al-Furqan faction in Quneitra, said earlier. Another rebel official, in Deraa city, said there had been no significant fighting. It was quiet on the main Manshiya front near the border with Jordan, which he said had been the site of some of the heaviest army bombing in recent weeks. “Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding … Good!” Trump tweeted on Sunday. A Syrian official indicated that Damascus approved of the ceasefire deal, describing the government’s silence over it as a “sign of satisfaction.” “We welcome any step that would cease the fire and pave the way for peaceful solutions,” the government official told Reuters.
The Eurasian lynx could be stalking through British woodlands within months after plans were submitted to reintroduce the species, absent from Britain for about 1,300 years. Campaigners have applied for a licence to import six of the wildcats, which were hunted to extinction in the UK, and release them in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest. The Lynx Trust said the animals, which can grow to 1.3m in length, “belong” in Britain and there was a “moral obligation” to bring them back. The cats’ return would also generate millions of pounds for rural communities by attracting tourists, according to the group. But the proposal has met with opposition from sheep farmers, who claim their livestock would be put at risk.
The scheme would initially involve six lynx, four females and two males, being imported from Sweden and fitted with GPS tracking collars for a five-year trial. The trust applied to Natural England for permission to release the cats after it carried out an 11-month consultation. No date has been set for the proposed reintroduction but they cats could return to the UK by the end of 2017 if the plans are approved. The trust said in a statement: “In many other countries Eurasian lynx reintroduction has proven exceptionally low-conflict and wonderfully beneficial for the local communities that live alongside them, and we do sincerely hope that these cats, which thrived here for millions of years, do have the opportunity to prove they can still fit into both our ecology, and alongside local communities like those across the Kielder region.”
The Trump administration’s revised travel ban faced a new court challenge as soon as it took effect Thursday after the president’s signature immigration policy already weathered months of protests, legal wrangling and delays. A new set of restrictions on refugees and immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries took effect at 8 p.m. EDT. The administration said the rules should help prevent the chaotic airport scenes witnessed when President Donald Trump’s initial order was abruptly imposed in January. But a half-hour before the ban took effect, Hawaii asked a judge to clarify whether the government violated instructions from the U.S. Supreme Court in defining who’s covered by the ban and who’s excluded.
If implemented as intended, the travel restrictions would allow Trump to declare partial victory on his campaign promise to stem the flow of refugees and travelers from nations he deems a security risk. Lower court decisions to uphold two of his proposed travel bans were early, public defeats for the administration in its initial weeks. To minimize disruptions this time, the State Department, Homeland Security Department and Justice Department coordinated in advance to establish clearer guidelines for thousands of consular officers, airlines and travelers. And unlike in January, when hundreds of travelers arriving in the U.S. were turned back or detained at airports, those already holding a valid visa will be let in. “The American public could have legitimate concerns about their safety when we open our doors,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a briefing Thursday.
“We want to open our doors to people who are willing to go through proper screening measures and who want to be here and want to be productive members of our society.” The latest effort followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that travelers from the six nations – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – with “bona fide” connections in the U.S. be exempted from the travel ban. That definition was interpreted to mean that travelers with specific, close family members in the U.S., including spouses, children, and siblings, could be let in. But people whose closest connections are grandparents, aunts and uncles could be barred. Students or travelers with business or professional ties from the affected countries also are exempt if they can show a relationship that’s formal and documented, and not based on an intent to evade the ban.
That is a pretty bold statement to make considering that every one of her predecessors failed to predict the negative consequences of their actions. Will there will be another “Financial Crisis” in our lifetimes? Yes, it is virtually guaranteed. The previous “crisis” wasn’t about just “an asset gone bad,” but rather the systemic shock caused by a “freeze” in the credit markets when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Counterparties evaporated, banks froze lending and the credit market ceased to function. Credit, not the stock market, is the “lifeblood” of the economy. Of course, it is all good now because the Fed says so with Ms. Yellen placing a great amount of faith in the Fed’s own carefully constructed, and recently released results, of “bank stress tests.” Interestingly, EVERY bank passed with flying colors. In other words, the Millennial generation has now passed the baton of “Everybody Gets A Trophy” to the banking sector. [..] Here is why Janet Yellen is wrong in believing another “Financial Crisis” can’t occur:
Catalyst 1: Delinquency & Defaults We are already seeing the early warning signs with delinquency rates rising and commercial lending on the decline in both consumer and commercial and industrial loans. [..] Of course, this also includes the credit problems of the collapse in Commercial Real Estate which is grossly leveraged at a time when prices have begun to stagnate with an oversupply of inventory sitting on the ground.
Catalyst 2: Leverage & Robots It isn’t just bank loans which will catalyze the coming financial crisis. It is also, be the massive surge in debt and leverage over the last eight years including student loans, credit cards, corporate debt and margin loans. As I discussed recently in the “Illusion Of Liquidity:” “The illusion of liquidity has a dangerous side effect. The process of the previous two debt-deleveraging cycles led to rather sharp market reversions as margin calls, and the subsequent unwinding of margin debt fueled a liquidation cycle in financial assets. The resultant loss of the ‘wealth effect’ weighed on consumption pushing the economy into recession which then impacted corporate and household debt leading to defaults, write-offs, and bankruptcies.”
Catalyst 3: Pensions Lastly, and a point clearly missed by Ms. Yellen in her quest to dismiss financial crisis risks, is the $3 Trillion “Pension Crisis” that is just one sharp downturn away from imploding. The cresting of the “baby boom” generation now puts these massively underfunded pensions at risk of a “run on assets” during the next downturn which could send the entire system into chaos. Of course, this problem can be directly traced to the malfeasance of pension fund managers, and pension boards, which used excessively high return rates to lower costs of contributions.
