Apr 142019
 
 April 14, 2019  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper The Sheridan Theatre 1937

 

Draghi Worries About Fate Of Fed’s Independence (MW)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)
UK Tories Face European Elections Drubbing (Ind.)
Corbyn Told To Promise Final Say Referendum (Ind.)
It’s The UK Political System, Not Just MPs, That Is Failing (G.)
UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception (Cook)
American Values: Embassies Are For Chopping Up Journalists (McDonald)
Assange Is In The Dock, But Investigative Journalism Is On Trial (Crikey)
The Obvious Dirty Dealings Behind Julian Assange’s Arrest (OG)
Anonymous Attacks Continue Against Ecuadorian Government Websites (Cassandra)

 

 

Independence from what? Reality?

Draghi Worries About Fate Of Fed’s Independence (MW)

Concerns about central-bank independence are on the rise.Take, for example, the cover of this week’s edition of the Economist. And while not solely a U.S. concern, a steady stream of complaints by President Donald Trump about the Federal Reserve’s earlier string of interest-rate hikes and his announcement he would nominate Stephen Moore and Herman Cain — both widely criticized as unqualified and likely to act at the behest of the White house on policy decisions — to the central bank’s governing board have sparked fears the central bank’s policy independence could be at risk. (Four Republican senators have said they would vote against Cain if he were formally put forward, likely sinking his chances.)

On Saturday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi appeared to take notice: ‘I’m certainly worried about central bank independence in other countries, especially…in the most important jurisdiction in the world.’ Draghi’s remarks, as reported by Reuters, came at a news conference at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. They also marked a rare instance of a central banker opining about the operations of a foreign central bank. “If the central bank is not independent, then people may well think that monetary policy decisions follow political advice rather than objective assessment of the economic outlook,” said Draghi.

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Amid all the loud news, both Canada and Australia are slipping fast.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)

Canada’s housing markets barely dipped during the Financial Crisis when US housing markets ran into deep trouble, causing the Mortgage Crisis that begat all kinds of other crises. Canadian homeowners and banks watched the mess from across the border and shook their heads. But now, after an 18-year housing boom, the downturn has arrived in Vancouver and Toronto, among the formerly hottest housing bubbles in the world.


The Teranet-National Bank House Price Index tracks single-family house prices, based on “sales pairs,” similar to the S&P CoreLogic Case Shiller index for US housing markets. It compares the sales price of a house in the current month to the prior sale of the same house years earlier. Using “sales pairs” eliminates the issues that affect median-price indices. But the median-price data for Vancouver is a lot more disconcerting than the Teranet data. So let’s compare how Vancouver’s housing bubble stacks up against the legendary but now also deflating housing bubble in San Francisco.

House prices in the Greater Toronto Area fell 0.3% in March from February and are down 4.3% from the peak in July 2017, the steepest 20-month decline since May 2009. From January 2002 through the peak in July 2017, the index soared 218% — meaning that house prices more than tripled. But that pales compared to Vancouver, where house prices more than quadrupled. I converted this Teranet index for Toronto house prices to “percent-change since January 2002” and overlaid the insane mind-boggling housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it shows just how majestic the 18-year Toronto housing bubble has been:

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European elections in Britain do seem surreal.

UK Tories Face European Elections Drubbing (Ind.)

The Conservatives are facing a humiliating defeat at the European elections next month after support for the party slumped to its lowest level since 2013, according to a new poll. The survey shows the Tories on just 28 per cent when it comes to general election voting intention – a four-point fall which leaves them trailing Labour on 32. When voters were asked which party they will vote for at the European elections, Theresa May’s party languished on 16 per cent, eight points behind Labour on 24. In a clear sign support for the Conservatives is crumbling over the failure to deliver Brexit, 56 per cent of people who voted to leave at the 2016 referendum said they would back Ukip or Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party during next month’s vote.


The Brexit Party is on 15 per cent, while Ukip stands at 14 per cent when it comes to European voting intention, the YouGov poll for The Times indicated. By comparison, the Lib Dems and the Greens are both on 8 per cent, while Change UK has 7 per cent support. No 10 is still hoping to get a deal through parliament in time to avoid participation in the European elections on 23 May. But the UK is formally on track to hold the poll, having informed the EU authorities ahead of Friday’s deadline that it would be taking part. Boris Johnson’s backers have suggested he may not even campaign on behalf of his party next month in an effort to show his displeasure at the UK’s involvement. “Boris won’t campaign in European elections. He believes the prospect of the UK fielding candidates is utterly preposterous,” a source told The Times.

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Something only a small group wants. But then, that’s true of all Brexit issues and ‘solutions’.

Corbyn Told To Promise Final Say Referendum (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is under intense pressure from within his shadow cabinet to give a strong commitment to a new Brexit referendum as part of Labour’s European election campaign offer. A string of senior shadow ministers are advocating a new public vote, alongside MPs from the left and right of the party, buoyed by a groundswell of support from the membership. The Independent understands Labour is now beginning the process of drawing up its manifesto with those wanting to give the public a final say on Brexit pushing the leader to make a strong bid for the Remain vote on polling day. Mr Corbyn’s team is currently engaged in talks with the Conservatives in an effort to find a Brexit compromise deal that can enjoy majority support in the House of Commons, with a referendum having been discussed during the negotiations.


The leader’s office emphasised that decisions on the manifesto were yet to be discussed, with the party simultaneously defending its majorities against the pro-Remain Change UK party run by Labour defectors and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party. One shadow cabinet source told The Independent: “We can’t credibly agree to any deal unless there is a confirmatory referendum attached to it. “We should be telling people about that, the support is there to be had.” The European elections are set to become a rerun of the 2016 referendum campaign with parties positioning themselves along the Brexit spectrum from Leave to Remain.

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Party before country.

It’s The UK Political System, Not Just MPs, That Is Failing (G.)

Brexit has prompted a recurring nightmare among an increasingly incredulous population: our very own Groundhog Day. Two weeks after the EU granted us an 11th-hour extension to prevent us crashing out without a deal, we are back in exactly the same position. The only thing standing between us and next Friday’s cliff edge is the hope the EU gifts us another extension. Meanwhile, the political turmoil engulfing the country worsens, the two main parties increasingly consumed by division and disarray and the political leadership we so desperately need to avert crisis as elusive as ever. It’s hard to believe that the Westminster model of democracy was one prized by constitutional theorists for the stability it purportedly delivers. As the stakes get higher, our political system has proved less and less capable of delivering a resolution to the gridlock that has infected Westminster.

Brexit has been a story of the favouring of party management over the national interest. From the very beginning, Theresa May’s approach to Brexit – from her premature decision to trigger article 50 to her red lines on freedom of movement and the customs union – has been driven not by a strategy to unite the country in the wake of a divisive referendum but to keep her Brexit ultras on side. Only now it has become clear that there are MPs in her party so fanatically dogmatic that they would rather hold out for no deal than vote for her deal has she opened compromise talks with Labour. But Labour emerged from the talks on Friday complaining that no changes to the political declaration were on offer, suggesting that this move may have been more about trying to lay blame for any further delay on the opposition.

Labour’s strategy has been no less determined by party interest. Jeremy Corbyn has kept a position of barely credible ambiguity for as long as possible to avoid alienating any of its voters. Labour has maintained the charade that it could deliver a Brexit deal that delivers all the benefits of EU membership with none of costs. And Labour has failed to provide any leadership support for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, with the shadow cabinet split on the issue. Time is running out for Labour to decide once and for all whether it will properly swing its weight behind a referendum. Thanks to the mess the Tories are in, Corbyn is in a position of power, if he only chooses to use it.

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Another excellent essay from Jonathan Cook.

UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception (Cook)

[..] the public conversation in the UK, sympathetically reported by the Guardian, supposedly Britain’s only major liberal news outlet, is going to be about who has first dibs on Assange. Here’s the first paragraph of the Guardian front-page article: “Political pressure is mounting on [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape.” So the concern is not that Assange is facing rendition to the US, it is that the US claim might “overshadow” an outstanding legal case in Sweden. The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first. It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes. But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative. The Swedish claim, if it is revived, is an entirely separate matter.

[..] In another article on Assange on Friday, the Guardian – echoing a common media refrain – reported as fact a demonstrably false claim: “Assange initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.” There could be no possible reason for its reporters to make this elementary mistake other than that the Guardian is still waging its long-running campaign against Assange, the information revolution he represents and the challenge he poses to the corporate media of which the Guardian is a key part.

[..] Assange was previously wanted for questioning, and has never been charged with anything. If the Swedish extradition request is revived, it will be so that he can be questioned about those allegations. I should also point out, as almost no one else is, that Assange did not “flee” questioning. He offered Swedish prosecutors to question him at the embassy. Even though questioning overseas in extradition cases is common – Sweden has done it dozens of times – Sweden repeatedly refused in Assange’s case, leading the Swedish appeal court to criticise the prosecutors. When he was finally questioned after four years of delays, Swedish prosecutors violated his rights by refusing access to his Swedish lawyer.

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First amendment anyone?

American Values: Embassies Are For Chopping Up Journalists (McDonald)

202310Fair-minded people across the world have rightly condemned the US-ordered arrest of Julian Assange. However, few have noted how it fits part of a pattern of American hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of journalists. Only six months ago, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and hacked to pieces by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. He was a columnist at the Washington Post and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, known for his sharp criticism of the illegal US-backed Saudi war on Yemen. Despite a CIA conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the gruesome assassination, President Donald Trump stood by his ally and no meaningful sanctions or penalties were directed towards Riyadh.


Turkey itself remains a NATO member, and close US partner, despite holding more journalists behind bars than any other nation on earth. This figure stood at 68, at the end of last year, around one-quarter of the global total of 251. Now we have the indictment of Assange, which seeks to criminalize basic functions of journalism. For instance, keeping sources anonymous or deleting records of conversations. Indeed, it also appears to be a breach of America’s own First Amendment. He has been targeted by Washington for exposing evidence of appalling atrocities, carried out by the US military, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, as a result, Assange sought sanctuary in the small London embassy of Ecuador. What followed was relentless pressure on Quito to reverse the asylum it granted the Wikileaks founder and it culminated in his arrest.

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“That would forestall extradition for long enough for Jeremy Corbyn to become PM, at which point extradition would be refused. But it may be just all screaming chaos.”

Assange Is In The Dock, But Investigative Journalism Is On Trial (Crikey)

Team Assange had a defence on the jumping bail thing: “Your honour, my client had a reasonable fear that from remand he would be extradited to the US.” That was received reasonably. “Also that the previous presiding judge Lady Arbuthnot, did not recuse herself …” That was not. “You had ample time to raise this issue, and now you are traducing the reputation of a fine judge…” Snow went on. I thought of Peter Cook’s great monologue of the summing-up of the Jeremy Thorpe trial: “You have ruined the reputation of one of the most pretty defendants.” Once Assange had been found guilty of skipping bail, it got even weirder. “Your situation is a product of your narcissism,” said the magistrate clearly riled. He did not want the situation of Justice Lady Arbuthnot further explored. I am happy to do so.


Lady Arbuthnot, who ruled on the lawfulness of Assange’s continued criminalisation in the UK in 2015, is the wife of Lord Arbuthnot, a Conservative who has held multiple defence industry posts over the last two decades. This sally got short shrift, but it seemed to me intended to do so. Although when I asked a member of the legal team how it had all gone, they said “well, you saw that shit show in there”. So perhaps not. Assange is now on remand awaiting sentencing for the fleeing bail charge — the Magistrates Court having transferred it to the Crown Court, so a larger maximum sentence of 12 months instead of six, can be awarded. Is that a plan too? That would forestall extradition for long enough for Jeremy Corbyn to become PM, at which point extradition would be refused. But it may be just all screaming chaos.

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“Of course, the idea that Moreno is handling the economy brilliantly, but somehow also needs over $10 billion dollars in loans is never addressed.”

The Obvious Dirty Dealings Behind Julian Assange’s Arrest (OG)

The US has been planning to have Julian Assange handed over for a longtime, that much is obvious. Mike Pence, the Vice President, was visiting Ecuador last year, notionally to discuss the Venezuela situation, and trade. But it was fairly obvious at the time, and even more so now, that they were discussing the details of Assange being handed over to UK authorities, and eventually extradited to the US. “Trade”, indeed. In terms of quid pro quo, the situation is clear-cut – In February, Ecuador got a $4.2 BILLION loan approved by the International Monetary Fund (amongst other pay-outs). Reuters reported on February 19th of this year:

“Ecuador has reached a $4.2 billion staff-level financing deal with the IMF, President Lenin Moreno said on Wednesday, as the Andean country grapples with a large fiscal deficit and heavy external debt. The country will also receive $6 billion in loans from multilateral institutions including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the CAF Andean development bank…” So, less than 2 months ago, it was announced Ecuador was going to receive over 10 billion dollars of loans. Where all that money will eventually end up is anyone’s guess, it certainly isn’t being spent on infrastructure or state enterprise: “Moreno has begun to implement an austerity plan that includes layoffs of workers at state-owned companies and cuts to gasoline subsidies, also plans to find a private operator for state-run telecoms company CNT and other state-owned firms.”

President Moreno has already been the subject of numerous corruption accusations. So these “loans”, nominally for “[creating] work opportunities for those who have not yet found something stable”, could more realistically be described as “a pay-off”. More than just money, Lenin Moreno has been gifted something all insecure third-world leaders crave: Western approval. The Economist ran a story on April 12th, the day after Assange was arrested, praising Lenin Moreno’s economic policies, and blaming the previous administration for the “mess” that Moreno has to clear up. (Of course, the idea that Moreno is handling the economy brilliantly, but somehow also needs over $10 billion dollars in loans is never addressed. A tiny logical contradiction compared with the nonsense the MSM dish-up on a daily basis).

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Expect it to be used against Assange.

Anonymous Attacks Continue Against Ecuadorian Government Websites (Cassandra)

Over 30 websites belonging to the Ecuadorian government are now offline — some of them defaced — in protest of the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The hackers are calling their efforts #OpEcuador, and are also promoting #OpUS and #OpUK. The United States and United Kingdom have not yet been hit with any cyber attacks, that we know of. It is important to note that none of this was directed by WikiLeaks or Assange himself. Supporters are acting on their own with the attacks. A data dump from the hackers warns that “Ecuador Government websites has been taken #Offline with 1 Direct attack. There are few most important websites that’s still down at this time. If some of their servers comes up again, we will fire again to take them down!”

Websites that have been hit include the Central bank of Ecuador, their Ministry of Interior, the Ecuadorian Assembly in UK and the main website for the Government of Ecuador — mot of which had been down for over twelve hours by Saturday evening. The hackers primarily appear to be speaking and coordinating in Spanish — though one of the data dumps was in Indonesia. A Twitter account belonging to the hackers stated that if the websites come back online they will “burn their servers.” The hacking group also called for other supporters to join them.


An InfoSec expert and Assange supporter who has been monitoring the situation told the Gateway Pundit that he is concerned that the attacks will be used against Assange by the media. “My opinion is that it’s deserved karma, but it could enable the anti-Assange media to divert attention away from Julian’s value to journalism by wrongly associating him with reckless hacktivism culture.” He also expressed concern about there being collateral damage within the large data dumps that are being posted online. Other supporters expressed similar concerns, though many still agreed that the attacks are warranted.

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Apr 082019
 


Pablo Picasso Young girl throwing a rock 1931

 

British Voters Say Give Us A Strong Leader Willing To Break The Rules (R.)
May Faces Intense Cabinet Pressure Over Prospect Of Lengthy Brexit Delay (G.)
Labour Jewish Members Declare Party’s Leadership ‘Antisemitic’ (Ind.)
Sorry Is The Easiest Word – But Should Democrats Stop Their Apology Tour? (G.)
Mulvaney Says Democrats Will ‘Never’ See Trump Tax Returns (AFP)
US Urges Immediate Halt To Military Operations In Libya (R.)
Gold Is Moving Back Into The Center Of The Financial System – Rubino (USAW)
Facebook Are ‘Morally Bankrupt Liars’ – New Zealand Privacy Commissioner (G.)
Chelsea Manning’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Moment (Kiriakou)
Midwest Floods Hammer US Ethanol Industry (R.)
Greek Pensioners Have Become The Biggest Single Group Of Taxpayers (K.)
Pain-Care Specialist Agrees To Testify Against Purdue (R.)
Drinks Bottles Now Biggest Plastic Menace For Waterways (G.)

 

 

History rhymes.

British Voters Say Give Us A Strong Leader Willing To Break The Rules (R.)

British voters want a strong leader who is willing to break the rules and force through wide scale reform after three years of Brexit crisis pushed confidence in the political system to a 15-year low. The 2016 referendum revealed a United Kingdom divided over much more than EU membership, and has sparked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British. Yet more than a week since the United Kingdom was originally supposed to leave the EU on March 29, nothing is resolved: it remains uncertain how, when or if it ever will.


Research by the Hansard Society found that 54 percent of voters want a strong leader who is willing to break the rules while 72 percent said the system needs “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of improvement. Confidence in the system at the lowest level in the 15-year history of the survey, lower even than after the 2009 expense scandal when lawmakers were shown to have charged taxpayers for everything from an ornamental duck house to cleaning out a moat. [..] “People are pessimistic about the country’s problems and their possible solution, with sizeable numbers willing to entertain radical political changes.” Just a quarter of people had confidence in lawmakers’ handling of Brexit.

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They had people vote for something, and then spent 3 years haggling over what that something was. At the very least that’s the wrong way around.

May Faces Intense Cabinet Pressure Over Prospect Of Lengthy Brexit Delay (G.)

Theresa May is facing intense cabinet pressure to avoid the prospect of a long Brexit delay, amid increasing expectations that last ditch cross-party talks on a compromise departure plan will not produce anything concrete. Before a crucial EU summit later this week, the prime minister is facing a fast-diminishing range of options that could split the Conservative party and prompt a mass cabinet walkout, or could result in the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on Friday. May’s only response on Sunday was a homespun video that called for a compromise solution, but while praised for its conversational style, it lacked any fresh detail on proposals to break the Brexit impasse.

With Labour reiterating it had yet to learn even the basics of concessions May might offer after her dramatic call last week for consensus, the timetable looked tight to agree anything before the European council gathering on Wednesday evening. Under the terms of the previous brief extension agreed with the EU, if Brussels does not agree another delay, a no-deal Brexit will happen on Friday. May has requested a pause until 30 June, but Brussels is keen on a wait of up to a year, which could be broken earlier if a solution is found. On Monday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will hold talks with the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

At the weekend, Varadkar said his own preference was for a longer extension than 30 June. Also on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn is due to hold meetings with Sinn Fein’s leaders in London. The party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, is expected to tell Corbyn that Irish interests must be protected whatever the outcome of his Brexit negotiations with Theresa May.

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Corbyn talks to May and very predictably this drivel comes out again. Corbyn’s no anti-semite, but he defends Palestinians. That’s why there’s this.

But at the same time, he’s the one who allows this to happen. The Labour Party should be talking about what’s happening to Julian Assange in the heart of London, not be in some nonsense war on alleged anti-semitism.

Labour Jewish Members Declare Party’s Leadership ‘Antisemitic’ (Ind.)

Jewish Labour members have branded the party leadership as antisemitic in a fresh blow to Jeremy Corbyn. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) passed the damning motion at its annual general meeting on Sunday, accusing Mr Corbyn of having “condoned antisemitism and antisemites”. The group said the Labour leader was “unfit to be prime minister” and that a government he led “would not be in the interests of British Jews”. JLM is Labour’s only official Jewish affiliate and has been part of the party for almost 100 years. One source at the meeting told The Independent the decision to approve the motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn was “almost unanimous”.


It reads: “The leadership of the Labour Party have demonstrated that they are antisemitic, and have presided over a culture of antisemitism in which they have failed to use their personal and positional power to tackle antisemitism, and have instead used their influence to protect and defend antisemites. “Jeremy Corbyn is directly responsible, whether through his own actions, where he appears to have condoned antisemitism and antisemites, or through his inaction to tackle the wider problem within the party.” The motion said JLM “has no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to understand, respond to or solve the problem” and claimed “his leadership of the Labour Party combined with his past actions and associations shows a complete disregard for the Jewish community in Britain”.

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Why the Democrats are toast: long article on tons of apologies, but not a word about what they really should apologize for: Russiagate.

Sorry Is The Easiest Word – But Should Democrats Stop Their Apology Tour? (G.)

For Joe Biden, it was his discomfiting touching of women. For Pete Buttigieg, his use of the phrase “all lives matter”. For Tulsi Gabbard, her comments about homosexuality. For Kirsten Gillibrand, her positions on immigration. For Kamala Harris, her record on criminal justice. For Beto O’Rourke, his jokes about his wife and children. For Bernie Sanders, his staff perpetrating sexual harassment in the last campaign. For Elizabeth Warren, her claim to Native American ancestry. Democrats running for president in 2020 are on an “apology tour”, seeking to atone for past political sins. Some voters welcome it as an antidote to Donald Trump, an overdue attempt to set the social and political bar higher for the 21st century. Others are anxious that the candidates’ supporters will try to tear each other down with “wokeness” tests that could leave the party hopelessly divided.

[..] In February, comedian Bill Maher urged viewers of his HBO show: “No more swiping left on presidential candidates. Let’s give them a chance. Let’s not eat our own the way we nitpicked Hillary [Clinton] to death over her emails and other bullshit.” Maher added: “Kamala Harris has already had to play defence because it’s come out, when she was a prosecutor, she prosecuted people. Not very progressive. She should have found a way to apply more forgiveness, and the fact that she didn’t is unforgivable. Elizabeth Warren claimed to be Native American – so what? Trump claimed to be human.”

Republicans sense an opportunity to frame Democrats as consumed by identity politics and virtue signalling. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote in February: Democrats are about to ≠embark on the first woke primary, a gantlet of political correctness that will routinely wring abject apologies out of candidates and find fault in even the most sure-footed. The passage of time will be no defense. Nor the best of intentions. Nor anything else.

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“If the Democrats want to know “if the IRS is doing its job auditing the president, they could ask the IRS..”

Mulvaney Says Democrats Will ‘Never’ See Trump Tax Returns (AFP)

A formal request from a Democratic committee chairman to see six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns was forcibly rejected Sunday by a top presidential aide, who said Democrats would “never” see the documents. Trump is the first US president since Richard Nixon to refuse to divulge his tax information. Representative Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sparked a contentious battle on Wednesday when he made the request using a little-known provision in the tax code, saying, “It is critical to ensure the accountability of our government and elected officials.” But when Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was asked Sunday whether Democrats would ever see the returns, he was unequivocal. “Never,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Nor should they.”

