Nov 112018
 
 November 11, 2018  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Christ in the garden of olives 1889

 

China Can Never Allow Its Housing Bubble To Burst (ZH)
One Thing Unites Britain (O.)
Four UK Ministers On Verge Of Quitting, EU Rejects Latest Plan (R.)
Top Tory Says Theresa May Is ‘Handing Power To EU’ In Brexit Deal (G.)
Khashoggi Murder Fails To Stop Britain Selling Arms To The Saudis (O.)
Saudi Arabia Wants To Cut OPEC Allies Oil Output By Up To 1 Million Bpd (R.)
Court Clears Rome’s Mayor Of Cronyism And Abuse Of Power (G.)
2 Koreas Complete The Disarming Of 22 Guard Posts (AP)
Moorside’s Atomic Dream Was An Illusion. Renewables Are The Future (G.)
Next Generation ‘May Never See The Glory Of Coral Reefs’ (G.)
Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism (G.)

 

 

50 million empty apartments. ‘Real’ estate holds 75% of Chinese private ‘assets’. There can hardly be a more dangerous concept for the global economy.

China Can Never Allow Its Housing Bubble To Burst (ZH)

Back in 2017, we explained why the “fate of the world economy is in the hands of China’s housing bubble.” The answer was simple: for the Chinese population, and growing middle class, to keep spending vibrant and borrowing elevated, it had to feel comfortable and confident that its wealth would keep rising. However, unlike the US where the stock market is the ultimate barometer of the confidence boosting “wealth effect”, in China it has always been about housing as three quarters of Chinese household assets are parked in real estate, compared to only 28% in the US, with the remainder invested financial assets. Beijing knows this, of course, which is why China periodically and consistently reflates its housing bubble, hoping that the popping of the bubble, which happened in late 2011 and again in 2014, will be a controlled, “smooth landing” process.

For now, Beijing has been successful in maintaining price stability at least according to official data, allowing the air out of the “Tier 1” home price bubble which peaked in early 2016, while preserving modest home price appreciation in secondary markets. How long China will be able to avoid a sharp price decline remains to be seen, but in the meantime another problem faces China’s housing market: in addition to being the primary source of household net worth – and therefore stable and growing consumption – it has also been a key driver behind China’s economic growth, with infrastructure spending and capital investment long among the biggest components of the country’s goalseeked GDP.

One result has been China’s infamous ghost cities, built only for the sake of Keynesian spending to hit a predetermined GDP number that would make Beijing happy. Meanwhile, in the process of reflating the latest housing bubble, another dire byproduct of this artificial housing “market” has emerged: tens of millions of apartments and houses standing empty across the country. According to Bloomberg, soon-to-be-published research will show that roughly 22% of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That amounts to more than 50 million empty homes.

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Britain is shrinking away from not just Europe, but the world, unable to focus on anything other than its domestic squabbles.

One Thing Unites Britain (O.)

[..] Theresa May has always hung on in the belief that, when it came to the crunch moment, when a deal was on offer that would take the UK out of the EU on 29 March next year, her party and the country would unite sufficiently behind her to allow a withdrawal agreement to pass through parliament. The country would rally behind her vision of Brexit. But instead, as people become more aware of what leaving the EU entails, many MPs believe the reverse may be happening. [..] With more Tory Remainers and Leavers now opposing her, May’s task is daunting. Downing Street’s immediate task is to get her deeply split cabinet to unite around the final unresolved element of a potential deal with the EU: the legally complex issue of how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

Downing Street knows it is in a race against time. May is desperate to put a motion before the House of Commons before Christmas, in the hope that, somehow, it will pass. No 10 has pencilled in a cabinet meeting for early this week, probably on Tuesday. But disagreements remain among her most senior ministers over how the UK would exit from the so-called “backstop” agreement, under which the whole of the UK would remain in the EU customs union until a final UK-EU trade deal is struck. Several cabinet ministers are unhappy with what they fear will be fudged wording in the withdrawal agreement that fails to chart a clear path to exit the backstop. They want to see the full legal advice and want guarantees that the EU will not be able to prevent the UK breaking free from its system once and for all, so that it can strike its own trade deals.

