Sep 062019
 
 September 6, 2019  Posted by at 2:06 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Kazemir Malevich Floor polishers 1912

 

Everything Brexit changes every 5 minutes. That makes it hard to follow. It makes it hard to write about it too, because things are certain to be different as soon as you hit Publish.

Boris wanted snap elections on October 14. That became 15 because of a Jewish holiday. but the opposition didn’t really want that election, Or they did, but not on his terms. And over the past few days it’s been said 1000 times that Boris is not to be trusted so no election at all, lest he underhandedly changes the date. Well, okay let’s have one but not before November. That way his hands are tied.

Because there is no such thing as a British -or UK, if you will- constitution, court challenges against prorogating Parliament get thrown out, since no judge feels obliged to waddle into that minefield. The Supreme Court will have to, though. And soon. The prorogation apparently still leaves room on Monday September 9 for another go in Parliament at Boris’s move for an election. It will be thrown out.

Then: 5 weeks of silence. Yeah, right. Parliament may be prorogued, but Boris won’t be, and neither will the courts. There was this judge the other day who said Parliament itself can decide when to sit, but that is simply untrue. Because it ignores prorogation, which another judge just said is perfectly legal.

Boris wants to prorogue Westminster for 5 years? Perfectly legal, it would seem. Unless some lawyer or judge delves up a law from the 16th century that says otherwise. Constitutions have their use, you know.

But it’s hard not to feel sorry for the man here and there and now and then. Ministers leave, friends leave, his brother is outta here and even his dog handed him a pink slip.

 

 

And the opposition, including a whole bunch of his own party, is ganging up on him. Maybe that has something to do with special adviser Dominic Cummings telling 21 Tory parliamentarians they’re no longer welcome in their own party, of which he himself is not even a member and never has been. Maybe that’s it.

But the strongest words came from Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster -Plaid Cymru is a a social-democratic political party in Wales advocating Welsh independence from the United Kingdom within the European Union- says Wikipedia.

Saville Roberts said that this morning the opposition party leaders agreed that guaranteeing an article 50 extension should take priority over calling an early election, via BBC News:

We need to make sure we get past the 31 October and an extension to article 50. In that respect, we were in agreement that the prime minister is on the run. Boris is broken. We have an opportunity to bring down Boris, to break Boris, and to bring down Brexit. And we must take that.

Just as this week, the vote for a general election would play into Boris Johnson’s hands. It would allow him to ignore the legislation that is currently going through the House of Lords, likely to have royal assent today. It would allow him to ignore that. It would give him the opportunity to ignore the law.


Our duty, therefore, as parliamentarians who are intent on stopping no-deal Brexit is to be here in this place, to hold him to account, and to make sure that he abides by the law.

See, my theory is that Boris doesn’t give a hoot about politics, he just wants being PM on his bucket list. And he trusts, as he always has in his life, in his particular charm to woo the -older- ladies in the country to his side. Boris looks like someone with mother issues, she’s the one he’s trying to charm.

But ganging up on him like this is not nice. The older ladies will confirm this. There’s a former PM too who’s in on it:

Pressed on a challenge by Sir John Major on Thursday night to sack Cummings, Johnson first failed to answer a direct question from one reporter, then refused to give his chief adviser explicit support when asked a second time. He answered:

“I … I … Look … Advisers, as I think someone said in the Commons the other day, advisers advise and ministers decide.”


On Thursday evening, Major made an implicit reference to Cummings in a speech to the CBI Scotland annual dinner: “We have seen over-mighty advisers before. It is a familiar script. It always ends badly. I offer the prime minister some friendly advice: get rid of these advisers before they poison the political atmosphere beyond repair. And do it quickly. There is no need for them to be led out of Downing Street by armed police, but go they should. And now.”

Boris looks to be checkmate at this point. But he’s not the leader, Dominic Cummings is. And Cummings can see a few moves ahead. So there may still be surprises coming. Then again, Boris has claimed he’d rather die in a ditch than ask the EU for another Brexit extension, and Parliament appears to have made it impossible not to ask for one.

Ergo, Boris may have to go this weekend or right after the Monday vote that will deny him his snap election in time for Halloween. And if he does, he doesn’t lose all that much face, because he can blame his failure on a vast selection of other people.

But then what? Have that election anyway? Half of Britain will be red hot angry if there still is no Brexit, and there will be a lot of Labour voters in that half. So Jeremy Corbyn is not very likely to win right now. Lib Dems then? They were salvaged from the dustbin what seems just 5 minutes ago because nobody else wanted to support the Remain option. They were gone, broken.

It’s going to take a long time to put the pieces of that broken country back together again, no matter what the outcome of all this may be. That doesn’t bode well for anyone. And make no mistake, it’s broken. Into millions of little pieces.

Boris is just one of them.

 

 

 

 

Sep 012019
 


Edouard Vuillard The two sisters 1899

 

Hong Kong Protesters Plan To Disrupt Airport After Night Of Chaos (R.)
The Sheer Scale Of The Crisis Facing Britain’s Decrepit Constitution (O.)
How A Secret Plan To Close Parliament Sparked Uproar Across Britain (O.)
British PM Johnson Challenges Lawmakers To Deliver Brexit (R.)
EU’s Barnier Not Optimistic About Avoiding A No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Lagarde Says Negative Rates Have Helped Europe More Than They’ve Hurt (MW)
Bianco Warns “Negative Rates Are Extremely Toxic” (Gisiger)
Low Interest Rates Compound The Big Problems Facing Pension Funds (MW)
Bernie Sanders Proposes Canceling $81 Billion US Medical Debt (R.)
Breaking The Media Blackout on the Imprisonment of Julian Assange (MPN)
Fifty Shades of Epstein (Hope Kesselring)

 

 

Get the parties involved around a table before people get killed.

Hong Kong Protesters Plan To Disrupt Airport After Night Of Chaos (R.)

Pro-democracy demonstrators planned on Sunday to choke travel routes to Hong Kong’s international airport after a chaotic night of running battles between police and masked protesters, the latest wave of unrest to hit the Chinese-ruled city. Protest organizers have urged the public to overwhelm road and rail links to the airport, one of the world’s busiest, on Sunday and Monday, potentially disrupting flights. People would begin gathering at 1 p.m. (0500 GMT), protest groups said. The airport closed one of its car parks and advised passengers to use public transport, without giving a reason.

A similar so-called “stress test” of the airport last weekend failed to gain momentum. Three weeks ago, some flights were delayed or canceled after protesters swarmed the airport. Late on Saturday and into the early hours, police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and protesters threw petrol bombs, escalating clashes that have plunged the Asian financial center into its worst political crisis in decades. As government helicopters hovered overhead, protesters who had been banned from demonstrating set fires in the streets and threw bricks at police near government offices and Chinese military headquarters.

Officers fired two warning shots in the air to scare off a group of protesters who had them surrounded and were trying to steal their pistols, the police said, only the second time live rounds have been used in more than three months of unrest. Police sprayed demonstrators with blue-dyed water to make it easier to identify them later. Parts of the metro system ground to a halt as skirmishes spread to the subway, with television showing images of people being beaten as they cowered on the floor behind umbrellas. Police said they arrested 40 people inside Prince Edward metro station on suspicion of obstructing officers, unlawful assembly and criminal damage. Three stations stayed shut on Sunday.

Read more …

“..the eight-word British constitution established in 1689 – What The Crown Assents In Parliament Is Law – is a decaying, time-worn construct on which to protect and advance today’s democracy..”

The Sheer Scale Of The Crisis Facing Britain’s Decrepit Constitution (O.)

To prorogue parliament for no better reason than to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of a no-deal Brexit may have been an intolerable abuse of power, and an affront to democracy, but in Britain it is constitutionally possible. As a result, for all the threats of judicial review and court actions, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to challenge. For the prime minister controls everything, from the business of the House of Commons to the ability to prorogue it. He or she is lent monarchial sovereignty, the same sovereignty that Charles 1 tried to justify because the monarch was supposedly God’s representative on Earth: the divine right of kings, now transmuted into the divine right of Boris.

Part of the-then cleverness of the 17th-century deal was that it co-opted the crown into being the above-the-fray, holder-of-the-ring of proper parliamentary procedure and process. But today, that capacity has evaporated. So when Jacob Rees-Mogg travelled to Balmoral last week to ask the Queen to prorogue parliament, there was virtually no prospect of her refusing – as an elected head of state might have done. She did have the option of saying that on such a controversial use of prerogative power she wanted to go beyond the minimum quorate of three for a privy council meeting (the chief whip and leader of the House of Lords accompanied Rees-Mogg on a separate plane to Balmoral to avoid suspicion) and call for a full meeting including former ministers from other parties, purportedly the constitutional forum to advise her on use of the royal prerogative.

But that would have been seen as a political act. She folded. Exposed as a constitutional cipher, the case for an elected head of state has suddenly become unanswerable. It is but one of the many constitutional earthquakes triggered by Brexit whose aftershocks will be felt for decades. Even the character of the referendum itself is testament to our lack of a constitution. No super-majority was required for this fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Europe, any more than it was for the Scottish referendum: amazingly, a 42-year and a 300-year union could be ripped apart by a majority of one citizen’s vote.

Read more …

It is a peculiar chain of events no matter what you think of it.

How A Secret Plan To Close Parliament Sparked Uproar Across Britain (O.)

For much of August the plan to shut down parliament for five weeks was kept a very tight secret at the heart of government. For the few Whitehall officials who were made aware of it early on, however, it was not difficult to decipher whose fingerprints were all over it. It was clear to that small group that the bombshell idea had been hatched by Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, and No 10’s director of legislative affairs, Nikki da Costa. Cummings has long been known at Westminster for his disdain for Whitehall and the way the entire system of British government works. He doesn’t mince his words or tolerate those he regards as fools. “If he meets resistance from ministers or officials he will just tell them to fuck off, whoever they are,” said one Whitehall source, who has worked with him.

[..] Last Friday an email between a Whitehall official and No 10 was leaked to this newspaper. It made clear that Johnson had approached Cox for advice on a five-week suspension from around 9 September to 14 October. Cox’s initial view, the correspondence made clear, was that it would probably be legal, unless various court actions being planned by Remainers to block prorogation were successful. Downing Street’s official response when asked about the leak was, at first, muted. “No 10 officials ask for legal and policy advice every day,” said a government source.

But when the Observer story broke last Saturday evening, as Johnson and his team were in Biarritz for the G7 summit preparing for meetings with US president Donald Trump and EU council president Donald Tusk the next day, Downing Street changed tack and tried to dismiss the story in a way that was to backfire spectacularly. Johnson’s press team issued a statement saying that “the claim that the government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false”. It did not deny that the attorney general had been consulted about prorogation but its intent was clear: to create the impression that shutting down parliament was not going to happen.

But less than 72 hours later more leaks were to follow from people inside the government machine to media organisations saying that the prime minister was to make an announcement about prorogation on Wednesday morning. After the BBC got wind of the new leaks, some senior staff were initially dubious that they were genuine, given No 10’s previous denials. When Johnson announced the exact same plan on which his team had poured buckets of cold water four days earlier, large sections of the media, as well as MPs and much of the country, were understandably furious.

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Johnson is just a figurehead.

British PM Johnson Challenges Lawmakers To Deliver Brexit (R.)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged lawmakers to deliver on the Brexit vote and not thwart his plans to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31. Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit with or without a deal, but opposition lawmakers – and several lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservatives – want to act to rule out a no deal Brexit when parliament returns from recess on Tuesday. Previous votes have indicated a majority in parliament opposing a no-deal Brexit, but in a newspaper interview, Johnson said that backing opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn risked there being no Brexit at all.


“The fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum? Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people — and plunge this country into chaos?,” Johnson told the Sunday Times. “Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda? That’s the choice.”

Read more …

He’s seen enough.

EU’s Barnier Not Optimistic About Avoiding A No-Deal Brexit (R.)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario as the EU could not meet Britain’s demands that the backstop for the Irish border is removed from the withdrawal agreement. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Barnier said that the so-called “backstop” had to stay to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market while ensuring an open border on the island of Ireland. “I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario, but we should all continue to work with determination,” Barnier said, according to extracts of his article on the newspaper’s front page.


“The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31. Opposition lawmakers plan to act next week to stop no-deal in parliament. Writing in the same newspaper, Johnson’s de facto deputy Michael Gove said that to remove the option of a no-deal Brexit on Oct 31 would “diminish” the “chances of securing changes” to the Brexit deal that could get it passed through parliament.

Read more …

Translation: the new ECB head does not have confidence in free markets. She thinks central bankers can do a better job.

Lagarde Says Negative Rates Have Helped Europe More Than They’ve Hurt (MW)

The next head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, appears to be as much of a fan of negative interest rates as the current chief, Mario Draghi. In written answers provided to the European Parliament that were released on Thursday, Lagarde said negative interest rates have helped Europe. The ECB’s deposit rate is negative 0.4%. “On the one hand, banks may decide to pass the negative deposit rate on to depositors, lowering the interest rates the latter get on their savings,” she wrote. “On the other hand, the same depositors are also consumers, workers, and borrowers. As such they benefit from stronger economic momentum, lower unemployment and lower borrowing costs.


“All things considered, in the absence of the unconventional monetary policy adopted by the ECB – including the introduction of negative interest rates – euro area citizens would be, overall, worse off.” European banks have complained about the impact on profitability, but even there the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund defended the move. “With regard to the impact of negative rates on banks’ profitability, empirical analysis suggests that the negative effects on banks’ net interest income have been so far more than offset by the benefits from more bank lending and lower costs for provisions and impairments due to the better macroeconomic environment, which to a significant extent is a result of accommodative monetary policy,” she wrote.

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“..Trump is “going to eleven” on trade: He’s going to turn it up so high that there is going to have to be a deal. That’s the way he wants to do this. He will just make it intolerable so everybody has to sit down and cut a deal.”

Bianco Warns “Negative Rates Are Extremely Toxic” (Gisiger)

Jim Bianco, President of Bianco Research, cautions against evermore unconventional monetary policy interventions. He fears that the global slowdown is going to get worse and he spots opportunities in long-term bonds and gold. The global economy is on the brink: Europe is headed for recession, Japan as well and China’s growth rate is the slowest in almost thirty years. Only the economy in the United States seems to hold up. But for how long? «We live in a global world and if Japan and Europe are struggling and the world has a problem it’s going to come to the US eventually», says Jim Bianco. According to the internationally renowned macro strategist, the biggest threat to the US economy is the inverted yield curve.

