Jun 122019
 
 June 12, 2019  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Three apples 1924

 

Who Will Pay For The News? (R.)
The FBI Tragedy: Elites Above The Law (Hanson)
Sometimes Things Turn (Kunstler)
Jon Stewart Assails Congress For Ignoring 9/11 First Responders Fund (R.)
The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)
China’s Loans To Other Countries Are Causing ‘Hidden’ Debt (CNBC)
Protests Against China Extradition Bill Paralyse Hong Kong (AFP)
Hong Kong Puts Off Debate On Extradition Bill Amid Mammoth Protests (NBC)
UK Accused Of ‘Silently Eroding’ EU Pesticide Rules In Brexit Laws (G.)
Outgoing UK Diplomat Slams ‘Chaotic Politics’ And Brexit ‘Shambles’ (Pol.)
Leaked Documents Reveal Russian Effort To Exert Influence In Africa (G.)
From Bears To Hippos: The Expert Guide To Surviving Killer Beasts (G.)

 

 

We wonder.

Who Will Pay For The News? (R.)

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said in its annual Digital News Report that most people would not pay for online news and that there had been only a small increase in the proportion of people willing to do so in the last six years. Even among those who do pay, there is “subscription fatigue” – many are tired of being asked to pay for so many different subscriptions. Many will opt for films or music rather than pay for news. So some media companies will fail. “There is no sign that the majority of people are about to pay for online news, although many recognize that information on the internet is often overwhelming and confusing,” said Nic Newman, a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute.


“Some of the biggest brands have already shown they are able to attract a large number of paying subscribers, but the road ahead will be more challenging for other publishers,” he added. While many news organizations add paywalls and some see increases in digital subscriptions, there has been little change in the proportion of people paying for online news, apart from the “Trump bump” rise in the United States in 2016/2017. In the United States, those paying for news online were likely to have a university degree and be wealthy: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post did well on digital. Still, almost 40 percent of new digital subscriptions at the New York Times are for crosswords and cooking, the Reuters Institute said, citing an article by Vox.

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Excellent. Don’t miss.

The FBI Tragedy: Elites Above The Law (Hanson)

One of the media and beltway orthodoxies we constantly hear is that just a few bad apples under James Comey at the FBI explain why so many FBI elites have been fired, resigned, reassigned, demoted, or retired — or just left for unexplained reasons. The list is long and includes director James Comey himself, deputy director Andrew McCabe, counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, attorney Lisa Page, chief of staff James Rybicki, general counsel James Baker, assistant director for public affairs Mike Kortan, Comey’s special assistant Josh Campbell, executive assistant director James Turgal, assistant director for office of congressional affairs Greg Bower, executive assistant director Michael Steinbach, and executive assistant director John Giacalone. In short, in about every growing scandal of the past two years — FISA, illegal leaking, spying on a presidential candidate, lying under oath, obstructing justice — someone in the FBI is involved.

We are told, however, that the FBI’s culture and institutions are exempt from the widespread wrongdoing at the top. Such caution is a fine and fitting thing, given the FBI’s more than a century of public service. Nonetheless, many of those caught up in the controversies over the Russian-collusion hoax were not recent career appointees. Rather, many came up through the ranks of the FBI. And that raises the question, for example, of where exactly Peter Strzok (22 years in the FBI) learned that he had a right to interfere in a U.S. election to damage a candidate that he opposed. And why would an Andrew McCabe (over 21 years in the FBI) think he had the duty to formulate an “insurance policy” to take out a presidential candidate? Or why would he even consider overseeing an FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s improper use of emails when his wife had been a recent recipient of Clinton-related PAC money?

And why would McCabe contemplate leaking confidential FBI information to the press or even dream of setting up some sort of operation to remove a sitting president under the 25th Amendment? And how did someone like the old FBI vet Peter Strozk ever end up at the center of the entire mess — opening up the snooping on the Trump campaign while hiding that fact and while briefing the candidate on Russian interference in the election, interviewing Michael Flynn, preening as a top FBI investigator for Robert Mueller’s dream team, right-hand man of “Andy” McCabe, convincing Comey to change the wording of his writ in the Clinton-email-scandal investigation, softball coddling of Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, instrumental in the Papadopoulos investigation con — all the while conducting an affair with fellow FBI investigator and attorney Lisa Page and bragging about his assurance that the supposedly odious Trump would be prevented from being elected.

[..] Think what Mueller’s precedent of not-not-guilty would do to the American criminal-justice system, as zealous prosecutors might fish for just enough dirt on a suspect to ruin his reputation, but not find enough for an indictment, thereby exonerating their own prosecutorial failure by defaming a “guilty until proven innocent” suspect.

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“Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.”

Sometimes Things Turn (Kunstler)

A February night in 1924, in a Manhattan concert hall owned by the Aeolian piano company… the wailing, warped, and flatted clarinet glissando that opens George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue announced the 20th century’s self-recognition that something new was up in the world, and especially in the USA. The composer tried to represent the stupendous energy of the maturing industrial culture in a symphonic cacophony with a core of the deepest tenderness — capturing all the wonder and grace of the moment. For America, everything was on the move. Love and power were in the air. The idea that this was the American century stuck. The 1920s were a kind of hormonal rush of wonders and amazements.

Radio, movies, airplanes, giant industries, electric power in farm houses, the dizzying rush of progress that welled up into a dangerous wave that broke over the world in economic depression, and then war in 1939 — by which time George Gershwin was gone at 38. America performed splendidly in World War Two, rescuing Europe and Asia from manifest evil. The nation found itself the fully mature leader of the free world, with daunting responsibilities in the Atomic Age, filled with confidence, but tinged with an understandable paranoia in the nervous peace of the 1950s. This was the time of my childhood, along with my fellow travelers, the Baby Boomers. What a time to come into this world!

For a while, the USA luxuriated in power and stability. I sang the Davy Crockett theme song from the Disney TV show, and wore a coonskin hat, and lived in a home where dad left for work in a business suit, and all was well in the world. To me and my childhood friends, the mindboggling horrors of the recent war were reduced to comic books and plastic soldiers in the sandbox. Everything else in America seemed to work as advertised. We built a lot of stuff and saw the USA in our Chevrolet. President Ike bossed around Britain’s PM Anthony Eden. The Yankees bossed around the major leagues. Hardly anyone knew what the Federal Reserve did, or even what it was. Elvis was in the Army, babysitting the defeated Germans. Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.

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They just didn’t show up.

Jon Stewart Assails Congress For Ignoring 9/11 First Responders Fund (R.)

Jon Stewart, the popular former host of the late-night comedy program The Daily Show, criticized members of Congress for not attending a hearing on Tuesday on renewing funding for a program that provides health care to first responders who were sickened responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak and no one,” Stewart said, pointing to a mostly empty dais. “Shameful, it’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves for those who aren’t here but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”


Stewart was testifying before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about a renewal of the 9/11 first responders health care fund. Most of the panel’s 14 members were not in attendance. “Where are they? It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy was benign, but it’s not,” Stewart said. “Their indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity, time, one thing they’re running out of.” The fund, originally approved for five years in 2010, provides medical treatment for emergency responders sickened by toxic dust inhaled at the World Trade Center site in New York in the days following the attack.

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China may be the worst, but Wolf Richter has a long list of graphs, and just about every country has a much worse corporate debt to GDP ratio than the US has.

The Countries with the Most Monstrous Corporate Debt Pileups (WS)

US “nonfinancial” corporate debt – this excludes debt by banks and by businesses that are not incorporated – rose to a record $15.2 trillion in the fourth quarter, according to data released by the Bank for International Settlements last week. To show how much of a burden this debt is, how it compares to other countries, and to eliminate the effects of inflation, the BIS also expresses this debt as a percent of nominal GDP. Given the growth of GDP in Q4, the ratio of corporate debt to GDP, at 74.4%, was unchanged from the upwardly revised Q3, and was down a tad from the record in Q2 of 74.9%. The prior record of US corporate debt had been set in Q4 2008, at $10.7 trillion. Corporate debt is high enough to be featured in the Fed’s Financial Stability Report at the top of the list of factors that might trigger the next financial crisis.


To compare the burden of debt levels from country to country, the BIS uses a country’s corporate debt as percent of nominal local-currency GDP. By this measure, and compared to all the debt sinners out there, the US is nevertheless only in a lowly 24th place.[..] China, a smaller economy than the US economy, has by far more nonfinancial corporate debt: In US dollar terms, corporate debt in China hit a record of $21.1 trillion in Q1 2018, by far the most of any country. But since then, Chinese companies have been deleveraging under the orders from the central government. Deleveraging takes many forms in China, including defaults, state-mandated loan-to-equity swaps by Chinese state-owned banks, and bailouts by the central government, which includes the PBOC. In Q4, 2018, China’s nonfinancial corporate debt (red line) was $19.8 trillion, with efforts to deleverage in Q4 having taken a backseat to efforts to boost the economy:

Among the major economies, China’s corporate-debt-to-GDP ratio is in a realm of its own. But there are some small economies with special tax laws and corporate tax-haven status that US, European, or Chinese corporations find attractive – and they have even higher corporate-debt-to-GDP ratios than China (we’ll get to those in a moment). China’s efforts to deleverage its corporate sector, and the growth in its official GDP, have been reducing the corporate debt-to-GDP ratio from a peak of a blistering 162.6% in Q1 2016 to 151.6% in Q4 2018, still about twice the US ratio. In this chart and all charts below, the US debt-to-GDP ratio is added as a red line for comparative purposes:

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Belt and Road. Exporting overcapacity and overindebtedness. See the graphs above.

