Jul 282018
 
 July 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Window at Tangiers 1912

 

The Big Adjustments in “Real” GDP (WS)
China-US Trade War Would Wipe 20% Off The S&P 500 – UBS (CNBC)
Trump Tariffs: Turning Point In History, End Of Globalisation – Duncan (SCMP)
Julian Assange’s Fate Rests On Death Penalty Assurances -Moreno (CNN)
‘Assange’s Days In Ecuadorian Embassy In London Are Numbered’ – Correa (RT)
Twitter Share Price Drops 17% As Q2 Results Released (Ind.)
Facebook Is Sued After Stock Plunge ‘Shocked’ Market (R.)
Millions Could Be Affected By ‘No-Deal’ Brexit Medicines Shortages (PJ)
Yulia Skripal to Return to Russia When Her Father Gets Better (Sp.)
United Airlines Donates Flights To Reunite Immigrant Families (SFBT)
Greek Overtaxation Hurts Private Consumption (K.)
HRW Slams ‘Appalling’ Conditions Of Migrant Camps In Northern Greece (K.)

 

 

The last hurrah.

The Big Adjustments in “Real” GDP (WS)

What the Bureau of Economic Analysis released today as part of its GDP report was a huge pile of revisions and adjustments going back years. It included an adjustment to the tune of nearly $1 trillion in “real” GDP. And it lowered further its already low measure of inflation. Based on this revised data, second-quarter “real” GDP (adjusted for inflation) increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.1% from the prior quarter. Annual rate means that if GDP continues to increase for four quarters in a row at the current rate, the 12-month GDP growth would be 4.1%. This was the highest growth rate since Q3 2014:

The above measure of “real” GDP – the change from prior quarter, but at an annualized rate – is the most volatile measure, producing the biggest-looking results, both up and down, as you can see in the above chart with a plunge of -8.4% in Q4 2008. Few or no other major countries use this measure for that reason. A less volatile measure and producing less big-looking results is the 12-month change in “real” GDP, which the BEA’s data set also provides. This is the inflation adjusted, seasonally adjusted annual rate of GDP growth – in other words, how GDP did over the past 12 months. For the 12 months ending in Q2, it rose 2.8%.

Read more …

And then more would follow.

China-US Trade War Would Wipe 20% Off The S&P 500 – UBS (CNBC)

Investors could see steep drops in global stock markets if tensions between China and the United States escalate into a full-blown trade war, analysts at UBS said in a note Friday. Assuming virtually all trade between U.S.-China is affected by tariffs and other protectionist policies, the Swiss bank calculated that profits for S&P firms would take a 14.6% hit, with U.S. and global growth being 245 and 108.5 basis points lower, respectively. However, the bank noted there would also be second-order effects. These “would be larger, with U.S. multinationals doing business in China also likely to be hurt by China retaliation.” Thus, in terms of company valuations, these would take an additional 9.1% hit, bringing a total downside of 21.3% for the U.S. benchmark after some further adjustments by UBS analysts.

So far this year, President Donald Trump has imposed new tariffs on Chinese solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminum, as well as on other imported goods for intellectual property theft. China has retaliated every time. However, there are more potential tariffs on the way, with Trump threatening to impose new levies worth as much as $200 billion. David Riley, the chief investment strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” Friday: “If I was sitting in Beijing, I would be pretty worried.” “I think we are going to get potentially more tariffs imposed on China coming at the end of the month, or early September,” he said.

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“They may be intent on stopping China’s economic growth altogether..”

Trump Tariffs: Turning Point In History, End Of Globalisation – Duncan (SCMP)

The deepening trade dispute between the United States and China could mark a “turning point in history”, ending the system of global trade that brought low-cost goods to consumers and fuelled the rise of the Chinese mainland and other emerging markets in just a few decades, according to noted economist and author Richard Duncan. Bangkok-based Duncan believes the US$50 billion of Chinese products designated for 25% tariffs by the Trump administration – in addition to a proposed 10% tariff on an additional US$200 billion in Chinese goods – may represent the first steps in a policy shift by Washington that goes far beyond what many observers expect.

“I am becoming concerned that they really do intend to put up trade tariffs on a very large scale against China and that perhaps there’s more to this strategy than just balancing trade. They may be intent on stopping China’s economic growth altogether, now that China has become so large they are becoming not only an economic competitor, but potentially a military threat to US global dominance. If that’s the case, this could be a turning point in history,” Duncan said in a new South China Morning Post business podcast. While it is too early to say how the trade talks between the two sides will play out, one concern is that escalating tariffs, beginning with the US$34 billion of Chinese products which went into effect on July 6, are about to become the norm, rather than the exception.

[..] “Over the last 30 years the rapid economic rise of China has really transformed the world, but if the US starts putting tariffs on US$200 billion and US$500 billion of Chinese exports, then China’s economy could go into a very serious crisis,” Duncan said. [..] “I don’t view this as a conflict between the US and China. It is not that simple, it’s not team USA versus team China. There are interests in the United States that have benefited enormously from this arrangement that now exists, in particular, the large US multinationals. They have been able to drive down their labour costs by moving their factories from Detroit and other US cities into China. Their wage costs have collapsed as a result of this move. The share of profits that are split between labour and capital have shifted.”

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Beware international law, Lenin.

Julian Assange’s Fate Rests On Death Penalty Assurances -Moreno (CNN)

British and Ecuadorian authorities have held discussions over the future of Julian Assange, the Ecuadorian president said on Friday, fueling speculation that the WikiLeaks founder may soon be stripped of the country’s diplomatic protection in London. Speaking in Madrid, President Lenín Moreno suggested Ecuador was seeking guarantees that whatever Assange’s eventual fate, he would not face the death penalty. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 when he was facing allegations of sexual assault in Sweden. The case was eventually dropped but Assange has always feared being extradited to the US, and in the past his lawyers have claimed he could face execution there.

Moreno said the previous Ecuadorian government granted Assange asylum because it agreed his life was in danger. “The death penalty does not exist in Ecuador, and we knew that possibility existed… The only thing we want is a guarantee that his life will not be in danger,” Moreno said. In a statement Friday, Moreno’s communication’s office stressed the President “hasn’t ordered, at any moment, the removal of Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.” Ecuador’s government has no desire that Assange remain “in asylum his whole life” and urged “a solution to a problem we inherited,” the statement said. [..] Moreno made it clear that he did not support Assange’s work. “I have never agreed with what Mr. Assange does. I have never supported the interception of private emails to be able to obtain information, regardless of how valuable it may be, to bring to light certain undesirable actions carried out by governments on people.”