«This is the market’s way of saying the Federal Funds Rate is too high and must come down», Mr. Bianco is convinced. Against this backdrop, the founder and President of Chicago based Bianco Research argues that the Federal Reserve should cut its target rate by 50 basis points at the next FOMC meeting. He also cautions against introducing negative interest rates in the United States during the next recession because in his view that would cripple the global financial system.

[..] First, the trade and currency wars where the situation reminds me somewhat of «This Is Spinal Tap». It’s a cult satire movie from the eighties about a rock band and they coined the phrase «up to eleven» because that’s how high their amplifier went. So the expression «turning it up to eleven» refers to the act of taking something to an extreme. I’m saying this because I think Trump is “going to eleven” on trade: He’s going to turn it up so high that there is going to have to be a deal. That’s the way he wants to do this. He will just make it intolerable so everybody has to sit down and cut a deal.

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Pension funds are dead.

Low Interest Rates Compound The Big Problems Facing Pension Funds (MW)

The largest public pension funds have over $1 trillion in aggregate unfunded liabilities. Low interest rates are going to make it harder for these and other pension plans to rely on investment returns alone to meet their obligations to retirees. Interest rates in the U.S. have been declining for over 20 years, and short-term rates have been hovering close to zero over the last decade. Negative interest rates in Japan and Europe and mounting expectations of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve have expanded the pool of bonds with negative yields to more than $16 trillion, or around 27% of the global bond market. Initially, low interest rates are good for asset prices.

Simplistically, this is because investors seeking similar returns as before are now forced to take capital that they would have otherwise invested in safe government bonds and deploy it into riskier assets (equities, high yield bonds, etc.), thereby driving up prices of these assets. In addition to stronger economic growth coming out of the 2008 financial crisis, this is one of the factors leading to strong performance of equities over the past decade. However, going forward it is unlikely that asset returns are going to be similar to what we witnessed over the last decade. One of the reasons is that risky asset returns are generally priced as a spread over risk-free real returns (i.e. inflation-adjusted returns). This makes intuitive sense, as investors would demand additional return for taking on risk.

If the risk-free rate is low, and there is high demand for risky assets, then the total investment return (risk free rate + risk premia/spread) will likely be lower than in a scenario with higher interest rates, all else being equal. According to Voya Investment Management’s capital market assumptions, expected returns for equities over the next 10 years is likely to be around 1.50 percentage points to 3.3 percentage points lower than assumptions in 2013.

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Like with student debt, helping only some people appears counter-productive.

Bernie Sanders Proposes Canceling $81 Billion US Medical Debt (R.)

U.S. presidential contender Bernie Sanders proposed a plan on Saturday to cancel $81 billion in existing past-due medical debt for Americans, but offered no details on how it would be financed. Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, said in a statement that under his plan, the government would negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills that have been reported to credit agencies. The proposal, he said, would also repeal some elements of the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill and allow other existing and future medical debt to be discharged. “In the United States of America, your financial life and future should not be destroyed because you or a member of your family gets sick,” said Sanders.


“That is unacceptable. I am sick and tired of seeing over 500,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because they cannot pay off the outrageous cost of a medical emergency or a hospital stay.” According to Sanders, medical debt is the leading cause of consumer bankruptcy, with more than half a million Americans filing due to medical expenses each year. He said the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill made it difficult to discharge medical debt by imposing strict means tests and eliminated fundamental consumer protections for Americans. “It also trapped families with medical debt in long-term poverty, mandated that they pay for credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy, and increased the need for expensive legal services when filing a case for medical bankruptcy,” the senator said.

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“..the strategy of the powerful appears to be to know as much as possible about the rest of us while ensuring that we know as little as possible about them and how they operate..”

Breaking The Media Blackout on the Imprisonment of Julian Assange (MPN)

The role of journalism in a democracy is publishing information that holds the powerful to account — the kind of information that empowers the public to become more engaged citizens in their communities so that we can vote in representatives that work in the interest of “we the people.” There is perhaps no better example of watchdog journalism that holds the powerful to account and exposes their corruption than that of WikiLeaks, which exposed to the world evidence of widespread war crimes the U.S. military was committing in Iraq, including the killing of two Reuters journalists; showed that the U.S. government and large corporations were using private intelligence agencies to spy on activists and protesters; and revealed how the military hid tortured Guantanamo Bay prisoners from Red Cross inspectors.

It’s this kind of real journalism that our First Amendment was meant to protect but engaging in it has instead made WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange the target of a massive smear campaign for the last several years — including false claims that Assange is working with Vladimir Putin and the Russians and hackers, as well as open calls by corporate media pundits for him to be assassinated. The allegations that Assange conspired with Putin to undermine the 2016 election and American democracy as a whole fell completely flat earlier this month when a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed this case as “factually implausible,” with the judge noting that at no point does the prosecution’s “threadbare” argument show “any facts” at all, and concluding that the idea that Assange conspired with Russia against the Democratic Party or America is “entirely divorced from the facts.”


[..] It is important to ask ourselves what Julian Assange’s real crime is. In an era, dubbed the Information Age, where the strategy of the powerful appears to be to know as much as possible about the rest of us while ensuring that we know as little as possible about them and how they operate, Assange worked to prevent that imbalance from becoming a rout, and stuck like a bone in the throat of the mighty.

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Interesting take for sure.

Fifty Shades of Epstein (Hope Kesselring)

A few weeks ago, half the top ten Amazon best sellers in romantic erotica were based around the trope of the BDSM billionaire, with Grey by E. L. James holding firm in the top ten. In the world of erotic romance, the 50 Shades of Grey series has been a continuous presence for over seven years. Thousands of riffs on the sexy and sadistic billionaire exist: Russian billionaire, billionaire blackmailer, billionaire stepbrother. I’m not trying to kink shame, but it would take a lot of money to convince me to write detailed descriptions of torture sessions in a gilded dungeon. This is especially true in the shadow of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death. Mental and sexual abuse by an obscenely wealthy man now just seems, well, obscene.


I should point out that James’ character, Christian Grey, strikes me as more a domestic abuser than a real BDSM enthusiast. He is a billionaire in the tech industry who fixates on Ana, a 21-year old virgin. He puts surveillance software on her phone. He harasses her to sign a submissive’s contract, and even though she never signs it, he still treats her like a sex slave. He manipulates Ana into doing sex acts for which she doesn’t give consent. Blatant consumerism sits on the page in stark contrast to real life. 50 Shades of Grey eroticizes money and abuse. The writing is universally panned and mocked by critics, yet it’s sold 125 million copies. How in the world of publishing did it even come to be? Let’s go back to 2008. That year the economy was melting down, Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to a felony sex offense, and the Twilight series of vampire romance novels for teen girls were bestsellers.

Twilight was a young adult twist on the long-popular vampire romance, which had flourished in that market since Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire appeared. Probably some of Epstein’s victims read the Twilight books. 50 Shades of Grey marks a shift in the erotic romance genre from vampires to billionaires. In 2009, E. L. James started publishing her version of Twilight on fanfiction websites, churning out a chapter every couple of days. Master of the Universe, as it was called then, was popular but criticized for being too racy, so she moved it to her own website and renamed the characters. James didn’t know it yet, but she was about to be catapulted to international fame by some upper middle class moms in the suburbs of New York City.


[..] In the autumn of 2011, news about Occupy Wall Street, a movement that began in reaction to the deeds of the predatory class, dominated headlines. Posters portrayed the 1% as greedy Monopoly men, far from sexy. Occupy protesters had the media’s attention for a short time before the idea was squashed. That November, Jeffrey Epstein registered as a sex offender in New York after completing his jail term and moving back into his Manhattan mansion, free to continue abusing girls. 2012 was E. L. James’ year. A prominent lifestyle blog (started by an NYU communications graduate married to a talent manager) promoted James’ fanfiction novel as sexually liberating to fashion-conscious moms in upscale suburban New York. James got a book deal and “mommy porn” was born. Paperbacks with necktie covers appeared on bookshelves and in beach bags everywhere.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

May 202019
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Diana Bathing with her Nymphs with Actaeon and Callisto 1634

 

China Forced Tech Transfer Problem Is Growing – EU Business Group (R.)
US Ban Won’t Derail Huawei’s European 5G Rollout (AT)
Google Starts To Cut Ties With Huawei (AFP)
Huawei Stockpiles 12 Months Of Parts Ahead Of US Ban (Nikkei)
US Prosecutors To ‘Help Themselves’ To Julian Assange’s Possessions (PA)
Swedish Prosecutors Ask To Detain Assange Over Rape Investigation (Ind.)
Skripal Poisoning Suspects Received Mystery Phone Call Following Attack (G.)
Rich White Men Rule America. How Much Longer Will We Tolerate That For? (G.)
Theresa May Prepares ‘Bold’ Last-Ditch Offer To MPs On Brexit Bill (G.)
Corbyn Defends Labour’s Bid For Both Leavers And Remainers (G.)
NHS England Loses 6,000 Mental Health Nurses In 10 Years (G.)

 

 

Europe’s politicians are slow to take this up.

China Forced Tech Transfer Problem Is Growing – EU Business Group (R.)

Cases of European firms forced to transfer technology in China are increasing despite Beijing saying the problem does not exist, a European business lobby said, adding that its outlook on the country’s regulatory environment is “bleak”. China’s trading partners have long complained that their companies are often compelled to hand over prized technology in exchange for access to the world’s second-largest economy. Demands by the United States that China address the problem are central to the two countries’ ongoing trade war, which has seen both sides pile tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods. The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said on Monday that results from its annual survey showed 20% of members reported being compelled to transfer technology for market access, up from 10% two years ago.

Nearly a quarter of those who reported such transfers said the practice was currently ongoing, while another 39% said the transfers had occurred less than two years ago. “Unfortunately, our members have reported that compelled technology transfers not only persist, but that they happen at double the rate of two years ago,” European Chamber Vice President Charlotte Roule said at a news briefing on the survey. “It might be due to a number of reasons… Either way, it is unacceptable that this practice continues in a market as mature and innovative as China,” Roule said. In certain “cutting edge” industries the incidence of reported transfers was higher, such as 30% in chemicals and petroleum, 28% in medical devices, and 27% in pharmaceuticals, she added.

China’s top Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, said on Saturday that Washington’s complaints on the issue were “fabricated from thin air”. Amid the escalating U.S.-China trade war, Beijing has put pressure on the EU to stand with it against U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies, though the world’s largest trade bloc has largely rebuffed those efforts. The EU has also become increasingly frustrated by what it sees as the slow pace of economic opening in China, even after years of granting China almost unfettered access to EU markets for trade and investment. However, European officials say publicly that they do not support the use of tariffs as a solution.

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“So intertwined were the activities of Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia in European telecom infrastructure that it is impossible to ban the sale of parts to one of them without affecting the others..”

US Ban Won’t Derail Huawei’s European 5G Rollout (AT)

Two high-ranking European government officials told Asia Times in background discussions that a US ban on sales of electronic components to Huawei Technologies wouldn’t stop the Chinese telecom firm from rolling out 5G mobile networks in Europe. Europe doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, the officials emphasized in background briefings, because the United States doesn’t offer a competing product, and Huawei’s competitors – Ericsson and Nokia – don’t have the capacity or the knowledge to replace the Chinese giant. The two Scandinavian firms don’t offer serious competition to Huawei, but rather work in close cooperation with the much larger Chinese firm.


Huawei’s research and development budget is roughly double that of Ericsson and Nokia combined, according to public sources. So intertwined were the activities of Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia in European telecom infrastructure that it is impossible to ban the sale of parts to one of them without affecting the others, an official explained. The official, who oversees telecom policy for one of the Group of 10 economies, doubted that Washington’s action would have much impact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Thursday that they would not ban the Chinese firm, adding that policies were in place to safeguard their security. French President Macron told a technology conference Friday that France’s “perspective is not to block Huawei or any other company. France and Europe are pragmatic and realistic.” Macron stressed that France would balance security with access to good technology.

Read more …

What technology will Google use?

Google Starts To Cut Ties With Huawei (AFP)

US internet giant Google, whose Android mobile operating system powers most of the world’s smartphones, said Sunday it was beginning to cut ties with China’s Huawei, which Washington considers a national security threat. In the midst of a trade war with Beijing, President Donald Trump has barred US companies from engaging in telecommunications trade with foreign companies said to threaten American national security. The measure targets Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant in Washington’s sights that is listed by the Commerce Department among firms with which American companies can only engage in trade after obtaining the green light from the authorities.


The ban includes technology sharing. “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” a Google spokesperson told AFP. The move could have dramatic implications since Google, like all tech companies, must collaborate with smartphone makers to ensure its systems are compatible with their devices. Google will have to halt business activities with Huawei that involve transfer of hardware, software and technical services that are not publicly available — meaning Huawei will only be able to use the open source version of Android, a source close to the matter told AFP. Huawei will no longer have access to Google’s proprietary apps and services, such as the Gmail email service.

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“How do the Chinese think they can win a trade war
when Xi isn’t even on Twitter.

Huawei Stockpiles 12 Months Of Parts Ahead Of US Ban (Nikkei)

Huawei Technologies told global suppliers six months ago it wanted to build up a year of crucial components to prepare for trade war uncertainties, even as it moved to secure new sources and become more self reliant, sources familiar with the plans told the Nikkei Asian Review. Meanwhile, concerns are mounting in Huawei’s Asian tech supply chain about collateral damage from the U.S. government’s move to potentially block American and even foreign companies from doing business with the world’s leading telecom equipment maker, whose global procurement totals around $67 billion a year. Shares in companies whose fortunes depend in part on Huawei business sold off Thursday.

The reaction followed a statement Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce that it was placing the company on a export control list. The listing, once in effect, means that all of Huawei’s American suppliers will require U.S. government approval to sell to the Chinese company. The lack of detail in the statement creates uncertainty for Asian manufacturers. Many important Huawei suppliers in the region including Sony and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. — the world’s largest contract chipmaker — have held internal meetings to assess the implications, multiple sources told Nikkei.

Multiple sources said that Huawei’s preparations for a worst-case scenario – a U.S. ban on business with key suppliers – started more than six months ago and were not limited to chips but spanned a wide range of electronics, including passive components and optical parts. For some components that are subject to higher risks of export controls, Huawei has stockpiled six months’ to more than a year’s worth of supply, while holding at least three months’ worth of less crucial ones, the sources said.