Mulvaney asserted that since voters knew ahead of the 2016 election that Trump would not reveal his returns and then elected him anyway, the matter was “already litigated.” He said that while there are legal provisions for the Internal Revenue Service to turn tax papers over to the Ways and Means Committee – the chief tax-writing committee in the House – a “political” attack is not a valid reason. Separately, Jay Sekulow, a private attorney for Trump, argued that the Democratic-controlled House was trying to move beyond its constitutionally mandated role of oversight into the realm of law enforcement. If the Democrats want to know “if the IRS is doing its job auditing the president, they could ask the IRS,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“A Ways and Means hearing about IRS enforcement as a way to get to the president’s private individual and business tax returns makes no sense, both constitutionally and statutorily,” Sekulow said. But Dan Kildee, a Democratic member of Ways and Means, took strong exception. “We’re looking very carefully as to whether or not the IRS is properly auditing and enforcing tax law on the president of the United States, and we’re considering legislative changes toward that end,” he said on ABC.

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Thank you, Hillary and Obama.

US Urges Immediate Halt To Military Operations In Libya (R.)

The United States called on Sunday for an immediate halt to military operations in Libya as the Libyan National Army headed by Khalifa Haftar advanced on the capital, Tripoli. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that Washington was “deeply concerned about fighting near Tripoli” and urged talks to end the fighting. “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said in urging de-escalation. Eleven people were killed and 23 wounded in clashes in southern Tripoli, the Health Ministry of the U.N.-backed Libyan government of National Accord said late on Sunday.


The ministry gave no details of whether the casualties were civilians or fighters. Lawless since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by rebels backed by NATO air strikes, Libya has become the transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mold of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.

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“.. in the next recession, we will be taking on huge amounts of new debt at an accelerating rate.”

Gold Is Moving Back Into The Center Of The Financial System – Rubino (USAW)

The end part of this story is how good all this is for gold. . . . The next thing from the Fed will be a rate cut, and it will increase and not decrease its balance sheet. . . . We are going to go preemptively to monetary easing, and that’s really new. This is very, very new. You normally don’t do this. You wait until you see a bear market and a slowdown in the economy that gets people laid off before you start aggressively easing. Apparently, we are going to do that stuff before that stuff starts happening. Who knows what the impact of that will be? If it works the way they want, more people will get hired, wages will pick up and we’ll have inflation in the 4% or 5% range before you know it.”

So, with near record low yields on bonds and near record high prices for stocks, Rubino has just one question. Rubino says, “What’s cheap? Gold and silver. What is down and what is cheap relative to the fundamentals. It’s not just the price of gold and silver, it’s how much gold and silver exists relative to how much paper wealth is in the world. The amount of gold and silver that we are bringing out of the ground is growing at 1% or 2% per year. The amount of paper wealth in the world is growing exponentially. . . .Gold is moving back into the center of the global financial system.”

Another big factor to consider is debt. Rubino says, “Every big country is running deficits that are dramatically bigger than they were five years ago. In the U.S., we are back to $1 trillion a year deficits, which is Obama Administration post Great Recession kind of numbers, and we are doing it 10 years into an expansion. . . . So, in the next recession, we will be taking on huge amounts of new debt at an accelerating rate.

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Now we’re talking.

Facebook Are ‘Morally Bankrupt Liars’ – New Zealand Privacy Commissioner (G.)

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner has lashed out at social media giant Facebook in the wake of the Christchurch attacks, calling the company “morally bankrupt pathological liars”. The commissioner used his personal Twitter page to lambast the social network, which has also drawn the ire of prime minister Jacinda Ardern for hosting a livestream of the attacks that left 50 dead, which was then copied and shared all over the internet. “Facebook cannot be trusted,” wrote Edwards. “They are morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide (Myanmar), facilitate foreign undermining of democratic institutions.


“[They] allow the live streaming of suicides, rapes, and murders, continue to host and publish the mosque attack video, allow advertisers to target ‘Jew haters’ and other hateful market segments, and refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm. “They #dontgiveazuck” wrote Edwards. He later deleted the tweets, saying they had prompted “toxic and misinformed traffic”. Edwards was responding to an interview given by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to America’s ABC network, in which he failed to commit to any changes to the Facebook live technology, including a time delay on livestreams. Zuckerberg said incidents like the live streaming of the Christchurch mosque attacks were the result of “bad actors”; not bad technology and a time delay would disrupt the enjoyment of users who broadcast events like birthday parties or group hangouts.

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Pete Seeger did in the 1950’s what Chelsea is doing today.

Chelsea Manning’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Moment (Kiriakou)

Contrary to popular belief, President Obama did not pardon Manning in the final days of his administration. Instead, he commuted her sentence, simply releasing her from prison. The conviction still stands and Manning is still in legal jeopardy. Prosecutors could still decide to charge her with crimes related to the original charges. With that said, was Manning’s subpoena a ham-fisted attempt to get her to contradict herself in new testimony, thus inviting another felony charge for perjury or making a false statement? Were prosecutors trying to get Manning to implicate herself in some process felony? Or were they simply trying to force her to turn rat on Julian Assange?

Again, Manning could have simply answered each question with “I don’t recall.” She would have been home in time for dinner. Instead, she made a political point—one that all of us should want to emulate. That point is “Don’t tread on me.” That point is “I’m willing to jeopardize my freedom to protect yours.” I say often that in my time at the CIA, I learned that CIA culture is such that employees are taught that everything in life is a shade of gray. But that is simply not true. Some things are black and white, right or wrong. This is one of those things. It’s the government that’s the enemy here, not Manning or Assange.

Remember, the American people own the information that Manning and Assange are accused of releasing. We have a right to know what our government is doing in our name. We have a right to know whether the government is covering up crimes. We have a right to know when—and why—those Americans who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity are not being prosecuted. The mainstream media doesn’t tell us. But Wikileaks does. We wouldn’t know about some of the most egregious war crimes of the past two decades without Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to share their politics. You don’t have to want to go out and have a beer with them. But you do have to respect what they’ve done.

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Stupid industry anyway.

Midwest Floods Hammer US Ethanol Industry (R.)

The March floods that punished the U.S. Midwest have roiled the ethanol industry, hammering prices and trapping barrels in the country’s interior while the U.S. coasts suffer from shortages of the biofuel. The historic March floods have dealt a series of blows to large swaths of an ethanol industry that was already struggling with high inventories and sluggish domestic demand growth. And the ethanol shortages are one factor pushing gasoline prices in Los Angeles and Southern California to the highest in the nation and they could top $4 a gallon for the first time since 2014, according to tracking firm GasBuddy.


Benchmark price for ethanol used in most supply contracts initially jumped on news of the floods but has been hobbled by rising waters around the Chicago hub that have halted barges and sales. That stands in contrast to prices on the coasts, which rose dramatically – drawing in heavy imports from Brazil, the main U.S. ethanol competitor. The floods inflicted billions of dollars in damage to crops and homes in the U.S. Midwest, and knocked out roughly 13% of ethanol capacity. U.S. ethanol is made from corn and required by the government to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to reduce emissions. While some ethanol plants were flooded, the primary effect of the rising waters was to shut rail lines that serve as the main arteries for corn and ethanol deliveries.

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Q: how long can you keep an economy running that has more pensioners than workers?

Greek Pensioners Have Become The Biggest Single Group Of Taxpayers (K.)

Pensioners constitute the biggest single group of taxpayers in Greece, confirming the ominous predictions about the impact of an aging population on growth and state finances. The number of pensioners expanded since the starts of the financial crisis more than any other group, coming to outnumber even salaried workers. The relevant data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue are impressive, showing that in nine out of the country’s 13 regions, pensioners make up the biggest group of taxpayers, ahead of salaried workers, farmers and freelance professionals. In certain regions both the number of pensioners and their declared incomes are above those of the other groups.

For instance, in the region of Western Greece, pensioners account for 40.1% of taxpayers and 40% of the total declared income. Statistical data processing reveals that since end-2014 the number of pensioners in Greece has shot up by 233,000. Going back to the outbreak of the crisis at the start of the decade, there is an additional 588,360: From 1,667,428 pensioners in 2010 there are now 2,255,788. The active population is therefore declining at a rapid rate: Before the economic crisis broke out, pensioners accounted for 29% of taxpayers, while today their share has climbed to 35.4%. However, the same data also reveal the dramatic shrinking of pensioners’ incomes during the crisis: Back in 2010 their declared annual income amounted to 27 billion euros, as each one of them declared an average 16,228 euros per year; today the yearly declared income of pensioners comes to just 11,175 euros, reduced by 31.13%.

The regional data are quite astonishing in terms of the growing dominance of pensioners among taxpayers: In Attica, by far the country’s most populated region, salaried workers come to 935,955 and pensioners are 804,755. The annual income of pensioners is 10.3 billion euros, according to 2018 figures, while that of salaried workers is 15.2 billion. In Western Greece, the region that includes Patra – Greece’s third city – pensioners dwarf salaried workers, as there are 153,452 of the former against just 111,979 of the latter.

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Well, actually he’s a company shill trying to stay out of jail.

Pain-Care Specialist Agrees To Testify Against Purdue (R.)

A physician ally of Purdue Pharma LP whose views helped drive the explosive growth in the use of addictive pain relievers for common aches and pains in the United States has agreed to testify against the OxyContin maker and other drug companies, newly disclosed court records show. Dr. Russell Portenoy, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, was an early advocate for the use of opioids for chronic pain, a position he shared in medical journal articles, with regulators, at physician conferences and in other forums. He also was named as a defendant in some of the lawsuits filed by cities, counties and states seeking to hold opioid makers – including Endo and Mallinckrodt Plc – and their distributors liable for the cost of the U.S. opioid epidemic.


But Portenoy began talking to plaintiffs’ lawyers as early as January 2018 and later struck a deal with the plaintiffs to serve as a cooperating witness, the records show. In exchange for his dismissal from the suits, Portenoy provided the plaintiffs with documentation of opioid makers’ payments to him over the years, as well as a 36-page declaration that lays out what he would say on the witness stand. Portenoy’s previously confidential cooperation agreement and declaration were made public Friday as a part of a discovery ruling by David Cohen, a special master in the federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, where hundreds of the opioid lawsuits have been consolidated. In an email, Cohen said it was possible the records should have been filed under seal out of public view.

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Is it bad enough yet to call it hopeless?

Drinks Bottles Now Biggest Plastic Menace For Waterways (G.)

Plastic bottles, the detritus of our throwaway water and soft drinks habits, are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways, according to a new report. Food wrappers, including crisp and sweet packets, were the second biggest form of plastic pollution in rivers, followed by cigarette butts. All of these forms of litter can cause problems for wildlife and fish, and are hard to clean up once they have found their way into the water. Plastic bags were found to make up only 1% of plastic rubbish in freshwater, reflecting years of efforts to reduce their use, including charges on them in the UK and many other European countries.

Consumers should be more aware of what they can do to prevent the fouling of waterways, from using cotton buds with paper sticks to binning wet wipes instead of flushing them, and bringing their own receptacles for food takeaways, according to the Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK. “The products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” said Jo Ruxton, chief executive of Plastic Oceans UK. “Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down toilets. This throwaway approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.”

Although most attention on the plastic scourge has focused on the plight of oceans, about 80% of plastic rubbish flows into them from rivers. Many experts believe that focusing on the clean-up of rivers is the best way to choke off the flow of existing rubbish into seas, while the ultimate source of the problem – our dependence on throwaway plastic products – is tackled.

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Apr 072019
 


Leonardo da Vinci (?) La Joconde nue or Monna Vanna 1515

 

Furious Tory MPs Will Bid To Oust May If UK Fights Euro Poll (O.)
I Had No Choice But To Approach Labour Over Brexit – May (BBC)
UK PM May Has Plan To Offer Labour Brexit Customs Arrangement (R.)
Merkel Throws May A Lifeline Over Brexit Departure Date (O.)
Labour Chairman Attacks Corbyn Over ‘People’s Vote’ On Brexit (O.)
Second Brexit Vote Would Be ‘Ultimate Betrayal’: Leadsom (R.)
Leaked Assange Court Transcript Sheds Light on Ecuador Expulsion Plans
UN Against Extraditing Assange To US: He Could Be Tourtured There (Taer)
The Breach of Bail Allegation Against Assange (M.)
Banning Buybacks Would Crash The Market – Goldman (ZH)
Give Up, Trump-Haters (NYPost)
Why Was There No Backup System On 737 MAX? (USAToday)
Skyscrapers Are Killing Up To 1 Billion Birds A Year In US (G.)
Rhino Poacher Trampled By Elephant Then Eaten By Lions (BBC)

 

 

We will from now on no longer use the term No-Deal Brexit, it is to be replaced with: Car-Crash Brexit.

NOTE: there are numerous factions and fractions that all think Brexit can mean what they happen to want it to mean. And then there’s all the people who don’t want Brexit. Whatever the outcome, there’ll be a lot of pissed-off and angry people. Both May and Corbyn are responsible for not managing the expectations.

Furious Tory MPs Will Bid To Oust May If UK Fights Euro Poll (O.)

Theresa May is being warned by her mutinous MPs that they will move to oust her within weeks if the UK is forced to take part in European elections next month and extend its EU membership beyond the end of June. Tory MPs are increasingly angry at the prospect of voters being asked to go to the polls to elect MEPs three years after the Brexit referendum, in an election they fear will be boycotted by many Conservatives and be a gift to the far right and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party. Senior Tories said one silver lining of a long extension would be that it would allow them to move quickly to force May out, and hold a leadership election starting as soon as this month.

The warnings came as the prime minister made a last desperate appeal on Saturday night to MPs to back a deal, saying there was an increasing danger Brexit would “slip though our fingers”. May said: “Because parliament has made clear it will stop the UK leaving without a deal, we now have a stark choice: leave the European Union with a deal or do not leave at all. “The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all. It would mean letting the Brexit that the British people voted for slip through our fingers. I will not stand for that. It is essential we deliver what people voted for, and to do that we need to get a deal over the line.”

Conservative MP Nigel Evans, an executive member of the 1922 committee of backbenchers said last night that, if May failed to deliver Brexit and all she could do was secure a long extension at an EU summit on Wednesday, she would face overwhelming pressure to step down. “At the moment there is focus on delivering Brexit, but if a long delay becomes a reality I believe the noises off about removing the prime minister will become a cacophony,” he said. “I and many other Conservatives would prefer leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation terms to any humiliating long extension that forces us to take part in the European elections.”

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Problem is, you’re three years late.

I Had No Choice But To Approach Labour Over Brexit – May (BBC)

Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted she had to reach out to Labour in a bid to deliver Brexit or risk letting it “slip through our fingers”. In a statement on Saturday night, Mrs May said there was a “stark choice” of either leaving the European Union with a deal or not leaving at all. Some Conservatives have criticised her for seeking Labour’s help after MPs rejected her Brexit plan three times. Three days of talks between the parties ended without agreement on Friday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “waiting to see the red lines move” and had not “noticed any great change in the government’s position”. He is coming under pressure from his MPs to demand a referendum on any deal he reaches with the government, with 80 signing a letter saying a public vote should be the “bottom line” in the negotiations.


In her statement, Mrs May said that after doing “everything in my power” to persuade her party – and its backers in Northern Ireland’s DUP – to approve the deal she agreed with the EU last year, she “had to take a new approach”. “We have no choice but to reach out across the House of Commons,” the PM said, insisting the two main parties agreed on the need to protect jobs and end free movement. “The referendum was not fought along party lines and people I speak to on the doorstep tell me they expect their politicians to work together when the national interest demands it.” Getting a majority of MPs to back a Brexit deal was the only way for the UK to leave the EU, Mrs May said. “The longer this takes, the greater the risk of the UK never leaving at all.”

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The Tories don’t want a customs deal.

UK PM May Has Plan To Offer Labour Brexit Customs Arrangement (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has a plan to enshrine in law a customs arrangement with the European Union in a bid to win over the opposition Labour Party to back a Brexit deal, The Sunday Times newspaper reported. n“Under the new plan, the prime minister would offer to rewrite the government’s withdrawal bill to enshrine a customs arrangement in law,” the newspaper said. May is trying to win over the main opposition party after her negotiated Brexit deal was voted down by parliament on three occasions.

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Merkel has told Macron to do the heavy lifting.

Merkel Throws May A Lifeline Over Brexit Departure Date (O.)

Angela Merkel is open to backing Theresa May’s request for a short Brexit extension as the German chancellor seeks to maintain the pressure on British MPs to support the withdrawal agreement, according to senior EU sources. In the face of moves from elsewhere in the EU to insist on a longer delay to Britain’s departure, Merkel is keeping all options on the table ahead of this week’s EU summit and is said to be willing to back 30 June as an exit date. She is thought to be concerned that Donald Tusk’s proposal of a year-long extension, with an option to exit earlier on ratification of the withdrawal agreement, could be self-defeating. The thinking in Berlin will be a boon to the prime minister, who on Friday proposed the 30 June extension, with the promise that the UK would hold European elections if it had not ratified the withdrawal agreement by 22 May.


Tusk, as president of the European council, suggested on the same day that his “flextension” would put the onus on the British government to decide its own fate while freeing Brussels from repeatedly revisiting the issue. But Merkel is said to understand May’s anxiety that this idea would lift pressure on the Commons to ratify the withdrawal agreement. Diplomats from other EU capitals have suggested that, given the divisions between leaders, a compromise position could be a summer-end date, with a commitment to hold European elections. Germany has clashed with France over the issue. Last week the French president, Emmanuel Macron, warned that Britain and the EU were heading for no deal, and that the bloc could not “forever be the hostage of a political crisis in the UK”.

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Both parties are divided as can be. And everyone thinks they can get what they want.

Labour Chairman Attacks Corbyn Over ‘People’s Vote’ On Brexit (O.)

Jeremy Corbyn was warned by Labour party chairman Ian Lavery that he risked going down in history as the leader who split his party if he backed another referendum on Brexit, in an extraordinary outburst during a meeting of the shadow cabinet last week, according to senior party sources. The Observer has been told that Lavery, who has twice defied the whip and abstained on votes on another referendum, delivered the broadside at Corbyn during a shadow cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, at which Corbyn updated his frontbench team on talks with the government aimed at ending the Brexit impasse. According to senior figures, Lavery spoke out at the end of the meeting saying he knew his comments would be leaked but was determined to make his point.


“He was very angry and wagged his finger at Jeremy, telling him that if he backed a referendum he would go down in history as the Labour leader who split the party,” said one shadow cabinet member. “Jeremy just sat there.” The outburst stunned shadow cabinet members who said it would have sparked a full-scale shouting match if MPs had not been called to vote at the very moment he made his intervention. At the same meeting several senior figures, including shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and deputy leader Tom Watson, spoke out in favour of Labour backing a “confirmatory referendum” on any deal agreed by MPs, with remaining in the EU as the alternative on the ballot paper.

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It’s safe to say the ultimate betrayal has already occurred: a government that utterly failed to prepare.

Second Brexit Vote Would Be ‘Ultimate Betrayal’: Leadsom (R.)

A second public vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union would be the “ultimate betrayal”, Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons or lower house of parliament, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “The ultimate betrayal would be a second referendum,” wrote Leadsom, a Brexiteer. “It would require lengthy delay, it would reignite the divisive debate, and since Parliament has so far failed to follow the first result, there is no reason to believe it would honor a second referendum either.” Lawmakers have rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiated agreement on Brexit with Brussels, and talks are underway with the opposition Labour Party to reach a compromise. “The vision we had of Brexit is fading away – and we are running out of time to save it,” Leadsom said.

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Cassandra Fairbanks.

I don’t really think much of people congratulating themselves because he hasn’t been expelled yet and they think they made that happen. What I think this is about is two-fold:

1) UN got involved.
2) Moreno is under investigation in Ecuador for fraud. He better sit still for now and not stir up things. If Assange is targeted now, Moreno will be accused of doing that for political purposes.

Leaked Assange Court Transcript Sheds Light on Ecuador Expulsion Plans

The Gateway Pundit has exclusively obtained a court transcript of an appeal made by WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in an Ecuadorian court, in which the publisher accused the Ecuadorian government of preparing to revoke his political asylum at the behest of the United States and United Kingdom. Assange has not been heard from in public since March 28, 2018 after an executive gag order by the government of Ecuador. The following, unpublished, “leaked” transcript of Assange asking an Ecuadorian court for an urgent injunction (“protection order”) against his gagging and isolation is from October 29, 2018.

Journalists and media were banned from recording the proceedings, but a court record was later obtained through legal process and provided to The Gateway Pundit. It has never before been revealed. “I have been in this embassy without sunlight for six years and essentially isolated from most people for seven months and, including electronic communication, the telephone etc, from my young children,” Assange told the court according to the transcript. “It has … interfered with my ability to work, to make a living, and with my deeply held principles that I have fought for all my life, which is to uphold the right of freedom of expression, the right for people to know, the right of the freedom of the press and the right for everyone to participate in their society and the broader society.”

Assange also told the Ecuadorian court that his gag order meant that he could not respond to false statements about himself. “Due to my isolation, I have not been able to participate in the debates occurring around me and that has resulted in a climate of libel and fake news that might be expected for someone who has been in the business of exposing very large and very powerful corrupt organisations or organisations that abuse human rights.” Assange also said that members of the Ecuadorian Government had been involved in spreading information denigrating his character, something that he said saddened him given how proud he was of becoming an Ecuadorian citizen in 2017.

The publisher, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, went on to detail the importance of his work. He specifically highlighted his publication of US diplomatic cables which revealed hard truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There was no allegation that I had done anything other than what a journalist does, just that I have been a rather good one and effective one.” The publisher stated that he did not apply for asylum at the embassy to live there. He applied so that he may go and live safely in Ecuador, but that the UK’s efforts to arrest him have made that impossible.

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Melzer wants to visit Assange on April 25. Looks like Ecuador will make sure he’s still in the embassy by then.

UN Against Extraditing Assange To US: He Could Be Tourtured There (Taer)

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture Nils Melzer is alarmed by reports that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, may be expelled imminently from the Embassy of Ecuador in London, saying he intended to personally investigate the case. “In my assessment, if Mr. Assange were to be expelled from the Embassy of Ecuador, he is likely to be arrested by British authorities and extradited to the United States,” said the UN expert. “Such a response could expose him to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“I therefore urge the Government of Ecuador to abstain from expelling Mr. Assange from its Embassy in London, or from otherwise ceasing or suspending his political asylum until such time as the full protection of his human rights can be guaranteed. “Should Mr. Assange come under British jurisdiction for any reason, I urge the British Government to refrain from expelling, returning or extraditing Mr. Assange to the United States or any other jurisdiction, until his right to asylum under refugee law or subsidiary protection under international human rights law has been determined in a transparent and impartial proceeding granting all due process and fair trial guarantees, including the right to appeal,” said Melzer.