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No, really, Correa and Moreno were close friends. I’m convinced the Americans got to Moreno before he became president.

‘Assange’s Days In Ecuadorian Embassy In London Are Numbered’ – Correa (RT)

The days of Julian Assange’s residence in the Ecuadorian embassy in London are numbered, the country’s former president Rafael Correa, who was still at the helm when he offered the WikiLeaks founder asylum, has told RT. Correa’s remarks came amid speculation that his successor, Lenin Moreno, may soon kick Assange out, probably to be arrested by British authorities. According to Assange himself, this would lead to the unsealing of a secret US indictment against him and his extradition to America. Moreno this week said that, sooner or later, the self-exiled anti-secrecy activist will have to leave the Ecuadorean diplomatic mission.

You can be sure that he [Moreno] is a hypocrite. He already has an agreement with the US about what will happen to Assange. And now he’s just trying to sweeten the pill by saying he’s going to have a dialogue” about conditions of the transfer, Correa told RT. “I’m afraid … that Assange’s days in our embassy are numbered.” Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, has made no secret that Assange’s refuge was a nuisance for his government, which he inherited from Correa. The Australian has been living at the compound since 2012 and has lately been barred by his Ecuadorean hosts from any communications.

Accusing the incumbent Ecuadorian president of “reducing [Assange] to a hacker who snooped in private emails,” Correa pointed out that Moreno cannot grasp the complexity of Assange’s role in exposing human rights abuses by the US government, or the harsh punishment the 47-year-old will face if extradited to the US. Correa, who now hosts a show on RT’s Spanish service, noted that unless Assange secures safe passage guarantees, he is likely to be prosecuted for espionage and treason “which may carry the death penalty.” While Moreno said on Friday that he is trying to negotiate Assange’s security guarantees, Correa believes that the activist’s fate has already been sealed.

Read more …

Twitter’s shadow banning scandal lurks in the background.

Twitter Share Price Drops 17% As Q2 Results Released (Ind.)

Twitter Inc shares have plunged 17% after the social media platform revealed its monthly users dropped by 1 million in the second quarter – and predicted the number will decline further. The decline in monthly users comes as Twitter contends with increasing fake spam accounts and dangerous rhetoric on the platform. Monthly active users are at 335 million in the current quarter, according to a statement released by Twitter on Friday, down from 336 million in the first quarter. Despite the decline, the number of users is up 2.8% from the past year, but Twitter expects the numbers to continue falling as the crusade against spam accounts continues.

“Our second quarter results reflect the work we’re doing to ensure more people get value from Twitter every day,” said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a statement. “We want people to feel safe freely expressing themselves and have launched new tools to address problem behaviours that distort and distract from the public conversation.” According to Dorsey, the company’s machine-learning algorithms are identifying more than 9 million potential spam or fake accounts a week.

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Any fine would be paid by…the same shareholders who sue.

Facebook Is Sued After Stock Plunge ‘Shocked’ Market (R.)

Facebook Inc and its chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were sued on Friday in what could be the first of many lawsuits over a disappointing earnings announcement by the social media company that wiped out about $120 billion of shareholder wealth. The complaint filed by shareholder James Kacouris in Manhattan federal court accused Facebook, Zuckerberg and Chief Financial Officer David Wehner of making misleading statements about or failing to disclose slowing revenue growth, falling operating margins, and declines in active users. Kacouris said the marketplace was “shocked” when “the truth” began to emerge on Wednesday from the Menlo Park, California-based company.

He said the 19% plunge in Facebook shares the next day stemmed from federal securities law violations by the defendants. The lawsuit seeks class-action status and unspecified damages. Shareholders often sue companies in the United States after unexpected stock price declines, especially if the loss of wealth is large. Facebook has faced dozens of lawsuits over its handling of user data in a scandal also concerning the U.K. firm Cambridge Analytica. Many have been consolidated in the federal court in San Francisco.

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“..we make no insulin in the UK. We import every drop of it.”

Millions Could Be Affected By ‘No-Deal’ Brexit Medicines Shortages (PJ)

Many patients — including the prime minister herself — could be “seriously disadvantaged” by disruption to the drug supply chain if the UK exits the EU without a deal, the head of the UK’s medicines regulator has said. In comments made in a “personal capacity” to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Sir Michael Rawlins, chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that the supply of medicines such as insulin could be disrupted because the UK does not manufacture it and transporting it is complicated as its storage has to be temperature-controlled. Prime minister Theresa May has type 1 diabetes and is known to use insulin to control it.

Rawlins said that the government needed to “work out how” the supply of some medicines are going to be guaranteed in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. He said: “There are problems and the Department for Exiting the EU and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) needs to work out how it’s going to work. “Here’s just one example why: we make no insulin in the UK. We import every drop of it. You can’t transport insulin around ordinarily because it must be temperature-controlled. And there are 3.5 million people [with diabetes, some of whom] rely on insulin*, not least the prime minister.”

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What happened to the gag order? Oh, wait, this is Sputnik.

Yulia Skripal to Return to Russia When Her Father Gets Better (Sp.)

Yulia Skripal, who was allegedly poisoned alongside her father Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury in March, will return to Russia when the latter gets better, Yulia’s cousin Viktoria Skripal told Sputnik on Thursday. “[Yulia] said she was doing well and already had a connection to the Internet… She will return home when her father gets better,” Viktoria said. The phone conversation took place on Tuesday, when Sergei Skripal’s mother was celebrating her 90th birthday.

“She was very happy to hear that Sergei was okay,” Viktoria stressed, adding that, according to Yulia, Sergei Skripal still had a respiratory tube in his trachea. On March 4, the Skripals were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping center in Salisbury. The United Kingdom and its allies have accused Moscow of having orchestrated the attack with what UK government claims was the A234 nerve agent, albeit without presenting any proof. Russian authorities have refuted the allegations as groundless.

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United’s CEO is Hispanic.

United Airlines Donates Flights To Reunite Immigrant Families (SFBT)

Several of the nation’s airlines made headlines in June when they told Washington that they would not fly immigrant children separated from their families at the border. Now United is going one step further by donating flights to reunite children that have been separated from their immigrant families. United’s move is garnering favorable attention on social media. “We have great news to share! A growing community of support is coming together to reunite families who were separated at the border. We are so thankful and happy to announce that United Airlines is jumping in and helping,” FWD.us posted on Facebook. “Thanks to this partnership with United, we are able to provide travel to the recently reunited immigrant families to get to their next destination with dignity.”