China’s Loans To Other Countries Are Causing ‘Hidden’ Debt (CNBC)

China’s lending to other countries, often shrouded in secrecy, is thought to be higher than the amounts that are officially tracked, resulting in much “hidden debt.” That growing debt problem could spark a worse-than-expected slowdown, among other problems, experts warn. The lack of transparency would also affect investors who are considering bonds issued by those countries, or organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which are helping those countries with their debts, according to Carmen Reinhart, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Speaking at the Nomura Investment Forum in Singapore late last month, she said: “China’s rise as a global creditor has also meant that there are a lot of hidden debts. That is, countries that had borrowed from China but this borrowing is not reported by the IMF, by the World Bank. ” “So there is a tendency to think these countries had lower debt levels than what they actually have,” she concluded. That would hinder the IMF or the World Bank in doing their work on debt sustainability analysis, she said. That effort includes analyzing countries’ debt burdens, and coming up with recommendations for a borrowing strategy that limits the risk of debt distress.

“From the vantage point of surveillance, this means that the IMF, if they’re doing debt sustainability for example for Pakistan, unless they know how much Pakistan owes China, they are doing that sustainability exercise blindfolded, ” Reinhart said. For investors, the limited information they have hinders them in making investment decisions about bonds issued by those countries if they don’t know how much is actually owed to China already, she added. That could lead to them underestimating the risk of lending money to those countries through bonds.

[..] China has been criticized for saddling many countries with debt through its Belt and Road Initiative — a mammoth infrastructure investment plan to build rail, road, sea and other routes stretching from China to Central Asia, Africa and Europe. Chinese financial institutions have provided more than $440 billion in funding for Belt and Road projects, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang said during a talk at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing early last month.

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Going for the financial district.

Protests Against China Extradition Bill Paralyse Hong Kong (AFP)

Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong on Wednesday, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. Black-clad demonstrators, most of them young people and students, surrounded government offices, bringing traffic to a standstill as they called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan. Rows of riot police were far outnumbered by protesters — many of whom wore face masks, helmets or goggles — just hours ahead of a scheduled debate in the city’s legislature. By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill “to a later date”.

In scenes echoing the Occupy movement in 2014 that shut down swathes of the city for months, people flooded major roads and junctions in the heart of the city, dragging barricades onto highways and tying them together. Others plucked loose bricks from pavements. Some protesters deliberately stopped their cars in the middle of one key artery and jumped out, blocking the road, RTHK reported. Police used water cannons and pepper spray on protesters outside the Legco building and held up signs warning demonstrators they were prepared to use force.

Organisers of a gigantic march on Sunday said more than a million people turned out to voice their objections to the proposed law, which would allow Hong Kong to send suspects to other jurisdictions around the world — including China. But the record numbers have failed to sway pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw the bill. Many opponents are fearful the law would entangle people in the mainland’s opaque courts, leaving them vulnerable to a justice system seen as acting at the behest of the Chinese Communist Party. More than 100 Hong Kong businesses said they would close Wednesday in a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and the city’s major student unions announced they would boycott classes to attend the rallies.

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“Backers say the proposed extradition law is needed to stop Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives….”

Hong Kong Puts Off Debate On Extradition Bill Amid Mammoth Protests (NBC)

Hong Kong’s legislature put off a debate on a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China after thousands of demonstrators dressed in black swarmed the area surrounding the central government complex on Wednesday. As demonstrators used police barriers, street signs and trash barrels to block off Harcourt Road, the government said that the session would be “changed to a later time to be determined” by the head of the Legislative Council, which is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority. The rally came three days after as many as 1 million people took to the streets.


Protesters had mixed reactions to news of the postponement, but remained steadfast to their cause standing under umbrellas and continuing to block potential traffic. “I would describe it as a small victory,” said Ramon Yuen, a member of a local district council representing the Democratic Party. “There are many possibilities … but we want the government to withdraw the amendment,” Yuen said. “No decision has been made to do that, and we do not see any good gestures that they will listen to Hong Kong people’s voices.” Cyrus Lee, 28, who was taking part in the demonstrations, echoed Yuen’s sentiment, telling NBC News he “can’t tell if it is a good sign or not because you don’t know what they will do next.”

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“The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws..”

The BIG Brexit issue: the country is completely unprepared to stand on its own.

UK Accused Of ‘Silently Eroding’ EU Pesticide Rules In Brexit Laws (G.)

The UK has been accused of “silently eroding” key environmental and human health protections in the Brexit-inspired rush to convert thousands of pages of European Union pesticide policy into British law. Despite government claims the process would be little more than a technical exercise, analysis by the University of Sussex’s UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) has uncovered significant departures from EU regulations, including the removal of a blanket ban on hormone-disrupting chemicals, which are known to cause adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects and immune disorders. The UK legislation removes the EU system of checks and balances to give a handful of ministers the power to create, amend and revoke pesticide legislation.

It also appears to weaken the existing “precautionary principle” approach, which requires scientific evidence from an independent body that a pesticide is safe to use. Instead, UK ministers are given the option to obtain and consider such evidence at their own discretion. The changes could lead to the widespread use in the UK of harmful and carcinogenic pesticides, the researchers warn. But because the laws are being drawn up so quickly and at such a high volume, there has been little scrutiny of the process, said Emily Lydgate, a UKTPO fellow and senior lecturer at the university. “The creation of over 10,000 pages of new legislation, which effectively convert EU law into UK rulebooks, is one of the most intensive and significant efforts that the government has made to prepare for Brexit,” she said.

The EU provides up to 80% of the UK’s environmental laws, which include regulations on pesticides, landfills, recycling and climate heating. Under the new regulations, however, power to make, amend and revoke pesticide legislation will be devolved to each of the national territories and consolidated to a secretary of state in England, relevant ministers in Scotland and Wales, and the competent authority in Northern Ireland.

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Any -positive- reputation the UK still had is gone.

Outgoing UK Diplomat Slams ‘Chaotic Politics’ And Brexit ‘Shambles’ (Pol.)

The outgoing British high commissioner to Singapore has warned that the Asian city-state’s leaders are “baffled by the U.K.’s chaotic politics” and that Brexit is doing lasting damage to the U.K.’s reputation. In a devastating assessment of the damage Brexit is doing to the U.K.’s global reputation, Scott Wightman, one of the country’s most senior diplomats, said major investors told him the balance of future investment in Europe “will inevitably be weighted more towards Germany and France,” with post-referendum political risk now their “principle consideration.” His comments also cast doubt on the U.K.’s Global Britain strategy aimed at averting the economic damage of Brexit by using the country’s network of influence and trade links around the world.

In a confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic telegram, seen by POLITICO, Wightman, who has been in the job since 2015 but posted his last tweet as British high commissioner on Tuesday, said the Singapore-U.K. Partnership for the Future, an initiative to improve ties that was launched by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in January, was being used in the “classic manner of the illusionist.” “Like posts across the network and departments in the U.K., we’re performing minor miracles for U.K. interests faced with the utter political shambles of Brexit,” he said. Singaporean ministers are “mystified as to how our political leaders allowed things to get to this pass,” he added.

[..] Wightman also likened the damage to Britain’s reputation in the last three years to the battle known as the Fall of Singapore in 1942. He said the battle showed the “complacency and arrogance of colonial leadership.” “It transformed their view of British imperialism,” he added. “Things were never the same again. The last three years have done the same for Singaporeans’ view of contemporary Britain. The nation they admired for stability, common sense, tolerance and realism grounded in fact, they see beset by division, obsessed with ideology, careless of the truth, its leaders apparently determined to keep on digging. “I fear many around the world share their view,” he said.

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Luke Harding’s BS.

Leaked Documents Reveal Russian Effort To Exert Influence In Africa (G.)

Russia is seeking to bolster its presence in at least 13 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of “leaders” and undercover “agents”, leaked documents reveal. The mission to increase Russian influence on the continent is being led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman based in St Petersburg who is a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One aim is to “strong-arm” the US and the former colonial powers the UK and France out of the region. Another is to see off “pro-western” uprisings, the documents say.

In 2018 the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” because of his Kremlin catering contracts. According to Mueller, his troll factory ran an extensive social media campaign in 2016 to help elect Donald Trump. The Wagner group – a private military contractor linked to Prigozhin – has supplied mercenaries to fight in Ukraine and Syria. The documents show the scale of Prigozhin-linked recent operations in Africa, and Moscow’s ambition to turn the region into a strategic hub. Multiple firms linked to the oligarch, including Wagner, are known by employees as the “Company”. Its activities are coordinated with senior officials inside Russia’s foreign and defence ministries, the documents suggest. Putin showed little interest in Africa in the 2000s.

But western sanctions imposed in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea have driven Moscow to seek new geopolitical friends and business opportunities. Russia has a military presence and peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. CAR is described as “strategically important” and a “buffer zone between the Muslim north and Christian south”. It allows Moscow to expand “across the continent”, and Russian companies to strike lucrative mineral deals, the documents say.

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How stupid can one get?

“Former soldier and explorer Levison Wood runs through how to endure or avoid confrontation with some of nature’s most dangerous animals.”

I’ll make sure to avoid Levison Wood.

From Bears To Hippos: The Expert Guide To Surviving Killer Beasts (G.)

When Andi Bauer, a German student hiking in Romania, was attacked by a bear, his girlfriend Lara Booth yelled “punch it in the eye!” (Lara is British, obviously). He did, the bear stopped attacking and Andi was helicoptered to hospital where rods were screwed into his broken leg. He survived, but was punching back the right thing to do? “If you’re being mauled by a bear, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, to escape and survive,” says Levison Wood. A former soldier, explorer and writer (his book for kids, Incredible Journeys, is published this week), Wood once had an encounter in a car park in Yosemite when a bear smashed into the adjacent empty car to get food. “We woke up and made a lot of noise, as bears do try to avoid humans. But each animal is different; you’ve got to know your stuff.” Here’s his guide to fighting off some of nature’s most-feared beasts.