“According to information I have received, Mr. Assange is at risk of extreme vulnerability, and his health is in serious decline. I therefore appeal to the Ecuadorian authorities to continue to provide him, to the fullest extent possible in the circumstances, with adequate living conditions and access to appropriate medical care.

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“UK knows that Julian Assange had a reasonable cause. It was his universal human right to seek asylum. So the arrest warrant has no basis & Julian did not breach his bail.”

UK’s arrest warrant is illegal under international law.

The Breach of Bail Allegation Against Assange (M.)

The only legal issue generally thought to be outstanding for Julian Assange in the UK is a breach of bail conditions. However, a list circulated by Wikileaks to correct misconceptions has rightly stated: “It is false and defamatory to suggest that Julian Assange has ever “breached his bail”, “jumped bail”, absconded, fled an arrest warrant, or that he has ever been charged with such at any time.” In fact, bail is not actually breached unless there is a failure to meet bail conditions “without reasonable cause.” This was mentioned in passing when Emma Arbuthnot ruled to uphold the arrest warrant for breach of bail:

“The offence of absconding by a person released on bail is set out in section 6 of the Bail Act. If a person who is on bail fails without reasonable cause to surrender he shall be guilty of an offence. On a straightforward reading of the section, which makes no mention of any underlying proceedings, 1. Mr Assange has been released on bail, 2. He has failed to surrender and 3. If he has no reasonable cause he will be guilty of an offence.”

The excerpt below from Page 2 of an earlier ruling from Judge Riddle ironically reflects the fact that there was indeed a reasonable cause and the UK knew it. This reasonable cause was the universal human right to seek asylum, and it was exercised with unprecedented international notoriety. This was apparently not lost on whoever was directing the UK strategy, since it was a full nine days before his appearance was requested with a day’s notice at Belgravia Police Station, predictably followed the next day with an arrest warrant when he did not appear.

[..] without such an arrest warrant, the UK would have no pretext to extract him from the embassy. Its awareness of lacking justification was then further shown by waiting another six weeks for Ecuador to fold under pressure to reject the asylum claim. Yet when it was finally obvious that asylum was about to be granted, they did in fact try their luck with a threat to revoke the diplomatic status of the embassy in order to arrest him. That obviously did not work. Waiting so long and then overplaying their hand was a reassuring indication that their wits didn’t quite measure up to their malice. Yet what else could they do, since it was obvious that international law took precedence on the world stage when he walked into the embassy?

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That so-called ‘market’ is the Fed and the companies its ultra-low rates allow to buy themselves.

Banning Buybacks Would Crash The Market – Goldman (ZH)

Few topics prompt as powerful (and violent) a response from financial professionals as what the role of financial buybacks is in determining stock prices. One group, largely those bulls who after a decade of central bank manipulation still believe that markets are efficient and unrigged, and in hope of increasing their AUMs claim that they are financial geniuses for riding the world’s biggest financial bubble in history, argue that stock buybacks have no impact on stock prices.

Others, those who actually understand that if there is a trillion dollars in price indiscrimiante stock bids (as was the case in 2018 and will again happen in 2019) is the single most effective way to boost stock prices (and management’s incentive-linked comp, linked to higher stock prices), know – correctly – that corporate buybacks, which until not too long ago were banned, and which over the past decade emerged as the single biggest source of stock purchases, are one of the two most important factors behind the all time highs in the stock market (the other being the Fed, whose policies have allowed companies to issue debt with record low yields, allowing them to fund these trillions in buybacks).

And with the debate raging, either side happy to “convince” others in its echo chamber while hurling insults at the other, few have been as vocal in their defense of stock buybacks as Goldman Sachs. One month ago, the firm’s chief equity strategy David Kostin wrote a report – let’s call it the carrot – seeking to debunk “misconceptions” about stock buyabcks, which he claimed had gotten an unfair rap in the US. Specifically, Kostin said that “one of the greatest misconceptions in the public discourse surrounding corporate buybacks is the belief that managements repurchase stock in an attempt to inflate earnings per share and meet incentive compensation targets,” Goldman wrote.

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What’s become of the media when the NY Post provides the most balanced view?

Note: Judicial Watch has launched the first lawsuit, see video.

Give Up, Trump-Haters (NYPost)

Proving themselves happy to pander to folks who can’t let go of the Collusion Delusion, The New York Times and Washington Post are both suggesting that Attorney General William Barr spun special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to make President Trump look good. But neither account amounts to more than clickbait. Previewing Thursday’s front-page story, a Times online headline Wednesday screamed: “Some on Mueller’s Team Say Report Was More Damaging Than Barr Revealed.” The Washington Post ran a similar story. Message: The truth is out there! Barr’s just corruptly covering up for Trump!

Except that neither paper even pretends to have such info from anyone “on Mueller’s team” — just chatter from people who say they’ve talked to Muellerites. It’s a shameless followup to months of stories in both papers, and across much of the media, that relied on anonymous sources to feed the Delusion. Especially when it’s already known that Mueller’s report has some info that will make the president look bad — because Barr said so, noting that Mueller found “evidence on both sides of the question” of obstruction.

Of course Barr’s four-page summary of a 300-plus page document left out plenty. But there’s no coverup: The AG plans to release the report in a week or two (after it’s redacted in accordance with laws and Department of Justice rules) so folks can read it for themselves. It’s also nuts to think Barr would lie about Mueller’s findings: Mueller himself would go public rather than let that happen. But die-hard Trump haters can’t let go, and their media and political enablers don’t want to disappoint them. (Thus Rep. Jerry Nadler’s grand show of threatening to subpoena the full Mueller report.) Much of the news media, and many top Democrats, already have egg on their faces, thanks to Mueller’s findings. It’s astounding that they’re trying to recover by digging the hole deeper.

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Confirms what I wrote a few days ago. A niece of Ralph Nader was killed in the second crash. He won’t rest.

Why Was There No Backup System On 737 MAX? (USAToday)

When it comes to safety, modern commercial aircraft are known not only for having back-up systems, but in some cases, back-ups of their back-ups. So even as Boeing has taken responsibility for a fatal flaw in a key anti-stalling system in its 737 Max 8, mystery still surrounds why the software was designed to be dependent on a single outside sensor, though it was equipped with two, triggering a chain of events that led to the crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines jetliners less than five months apart. Boeing “violated a basic principle of aircraft design by allowing a single point failure to trigger a sequence of events that could result in a loss of control,” said Brian Alexander, an attorney for a law firm specializing in aviation accidents, Kreindler & Kreindler in New York, that is contemplating lawsuits on behalf of victims’ families in the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Based on an initial report from crash investigators, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg acknowledged Thursday that erroneous data sent to the system led to the Lion Air crash off Indonesia in October that killed 189 passengers and crew and the Ethiopian Airlines disaster in Africa that took 157 lives on March 10, both in the 737 Max 8. He vowed Boeing would fix the problem. Others, however, aren’t so sure that Boeing can find an adequate repair, saying that the twin crashes are proof that the plane’s problems run deeper than flawed sensors. They say the design itself has created inherent problems that simple fixes won’t solve. “You go to the source of the problem, not the symptom,” said consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who lost a niece in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. “An aircraft has to be designed stall proof, not stall prone.”

[..] The single source of data seems unusual given the lengths that Boeing has gone to build redundancies into its jetliners. For the 777, Boeing’s twin-aisle intercontinental jet, engineers created triple redundancy for its computers, hydraulics, communications and electrical power. Perhaps the best illustration of the lengths that the company was willing to go on back-ups was found in the plane’s primary flight computer. It was built with three microprocessors, instead of one, and each of them came from a different manufacturer: Intel, AMD and Motorola, according to an account by a Boeing engineer.

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My first thought was that looks like a really big number. But I don’t want to question the Smithsonian either.

Skyscrapers Are Killing Up To 1 Billion Birds A Year In US (G.)

Scientists estimate that at least 100 million and maybe as many as a billion birds die each year in the US when they collide with buildings, especially glass-covered or illuminated skyscrapers. And, in a new report, conservationists now have a better idea which American cities are the deadliest for those on the wing. Chicago, with its many glass superstructures that spike into what is the busiest US avian airspace during migration, is the most dangerous city for those feathered travelers. More than 5 million birds from at least 250 different species fly through the Windy City’s downtown every fall and spring. They journey twice a year, many thousands of miles, going north in the spring from Central and South America, across the Great Lakes to Canada, and back south in the fall.

The famous skyline of Manhattan is another death trap for birds, especially those migrating. “They wind up landing somewhere that’s unfamiliar, like a sidewalk somewhere,” said Susan Elbin, director of conservation and science at New York City Audubon, a leading bird advocacy organization. “Then when daylight comes, and they want to get more food, they’ll fly into a tree that they think is a tree, and it’s really a reflected tree in some glass building … Then they’ll slam into the glass, and then they die.” Most birds migrating through the US do so at night, when the airspace is cool and calm – and often end up veering through cities because their glow stands out. Scientists have long known that birds are attracted to light, so when they fly over a bright city at night, they are naturally drawn toward it, unaware they are in dangerous territory.

[..] As the experts admit, it’s hard to get reliable statistics. New York City Audubon conducts “collision monitoring studies” in September and April each year, sending dozens of volunteers into the city streets to track fallen birds. The organization estimates about 90,000 to 200,000 birds are killed via building collision in the city each year. Local Audubon chapters and other bird conservation groups around the country coordinate similar data collection exercises. On a national scale, the Smithsonian’s migratory bird center estimated the number of deaths to be between 100 million and one billion birds annually, using data from a wide variety of different groups across the country.


Skyscrapers in New York City. Photograph: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

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Is it okay if I find this okay?

Rhino Poacher Trampled By Elephant Then Eaten By Lions (BBC)

A suspected rhino poacher has been trampled on by an elephant then eaten by a pride of lions in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Accomplice poachers told the victim’s family that he had been killed by an elephant on Tuesday. Relatives notified the park ranger. A search party struggled to find the body but eventually found a human skull and a pair of trousers on Thursday. The managing executive of the park extended his condolences to the family. “Entering Kruger National Park illegally and on foot is not wise,” he said. “It holds many dangers and this incident is evidence of that.” Kruger National Park has an ongoing problem with poaching and there remains a strong demand for rhino horn in Asian countries. On Saturday, Hong Kong airport authorities seized the biggest haul of rhino horn in five years, valued at $2.1m.


Getty images

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Apr 042019
 
 April 4, 2019  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Nude on a beach 1929

 

Lack Of Redundancies On Boeing 737 MAX Baffles Its Developers (ST)
Trolling the Mueller Report (WSJ Op-ed)
Mueller Investigators Say Findings More Damaging To Trump Than Barr Has Let On
Comey Says He Fears Possible Counterinvestigation After Mueller Report (Pol.)
US Senators Want Stiff Sanctions To Deter Russia Election Meddling (R.)
Maybe Politics Matters After All (John Rubino)
Economist: Brexit Will Happen And Trump Fans Are ‘Economically Illiterate’ (FN)
UK MPs Back Brexit Delay Bill By One Vote (BBC)
No Deal Brexit Measures Needed To Keep Planes In Air And Troops On Ground (G.)
Top Labour Figures Demand Corbyn Secure Referendum (Ind.)
IMF Warns That Tech Giants Stifle Innovation And Threaten Stability (G.)
Next Phase in Trucking Boom-Bust Cycle Has Started (WS)
‘Excluding Everything That Makes China What It Is’ (Crooke)

 

 

Let’s start with the Seattle Times, because this article strongly hints that Boeing’s problems cannot possibly be solved with a software tweak. It’s a hardware issue as much as anything else. Cutting corners until there’s no corner left. And well over 300 people lost their lives due to this.

“Normal” planes have 3×3 sensors. The 737MAX effectively has one. And it was known to fail.

Lack Of Redundancies On Boeing 737 MAX Baffles Its Developers (ST)

Boeing has long embraced the power of redundancy to protect its jets and their passengers from a range of potential disruptions, from electrical faults to lightning strikes. The company typically uses two or even three separate components as fail-safes for crucial tasks to reduce the possibility of a disastrous failure. Its most advanced planes, for instance, have three flight computers that function independently, with each computer containing three different processors manufactured by different companies. So even some of the people who have worked on Boeing’s new 737 MAX airplane were baffled to learn that the company had designed an automated safety system that abandoned the principles of component redundancy, ultimately entrusting the automated decision-making to just one sensor — a type of sensor that was known to fail.

Boeing’s rival, Airbus, has typically depended on three such sensors. “A single point of failure is an absolute no-no,” said one former Boeing engineer who worked on the MAX, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the program in an interview with The Seattle Times. “That is just a huge system engineering oversight. To just have missed it, I can’t imagine how.” Boeing’s design made the flight crew the fail-safe backup to the safety system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.

A faulty reading from an angle-of-attack sensor (AOA) — used to assess whether the plane is angled up so much that it is at risk of stalling — is now suspected in the October crash of a 737 MAX in Indonesia, with data suggesting that MCAS pushed the aircraft’s nose toward Earth to avoid a stall that wasn’t happening. Investigators have said another crash in Ethiopia this month has parallels to the first. [..] one problem with two-point redundancies is that if one sensor goes haywire, the plane may not be able to automatically determine which of the two readings is correct, so Boeing has indicated that the MCAS safety system will not function when the sensors record substantial disagreement.

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The Wall Street Journal counterbalances the NYT and WaPo.

Trolling the Mueller Report (WSJ Op-ed)

Democrats are still reeling from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russians in 2016. But they’ve now hit upon a political comeback strategy: Accuse Attorney General William Barr of a coverup. That’s the context for Wednesday’s decision by House Democrats to authorize subpoenas, on a partisan vote, demanding that Mr. Barr immediately hand over the entire Mueller report and its supporting evidence. This is intended to give the impression, abetted by a press corps that was fully invested in the collusion story, that Mr. Barr is somehow lying about Mr. Mueller’s real conclusions. That’s preposterous, since Mr. Barr’s four-page letter quotes directly from Mr. Mueller’s report.

The AG surely understood on releasing the summary of conclusions last week that he would be open to contradiction by Mr. Mueller if he took such liberties. Mr. Barr also knew he’d be called to testify before Congress once the rest of the report is released. Mr. Barr has committed to releasing as much of the report as possible subject to Justice Department rules. He’s working with the special counsel’s office to make redactions required by grand-jury rules of secrecy, intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and “the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.” Under Justice rules relating to special counsels, Mr. Barr has no obligation to provide anything beyond notifying Congress when an investigation has started or concluded, and whether the AG overruled a special counsel’s decisions.

Mr. Barr’s notice to Congress that Mr. Mueller had completed his investigation said Mr. Mueller was not overruled. Congress has no automatic right to more. The final subparagraph of DOJ’s rule governing special counsels reads: “The regulations in this part are not intended to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal or administrative.” Mr. Barr has made clear that he appreciates the public interest in seeing as much of Mr. Mueller’s report as possible. Yet his categories of information for review aren’t frivolous or political inventions. The law protecting grand-jury secrecy is especially strict, as even Democrats admit.

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Glenn Greenwald tweets about this:

Trump/Russia conspiracists are like zombies: the dream can’t die. Their new hope is a) anonymously sourced, b) bereft of even one specific, c) irrelevant to *conspiracy* as opposed to obstruction & d) unrelated to the fact that Mueller indicted *zero* Americans for conspiracy

[..] Mueller could have concluded he thinks Trump was guilty of obstruction, but chose not to. He could have alleged a Trump/Russia conspiracy, or could have charged Trump officials & family members with conspiring with Russia, but didn’t. These last-gasp efforts don’t change that.

[..] Anyway, we’ve had 3 years of anonymously-sourced “bombshells” journalists spend 16-24 hours tiring themselves out celebrating on Twitter, only for it to fizzle into nothing (ie: no indictments from Mueller for conspiring with Russia). Why not have one more? An addict’s last fix.:

Mueller Investigators Say Findings More Damaging To Trump Than Barr Has Let On

The conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are more damaging to President Donald Trump than Attorney General William Barr has revealed, the New York Times reported late Wednesday. The Times said some investigators who were part of the probe are frustrated that Barr has undersold the findings, which may be creating a misleading narrative that could be hard to overcome if and when the full report is released. The sources did not specify how they believe the report is more damaging to Trump. The investigators told the Times that they had written numerous summaries of their main conclusions, which were not included in Barr’s summary of the report. Barr said the report found no collusion between Trump and Russia, but did not exonerate Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice. House Democrats have pressed Barr to release the full report, but Barr claims parts of it needs to be redacted first for security reasons.

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It would be crazy if there isn’t one.

Comey Says He Fears Possible Counterinvestigation After Mueller Report (Pol.)

Former FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday condemned President Donald Trump’s calls for a possible investigation into how special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry started, adding that it creates a troubling precedent. During an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Comey was asked about whether he feared possible counterinvestigations. “I don’t fear it personally. I fear it as a citizen,” he said. “Right? Investigate what? Investigate that investigations were conducted? What would be the crime you’d be investigating? So it’s a terrible cycle to start.” Several days after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Mueller’s report, Trump and his team have called for investigations into how the probe began.


“Hopefully, somebody is going to look at the other side,” Trump told reporters late last month. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has also made similar statements. On Tuesday, Trump continued to advocate for an examination of how the FBI and Mueller investigations began. “I hope they now go and take a look at the origins of the investigation, the beginnings of the investigation,” the president told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “You look at the origin of the investigation, where it started, how it started, who started it.” “Whether it‘s [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe or Comey or a lot of them, where does it go? How high up in the White House did it go?“ Trump continued, calling on reporters to investigate the origins of Mueller‘s probe, even dangling the prospect of a Pulitzer Prize to journalists in the room.

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Whatever powers these people have should be taken away from them. Both sides of the aisle want war with Russia.

US Senators Want Stiff Sanctions To Deter Russia Election Meddling (R.)

U.S. Republican and Democratic senators introduced legislation on Wednesday seeking to deter Russia from meddling in U.S. elections by threatening stiff sanctions on its banking, energy and defense industries and sovereign debt. The “Deter Act” is the latest effort by U.S. lawmakers to increase pressure on Moscow over what they see as a range of bad behavior, from its aggression in Ukraine and involvement in Syria’s civil war to attempts to influence U.S. elections. The measure was introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican. They offered a similar measure last year, when it also had bipartisan support but was never brought up for a vote by the Senate’s Republican leaders, who have close ties to President Donald Trump.

Trump has gone along with some previous congressional efforts to increase sanctions on Russia, although sometimes reluctantly. Backers of stronger action against Russia believe such measures will have better prospects in 2019, given control of the House of Representatives by Democrats, who are less reluctant than Trump’s fellow Republicans to push back against the White House. According to details of the legislation, first reported by Reuters, it would require the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine, within 30 days of any federal election, whether Russia or other foreign government or anyone acting as an agent of that government, had engaged in election interference.

If the DNI found such interference occurred, the act would require, among other things, that mandatory sanctions be imposed within 10 days on, among others, Russian banks and energy companies. The act would mandate that sanctions be imposed on two or more of the following Russian banks: Sberbank, VTB Bank, Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank and Rosselkhozbank. It also would order the prohibition of all transactions subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Russian sovereign debt, Russian government bonds and the debt of any entity owned or controlled by Russia’s government.

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Very-long-time Automatic Earth friend John Rubino has a series of reasons why politics matter.

Maybe Politics Matters After All (John Rubino)

Looking strictly at the numbers it’s hard to work up much interest in whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge after 2020. Either way, trillion-dollar deficits and extremely easy money are guaranteed, which means the US – along with most of the rest of the world – will fall off a financial cliff shortly. After that, the only non-financial issue that will matter is war – and both parties seem about equally bloodthirsty these days. However, after the November congressional elections — in which Democrats with, ahem, assertive ideas and attitudes did extremely well — proposing big, potentially transformative change now looks like the best way to cut through the media clutter and gain a following.

So the Democrat base has lost its fear of the “S” word and is now embracing a list of policies that are designed to lock in their dominance for a generation, but which carry myriad unintended consequences. If the Dems were in charge today, there’s a good chance that they would: Make Washington D.C. a state This is a no-brainer for Democrats. Since DC voters skew liberal (no surprise for people who by and large work for the government), making it a state adds two guaranteed votes in the Senate and several solid votes in the House. That alone might be enough to tip the balance on many votes.

[..] The math of elector apportionment gives more per-capita clout to small states as a way of protecting them from the whims of the large. Without this advantage, according to fans of the Electoral College, candidates would ignore Wyoming and Rhode Island and spend all their time in population centers like Los Angeles and Dallas. Subsequent governments would favor big states over small; good luck to Nevada if it has a water dispute with California. In short, without the Electoral College, flyover country is toast. But with the Electoral College it’s possible to win the most votes and still lose the election, as has happened a couple of times recently to the Dems. As the following chart shows, a majority of Democrats would abolish the College while Republicans would keep it.

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The City sees itself as immune.

Economist: Brexit Will Happen And Trump Fans Are ‘Economically Illiterate’ (FN)

The received wisdom within the City is that Brexit will cause widespread disruption to the Square Mile. But according to Dr Savvas Savouri, chief economist at Toscafund Asset Management, the $4bn London-based investment firm, so great is the extent of foreign investment in UK companies that leaving the EU carries no risk for the City at all. In an interview with Financial News at Toscafund’s Covent Garden office, when asked what is the biggest risk posed by Brexit to London’s finance industry, the abrasive and outspoken economist replied: “Nothing. The whole point about Brexit is there’s too much insurable interest in the UK across Europe for it to fail [for the UK and the EU not to form an agreement]. Ireland would go into immediate deep recession, so would Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus.”


An IMF study in August estimated that a scenario where the UK leaves the customs union and single market, and trades with the EU on WTO terms — an orderly version of a no-deal Brexit — would impose long-term costs on Ireland of 4% of output, and between 0.2% and 0.5% on countries such as Spain and Greece. Economists have warned that a disorderly Brexit would likely hit such countries even harder. “They know a bad Brexit would undermine the pound, a currency in which they have large holdings,” Savouri said. Warming to his theme, he added that the lack of short interest in European stocks exposed to the UK suggests investors are not particularly worried about a crash-out Brexit. “The people in finance who tell you they’re worrying about Brexit are not putting their money where their mouth is.”

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The most dangerous majority on earth.