Another supporter of United’s generosity tweeted, “Thank you @united. You’re good people.” Earlier this week, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, the Texas nonprofit also known as RAICES, said that it planned to donate $3 million as part of a #FlightsForFamilies initiative, The Hill newspaper reported. RAICES is working with FWD.us and Families Belong Together on the effort to reunite immigrant families. RAICES made news last week by declining a $250,000 donation from San Francisco-based Salesforce.com because of the tech company’s contract with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Chicago-based United Airlines, which operates a major hub in San Francisco, could risk some backlash from wading into the contentious immigration debate, but the carrier may expect most Americans will embrace the idea of reuniting families.

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The troika works like a boa constrictor.

Greek Overtaxation Hurts Private Consumption (K.)

Conditions of weak growth and high unemployment look set to continue in the Greek economy, as despite the increase in exports and investments, private consumption remains stagnant due to overtaxation, according to Alpha Bank’s weekly economic bulletin. “The drop in private consumption in the first quarter of 2018 coincides with households’ limited consumption capacity due to the excessive taxation imposed both through direct and indirect taxes. According to Bank of Greece estimates, private consumption is expected to show a small 0.8% increase in 2018, which will be supported by the increase in employment and the negative mean trend toward savings,” the bulletin read.

The bank’s analysts point out that, with the exception of the significant annual rise of 33% in car sales, all other indexes point to weak growth in private consumer spending: The retail sales volume index grew by just 0.6% on an annual basis in the January-April period, against an increase of 1.1% in the whole of 2017. Also takings from value-added tax slipped 0.3%, illustrating the weak demand in the market, Alpha noted.

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If the EU wanted to stop this, they could. Within days.

HRW Slams ‘Appalling’ Conditions Of Migrant Camps In Northern Greece (K.)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a scathing report on the “appalling” conditions that migrants and refugees face in northern Greece. HRW said that thousands have been subject to appalling reception and detention conditions, with at-risk groups lacking necessary protection. It added that Greece has failed to ensure minimum standards for pregnant women, new mothers and others arriving via the northeast land border with Turkey, many of whom are fleeing violence or repression in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The group said that during visits by its members to three government-run centers last May they found that living conditions did not meet international standards in terms of adequate access to healthcare – including for mental health and support for at-risk people including women traveling alone, pregnant women, new mothers, and survivors of sexual violence. Several of the 49 residents at the three facilities that HRW interviewed also reported verbal abuse by police. Two said they witnessed police physically abusing others. Hillary Margolis, a women’s rights researcher at HRW, said, “People told us they were being treated so poorly in these facilities that they felt less than human.” “Greece has a responsibility to uphold basic standards of care for everyone in its custody, regardless of their immigration status,” she added.

Read more …

Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 12:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jacques-Louis David Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus’ Disease 1774

 

One thing that’s not receiving enough attention in the respective Assange and Russia coverage is to what extent both protagonists are needed in each other’s narratives to keep each of these alive. Without explicitly linking Assange to Russia, allegations against him lose a lot, if not most, of their credibility. Likewise, if Assange is not put straight in the middle of the Russia story, it too loses much. Linking them is the gift that keeps on giving for the US intelligence community and the Democratic party.

In that light, as the shameful/shameless treatment of Julian Assange continues and is on the verge of even worse developments, I was wondering about some dates and timelines in the whole sordid affair. And about how crucial it is for those wanting to ‘capture’ him, to tie him to Russia in any form and shape they can come up with and make halfway credible.

10 days ago in The True Meaning of ‘Collusion’ I mentioned how Robert Mueller in his indictment of 12 Russians -but not Assange-, released on the eve of the Trump-Putin summit, strongly insinuated that WikiLeaks had actively sought information from Russians posing as Guccifer 2.0, that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. I also said that Assange was an easy target because, being closed off from all communication, he cannot defend himself. From the indictment:

 

a. On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

 

Now, the indictment itself has been blown to shreds by Adam Carter, while the narrative that the Russians hacked DNC servers and provided what they stole to WikiLeaks, has always categorically been denied by Assange, while the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and others have concluded that the speed at which the info was downloaded from the servers means it couldn’t have been a hack.

Oh, and Carter left little standing of Mueller et al’s portrait of Guccifer 2.0 as being of Russian origin. Plus, as several voices have pointed out, Assange had said on British TV on June 12 2016, ten days before the date the indictment indicates, that WikiLeaks was sitting on a batch of material pertaining to Hillary Clinton. An indictment full of allegations, not evidence, that in the end reads like Swiss cheese.

But it does serve to keep alive, and blow new fire into, the “The Russians Did It” narrative. And obviously, it also rekindles the allegation that Assange was working with the Russians to make Trump win and Hillary lose. Allegations, not evidence, against which neither Assange nor “the Russians” are in a position to defend themselves. Very convenient.

 

In his June 25 article How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal, The Hill’s John Solomon details how negotiations in early 2017 between legal representatives for Julian Assange and the US Justice Department were suddenly halted when James Comey, then FBI director, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) suddenly and entirely unexpectedly told Adam Waldman, Assange’s attorney, and David Laufman, then head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section, who had been picked to lead the talks, to stand down.

This happened when Waldman reached out to Warner, who informed Comey, among other things, about Assange’s offer to provide evidence that he did not get the DNC files from the Russians. That would have dealt a huge blow to the Russia-Did-It allegation, and it would also have destroyed the narrative of Assange working with Russia. And lest we forget: it would have made Mueller’s indictment worth less than the paper it’s written on.

That Comey’s order for Waldman and Laufman to stand down risked the lives and safety of CIA operatives receives surprisingly(?) little attention, but apparently it was worth it for Comey to keep the narrative(s) alive. What do the operatives themselves think about it, though?

It’s not fully clear from Solomon’s article when exactly the stand down order was given, and/or when the talks broke down entirely. Going through the dates, we know it’s sometime between March 28 2017, when we know talks were still ongoing, and April 7 2017, when Assange “released documents with the specifics of some of the CIA malware used for cyber attacks.” After that, then CIA director Mike Pompeo labeld WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service.”

Why is the date interesting? For one thing because present Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno was elected to his job on April 2 2017 (he took office on May 24). And it’s Moreno who now holds Assange’s fate in his hands. It was Moreno, also, who cut off Assange completely from the outside world last March.