[..] Wood knows some stuff about crocodiles, having avoided them while walking the length of the Nile. And that is his advice: avoid them. [..] When Wood was chased by a hippo, he scrambled up a hill. “They’re not good with hills, thankfully.” [..] “Most of the animals we’ve spoken about are critically endangered. While the fear is bred into us, remember that they’re the ones that are endangered, we generally come off better than they do.” Yes, Bauer is OK. But what about the poor bear wandering the Carpathian mountains with a sore head?

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May 092019
 


James Ensor The frightful musicians 1891

 

How Julian Assange Changed Journalism (Stefania Maurizi)
Pamela Anderson’s Assange Blanket Conceals The Truth Of His Detention (G.)
China Backtracked On Nearly All Aspects Of US Trade Deal (R.)
Trump Blames Bolton For Embroiling Him In Potential Venezuelan Quagmire (Week)
Trump Predicts Dem Investigation Will Drive Him To 2020 Win (Hill)
Steele’s Stunning Pre-FISA Confession (Solomon)
Democrats Vote To Hold Attorney General Barr In Contempt Of Congress (G.)
Democrats Showing Contempt By Holding William Barr In Contempt (Turley)
Democrats Know Mueller Can’t Discuss His Report (Schoen)
James Comey Is In Trouble And He Knows It (Hill)
Time to Start Worrying About Global Corporate Debt – Bank of England (DQ)
Greek Bonds Yield Less Than Treasurys – As Irrational As In 2007 (Ashoka Mody)
The Fight to Save Wild Salmon- Have We Reached The End Of Wild? (G.)
Only A Third Of World’s Great Rivers Remain Free Flowing (G.)
Proposal To Spend 25% Of EU Budget On Climate Change (BBC)

 

 

The entire media left Assange to rot in hell. This is from a longer interview with Maurizi. It captures the essence.

How Julian Assange Changed Journalism (Stefania Maurizi)

For me it has been really shocking to witness how Julian Assange has declined in the last nine years. I have been able to see changes in Julian’s health and psychology. It was so sad, and no one could do anything. I could report on it and expose it but the other media and public opinion did absolutely nothing to make the government understand how terrible his treatment was. And all this is happening not in Russia, not in North Korea, this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. I now realize how little we can do in our democracy.


If you look at what has happened to high-profile whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and an important publisher like Assange, who had the courage to publish these important revelations, what did your democracy do to save them, to treat them in a human way? Chelsea Manning was put in prison for seven years, where she tried to commit suicide twice. Now she is back in prison. Edward Snowden was forced to leave the U.S. Julian Assange has spent nine years in detainment and no one did anything. We were reporting, we were denouncing, we were exposing how seriously his health was declining. Nothing happened.

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A great example of how it’s done. I stumbled upon this in the Guardian, “Ask Hadley” by one Hadley Freemen. Yes the kind of thing men won’t read, it’s directed at women. Who in this way get told what to think of Assange. The rape smear against him from MI6 et al has been more successful than anything else in turning especially women against him. This is how. It’s vile and it’s very dirty. And this Hadley person has no qualms about throwing another woman, Pamela Anderson, under the bus to do it. Because, you know, of her reputation.

Pamela Anderson’s Assange Blanket Conceals The Truth Of His Detention (G.)

Anderson made a long comment to the handily assembled press ranks outside the jail after her visit. She talked about how horrifically unjust it was that Assange was “really cut off from everybody”, to which you can only answer: “Well then, he should be delighted, given he chose to do exactly that for the past seven years when he holed himself up in the Ecuadorean embassy.” Anderson continued: “He does not deserve to be in a supermax prison. He has never committed a violent act. He is an innocent person.”


‘Nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison.’ Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

And again, Ms Anderson, one must beg to remind you that, while that may all be true, no one knows that for certain because – and apologies for bringing up this inconvenient truth yet again – he avoided extradition to Sweden to answer to crimes he is accused of by hiding out in an embassy in Knightsbridge for seven flipping years. You remember that, right? You visited him there. That place where your warrior for truth would – according to Ecuador’s UK ambassador, Jaime Marchán – leave half-eaten meals in the sink. As Andrew O’Hagan explained way back in 2014 when describing what it was like spending time with Assange: “If you asked him to do the dishes, he would say he was trying to free economic slaves in China and had no time to wash up.”


Anderson added: “He is a good man, he is an incredible person. I love him.” She clearly rather fancies herself and Assange as the 21st century’s Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller (as opposed to what they actually are, which is a real-life Harley Quinn and Joker from Batman: The Animated Series). Still, good for you, Pamela! Love is a wondrous thing. This column sincerely hopes you have many happy years of washing his dishes ahead of you. Anyway, just in case Anderson’s word salad was not sufficiently persuasive, she also wore a blanket emblazoned with writing that included the words “free speech”, “gagged” and “Cromwell”. Because, honestly, nothing makes a woman look more credible than writing “Cromwell” on a blanket and then standing outside a prison. Anderson is just the latest in a long and not especially noble line of people who have decided that the best way to express themselves is by writing words on their clothing.

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“The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up,” the source said.”

China Backtracked On Nearly All Aspects Of US Trade Deal (R.)

The diplomatic cable from Beijing arrived in Washington late on Friday night, with systematic edits to a nearly 150-page draft trade agreement that would blow up months of negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, according to three U.S. government sources and three private sector sources briefed on the talks. The document was riddled with reversals by China that undermined core U.S. demands, the sources told Reuters. In each of the seven chapters of the draft trade deal, China had deleted its commitments to change laws to resolve core complaints that caused the United States to launch a trade war: theft of U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets; forced technology transfers; competition policy; access to financial services; and currency manipulation.

U.S. President Donald Trump responded in a tweet on Sunday vowing to raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent on Friday – timed to land in the middle of a scheduled visit by China’s Vice Premier Liu He to Washington to continue trade talks. The stripping of binding legal language from the draft struck directly at the highest priority of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer – who views changes to Chinese laws as essential to verifying compliance after years of what U.S. officials have called empty reform promises. Lighthizer has pushed hard for an enforcement regime more like those used for punitive economic sanctions – such as those imposed on North Korea or Iran – than a typical trade deal.


“This undermines the core architecture of the deal,” said a Washington-based source with knowledge of the talks. [..] Liu last week told Lighthizer and Mnuchin that they needed to trust China to fulfil its pledges through administrative and regulatory changes, two of the sources said. Both Mnuchin and Lighthizer considered that unacceptable, given China’s history of failing to fulfil reform pledges. One private-sector source briefed on the talks said the last round of negotiations had gone very poorly because “China got greedy”. “China reneged on a dozen things, if not more … The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up,” the source said.

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If we could get rid of Bolton and Pompeo this way, great! For now though, Trump doesn’t want to start wars, but he won’t fire the warmongers either.

Trump Blames Bolton For Embroiling Him In Potential Venezuelan Quagmire (Week)

President Trump is having second thoughts about “his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela,” complaining to aides and advisers that “he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman,” President Nicolas Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guadió, The Washington Post reports. “The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around National Security Adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.”


Officially, U.S. policy in Venezuela is the same, and last week’s failed effort to oust Maduro has “effectively shelved serious discussion of a heavy U.S. military response,” and “Trump is now not inclined to order any sort of military intervention in Venezuela,” the Post reports, citing current and former officials and outside advisers. Instead, the U.S. is settling in to wait out Maduro on the expectation he will fall on his own, with the help of U.S. sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump said last week, after a 90-minute phone call with Putin. “And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid.” U.S. officials say Russia is deeply involved in backing Maduro.

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A constitutional crisis?

Trump Predicts Dem Investigation Will Drive Him To 2020 Win (Hill)

President Trump, speaking at a rally hours after the White House invoked executive privilege to block the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report, predicted congressional Democrats’ investigations would propel him to a reelection victory in 2020. Trump did not directly address his administration’s decision to defy a subpoena from House Democrats, a move that raised the specter of a constitutional crisis, but he said the party’s desire to probe his administration, campaign and businesses would backfire politically. “They want to do investigations instead of investments,” the president told a crowd of supporters at an outdoor amphitheater just steps from the Gulf of Mexico. “I think it drives us on to victory in 2020.”


Trump said Democrats’ focus on investigations is a “disgrace” and that they should instead work with him on infrastructure, lowering drug prices and improving veterans’ health care. [..] Trump mentioned Barr only in passing during the Wednesday rally but did not address the proceedings. “Now the Democrats — we have a great attorney general — now the Democrats are saying, ‘We want more.’ You know, it was going to be like, ‘We want the Mueller report.’ Now they say, ‘Mueller report? No, we want to start all over again.’”

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This will go far. This is very damning.

Steele’s Stunning Pre-FISA Confession (Solomon)

If ever there were an admission that taints the FBI’s secret warrant to surveil Donald Trump’s campaign, it sat buried for more than 2 1/2 years in the files of a high-ranking State Department official. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec’s written account of her Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with FBI informant Christopher Steele shows the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded British intelligence operative admitted that his research was political and facing an Election Day deadline. And that confession occurred 10 days before the FBI used Steele’s now-discredited dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s ties to Russia.

Steele’s client “is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8,” the date of the 2016 election, Kavalec wrote in a typed summary of her meeting with Steele and Tatyana Duran, a colleague from Steele’s Orbis Security firm. The memos were unearthed a few days ago through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec’s notes do not appear to have been provided to the House Intelligence Committee during its Russia probe, according to former Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). “They tried to hide a lot of documents from us during our investigation, and it usually turns out there’s a reason for it,” Nunes told me. Senate and House Judiciary investigators told me they did not know about them, even though they investigated Steele’s behavior in 2017-18.


