Apr 262019
 


Francisco Goya The dummy 1791

 

Trump Has Just Taken The Biggest Economic Gamble Of His Presidency (AEP)
A Nation at War With Itself (Pat Buchanan)
Trump Attacks Democrat ‘Coup’ In 1st Post-Mueller Interview (RT)
US Is Investigating Assange Under Espionage Act – WikiLeaks (NP)
UN Special Rapporteur On Privacy Meets Assange In Prison: “I Will Act” (Maurizi)
Macron Responds To Gilets Jaunes Protests With €5 Billion Tax Cuts (G.)
Macron: Smaller Schengen Zone Because EU Migration Policies ‘Do Not Work’ (RT)
Irish Backstop Could Undermine EU Standards – Report (G.)
Juncker Refuses To Reject Huawei ‘Just Because It’s Chinese’ (RT)
Huawei Leak Highlights Collapse Of Discipline In May’s Cabinet (G.)
European Equities May Benefit As $1 Trillion In US Buybacks Vanish (ZH)
Universe Expands Faster Than Expected – NASA

 

 

Ambrose calls the depletion of Ghawar a “first-order shock”. Common knowledge though. Still, Trump may not be aware of it either if Ambrose isn’t.

Trump Has Just Taken The Biggest Economic Gamble Of His Presidency (AEP)

Donald Trump’s double strangulation of Iran and Venezuela is reducing spare capacity in the global oil markets to wafer-thin levels very fast. If anything goes wrong in the geopolitical cauldron of world energy over the next six months, we will discover whether Saudi Arabia really is capable of cranking up an extra 2 million barrels a day of crude. What we learnt from the rare glimpse of Saudi Aramco’s books this month is that the legendary Ghawar field is badly depleted. It cannot pump more that 3.8m barrels a day. This is a first-order shock. The company has always asserted with magisterial confidence that it can produce 5m barrels a day without difficulty.

Jean-Louis Le Mee, from Westbeck Capital, says the physical oil markets are on fire. They are heading for a supply deficit of 1.3m barrels a day by the third quarter even if OPEC matches every barrel of lost oil from Iran sanctions. “These numbers should have every investor worried,” he said. Global spare capacity is arguably as low today as it was during the great oil shocks of the last half century. We are skating on thin ice. The immediate wild card is renewed fighting in Libya but other supply problems are stacking up fast. Draconian new rules on shipping fuel to lower sulphur emissions imply a surge in demand for variants of diesel. Bank of America says this will add 1.1m barrels a day in short-term crude demand over coming months. “We see a risk of $US100 Brent by year-end,” it said.

The options markets are not priced for this so the theatrics could be spectacular. Libya is again on the cusp of full-blown civil war after the fateful march on Tripoli by general Khalifa Haftar, the mercurial Nasserist of Benghazi. The National Oil Corporation warns that a free-for-all by rival militias could cause a near total collapse in crude exports. The world could lose another 700,000 barrels a day. Brent crude has risen to a six-month high of $US74.50, up 25 per cent from its average levels over the winter. It has not yet reached the pain threshold for Europe or emerging markets but it is getting close. Oil has of course been much higher in the past – $US148 in 2008 – but the nominal price is not the macro-economic variable that matters. Trouble starts earlier if crude is rising because of a negative supply shock. That is what we face today.

Read more …

No, I haven’t become a fan of Buchanan. But his view warrants attention.

“How does a nation so divided stand united in the world? And if it cannot stand united in the world, how long does it remain a great nation?”

A Nation at War With Itself (Pat Buchanan)

President Donald Trump has decided to cease cooperating with what he sees, not incorrectly, as a Beltway conspiracy that is out to destroy him. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump said Wednesday. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are out to win in 2020.” Thus the Treasury Department just breezed by a deadline from the House Ways and Means Committee to deliver Trump’s tax returns. Thus the White House will invoke executive privilege to deny the House Judiciary Committee access to ex-White House counsel Don McGahn, who spent 30 hours being interrogated by Robert Mueller’s team. Thus the Justice Department is withholding from the Oversight Committee subpoenaed documents dealing with the decision to include a question on the 2020 Census about citizenship status.

Across the capital, the barricades are going up figuratively as they did physically in the 1960s and ’70s. Once more, it’s us against them. Cognizant of the new reality, Trump seems to be saying: These House investigations constitute a massive political assault, in collusion with a hostile media, to destroy my presidency. We do not intend to cooperate in our own destruction. We are not going to play our assigned role in this scripted farce. We will resist their subpoenas all the way to November 2020. Let the people then decide the fate and future of the Trump presidency — and that of Nancy Pelosi’s House.

[..] Whatever may be said about the “deplorables,” they are not obtuse. They do not believe that people who call them racists, sexists, nativists and bigots are friends and merely colleagues of another party or persuasion. Trump’s defiance of subpoenas, however, will force the more moderate Democrats to join the militants in calling for hearings on impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee, which is where we are headed. The media are already salivating over the possible removal of a president they have come to loathe more than their great nemeses of the 20th century — Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. And the media will reward those who echo the call for impeachment. This week, two more Democrats running for president, including Sen. Kamala Harris, came aboard. Soon, the House will capitulate to the clamor and the stampede will be on.

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Sometimes I think the Democrats work for Trump. They hand him everything on a platter by getting lost in a fictional narrative.

Trump Attacks Democrat ‘Coup’ In 1st Post-Mueller Interview (RT)

Trump unloaded on Democrats, accusing them of an “attempted coup” in his first interview since the release of the Mueller report. Rehashing his usual rhetoric, Trump called the ‘Russiagate’ flop “bigger than Watergate.” On a victory lap since his election campaign was cleared of collusion with Moscow, Trump relied on a few tried and trusted tropes as he bashed the “13 angry Democrats” and “dirty cops” from the FBI for sparking the Russia investigation in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. The long-awaited publication of the redacted version of the Mueller report appears to have given Trump a huge boost of confidence as he sounded more assertive than ever, taking aim at his political opponents and doubling down on his innocence.


“The greatest scandal in the history of our country. Bigger than Watergate, because it means so much. This wasn’t stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup. It’s inconceivable. Like a third world country.” Trump lashed out at former rival Hillary Clinton for “destroying the lives” of his staffers, and blasted the FBI for going light on her during her private server investigation. But now, he said, the “tables have turned” and “it’s time to look at the other side,” calling the Russia investigation an “attempted overthrow of the United States government” and “a disgraceful thing.”

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Death penalty. For which UK cannot extradite. US is talking to Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who had a big fall-out with Assange. Letter sent to him is underneath the article.

US Is Investigating Assange Under Espionage Act – WikiLeaks (NP)

Right after the London police carried Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, the United States demanded his extradition. A March 2018 indictment charges him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. But that is not the entire truth. Only one day after writing the indictment, the US Attorney’s Office admitted it was also investigating Assange for the „unauthorized receipt and dissemination of secret information“. That is what the Department of Justice wrote in a letter to former WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, which we are publishing in full.

This accusation can be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, a World War I era federal law intended to protect military secrets which has also been used to charge Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Convictions under the Espionage Act can be punished by death. The death penalty is not only inhumane and archaic, it has legal consequences: The United Kingdom is not allowed to extradite Assange if he faces the death penalty. Charging Assange for publishing classified information is an attack on press freedom, „obtaining and disseminating secret information“ is the very task of journalism. If WikiLeaks is charged, every journalist and media outlet publishing secret information will be on trial. While the Obama administration debated this dangerous precedent, the Trump government shows no restraints.

[..] In Virginia, a federal grand jury is secretly investigating Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2017, an FBI agent filed an affidavit to support charging Assange with a computer hacking conspiracy. Based on that, the grand jury issued an indictment against Assange on March 6, 2018. This document was unsealed and published immediately after his arrest in London. It is the official justification for the extradition request. But that is not the whole story. Just one day after writing the indictment, on March 7, 2018, the same US Attorney, Tracy Doherty-McCormick, wrote a letter to the lawyers of Daniel Domscheit-Berg in Germany.

Sporting the Department of Justice seal, the chief federal prosecutor requests a „voluntary questioning“ of Domscheit-Berg, explicitly „about possible violations of US federal criminal law regarding the unauthorized receipt and dissemination of classified information“ – a drastic accusation under the Espionage Act. The US Attorney goes on to explain some conditions for Domscheit-Berg. He must answer all questions fully and truthfully, the US may use all statements and information for criminal investigations and cross-examination. In return, whatever Domscheit-Berg testifies will not be used for prosecutions against him.

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Bit late perhaps?!

UN Special Rapporteur On Privacy Meets Assange In Prison: “I Will Act” (Maurizi)

He is the first person who has been able to visit Julian Assange at the Belmarsh prison besides Assange’s lawyers. In fact, although two weeks have passed since the arrest of the WikiLeaks’ founder, no other visitors are allowed apart from his lawyers. The UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Professor Joe Cannataci, just visited Julian Assange at the Belmarsh prison, a high security prison marked by the strictest prison regime in the UK, and in fact even visitors have to undergo to intensive controls, including police interviews, and of course meetings are monitored. Repubblica just interviewed the UN Rapporteur Cannataci.

Professor Cannataci, how did Assange seem to be doing? «My visit went well, Mr Assange was ready to answer my questions. We have already started gathering facts and asked questions of Assange’s legal team and of the Ecuadorian ambassador in London»

How is Julian Assange? We were all shocked by his appearance the day of his arrest… «I am not a physician, and so I am unable to make a medical assessment of him and of course I met him in prison, which is never a pleasant place to meet, however, it seemed to me he was in fairly good condition».

Were you able to talk to him with some privacy, or were you under surveillance? «No, my impression was that the UK authorities assured us a level of privacy intended for meetings with legal counsel. Usually in the UK prisons you have the following rules: for social meetings, like meetings with relatives, you don’t expect privacy, whereas meetings with legal counsels are usually not subjected to monitoring. These kinds of meetings are held in special places, usually 10-15 small rooms where detainees can meet their lawyers confidentially. I had asked for a confidential meeting and I am happy that the UK government agreed to provide us such a private meeting».

What are you investigating exactly, in relation to this meeting with Julian Assange? «At the end of March Mr Assange submitted an official complaint, which said that his right to privacy had been infringed during his time in the embassy of Ecuador. Together with my team, I made a preliminary assessment to see if his privacy has been infringed, therefore I am gathering the facts, these facts lead to a number of questions about behaviour which took place in the embassy. Today we are still in the preliminary stage. After my meeting with Mr Assange, I had a meeting with his legal team and then a meeting with the ambassador of Ecuador».

Read more …

I tell you: Macron simply doesn’t know he’s lost it all. He’s blind: “Did we take a wrong turn?’ I believe quite the opposite.” And that in the face of 25 weekends of protests against him.

Macron Responds To Gilets Jaunes Protests With €5 Billion Tax Cuts (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has vowed to make his style of politics more “humane”, but insisted he would press on with his project to liberalise the French economy and overhaul its welfare state despite five months of demonstrations by gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government protesters. In his first press conference in two years as president, Macron promised €5bn worth of cuts to income tax for lower and average earners as well as pension rises for the poorest and vowed no more schools or hospitals would be closed during his presidency, as he responded to protests.

The centrist politician conceded that he needed to inject more “humanity” into his style of governance but insisted he would not make changes to his pro-business programme, despite the ongoing anti-government Saturday protests by gilets jaunes, which resulted in sporadic rioting and arson in Paris and other cities. Macron said he recognised the protesters’ “just demands” and “anger and impatience for change” and their feeling of not being taken into account by the “elites”, including the presidency, but public order must now be restored. He said although he respected the demonstrators who gathered at the start of the movement in November, he said it had “transformed progressively” and been marred by episodes of antisemitic violence, homophobia and rioting.

He said he stood by his project to liberalise the French economy, defending his controversial cuts to its wealth tax, which protestors sought to overturn. He said France was unique in Europe in not having dealt with its structural problem of mass unemployment so he would not go back on his planned “transformation” of the country. He said: “I asked myself: ‘Should we stop everything that was done over the past two years? Did we take a wrong turn?’ I believe quite the opposite.” [..] He promised to scrap the École nationale d’administration elite graduate training school for French civil servants and public officials. Saying the French style of governance needed to shift, Macron said he planned to make it easier for citizens to propose national referendums, and also would introduce 20% proportional representation into the lower house of parliament.

Read more …

Schengen, Dublin, they don’t serve Macron’s career, so out with them.

Macron: Smaller Schengen Zone Because EU Migration Policies ‘Do Not Work’ (RT)

The Schengen agreement and the current migrant-sharing mechanism are deeply flawed and need urgent fixing, French President Emmanuel Macron has said. Europe must “have borders” even if it means a smaller Schengen zone, he said. In the first major press conference since the Yellow Vest movement took off in November, Macron unveiled a range of policy measures to placate the protesters, including a proposed overhaul of the European-wide migration policy and the Schengen agreement. The embattled French leader argued that the agreement that guarantees free movement across the Schengen area, while “wonderful,” does not work anymore. The same, he said, applies to the Dublin Regulation that determines which EU member-state is responsible for accepting asylum seekers.


Under the current version of the agreement, which came into force in 2013 and applies to all EU member-states except Denmark, the main criteria for determining responsibility is the first point of entry. “The common borders, Schengen, Dublin agreements do not work anymore,” Macron said, adding that it is essential for Europe to make “profound” changes in its way of handling migrant arrivals. Macron called for reinforced border security, which might entail having a Schengen “with fewer states.” The Schengen area comprises 26 states, including 22 EU member-states and four non-EU countries: Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It is named after the 1985 agreement that abolished internal borders allowing people within the zone to travel freely from one country to another.

Read more …

Trojan horse.

Irish Backstop Could Undermine EU Standards – Report (G.)

It is a dastardly trap, designed to lock freedom-loving Britain into the European Union’s protectionist customs union: that is the argument against the so-called backstop, cited by hardline Brexit advocates as the main reason why they have thrice voted down Theresa May’s deal with the European Union. But as the dust settles after months of chaos in Westminster, suspicions are growing on the other side of the Channel that the backstop could in fact be the very opposite: a brilliant deception device constructed by crack UK negotiators, which would allow a more reckless British prime minister to undermine the EU’s green and social standards while still keeping access to the European single market.

A new report, commissioned by the German Green party and seen by the Guardian, will exacerbate concerns in Berlin over the small print of the withdrawal agreement in its current form. The deal, agreed between the EU and the UK in November 2018 but voted down three times in the House of Commons, states that the whole of the UK would remain in a de facto customs union with the EU until a trade and security agreement has been reached that prevents the setting up of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. nTo prevent Britain from diverting from EU standards on environmental or social protection after the backstop has come into effect, the customs territory would “include the corresponding level playing field commitments and appropriate enforcement mechanisms to ensure fair competition between the EU27 and the UK”.

The new German report, however, warns that the wording of the deal means the EU side will find it impossible to stop a more aggressive Britain led by a Boris Johnson or a Jacob Rees-Mogg from flouting such standards while still being able to export British products into the single market. “If the EU wants to have a level playing field, it must not just set up the goals but also assign a referee,” said the author of the report, EU law expert Dr René Repasi. “At the moment it has even given the UK licence to assign its own players with officiating the match.”

Read more …

On 5G, individual countries make the decisions.

Juncker Refuses To Reject Huawei ‘Just Because It’s Chinese’ (RT)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says he won’t bar Chinese firms like Huawei from doing business with Europe, as long as they respect market rules, despite continued US pressure to ban the company. “We are not rejecting someone because he is coming from faraway, because he is Chinese, the rules have to be respected,” Juncker said at a press conference with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe on Thursday. Asked about his response to the US call to “eliminate” Chinese telecoms equipment from Europe’s 5G buildout, Juncker was defiant. “The European Union and our internal market are open markets and all those respecting our rules governing this internal market are welcome,” he said.


Last month, Europe’s Parliament passed a resolution “expressing their deep concern” about alleged Chinese cybersecurity threats, but a subsequent statement from the European Commission regarding 5G cybersecurity did not include such language, instead merely urging member states to develop a “toolbox of mitigating measures” to combat cybersecurity risks to their growing 5G infrastructure. The US has leaned heavily on allies to keep Huawei and other Chinese telecoms out of their countries, claiming the company could act as a spy for the Chinese government. Washington has even threatened to withhold intelligence from Germany over their refusal to ban the Chinese firm, pressure China’s foreign minister has called “abnormal” and “immoral.”