Reader Brian emailed an ad for huge discounts on cars. The fine print is rather amusing: Must be subprime and must finance through Chrysler Capital. Frequently, when you see an ad “only x available at this price”, there are really none available at that price. They all went to friends of the dealer. I called about the 2017 Patriot and there were still some left but they were “going fast”. The ad reads “Primary customer must have a FICO score below 620 and must finance through Chrysler Capital” I asked what happens if my credit score was above 620. As expected, I could not get that price. For someone with a credit score of 800 the price jumps to $13,485.
I asked what happens if I pay all cash. That price is $13,995. I asked about prepayment penalties and California does not allow them. Still, the MSRP is $21,760 and you can get one for $13,995. That is a discount of 35.7% off the MSRP. I do not know what this model typically sells for, but that seems like a hefty discount. A subprime buyer can pay $11,995. That is a discount of 44.9% off MSRP. Since there are no prepayment penalties, one could immediately pay it off in theory. In practice, someone with a credit score below 620 is extremely unlikely to be in a position to pay the loan off immediately.
If you’re still on the fence about whether the auto market in this country is anything but a massive bubble being propped up by extremely loose credit underwriting standards, then we think we’ve just found some definitive evidence for you. As Jalopnik noted earlier today, at first glance the following advertisement for a $55,000 truck from a dealership in Texas looks fairly ‘normal’…an extremely high starting MSRP at the top followed by a series of incentive offers that make the vehicle look “affordable.” But, take a closer look and we think you just might find something rather disturbing…that’s right, a $1,500 discount offered only to people with “Low Credit Scores.”
Ordinarily, of course, lender/dealer financing incentives like these would be offered to folks with good credit, because…well, that’s at least somewhat logical, but it seems as though this particular dealer has already sold a $55,000 truck to everyone with good credit and is looking to ‘creatively’ broaden it’s addressable market. Meanwhile, looking at the fine print, it seems as though this incentive is particularly targeted at subprime borrowers with credit scores below 620. “April 2017 Pricing on all new vehicles may include up to $1500 in finance rebates that have certain credit requirements to be able to claim this rebate. The finance office is Credit Score based and you must be below 620 to qualify. If you are over a 620 you must add up to $1500 to the price. Varies by make and model. Not all units are eligible for this rebate. Call Dealer for Details.”
Japan’s industrial output fell 3.3% in May from the previous month due to lower production of cars and construction equipment, preliminary government data showed on Friday, in a sign of a temporary lull in manufacturing activity. The result compared with the median estimate of a 3.2% decline in a Reuters poll of economists. It followed a 4.0% increase in April, which was the fastest increase in almost six years, the data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed. Manufacturers surveyed by the ministry expect output to rise 2.8% in June and fall 0.1% in July.
Famed investigative journalist Bob Woodward criticized the media’s open bias toward President Trump on Tuesday in remarks following a screening of “All The President’s Men” in Washington, D.C. Woodward, the reporter who broke the Nixon Watergate scandal the media now loves to compare to the Trump administration, said it’s crucial the press retain the trust of the public, and execute a deep “fair-mindedness” when reporting. He pointed to a list of Trump’s “lies” compiled by The New York Times in which some of the president’s are misjudged as an example of overt bias, after he was asked about the media’s treatment of Trump in a Q&A session at Landmark E Street Cinema. “[Number three on the list] was that Trump said he was on the cover of Time magazine 14 or 15 times when it was in fact 11 times,” Woodward said. “… That’s not a lie.”
He likened Trump’s statement instead to someone getting pulled over for speeding and telling the police officer that they were driving the speed limit. “Tone matters, and headlines matter, and you want people to [trust you],” he said. “[It] really betrays the anti-Trump media bias,” Woodward added, regarding the media’s coverage of the investigation into Russian meddling in the election. “I think a kind of brief, deeply fair-mindedness is essential, but as essential or maybe more essential is a game plan for reporting this and going to Moscow and finding the bookkeeper.” The bookkeeper was a reference to a key source for Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their Watergate coverage. Woodward has been a consistent voice for journalism in recent months, calling the Buzzfeed dossier “a garbage document” and saying that the Comey investigation was “not yet Watergate,” contradicting frequent mainstream claims.
So how do Watergate and Iran-Contra compare and contrast with Russia-gate? One key difference is that in Watergate in 1972-73 and Iran-Contra in 1985-86, you had clear-cut crimes (even if you don’t want to believe the two “prequels” from 1968 and 1980, respectively). In Watergate, five burglars were caught inside the DNC offices on June 17, 1972, as they sought to plant more bugs on Democratic phones. (An earlier break-in in May had installed two bugs, but one didn’t work.) Nixon then proceeded to mount a cover-up of his 1972 campaign’s role in funding the break-in and other abuses of power. In Iran-Contra, Reagan secretly authorized weapons sales to Iran, which was then designated a terrorist state, without informing Congress, a violation of the Arms Export Control Act. He also kept Congress in the dark about his belated signing of a related intelligence “finding.”
And the creation of slush funds to finance the Nicaraguan Contras represented an evasion of the U.S. Constitution. There was also the attendant Iran-Contra cover-up mounted both by the Reagan White House and later the George H.W. Bush White House, which culminated in Bush’s Christmas Eve 1992 pardons of six Iran-Contra defendants as special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was zeroing in on possible indictment of Bush for withholding evidence. By contrast, Russia-gate has been a “scandal” in search of a specific crime. President Barack Obama’s intelligence chieftains have alleged – without presenting any clear evidence – that the Russian government hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and released those emails via WikiLeaks and other Internet sites. (The Russians and WikiLeaks have both denied the accusations.)