One member of Congress transmitted the memos this week to the Department of Justice’s inspector general, fearing its investigation of FISA abuses may not have had access to them. Nonetheless, the FBI is doing its best to keep much of Kavalec’s information secret by retroactively claiming it is classified, even though it was originally marked unclassified in 2016. The apparent effort to hide Kavalec’s notes from her contact with Steele has persisted for some time. State officials acknowledged a year ago they received a copy of the Steele dossier in July 2016, and got a more detailed briefing in October 2016 and referred the information to the FBI.

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From what I can see, this is quite weak. Jonathan Turley explains why in the next article: “..the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt ..”

Democrats Vote To Hold Attorney General Barr In Contempt Of Congress (G.)

House Democrats voted on Wednesday to hold the US attorney general, William Barr, in contempt of Congress, citing his failure to hand over the full, unredacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The decision came on a day of escalating tensions between Congress and the White House. Earlier on Wednesday, the White House invoked executive privilege to block the House judiciary committee’s request for the full Mueller report and underlying evidence. Later in the day, the House intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, subpoenaed Barr for “documents and materials related Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including all counterintelligence and foreign intelligence materials produced during the Special Counsel’s investigation, the full unredacted report, and the underlying evidence”.


According to a statement from Schiff’s office, the justice department must produce the documents by 15 May. The Senate intelligence committee, meanwhile, has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. The panel is calling in the president’s son to answer questions about his 2017 testimony to the panel as part of its investigation into Russian election interference. It is the first known subpoena of a member of Donald Trump‘s immediate family, and a new sign that the Senate panel is continuing with its own Russia investigation even after the release of Mueller’s report on the same subject.

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Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and represented the House of Representatives in its successful challenge to executive actions under the Affordable Care Act..

Democrats Showing Contempt By Holding William Barr In Contempt (Turley)

The House Judiciary Committee is voting to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress and to secure a vote of the entire House of Representatives in order to send the matter to federal court. The problem is that the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt. Indeed, with a superficial charge, the House could seriously undermine its credibility in the ongoing conflicts with the White House. Congress is right on a number of complaints against the White House, including possible cases of contempt, but this is not one of them. As someone who has represented the House of Representatives, my concern is that this one violates a legal version of the Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm.”


This could do great harm, not to Barr, but to the House. It is the weakest possible case to bring against the administration, and likely to be an example of a bad case making bad law for the House. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler laid out the case for contempt. He raised three often repeated complaints against Barr in that he failed to release an unredacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller, allegedly lied twice to Congress, and refused to appear before the committee. Yet, notably, the only claim the committee seeks to put before a federal court is the redaction of the report. That seems rather curious since, if Barr lied or refused a subpoena as House leaders claim, it normally would be an easy case of contempt. The reason for this move is that House Democrats know both claims would not withstand even a cursory judicial review.

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David Schoen is a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer.

Democrats Know Mueller Can’t Discuss His Report (Schoen)

When Mueller accepted his appointment as special counsel, he did so fully aware of the federal regulations governing his office. The regulations make it absolutely clear that the special counsel is prohibited from discussing his report publicly. Leading members of Congress now demanding that Mueller testify know he is barred from doing so. The current special counsel regulations were passed while they were members of Congress. In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act. It created a process for appointing special prosecutors. This is a different position from special counsels like Mueller. Under the 1978 law, Congress could mandate the appointment of a special prosecutor. Congress could remove the special prosecutor, and the special prosecutor was required to report to Congress. The executive and legislative branches were both a direct part of the process.


However, the law on special prosecutors expired and it was not renewed. In 1999, the special counsel regulations under which Mueller was appointed became law and remain in effect today. These regulations were written and heavily promoted by President Bill Clinton’s administration. They changed the 1978 law in several important ways. Under the current regulations, the special counsel does not report to Congress. Congress cannot require the appointment or removal of a special counsel. These powers and duties lie exclusively with the attorney general. Section 600.9 of the special counsel regulations backed by the Clinton administration places very limited requirements on the attorney general in regard to what he needs to provide to Congress, and he has already exceeded these requirements.

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“A strategy of insulting the executioner right before he swings his ax is an odd one but, then, Comey has a long record of odd decisions and questionable judgment.”

James Comey Is In Trouble And He Knows It (Hill)

James Comey’s planet is getting noticeably warmer. Attorney General William Barr’s emissions are the suspected cause. Barr has made plain that he intends to examine carefully how and why Comey, as FBI director, decided that the bureau should investigate two presidential campaigns and if, in so doing, any rules or laws were broken. In light of this, the fired former FBI director apparently has decided that photos of him on Twitter standing amid tall trees and in the middle of empty country roads, acting all metaphysical, is no longer a sufficient strategy. No, Comey has realized, probably too late, that he has to try to counter, more directly, the narrative being set by the unsparing attorney general whose words in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week landed in the Trump-opposition world like holy water on Linda Blair. Shrieking heads haven’t stopped spinning since.


And so we’ve seen Comey get real busy lately. First he penned a curious op-ed in The New York Times. Then a Times reporter, with whom Comey has cooperated in the past, wrote a news article exposing an early, controversial investigative technique against the Trump campaign in an attempt to get out front and excuse it. Next, Comey is scheduled to be encouraged on a friendly cable news “town hall.” In the op-ed, Comey trotted out his now-familiar St. James schtick, freely pronouncing on the morality of others. He sees himself as a kind of Pontiff-of-the-Potomac working his beads, but comes across more like an unraveling Captain Queeg working his ball bearings. Comey adjudged the president as “amoral.” He declared the attorney general to be “formidable” but “lacking inner strength” unlike — the inference is clear — Comey himself. A strategy of insulting the executioner right before he swings his ax is an odd one but, then, Comey has a long record of odd decisions and questionable judgment.

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[From 2008 to 2016] “the number of Chinese companies issuing bonds soared from just 68 to a peak of 1,451..”

Time to Start Worrying About Global Corporate Debt – Bank of England (DQ)

By 2016, emerging market corporations were issuing ten times more money ($711 billion) than before, much of it in hard foreign currencies (mainly euros, dollars and yen) that will prove much harder to pay back if their local currency slides, as is happening in Turkey and Argentina right now. Although bond issuance by emerging market companies declined by 29% in 2017 and remained around the same level in 2018, it is still approximately 7.5 times higher than the pre-crisis level. Much of the increase has been driven by China as it transitioned from a negligible level of issuance of corporate debt prior to the 2008 crisis to a record issuance amount of $590 billion in 2016.


During that time the number of Chinese companies issuing bonds soared from just 68 to a peak of 1,451 and the total amount of corporate debt in China exploded from $4 trillion to almost $17 trillion, according to BIS data. By late 2018 it had reached $19.7 trillion. “There has been a persistent buildup of private debt to record levels in China,” Cunliffe said. Much of this increase took place in the direct aftermath of the financial crisis. The largest increases have been in the corporate sector, mainly in state-owned enterprises. At last count, China’s corporate debt-to-GDP ratio was 153%, enough to earn it seventh place on WOLF STREET’s leaderboard of countries with the most monstrous corporate debt pileups (as a proportion of GDP), 18 places above the US. This chart compares the rise of non-financial corporate debt in China and the US:

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“Why would investors expect the euro to appreciate? [..] such a scenario is highly implausible.”

Greek Bonds Yield Less Than Treasurys – As Irrational As In 2007 (Ashoka Mody)

Yields on five-year Greek government bonds are lower than those of U.S. Treasurys — and have been this way for the past month. Yes, on 3- and 5-year bonds, Greece, with its rating deep in junk territory, pays investors less than the double-A-plus-rated U.S. government does. Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French government bonds — also lower-rated than the U.S. — offer lower, indeed considerably lower, yields than the U.S. government does, even for 10-year maturities. Even if we stipulate that Greece’s government is, in fact, as creditworthy as the U.S. government, why would investors accept a lower yield on the Greek bond? And why are they willing to accept the even lower yields on the bonds of other eurozone governments?

One possible reason is that they expect the euro to appreciate. Despite the low eurozone bond yields, investors may expect eventually to boost their returns by selling the expensive euros and buying cheaper dollars and other currencies. Indeed, there is some basis for such a strategy. As of late April, the consensus among analysts was that the euro will appreciate significantly over the next couple of years, and more modestly thereafter; forward markets (where buyers and sellers settle the price of a future transaction in advance) support this consensus view.


But if expectations of an appreciating euro solve the low-bond-yield puzzle, they raise another, deeper puzzle. Why would investors expect the euro to appreciate? [..] such a scenario is highly implausible. Current growth forecasts point worryingly in the opposite direction. The IMF projects world economic growth to slow more markedly than it already did a year ago. Crucially, of all major economies, those in the eurozone appear to be decelerating particularly quickly.

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Fish farms kill.

Have We Reached The End Of Wild? (G.)

In salmon’s case, we have interrupted one of the most dramatic cycles of nature, the wild fish’s journey from the rivers where they spawn to the oceans where they grow and back again. The result is that fish have died, species that eat them have died, communities that depend on them have faded, the food supply has been polluted and a lot of tax dollars have been wasted. [..] In an inspired gambit, Artifishal takes a swerve into the metaphyscial, framing the salmon emergency as a question about the human soul, about what it needs – about what we need – to survive.


The contention of the film-makers is that while it may be human nature to seek dominion and control over the rest of nature, the very thing we need to survive is precisely that which defies our control, that thing which, when we seek to subjugate it, instead either slips through our nets, or is caught and dies. If we drive the wild to extinction, the film suggests, we will bring our own that much closer. “I really hope the film leaves the viewer with this disquieting question, which is, have we reached the end of wild?” said Murphy in a phone conversation near the end of a tour to promote the movie, which debuted at the Tribeca film festival after a tour of screenings in Patagonia stores. “At the outset we kept wondering if we would find a bad guy. And we didn’t. In fact, I kept feeling that the force of antagonism was us – we’re the bad guy. Because humans just are always looking out for themselves.”