UK MPs Back Brexit Delay Bill By One Vote (BBC)

MPs have voted by a majority of one to force the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit process, in a bid to avoid any no-deal scenario. Labour’s Yvette Cooper led the move, which the Commons passed in one day. The bill will need Lords approval to become law, while it is the EU who decides whether to grant an extension. It comes as talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to end the Brexit deadlock are set to continue. Discussions between the two leaders on Wednesday were described as “constructive”, but were criticised by MPs in both parties.


Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested that he expects Brussels to insist on a lengthy delay to Brexit and described a public vote to approve any final deal as “a perfectly credible proposition”. Ms Cooper’s attempts to prevent a no-deal departure from the EU passed by 313 votes to 312. The draft legislation by the former Labour minister would force the prime minister to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process beyond 12 April and would give Parliament the power to decide the length of this delay.

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Yup. They voted down No Deal again, and the press keeps talking about what happens under a No Deal.

No Deal Brexit Measures Needed To Keep Planes In Air And Troops On Ground (G.)

Cabinet ministers were told they must agree emergency contingency plans to keep planes flying to North America and Australia, as well as keeping British troops legally in Bosnia, in case the EU forces a no-deal exit. Before their marathon cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, briefed ministers that major security and commercial decisions would need to be completed if Brussels rejected Theresa May’s plan to ask for a short extension to article 50. A cabinet source said the decisions were likely to result in large costs to the taxpayer and that decisions would also need to be taken on direct rule in Northern Ireland and payment of the UK’s £39bn divorce bill to the EU.

Among the decisions outlined in a 14-page document handed to ministers in Downing Street were: • New agreements would be required for air services with Canada, the US and Australia. • British troops in Bosnia currently serving as part of an EU force would need to be placed under Nato command. • Negotiations would need to be urgently completed on a future fisheries agreement so that EU fishing boats could be expelled from British waters. Sedwill, the UK’s highest-ranking civil servant, is said to have warned cabinet ministers that some of the biggest decisions were likely to be very difficult to reverse, because they involved international agreements.

The warnings from Sedwill, who is also May’s national security adviser, follow an earlier letter he wrote to ministers warning that no deal would lead to food price rises and a reduction in security capacity. The 14-page leaked letter, obtained on Monday by the Daily Mail, said no deal would result in the reintroduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland. Sedwill also warned that the UK would face a recession “more harmful” than the 2008 financial crisis and that food prices could increase by up to 10%. He wrote that it was possible that the government would come under pressure to bail out companies facing collapse due to the barriers to trade with the EU and that security services and police would face a reduction in their capabilities.

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May would be done if she’d give in.

Top Labour Figures Demand Corbyn Secure Referendum (Ind.)

Labour is on the brink of a major bust-up if Jeremy Corbyn fails to demand a second referendum as the price for any Brexit deal struck with Theresa May. A string of senior figures – including shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry – believe securing a public vote is an absolute must, while 11 MPs, including four frontbenchers, have written an open letter to Mr Corbyn in The Independent saying “it would be untenable for Labour not to insist” on one. As Mr Corbyn was in the prime minister’s office holding the talks, one of his party’s biggest trade union backers also endorsed a motion calling for a confirmatory referendum on any deal.


But key individuals on the Labour side of the talks indicated a new vote may not be one of his asks, with one shadow cabinet member attending having stated hours earlier that a deal endorsed by the party would not need a referendum. It comes despite Labour, and indeed Mr Corbyn himself, backing a motion in the House of Commons days ago which called for a referendum on any Brexit plan passed by parliament.

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Yeah, we really trust the IMF in everything they say.

IMF Warns That Tech Giants Stifle Innovation And Threaten Stability (G.)

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the market power exercised by a small number of global companies threatens to stifle innovation and make it harder for central banks to deal with recessions. Adding its contribution to the growing public debate about the corporate power exercised by the US tech giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, the IMF said it would be concerned if there was any further increase in the clout of already dominant firms. The IMF said there was a need for stronger competition policy to ensure that established firms did not block the entry of potential rivals and called for excess profits to be targeted by a tougher international tax regime.

Although the study contained in the IMF’s forthcoming World Economic Outlook (WEO) did not mention any company by name, it said the past two decades had seen the concentration of market power among a small number of productive and innovative firms. Market concentrations tended to be higher in the US than in Europe, the IMF said, and in part reflected the growth of firms that exploited intangible assets. “Over the past two decades, a generally moderate but broad-based rise in corporate market power has been observed across advanced economies, driven primarily by a small fraction of firms.”

The chapter from the WEO noted that the big-picture economic implications of the trend had so far been “rather modest” and that the impact of rising market power on innovation had so far been positive. But the IMF said impact would become “increasingly negative if the market power of high mark-up firms, in particular, were to continue to rise in the future.”

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Just a cycle?!

Next Phase in Trucking Boom-Bust Cycle Has Started (WS)

This is one of the most cyclical industries, with legendary boom-and-bust cycles: Orders for Class-8 trucks plunged 67% in March compared to March last year, to 15,200 orders, the lowest March for orders since 2010, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence. These are the heavy trucks that haul consumer goods, equipment, commodities, and supplies across the US. This plunge comes after orders had already plunged 58% year-over-year in February and January and 43% in December. The chart shows the percent change of Class-8 truck orders for each month compared to the same month a year earlier. The year-over-year collapse in orders over the past four months are of the same or greater magnitude as those during the last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016:

The recipients of these orders are the truck manufacturers Peterbuilt and Kenworth (divisions of Paccar); Navistar International; Freightliner and Western Star (divisions of Daimler); and Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks (divisions of Volvo Group). The industry is notorious for over-ordering, which then, once these trucks are built, leads to overcapacity, at which point freight rates take a hit. Trucking companies see this coming and slash their orders in advance. Hence the bust that inevitably follows the boom. The last transportation recession in 2015 and 2016 led to waves of layoffs at truck and engine manufacturers. But at the moment, truck manufacturers are sitting on what was a historic backlog of orders dating from the phenomenal boom that peaked last August at 52,400 orders, as this chart of total monthly class-8 truck orders shows (data via FTR):

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Alastair’s starting to feel goal-seeked. Like many Belt&Road views.

‘Excluding Everything That Makes China What It Is’ (Crooke)

In the past few weeks, we have witnessed a mini ‘Belt & Road’ unfolding across the northern Middle East – linking Iran to Iraq, to Syria, and to Lebanon – a ‘Belt and Road’ that, it is envisaged, ultimately will be assimilated into China’s greater BRI project. And – as telling – Lebanon, the eternal weathervane for the Middle East wind direction, seems to be cutting a 500-year-old umbilical linking it to Rome and Europe, to look rather to Moscow (to protect the regions’ Christians, to get its Syrian refugees home to Syria, and to move under President Putin’s protective ‘wing’ in preventing Bolton and Netanyahu from detonating chaos on their patch) – and to China.

More recently, the New Silk Road infrastructure initiative landed squarely in Italy, potentially giving some real substance (i.e. infrastructure) – especially in the case of Sicily – to the notion of a Mediterranean commonality. Both these events are linked by a single motive: How to return autonomy to these states; how to recover at least a modicum of decision-making – and to break free from the strait-jacket of economic stagnation, and the deadweight of stale political shackles. As Christina Lin has noted: “China for one takes the view that security follows economic development, and has made it clear that reconstruction comes before political settlement. It is adopting a regional approach to the Levant and now views Lebanon as a platform for reconstruction in Syria and Iraq”.

[..] Both Italy and the Levant are ‘civilisation-states’ in their own right. They do not need the EU ‘brand’ to reassure them of their status as ‘civilisation-states’. As Lebanon’s former Minister of Economy noted last year, China doesn’t “look at Lebanon as a small country of 4 million citizens, but as a country with huge potential given its geographical location”. The point here is precisely that ‘the West’ is no longer the West. There is the belligerent ‘West’ of Trump, Pence, Bolton and Pompeo – and this is the ‘West’ that is incrementally losing traction across the Middle East, and beyond.

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Apr 032019
 
 April 3, 2019  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Nude on a beach 1929

 

Julian Assange ‘Repeatedly Violated’ Asylum Terms – Ecuador President (G.)
Washington Concerned Over Maduro’s Stay in Power (TeleSur)
Venezuela’s Guaido Stripped Of Immunity, Can Face Prosecution (AFP)
Poorest Countries’ Debt Repayment Bills Soar (G.)
May To Meet Corbyn To Tackle Brexit Deadlock (BBC)
The Macho Drama Queens Of Brexit Are About To Be Knocked Out By Reality (G.)
May Bombshell Means The Little English Nationalist Revolution Is Over (Mason)
Anish Kapoor’s Brexit Artwork: Britain On The Edge Of The Abyss (G.)
Trudeau Expels Two Ex-Ministers From Ruling Party In Bid To End Scandal (R.)
Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian Nightmare (Solomon)
Senate Investigates Claims Of Poor FAA Training In 737 Max Approval (CNBC)
Canada Warming At Twice The Global Rate (G.)
Toxic Air Will Shorten Children’s Lives By 20 Months (G.)

 

 

The story is basic: Lenin Moreno gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar (as revealed in the INA papers) , and seeks to use Assange as a way to deflect attention from that. Photos of his family life years ago in Europe surfaced online, and he blames Assange and WikiLeaks for that. Summary: stupid story.

But what is even worse, though nobody seems to have noticed, is that the Guardian have the story written up be none other than Dan Collyns (in Lima, Peru), who in November with Luke Harding wrote the soon fully discredited (by Robert Mueller, no less) article: Manafort Held Secret Talks With Assange In Ecuadorian Embassy.

The Guardian is officially entirely shameless. Collyns and Luke Harding still work there, as does Kathy Viner, their editor. Not one word of apology was ever uttered for making things up out of thin air just to smear people. Trump should have his people look into this.

Julian Assange ‘Repeatedly Violated’ Asylum Terms – Ecuador President (G.)

Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, has said the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had “repeatedly violated” the conditions of his asylum in the country’s London embassy, where he has lived for close to seven years. Speaking to the Ecuadorean radio broadcasters association on Tuesday, Moreno said under the terms of his asylum “Assange cannot lie or, much less, hack into private accounts or private phones” and he could not “intervene in the politics of countries, or worse friendly countries”. Moreno fulminated that “photos of my bedroom, what I eat and how my wife and daughters and friends dance” had been circulated on social media but stopped short of directly accusing WikiLeaks of circulating hacked photos of his family and wiretapping his phone calls and private conversations.

The Ecuadorean government, however, has said it believes the whistleblowing organization shared the photos, which date back several years to when Moreno and his family lived in Geneva. Moreno’s outburst was yet another sign of the Ecuadorean president’s waning tolerance for Assange’s prolonged occupancy of the country’s London embassy since mid-2012. “We should ensure Mr Assange’s life is not at risk but he’s violated the agreement we have with him so many times,” Moreno said of the WiklLeaks founder. The Ecuadorean government directly referred to WikiLeaks in a formal complaint to the special rapporteur for the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, at the UN’s human rights council on Monday.

It accused the organization of using social media to spread hacked private photos and personal information from Moreno’s personal computers, tablets and other devices. WikiLeaks tweeted on Tuesday that Moreno had said he would take a decision about Assange’s fate “in the short term” after it had reported on an “offshore corruption scandal wracking his government”. Known in Ecuador as the Ina Papers, the scandal alleges Moreno corruptly benefitted from an offshore account in Panama. Moreno denies any wrongdoing.

In March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected a lawsuit filed by Assange which argued that stringent house rules applied since October 2018 in the embassy violated “his fundamental rights and freedoms”. The legal move was also rejected by an Ecuadorean judge last year. Ecuador’s foreign minister, José Valencia, told the Guardian Assange’s conditions were in line with international law and a failure to follow them would breach the terms of his asylum. Moreno has also accused his predecessor turned arch enemy Rafael Correa of spying on him. In September 2017, months after taking office, he accused the former Ecuadorean president of planting a hidden camera in the wall of his presidential office. Correa denies any wrongdoing.

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There are Russian and Chinese “functionaries” in the country now. A military coup or invasion doesn’t appear to be the way to go.

Washington Concerned Over Maduro’s Stay in Power (TeleSur)

Maduro’s stay in power has Washington as well as various regional neighbor countries worried about the situation. It seems that Venezuela’s neighbors followed a false promise to get rid off the Venezuelan President rather quickly. According to the report, allies of the U.S. are disappointed with the result and are now questioning their decision to recognize Juan Guaido as interim president. A military invasion seems to be the only method available to accomplish their goal, and such a scenario doesn’t sit all too well with countries like Colombia and Brazil, according to the report. Self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido has also upped his rhetoric on a foreign military intervention as people start to question his own intentions.


During a rally in Los Teques, near Caracas, Guaido spoke to a crowd of people expressing his will to have a foreign power bomb his own country. “Of course, we will refer to 187. We did not speak here between the lines, here we spoke very clearly.” Referring to article 187.11 of the Venezuelan constitution, which regulates the authorization of a foreign military mission in the country. The U.S. has been shown to be growingly desperate over the situation in Venezuela. Trump’s Special Envoy to Venezuela and convicted war-criminal, Elliot Abrams, has even resorted to threats against Venezuela’s ally Russia, saying they would “pay a high price” for their support of the country.

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Doesn’t recognize the Supreme Court.

Venezuela’s Guaido Stripped Of Immunity, Can Face Prosecution (AFP)

Venezuelan lawmakers loyal to President Nicolas Maduro stripped opposition leader Juan Guaido’s immunity Tuesday – and authorized the high court to criminally prosecute him for proclaiming himself the crisis-hit country’s ruler. Guaido – whose claim is recognized by over 50 countries – had earlier expressed fears of being abducted by government agents following a request by the Supreme Court to the Constituent Assembly to lift his parliamentary immunity. Critics of the controversial two-year-old body say it was created to rubber-stamp Maduro’s decisions and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly.


The Constituent Assembly’s president, Diosdado Cabello, announced pro-Maduro lawmakers had unanimously authorized the Supreme Court to prosecute Guaido, leaving him also liable to be charged for breaching a January 29 government ban on leaving the country. The court had been investigating Guaido for usurping Maduro’s powers by declaring himself interim president on January 23 – a move which rapidly gained international support. “The people are determined and nothing is going to stop us,” said a defiant Guaido in response. “There is no turning back in this process.” Guaido recognizes neither the court nor the Constituent Assembly and insisted the decision was invalid.

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Feature not a flaw.

Poorest Countries’ Debt Repayment Bills Soar (G.)

Debt repayments by the world’s poorest countries have doubled since 2010 to reach their highest level since just before the internationally organised write-off in 2005, campaigners have warned. The Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) said a borrowing spree when global interest rates were low had left many developing nations facing repayments bills that were forcing them into public spending cuts. Plunging commodity prices, a stronger dollar and rising US interest rates had combined to increase debt repayments by 85% between 2010 and 2018, the JDC said. The bid to reduce the unaffordable debts of the world’s poorest countries was prompted by grassroots activism in the late 1990s and early 2000s, first with the Jubilee 2000 campaign and then with Make Poverty History.


But the financial position of many developing nations has again deteriorated in recent years. Repayments account for more than 12% of government revenue on average, the highest level since 2004, the year before the G8 summit held at Gleneagles agreed a comprehensive package of financial assistance involving aid and debt relief. The International Monetary Fund has become increasingly concerned at the financial vulnerability of poor countries and will discuss the issue at its spring meeting in Washington DC next week. Two-fifths of low-income countries are assessed by the IMF to be at “elevated risk of debt distress”, a doubling since 2013.

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Waving that white flag.

May To Meet Corbyn To Tackle Brexit Deadlock (BBC)

Theresa May is expected to meet Jeremy Corbyn later after she said she wanted to work with the Labour leader to break the Brexit deadlock. The prime minister hopes the two of them can come up with a modified version of her deal with the EU that can secure the backing of MPs. Mr Corbyn says he wants a customs union and workers’ rights to be priorities. But Tory Brexiteer Boris Johnson has accused Mrs May of “entrusting the final handling of Brexit to Labour”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, another prominent Brexiteer, described the offer as “deeply unsatisfactory” and accused Mrs May of planning to collaborate with “a known Marxist”.


Mrs May announced her plan to meet Mr Corbyn – as well as her intention to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline – after more than seven hours of talks with her cabinet on Tuesday. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg says the latest move means the prime minister is likely to adopt a closer relationship with the EU – a softer Brexit – than she has agreed so far. Mr Corbyn said he was “very happy” to meet Mrs May an recognised his own “responsibility” to try to break the deadlock. But the meeting is not expected to take place before this afternoon, at the earliest, says our political editor, who was told by Mr Corbyn’s team that he was not available on Wednesday morning for talks with the PM.

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More funny than anything.

The Macho Drama Queens Of Brexit Are About To Be Knocked Out By Reality (G.)

The closer the Brexit doomsday clock ticks to midnight, the more of a certain type of machismo we get. I find it extremely encouraging. It suggests that if and when all else fails, the Brexit ultras can either fight or fuck their way out of this. Happily, not one of them feels miscast in this hypersexualised action hero role. “How are you feeling tonight?” Sky News inquired of Steve Baker, who last week was wishing he could tear down parliament and bulldoze it into the Thames. “Well, everyone knows I’m Brexit hardman Steve Baker,” came the reply from the man everyone knows needed a cuddle off Jacob Rees-Mogg after the aforementioned ’dozer speech. To me, Steve reads like a come-and-get-me plea to Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark, but we will deal with the rest of his posturing a bit later.


For now, onwards to his equally virile ERG colleague Mark Francois, who you may know serves as Second Lieutenant in the Brexit Catering Corps (Territorial). “My message to the chancellor is simple,” honked Mark, of Philip Hammond’s suggestion that Brexiters such as him not voting for Brexit was making a customs unions more likely. “Up yours!” Oh dear. I would like to say that Mark was last seen boasting about his penis size to readers of his local newspaper, but in reality that was at least 287 of his media appearances ago. Indeed, my message to the voters in Mark’s Rayleigh and Wickford constituency would be: thank you for your service. You guys basically elected a forehead vein. Mark is currently to be found bulging on TV three times an hour.

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Mason’s a bit too left for me, but he’s right here.

May Bombshell Means The Little English Nationalist Revolution Is Over (Mason)

The carefully crafted illusions the May administration were founded on have crumbled into dust. After three years of civil service expertise wasted, billions of pounds of growth lost and two years’ worth of legislative time squandered, Theresa May stopped trying to get Brexit through with Tory votes and turned to Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn will be asked to co-author a new version of the political declaration acceptable to Labour or, failing that, to help engineer a majority in the Commons, either for a Norway-style deal or a customs union. In effect, May has bottled out of a fourth “meaningful vote”, ditched the threat of no deal completely and, in a desperate attempt to avoid an election, has thrown herself on the mercy of parliament. It should show no mercy.


Labour’s proposed Brexit deal would sign Britain up to the customs union and enter a state of “dynamic alignment” with the rules of the single market. This is not the equivalent of a Norway-style deal, because it allows Britain to participate fully in the single market – with the obligation to accept freedom of movement – but to diverge over time by paying a price in lost market access. If May can accept this to the letter, and is prepared to whip her MPs for it, splitting the Tory party for a generation, Corbyn should consider the offer. But I doubt she will do so. Indeed, I doubt she will retain a shred of authority once the Tory grassroots and backbenches understand the scale of the climbdown she has made.

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“We All Fall Down”

Anish Kapoor’s Brexit Artwork: Britain On The Edge Of The Abyss (G.)


Echoes of the trenches … Kapoor’s work, titled A Brexit, A Broxit, We All Fall Down. Photograph: Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor has exposed a bottomless void at the heart of Britain. You could topple in there and never stop falling. In fact, that is exactly what we have done – and solid ground still seems to be nowhere in sight. This artwork, which Kapoor has created for the Guardian, is his response to our current predicament and the new Britain that appeared after the leave vote. Although the Mumbai-born artist has given it a title – A Brexit, A Broxit, We All Fall Down – he does not wish to make any further comment about the piece, preferring to let it speak for itself. The use of colour to suggest infinite voids is one of Kapoor’s most mind-bending abilities as an artist – as a visitor to an exhibition in Portugal recently discovered.


The man actually fell into one work, a black hole in the floor of the gallery. The artist’s use of the world’s blackest paint, which is actually called Kapoor Black, made it impossible to gauge the hole’s depth. When the man fell in, it turned out to be a lot shallower than it looked, luckily for him. This wound, however, is anything but shallow. Britain has inflicted a dreadful injury on itself: a gory rip stretching from Glasgow to the south coast. Our fellow Europeans are watching aghast from across the water as we near the abyss of a no-deal Brexit. Kapoor suggests the damage is even visible from space. His artwork might serve as a warning to any passing flying saucers: avoid this riven nightmare of a nation.

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Justin vs the Whistleblowers.

Trudeau Expels Two Ex-Ministers From Ruling Party In Bid To End Scandal (R.)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday sought to quell a crisis that threatens his chances of re-election, expelling from party ranks two former Cabinet members he said had undermined the ruling Liberals. Trudeau said former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board chief Jane Philpott would no longer be allowed to sit as Liberal legislators. They were also barred from running for the party in the federal election this October. The Liberals have been in turmoil since Wilson-Raybould said in February that officials had inappropriately pressured her last year while she was justice minister to ensure that construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc escape a corruption trial.


“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau told an emergency meeting of caucus. “Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them,” said Trudeau, 47, who took office in November 2015 and faces a tough re-election battle this autumn. Wilson-Raybould, who tweeted news of her ouster before Trudeau’s announcement, was demoted in January and resigned the next month. Philpott quit shortly afterward, saying she had lost confidence in how Trudeau was handling the matter.

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“I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recalled telling Poroshenko.”

Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian Nightmare (Solomon)

Two years after leaving office, Joe Biden couldn’t resist the temptation last year to brag to an audience of foreign policy specialists about the time as vice president that he strong-armed Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor. In his own words, with video cameras rolling, Biden described how he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in March 2016 that the Obama administration would pull $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, sending the former Soviet republic toward insolvency, if it didn’t immediately fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. “I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recalled telling Poroshenko.

“Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time,” Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations event, insisting that President Obama was in on the threat. Interviews with a half-dozen senior Ukrainian officials confirm Biden’s account, though they claim the pressure was applied over several months in late 2015 and early 2016, not just six hours of one dramatic day. Whatever the case, Poroshenko and Ukraine’s parliament obliged by ending Shokin’s tenure as prosecutor. Shokin was facing steep criticism in Ukraine, and among some U.S. officials, for not bringing enough corruption prosecutions when he was fired. But Ukrainian officials tell me there was one crucial piece of information that Biden must have known but didn’t mention to his audience: The prosecutor he got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.