The DNC emails revealed that senior Democrats did not maintain their required independence regarding the primaries by seeking to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders and help Clinton. The Podesta emails pulled back the curtain on Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks and on pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation. Hacking into personal computers is a crime, but the U.S. government has yet to bring any formal charges against specific individuals supposedly responsible for the hacking of the Democratic emails. There also has been no evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in the hacking. Lacking any precise evidence of this cyber-crime or of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Obama’s Justice Department holdovers and now special prosecutor Robert Mueller have sought to build “process crimes,” around false statements to investigators and possible obstruction of justice.
In the case of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, acting Attorney General Sally Yates used the archaic Logan Act of 1799 to create a predicate for the FBI to interrogate Flynn about a Dec. 29, 2016 conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, i.e., after Trump’s election but before the Inauguration. The Logan Act, which has never resulted in a prosecution in 218 years, was enacted during the period of the Alien and Sedition Acts to bar private citizens from negotiating on their own with foreign governments. It was never intended to apply to a national security adviser of an elected President, albeit before he was sworn in. But it became the predicate for the FBI interrogation — and the FBI agents were armed with a transcript of the intercepted Kislyak-Flynn phone call so they could catch Flynn on any gaps in his recollection, which might have been made even hazier because he was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when Kislyak called.
Seventeen intelligence agencies: if you’ve been following the maniacal #TrumpRussia coverage to any extent, you’ve heard this phrase used uncritically, time and again, regardless of your ideological loyalties. Pundits, papers and rank-and-file establishment loyalists have been unquestioningly regurgitating the nonsensical line that 17 intelligence agencies confirmed Russian interference in the US elections ever since Hillary Clinton made that baseless assertion in a debate back in October. The innate absurdity of the claim was immediately attacked by WikiLeaks and anti-establishment outlets who pointed out that this would necessarily need to involve full investigations from agencies like the Coast Guard, the DEA and the Energy Department in order to be true.
Nevertheless, many high-profile pro-establishment outlets like Politifact and USA Today found Clinton’s claims to be 100% true on the grounds that James Clapper, then-Director of National Intelligence and notorious Russophobic racist, “speaks on behalf of” all 17 intelligence agencies. To this day Politifact stands by its false claim on the basis of that same spurious assertion. It turns out, however, that in addition to Clapper’s office there were only three intelligence agencies involved in that assessment, not 17, and that the conclusions were drawn not by the actual agencies in full, but by a mere two dozen loyalists from those agencies hand-selected by Russophobic eugenicist Clapper himself. The great Robert Parry notes in his Consortium News article about this point, “as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you ‘hand-pick’ the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did.”
As reported by Parry, we have known about these facts since they emerged from Clapper’s racist face hole on May 8, and they were confirmed by former CIA Director John Brennan on May 23. And yet at a California technology conference on May 31, Hillary Clinton repeated the same lie she’s been spouting since October: “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election. They did it through paid advertising we think; they did it through false news sites; they did it through these thousand agents; they did it through machine learning, which you know, kept spewing out this stuff over and over again. The algorithms that they developed. So that was the conclusion.”
The “17 intelligence agencies” lie had been completely, thoroughly debunked for weeks, and yet not a soul called Clinton out on her brazen lie within the establishment press. Indeed, establishment pundits like Megyn Kelly continued to repeat the lie, and have continued to do so throughout the month of June. All this changed when CNN was sent reeling by a 1–2–3-punch combination ensuing from its horrendously propagandistic Russia coverage, which has seen three of its journalists lose their jobs and sent the network into international disgrace. All of a sudden we are seeing establishment outlets getting a lot more conscientious about what they choose to publish about the Russian Federation, and today we saw none other than the New York Times posting the very first retraction of this long-debunked lie that we have seen in establishment media.
Even the New York TImes has issued a correction repudiating the “17 intelligence agencies” meme. There’s a James Clapper testimony video in which he says it was only CIA, NSA and FBI, “not all 17”. But Podesta just keeps using it. One creepy individual, if you ask me.
Even after James O’Keefe and Project Veritas essentially blew the lid right off the fake ‘Russia hacked the election’ narrative, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, John Podesta, doubled down on the debunked narrative when challenged by Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on his ties to a Kremlin-backed company. Podesta met behind closed doors on Tuesday with the members of the House Intelligence Committee as part of the panel’s investigation into supposed Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential election. When asked what he could tell the Thursday Fox audience about the House Intel meeting, Podesta explained that the panel wanted to know “what had happened to me and the effect on the campaign … the effect of the Russian interference in our democratic process.”
“They’re probing what actually happened, whether if there was collusion and what we’re going to do about,” Podesta told Bartiromo. “They asked me not to get into specific questions that they asked me and my specific answers but in general terms, they’re taking a bipartisan look at this stage.” Fox Host Maria Bartiromo then chimes in with a question that digs sharply into the skin of Podesta. “Don’t you find it odd that there’s been so much attention on the Trump Campaign and the Trump associates and potential collusion with the Russians when in fact it’s really the Democrats who have deeper and stronger ties to Russia,” Bartiromo said. “I mean John I have to ask your own situation..”
Bartiromo then goes on to break down how Podesta joined the board of the board of a small energy company in 2011 which later received $35 million from a Kremlin-funded entity. According to Bartiromo, Podesta also owns 75,000 shares in a Russian company and failed to disclose this to the Obama administration. And this is where things got heated…
For about a week now, Benjamin Wittes, the Brookings Institution senior fellow and noted ally of former FBI Director James Comey, has been taunting the Trump administration with tweets suggesting that another ‘bombshell’ story, presumably related to the Russia investigation, was in the works and set to drop any minute. Of course, people took notice of the warnings because Wittes posted similar tweets just before the New York Times published their now infamous story on Comey’s memos So what was the “bombshell” story? It seems to have come in the form of a rather bizarre, and thoroughly difficult to follow, Wall Street Journal article entitled “GOP Operative Sought Clinton Emails From Hackers, Implied a Connection to Flynn.”