The world’s second-largest smartphone vendor also started at the beginning of this year to certify more suppliers of chips, optical components, camera-related technologies and other parts in places outside the U.S., people familiar with the matter said. “Previously, Huawei would only use the world’s top one or two suppliers for electronic components, but this year it assigned the team to extend the reach to three to four suppliers for each component,” said a source with direct knowledge of the plan. “The most important goal is to avoid the worst case that Huawei’s products in smartphone, servers, and telecom equipment could not be delivered because of a U.S. ban or other trade war uncertainties.”

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WikiLeaks: “Ecuador to hand over Assange’s entire legal defence to the United States.”

Laws are now meaningless.

US Prosecutors To ‘Help Themselves’ To Julian Assange’s Possessions (PA)

Julian Assange’s belongings from his time living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London will be handed over to US prosecutors on Monday, according to WikiLeaks. Ecuadorian officials are travelling to London to allow US prosecutors to “help themselves” to items including legal papers, medical records and electronic equipment, it was claimed. WikiLeaks said UN officials and Assange’s lawyers were being stopped from being present. Lawyers said it was an illegal seizure of property, which has been requested by the US authorities. The material is said to include two of Assange’s manuscripts.

Assange was dragged out of the embassy last month and is serving a 50-week prison sentence for bail violations. He faces an extradition request from the US next month. Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said: “On Monday, Ecuador will perform a puppet show at the embassy of Ecuador in London for their masters in Washington, just in time to expand their extradition case before the UK deadline on 14 June. The Trump administration is inducing its allies to behave like it’s the wild west.”

Baltasar Garzón, the international legal coordinator for the defence of Assange and WikiLeaks, said: “It is extremely worrying that Ecuador has proceeded with the search and seizure of property, documents, information and other material belonging to the defence of Julian Assange, which Ecuador arbitrarily confiscated, so that these can be handed over to the the agent of political persecution against him, the United States. “It is an unprecedented attack on the rights of the defence, freedom of expression and access to information exposing massive human rights abuses and corruption. We call on international protection institutions to intervene to put a stop to this persecution.”

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And if laws are meaningless, lies become the truth.

Swedish Prosecutors Ask To Detain Assange Over Rape Investigation (Ind.)

Swedish prosecutors have filed a request for the detention of Julian Assange over a rape allegation. The warrant, if granted, would be the first step in a process to have the Wikileaks founder extradited from the UK, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for breach of bail conditions. Sweden reopened an investigation into the rape allegation, first made in 2010, earlier this month. The probe was shelved in 2017 because Assange was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition. The 47-year-old was arrested after police stormed the embassy in April following Ecuador’s withdrawal of asylum. The US subsequently requested his extradition to face charges in relation to the leak of government secrets. Swedish prosecutor Eva-Marie Persson said she would issue a European Arrest Warrant for Assange if a court granted her request for his detention “on probable cause suspected for rape”.

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The leaked OPCW files show the Douma gas attack to be a false flag. That raises very serious questions about the Skripal case at the same time, because of the OPCW’s involvement. So Britain brings out the Guardian’s Luke Harding to divert attention. Harding and the Guardian still never retracted the fake Assange-Manafort article.

Skripal Poisoning Suspects Received Mystery Phone Call Following Attack (G.)

The Russian men suspected of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury received a phone call after returning to London on the day of the alleged attack, raising the possibility that a backup team played a role in the operation. One theory being considered by investigators is whether the call, which has not been disclosed before, was a signal to tip them off that the operation had been a success. Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit said the inquiry into the poisoning was ongoing and detectives would not be drawn on any specifics. But it is understood that investigators are sifting other pieces of evidence which suggest that the suspects – Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin – may not have been acting alone.


Chepiga and Mishkin flew from Moscow to London on Friday 2 March last year, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. The pair travelled to Salisbury the following day and returned to the city again on Sunday 4 March. Detectives say they applied the lethal nerve agent novichok to the door handle of Skripal’s home and caught the train back to London. The Guardian has been told they then returned to their hotel in Bow, east London. It was there they received an unexplained phone call, a source said. Shortly after the call, they travelled to Heathrow airport for a 10.30pm flight back to Moscow. “One theory is that the two waited to hear whether the attack had been a success, and the phone call was the signal to say it had been,” said a source. “It could have been the confirmation that led them to head for the airport.”

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“A Constitution written by slaveholders is being interpreted by a tiny room full of elites who have been given no meaningful popular approval…”

Rich White Men Rule America. How Much Longer Will We Tolerate That For? (G.)

White men have never made up the majority of the United States population, and yet from the country’s beginnings they have made up most of its political decision-makers. The Constitution itself is an outrageously undemocratic document. People today are bound by a set of procedural rules that were made without the input of women, African Americans, or native people. The Framers quite deliberately constructed a system that would prevent what they called “tyranny of the majority” but what is more accurately called “popular democracy.” That set of rules has been very effective at keeping the American populace from exercising power. James Madison was explicit about the function of the United States Senate—it was “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

Indeed, that’s precisely what it does. As Jamelle Bouie points out, the Senate has “an affluent membership composed mostly of white men, who are about 30% of the population but hold 71 of the seats” out of 100. Though popular opinion may overwhelmingly favor universal healthcare and more progressive taxation, these policies are said to be “politically impossible” because the millionaires who populate Congress do not favor them. [..] The supreme court is the highest branch of government, in that it can overturn the decisions of the other two branches. It consists of just nine people, all of whom went to Harvard or Yale, and two-thirds of whom are men. Ian Samuel has pointed out the remarkable fact that, thanks to the way the senate is structured, the senators who voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the court received represent 38 million fewer people than the senators who voted against him.

The implications here are extreme. It simply doesn’t matter where the people of the United States stand on union dues, campaign finance reform, or abortion. What matters is the opinion of nine elites, in many cases appointed by presidents who did not win the popular vote. A Constitution written by slaveholders is being interpreted by a tiny room full of elites who have been given no meaningful popular approval. When you step back and look at the situation objectively, it’s utterly farcical to call the United States government democratic.

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Sure. Waste some more time. What difference does it make anymore?

Theresa May Prepares ‘Bold’ Last-Ditch Offer To MPs On Brexit Bill (G.)

Theresa May will ask her cabinet to sign off a package of Brexit concessions this week, as she gears up for one last bid to win over MPs and salvage something concrete from her troubled premiership. With the Conservatives on course for a drubbing in Thursday’s European elections, the prime minister hopes the results will focus the minds of her own MPs and persuade them to support the long-awaited withdrawal agreement bill (WAB). Despite the collapse of cross-party talks with Labour, ministers hope some of the measures discussed can still be bolted on to the bill, as part of what May has called a “new, bold offer to MPs across the House of Commons”.


The Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We’ve been in talks with the Labour party, we’ve been exploring issues around workers’ rights, environmental standards, what commitments can be given to parliament in terms of the next phase of negotiations.” The development secretary, Rory Stewart, told the BBC the two sides in the talks had been “half an inch apart”, and added “the issue of trading with Europe” to the list of areas where MPs should expect to see movement. Proposals are expected to include separate legislation to ensure parliament is given a vote on whether to adopt any improvements to workers’ rights introduced by the EU27 in future – though that would fall short of Jeremy Corbyn’s call for changes to be automatically adopted.

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He makes SOME sense, but is that enough?

Corbyn Defends Labour’s Bid For Both Leavers And Remainers (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has given a robust defence of Labour’s decision to try to appeal to both leavers and remainers in this Thursday’s European elections. With an Observer poll suggesting Labour could be squeezed into third position behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and the pro-remain Liberal Democrats, Corbyn said he still wanted to bring the two sides of the Brexit divide together. “Labour supporters voted both leave and remain, and every other party in this European election is appealing to either one side or the other, defining everybody on 2016. We’re not. We’re defining people as hopefully supporters of us – but also, people who have common problems, however they voted.


“The levels of poverty in remain and leave areas are very similar; the levels of child poverty. I think we have to be responsible about this, and appeal to people across those views.” Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Labour leader added: “If I may say so, it’s yourself and the British media that are obsessed with defining everybody about how they voted three years ago.” He also rejected the Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips’scall for Labour to decide whether it is a party that backs Brexit, or opposes it. “She’s not right, because she fought the last general election, just like I did, on a manifesto that said we would respect the result of the referendum.” However, Corbyn appeared to soften his stance on a second referendum, saying Labour would try to win a majority for its Brexit plan, “and if we can get that through parliament, the proposal we’ve put, then I think it would be reasonable to have a public vote to decide on that in the future”.

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As dementia spreads like wildfire.

NHS England Loses 6,000 Mental Health Nurses In 10 Years (G.)

The number of mental health nurses in England has slumped by more than a tenth over the past decade, new figures have revealed. This is despite commitments from both Theresa May and her predecessor, David Cameron, to boost resources for mental health services, which many medical professionals say are now in crisis. The total mental health nursing workforce has decreased by 10.6% since 2009, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). While numbers of mental health nurses have grown in some areas, such as community care, they have fallen elsewhere. Numbers are down by a quarter (25.9%) in acute care and inpatient care – where the number of mental health nurses has fallen by more than 6,000 over the decade.


Donna Kinnair, appointed as RCN chief executive and general secretary last month, will use a speech to the group’s annual congress on Monday to call on ministers to address England’s 40,000 nursing vacancies, and point out the new figures on the reduction in specialist mental health nurses. “Thousands of experienced professionals have been lost in recent years as the investment failed to match the rhetoric,” she will say. “The shortage of beds, too, leaves vulnerable people often sent hundreds of miles from home and their loved ones for the care they need. As a country and a health service, we are letting down people who must be able to rely on us most. We must draw a line under this and allocate serious resources to mental health care, including the right number of staff.”

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Happy birthday brother Malcolm.

 

 

 

 

Mar 032019
 


Pablo Picasso The artist and his model 1926

 

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

 

 

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

US is Cleanest Dirty Shirt Among Manufacturing Giants (WS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massive Cuts Are Coming To Social Security (MW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can he be resuscitated? Or will he be arrested?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Word is they want Assange for harm to US operatives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 122018
 
 September 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Winslow Homer Salt Kettle, Bermuda 1899

 

In the wake of a number of the Lehman and 9/11 commemorations in America, and as a monster storm is once again threatening to cause outsize damage, we find ourselves at a pivotal point in time, which will decide how the country interacts with its own laws, its legal system, its Constitution, its freedom of speech, and indeed if it has sufficient willpower left to adhere to the Constitution as its no. 1 guiding principle.

The main problem is that it all seems to slip slide straight by the people, who are -kept- busy with completely different issues. That is convenient for those who would like less focus on the Constitution, but it’s also very dangerous for everyone else. Americans should today stand up for freedom of speech, or it will be gone, likely forever.

The way it works is that president Trump is portrayed as the major threat to ‘the rule of law’, which allows other people, as well as companies and organizations, to drop below the radar and devise and work on plans and schemes that threaten the country itself, and its future as a nation ruled by its laws.

Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House” and the anonymous op-ed published in the NYT a day later serve as a good reminder of these dynamics. If you succeed in confirming people’s idea that Trump is such an unhinged idiot that an unelected cabal inside the White House is needed to save the nation from the president it elected, you’re well on your way.

Well on your way to separate the country from its own laws, that is. Not on your way to saving it. You can’t save America by suspending its Constitution just because that suits your particular political goals or points of view.

 

Late last night, Michael Tracey wrote on Twitter: “Trump’s preference to pull out of Afghanistan is depicted in the Woodward book as yet another crazy impulse that the “adults in the room” successfully rein in.” “We’re going to save you from yourselves, thank us later!” Nobody voted for those adults in the room anymore than anyone voted for the Afghanistan ‘war’ to enter year 17.

Meanwhile Infowars said: “Several people within Trump’s inner circle know the threat to the mid-terms and his re-election chances that social media censorship poses, including Donald Trump Jr. and Brad Parscale, his 2020 campaign manager. However, older members of the administration are completely unaware of the fact that banning prominent online voices and manipulating algorithms can shift millions of votes and are oblivious to the danger. This ignorance has placed a temporary block on Trump taking action, despite the president repeatedly referring to Big Tech censorship in tweets and speeches over the last few weeks.”

Yes, Infowars, I know, everybody loves to hate Alex Jones. And perhaps for good reasons, at least at times. But does that mean he can be banned from a whole slew of internet platforms without this having been run by and through the US court system? Without even one judge having examined the ‘evidence’, if it even existed, that leads to such banning, blocking and shadowbanning?

Alex Jones is an ‘easy example’ because he’s so popular. Which is also, undoubtedly, why all the social media platforms ban him so easily, and all at the same time. ‘He’s a terrible person’, say so many of their readers. But that’s not good enough, far from it. Twitter and Facebook should never be allowed to ban anyone, using opaque ‘Community Standards’ or ‘Terms and Conditions’ interpreted by kids fresh out of high school.

These platforms have important societal functions. They are for instance the new conduits governments, police, armies use to warn people in case of emergencies and disasters. You can’t ban people from those conduits just because a bunch of geeks don’t like what they say. If you can at all, it will have to be done through the legal system.

That this is not done at present poses an immense threat to that legal system, and to the Constitution itself. But Americans, and indeed Congressmen and Senators, have been trained in a Pavlovian way to believe that it’s not Google and Facebook who threaten the Constitution, but that it’s Trump and his crew.

 

Meanwhile, Trump is being put through Bob Mueller’s Special Counsel legal wringer 24/7, while Alphabet, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg escape any such scrutiny at all. That discrepancy, too, is eating away at the foundations of American law.

And like it or not, Trump had it right when he said “You look at Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants and I made it clear that we as a country cannot tolerate political censorship, blacklisting and rigged search results..”

America as a country cannot tolerate a few rich companies deciding whose voice can be heard, and whose will be silenced. It is entirely unacceptable. That goes for voices Trump doesn’t want to hear as much as it does for whoever Silicon Valley doesn’t. That’s why neither should be in charge of making such decisions. It kills the Constitution.

None of the above means that everyone should be free to post terrorist sympathies or hate speech on social media platforms. But it does mean that legislative and judicial systems must define what these things mean, that this not be left up to arbitrary ‘Community Standards’ interpreted by legally inept Silicon Valley interns, nor should it be left to secret algorithms to decide what news you see and what not.

America itself hangs in the balance, and so do many other western countries. What exactly is the difference between China’s overt internet censorship and America’s hidden one? That is what needs to be defined, and that can only be done by the legal system, by Congress, by the courts, by judges and juries.