Moreno’s about-face since becoming president is something to behold. He had been vice-president, trustee and friend to his predecessor Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2013. Moreno, who’s wheelchair bound after being shot in a burglary in 1998, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts for the disabled in Ecuador.

What made him turn? Or should we perhaps ask: when did the Americans get to him? And what do they have on him? Is it bribe or blackmail? There’s talk of new and generous IMF loans as we speak. What’s clear is that Moreno is in London this week, and it’s unlikely that Assange’s situation doesn’t come up in talks at all, even if that’s what Moreno’s people want to make us believe. It’s way more likely that discussions are happening about how to put Assange out on to the street and then in a British or even US jail.

 

But Assange’s case may not be as hopeless as we think. First, all the British have on him is a charge of jumping bail. That carries three months and a fine. It’s not labeled a serious charge, that goes for offences that carry three years and more. New UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt misspoke seriously when he said Assange faced serious charges. He doesn’t. And Britain still has a court system, and Assange still has lawyers.

More important, perhaps, is that Moreno will come under a lot of pressure, and probably already is, to not hand over Assange. The UN has been very clear about what it thinks about Assange’s treatment. It violates more international laws than we can count. But who cares about the UN anymore these days, right?

Even more outspoken has been the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I know, I had never heard of them either. But they’re a serious body, most South American nations are members, and many Caribbean ones. Here’s what the court said on July 13:

 

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on Friday the right to seek asylum in embassies and other diplomatic compounds. The ruling includes a mandatory safe process, and the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum. Without naming Julian Assange, the ruling was deemed a huge victory for the WikiLeaks founder who has been held up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.

The court released a public statement, which said that it had “interpreted the reach of the protection given under Article 22 (7) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XXVII of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which recognize the right to seek and receive asylum in a foreign territory.”

“In particular, the Court declared upon the relative issue of whether this human right protects both territorial asylum and diplomatic asylum. Similarly, the Court determined the human rights obligations of the Member States of the Organization of American States regarding the host country and, in this case, for third States, in virtue of the risk that persons seeking international protection could suffer, which was the reason for the principle of non-refoulement.

 

This court is not some hobby club. Wiki: “The Organization of American States established the Court in 1979 to enforce and interpret the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. Its two main functions are thus adjudicatory and advisory. Under the former, it hears and rules on the specific cases of human rights violations referred to it. Under the latter, it issues opinions on matters of legal interpretation brought to its attention by other OAS bodies or member states.”

The court is also very clear in its ruling. Note: “the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum”. Moreno may want to think twice before he surrenders Assange and goes against the ruling. The consequences could be far-reaching. Nobody wants to start a fight with ALL of their neighbors all at the same time. Violating the ruling would make the court obsolete.

The ideal solution would be if Australia would offer Julian Assange safe passage back home. Another country could do the same. Assange has never been charged with anything, other than the UK’s bail-skipping charge, a minor offence.

Julian Assange is a journalist, and a damn good one at that. The silence in the Anglo -and international- media about his case is shameful and deafening. So is the smear campaign that’s been going on for over a decade. How many women have been turned against the man by the false Swedish rape charges? Condemning someone to isolation without access to daylight or medical care goes way beyond shameful.

It’s time to end this horror show, not prolong or deepen it. But the power of international intelligence services is at stake, and they’re going to go to great lengths to impose that power. The US has already even claimed that freedom of speech, i.e. its entire Constitution, does not apply to non-Americans.

That’s quite the claim when you think about it. That also tells us how much is at stake for ourselves. The mainstream media are already captives to the system, lock, stock and barrel. But if Assange can be silenced this way, what are Jim Kunstler, the Automatic Earth and Zero Hedge going to do? Are we all going to shut up?

 

We need to rage against the dying of the light more than ever. Because the light, indeed, is dying. We should not go gentle into that night without ever being heard from again. We owe that to ourselves, our children, and to Julian. It’s all the same thing. Not standing up for Assange means not standing up for your children. Are you sure you’re okay with that?

 

 

Jul 042018
 


Edward Hopper People in the sun 1963

 

The Velocity of Money… and Revolution (Brin)
Ecology: The Keystone Science (Hawes)
Facebook Flags, Removes Declaration of Independence Text as Hate Speech (Rea.)
Theresa May To Pitch ‘Softest Possible Brexit’ Plan (R.)
UK Government ‘Will Miss Fuel Poverty Target By More Than Six Decades’ (G.)
‘Unknown Substance’ Leaves Pair Critically Ill In Salisbury Hospital (G.)
As The State Is Dismantled, Who Will Save Britain’s Wildlife? (Monbiot)
City Properties Should Be Homes For People First – Not Investments (G.)
Ecuador Wants Ex-President Correa Extradited (DW)
Most Of Europe’s Rivers And Lakes Fail Water Quality Tests (G.)
More Than 200 Migrants Drown In Mediterranean In Three Days (G.)
Albatross

 

 

Lowest since 1949.

The Velocity of Money… and Revolution (Brin)

A recent Mauldin missive correctly cites the most disturbing symptom of trouble in the U.S. economy: a plummet in Money Velocity (MV). To quote John: “You may be asking, what exactly is the velocity of money? Essentially, it’s the frequency with which the same dollar changes hands because the holders of the dollar use it to buy something. Higher velocity means more economic activity, which usually means higher growth. So it is somewhat disturbing to see velocity now at its lowest point since 1949, and at levels associated with the Great Depression.” Somewhat… disturbing? That’s at-best an understatement, since no other economic indicator is as telling. MV is about a bridge repair worker buying furniture, that lets a furniture maker get dentures, so a dentist can pay her cleaning lady, who buys groceries….

There are rare occasions when MV can be too high, as during the 1970s hyper-inflation, when Jimmy Carter told Paul Volcker “Cure this, and to hell with my re-election.” But those times are rare. Generally, for all our lives, Money Velocity has been declining into dangerous sluggishness, falling hard since the 80s, rising a little in the 90s, then plummeting. Alas, while fellows like Hunt and Mauldin are at last pointing at this worrisome symptom, they remain in frantic denial over the cause. Absolutely, it is wealth disparity that destroys money velocity. Bridge repair workers and dentists would spend money – if they had any. We have known – ever since Adam Smith gazed across the last 4000 years – that a feudal oligarchy does not invest in productive capacity.