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It’s still the Irish hard border. And they’re still no closer to a solution.

Four UK Ministers On Verge Of Quitting, EU Rejects Latest Plan (R.)

Four British ministers who back remaining in the European Union are on the verge of quitting Theresa May’s government over Brexit, the Sunday Times reported, as pressures built on the prime minister from all sides. The newspaper also said that the European Union had rejected May’s plan for an independent mechanism to oversee Britain’s departure from any temporary customs arrangement it agrees. The newspaper sourced the development to British sources, and not sources in the EU team. May is trying to hammer out the final details of the British divorce deal but the talks have become stuck over how the two sides can prevent a hard border from being required in Ireland.

Britain has proposed a UK-wide temporary customs arrangement with the EU to resolve the issue but Brexiteers in her party want London to have the final say on when that arrangement would end, to prevent it from being tied indefinitely to the bloc. A senior cabinet minister was quoted in the paper as saying: “This is the moment she has to face down Brussels and make it clear to them that they need to compromise, or we will leave without a deal.” An EU diplomat told Reuters earlier on Saturday that they were cautiously hopeful that an EU summit could happen in November to endorse the deal but that the volatile situation in Britain made it very difficult to predict.

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Well, May herself doesn’t appear to know what to do with that power.

Top Tory Says Theresa May Is ‘Handing Power To EU’ In Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May was accused last night by a former cabinet colleague of planning the “biggest giveaway of sovereignty in modern times”, as she faced a potentially devastating pincer movement from Tory remainers and leavers condemning her Brexit plans. The day after Jo Johnson, the pro-remain brother of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, resigned from the government and called for a second referendum on Brexit, former education secretary Justine Greening launched an attack on the prime minister, saying her plans would leave the country in the “worst of all worlds”. Piling yet more pressure on May, Greening – who resigned from the cabinet in January – backed the former transport minister’s call for another public vote and said MPs should reject the prime minister’s deal.

Greening told the Observer: “The parliamentary deadlock has been clear for some time. It’s crucial now for parliament to vote down this plan, because it is the biggest giveaway of sovereignty in modern times. “Instead, the government and parliament must recognise we should give people a final say on Brexit. Only they can break the deadlock and choose from the practical options for Britain’s future now on the table.” Greening added: “Like many of us, Jo Johnson is a pragmatist on Britain’s relationship with the EU. But Conservative MPs can increasingly see that this sovereignty giveaway from No 10 leaves our country with less say over rules that govern our lives … That is not in the national interest, it’s the worst of all worlds and it resolves nothing.”

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Even as the UK has also received the audio from Turkey.

Khashoggi Murder Fails To Stop Britain Selling Arms To The Saudis (O.)

Britain has pursued its assiduous courtship of Saudi Arabia despite the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with diplomats and Ministry of Defence officials meeting their counterparts in the kingdom to discuss closer economic, military and political ties. The discussions have taken place as Britain enters the final phase of negotiations to sell more Typhoon jets to Riyadh. They are similar to those used in the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen in a war that has caused a humanitarian disaster.

Britain sells billions of pounds of weapons to the countries bombing Yemen and is keen to strengthen its ties after Brexit. In July last year, the government confirmed it had created a dedicated Gulf region working group to promote “high-level dialogue with key trading partners to progress our trade and investment relationships”. Since then, civil servants have regularly visited the region for confidential talks to prepare for future deals once Britain leaves the European Union. A delegation from the Department for International Trade visited the Eastern Province chamber of commerce in Dammam in Saudi Arabia on 2 October – the day Khashoggi was murdered.

Alastair Long, the UK’s deputy trade commissioner for the Middle East and director of trade for Saudi Arabia, stressed that Britain was keen to create alternative markets and that Saudi Arabia “is at the head of these markets”. On 31 October, another UK government delegation visited Riyadh for a meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council secretariat. A press release from the council said the meeting discussed expanding “the horizons of political, security, military and commercial cooperation”

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Much discussed before: smaller producers have only one reaction to falling prices: produce more (if they can).