Read more …

May invites Huawei. Will she stand up to Trump in other areas too?

Huawei Leak Highlights Collapse Of Discipline In May’s Cabinet (G.)

Leaks from deep within Theresa May’s bitterly divided administration have become widespread and common: as one despairing official remarked recently, “this government is a sieve”. But the revelation of the highly sensitive news that ministers have decided to set aside cybersecurity concerns and involve the Chinese firm Huawei in the creation of Britain’s 5G network is regarded by many as a leak too far. The decision was taken at the national security council, on which ministers sit alongside officials and members of the security services. The secrecy of its discussions has never before been breached. A full-scale inquiry is now expected to be launched, but a slew of other briefings and counter-briefings from private meetings in recent weeks and months has not just gone unpunished but become almost unremarkable.


There are several, allied reasons for this pervasive culture of briefing and counter-briefing, which means multiple competing accounts of cabinet meetings are available shortly after ministers walk out of Downing Street. One is simply the ready availability of instant electronic communication – a string of WhatsApp messages is a lot quicker and more straightforward than the old-fashioned gossip over lunch or in a Westminster bar (though that still happens too, of course). Another is the historic significance of the issues at stake and the lack of trust on both sides of the Brexit debate, which means all the key players want to ensure their point is heard even if they lost the argument in the room.

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The Fed will make up the difference. Can’t have stocks going down.

European Equities May Benefit As $1 Trillion In US Buybacks Vanish (ZH)

European equities may start to finally see some love, as they are now positioned to take advantage of one significant coming tailwind from the U.S., according to Bloomberg. Over the next 12 months, US stocks are going to lose a significant amount of support that they have received from buybacks, as the nearly $1 trillion buyback bonanza that has fueled stock purchases in the United States starts to come to an end, according to Sanford C. Bernstein strategists. This could be an area where European stocks, due to their low dependence on buybacks, could see help as a result. Bernstein strategists led by Inigo Fraser-Jenkins said: “This would remove one advantage of U.S. equities over Europe. As the buyback support is reduced it will make a stronger relative case for Europe.”


And the decision of the U.S. central bank to hold off on rate increases may have temporarily reduced concerns about debt hurting equities, but the topic is still on the table and credit spreads are expected to keep widening over the next year. Furthermore, the significance of share repurchases to the US rally has been pronounced, with $1 trillion in buybacks in just 2018 alone, far overshadowing the $100 billion in net inflows from active and passive funds. And even though European equities have rallied to the tune of more than $1.5 trillion since December’s lows, shorting these stocks remains a popular trade globally, according to Bank of America Corp.’s latest fund manager survey. And many traders are still on the sidelines, as Europe’s ugly politics and mixed economic data continues to weigh on sentiment.

Read more …

To find this out, we must travel back in time.

Universe Expands Faster Than Expected – NASA

The universe is expanding considerably faster than it should be, Nasa has confirmed. The space agency’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that it is growing about 9 per cent faster than had been expected, based on the trajectory it started with shortly after the Big Bang, according to astronomers. While such a discrepancy had already been suggested, the new measurements reduce the chance this is a mistake to just one in 100,000. Such a confirmation could require astronomers to find new physics theories to explain the universe‘s strange behaviour. “This mismatch has been growing and has now reached a point that is really impossible to dismiss as a fluke.

This is not what we expected,” says Adam Riess, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, Nobel laureate and the project’s leader. The speed of the universe’s expansion, known as the Hubble constant, is a central part of physics and our understanding of the universe. But it has repeatedly been observed to behave unexpectedly – the more astronomers find out about it, the more wrong it appears – in ways that have forced scientists to wonder whether our assumptions about it had been wrong. The new study confirms that speculation, and requires further work to explain how exactly the universe is growing.

The research saw Professor Riess and his team analyse light from 70 stars in a galaxy near ours, known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, using a new method that allowed them to capture the stars quickly. The stars they observed are called Cepheid variables, and change brightness predictably, allowing them to be used to measure intergalactic distances. The new method allowed the researchers to measure many more of those stars far more quickly. Normally, Hubble can only look at one star each time it takes one of its 90-minute orbits around Earth, but the new method allowed it to see dozens in that same time.

Read more …

 

 

Feb 182019
 


Pablo Picasso Face female study 1925

 

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)
Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)
Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)
Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)
New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)
Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)
UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)
Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)
Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)
Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)
Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)
Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)
UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)
Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

 

 

How state propaganda works (and is disseminated by sympathetic media).

“The scene was a vicious verbal interlude..” “The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. “The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks.”

In reality, the French see young people with their eyes missing due to Macron-ordered rubber bullets. The only support that’s eroding is that for Macron.

Yellow Vests Mark 3 Months of Marches, France investigates Antisemitism (AP)

Paris judicial authorities opened an investigation Sunday into anti-Semitic remarks hurled at a noted philosopher during a yellow vest protest, an incident that raised national concerns about the movement’s ascendant radical fringe. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the investigation was being conducted into “public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nationality, race or religion.” A band of men taunted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of a protest through the French capital Paris on Saturday. “Go back to Tel Aviv,” ”Zionist,” and “France is our land” were among the insults captured on video. Finkielkraut, a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, told French television station LCI on Sunday he doesn’t intend to file a complaint.

The scene was a vicious verbal interlude as thousands of protesters made their way through the Left Bank for the 14th Saturday in a row of demonstrations by the yellow vest movement. Several thousand protesters gathered again in Paris on Sunday to mark the three-month anniversary of the yellow vest movement’s protests, which started Nov. 17 with nationwide protests of fuel tax increases. [..] The verbal attack on Finkielkraut could risk further eroding the movement’s initially strong public support. The yellow vest movement [..] is now marked by growing divisions within its ranks. One yellow vest protester who has tried to put together a candidates list for the European Parliament election was heckled Sunday by detractors.

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Government officials vs a newly elected president. Must be a first. Patriots vs voters.

Two Trump Cabinet Officials Were “Ready To Support” 25th Amendment Coup (ZH)

Two Trump Cabinet officials were “ready to support” a DOJ scheme to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump, according to Bloomberg and Fox News, citing closed-door testimony from the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker – who said that the claim came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “The testimony was delivered last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Fox News has confirmed portions of the transcript. It provides additional insight into discussions that have returned to the spotlight in Washington as fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revisits the matter during interviews promoting his forthcoming book.” -Fox News

While Baker did not identify the two Cabinet officials, he says that McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page approached him to relay their conversations with Rosenstein, including their discussions of the 25th Amendment scheme. “I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he – this was what was related to me – that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the Congressional committees. The 25th Amendment allows for the removal of a sitting president from office through various mechanisms – including the majority of a president’s Cabinet agreeing that the commander-in-chief is incapable of performing his duties.

Rosenstein – who is slated to leave the Justice Department in the near future, has denied the claims. Baker said McCabe was cool, calm and collected throughout the discussions, telling lawmakers: “At this point in time, Andy was unbelievably focused and unbelievably confident and squared away. I don’t know how to describe it other than I was extremely proud to be around him at that point in time because I thought he was doing an excellent job at maintaining focus and dealing with a very uncertain and difficult situation. So I think he was in a good state of mind at this point in time.” McCabe, meanwhile told “60 Minutes” in an interview set to air Sunday night that Rosenstein was concerned about Trump’s “capacity.”

According to McCabe, Rosenstein “raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other cabinet officials might support such an effort,” adding that Rosenstein was “definitely very concerned about the president, about his capacity and about his intent at that point in time.” “Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president?” asks CBS News anchor Scott Pelly, to which McCabe replied: “That’s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.”

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Inevitable, so let’s have it.

“..there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.”

Trump To Veto Disapproval Of Emergency (AP)

President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said on Sunday. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.” The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president’s effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges.

After lawmakers in both parties blocked his requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his signature campaign pledge, Trump’s declared national emergency Friday shifts billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction to the border. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action. Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

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“The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.”

Tories Under Fire For Dismissing March For 2nd Brexit Referendum (Ind.)

Senior Tories were accused of “sniping” at the huge numbers of campaigners set to take part in a march for a fresh Brexit referendum, a day after it was announced. A Brexit minister, Martin Callanan, came under fire after he branded next month’s Put It To The People march – part of The Independent’s Final Say campaign – “desperate stuff”. James Cleverly, a Conservative vice-chairman, tweeted sarcastically: “The only thing that might make me change my mind is a bloke in a blue hat with yellow stars shouting ‘Stop Brexit’. Yep, that might do it.” The reaction came despite last October’s demonstration attracting up to 700,000 people in London alone – and fuelling support for a new referendum at Westminster.

Anna Turley, a Labour supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the two men were “sniping at the huge numbers of people in this country who want to make their voice heard”. “Ministers should listen to the calls of those who feel betrayed by broken Brexit promises, worried about the damage caused by either this deal or no deal, as well as those who just want clarity and closure about our country’s direction – rather than years more of argument and division,” she said. The next demonstration will be staged in London on Saturday 23 March, just six days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU.

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Meaningless without including other taxes, income, wealth, tec.

New Zealand To Target Online Giants With Digital Tax (R.)

New Zealand said on Monday that it plans to update its laws so it can tax revenue earned by multinational digital firms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, extending a global effort to bring global tech giants into the tax net. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the cabinet had agreed to issue a discussion document about how to update the country’s tax framework to ensure multinational companies pay their fair share. “Our current tax system is not fair in the way it treats individual tax payers, and how it treats multinationals,” Ardern told reporters at her weekly post-cabinet news conference.

Highly digitalized companies, such as those offering social media networks, trading platforms, and online advertising, currently earn a significant income from New Zealand consumers without being liable for income tax, the government said in a statement released after the announcement. The value of cross-border digital services in New Zealand is estimated to be around NZ$2.7 billion ($1.86 billion). The revenue estimate for a digital services tax is between NZ$30 million and NZ$80 million, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in the statement. Digital services taxes (DST) are generally charged at a flat rate of two to three percent on the gross revenue earned by a multinational company in that country. A number of countries including the U.K, Spain, Italy, France, Austria and India have enacted or announced plans for a DST. The EU and Australia are also consulting on a DST.

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Anything here that money won’t buy?

Facebook Labelled ‘Digital Gangsters’ By UK Report On Fake News (G.)

Facebook deliberately broke privacy and competition law and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation, according to a devastating parliamentary report denouncing the company and its executives as “digital gangsters”. The final report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news accused Facebook of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections. “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day,” warned the committee’s chairman, Damian Collins.

The report:
• Accuses Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, of contempt for parliament in refusing three separate demands for him to give evidence, instead sending junior employees unable to answer the committee’s questions.
• Warns British electoral law is unfit for purpose and vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government attempting to discredit democracy.
• Calls on the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election.

The committee argues that, had Facebook abided by the terms of an agreement struck with US regulators in 2011 to limit developers’ access to user data, the scandal would not have occurred. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies,” it concludes. The 108-page report makes excoriating reading for the social media giant, which is accused of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights. “Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states, accusing the company of covering up leaks of user data. “It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.”

Zuckerberg is also personally criticised by the committee in scathing terms, with his claim that Facebook has never sold user data dismissed by the report as “simply untrue”. “Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies,” Collins added in a statement. Watson agreed. “Few individuals have shown contempt for our parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has,” he said. “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line.”

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I know you thought this was about the CIA. But no, it’s Russia again.

UK Must Investigate Foreign Influence And Voter Manipulation In Brexit Vote (Ind.)

Theresa May must launch an independent investigation into “foreign influence and voter manipulation” in the Brexit vote, a committee of MPs says today, amid growing evidence of lawbreaking by Leave campaigners. A highly critical report – which warns “democracy is at risk” from rogue practices on social media – turns its fire on the prime minister for the failure to probe their effect on the referendum result. No wide-ranging investigation has taken place, despite the main Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, being found by the Electoral Commission to have broken the law. The National Crime Agency, meanwhile, has launched a separate investigation into evidence of “multiple” criminal offences committed by Arron Banks and the Leave.EU campaign.

But Downing Street has fought off calls for a “Mueller-style” inquiry, on the scale of the US probe into alleged collusion with Russia by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has insisted an inquiry must be carried out, also looking into the 2017 general election and the 2014 Scottish referendum. It would establish “what actually happened with regard to foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data, so that appropriate changes to the law can be made and lessons can be learnt for future elections and referenda”. Damian Collins, the committee’s Conservative chair, urged the prime minister to come clean about whether “Russian interference in UK politics” was being probed.

“We want to find out what was the impact of disinformation and voter manipulation on past elections including the UK referendum in 2016, and are calling on the government to launch an independent investigation,” he said. [..] The crisis emerged after the Brexit referendum, leading to the finding against Vote Leave which has been referred to the police for busting spending limits Crucially, the cash was used to pay data firm Aggregate IQ and – a whistleblower and an Oxford professor argue – potentially enabled it to precisely target enough voters on social media to have swayed the Brexit result. Mr Banks, Nigel Farage’s ally, could receive a two-year prison sentence if he is found to have “knowingly concealed” that an Isle of Man company handed up to £8m to Leave.EU – which would have been outlawed as a foreign donation.

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Saw that headline and though: elections must be coming up. And yes.

Australia Claims Foreign Government Hacked Major Political Parties (R.)

A cyber attack on Australian lawmakers that breached the networks of major political parties was probably carried out by a foreign government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, but did not name any suspects. As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told this month told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network. The hackers breached the networks of major political parties, Morrison said, as he issued an initial assessment by investigators. “Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he told parliament.

“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected.” Morrison did not reveal what information was accessed, but he said there was no evidence of election interference. Investors are still securing local networks, said Alastair MacGibbon, head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, the government department responsible for online security. “Our political institutions represent high-value targets,” MacGibbon told reporters in the capital, Canberra.

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Problem is he doesn’t stand a chance of winning anything.

Varoufakis: ECB Profits Should Be Used For A European Poverty Fund (KTG)

The enfant terrible of euro-economics and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis reloaded his gun and shot: Profits from the European Central Bank should be used for a European Poverty Fund. Speaking at an event of his party DiEM25 in Thessaloniki, he said about the “New Deal in Europe and the World”, that Europe is currently facing four crises: public-private debt, very low investment, banking system and rising poverty. Especially about poverty, Varoufakis, revealed that last year the European Central Bank had profits of €91 billion, which are distributed to the finance ministries of countries with surplus. “A Fund to Combat Poverty could be founded tomorrow morning, in order to support the poor European family and this would be an integrative move and the fight against intolerance and anti-Europeanism and fascism.”

Addressing his Greek audience, he said “in DieM25/MeRA25 we are deeply European, we are criticizing the euro, we want to upgrade it, we are the only ones that have proposals to change the architecture of the euro. We want to restructure the euro. We do not propose exit from the euro, we are not threatening to exit the euro. This is a fact. He criticized the economic policies of his former SYRIZA comrades saying ‘“It is impossible at this time to have any recovery in Greece when small and medium-size businesses pay 75% of their profits to the state. You can not have a 100% pre-payment of the tax. You do that in a country when it is to destroy it.” [..] “Every eurozone country should have a parallel payment system,” he underlined.

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Well, they did vote to recognize Guiado as head of state.

Venezuela Denies EU Lawmakers Entry Given ‘Conspiratorial Motives’ (R.)

Venezuela denied a group of European Parliament deputies entry into the country on Sunday, arguing they had “conspiratorial motives” for flying to Caracas in the throes of a political crisis. The European Parliament last month joined a slew of Western nations in recognizing Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as interim head of state after President Nicolas Maduro won a second term in an election last year that critics denounced as a sham. The four deputies from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) were traveling to Venezuela to meet with Guaido, one of them said in a video distributed via social media.

“They have retained our passports, they haven’t communicated the reason for our expulsion,” Esteban González Pons said. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account that the lawmakers had been advised several days ago they would not be allowed entry into the South American country. Venezuela would “not permit the European extreme right to disturb the peace and stability of the country with another of its rude, interventionist actions,” he wrote.