To summarize the ‘bombshell’, the story is about a long-time Republican opposition researcher, 81-year-old Peter W. Smith, who apparently set out on a mission to find Hillary’s 30,000 emails which the FBI confirmed had gone missing. In his efforts to find those emails, he scoured hacking chat rooms looking for clues and/or hackers that might be able to help him. The WSJ alleges that Smith may or may not have been working with Michael Flynn but, in the end, they found absolutely nothing. To summarize even further, a guy tried to find Hillary’s missing emails and failed…HALT THE PRESSES! Of course, the goal of the story is to paint some sinister plot that involved Smith and Michael Flynn enlisting the help of some Russians to hack the 2016 election…thus ‘proving’ the collusion angle.
Unfortunately, the story seems to prove the exact opposite which is, if Flynn was really running around on some wild goose chase looking for Hillary’s missing 30,000 emails by chatting up hackers on a message board then we have to assume that means he wasn’t in any way connected to the original hack which ended up on WikiLeaks. [..] Of course, it’s only deeper in the story that the WSJ admits they have no idea if Flynn was even involved with Smith…but no one reads an entire article so it’s fairly irrelevant. “What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved.” [..] Meanwhile, the WSJ confirms that Smith died last month at the age of 81. So there you have it…all the makings of another salacious, ‘bombshell’ story with multiple references to Russians, hackers, collusion, shady dealings with Michael Flynn, etc, yet still no evidence of pretty much anything.
Peace is popular. That was Ron Paul’s message to our audience in Texas earlier this spring, and it has been his consistent message since first running for Congress in the 1970s. So why do seemingly endless wars remain such a stubborn feature of the American presidency, with the shameful complicity of Congress? Americans who supported Trump did so overwhelmingly because he promised a populist “America First” approach to both domestic and foreign policy. Every poll shows that the domestic economy, culture wars, and immigration were the animating issues of the election – not our ongoing military misadventures in the Middle East. Nobody voted for an escalation of US involvement in Syria, nobody voted to ramp up the never-ending war in Afghanistan by dispatching the Mother of All Bombs, and nobody voted to resurrect an absurd decades-old conflict with North Korea.
Yet President Trump has done all of these things, largely abandoning the noninterventionist promises of Candidate Trump. Perversely, ordering a missile attack on a Syrian air base was the first and only act that earned him praise from his enemies at organs like the New York Times and Washington Post. “He’s finally acting presidential” they gushed. To understand Trump’s departures from his campaign rhetoric is to understand the very nature of politics and the bureaucratic state. Nobody goes to Washington to “run” the government. Washington runs them. Trump, ostensibly the biggest outsider to win the presidency in modern American history, cannot overcome the entrenched foreign policy establishment any more than he can overcome gravity. 95% of employees at the State Department, Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and the rest of the alphabet soup agencies do not come and go with elections.
They, along with the vast apparatus of defense contractors, are not going anywhere. Permanent war and interventionism requires permanent funding. And like all tax-funded enterprises, war is inherently anti-capitalist. It diverts resources, swells state bureaucracies, and hides the horrific human and economic costs in a cloak of patriotism and platitudes about America’s role in the world. When we hear Vice President Pence talk about “rebuilding the arsenal of democracy,” he really means it. Ludwig von Mises saw German war socialism up close as a lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian army during the Great War. Under Wehrwirtschaftslehre, the German doctrine of war economics, the normal calculations of capitalist businessmen go out the window. Costs, quality, demand, and profit become wholly secondary to the overriding goal of preparing the nation for war.
Municipal garbage collectors Thursday started the long and unpleasant task of picking up thousands of tons of trash that has been rotting under the sun for the past two weeks after unionists decided to call off strike action demanding job security. As fears of a threat to public health spiked Thursday amid an intensifying heat wave, the union representing protesting workers, POE-OTA, announced that they would be ending their action. The decision came on the day of a 24-hour strike by POE-OTA workers who pressed on with the walkout despite having wrested concessions from the government earlier in the week. Local authorities in Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities are now expected to rehire thousands of sanitation workers whose short-term contracts have expired.
According to sources, the Interior Ministry is on Friday to issue a circular to local authorities across the country, calling for the implementation of an amendment approved in Parliament on Wednesday which foresees the extension of workers’ short-term contracts. It remains unclear how POE-OTA will react, however, if municipalities end up hiring fewer than the 6,150 people currently employed on short-term contracts in sanitation. Meanwhile contract workers have to clean up the mess in the streets. According to Giorgos Broulias, deputy mayor of Athens, it will take at least four days to pick up all the trash. “It will then take even more days for parts of the capital to be washed down with cleansing agents and disinfectants,” he told Kathimerini.
Italy is poised to instruct its ports to turn away foreign ships carrying rescued migrants unless other EU countries agree to greater burden-sharing on refugee arrivals, a senior government source said Wednesday. The threat would apply to ships run by NGOs but not to foreign state units operating under EU border agency Frontex and EU naval mission Eunavfor Med Sophia, the source told dpa. The same source said Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, was sent to meet EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to deliver the message that “Italy is dealing with a serious situation and Europe cannot turn the other way.” “The ambassador highlighted that Italy’s efforts have been enormous and well beyond international obligations [and] under the current circumstances it is difficult for our authorities to allow further disembarkations of migrants,” an Italian diplomat added.