And it’s not something that has to be invented from scratch, it can and must be tested against the Constitution. That is the only way forward. That social media have taken over the country by storm, and nary a soul has any idea what that means, can never be an excuse to leave banning and silencing voices over to private parties, whoever they are.

 

It’s not a unique American problem. In Europe there are all sorts of attempts to ban ‘hate speech’, but there are very few proposals concerning who will define what that is. And since Europe has no Constitution, but instead has 27 different versions of one, it will be harder there. Then again, it will also be easier to get away with all sorts of arbitrary bannings etc.

Hungary will be inclined to ban totally different voices than for instance Denmark and so on. And nobody over there has given any sign of understanding how dangerous that is. Banning ‘hate speech’ doesn’t mean anything if the term hasn’t been properly defined. But that also allows for banning voices someone simply doesn’t like. To prevent that from happening, we have legal systems.

It’s essential, it’s elementary, Watson. But it’s slipping through our fingers because our politicians are either incapable of, or unwilling to, comprehending the consequences. Why stick out your neck when nobody else does? It’s like the anti-thesis of what politics means: stay safe.

So the social media’s industry’s own lobbying has a good shot at getting its way: they tell Washington to let them regulate themselves, and everything will be spic and dandy. That would be the final nail in the Constitution’s coffin, and it’s much closer than you think. Do be wary of that.

 

In the end it comes down to two things i’ve said before. First, there is no-one who’s been as ferociously banned and worse the way Julian Assange has. His ban goes way beyond Silicon Valley, but it does paint a shrill portrait of how far the US, CIA, FBI, is willing to go, and to step beyond the Constitution, to get to someone they really don’t like.

But has Assange ever violated and US law, let alone its Constitution? Not that we know of. Mike Pompeo has called WikiLeaks a ‘hostile intelligence service’, and the DOJ has said the 1st Amendment, and thereby of necessity the entire US Constitution, doesn’t apply to Assange because he’s not an American, but both those things are devoid of any meaning, at least in a court of law.

Bob Woodward has an idea of what Assange faces, and he’d do much better to focus on helping him than trying to put Trump down through anonymous sources. And that also leads me to why I, personally, have at least some sympathy for Alex Jones, other than because he’s being attacked unconstitutionally: Jones ran/runs a petition for Trump to free Julian Assange.

Come to think of it: it’s when that petition started taking off that Jones’s ‘real trouble’ started. Given how closely interwoven Silicon Valley and the FBI and CIA have already become, I’m not going to feign any surprise at that.

And before you feel any wishes and desires coming up to impeach Trump, do realize that he may be the only person standing between you and a complete takeover of America by the FBI/NSA/CIA/DNC and Google/Facebook/Twitter, which will be accompanied by the ritual burial of the Constitution.

Think Trump is scary? Take a step back and survey the territory.

 

 

 

 

Sep 122018
 


Vincent van Gogh Mountainous Landscape Behind Saint-Rémy 1888

 

US Federal Deficit Soars 32% To $895 Billion (Hill)
The Fed’s Lost Opportunity to Return to Normal (Rickards)
China ‘National Team’ Bought Billions In Stocks in Q2 – Goldman (CNBC)
Putin Bashes Protectionism, ‘Sanctions, Bans And Political Bias’ (CNBC)
Skripal Poisoning Suspects Are Civilians, Not Criminals, Says Putin (G.)
UK Police Prepares For Disorder At Ports If UK Crashes Out Of EU (Ind.)
Barnier Confronts Raab Over Discovery Of Brexit No-Deal Letters To EU27 (G.)
Europe Is Voting On Controversial Internet Copyright Law (CNBC)
Americans Need Social Media Guided by the US Constitution (Krieger)
Internet Industry Group Backs ‘National’ Data Privacy Approach (R.)
Armageddon Rides In The Balance (PCR)
Tsipras Warns “Europe Has No Future If It Doesn’t Admit Mistakes” (KTG)
Monsanto-Bayer Merger Hurts Farmers and Consumers (CP)
‘Monster’ Hurricane Florence To Pummel US Southeast For Days (R.)

 

 

Steady as she goes.

US Federal Deficit Soars 32% To $895 Billion (Hill)

The federal deficit hit $895 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal 2018, an increase of $222 billion, or 32 percent, over the same period the previous year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The nonpartisan CBO reported that the central drivers of the increasing deficit were the Republican tax law and the bipartisan agreement to increase spending. As a result, revenue only rose 1 percent, failing to keep up with a 7 percent surge in spending, it added. Revenue from individual and payroll taxes was up some $105 billion, or 4 percent, while corporate taxes fell $71 billion, or 30 percent.

The August statistics were somewhat inflated, however, due to a timing shift for certain payments, putting the deficit measure through August slightly out of sync with the previous year, the CBO noted. Had it not been for the timing shift, the deficit would have increased $154 billion instead of $222 billion. Earlier analysis from CBO projected that deficits would near $1 trillion in 2019 and surpass that amount the following year.

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With 10 years of such market manipulation that there is no market left, what exactly is normal?

The Fed’s Lost Opportunity to Return to Normal (Rickards)

Current Fed policy will push the U.S. economy to the brink of recession, possibly by later this year. When that happens, the Fed will have to reverse course and ease monetary policy. Meanwhile, the economic cheerleaders recite recent GDP figures and the stimulative effects of the Trump tax cuts. There’s one problem with the happy talk about 3–4% growth. We’ve seen this movie before. In 2009, almost every economic forecaster and commentator was talking about “green shoots.” In 2010, then-Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner forecast the “recovery summer.” In 2017, the global monetary elites were praising the arrival (at last) of “synchronized global growth.”

None of this wishful thinking panned out. The green shoots turned brown, the recovery summer never came and the synchronized global growth was over almost as soon as it began. Strong quarters have been followed by much weaker quarters within six months on six separate occasions in the past nine years. There’s no reason to believe this time will be any different. This expansion has been extraordinarily long — over 30% longer than average — indicating that a recession should be expected sooner rather than later. Into this mix of weak growth comes the Federal Reserve, which is tightening monetary policy, reducing the base money supply and supporting a strong dollar. All of these policies are associated with slower growth ahead and a high probability of recession.

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Plunge protection. Imitating ECB.

China ‘National Team’ Bought Billions In Stocks in Q2 – Goldman (CNBC)

As the mainland Chinese stock market dropped in the second quarter, groups with government ties bought shares, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis. The “national team” of entities related to or influenced by the state was formed in 2015 to help support stocks during that summer’s market turmoil. The Shanghai composite crashed more than 40 percent that year, and has struggled to recover since. The index’s losses accelerated in June, when it fell 20 percent from a recent high, or into a bear market. Beijing’s efforts to reduce the economy’s reliance on debt has led to tighter financial conditions, while rising U.S.-China trade tensions have added to pressure on growth. In all, the Shanghai composite lost 10 percent in the second quarter.

During that time, the national team bought an estimated net 116 billion yuan — or nearly $17 billion — worth of local stocks known as A shares, Goldman Sachs’ Chief China Equity Strategist Kinger Lau said in a Friday report.The second-quarter purchases account for about 0.2 percent of market capitalization and follow sales of 71 billion yuan in the first quarter, Lau said. Overall, his team estimated the national team holds 1.5 trillion yuan worth of A shares, or about 2.9 percent of the listed market capitalization. The findings are based on analysis of required quarterly disclosures of the top 10 shareholders in A share companies.


Source: Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research

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Trump unites China and Russia.

Putin Bashes Protectionism, ‘Sanctions, Bans And Political Bias’ (CNBC)

President Vladimir Putin appeared to take another thinly veiled swipe at Trump’s economic policies on Wednesday, a day after Russia and China vowed to stand together to fight protectionism. “The world and global economy are coming up against new forms of protectionism today with different kinds of barriers which are increasing,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, Russia. “Basic principles of trade — competition and mutual economic benefit — are depreciated and unfortunately undermined, they’re becoming hostages of ideological and fleeting political situations, in that we see a serious challenge for all of the global economy, especially for the dynamically-growing Asia-Pacific and its leadership,” he added.

Putin’s comments come as China and Russia appeared united on Tuesday after the leaders of both countries pledged to stand together to fight protectionism. The comments were seen as a thinly veiled attack on U.S. President Donald Trump who has implemented a massive package of tariffs on Chinese imports and threatened further sanctions on Moscow. [..] Putin said Wednesday that Russia and its eastern economic partners should work to keep trade free of barriers. “We’re convinced that in order for our region to continue to achieve high growth rates, and to remain a key participant in the global economy and trade, it should retain the spirit of economic freedom, to be the space of business initiative without sanctions, bans and political bias ,” Putin told delegates.

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With a whole series of CCTV images. Because Russian secret agents on murder missions are too stupid to avoid their photos being taken. There is even one where they take time to ‘pose’ by looking into a shop window with a camera, taken AFTER the ‘attack’.

Skripal Poisoning Suspects Are Civilians, Not Criminals, Says Putin (G.)

The two men accused by the UK of carrying out a nerve agent attack in Salisbury have been identified and are civilians, not criminals, Vladimir Putin has said. “We know who they are, we have found them,” Putin said at an economic forum in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, adding that the two men – named by the UK as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – might soon make appearances in the media to protest their innocence. “These are civilians,” Putin said in remarks reported by Russian news agencies. “There is nothing criminal here.” British officials have said the men were agents of Russian military intelligence dispatched to kill Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who had given information to British intelligence. He was imprisoned in Russia before being released in a spy swap in 2010.

Putin’s remarks appeared to be a denial that the men worked for Russia’s military intelligence service the Main Directorate, commonly called the GRU. British officials this month charged the two men in absentia with the attempted murder with novichok of Sergei Skripal, his daughter, Yulia, and a police officer who investigated the scene. Scotland Yard released CCTV images of the two suspects at Salisbury train station on the day of the attack. [..] Putin called on the two men to appear in the media to protest their innocence, saying he “wanted to address them directly”. The Russian’s president’s words marked a departure from his country’s earlier position, which was to disregard the evidence released by Scotland Yard as a fabrication.

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And the military too. And this is just what you’re allowed to know.

UK Police Prepares For Disorder At Ports If UK Crashes Out Of EU (Ind.)

Police are preparing for disorder at British ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has revealed. The head of Scotland Yard said her force was also bracing for the loss of key European data systems that are “very important” for keeping London safe. She said that the police were conducting careful, calm and sober contingency planning for eventualities, particularly relating to ports in Kent as well as in other parts of the UK. “Is there going to be protests, is there going to be disorder?” she asked, while addressing delegates at the Police Superintendents’ Association conference in Leicester. “At the moment in planning terms it’s a long-way off because there are so many uncertainties that could happen.”

Her comments came after a leaked document prepared by the National Police Coordination Centre revealed the “real possibility” of police calling on the military to help with civil disorder caused by a no-deal Brexit. It warned of traffic queues at ports and said concerns around medical supplies could “feed civil disorder”, while a rise in the price of goods could also lead to “widespread protest” and trigger crimes such as theft. Ms Dick raised additional concerns over the potential loss of access to EU systems including the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and databases containing information on criminals and terrorists entering the UK. “At any one time in my custody suites I will have 35, 40 per cent foreign nationals, over half EU citizens and a huge chunk would have travelled through Europe,” she explained.

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The UK still thinks they can make separate deals. It doesn’t understand the EU.

Barnier Confronts Raab Over Discovery Of Brexit No-Deal Letters To EU27 (G.)

Dominic Raab has been reprimanded by Michel Barnier after the EU’s chief negotiator discovered the British government had written to the 27 other member states asking for side negotiations on transport in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Brexit secretary was confronted by Barnier during their most recent meeting in Brussels over correspondence sent in recent days to EU capitals by the Department for Transport. The letters had asked the member states to prepare to engage with the British government in side deals on aviation and haulage, to allow key trade flows to continue in the event of the UK and the EU failing to come to an agreement on leaving the union by 29 March 2019.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, had ordered the letters to be sent despite being told less than two weeks ago by the European commission’s most senior trade official, Violeta Bulc, that without a deal this autumn, there would be no other agreements made to protect the UK economy. Barnier is said to have reiterated that message to Raab, telling the cabinet minister: “If there is no deal, there is no trust.” The bruising exchange came on the same day that Theresa May told cabinet members the UK should remain “the EU’s closest ally” after Brexit, amid a growing belief in Downing Street that progress was gradually being made in the long-running divorce talks.

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A few of them may understand the issues, but the majority sure don’t.

Europe Is Voting On Controversial Internet Copyright Law (CNBC)

European parliamentarians are set to vote on a controversial copyright law that some critics believe could stop people from sharing memes and articles online. Lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, will cast their votes on the European Union’s new copyright directive on Wednesday. The result of that vote could determine whether large tech companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google are forced to use filtering systems that block copyrighted content. Two particular parts of the directive have attracted the most criticism from pro-internet freedom activists. One is Article 13. This section calls on internet giants to take “appropriate and proportionate” measures to prevent user-generated content that infringes a rightsholder’s copyright.

This part of the law has come under heavy criticism over concerns that tech giants could end up using automated content filtering systems. The law states that “effective content recognition systems” should be put in place by digital companies to prevent copyrighted materials from being distributed on their platforms. Campaigners have scrutinized this part of the legislation over concerns that it could amount to censorship, and argue that the use of copyright-protected material by way of commentary or parody should be permitted under the doctrine of “fair use.” Particular attention has been paid to the status of “memes,” which often rely on copyright protected images or pieces of video, and whether they could be censored as a result.

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Echoing a point I’ve been making.

Americans Need Social Media Guided by the US Constitution (Krieger)

This past Friday, Alex Jones was de-platformed from the last couple of third party tools he had been using to publicly communicate his message after Twitter and Apple permanently banned him and his website Infowars. This means an American citizen with a very large audience who played a meaningful role in the 2016 election, has been banned from all of the most widely used products of communication of our age: Twitter, Facebook, Google’s YouTube and Apple’s iTunes. You can point out he still has his radio show and website, and this is unquestionably true, but when it comes to the everyday tools most people interact with to receive information and communicate in 2018, Alex Jones has been thrown down the memory hole. Not because he was convicted of a crime or broke any laws, but because corporate executives decided he crossed an arbitrary line of their own creation.

It’s not against the law to be crazy or say crazy things in this country. It’s also not against the law to say hateful things. It’s pretty obvious the main reason Alex Jones was deleted from public discourse by Silicon Valley executives relates to his impact and popularity. [..] unabashed bigots like David Duke and Louis Farrakhan continue to have active presences across social media, and rightly so. The difference is neither David Duke nor Louis Farrakhan played a major role in the election of Donald Trump, whereas Alex Jones did. Jones and Infowars were having an outsized impact on the U.S. political discourse in a manner tech giant executives found threatening and offensive, so they collectively found excuses to silence him.