Saudi Arabia Wants To Cut OPEC Allies Oil Output By Up To 1 Million Bpd (R.)

Saudi Arabia is discussing a proposal to cut oil output by up to 1 million barrels per day by OPEC and its allies, two sources close to the discussions told Reuters on Sunday. The sources said the discussions were not finalized as much depended on the reduction in Iranian exports. “There is a general discussion about this. But the question is how much is needed to reduce by the market,” one of the sources said, speaking in Abu Dhabi where a market monitoring committee is due to be held on Sunday, attended by top exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Asked by reporters in Abu Dhabi if the market is in balance, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said: “We will find out. We have our meeting later.” Al-Falih last month said there could be a need for intervention to reduce oil stockpiles after increases in recent months. The United States this month imposed sanctions curtailing Iran’s oil exports as part of efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs as well as its support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.

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Smearing M5S has become less easy.

Court Clears Rome’s Mayor Of Cronyism And Abuse Of Power (G.)

The Rome mayor, Virginia Raggi, has been cleared of cronyism and abuse of power after a judge ruled that the alleged offence did not constitute a crime. Prosecutors had called for a 10-month jail term over allegations that Raggi, from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, lied to investigators over the appointment of Renato Marra, the brother of one of her close aides, as Rome’s tourism chief. His brother Raffaele, the former head of staff at Rome city hall, faces separate corruption allegations. The accusations emerged not long after Raggi was elected as Rome’s first female mayor in June 2016. Had she been convicted she would have been forced to resign as mayor, in line with the Five Star Movement’s code of ethics.

She wept upon hearing the ruling, saying afterwards: “This sentence wipes out two years of mud-slinging. We’ll go forward with our heads held high for Rome, my beloved city, and for all citizens.” Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star Movement leader and Italy’s deputy prime minister, celebrated the court ruling while using the opportunity to criticise journalists whom he accused of “attacking Italy’s most massacred mayor” for two years and generating “fake news” to bring her down. “Go Virginia! I am happy for always having defended you and believed in you,” he wrote on Facebook.

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There are people who genuinely want peace. Get out of their way.

2 Koreas Complete The Disarming Of 22 Guard Posts (AP)

The North and South Korean militaries completed withdrawing troops and firearms from 22 front-line guard posts on Saturday as they continue to implement a wide-ranging agreement reached in September to reduce tensions across the world’s most fortified border, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said. South Korea says the military agreement is an important trust-building step that would help stabilize peace and advance reconciliation between the rivals. But critics say the South risks conceding some of its conventional military strength before North Korea takes any meaningful steps on denuclearization — an anxiety that’s growing as the larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang seemingly drift into a stalemate.

South Korea reportedly has about 60 guard posts — bunker-like concrete structures surrounded with layers of barbed-wire fences and manned by soldiers equipped with machine guns — stretched across the ironically named Demilitarized Zone. The 248-kilometer (155-mile) border buffer peppered with millions of land mines has been the site of occasional skirmishes between the two forces since the 1950-53 Korean War. The North is believed to have about 160 guard posts within the DMZ.


In this Nov. 4, 2018, photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, a yellow flag is raised at a guard post of South Korea in the demilitarized zone, South Korea. A South Korean Defense Ministry official said on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, the North and South Korean militaries have completed withdrawing troops and firearms from 22 front-line guard posts as they continue to implement a wide-ranging agreement reached in September to reduce tensions. The flag marks the post that is to be dismantled so that each side can observe the work in progress.

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Sorry, but no. Using much less energy of any kind is the future. Voluntarily or forced. That’s what we should prepare our societies for.

Moorside’s Atomic Dream Was An Illusion. Renewables Are The Future (G.)

Toshiba’s decision to pull out of building a nuclear power station in Cumbria last week will cause shockwaves far beyond the north-west of England. The outcome is a disaster for the surrounding area, which is heavily reliant on the nuclear industry for jobs and prosperity. Local politicians admit it is a blow and a disappointment for Cumbrians hoping for roles at the proposed Moorside plant. They say they genuinely believe a new buyer for the site will come forward. But that looks like wishful thinking. To an extent, the demise of Moorside can be attributed to problems with it as a specific project. It has looked doomed since Toshiba’s US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy in 2017 and the company ruled out new nuclear investments outside of Japan.