It was not immediately clear whether the ban against foreign NGO ships could be enacted legally. It could affect several German vessels operated by German sea rescue charities, such as Jugend Rettet and Sea Watch. “We are a bit worried by this idea,” said Michele Trainiti, sea rescue coordinator for the Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The medical charity operates two boats in the Mediterranean, including one with a non-Italian flag. He said diverting vessels to France, for example, “would require many more days of navigation with people in very precarious situations,” which current MSF rescue vessels “are not equipped for.”
Rome’s hard-line message filtered out following the record rescue of nearly 10,000 migrants since the weekend, and in the wake of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s failure at last week’s EU summit to convince partners to take in more asylum seekers. It also came in the wake of a Sunday local election rout for the ruling centre-left Democratic Party, which several commentators blamed on public discontent with rising immigration and government proposals to grant citizenship to children of foreign residents.
As 1,032 people plucked from the Mediterranean prepared to disembark the MS Aquarius onto southern Italian soil on Thursday, bringing refugee and migrant arrivals to more than 12,000 this week, those who had rescued them said they understood why Rome was threatening to close its ports to such vessels. “Officially, we haven’t heard anything from the Italian government … but if this is indeed the case, if anything it sounds more like a cry for help from the Italian government towards the EU,” said Marcella Kraay, a Dutch coordinator with Médecins Sans Frontières, as the ship arrived at Porto di Corigliano in Calabria. “And that goes along with what we’ve always asked for, which is for the EU to organise dedicated search and rescue in the Mediterranean. Until that happens we are forced to be out there because people are in danger, they’re going to drown if we’re not there.”
The last week has seen a surge of refugees arriving on humanitarian rescue ships. The Aquarius, which has been been undertaking risky year-round search and rescue missions in waters north of Libya since 2015, set a new record on Tuesday as it recovered more than 1,000 people in just one day. More than 5,000 people arrived in Italy on Monday alone, according to the International Office for Migration. The Italian government, which came under pressure from a strong challenge from the centre-right in local elections this week, has responded by giving its EU ambassador a mandate to raise the issue with the European commission – including the possibility it could close its ports to the ships. A commission spokeswoman said it supported Italy’s “call for a change in the situation” and the bloc’s migration ministers would tackle the matter next week.
“Over the last few months we’ve heard so many things said that were going to happen, or that should happen, or politicians basically gearing up for elections, that it doesn’t make me feel all that much right now,” said Kraay on board the Aquarius, which is chartered by the German-French charity SOS Méditerranée. “Let’s cross that bridge when we get there … until now we just need to stay focussed on doing our job.”
A financial crisis could be just around the corner, according to the chief executive of LVMH, who has described the global economic outlook as “scary”. “For the economic climate, the present situation is…mid-term scary,” Bernard Arnault told CNBC Thursday. “I don’t think we will be able to globally avoid a crisis when I see the interest rates so low, when I see the amounts of money flowing into the world, when I see the stock prices which are much too high, I think a bubble is building and this bubble, one day, will explode.”
Arnault, who is responsible for the world’s largest luxury goods company, couldn’t say whether the crash would be imminent or within the next few years, but he insisted that almost a decade on from the global financial crisis of 2008, one was due. “There has not been a big crisis for almost ten years now and since I’ve had a business I have seen crises more than every ten years, so be careful.” Longer term, however, Arnault said he was “optimistic”, pointing to advances in technology and innovation, which he said would stimulate the economy.
President Donald Trump responded angrily to reports he is under criminal investigation Thursday, deriding a “witch hunt” against him led by some “very bad” people. Trump responded to reports he is personally being investigated for obstruction of justice with a characteristic scorched earth defense: claiming mistreatment of historic proportions and calling into question the probity of his accusers. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Trump said in an early morning tweet. Trump did not directly address the allegations that he is being probed for possibly obstructing justice – a potentially impeachable offense. Nor did he deny he has entered the miniscule ranks of sitting presidents who have become the subject of a criminal investigation.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” he wrote. Trump’s young presidency has been battered by allegations — under investigation both by Congress and the FBI — that Russia interfered to sway the 2016 election in his favor, in possible collusion with Trump’s campaign team. The FBI probe, now in the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, shifted its focus to allegations of obstruction in the days after Trump fired the agency’s then director James Comey on May 9. The new allegations against Trump center on his own admission that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, and suggestions he asked several top intelligence officials for their help altering the direction of the inquiry.
Russia wants ties with the US improved, but the American domestic political situation is close to hopeless and while the Russian door is open, no one is going to lose their breath waiting to hold it open, political analyst Adam Garrie said, commenting on Putin’s statement. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin held his annual live marathon Q&A session with the public, titled: “Direct Line with the president.” During the session, he said Russia was ready to grant former FBI director James Comey asylum. “[Comey] suddenly said that he had recorded a conversation with the president, and then gave the recording of this conversation to the media via his friend. Well, that sounds very strange when a special service chief records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then gives it to the media via his friend. Then what’s the difference between the FBI director and Mr. [Edward] Snowden? Then he is not the head of the special services, but a human rights advocate who defends a certain position,” Putin said.
Political analyst Adam Garrie described the parallel between Comey and Snowden as “brilliant.” “It was a masterful moment for Vladimir Putin,” he told RT. “With all the lies and disinformation about the Russian president in Western mainstream media, people forget that, like most intelligent men, he’s got a wonderful sense of humor, he can be very cheeky, he can be sarcastic.” “Like Snowden, who thought he was doing a public good, Comey said that he thought he was doing the same. Should things get hairy for Comey, the doors to Russia are equally open to him.