Nor does it spend much on goods or services that have large multiplier effects (that give middle class wage earners a chance to keep money moving). Instead, aristocrats have always tended to put their extra wealth into rentier (or passive rent-seeking) property, or else parasitic-crony-vampiric cheating through abuse of state power. Do not let so-called “tea party” confederate lackeys divert you. The U.S. Revolution was against a King and Parliament and royal cronies who commanded all American commerce to pass through their ports and docks and stores, who demanded that consumer goods like tea be sold through monopolies and even paper be stamped to ensure it came from a royal pal. Try actually reading the Declaration of Independence. “Taxation without representation” was about how an oligarchy controlled Parliament through jiggered districts and cheating, and used that power to funnel wealth upward.

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“The gravy train is running out of steam..”

Ecology: The Keystone Science (Hawes)

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under. There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American, or even European levels of energy use.

All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world. The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back. The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way.

Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion and growing humans. Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

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Happy 4th of July, Zuck.

Facebook Flags, Removes Declaration of Independence Text as Hate Speech (Rea.)

America’s founding document might be too politically incorrect for Facebook, which flagged and removed a post consisting almost entirely of text from the Declaration of Independence. The excerpt, posted by a small community newspaper in Texas, apparently violated the social media site’s policies against hate speech. Since June 24, the Liberty County Vindicator of Liberty County, Texas, has been sharing daily excerpts from the declaration in the run up to July Fourth. The idea was to encourage historical literacy among the Vindicator’s readers. The first nine such posts of the project went up without incident.

“But part 10,” writes Vindicator managing editor Casey Stinnett, “did not appear. Instead, The Vindicator received a notice from Facebook saying that the post ‘goes against our standards on hate speech.'” The post in question contained paragraphs 27 through 31 of the Declaration of Independence, the grievance section of the document wherein the put-upon colonists detail all the irreconcilable differences they have with King George III. Stinnett says that he cannot be sure which exact grievance ran afoul of Facebook’s policy, but he assumes that it’s paragraph 31, which excoriates the King for inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”

The removal of the post was an automated action, and Stinnett sent a “feedback message” to Facebook with the hopes of reaching a human being who could then exempt the Declaration of Independence from its hate speech restrictions. Fearful that sharing more of the text might trigger the deletion of its Facebook page, The Vindicator has suspended its serialization of the declaration. In his article, Stinnett is remarkably sanguine about this censorship. While unhappy about the decision, he reminds readers “that Facebook is a business corporation, not the government, and as such it is allowed to restrict use of its services as long as those restrictions do not violate any laws. Plus, The Vindicator is using Facebook for free, so the newspaper has little grounds for complaint other than the silliness of it.”

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Time to place a bet that Brexit will not happen.

Theresa May To Pitch ‘Softest Possible Brexit’ Plan (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will present to her team a new proposal for trade with the European Union that in effect comprises the “softest possible Brexit”, ITV’s political editor reported on Tuesday, citing sources. Britain’s exit from the bloc next year will mark its biggest trading and foreign policy shift in almost 50 years. But May has struggled to unite pro- and anti-Brexit camps in her cabinet and party around a plan for future trade with the EU. So far, May’s advisers have come up with two options, neither of which have the full support of her party. Both have already been dismissed in principle by EU officials.

With the clock ticking toward a March departure date and passions running high, May is holding a meeting of senior ministers on Friday at which she will pitch a compromise third option, ITV political editor Robert Peston said. She will ask her cabinet to back a plan that would see Britain collect duties on imports at the rate of the EU’s common customs tariff, in effect making Britain the EU’s tax collector, according to Peston. May and her officials believe this would avoid the need for border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Peston wrote in a Facebook post.

Opposition lawmaker Hilary Benn, who chairs parliament’s Brexit committee, said he thought it was “unlikely that the EU will agree to outsource the collection of its own tax revenues to a third country”. Peston also said May’s proposal would include IT and camera technology to help reduce bureaucracy around the border, as well as British alignment with EU standards for goods and agricultural products. On services, which make up the bulk of Britain’s economy, Peston said May wants to offer the EU preferential rights for its citizens who want to live and work in Britain, in exchange for better access to the EU’s services market.

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Thatcher on steroids.

UK Government ‘Will Miss Fuel Poverty Target By More Than Six Decades’ (G.)

The government will miss a key fuel poverty target by more than half a century at the current rate homes are being insulated and upgraded, a leading thinktank has warned. Ministers are drastically off course on ensuring as many fuel-poor homes – those which people cannot afford to keep adequately heated – as possible are upgraded to energy efficiency band C by 2030 in England, according to the IPPR. The target will not be met by 2091 at the earliest, a report by the thinktank found. England has about 2.5m fuel-poor households, and the hardship they face paying energy bills is set to rise this year because of price hikes.

“At its current rate of delivery, hundreds of thousands of fuel-poor households will be left out in the cold until the end of the century,” said Luke Murphy, associate director for energy, climate, housing and infrastructure at IPPR. The thinktank said the main scheme for tackling the problem – the energy companies obligation (ECO) – was not working, and called on the government to reform it. It is estimated only 11% fuel-poor homes had reached band C by 2017, up from 8% in 2015. The IPPR looked at the rate that energy efficiency measures were installed under the ECO between April 2017, when the scheme was rebooted, and February 2018.

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Give me a break.

‘Unknown Substance’ Leaves Pair Critically Ill In Salisbury Hospital (G.)

A major incident has been declared in Wiltshire after it was suspected two people might have been exposed to an unknown substance in Amesbury. The man and woman, both in their 40s, were in a critical condition at Salisbury district hospital, Wiltshire police said. A number of scenes in the Amesbury and Salisbury area were cordoned off as a precaution, although the force said it was not yet clear if they were the victims of a crime. One of the sites cordoned off and guarded by three officers was the town’s baptist church, a modern red brick building, a few minutes’ drive away from the address where the man and woman were found.

Local radio station Spire FM reported that Queen Elizabeth Gardens in the centre of Salisbury had also been sealed off as part of the investigation. Public Health England (PHE) advised that it did not believe there to be a “significant health risk” to the wider public, although its advice was being continually assessed. The incident comes exactly four months after the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were left poisoned on 4 March by a suspected military nerve agent in Salisbury, around eight miles from Amesbury. Police said the man and woman were found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road on Saturday evening and it was initially believed that they had taken illegal drugs, however further tests were being carried out.

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Absolutely nobody.