Efforts to woo the South Korean energy company Kepco as a buyer then floundered. The executive leading the sale for Toshiba blamed the failure to find a buyer on being “caught between a series of unplanned and uncontrollable events”. But the end of Moorside is also emblematic of the wider challenges that new nuclear faces. It took a decade from Tony Blair signalling the UK’s renewed interest in nuclear power in 2006 for France’s EDF Energy and the British government to sign a generous subsidy deal and green-light Hinkley Point C, the UK’s first new nuclear plant in a generation. In all likelihood, it will not be generating electricity until 2027. Ministers insist new nuclear power stations are still an essential way of hitting the country’s greenhouse gas emission targets and providing energy security as old plants are switched off in the 2020s.

Losing Moorside means there are just five other new nuclear projects planned, including Hinkley Point C. Eyes will now turn to Hitachi’s proposed Wylfa Newydd plant on Anglesey. The project is the furthest along the line after Hinkley, but it’s far from a done deal. The new nuclear drive was meant to be solely funded by the private sector, but the government has already made a striking exception in the case of Wylfa. Ministers have promised Hitachi they will use public money to take a £5bn stake in the scheme. Such a dramatic U-turn on policy is explained by the fact that Wylfa is about more than the UK’s desire for new nuclear: it is also about cooperation with Tokyo and bringing forth other investment from Japanese firms, such as carmakers, after Brexit.

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We get the drift, but we also know only a small part of 1 or 2 generations of mankind have ever ‘seen’ coral reefs. And most people only do ‘see’ them in pics and movies. You might want to think about that. it’s definitely not about you ‘seeing’ coral reefs or rhino’s or orangutans. It’s about something else.

Next Generation ‘May Never See The Glory Of Coral Reefs’ (G.)

Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory, according to a marine biologist who is coordinating efforts to monitor the decline of the world’s most colourful ecosystem. Global heating and ocean acidification have already severely bleached 16 to 33% of all warm-water reefs, but the remainder are vulnerable to even a fraction of a degree more warming, said David Obura, chair of the Coral Specialist Group in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. “It will be like lots of lights blinking off,” he told the Observer. “It won’t happen immediately but it will be death by 1,000 blows. Between now and 2 degrees Celsius, we will see more reefs dropping off the map.”

Obura added: “Children born today may be the last generation to see coral reefs in all their glory. Today’s reefs have a history going back 25 million to 50 million years and have survived tectonic collisions, such as that of Africa into Europe, and India into Asia. Yet in five decades we have undermined the global climate so fundamentally that in the next generation we will lose the globally connected reef system that has survived tens of millions of years.”

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Headline obviously for effect. But interesting theme. Still, is it capitalism that is to blame for suppressing women, or patriarchy?

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism (G.)

This book has a simple premise: “Unregulated capitalism is bad for women,” Kristen Ghodsee argues, “and if we adopt some ideas from socialism, women will have better lives.” Ghodsee is an ethnographer who has researched the transition from communism to capitalism in eastern Europe, with a particular focus on gender-specific consequences. “The collapse of state socialism in 1989 created a perfect laboratory to investigate the effects of capitalism on women’s lives,” she writes. Less regulated economies, she finds, place a disproportionate burden on women. Women subsidise lower taxes through their unpaid labour at home. Cuts to the social safety net mean more women have to care for children, the elderly and the sick, forcing them into economic dependence.

Ghodsee contends that without state intervention, the private sector job market punishes those who bear and raise children and discriminates against those who might one day do so. The government is better at ensuring wage parity across different groups than the private sector, and economies with more public sector jobs tend to have more gender equality, too. Women bear the brunt of capitalism’s cyclical instability, and are often the last to be hired and the first to be fired in economic downturns. They are paid less, they have less representation in government and, she writes, all of this affects their sexuality. The less economic independence women have, the more sexuality and sexual relationships conform to the marketplace, with those who are disadvantaged in the free market pursuing sex not for love or pleasure but for a roof over their heads, health insurance, or access to the wealth or status that capitalism denies them.