When the outrage mob consisting of politicians, corporate media outlets like CNN, and even his own employees, complained to Twitter’s Jack Dorsey on the issue of Alex Jones, he couldn’t hold the line on free speech because his company’s own policies are junk. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube should have a clear policy when it comes to speech, and it should be this: If it isn’t breaking the law – in other words, if it’s protected speech under the First Amendment – it stays up. Period. When you have corporate rules against “hate speech,” you’re relying on a concept that doesn’t really have any sort of legal standing when it comes to free speech in this country. There is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution.

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They want to regulate themselves. Don’t let them.

Internet Industry Group Backs ‘National’ Data Privacy Approach (R.)

A group representing major internet companies including Facebook, Amazon.com and Alphabet said on Tuesday it backed modernizing U.S. data privacy rules but wants a national approach that would preempt California’s new regulations that take effect in 2020. The Internet Association, a group representing more than 40 major internet and technology firms including Netflix, Microsoft and Twitter, said “internet companies support an economy-wide, national approach to regulation that protects the privacy of all Americans.” The group said it backed principles that would ensure consumers should have “meaningful controls over how personal information they provide” is used and should be able to know who it is being shared with.

Consumers should also be able to seek deletion of data or request corrections or take personal information to another company that provides similar services and have reasonable access to the personal information they provide, it said. The group also told policymakers they should give companies flexibility in notifying individuals, set a “performance standard” on privacy and data security protections that avoids a prescriptive approach and set national data breach notification rules. Michael Beckerman, president and chief executive officer of the Internet Association, said in an interview the proposals were “very forward looking and very aggressive” and would push to ensure the new rules apply “economy wide.” He said the group “would be very active working with both the administration and Congress on putting pen to paper.”

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Leftwing and intelligence.

Armageddon Rides In The Balance (PCR)

For some time I have pointed out the paradox of the American liberal/progressive/left being allied with the CIA, FBI, military/security complex and deep state. Now leftist Ann Garrison has noticed the paradox of this alliance. She concludes that the left has lost its mind. Indeed, it has. Out of its hatred of Trump the left has united with the forces of evil and war that are leading to conflict with Russia. The left’s hatred of Trump shows that the American left has totally seperated from the interests of the working class, which elected Trump. The American left has abandoned the working class for the group victimizations and hatreds of Identity Politics. As Hillary put it, the working class comprises the “Trump deplorables.” The Democratic Party, like the Republicans, represents the ruling oligarchy.

I have explained that the leftwing lost its bearings when the Soviet Union collapsed and socialism gave way to neoliberal privatizations. The moral fury of the leftwing movement had to go somewhere, and it found its home in Identity Politics in which the white heterosexual male takes the place of the capitalist, and his victim groups—blacks, women, homosexuals, illegal immigrants—take the place of the working class. The consequences of the leftwing’s alliance with warmongers and liars is the leftwing’s loss of veracity. The left has endorsed a CIA orchestration—“Russiagate”—for which there is no known evidence, but which the left supports as proven truth. The purpose of “Russiagate” is to prevent President Trump from normalizing relations with Russia.

In these times when so many Americans are hard pressed, normal relations could adversely impact the budget and power of the military/security complex by reducing the “Russian threat.” If there is no real Russian threat, only an orchestrated perceived one, the question arises: why does the military/security complex have a taxpayer-supported annual budget of $1,000 billion dollars? The presstitutes have kept the truth from emerging that the “Russiagate” investigation has found no sign of a Trump/Putin plot to steal the 2016 presidential election from Hillary. Indeed, it has been proven beyond all questioning that the Hillary emails were not hacked but were downloaded on a thumb drive. This proof collapses the entire premise of “Russiagate.” Nevertheless, the hoax continues.

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He might as well be talking about himself.

Tsipras Warns “Europe Has No Future If It Doesn’t Admit Mistakes” (KTG)

Europe will have no future if the bloc does not admit mistakes in handling the financial and the migration crisis, Prime Minister warned the European Parliament on Tuesday. Alexis Tsipras said Europe could face an existential crisis over nationalism unless the bloc admits mistakes and its failure to handle a fiscal crisis and the deal with an influx of migrants effectively. The Greek Prime Minister said economic austerity pushed by European governments has fostered fear, racism and the emergence of the far right.“ The economic austerity pursued by European governments had fostered fear, racism and the emergence of the far right, he told lawmakers in the European parliament.

“The EU’s failure to give democratic and effective responses to modern challenges will lead irrevocably to the triumph of chauvinism and will rekindle nationalistic rivalry,” he said. “It will turn it into a fragmented continent, a continent without cohesion, without an international role, and without a future,” he said. Tsipras also criticised Europe’s handling of security and said this could have helped bolster support for far right parties. Several European countries including France and Belgium have seen attacks by Islamist militants in recent years. “The issue at stake is existential for Europe,” said Tsipras. “The handling so far of the financial crisis, the refugee crisis and a security crisis, has exposed huge deficiencies and contradictions.”

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“93% of farmers expressed concern that the merger will harm independent farmers and farming communities.”

Monsanto-Bayer Merger Hurts Farmers and Consumers (CP)

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a stern warning in its lawsuit against the conditionally-approved mega-merger between Bayer and Monsanto in June. The anti-competitive price effects of the merger would, according to the DOJ, “likely result in hundreds of millions of dollars per year in harm, raising costs to farmers and consumers.” The Justice Department warned that the combining of Bayer and Monsanto would reduce competition for vegetable seeds, likely driving up prices. Further, farmers might see prices for GMO cotton, canola, corn and soybean seeds increase, as well as price increases for herbicide and seed treatments. After imposing some limited divestments on Monsanto, the DOJ approved this merger, enabling Monsanto to hide its controversial name brand while giving Bayer anti-competitive control over seeds, pesticides, farmers and consumers worldwide.

But the harm to consumers and farmers will still exist. The DOJ is on the brink of essentially authorizing a monopoly. This is bad news for nearly everyone on the planet except Bayer and Monsanto executives and shareholders. Aside from a combined Bayer-Monsanto, only three other seed companies will be in the market manufacture and sell these products. Farmers overwhelmingly object to the merger. 93% of farmers expressed concern that the merger will harm independent farmers and farming communities. Farmers’ top three concerns were that Bayer/Monsanto “would use its dominance in one product to push sales of other products;” “control data about farm practices;” and that the merger will create “increased pressure for chemically dependent farming.”

Read more …

Meanwhile, super typhoon Mangkhut is heading straight for Hong Kong.

‘Monster’ Hurricane Florence To Pummel US Southeast For Days (R.)

Hurricane Florence, on track to become the first Category 4 storm to make a direct hit on North Carolina in six decades, howled closer to shore on Tuesday, threatening to unleash deadly pounding surf, days of torrential rain and severe flooding. Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and South Carolina and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters), the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned. Catastrophic floods could follow if the storm stalls inland, it said. Although Florence was still days from arrival, authorities took extraordinary measures to move people out of harm’s way. More than 1 million residents have been ordered to evacuate from the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools and factories were being shuttered.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina and Hampton Roads, Virginia to inbound vessels greater than 500 tons and was requiring vessels of that size to leave if they did not have permission to be in the ports. Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km per hour), the storm ranked as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and was expected to grow stronger and larger over the next few days, the NHC said. “This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. “Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.” He cited forecasts showing Florence was likely to stall over North Carolina, “bringing days and days of rain.”


Graph: weather.com

Read more …

Aug 292018
 


Salvador Dali The burning giraffe 1937
Dali: “The only difference between immortal Greece and our era is Sigmund Freud who discovered that the human body, which in Greek times was merely neoplatonical, is now filled with secret drawers only to be opened through psychoanalysis.”

 

An ancient Latin saying goes: “Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi” (what is permissible for Jupiter, is not for an ox). It feels very much on topic when social media are concerned. And as the heat over their censorship is turned up, it may well be the decisive factor.

Reuters reiterates today that on May 23, Manhattan US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Donald Trump’ Twitter account is a public forum and blocking Twitter users for their views violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment. The same, says the ruling, applies to other government officials’ accounts.

On August 10, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sent the Justice Department a list of 41 accounts that remained blocked. Since, at least 20 have been unblocked. Interestingly, the same Justice Department has stated that the ruling was “fundamentally misconceived” arguing Trump’s account “belongs to Donald Trump in his personal capacity and is subject to his personal control, not the control of the government.”

Potentially even more interesting is that “the Internet Association, a trade group that represents Twitter, Facebook Inc, Amazon.com, and Alphabet Inc, filed a brief in the case earlier this month that did not back Trump or the blocked users but urged the court to “limit its decision to the unique facts of this case so that its decision does not reach further than necessary or unintentionally disrupt the modern, innovative Internet.” “

Yeah, they would like that, to make this about Trump only. But that would be strange, because the First Amendment doesn’t only apply to Trump (and/or government officials). It applies to everyone, including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and Alphabet. Or does it? Well, not according to the Internet Association:

“Despite any First Amendment status that this court might find in the ‘interactive spaces’ associated with President Trump’s account, Twitter retains authority to revoke access to both his account and the account of any user seeking to comment on President Trump’s account.”

Hmm. So Trump can’t block people from his own Twitter account, but Twitter can do whatever it wishes to that same account. Apart from, you know, banning him, even though many in the ‘left-leaning’ company would like to do just that. Then again, Trump’s 54 million followers make it a profitable account for Twitter. Still, this can obviously not stand. There are no different constitutions for different parties. And they’re not done:

“..there is a considerable risk that any decision that may recognize isolated public forums on Twitter will be misunderstood to hold that Twitter, too, can be subject to First Amendment scrutiny. …Twitter itself is not a state actor when it blocks or withdraws access to its account-holders or users, and it is therefore not subject to the First Amendment’s restraints.”

See? According to the Internet Association, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to its ‘members’, it applies to state actors only. It feels encouraged to make such statements directly by the wording of Judge Buchwald’s ruling. Put differently, Donald Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum but all the rest of Twitter is not (except for other officials).

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems obvious that these people may well be shooting themselves in the foot after first having put it in their mouths. To date, the Internet Association’s members have been able to picture themselves as private enterprises not under the same rules as public ones.

 

But how much longer is that a feasible attitude? As I said recently, Twitter and Facebook have become the no. 1 warning system in cases of emergencies and disasters, and banning or blocking people from it is as dangerous, life threatening even, as banning people from having radio’s, phones or TVs.

When the first radio’s, phones, TVs were introduced, other warning systems were in place. But over time they became the warning system. As I put it earlier, first you’re an entity, and then you become a utility. And the US judicial system has acted decisively on this in the past, though by no means perfectly.

Twitter, Facebook, Google seek to find the magic sweetspot where they can do whatever they damn well want while raking in billion after billion. But they’re as much behind the curve as the political and legislative systems are. They have already fallen victim to their own success, but they either don’t realize it or try to obfuscate it.

Meanwhile, they’re still banning, shadowbanning and blocking to their heart’s content. They should understand that cannot go on. They’re not some Harvard hobby club anymore. They’re killing off the very legal protection they claim to be protected by, because their position in society shifts. It takes a while, largely because their rise has been meteoric, but politics will catch up; it has to.

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray wrote yesterday:

Facebook has deleted all of my posts from July 2017 to last week because I am, apparently, a Russian Bot. For a while I could not add any new posts either, but we recently found a way around that, at least for now. To those of you tempted to say “So what?”, I would point out that over two thirds of visitors to my website arrive via my posting of the articles to Facebook and Twitter. Social media outlets like this blog, which offer an alternative to MSM propaganda, are hugely at the mercy of these corporate gatekeepers.

As for us, the Automatic Earth, Facebook closed our 9-year account a while back without one word of warning or explanation. We asked many times why, but never received an answer. Sent documents to prove who we are, nothing. Gone 1000s of followers, gone traffic, gone revenues. It’s simply too much power for a bunch of geeks, now aligned with the Atlantic Council, to have. It must be broken up.

Murray on the Atlantic Council: “..extreme neo-con group part funded by NATO and whose board includes serial war criminal Henry Kissinger, Former CIA Heads Michael Hayden and Michael Morrell, and George Bush’s chief of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, among a whole list of horrors.”

The companies could try and hide behind the fact that they’re international, and can’t be defined by US law only, but that would be a risky proposition. Julian Assange has by and large been denied his First Amendment rights by the current administration because he’s not an American, while Christopher Steele was granted his despite not being an American. Wobbly ground, that.

But yes, stay American and Baby Bells loom in your future. Not that this is the only issue Silicon Valley’s legal teams will have to tackle with:

Sammy Ketz, AFP’s Baghdad bureau chief, wrote yesterday:

.. it is not the news organisations who reap the profits but internet platforms, which help themselves to our reporting without paying a cent. [..] The media have endured a lot of pain for a long time before reacting to the financial drain, struggling with the consequences rather than the cause. They have laid off staff almost to the point of absurdity. Now they are demanding that their rights are respected so they can carry on reporting the news. [..]

We can no longer swallow the lie spread by Google and Facebook that an EU directive on such rights would threaten people’s ability to access the internet for free. Free access to the web will endure because the internet giants, which now use editorial content for free, can reimburse the media without asking consumers to pay.

Difficult? Impossible? Not at all. Facebook made $16bn in profits in 2017 and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) $12.7bn. They simply have to pay their dues. That is how the media will survive and the internet titans will be contributing to the diversity and freedom of the press they claim to support.

The Internet Association members don’t appear to get it yet, but their opportunity windows are fast shuttering. There is no way for them to keep on doing what they have, as they have, for much longer. They’ve drawn the ire of Donald Trump, and though they may tend to focus more on denouncing him, they’d better pay attention.

Because they don’t hold the cards. Or rather, they’ve been overplaying them. We know they’ve been meeting with the explicit goal of coming up with a general strategy for the November US mid-term elections. We also know they are left-leaning. And that they’ve banned and blocked many accounts.

All it takes is for a judge or the president to label them a utility, and put them in the same legal frame as a phone company or broadcaster. Because if they can’t be objective, while they are the no. 1 source of news for many people, the potential influence of their secret algorithms and obvious political bias is just too great.