As The State Is Dismantled, Who Will Save Britain’s Wildlife? (Monbiot)

It feels like the collapse of the administrative state – and this is before Brexit. One government agency after another is losing its budget, its power and its expertise. The result, for corporations and the very rich, is freedom from the restraint of law, freedom from the decencies they owe to other people, freedom from democracy. The public protections that constrain their behaviour are being dismantled. An example is the cascading decline in the protection of wildlife and environmental quality. The bodies charged with defending the living world have been so enfeebled that they now scarcely exist as independent entities. Natural England, for example, has been reduced to a nodding dog in the government’s rear window.

Its collapse as an autonomous agency is illuminated by the case that will be heard next week in the high court, where two ecologists, Tom Langton and Dominic Woodfield, are challenging its facilitation of the badger cull. That the cull is a senseless waste of life and money is well established, but this is only one of the issues being tested. Another is that Natural England, which is supposed to assess whether the shooting of badgers causes wider environmental harm, appears incapable of discharging its duties.

As badger killing spreads across England, it intrudes upon ever more wildlife sites, some of which protect animals that are highly sensitive to disturbance. Natural England is supposed to determine whether allowing hunters to move through these places at night and fire their guns has a detrimental effect on other wildlife, and what the impact of removing badgers from these ecosystems might be. The claimants allege that it has approved the shooting without meaningful assessments.

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Sadiq Khan and Ada Colau, mayors of London and Barcelona. Don’t understand that social housing doesn’t solve the problem.

City Properties Should Be Homes For People First – Not Investments (G.)

For a number of years, cities around the world have been facing increasingly global and aggressive speculation in their property markets – from speculators who see housing in our cities as an asset from which to profit, rather than homes for the people we represent. In many cases, speculators take decisions from thousands of miles away. Yet for us their impact on the life and soul of our cities is very close to home. Our city centres risk being hollowed out as vibrant communities are displaced, local shops are closed, and the cost of housing rises exorbitantly. Our community groups and local government, as the part of civic life closest to local people and the most sensitive to their everyday problems, have often been the first to warn of the risks that these practices bring with them regarding the very survival of our cities.

For city leaders to be able to tackle this problem, they urgently need greater resources and powers both to increase their stocks of social-rented and other genuinely affordable housing and to strengthen tenants’ rights. Cities are not simply a collection of buildings, streets and squares. They are also the sum of their people. They are the ones who help create social ties, build communities and evolve into the places where we are so proud to live.

That is why we are determined to change the way that housing works in the cities we represent. We are building more social-rented and other genuinely affordable homes, doing all we can to strengthen the rights of tenants, and clamping down on bad practices of developers and landlords wherever we are able to. But we face a complex problem and one that operates at a global level. We still lack the powers and resources that would allow us properly to regulate the housing market, to protect tenants’ rights to remain in their homes, and to make homelessness and rough sleeping things of the past.

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Punished for supporting Assange?!

Ecuador Wants Ex-President Correa Extradited (DW)

Ecuador requested an Interpol red notice for ex-President Rafael Correa on Tuesday, hoping to have him extradited from Belgium. Correa claims the decision to request his detention and extradition from Belgium are part of an attempt by his former ally, the current president Lenin Moreno, to humiliate him and make him suffer. Correa had been ordered by Ecuadorean Judge Daniella Camacho to present himself before an Ecuadorean court every two weeks as part of the proceedings into the attempted kidnapping in Colombia of former opposition lawmaker Fernando Balda in 2012.

The former premier, whose wife is Belgian, has been living in Belgium since July last year, and has reported to the consulate in Brussels every 15 days starting June 2. On Tuesday, the judge claimed her orders for Correa to present himself to a court had been violated. According to a statement on Twitter, the public prosecutor requested the pre-trial detention of Correa for non-compliance. He called for Interpol to be notified through a red alert for Correa’s capture and extradition.

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Our waters are for dumping garbage.

Most Of Europe’s Rivers And Lakes Fail Water Quality Tests (G.)

The vast majority of Europe’s rivers, lakes and estuaries have failed to meet minimum ecological standards for habitat degradation and pollution, according to a damning new report. Only 40% of surface water bodies surveyed by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) were found to be in a good ecological state, despite EU laws and biodiversity protocols. England was one of the poorer performers to emerge from the State of Our Waters report, which studied 130,000 waterways. The EU’s environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said there had been a slight improvement in freshwater quality since 2010. “But much more needs to be done before all lakes, rivers, coastal waters and groundwater bodies are in good status,” he added. “Tackling pollution from agriculture, industry and households requires joint efforts from all water users throughout Europe.”

Scotland dramatically outperformed England in the clean water stocktake which covers the 2010-15 period, with water standards similar to much of Scandinavia. Precise comparisons are difficult as reporting methodologies vary across Europe but water quality in England was in the bottom half of the European table, and had deteriorated since the last stocktake in 2010. Peter Kristensen, the report’s lead author told the Guardian that higher population densities, more intensive agricultural practices, and better monitoring of waterways had all contributed to the result. “England is comparable to countries in central Europe with a high proportion of water bodies failing to reach good status,” he said. “The situation is much better in Scotland, where only around 45% of sites failed [to meet minimum standards].”

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It’s actually getting worse.

More Than 200 Migrants Drown In Mediterranean In Three Days (G.)

More than 200 migrants have drowned at sea in the Mediterranean in the past three days, taking the death toll for the year to more than 1,000 and prompting fears that human traffickers are taking greater risks because of a crackdown imposed by the Italian government and the Libyan coastguard. The UN refugee agency in Tripoli reported on Monday that 276 refugees and migrants were disembarked in the Libyan capital on Monday, including 16 survivors of a boat carrying 130 people, of whom 114 were still missing at sea. Further shipwrecks were found at the weekend. On Tuesday the Libyan coastguard reported a further seven deaths and a further 123 migrants rescued.

The 1,000 deaths landmark was reached on 1 July. It is the fourth year in succession that more than 1,000 migrants have died trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Othman Belbeisi, the chief of mission in Libya at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), claimed the “alarming increase” in deaths at sea was out of the ordinary. “Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe,” he said. Overall the number of migrants reaching Italy by sea is down on last year’s figures, but the proportion of those trying to reach Italy that are drowning is rising, prompting claims that the stricter Italian government policy is to blame.

Figures prepared by Matteo Villa, a research fellow at the Italian thinktank ISPI, show that so far in 2018 only half of those leaving Libya have made it to Europe, down from 86% last year. The data shows 44% have been brought back by the Libyan coastguard, compared with 12% last year. A total of 4.5% died or had gone missing, compared with 2.3% last year. But in June, almost one in 10 died or went missing upon departure from the Libyan coast – the highest proportion ever.

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I can’t watch this.