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Jan 072018
 
 January 7, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Gloucester Beach, Bass Rocks 1924

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 

 

 

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)
Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)
States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)
UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)
China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)
Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)
11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills
Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

 

 

So Why Are They Investing In The Exact Same Fashion?

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)

The average pension fund assumes it can achieve a 7.6% rate of return on its assets in the future. As noted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the majority of these assets are invested in the stock market. The rest are invested in bonds, real estate and alternatives. An aggregate bond index fund yields 2.5% today. Real estate investment trusts, as a group, yield nearly 4%. Alternatives are a mixed bag but the point is that, in order for pensions to meet this 7.6% rate of return they require that stocks (and, to a much lesser degree, alternatives) do far better than even that optimistic assumption because the balance of the portfolio is nearly guaranteed to fall short of that mark. The trouble is that for stocks to return anywhere near 8% they would need to fall more than 50% first.

Warren Buffett famously said, “the price you pay determines your rate of return.” John Hussman puts an even finer point on it this week showing that if you want an 8% rate of return over the coming 12 years you should not be willing to pay more than 1,281 for the S&P 500 today. Currently, the index trades at roughly 2,690 thus it would take a major stock market crash for investors to have the opportunity to invest at a level that would enable them to achieve anything close to what pensions now require. But if stocks were to crash again, as they did after the last two times valuations reached current extremes, that would obviously create other problems for pensions that are now fully invested in risk assets and already underfunded to the tune of several trillion dollars.

Even if they don’t crash, however, it is now almost inevitable that pensions will face a massive crisis sometime over the next decade or so. Still, it’s fascinating to note that even though this issue is common knowledge today, investors as a group have decided to ensure they will come to the very same fate. Passive investing, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, is essentially a way for individual investors to model pension investing, typically with an even greater exposure to equities.

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Of course they could. But Jeremy Grantham’s ‘Melt-Up’ is being criticized by quite a few voices. The question is not ‘could they rise’, but ‘how long until they will plunge’?

Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)

Shares are expensive – keep buying them. That appears to be investors’ consensus view. The storming run for stock markets in 2017 seemed almost too good to be trusted, but 2018 has started in similar style. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average soared past 25,000 last week, almost exactly 12 months after 20,000 was achieved. In the UK, the FTSE 100 index stands at a record high. Even the Japanese market, for years an international laggard, is back at a 26-year high. Last year the MSCI World index – a proxy for a global stock market – delivered a return of 20.1%. Optimists expect more of the same. The other camp warns that a dangerous bubble is about to burst. Both sides could probably agree that the recent run in stock markets has been astonishing.

Or, rather, the truly remarkable feature has been the steady and unbroken pace of the march upwards. Stock markets, we used to think, offered thrills, spills and rollercoaster rides. Individual shares still provide such excitement, of course, but the overall market seems bizarrely free of stress. Andrew Lapthorne, who crunches the market numbers for French bank Société Générale, called 2017 “the year volatility died” in his end-of-year round-up. He wrote: “Those of us expecting greater market turbulence in 2017 could not have been more wrong. Not only did global equity markets perform well, but they did so with such low volatility and consistency that, if this were a fund, it would perhaps merit a visit from the authorities to check exactly what you were up to.”

What happened? First, investors seem to have decided that rising interest rates in the US, a big worry a year ago, are not the bogeyman they seemed. The US Federal Reserve has been a protective nurse. Rate rises have been gradual, and ultra-cheap money has been followed by very cheap. A US rate of 1.5% ain’t so bad. Second, President Donald Trump’s administration, amid its chaos and crises, has delivered the policy investors in companies cared about most: corporate tax cuts. Maybe a growth-generating splurge on infrastructure, the second part of his economic agenda, will follow.

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More of a partisan thing.