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More damage from renewables. There’s no free lunch. The sooner we get that straight, the better.

Only A Third Of World’s Great Rivers Remain Free Flowing (G.)

Only a third of the world’s great rivers remain free flowing, due to the impact of dams that are drastically reducing the benefits healthy rivers provide people and nature, according to a global analysis. Billions of people rely on rivers for water, food and irrigation, but from the Danube to the Yangtze most large rivers are fragmented and degraded. Untouched rivers are largely confined to remote places such as the Arctic and Amazonia. The assessment, the first to tackle the subject on a worldwide level, examined 12m kilometres of rivers and found that just 90 of the 246 rivers more than 1,000km (621 miles) long flowed without interruption.


The scientists, whose research, published in the journal Nature, was led by Günther Grill, at McGill University in Canada, were particularly concerned to discover that only a quarter of long rivers that once flowed freely to the sea, rather than to an inland lake or other river, still had such a course. Separate research in Britain, which included the effects of smaller infrastructure such as weirs, fords and culverts, suggests that 97% of the nation’s river network has been interrupted by human-built structures. Thriving wildlife in rivers is crucial to keeping water clean but freshwater habitats were found to be the hardest hit of all the ecosystems, with wildlife populations having plunged by an average of 83% since 1970 due to dams, overuse of water and pollution.

Great rivers that flow freely are now rare in populated areas. Heavily fragmented rivers include the Danube, Nile, and Euphrates, the Paraná and Missouri in the Americas, the Yangtze and Brahmaputra in Asia, and the Darling in Australia. The Congo and Amazon were found to be among the least affected. The biggest impact comes from physical barriers created by dams, but reservoirs also seriously affect the natural seasonal flow of rivers. “It can be really freaky sometimes, when the electricity is produced one hour on, one hour off, and the river goes up and down by a metre, which is very stressful to the ecosystems downstream,” said Grill. The study estimates that there are about 60,000 large dams worldwide and 3,700 in planning or construction, in addition to millions of smaller dams.

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A cheap way to get young votes. Don’t fall for it. Thes countries fail even their Paris commitments.

Proposal To Spend 25% Of EU Budget On Climate Change (BBC)

Eight European countries have called for an ambitious strategy to tackle climate change – and to spend a quarter of the entire EU budget on fighting it. The joint statement says the EU should have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “at the latest”. It was signed by France, Belgium, Denmark, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. The group says their plan can “go hand in hand with prosperity” and “set an example for other countries to follow.” The position paper comes ahead of a major summit of European leaders in the Romanian city of Sibiu, beginning on Thursday, which will discuss the future of Europe and the EU’s strategy for the next five years. But not everyone is on board – there are 28 countries in the EU, and several of those absent from the joint position statement are significant players – including Germany.


The position of the eight countries is that climate change has “profound implications for the future of humanity” and that its impacts are already apparent – citing “the heat waves and scorching fires of last summer”. [..] “The EU budget currently under negotiation will be an important tool in this respect: at least 25% of the spending should go to projects aimed at fighting against climate change,” the paper said. Annual EU budgets have spending limits set by what is known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF). The current one allowed the EU to spend more than €900bn between 2014-2020. The eight-nation group is eyeing the next framework, which is set to cover 2021-2027. [..] At the moment, EU countries are required to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from their 1990 levels by 2020, with the aim of raising that to a 40% reduction by 2030. But many are set to miss these targets – some by a wide margin.

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Feb 212019
 


Jan van Eijk The Arnolfini portrait 1434

 

A $3 Trillion Debt Tsunami Is About To Flood The Stock Market (MW)
Attorney General Barr To Announce End Of Mueller Probe Next Week: CNN (ZH)
Mueller Report May Be ‘Anti-Climactic’ – Clapper (Hill)
FBI Top Lawyer Believed Hillary Clinton Should Face Charges (Solomon)
Conservative Split As Tory Rebels Denounce Hardline Brexiters (G.)
How Not To Organise A Split In A Party (Galloway)
UK And Ireland Retailers Warn Of 40% Tariffs On Food In No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK Economy £100 Billion Smaller Because Of Austerity (G.)
Germany Rebuffs UK Call To Back Off Saudi Arms Freeze (ZH)
Bernie Sanders Raised $6 Million In One Day After Launching Campaign (ZH)
Ocasio-Cortez Refuses To Back Bernie Sanders For 2020 (Ind.)

 

 

They’re all still talking about the markets that aren’t markets. Curious. Is it because it’s all they have? Either way, seems leargely useless to me.

A $3 Trillion Debt Tsunami Is About To Flood The Stock Market (MW)

Will Nasgovitz, who oversees about $1.3 billion in assets as the chief executive of Heartland Advisors, isn’t calling for a “full blown financial crisis,” but, with trillions in corporate debt coming due in the coming years, the industry veteran’s not exactly predicting smooth sailing in the stock market, either. “With interest rates low, the economy strong, and relatively easy lending standards, the thinking went that borrowing to buyback shares or finance acquisitions was a low-risk strategy,” Nasgovitz explained in a recent post. “But the next five years could severely test that Pollyanna view.” Nasgovitz used this chart to illustrate his stance. As you can see, about $3.3 trillion — or 48% of all current outstanding commercial debt — comes due by 2023.

The timing could be problematic. “The sheer volume would be challenging for the market to digest in the best of scenarios, let alone this late in an economic expansion,” Nasgovitz wrote. “Adding to our sense of caution are early signs that lending standards have begun to tighten for commercial and industrial borrowers.” He says that, as banks become more stringent, borrowers could end up paying higher rates just to secure funds to retire outstanding obligations. “While we don’t currently see signs of a full-blown financial crisis on the horizon,” he concluded, “we do believe that excessive debt adds unnecessary challenges to companies in general and will likely be a headwind for heavy borrowers in the intermediate term going forward.”

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Overall sentiment: it won’t amount to much. So the media’s next steps are being prepared in the vein of “Just because Mueller couldn’t find a thing, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”.

Russiagate has been the media’s golden goose; what can they turn to now?

Attorney General Barr To Announce End Of Mueller Probe Next Week: CNN (ZH)

Barely a week after being sworn in as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr is reportedly planning to announce as early as next week that Robert Mueller has completed his investigation and that a confidential report on Mueller’s findings will be submitted to Congress in the very near future. According to CNN, the preparations – which are in line with an NBC report from late last year that the Mueller report would be completed by the end of February – “are the clearest indication yet that Mueller is nearly done with his almost two-year investigation.” Barr has said that he wants to be as “transparent” as possible while being “consistent with the rules and the law.”

According to the law, Mueller must submit a “confidential” report to the AG after the investigation ends. But the rules don’t require it to be shared with Congress or the public (though, like everything involving the Mueller probe, it will almost certainly leak). One thing that remains unclear is to what extent Mueller’s findings will be shared with Congress (since the DOJ typically frowns on publicizing embarrassing or compromising information about people who haven’t been charged with a crime…though that principle has apparently gone out the window over the last two years). CNN also noted that it’s possible that Mueller has made referrals to other prosecutors besides the New York US attorney who brought charges against Michael Cohen.

The existence of other investigations might also soon come to light. CNN reported that attorneys from the US attorney’s office for Washington DC have been visiting Mueller “more than usual.” Signs that the Mueller probe is winding down have been multiplying in recent weeks. Four of his 17 prosecutors have been reassigned, and the grand jury he has used to secure his indictments hasn’t convened since late January. While Trump is probably hoping that the Russia collusion narrative will decidedly die after the report is released, former DNI James Clapper – whom Trump threatened to strip of his security clearance – warned that the report might leave open the question of whether there actually was collusion between Trump and Russia, giving the release a disappointingly anti-climactic feel, according to the Hill.

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A ‘subtle’ shift: now that going after Trump himself is going nowhere, Clapper et al claim Putin uses Trump as an unwitting asset. Takeaway: they will simply continue their collusion accusations. And Putin is an even easier victim.

Give me one reason why this entire cabal should not be investigated.

As I said yesterday: “Isn’t it supremely ironic that Mueller’s main objective today is trying to come up with some narrative that justifies his own probe? It’s circular ‘logic’ at its very best.

But why is McCabe so cocky about his treasonous(-like) behavior? Imagine someone like him doing an interview like that 2 years (or 6) into Obama’s presidency, saying it was possible Barack was an asset of China. Just imagine.”

Mueller Report May Be ‘Anti-Climactic’ – Clapper (Hill)

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday that he’s far from sure that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will clear up questions about President Trump and Russia. He said he was hopeful the Mueller probe will provide some answers, but warned it might not even draw a conclusion on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. “I think the hope is that the Mueller investigation will clear the air on this issue once and for all. I’m really not sure it will, and the investigation, when completed, could turn out to be quite anti-climactic and not draw a conclusion about that,” Clapper said Wednesday on CNN.

Clapper, a frequent critic of Trump’s, said people in the intelligence community see a strange deference on the president’s part toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The strange thing I think that has bothered a lot of people both in and out of the intelligence community is this strange personal deference to Putin by the president. I’ve speculated in the past that the way Putin behaves is to treat President Trump as an asset,” Clapper said Wednesday. He added that if Trump were indeed advancing Putin’s interests, he would more likely be doing so unwittingly.

The White House has lashed out at Clapper over his criticism in the past and announced in August it was reviewing existing security clearances for Clapper and several other former intelligence and law enforcement officials who have criticized the White House. Speculation has ramped up over Trump’s relationship with Russia after it was reported last month that the Justice Department had opened an investigation into whether the president was working on behalf of Moscow’s interests. Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Friday claimed that he believes “it’s possible” Trump is a Russian asset.

