Apr 162020
 


Dorothea Lange Richmond, California 1942

 

Coronavirus Testing Hits Dramatic Slowdown In US (Pol.)
Antibody Tests For Coronavirus Can Miss The Mark (NPR)
The Coronavirus Is Particularly Unkind To Those Who Are Obese (LAT)
New York Taps Mckinsey To Develop ‘Trump-Proof’ Economic Reopening Plan (R.)
New Zealand PM: Many Restrictions To Be Kept In Place When Lockdown Ends (R.)
Investors Are Underestimating The Economic Shock The World Is Facing (AEP)
Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress Over ‘Scam’ Preventing Appointments (R.)
US Coronavirus Small-Business Program Funding Nearly Spent (LAT)
Real Time US Labor Market Estimates During 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak (Bick)
Overcapacity/Oversupply Everywhere: Massive Deflation Ahead (CHS)
US Opposition Seen Stalling Major IMF Liquidity Boost (R.)
We Scientists Said Lock Down. But UK Politicians Refused To Listen (G.)
Inception (Ben Hunt)
The Golden Rule (Ben Hunt)
Major Blow To Keystone XL Pipeline As Judge Revokes Key Permit (G.)
FBI Repeatedly Warned Steele Dossier Fed By Russian Misinformation (Solomon)

 

 

We are facing prolonged discussions and chaos about testing. Everyone wants to reopen their economies, but that is not feasible if there is no testing. Nobody wants to go to a bar or an office or factory floor if they can catch a deadly virus there. Very few people will volunteer to sit on, or work on, a plane or train under such conditions, and few countries would welcome travelers anyway.

But from what I gather, testing facilities and capacities are few and far between, other than perhaps in Wuhan or maybe maybe Seoul. Testing 1% of people doesn’t get you anywhere, not with 15-50% of people being asymptomatic carriers infecting others around them.

Many countries claim they don’t need to do more testing, and most do that only because they can’t. And then you get into antibodies testing, and you find the mess and uncertainties are even bigger there. The entire situation screams for one thing: lockdown, minimize contact, but that’s what they all want to get away from.

 

• US records nearly 2,600 #coronavirus deaths in 24 hours – a new record and the heaviest daily toll of any country, Johns Hopkins University reports.

• The total number of US deaths is now 28,326 — higher than any other nation

 

 

Cases 2,094,884 (+ 80,884 from yesterday’s 2,014,000)

Deaths 135,569 (+ 7,977 from yesterday’s 127,592)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close- (Note: Brazil and Russia are climbing fast)

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases remains at 21% –

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live:

 

 

 

 

How accurate is it anyway?

Coronavirus Testing Hits Dramatic Slowdown In US (Pol.)

The number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past week, even though new infections are still surging in many states and officials are desperately trying to ramp up testing so the country can reopen. One reason for the drop-off may be the narrow testing criteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last revised in March. The agency’s guidelines prioritize hospitalized patients, health care workers and those thought to be especially vulnerable to the disease, such as the elderly. Health providers have been turning away others in part due to shortages of the swabs used to collect samples.

It’s not clear whether demand has peaked among the groups on the CDC’s priority list. But after being overwhelmed for weeks, commercial labs say they are now sitting with unused testing capacity waiting for samples to arrive. The continued glitches in the U.S. testing system are threatening to impede attempts to reopen the economy and return to normal life. Expanding testing as much as possible is essential so officials have enough data to determine when it’s safe to lift social distancing measures and allow people to go back to work. Continued testing beyond that point will help officials detect — and stamp out — sparks that could set off new outbreaks. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told POLITICO on Tuesday the White House Coronavirus Task Force is continuing to discuss whether changes to the testing criteria are warranted.

“This is part of an ongoing discussion that we’re having,” he said. “People are working overtime on that one.” Hahn’s comments came as the American Clinical Laboratory Association reported that the number of samples commercial labs handle each day fell from 108,000 on April 5 to 75,000 by April 12. The group’s members, including commercial giants Quest and LabCorp, analyze about two-thirds of all coronavirus tests in the U.S. “ACLA members have now eliminated testing backlogs, and have considerable capacity that is not being used,” ACLA President Julie Khani told POLITICO. “We stand ready to perform more testing and are in close communication with public health partners about ways we can support additional needs.”

Read more …

You couldn’t create a bigger mess if you tried with all your might.

Antibody Tests For Coronavirus Can Miss The Mark (NPR)

Dozens of blood tests are rapidly coming on the market to identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus by checking for antibodies against it. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t set standards for these kinds of tests, but even those that meet the government’s informal standard may produce many false answers and provide false assurances. The imperfect results could be a big disappointment to people who are looking toward these tests to help them return to something resembling a normal life. First of all, it’s not clear whether someone who has antibodies to the coronavirus in their blood is actually immune. Your body produces these antibodies within about a week of infection.

In many other diseases, people do have a period of immunity after they have been exposed to a microbe and recover from illness. But that has not been demonstrated yet with the coronavirus. Another problem is that test results are wrong much more frequently than you might expect. While tests may truthfully say they are more than 90% accurate, in practical use they can often perform far below that level. [..] Dr. Jeremy Gabrysch runs a mobile medical service in Austin, Texas. He got a supply of antibody tests made by a major Chinese manufacturer and says he has tested several hundred people in the last few days. “We offer the test for people who may have suspected they might have had coronavirus back in February or March when testing with the nasal swab [and PCR diagnostic test] was very limited,” he says. The charge: $49 a test.

Gabrysch says he only tests people when he has other evidence they might have been exposed. “If they had an illness that sounds like it could have been coronavirus and they had a positive antibody test, then it’s very likely that this is a true positive, that they indeed had COVID-19,” he says. The test he’s using, produced by Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech in China, boasts a specificity of 99%, which means it only falsely says a blood sample contains antibodies against the coronavirus 1% of the time. But despite that impressive statistic, a test like that is not 99% correct, and in fact in some circumstances could be much worse.

That’s because of this counterintuitive fact: The validity of a test depends not only on the technology, but how common the disease is in the population you’re sampling. “It is kind of a strange thing,” admits Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who studies issues surrounding tests and screening. “An antibody test is much more likely to be wrong in a population with very little COVID exposure.” This is a result of statistics, rather than the technology of any given test.

Read more …

But not those above 65. A very curious finding.

The Coronavirus Is Particularly Unkind To Those Who Are Obese (LAT)

America’s obesity epidemic appears to be making the coronavirus outbreak more dangerous — and potentially more deadly — in the United States, new research suggests. For younger and middle-aged adults in particular, carrying excess weight may significantly boost the likelihood of becoming severely ill with COVID-19. The evidence for this comes from thousands of COVID-19 patients who sought treatment in emergency departments in New York, and it’s prompting alarm among doctors and other health experts. In the U.S., 42.4% of adults have obesity, which means their body-mass index, or BMI, is 30 or more.

In one of two new studies released this week, COVID-19 patients who were younger than 60 and had a BMI between 30 and 34 were twice as likely as their non-obese peers to be admitted to the hospital for acute care instead of being sent home from the ER. They were also 1.8 times more likely to require critical care in a hospital’s intensive care unit. More severe obesity posed an even greater risk to COVID-19 patients in this under-60 age group. When these patients had a BMI of 35 or higher, they were 2.2 times more likely than their non-obese peers to need standard hospital care and 3.6 times more likely to end up in the ICU. “Obesity appears to be a previously unrecognized risk factor for hospital admission and need for critical care,” wrote the authors of the study published this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

But that only applies to relatively younger patients; among those ages 65 and older, there was no link between obesity status and hospital care. The authors, from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, suggested that the country’s high prevalence of obesity might be nudging rates of severe illness and death higher in the U.S. than in South Korea, China and Italy, where obesity rates are lower. The results also give doctors a new way to predict which COVID-19 patients who are not yet senior citizens run a higher risk of hospitalization and critical illness. “Unfortunately, obesity in people <60 years is a newly identified epidemiologic risk factor,” wrote the researchers, who included 3,615 patients in their study.

Read more …

We need more Wall Street.

New York Taps Mckinsey To Develop ‘Trump-Proof’ Economic Reopening Plan (R.)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has hired high-powered consultants to develop a science-based plan for the safe economic reopening of the region that can thwart expected pressure from President Donald Trump to move more rapidly, state government sources told Reuters on Wednesday. Cuomo, along with many other U.S. governors, shut his state economy to limit the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus and has warned that he is are prepared to keep businesses shut – perhaps for several months more – unless he can assure public safety. Governors from seven East Coast states formed a coalition on Monday, led by New York, to develop a joint reopening plan. Three governors from the West Coast formed a similar plan. The 10 states, mostly led by Democrats, together make up 38% of the U.S. economy.


As part of Cuomo’s effort, McKinsey & Company is producing models on testing, infections and other key data points that will underpin decisions on how and when to reopen the region’s economy, the sources said. Cuomo has also recalled three former top aides: Bill Mulrow, a senior adviser at Blackstone Group; Steven Cohen, an executive vice president and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Inc; and Larry Schwartz, a deputy Westchester County executive. Deloitte is also involved in developing the regional plan, a source said. The goal is to “Trump-proof” the plan, said an adviser to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “We think Trump ultimately will blink on this, but if not, we need to push back, and we are reaching out to top experts and other professionals to come up with a bullet-proof plan,” to open on the state’s terms, said a Cuomo adviser.

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Please don’t claim you’re about to eliminate the virus. Ramp up testing as of your life depended on it.

New Zealand PM: Many Restrictions To Be Kept In Place When Lockdown Ends (R.)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that significant restrictions would be kept in place even if the country eases the nationwide one-month lockdown enforced to beat the spread of the coronavirus. New Zealand introduced its highest, level 4 lockdown measures in March, under which offices, schools and all non-essential services like bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds were shut down. A decision on whether to lift the lockdown would be made on April 20. The measures were tougher than most other countries, including neighbouring Australia, where some businesses were allowed to operate.


Ardern said if New Zealand moves to the lower level 3 of restriction, it would permit aspects of the economy to reopen in a safe way but there will be no “rush to normality”. “We have an opportunity to do something no other country has achieved, eliminating the virus,” Ardern said at a news conference. New Zealand reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the total to 1,401 in a nation of about 5 million people. There have been nine deaths. Ardern said under level 3, some people could return to work and businesses reopen if they are able to provide contactless engagement with customers. Shops, malls, hardware stores and restaurants will remain shut but can permit online or phone purchases.

Read more …

It’s been a while since I saw a piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Very much stuck in business-only mode.

Investors Are Underestimating The Economic Shock The World Is Facing (AEP)

Investors are repeating the mistake they made all through February and early March. They are again underestimating the immense economic shock of COVID-19. Can there be any parallel in market history to the surreal clash of narratives we saw this week? Global bourses soared even as the International Monetary Fund painted a series of scenarios ranging from dire – the most violent slump since the Great Depression – to catastrophic, with all the potential chain-reactions spelt out in its Global Financial Stability Report. Yet Goldman Sachs tells us that COVID-19 is under control and the worst is over. “The number of new active cases looks to be peaking globally, projections of cumulative fatalities and peak healthcare usage are coming down,” it says.

From this breathtaking premise, Wall Street’s fashion leader argues that we should “look through” the Great Lockdown to sunlit uplands ahead, anticipating a further 8% rise in the S&P 500 index by the end of the year. We can disregard normal bear market rules. This time we will avoid the textbook sequence of events in recessions: a swift crash followed by a torrid buy-the-dip rebound, and then a slow downward grind over months as reality hits home, ending only in capitulation at far lower levels. Authorities have spared us such a fate by rescuing everything immediately. “The Fed and Congress have precluded the prospect of a complete economic collapse,” it says.

I agree that $5 trillion of central bank QE, vast fiscal packages (10% of GDP in the US), and blanket guarantees, have averted disaster. They have – in a disjointed way – bought time and given us a chance of emerging from this global sudden stop without irreparable damage to the productive system. What is surely wrong is to imagine that this pandemic is a one-off shock lasting three months or so, followed by an early release from lockdowns and a swift return to near normality. The first glimpses of antibody data – such as Denmark’s test on blood donors – show that we are nowhere near the safe threshold of herd immunity.

They confirm fears that the mortality rate is at least 1% of infections and that therefore no democracies can let the virus run its course without overwhelming their health services and destroying their political legitimacy. The supposed trade-off between lives and the economy is an illusion. The most certain way to turn this crisis into a depression is to give up too soon, as Spain is already doing, and Donald Trump is itching to do. We would end up in the worst of all worlds, with multiple waves, and another forced closure of the economy to avert a winter tsunami, requiring trillions more in fiscal relief. [..] “We need a vaccine. Until we get one, the stock markets are in cloud-cuckoo land,” says professor Anthony Costello from University College London.

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That wouldn’t be wise.

Trump Threatens To Adjourn Congress Over ‘Scam’ Preventing Appointments (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to shut down Congress so he could fill vacancies in his administration without Senate confirmation, saying he was frustrated lawmakers were not in Washington to vote on his nominees for federal judgeships and other government positions. “The current practice of leaving town, while conducting phony pro forma sessions, is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis,” an angry Trump told reporters at his daily White House briefing on the coronavirus crisis. “It is a scam that they do. It’s a scam and everyone knows it, and it’s been that way for a long time,” Trump said. No U.S. president has ever used the authority, included in the Constitution, to adjourn both chambers of Congress if they cannot agree on a date to adjourn.