[..] U.S. banking records show Hunter Biden’s American-based firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, received regular transfers into one of its accounts — usually more than $166,000 a month — from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015, during a period when Vice President Biden was the main U.S. official dealing with Ukraine and its tense relations with Russia. The general prosecutor’s official file for the Burisma probe — shared with me by senior Ukrainian officials — shows prosecutors identified Hunter Biden, business partner Devon Archer and their firm, Rosemont Seneca, as potential recipients of money. Shokin told me in written answers to questions that, before he was fired as general prosecutor, he had made “specific plans” for the investigation that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”

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WIll they fly again in 2019?

Senate Investigates Claims Of Poor FAA Training In 737 Max Approval (CNBC)

The Senate Commerce Committee is launching a probe into whistleblower complaints accusing the Federal Aviation Administration of improperly training its safety inspectors to review the Boeing 737 Max jets. “In light of recent 737 crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, the committee is investigating any potential connection between inadequate training and certification of Aviation Safety Inspectors who may have participated in the FSB evaluation of the 737 MAX,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the committee, wrote to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell on Tuesday. “Allegations from these whistleblowers include information that numerous FAA employees … had not received proper training and valid certifications.” Wicker said that the FAA may have been notified about these deficiencies as early as August 2018 and that an agency investigation into the allegations may have already been completed.

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And it makes no difference what Canada does.

Canada Warming At Twice The Global Rate (G.)

Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, a landmark government report has found, warning that drastic action is the only way to avoid catastrophic outcomes. “The science is clear – Canada’s climate is warming more rapidly than the global average, and this level of warming effectively cannot be changed,” Nancy Hamzawi, assistant deputy minister for science and technology at Environment and Climate Change Canada, told reporters on Monday. The report, released late on Monday by Environment and Climate Change Canada, paints a grim picture of Canada’s future, in which deadly heatwaves and heavy rainstorms become a common occurrence. Forty-three government scientists and academics authored the peer-reviewed report.

While global temperatures have increased 0.8C since 1948, Canada has seen an increase of 1.7C – more than double the global average. And in the Arctic, the warming is happening at a much faster rate of 2.3C, the report says. While the increased warming in the Arctic is not yet fully understood, snow and ice play a critical role in reflecting the sun’s radiation and heat. But scientists say the retreat of glaciers and disappearing sea ice both contribute to a feedback loop of warming, which is one of the factors contributing to Canada’s disproportionate temperature increase. The report suggests the majority of warming felt in Canada and around the globe is the result of burning fossil fuels.

Canada has already pledged to cut emissions by 200m tonnes by 2030 – a cornerstone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national climate strategy – largely through a federally mandated carbon tax and shuttering coal-fired plants. [..] The report makes clear that Canada faces markedly different outcomes, depending on the policies it chooses to reduce emissions. Under a scenario in which global emissions are dramatically reduced, average temperatures will rise only 3C across the country by 2100, including the Arctic region. But if countries – including Canada – fail to act aggressively, increases of 7-9 degrees are likely, and the Arctic faces the prospect of 11 degrees of warming. Under the report’s worst-case scenario, the risk of deadly heatwaves increases tenfold bring with it droughts and forest fires.

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Interesting detail: the graph does not include Europe and North America.

But man, what a brainless species.

Toxic Air Will Shorten Children’s Lives By 20 Months (G.)

The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study. Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017, making it a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents and comparable to smoking, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2019 study published on Wednesday. In south Asia, children can expect to have their lives cut short by 30 months, and in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 months, because of a combination of outdoor air pollution caused by traffic and industry, and dirty air indoors, largely from cooking fires.


In east Asia, air pollution will shorten children’s lives by an estimated 23 months. However, the life expectancy burden is forecast to be less than five months for children in the developed world. “That the life of children is being shortened so much came as really quite a shock,” said Robert O’Keefe, the vice-president of the Health Effects Institute, which produced the report. “There is no magic bullet but governments should be taking action.”

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Mar 222019
 


Margaret Bourke-White Coney Island 1952

 

EU Leaders Decide UK’s Fate Behind Closed Doors, Leave May Waiting (Ind.)
May’s Appeal Falls Flat As EU Seizes Control Of Brexit Date (G.)
Five Percent? EU Leaders Doubt May’s Brexit Vote Chances (R.)
Cabinet Ministers Believe Risk Of No-Deal Brexit Now ‘Very Real’ (G.)
Brexit: Hundreds Of Gagging Orders Taken Out By UK Government (Sky)
‘Survivability’ Of The EU Is A Serious Question: Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Indonesian Airline Garuda Cancels Order For 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets (G.)
Australia Home Builders Start Laying Off Workers (ABC.au)
Top Oil Firms Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies (G.)
How The Car Industry Hid The Truth About Diesel Emissions (G.)
US Cold Warriors Escalate Toward Actual War With Russia (Stephen Cohen)
Los Angeles Bans Monsanto’s Roundup (RT)

 

 

April 12 is the new March 29..

“I hope we can all agree that we are at the moment of decision,” Theresa May said at a press conference in the early hours of the morning.”

Meanwhile, there’s talk about April snap elections. More likely than a 2nd referendum.

EU Leaders Decide UK’s Fate Behind Closed Doors, Leave May Waiting (Ind.)

Theresa May was left waiting while European leaders decided the future of Brexit behind closed doors. The prime minister had hoped to be handed an extension of the Article 50 period until 30 June before making a statement from Brussels in the early evening. Instead, the 27 presidents and prime ministers were locked in talks long into the night after they tore up draft proposals and produced a complicated conditional plan. Diplomats in the room painted a disorientating picture of discussions, with proposals for shorter and longer deadlines made by different countries. EU leaders ultimately agreed that the UK could have an unconditional extension until 12 April, and a further extension until 22 May if MPs approved the withdrawal agreement next week.

The so-called “flextension” would also give the UK the option of a longer delay if needed, but only on the condition of deciding to join in European Parliament elections before April 12. One EU official said: “March 29th is over. As of tonight, April 12th is the new March 29th.” Speaking after the agreement was struck, European Council president Donald Tusk said Ms May “accepts the extension scenarios”. He added: “Frankly speaking I was really sad before our meeting – now I am much more optimistic.” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker added: “This closes and completes the full package. There’s no more we can give. We’re hopeful that the agreement will be adopted by the House of Commons.” “I hope we can all agree that we are at the moment of decision,” Theresa May said at a press conference in the early hours of the morning.

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The rope to hang herself with.

May’s Appeal Falls Flat As EU Seizes Control Of Brexit Date (G.)

The EU has handed Theresa May two weeks’ grace to devise an alternative Brexit plan if her deal falls next week after the prime minister failed to convince the bloc that she was capable of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. After a marathon late-night session of talks, the EU’s leaders ripped up May’s proposals and a new Brexit timeline was pushed on the prime minister to avoid the cliff-edge deadline of 29 March – next Friday. Under the deal agreed by May, Britain will now stay a member state until 12 April if the withdrawal agreement is rejected by MPs at the third time of asking. The government will be able to seek a longer extension during that period if it can both “indicate a way forward” and agree to hold European elections.

In the unlikely event that May does win the support of the Commons when the Brexit deal goes to MPs again on Tuesday, the UK will stay a member state until 22 May to allow necessary withdrawal legislation to be passed. “The 12 April is the new 29 March,” an EU official said. Donald Tusk, the European council president, told reporters in a late-night press conference that he had several meetings through the evening to secure May’s agreement. He said: “What this means in practice is that, until that date, all options will remain open, and the cliff-edge date will be delayed. The UK government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking article 50.” Asked how long an extension could be on offer, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “Until the very end.”

[..] As their talks wound on, the EU moved towards the “flextension” delay. It was then put to May by Tusk shortly after 11pm Brussels time after eight hours of talks, with and without the prime minister. “What this model is designed for is to make it clear that no deal is not the EU’s choice, it is the UK’s choice,” a diplomatic source said. “The prime minister is braced for a long extension, but doesn’t want to take responsibility for it,” the source said. The EU had initially looked at solely offering an extension up until 22 May, the day before European elections would be held, on the condition May’s deal passed next week. But it was a lack of confidence in the prime minister following her latest performance in front of the leaders that forced the EU’s member states to act to shore up against a no-deal Brexit and allow the British parliament time to take control.

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May spoke for quite a long time, and had nothing new to say. She actually thinks she can win just because everyone’s too scared of a no-deal Brexit.

Five Percent? EU Leaders Doubt May’s Brexit Vote Chances (R.)

After British Prime Minister Theresa May reassured them she could win a crunch vote in parliament next week to ensure an orderly Brexit, EU leaders were left even more doubtful of her chances. Following more than an hour of explanations that with days left until Britain might crash out she could win over lawmakers who have twice rejected her EU withdrawal deal, May left the summit room on Thursday and the other 27 leaders conferred — finding a consensus that they were even less convinced than before, officials familiar with their discussions told Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the room that before coming to Brussels he had thought May had only a 10 percent chance of winning the vote. After listening to the prime minister, he said, he had cut his estimate — to five percent. To general assent, one person present said, summit chair Donald Tusk shot back that Macron was being “very optimistic”. After hours of discussion, the leaders agreed to delay Brexit beyond the deadline of next Friday — but possibly only to April 12 or into May, trying to shift responsibility for any chaotic no-deal outcome back to London from Brussels.

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They should simply all resign.

Cabinet Ministers Believe Risk Of No-Deal Brexit Now ‘Very Real’ (G.)

Cabinet ministers believe there is now a real risk of a no-deal Brexit, with sources close to them describing the mood in government as depressing and No 10 as “run by lunatics”. Senior members of the cabinet from both sides of the Brexit argument are understood to think the chances of the UK leaving without a deal have substantially increased after the prime minister set herself against a longer extension to article 50. One aide to a cabinet minister said No 10 was in “full-on bunker mode” and the prime minister’s speech from Downing Street showed “they have all taken leave of their senses”. Another soft Brexit cabinet source described the mood as “depressing” and said of no deal: “The risk is now very real.”

On the other side, one leave-supporting cabinet minister believes May has no intention of resigning if her deal fails to pass next Tuesday and that she would prefer to switch to a position of supporting no deal rather than allow a longer extension to article 50. They point to the fact that 63% of Conservative MPs opposed a delay to Brexit and opinion polls suggesting a shift in public opinion towards no deal. In this scenario, the prime minister could attempt another meaningful vote next Thursday in a high-stakes gamble that would challenge MPs to back her deal or face no deal at the last minute. On Thursday, Liz Truss, a Treasury minister who sits in cabinet, told the Sun that she did not believe the “plague of locusts stuff” around leaving without a deal, adding: “I believe No Deal is better than a long extension.”

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What secret activities are taking place? What role does the secret service play in them?

Brexit: Hundreds Of Gagging Orders Taken Out By UK Government (Sky)

Sky News can reveal that the government has taken out hundreds of gagging orders as part of its preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The orders, formerly known as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), are legally binding contracts to stop confidential conversations being talked about in public. They are typically used to maintain secrecy around corporate deals or to protect intellectual property. However, we have discovered that the use of these NDAs has become prevalent across great swathes of the UK government. Using freedom of information requests, Sky News asked departments to reveal how many NDAs each had taken out as part of their preparations for Brexit. All responded, although not all of them actually answered the question.

The Department for Transport (DfT) told us it had 79 separate NDAs by the end of February. Of these, we understand that around 50 had been signed in the preceding three months, at an average of around four per week. Although the names of those involved have obviously not been made public, we understand that the DfT’s gagging orders involve hauliers, public transport companies, infrastructure operators and petrol retailers. Some told us they felt frustrated that a government “obsession with secrecy” had hindered constructive debate and exchange of information. [..] The Home Office refused to answer the question, saying that it would be too burdensome to research the answer. However, Sky News has since confirmed that the Home Office has taken out at least 100 gagging orders, simply in relation to ports. It is unclear how many gagging orders it has in relation to the rest of its work.

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Toxic cocktail.

‘Survivability’ Of The EU Is A Serious Question: Stephen Roach (CNBC)

As U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May presses on to take Britain out of the European Union, one leading economist raised questions about the viability of the single political and economic bloc. “You have to wonder about the future of the European Union itself … this is an imperfect union and the survivability of it is, I think, a serious question,” Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University, told CNBC’s Sri Jegarajah on Friday. Even before Brexit came about, the EU faced multiple challenges over the last decade, said Roach, who’s a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia. Those challenges include a sovereign debt crisis in Greece and a standoff with Italian leaders over the country’s spending plans.

And with the U.K. — one of the largest European economies — planning to leave the bloc, it remains to be seen whether the EU has the ability to withstand more pressure coming from member states while still reeling from the shocks of the global financial crisis, said Roach. [..] “The idea that one-size-fits-all has been rejected repeatedly over the last 10 years,” he said. “In the early days there was some convergence of economic cycles, but then the asymmetric shocks in (2008 and 2009) have continued to ripple through the landscape and really challenge the idea that this is a cohesive economic zone that can be guided by one central bank,” he added.

[..] Even though the circumstances surrounding Brexit are still uncertain and pose a major risk within Europe, Roach said the event itself wouldn’t be enough to derail the global economy. What Brexit does accomplish, however, is to add to the “toxic cocktail” that threatens to hit growth, the economist said. “The downward growth pressure is in China, the weakness in Japan, the deceleration in the United States. In conjunction with uncertainties and potential shock coming out of Brexit, it’s certainly a potentially toxic cocktail for the global economy,” Roach said.

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More will follow. And we’ll see airlines and Boeing being sued for gross negligence and other crimes.

Indonesian Airline Garuda Cancels Order For 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets (G.)

Indonesia’s national carrier Garuda has cancelled a multibillion-dollar order for 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after two fatal crashes involving the plane, the company said, blaming passengers’ loss of trust in the aircraft. In what is thought to be the first formal cancellation for the model, Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan said: “We have sent a letter to Boeing requesting that the order be cancelled. “The reason is that Garuda passengers in Indonesia have lost trust and no longer have the confidence” in the plane, he said, adding that the airline was awaiting a response from Boeing. As Boeing continued to work on a fix for the planes grounded by airlines across the world, reports on Friday suggested that the manufacturer would make it compulsory for airlines buying the aircraft to have one of two optional safety features installed.

The equipment alerts pilots of faulty information from key sensors. It will now be included on every 737 Max as part of changes that Boeing is rushing to complete on the jets by early next week, according to two people familiar with the changes. Airlines can decide whether to pay for upgrades to a standard plane, a common practice in the industry which enables manufacturers to charge extra. Garuda had already received one of the 737 MAX 8 planes, part of a 50-plane order worth $4.9bn at list prices when it was announced in 2014. Garuda is also talking to Boeing about whether or not to return the plane it has received, the spokesman told AFP.

[..] This month, Indonesia’s Lion Air said was postponing taking delivery of four new Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after an Ethiopian Airlines plane of the same model crashed minutes into a flight to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. That came after a Lion Air jet of the same model crashed in Indonesia in October, killing all 189 people on board.

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When recessions slowly creep up on you. They still can’t believe it: “the highest low point on record”.

Australia Home Builders Start Laying Off Workers (ABC.au)

Since building its first house in 1957, Zuccala Homes has seen its fair share of highs and lows in Melbourne’s residential construction market. With housing well and truly in a downturn, director Greg Zuccala said this was one of the worst he had seen. “Builders are just battening down the hatches and looking after their costs,” Mr Zuccala told ABC’s The Business. Melbourne house prices have fallen 9.6 per cent since their 2017 peak, and that is having big implications for home builders. “We do a bit of business with some investors, but mostly our bread and butter is owner occupiers.” That huge fall in demand for new home builds meant Mr Zuccala had to find savings.

To do that, he was forced to lay off four workers. “We’ve had to adjust things there to meet the market,” he said. “I think a lot of building companies at the moment find themselves in the same situation.” Residential construction is a $105 billion business in Australia and, as Australia’s fourth biggest sector, it accounts for 8 per cent of GDP. [..] But it is not all doom and gloom. While there is no denying Australia is in the midst of a downturn, and that is hurting the construction sector, the numbers are still good in a historical context. Nationally, new home building peaked in 2016 with about 230,000 new dwellings. “We see it bottoming out to about 175,000 over the next few years,” Mr Garrett forecast. “It’s worth emphasising, that 175,000 as a low point would still be the highest ever low point for new home building on record.”

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Best part of it is they receive that money in subsidies. Put at $5 trillion a year by one report.

Top Oil Firms Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies (G.)

The largest five stock market listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m (£153m) a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change, according to a new report. Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil were the main companies leading the field in direct lobbying to push against a climate policy to tackle global warming, the report said. Increasingly they are using social media to successfully push their agenda to weaken and oppose any meaningful legislation to tackle global warming. In the run-up to the US midterm elections last year $2m was spent on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads by global oil giants and their industry bodies, promoting the benefits of increased fossil fuel production, according to the report published on Friday by InfluenceMap.

Separately, BP donated $13m to a campaign, also supported by Chevron, that successfully stopped a carbon tax in Washington state – $1m of which was spent on social media ads, the research shows. Edward Collins, the report’s author, analysed corporate spending on lobbying, briefing and advertising, and assessed what proportion was dedicated to climate issues. He said: “Oil majors’ climate branding sounds increasingly hollow and their credibility is on the line. They publicly support climate action while lobbying against binding policy. They advocate low-carbon solutions but such investments are dwarfed by spending on expanding their fossil fuel business.”

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The ‘Dieselgate’ scandal was suppressed for years – while we should have been driving electric cars.

For Christ sake, ‘we’ shouldn’t have been driving any cars.

How The Car Industry Hid The Truth About Diesel Emissions (G.)

John German had not been looking to make a splash when he commissioned an examination of pollution from diesel cars back in 2013. The exam compared what came out of their exhausts, during the lab tests that were required by law, with emissions on the road under real driving conditions. German and his colleagues at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in the US just wanted to tie up the last loose ends in a big report, and thought the research would give them something positive to say about diesel. They might even be able to offer tips to Europe from the US’s experience in getting the dirty fuel to run a little cleaner.

But that was not how it turned out. They chose a Volkswagen Jetta as their first test subject, and a VW Passat next. Regulators in California agreed to do the routine certification test for them, and the council hired researchers from West Virginia University to then drive the same cars through cities, along highways and into the mountains, using equipment that tests emissions straight from the cars’ exhausts.

It was clear right away that something was off. At first, German wondered if the cars might be malfunctioning, and he asked if a dashboard light had come on. That didn’t really make sense, though – the cars had just passed the California regulators’ test. His partners thought there might be a problem with their equipment, and they recalibrated it again and again. But the results didn’t change. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from the Jetta’s tailpipe was 15 times the allowed limit, shooting up to 35 times under some conditions; the Passat varied between five and 20 times the limit. German had been around the auto industry all his life, so he had a pretty good idea what was going on. This had to be a “defeat device” – a deliberate effort to evade the rules.

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“Words, as Russians say, are also deeds.”

US Cold Warriors Escalate Toward Actual War With Russia (Stephen Cohen)

[..] the preceding Cold War was driven by an intense ideological conflict between Soviet Communism and Western capitalism. Where is the ideological threat today, considering that post–Soviet Russia is also a capitalist country? In a perhaps unprecedented nearly 10,000-word manifesto from March 14 in the front news pages of (again) the Post, Robert Kagan provided the answer: “Today, authoritarianism has emerged as the greatest challenge facing the liberal democratic world—a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge.” That is, “authoritarianism” has replaced Soviet Communism in our times, with Russia again in the forefront.

The substance of Kagan’s “authoritarianism” as “an ideological force” is thin, barely enough for a short opinion article, often inconsistent and rarely empirical. It amounts to a batch of “strongman” leaders (prominently Putin, of course), despite their very different kinds of societies, political cultures, states, and histories, and despite their different nationalisms and ruling styles. Still, credit Kagan’s ambition to be the undisputed ideologist of the new American Cold War, though less the Post for taking the voluminous result so seriously. The forty-year Cold War often flirted with hot war, and that, too, seems to be on the agenda. Words, as Russians say, are also deeds. They have consequences, especially when uttered by people of standing in influential outlets.

[..] Histories of the forty-year US-Soviet Cold War tell us that both sides came to understand their mutual responsibility for the conflict, a recognition that created political space for the constant peace-keeping negotiations, including nuclear arms control agreements, often known as détente. But as I also chronicle in the book, today’s American Cold Warriors blame only Russia, specifically “Putin’s Russia,” leaving no room or incentive for rethinking any US policy toward post–Soviet Russia since 1991.

Still more, as I have also long pointed out, Moscow closely follows what is said and written in the United States about US-Russian relations. Here too words have consequences. On March 14, Russia’s National Security Council, headed by President Putin, officially raised its perception of American intentions toward Russia from “military dangers” (opasnosti) to direct “military threats” (ugrozy). In short, the Kremlin is preparing for war, however defensive its intention.

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Miami and LA. Who’s next?!

Los Angeles Bans Monsanto’s Roundup (RT)

Los Angeles county authorities have banned all use of notorious weed killer glyphosate – the herbicide better known by its Monsanto/Bayer trade name, Roundup – after a second court ruling linking it to a man’s cancer. “I am asking county departments to stop the use of this herbicide until public health and environmental professionals can determine if it’s safe for further use in L.A. County and explore alternative methods for vegetation management,” Kathryn Barger of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said. The motion follows of a San Francisco court’s ruling that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he developed after using the herbicide on his Sonoma property for decades.

The verdict was the second such unfavorable ruling for Germany’s Bayer, which was fortunate enough to acquire Monsanto just last year. With legal responsibility no longer falling on Americans’ shoulders, a California court awarded plaintiff Dewayne Johnson $289 million last August, ruling the popular herbicide also caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The payout was later reduced to $78 million, but it opened the floodgates for upwards of 9,300 similar lawsuits against Bayer. While the supervisory board motion doesn’t mention the recent court verdicts, it does cite “a growing body of scientific study” suggesting glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and asks the Department of Public Works to look into possible alternatives and deliver a report with recommendations within 30 days.

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Mar 092019
 


Juan Gris Portrait of Pablo Picasso 1912

 

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)
On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)
Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)
Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)
EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)
Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)
Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)
Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)
Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)
A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

Wolf Richter has the entire top-11. I picked a few. Note: this is debt-to-GDP. For debt-to-disposable income, graphs are different. Note 2: Switzerland is always an odd one out because of the role of its banking system.