Albatross

In the heart of the great Pacific, a story is taking place that may change the way you see everything. ALBATROSS is offered as a free public artwork. Watch the 3-minute trailer now:

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May 172018
 
 May 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Daubigny’s garden 1890

 

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)
Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)
Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)
Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)
Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)
Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)
New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)
Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)
Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)
31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)
DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)
Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)
Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

 

 

“People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.”

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)

With mortgage rates rising, one would expect refi activity to slow. And it has: Refi Applications are at an 8-Year Low. But why is there any refi activity all at all? In September 2017 the MND mortgage rate rate was 3.85%. In June 2016, the MND rate was 3.43%.

It makes little sense to refi at 4.70% when one could have done it less than two years ago a point and a quarter lower. At these rates, refi activity should be in the low single digits. Yet, 36% of mortgage applications are refis.

Are people pulling money out of their houses to pay bills? That’s how it appears as Cash-Out Mortgage Refis are Back. What’s Going On?
• People feel wealthy again and are willing to blow it on consumption
• People pulling money out to invest in stocks or Bitcoin
• People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.

I suspect point number three is the primary reason. Regardless, releveraging is as wrong now as it was in 2007. Totally wrong.

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Dump and dump.

Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)

Like Powell, Clarida said he “absolutely” supports the Fed’s normalization of interest rates and the balance sheet. Like Powell, he said that the normalized balance sheet should be “a lot smaller,” and that Powell’s suggestion of a range of $2.4 trillion to $2.9 trillion, down from its peak-level of $4.5 trillion, “makes sense.” Like Powell, he said stock market volatility itself – that’s downward volatility, the only volatility that matters on Wall Street – shouldn’t determine the Fed’s policy decisions. On banking regulation too he mirrored Powell. So in this sense, what he said about mortgage-backed securities on the Fed’s balance sheet is fascinating: The Fed should shed them entirely, down to zero.

Clarida explained that there are “benefits and costs” of QE, and that as more layers of QE were piled on, “the benefits of QE diminished and the costs went up.” And as vice chairman, he’d “have to take a serious look at the costs of QE.” Then he was asked about “non-Treasury instruments, like mortgage-backed securities,” for QE – that the Fed, when selecting non-Treasury securities, would be getting into something that it shouldn’t, namely “allocating credit.” “Yes, absolutely,” Clarida replied: “My preference would be for the Fed to end up with a Treasury-only portfolio.” He then added that, “as a general proposition, my preference would be to have the balance sheet as much as possible in Treasury securities.”

Shedding MBS from the balance sheet entirely and keeping them off could have a big impact. Currently, the Fed holds $1.74 trillion of MBS. That’s about 26% of all residential mortgage-backed securities outstanding. The Fed is the elephant in the MBS room.

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“..the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world..”

Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)

In less than a month, Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), faces three lawsuits that may end up taking all of the oil giant’s international assets, leaving it bankrupt. According to the economist and opposition congressman, Ángel Alvarado, the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world, is about to disappear. Alvarado says that the state has no way to pay all its outstanding debts or the legal judgments that are looming. In an ominous sign, creditors today attempted to collect USD $2.9 billion that the oil company has failed to pay in debt obligations. The bankrupt company not only must face ConocoPhillips, after having lost a lawsuit where it was ordered to pay the US oil company USD $2 billion.

PDVSA now must also respond to a wave of similar claims, as it looks for a way to pay bondholders after default, and tries to restart refineries that are about to close because of diminished production caused by abandonment and embezzlement. In short, PDVSA faces the perfect storm for falling into bankruptcy, with no credible path for solvency. According to OPEC, Venezuela is the country with the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world with 296 billion barrels. However, paradoxically, the export of crude oil is not a profitable business for the South American country after years of neglect by the socialist government. Recently the US company ConocoPhillips decided to seize the PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, a dangerous precedent that could influence other plaintiffs to take similar measures.

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Joining the rest of the world.

Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)

Births in the United States have plunged to record lows not seen in decades, marking a profound cultural shift that could have ramifications for the future economy, experts said Thursday. The overall fertility rate, which essentially shows how many babies women are having in their childbearing years, and indicates whether the population is replenishing itself, fell to 1.76 births per woman last year, down 3% from the rate of 1.82 in 2016. That marks “the lowest total fertility rate since 1978,” said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the US birth rate plunged to a 30-year low.

The 3.85 million US births in 2017 were the fewest since 1987, as American women under 40 continued to delay childbearing. About 77,000 fewer babies were born last year than in 2016 – about a 2% drop year-on-year. The latest downward trend began around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, but has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and the economy has improved. “To me the biggest surprise is the continuing decline of fertility rates among young women,” said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution. “About 10 years since the Great Recession we still see this declining fertility among women in their 20s and that could be problematic if it continues for another three or four years.”

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“The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone..”

Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)

Letter to CEO John Ridding and editors of the Financial Times. Dear Sirs, I have read your article “Rome opens its gates to the modern barbarians” and, with all due respect to an important newspaper like yours, honestly I think you need to better understand what is taking place in Italy. And I suggest you get to know the 5 Star MoVement a little more closely. The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone, marking every possible negative record in our history. Nowadays, Italy has about 6 million people under the absolute poverty threshold and about 100,000 young people every year expatriating to try their luck elsewhere, often in your country.

All this is the result of barbarians, old barbarians about whom I have never read as many negative things in your editorials as I am reading these days against us. The 5 Star Movement was born in 2009 with a specific aim: to bring the popular will back to the centre of the political debate and the decisions of the central government. In just 9 years we have grown so much that we can now see what we have accomplished, with over 11 million people who trusted us in the last elections. We succeeded by working hard, with our heads down, studying, always struggling to defend Italian citizens. We succeeded with the youngest, most educated and most gender-balanced parliamentary group that the history of Italy has ever seen. Italians have always believed us based on the awareness that everything we have promised or written in a program, has become a reality on the first occasion we have had to make it happen.

In your article you are talking about a contract of government that is difficult to implement and economically unsustainable: what a pity you have not read this contract yet! And this is an offence to professional journalism, also. But there is one thing you are right about. The contract we are writing is challenging and it will not be easy to remedy the damage caused by political barbarians governing our country for the past 30 years. But we are doing our best to restore hope and to give Italians a brighter future. If you want to better understand how we will acccomplish this, I suggest you do not waste time publishing false news created ad-hoc by the Italian media system, get to know the 5 Star Movement and report the truth instead. Good luck!

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On the Guardian’s hit pieces yesterday.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.” Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.”