It was not immediately clear if Congress’ current absence from Washington because of the global pandemic could be classified as being due to a failure to agree on an adjournment date. The Senate and House of Representatives have both announced plans to return to Washington on May 4, and had been scheduled to be out of Washington for two weeks in April for their annual Easter break even before the coronavirus crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed nominations with Trump on Wednesday and promised to find ways to confirm those “considered mission-critical” to the pandemic, a McConnell spokesman said. “However, under Senate rules, that would take consent from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer,” the spokesman said.

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It was obvious before it started that it would be a mess.

US Coronavirus Small-Business Program Funding Nearly Spent (LAT)

Democrats and the Trump administration were at a stalemate Wednesday over how to resupply the popular Paycheck Protection Program, which helps small businesses cope during the coronavirus pandemic and is due to run out of money as soon as Wednesday night. The standoff came as Senate Democrats pushed the administration to lay the groundwork for how the nation may reemerge from social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Republicans and Democrats agree they need to provide more funding to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to help small businesses maintain their payrolls amid the deep economic fallout from the coronavirus. But the GOP balked at additional Democratic demands, such as tagging some of the funding for businesses that don’t have an existing relationship with a bank that supply the loans.

Participating banks have largely given preference to their current customers. As of 9 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the Small Business Administration had approved 1.5 million applications totaling more than $324 billion of the $349 billion that Congress authorized in last month’s $2.2-trillion coronavirus relief package, according to the agency. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over small business, said that the program is expected to “grind to a halt” Wednesday evening as it hits its spending limit. “Now 700,000 small business applications are in limbo & no new loans will be made until the game of chicken in Congress ends,” Rubio said on Twitter. “Inexcusable.”

[..] The standoff over the funding program comes as Democrats on Wednesday released a national coronavirus testing strategy, arguing that they’re filling a void left by the Trump administration, which hasn’t released a plan to scale up COVID-19 testing to allow Americans to return to work and school. “The U.S. lags the world in testing and we lead the world in COVID-19 cases,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “We are raising the alarm bells.” [..] Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairmen of two Senate committees responsible for health policy and spending, have said they want to make COVID-19 antibody testing free to all Americans. They acknowledged the need for widespread testing before people will feel comfortable resuming normal activities outside their homes. But Alexander said the money Congress has already authorized should be used to ramp up testing — not new funding.

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It takes weeks for jobs numbers to come out. That is too long in virustime. These guys try to fill the gap.

Real Time US Labor Market Estimates During 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak (Bick)

Labor market statistics for the United States are collected once a month and published with a three week delay. In normal times, this procedure results in timely and useful statistics. But these are not normal times. Currently, the most recent statistics refer to the week of March 8- 14; new statistics will not be available until May 8. In the meantime, the Coronavirus outbreak has shut down a substantial portion of the U.S. economy. More timely and frequent data on the impact on the labor force would surely be useful for both policy makers and the broader public. Our core survey closely follows the CPS, which allows us to construct estimates consistent with theirs. The first wave of our survey covers the week of March 29-April 4. Our findings reveal unprecedented changes in the US labor market since the most recent CPS data were collected:

1. The employment rate decreased from 72.7% to 60.7%, implying 24 million jobs lost.
2. The unemployment rate increased from 4.5% to 20.2%.
3. Hours worked per working age adult declined 25% from the second week of March. Half of this decline is due to lower hours per employed as opposed to lower employment.
4. Over 60% of work hours were from home, compared with roughly 10% in 2017-2018.
5. Those who still have their jobs are working fewer hours; 21% report a decline in earnings.
6. Declines were most pronounced for workers who were female, older, and less educated.

Effective policies require timely and accurate data on the scale of the downturn, yet traditional data sources are only made available at a significant lag. For example, the March 2020 Employment Situation report by the the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only reflected labor market outcomes from the week ending Friday March 13, which precedes most major developments related to the outbreak. The April 2020 Employment Situation report will reflect labor market outcomes from the third week of April, but is not scheduled for release until May 8. The gap between the data needs of policymakers and the time lag of traditional data sources has left policymakers “flying blind” to a significant degree. The goal of this project is to help fill that void. [..]

Our major findings for the last week of March are as follows.
1. Dramatic reductions in employment. (a) We find an employment rate of 60.7% during the first week of April, compared with 72.7% in the second week of March, implying 24 million fewer workers. (b) We find an unemployment rate of 20.2% during the first week of April, compared with 4.5% in the second week of March. One positive note is that over half of the unemployed reported being temporarily laid off, suggesting that many could return to work quickly if conditions improve.

2. Even larger declines in aggregate labor supply than implied by employment alone. (a) Hours worked per working age adult declined 25% from March. In the first week of April, individuals worked 20.4 hours on average, compared with 27.5 weekly hours in the second week of March. (b) Hours worked per employed declined 12% from March. Even those who are still employed are working 4.5 fewer hours per week, a reduction of over half a day of work. This implies that just under half of the decline in hours per working age adult were due to reductions in hours worked per employed, and are therefore not reflected in changes to the employment rate.

3. Unprecedented increase of the share of hours worked from home. (a) We find that 63.8% of work hours were from home during the first week of April, compared with roughly 10% in the Spring of 2017 and 2018.

4. Lower earnings even for individuals still working the same job as in February. (a) We find that 21.9% of workers still working the same job as in February experienced a reduction in their earnings last week compared to February. About half of these reported that their reduction in earnings was 50% or larger. (b) At the same time, 11% of workers with the same job as in February report higher weekly earnings last week compared with February. 5. Disparities in labor market outcomes by sex, age, education, race, and hourly status. (a) Although negative effects are widespread, they are more pronounced among workers who are female, older, and less educated.

Read more …

Charles is right. Restart the whole circus now and there will be no buyers.

Overcapacity/Oversupply Everywhere: Massive Deflation Ahead (CHS)

Oil is the poster child of the forces driving massive deflation: overcapacity / oversupply and a collapse in demand. Overcapacity / oversupply and a collapse in demand are not limited to the crude oil market; rather, they are the dominant realities in the global economy. Yes, there are shortages in a few high-demand areas such as PPE (personal protective equipment), but across the entire spectrum of global supply and demand, there is nothing but a vast sea of overcapacity / oversupply and a systemic decline in demand as far as the eye can see. Here’s a partial list of commodities that are in Overcapacity / oversupply:

1. Overvalued assets 2. Overpriced income streams (as income craters, so will the asset generating the income) 3. Labor: low-skill everywhere, high-skill in sectors experiencing systemic collapse in demand 4. AirBnB and other vacation rental properties 5. Overpriced flats, condos and houses 6. Overpriced rental apartments 7. Overpriced commercial office space 8. Overpriced retail space 9. Overpriced used vehicles 10. Overpriced collectibles

I think you get the idea. Should China restart its export factories, then almost everything being manufactured will immediately be in oversupply, as the global export sector was plagued with mass overcapacity long before the Covid-19 pandemic crushed demand. Incomes will crater as revenues and profits crash, small businesses close their doors, never to re-open, local governments tighten spending, and whatever competition still exists will relentlessly push the price of labor, goods and services lower. Globalization has generated hyper-specialization in local and regional economies, stripping them of resilience. Fully exposed to the demand flows of a globalized class of consumers with surplus discretionary income, regions specialized in tourism, manufacturing, commodity mining, etc.

All these regions are now facing a structural collapse of global demand, and they have no diversified local economy to cushion the blow to jobs, incomes, profits and tax revenues. Thousands of small business that could barely squeak through a 20% decline in revenues are facing a 50% or more decline as far as the eye can see. With costs such as rent, labor, fees, taxes and healthcare at nosebleed levels, an enormously consequential number of small businesses globally cannot survive more than a modest, brief drop in revenues, as their costs remain high even as their sales plummet: costs are sticky, profits slide quickly to zero and beyond.

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No, I don’t like Soros being involved, and no, I don’t like the US squeezing Iran in virustime.

But most of all, all countries should think twice before letting the IMF have anything to do with their money supply. It doesn’t come free.

US Opposition Seen Stalling Major IMF Liquidity Boost (R.)

U.S. opposition is expected to prevent the International Monetary Fund this week from deploying one of its most powerful tools to help countries fight the coronavirus: creating a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights. The move, akin to a central bank “printing” new money, has been advocated by economists, finance ministers and non-profit groups to provide as much as $500 billion in urgently-needed liquidity for the IMF’s 189 member countries. SDRs, based on dollars, euro, yen, sterling and yuan, are the IMF’s official unit of exchange. Member countries hold them at the Fund in proportion to their shareholdings. The IMF last approved a $250-billion new allocation of SDRs in 2009, during the last financial crisis, boosting liquidity for cash-strapped countries. Doing so again now could provide more flexibility to the 100 countries that have already sought IMF emergency loans and grants, and allow new lending to countries with “unsustainable” debt burdens, such as Argentina.


An SDR expansion has attracted some celebrity advocates, such as investor George Soros and U2 lead singer Bono’s ONE anti-poverty organization, along with trade unions and faith-based groups. Finance officials will debate the issue during this week’s virtual IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, but multiple sources familiar with the Fund’s deliberations say the United States, the IMF’s dominant shareholder, actively opposes such a move. The Trump administration opposes providing countries such as Iran and China with billions of dollars in new resources with no conditions, two of the sources said. [..] The U.S. Treasury Department would prefer to see the IMF focus on using its $1 trillion in existing resources, including $100 billion in emergency loans and grants, to aid countries’ health responses to the crisis, the sources said.

Read more …

You would think this should wake up Britain. But what are the odds?

We Scientists Said Lock Down. But UK Politicians Refused To Listen (G.)

In mid-February a colleague mentioned that for the first time in his life he was more concerned than his mother, who had been relatively blase about the risks of Covid-19. It felt odd for him to be telling her to take care. We are both professors in a department of infectious disease epidemiology, and we were worried. Two months on, that anxiety has not gone, although it’s also been joined by a sense of sadness. It’s now clear that so many people have died, and so many more are desperately ill, simply because our politicians refused to listen to and act on advice. Scientists like us said lock down earlier; we said test, trace, isolate. But they decided they knew better.

Am I being unfair? The government assures us that its decisions and timing are based on science, as if it is a neutral, value-free process resulting in a specific set of instructions. In reality, the science around coronavirus is in its infancy and developing daily, with researchers across the world trying to understand how the virus spreads, how the body responds – and how to treat it and control it. The speed at which our knowledge has increased is impressive, from the sequencing of the virus in January through to having candidate vaccines in early February.

Mathematical models are being refined to predict the extent and speed of spread and estimate the impact of control methods. My own group is studying the response of communities, showing how the epidemic is amplifying existing social inequalities. People with the lowest household income are far less likely, but no less willing, to be able to work from home or to self-isolate. But while scientists carry out observations and experiments, testing, iterating and discovering new knowledge, it is the role of policymakers to act on the best available evidence. In the context of a rapidly growing threat, that means listening to experts with experience of responding to previous epidemics.

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Ben Hunt is angry enough to start a revolution. While he’s also running a program delivering masks and other PPE to medical workers.

Inception (Ben Hunt)

The past few months are not a litany of errors and honest mistakes by the institutions we have charged with protecting us from disease and ruin. They are a litany of betrayals, and their Answers – their False Stories – have been revealed as lies. First we’re going to vaccinate ourselves to their Answers, to their False Stories, so that we think for ourselves again. Without this, we will inevitably fall back into the patterns of crony capitalism and obscene financialization that got us here in the first place. It’s a vaccine that we don’t administer anymore … an intentional decision by the high-functioning sociopaths and political entrepreneurs who rule us, of course.

Like all effective vaccines, it mimics the virus itself in its ability to trigger a physiological response in us. They want to nudge you into allegiance to a policy or a vote or a party. We want to un-nudge you into independence of spirit and thought. They want to infect you with an Answer. We want to innoculate you with a Process. The Process is one of the Old Stories. It is, in fact, the Oldest Story of what makes for a good and just human society. It is a narrative that has directly motivated hundreds of millions of people to organize themselves in hundreds of thousands of beneficial social forms, large and small, for thousands of years. We’re going to use that incepted Process to burn down these systems of iniquity from within and below.

We’re going use that incepted Process to build something better together, as brothers and sisters exercising our birthright – our autonomy of mind. I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to develop millions and millions of doses of the Old Story vaccine, and I’m going to tell you exactly how we’re going to administer them and exactly how we are going to change the world from below and from within. And you won’t believe me.

I mean, this happens all the time. I will sit down with someone and walk them through the entire plan … how we’re developing the science of what Isaac Asimov called “psychohistory”, how that gives us the ability to not only measure the narratives of social control that oligarchic institutions broadcast but also to design effective jamming narratives of our own, how we create a decentralized epistemic community of distributed trust and mutual support that we call the Pack, how we burn down these oligarchic institutions from below by jamming their Answers and from within by replacing the current sociopathic leadership with members of the Pack … and it is literally as if a switch goes off in their head and their eyes go dim. But then I’ll say “yada-yada-Trump” or “yada-yada-Biden” or “yada-yada-the-Fed” or “yada-yada-Bitcoin” and they’ll perk right up again!

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I’m cheating a bit. This is part of the article above, Inception. But the article is long and this is a very good bit.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.”