And that is obstruction of democracy, and in the end, justice. As I wrote last week in The Shape of Trump to Come:

Trump will end the ‘monopolies’ of Facebook, Google, Twitter et al. [..] .. you simply can’t have a few roomfuls of boys and girls ban and shadowban people with impunity from networks that span the globe and reach half of the world’s population on the basis of opaque ‘Terms and Conditions’ that in effect trump the US constitution the way they are used and interpreted. Whether they are private companies or not will make no difference in the end.

I have the impression that they think they can fight this. All those billions buy good lawyers. But in the end, you can’t have the president under one set of constitutional rights, and Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg under another.

Sure, the intelligence community may protest whatever ‘solution’ the White House or DOJ comes up with. But they, too, must realize that elections that are very obviously skewed towards one side are a huge danger to America. And social media have obtained the power to skew them. Much more than a few bucks worth of Russian ads on their podium, that whole story is entirely insignificant compared to America’s ‘own’ social media.

Trump can simply say: if my account must be open, let that be true for everybody else’s too. Forbid any and all banning and blocking unless and until a judge permits it on constitutional grounds, on a case by case basis.

Judge Buchwald has opened that door by declaring Trump’s Twitter account a public forum. That speaks to the status of Twitter -and Facebook et al- in American society. She can’t take that back.

 

 

Aug 072018
 


Vasily Polenov Christ among the teachers (doctors) 1896

 

This morning I woke up, looked around me, and saw a world sinking into a quagmire of voluntary censorship, a world willing to let someone far away choose what it can and cannot see of itself, and about itself. A world that no longer appears to recognize, or care, that this goes directly against its founding principles of liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press.

I can think of many reasons why someone would want to ban Infowars and Alex Jones, and I don’t even know them other than from incidental tweets and comments. But I also acknowledge that that is not the point. Just because you would like to ban a person or organization, just because you don’t agree with them, doesn’t mean you can, or should be able to.

And if Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify and Pinterest -all within hours of each other-, think it’s a good idea to ban Jones regardless, they had better do a lot better than saying something about violating their ‘community standards’. They should identify specific instances where these alleged violations take place, and identify them publicly.

You can’t ban anyone on vague ‘standards’ from media that cover half the planet. Because that’s a danger to the entire planet, and to all of mankind. As Facebook and Google are very busy lobbying Washington, Brussels et al to drop any anti-trust charges against them, and let them continue to be private enterprises, they are shirking ever close to the various intelligence communities.

Politicians and secret agents alike have long recognized the potential Big Tech offers for controlling their populations. Long before those populations themselves have recognized the danger embedded in this potential. The treatment of Julian Assange and Infowars, 180º different as they are, puts all this in very sharp perspective.

How are you going to be informed, and stay informed, of what’s happening in the world, of what your government does and plans, if your media, both old and new, conspire to let you know only what they want you to, and to present a version of the world, of reality, that they invented in order to safeguard their future and that of their sponsors? Who’s going to tell you what happens behind the infinite layers of curtains?

What is most important here is not who Alex Jones is, or what he’s done and said. What’s most important is that he stands up for Julian Assange as the media, across the board, is either silent or actively smearing Assange with impunity. So for once, go to Infowars and sign the petition to Trump to Free Assange.. If anyone can get through to Trump, it’s Alex Jones, and they’re trying to prevent him from doing just that.

 

You’re being sold out, your rights and freedoms are being sold out, while you’re busy looking at pictures of what your friends had for dinner last night. And if that’s your thing, fine, but not before and until you’ve checked what is happening to your life and liberty, and that of your children, while you’re watching the next photo of a creme brulée or some cute kitten 1000 miles away.

We all know these things. And we’re all overloaded on info, so we’re all tired and developing headaches in echo chambers, and cute kittens are so much easier to deal with than petitions. But pretty soon, if you’re not careful, kittens will be the only thing you’re allowed to look at. Kittens and ‘news’ about evil Russians allegedly plotting to do to you exactly what your own governments already, and actually, do right now.

In one word: you’re being brainwashed. Brainwashed into handing over the liberties your ancestors fought very hard, and often lost their lives, to obtain and guarantee in your constitution. You can’t just give those things away, you have no right to. You owe it to them to protect what they fought for. If and when your government, your House and Senate, refuse to do that, then you will have to do it.

And that starts with protecting and standing up for Julian Assange. You don’t get to pick and choose which part of freedom you would like to protect, you either protect the entire concept or you do not. Freedom doesn’t mean you get to chop freedom into bits and pieces. And if you fail to stand up for the part you don’t like, you also fail to protect what you do like.

 

You don’t get to cherrypick, And neither should Google, Apple, and Facebook. Check your constitution for that one. Sure, we get it, it’s hard to stand up for Alex Jones. But if he can get chucked out for violating opaque ‘community standards’ of some private enterprise, then so can you. Well, unless you only look at kittens and desserts. But is that what you want your life to look like going forward?

This is about a principle engraved in the Constitution, and not just the American one. And of course there would always be people trying to get rid of that principle, because it got in the way of their personal power and interests. But that’s exactly why it’s in the Constitution. So it can’t just be eradicated at whim.

New media, social media, have taken the world by storm, and everyone has to scramble to keep up and think about what this means. What it should never ever mean, though, is that some parties get to use the confusion in order to trample on the Constitution. But that is what’s happening today.

We’ll resolve this eventually. You can’t let companies that have half the world as their clients continue as private enterprises; there’s far too much in the way of monopoly and anti-trust law to allow that to continue. But as long as this is not solved, Google and Facebook will be used as political tools, even while their legal status, and that of their policies, will be increasingly questionable.

So, you know, standing up for Alex Jones today equals standing up for the Constitution. That is harder for people to understand than it is that calling for Julian Assange to be protected and freed is. But it is the same thing. This is proven more than anything by the fact that Jones gets shut down at the very moment he seeks to protect Assange.

Swallow your pride and your disapproval of Alex Jones. Sign the petition to Trump to Free Assange.. It’s much bigger than your pride, or whatever you happen to like or dislike. This is about your future. And the people in the past who gave their lives to make it what it is. Don’t give it away. Prove Orwell wrong.

That we must defend Alex Jones just to stand up for Julian Assange should be all you need to know. You can’t defend Assange without also defending Infowars’ right to speak. And if they say things that go against the Constitution, a bunch of geeks in Silicon Valley should never be the judges of that.

 

 

Jul 032018
 


Edward Hopper Summer interior 1909

 

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)
Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)
A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)
The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)
UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)
Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)
Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)
Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)
Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)
Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)
The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)
Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)
‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

 

 

And then QE ends.

Buybacks Are The Only Thing Keeping The Stock Market Afloat (CNBC)

Stocks right now are hanging by a thread, boosted by a bonanza of corporate buying unrivaled in market history and held back by a burst in investor selling that also has set a new record. Both sides are motivated by fear, as corporations find little else to do with their $2.1 trillion in cash than buy back their own shares or make deals, while individual investors head to the sidelines amid fears that a global trade war could thwart the substantial momentum the U.S. economy has seen this year. “Corporate cash is going to find a home, and it’s either going to be in buybacks, dividends or M&A activity. What it’s not going to be is in capex,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR.

“Individuals are looking at the turbulence we’ve seen this year that we had not seen last year. That creates its own sort of exit sign for investors who don’t want to deal with that.” The numbers showing where each side put their cash in the second quarter are striking. Companies announced $433.6 billion in share repurchases during the period, nearly doubling the previous record of $242.1 billion in the first quarter, according to market research firm TrimTabs. Dow components Nike and Walgreens Boots Alliance led the most recent surge in buybacks, with $15 billion and $10 billion, respectively, last week. In all, 31 companies announced buybacks in excess of $1 billion during June.

At the same time, investors dumped $23.7 billion in stock market-focused funds in June, also a new record. For the full quarter, the brutal June brought global net equity outflows to $20.2 billion, the worst performance since the third quarter of 2016, just before the presidential election. The selling is particularly acute in mutual funds, which saw $52.9 billion in outflows during the quarter and are typically more the purview of the retail side.

Read more …

“People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick.”

Stock Markets Look Ever More Like Ponzi Schemes (Murphy)

The FT has reported this morning that: “Debt at UK listed companies has soared to hit a record high of £390bn as companies have scrambled to maintain dividend payouts in response to shareholder demand despite weak profitability.” They added: “UK plc’s net debt has surpassed pre-crisis levels to reach £390.7bn in the 2017-18 financial year, according to analysis from Link Asset Services, which assessed balance sheet data from 440 UK listed companies.” So what, you might ask? Does it matter that companies are making sense of low-interest rates to raise money when I am saying that government could and should be doing the same thing?

Actually, yes it does. And that’s because of what the cash is being used for. Borrowing for investment makes sense. Borrowing to fund revenue investment (that is training, for example, which cannot go on the balance sheet but still adds value to the business) makes sense. But borrowing to pay a dividend when current profits and cash flow would not support it? No, that makes no sense at all. Unless, of course, you are CEO on a large share price linked bonus package and your aim is to manipulate the market price of the company. It is that manipulation that is going on here, I suggest. These loans are being used to artificially inflate share prices.

The problem is systemic. In the US the problem is share buybacks, which I read recently have exceeded $5 trillion in the last decade, meaning that US companies are now by far the biggest buyers of their own shares. That is, once again, market manipulation. And this manipulation does matter. People think their savings and pensions are safe because of rising share prices. They do not realise it is all a con-trick. And companies claim that their pension funds are better funded as a result of these share prices, and so they are meeting their obligations to their employees when that too is a con-trick. They may be insolvent when the truth is known, so serious is the fraud.

Read more …

Japan plays a strange role in the global economy. It won’t be able to keep that up much longer. The Bank of Japan has many options; none are good.

A Japanese Tsunami Out Of US CLOs Is Coming (HC)

Japan is at the very centre of the global financial system. It has run current account surpluses for decades, building the world’s largest net foreign investment surplus, or its accumulated national savings. Meanwhile, other nations, such as the US, have borrowed from nations like Japan to live beyond their own means, building net foreign investment deficits. We now have unprecedented levels of cross-national financing.

Much of Japan’s private sector saving is placed in Yen with financial institutions who then invest overseas. These institutions currency hedged most of their foreign assets to reduce risk weighted asset charges and currency write down risks. The cost of hedging USD assets has however risen due to a flattening USD yield curve and dislocations in FX forwards. As shown below, their effective yield on a 10 year US Treasury (UST) hedged with a 3 month USDJPY FX forward has fallen to 0.17%. As this is below the roughly 1% yield many financial institutions require to generate profits they have been selling USTs, even as unhedged 10 year UST yields rise. The effective yield will fall dramatically for here if 3 month USD Libor rises in line with the Fed’s “Dot Plot” forecast for short term rates, assuming other variables like 10 year UST yields remain constant.

As Japanese financial institutions sell US Treasuries, which are considered the safest foreign asset, they are shifting more into higher yielding and higher risk assets; foreign bonds excluding US treasuries as well as foreign equity and investment funds. This is a similar pattern to what we saw prior to the last global financial crisis. In essence, Japan’s financial institutions are forced to take on more risk in search of yield to cover rising hedge costs as the USD yield curve flattens late in the cycle. Critically as the world’s largest net creditor they facilitate significant added liquidity for higher risk overseas borrowers late into the cycle.

I follow these flows closely. One area I think is rather interesting is US Collateralised Loan Obligations (CLOs) which Bloomberg reports “ballooned to a record last quarter thanks in large part to unusually high demand from Japanese investors”. CLOs are essentially a basket of leveraged loans provided to generally lower rated companies with very little covenant protection. Alarmingly, some US borrowers have used this debt to purchase back so much of their own stock that their balance sheets now have negative net equity. A recent Fed discussion paper shows in the following chart that CLOs were the largest mechanism for the transfer of corporate credit risk out of undercapitalised banks in the US and into the shadow banking sector. Japanese financial institutions have been the underwriter of much of that risk in their search for yield.

Read more …

“This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.”

The Eurozone’s Coming Debt Crisis (Lacalle)

The European Central Bank (ECB) has signaled the end of its asset purchase program and even a possible rate hike before 2019. After more than 2 trillion euros of asset purchases and a zero interest rate policy, it is long overdue. The massive quantitative easing (QE) program has generated very significant imbalances and the risks far outweigh the questionable benefits. The balance sheet of the ECB is now more than 40 percent of the eurozone GDP. The governments of the eurozone, however, have not prepared themselves at all for the end of stimuli. They often claim that deficits have been reduced and risks contained. However, closer scrutiny shows that the bulk of deficit reductions came from lower cost of government debt.

Eurozone government spending has barely fallen, despite lower unemployment and rising tax revenues. Structural deficits remain stubborn, and in some cases, unchanged from 2013 levels. In other words, the problems are still there, they were just hidden for a while, swept under the rug of an ever-expanding global economy. The 19 eurozone countries have collectively saved 1.15 trillion euros in interest payments since 2008 due to ECB rate cuts and monetary policy interventions, according to German media outlet Handelsblatt. This reduction in costs is financed by pensioners and savers who are forced to invest in these debt instruments, often by institutional mandate.

However, that illusion of savings and budget stability will rapidly disappear as most Eurozone countries face massive amounts of debt coming due in the 2018–2020 period and wasted precious years of quantitative easing without implementing strong structural reforms. The recent troubles of Italian banks are just one precursor of things to come. Taxes rose for families and small and medium-sized enterprises, while current spending by governments barely fell, competitiveness remained poor, and a massive 1 trillion euro in nonperforming loans raises doubts about the health of the European financial system.

Read more …

Good overview. Crises wherever you look.

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sectors Of Global Debt (Rochford)

When considering where the global credit cycle is at, it’s often easy to form a view based on a handful of recent articles, statistics and anecdotes. The most memorable of these tend to be either very positive or negative otherwise they wouldn’t be published or would be quickly forgotten. A better way to assess where the global credit cycle is at is to look for pockets of dodgy debt. If these pockets are few, credit is early in the cycle with good returns likely to lie ahead. If these pockets are numerous, that’s a clear indication that credit is late cycle.

In reviewing global debt, twelve sectors standout for their lax credit standards and increasing risk levels. There’s excessive risk taking in developed and emerging debt, as well as in government, corporate, consumer and financial sector debt. This points to global credit being late cycle. Central banks have failed to learn the lessons from the last crisis. By seeking to avoid or lessen the necessary cleansing of malinvestment and excessive debt, this cycle’s economic recovery has been unusually slow. Ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing have increased the risk of another financial crisis, the opposite of the financial stability target many central bankers have.