I thought that was a very important remark by Putin on the whole sort of circus-like element of the whole Russia nonsense that’s gripping and probably will grip for some time the pundits in Washington. It just makes it clear that the entire tone of Putin’s statements about America is that we [Russia] want to get on with having good relations. It’s crucial not just bilaterally, but to the wider world, if the two of the three major superpowers do have improved relations, but that the situation domestically in America is close to hopeless – so that while the Russian door is open, no one in Russia is going to lose their breath or their cool waiting to hold it open,” Garrie said.
New YouGov research highlights just how badly the election campaign and result damaged the public’s view of both the Prime Minister and the Conservative party and how much it boosted Labour and its leader. In April, Theresa May had a healthy net favourability rating of +10. At the end of May, following the campaign and negative reception of the Conservative manifesto, it fell to -5. Following the election result it has plummeted to -34. The Prime Minister is currently about as unpopular as Jeremy Corbyn was in November last year, when he scored -35. Meanwhile, the Labour leader has experienced a remarkable turnaround in public perception. Having experienced increasingly worse favourability ratings since Theresa May took office last summer, Jeremy Corbyn sank to a low of -42 in late April, just after the election was called.
However, the public’s view of the Labour leader improved markedly over the campaign, reaching -14 in the last YouGov favourability survey before election day. Now, following the result, his net favourability score is +0 – meaning that as many people now have a favourable view of him as have an unfavourable view. [..] It is remarkable that there has been such a sharp turnaround for the leaders of the two main political parties. When the election was called, Theresa May was secure in her position and many were speculating over the future of the Labour leader. Now, the roles are reversed, with Jeremy Corbyn having silenced his critics and won over large sections of the public while the Prime Minister faces criticism from across the board.
Student loan debt in the UK has risen to more than £100bn for the first time, underlining the rising costs young people face in order to get a university education. Outstanding debt on loans jumped by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from £86.2bn a year earlier, according to the Student Loans Company. England accounted for £89.3bn of the total. “Lots of prospective and current university students will see these figures and worry about being part of an increasing pool of graduate debt,” said Jake Butler of at money advice website Save the Student. “As fees increase this number will only go up, as more and more money is lent out each year. There is some cause for concern here, mainly for the government, as it is now widely accepted that the majority of graduates will never pay off their whole student loan debt before it is wiped off 30 years after their graduation.”
Sorana Vieru, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said student debt had risen to “eye-watering levels”. The rise in student debt has been driven partly by rules introduced in 2012, allowing universities in England to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. In the year ending 31 March 2012, student debt was less than half the current level, at £45.9bn. Jeremy Corbyn made younger voters a key focus of Labour’s election campaign, promising to scrap tuition fees for new university students. A strong turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds at last week’s election helped the party to win 262 seats, an increase of 30. Sebastian Burnside, a senior economist at NatWest, said student debt was rising at a faster pace than any other form of debt, and eclipsed credit card debt of £68bn. “These latest figures show student debt is becoming of greater priority with every passing year. Student debt is the fastest growing type of borrowing and is rapidly becoming economically significant.”
The British Government has still not sent papers outlining its opening position for Brexit talks to the European Union, despite negotiations beginning on Monday. EU sources told The Independent Brussels had sent its “positioning papers” to London four days ago and while similar documents were expected in return, nothing has arrived as Theresa May’s administration struggles to get on its feet. Brexit Secretary David Davis confirmed on Thursday that talks to pull Britain out of the EU will begin on Monday regardless, despite cabinet splits over how to approach them and Ms May’s withdrawal plans not even being cemented in a Queen’s Speech.
Chancellor Philip Hammond cancelled a speaking event in which he was expected to signal new softer Brexit proposals focusing on jobs, amid fears it might spark an internal row with other Tories demanding Ms May stick to her immigration-centred approach. It came as the Prime Minister confirmed that a Queen’s Speech would go ahead, but only on 21 June – two days later than originally planned. It is still unclear if she has locked in the support of the Northern Irish DUP to prop her up in the House of Commons and give her the majority she needs to pass a vote approving the agenda set out in the Queen’s Speech. Conservatives signalled that talks with the unionists could even continue beyond the start of Brexit talks and the Queen’s Speech, as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams warned that any deal struck could breach the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
On Monday this week, the EU sent to London its positioning papers, officially outlining its negotiating stance ahead of talks, and had expected similar documents to come back in good time before discussions begin. But with the EU’s papers arriving as Ms May staved off a cabinet coup, convinced backbenchers to support her and held talks about realigning Brexit plans, nothing had been sent back to Brussels by Thursday night. One source across the Channel said it was “unbelievable” that the UK had still not sent the “basic” papers for the start of negotiations, with just over three days left before they begin. They added: “The talks are beginning on Monday. There are no positioning papers yet. It’s a basic thing that should happen beforehand. It doesn’t bode well.”
Germany and Austria voiced sharp criticism Thursday of the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas. The United States Senate voted Wednesday to slap new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals over its interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign and its aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The measures were attached to a bill targeting Iran. In a joint statement, Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern and Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was important for Europe and the United States to form a united front on the issue of Ukraine, where Russian-based separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014.
“However, we can’t accept the threat of illegal and extraterritorial sanctions against European companies,” the two officials said, citing a section of the bill that calls for the United States to continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would pump Russian gas to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea. Half of the cost of the new pipeline is being paid for by Russian gas giant Gazprom, while the other half is being shouldered by a group including Anglo-Dutch group Royal Dutch Shell, French provider Engie, OMV of Austria and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall. Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don’t pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.
Gabriel and Kern accuse the U.S. of trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. They said the possibility of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations,” they said. In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America,” Kern and Gabriel said.