World’s Biggest Debt Slaves: Americans Wimp Out in 11th Place (WS)

US household debt inched down to 76.4% of GDP in the third quarter 2018, according to the newest batch of global data from the Bank for International Settlements. This was the lowest level since 2002. It put Americans in the inexplicably wimpy, and for the finance sector, insufferable 11th place:

Canadian households have long been making headlines with their top-notch borrowing binge to support their top-notch housing bubble. By other debt measures, such as debt-to-disposable income, Canadian and Australian households have been battling over first place for years. In the debt-to-GDP measure, Canadian households are in a still respectable 6th place: This debt will pose some issues as the majestic housing bubbles in top metros are now deflating:

Households in the Netherlands were track to be undisputed king of the hill, with a debt-to-GDP ratio nearing 120%, in part because GDP plunged during the Financial Crisis, which caused the spike in the debt-to-GDP ratio and the collapse of some banks. During the subsequent euro debt crisis, GDP declined again. But since then, the economy has grown, and households have curtailed their borrowing, edging away from the brink, and in the process getting demoted to 4th place:

Australian households have been caught up in one of the biggest housing bubbles in the world, financed by debt. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio more than doubled between 1997 and 2016. Now that the housing bubble is deflating at an astounding pace, the debt ratio has begun to tick down, but remains in second place:

[..] the #1 debt slaves in the world: Swiss households. This is one of the reasons interest-rate repression remains the rule in Switzerland. The Swiss National Bank has imposed its negative interest rate policy on the country for years, and there have been stories of mortgages with 0% and even negative interest rates. There is simply too much household debt, and no one wants to see it blow up. Hence the negative interest rate policy. But this policy encourages more household borrowing, and the cycle will continue until it can’t:

China is in a category of its own. And so the chart has a different scale. The household-debt-to-GDP ratio is still in the German neighborhood of just above 50%, but it has quintupled in the 12 years since the BIS data began in 2006. The idea that Chinese households are paying cash to sustain their housing bubble or to buy cars has become a bad joke: Chinese consumers have discovered debt, and they are eagerly turning into debt slaves:

Read more …

Daniel Ellsberg: “Chelsea Manning is again acting heroically in the name of press freedom, and it’s a travesty that she has been sent back to jail for refusing to testify to a grand jury. An investigation into WikiLeaks for publishing is a grave threat to all journalists’ rights, and Chelsea is doing us all a service for fighting it. She has already been tortured, spent years in jail, and has suffered more than enough. She should be released immediately.”

Chelsea Manning Jailed For Refusing To Testify About Wikileaks (ZH)

Following a dramatic hearing at a federal district court in Eastern Virginia, activist and former military prisoner Chelsea Manning was jailed by a judge for contempt of court after refusing to testify to a grand jury empaneled in the government’s long running criminal investigation into Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The judge, the Hon. Claude H. Hilton, ruled that Manning must remain in civil detention until she testifies, her lawyer Moira Meltzer-Cohen told the New York Times. Manning was subpoeaned in January to testify before the jury. But she vowed not to cooperate even though prosecutors offered immunity for her testimony. “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles,” she said on Thursday. “I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.”

Manning’s jailing offers another glimpse into the government’s secretive investigation into Wikileaks, which was started under the Obama Administration and picked up by the Trump Administration. Manning served seven years in prison for leaking the infamous “collateral murder” tape to Wikileaks, by far the longest prison term ever served for leaking government secrets. Manning, who transitioned to a woman during her time in prison, twice tried to commit suicide before she was pardoned by Obama. Late last year, an accidental leak of some information in the case revealed that Assange had been charged under seal last summer. And while Manning has decided to refuse to cooperate, a Wikileaks volunteer recently agreed to testify against Assange in exchange for immunity. The grand jury has been investigating Assange for nine years.

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This is the worst condemnation of US media to date. And I betcha, no-one sees it that way. Whatever Mueller says, minds are made up. By what then? Can only be unproven accusations.

And it has similarities with the Chelsea Manning disaster: When will the first Republican refuse to testify before Nadler’s committee? In both cases people are looking to confirm pre-established narratives, if need be by force.

On Trump’s Ties To Russia, Americans Have Made Up Their Minds – Poll (R.)

Only a small number of Americans have not yet made up their minds about whether Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign coordinated with Russian officials, according to new Reuters/Ipsos polling, which also showed deep divisions in the United States in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. Eight out of 10 Americans decided almost immediately about Trump campaign ties to Moscow and only about two in 10 appear to be undecided, the opinion poll released on Friday showed. About half of Americans believe President Trump tried to stop federal investigations into his campaign, the survey found. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to soon wrap up his investigation into U.S. allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. political process as well as the Trump campaign links and possible obstruction of justice.

Moscow and Trump deny the allegations. Barring bombshell revelations, the survey results suggest the investigation’s influence on voters in the 2020 campaign may already have run its course. The Reuters/Ipsos poll has tracked public opinion of the investigation since Mueller was appointed in May 2017 following Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey, gathering responses from more than 72,000 adults. Public opinion appears to have hardened early, changing little over the past two years despite a string of highly publicized criminal charges against people associated with the Trump campaign. Every time respondents were asked about the investigation, about 8 in 10 Democrats said they thought the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 7 in 10 Republicans said they did not.

With so few voters left undecided, the report expected from Mueller looks unlikely to serve as a significant voter turnout tool for Republicans or Democrats in November 2020 and could backfire on Democrats if they overplay it. “We keep waiting for something to happen during the Trump era to vastly change the way people view him,” said Kyle Kondik, a non-partisan analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “Maybe at this point there just aren’t many minds left to change.”

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The media can’t let go of Russiagate, no matter what Mueller says, it would leave them empty handed. So they play into the fact that Americans have their minds made up anyway. Scary when you think about it.

Trump’s Private Talks With Putin May Contain Clues To His Russia Romance (G.)

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as president he has met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, five times. The details of their conversations remain unknown to the public, and in most cases even to senior administration officials. Democrats in Congress are now demanding more details of communications between the two leaders. Secrecy around such meetings, they say, raises fresh questions about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin at a time when his ties to Russia are the subject of several investigations. The meetings with Putin are not the only subject of such Democratic demands. House leaders left little room for doubt this week that they will utilize their newly minted majority to cast a wide net around the president, his family and their businesses.

The judiciary committee issued document requests to 81 individuals and entities, seeking information on everything from contacts between Trump aides and Moscow to hush money payments to women and possible obstruction of justice. [..] Democrats now say Trump’s reportedly forceful attempts to conceal his communications with Putin raise questions about his motivations in pursuing closer relations with a regime largely regarded as a primary adversary. In a joint letter this week, the chairs of the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees raised “profound national security, counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections.

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Discussions America should have but refuses. The Dem old guard wants things to stay as they were/are. But the party must change in radical ways.

Ilhan Omar Criticizes Obama And Past Presidents’ ‘Really Bad Policies’ (MW)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) says former President Barack Obama’s promise of “hope and change” was just a mirage in a Politico interview that hit on Friday. The magazine profile explains that when she ran for office in 2016, she was fed up with the Democratic Party — not so much Trumpism or politics in general. Omar also reminded the interviewer that there was “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Obama administration. (Obama was called the “deporter-in-chief” by immigrant rights advocates for the record number of undocumented immigrants deported during his presidency; ICE deportations peaked at 409,849 in 2012. But it dropped to almost half of that by 2017.) mAnd she called out the “droning of countries around the world” under Obama. A 2015 report claimed that nearly 90% of people killed in recent drone strikes in the Middle East “were not the intended targets.”

The interview dropped the day after the House passed a resolution condemning bigotry that included anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination, which was a response to comments made by Omar, who accused people of having allegiances to foreign countries. (It did not mention Omar by name, however.) Her comments to Politico suggest she doesn’t mind being at the center of controversy. “As much as other people are uncomfortable, I’m excited about the change in tone that has taken place that is extremely positive … and my ability, I think, to agitate our foreign policy discussions in a way that many of my colleagues who have been anti-intervention, antiwar have been unable to do in the past,” she said. “So, I’m OK with taking the blows if it means it will ignite conversations that no one was willing to have before.”

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Is the Guardian finally standing up for May? Bit late, isn’t it?

EU’s Barnier Sets May On Course For Brexit Defeat (G.)

Theresa May appears set for a second humiliating defeat when she brings her Brexit deal back to parliament next week, after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rebuffed her pleas for last-minute concessions. The prime minister urged MPs to “get it done” and back her deal, in an impassioned speech at a dockside warehouse in the leave-voting town of Grimsby. A vote against the deal would mean “not completing Brexit and getting on with all the other important issues people care about, just yet more months and years arguing”, May told MPs. “If we go down that road we might never leave the EU at all.”

Addressing workers from Ørsted, a Danish energy and wind turbine firm, May also urged the EU to make new concessions over the Irish backstop – the issue that caused many of her MPs to vote against the deal the first time – before last-ditch talks in Brussels this weekend. The EU “has to make a choice too”, the prime minister said. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote. “European leaders tell me they worry that time is running out and that we only have one chance to get it right. My message to them is: now is the moment for us to act.”

But Barnier immediately appeared to rebuff the prime minister, by responding with an offer of reverting to his original plan, the Northern Ireland-only backstop, which May repeatedly said no prime minister could accept, because it risked creating a border in the Irish Sea. The EU’s chief negotiator said in a series of tweets that the EU was committed “to give the UK the option to exit the single customs territory unilaterally, while the other elements of the backstop must be maintained to avoid a hard border. [The] UK will not be forced into a customs union against its will.” The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, immediately replied: “With a very real deadline looming, now is not the time to rerun old arguments. The UK has put forward clear new proposals. We now need to agree a balanced solution that can work for both sides.”

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If a tree falls in a forest….

Corbyn Tells May Second Defeat For Her Deal Is ‘The End Of The Road’ (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned Theresa May not to make a third attempt to ram through her Brexit deal if it crashes to its expected defeat next week, saying it must be “the end of the road”. The prime minister has not ruled out a third “meaningful vote” if MPs reject her agreement next week – even with the scheduled exit day from the EU just three weeks away. But, speaking to Labour activists in Scotland, Mr Corbyn said Ms May must accept that defeat on Tuesday would “represent an unprecedented failure in British political history”. “Having already failed once to get her deal through, I want to make it clear to the prime minister if she fails again it will be the end of the road for her deal,” the Labour leader said.

“There is no coming back from it. There can be no more playing for time.” Mr Corbyn again insisted Labour’s softer Brexit proposals could secure agreement both at Westminster and in Brussels, following his “discussions with Michel Barnier” [the EU negotiator]. However, he also insisted Labour was not “obsessed” by Brexit like other parties – pointing to poverty and climate change as the issues that really matter. “Turn on the news at the moment and you’ll hear endlessly about constitutional issues. Brexit. Independence. It borders on the obsessive,” he told a conference in Dundee. “You don’t hear so much about the children arriving hungry to school or how the teachers at one nursery have had to arrange for Tesco and Greggs to donate their leftovers so they can feed the kids.”

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I think Moore has at least a partial burden of proof here. Just shouting out stuff isn’t good enough at this stage. Suggesting that research is good only if it’s paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M is quite the stretch. Even if politics and business are indeed eyeing huge profits off of going green and off people’s ignorance about what that means.

Greenpeace Co-Founder Thrashes Global Warming ‘Brainwashing’ Campaign (RT)

Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore had harsh words for the modern environmental movement, calling global warming “the greatest scam in history” and denouncing the use of “fear and guilt” to push the message. “The climate catastrophe is strictly a fear campaign – well, fear and guilt,” Moore told Breitbart radio host Rebecca Mansour. “You’re afraid you’re killing your children because you’re driving them in your SUV and emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and you feel guilty for doing that. There’s no stronger motivation than those two.” “This abomination that is occurring today in the climate issue is the biggest threat to the enlightenment that has occurred since Galileo.”

“Nothing else comes close,” Moore insisted, likening the contemporary environmental movement to “a toxic mix of ideology, of politics and religion.” “CO2 is the food for life! It’s not pollution,” the would-be heretic declared, claiming that the use of fossil fuels had actually “saved life from an early demise” because CO2 had been declining since the last ice age, with barely enough for the earth’s plant life to sustain itself, until humanity stepped into the breach during the Industrial Revolution. Moore, who founded the pioneering environmental activist group almost 50 years ago to protest nuclear war, met with an outpouring of support from conservatives and weary Democrats alike, after tweeting a scathing rebuke earlier this week to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose quixotic Green New Deal has become the standard-bearer of the 21st century environmental movement.

“And so you’ve got the green movement creating stories that instill fear in the public. You’ve got the media echo chamber — fake news — repeating it over and over and over again to everybody that they’re killing their children, and then you’ve got the green politicians who are buying scientists with government money to produce fear for them in the form of scientific-looking materials, and then you’ve got the green businesses, the rent-seekers and the crony capitalists who are taking advantage of massive subsidies, huge tax write-offs, and government mandates requiring their technologies to make a fortune on this, and then of course you’ve got the scientists who are willingly, they’re basically hooked on government grants.

When they talk about the 99 percent consensus [among scientists] on climate change, that’s a completely ridiculous and false numbers, but most of the scientists — put it in quotes, scientists — who are pushing this catastrophic theory are getting paid by public money. They are not being paid by General Electric or Dupont or 3M to do this research, where private companies expect to get something useful from their research that might produce a better product and make them a profit in the end because people want it — build a better mousetrap type of idea — but most of what these so-called scientists are doing is simply producing more fear so that politicians can use it control people’s mind and get their votes because some of the people are convinced, ‘Oh, this politician can save my kid from certain doom.’

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The collapse may happen soon, but likely not because of an old topic like this.

Italy’s Government On Verge Of Collapse Over A Train (ZH)

With the Italian government seemingly on the verge of collapse every few months, and with tensions between the two parties in the ruling coalition – Five Star and the League, especially as the former has been sliding in the polls at the expense of the latter’s rising popularity – escalating in recent weeks, it was only a matter of time before Italian bondholders had a PTSD flashback to May 2018 when the populist government first stormed on the stage, sending Italian bonds plunging. All that was missing was a catalyst. Said catalyst emerged as a lingering dispute within Italy’s ruling coalition over the future of a train, or technically a high-speed rail link with France, escalated suddenly on Thursday, once again raising the risk of a government collapse, with the 5-Star chief accusing his partner of acting irresponsibly.

The Alpine rail line has been backed by the ruling League party but is fiercely opposed by its coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, which argues Italy’s share of the funding would be better spent upgrading existing roads and bridges. And after League leader, the outspoken Matteo Salvini who continues to enjoy rising popularity with every new poll, said in an evening television interview he would not back down and his party would “never sign” a decree to block the project, 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio accused him of threatening to bring down the government.

While the tensions between Di Maio and Salvini were for the most part contained before closed doors, the animosity between the two “equal” vice premiers erupted in public when Di Maio said in a statement that Salvini “will bear the responsibility before millions of Italians” adding that he considers “this to be irresponsible behavior” adding that he was “stunned by the threat of a government crisis” coming from Salvini. The TAV project (Treno Alta Velocita) is a joint venture between the Italian and French states to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58-km (36-mile) tunnel through the Alps on which work has already begun. According to Reuters, the EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of costs, Italy up to 35 percent and France up to 25 percent.

Earlier on Thursday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that recently updated traffic projections for the line warranted a review of the project’s long-term viability and, if necessary, a renegotiation of the way the funding is split. Conte told reporters he had strong personal doubts about the validity of the venture and he would take responsibility for a final decision based on a cost-benefit analysis already carried out by the government. That analysis, commissioned by Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, a 5-Star politician, found the TAV was a waste of public money, estimating the economic return would be a negative balance of $7.9-$8.8 billion. Conte, who is technically not a member of either party but is closer to 5-Star, called the funding of the TAV “iniquitous” and said he would speak to France and the EU “to share our doubts and perplexities.”

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Like the part where Big Pharma gets the big subsidies.

Dutch Pharmacies Join Backlash At Expensive Drugs By Making Their Own (R.)

In a radiation-proof room at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Emar Thomasa sits behind shielded glass as he carefully measures and mixes lutetium octreotate, an intravenous treatment for certain types of cancer. The Dutch hospital has been offering it to patients for more than a decade at 16,000 euros ($18,000) for one course of treatments. Drug firm Novartis, which in 2018 acquired rights to sell it in Europe, is asking more than five times that for its proprietary version, Lutathera. Thomasa is part of a protest against high drug prices launched by an unlikely group of rebels: Dutch pharmacies.

Three – Erasmus, Amsterdam’s University Medical Center (UMC) and the Transvaal Pharmacy in The Hague – have vowed to bypass drug company products and make treatments for a handful of rare diseases themselves, exercising their right to “compound” medicines. The Dutch market is small, with only hundreds of patients for the diseases in question. But the dispute is part of a growing global backlash against high drug prices, from the United States and Canada to Japan, and campaigners said it was being closely watched by health experts elsewhere. “People with rare diseases are dependent on medicines that are so expensive that they can’t afford them, when they could be offered for a much lower price,” said UMC pharmacist Marleen Kemper.

“The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in developing good products, but we think it’s not fair if these firms make big money off these patients.” Compounding is the ancient practice of preparing medicines for individual patients. Pharmacists are trained to compound, though nowadays most medicines are made by industrial producers. Drug companies have raised concerns about the safety of compounded medicines that have not been approved by European regulators. But the specialized compounding pharmacies, which have on-site laboratories, have been backed by the Dutch government as part of efforts to tame rapidly rising medicine costs.

[..] The first two drugs targeted by Dutch pharmacies are Novartis’s Lutathera and a drug called CDCA, registered in Europe by Leadiant. High prices are not unusual for new rare disease drugs, as companies must recoup development costs from a relatively small group of patients. Novartis charges 92,000 euros for a one-off course of four Lutathera injections. But while the drug is innovative, its development costs were relatively small and cannot justify the price tag, said Erasmus MC Chief Executive Ernst Kuipers. Main development costs amounted to about 40 million euros, including 15 million euros in public funding, according to Erasmus – where most of the testing took place – and a review published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine.

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Jim at his best.

A Place of Your Own (Jim Kunstler)

I don’t think you can overstate the damage we’ve done to ourselves in the sheer material arrangement of our national life. A decade ago, I sat in on many zoning board meetings called to approve new WalMarts and other chain-stores around my region of upstate New York and southern Vermont. Inevitably, the companies organized a claque of locals in the meeting hall — itself a depressing, low-ceilinged chamber of cinder blocks and fluorescent lighting — to fill the seats and yell in support of “bargain shopping.” That was some bargain they got. The chain-stores got approved and the Main Streets died, but that wasn’t the end of it. This dynamic also destroyed networks that gave local citizens an economic and social place.

Locally owned business people were the caretakers of the town. They took care of two buildings — their place of business and their home. They sat on library, school, and hospital boards and donated money to running local institutions. They employed people who lived in town and there were consequences for treating them well or badly. There was even a time in this country when local business people wouldn’t dare to put up an insultingly ugly building. A lot of this economic behavior has produced the social perversities of our time. Exterminating an entire class of local merchants has eliminated the heart of the American middle-class and grotesquely concentrated the nation’s wealth among corporate leviathans who comprise one percent of the population.

It also eliminated the place where young people learned how to do business, preparing themselves to try ventures of their own, and to make a place for themselves in the world. What is your place now? A cubicle in the marketing department of Old Navy? An aisle in the Home Depot? A desk in the Diversity and Inclusion office of some State University, pushing to sort the student population into racial and sexual categories because all other ways of belonging in society are gone? Or do you occupy ten square feet of sidewalk with a tarp and a shopping cart? None of those places are liable to furnish a personal sense that life is worth living.

Read more …

Mar 082019
 
 March 8, 2019  Posted by at 10:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Visage 1928

 

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 47 Months In Prison (ZH)
ECB’s Surprise Policy Moves Send Shivers Through Global Stock Markets (MW)
US Dollar Hits 52-Week High on New ECB Stimulus (WS)
China Exports Fall 20.7% In February; Trade Data Much Weaker (CNBC)
China’s February Trade Surplus With US Narrows Sharply To $14.72 Billion (R.)
US Households See Biggest Decline In Net Worth Since Financial Crisis (CNBC)
Fed QE Unwind Reaches $501 Billion, Balance Sheet Falls Below $4 Trillion (WS)
Germany Won’t Ban Huawei, Says Ready To Oppose US Pressure (RT)
May Urges EU To Agree Brexit Backstop Changes (BBC)
Corbyn Backtracks On Final Say Referendum (Ind.)
British Life Expectancy Falls By Six Months (G.)
Default Or Exit: A Battle Between Italy And The EU Is Inevitable (OR)
Blackout Darkens Much Of Venezuela (AFP)
This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct” (Cohen)
Chelsea Manning Risks Jail To Fight WikiLeaks Grand Jury (SP)

 

 

Shimon Prokupecz from the courtroom: “Judge tells the courtroom that Manafort is not being sentenced for anything related to the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference. Ellis said “He is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government”

So what’s the Guardian headline? “Trump-Russia figure Paul Manafort jailed”.

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 47 Months In Prison (ZH)

In a surprise decision that stands as a slap in the face to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Judge Ellis handed Paul Manafort a surprisingly light sentence of 47 months -or just under four years in prison – rejecting federal sentencing guidelines that recommended Manafort face up to 24 years in prison – a sentence that would have effectively condemned him to die in jail. Manafort was also fined $50,000 (equivalent to a few of Manafort’s bespoke suits) and ordered to pay restitution of $25 million. At this rate, Manafort might be out before Mueller finally wraps up his probe.

Early in the trial, Manafort appeared headed for a stiff sentence despite showing up in court in a wheelchair and green prison jumpsuit. Initially, after a lengthy review of Manafort’s charges, Ellis, who presided over Manafort’s August trial, said he would reject his lawyers’ request for leniency and accused the former Trump campaign executive of not being entirely forthcoming with the court about his finances. Furthermore, he refused to give him credit for accepting responsibility for his crimes, and also rejected his lawyers’ argument that the fact that Manafort hadn’t been found complicit in Russian collusion detracted from the charges for which he was convicted. When it came time for their statement, prosecutors told the judge Manafort offered little meaningful help during his 50 hours of meetings with investigators, and that the main reason he spent so much time with investigators was because he had lied.

But when it came his turn to speak, Manafort sounded genuinely contrite, telling the judge he felt “humiliated and ashamed” for what he’d done, and that the last two years had been “the most difficult years for my family and I.” “I appreciate the fairness of the trial you conducted,” he said. “My life is professionally and financially in shambles.” In the first indication that the sentence would be lighter than many had anticipated, the judge told Manafort and the court that he felt the federal sentencing guidelines were too stiff, and that Manafort had led an “otherwise blameless” life. Ellis recommended that Manafort – who is reportedly suffering from gout and other unspecified health issues – serve his sentence in a Cumberland, Maryland prison camp. He also credited him with nine months already served.

Read more …

The power of central banks is destructive in every possible sense.