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Wonder how much money Monsanto has paid into the report.

..new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious.

..opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity ..

Virtual Fences, Robot Workers, Stacked Crops: Farming In 2040 (O.)

It is 2040 and Britain’s green and pleasant countryside is populated by robots. We have vertical farms of leafy salads, fruit and vegetables, and livestock is protected by virtual fencing. Changing diets have seen a decline in meat consumption while new biotech production techniques not only help preserve crops but also make them more nutritious. This is the picture painted in a report from the National Farmers Union which attempts to sketch out what British food and farming will look like in 20 years’ time. “The Future of Food 2040 report is a catalyst to encourage us all to start the debate about our food and our future so we can plan ahead,” said Andrea Graham, NFU’s head of policy services and author of the report, who interviewed 50 experts across Britain’s food chain to gauge their views.

“It is also a reminder for government, at a critical time in British history, to make domestic food production a strategic priority in all policy making.” While some of the predictions may seem a long way off, others are already in their infancy. “Even now, there are technologies being developed that can care for crops on a plant-by-plant basis or control the grazing of cattle without physical fences, and by 2040 this technology will be commonplace in farming,” Graham said. The British farming sector will need to be more efficient if it is to meet a key NFU goal of producing net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. “Over the next 20 years we will face potentially seismic changes in all aspects of society,” Graham added. “An increase in the global population and the need to mitigate climate change will provide opportunities for British food and farming to increase productivity and reduce its impact on the environment.”

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Food must come from sterile enviroments. No life allowed.

Return Of Wolves To Germany Pits Farmers Against Environmentalists (G.)

More than a century ago, wolves were hunted to extinction in Germany. These days, they’re back – and their presence is a source of political strife. Wolf attacks on livestock increased drastically in 2017, according to government statistics released at the weekend: they carried out 472 attacks, an increase of 66% over the previous year. The number of killed, injured or missing livestock – mostly sheep and goats – rose 55%, to 1,667. The issue of how to deal with wolves is pitting farmers who want to protect their livestock against environmentalists who prioritise the protection of vulnerable species. Julia Klöckner, the agriculture minister, said the latest figures proved the government needed to act.

Germany should shift its regulations to make it legal to remove individual wolves from a pack, she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. For more than a century, wolves were extinct in Germany. In recent years, however, especially since the country’s reunification in 1990, the animals have been reintroduced and are slowly making a comeback. They are especially prevalent in the former East German states, since many have crossed the border with Poland. Though environmentalists have lauded the return of the wolf, not everyone is happy that they are back – or that they have been awarded protected status. EU regulations outlaw the killing of wolves, allowing exceptions only when there is “no satisfactory alternative” or if people are in danger.

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Instead of simply saying don’t make the stuff anymore. London must think Brits are incredibly stupid people.

UK Plans To Make Plastic Packaging Producers Pay For Waste Disposal (R.)

Britain is to set out plans to overhaul its recycling system on Monday, including making plastic packaging producers pay the full cost of dealing with their waste and introducing a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles. The plans, which also aim to make household rubbish collections more consistent around the country, will be introduced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove and go out for consultation for three months. “We will introduce a world-leading tax to boost recycled content in plastic packaging, make producers foot the bill for handling their packaging waste, and end the confusion over household recycling,” Gove said in a statement. The tax will be payable by producers who fail to use enough recycled material.

At present, producers pay only around 10 percent of the cost of dealing with plastic packaging waste, the environment ministry said. Under an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, the industry will pay higher fees if its packaging is harder to reuse or recycle. EPR for packaging will raise between 800 million and one billion pounds a year for recycling and disposal, the ministry said. Government will seek views on two options for how a deposit return scheme might work for cans and glass or plastic bottles, it added. The first would target a large amount of drinks on the market, irrespective of container size. The second, known as the “on-the-go” model, would concern smaller container sizes – those most often sold for consumption outside the home.

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These birds spend most of their lives feeding at sea, returning to their nests only to breed.

Plastic Chemicals Discovered Inside Bird Eggs From Remote Arctic (Ind.)

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet. Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects. These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food. The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive. “These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher. If fulmar colonies were tested in the North Sea, where levels of plastic consumption are far higher, she said the results could be far more dramatic. “Now the thing is to look at other populations and to see if they have the same chemicals, or other chemicals,” she said. In another study, Dr Provencher and her colleagues examined the eggs of both fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes, and found traces of more chemicals known as UV stabilisers and antioxidants. “We are finding multiple plastic-derived contaminants that are maternally transferred to the egg,” she said. “It’s really tragic.”


Scientists studied the eggs of northern fulmars from an Arctic island in Canada’s Lancaster Sound (Getty/iStock)

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Feb 052019
 
 February 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


René Magritte Meditation 1936

 

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)
Bill Gross Retires (R.)
SOTU (Jim Kunstler)
EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)
Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)
Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)
An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)
Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)
Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)
The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)
Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)
Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

 

 

As Trump has dinner with Powell, some San Francisco Fed theorist waxes enthusiastically about what more the Fed could have done. Not pre-2008, when the crisis caused by Fed policies erupted, but post-2008, when it tried to repair the damage it had done -and ‘failed’. Get these guys out of your economy or you’re going to see a real crisis. The Fed serves rich people only. All these people claim to defend a free market, but the Fed is the biggest enemy of a free market.

How Much Could Negative Rates Have Helped the US Recovery? (FRBSF)

The Federal Reserve responded aggressively to the most recent financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 by cutting the target for its benchmark short-term interest rate, known as the federal funds rate, to a range just above zero in December 2008, where it stayed until the end of 2015. Traditionally, it has been assumed that nominal interest rates cannot fall below zero, known as the “lower bound.” Ever since 2008, researchers have debated how much monetary policy was constrained by this lower bound and how much it affected economic outcomes. To work around this constraint, the Federal Reserve turned to unconventional monetary policy tools such as forward guidance and large-scale asset purchases.

Other central banks—in Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, and the euro area—took unconventional policy one step further and challenged the traditional view on the lower bound by setting their target rates below zero. In this Economic Letter, I consider whether pushing rates below zero would have improved economic outcomes in the United States in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Model estimates suggest that reducing the effective lower bound for the federal funds rate to –0.75% would have reduced economic slack by as much as one-half at the trough of the recession and sped up the ensuing recovery. While the boost to the economy would have been negligible after 2014, inflation would have been higher throughout the recovery by about half a percentage point on average.

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Alternative headline: Fed policies killed Bill Gross. Can’t support stocks without killing bonds. It’s about pensions, don’t you know.

Bill Gross Retires (R.)

Bill Gross, once the bond market’s most influential investor, will retire from Janus in coming weeks, ending attempts to reclaim the stature he enjoyed leading the world’s largest fixed-income investing firm. Gross, who turned to investing after serving as U.S. naval officer, co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co in 1971, attaining rock-star status in investing circles as he attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in assets. Under his watch, Pimco blossomed into a $2 trillion asset-management powerhouse, one so influential that the U.S. Federal Reserve tapped it to help implement its program of emergency bond purchases in the financial crisis in 2008. At Janus, however, Gross was unable to repeat his earlier success, with the performance of the fund he managed ranking near the bottom. Gross told Reuters on Friday that low rates are distorting returns.

His tenure at Pimco ended abruptly and acrimoniously in September 2014, when he was ousted. His flagship Total Return Fund – which hit a peak of $292.9 billion in assets in April 2013 – was hemorrhaging assets. At the end of April 2015, the Pimco Total Return Fund had lost its title as the world’s biggest bond mutual fund to the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund, which had $117.3 billion of assets. “You have to give Bill a lot of credit because he was the prime mover, popularizing active management,” Dan Fuss, vice chairman at Loomis, Sayles & Co LP, and one of Gross’ biggest competitors, said in a telephone interview. “I had hoped he’d be out and about and stay in the business because I know he would have wound up doing a good job.”

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Here’s hoping he rips them all another one. That the SOTU may be as exciting as the Super Bowl was dull.

SOTU (Jim Kunstler)

It’s conceivable, in a nation that absolutely can’t make sense of itself, that Mr. Trump’s annual report to congress will be as incomprehensible as this year’s Superbowl halftime show. Even the weather in Atlanta was a complete mystery with Maroon 5’s front man, Adam Levine, capering half-naked in tattoo drag amid artificial fires-of-hell, and then local hero rapper Big Boi’s triumphal entry in a limo, nearly lost inside what looked like the pelt of a giant ground sloth — an eight-year-old’s idea of what it means to be important. Or maybe it was just all code for two sides of the climate change debate. You can be sure the atmosphere will be frosty to the max when the Golden Golem of Greatness lumbers down the aisle of congress’s house on Tuesday night.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Democratic majority turns its backs on him during the always excruciating preliminaries and then just walks out of the chamber. Don’t expect the usual excessive rounds of applause from the president’s own party this time, either, in the big, half-empty room. They don’t know what to do about him at this point… or what to do with themselves, for that matter. The running theme for State of the Union (SOTU) messages going back to Ronald Reagan is American Wonderfulness, so expect at least forty minutes of national self-esteem therapy, which nobody will believe. Throw in another ten minutes of elevating sob stories about “special guests” up in the galleries. But leave a little time for Mr. Trump to roll a few cherry bombs down the aisles. He must be good and goddam sick of all the guff shoveled at him for two years.

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Smugglers rejoice!

EU Goods Will Be Waved Through British Ports In Case Of No Deal Brexit (Sun)

GOODS shipped to Britain from the EU are to be waved through 20 UK ports without checks in a No Deal to avoid huge jams – HMRC has declared. In official advice released today, HM Revenue & Customs said that “for a temporary period” it would allow “most” shipments into the country before companies have even informed them they’ve arrived. Exporters would have just over 24 hours to then fill in an electronic declaration. The revelation comes just months after HMRC bosses warned the UK’s post-Brexit customs system would not work properly for two years in a No Deal. HMRC chief John Thompson told MPs last year that the Government would have a choice to make – whether to keep trade moving, ensure security at the border, or collect revenues.

Insiders said it appeared that HMRC had decided it was essential to keep trade moving rather than risk huge queues on the way to ports such as Dover or at Eurotunnel terminals. Hauliers have been furious at the lack of guidance from HMRC and the Government over how the customs system would work in the event of a No Deal. Today’s “updated guidance” warns that anyone importing into Brexit Britain will have to fill out a customs form before checking goods onto a ferry or train on the EU side. But it adds: “For a temporary period, HMRC will allow most goods moving from the listed roll on roll off locations to leave the UK port or train station before you’ve told us that the goods have arrived.”

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What other secret plans are there?

Nissan Was Offered Secret UK State Aid To Cope With Brexit (G.)

The business secretary has been forced to admit the existence of a previously secret package of state aid to Nissan that could have been worth up to £80m had the carmaker gone ahead with plans to manufacture a new model X-Trail in Sunderland after Brexit. Greg Clark released a letter dated October 2016 in which he pledged tens of millions of taxpayer support and promised the Japanese company it would not be “adversely affected” after the UK left the EU. Yet, at the time the commitments were first made, Downing Street had said “there was no special deal for Nissan” and Clark refused six times to answer a question about what was on offer when interviewed on the BBC. He even appeared to suggest no money was involved. Asked on BBC One’s Question Time about the deal, he said: “There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.”

Clark and the government had repeatedly refused to release the 2016 letter until the promises turned out to be worthless, because Nissan had abandoned its future investment plan, partly because of uncertainty over Brexit. The four-page document, sent by Clark to Nissan’s then chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, committed the government to “a package of support in areas such as skills, R&D and innovation” which “could amount to additional support of up to £80m”. The state aid package ultimately turned out to be worth £61m when it was formally awarded to Nissan in June 2018, a fact only acknowledged by Clark in a second letter sent on Monday to the Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who chairs the business select committee.

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Merkel seems to open a door just to slam it shut again the next instant.

“..she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.”

Merkel Says ‘Still Time’ To Find Brexit Solution (AFP)

There is still time to find a solution to Britain’s exit from the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday, voicing optimism on a political deal over the tricky “backstop” that has stymied progress. Speaking to Japanese and German business leaders in Tokyo, Merkel stressed that “on the one hand, time is pressing” and businesses using “just-in-time” delivery processes could not afford lengthy customs procedures. However, she added: “From a political point of view, there is still time. Two months is not a long time but there is still time, and this should be used by all sides.” Britain is poised to leave the EU at the end of March following a 2016 referendum. Merkel acknowledged the issue of the unpopular Northern Ireland backstop provision was “complicating” Brexit talks.

The backstop is intended to ensure there is no return to a hard border with Ireland, but Brexit supporters fear it will keep Britain tied to EU customs rules. She said the issue with the backstop was a “problem that is precisely defined and therefore one should be able to find a precisely defined solution”. “But this solution depends on the question of what the future relationship between Britain and the EU will be like and what type of trade deal we sign with each other,” added the chancellor. Throwing the ball into London’s court, she stressed: “It will be very important for us to know what exactly the British side sees as its future relationship with the EU.” [..] she urged “creativity” and “goodwill” to find a solution. However, she was clear that any solution could only come via the political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement – rather than re-opening talks on the actual exit deal.

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French banks. And Wall Street.

An Italian Debt Crisis Could Take Down The EU (ZH)

Plagued by another run of bank bailouts and simmering tensions between the partners in its ruling coalition, Italy’s brief reprieve following the detente between its populist rulers and angry bureaucrats in Brussels is already beginning to fade. As Bloomberg reminded us on Monday, Italy’s $1.7 trillion pile of public debt – the third largest sovereign debt pool in Europe – is threatening to set off a chain reaction that could hammer banks from Rome, to Madrid, to Frankfurt – and beyond. Just the mention of the precarity of Italian debt markets “can induce a shudder of financial fear like no other” in bureaucrats and businessmen alike – particularly after Italy’s economy slid into a recession during Q4. While much of Italy’s debt burden is held by its banks and private citizens, lenders outside of Italy are holding some €425 billion ($486 billion) in public and private debt.

The Bloomberg analysis of Italy’s financial foibles follows more reports that Italy’s ruling coalition between the anti-immigrant, pro-business League and the vaguely left-wing populist Five-Star Movement has become increasingly strained. Per BBG, the two parties are fighting a battle on two fronts over the construction of a high speed Alpine rail and a legal case involving League leader Matteo Salvini over his refusal to let the Dicotti migrant ship to dock in an Italian port last summer. After M5S intimated that it could support the investigation, the League warned that such a move would be tantamount to “blackmail” against Salvini, whose lieutenants have been pushing for him to take advantage of the party’s rising poll numbers and push for early elections later this year. However, Salvini has rebuffed these demands, warning that there’s nothing stopping Italian President Sergio Mattarella from calling for a new coalition instead of new elections.

[..] To keep operating without massive budget cuts (something neither party in the ruling coalition has shown any sign of supporting) Italy must sell 400 billion euros ($457 billion) of debt per year. But since Italy’s banks hold so much of the country’s debt, declines in the price of Italian bonds inevitably hurts the shares of Italian banks, and also forces them to hold more capital on their books to ensure liquidity from the ECB. This creates the potential for a negative feedback loop known as the “doom loop”. Put another way, “a government crisis could drag down the banking system or a banking crisis could suck in the government.”

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And the Chinese withdraw.

Australia Central Bank Stays Calm As Shoppers Go Missing (R.)

Australia’s central bank warned of risks to growth on Tuesday but wrongfooted rate bears by steering clear from an explicit easing signal, even as data showed shoppers slashed spending during Christmas in another sign of cooling economic momentum. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) left rates at a record low 1.50 percent for a 30th straight month, saying accommodative policy was supporting the economy and that further progress was expected in reducing unemployment and lifting inflation over time. The local dollar jumped as the statement sounded less dovish than the markets had wagered on.

“The main message from the RBA today was that they are still positive on the growth outlook, and particularly on the labor market, and they see the economy as still on track towards lifting inflation back to their target,” said HSBC Australia’s chief economist Paul Bloxham. Yet, interest rates futures continued to price in a 50-50 chance of a rate cut by the end of the year, reflecting the deteriorating growth momentum in the face of rising global and domestic risks. Lowe expects Australia’s A$1.8 trillion economy ($1.3 trillion) to expand at an above-trend rate of around 3 percent this year. That is a slightly more cautious view compared to “a little above 3 percent” in its previous statement.