The Golden Rule (Ben Hunt)

It’s the Golden Rule. It’s the Oldest Story of fundamental human ethics. You can find it in ancient Egyptian stories, preserved in papyri from the Middle Kingdom. You can find it in the ancient Sanskrit epic “Mahabarata”, as the way in which dharma manifests itself in human affairs. You can find it in the ancient Greek writings of Thales and Pythagoras. You can find it in the ancient Persian texts of Zoroaster. But here’s my favorite: A gentile came before two teachers, Shammai the strict and Hillel the tolerant, and to each in turn said, “I will convert to Judaism if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away. But Hillel said to the gentile, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.” The rest is commentary.


The Golden Rule is all you need to know to organize a good and just society. Everything else, all of the rules and principles and books and words and laws that engulf us … ALL of it … is just commentary. The Golden Rule is the vaccine. The Golden Rule is the simplest and most powerful form of the idea of reciprocity, ready and primed for inception in every human dreamer. The Golden Rule is the formal description of empathy. The Golden Rule is the only law of the Pack. The Golden Rule IS the full hearts of Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. The Golden Rule is the meme that we’re going to inject in a mass-customized way straight into everyone’s veins with the Narrative Machine. And then YOU are going to burn down the current system of oligarchic iniquity from below and within. And then YOU are going to change the world. All on your own. With no centralized organization and no Answer imposed from above.

Read more …

Note that this takes place as the world is fast running out of space to store oil reserves in. I’m waiting for numbers of fully loaded tankers floating off ports for weeks or months.

Major Blow To Keystone XL Pipeline As Judge Revokes Key Permit (G.)

The controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been dealt a major setback, after a judge revoked a key permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers without properly assessing the impact on endangered species. In a legal challenge brought by a coalition of environmental groups, a federal judge in Montana ordered the Army Corps to suspend all filling and dredging activities until it conducts formal consultations compliant with the Endangered Species Act. The ruling revokes the water-crossing permit needed to complete construction of the pipeline, and is expected to cause major delays to the divisive project. Keystone XL is a 1,179-mile pipeline which would transport around 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, eventually heading to refineries on the Gulf Coast.


Campaigners welcomed Wednesday’s ruling as a victory for tribal rights and environmental protection. “The court has rightfully ruled against the Trump administration’s efforts to fast track this nasty pipeline at any cost. We won’t allow fossil fuel corporations and backdoor politicians to violate the laws that protect people and the planet,” said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin of environmental group 350.org Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizer Alliance, said: “The revoking of the permit is a victory for treaty rights and democracy. Tribal nations have a renewed opportunity to exercise our legal and inherent rights to protect the water of the Missouri river bioregion for all who live, farm and work on the land.”

Read more …

Prepare to hear much more about this from Horowitz. Someone will do a major write-up.

FBI Repeatedly Warned Steele Dossier Fed By Russian Misinformation (Solomon)

The FBI received repeated warnings dating to 2015 that Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy it used to build a case against President Trump, had concerning contacts with Russian oligarchs and intelligence figures that might call into question the credibility of his intelligence reporting, newly declassified documents showed Monday. The suspect sources included a person described as a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a Russian intelligence figure under separate counterintelligence investigation by the FBI, the memos show. And the red flags included a warning that Russian intelligence appeared to be aware as early as July 2016 that Steele was working on a U.S. election-related investigation, making him susceptible to misinformation.

The revelations are found in newly declassified footnotes from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December, 2019 report about failures in the Russia probe that included using false evidence to secure a FISA warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016. Some of those red flags were raised prior to the bureau’s decision to rely on Steele’s dossier as key evidence in seeking the FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign in the final days of the 2016 election, and nearly all were raised before Special Counsel Robert Mueller opened his probe in spring 2017.

For instance, FBI officials urged in 2015 that Steele undergo a re-evaluation as an informant (a “validation review,” in spy parlance) after the bureau’s transnational organized crime office learned that he had received contact from five Russian oligarchs, all of whom wanted to have contact with the bureau. “The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity,” one footnote stated.

Read more …

 

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Oct 212019
 
 October 21, 2019  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait with dark felt hat at the easel 1886

 

Recession Likely Years Away Due To Bullish Trump Effect – Shiller (CNBC)
Global Economy Faces $19 Trillion Corporate Debt Timebomb – IMF (G.)
“Toe The Line Or Be Destroyed”: Tulsi Gabbard (ZH)
Will the Democratic Party Exist after 2020 Election? (OffG)
Why 97% Of Congress Get Re-Elected Each Year (F.)
Scottish Court Asked To Delay Ruling On Johnson’s Brexit Extension Request (R.)
Many Firms In China’s Third-Biggest Province Struggle To Pay Debt – S&P (R.)
Chile’s Deadly Weekend Of Fire As Youth Anger Ignites (R.)
Boeing Expresses Regret As Text Messages Plunge Company Into New Crisis (R.)

 

 

If a crisis next year is seen as the only way to derail Trump, don’t be surprised if one is fabricated.

Recession Likely Years Away Due To Bullish Trump Effect – Shiller (CNBC)

Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Shiller believes a recession may be years away due to a bullish Trump effect in the market. According to the Yale University professor, President Donald Trump is creating an environment that’s conducive to strong consumer spending, and it’s a major force that should hold off a recession. “Consumers are hanging in there. You might wonder why that would be at this time so late into the cycle. This is the longest expansion ever. Now, you can say the expansion was partly [President Barack] Obama,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday. “But lingering on this long needs an explanation.”


Shiller, a behavioral finance expert who’s out with the new book “Narrative Economics,” believes Americans are still opening their wallets wide based on what President Trump exemplifies: Consumption. “I think that [strong spending] has to do with the inspiration for many people provided by our motivational speaker president who models luxurious living,” said Shiller. Shiller emphasizes there’s still uncertainty and risk surrounding Wall Street. Before the markets can take-off, Shiller stresses President Trump needs to get past the impeachment inquiry. He sees this as the biggest threat to his optimistic forecast.

Read more …

From last week, but pretty timeless.

Global Economy Faces $19 Trillion Corporate Debt Timebomb – IMF (G.)

Low interest rates are encouraging companies to take on a level of debt that risks becoming a $19tn (£15tn) timebomb in the event of another global recession, the International Monetary Fund has said. In its half-yearly update on the state of the world’s financial markets, the IMF said that almost 40% of the corporate debt in eight leading countries – the US, China, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain – would be impossible to service if there was a downturn half as serious as that of a decade ago.

The IMF noted that the stimulus provided by central banks in both developed and developing countries had the side-effect of encouraging firms to borrow more, even though many would have trouble paying it back. Officials at the Washington-based organisation fear that the buildup of debt makes the global financial system highly vulnerable and are telling member states not to repeat the mistake of the early 2000s, when warning signs of a possible market meltdown were ignored.


The IMF said share prices in the US and Japan appeared to be overvalued, while the credit spreads in bond markets – the compensation demanded by investors against risk – seemed to be too low, given the state of the global economy. Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci, two senior IMF officials responsible for the Global Financial Stability Report, said: “A sharp, sudden tightening in financial conditions could unmask these vulnerabilities and put pressures on asset price valuations.” In a blogpost published alongside the GFSR, Adrian and Natalucci noted: “Corporations in eight major economies are taking on more debt and their ability to service it is weakening.

Read more …

Let’s see how nasty Hillary will get.

“Toe The Line Or Be Destroyed”: Tulsi Gabbard (ZH)

Tulsi Gabbard unleashed her latest counterattack to the establishment hit-job against her, after Hillary Clinton suggested she’s an Russian asset. “If you stand up to the rich and powerful elite and the war machine, they will destroy you and discredit your message…,” says Gabbard, who said she’s suffered smears “from day one of this campaign.” In a Sunday tweet accompanied by a video which has nearly 450,000 views on Twitter (and 18,000 on YouTube) as of this writing, Gabbard writes “Hillary & her gang of rich, powerful elite are going after me to send a msg to YOU: “Shut up, toe the line, or be destroyed.” But we, the people, will NOT be silenced.”

Read more …

Durham’s probe has just been widened again.

Will the Democratic Party Exist after 2020 Election? (OffG)

As a result of the corrupt foundation of the Russiagate allegations, Attorney General Bob Barr and Special Investigator John Durham appear hot on the trail with law enforcement in Italy as they have apparently scared the bejesus out of what little common sense remains among the Democratic hierarchy as if Barr/Durham might be headed for Obama’s Oval Office. Barr’s earlier comment before the Senate that “spying did occur’ and that ‘it’s a big deal’ when an incumbent administration (ie the Obama Administration) authorizes a counter-Intelligence operation on an opposing candidate (ie Donald Trump) has the Dems in panic-stricken overdrive – and that is what is driving the current Impeachment Inquiry.

With the stark realization that none of the DNC’s favored top tier candidates has the mojo to go the distance, the Democrats have now focused on a July 25th phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which Trump allegedly ‘pressured’ Zelenskyy to investigate Joe Biden’s relationship with Burisma, the country’s largest natural gas provider. At issue is any hanky panky involving Burisma payments to Rosemont Seneca Partners, an equity firm owned by Joe’s errant son, Hunter, who served on Burisma’s Board for a modest $50,000 a month. Zelenskyy, who defeated the US-endorsed incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a landslide victory, speaks Russian, was elected to clean up corruption and end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.


The war in the Donbass began as a result of the US State Department’s role in the overthrow of democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Trump’s first priority on July 25th was Crowd Strike, a cybersecurity firm with links to the HRC campaign which was hired by the DNC to investigate Russian hacking of its server. The Dems have reason to be concerned since it is worth contemplating why the FBI did not legally mandate that the DNC turn its server over to them for an official Federal forensic inspection. One can only speculate…those chickens may be coming home to roost.

Read more …

And why the Democratic party will survive: the funneling of government money to donors.

Why 97% Of Congress Get Re-Elected Each Year (F.)

How is 97 percent of Congress able to get re-elected each year even though only 17 percent of the American people believe our representatives are doing a good job? It’s called an incumbent protection system. Taxpayers have a right to know how it works. Recently, our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com, mashed up the federal checkbook with the congressional campaign donor database. We found powerful members of Congress soliciting campaign donations from federal contractors based in their districts. We followed the money and found a culture of conflict-of-interest.

The confluence of federal money, campaign cash, private employment, investments, prestigious committee appointments, political power, nepotism, and other conflicts are a fact pattern. Furthermore, members of Congress own investment stock in, are employed by, and receive retirement pensions from federal contractors to whom they direct billions of taxpayer dollars. Moreover, members sponsor legislation that affects these contractors. The contractor’s lobbyists then advocate for the legislation that helps the member and the contractor. Oftentimes, the contractor’s lobbyist also donates campaign cash to the member.


[..] Nothing we discovered is illegal. At arms-length, all of the transactions are legal. And that’s the problem. We polled our subscribers and 1,900 people responded: 96 percent thought it was unethical for a member of Congress to solicit campaign donations from federal contractors based in their districts. Furthermore, 92 percent said it was an important or very important issue. The American people get it. Members should refuse to accept campaign donations from federal contractors and their affiliates.

Read more …

Ongoing.

Scottish Court Asked To Delay Ruling On Johnson’s Brexit Extension Request (R.)

Anti-Brexit campaigners said they would ask a Scottish court on Monday to delay its ruling on a legal challenge that sought to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to comply with a law requiring him to request a delay to Brexit. The so-called Benn Act compelled Johnson to write a letter to the EU asking for a Brexit extension if parliament had not approved either a deal or a no-deal exit by Saturday. Johnson had repeatedly said he would not ask for a delay. The group asked the court earlier this month either to issue an order forcing Johnson to ask for a delay or instruct that a letter be sent to the EU on his behalf if he refused to.

Johnson sent an unsigned letter to the EU on Saturday requesting a delay but added another note in which he said he did not want a “deeply corrosive” Brexit extension, prompting some lawmakers to say he was seeking to frustrate the law. Johnson’s plan to put his Brexit withdrawal deal to the UK parliament on Saturday was derailed after lawmakers voted to withhold a decision on the deal, a move that forced him to seek a third postponement of Britain’s departure from the bloc. The exit is currently due to take place on Oct. 31. Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session, has been waiting to rule on the matter pending developments up to Oct. 19. It is due to consider the challenge again on Monday.


“What I and … the other petitioners have instructed our lawyers to do is to seek a continuation of the case until the end of the week to keep a watching brief over matters,” Scottish National Party lawmaker Joanna Cherry told ITV on Sunday. “We don’t want the focus to be all on the court case. We want the focus to be on what is happening in Brussels, the negotiation for an extension.” Cherry said the way Johnson had gone about sending the letter, without signing it, was “immensely childish” and was “arguably frustrating the purpose of the act”. “The EU … have overlooked the childish tricks and are taking the extension at face value, taking it seriously,” Cherry said. “It will be for the court to comment or otherwise on whether they think what has occurred is a frustration of the act or a contempt of court.”

Read more …

There’s the shadow banks again.

Many Firms In China’s Third-Biggest Province Struggle To Pay Debt – S&P (R.)

Many privately held firms in Shandong, China’s third-biggest province by economic output, are struggling to repay short-term debt due to declining industry fundamentals, entangled cross guarantees and ill-managed investments, S&P Global Ratings said. China’s slowing economy and enforcement of environmental protection rules have pressured the profitability and cash flow of Shandong companies in over-capacity sectors including oil refining, petrochemicals, steel, aluminium and textiles, S&P said. “The Shandong economy is skewed toward gritty smoke-stack industries where companies are typically highly leveraged,” said Chang Li, China country specialist for S&P Global Ratings.