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And there’s Comey again, out to save the country.

FBI Top Lawyer Believed Hillary Clinton Should Face Charges (Solomon)

For most of the past three years, the FBI has tried to portray its top leadership as united behind ex-Director James Comey’s decision not to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information over her insecure, private email server. Although in the end that may have been the case, we now are learning that Comey’s top lawyer, then-FBI General Counsel James Baker, initially believed Clinton deserved to face criminal charges, but was talked out of it “pretty late in the process.” The revelation is contained in testimony Baker gave to House investigators last year. His testimony has not been publicly released, but I was permitted to review a transcript.

During questioning by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Baker was unequivocal about his early view that Clinton should face criminal charges. “I have reason to believe that you originally believed it was appropriate to charge Hillary Clinton with regard to violations of law — various laws, with regard to mishandling of classified information. Is that accurate?” Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor, asked Baker. Baker paused to gain his lawyer’s permission to respond, and then answered, “Yes.” He later explained why he came to that conclusion, and how his mind was changed: “So, I had that belief initially after reviewing, you know, a large binder of her emails that had classified information in them,” he said.

“And I discussed it internally with a number of different folks, and eventually became persuaded that charging her was not appropriate because we could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that — we, the government, could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that — she had the intent necessary to violate (the law).” Asked when he was persuaded to change his mind, Baker said: “Pretty late in the process, because we were arguing about it, I think, up until the end.” Baker made clear that he did not like the activity Clinton had engaged in: “My original belief after — well, after having conducted the investigation and towards the end of it, then sitting down and reading a binder of her materials — I thought that it was alarming, appalling, whatever words I said, and argued with others about why they thought she shouldn’t be charged.”

His boss, Comey, announced on July 5, 2016, that he would not recommend criminal charges. He did so without consulting the Department of Justice (DOJ), a decision the department’s inspector general (IG) later concluded was misguided and likely usurped the power of the attorney general to make prosecutorial decisions. Comey has said, in retrospect, he accepts that finding but took the actions he did because he thought “they were in the country’s best interest.”

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More will follow. 5 weeks left.

Conservative Split As Tory Rebels Denounce Hardline Brexiters (G.)

Three Conservative MPs who resigned to join a new independent group on Wednesday said Theresa May had allowed their former party to fall prey to hardline Brexiters and declared that the Tory modernising project had been destroyed. In the latest evidence that Brexit is reshaping the political landscape, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, all outspoken critics of May’s stance on Europe, said the Conservative party as they had known it under David Cameron was dead. “I’m not leaving the Conservative party – it has left us,” said Soubry at a hastily convened press conference around the corner from the House of Commons. “The modernising reforms that had taken years to achieve were destroyed.”

Allen was asked if she could ever return to the Conservatives and answered: “If we do our jobs properly, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to.” She added: “We’re about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre ground of British politics that people out there, I am convinced, we are convinced, want.” The dramatic resignations – announced shortly before May confronted Jeremy Corbyn at prime minister’s questions – sent shockwaves through Westminster, where MPs had barely digested news of the Labour split. The move reduces May’s already tenuous working majority to eight, raising still more questions over her authority amid rumours that there could be further Tory defections.

On Wednesday night, Allen told ITV’s Peston that “a third of the party” – around 100 of her former colleagues – shared her frustrations at its direction. The Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve told the BBC: “The government which I am supporting implementing a no-deal Brexit – what would I do? I would not be able to maintain my support of the government. I would have to leave the party.”

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George Galloway is right: center liberal parties are exactly what the whole world is rejecting.

How Not To Organise A Split In A Party (Galloway)

Just seven MPs announced their departure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and though there may be others to come this was their first rank. And there lies the first problem. Other than Chuka Umunna virtually nobody has ever heard of the new Independent Group of MPs who were quickly dubbed the ‘Seven Dwarfs’. [..] From a crowded field I’d say the next biggest blunder was registering their parliamentary factions as a private company in a transparent effort to avoid…transparency! It’s true that Chuka and co are the corporate suit types and most of them are more familiar with the boardroom than the boiler room but no parliamentary group in history has turned themselves into a business!

The reasons – millions of them – are not hard to discern. A political party must declare who’s funding it and how much. A private company doesn’t. But again what seemed like a wheeze is in fact a blunder. I’m now free to speculate that they’ve already received millions from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and President Putin. It’s probably not true, but how can one tell? [..] I may be wrong and Manchester United may win the Champions League but I’m perfectly sure Centrist neo-liberal politics are currently out of fashion throughout the world. I base this on 14 weeks of mayhem on the streets of France, and not much more than that in President Macron’s opinion poll ratings. On Mrs Merkel slouching out of the German Chancery in ruins. On the Rushmore like ruin of Hillary Clinton. On the portrait of Dorian Gray that is the haunted face of the most hated man in Britain, Tony Blair.

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And that’s only the tariffs.

UK And Ireland Retailers Warn Of 40% Tariffs On Food In No-Deal Brexit (G.)

A no-deal Brexit could lead to tariffs of 40% or more being imposed on food such as beef and cheddar cheese, driving up prices in shops and squeezing household budgets across the UK and Ireland, retail organisations from both countries have warned. With mounting fears that the UK could leave the European Union without an agreement in 36 days’ time, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Retail Ireland, issued a joint warning that this outcome could lead to delays at borders and shortages of fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. The scheduled withdrawal on 29 March comes at a time in the year when the UK imports a lot of fresh, out-of-season, produce – 90% of the lettuce consumed in Britain, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruits come from, or arrive via, Europe.

Increased tariffs, the devaluation of sterling and new regulatory checks would drive up the cost of fresh food and drink, which would be passed on to consumers, the retail bodies warned. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, both fall back on the World Trade Organization’s most favoured nation tariffs, which means import duties on everyday food items from fruit to cheese. This would mean a 42% tariff on imported cheddar, 46% on mozzarella, 40% on beef, 21% on tomatoes and 15.5% on apples, the BRC said. Last year one of the UK’s largest dairy producers, based in Northern Ireland, warned that leaving the customs union under a hard Brexit could lead to the price of meat doubling in the UK and the price of dairy, half of which is imported, rising by up to 50%.

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Imagine taking that into a severe recession.

UK Economy £100 Billion Smaller Because Of Austerity (G.)

Austerity policies from the Treasury have resulted in slower growth in every year since 2010 and left each household £300 a month worse off as a result, a thinktank has said. The New Economics Foundation said its analysis of the impact of tax and spending changes since the Conservatives came to power, first as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, had left the economy £100bn smaller than it would otherwise have been. Although the peak impact of the attempt to reduce a record peacetime budget deficit occurred during the first two years of the 2010-15 parliament, the thinktank said austerity was still acting as a drag on output. The NEF said the cumulative effect of tax, public spending and welfare adjustments on growth by the end of the 2018-19 financial year would be to leave the average household £3,629 a year worse off – the equivalent of £1,495 per person.

The latest public finances figures, due out on Thursday, will show whether the chancellor, Philip Hammond, is on course to hit his forecast for a budget deficit in 2018-19 of £25.5bn – one sixth of its level in the aftermath of the financial crisis and deep recession of 2008-09. Alfie Stirling, head of economics at the NEF, said work by the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies made it possible to isolate the effects of austerity. “At this time of year there is often renewed speculation over whether the chancellor will meet his year-end deficit targets by March. But for nine years, the elephant in the room has largely been missed: the sheer scale of economic damage that these targets have contributed to in the first place.”

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The Germans have a much smaller weapons industry.

Germany Rebuffs UK Call To Back Off Saudi Arms Freeze (ZH)

Germany is feeling the pressure from western allies over its weapons exports freeze in the wake of the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a freeze first announced in November, which included plans to reject any future export licences to Riyadh, but not previously approved deals. German allies like the UK have lately implored the German government to soften its stance, noting the potential broader economic impact on Europe. British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, currently in Berlin to discuss the terms of Brexit, reportedly wrote to the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a private letter first revealed by Der Spiegel that UK defense companies would be hindered in contractual obligations related to Eurofighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet delivery, namely to supply parts affected by the German arms freeze.

Hunt told Maas in the letter published in German press: “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments.” This follows comments by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the past weekend’s Munich Security Conference acknowledging the need for “common export controls guidelines” across Europe. She said during a question-and-answer session after her speech at the conference: “We have because of our history very good reasons to have very strict arms export guidelines, but we have just as good reasons in our defense community to stand together in a joint defense policy. And if we want … to develop joint fighter planes, joint tanks, then there’s no other way but to move step-by-step towards common export controls guidelines.”

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It’s like nothing changed in 4 years. Only this time Bernie may be the favorite.

Bernie Sanders Raised $6 Million In One Day After Launching Campaign (ZH)

Just one day after officially launching his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination during an interview on Vermont Public Radio, Bernie Sanders has already raised more than $6 million through more than 220,000 individual contributions, according to CNN. Sanders, who consistently ranks near the top of most polls alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, saw the money pour in from donors in all 50 states. The average contribution was $27, which is roughly in line with the average contribution from Sanders 2016 upstart primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, in which he won a number of crucial primaries (all while actively working against the DNC). Confirming his outsize popularity in an increasingly crowded field, the self-described “Democratic Socialist”‘s haul dwarfs the $300,000 raised by Elizabeth Warren during the 24 hours after her official campaign launch.

Of the $6 million raised, some 10% (about $600,000) came in the form of recurring donations, providing “a huge, dependable grassroots donor base that will afford the campaign a consistent budgeting baseline.” During his last race, Sanders regularly touted the fact that his campaign was largely funded by small donations. And it appears this is already emerging as a central theme for the 2020 race. “The only way we will win this election and create a government and economy that work for all is with a grassroots movement – the likes of which has never been seen in American history,” Sanders said in his message announcing his campaign. “They may have the money and power. We have the people.”