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Temir Porras Ponceleon was chief of staff to Nicolás Maduro from 2007 to 2013. He is now a visiting professor at Sciences Po, Paris.

Stangely missing from this piece: the CIA.

Recognising Juan Guaidó Risks A Bloody Civil War In Venezuela (Ponceleon)

Falsely presented as a “fresh face”, Guaidó first came to prominence in 2007, as a member of a generation of students who led protests against Chávez’s socialism, despite his landslide presidential victory in 2006. Guaidó is part of an opposition that never stopped challenging Chávez’s popular legitimacy even in his heyday, and who naturally doubled down as soon as the less assertive Maduro took office. The challenges to Maduro’s legitimacy began the moment he was elected. His presidential opponent, Henrique Capriles, labelled the 2013 election a fraud (without providing any supporting evidence). Capriles called on his followers to ventilate their “anger” in the streets, a move resulting in the killing of a number of Chavistas.

In January 2014 Guaidó’s political party, Voluntad Popular, launched a nationwide insurrectionary movement aimed at forcing Maduro out of office. This was only nine months into Maduro’s term, and long before the country faced any serious economic or social problems. In fact, in early 2014 oil prices were at record highs, and Venezuelans were still enjoying their highest levels of income ever, in terms of GDP per capita. [..] And then oil prices collapsed in June 2014, leaving an ill-prepared country frozen in inaction. Living standards started to deteriorate, and while a Maduro-led Chavismo remained a large and organised political force, it lost its dominance. Maduro suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 2015 legislative elections, which allowed an opposition coalition to seize a potentially devastating two-thirds supermajority in the national assembly.

[..] Unless the international community is willing to risk a needless war on the American continent, it must urgently create conditions for a national dialogue aimed at reaching a political agreement. [..] The idea that Maduro has managed to remain in office during the past six years solely through corruption and the use of force is a gross misrepresentation. It ignores that, beyond the president, the Chavismo social movement counts millions of supporters, primarily from lower-income communities, and is strongly embedded within the Venezuelan military.

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“The protests seen in France and the interference in the domestic politics of Venezuela highlight Western double standards, which stand in contrast to the respect for international law maintained by China, India and Russia.”

The Venezuelan Coup and Gilets Jaunes: Great-Power Politics (Pieraccini)

In France on November 17, 2018, hundreds of thousands of citizens, angered by the diminishing quality of their lives, the social iniquity in the country, and the widening gap between rich and poor, took to the streets in protest. The protests can easily be encapsulated in the following slogan: “We the people against you the elite.” This slogan has been a recurring theme throughout the West over the last three years, shaking up the British establishment with the pro-Brexit vote, discombobulating the United States with Trump’s victory, overturning Italy with the Lega/Five-Star government, and bringing Merkel’s star crashing down in Germany.

Now it is the turn of Macron and France, one of the least popular leaders in the world, leading his country into chaos, with peaceful protests drawing a bloody response from the authorities following ten weeks of unceasing demonstrations. In Venezuela, Western elites would like us to believe that the situation is worse than in France in terms of public order, but that is simply a lie. It is a media creation based on misinformation and censorship. In Europe, the mainstream media has stopped showing images of the protests in France, as if to smother information about it, preferring to portray an image of France that belies the chaos in which it has been immersed for every weekend over the last few months.

In Caracas, the right-wing, pro-American and anti-Communist opposition continues the same campaign based on lies and violence as it has customarily conducted following its electoral defeats at the hands of the Bolivarian revolution. The Western mainstream media beams images and videos of massive pro-government Bolivarian rallies and falsely portrays them as anti-Maduro protests. We are dealing here with acts of journalistic terrorism, and the journalists who push this narrative, instigating clashes, should be prosecuted by a criminal court of the Bolivarian people in Caracas.

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Good on them. All these EU countries don’t deem it needed to explain why they do it, other than: Maduro is a dictator. Well, his approval rating is higher than any of theirs.

Italy Vetoes EU Recognition Of Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido (RT)

Rome has effectively derailed an EU statement meant to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader if President Nicolas Maduro fails to set up snap elections, a Five Star Movement source confirmed to RT. Italy announced the veto at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that started on January 31 in Romania, the source said. The statement, which was supposed to be delivered by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini recognized Guaido as interim president if snap elections were not held. The European Parliament is the first European body to recognize Guaido “as the only legitimate interim president of the country until new free, transparent and credible presidential elections can be called in order to restore democracy.”

The parliament urged the EU to follow suit but the effort stalled due to internal discord. A range of European nations have separately recognized the opposition chief as Venezuela’s acting president, including the UK, France, Sweden, Spain, and Austria. The coordinated move came after an eight-day deadline for Maduro to call presidential elections expired on Monday. The US announced that it is backing the new interim leader and pledged their full support immediately after what has been labeled “a coup” by officials in Caracas. However Russia, China, Turkey and Iran said they see Maduro as the only legitimate leader, warning against meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

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Orwell.

Twitter Erupts After 2,000 Pro-Venezuelan Accounts Are Deleted (Telesur)

Nearly 2,000 pro-Venezuelan Twitter accounts have been removed for “engaging in a state-backed influence campaign,” the social media company said in a blog post on Thursday. A total of 1,196 social media accounts based in Venezuela suspected of attempting to “influence domestic audiences” were purged last week. Another 764 accounts were deleted, although the San Francisco-based company told users, “We are unable to definitively tie the accounts located in Venezuela to information operations of a foreign government against another country.” Allegations of censorship soon filled the site’s timeline.

Television host for the investigatory series, Empire Files, Abby Martin tweeted, “While pro-coup Venezuelans & right-wing exiles dominate the media sphere, tech companies are actively censoring pro-government accounts they say are working to “influence” people.” Another journalist, Ben Norton, accused the company of catering to “U.S. government interests:” Twitter is now removing thousands of accounts supposedly linked to Venezuela’s sovereign government. This comes after Twitter suspended Venezuelan government accounts 1.5 years ago. Social media corporations act as an extension of US government interests.” In another blog post, Twitter announced the release of five new datasets which were allegedly created in relation to suspected foreign interference efforts it had encountered.

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Aug 192018
 
 August 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Ambroise Vollard 1910

 

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Strong Dollar and Disappearing Liquidity (Palisade)
Speculators Will Make Hay From Great Australian Economic Crash (Steve Keen)
Judge Rules FBI Must Address Measures Taken To Verify Steele Dossier (ZH)
White House Counsel “Cooperating Extensively” With Obstruction Probe (ZH)
Erdogan Says US Has Launched ‘Attempted Economic Coup’ (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit May Force Rethink Of Vote – Ex-Civil Service Head (PA)
Putin Urges Europe To Help Rebuild Syria So Refugees Can Return (AFP)
Ecuador Slams Door On Venezuelans (BBC)
The Un-Celebrity President (WaPo)
Britain Has One Last Chance To Save Endangered Species (G.)

 

 

When liquidity vanishes the dollar rises.

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Strong Dollar and Disappearing Liquidity (Palisade)

Since March – the dollar’s rallied over 7%. And it’s caused the Emerging Markets to implode. But the bigger problem is what lies ahead. And that’s a global dollar shortage – which the mainstream continues to ignore. . . I’ve touched on this a couple months back. Wondering when the mainstream would start to realize that the stronger the dollar gets – the more pressure global economies will feel. I wrote. . . “This is going to cause an evaporation of dollar liquidity – making the markets extremely fragile. Putting it simply – the soaring U.S. deficit requires an even greater amount dollars from foreigners to fund the U.S. Treasury. But if the Fed is shrinking their balance sheet, that means the bonds they’re selling to banks are sucking dollars out of the economy (the reverse of Quantitative Easing which was injecting dollars into the economy). This is creating a shortage of U.S. dollars – the world’s reserve currency – therefore affecting every global economy.”

Since then, things have only gotten worse. . . First: Jerome Powell – the Fed Chairman – issued a statement at the end of June that they would actually increase the amount of rate hikes over the next two years. This means they’re tightening even faster. Second: the U.S. Treasury increased their debt-borrowing needs to the highest since the financial crisis – which was over a decade ago. Therefore, they will need even more dollars to fund their spending. “The department expects to issue $329 billion in net marketable debt from July through September, the fourth-largest total for that quarter on record and higher than the $273 billion estimated in April [a 17% increase], the Treasury said in a report Monday. The department’s forecast for the October-December quarter is $440 billion, bringing the second-half borrowing estimate to $769 billion, the highest since $1.1 trillion in July-December 2008…”

And third: China’s growth is slowing down. Meanwhile the Emerging Markets are draining their U.S. dollar reserves even faster because of the strengthening dollar. So, in summary: as global dollar liquidity continues drying up, there will be a wave of ‘risky’ positions being dumped and ‘dollar disease’ (selling assets to raise dollars to pay back debts) worldwide. . . What we know is true from Economics-101 is that the lower the supply and the greater the demand equals a higher price. And as the pool of USD keeps drying up – then the price of the dollars must rise. This translates into higher offshore dollar funding (higher interest rates). Which is killing dollar indebted countries and corporations – like Turkey today.

[..] I think future financial historians will scratch their heads wondering why markets today continued discounting this serious dollar-shortage problem. The easy money years post-2008 fueled a massive debt bubble – causing asset prices all over to rise. But the market isn’t expecting the tight money years today to cause asset prices to fall. It’s like they think that drinking alcohol today will make them feel good – but don’t believe they’ll be hungover tomorrow. So, what’s next? I believe the U.S. dollar will continue rallying because of all that I mentioned above. As Hedge Funds, institutions, and investors continue unloading their Emerging Market positions – things will only get worse.

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Housing bubble vs stock market bubble. Pick your fave toxin.

Speculators Will Make Hay From Great Australian Economic Crash (Steve Keen)

For years, Australia has been seen as the goose which laid the golden egg for workers, migrants and investors. Ironically, as America’s casino closes, it will eventually end up as a speculator’s paradise.\ The performance of the Australian stock market relative to its American equivalent since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) shows the difference between a country where Quantitative Easing (QE) – the buying of bonds by the central bank to drive bond prices up and interest rates down, and thus encourage firms to invest and financial institutions to buy shares – was practiced and one where it was not. It’s both a warning about what could happen when the Fed starts to unwind QE, and a perverse opportunity to profit when Australia’s central bank, the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) inevitably starts its own QE program.

Since Australia avoided the GFC, and its rate of economic growth has been twice as fast as America’s post-crisis (an average 2.7 percent per year, versus 1.3 percent for the US), you might expect Australia’s stock market to have done better than America’s. In fact, it’s performed much worse: the main Australian index, the ASX, still hasn’t returned to its mid-2000s peak, while the US S&P500 has more than doubled its pre-crash level, and it’s almost four times as high as it was in the deepest depths of 2009. The timing of the US stock market recovery is instructive: it began in February 2009, just three months after the Federal Reserve began “QE1” (the first of three episodes of Quantitative Easing), when it promised to net buy bonds from the financial sector to the tune of $1 trillion per year ($80 billion per month).

With the Fed buying a trillion bucks worth of bonds every year, thus giving the financial sector one trillion in cash per year in place of its interest-earning bonds, the only place the financial sector could stash that dough in search of a return was the stock market. This was the intention of the policy of course: to drive share prices higher in order to stimulate the economy. Aside from the fact it’s made the wealthier even wealthier as a direct effect of government policy, and cost far more than a direct boost to the poor would have done, it’s worked a treat: according to Robert Shiller’s “Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings Ratio,” it’s driven America’s stock market to its second-highest peak in history, higher than the 1929 bubble, second only to the DotCom maximum in 2000, and more than twice its long-term average.

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Can’t hide behind declassified docs.

Judge Rules FBI Must Address Measures Taken To Verify Steele Dossier (ZH)

The FBI has been dealt a major blow after a Washington DC judge ruled that the agency must respond to a FOIA request for documents concerning the bureau’s efforts to verify the controversial Steele Dossier, before it was used as the foundation of a FISA surveillance warrant application and subsequent renewals. US District Court Judge Amit Mehta – who in January sided with the FBI’s decision to ignore the FOIA request, said that President Trump’s release of two House Intelligence Committee documents (the “Nunes” and “Schiff” memos) changed everything.

Considering that the FBI offered Steele $50,000 to verify the Dossier’s claims yet never paid him, BuzzFeed has unsuccessfully tried to do the same to defend themselves in a dossier-related lawsuit, and a $50 million Soros-funded investigation to continue the hunt have turned up nothing that we know of – whatever documents the FBI may be forced to cough up regarding their attempts to verify the Dossier could prove highly embarrassing for the agency. “[I]f Mr. Steele could get solid corroboration of his reports, the F.B.I. would pay him $50,000 for his efforts, according to two people familiar with the offer. Ultimately, he was not paid.” -NYT

What’s more, forcing the FBI to prove they had an empty hand will likely embolden calls to disband the special counsel investigation – as the agency’s mercenary and politicized approach to “investigations” will be laid all the more bare for the world to see. Then again, who knows – maybe the FBI verified everything in the dossier and it simply hasn’t leaked. That said, while the FBI will likely be forced to acknowledge the documents thanks to the Thursday ruling, the agency will still be able to try and convince the judge that there are other grounds to withhold the records.

In January, Mehta blessed the FBI’s decision not to disclose the existence of any records containing the agency’s efforts to verify the dossier – ruling that Trump’s tweets about the dossier didn’t require the FBI and other intelligence agencies to act on records requests. “But then the ground shifted,” writes Mehta of Trump declassifying the House memos. “As a result of the Nunes and Schiff Memos, there is now in the public domain meaningful information about how the FBI acquired the Dossier and how the agency used it to investigate Russian meddling.” [..] “It remains no longer logical nor plausible for the FBI to maintain that it cannot confirm nor deny the existence of documents,” Mehta wrote.

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Doesn’t feel like McGahn has tons of dirt.

White House Counsel “Cooperating Extensively” With Obstruction Probe (ZH)

Update: Trump has commented on the story, saying he allowed McGahn “and all other requested members of the White House Staff” to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. He also notes that the White House has given over one million pages of documents adding “No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”

White House counsel Donald McGahn II, has been quietly cooperating “extensively” with special counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to an explosive New York Times report published Saturday afternoon. Sources told the Times that McGahn has had at least three voluntary interviews with Mueller’s team totaling 30 hours, in which he discussed accounts of multiple episodes at the center of Mueller’s probe into whether President Trump obstructed justice, as well as the president’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged McGahn to respond to it. For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual.

Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege. Among the episodes McGahn reprotedly discussed with investigators is Trump’s firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey and the president’s repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of the special counsel despite his recusal from Russia probes. McGahn was also centrally involved in Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, himself which investigators might not have discovered without him.

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Downgrades add to the downfall.

Erdogan Says US Has Launched ‘Attempted Economic Coup’ (Ind.)

Turkey’s president has accused America of launching an “attempted economic coup” as the country’s currency continues to reel following US economic sanctions. Recep Tayyip Erdogan told thousands of supporters in Ankara: “Today some people are trying to threaten us through the economy, through interest rates, foreign exchange, investment and inflation. “We are telling them: we’ve seen your games, and we are challenging you.” And, in a clear swipe at US president Donald Trump he added: “We did not and will not surrender to those who act like a strategic partner but make us a strategic target.”

[..] As the two countries have clashed, the lira’s value has plummeted: it has now dropped 38 per cent against the dollar since the beginning of the year. On Friday, ratings agencies Standard & Poor and Moody’s downgraded Turkey’s credit rating closer to “junk” status, pointing to currency fluctuations and concerns over central bank independence. A spokesman for Standard & Poor said: “The downgrade reflects our expectation that the extreme volatility of the Turkish lira and the resulting projected sharp balance of payments adjustment will undermine Turkey’s economy. We forecast a recession next year.” He added the agency was predicting that the country’s inflation will hit a potential 22 per cent over the next four months.

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When temperatures start dropping, reality will loom.