Greece’s finance minister says financial markets now have “much greater clarity” about the future of Greece’s debts, which will help the country regain market access when its current bailout program ends next year. Speaking after a meeting of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers, Euclid Tsakalots said the country can “look forward with much greater confidence.” As well as securing €8.5 billion in bailout funds, which will help Greece meet a big summer repayment, Tsakalotos won a promise on future measures to ease the country’s debt burden and possible IMF financial involvement in the coming year. Greece has relied on bailout money for seven years and hopes that it will be able to stand on its own feet when the bailout ends. Tsakalotos said one big benefit from the deal Thursday was that future debt repayments could be linked to Greece’s growth. In essence, that could mean payments could be postponed in the event of an adverse shock.
Greece’s international creditors agreed on Thursday to approve the disbursement of €8.5 billion in bailout loans and to detail medium-term debt relief measures following talks in Luxembourg. Describing the agreement as “a major step forward,” Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the deal aimed to get Greece standing “on its own feet again,” noting that debt relief would be linked to the country’s growth rates, in line with a proposal that had been promoted by French officials. The deal also outlined the participation of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout with the Fund’s chief Christine Lagarde saying she would formally recommend the IMF’s participation with $2 billion on a standby basis.
As regards the debt relief aspect of the agreement, Lagarde remarked that it was not the best solution for Greece as it was only an agreement in principle but the “second best” solution. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pierre Moscovici sought to focus on the positive aspects of the deal. “Tonight, Greece can see the light at the end of its long tunnel of austerity,” he said. “From tonight, the watchwords are jobs, growth and investment.” His comments were echoed by Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who, in a separate press conference, said the deal provided greater clarity, for both citizens and investors, “more light at the end of the tunnel.” A spokesperson for the European Central Bank, whose bond buying program Greece wants to join, described the Eurogroup agreement as “a first step towards securing debt sustainability.”
However it remained unclear whether the deal was adequate to pave the way for the ECB to buy Greek bonds or not. The breakthrough last night came after Athens appeared to have shifted its stance slightly from earlier in the week when tensions between Greece and Germany had peaked and two top government ministers had said publicly that Athens mistrusts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Speaking from Thessaloniki, where he met Israeli and Cypriot leaders for talks on energy cooperation, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras remarked to reporters, “The good guys win in the end.” Greek officials have insisted over the past week that Greece has won the right to debt relief.
“Greece has fulfilled its commitments and adopted the required reforms. Now it is time for the Europeans to comply with their commitments on debt relief,” President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in comments published in Germany’s Handelsblatt. He appealed to Schaeuble to abandon his persistent opposition to Greek debt relief. “Anything else would not be worthy of a great European politician,” he said. “It is important for us that our creditors secure the viability of the debt. Otherwise the ECB cannot buy Greek state bonds,” he said, referring to the European Central Bank.
The IMF wants Greek debt to become more sustainable before it channels funds into the country’s bailout program, the organization’s managing director Christine Lagarde told CNBC. “For us to engage and for us to participate financially, more needs to be clarified, defined and approved in terms of restructuring,” she said late on Thursday. “What we believe will be needed is a deferral of interests, an extension of maturity, and a mechanism by which there is an adjustment based on growth … this is where further discussion and negotiation is needed.” Lagarde was speaking in Luxembourg after European finance ministers approved a €8.5 billion loan for Athens that will enable the cash-strapped nation to meet a major July repayment deadline.
European countries have been shouldering the burden of Greece’s current €86 billion rescue fund — its third bailout package since 2010. The IMF financially contributed to Athens’ previous bailouts but refused to join the current pact because it believes Greece needed debt relief — something that European creditors aren’t comfortable with. The organization’s absence has been a thorn in the sides of heavyweight European countries, particularly Germany, who view IMF participation as a key credibility factor. For Berlin to continue backing euro zone loans to Athens, Germany’s parliament is now insisting on IMF contribution. On Thursday, the IMF agreed to offer Athens a standby arrangement of less than $2 billion but won’t be disbursing any of the funds until euro zone countries offer more detail on potential debt relief measures in 2018.
“I’ve always said that the (bailout) program walks on two legs: the leg of policies and the leg of debt sustainability,” Lagarde told CNBC on Thursday. Athens has proved its commitment to key structural reforms, which cover pensions, tax, serial procedures, and labor markets, but the second leg of the bailout program — debt restructuring — needs to be further clarified, she continued. “Progress has been made today, no question about it but more is needed.” Lagarde praised Thursday’s loan agreement, stating that Athens would now be protected from future crisis moments because its financial needs in terms of debt service will be low.
“It (Athens) will actually produce a primary surplus and it should be, in terms of liquidity and stability, in a fairly solid situation to develop its economy to cultivate growth, generate investment , and proceed with the privatization that they have agreed to complete.” On the matter of Brexit negotiations, the IMF chief advised European and U.K. officials to adopt a risk-averse approach. “What is more predictable, more certain, can be calibrated, can be anticipated, can be transitioned into, is going to be more reliable and safer for the people and the economy.” Circumstances were still too premature for the IMF to forecast future economic developments, she added.
As eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels for crucial talks on Greece, Reality Check looks at whether the bailouts the country has received have secured Greece’s economic survival or just created unsustainable debt. Neither Greece nor its creditors would say they are happy with how it has worked out. In 2010, when the Greek debt crisis started, Greece received €110bn in bailout money. And in 2012, the country received a second bailout of €130bn. These loans, from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were deemed necessary to stop Greece going bankrupt. In exchange, Greece was required to make deep public spending cuts, raise taxes and introduce fundamental changes to the public sector and labour legislation. In August 2015, the eurozone countries agreed to give Greece a third bailout, of up to €86bn, on the condition of further changes.