On top of that $6 million haul, Sanders is entering the race with more than $9 million left in his US Senate campaign committee: funds that he can transfer to his presidential campaign. That puts him behind only Warren ($11 million) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($10.3 million).

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She has no reason to support anyone at all.

Ocasio-Cortez Refuses To Back Bernie Sanders For 2020 (Ind.)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has refused to endorse Bernie Sanders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, despite working on the senator’s first presidential campaign. A spokesperson for Ms Ocasio-Cortez, like Mr Sanders a self-described democratic socialist, refused to comment directly on the 77-year-old’s Tuesday announcement he is running for a second time. “We’re excited to see so many progressives in the race,” spokesperson Corbin Trent said. “We’re not thinking at all about the next election.” Any endorsement by Ms Ocasio-Cortez is likely to be influential on the outcome of the race, thanks to her massive support among the grassroots of the party. But the 29-year-old, a congresswoman for New York, is unlikely to offer an endorsement before her state’s Democratic primary next year, and may even permanently withhold any explicit support for a single candidate.

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May 282018
 


Brassaï La Bande du Grand Albert 1931-32

 

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)
Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)
Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)
First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)
Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)
Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)
Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)
Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)
Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)
Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)
US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)
Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)
In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)
‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

 

 

“The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini.”

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)

I concede that there are issues over which I would welcome the Italian President’s use of constitutional powers that (in my humble opinion) he should not have. One such issue is the outrageous policy of the Lega and the promise of its leader, Mr Salvini, to expel five hundred thousand migrants from Italy. Had President Mattarella refused Mr Salvini the post of Interior Minister, on the basis that he rejects such a monstrous project, I would be compelled to support him. But, no, Mr Mattarella had no such qualms. Not even for a moment did he consider vetoing the formation of a 5S-Lega government on the basis that there is no place in a European country for scenes involving security forces rounding up hundreds of thousands of people, caging them, and forcing them into trains, buses and ferries before expelling them goodness knows where.

No, Mr Mattarella vetoed the formation of a government backed by an absolute majority of lawmakers for another reason: His disapproval of the Finance Minister designate. And what was this disapproval based on? The fact that the said gentleman, while fully qualified for the job, and despite his declaration that he would abide by the EU’s eurozone rules, has in the past expressed doubts about the eurozone’s architecture and has favoured a plan of euro exit just in case it is needed. It was as if President Mattarella were to declare that reasonableness in a prospective Finance Minister constitutes grounds for his or her exclusion from the post!

Let’s face it: There is no thinking economist anywhere in the world who does not share a concern about the eurozone’s faulty architecture. And there is no prudent finance minister who does not have a plan for euro exit; indeed, I have itr on good authority that the German finance ministry, the ECB, every major bank and corporation have plans in place for the possible exit from the eurozone of Italy, even of Germany. Is Mr Mattarella telling us that only the Italian Finance Minister is not allowed to imagine having such a plan? Beyond his moral drift (as he condones Mr Salvini’s industrial-scale misanthropy while vetoing a legitimate concern about the eurozone’s capacity to let Italy breathe in its midst), President Mattarella has made a major tactical blunder.

In short, he fell right into Mr Salvini’s trap. The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini. Mr Salvini is secretly salivating at the thought of another election – one that he will fight not as the misanthropic, divisive populist that he is but as the defender of democracy against the Deep Establishment. Already last night hescaled the high moral with the stirring words: “Italy is not a colony, we are not slaves of the Germans, the French, the spread or finance.”

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More than half of Italy feel utterly betrayed by their own president.

Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)

Italy’s president rejected Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte’s pick for the economy ministry, a political source said on Sunday, a veto that may lead to another election this year.Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experience, took his list of ministers to President Sergio Mattarella, but the president rejected Conte’s candidate to the Economy Ministry, the 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona. Before Conte or Mattarella had finished their meeting, far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said that the only option now was to hold another election, probably later this year, without directly confirming the president’s veto.

“In a democracy, if we are still in democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say,” Salvini said in a fiery speech to supporters in central Italy. Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio had met Mattarella informally on Sunday to try to find a solution. “The problem is Savona,” the coalition source said, explaining that the economist had not sufficiently softened some of his more eurosceptic positions. On Sunday, Savona tried to allay concerns about his views in his first public statement on the matter. Savona has been a vocal critic of the euro and the EU, but he has distinguished credentials, including as industry minister in the early 1990s. “I want a different Europe, stronger, but more equal,” Savona said in a statement.

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Another technocrat. That won’t go well this time around.

Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)

Italy’s president is expected to ask a former IMF official on Monday to head a stopgap government amidst political and constitutional turmoil, with early elections looking inevitable. President Sergio Mattarella has called in Carlo Cottarelli after two anti-establishment parties angrily abandoned their plans to form a coalition in the face of a veto from the head of state over their choice of economy minister. In a televised address, Mattarella said he had rejected the candidate, 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona, because he had threatened to pull Italy from the single currency. “The uncertainty over our position has alarmed investors and savers both in Italy and abroad,” he said, adding: “Membership of the euro is a fundamental choice. If we want to discuss it, then we should do so in a serious fashion.”

Financial markets tumbled last week on fears the coalition being discussed would unleash a spending splurge and dangerously ramp up Italy’s already huge debt, which is equivalent to more than 1.3 times the nation’s domestic output. After Mattarella’s move, the euro gained ground, adding 0.6% against the Japanese yen and ticking up against other major trading partners as well. The far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which had spent days drawing up a coalition pact aimed at ending a stalemate following an inconclusive March vote, responded with fury to Mattarella, accusing him of abusing his office.

5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio called on parliament to impeach the mild-mannered Mattarella, while League chief Matteo Salvini threatened mass protests unless snap elections were called. “If there’s not the OK of Berlin, Paris or Brussels, a government cannot be formed in Italy. It’s madness, and I ask the Italian people to stay close to us because I want to bring democracy back to this country,” Salvini told reporters. [..] Cottarelli would be a calming choice for the financial markets, but any technocratic administration would likely only be a short-term solution because the majority of parliamentarians have said they would not support such a government.

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Portugal is supposed to be the Prince of the PIIGS.

First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)

While most investors are focused on Italian politics – the parallel currency ‘mini-BoT’ fears and potential for a constitutional crisis – Spain is now facing its own political crisis amid calls for a no-confidence vote against Rajoy. However, ‘Spaxit’ remains a distant concern for investors as another member of the PIIGS peripheral problems is starting to signal concerns about ‘Portugone’?

And the fundamental data confirms Portugal is next in line for a debt crisis… As Statista’s Brigitte van de Pas notes, on average, European Union countries had a gross government debt of roughly 81% of GDP in 2018. This average disguises real differences between EU countries. Whereas Greece had a government debt of 177.8% in 2018, Estonia had a debt of only 8.8% – the lowest in the entire EU zone.

While, the high Greek debt is well-known, a number of other countries however also have a debt that is higher than their own GDP. The Italian debt, for example, is lower than the Greek but still significant, at over 130% of GDP. Portugal, in third place, had a debt of 122.5%. One small positive note though: all three countries had even higher debts in 2017, and the European Commission forecasted a slow, but further decrease of their government debt in 2019. Whether this holds true for Italy, with their newly-elected government of Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega remains to be seen.

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“U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! [..] China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase!”

Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)

[First], Congress’s approving a bill to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act. If this passes, smaller financial institutions will find relief from the strict rules that have applied to Wall Street banks since after the 2008 crisis. This is sheer idiocy! It will not end well. The second is the U.S. corporate debt is suffering one of its worst sell-offs since 2000. This is another disaster in the making. U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! Only government debt has risen faster, from $35 to $64 trillion, or 83%. China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase! Of course, many of these bonds are simply financial engineering to buy back stock to increase earnings per share.

Uber-low long-term interest rates thanks to QE have allowed companies to do this cheaply. The problem is these long-term rates have been rising since just July 2016. They’ve gone from 1.38% to 3.10%. That’s an increase of 172 basis points in the risk-free 10-year Treasury bond. That naturally reverberates up through the risk spectrum from investment grade corporate bonds to junk bonds. You see, here’s the thing…Governments have artificially pushed down bond yields for so long that companies have embraced speculation rather than productive investment (i.e. they’re not spending money on productive assets that will serve them and the economy well in the long-term). This mentality only creates financial asset bubbles that burst.

When companies buy back their own shares at historically high valuations, they’re speculating, just like an investor or hedge fund. When stocks crash ahead, shareholders will demand to know why these corporations used the money they will need to survive the crisis to speculate in their own stock… at the highest prices in history! Well, as the numbers are now showing, this corporate bond bubble is starting to burst, and of course that will ultimately hit junk bonds the worst… then stocks and real estate. But the real story here is that we’ve been in this bond bubble since 1981. And the quality of this corporate debt has been falling for nearly 40 years now. QE has only accelerated the decline. We’re now at the point where the median corporate bond rating is borderline junk…

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You don’t say…

Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)

A veteran market researcher is out with a warning — saying the Federal Reserve is relying too heavily on economic surveys skewed by social media to mold their policies. According to Bianco Research President James Bianco, most economists mistakenly believe that leading indicators are signaling an “A+” economy that can withstand rising interest rates. “It’s more like a B- economy,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday. “It’s not this screaming home run that everybody thinks it is based on the survey data.” Bianco said social media is creating the bandwagon effect among survey respondents, a psychological phenomenon characterized by people following the herd.