No-Deal Brexit May Force Rethink Of Vote – Ex-Civil Service Head (PA)

Britain may have to rethink the decision to leave the EU if the government is unable to strike a Brexit deal with Brussels, a former head of the civil service has said. Bob Kerslake said the consequences of a no-deal exit would be so serious that the UK parliament would have to consider whether it could allow it to go ahead. Lord Kerslake, who has been advising Labour on preparing for government, said that at the very least the article 50 process – under which the UK is set to leave the bloc on 29 March next year – would have to be paused. In those circumstances, the European commission would almost certainly insist on some “re-examination” of the original decision to leave, he said.

His comments came as the government prepares to publish a series of technical notes on preparations for a no-deal Brexit across dozens of areas of British life, from farming to financial services. Kerslake said the measures were “too little, too late” and that the government had not allowed itself enough time to prepare for such an outcome. He told the the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The consequences of a no deal would be so serious as I think parliament would have to seriously consider whether it could contemplate this. “The question people need to ask themselves is, is this a risk that they think we should be taking?

“If the government can negotiate a good deal, then so be it. But if they can’t and we end up in this position, then we have to reopen the question of whether we go forward with Brexit at all. It is not too late to do that. “A pause to reflect would certainly be necessary. I think that is a pretty high probability now. “But I think that pause would need to include – and I suspect this would be insisted on by the commission – some re-examination of the decision itself.”

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The only thing that makes sense.

Putin Urges Europe To Help Rebuild Syria So Refugees Can Return (AFP)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called on Europe to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria to allow millions of refugees to return home. “We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort in the Syrian conflict,” he said on Saturday, ahead of a meeting with his German counterpart Angela Merkel at the government retreat of Meseberg Palace, north of Berlin. “By that, I mean above all humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to.” There were 1 million refugees in Jordan, the same number in Lebanon, and 3 million in Turkey, Putin said.

Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 – the height of the migration crisis – which has weakened Angela Merkel politically and split the European Union. “This is potentially a huge burden for Europe,” Putin said. “That’s why we have to do everything to get these people back home,” he added, emphasising the need to restore basic services such as water supplies and healthcare.

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More refugees. Great.

Ecuador Slams Door On Venezuelans (BBC)

Ecuador has brought in new rules to stop Venezuelan migrants entering the country without a passport, leaving many stranded in neighbouring Colombia. Thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic and political crisis have been crossing into Ecuador from Colombia using only identity cards. Most are heading south to join family members in Peru and Chile. Colombia has protested against the move, saying vulnerable people will be trapped on its side of the border. In a separate incident, residents of a Brazilian town attacked a Venezuelan migrant camp on Saturday and drove the occupants back across the border. Venezuela has suffered for years from high inflation and the chronic shortage of food and medicines.

More than a million Venezuelan migrants have entered Colombia in the past 15 months, according to official estimates, and more than 4,000 have been arriving at Ecuador’s border every day. Many have been walking or hitching rides for weeks and are exhausted by the time they reach the frontier. [..] With the flow of Venezuelan migrants causing tensions across the region, Peru’s government announced immigration measures similar to Ecuador’s on Friday. Passport requirements for Venezuelans will begin on 25 August. In February, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a tightening of border controls, resulting in thousands of Venezuelans rushing to crossing points. Brazil, which neighbours Venezuela, has also expressed concerns and temporarily closed the border earlier this month. Violence has flared in the border state of Roraima where thousands of Venezuelans live in precarious accommodation.

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“Carter has been an ex-president for 37 years, longer than anyone else in history.”He used those years to redeem himself.

The Un-Celebrity President (WaPo)

Jimmy Carter finishes his Saturday night dinner, salmon and broccoli casserole on a paper plate, flashes his famous toothy grin and calls playfully to his wife of 72 years, Rosalynn: “C’mon, kid.” She laughs and takes his hand, and they walk carefully through a neighbor’s kitchen filled with 1976 campaign buttons, photos of world leaders and a couple of unopened cans of Billy Beer, then out the back door, where three Secret Service agents wait. They do this just about every weekend in this tiny town where they were born — he almost 94 years ago, she almost 91. Dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, with plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of bargain-brand chardonnay, then the half-mile walk home to the ranch house they built in 1961.

On this south Georgia summer evening, still close to 90 degrees, they dab their faces with a little plastic bottle of No Natz to repel the swirling clouds of tiny bugs. Then they catch each other’s hands again and start walking, the former president in jeans and clunky black shoes, the former first lady using a walking stick for the first time. The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth. Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents.

When Carter left the White House after one tumultuous term, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, he returned to Plains, a speck of peanut and cotton farmland that to this day has a nearly 40 percent poverty rate. The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.” Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter’s predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that “Carter did the opposite.” Since Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. “I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”

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One field where EU regulation is very harmful.

Britain Has One Last Chance To Save Endangered Species (G.)

Ministers may have only 12 months to rescue Britain’s degraded environment and to save its endangered birds and animals. That is the stark conclusion of Michael Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, who has warned that parliamentary bills – to be published over the next year – will have to make crucial changes to the way our farms and fisheries are run if the wildlife and landscape of the nation are to be rescued from their dangerously depleted condition. “We are on a cusp, and if we fail to act decisively we will pay the price in coming years,” Clarke told the Observer last week. The three forthcoming bills – on agriculture, on fisheries and on the environment – will replace the EU legislation that currently controls our farming, fishing industry and the quality of our air, water and wildlife.

The government has yet to announce what these bills will contain. However, conservationists such as Clarke now fear there is a real risk that one or all of these new pieces of legislation will fail to provide the necessary powers to restore our crisis-hit environment. “Since 1980, across Europe 420 million individual birds have disappeared from the countryside thanks to the practices of modern agriculture,” said Clarke. And that staggering drop is matched by an even more catastrophic decline in insect life over the same period of time, he added. “For years, we could see the lack of insects on our windscreens on summer evenings. It was a smoking gun but there was no hard data – until recent research in Germany showed there had been a 75% decline in its flying insects, figures since matched by Dutch and some UK data. The insects have gone – and so have 420 million birds.”

[..] As to the causes of these declines, the intensification and spread of agriculture and changes in land use take most of the blame – with the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) being considered a particularly destructive agent in this process. The CAP stresses the importance of agricultural output above all else and has helped destroy the homes and food sources of countless birds, animals and insects, said Clarke. Crucially, as Britain prepares to withdraw from the CAP and the EU, the nation has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put right this damage, said Clarke. About £3bn a year is spent on British farming through CAP, he pointed out.

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Aug 152018
 
 August 15, 2018  Posted by at 11:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Salvador Dali The Madonna of Port Lligat 1950

 

On August 15, Greeks celebrate the “Dormition (or the Assumption) of the Virgin Mary (in Greek: Koimisis tis Theotokou). The holiday commemorates the “falling asleep” or death of the Theotokos (Mary, translated as “God-bearer”). August 15, one of the most important holidays in the Orthodox calendar, is celebrated across the country, and is a date when many Greeks leave the towns and cities where they live and work to return to their home villages.”

Stole that bit from the local Kathimerini paper. And I would add: while most Athenians leave for the islands, along with about 2 billion tourists. Thought I’d bring up the national holiday because in Turkey, they celebrate the same. The orthodox church is still going strong in both countries. Even if Turkey is leaning increasingly towards Islam. And even then: the House of the Virgin Mary shrine in Turkey, which the Apostle John is supposed to have built for her, on a mountain overlooking the Aegean, the place where Mary is said to have spent her last years, sees both Christian and Muslim pilgrims.

All this can’t be seen apart from some recent developments between the two countries. Turkey had been holding two Greek servicemen in jail after they crossed a border in bad weather early March. And then yesterday evening, this happened according to Kathimerini:

Greek Soldiers Released From Turkish Jail Pending Trial

Two Greek servicemen who had been detained in Turkey since early March for accidentally crossing the border in bad weather have been released from jail pending trial, Anadolu agency reported on Tuesday evening. According to Anadolu, a court examined the request for their release and ruled there are no reasons to keep them behind bars. The ruling does not mention any measures restricting their movement which means the soldiers can return to Greece.

Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis had been held in a high security prison in Edirne for 167 days. It is not clear what charges they are facing. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a tweet the release of the servicemen “is an act of justice which will contribute in boosting friendship, good neighborly relations and stability in the region.” “I would like to congratulate and thank our two officers and their families for their courage, patience and confidence in our efforts, which were ultimately vindicated,” he added.

On Monday, Greece’s top military announced it was suspending some confidence-building activities with Turkey for the remainder of the year, as a response to the prolonged detention. The measures under suspension extend to the the exchange of military academy graduates as well as sporting and cultural activities, which have already been scaled down over the detention of the two soldiers, who were arrested after accidentally crossing a borderline between the two countries.

And mere hours later there was this:

Two Greek Soldiers Released From Turkish Jail Return Home

Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet early Wednesday after their unexpected release by a provincial court. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece. “This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940,” Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940. “I hope that their release … will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”

The soldiers [..] were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters. The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.

[..] The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey. Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.

Athens got a phone call from Ankara, probably to Kammenos, not Tsipras, that said: you come get them. Whether that call was before or after the court decision we’ll probably never know. A bit of a shame, because it could tell us a lot of where the decisions are made in Turkey. Then again, we do have an idea. A mere provincial court that could make decisions that go completely against what Erdogan desires? What are the odds? But stick around.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year, were released by a provincial court, and got back home on a joint Turkish/Greek national holiday. What’s not to like?

But then this: a few hours after they arrive home on PM Tsipras’ own government jet at 3pm, another Turkish court decides that an appeal for American pastor Brunson to be released, is denied. Brunson is the guy Trump wants freed. John Bolton has said there’ll be no more talks until that is done. But if one court takes a decision that at least on the face of it goes against supreme ruler Erdogan’s demands, and another decides differently, Erdogan can claim the pastor’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides.

That victory over Trump, concerning not freeing the pastor, is apparently worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have gotten asylum in Greece. Something Erdogan is allegedly very angry about, because he accuses them of being party to the 2016 ‘coup’. He’s trying to play chess with Trump. We can discuss how good of an idea that is. Here’s AFP:

Turkey Court Rejects New Appeal To Free Detained US Pastor

A Turkish court on Wednesday rejected a new appeal to free US pastor Andrew Brunson, whose detention has sparked a major row between Turkey and the United States, local media reported. The court in the western city of Izmir ruled that Brunson, who faces 35 years in jail over terror and espionage charges, will remain under house arrest, the state television TRT reported. Brunson’s jail term had been converted to house detention for health reasons.

His detention has soured relations with Washington, with US President Donald Trump doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Turkey in punitive actions against Ankara’s refusal to release Brunson. The crisis has sent the Turkish currency into free fall since Friday. “The president has a great deal of frustration (about) the pastor not being released,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday. The statement came after US embassy charge d’affaires Jeffrey Hovenier visited Brunson in Izmir.

Brunson’s lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP that a higher court would also discuss his appeal for Brunson’s release. Turkey’s ambassador to Washington Serdar Kilic on Monday held private talks with US National Security Advisor John Bolton in a meeting to discuss the pastor’s status.

And then Reuters has this just now:

Erdogan Spokesman Says Problems With US Will Be Resolved

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday he expected problems with the United States, which helped drive the lira to record lows, to be resolved but Washington must stop trying to influence Turkey’s judiciary. Ibrahim Kalin also told a news conference that Turkey would exercise its rights if the U.S. does not deliver F-35 jets to Ankara. The lira, which has rallied after hitting a record low of 7.24 to the dollar, would continue to recover, he said.

A masterstroke? Did Erdogan just succeed in making everyone, including Trump, believe the Turkish judiciary system is impartial, and he’s not the one keeping Brunson from leaving the country? Sure looks like he tried. “Sorry, Mr. Trump, it’s out of my hands.. A judge let the Greek soldiers go, and I didn’t want that either..”

Problem is, everyone knows Erdogan fired half the judiciary system and 90% or so of the press, accusing them of being part of the same coup plot as Gülen and the pastor Brunson. It’s almost amusing. Almost, because innocent people’s lives are being played out on some primitive chess board and sacrificed against dreams of ever more power. Only a pawn in their game.

The lira is recovering a little today. Got to wonder how long that will last, and what it’s cost Turkey. To be continued.

 

 

Jun 182018
 
 June 18, 2018  Posted by at 8:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »


Paul Klee Pflanze und Fenster Stillleben 1927

 

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)
Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)
Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)
The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)
May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)
FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)
Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)
Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)
Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)
Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)
Losing The Buzz (ODT)
Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)
Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

 

 

There’s a thought.

The US Should Break The German Lock On The European Economy (CNBC)

Germany may only account for 3.4% of the world economy, but it is more than a quarter of the European Union’s demand and output. The EU, in turn, is close to 20% of the world economy, and, based on last year’s numbers, it takes $283.5 billion of U.S. exports, or 18.3% of America’s total goods sold overseas. What the U.S. sells to the EU is more than 40% of all the goods America exports to China and Japan. That shows that the damage caused to the U.S. economy transcends, by far, Germany’s surplus of $64.2 billion on American trades in 2017. Imagine, for example, what would happen to the EU economy, to the rest of the world — and to U.S. export sales in general — if Germany were not living off its fellow Europeans with a massive €164.4 billion trade surplus.

That German surplus is stifling the economic growth in the rest of Europe, because it is a deficit for countries trading with Germany. You can think of those €164.4 billion as a large wealth transfer to Germany. Indeed, it is a structural foundation of Germany’s export-driven economy, where sales to the rest of the world account for nearly a half of German GDP (compared with 14% in the U.S. case). What Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world need here is a radical change of German economic policies. Germany should be generating more growth from domestic demand to give an opportunity to its trade partners to sell more of their goods and services on German markets. That would boost intra-European growth and create opportunities for more American sales to Europe — its largest overseas customer.

There is nothing new here. It’s a very old story Germans don’t even want to talk about. And why should they? France is meekly taking it on the chin with annual deficits of 36 to 41 billion euros on its German trades, and the rest of Europe does not dare question what it wrongly sees as a virtuously strong German economy.

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There will be no such deal. Not a comprehensive one.

Merkel Gets Extra Time To Reach Deal With EU Over Asylum Row (G.)

Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has signalled he is open to giving Angela Merkel more time to reach a deal with Germany’s EU partners over an asylum row that has threatened to bring down her government. As the German chancellor met leaders of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Sunday in an attempt to divert the collapse of her fledgling administration, Seehofer emerged from emergency talks with his Christian Social Union (CSU) saying he had no intention of toppling Merkel. Seehofer wants police stationed at borders to turn back refugees and migrants arriving from other EU countries but signalled he would give Merkel two weeks’ grace to reach migration agreements with EU partners.

“No one in the CSU is interested in bringing the chancellor down, or dissolving the CDU/CSU parliamentary partnership or destroying the coalition,” Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that he did not want the asylum row to endanger the coalition government, which is less than 100 days old. Seehofer said his party was keen to find a way to limit the number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany. “We finally want to have a solution for the return of refugees at our borders which is fit for the future,” he added. But he was quoted in the Welt am Sonntag as having voiced his scepticism about the future of the CDU/CSU alliance in a meeting of the CSU’s leadership. “I cannot work with this woman any more,” he was quoted as saying.

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A row with the IMF, you mean.

Eurozone Braces For Row With Greece Over Bailout Exit Terms (G.)

Eurozone finance ministers are braced for a row this week with the Greek government over the terms of a “golden goodbye” as the country prepares to exit its third bailout programme. Concerns that Greece will suffer a fourth financial collapse unless an agreement is signed with the EU to write off some of its debt mountain are likely to surface before a showdown in Brussels on Thursday. The IMF, which has lent Greece several billion euros and has taken part in a tripartite monitoring of reforms with the European commission and ECB, is expected to pull out of the arrangement unless Brussels reduces Greece’s debt burden. Without the IMF on board, Germany and other hardline countries such as Finland and Austria could demand stricter clauses in the reform programme due to be imposed on Greece as the price of its final bailout payoff.