States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)

The new year has only just begun, but already Democratic politicians in the country’s largest high-tax states are threatening lawsuits and publicly touting proposed workarounds to help compensate tax payers for the elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which were dramatically rolled back, along with deductions for mortgage interest, as part of the White House’s tax reform plan. During his state of the state address earlier this week, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue the federal government over the tax bill, claiming that the plan is unconstitutional and overly burdensome to New Yorkers. Cuomo said that the new law could raise some families’ taxes by as much as 25% and said the plan amounted to “double taxation.”

He later accused President Donald Trump of waging “economic civil war” on states that didn’t back him during the election, and promised to consider workarounds that would help lower residents’ federal tax bills, according to Bloomberg. Then, on Thursday, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon introduced a bill that the Washington Post said could become a model for how blue states push back against the Trump tax plan. According to the Trump tax plan, which took effect in January, taxpayers can only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes when they file their federal return.

“De Leon’s bill, if it became law, would essentially allow Americans to deduct much more than the $10,000 limit by redirecting state tax payments into a type of charitable contribution that would be later redirected to the state. The new federal tax law, which was supported only by Republicans, went into effect in January and does not include any caps on charitable deductions. “The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in a statement. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” Several states have said they are looking for ways to challenge or work around the law, particularly states such as California and New York where residents pay a higher level of local taxes that they have traditionally been able to deduct without any limits. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has said he is looking at a way of challenging the new law in court.”

Then on Friday, incoming New Jersey Gov. Democrat Phil Murphy said he’s working on a plan similar to California’s that would allow taxpayers to pay a percentage of their state income taxes as if they were a charitable donation. The money will eventually be redirected to the state. And there’s nothing in the Republican tax plan that limits charitable deductions. Predictably, the White House has threatened to push back against these strategies. During a televised interview this week, Gary Cohn said the administration would be looking into ways to stop states from implementing these work-arounds.

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Seems easy to avoid.

UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)

More than 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay VAT upfront for the first time on all goods imported from the European Union after Brexit, under controversial legislation to be considered by MPs on Monday. The VAT changes spelled out in the taxation (cross-border trade) bill – one of a string of Brexit laws passing through parliament – are causing uproar among UK business groups, which say that they will create acute cashflow problems and huge additional bureaucracy. Labour and Tory MPs and peers said that the only way to avoid the VAT Brexit penalty would be to stay in the customs union or negotiate to remain in the EU-VAT area. On Sunday night the Tory chair of the all-party Treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, said the committee would launch an urgent investigation.

She also said she would be writing to the head of HM Revenue and Customs to see what contingency plans were being made to avoid hitting UK firms. The bill, which has its second reading in the Commons on Monday, spells out clearly how VAT would have to be paid upfront by companies. The government’s own explanatory notes on the bill say the existing regime will end “so that import VAT is charged on all imports from outside the UK”. The Labour MP and former minister Chris Leslie said that the VAT hit to firms was “yet another aspect of Brexit that the Leave campaign failed to inform the public about”. He added that he would be tabling urgent amendments to ensure the UK remained in the EU VAT area – a move that would enrage pro-Brexit MPs.

UK companies that import machine parts or goods ready for sale from the EU can currently register with HMRC to bring them into the UK free of VAT. They register the VAT charge and reclaim it later, all as a paper exercise. VAT is added to the price of the product whenever it is sold to the final customer. Without a VAT deal with Brussels, importers will have to pay the VAT upfront in cash and then recover the money later, creating a huge outflow of funds before they can be recouped.

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“Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold..”

China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)

Over the next three years Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes. Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used. By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities. A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.

[..] Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne scholar who studies Beijing’s use of resettlements to fight poverty, attributed Xi’s focus on the issue partly to the seven years he spent in the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was born into China’s “red aristocracy” – the son of the revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun – but was exiled to the parched village of Liangjiahe in the 1960s after his father strayed to the wrong side of Mao. Wang claimed those years of rural hardship continued to shape Xi’s political priorities: “From the bottom of his heart he knows the Chinese farmers … He understands what they want … He even knows the dirty language the people use in the fields when they are farming.”