“We view the plight of Shandong POEs (privately owned enterprises) as indicative of China’s wider challenge: the difficulty of transitioning to a higher value-added economy, while managing high debt and slowing growth.” Private firms in Shandong are also frequent users of the cross guarantee, which has the potential to send one company’s liquidity problems reverberating through the credit system, the ratings agency said. Reuters reported in February, citing court rulings, that at least 28 private companies in Dongying, a hub for oil refining and heavy industry in Shandong, are seeking to restructure their debts and avoid bankruptcy, mainly due to souring loans that they guaranteed for other firms.

Read more …

Places with mass protests in yesterday’s list: Chile, Ecuador, Lebanon, Barcelona, France, London, Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, Iraq.

New additions today: Guinea, Bolivia, Algeria, Haiti, Egypt, Pakistan, Brazil.

Chile’s Deadly Weekend Of Fire As Youth Anger Ignites (R.)

Chile’s capital Santiago has been singed by fire. In riots sparked by anger over fare hikes, masked and hooded protesters have torched buses, metro stations, supermarkets, banks and the high-rise headquarters of a major energy firm. Around the city, flames and smoke mixed with tear gas and water cannon spray as armed forces mobilized on the streets for the first time in almost 30 years in a country that still shudders at the memory of military rule. Fare-dodging protests largely by school children and students exploded into violent riots on Friday.


Amid the looting, arson and clashes, thousands of residents of rich and poor neighborhoods alike also took to the streets to express a more widespread discontent over rising living costs and patchy public services that is boiling beneath the surface of one of South American’s wealthiest and most liberal economies. The demonstrations spread around the country over the weekend, and there was little sign of tempers cooling. “This is not a simple protest over the rise of metro fares, this is an outpouring for years of oppression that have hit mainly the poorest,” Karina Sepulveda, an anthropology student, told Reuters at a protest in central Santiago on Sunday as she banged a frying pan with a wooden spoon. “The illusion of the model Chile is over. Low wages, lack of healthcare and bad pensions have made people tired.”

Read more …

Fire them all. And then sue them for wrongful death.

Boeing Expresses Regret As Text Messages Plunge Company Into New Crisis (R.)

Boeing Co. said on Sunday that it regrets and understands concerns raised by the release of a former Boeing test pilot’s internal instant messages noting erratic software behaviour two years before deadly crashes of its 737 Max jet. The world’s largest plane maker, plunged into a fresh crisis over the safety of the banned 737 Max after Reuters reported the messages on Friday, also said it was investigating the “circumstances of this exchange” and regretted the difficulties that the release of messages presented for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA on Friday ordered Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg to give an “immediate” explanation for the delay in turning over the “concerning” document, which Boeing discovered some months ago. In the messages from November, 2016, then-chief technical pilot Mark Forkner tells a colleague that what’s known as the MCAS anti-stall system – the same one linked to deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia – was “running rampant” in a flight-simulator session. At another point, he says: “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly).” The messages prompted a new call in the U.S. Congress for Boeing to shake up its management as it scrambles to rebuild trust and lift an eight-month safety ban of its fastest-selling plane.


“We understand entirely the scrutiny this matter is receiving, and are committed to working with investigative authorities and the U.S. Congress as they continue their investigations,” Boeing said in its statement on Sunday. The instant messages prompted harsh reactions from several Democratic lawmakers in Washington, with Representative Peter DeFazio saying, “This is no isolated incident.” “The outrageous instant-message chain between two Boeing employees” suggests “Boeing withheld damning information from the FAA,” Mr. DeFazio, who chairs the U.S. House transportation committee, said on Friday.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 302019
 
 September 30, 2019  Posted by at 2:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1940

 

Two countries, the US and UK, both seem to barrel down towards great troubles, hence the title Twisted Pair. When I set it up yesterday, I was going to write an essay combining the two, but it now looks like there’s going to have to be two separate essays. Still, I’m wondering how connected both are, and how they’re connected.

And I don’t mean in the popular Boris equals Trump sense, I find the role of for instance the respective intelligence communities and media far more interesting than such cheap ‘solutions’. That’s for the MSM to sell to you, not me.

Let’s start with the US. Over the past few days, a series of snippets have appeared that each make me think: can this be true? The first such snippet is that House Intelligence Committee head Adam Schiff supposedly sat on the ‘whistleblower’ complaint for over a month.

By the way, the term whistleblower is a terrible misnomer, but everyone’s using it, can’t undo that anymore. Still, you can’t be a CIA agent, be planted somewhere, leak on what goes on there and then be labeled a whistleblower. That works only if you share CIA secrets.

Niceties aside, it appears that Schiff sat on the complaint since August 12. First question is: why? But there are other questions as well. Two weeks ago, Schiff complained that acting DNI chief Joseph Maguire refused to share the contents of the complaint with Congress. But Maguire did that only after consulting with his legal counsel:

Schiff: Top Intel Official Has Refused To Turn Over ‘Urgent’ Whistleblower Complaint

Schiff ripped Maguire for breaching a law that requires him to share with Congress any whistleblower complaint deemed urgent by the intelligence community’s inspector general. He said the confluence of factors led him to believe the complaint involved Trump or other senior executive branch officials.

But DNI general counsel Jason Klitenic insisted in a letter to Schiff on Tuesday that Maguire had followed the letter of the law in blocking the transmission of the complaint to Congress. The whistleblower statute governing his agency, he said, only applies when the complaint involves a member of the intelligence community. Because it was aimed at a person outside the intelligence community, he said, the whistleblower statute does not apply to this scenario.

Under the statute, Klitenic stated, deeming a whistleblower complaint “urgent” is only valid when it applies to conduct by someone “within the responsibility and authority” of the DNI. Therefore, he said, after consulting with the Justice Department, he determined the complaint did not qualify as an “urgent” concern requiring transmittal to Congress.

 

 

Note the date. Also note the term ‘urgent’. Which didn’t keep Schiff from sitting on it for 5-6 weeks. And note that Schiff knew what was in the complaint, despite Politico reporting that “the confluence of factors led him to believe the complaint involved Trump or other senior executive branch officials.”

Okay, so why did he sit on the letter? Is it possible this has been a set-up all along? Snippet no. 2 became known on September 24:

Intel Community Secretly Gutted Requirement Of First-Hand Whistleblower Knowledge

Between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community secretly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings. This raises questions about the intelligence community’s behavior regarding the August submission of a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump. The new complaint document no longer requires potential whistleblowers who wish to have their concerns expedited to Congress to have direct, first-hand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing that they are reporting.

The brand new version of the whistleblower complaint form, which was not made public until after the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the complaint addressed to Congress were made public, eliminates the first-hand knowledge requirement and allows employees to file whistleblower complaints even if they have zero direct knowledge of underlying evidence and only “heard about [wrongdoing] from others.”

The internal properties of the newly revised “Disclosure of Urgent Concern” form, which the intelligence community inspector general (ICIG) requires to be submitted under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA), show that the document was uploaded on September 24, 2019, at 4:25 p.m., just days before the anti-Trump complaint was declassified and released to the public.

Here’s what the requirements looked like before the changes:

 

 

Why were the changes made? Who authorized them? Can anyone who hears something from their gossipy aunt now become a whistleblower? Can the aunt?

And then a few days ago there was this little tid-bit, snippet no. 3, which seems to fit right into a pattern:

Pelosi’s House Rule Changes are Key Part of “Articles of Impeachment”

Back in December 2018 CTH noted the significant House rule changes constructed by Nancy Pelosi for the 116th congress [..] With the House going into a scheduled calendar recess, those rules are now being used to subvert historic processes and construct the articles of impeachment. A formal vote to initiate an “impeachment inquiry” is not technically required; however, there has always been a full house vote until now.


The reason not to have a House vote is simple: if the formal process was followed the minority (republicans) would have enforceable rights within it. Without a vote to initiate, the articles of impeachment can be drawn up without any participation by the minority; and without any input from the executive. This was always the plan that was visible in Pelosi’s changed House rules.

Anyone can be a whistleblower, all it takes is for the intelligence community to express an interest in your aunt’s gossip. And then anything anyone says can be used to draw up an article of impeachment. Which can then be voted on by the Democrat majority in Congress, and accepted.

Which has no practical meaning, obviously, because there will be no Senate majority to actually impeach Trump. It’s pure theater. And anyway, impeached for what? For asking Ukraine assistance in investigating 2016 election meddling? Sure, you can rephrase that as “digging up dirt”, but isn’t that phrasing by now a purely partisan thing and hence worthless?

I see two options. A few days ago I wrote: “Pelosi called for impeachment without having seen the transcript or the complaint. That will forever be weird.” If that is true, as we’ve been led to believe by both the protagonists and the press, it is weird indeed. But now there is another option on the table.

Namely, that Pelosi has known the contents of the complaint since August 12, when the ‘whistleblower’ wrote to Adam Schiff, or soon thereafter. And that she, too, sat on it. Urgent or not. And then a few days ago went all-in for impeachment. No matter what the exact details here are, it very much looks like a well-prepared operation, step by step.

I started out with the term Twisted Pair for the US and UK, because both countries raise the question: how are they going to remain governable? Leave or Remain, GOP or Democrat, the trenches are being dug deeper fast. The only way forward appears to be even deeper divides. GOP and Democrats are a Twisted Pair all by themselves.

 

PS: I don’t get the attention for the whistleblower. The only interesting parties involved are the people who fed him/her their info. Are they also CIA by any chance? Let’s ask them.

 

 

 

 

Sep 252019
 
 September 25, 2019  Posted by at 12:58 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


Kazimir Malevich Woman torso 1932

 

Earlier today, I wrote: “What is an impeachable offense? Turns out, it’s anything the Democrats can get enough votes for.” And I realize saying that gets rid of half my possible audience, but it’s still the impression I’ve gotten over the past -less than- 24 hours.

After 2+ years of her fellow party members and Congress(wo)men riding on the now-defunct Robert Mueller train and clamoring non-stop for impeachment of Donald Trump, the man who stole the 2016 election from their candidate, God’s own candidate Hillary, the one who deserved to win, after 2+ years Nancy Pelosi does a 180 and joins the chorus. So as not to end up as fish food.

And sure, if she’s finally spotted an impeachable offense, that would make sense. But she herself states she joined because of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s Zelensky, and we know Pelosi doesn’t know what was said in that call, nor what’s in the opaque whistleblower complaint linked to it, a complaint moreover that’s based solely on hearsay.

Making the contents of the call public would set a dangerous precedent, because no foreign leader would ever again speak freely to a US president. Even sharing it ‘only’ with Capitol Hill would make them cautious. In that regard, the White House reluctance to share both the call and the complaint makes a lot of sense.

We’re talking many decades of carefully crafted tradition, whose importance cannot be overestimated. Wars have been avoided by these calls. But then again, as Trump said, he’s sure everybody and their pet intelligence hamster is listening in the talks already, so what’s the use anymore?

 

Democratic Party members smell something, and they think they’re sure is blood, without ever contemplating it might be their own. They’ve all been thinking impeachment for a long time, and now more than ever, because they appear to realize it might be the only way to get rid of Trump and get their people in charge, that the ballot box may well not deliver that outcome.

Ryan Grim’s piece for the Intercept provides a a good picture of what is going on in Dem Camp, not because it’s so well written, it’s actually quite shaky, but because between the lines the despair seeps through. Do read the whole thing, it’s worth the while because it tells a story nobody really talks about.

That is, on various levels of the US political system, Democratic party candidates have become increasingly fearful of losing their seats, and impeachment must bring them ‘salvation’. You get the idea it’s not even so much about what Trump does, but squarely about him standing in their way, like he stood in Hillary’s.

 

Why The House Democratic Caucus Was Able To Move So Rapidly Toward Impeachment

[..] as Democrats prepped for a series of private meetings, it was clear that nerves had been frayed. August had been a challenge for the party’s rank-and-file, as activists and angry citizens back home browbeat them at town halls, grocery stores, and local events for the party’s unwillingness to impeach President Donald Trump.

“We spent all summer getting the shit kicked out of us back home,” said one Democrat who received such treatment. The day before, former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski had made a mockery of the Judiciary Committee’s interview of him, betraying open contempt for the process and the people running it.


Swing district freshmen Democrats known as frontliners, meanwhile, had spent the last few weeks vocally decrying the pressure on them to call for impeachment, claiming it was putting them in a political jam. Democrats were debating publicly whether the hearings Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., was running at his Judiciary Committee were or were not in fact the launch of impeachment proceedings.

I’m not sure to which extent to believe this. Do Democrat voters really pester their local politicians about impeaching Trump? Or are they making this up because they need something to blame for their own failures?

[..] The members without official primary challenges were by no means safe, either, as they might soon draw a challenge unless the trajectory of the politics changed. Freshman Lori Trahan from Massachusetts, for instance, came out for impeachment after Dan Koh, whom she beat in a primary by 147 votes in 2018, called on her to do so, with the clear threat that he may run again.


The seats of upward of 200 Democrats were being put at risk to protect a handful of loud frontliners, Raskin argued, and it wasn’t obvious that the strategy was actually protecting them from anything. Grassroots activists were demobilizing, Democrats across the board were facing primary challenges, and somehow, someway, Democrats seemed to be losing, again, to Trump. Something had to give.

“Democrats seemed to be losing, again, to Trump. Something had to give.” That sums it up. And we now know what it was that had to give. That doesn’t make it a winning strategy, though. And then came the Ukraine “news”. It was god-given. The “new” Kavanaugh story a few days before had seemed to, but it was false. Now, however….