For global debt investors, the current conditions offer limited potential for gains beyond carry. With credit spreads in many sectors at close to their lowest in the last decade, there is greater potential for spreads to widen dramatically than there is for spreads to tighten substantially. Keeping credit duration low, staying senior in the capital structure and shifting up the rating spectrum will cost some carry. However, the cost of de-risking now is as low as it has been for a long time. If the risks in the dirty dozen sectors materialise in the medium term, the losses avoided by de-risking will be a multiple of the carry foregone.

Read more …

I’d say it’s about time for the British to wake up to the damage May et al are inflicting on the nation.

UK’s Latest Brexit Proposal Is Unrealistic, Say EU Officials (G.)

A draft of Theresa May’s Brexit plan has already been dismissed as unrealistic by senior EU officials, who say the UK has no chance of changing the European Union’s founding principles. The prime minister is gathering her squabbling ministers at Chequers on Friday for a one-day discussion to thrash out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. But EU sources who have seen drafts of the long-awaited British white paper said the proposals would never be accepted. “We read the white paper and we read ‘cake’,” an EU official told the Guardian, a reference to Boris Johnson’s one-liner of being “pro having [cake] and pro-eating it”. Since the British EU referendum, “cake” has entered the Brussels lexicon to describe anything seen as an unrealistic or far-fetched demand.

May’s white paper is expected to propose the UK remaining indefinitely in a single market for goods after Brexit, to avoid the need for checks at the Irish border. While the UK is offering concessions on financial services, it wants restrictions on free movement of people – a long-standing no-go for the EU. Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, said it would be impossible for the EU to split the “four freedoms” underpinning the bloc’s internal market, which are written into the 1957 treaty that founded the European project: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. “The EU is in difficulties at the moment; the one and only success which glues all these countries together is a little bit the money and the internal market,” Piris said. “If you fudge the internal market by allowing a third state to choose what they want … it is the beginning of the end.”

Read more …

Not easy to find the right position on the topic. But Europe seems to show that uncontrolled immigration leads to the rise of right wing movements. Merkal gave birth to Salvini.

Nassim Taleb Slams “These Virtue-Signaling Open-Borders Imbeciles” (ZH)

As liberals across America continue to attempt to one-up one another with the volume of virtue they can signal, specifically on the question of ‘open borders’ – especially since ‘jenny from the bronx’ victory over the weekend, none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb unleashed a trite 3-tweet summary of how farcical this argument is…

What intellectuals don’t get about MIGRATION is the ethical notion of SYMMETRY:

1) OPEN BORDERS work if and only if the number of pple who want to go from EU/US to Africa/LatinAmer equals Africans/Latin Amer who want to move to EU/US

2) Controlled immigration is based on the symmetry that someone brings in at least as much as he/she gets out. And the ethics of the immigrant is to defend the system as payback, not mess it up. Uncontrolled immigration has all the attributes of invasions.

3) As a Christian Lebanese, saw the nightmare of uncontrolled immigration of Palestinians which caused the the civil war & as a part-time resident of N. Lebanon, I am seeing the effect of Syrian migration on the place.

So I despise these virtue-signaling open-borders imbeciles.

Silver Rule in #SkinInTheGame

Read more …

Mutti’s holding centers.

Merkel Dodges Political Bullet With Controversial Migrant Deal (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel survived a bruising challenge to her authority with a compromise deal on immigration but faced charges Tuesday that it spelt a final farewell to her welcoming stance toward refugees. In high-stakes crisis talks overnight, Merkel had put to rest for now a dangerous row with her hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer that had threatened the survival of her fragile coalition government. In separate statements, Merkel praised the “very good compromise” that she said spelt a European solution, while Seehofer withdrew a resignation threat and gloated that “it’s worth fighting for your convictions”.

In a pact both sides hailed as a victory, Merkel and Seehofer agreed to tighten border controls and set up closed holding centres to allow the speedy processing of asylum seekers and the repatriations of those who are rejected. They would either be sent back to EU countries that previously registered them or, in case arrival countries reject this – likely including frontline state Italy – be sent back to Austria, pending an agreement with Vienna. CSU general secretary called the hardening policy proposal the last building block “in a turn-around on asylum policy” after a mass influx brought over one million migrants and refugees.

But criticism and doubts were voiced quickly by other parties and groups, suggesting Merkel may only have won a temporary respite. Refugee support group Pro Asyl slammed what it labelled “detention centres in no-man’s land” and charged that German power politics were being played out “on the backs of those in need of protection”. Bernd Riexinger of the opposition far-left Die Linke party spoke of “mass internment camps” as proof that “humanity got lost along the way” and urged Merkel’s other coalition ally, the Social Democrats (SPD), to reject the plan.

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And Merkel made Kurz possible, too.

Austria Says To ‘Protect’ Its Borders After German Migrant Deal (AFP)

Austria’s government warned Tuesday it could “take measures to protect” its borders after Germany planned restrictions on the entry of migrants as part of a deal to avert a political crisis in Berlin. If the agreement reached Monday evening is approved by the German government as a whole, “we will be obliged to take measures to avoid disadvantages for Austria and its people,” the Austrian government said in a statement. It added it would be “ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular,” those with Italy and Slovenia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal Monday on migration with her rebellious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to defuse a bitter row that had threatened her government.

Among the proposals is a plan to send back to Austria asylum seekers arriving in Germany who cannot be returned to their countries of entry into the European Union. Austria said it would be prepared to take similar measures to block asylum seekers at its southern borders, with the risk of a domino effect in Europe. “We are now waiting for a rapid clarification of the German position at a federal level,” said the statement, signed by Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his allies of the far-right Freedom party, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. “German considerations prove once again the importance of a common European protection of the external borders,” the statement said.

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Wonder what the strategy meetings were like.

Is Facebook A Publisher? In Public It Says No, But In Court It Says Yes (G.)

Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.

The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.” [..] Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.

David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly … that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.” Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions. Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court. “It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”

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He did pull it off. But it may be too little too late. Biggest no-no: Model 3 was supposed to be $35,000. ended up at $78,000.

Tesla’s All-Nighter To Hit Production Goal Fails To Convince Wall Street (R.)

Tesla’s burning the midnight oil to hit a long-elusive target of making 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week failed to convince Wall Street that the electric carmaker could sustain that production pace, sending shares down 2.3% on Monday. Tesla met the target by running around the clock and pulling workers from other projects, workers said. The company also took the unprecedented step of setting up a new production line inside a tent on the campus of its Fremont factory, details of which Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted last month. Tesla’s heavily-shorted shares rose as much as 6.4% to $364.78 in early trading, but sank after several analysts questioned whether Tesla would be able to sustain the Model 3 production momentum, which is crucial for the long-term financial health of the company.

“In the interim, we do not see this production rate as operationally or financially sustainable,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy. “However, over time, we expect the manufacturing rate to become sustainable and even rise.” Levy cut CFRA’s rating on Tesla stock to “sell” from “hold.” Tesla, which Chief Executive Elon Musk hailed on Sunday as having become a “real car company,” said it now expects to boost production to 6,000 Model 3s per week by late August, signaling confidence about resolving technical and assembly issues that have plagued the company for months. Tesla also reaffirmed a positive cash flow and profit forecast for the year. Tesla has been burning through cash to produce the Model 3. Problems with an over-reliance on automation, battery issues and other bottlenecks have potentially compromised Tesla’s position in the electric car market as a host of competitors prepare to launch rival vehicles.

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NATO is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.”.

The New York Times Squares off with the Truth, Again (AHT)

Whenever I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, I turn to The New York Times’ editorial page. It’s always a gas to see how far the empire’s leading propaganda outfit is prepared to go in its mission to pull the wool over we the people’s gullible little eyes. The good editors have come through for me again with their latest entry, “Trump and Putin’s Too-Friendly Summit.” (Original title: “Trump and Putin: Best Frenemies for Life”). No doubt the original headline was deemed rather too impish for such a serious newspaper—it might, for instance, have alerted readers to the fact that the editorial’s content is not to be taken very seriously—and so was understandably jettisoned.

“One would think,” the editors write, “that the president of the United States would let Mr. Putin know that he faces a united front of Mr. Trump and his fellow NATO leaders, with whom he would have met days before the [Putin] summit in Helsinki.” Alas, during said meeting Trump reportedly remarked that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA”—the “free trade” agreement that has succeeded in decimating most of the manufacturing jobs spared by the automation wrecking ball. In other words, Trump does not necessarily think it’s a good idea to encircle Russia with a hostile military alliance whose existence, according to geopolitical expert Richard Sakwa, is “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” (If you haven’t read Professor Sakwa’s comprehensive study of the Ukrainian crisis, Frontline Ukraine, put it at the top of your summer reading list.)

One notes the Turgidsonian delight with which the Times reminds us that, should push come to shove, we’ve got those Russki bastards outgunned. Of course, gullibles like you and I are to pay no mind to the fact that such a confrontation (a military one, for the Times brought up NATO) would almost certainly involve a nuclear exchange, rendering the disparity in manpower that so excites the Times totally meaningless. No, what’s important is that NATO has twenty-nine member states and counting, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved twenty-seven years ago: ergo, unless he wants the old mailed fist, Putin had better ask “how high?” when we tell him to jump. One would be hard-pressed to come up with a more delusional assessment of where things stand.

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“We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it.”

Anthony Kennedy and Our Delayed Constitutional Crisis (GP)

Like “swing vote” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor before him, “swing vote” justice Anthony Kennedy has been one of the worst Supreme Court jurists of the modern era. With swing-vote status comes great responsibility, and in the most consequential — and wrongly decided — cases of this generation, O’Connor and Kennedy were the Court’s key enablers. They • Cast the deciding vote that made each decision possible • Kept alive the illusion of the Court’s non-partisan legitimacy. Each of these points is critical in evaluating the modern Supreme Court. For two generations, it has made decisions that changed the constitution for the worse. (Small “c” on constitution to indicate the original written document, plus its amendments, plus the sum of all unwritten agreements and court decisions that determine how those documents are to be interpreted).

These horrible decisions are easy to list. They expanded the earlier decision on corporate personhood by enshrining money as political speech in a group of decisions that led to the infamous Citizens United case (whose majority opinion, by the way, was written by the so-called “moderate” Anthony Kennedy); repeatedly undermined the rights of citizens and workers relative to the corporations that rule and employ them; set back voting rights equality for at least a generation; and many more. After this next appointment, many fear Roe v. Wade may be reversed. Yet the Court has managed to keep (one is tempted to say curate) its reputation as a “divided body” and not a “captured body” thanks to its so-called swing vote justices and the press’s consistent and complicit portrayal of the Court as merely “divided.”

The second point above, about the illusion of the Court’s legitimacy, is just as important as the first. If the Court were ever widely seen as acting outside the bounds of its mandate, or worse, seen as a partisan, captured organ of a powerful and dangerous political minority (which it certainly is), all of its decisions would be rejected by the people at large, and more importantly, the nation would plunged into a constitutional crisis of monumental proportions. We are in that constitutional crisis now, but just at the start of it. We should have been done with it long ago. Both O’Connor and Kennedy are responsible for that delay.


Image credit: Mike Thompson / Detroit Free Press

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A tale of two refugees
Putin: Snowden is free to do whatever he wants
Lenin: I ordered Assange to be gagged and isolated and am coordinating “next steps” with US

‘Snowden is the Master of His Own Destiny’ – Russia (TeleSur)

United States President Donald Trump is expected to pressure Russia to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in exchange for sanctions relief at the upcoming Trump-Putin summit; however, Russia has emphasized that they “are not in a position” to expel Snowden and will “respect his rights” if any such attempt is made. “I have never discussed Edward Snowden with (Donald Trump’s) administration,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to Channel 4 reporters. “When he (Putin) was asked the question, he said this is for Edward Snowden to decide. We respect his rights, as an individual. That is why we were not in a position to expel him against his will because he found himself in Russia even without a U.S. passport, which was discontinued as he was flying from Hong Kong.”

Snowden, who is being prosecuted in the United States for leaking classified documents that showed surveillance abuse by U.S. intelligence agencies, was given political asylum in Russia after his passport was revoked. “Edward Snowden is the master of his own destiny,” Lavrov said. Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, where Putin is expected to push for an end to U.S. sanctions. Trump has said he would like better relations with Russia, perhaps as a way of pulling them away from China, but Trump’s opponents in the United States are already applying political pressure on him for holding the summit, in the midst of the tensest U.S.-Russian relations since the height of the Cold War.

The fate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also lay in the balance when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno this week. “The vice president raised the issue of Mr. Assange. It was a constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward,” a White House official said in a statement.

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Apr 142018
 
 April 14, 2018  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Robert Capa Anti-fascist militia women defending a street barricade, Barcelona 1936

 

US Media Love War More Than They Hate Trump (Khalek)
US Defence Secretary Mattis Says ‘This Was A One-Time Shot’ – For Now (Ind.)
Why Is ‘Bad Guy’ Putin So Popular At Home? (Steve Keen)
Trump’s Actions in Syria Violate US Constitution (Kucinich)
Long Wars (Claire Connelly)
The Deep State Takes A Hostage (Stockman)
Irish High Court Sets Out 11 Questions For ECJ on EU-US Data Transfers (IT)
Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony Lurched From Easy Ride To Headache (G.)
Making America More Indebted (Roberts)
JPMorgan Profits Soar 35% Thanks To Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts (Ind.)

 

 

How many people actually believe the Skripal and Douma stories they are being fed?

US Media Love War More Than They Hate Trump (Khalek)

American media outlets can’t help themselves. They love war. They love war more than they hate Trump. They love war so much, they are cheering on the president they hate to militarily escalate in Syria. And if he doesn’t escalate in Syria, it proves he is controlled by the Kremlin, they tell us. If he wants to demonstrate that Russia isn’t calling the shots, he must bomb Syria. And he must bomb Syria to punish Assad for an alleged chemical attack that has yet to be properly investigated to determine whether it took place and who is responsible. The US media isn’t interested in evidence, they have been repeating that Assad was behind this alleged attack from the beginning and through repetition it has become a truth.

NBC recently published claims fed to them by anonymous US intelligence officials claiming to have proof that the attack did indeed take place and that Assad is responsible. It’s not as if US officials have ever lied about weapons of mass destruction in the past to justify war, so why should NBC be skeptical of this? Meanwhile, CNN—when it isn’t busy obsessing over Stormy Daniels—has hosted a parade of war hawks agitating for military escalation against Syria, against Iran, even against Russia. For example US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has never seen a country he doesn’t want to bomb, was allowed to go on air and call Assad a legitimate military target, saying Trump should take him out to “send a strong message other bad actors like North Korea and Iran.”