But hard-nosed political calculations also explained Xi’s bid to paint himself as a champion of the poor – an effort undermined by a recent crackdown on migrants in Beijing which has reportedly seen tens of thousands of poor workers forced from the capital. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you and say: ‘This is our strong leader?’” asked Wang, who argued one answer was waging war on poverty.

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Dunk.

Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he was open to talking to Kim Jong-un and hoped good could come from negotiations between North and South Korea over this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The US president also took credit for those talks, saying: “If I weren’t involved they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious.” North and South Korea have agreed to discuss cooperation on the games as well as other issues in rare meetings set to begin on Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village that straddles the demilitarised zone between the two countries. Amid international concern over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, the talks will be the first staged since December 2015. The discussions will be held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

[..] Speaking to reporters at Camp David in Maryland on Saturday, at the end of a week marked by the publication of an explosive book about his administration and his mental capacity for his job, the president was asked if he would speak to Kim on the telephone. “Sure, I believe in talking,” he said. “… Absolutely I would do that, no problem with that at all.” Asked if that meant there would be no prerequisites for such talk, the president said: “That’s not what I said at all.” Trump added: “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%. He understands that. “At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution, we’re working on it with [secretary of state] Rex [Tillerson], we’re working on it with a lot of people. “If something good can happen and come out of those talks it would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

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Prines have been arrested, tortured, forced to sign away their fortunes. But now they protest over water bills? And think they’ll win that one?

11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills

Saudi authorities made a fresh round of arrests of royal-family members as a group of princes staged a palace protest in the capital over the non-payment of their electricity and water bills. Security services on Thursday arrested the 11 princes after they refused to leave Qasr Al-Hokm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, said in an emailed statement. The princes, who objected to a decree that ordered the state to stop paying their utility bills, will be held at al-Ha’er prison pending their trial, Al Mojeb said. “No one is above the law in Saudi Arabia, everyone is equal and is treated the same as others,” Al Mojeb said. “Any person, regardless of their status or position, will be held accountable should they decide not to follow the rules and regulations of the state.”

In November, authorities swept up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people, including princes and government ministers, and detained them at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. The arrests were ordered by a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prince’s anti-graft drive appeared designed to tap into a popular vein among young Saudis who are bearing the brunt of low oil prices and complaining, privately and on social media, that the kingdom’s elite were above the rule of law. King Salman on Saturday ordered extra pay for Saudi government workers and soldiers this year after the implementation of value-added taxation and a surge in fuel prices stirred grumbling among citizens, highlighting the kingdom’s struggle to overhaul its economy without risking a public backlash.

The handouts will cost the state more than 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion), Saud Al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court, said on his Twitter account. The princes arrested at the palace were also seeking compensation for a death sentence that was issued against one of their cousins, who had been convicted of killing another man and executed in 2016, according to Al Mojeb’s statement. Earlier Saturday, the Jeddah-based newspaper Okaz reported the princes had been arrested. The Al-Ha’er facility south of Riyadh is one of Saudi Arabia’s maximum-security prisons. Many of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic militants who have fought abroad are held there.

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That’s where the life is.

Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. Hughes personally surveyed thousands of miles of the Great Barrier Reef during the 2015 and 2016 bleaching. “It broke my heart,” he told the Guardian last year. The new study finds that 94% of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared. The implications of these data in a warming world, taken together with other ongoing marine stressors like overfishing and pollution, are damning.

“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90% of the world’s reefs. For conservation biologists like Josh Drew, whose work focuses on coral reefs near Fiji, that loss of recovery time amounts to a “death warrant for coral reefs as we know them.” “I’m not saying we’re not going to have reefs at all, but those reefs that survive are going to be fundamentally different,” says Drew, who is not affiliated with the new study. “We are selecting for corals that are effectively weedy, for things that can grow back in two to three years, for things that are accustomed to having hot water.”

Reefs are incalculably important not only as a harbor for life — they shelter about one-quarter of all marine species in just a half-percent of the ocean’s surface area — but also for human nutrition and many nation’s economies.

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