ECB’s Surprise Policy Moves Send Shivers Through Global Stock Markets (MW)

Mario Draghi has been grumbling about the deleterious side effects of trade tensions and other geopolitical worries for months, but the ECB’s surprise policy moves in the face of a slowing global economy appeared to bring the danger home to investors. Stocks on Wall Street fell alongside European equities, underlining rising worries among investors that weakness in the global economy could prove to be a drag on U.S. growth. While analysts had expected the ECB president to strike a dovish tone, policy makers went much further than anticipated.

First, the ECB extended its so-called forward guidance on ultralow interest rates, saying it doesn’t expect to begin lifting them until at least early 2020. That’s compared to its earlier plan to leave them on hold at least through the end of this summer. Second, the ECB launched its third iteration of a program of cheap loans — known as targeted long-term refinancing operations, or TLTROs — to eurozone banks. It all came as ECB staff slashed their macroeconomic forecasts, including reducing the outlook for 2019 GDP growth to 1.1% from a previous 1.7% and signaling that inflation will take even longer to reach the central bank’s target of near but just below 2%. Price stability is the ECB’s sole policy mandate.

Draghi’s comments on the economy were getting the blame from analysts and investors for a decline in European and, in part, U.S. stocks. The pan-European Stoxx Europe index ended 0.4% lower, while on Wall Street, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended with a loss of more than 200 points, or 0.8%, after declining 320 points at its session low. European government bonds rallied and the euro extended a decline versus the U.S. dollar.

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Draghi just scared friend and foe. Get rid of him, and his job. The damage is unthinkable.

US Dollar Hits 52-Week High on New ECB Stimulus (WS)

The Dollar Index (DXY), which tracks the dollar against the euro, yen, pound sterling, Canadian dollar, Swedish krona, and Swiss franc, and which is dominated by the euro, jumped 0.83% to 97.71 at the moment, hitting at least briefly its 52-week high, as the euro slumped 1.1% against the dollar, following the ECB’s announcement earlier today. But it wasn’t just a one-day event for the dollar, but an eight-day rally in an uptrend that started in early February. The real worry is the economy in the Eurozone – despite the fabulous stimulus the ECB has heaped on it for years, including a brutal negative-interest-rate policy and massive QE that has inflated the ECB’s balance sheet to over 40% of Eurozone GDP (by comparison, the Fed’s balance sheet is down to 19.5% of US GDP).

The Eurozone economy is deteriorating rapidly. In the post-meeting press conference today, ECB president Mario Draghi announced that the ECB had slashed its economic growth forecast for the Eurozone to 1.1% for 2019, a sharp cut from its forecast of 1.7% growth at the December meeting, and down from its 1.9% growth forecast last summer. “Incoming data have continued to be weak, in particular in the manufacturing sector, reflecting the slowdown in external demand compounded by some country and sector-specific factors,” the statement says.

Instead of admitting that its radical experimental monetary policies were a colossal error as the economic growth is now dwindling despite or because of the stimulus, and instead of gradually raising its policy rates above the rate of inflation to end its brutal “financial repression,” and instead of shedding the bonds on its balance sheet to push up long-term interest rates and force a restructuring of the bogged-down European economy so that it would liquidate or restructure the debts of zombie companies and lighten the load of restructured companies to allow them to have a fresh start – all of it at investors expense – the ECB does the opposite.

It promises new bank liquidity programs in the Eurozone which is already drowning in central-bank liquidity, to get banks to lend more to these zombie companies and keep them from restructuring their debts.

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When did that big Party meeting end?

China Exports Fall 20.7% In February; Trade Data Much Weaker (CNBC)

China on Friday reported worse than expected trade data for the month of February, customs data showed amid Beijing’s trade dispute with the U.S. Dollar-denominated exports plunged 20.7 percent for the month of February from a year ago, missing economists’ expectations of a 4.8 percent decline, according to a Reuters poll. January exports had risen 9.1 percent from a year ago. Dollar-denominated imports fell 5.2 percent in February from a year ago, missing economists’ forecast of a 1.4 percent fall. January imports had fallen 1.5 percent on-year. China’s February trade balance was also significantly weaker than expected at $4.12 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the overall trade balance to come in at $26.38 billion.

The country’s trade balance in January had been $39.16 billion. China’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. narrowed sharply to $14.72 billion in February from $27.3 billion in January. Although the 20.7 percent decline in Chinese exports for the month of February was a “big number” and the market will be “clearly disappointed,” the negative number should not come as a surprise as investors have been expecting a slowdown both globally and in China, said Sarah Lien, director and client portfolio manager at Eastspring Investments. “There are a lot of headwinds; there’s a lot of moving parts in market,” Lien told CNBC.

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So no currency manipulation needed?

China’s February Trade Surplus With US Narrows Sharply To $14.72 Billion (R.)

China’s trade surplus with the United States narrowed to $14.72 billion in February, from $27.3 billion in January, customs data showed on Friday. For January-February combined, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. stood at $42.1 billion. China’s large trade surplus with the United States has long been a sore point with Washington, and is at the center of a bitter dispute between the two countries. In 2018, the two governments imposed tit-for-tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Do note: what wealth there is, or is measured, sits in real estate and stocks, the very two biggest bubbles blown by the Fed. Net worth my donkey.

US Households See Biggest Decline In Net Worth Since Financial Crisis (CNBC)

Americans’ net worth fell at the highest level since the financial crisis in the fourth quarter of 2018 as sliding stock market prices ate into the household balance sheet. Net worth dropped to $104.3 trillion as the year came to an end, a decrease of $3.73 trillion from the third quarter, according to figures released Thursday by the Federal Reserve. The fall amounted to a drop of 3.4 percent. Much of the slide came due to Wall Street’s woes, as the stock market suffered a precipitous decline that started in October and briefly reached bear market status. Equities skidded as investors began to fear that the Fed would keep raising interest rates even as economic conditions began to deteriorate. By the time the market drop ended in late December, households saw $4.6 trillion worth of equity value deteriorate.

The decline was offset somewhat by a $300 billion increase in real estate value. The overall move was the second-highest quarterly dollar drop since the Fed began tracking the statistic. Overall, financial assets totaled just more than $85 trillion at the end of the year, while real estate value was $29.2 trillion. Household net worth has been rising strongly since the crisis and is up 73 percent since 2009. After suffering their worst Christmas Eve in history, stocks staged a turnaround and ultimately saw their best two-month start to a year since at least 1991. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is off about 1.6 percent in March though still up more than 9 percent year to date.

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Cui bono.

Fed QE Unwind Reaches $501 Billion, Balance Sheet Falls Below $4 Trillion (WS)

Over the next few months, the Fed is expected to announce its new plan for its balance sheet. Meanwhile, as we’re riveted to the edge of our seat, the old plan continues on autopilot, and February was one of the few months when the Treasury “roll-off,” as Chairman Jerome Powell likes to call it, hit the “caps.” In February, the Fed shed $57 billion in assets, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended March 6, released this afternoon. This slashed the assets on its balance sheet to $3,969 billion, the lowest since December 2013. Via its “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $501 billion. And since peak-balance-sheet at the end of 2014, the Fed has shed $547 billion:

During peak-balance-sheet at the end of 2014, total assets ($4.52 trillion) amounted to 26% of GDP. Today’s assets amount to 19.4% of GDP. In the years before QE started, the balance sheet ran around 6% of GDP. By comparison, the ECB’s balance sheet assets now exceed 40% of GDP, and the Bank of Japan’s assets amount to 101% of GDP. February’s drop of $57 billion is larger than the scheduled QE unwind that is capped at $50 billion. But the Fed has other activities that impact the balance sheet. QE revolved around Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). And so does the QE unwind.

[..] On February 15, three issues of Treasury securities on the Fed’s balance sheet totaling $43.5 billion matured. On February 28, three issues totaling $12.5 billion matured. This brought the total for the month to $56 billion – above the cap of $30 billion. So the Fed reinvested $26 billion in new Treasury securities and allowed $30 billion of Treasuries to “rolled off” the balance sheet without replacement. This reduced the total balance of Treasury securities by $30 billion, to $2,175 billion, the lowest since December 2013 – and down by $290 billion since the QE unwind began. This has whittled down the Treasuries acquired during the infamous “QE Infinity” by about one-third:

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When it comes to things like 5G networks, which cross borders, the rest of Europe has little choice but to follow Germany.

Germany Won’t Ban Huawei, Says Ready To Oppose US Pressure (RT)

Germany does not intend to prevent Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing 5G networks, the country’s economy minister said, adding that the EU stands ready to defend its interests, should a trade war with Washington escalate. Berlin will not pre-emptively ban any specific companies from bidding for contracts to develop the country’s next generation 5G mobile network, despite immense pressure from the United States to ostracize Huawei, Peter Altmaier said on Thursday evening, during a debate on ZDF television. “No, we will not want to exclude any company,” he stressed, explaining that the government is capable of implementing enough safeguards to protect Germany’s future networks.

Ignoring Washington’s earnest ‘concerns’ that, through Huawei systems, the Chinese government is planning to spy on the entire world, German authorities produced a list of telecom security requirements on Wednesday. Part of the new German rules requires certifying any security-related components with Germany’s IT security agency. The 5G network “may only be sourced from trustworthy suppliers whose compliance with national security regulations and provisions for the secrecy of telecommunications and for data protection is assured,” Germany’s Economic Ministry and the Federal Network Agency said in their guidelines. Thus Huawei, which has recently sued the US government demanding to see any proof behind their claims, can participate in the tendering process if it meets the requirements set out by Berlin.

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3 weeks to D-Day. Cue blame game.

May Urges EU To Agree Brexit Backstop Changes (BBC)

Theresa May will urge the EU to help get her Brexit deal through the Commons by agreeing legally binding changes to the controversial backstop. On Friday, she will say the EU’s actions will “have a big impact on the outcome” when MPs vote on it next week. But Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said it was now “clear” the PM “will not be able to deliver the changes she promised to her failed Brexit deal”. The EU says the UK must come forward with new ideas to break the deadlock. The UK is due to leave on 29 March.

Mrs May will visit workers in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, on Friday, days before the second “meaningful vote” in the Commons on the withdrawal deal she has negotiated with the EU. She will tell them: “Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. “We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.”

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Has Corbyn done anything not wrong?

Corbyn Backtracks On Final Say Referendum (Ind.)

Labour has admitted it will not support a new referendum on Brexit in all circumstances, in a major blow to those in the party campaigning for one. Sources close to the Labour leadership confirmed that the party is not advocating a referendum on anything other than a “damaging Tory Brexit” and will not support one if Britain leaves the EU on terms that Labour backs. The Independent has learnt that the issue was the subject of a row between Mr Corbyn’s shadow ministers that pitted Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry against Brexit-backing frontbenchers led by Jon Trickett. As it dawned on Labour Remainers today, a prominent MP who backs the People’s Vote campaign warned that a failure of the party to follow through on the pledge to back a new referendum would be seen as a “betrayal”.

It comes as deputy leader Tom Watson is in the process of forming a new “social democrat” group within the party, while eight MPs have quit the party, in large part over Brexit policy, to form the new Independent Group. Labour said last week that it would support a vote on any “credible” exit plan passed by parliament, and shadow ministers took to the airwaves to promise to demand a “confirmatory referendum” on “whatever deal may or may not pass through parliament”. However, sources have now told The Independent that the party will only support a referendum on a “damaging Tory Brexit” deal. Crucially, it is understood that Labour does not consider this to include the type of arrangement being proposed by former Conservative ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles, who Mr Corbyn held talks with yesterday. Their plan would keep the UK in the single market and a customs union with the EU.

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This should panic the country like nothing else. But instead all the talk is Brexit and they’re signaling the advantages for pension schemes of people dying younger.

British Life Expectancy Falls By Six Months (G.)

British adults’ life expectancy has been cut by six months in the biggest reduction in official longevity forecasts. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy on behalf of the UK pension industry, declined to speculate on why longevity is deteriorating for men and women in England and Wales. Some analysts, however, blame austerity and cuts in NHS spending, others point to worsening obesity, dementia and diabetes. The institute said it now expects men aged 65 to die at 86.9 years, down from its previous estimate of 87.4 years, while women who reach 65 are likely to die at 89.2 years, down from 89.7 years. The actuaries said the evidence of slowing life expectancy that first emerged around 2010-11 is “a trend as opposed to a blip”. Falling longevity has accelerated.

Last year’s analysis cut forecasted life expectancy by two months. This year it took off another six months. Compared with 2015, projections for life expectancy are now down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women. Flat or falling longevity has major implications for health, finance and government policy. The state pension age is planned to rise to 68 in 2037, and the government has floated the idea of increasing it to 70 but will come under pressure to backtrack if longevity drops. [..] Pension companies have already begun to cash in on falling expectations. This week Legal & General said it was releasing £433m of the reserves it holds to pay future pensions because of the reductions in longevity expectations.

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European parliament elections in May. That will bring a lot into the open.

Default Or Exit: A Battle Between Italy And The EU Is Inevitable (OR)

There is a dual Italian crisis brewing in the European Union. On the one hand, it is a political, or even geopolitical, crisis. Italy is undermining the unity of the European Union; blocking the EU’s recognition of those behind the coup in Venezuela as the legitimate authority; preventing the expansion of sanctions against Russia; and even supporting the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France, which is arousing the anger of the French government. On the other hand, the crisis is economic in nature. Italy is once more sliding into a recession (economic growth was negative in the country); Italian banks are again facing financial problems; and the business media has already estimated that the Italian economic crisis could blow up the entire European banking system.

There is a strong possibility that the EU’s leaders will soon be faced with a choice: try to save Italy (and the whole of Europe) from yet another crisis or set an example by punishing the Italian government for the country’s independent economic and foreign policies. In turn, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government will most likely have its own dilemma to deal with: bow down and sell its principles to get help from Brussels or go all out and regain Italian independence. The choice will not be easy and either decision will be painful. Neither ending to this Italian drama could really be called happy. As this headline in The Telegraph quite rightly notes: “Crisis brewing in Italy will lead to default, exit from the euro, or both.”

[..] To really understand the Italian problem, it should be borne in mind that, as a member of the European Union and the eurozone, Italy does not have full national sovereignty, especially when it comes to economic matters. It does not control the monetary policy of the European Central Bank and cannot even prepare a budget in line with the wishes of its own government or parliament without the risk of running into sanctions or fines from the European Commission. What’s more, Italian eurosceptic politicians suspect that the European Commission (in which the main roles belong to people hand-picked by Germany, France and the US) is punishing Italy and literally strangling its economy because of a political dislike of the Italian government’s geopolitical actions.

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If this happens more often it won’t be a coincidence.

Blackout Darkens Much Of Venezuela (AFP)

Most of Venezuela plunged into darkness on Thursday evening as a blackout served up more misery for people enduring an economic crisis that has fueled a potent challenge to President Nicolas Maduro’s rule. The socialist government quickly blamed the outage affecting 23 of the country’s 24 states on what it called sabotage of a major hydroelectric dam. In Caracas, traffic lights went out and the subway system ground to a halt, triggering gridlock in the streets and huge streams of angry people trekking long distances to get home from work. The blackout in the capital was total and hit at 4:50 pm (2050 GMT), just before nightfall. Caracas is one of the world’s most crime-ridden cities so people set out for home early, well before the sun went down.

Commerce was shut down because most transactions are done with debit or credit cards. Hyperinflation has rendered the local currency, the bolivar, almost worthless. Telephone services and access to the internet were also knocked out. The capital’s international airport was hit, according to social media posts from would-be travelers. A Copa Libertadores football game in the city of Barquisimeto was postponed. As night set in, the nationwide outage dragged on and some people in Caracas banged pots and pans – a traditional Latin American method of letting off steam. About seven hours after the mess started, the lights did come back on in some buildings in eastern Caracas.

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But campaign finance!

This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct” (Cohen)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reportedly still considering a symbolic “show vote” in Congress on an anti-Semitism and “hate” resolution – which would offer all the authenticity and honesty of a Soviet show trial. If Pelosi proceeds, it will prove Rep. Ilhan Omar’s point about the inordinate influence wielded over Congress by the “Israel-right or-wrong”/AIPAC lobby and its power to stifle criticism of Israel. The anti-Omar resolution, whether mentioning Omar or not, was originated by two Democrats who are among Congress’s most longstanding pro-Israel diehards: Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey. Both endorsed Bush’s Iraq invasion. Both opposed Obama’s Iran nuke deal. Both supported Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

I’m a proud Jew raised in a liberal family that supported civil rights and human rights. My experience growing up during the 1950s and 1960s was typical of many Jewish Americans. Like many Jews with this background, I’ve grown increasingly ashamed of Israel. For 40 years, Israel has been ruled mostly by a series of right-wing governments – more and more openly racist and abusive of Palestinian rights. It’s not the land of tree-planting, kibbutzim and “a country treating its Arab minority nicely” that we were sold as youngsters. That’s why a large number of proud Jewish Americans – raised to believe in civil liberties and open discussion – are appalled by the campaign to muzzle Rep. Ilhan Omar, as well as Speaker Pelosi’s role in it. We’re also appalled that human-rights-abusing Israel is virtually off-limits to debate.

[..] Rep. Omar has made a simple and undeniable point – that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the funding it [receives] influences exert extraordinary power over Congress. Disputing that point is flat-earther terrain. The Capitol Hill farce of an “anti-hate” resolution would provide still more evidence on behalf of her argument.

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We lock up our best, brightest and bravest. It’s the only way we can continue on our present paths. But there should be a big Hollywood movie in the works about Chelsea Manning as a role model for all young Americans.

Chelsea Manning Risks Jail To Fight WikiLeaks Grand Jury (SP)

Chelsea Manning will face a closed contempt hearing after she refused to answer questions during proceedings held by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that is investigating WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks grand jury investigation has been ongoing in some form or another in Alexandria since at least December 2010. It was convened by the Justice Department in response to disclosures Manning made to WikiLeaks in 2010, when she was an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. What Manning disclosed exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable conduct by U.S. government officials. But she arrested, subject to a court-martial, and convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other related offenses.

She received a 35-year sentence and was released after six years in military prisons because a grassroots campaign successfully pressured President Barack Obama to commute her sentence. “A judge will consider the legal grounds for my refusal to answer questions in front of a grand jury. The court may find me in contempt and order me to jail,” Manning stated. On March 6, Manning appeared before the grand jury after she was granted immunity for her testimony. “All of the substantive questions pertained to my disclosures of information to the public in 2010—answers I provided in extensive testimony during my court-martial in 2013. I responded to each question with the following statement: ‘I object to the question and refuse to answer on the grounds that the question is in violation of my First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment, and other statutory rights.’”

Manning added, “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles. I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.” She could face up to 18 months in jail if she is found “in contempt” of court. A legal attempt to quash the subpoena prior to her appearance before the grand jury was rejected by a federal judge on March 5. Grand juries can be empaneled for 18 months, or if they are “special” grand juries, they may last up to 36 months. Over the past eight years, the grand jury has presumably gone through multiple iterations, either being renewed or relaunched.

According to a report from the Washington Post, the grand jury is interested in whether WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange solicited Manning to disclose documents. Manning testified during her court-martial about accounts linked to WikiLeaks, or WLO, that she communicated with. It is possible she communicated with Assange, but they never exchanged identifying information. “No one associated with the WLO pressured me into giving more information. The decisions that I made to send documents and information to the WLO and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Manning asserted. The grand jury would like to try and poke holes in Manning’s testimony to try and build a case against Assange and possibly other staff members of WikiLeaks.

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Mar 012019
 


Marcel Duchamp Sad young man on a train – Nude study 1911-12

 

 

Longtime Automatic Earth friend Alexander Aston talks about finding himself at Oxford at a point in time when the British themselves appear overcome by a combo of utter confusion and deadly lethargy, and one can only imagine what it must be like for ‘foreigners’ residing in Albion, who face large potential changes to their lives and know there’s not a thing they can do about it, not even vote.

I like the observation that the entire British political system, the place where decisions are made, is the size of a small village. That’s a visual we can all relate to. It’s a physical limit as well as a mental one. I’m all for sovereignty and self-determination, but how’s that going to work if you can’t even see the boundaries of your own territory?

 

Guys, it’s 4 weeks to D-Day today. How about we call off the landing, get a few pints instead, and talk? First round’s on me.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Alexander Aston: I arrived in the UK in 2015 to undertake interdisciplinary research at the University of Oxford. I am a child of the Empire, a cultural product of Britannia’s oldest colonies in the British Isles, her most important colony now turned empire as well as one of her youngest, Zimbabwe. The UK is both an intimately familiar society and yet one that is also strangely alien for me, like a wealthy, often charming and deeply abusive parent that sparks both self-recognition and rejection.

The ‘leave’ referendum occurred close to a year after I arrived in the UK and is one of the few political events over the past few years that surprised me. I suppose that I assumed, given the power and wealth afforded to UK elites by the EU, that those who benefited so greatly from the status quo would do anything to manipulate or fudge the results. Nonetheless, history decided to swerve, and over the past four years, I have watched the inhabitants of this island stumble into an profound identity crisis. Having spent a good portion of my life in Greece, I do not have particularly warm and cuddly feelings toward the European Union and was never a natural ‘remainer’.

The single markets and the long peace are significant achievements, and the ability for Europeans to move freely and form new discourses, relationships and endeavours has value that is impossible to quantify. The EU is technocratic, unaccountable and enthralled to a neoliberal ideology that knows only how to extract wealth from the most vulnerable and concentrate it in the hands of the most powerful. I have lived in Athens, I have family in Greece, I have seen well enough the true costs of EU membership.

What strikes me most in my experiences of the United Kingdom are the incredible levels of cognitive dissonance demanded by its media, politics and economics in order for the society to function. I live in one of the most expensive and unequal cities in the entire country. I am surrounded by the grandeur of powerful and wealthy institutions that are older than the Aztec empire and filled with some of the most powerful and elite humans on the planet and their heirs in waiting. Every time that I enter a building, go to a lecture, meet with a colleague, or sit for some grand meal in one of the colleges I must walk past dozens of human beings that are cold, hungry and occasionally dying on the streets.

 

This is in a country that provides social housing and millions in basic income to a single family, where it is accepted that the most vulnerable people are relentlessly bullied into poverty through cuts, inspections and ever increasing demands of performance. In a country where the Beatles and J.K. Rowling all started their careers on the dole. I don’t know the answers to our predicaments, but the conversation is extremely lopsided and blind to the real misery it is creating. Every time I walk through Oxford, I am filled with a profound sense of guilt and remorse, I marvel and benefit from the treasures surrounding me and I wonder… is this the best we can do? Are these the limits of our social imagination and creativity?

Shortly after I arrived, Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the leadership of the labour party. It was an early prefiguration of the political disruptions that were about to sweep the world. The neoliberal managerialism of New Labour had lost control, and its partisans wage an increasingly desperate guerrilla war with no small amount of aid from the establishment media.