The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual. On March 27, Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was cut off by Ecuadorian officials, who also installed jamming devices to prevent Assange from accessing the internet using other means of connection. Assange’s previously active Twitter account has had no activity since then, nor have any journalists been able to communicate with him. All visitors to the embassy have also been denied access to Assange, who was formally made a citizen of Ecuador earlier this year.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

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Hopeful.

New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)

The first Labour government in close to a decade has pledged to make New Zealand a kind and equitable nation where children thrive, and success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people. Finance minister Grant Robertson said the Labour coalition government didn’t want to “manage” issues such as child poverty and homelessness – it wanted to end them. Although the 2018 budget was focused on rebuilding vital public services – particularly the health care sector – Robertson said next year’s budget would be the first in the world to measure success by its people’s wellbeing. “We want New Zealand to be a place where everyone has a fair go, and where we show kindness and understanding to each other,” said Robertson.

“These changes are about measuring success differently. Of course a strong economy is important but we must not lose sight of why it is is important. And it is most important to allow all of us to have better lives … the government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work. The 2018 budget had been preceded by weeks of cautious rhetoric by the government, which repeated time and again that before embarking on its ambitious social policies such as ending child poverty, tackling climate change and housing every New Zealander, it first had to invest in upgrading public services such as hospitals and schools.

Labour’s first budget was viewed as restrained and fiscally cautious, with Robertson forecasting a NZ$3bn ($2bn) surplus this year, increasing to $7bn in 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government’s first budget was not focused on the election cycle, but generational improvement in New Zealanders’ lives. “Rebuild what?” said Ardern, defending her government’s budget and rounding on the opposition leader, Simon Bridges. “Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we? We are rebuilding a government that thinks about people.” “In 15 or 20 or 30 years’ time I want my child to look back on the history books and judge me and this government favourably, rather than deciding to change their name.”

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A sad comedy.

Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)

Peers have inflicted a 15th defeat on the government’s key Brexit bill, underlining the acute political challenge Theresa May faces in seeking a deal that both parliament and her warring ministers can live with. The latest amendment, aimed at bolstering environmental protection after Brexit, was carried by 294 to 244 votes on Wednesday. Peers argued that enforcement measures proposed in a consultation document published last week were inadequate and that the environment had been subordinated to housing and economic growth. With her cabinet still deadlocked over customs arrangements, the prime minister must now decide when to bring the legislation back to the House of Commons and seek to undo the changes made by peers.

Martin Callanan, the Conservative leader in the Lords, said: “During the bill’s journey through the House of Lords, some changes have been made that conflict with its purpose or are designed to frustrate the entire exit process, and so we are considering the implications of those decisions.” The backbench pro-Brexit European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, wants to see the votes brought forward as soon as possible to scotch the idea that there is a majority against hard Brexit among MPs. They point to a pair of recent Commons victories, over the release of Windrush documents and a , as evidence that the government’s majority is more secure than moderate backbenchers claim.

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“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities..”

Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)

A sample of Novichok, the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Skripals, was obtained by German intelligence back in the 1990s, local media report. The substance has since been studied and produced by NATO countries. Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media outlets reported following a joint investigation. The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insights into the issue of the nerve agent said to have been used in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.

Western governments were able to lay their hands on the formula of what is described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed” after the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, obtained a sample of the nerve agent from a Russian defector in the early 1990s. A Russian scientist provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok for some time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German NDR and WDR broadcasters, as well as Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung dailies, report, citing unnamed sources within the BND. At some point, the man offered to bring the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for him and his family.

A sample was eventually smuggled by the wife of the scientist and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical lab, according to the reports. Following the sample analysis, the Swedish experts established the formula of the substance, which they then handed over to Germany. By the order of the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND then shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the intelligence services of the US and the UK. Later, the UK, the US and Germany reportedly created a special “working group” tasked with studying the substance, which also included representatives from France, Canada and the Netherlands.

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities,” the four media outlets reported, adding that it was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it remains unclear which particular states were involved in the Novichok production.

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Let’s make sure they are protected.

31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)

Some 2,500 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Greece last year, around 8% of the total 31,400 child refugees who sought asylum in European Union countries in 2017. Italy received a relatively large chunk of applications for asylum – more than 10,000, or 32% of the total – followed by Germany, with 9,100 applications (29%). The United Kingdom received 2,200 applications (7%), while Austria received 1,400 (4%), Sweden 1,300 and the Netherlands 1,200. The number of child refugees seeking asylum in EU countries in 2017 almost halved compared to the previous year. In 2016 there were 63,200 applications, while there were 95,200 in 2015. However, the total number of applications in the EU last year was still double the annual average of 12,000 between 2008 and 2013.

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On the river.

DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)

The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control. Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month. The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa. Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died. Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak’s shift to a major city meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases. “This is a major development in the outbreak”. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.” Mr Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people. “This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.

[..] On Wednesday more than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine sent by the WHO arrived in the country with another batch expected soon. The vaccine from pharmaceutical firm Merck is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C. Electricity supplies in Congo are unreliable.

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Curious.

Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)

A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia, but finding a more precise location requires further investigation. CFC chemicals were used in making foams for furniture and buildings, in aerosols and as refrigerants. But they were banned under the global Montreal protocol after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s. Since 2007, there has been essentially zero reported production of CFC-11, the second most damaging of all CFCs.

The rise in CFC-11 was revealed by Stephen Montzka, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado, and colleagues who monitor chemicals in the atmosphere. “I have been doing this for 27 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was just shocked by it.” “We are acting as detectives of the atmosphere, trying to understand what is happening and why,” Montzka said. “When things go awry, we raise a flag.” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer. It’s therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action.”

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Profound.

Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

A haunting cover image on the June issue of National Geographic is circulating online, suggesting the plastic pollution we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Such is the extent of Earth’s mind-boggling plastic problem that scientists recently found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench — the deepest point in the ocean, sitting nearly 11 kilometres below the surface. The Nat Geo cover image was shared by the magazine’s senior photo editor Vaughn Wallace on Twitter this morning who called it “one for the ages”.

[..] The latest edition of the magazine is dedicated to Earth’s plastic consumption and is filled with striking images and infographs that show the immense scale of plastic pollution plaguing our planet. As a small part of addressing the problem, the magazine has committed to delivering its issues in paper wrappers rather than plastic wrappers moving forward. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the globe and most of them end up in landfill where they take a significant time to break down, or in the ocean where they kill marine life.

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