[..] That something came later that night, in the form of a Washington Post scoop about a whistleblower complaint from a member of the U.S. intelligence community about a promise Trump had made to a foreign leader. Then, on Thursday evening, the Post reported that the country involved was Ukraine.

The news had landed like a bomb in a Democratic caucus that was already ready to explode. Calls to impeach Trump rained down from the party’s left flank and its presidential candidates. On Friday evening, Democrats were bracing for a backlash back home. “It’s going to be a brutal weekend for a lot of people, especially those who haven’t spoken for impeachment,” one Democrat predicted. Indeed it was.


Democrats, including frontliners, spent the weekend furiously texting and calling each other as they worked through how to respond to Trump’s latest lawlessness. “People are pissed,” said another Democrat over the weekend. “Frontliners are pissed! And not even the ‘progressive’ frontliners either.”

It’s a feeding frenzy inside an echo chamber. All quite rational, of course. And Pelosi had no choice but to join in, or she would have been fish food.

Pelosi didn’t seem to understand the shift that was taking place under her feet. Reporter John Harwood asked an aide to Pelosi over the weekend if the news changed her calculus on impeachment and got back the reply: “no. see any GOP votes for it?”


Jon Favreau, a speechwriter for President Barack Obama who now serves, from his perch at Pod Save America, as something of a tribune for the volunteer-resistance army that phone banked and door-knocked Democrats into the majority, was apoplectic. “This is insane,” he said. “This is pathetic. This is not what we worked so hard for in 2018.” By Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi was calling for impeachment proceedings to begin.

We want impeachment, and we’ll figure out later what for. There are Democrats right now, after recognizing nobody knows what is in either the call or the complaint, who say it’s about Trump’s entire body of work, about months and months of violating the constitution etc. I think they’ll have to be more specific than that for the inquiry, however.

“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” Pelosi said in a formal address in Washington on Tuesday evening. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”

I swear, one of these days I’m going to lose it over the next person who says “No one is above the law.” That must be the emptiest statement in politics, ever, but certainly these days.

Now, of course, lest we forget, that plenty Democrats ‘support’ impeachment doesn’t mean much of anything. There’s about a zero Kelvin chance of getting it through the Senate. Plus, you need a specific reason for impeachment, and we’ve already seen the Ukraine isn’t it, because nobody even knows what was said.

Which makes me think Pelosi’s heart can’t be in it, and that makes her a weak advocate for the issue. So what other grounds for impeachment will they come up with? That can only be things that happened in the past, and things Pelosi never thought were impeachable, or at least wouldn’t get enough votes. Why should they now?

 

As an aside, the Democrat candidates and frontliners -and Nancy Pelosi as per last night- are throwing Joe Biden under the bus, who’s still their leading candidate. Because there’s no way Biden will survive a thorough investigation into Ukraine. That is so obvious I’m wondering if they meant to get rid of him all along.

And then there are the ‘technicalities’. “In his response to the Democrats’ move, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said: “Speaker Pelosi happens to be the Speaker of this House, but she does not speak for America when it comes to this issue.” “She cannot unilaterally decide we’re in an impeachment inquiry,” he added.”

And I absolutely love this bit: “In her announcement Ms Pelosi said the six congressional committees already investigating Mr Trump would continue their work, but now under the umbrella of a formal impeachment inquiry.”. That says Heads of the Five Families to me, right there. You got your Tattaglia, your Barzoni etc.

There are 6 different active investigations into Trump. Well over two years after Robert Mueller started his $40 million utter failure of an investigation. Why? Impeachment. And they have all come up empty so far.

Love this bit too from the BBC on Ukraine media: “Some argue that the timing could not be worse for President Zelensky, who is scheduled to meet Donald Trump in New York later on Wednesday. Public TV station Pershy describes the controversy as a “trap” for Ukraine. “It would be stupid to start playing into the hands of either Democrats or Republicans,” said one of the channel’s commentators. Others contend that the Ukrainian president has US politicians over the barrel. “Zelensky has two pistols in his hands: one pointing at Trump, and the other at Biden,” reports Pryamy TV.

 

There’s no way to end this without yet another shout-out to Tulsi Gabbard, who made the October Democratic debate after ‘missing’ the September one, and who has no qualms going against the official DNC-sponsored party line party on this either if she thinks it’s wrong.

She told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday that she’ll remain consistent to her message that the road to 2020 can only be found in a clear victory and mandate, saying it’s for “the American people… making that decision” of who is in the White House, not impeachment.

“I believe that impeachment at this juncture would be terribly divisive for the country at a time when we are already extremely divided. The hyperpartisanship is one of the main things driving our country apart,” Gabbard told host Brian Kilmeade. “I think it’s important to beat Donald Trump, that’s why I’m running for president,” she said.



“But I think it’s the American people who need to make their voices heard making that decision.”

We need to get Tulsi her own party, right? Because right now, she’s not fighting Trump, she’s fighting the DNC and the rest of her ‘own’ party. What a waste of time and money, and conviction and talent.

 

 

 

 

Apr 192019
 
 April 19, 2019  Posted by at 1:18 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  14 Responses »


Rembrandt van Rijn A woman bathing in a stream 1654

 

A dear friend the other day accused me of defending Trump. I don’t, and never have, but it made me think that if she says it, probably others say and think the same; I’ve written a lot about him. So let me explain once again. Though I think perhaps this has reached a “you’re either with us or against us’ level.

What I noticed, and have written a lot about, during and since the 2016 US presidential campaign, is that the media, both in the US and abroad, started making up accusations against Trump from scratch. This included the collusion with Russia accusation that led to the Mueller probe.

There was never any proof of the accusation, which is why the conclusion of the probe was No Collusion. I started writing this yesterday while awaiting the presentation of the Mueller report, but it wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other: the accusation was clear, and so was the conclusion.

Even if some proof were found though other means going forward, it would still make no difference: US media published over half a million articles on the topic, and not one of them was based on any proof. If that proof had existed, Mueller would have found and used it.

And sure, Trump may not be a straight shooter, there may be all kinds of illegal activity going on in his organization, but that doesn’t justify using the collusion accusation for a 2-year long probe. If Trump is guilty of criminal acts, he should be investigated for that, not for some made-up narrative. It’s dangerous.

 

Axios report[ed] that since May 2017, exactly 533,074 web articles have been published about Russia and Trump-Mueller, which in turn have generated “245 million interactions – including likes, comments and shares – on Twitter and Facebook.” “From January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day) through March 21, 2019 (the last night before special counsel Robert Mueller sent his report to the attorney general), the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts produced a combined 2,284 minutes of ‘collusion’ coverage, most of it (1,909 minutes) following Mueller’s appointment on May 17, 2017,” MRC reports

What the Mueller report says is that 500,000 articles about collusion, and 245 million social media interactions in their wake, were written without any proof whatsoever (or Mueller would have used that proof). That doesn’t mean they may not have been true, or that they can’t be found to be true in the future, it means there was no proof when they were published. They Were All Lying.

The same goes for the Steele dossier. It holds zero proof of collusion between Trump’s team and Russia. Or Mueller would have used that proof. New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, CNN: they all had zero proof when they published, not a thing. Or Mueller would have used that proof. Rachel Maddow’s near nightly collusion rants: no proof. Or Mueller would have used that proof.

That there is no proof also means there has never been any proof. Why that is important, and how important it is, is something we’re very clearly seeing in the case concerning Julian Assange. That, too, is based on made-up stories.

I suggested a few days ago in the Automatic Earth comment section that the advent of the internet, and social media in particular, has greatly facilitated the power of repetition: say something often enough and few people will be able to resist the idea that it must be true. Or at least some of it.

If you look at the amount of time people spend in ‘their’ Facebook, the power of repetition becomes obvious. 245 million social media interactions. On top of half a million articles. How were people supposed to believe, in the face of such a barrage, that there never was any collusion?

Or that Assange is squeaky clean, both in person and in his alleged involvement in the collusion? There is only one way to counter all this: for people like me to keep pointing it out, and to hope that at least a few people pick it up.

That has nothing to do with defending Trump. It has to do with defending my own sanity and that of my readers. Of course it would have been easier, and undoubtedly more profitable, to go with the flow and load on more suspicions, allegations and accusations.

All those media made a mint doing it, and the Automatic Earth might have too. But that is not why we are here.

 

The Democrats, and the media sympathetic to them, now have seamlessly shifted their attention from Collusion to Obstruction. Which leads to a bit of both interesting and humorous logic: No Collusion? No Obstruction.

The Mueller probe would never have happened if it had been clear there was no collusion. But everyone and their pet hamster were saying there was. And there was the Steele dossier, heavily promoted by John McCain and John Brennan. Neither of whom had any proof of collusion.

The obstruction the anti-Trumpers are now aiming their arrows at consists of Trump allegedly wanting to fire Mueller and/or stopping an investigation that should never have been instigated into a collusion that never existed and was based on a smear campaign.

And now they want to impeach him for that? For attempting to stop the country wasting its resources and halt an investigation into nothing at all?

Know what I hope? That they’ll call on Mueller to testify in a joint session of Senate and Congress and that Rand Paul gets to ask him to address this tweet of his:

“Rand Paul: BREAKING: A high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report… Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP.”

And why Mueller refused to go talk to Assange, who offered actual evidence that no Russians were involved. Or how about these stonkers:

“Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Adam Schiff said. “We will continue to investigate the counterintelligence issues. That is, is the president or people around him compromised? … It doesn’t appear that was any part of Mueller’s report.”


Preet Bharara: “It’s clear that Bob Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.”

There’ll never be such a joint session, the Democrats want to play a home game in Congress. So there will have to be a separate session in the Senate. No doubt that will happen. Trump was right about one thing (well, two): 1) A special Counsel fcuks up a presidency, and 2) this should never happen to another president again.

Not that I have any faith in Capitol Hill, mind you. Because they will agree, and they will agree on one thing only, as Philip Giraldi stipulates once more:

Rumors of War – Washington Is Looking for a Fight

[..] even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people. A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189.


It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.”

And that brings us back to Robert Mueller’s investigation into hot air, which, while it entirely eviscerates even the notion of collusion, still contains accusations against Julian Assange and ‘the Russians’.

Why does he leave those in, when there was no collusion? It’s dead simple. Because unlike accusations against Trump, he doesn’t have to prove them. Which is why I will not stop saying, as I first did some 10 weeks ago, that Robert Mueller Is A Coward And A Liar.

Again, this has nothing to do with defending Trump, it’s about defending and maintaining my own sanity and yours, and the rule of law.

As I said back then about Mueller refusing to talk to Assange, and James Comey in 2017 making sure the DOJ didn’t either :

Every single American should be alarmed by this perversion of justice. Nothing to do with what you think of Trump, or of Assange. The very principles of the system are being perverted, including, but certainly not limited to, its deepest core, that of every individual’s right to defend themselves. Just so Robert Mueller can continue his already failed investigation into collusion that has shown no such thing, and which wouldn’t have been started 20 months ago if we knew then what we know now.

Get off your Trump collusion hobby-horse, that quest has already died regardless, and start defending the legal system and the Constitution. Because if you don’t, what’s to keep the next Robert Mueller from going after you, or someone you like or love? It’s in everyone’s interest to demand that these proceedings – like all legal proceedings- are conducted according to the law, but in Mueller’s hands, they are not.

And that should be a much bigger worry than whether or not you like or dislike a former game-show host.

I’ve said this before as well: I’ll always defend Julian Assange, but I won’t defend Donald Trump. Is that clear now?

 

 

Feb 282019
 


Leonardo da Vinci Ginevra de’ Benci 1474-78

 

Perhaps against better judgment, I just can’t keep silent about the Michael Cohen’s in da House show performed on February 27. I was watching it and increasingly fearing for the future of America. We had all been able to read his prepared statement before he opened the party with it, and therefore we all knew there was nothing there. So why did this thing take place, and why were all the cameras and reporters there? Do we live in split realities these days?

Both before and after the gruelling -for the viewer- session, words like ‘explosive’ and bombshell’ were all over, so I thought I’d watch, since I might have missed something, but no, there was nothing, there wasn’t even a there there. Apparently, US House members are by now immune to being revealed as nutcases frantically phishing for evidence of accusations they formerly made but could never prove.

A phishing expedition with a willing whale in the center who sort of volunteered to be harpooned, and still came up with absolutely nothing but blubber. And then like 4 hours of that. There’s never been a more convincing picture of what US politics and media have become. But they’re all entirely impervious to it. They’re discussing nothing for hours on end with millions watching, and they see it as normal.

Now, I’ve been following the decay of the American press ever since Trump entered politics stage right, and I’ve written a hundred thousand words about it, but it really hit home during the Cohen session. Tellingly, the Republican House members were exclusively focusing on Cohen credibility, since he had been caught lying to Congress before, and the Supreme Court just days ago disbarred him.

But this was not about the man’s credibility, and sure, I felt sorry for him too, it was about the fact that he had nothing at all to say, but Republicans had nothing on that. They instead joined the Dems in questioning him about nothing, pretending it was big and explosive and stuff. If anything has ever resembled the Emperor’s new clothes, it was that charade there yesterday.

 

If you insist, we can walk through a few of the topics. A nice example that was not in the prepared statement was that Cohen claimed he had never wanted a White House job, but even the CNN pundits were saying he had wanted one for a long time, and was very insulted when he didn’t get it. Poof! went the last shred of his credibility. Well, not for the House members, they have shorter memories even than CNN talking heads.