Long before Brexit was a reality I became aware of the repetitious delirium of innuendo, slander and fear-mongering through which the media managed the perspective and narrative in the country, much like the American system but with its own uniquely British aesthetics and sense of authority. This somnambulant fever has only grown as the country has tripped and stumbled through the unexpected circumstances and self-engineered traps of austerity, political deadlock, and delusions of grandeur.

 

 

Day in and day out we are subjected to a litany of failure by one of the most incompetent governments in history while the media clucks, puffs and turns a path of ruin into mere spectacle. Yet, day after day we find ourselves in a state of inertia, nothing seems to change as the country hurtles towards historical rupture. The dissonance created between a seizing political system, PR firms masquerading as journalists and a dysfunctional economy requires that the people of the United Kingdom smooth over, ignore or forget the increasing contradictions of their lived experience.

Anthropologically speaking, the nuance of British culture that has perhaps had the most profound impact upon me is the detail to which the English are able to infer region, class and schooling through the voices of their fellow citizens. The subtle encoding of social hierarchies into the dialects and accents of the United Kingdom to degrees that I have never experienced in the rest of the Anglophone world. Despite my ignorance about many intricacies of British linguistics, one thing I do feel relatively confident about is that even though the English have the vast majority of the wealth and power in the United Kingdom, the Celts have received the warmer sense of humour.

For me, one of the few truly positive possible outcomes of Brexit is the potential for Irish reunification and even the chance of an emerging “Celtic sphere” to provide a new counterbalance in the British Isles. The partition of Ireland stems from one of the deepest and oldest wounds inflicted by the British Empire. It is an ironic twist of fate that the Tories now find themselves dependent upon the Unionist partisans and descendants that they so eagerly fostered to maintain dominance over Ireland. The United Kingdom’s mythology of itself has run headlong into the contradictions at the heart of its empire. The country that is partitioning itself from Europe finds its politics paralysed by an older act of partition.

The contradictions of Brexit have riven the political parties and the governing process has ground to a halt. It is an intractable predicament, the interests of the Unionists, Capitalist Utopianists, Neoliberal reactionaries, Political Elites, Nationalists, Independents and Socialists are all pulling in different directions. Consensus is only achieved in moments of near universal rejection, yet with no ability to pass any meaningful legislation the Tories only coalesce in obstinate refusal to change the situation.

 

Meanwhile the ship of state drifts towards a political, economic and moral abyss. What I can say from my time at Oxford is that the political masters of this country are indoctrinated with an imperial hubris in a political system that operates like a small village. The institutions of power here produce all too many children with no experience of the daily struggles of common people, that are all together convinced as to their entitlement to rule over millions with a PPE degree in hand.

The country is in an intractable prisoners dilemma, the logic of which makes a no-deal outcome highly possible. My fear with a no deal is that this would result in a bond shock, and with economic disruptions in Ireland, the Benelux, a France mired in a political crisis and the financial precarity of Italy all create excellent conditions for an absolutely roaring debt calamity. Yet, the UK blithely dithers on as Theresa May puts on her best performance of Neville Chamberlain and tries, tries again. The fact is that the government has lost all political legitimacy and Parliament is an omnishambles.

Those that lead us are so committed to their own narratives, so convinced of their acumen and power, so insulated by their privilege that they will sacrifice the health and prosperity of this nation in the absolute conviction that they are right and that all their problems are the fault of stupid people that don’t listen and do what they are told. The folks in the ERG think they only need sit on their hands and they can, they will, find themselves in a libertarian Aristocracy sea steading off the shores of Europe.

The London centric remainers think that they can paper over the past four years with a second referendum and that all can go back to normal and Brexit can be safely tucked away as a terrifying aberration. I am reminded of the H.L. Mencken quote that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

 

The only pathway I can see to restoring political legitimacy at this point is a general election. Only after an extension of article 50 and a new government has negotiated an alternative deal is it really feasible to begin speaking about holding further referendums that won’t cause great harm to democratic society. Citizen assemblies would need to be formed and plans for three referenda drawn up, a choice between Mays and the Alternative deal followed by a decision between the winning deal and a no-deal option which would culminate in a final choice between a popularly demanded type of Brexit and remaining within the European Union.

I, as the rest of us, have no idea where our current moment in history will lead. However, there are a few things that I feel confident are occurring. The long twentieth century that began in 1914 is at the end of its cycle. Whatever comes next will be something new, a difficult and demanding opportunity for profound creativity and the chance to step out of the long shadow of our past. In all ecosystems, diversity generates resilience. It is the reason and the strength of building consensus. Yet we cannot build consensus if we refuse, alienate and straw man the voices of others and refuse to examine and discuss the contradictory predicaments in which we find ourselves.

Those that lead us are blind, they are blind because they are true believers and they lack either the wit or compassion to imagine something different beyond more wealth extraction and violence. We have seen Neoliberalism’s Capitalist Utopia and it has failed. Only open and honest discourse coupled with pragmatic action will allow us to navigate to a new shore. I feel strongly about these things, that and that no matter what ones political persuasion, voting for the Tories should be beneath anyone’s dignity at this point.

To be awake from this collective dissonance we must approach our predicament with humility and honesty. Without a democratic commitment to an open and honest discussion, pragmatic decision making processes and a functioning political system capable of mitigating the worst damage, this country will become a mere serfdom ruled by Lilliputian lords.

 

 

“For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

 

 

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Feb 262019
 
 February 26, 2019  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali The Feeling of Becoming 1931

 

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)
18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)
Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)
Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)
With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)
Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)
Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD
Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)
Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)
Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)
Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

 

 

“..almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years..”

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)

Remember all those sub-prime mortgages that blew up in 2007 and popped the housing bubble? The widely-held consensus is that millions of them were foreclosed as housing markets cratered. [..] The truth is these mortgages are still dangerous and could soon undermine the housing recovery. Collectively, loans from the bubble period that were not guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac were called non-agency securitized mortgages. Researcher Black Box Logic had an enormous database of non-agency loans until it was sold to Moody’s three years ago. At the peak of the buying madness — November 2007 — its database showed 10.6 million loans outstanding with a total balance of $2.43 trillion.

In 2016, Fitch Ratings first published a spreadsheet showing what percentage of these loans had been delinquent for more than three-, four-, or five years. Here is an updated table showing the 10-worst states and how the number of deadbeat borrowers has soared.

In 2012, just 2% of all these delinquent borrowers had not paid for more than five years. Two years later that number had skyrocketed to 21%. Why? Mortgage servicers around the country had discontinued foreclosing on millions of delinquent properties. Homeowners got wind of this and realized they could probably stop making payments without any consequences whatsoever. So they did. Take a good look at the figures for 2016. Nationwide, almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years.

In the worst four states, more than half of them were long-term deadbeats. Notice also that four of the other states were those you would not expect to have this rampant delinquency — North Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland. Another way to gauge the extent of the problem is to look at the major metros with the highest delinquency rate. Here is a table of the 10 metros with the worst delinquency rate in early 2016, taken from Black Box Logic’s database.

Within the last two years, important graphs and tables showing the extent of the delinquency mess have disappeared from reports issued regularly by Fannie Mae, mutual fund provider TCW, and data provider Black Knight Financial Services. According to a TCW spokesperson, the graph is no longer published in the firm’s Mortgage Market Monitor because there did not seem to be much demand for it. Really? This graph had appeared in their report for years and showed the extremely high percentage of modified non-agency loans where the borrower had re-defaulted. Meanwhile, the omitted Fannie Mae table also showed the rising percentage of modified Fannie Mae loans that had re-defaulted. Its last published table showed re-default rates of almost 40%. Do you think these important omissions are just coincidence?

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25% in 2019 alone?!

18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)

The housing market has taken a turn for the worse moving deeper into the decline of a debt-financed asset bubble, possibly driving house prices to fall by as much as 25 per cent in 2019 on nominal terms, according to housing bear and analyst LF Economics. The group made up of Lindsay David and Philip Soos, who have authored books on boom and bust in housing markets, lists 18 factors that are putting extreme pressure on the Sydney and Melbourne markets. Their baseline prediction is a 15 per cent to 20 per cent fall in prices just in 2019 although 25 per cent is possible.

One of the main factors driving the pressure is $120 billion worth of interest-only loans that are transitioning to principal and interest loans between now and 2021. “Banks and regulators have already softened their stance on these borrowers, allowing some greater time to sell or extending the interest-only period ,” LF Economics said in a new report “Let The Bloodbath Begin”. “Nevertheless, with debt repayments rising anywhere between 20 [per cent] to 50 per cent upon conversion, many recent borrowers will be placed under considerable financial stress.”

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Question: how are the shadow banks linked to international trade?

Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)

Imports by China and other emerging Asian economies in December plunged to the lowest level in two years, in the steepest one-month plunge since 2008, after having already plunged in November, according to the Merchandise World Trade Monitor, released on Monday by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. For November and December combined, imports by China and other Emerging Asian Economies plunged 13%, the steepest two-month plunge since November and December 2008 (-18%). In point terms, it was the largest plunge in the data going back to 2000. “Emerging Asia” includes China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Singapore. But China is by far the largest economy in the group, and by far the largest importer in the group.

The fact that imports into Emerging Asia are plunging is a sign of suddenly and sharply weakening demand in China. This type of abrupt demand-downturn was clearly visible in the double-digit plunge in new-vehicle sales in China over the last four months of 2018, plunging demand in many other sectors in China, and record defaults by Chinese companies. When it comes to China, “plunge is no longer an exaggeration. So the US trade actions against China – the variously implemented, threatened, or delayed tariffs – was largely geared toward hitting exports by China to the US. But it was imports that plunged! Exports from Emerging Asia too dropped in November and December, but not nearly as brutally as imports, down by 6.7% over the two months combined. And these drops were not all that unusual in the export index:

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Xi has lost control. There are reports about him being replaced, but that would be way into the future, if it happens.

Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)

For almost two years, the question has lingered over China’s market-roiling crackdown on financial leverage: How much pain can the country’s policy makers stomach? Evidence is mounting that their limit has been reached. From bank loans to trust-product issuance to margin-trading accounts at stock brokerages, leverage in China is rising nearly everywhere you look. While seasonal effects explain some of the gains, analysts say the trend has staying power as authorities shift their focus from containing the nation’s $34 trillion debt pile to shoring up the weakest economic expansion since 2009.

The government’s evolving stance was underscored by President Xi Jinping’s call for stable growth late last week, while on Monday the banking regulator said the deleveraging push had reached its target. “Deleveraging is dead,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. Investors reacted positively to the official remarks, with the more than 30 brokerages listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen up by the 10 percent daily limit on Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest lender by assets, rose 6.3 percent.

[..] China’s overall leverage ratio stood at 243.7 percent at the end of 2018, with corporate debt reaching 154 percent, household borrowings at 53 percent and government leverage at 37 percent, according to Zhang Xiaojing, deputy head of the Institute of Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Before that, the nation’s leverage ratio climbed at an average 12 percentage points each year between 2008 and 2016. China’s total debt will rise relative to GDPthis year, after a flat 2017 and a decline in 2018, Wang Tao, head of China economic research at UBS in Hong Kong, predicted in a report this month. While Wang cautioned that “re-leveraging” may increase concerns about China’s commitment to ensuring financial stability, investors have so far cheered the prospect of easier credit conditions.

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The shadows reign supreme in China.

“..a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019.”

With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)

Eager to pile into the world’s most-volatile major stock market with 10-to-1 leverage? China’s shadow bankers are happy to help – and that has the nation’s policy makers worried. Just hours after China’s CSI 300 Index notched a 6 percent surge on Monday, its biggest gain in more than three years, the country’s securities regulator warned of a rise in unregulated margin debt and asked brokerages to increase monitoring for abnormal trades. The China Securities Regulatory Commission’s statement followed a pickup in advertising by margin-finance platforms, which operate with little to no supervision and offer far more leverage than the country’s regulated securities firms.

While margin debt in China is much lower today than when it helped precipitate a market collapse in 2015, investors are taking on leverage quickly as they chase a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019. The risk is that a sudden reversal would force leveraged traders to sell, exacerbating volatility in a market that posted bigger swings than any of its peers over the past 30 days. That prospect may unnerve Chinese policy makers, who have a history of trying to protect the nation’s 147 million individual investors from outsized losses. “If the market continues to go up, the situation will get worse and so will the risks,” said Yang Hai, an analyst at Kaiyuan Securities Co. in Shanghai. “Under the current regulatory scope, investors have to shoulder risks themselves.”

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Finally someone talks to Volcker and he doesn’t say anything.

Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker has some serious fears about the banking industry. And he believes supporting regulators to combat those fears is imperative. Speaking to analyst Mike Mayo in a CFA Enterprising Investor interview published on Monday, Volcker said that he’s “concerned” about the current “culture of the financial system, banking in particular.” He told Mayo that banks have been dominated by “how much profit the firm (and you) make.” And he believes that the focus on profitability could ultimately affect corporate oversight. “What’s the role of directors in keeping culture under control?” he asked. “Can the directors of a big bank really do an effective job of overseeing an institution? Or do they see their job as protecting the CEO who they appointed?

Or maybe the CEO appointed them, so there is a certain amount of built in mutual interest in ducking emphasis on internal controls.” Volcker, who served as Fed chairman during the Carter and Reagan administrations, has been one of the more vocal supporters of controlling and regulating banks. He’s the namesake for the Volcker Rule, which aims at limiting banking activity and bank interaction with hedge funds and private equity funds. It also puts the onus on banks to protect customers. In his interview with Mayo, Volcker talked about the importance of banks protecting their customers. He said that a right and good banking culture is one where “the customer comes first.” The issue, however, is that banks sometimes fail in doing that, Volcker said.

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No kidding.

Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD

The global economy faces escalating risks from rising levels of corporate debt, with companies around the world needing to repay or refinance as much as $4tn (£3.1tn) over the next three years, according to the OECD. Sounding the alarm over the scale of the debt mountain built up over the past decade since the last financial crisis, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that global company borrowing has ballooned to reach $13tn by the end of last year – more than double the level before the 2008 crash. Nearly the equivalent of the entire US Federal Reserve balance sheet – roughly $4tn – will need to be repaid or refinanced over the coming years, the report said. However, the task is complicated by cooling economic growth from trade tensions and a slower rate of expansion in China ..

Financial market investors have grown increasingly concerned that high debt levels in the US could turn a looming slowdown for the world’s largest economy into a full-blown recession. High debt levels in several other nations as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates has also rattled financial markets in recent months. According to research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, a potential meltdown in the US bond market is the second biggest risk to the world economy after the US-China trade standoff, amid a combination of global economic headwinds “more wide-ranging and complex than at any point since the great recession”. The IMF has previously warned of gathering “storm clouds” for the world economy, including from trade tensions and heightened levels of debt – particularly in China.

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.. since 1999, Germans on average cumulatively richer by $26,120. Italians poorer by $84,000.

Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)

The eurozone’s single currency, the euro, has been a serious drag on the economic growth of almost every member of the bloc, according to a study by German think tank, the Centre for European Politics (CEP).
Germany and the Netherlands, however, have benefited enormously from the euro over the 20 years since its launch, the study showed. The currency triggered credit and investment booms by extending the benefits of Germany’s low interest-rate environment across the bloc’s periphery. However, those debts became hard to sustain after the 2008 financial crisis, with Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus forced to seek financial aid as growth slowed and financing became scarce.

According to CEP, over the entire period since 1999, Germans were on average estimated to be cumulatively richer by €23,000 ($26,120) than they would otherwise have been, while the Dutch were €21,000 ($23,850) wealthier. To compare, Italians and French were each €74,000 ($84,000) and €56,000 ($63,600) poorer, respectively. The survey did not include one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies, Ireland, due to a lack of appropriate data. [..] In the first few years after its introduction, Greece gained hugely from the euro but since 2011 has suffered enormous losses,” the authors wrote, explaining that over the whole period, Greeks were each €190 ($216) richer than they would have been.

The study concluded that since the loser countries could no longer restore their competitiveness by devaluing their currencies, they had to double down on structural reforms. Spain was highlighted as a country that was on track to erase the growth deficit it had built up since the euro’s introduction. “Since 2011, euro accession has resulted in a reduction in prosperity. Losses reached their peak in 2014. Since then, they have been falling steadily,” said the report, adding: “The reforms that have been carried out, are paying off.”

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Corbyn should have been much more concerned about his credibility. This late in the game, does it even matter anymore?

Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has finally thrown his party’s weight behind a second EU referendum, backing moves for a fresh poll with remain on the ballot paper if Labour should fail to get its own version of a Brexit deal passed this week. The decision to give the party’s backing to a second referendum follows a concerted push by the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, and deputy leader, Tom Watson, who fear any further delay could have led to more defections to the breakaway Independent Group (TIG), whose members all back a second referendum. Although the move has delighted MPs who are backing the People’s Vote campaign, Corbyn is likely to face determined opposition from dozens of MPs in leave seats if the party whips to back a second referendum, including a significant number of frontbenchers.

The former shadow minister Lucy Powell said she believed at least 25 MPs would vote against any whip to back a second referendum, meaning that it would face an uphill struggle to pass the Commons without significant Conservative support. A private briefing sent to Labour MPs on Monday night and seen by the Guardian makes it clear that Labour’s policy would be to include remain as an option in any future referendum. “We’ve always said that any referendum would need to have a credible leave option and remain,” the briefing said. “Obviously at this stage that is yet to be decided and would have to be agreed by parliament.”

The briefing also makes it clear that the party would not support no deal being included on the ballot paper. “There’s no majority for a no-deal outcome and Labour would not countenance supporting no deal as an option,” the briefing says. “What we are calling for is a referendum to confirm a Brexit deal, not to proceed to no deal.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1100294356706168832

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No matter how big the political mess,

UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)

The US has lent its backing to Britain to protect the City from losing trillions of pounds of complex financial derivatives business after Brexit, warding off a potential banking industry land grab by the EU. In a joint announcement heralded as a sign of the special relationship between the UK and the US, the two countries said they would take every step to ensure the continued trading of derivatives across the Atlantic under every Brexit eventuality. Derivatives are financial contracts widely used by companies to manage risks, ranging from hedging against changes in central bank interest rates to fluctuations in commodity prices. Brexit threatens to unpick trading in the UK, even with the US, as City banks currently operate under EU rules while Britain is a member of the bloc.

Under the steps announced by the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, firms working in the US and the UK will continue to meet the requirements required to operate in both countries, even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. London and New York sit at the centre of the world’s multitrillion-pound derivatives market, with the US and the UK controlling 80% of the $594tn (£454tn) a year business – worth more than five times world GDP. About a third of the £230tn of derivatives contracts traded in the UK every year come from US companies, more than any other jurisdiction. The development comes as Brussels prepares rules that would force clearing houses – financial institutions key to the trading of derivatives – outside the EU to come under the supervision of its regulators.

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This is getting awfully close to class justice. Monsanto has hundreds of the top lawyers, and what do the plaintiffs have?

Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)

Monsanto is facing its first federal trial over allegations that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, but a US judge has blocked attorneys from discussing the corporation’s alleged manipulation of science. In an extraordinary move in a packed San Francisco courtroom on Monday, US judge Vince Chhabria threatened to sanction and “shut down” a cancer patient’s attorney for violating his ban on talking about Monsanto’s influence on government regulators and cancer research. “You’ve completely disregarded the limitations that were set upon you,” the visibly angry judge said to attorney Aimee Wagstaff, threatening to prevent her from continuing. “If you cross the line one more time … your opening statement will be over … If I see a single inappropriate thing on those slides, I’m shutting you down.”

The unusual conflict in the federal courtroom has fueled concerns among Monsanto’s critics that the trial may be unfairly stacked against the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man who alleges that his exposure to Roundup over several decades caused his cancer. Building on longstanding allegations, Hardeman’s lawyers and other critics have argued that Monsanto has for years suppressed negative studies and worked to promote and “ghostwrite” favorable studies about its herbicide to influence the public and regulators.

In a blow to the plaintiffs, Chhabria this year approved Monsanto’s request to prohibit Hardeman’s attorneys from raising allegations about the corporation’s conduct, saying issues about its influence on science and government were a “significant … distraction”. That means jurors must narrowly consider the studies surrounding Roundup’s cancer risks, and if they rule that Monsanto caused Hardeman’s illness, then in a second phase the jury would learn about the company’s conduct when assessing liability and punitive damages.

[..] Wagstaff told the Guardian last week before trial began that the limitations on evidence in the first phase meant the “jury will only hear half of the story”. “The jury will hear about the science, but they won’t get to hear about how Monsanto influenced it,” she said. “The jury won’t have a complete understanding of the science. If we win without the jury knowing the complete science, that’s a real problem for Monsanto.” Chhabria repeatedly interrupted Wagstaff’s opening statement Monday morning, reminding jurors that her comments did not constitute evidence and should be taken with a “grain of salt”. He also asked her to speed up when she was introducing Hardeman and his wife and discussing how they first met in 1975.

Wagstaff spoke in detail about the research on cancer and glyphosate, about some of Monsanto’s involvement in studies, and about the company’s communications with the Environmental Protection Agency. [..] The restrictions on testimony about Monsanto’s conduct and alleged manipulation of science is likely to be a major detriment to Hardeman and future plaintiffs, said Jean M Eggen, professor emerita at Widener University Delaware Law School. “It was a brilliant move on the part of the defendant Bayer to try to keep [out] all of that information,” she said. “And it may pay off for them.”

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We paved paradise. Which is a much wider and bigger issue than just a climate one.

Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

Because of the heat needed to decompose rock and the natural chemical processes involved in making cement, every tonne made releases one tonne of C02, the main greenhouse warming gas. Including the new Crossrail line through London, the building of Britain’s four largest current construction projects will, if completed, together emit more than 10m tonnes of CO2 – roughly the same amount as a city the size of Birmingham, or what 19 million Malawians emit in a year. Nearly 6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 8% of the world’s, are now sourced from cement production. If it were a country, the cement industry would be the third largest in the world, its emissions behind only China and the US.

So great is its carbon footprint that unless it is transformed and made to adopt cleaner practices, the industry could, on its own, jeopardise the whole 2015 Paris agreement which aims to hold worldwide temperatures to a 2C increase. To bring it into line, the UN says its annual emissions need to fall about 16% in the next 10 years, and by far more in the future. While some of the biggest cement companies have reduced the carbon intensity of their products by investing in more fuel-efficient kilns, most improvements gained have been overshadowed by the massive increase in global cement and concrete production. Population increases, the urban explosion in Asia and Africa, the need to build dams, roads and houses, as well as increases in personal wealth have stoked demand.

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