The next tranche of that bailout, which Greece needs in order to honour repayments due in July, is being discussed at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting on Thursday. In 2010, they managed to keep Greece in the euro and prevented the collapse of the common currency. So, from the perspective of the eurozone as a whole, a chaotic “Grexit” did not happen. But seven years on, and many more billions of euros later, was this price worth paying, both from the point of view of Greece’s creditors and of the Greek people? It is impossible to know what the situation would be like now had Greece not received the bailouts, but the consequences of receiving them have been painful. For the Greek people, the bailouts and the austerity measures implemented with them have come at a huge cost.
• Unemployment remains staggeringly high: 22.5% of Greeks were unemployed in March 2017. And almost half of people under the age of 25 were out of work
• Those who do work, earn less. The minimum monthly wage at the beginning of the crisis was €863. It has now fallen to €684
• Pensioners have been hit particularly hard. Pension changes since 2010 mean 43% of pensioners now live on less than €660 a month, according to the Greek government
• Government spending on health was almost halved between 2010 and 2015, while the education budget was cut by 20%
Greece’s creditors, strongly influenced by Germany, demanded that Greece start spending less than it earned. In 2016, for the first time, Greece achieved this. The surplus is small, at €1.3bn or 0.7% of GDP. But this can hardly be seen as a success – the economy has shrunk and the overall debt pile is still going up, not down.
The “fire sale” privatization of Greece started in 2015, following the infamous Syriza referendum in which more than three-fifths of the Greek people voted to reject Troika-imposed bailout conditions – and yet their government, led by Alexis Tsipras, chose to accept the deal anyway. The privatization process reached its peak the next year, when the Greek government sold the public transport giant TrainOSE to the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane S.p.A for 45 million euros. This happened after a very brief bidding period and despite considerable employee pushback, including a 24-hour strike that paralyzed the country. Now, a second round of fire sales is taking place ahead of the upcoming third bailout negotiations for Greece, whose current bailout package will expire in August 2018.
Since last year, the sale of the country’s roads, rights to the use of its ports, and other public sector resources have only yielded around €4 billion – a far cry from the projected €50 billion that were promised when the privatization plan was put in motion. At best, it will result in a 6 billion euro profit, nowhere near enough to cover the ailing Greek economy’s massive overhead spending. In 2016, under the EYATH initiative (representing Thessaloniki’s public sector water workers) and activists, Save Greek Water was launched in an attempt to curb the Syriza administration’s efforts to privatize public water reserves. The initiative enjoyed enormous support from the public and media, and seemed to curbing further efforts to move the privatization talks forward. That was until last December, when an article published by Stavroula Symeonidou, president of the Workers Union of DEYA of Drama, revealed that Greece’s public water sector was being purposefully sabotaged by its own government.
“…DEYAs are not financially dependent on the State/Central Government, therefore they do not, in any way whatsoever, contribute to the public debt… however they are equally restricted in (actually barred from) recruiting any new personnel, which means that over time their already limited resources will reach zero,” Symeonidou wrote. The article also warned about the danger of further levies being imposed on Greek farmers using public water sources like ground- and rainwater wells. This dire prediction came to pass last month, when an “irregular water source charge” was imposed on the major rural regions of the country, directly targeting farmers and households in the affected areas. According to a statement released by the Syriza administration, 2.5% of the proceeds from this levy will be invested in the interest of supporting the Greek public sector – but not the DEYA initiative. This is being seen as an obvious attempt to further hobble any resistance to privatization.
Greece’s financial woes have clobbered spending on state-provided health services, even as demand has spiked because fewer Greeks can pay for private treatment. Some of Athens’ ambulances have up to 1 million kilometers (620,000 miles) — nearly three times the distance to the moon — on the clock, and about half are idle because of a lack of spare parts. At night, fewer than 40 vehicles cover a population of more than 4 million. Paramedic Dimitris Dimitriadis says the service is obliged to respond to every call it receives, even if the callers are just taking advantage of a rule that patients brought to hospitals by ambulance jump the line for treatment. “But then you also get elderly people who can’t afford a taxi fare to the hospital, so they call an ambulance,” he said, driving toward a reported suicide in central Athens. Upon arrival, the crew was told that the injured person had been taken to a hospital by relatives.
Unions say rescuers do their best against the odds, focusing on getting urgent cases to emergency treatment within minutes of receiving a call. But other patients, who may still require hospital treatment, can end up waiting well over an hour. Athens ambulance workers’ union leader Giorgos Mathiopoulos says about 70 of the capital’s 140 ambulances are out of action, and the fleet needs to be doubled in size. “Up to 30% of the immobilized ambulances can’t be repaired” and many are stripped for parts to keep others going, Mathiopoulos said. “When we’re trying to get to an incident as fast as possible … and the ambulance has that many kilometers on the clock, it’s a worry.”
Official data on Thursday showed an uptick in refugee and migrant arrivals from Turkey to Greece’s shores, increasing concerns among residents on the Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis. A total of 151 people were reported as entering Greece in 24 hours on Thursday, 74 of whom landed on Chios, 54 on Lesvos and 23 on other islands, slightly above the 146 arrivals in the previous 24-hour period. According to official figures, the number of migrants and refugees that reached Greece between June 8 and Thursday morning came to 538, a significant rise from May when daily arrivals were in the double digits.
The upsurge is stoking fears on islands such as Chios that are already struggling to cope with thousands of refugees and migrants stranded by slow processing and deportation procedures. Residents of Chios held a rally on Thursday night to protest plans for a pre-departure facility on the island, where authorities said they will temporarily detain dozens of migrants who are not eligible for asylum before they are deported. Protesters say that the official line in favor of the facility, pointing to a decrease in arrivals on Lesvos since a similar center was opened there, are disproved by the uptick observed in recent days. A similar rally was also held on the island of Samos on Thursday.