“Everyone has an interest to alleviating the burden, for Greece and the rest of the creditors,” said Olivier Bailly, the chief adviser to the EU’s finance commissioner, Pierre Moscovici. “If we leave too much burden, this will slow down Greece’s recovery.” He played down the impact of the IMF pulling out of the first stage of surveillance that will last until at least 2022. “What is important is that the IMF give its view on debt measures. What the markets expect is that it says they are credible enough,” he said, admitting that the lack of involvement by the Washington-based lender of last resort puts pressure on Germany. Finance ministers from the 19-member currency bloc will meet on Thursday to agree a package of measures that will include a final loan payment of between €10bn and €12bn and a cash buffer of up to €20bn. The payments are due to be the last of the €86bn bailout agreed in 2015.

[..] Hans Vijlbrief, the top EU official advising eurogroup ministers, said: “It’s very important that Greece can stand on its own feet. If it’s not credible, we won’t come out. This is the first condition.” The Eurogroup is seeking to reduce Greek debt payments by extending loans until beyond 2040 and reducing the interest rate to near 1%, well below the rate Greece would need to pay international investors. The IMF, however, has insisted that reducing the overall debt mountain from the outset is the only way to stabilise Athens’ public finances. Vijlbrief said the EU charter prevented the Eurogroup from offering debt write-offs, but this assertion has never been tested and is still the basis for IMF involvement in the next stage of Greece’s recovery.

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The bank of banks feels threatened.

The Bigger Cryptocurrencies Get, The Worse They Perform: BIS (R.)

Cryptocurrencies are not scalable and are more likely to suffer a breakdown in trust and efficiency the greater the number of people using them, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS)said on Sunday in its latest warning about the rise of virtual currencies. For any form of money to work across large networks it requires trust in the stability of its value and in its ability to scale efficiently, the BIS, an umbrella group for the world’s central banks, said in its annual report. But trust can disappear instantly because of the fragility of the decentralized networks on which cryptocurrencies depend, the BIS said.

Those networks are also prone to congestion the bigger they become, according to the BIS, which noted the high transaction fees of the best-known digital currency, bitcoin, and the limited number of transactions per second they can handle. “Trust can evaporate at any time because of the fragility of the decentralised consensus through which transactions are recorded,” the Switzerland-based group said in its report. “Not only does this call into question the finality of individual payments, it also means that a cryptocurrency can simply stop functioning, resulting in a complete loss of value.”

The BIS’ head of research, Hyun Song Shin, said sovereign money had value because it had users, but many people holding cryptocurrencies did so often purely for speculative purposes. “Without users, it would simply be a worthless token. That’s true whether it’s a piece of paper with a face on it, or a digital token,” he said, comparing virtual coins to baseball cards or Tamagotchi. [..] Agustin Carstens, general manager of the BIS, has described bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster”.

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The claim is so out there it’s funny.

May’s NHS ‘Brexit Dividend’ Claim Draws Scepticism And Doubt (G.)

Theresa May’s promise of £400m extra in weekly NHS spending within five years has been overshadowed by scepticism among experts and her own backbenchers over her claim it can be financed through a windfall delivered by Brexit. Ahead of a major speech by the prime minister in which she will pledge a £20bn annual real-terms NHS funding increase by 2023-24, May was ridiculed for arguing that some of the money would come from a so-called Brexit dividend. “At the moment, as a member of the European Union, every year we spend significant amounts of money on our subscription, if you like, to the EU,” she said in an interview on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.

“When we leave we won’t be doing that. It’s right that we use that money to spend on our priorities, and the NHS is our number-one priority.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said, however, that even the government had accepted the idea of an immediate post-Brexit boost to coffers would not happen. The decision to announce extra spending for the NHS and to frame it specifically as a benefit of leaving the EU has been widely seen as a sop by May to hardline Brexiters in her cabinet and on the Tory backbenches ahead of some potentially crucial votes this week on the EU withdrawal bill.

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Finally there’s peace, and now this. Colombia is set to become a NATO member.

FARC Peace Deal At Risk As Conservative Duque Wins Colombia Presidency (AFP)

Conservative Ivan Duque won Colombia’s presidential election Sunday after a campaign that turned into a referendum on a landmark 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels that he pledged to overhaul. Duque, 41, polled 54 percent to his leftist rival Gustavo Petro’s 42 percent with almost all the votes counted, electoral authority figures showed. Petro, a leftist former mayor and ex-guerrilla, supports the deal. Tensions over the deal became apparent in the immediate aftermath of Duque’s victory, after the president-elect lost no time in pledging “corrections” to the peace deal. “That peace we long for — that demands corrections — will have corrections, so that the victims are the center of the process, to guarantee truth, justice and reparation,” Duque told supporters in his victory speech at his campaign headquarters.

“The time has come to build real change,” Duque said, promising a future for Colombians “of lawfulness, freedom of enterprise and equity,” after decades of conflict. His vanquished opponent Petro promised to resist any fundamental changes to the deal. “Our role is not to be impotent and watch it being destroyed,” he said. FARC, which disarmed and transformed into a political party after the peace deal but did not contest the election, immediately called on Duque to show “good sense” in dealing with the agreement. “What the country demands is an integral peace, which will lead us to the hoped-for reconciliation,” the FARC said in a statement after Duque’s presidential win. The former rebels also called for an early meeting with Duque.

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A US supported coup soon?

Bolivia’s Morales Condemns US Intervention in Venezuela, Latin America (TSur)

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday that Latin America “is no longer the United States’ backyard” while denouncing the United States’ attempt to convince its South American allies to help it orchestrate a military intervention or coup in Venezuela. In an interview with news agency EFE, Morales explained that several Latin American leaders have confided in him that U.S. Vice president Mike Pence is “trying to convince some United States-friendly countries” help them seize control of the South American country and replace the current government led by Nicolas Maduro. The real target, Morales explained, is not the Venezuelan president but “Venezuelan oil, and Venezuelans know that.”

Drawing parallels to 2011 military intervention in Libya, Morales said the U.S. isn’t interested in helping with alleged humanitarian crisis since, despite the current political and social turmoil in Libya, the U.S. will not intervene there since “the country’s oil is now owned by the U.S. and some European oil companies,” Morales asserted. “One military intervention (in the region) would only create another armed conflict,” he added pointing to Colombia’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a general sign of an escalation of “military aggression to all Latin America and the Caribbean” region. Morales explained, however, that U.S. interventionism is not only militaristic.

“When there are no military coups, they seek judicial or congressional coups” as in the case of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s imprisonment, which is barring him from running in the upcoming 2018 elections.

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They warned of the last one as well.

Russia-Syria Warnings of Coming False-Flag Attack Have Ring of Truth (MPN)

In recent days, speculation has swirled regarding whether another chemical-weapons attack will soon take place in Syria, as sources in both Syrian intelligence and the Russian military have warned that U.S.-backed forces in the U.S.-occupied region of Deir ez-Zor are planning to stage a chemical weapons attack to be blamed on the Syrian government. Concern that such an event could soon take place has only grown since the U.S. government announcement this past Thursday that the U.S. would provide $6.6 million over the next year to fund the White Helmets, the controversial “humanitarian” group that has been accused of staging “false flag” chemical weapons attacks in the past.

Notably, the White Helmets were largely responsible for staging the recent alleged chlorine gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, which led the United States, the United Kingdom and France to attack Syrian government targets. That same attack in Eastern Ghouta had been predicted weeks prior by the Russian military and Syrian government, who are warning once again that a similar event is likely to occur in coming weeks. An additional and largely overlooked indication that another staged attack could soon take place has been the recent movements of U.S. military assets to the Syrian coast, particularly the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG). As MintPress previously reported, the deployment of the HSTCSG – which consists of some 6,500 sailors — was first announced in April prior to the U.S., France and U.K. bombing of Syria. However, the group did not arrive until after that bombing had taken place.

While the April bombing was called a “one-time shot” by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the fact that the Truman strike group’s deployment to the region was not canceled after the bombings occurred led some to suggest that the U.S. may have been anticipating more strikes against Syria’s government in the coming months. Indeed, soon after the U.S.-led bombing of Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declared the U.S. was “locked and loaded” should the Syrian government again be accused of using chemical weapons. Now, amid claims from both the Syrian and Russian governments of another chemical weapons provocation, as well as the U.S.’ renewed funding of the White Helmets, the strike group’s deployment directly off the Syrian coast has only given greater credence to those previously voiced concerns.

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12,000 refugees so far this year.

Refugee Camps Reopening On Greek Mainland (K.)

While European Union countries shut their doors to migrants – Italy and Malta last week refused to allow a rescue ship carrying more than 600 migrants to dock at their ports – Greek authorities are reopening unused camps and facilities across the mainland to accommodate the swelling number of asylum seekers. Following a series of meetings last week, sources told Kathimerini, the Ministry for Migration Policy decided to reopen four camps, first set up at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, raising the total number of operational centers to 25. More specifically, tents have been set up again at the Malakasa camp, north of Athens, to house 300 people.

The Vagiochori camp near Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, is also expected to open in the coming days, providing accommodation for 400 individuals. The facility at Elefsina, west of the capital, has been hosting 250 refugees since late April, while another 350 migrants and refugees were transferred to the reception center at Oinofyta, north of Attica. A drop in the migrant population at the Skaramangas refugee center, meanwhile, was reversed after September last year, with the current number estimated at more than 2,000. An average 75 migrants land daily on Greece’s Aegean islands. A total of 12,065 people had entered the country until June 11 this year.

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“..the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

Scientists Scramble To Stop Bananas Being Killed Off (G.)

A British company has joined the race to develop a banana variety resistant to diseases and climatic changes that threaten to disrupt the availability of the country’s favourite fruit – or even kill it off altogether. The UK alone consumes more than 5bn bananas a year, while the fruit is a staple food in many poor countries and accounts for an export industry worth $13bn (£9.8bn) a year. But the global supply chain is threatened by a virulent disease that has been attacking plantations in Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa and the Middle East. As experts warn the fungus known as “fusarium wilt”, or Panama disease, could spread to Latin America, from where the majority of bananas are exported, scientists are scrambling to create a more robust variety that could help sustain the crop.

A single type of banana, called the Cavendish, accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally. It replaced a tastier variety wiped out by disease in the 1950s. Now researchers at the Norwich-based startup Tropic Biosciences are using gene editing techniques to develop a more resilient version of the Cavendish after securing $10m from investors. The company’s CEO, Gilad Gershno, : “In the developed world we tend to take bananas for granted. A banana found in your local supermarket grown in Costa Rica and shipped to the UK probably costs less than an apple grown 20 miles away. “If you look at the broader consumption on top of exports, the banana industry is worth a massive $30bn a year. However,people have been getting increasingly worried because the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”

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“10,000,000,000,000,000,000. 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

Losing The Buzz (ODT)

He starts at the beginning, with a black and white photocopy of a pie chart representing the animal kingdom and its various, speciated slices of pie. 80 percent of all known species of animals are insects, he says. You can tell an insect – if you can get it to hold still for long enough – by its six legs, exoskeleton divided into a head, thorax and abdomen and its two waggling antennae. By far the biggest orders of insects are the coleoptera (beetles) and the hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants), followed by the lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), then diptera (flies and mosquitoes) and, finally, other insects, such as grasshoppers and silverfish. “The total number of individual insects alive worldwide today is …” He writes it out. 10,000,000,000,000,000,000. “… 10 quintillion. That equals more than 1500 million insects for every person.”

[..] The total biomass, that is the total weight of all organisms on earth, is estimated at 545.2 Gt C (gigatons of carbon), the researchers say. More than 80% of this, 452.5Gt C, is plants. Next comes bacteria (16%, 87.2Gt C) and fungi (2%, 10.9 Gt C). Animals make up just 0.4% of the total biomass. The globe’s 7.6 billion people account for just 0.01% of all living things. And yet our impact on the globe has been enormous – some would say catastrophic. According to the Proceedings article, humans are responsible for the possibly irreparable loss of large chunks of the animal and plant kingdoms; more than 80% of all wild animals and half of all plants.

Anthony Harris finds it deeply disturbing. “Farmed poultry now makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% wild,” he says with a shocked tone. “The picture for mammals is worse. 60 percent of all mammals on earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are humans and just 4% of all mammals are wild.’ [..] Without insects, we face total ecological collapse and global famine. It is being called the Sixth Mass Extinction. The Fifth Mass Extinction was the one that killed off the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. Harvard entomologist Prof E.O. Wilson has estimated that, without insects and other land-based invertebrates, humanity would only last a few months. Land-based plants and animals would be next to go. The planet would fall quiet and still. The last time the earth was like that was 440 million years ago.

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Anyone seen any initiative to stop this?

Where Have All Our Insects Gone? (G.)

Certainly, the statistics are grim. Native ladybird populations are crashing; three quarters of butterfly species – such as the painted lady and the Glanville fritillary – have dropped significantly in numbers; while bees, of which there are more than 250 species in the UK, are also suffering major plunges in populations, with great yellow bumblebees, solitary potter flower bees and other species declining steeply in recent years. Other threatened insects include the New Forest cicada, the tansy beetle and the oil beetle. As for moths, some of the most beautiful visitors to our homes and gardens, the picture is particularly alarming. Apart from the tiger moth, which was once widespread in the UK, the V-moth (Marcaria wauaria) recorded a 99% fall in numbers between 1968 and 2007 and is now threatened with extinction, a fate that has already befallen the orange upperwing, the bordered gothic and the Brighton wainscot in recent years.

An insect Armageddon is under way, say many entomologists, the result of a multiple whammy of environmental impacts: pollution, habitat changes, overuse of pesticides, and global warming. And it is a decline that could have crucial consequences. Our creepy crawlies may have unsettling looks but they lie at the foot of a wildlife food chain that makes them vitally important to the makeup and nature of the countryside. They are “the little things that run the world” according to the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, who once observed: “If all humankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

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Beginning and end of a speech by Pilger in Sydney. Tomorrow there are many rallies for Assange, especially in Australia. There is also a UN Human RIghts Commission meeting in Genava.

Bringing Julian Assange Home (John Pilger)

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Or it will end in tragedy. The Australian government and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have an historic opportunity to decide which it will be. They can remain silent, for which history will be unforgiving. Or they can act in the interests of justice and humanity and bring this remarkable Australian citizen home. Assange does not ask for special treatment. The government has clear diplomatic and moral obligations to protect Australian citizens abroad from gross injustice: in JulianE’s case, from a gross miscarriage of justice and the extreme danger that await him should he walk out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London unprotected. We know from the Chelsea Manning case what he can expect if a US extradition warrant is successful — a United Nations Special Rapporteur called it torture.

[..] Malcolm Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia. Julian Assange’s father has written to Turnbull. It is a moving letter, in which he has appealed to the prime minister to bring his son home. He refers to the real possibility of a tragedy. I have watched Assange’s health deteriorate in his years of confinement without sunlight. He has had a relentless cough, but is not even allowed safe passage to and from a hospital for an X-ray . Malcolm Turnbull can remain silent. Or he can seize this opportunity and use his government’s diplomatic influence to defend the life of an Australian citizen, whose courageous public service is recognised by countless people across the world. He can bring Julian Assange home.

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Jul 142017
 
 July 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Nude, Green Leaves and Bust 1932

 

Global Shares Rise To Record New Highs (R.)
Britain In Worse Shape To Withstand A Recession Than In 2007 (G.)
IMF Warns Canada On Housing, Trade, Rate Hikes (R.)
40% Of The Fed’s Interest On Excess Reserves Is Paid To Foreign Banks (ZH)
Will Corporate Bonds Cross Over? (DDMB)
Turkey Chooses Russia Over NATO for Missile Defense (BBG)
100,000 and Counting: No Letup in Turkey Coup Purges a Year On (BBG)
Philip Morris’ Anti-Anti-Smoking Campaign (R.)
Globalisation: The Rise And Fall Of An Idea That Swept The World (G.)
Tepco: Decision Already Been Made To Release Radioactive Tritium Into Sea (JT)
Italy’s Poor Almost Triple in a Decade Amid Economic Slumps

 

 

Nothing has value anymore.

Global Shares Rise To Record New Highs (R.)

Upbeat data helped send world shares to a fourth all-time high in less than a month on Thursday as Wall Street edged higher in anticipation of solid earnings, while crude oil gained on evidence of stronger demand in China. Stocks were buoyed in Asia and elsewhere a day after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled a rise in interest rates would be less aggressive than some investors had expected. Sentiment was boosted after China reported upbeat data on exports and imports for June, the latest sign that the global growth is picking up a bit. That offset reports of higher production by key members of OPEC in a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), lifting oil prices.