Second, the issue of a Trump Tower in Moscow, about which Cohen allegedly lied earlier on, in that the plans were shelved later than he had claimed. But the only thing that really interests the House, because even they understand that wanting to build a hotel in the city is not some criminal thing, is Russiagate, invented out of thin air but still popular stateside.

The one thing related to this that collusion ‘experts’ emphasize time and again, and it came up again in the Cohen thing, is that Trump supposedly planned to gift a penthouse apartment in a potential Trump hotel on Red Square to Vladimir Putin. Conveniently, not a single American appears to have wondered whether Putin would be interested in such a gift.

And I can assure you he wouldn’t. Putin can get -just about- any piece of real estate he wants on Red Square, besides he already has the Kremlin, and he can get anything built there which he might desire. Accepting a free dwelling from a US builder makes no sense. Why should he? Still, this is one of the main items Russiagaters keep coming up with. It makes no sense, and that’s fitting, because neither do they.

Second, pornstar pay-offs. Male politicians worldwide and through the ages have had affairs, and in modern times (re: JFK) there’s been an understanding that the media leave these things alone. On the one hand, it’s proof of virility, something voters like in their candidates, and on the other it shows infidelity, something they don’t. A battle no-one can win, hence the understanding.

In France, this all plays out a bit more openly, though never in the open, but in the US you can break the pact if you want. And since the initial story was that campaign funds had been used to pay Stormy Daniels, there was a potential criminal angle. But we now know that that angle was fake, so no there there either. Trump paid so it (true or not) didn’t become a big campaign story, and that he did so just before an election is irrelevant, because the whole topic is irrelevant. Unless you want to exhume JFK.

 

Third and what pisses me off more than anything, is that Cohen both volunteered, and was coaxed into, talking about Roger Stone’s alleged contacts with Julian Assange. Cohen talked about a conversation between Stone and Trump on July 18-19 2016, in which Stone allegedly said he had talked to Assange who told him WikiLeaks was going to release a big batch of Hillary-related mails.

The DNC convention was July 25-28, the WikiLeaks release July 22. Looks like a slam-dunk collusion story, right? Except that Assange had said 5 weeks earlier, on June 12 2016, that such a batch would be released. So even if Stone had talked to him, there was no news there. Moreover, both Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly denied the conversation ever took place. And of course Assange can’t defend himself against anything anyone says anymore.

And we can keep going: the assertion that the DNC mails were hacked has been refuted many times, and if they were stolen it was by someone inside the DNC. No story, no collusion, no there there. Only hour after tedious hour of Michael Cohen House testimony about nothing at all.

It felt a lot like a new low point in US political history, but you need to be careful with such classifications these days, since competition’s stiff and still picking up. I liked the following lines from an article in the Guardian this morning to appropriately describe the goings-on:

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years.

Here’s the best thing Cohen could do in the entire time wasted on the topic:

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.”

How does that not make you want to scream? No collusion, only “something odd”, and “so many dots”. A thorough analysis out of the mouth of an at least questionable character who worked closely with Trump for a decade. That’s all the US House of Representatives had to show for the show it put on. And that’s a really big problem, but there’s no-one in sight to address, let alone rectify, it.

There are a thousand things wrong with Donald Trump, but even though that would not necessarily disqualify him for the presidency, the Democrats and the mainstream press have opted to go all-in on the Russia collusion theme, which even two years and change of Mueller hasn’t been able to prove.

Whether this will be the winning ticket for the Democrats in a next election is very doubtful, and what the press hope to get other than a few more readers and viewers addicted to scandals is anyone’s guess. But more importantly: why do they do it? Why focus on all the made-up stories instead of going out and finding the real ones?

Even if the Cohen show not constitute a new low, it was certainly scraping the gutter of American political reality, and someone better do something, or entirely new and thus far unimaginable lows will be attained. Not a single national political system can survive on entirely trumped-up accusations for long, let alone that of the globe’s most powerful nation. Does anyone ever wonder what the Dems will do if Trump wins again in 2020? Where can they flee to?

I’ll leave you with a few Twitter voices who also see no there there. Note: the first one is dated July 7 2016, some two weeks before Stone -unverifiably- said he talked to Assange (who always denied it, but it wouldn’t matter even if he had) :

 

 

 

 

May 102018
 
 May 10, 2018  Posted by at 6:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket 1875

 

 

Dr. D again. And wait, that deal was never even -legally- signed?

 

 

Dr. D: I know the U.S. hasn’t followed the law in 100 years, but let’s review the Iran Deal. A “Deal” with a foreign nation is supposed to be, for 200 years has been, and legally must be, a “Treaty”. Treaties under U.S. law are unique, as they are NOT to be brokered by the Congress and are a point of contention if Congressmen get involved, as you can imagine special deals and/or information leaks could damage the negotiating position.

This is one of the few things Congress doesn’t do. However, the deal, brokered by the President, is presented to the Senate and only the Senate, which is supposed to be the older, more stable house, and once upon a time when Americans were adults and the Senate was chosen by the State governments, this was true. Even with a Democratic election of Senators representing the people and not the States, (which is what the House is supposed to be) it’s the best we have.

So when Obama arranged the Iran “Deal”, he knew and did so against 220 years of history exclusively BECAUSE he knew the Senate would never approve an honest-to-God, legal “Treaty.” Worse, it was part of the reason the “Deal” was effectively secret, not overseen by anyone, and even John Kerry when asked what was in it said, “I don’t know.” You don’t know??? You’re the Secretary of State presumably brokering the deal. Who’s above you in the food chain that you’re not allowed to know? That was an interesting disclosure that the media – of course – never followed up on.

He also said, as the deal was never signed, it was “not legally binding.” Okay, yes, if the Senate does not approve it, making it therefore a “Treaty”, then it’s just a gentleman’s handshake verbal agreement and not binding. So…Iran therefore did NOT agree to stop weapons development, and certainly as proven did not agree to continue to use the U.S. petrodollar.

On the other hand, Obama DID send pallets of cash on 3 jumbo jets, and the U.S. prisoners were not released until those planes touched down. So Iran can legally reverse their weapons development, while you’re not going to get that cash back. That sounds like a terrible, terrible deal, a no-deal deal no one read and no one signed. And they’re upset this is cancelled? Why? What’s in it? Can we finally know now? Nope.

My personal theory is that since General Wesley Clark’s reveal that they planned 7 MENA wars, and named them in order back in 2001 and were to culminate in attacking Iran by 2013, they were years behind schedule on this world-domination murder-death play. In order to keep Iran in a holding pattern, still lacking viable nuclear weapons, they had to pay them billions and billions. Iran for their part knew they would win Syria anyway, so they were happy to play along and get a few billion dollars. And a lot of those billions Obama “gave” to Iran were Iran’s money anyway.

What? Yes, the U.S. confiscated and “froze” (actually stole and used) Iran’s western assets in 1979, and by law Iran was almost certainly owed this money plus interest. Then if I’m any judge of world politics, the negotiating parties — U.S., France, Germany, Iran, took these pallets of unmarked bills and used them for slush fund payouts among the various power factions, and about $50 ended up with the people.

This proved to be true, as Iran immediately ignored the U.S., moved into Syria, dumped the dollar, traded in Euros, and arguably continued weapons (missile) development. …But like I said, the important part got through: free cash payoffs, untraceable, back to the “right” people: the “Deep States” of the U.S., Iran, France, etc. You can see this in Macron and Merkel’s top priority and panic to force this deal to continue. And why? Isn’t that money gone? A one-time thing? Hmmm.

Back to the present, the nation is all agog about “ending” the Iran deal. You mean the deal we didn’t have? The one that was neither signed nor (generally) followed? How can Trump end it? He can end it because it was never a deal, it was a side-agreement by a specific President, THAT’S WHY WE HAVE TREATIES. So that they are in law, hard to negate, and much more stable. In fact, the Senate told Iran this outright: “if you sign this, you know that as soon as Obama is out of office, we’ll just reverse it.”

That wasn’t exactly a threat, it was simply a fact. If you don’t enlist the Senate and 220 year-old legal processes, you effectively have nothing but a wink and a smile. Then, yes, it is easy to undo as the wind blows. Now why the Senate and Congress didn’t stop this wink, withhold funds, or impeach the President for subverting law and Congressional authority is another matter: the only thing here is that there was no legal agreement, widely reported by all parties in the public media, so what is Trump really cancelling? Something that never existed except in the news?

We have law for a reason and this is what happens when you don’t follow it, but after not following it for 100 or more years, everyone forgets. This ain’t rocket science, folks. You want an Iran deal? Pass one.

 

 

May 072018
 


John French Sloan Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair 1912

 

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)
Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)
WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)
Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)
In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)
Mueller Investigation is In Jeopardy (ZH)
Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)
Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)
Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)
A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)
Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)
Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)
Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

 

 

Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Brazil in a bit. The list will grow. As the dollar rises, emerging countries need more dollars to pay their debt, pushing the dollar up even more. And investors pull their money out of these countries. Vicious circles everywhere.

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)

Argentina even issued a one-hundred-year bond at a spectacularly low rate (8.25%) with a very high demand, more than 3.5 times bid-to-cover. That $ 2.5 billion issuance seemed crazy. A one-hundred-year bond from a nation that has defaulted at least six times in the previous hundred years! Worse of all, those funds were used to finance current expenditure in local currency. The extraordinary demand for bonds and other assets in Argentina or Turkey was justified by expectations of reforms and a change that, as time passed, simply did not happen. Countries failed to control inflation, deliver lower than expected growth and imbalances soared just as the U.S. started to see some inflation, rates started to rise.

Suddenly, the yield spread between the U.S. 10-year bond and emerging markets debt was unattractive, and liquidity dried up faster than the speed of light even with a modest decrease of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Liquidity disappears because of extremely leveraged bets on one single trade – a weaker dollar, higher global growth- unwind. However, another problem exacerbates the reaction. An aggressive increase in the monetary base by the Argentine central bank made inflation rise above 23%. With an increase in the monetary base of 28% per year, and seeking to finance excess spending by printing money and raising debt to “buy time”, the seeds of the disaster were planted. Excess liquidity and the US dollar weakness stopped. Local currencies and external funding face risk of collapse.

The Sudden Stop. When most of the emerging economies entered into twin deficits -trade and fiscal deficits- and consensus praised “synchronized growth”, they were sealing their destiny: When the US dollar regains some strength, US rates rise due to an increase in inflation, the flow of cheap money to emerging markets is reversed. Synchronized indebted growth created the risk of synchronized collapse.

Read more …

Is this really the end of cheap debt? It’s dangerous too: if Turkey gets into real trouble, Erdogan will seek a scapegoat.

Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)

A resurgent dollar and higher borrowing costs are smashing through Argentina and Turkey’s currencies like a wrecking ball and raising the likelihood more broadly that emerging markets’ three-year long interest rate cutting cycle is at an end. Emerging markets came into the year flying, riding on the back of a healthy global economy and rising commodity prices alongside tame inflation and a weak dollar. It looked more than likely that a wave of rate cuts would keep rolling, allowing a bond rally to continue. From Brazil and Russia to Armenia and Zambia, developing countries, big and small, have been on a rate cutting spree. With hundreds of rate cuts since Jan. 2015, the average emerging market borrowing cost fell under 6% earlier this year from over 7% at the time.

Fund managers’ profits too have soared in this time, with emerging local currency debt among the best performing asset classes, with dollar-based returns of 14% last year. Even in the first quarter of 2018, returns were a buoyant 4.3% Now though, almost exactly five years since the so-called taper tantrum shook an emerging market rally, these gains appear to be on the cusp of reversal. Argentina has jacked up its interest rates to 40% in response to a rout in its peso currency, while Turkey was also forced into a rate rise as its lira hit record lows against the dollar. Indonesia, after heavy interventions to stem rupiah bleeding, has also said it could resort to policy tightening.

Read more …

Déja vu.

WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)

If you’re watching Argentina’s economy, it hasn’t been a banner week. This week, Argentina had to raise its key interest rate three times to keep the Argentine peso from losing even more value against the dollar. Three interest rate hikes in one week is a lot – it implies the first two didn’t work, and the Central Bank is not in control. The interest rate currently sits at 40%. That means the Central Bank pays 40% per year on peso-denominated debt, which can imply that they expect the value of the peso to fall somewhere in the ballpark of 40% over a one year period. A year ago in April, the rate was closer to 26%. Yikes. And the exchange rate kicked off the week at around 20.5 ARS/USD. It jumped almost to 23 ARS/USD, and is currently hovering around 21.8 ARS/USD.

[..] When the US dollar increases in value, emerging market currencies decrease, meaning in Argentina’s case it will take increasingly more pesos to buy dollars. This then amplifies the risk that emerging markets will be unable to make payments on dollar denominated debt, causing investors to sell their emerging market investments, further amplifying the currency stress. The timing specifically in the case of Argentina is uncannily bad. Until this week, non-residents investing in Argentina were exempt from paying the equivalent of capital gains taxes across the board, including local-currency peso-denominated central bank notes, or LEBACs. This Tuesday, this exemption on LEBACs officially no longer applied, meaning foreign holders of these notes now incur a tax equal to 5% on profits.

Read more …

“Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy..”

Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)

Remedies the Trump administration is prescribing for U.S. trade problems won’t work, and forays in trade disputes with China will harm the United States, a veteran China expert with decades of experience in bilateral relations said [in Silicon Valley] on Saturday. “I believe that Washington has misdiagnosed our trade problems, that its remedies for them won’t work, and that what it is doing will harm the United States and other countries as much or more than it does China,” said Chas Freeman, senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute, when addressing the annual conference of a prominent Chinese American group, the Committee of 100 (C100).

“The United States and China are each too globalized and dynamic to contain, too big and influential to ignore, and too successful and entangled with each other to divorce without bankrupting ourselves and all associated with us,” Freeman, also former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said in an opening keynote speech. Pointing out that there are many reasons for the United States to seek cooperative relations with a rising China, Freeman added that the Trump administration has decided “to pick a fight — to confront China both militarily and economically.” “The fact that we Americans consume more than we save means that we import more than we produce. That creates an overall trade deficit. Ironically, the Trump administration has just taken steps guaranteed to increase this deficit,” he said.

“It has reduced tax revenues and boosted deficit spending, mostly on military research, development, and procurement. These actions take the national savings rate even lower while inflating domestic demand for goods and services. They cause imports to surge,” he added. “Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy explains why China’s trade surplus with the United States is again rising even as its surplus with the rest of the world falls,” he said. “Unless Americans boost our national savings rate by hiking taxes or cut our consumption by falling into recession, our overall trade deficit is sure to bloat,” he said.

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The Market Will Plummet if Global Central Banks Pull Plug

“..the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors..”

In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)

Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with two-time, best-selling author Nomi Prins, who just released “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged The World.” Will the next crash be worse than the last one? Prins says, “Yes, it will because we will be falling from a higher height. The idea here is you are sinking on the Titanic as opposed to sinking on a canoe somewhere. All of this artificial conjured money is puffing up the system, along with money that is borrowed cheaply is also puffing up the system and creating asset bubbles everywhere. So, when things pop, there is more leakage to happen. The air in all these bubbles has created larger bubbles than we have had before.”

How does the common man protect himself? Prins says, “They have to own things, and by that I mean real assets, hard assets like silver and gold. That’s not as liquid, so taking cash out of banks and sort of keeping it in real things and keeping it on site . . . keeping cash physically. You need to extract it from the system because the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors. . . . Also, basically try to decrease your debt.”

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Did Flynn plead guilty because he couldn’t pay the legal bills?

How much longer until Mueller is whistled back by his superiors? Can Rosenstein keep silent as one judge after another slams the Special Counsel?

Mueller Investigation In Jeopardy (ZH)

A funny thing happened on the way to impeaching Donald Trump. After two-years of investigations by a highly politicized FBI and a Special Counsel stacked with Clinton supporters, Robert Mueller’s probe has resulted in the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the arrests of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the indictment of 13 Russian nationals on allegations of hacking the 2016 election – along with the raid of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The nation has been on the edge of insanity waiting for that much-promised and long awaited link tying President Trump to Vladimir Putin we were all promised, only to find out that there is no link, the deck appears to have been heavily stacked against Donald Trump by bad actors operating at the highest levels of the FBI, DOJ, Obama admin and Clinton camp, and the real Russian conspiracy in the 2016 election was the participation of high level Kremlin sources used in the anti-Trump dossier that Hillary Clinton paid for. Now, as the out-of-control investigation moves from the headlines and into court, the all-encompassing “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, may be in serious jeopardy.

As of Friday, three separate Judges have rendered harsh setbacks to the Mueller investigation – demanding, if you can believe it, facts and evidence to back up the Special Counsel’s claims – in unredacted format as one Judge demands, or risk having the cases tossed out altogether. [..] And as we noted yesterday, some have suggested that Flynn pleaded guilty due to the fact that federal investigations tend to bankrupt people who aren’t filthy rich – as was the case with former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee “God damn you to hell” after having to sell his home due to mounting legal fees over the inquiry. “Your investigation and others into the allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia are costing my family a great deal of money — more than $125,000 — and making a visceral impact on my children.”

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Quite strong for the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust.”

Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)

Until this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fellow institutionalists at the department had fought Congress’s demands for information with the tools of banal bureaucracy – resist, delay, ignore, negotiate. But Mr. Rosenstein took things to a new level on Tuesday, accusing House Republicans of “threats,” extortion and wanting to “rummage” through department documents. A Wednesday New York Times story then dropped a new slur, claiming “Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about [Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s ] investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.”

Mr. Rosenstein isn’t worried about rummaging. That’s a diversion from the department’s opposite concern: that it is being asked to comply with very specific – potentially very revealing – demands. Two House sources confirm for me that the Justice Department was recently delivered first a classified House Intelligence Committee letter and then a subpoena (which arrived Monday) demanding documents related to a new line of inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump investigation. The deadline for complying with the subpoena was Thursday afternoon, and the Justice Department flouted it. As the White House is undoubtedly monitoring any new congressional demands for information, it is likely that President Trump’s tweet Wednesday ripping the department for not turning over documents was in part a reference to this latest demand.

Republicans also demand the FBI drop any objections to declassifying a section of the recently issued House Intelligence Committee report that deals with a briefing former FBI Director James Comey provided about former national security adviser Mike Flynn. House Republicans say Mr. Comey told them his own agents did not believe Mr. Flynn lied to them. On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said that isn’t true. Someone isn’t being honest. Is the FBI more interested in protecting the reputations of two former directors (the other being Mr. Mueller, who dragged Mr. Flynn into court on lying grounds) than in telling the public the truth?

We can’t know the precise motivations behind the Justice Department’s and FBI’s refusal to make key information public. But whether it is out of real concern over declassification or a desire to protect the institutions from embarrassment, the current leadership is about 20 steps behind this narrative. Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust. There is nothing to be gained from pretending this is business as usual, or attempting to stem continued fallout by hiding further details.

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And debt pooling. So much for closer integration.

Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)

Leading politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to pass a resolution at a meeting this week to reject any pooling of debts in Europe and any fiscal policy without national parliamentary controls, Handelsblatt reported. The daily business newspaper, citing sources from the conservative bloc’s parliamentary leadership, said the senior politicians also oppose European Commission plans for a European finance minister. The group includes the parliamentary leaders of the conservative bloc in the Bundestag, the European Parliament as well as from Germany’s 16 states, Handelsblatt reported.

Merkel will join them on Monday for a meeting in Frankfurt. The report highlights the resistance among Merkel’s conservatives to any euro zone reforms that could see more German taxpayers’ money being used to fund other member states. The conservatives are nervous about European Union reform after bleeding support to the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party at national elections last September. Last month, Merkel called for a spirit of compromise on reforming the euro zone at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed for solidarity among members of the currency union.

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No smooth sailing.

Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)

German industrial orders unexpectedly dropped for the third month running in March due to weak foreign demand, data showed on Monday, suggesting factories in Europe’s largest economy are shifting into a lower gear. Contracts for German goods fell 0.9% after a downwardly revised drop of 0.2% the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had on average predicted a 0.5% rise in orders. “The economy is slowing down, that’s the sure take-away from today’s industrial orders data,” VP Bank Group analyst Thomas Gitzel said, adding that some growth forecasts would soon have to be revised down.

The government last month cut its 2018 growth forecast to 2.3% from 2.4% and expressed concern about international trade tensions. “The debate about tariffs has probably created great uncertainty in Europe’s export-driven industry,” Gitzel added. As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States. In the run-up to a June 1 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide on whether to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Berlin is urging its European partners to be flexible and pursue a broad deal that benefits both sides. The drop in industrial orders was led by foreign orders which fell by 2.6%, while domestic orders rose 1.5%, the data showed.

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But the government says there a million LESS people in poverty.

A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)

The number of children growing up in poverty in working households will be a million higher than in 2010, a new study has found. Research for the TUC estimates that 3.1 million children with working parents will be below the official breadline this year. About 600,000 children with working parents have been pushed into poverty because of the government’s benefit cuts and public sector pay restrictions, according to the report by the consultancy Landman Economics. The east Midlands will have the biggest increase in child poverty among working families, followed by the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, the research found. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said child poverty in working households had shot up since 2010.

“Years of falling incomes and benefit cuts have had a terrible human cost. Millions of parents are struggling to feed and clothe their kids,” she said. “The government is in denial about how many working families just can’t make ends meet. We need ministers to boost the minimum wage now, and use the social security system to make sure no child grows up in a family struggling to get by.” [..] A government spokeswoman said it did not recognise the TUC’s figures. She said: “The reality is there are now 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010, including 300,000 fewer children. “We want every child to get the very best chances in life. We know the best route out of poverty is through work, which is why it’s really encouraging that both the employment rate and household incomes have never been higher.”

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Shares down 13% this morning.

Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)

The survival of strike-hit Air France is in the balance, according to the country’s economy minister. Bruno Le Maire’s warning that Air France could “disappear” comes as staff begin another round of industrial action over a pay dispute. Despite the French state owning 14.3% of the Air France-KLM parent group, the loss-making airline would not be bailed out, he said. On Friday Air France-KLM’s chief executive quit over the crisis. Air France-KLM is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, but has seen a series of strikes in recent weeks. Monday’s walk-out is the 14th day of action, as staff press for a 5.1% salary increase this year. The government’s response is seen as a test of labour reforms launched by French President Emmanuel Macron. There have also been strikes at the state-owned SNCF rail company.

On Sunday, Mr Le Maire told French news channel BFM: “I call on everyone to be responsible: crew, ground staff, and pilots who are asking for unjustified pay hikes. “The survival of Air France is in the balance,” he said, adding that the state would not serve as a backstop for the airline’s debts. “Air France will disappear if it does not make the necessary efforts to be competitive,” he warned. Despite the strike, the airline insisted that it would be able to maintain 99% of long-haul flights on Monday, 80% of medium-haul services and 87% of short-haul flights. On Friday, Jean-Marc Janaillac, chief executive of parent company Air France-KLM, resigned after staff rejected a final pay offer from him, which would have raised wages by 7% over four years.

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That’s about 1 in 20: “From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more..”

Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)

For salaried workers to bring home 1,500 euros per month net on a 12-month basis, or 18,000 euros per year not including holiday bonuses, their employers need to pay 2,610 euros a month or over 31,300 euros a year, given Greece’s particularly high taxes and social security contributions. For a self-employed professional to pocket the same amount , about 18,000 euros per annum, he or she would have to earn at least 50,000 euros on a yearly basis so as to cover professional expenses, taxes and contributions. As for new pensioners, a net income of 1,500 euros/month or 18,000 euros/year can only be achieved if they worked without pause for 40 years at an average monthly salary of 2,400 euros over that entire period.

The framework that has emerged in the last three years with tax and contribution hikes, in particular, as well as the new way pensions are being calculated are drastically reducing the chances of any worker or pensioner to have a decent monthly salary or pension. Official figures already highlight the shrinking of the so-called middle class: From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more, down from 840,000 in 2010. The shrinking trend of the middle class is expected to continue both for taxation and for practical reasons.

An employer will face the same cost hiring five or six part-timers offering a total of 20-24 working hours per day as in hiring one full-timer offering eight hours of work. Particularly in sectors where there is no need for highly skilled workers, such as retail commerce or tourism, the trend to replace well paid positions has already become dominant. Among the self-employed, overtaxation is this year anticipated to reduce the number of those declaring a taxable income of over 30,000 euros per year. As for pensioners, already the first pensions issues on the basis of the new system of calculation prove that the chances for anyone to secure a benefit of 1,500 euros after retirement are next to zero, and will shrink further in the years to come.

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Curious. Bonaire and St. Eustatius are part of the Dutch Kingdom. Conoco can’t move without their permission.

Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips has moved to take Caribbean assets of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award over a decade-oil nationalization of its projects in the South American country, according to two sources familiar with its actions. The U.S. firm targeted Caribbean facilities on the islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius that play critical roles in PDVSA’s oil exports, the country’s main source of revenue. PDVSA relies on the terminals to process, store and blend its oil. “We will work with the community and local authorities to address issues that may arise as a result of enforcement actions,” ConocoPhillips said in a statement to Reuters.

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Dec 272016
 
 December 27, 2016  Posted by at 10:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Joan Miró Caballo, Pipa y Flor Roja (Horse Pipe and Red Flower) 1920

 

I was surprised to see how surprised I was, like I’m sure millions of people were, to see the term ‘fake news’ pop up in what are still called ‘respectable’ (which is by now really just another word for ‘old’) news outlets.

Because a huge part of what they have been feeding their readers and viewers for years is that very thing: fake news. Who needs a bunch of bored highschool kids in small town Montenegro when you have the offices of America’s ‘official’ news sources at your disposal?

That there are still people trying to make a serious point by quoting anything at all published in the Washington Post -and to an only slightly lesser extent the New York Times- is beyond me. And not a little bit beyond. Well, that people still read these sheets is just as incredible, I grant you that.

I haven’t kept count of the number of ‘articles’ the WaPo has published over the past year or so -the election campaign- that referred to unsubstantiated reports emanating from anonymous US intelligence sources about Russian involvement in everything bad under the sun, but I’m dead certain that put together they would add up to a Christmas bestseller of respectable size. A chance missed there, gents. You could have had your own garbage lead your own bestseller lists. Snake, tail.

And it’s not as if it was a new thing for them either, what’s new is the sheer volume and the concerted campaign we’re talking about. We of course had a similar thing in 2003 with the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘fantasy’. Now that I mention it, how is it possible that Colin Powell is still walking around free, and Cheney and W.?