He went largely unchallenged by the CNN host whose only qualm was where the US could bomb in Syria to properly punish the Assad government. “It’s tough to decide what option to hit. What is a good option? You’d be forced to take out the air force but it doesn’t sound like taking out the air force will stop if it’s chemical attacks coming out of a helicopter,” she said to Graham. The editorial board at the Washington Post, a newspaper that is owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos who has a $600 million contract with the CIA that is never disclosed by the paper on stories related to the intelligence agency despite the clear conflict of interest, agitated for Trump to go further than just bombing Syria once.

The Post wants to see a longer term plan for regime change and US military domination over Syria. “The reality Mr. Trump has not yet faced is that as long as the dictator he called “Animal Assad” remains in place, Syria’s wars will continue, breeding Islamist terrorists and propelling refugees toward Europe,” said the Post. But the reality is the opposite: it is the US’ war of regime change in Syria that has prolonged the war, bred Islamist terrorists, and propelled refugees toward Europe, and the Post is calling for continuing that regime change operation.

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The story is they struck chemical weapons facilities. That means the OPCW has zero credibility from now on; they stated just a few years ago that Syria had none anymore.

US Defence Secretary Mattis Says ‘This Was A One-Time Shot’ – For Now (Ind.)

The US military has revealed the three-nation stake on Syria targeting alleged chemicals assets is over for now – declaring “right now this is a one-time shot”. Defence Secretary James Mattis said the US, UK and France had acted together, having determined that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians a week ago. He said it would depend on Mr Assad if there were further strikes. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” he told a briefing on Friday night at the Pentagon. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, said the targets included a Syrian research facility, a chemical weapons storage facility and a command post. The first of these was located in Damascus, the first time that the US had struck close to the capital.

Asked whether the US and its allies was planning further attacks, Mr Mattis said: “That depends open Assad.” The Defence Secretary said he was “certain” the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians, something that Mr Assad and its Russian allies have denied. He said the US was still investigating what sort of chemical weapons had been used. “We are aware of one of the chemical agents” that was used, but further assessments were continuing. While it was reported that Russian forces were not warned in advance of the strike, he said that usual deescalation communications did go ahead, the process Moscow and Washington use to avoid unintentional attacks on each other’s forces, or accidental clashes or their aircraft.

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“..an extra 2.5-3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality..”

Why Is ‘Bad Guy’ Putin So Popular At Home? (Steve Keen)

The destructive impact of the far-too-rapid transition was an increase in the mortality rate, which medical researchers concluded meant that “an extra 2.5-3 million Russian adults died in middle age in the period 1992-2001 than would have been expected based on 1991 mortality. ” In strict economic terms, the transition was an abject failure – that is, if you think it was intended to improve Russian living standards. GDP virtually halved between 1990 and 1998, living standards plummeted, crime proliferated, and Russian society almost collapsed. Even today, output is barely above pre-transition levels.n

The failure of the rapid transition policies forced on Russia by the US is even more apparent when Russia’s transition performance is compared with China’s, where the communists remained firmly in control, and where the transition was deliberately undertaken at a measured pace. Russia’s per capita GDP today is only slightly above its level at the end of the Soviet period. China’s per capita GDP is ten times what it was in 1990. However, viewed from the very bottom of this brutal process in 1998, Russia has made remarkable progress: from 1998 until now, GDP has more than doubled, in both total and per capita terms. For almost all of this time, Russia’s president or prime minister has been Vladimir Putin.

Prior to his election in 2000, Putin rose to prominence in part because of his successful repression of the Chechen revolt. This hardly endeared Putin to the Chechens. But it gave him the aura of a strongman at the time most Russians believed their country desperately needed one, to eliminate the low-level mafia who tormented the public directly, to subdue the Oligarchs who exploited them, and to stand up to the West when his predecessor Yeltsin had effectively been a puppet. Putin can’t be solely credited with starting the economic turnaround, but his strongman approach to running Russia was welcomed, and is still welcomed, by the majority of his countrymen.

Russia is far from perfect under Putin, and Putin is far from perfect himself. But its economy and its national pride have been restored under his rule, and the Russian public cannot be faulted for feeling substantial antipathy towards the West, and the US in particular. Given that Russia has legitimate grievances about how the West treated it after it decided to join the capitalist camp, and the disastrous outcomes of all previous Western attempts at regime change, I’d rather our so-called leaders aimed for rapprochement with Russia, and yes, with Putin, instead of heightened animosity.

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So what is Congress going to do?

Trump’s Actions in Syria Violate US Constitution (Kucinich)

President Trump acted without congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight. This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8 which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. The President’s Article II authority as “Commander in Chief” does not give him the authority to act independent of Congress on matters of war. This is not a mere technicality. The doctrine of separation of powers is the only thing which protects the US from becoming a dictatorship. The President is subject to the law. The gas attack on Douma must be dealt with in an international court of law. If the US does not stand for the rule of law, how can we demand other countries to do so?

The attack on Syria will embolden ISIS. Our military power should not be used to help, directly or indirectly, ISIS and those elements whose philosophy is inimical to the United States of America. The President has violated the Constitution, usurping the power of Congress. This is not about whether or not the President hates Syria’s leaders. It is about whether or not he loves the US Constitution, which he took an oath to defend. The President chose to order a military attack almost a week after the gas attack on Douma. He had plenty of time to seek congressional approval, but he chose not to do so, even though he himself specifically said “The President must get congressional approval before attacking Syria – big mistake if he does not.” (Twitter, August 30th, 2013).

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“.. the Arab world under the control of those who live and work in the Arab world.”

Long Wars (Claire Connelly)

From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies. Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria. You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments.

Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise. Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’. Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it. “For the last quarter of a century, the US and its allies have waged highly destructive campaigns of economic warfare against Syria and Iraq, the economic equivalent of nuclear war,” writes Gowans,

“and have done so because they are opposed to Ba’ath Arab Socialist efforts to bring politics and the economics of the Arab world under the control of those who live and work in the Arab world.” In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.” When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again.

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It ain’t over.

The Deep State Takes A Hostage (Stockman)

The Donald seems to be taking a Deep Breath on his Syria bombfest, but the Deep State has him by the orange hairs. So we doubt the delay will last much longer. That’s because our Art of the Deal genius is getting bamboozled yet again. They are telling him that wiping out up to a dozen Syrian airfields, military installations and a dog-eared factory or two that can be identified as chemical weapons sites will amount to some pretty serious Shock & Awe where it counts: That is, the mere witnessing of it will cause the Fat Boy of Pyongyang to brown his ample trousers, thereby getting his “mind right” for the upcoming summit. That’s exactly the kind of macho-bargainer stuff that the Donald thrives on, and is further proof that the Deep State has figured out exactly how to press his buttons.

To be sure, Trump is no innocent victim. He voluntarily made himself hostage to the War Party by surrounding himself with failed generals and the most rabid war-mongers to be found in the Imperial City—-John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel. Indeed, you have to wonder. How could anyone with even a half-baked notion of America First think that a hard core interventionist like John Bolton should be brought up right close and personal to the POTUS ear lobes, Walrus mustache and all? But whatever the Donald was thinking when he made such horrendous choices for his top national security posts, these denizens of the War Party have wasted no time shoving their own agenda right down his throat.

And at the top of that agenda is systematic, relentless escalation of provocations against Russia and Iran. That’s because confrontation with these demonized states is the best way to keep Imperial Washington (and therefore the entire country) on a war-footing and the national security gravy train overflowing with fiscal largesse. As we indicated in Part 1, the impending attack on Syria is actually a shot across the bow aimed at Tehran and Moscow. The cover story is simply a humanitarian sounding ruse. Ostensibly, Bashar Assad is being administered a good hard spanking via a barrage of cruise missile birch switches.

That begs the question, of course, of how homeland security is actually enhanced by selectively spanking some malefactors and not others. In this case, even the surely bogus claim that 40 civilians were gassed in Douma hardly compares to the 10,000 civilians that have been slaughtered by American bombs delivered by the Saudi air force in Yemen; or the thousands of anti-government prisoners that have been summarily executed by General al-Sisi in Egypt under this stewardship of Washington’s $1.2 billion annual stipend; or the thousands of civilians that Israel has killed during its periodic “lawn-mowing” exercises on the Gaza Strip.

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Huge challenge to Facebook and the CIA. How come only the Irish Times reports on it? The EU top courts is about to ban transfer on personal data from Europe to the US.

Irish High Court Sets Out 11 Questions For ECJ on EU-US Data Transfers (IT)

Legal uncertainty surrounds the capacity of companies such as Facebook to transfer European users’ data to the US after a High Court judge asked the most senior EU court to consider 11 questions on the issue. The referral stems from a case taken by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems. The questions raise significant issues of EU law with huge implications, including whether the High Court has correctly found there is “mass indiscriminate processing” of data by US government agencies under the PRISM and Upstream programmes authorised there. The questions also ask whether EU law applies to the processing of personal data for national security purposes regardless of whether that data processing takes place in the EU or US or other third country.

Other questions concern whether the Privacy Shield Decision and other measures in the US afford adequate protection for EU citizens whose data is transferred there. The ECJ is also asked to decide the extent of a data protection authority’s (DAA) power to suspend data flows if it considers a third country is subject to surveillance laws which conflict with EU law. After Ms Justice Caroline Costello set out the questions on Thursday in a formal request to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling, Paul Gallagher SC, for Facebook, asked for time to consider that in the context of possibly seeking an appeal against the judge’s decision to make a reference to the CJEU in the first place.

Michael Collins SC, for the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), queried whether there was any entitlement to appeal a High Court decision to direct a reference but did not object to Facebook being given a short time to consider its approach. The judge, noting she had given judgment last October sanctioning a reference, said she was anxious to make the referral but would allow Facebook time to April 30th. Among the questions for reference include whether, when deciding if data privacy rights of an EU citizen are breached, the issue must be examined against the EU Charter and EU law or the national law of one or more EU states, or an amalgam of the laws of all member states. The High Court had found the appropriate comparator was EU law despite Facebook disputing that.

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The challenege is in Europe, not the US.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony Lurched From Easy Ride To Headache (G.)

As Mark Zuckerberg left Congress on Tuesday after testifying to the Senate, he may have felt relieved. The four-hour Q&A session had been largely dominated by mundane questions of fact about how Facebook works, requests for apologies and updates he had already given and was happy to repeat, and shameless begs for the social network’s cash pile to be used to expand broadband access in senators’ home states. Less than 24 hours later, however, a very different pattern of questioning in front of 54 members of the House of Representatives suggested a much more worrying outcome for Facebook – that this could be the week its crisis moves from being about mistakes in the past to inherent problems in the present.

Perhaps, the representatives implied, Facebook doesn’t just have a problem. What if it is the problem? Questions were still asked about Cambridge Analytica, the 9m other apps the company has to investigate for historical data sharing, and the revelation that more than a billion users had their data scraped by third parties abusing a phone or email lookup feature. But just as many were asked about problems that revolved less around mistakes and more around fundamental facets of Facebook’s business. Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg appeared less inclined to answer those. “Will you make the commitment to change … all the user default settings to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, the collection and use of users’ data,” asked Frank Pallone, the panel’s top Democrat.

Zuckerberg, declining to give a yes or no, eventually agreed to follow up with an answer after the hearing. “Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy,” asked the Democratic congresswoman Anna Eshoo. “I’m not sure what that means,” was Zuckerberg’s reply. Europe’s general data protection regulation, Democrat Gene Green noted, gives EU citizens the right to opt out of the processing of their personal data for marketing purposes. “Will the same right … be available to Facebook users in the United States?” Zuckerberg: “Let me follow up with you on that.”

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“..an additional dollar of deficit spending will reduce private GDP by $1.01, resulting in a one-cent decline in real GDP..”

Making America More Indebted (Roberts)

In December of last year, as Congress voted to pass the “Tax Cut & Jobs Act,” I wrote that without “real and substantive cuts to spending,” the debt and deficits will begin to balloon. At that time, I mapped out the trajectory of the deficit based on the cuts to revenue from lower tax rates and sustained levels of government spending.

Since that writing, the government has now lifted the “debt ceiling” for two years and passed a $1.3 Trillion “omnibus spending bill” to operate the government through the end of September, 2018. Of course, since the government has foregone the required Constitutional process of operating on a budget for the last decade, “continuing resolutions,” or “C.R.s,” will remain the standard operating procedure of managing the country’s finances. This means that spending will continue to grow unchecked into the foreseeable future as C.R.’s increase the previously budgeted spending levels automatically by 8% annually. (Rule of 72 says spending doubles every 9-years) The chart below tracks the cumulative increase in “excess” Government spending above revenue collections. Notice the point at which nominal GDP growth stopped rising.

Trillion dollar deficits, of course, are nothing to be excited about as rising debts, and surging deficits, as shown, impede economic growth longer-term as money is diverted from productive investments to debt-service. While many suggest that “all government spending is good spending,” the reality is that “recycled tax dollars” have a very low, if not negative, “multiplier effect” in the economy. As Dr. Lacy Hunt states: “The government expenditure multiplier is negative. Based on academic research, the best evidence suggests the multiplier is -0.01, which means that an additional dollar of deficit spending will reduce private GDP by $1.01, resulting in a one-cent decline in real GDP. The deficit spending provides a transitory boost to economic activity, but the initial effect is more than reversed in time. Within no more than three years the economy is worse off on a net basis, with the lagged effects outweighing the initial positive benefit.“

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Oh boy, are we doing great.

JPMorgan Profits Soar 35% Thanks To Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts (Ind.)

JPMorgan’s profits jumped 35 percent in the last quarter, compared to a year ago, partly thanks to a huge tax cut. Congress slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent in December as part of a major overhaul pushed for by President Donald Trump that also cut taxes for wealthy individuals. Higher interest rates also helped to boost profits, JPMorgan said. The bank earned $8.7bn (£6.1bn) in the first quarter, or $2.37 a share, up from $6.45bn, in the same period a year earlier. Analysts had predicted JPMorgan would earn $2.28 a share.

Pre-tax income rose by $2.6bn to $28.52bn in the quarter, the company paid $240 million less in taxes compared to a year earlier. “2018 is off to a good start with our businesses performing well across the board, driving strong top-line growth and building on the momentum from last year,“ chief executive Jamie Dimon said. “The global economy continues to do well, and we remain optimistic about the positive impact of tax reform in the US as business sentiment remains upbeat, and consumers benefit from job and wage growth.”

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