The data pushed Asian shares up more than 1% and lifted MSCI’s 47-country gauge of global equity markets to a fresh record high with a gain of 0.29%. “Yesterday’s move was in response to Yellen comments that should inflation remain below the 2% target rate, the central bank will be less aggressive in their tightening program,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. “Today, the market is saying that’s old news and let’s focus on the matter at hand, which is earnings that will be coming out in earnest this week,” Stovall said. U.S. shares rose in anticipation second-quarter earnings will grow 7.8% for S&P 500 companies, according to Thomson Reuters data.

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Don’t worry, everybody is.

Britain In Worse Shape To Withstand A Recession Than In 2007 (G.)

Britain’s public finances are in worse shape to withstand a recession than they were on the eve of the 2007 financial crash a decade ago and face the twin threat of a fresh downturn and Brexit, the Treasury’s independent forecaster has warned. The Office for Budget Responsibility – the UK’s fiscal watchdog – said another recession was inevitable at some point and that Theresa May’s failure to win a parliamentary majority in last month’s election left the public finances more vulnerable to being blown off course than they were in 2007. In its first in-depth analysis of the fiscal risks facing Britain, the OBR said its main message was clear: “Governments should expect nasty fiscal surprises from time to time – because policy can only reduce risks, not eliminate them – and plan accordingly.

“And they have to do so in the context of ongoing pressures that are likely to weigh on receipts and drive up spending and a variety of risks that governments choose to expose themselves to for policy reasons. This is true for any government, but this one also has to manage the uncertainties posed by Brexit, which could influence the likelihood or impact of other risks.” The OBR said the size of the UK’s Brexit divorce bill – currently a matter of dispute between London and Brussels – would have little impact on the public finances. But it noted that even a small fall in Britain’s underlying growth rate after departure from the EU would lead to a big increase in the country’s debt burden.

If a knock to trade with the rest of Europe caused productivity to slip by just 0.1 percentage points over the next 50 years, tax receipts would be £36bn lower. With spending growth left unchanged, the debt-to-GDP ratio would end up around 50 percentage points higher, the OBR added. The campaign group Open Britain said the OBR’s report showed “a hard Brexit poses a real threat to our economy. People voted for £350m a week for the NHS, not a £36bn black hole in the public finances that could mean severe cuts to the NHS”.

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Has Australia been warned yet?

IMF Warns Canada On Housing, Trade, Rate Hikes (R.)

The IMF said on Thursday that while Canada’s economy has regained momentum, housing imbalances have increased and uncertainty surrounding trade negotiations with the United States could hurt the recovery. The report, written before the central bank raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday to 0.75%, also said the Bank of Canada’s current monetary policy stance is appropriate, and it cautioned against tightening. “While the output gap has started to close, monetary policy should stay accommodative until signs of durable growth and higher inflation emerge,” it said, adding that rate hikes should be “approached cautiously.” Cheng Hoon Lim, IMF mission chief for Canada, later clarified that even with Wednesday’s rate hike, monetary policy remains “appropriately accommodative.”

“The Bank of Canada’s increase of the policy rate reflects encouraging economic data over the past few months. We welcome the good news on the economy,” Lim said in an emailed statement. “Given the considerable uncertainty around the growth and inflation outlook, the Bank should continue to take a cautious approach in further adjusting the monetary policy stance,” she added. In a statement following its annual policy review with Canada, the IMF cautioned that risks to Canada’s outlook are significant – particularly the danger of a sharp correction in the housing market, a further decline in oil prices, or U.S. protectionism. It said financial stability risks could emerge if the housing correction is accompanied by a recession, but said stress tests have shown Canadian banks could withstand a “significant loss” on their uninsured residential mortgage portfolio, in part because of high capital position.

House prices in Toronto and Vancouver have more than doubled since 2009 and the boom has fueled record household debt, a vulnerability that has also been noted by the Bank of Canada. “The main risk on the domestic side is a sharp correction in the housing market that impairs bank balance sheets, triggers negative feedback loops in the economy, and increases contingent claims on the government,” the Fund said. The Fund also warned U.S. protectionism could hurt Canada, laying out a scenario for higher tariffs that could come with the renegotiation of NAFTA. If the United States raises the average tariff on imports from Canada by 2.1 percentage points and there is no retaliation from Canada, there would be a short-term impact on real GDP of about 0.4%.

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Bankers have no more use for borders than birds do.

40% Of The Fed’s Interest On Excess Reserves Is Paid To Foreign Banks (ZH)

Recall that as we showed first all the way back in 2011, the total cash on the books of commercial banks with operations in the US tracks the Fed’s excess reserves almost dollar for dollar. More importantly, the number is broken down by small and large domestic banks, as well as international banks. It is the last number that is of biggest interest, because now that Congress is finally scrutinizing the $4.5 trillion elephant in the room, i.e., the Fed’s balance sheet, it may be interested to know that approximately 40%, or $838 billion as of the latest weekly data, in reserves parked at the Fed belongs to foreign banks.

While we will reserve judgment, and merely point out that of the $100 or so billion in dividends and buybacks announced by US banks after the latest stress test a substantial amount comes directly courtesy of the Fed – cash that ultimately ends up in shareholders’ pockets – we will note that the interest the Fed pays to foreign banks operating in the US who have parked reserves at the Fed, amounts to $10.4 billion annualized as of this moment. This is a subsidy from the Fed, supposedly an institution that exists for the benefit of the US population, going directly and without any frictions to foreign banks, who – just like in the US – then proceed to dividend and buybacks these funds, “returning” them to their own shareholders, most of whom are foreign individuals.

While the number appears modest, it is poised to grow substantially as the Fed Funds rate is expected to keep growing, ultimately hitting 3.0% according to the Fed. Indicatively, assuming excess reserves remain unchanged for the next 2-3 years and rates rise to 3.0%, that would imply a total annual subsidy to commercial banks amounting to $65 billion, of which $25 billion would go to foreign banks every year. We wonder if this is the main reason why the Fed is so desperate to trim its balance sheet as it hikes rates, as sooner or later, someone in Congress will figure this out.

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Unintended consequences? One of many?

Will Corporate Bonds Cross Over? (DDMB)

Unbeknownst to unassuming corporate bond holders, they too will soon be forced into the slow lane. For the moment, the vast majority fancy themselves that equally exasperating driver who won’t get out of the fast lane, determined to bully their way to their damned destination. As for the perils of tailgating, they’re for the other guy, the less agile driver with rubbery reflexes. That’s all good and well and has been for many years. Bond market fender benders are nearly nonexistent. The question is: Will central bankers worldwide turn placid parkways into highways to hell as they ‘remove accommodation,’ to borrow from their gently genteel jargon? That’s certainly one way to interpret Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s latest promise to shrink the balance sheet ‘appreciably.’

Care for a translation? How easily does “Aggressive Quantitative Tightening” roll off the tongue? Perhaps you’ve just bitten yours instead. Enter the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The Institute of International Finance (IIF), The Bank of International Settlements (BIS), and by the way, the Emerging Markets complex including and especially China. As a former central banker, it is with embarrassing ease yours truly can bandy about fantastic figures. No surprise that nary an eyebrow was raised at the latest figures out of the IIF that aggregate global debt is closing in on $220 trillion, as touched on last week. Consider that to be the broad backdrop. Now, narrow in on the IMF’s concerns that financial stability could be rocked by a rumble in US corporate debt markets.

Using firms’ capacity to service their debts from current earnings as a simple and elegant yard stick, the report warned that one in ten firms are failing outright. The last two years of levering up have exacted rapid damage: earnings have fallen to less than six times interest expense, this during an era of unprecedented low interest rates. And as record non-financial debt as a percentage of GDP quickly approaches 50%, the share of income required to service this mountain is at a seven-year high. Should financial conditions tighten (the report was published in April prior to the Fed’s June rate hike), one-in-five firms are likely to default, which rises to 22% if rates continue to rise.

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“..The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border..”

Turkey Chooses Russia Over NATO for Missile Defense (BBG)

Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades. The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey. Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO.

Under pressure from the U.S., Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. for alleged missile sales to Iran. Turkey has been in NATO since the early years of the Cold War, playing a key role as a frontline state bordering the Soviet Union. But ties with fellow members have been strained in recent years, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursuing a more assertive and independent foreign policy as conflict engulfed neighboring Iraq and Syria. Tensions with the U.S. mounted over U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists, and the relationship with the European Union soured as the bloc pushed back against what it sees as Turkey’s increasingly autocratic turn.

Last month, Germany decided to withdraw from the main NATO base in Turkey, Incirlik, after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there. The missile deal with Russia “is a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the U.S. and Europe,” said Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow think-tank. “But until the advance is paid and the assembly begins, we can’t be sure of anything.” The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border, the official said. The Russian deal would allow Turkey to deploy the missile defense systems anywhere in the country, the official said.

[..] The official said the systems delivered to Turkey would not have a friend-or-foe identification system, which means they could be deployed against any threat without restriction.

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That must have been one hell of a conspiracy.

100,000 and Counting: No Letup in Turkey Coup Purges a Year On (BBG)

The scale of Turkey’s crackdown on alleged government opponents following last year’s attempted coup was confirmed by a top official, as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the failed putsch amid deepening concern over the rule of law. Authorities have fired 103,824 state employees and suspended 33,483 more since the July 15 bid to seize power by a section of the military, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview. The purge of suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by the government of orchestrating the coup attempt, is necessary to ensure national security, he said. ustice Ministry data showed 50,546 suspected members of Gulen’s organization were in prison on July 3, and that arrest warrants had been issued for 8,000 others. The preacher denies involvement in the takeover attempt.

“There might be crypto members of Feto who walk on the snow without leaving tracks,” Kurtulmus said, using an abbreviation of Gulen’s first name that officials have adopted since the defeated military power grab to refer to his movement. “Related agencies are carefully conducting their work against this possibility.” Just this week, Erdogan rebuffed criticism over the detention of a group of international rights activists, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey, as they held a workshop on an island off Istanbul. “They gathered as if they were holding a meeting to continue July 15,” the president said. Amnesty criticized Turkey on Tuesday after the detentions were extended by seven days. “It is truly absurd that they are under investigation for membership of an armed terrorist organization,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in an email. “For them to be entering a second week in police cells is a shocking indictment of the ruthless treatment of those who attempt to stand up for human rights in Turkey.”

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Dirty deeds.

Philip Morris’ Anti-Anti-Smoking Campaign (R.)

A group of cigarette company executives stood in the lobby of a drab convention center near New Delhi last November. They were waiting for credentials to enter the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty conference, one designed to curb smoking and combat the influence of the cigarette industry. Treaty officials didn’t want them there. But still, among those lined up hoping to get in were executives from Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco Plc. There was a big name missing from the group: Philip Morris International Inc. A Philip Morris representative later told Reuters its employees didn’t turn up because the company knew it wasn’t welcome. In fact, executives from the largest publicly traded tobacco firm had flown in from around the world to New Delhi for the anti-tobacco meeting.

Unknown to treaty organizers, they were staying at a hotel an hour from the convention center, working from an operations room there. Philip Morris International would soon be holding secret meetings with delegates from the government of Vietnam and other treaty members. The object of these clandestine activities: the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, a treaty aimed at reducing smoking globally. Reuters has found that Philip Morris International is running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use. [..] Confidential company documents and interviews with current and former Philip Morris employees reveal an offensive that stretches from the Americas to Africa to Asia, from hardscrabble tobacco fields to the halls of political power, in what may be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.

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It needs growth, and there ain’t none.

Globalisation: The Rise And Fall Of An Idea That Swept The World (G.)

It was only a few decades ago that globalisation was held by many, even by some critics, to be an inevitable, unstoppable force. “Rejecting globalisation,” the American journalist George Packer has written, “was like rejecting the sunrise.” Globalisation could take place in services, capital and ideas, making it a notoriously imprecise term; but what it meant most often was making it cheaper to trade across borders – something that seemed to many at the time to be an unquestionable good. In practice, this often meant that industry would move from rich countries, where labour was expensive, to poor countries, where labour was cheaper. People in the rich countries would either have to accept lower wages to compete, or lose their jobs. But no matter what, the goods they formerly produced would now be imported, and be even cheaper.

And the unemployed could get new, higher-skilled jobs (if they got the requisite training). Mainstream economists and politicians upheld the consensus about the merits of globalisation, with little concern that there might be political consequences. Back then, economists could calmly chalk up anti-globalisation sentiment to a marginal group of delusional protesters, or disgruntled stragglers still toiling uselessly in “sunset industries”. These days, as sizable constituencies have voted in country after country for anti-free-trade policies, or candidates that promise to limit them, the old self-assurance is gone. Millions have rejected, with uncertain results, the punishing logic that globalisation could not be stopped. The backlash has swelled a wave of soul-searching among economists, one that had already begun to roll ashore with the financial crisis. How did they fail to foresee the repercussions?

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The world should not allow the Fukushima secrecy any longer.

Tepco: Decision Already Been Made To Release Radioactive Tritium Into Sea (JT)

Radioactive tritium, said to pose little risk to human health, will be released from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex into the sea, according to a top official of the plant operator. “The decision has already been made,” Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, said in a recent interview with media outlets, referring to the discharge of tritium, which remains in filtered water even after highly toxic radioactive materials are removed from water used to cool the damaged reactors at the plant. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water has routinely been released into the sea after it is diluted. But the move by Tepco has prompted worries among local fishermen about the potential ramifications for their livelihood as public perceptions about fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima could worsen.

They are the first public remarks by the utility’s management on the matter, as Tepco continues its cleanup of toxic water and tanks containing it continue to fill the premises of the plant, where three reactors suffered meltdowns after tsunami flooded the complex in March 2011 following a massive earthquake. Kawamura’s comments came at a time when a government panel is still debating how to deal with tritium-containing water at the Fukushima plant, including whether to dump it into sea. Saying its next move is contingent on the panel’s decision, Kawamura indicated in the interview that Tepco will wait for a decision by the government before it actually starts releasing the water into sea. “We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state” as well as Fukushima Prefecture and other stakeholders, he said.

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The EU is one big success story.

Italy’s Poor Almost Triple in a Decade Amid Economic Slumps

Italians living below the level of absolute poverty almost tripled over the last decade as the country went through a double-dip, record-long recession. The absolute poor, or those unable to purchase a basket of necessary goods and services, reached 4.7 million last year, up from almost 1.7 million in 2006, national statistics agency Istat said Thursday. That is 7.9% of the population, with many of them concentrated in the nation’s southern regions. As Italy went through its deepest, and then its longest, recession since World War II between 2008 and 2013, more than a quarter of the nation’s industrial production was wiped out. Over the same period unemployment also rose, with the rate rising to as high as 13% in 2014 from a low of 5.7% in 2007. Joblessness was at 11.3% at last check in May.

For decades, Italy has grappled with a low fertility rate – just 1.35 children per woman compared with a 1.58 average across the 28-nation EU as of 2015, the last year for which comparable data are available. “The poverty report shows how it is pointless to wonder why there are fewer newborn in Italy,” said Gigi De Palo, head of Italy’s Forum of Family Associations. “Making a child means becoming poor, it seems like in Italy children are not seen as a common good.” The number of absolute poor rose last year in the younger-age classes, reaching 10% in the group of those between 18 and 34 years old. It fell among seniors to 3.8% in the age group of 65 and older, the Istat report also showed.