When did it become de rigueur to lie to the people, let alone Congress and the UN? What have we become? When did that happen? Remember Ukraine, and the stories you were told about that, less than 3 years ago? Crimea? G-d I hope Trump will get rid of Victoria Nuland.

Trump called the UN a sad club for people to “get together, talk and have a good time”. Is he wrong? Really? If so, do tell, how wrong is he? Perhaps wrong in the same way that the IMF is wrong for letting Christine Lagarde keep her plush tax-free seat after being convicted for handing €400 million in French taxpayer money to a crony? That kind of wrong?

I’m thinking there are still awfully few people who understand what’s happening in the world. What’s changing. And I don’t hold out much hope that they will until it hits them smack upside the backs of their heads.

Why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why many more changes are in the offing. Well, it’s precisely because the UN and EU and IMF and Capitol Hill are self-serving ‘clubs’ filled with unaccountable and overpaid people who have turned the world into a godawful mess.

Not for themselves, they’re fine, thank you very much, they all have pensions from here to Rome and back again for the rest of their lives, but for everyone else. G-d I hope Trump will come through on his pre-election promise to limit the terms of American Congressmen and Senators. And that this is subsequently applied to all these ‘clubs’. Because if anything, it’s them who are the bane of this world. Public service…

There may be fine individuals among them, that’s not even -the worst of- the point, it’s the dilapidated, decayed, rotten to the core institutions that they ‘serve’ which are the problem. They serve themselves and they serve the institutions, the one thing they sure don’t serve is the people. You know who’s given (‘voted’) them those lavish pensions and benefits? They themselves did, and their predecessors.

The UN is supposed to keep the peace in the world. Well, works like a charm, doesn’t it? The IMF is tasked with keeping 200 or so nations in reasonably balanced economic conditions. Got it down. The US Congress was set up as a pillar of democracy, but it’s occupied by guys and gals who spend so much more time raising funds for their next campaign than representing those who voted them in, that they need lobbyists to tell them which way to vote.

As for the EU, is it even possible they’re the worst of the bunch? Europe is falling apart before all of our eyes, and they’re all in full tard denial about it. They are turning Greece into a third world country, they’re alienating Britain to the point where the English will, once they wake up to what’s going on, want to set Brussels on fire. And why? There’s no point left to any of it at all.

Italy’s a goner, once enough Italians realize what the ECB wants to do to their banks. France is such a key member nobody wants to even imagine it falling, so its broke banks are ignored. Holland will come very close to voting in Wilders, which means Nexit. Germany is destabilizing rapidly. Spain has been a hornets’ nest for years. Etc.

And again: why? Well, because the Obama/Merkel model has so dramatically failed. All these places where left and right work together to produce a shapeless blob somewhere in the center that has no identity and doesn’t speak out for anyone.

You just wouldn’t know it from reading the Washington Post. Or any comparable old and respected medium in any of these European countries. It’s not just the politics that have failed, it’s its propaganda machine too.

This is something that manifests itself differently in different places, but it shouldn’t be that hard to see the ties that bind it all together. For one thing, because, not even touched on so far, the amount of fake financial news that has been forced down our throats for decades, and increasingly so: the worse things get, the bigger the lie…

There is no economic recovery. Never was. Not in the US, not in Europe anywhere. It’s a fairy tale. There are plates shifting, sure. You can cherry pick a region stateside that does well if only you select the ‘right’ stats. Like you can say employment is on a roll, if you’re willing to discard the number of ‘newly created’ jobs that are part time.

And yes, if you just completely ignore that 94 million Americans are not counted at all in unemployment numbers, Obama has been a big success. It’s just that those 94 million have a vote, too. We will see that exact same dynamic, and we have already started, play out all across Europe.

It’ll be much messier, for instance because in Holland last time I looked 81 different political parties were vying to take part in the upcoming elections, but the end result will be the same. That is, the existing order will be voted out. Not everywhere, and it won’t be replaced by radically different parties and people in all places, but do please understand that it doesn’t have to.

In Europe, it’s not and/and, it’s if/or. As in, if either Italy or France or Holland vote in a party that wants to leave the EU or the Euro, it’s game over. The endgame will be almighty messed up because of all the laws and regulations the EU has invented, but eventually the walls of Brussels will crumble. Good riddance too.

I’ve said it a hundred times before, all the institutions mentioned before, EU, IMF, UN and yes, even Congress, exist by the grace of growth. People accept them only as long as they can show reasonable proof that they bring economic benefits. As soon as that’s gone (or I should say as soon as people figure it out), so are they.

People are going to vote for someone close to their own lives, their own world, to lead them in times of contraction. That is inevitable. It’s why Trump won, and it’s also why he’s set to fail. Isn’t that a lovely paradox? We’re going to split up into smaller entities, economic contraction guarantees it.

And while everyone tries to talk you into thinking that’s terrible, there’s no reason why it should be. We can work together in many different ways. All these supranational institutions have merely become straight jackets that serve only the people who work inside them and those outside who benefit from keeping up appearances and clinging to power.

That of course gets us back to the Washington Post and its comatose brethren. The US press has been a full accomplice with Washington in reporting fake news about the recovery, and it’s not there. Never has been. The Dow Jones says one thing, the votes for Trump say another. In the end, democracy is that simple. Same goes for Britain, same goes for continental Europe.

And there’s no doubt that Trump is an iceberg-sized gamble, but a change had to come. A change from the monsoon of fake news we have all been fed, but also initially a change that won’t be able to help itself from being replete with more fake news, from all sides.

Put it this way: in 2016, the engine of change got cranked up. In the new year, it will accelerate. That is 2017. That is what the new year will bring.

Mar 062016
 
 March 6, 2016  Posted by at 8:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Arnold Genthe San Francisco , Chinatown. The street of the gamblers at night 1900

China never had an actual economic model or growth model. It simply printed an obscene amount of money, especially after 2008, and used it to build factories, 30-story see-through apartment blocks and highways into nowhere cities, without giving much if any thought to where this would lead when their formerly rich western customers had less to spend on its ever increasing amount of ever more useless products, or when its workers would stop spending ever more on apartments as investments, or when no more roads and bridges were needed because nowhere was already in plain sight. Or all of the above. It was ‘to infinity and beyond’ from the start, but that’s a line from a kids’ fantasy story, not a 5-year plan or an economic model.

Going into its 10-day, 3,000 delegates National People’s Congress opening on Friday, China was facing -and very much still is- two major and interconnected problems. Both are problems that the country has never faced before -not a minor point to make. The first is a giant debt load, one that could easily be as high as $40 trillion, or 350% of GDP, once one includes the shadow banking system (watch the shadows!). The second is the Communist Party’s -economic- credibility.

The debt problem is impossible to solve without very far-reaching restructurings of both the debt itself and of the entire Chinese economy. There appears to be a problem within the problem, however: the Party neither looks prepared to truly tackle the debt nor does it seem to know how.

As for the credibility issue, the very fact that a 5-year plan will be unveiled is the perfect in-a-nutshell illustration of what’s ailing Beijing. Not only does it hark back to communist days of old, not exactly a confidence booster, but trying to look 5 years ahead in today’s global economy is in itself not credible. It forces the Party to make statements nobody in their right mind will believe. And to compound the issue, that is something the leadership doesn’t really seem to take seriously. President Xi Jinping, more than anything else, looks like a man in the tradition of ‘what I say is true because I say so”.

That may have worked for a long time inside the country, but the desire to be part of the global economy means the ‘because I say so’ attitude is now being questioned by people Xi can neither bully nor bend into submission. Something he doesn’t seem to have clued into yet. Surrounded as he will be over these ten days by people who’ll say Yes at any appropriate and inappropriate instance, and laugh at anything he says that might be construed as a joke, Xi won’t come out any the wiser. He’d probably be better off spending those days with someone like Kyle Bass, but he’s not doing that.

Everybody, including most NPC delegates, knows that China’s grossly overleveraged, overproducing and overcapacitated economy needs another round of mass layoffs. Some initial numbers relating to job losses have been ‘leaked’ prior to the Congress. First, it was 1.8 million jobs cut in the coal and steel sectors, and a few days later that became 6 million. But that can only possibly be just a start.

It’s all in the numbers. China has something in the order of a billion workers, give or take 100 million or so. Even with the largest mass migration in human history, in which 100s of millions moved from the countryside to the cities, there are still an estimated 300 million people working in agriculture. That’s the entire US population. It’s also 30% of the Chinese workforce. In the US just 2 or 3% work in farming.

But that still leaves 700 million Chinese in other jobs. Many of these jobs were ‘invented’ in the past 20 years, as China’s ‘miracle growth’ transformed it first into the world’s no. 1 trinket producer, then into a kind of powerhouse that built highways to nowhere cities, and today a powerhouse with a fast plummeting global consumer base.

Many millions of Chinese workers produce things that can’t be sold. This is by no means confined to just coal and steel. The sharply dropping Chinese import and export numbers, as well as the purchasing indices, tell a bleak story. It’s evident that China must re-invent itself. And while that may be exactly what it claims it’s doing, the -alleged- transition to a service- and/or consumer economy may sound good, but its practical success is far from guaranteed.

Transforming a factory worker into a service sector employee is not a matter of flicking a switch. Repeating this 10 million times over, or 20 or 30 million, is a nightmare in an economy that is seeing its growth rates plummet while at the same time needing to deleverage its debt levels.

What are all these people going to do that produces actual economic value? And what will be the character of the companies they produce this value at? China is still dominated by state-owned enterprises, with workers relying on the faith that Beijing will always make everything right that goes wrong.

Losing that faith may have far-reaching consequences. At the same time, China cannot get the international economic status it so desperately seeks if so many de facto work for the government.

Though most tend to forget this, China was in a similar situation not so long ago:

In the late 1990s, China drastically restructured its state-owned enterprises, privatizing some and shutting down others. The result: from 1995 to 2002, over 40 million jobs in the state sector were cut, along with nearly 30 million jobs lost in the manufacturing, mining, and utilities sectors.

Although many of these workers were able to pick up jobs in the newly-growing private sector, the societal and cultural shift entailed in the restricting should not be underestimated. Prior to that wave of reforms, state sector employees (the vast majority of China’s workforce) enjoyed the benefits of an “iron rice bowl,” absolute job security along with social benefits (such as healthcare and pensions) provided by the state.

70 million – unproductive- jobs cut in 7 years. An average 10 million per year. A problem the country ‘solved’ by throwing tens of trillions (in US dollars) into overleveraged overproduction at exports-driven manufacturing enterprises. And by moving hundreds of millions of people into the cities that housed the enterprises.

15 years later, many of these newly created jobs have in their turn become unproductive. And the country may have to start the same process all over again. With probably tens of millions more jobs to replace. Question is, how will it fare this time around? Will people accept it as obediently as 15 years ago?

The reforms of the 1990s resulted in massive lay-offs. Overnight, tens of millions of workers lost their “iron rice bowls.” There were people who didn’t want to accept it, even those who actively resisted, but the government ruled with an iron fist and eventually the reforms went through. Even today, some of these people have grown old on the edge of poverty. On a certain level, we sacrificed them in exchange for huge reforms to the economic system.

But before wondering about civil obedience, let’s ask again: what are all these people going to do that produces actual economic value? Service economy? Consumer economy? There is no move available this time into another giant and overleveraged export industry. They’re at the end of the -debt- line.

Those people that had some money have lost a lot -and will lose much more- in equities and housing markets. Moreover, the government’s attempts to make them feel more secure about their old age would take decades to convince the people. So those who have something to save will do just that. So.. what consumer economy?

Service economy? Much of that in China is in financial services. Which has no future. So what else is there? How about the US model of burger flippers? That looks like a winner…

See, here’s a depiction of Chinese debt:

And here’s what they plan to do about it:

It looks like subprime derivatives on steroids: China hopes to bundle together billions of dollars worth of non-performing loans and eventually sell them to global investors Such a massive securitisation programme would represent the latest tactic in China’s campaign to lift one of the biggest shadows cast over its slowing economy -a debt pile that is as big as 230% of GDP. It would whittle back debts at Chinese banks and move some of the risk outside the domestic financial system.

According to official figures, such debts at the banks have reached Rmb1.27tn ($194bn), while analysts estimate the real number is likely to be many times higher. Chinese media has reported that the regulator has granted a total of Rmb50bn for the first wave of products. Demand for the scheme, however, is expected to be significantly more modest than supply. “How many global investors have been interested in the traditional [bad debt in China]?” asked one Hong Kong-based investor with experience buying distressed debt in Asia. “Not many.. is a more complicated version of this going to change that soon? No.”

This’ll be great, as great as the western approach to drowning in debt. Mind you, the Chinese haven’t even started talking about ‘recovery’ like we have, they’re still thinking -or propagandizing- that they’re on an ever upward trail. Well, they’re not. One of the early notes coming out of the People’s Congress was this: “China Says Will Keep Yuan Basically Stable Against Basket Of Currencies ..”

That’s not happening. They know it, we know it, and Kyle Bass knows it. Perhaps once the Congress is over, they’ll come clean? Hard to say. What’s certain is that global markets WILL force a substantial re-adjustment of the yuan, and there’s nothing Xi or the entire Communist Party can do to prevent it. And then, after a 30% readjustment, take another look at that dollar-denominated debt!

And they’ll have to cut many millions of jobs, and try to ‘pacify’ the newly unemployed, and deleverage the insane debt levels they’ve created, and find a way to explain to their people where it all went so wrong.

China no longer lives in a kids’ fantasy Toy Story.