“The advent of social media is allowing us basically to be inundated with financial news or economic news,” he said, adding the bulk of the news about the world’s largest economy has been largely favorable. “When somebody is asked ‘what do you think about the economy,” they are not answering ‘what do you think about the economy,’ Bianco said. “They are answering ‘What have you read about the economy?'” Bianco fears the Fed will make a policy error based on respondents’ answers. “Economists like at the Fed say ‘Wow, look at that data. It’s even better than we thought. We have to raise rates even faster,'” he said, adding that the tightening could derail the bull market. “The 10-Year [yield] could very well be at 3% by the end of next year with a 3% funds rate,” Bianco said. “[That’s when] you get an inverted yield curve.”

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Nobo’s popular at home anymore. Except for Putin.

Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)

Washington finds itself increasingly isolated in its economic and military policies. Merkel’s visit to Russia reaffirms the desire to create an alternative axis to the one between Brussels and Washington. The victory in Italy of two parties strongly opposed to new wars and the annulment of the JCPOA, and especially the sanctions against Russia, serves to form a new alliance, accentuating internal divisions within Europe. Macron, Merkel and May are all grappling with a strong crisis of popularity at home, which does not aid them in their decision-making. Exactly the same problems affect MbS, Trump, and Netanyahu in their respective countries. These leaders find themselves adopting aggressive policies in order to alleviate internal problems.

They also struggle to find a common strategy, often displaying schizophrenic behavior that belies the fact that they are meant to be on the same side of the barricades in terms of the desired world order. In direct contrast, China, Russia, Iran, and now India, are trying to respond to Western madness in a rational, moderate, and mutually beneficial way. And as a result, Europeans may perhaps begin to understand that the future lies not in piggybacking on Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Trump seems to have offered the perfect occasion for European leaders to assert their sovereignty and start to move away from their traditional servility shown towards Washington.

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“This, as the saying goes, could be it.”

Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez really wants to be Prime Minister. The Socialist Party has been mostly flat in the polls for months, slowly trending down from 23% at the beginning of the year to 19% in the Metroscopia poll in El País on May 13. Articles had recently appeared wondering if Mr. Sánchez had anything relevant to say at all. His only notable intervention of late had been a meeting with Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa, the Prime Minister’s office, to agree on a joint response to the challenge posed by Quim Torra, the new separatist First Minister of Catalonia, whom Mr. Sánchez then decided to frame as “Spain’s Le Pen”, “a racist and a supremacist”.

With the publication of the Gürtel fraud case judgement on Thursday, the Socialist Party, which holds 84 out of 350 seats in Congress, has seized on an opportunity to move back into the political spotlight and oust the Popular Party from power with a motion of no confidence. Mariano Rajoy, famously unresponsive as political scandals erupt and opponents die off, wants to stay on as Prime Minister, of course, but this is a serious crisis: El País has characterised it as a “national emergency”. It is such a big mess that the PM felt he had to cancel his trip to Kiev to watch Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

He gave an unscheduled press conference on Friday afternoon, accompanied by his ministers, and accused Mr. Sánchez of wanting to destabilise Spain and wreck the country’s economic recovery. Moncloa sent out an unsigned, unofficial, unstamped “economic report” on Saturday, warning that the socialist motion of no confidence would cost €5 billion and 6,500 jobs. PP spokesman Fernando Martínez Maíllo said Mr. Sánchez would become the “Judas of Spanish politics” if he did a deal with Catalan separatists to take power. The Popular Party and Mr. Rajoy himself—also sliding inexorably downwards in the polls—sense real danger in the PSOE’s move. This, as the saying goes, could be it.

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“By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt.”

Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)

Spain’s maritime rescue service has rescued hundreds of people trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this weekend amid growing concerns that the country is struggling to cope with the migration crisis. The service said its crews had rescued 293 people from nine boats on Saturday. On Sunday, a further 250 migrants were rescued from eight boats, three of which were in poor condition and later sank, they added. The migrants were from various countries in North and sub-Saharan Africa. On a single day in August last year, Spanish rescuers saved 593 people from 15 small paddle boats – including 35 children and a baby – after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar.

According to statistics from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 21,468 migrants and refugees arrived in Spain by sea in 2017, with 224 people dying on the journey. The arrival figures showed a threefold increase on 2016, when 6,046 people reached Spain and 128 people died en route. By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has already warned that Spain is facing “another very challenging year” when it comes to helping and protecting those arriving on its shores.

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His case looks solid. But we’re talking the heart of these companies’ business models.

Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)

Accusing Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Instagram of “intentionally” violating Europe’s strict new privacy rules that officially went into effect on Friday, Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems filed four lawsuits against the tech companies arguing they are still “coercing users into sharing personal data” despite rolling out new policies ostensibly aimed at complying with the new regulations.

Titled the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new rules require companies to explicitly and clearly request consent from users before mining their data, and Schrems argues in his complaints – which seek fines totaling $8.8 billion – that Google, Facebook, and the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are still utilizing “forced consent” strategies to extract users’ data when “the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service,” TechCrunch explains. “It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Schrems wrote in a statement.

“Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent. In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the ‘agree’-button—that’s not a free choice.” While Facebook—which is currently embroiled in international controversy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal—insists that its new policies are in compliance with Europe’s new regulatory framework, Schrems argues that Facebook and Google aren’t even attempting to follow the new law. “They totally know that it’s going to be a violation, they don’t even try to hide it,” Schrems told the Financial Times. Schrems believes that courts can curtail companies’ ability to poke around in our private lives and wean them off their idea that, “ ‘We’re Silicon Valley, we know what’s right for everybody else.’ ”

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Strong lobby for this in Washington.

US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)

The United States should freeze the sale of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because they are more likely to used against Greece than against terrorists, Democratic US Congressman Brad Sherman told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a Foreign Affairs Hearing on May 23. “I hope that the administration will oppose and prevent the sale of F-35s [to Turkey]. They are not a weapon to be used against terrorists. They are a weapon to be used against Greece,” he said.

A US Senate committee passed earlier this week a defense policy bill that includes a measure to prevent Turkey from purchasing the F-35s, citing the country’s detention of US citizen Andrew Brunson and its agreement with Russia to buy its weapons systems in December. Sherman also called on the State Department not to block a House resolution on genocidal campaigns committed by the Ottoman Empire. “I hope the State Department will at least be neutral should Congress consider, as we are considering, the remembrance of the millions of Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac victims of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the last century,” he added.

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Fastest growing industry.

Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)

The UK’s largest food redistribution charity is helping to feed a record 772,000 people a week – 60% more than the previous year – with food that would otherwise be , new figures reveal. One in eight people in the UK go hungry every day – with the most needy increasingly dependent on – yet perfectly good food is wasted every day through the food production supply chain. FareShare said it was now redistributing food that otherwise would have been wasted with an annual value of £28.7m, up from £22.4m last year. “Three years ago we were helping to feed 211,000 people a week – today it’s three-quarters of a million,” said FareShare’s chief executive, Lindsay Boswell. “We reported in 2015 that we provided food across 320 towns and cities – now it’s 15,000. It’s not rocket science to see there has been a massive hike in demand for food from frontline charities.”

FareShare currently redistributes about 13,500 tonnes of surplus food every year donated by supermarkets, wholesalers and suppliers to 9,653 charities including hospices, homeless shelters, care homes and women’s refuges, but its annual target is 100,000 tonnes. Demand for surplus food has soared against a background of growing dependence on food banks and rising in the UK. FareShare says it has the capacity – and a waiting list of charities wanting help – but needs access to more food. Its solution is a government fund that would cover the costs of storage and transport. Available to any charity or producer that incurs the costs of redistributing food, it would also save charities and other beneficiaries £150m by making free food available to them. A public petition supporting this move attracted more than 16,000 signatures, which guarantees a government response.

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People will start leaving in droves sson.

In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)

For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being — crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness — point to a deteriorating quality of life. When Ms. Lewis and her husband bought their home a quarter-century ago, Prescot had a comforting village feel. Now, core government relief programs are being cut and public facilities eliminated, adding pressure to public services like police and fire departments, just as they, too, grapple with diminished funding.

By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier, or more than $900 annually for every working-age person in the country, according to a report from the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. In Liverpool, the losses will reach $1,200 a year per working-age person, the study says. “The government has created destitution,” says Barry Kushner, a Labour Party councilman in Liverpool and the cabinet member for children’s services. “Austerity has had nothing to do with economics. It was about getting out from under welfare. It’s about politics abandoning vulnerable people.”

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They should do that for all Americans stationed abroad today. Bring the living ones home while they’re still alive.

‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

Wearing bandanas, cowboy hats or gleaming helmets, tens of thousands of bikers descended on Washington Sunday to parade in honor of US soldiers missing in action in foreign wars, a now 30-year-old tradition known as “Rolling Thunder.” “We’re gonna keep riding until we get everybody back home, from all wars,” said Jack Richardson, who at 73 crossed the country from California for the 13th time to participate in the annual Memorial Day weekend spectacular. Dressed in a leather jacket emblazoned with patches, this Vietnam War veteran had assembled with thousands of other bikers in a parking lot near the Pentagon, awaiting the start of the parade.

The route will take them into the center of official Washington, past the monuments on the National Mall and the austere black marble memorial engraved with the names of the nearly 60,000 US soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. “Still there are families waiting back home here in the United States that have not found out where their dads, their fathers, their brothers – they don’t know where they are,” said Richardson, a retired Los Angeles police officer who served two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. “They don’t know if they’re still in Vietnam, they don’t know if they’re still alive, they don’t know if they’re dead, they don’t know if they’re captured,” he said.

According to organizers, more than 85,000 US soldiers remain unaccounted for in conflicts as far back as World War I. Most are from World War II, but 1,598 of the missing are from the war in Vietnam, a conflict still fresh in the memories of older veterans. The parade was begun in 1988 with some 2,500 motorcycles under the motto “We will never forget” to press for an accounting of the Vietnam missing. It has grown every year since into a rumbling, roaring extravaganza that organizers say attracts over a million people, including spectators. Besides the missing, the bikers also come to remember their fallen comrades.

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