Earlier this year, the Rome-based parliament approved a new anti-poverty tool called inclusion income that is replacing existing income-support measures. It will benefit 400,000 households, for a total of 1.7 million people, Il Sole 24 Ore daily reported, citing parliamentary documents. The program will be funded with resources of around €2 billion ($2.3 billion) this year which should rise to nearly €2.2 billion in 2018, Sole also said

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Jul 062017
 
 July 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Roy Lichtenstein Woman With Flowered Hat 1963

 

The Fed Grows Worried Its Loose Policy Threatens US Financial Stability (CNBC)
Fed Eyes September Announcement on Balance-Sheet Reduction (WSJ)
China’s Debt Binge Threatens Australia (CB)
Australian Housing ‘Bubble’ Fears Overblown, HSBC Economist Says (BBG)
Europe’s Quietly Growing Poor Population Is Getting Louder (Occupy)
German Banks Pose A Threat That Politicians Want To Hide (CNBC)
Saudi Arabia Chief Foreign Promoter Of Islamist Extremism In UK – Report (Ind.)
Theresa May: Austerity Prevents UK From Turning Into Greece (G.)
China’s Electric Cars Are Actually Pretty Dirty (BBG)
After Failure To Prove Trump-Russia Collusion, There’s Pro-Trump Websites (ZH)
Terrorists in Syria to Stage Provocations to Justify US Strikes – Moscow (Sp.)
Hollywood Promotes War On Behalf Of The Pentagon, CIA and NSA (M.)
Report In Sweden Claims Erdogan Orchestrated July 15 Coup In Turkey (SCF)
Three In Four Recent Greek Graduates Work For Less Than €800 A Month (K.)
EU Calls On Members To Aid Migrants Amid Rising Mediterranean Death Toll (G.)
EU Blamed For ‘Soaring’ Migrant, Refugee Death Toll (BBC)

 

 

I think the Fed has known this for a long time.

The Fed Grows Worried Its Loose Policy Threatens US Financial Stability (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve’s most recent interest rate hike came amid worries that keeping policy loose was posing increasing risks to financial stability and the economy. Fed officials indicated a determination to continue raising rates even with muted inflation levels, which they considered to be temporary and likely to rise over the long run to a targeted level of 2%, according to a summary from the June meeting of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee. The Fed raised its benchmark rate target a quarter point at the meeting and outlined a plan to reduce its $4.5 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings it accrued while trying to stimulate the economy during and after the financial crisis. Meeting minutes released Wednesday indicated that Fed officials believe the balance sheet can be reduced with “limited” disruption to financial markets.

Officials also expressed little concern that low inflation would persist. However, Fed officials were divided on when the balance sheet runoff should begin, and did not release a timetable on when it would happen. Recent readings below the Fed’s 2% goal were attributed to “idiosyncratic factors, including sharp declines in prices of wireless telephone services and prescription drugs, and expected these developments to have little bearing on inflation over the medium run.” The rate hike came as several officials voiced concern over the effect, or lack thereof, that their recent measures were having on financial markets. Rather than causing conditions to tighten, they actually have grown looser since the central bank embarked on a series of hikes.

While the Fed has increased its benchmark rate target four times since December 2015, government bond yields have declined in recent months. Stocks have continued to gain in the second-longest bull market ever recorded, and multiple other measures of financial conditions remain loose. The meeting minutes reflected considerable discussion over why that was happening. Low bond yields, they reasoned, could be the product of “sluggish longer-term economic growth” as well as the Fed’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings.

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It’s time to say goodbye to the Fed and other central banks. They’re too destructive.

Fed Eyes September Announcement on Balance-Sheet Reduction (WSJ)

Federal Reserve officials have indicated there is a strong chance they will announce in September a decision to start shrinking the central bank’s portfolio of bonds and other assets, while putting off until December any further interest-rate increase. The moves would give officials time to assess how markets react to the balance-sheet reductions and to confirm their view that a recent slowdown in inflation will fade. Launching the balance-sheet plan in September also would afford Chairwoman Janet Yellen an opportunity to initiate it well ahead of any potential leadership transition. Her term as chair expires in February, and President Trump hasn’t indicated whether he would nominate her to a second term or replace her. While a final decision on the next Fed moves hasn’t been made, officials will have several opportunities in coming weeks to clarify their thinking.

The central bank releases minutes of the June meeting on Wednesday, and Ms. Yellen testifies before Congress next week. Officials will also gather in Jackson Hole at the end of August for an annual monetary-policy conference that will provide ample opportunities for them to offer further guidance. Earlier this year, some officials indicated they were considering raising interest rates in March, June and September and then starting the portfolio reduction plan in December. They did raise rates in March and June, but are considering the new strategy for several reasons. First, they agreed at their June policy meeting on how they would reduce the $4.5 trillion portfolio, and made that plan public. Some officials now think they might as well get started soon, given the U.S. economic expansion appears steady and global growth is improving.

Second, if Ms. Yellen isn’t nominated to a second term as chair, they would prefer not to wait until December and launch the plan shortly before her successor takes charge. Third, inflation remains a puzzle for the Fed. The unemployment rate fell to 4.3% in May, a 16-year low, yet price pressures have diminished in recent months, moving year-over-year inflation gauges further below the central bank’s 2% target. Some Fed officials in recent weeks have said they want to see more proof that such price softness is transitory before resuming rate increases, but haven’t signaled similar qualms about initiating the balance-sheet runoff. “Take the balance sheet, get that started, and position ourselves for a December rate increase,” said Chicago Fed President Charles Evans in an interview last month.

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But.. wasn’t it supposed to make Australia rich?

China’s Debt Binge Threatens Australia (CB)

No country can be indifferent to China’s economy, especially not Australia. We’re more exposed to what goes on in it than just about any other nation. China has long been the biggest market for our commodities, such as iron ore, coal and wool. And now it is the largest foreign buyer of our services, especially education and tourism. The upshot? Many thousands of Australian jobs depend on the health of the Chinese economy. Big Asian economies in our region – China, India and Indonesia – are bound to become even more important to us during this, the Asian Century. Our politicians like to dwell on the opportunities presented by the historic economic transformation to our north. But we’ll also need to be prepared for some nasty bumps along the way. The aftermath of China’s enormous corporate debt bubble could well be one of them.

For some years now China’s economic growth has been underpinned by an explosion in corporate lending. China has accounted for half – yes half – of all new credit created globally since 2005 according to the New York Federal Reserve. That’s a huge share for an economy that now only accounts for about 15% of the global economy. Alarm bells rang last August when the IMF pointed out the trajectory of credit growth in China was eerily similar to countries that experienced painful post-debt boom adjustments in the recent past. This includes Japan in the 1980s, Thailand prior to Asian Financial Crisis and Spain prior to the European debt crisis. The sheer pace of lending growth makes it likely many loans are going to marginal borrowers or unviable projects.

A recent Oxford University study that evaluated 65 major road and rail projects in China concluded just 28% could be considered “genuinely economically productive”. The rapid expansion of China’s less regulated “shadow banking” sector adds to the complexity. The Reserve Bank has described China’s financial system as “increasingly large, leveraged, interconnected, and opaque”. Authorities have recently taken steps to reduce credit growth in China but it continues to expand at a rapid pace. The Reserve’s latest review of financial stability published in April, said the risks continue to build. “The level of debt in China has risen significantly over the past decade to reach very high levels, with particularly strong growth in lending from the less regulated and more opaque parts of China’s financial system,” it said.

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Fire the guy, and all others like him.

Australian Housing ‘Bubble’ Fears Overblown, HSBC Economist Says (BBG)

Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities are driven by strong demand and a lack of supply, rather than indicating a “bubble,” according to HSBC’s local Chief Economist Paul Bloxham. “At a national level, a key reason for rising housing prices has been housing under-supply,” Bloxham wrote in a research note on Thursday. “This also suggests that a significant fall in Australian housing prices, as occurred in the U.S. and Spain during the global financial crisis, is unlikely.” Five years of red-hot growth have left prices in Sydney and Melbourne up 80% and 60% since mid-2012, fueling bubble concerns. In June, Moody’s Investors Service cut the long-term credit ratings of Australia’s four biggest banks, saying surging home prices, rising household debt and sluggish wage growth pose a threat to the lenders.

Bloxham, a former staffer at the Reserve Bank of Australia, said that “fundamental factors” largely explain the price boom and, “as a result, we do not judge it to be a bubble.” Demand for housing in Melbourne and Sydney has been supported by domestic and international migration, foreign investment and a lack of new supply, he said. Price increases have been much smaller in places such as Perth, where demand has been weaker amid the waning of a mining boom. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has gradually been ratcheting up restrictions on riskier loans and in recent months the big lenders have all raised interest rates charged on interest-only loans. Bloxham said he believes these regulatory measures will help cool the market, along with lower demand from overseas and increased supply.

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“..more than 240 million people now live on the poverty line..”

Europe’s Quietly Growing Poor Population Is Getting Louder (Occupy)

[..] early last month, financial analysts lauded the explosive growth of the Eurozone, claiming that it had outdone the U.S. The ECB predicted that countries like Germany and France would be able to issue bonds worth over 600 billion euros by the end of the year. By all accounts it would seem that the storm has passed. The E.U. suffered long and hard, endured the departure of one of its most economically sound member-states, and has apparently managed to come out on top, even amid one of the most dire humanitarian crises in recent memory. However, a brief look at some the official reports published by E.U. economists paints a wholly different, less rosy picture. In March 2010, the European Commission published a detailed economic strategy that was intended to rescue the then 80 million citizens of the Eurozone from falling below the poverty line.

In a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union, the Commission extensively defined “poverty” in as loose a terminology as possible, hoping to reduce the number of that population. It also measured income inequality using the wildly fluctuating per-capita incomes of each member-state. One of the more prevailing definitions used by the European Commission at the time was relative poverty: “People are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live. Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantage through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalized from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted.”

The purpose of the strategy was to implement, for lack of a better term, a “glorious 10-year plan” that would lift up the failing economies of the less developed or ailing member-states, encourage mobility within the Union and enable those 80 million citizens to be lifted above the poverty line. In 2017, the strategy was given a new, thorough assessment by Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic think-tank, which revealed that it not only failed to achieve its goal (an understandable outcome under the circumstances) but also increased the number of E.U. citizens risking poverty almost threefold. As of June, the European Commission website stated that more than 240 million people now live on the poverty line (around one-third of the E.U. population), with a full 9% of citizens suffering from deprivation.

That doesn’t factor in the considerable population of refugees and other marginalized communities such as the Roma, or the desperate populations of underdeveloped areas in countries like Romania. So where does all this leave the E.U.’s poor? According to predictions, financial troubles will escalate the already growing trend of social exclusion affecting women, single parents, immigrants and others in the E.U. for years to come. Already, E.U. citizens are choosing to abandon higher education in favor of steady employment. In countries like Greece, Macedonia and other member-states with expansive rural areas, the exodus of able-bodied young people combined with an aging population will lead to a long-term economic drain from which they may never recover.

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Too many banks? Or too much debt?

German Banks Pose A Threat That Politicians Want To Hide (CNBC)

With the Italian banking system in the spotlight, analysts have highlighted that Germany’s lenders are still not out of the woods, saying shipping loans and too many bank branches are some of the very real problems they are currently facing. German officials repeatedly tell EU members from the south of Europe to restructure their banking systems but industry experts believe they have a problem of their own as federal elections approach. “Germany is overbanked, too many banks, very little consolidation has taken place,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany, told CNBC via email on Wednesday. There are approximately 2,400 separate banks with more than 45,000 branches throughout the country and over 700,000 employees, according to Commercial Banks Guide, an industry website.

This increases the cost income ratio for banks, Brzeski explained. Meanwhile, the IMF warned last May that cost-to-income and leverage remain high in Germany. “Low profitability reflects structural inefficiencies, persistent crisis legacy issues, provisions for compliance violations, and the need to adjust to the new regulatory environment,” the IMF said in the report last May. Another problem seems to be the reliance on the shipping industry for many banks. “I would point towards some specific issues with asset quality: Shipping is one of the priorities of the single supervisor, the ECB, for next year,” Gildas Surry, senior analyst at Axiom Alternative Investments, told CNBC on Wednesday when citing the biggest problem for the German banking sector.

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As May refuses to make public a government report. Dead end.

Saudi Arabia Chief Foreign Promoter Of Islamist Extremism In UK – Report (Ind.)

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a report has warned. The conservative Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations preaching violence and foreign state funding. In a new report entitled “Foreign Funded Islamist Extremism in the UK”, the thinktank calls for a public inquiry into extremism bankrolled by other countries. It suggests several Gulf states and Iran are responsible for much of the foreign funding of extremism in the UK, but that Saudi Arabia in particular had spent millions on exporting its conservative branch of Wahhabi Islam to Muslim communities in the West since the 1960s.

The thinktank, run by controversial journalist and political commentator Douglas Murray, said this typically took the form of endowments to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which host radical preachers and distribute extremist literature. The report calls for a public inquiry in Saudi Arabia’s connections with UK based extremism. The UK’s Saudi Arabian embassy told the BBC the allegations were “categorically false”. But it comes as the Government is facing mounting pressure to release its own report into Saudi funding of extremism. Responding to a parliamentary question on Tuesday, Theresa May said ministers were “considering advice on what is able to be published and will report to Parliament with an update in due course”.

The report, which has been in Ms May’s personal possession for six months, was first commissioned by David Cameron in 2015 following an agreement with the Liberal Democrats to get their support for Syrian air strikes. But last month a spokesman for the Home Office admitted to the Guardian that the report may not be published because its contents were “very sensitive”. Since coming to power in July last year, Ms May has courted the conservative kingdom, which is one of the main buyers of UK-made arms. Earlier this year, the Government approved £3.5bn-worth of arms exports licences to the Gulf state.

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This is getting too absurd. She’s claiming austerity can rescue a nation, but look at Greece. Someone like Steve Keen should set May straight once and for all. Corbyn doesn’t sound terribly clear either.

Theresa May: Austerity Prevents UK From Turning Into Greece (G.)

Theresa May raised the spectre of a Greek-style economic collapse if Britain fails to press ahead with tackling the deficit on Wednesday, as she was challenged repeatedly by Jeremy Corbyn over the public sector pay cap. With intense political pressure on the prime minister – including from her own cabinet colleagues – to ease the strain for cash-strapped public servants, including nurses and teachers, she warned MPs about the risks of loosening the purse strings. “This is not a theoretical issue. Let us look at those countries that failed to deal with it. In Greece, where they have not dealt with the deficit … What did we see with that failure to deal with the deficit? Spending on the health service cut by 36%. That does not help nurses or patients,” she said.

Comparisons with Greece were repeatedly used by George Osborne in 2010 to justify public spending cuts, as riots erupted on the streets of Athens over the stringent bailout conditions imposed by the IMF and the eurozone. But the analogy represented a significant ratcheting up of the pro-austerity argument from May. A Conservative spokesman emphasised remarks afterwards, saying: “There are siren calls from Labour to abandon any kind of fiscal restraint whatsoever. What happens, we’ve seen as a case study, is what happened in Greece.” He added: “I think she was suggesting if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party got the chance to impose its fiscal policies on the United Kingdom that is a very real threat.”

A spokesman for Corbyn described the claims as “preposterous”. “The situation in Greece is tied up with the eurozone and the management of the eurozone banks – we’re not remotely in that situation. Our manifesto and our pledges were costed, unlike the government’s,” he said.

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Prediction: the Green crowd is not going to listen.

China’s Electric Cars Are Actually Pretty Dirty (BBG)

China has been making great strides toward electrification. Electric vehicle sales are booming: Consumers bought more than 300,000 last year, and more than 5 million are expected to be on the road by 2020. The government just announced bold plans for a wave of big new battery factories. Encouraging as that may be, though, the move away from conventional cars and trucks won’t immediately reduce the country’s carbon emissions. On the contrary, the production and exploitation of electric vehicles in China actually produces more greenhouse gases and consumes more overall energy. In the short run, China’s moves could make greenhouse emissions go up, not down. Electric vehicles seem environmentally benign. They’re lightweight, energy-efficient, and potentially greener than their conventional counterparts.

But the reality is more complex. Their manufacture entails energy-intensive mining of rare elements, such as the lithium required for their batteries. Their fuel efficiency can make up for that in the course of use, but only if the electricity is produced in a relatively clean way. Developed nations get the best results, because they tend to generate electricity using cleaner sources. By one estimate, the average electric car in the U.S. has just half the greenhouse gas impact of a conventional car over its life cycle. It’s even less in the western, southern and northeastern parts of the country, where power plants draw more renewable power. A comprehensive energy model being developed by Argonne National Laboratory produces a similar estimate.

Europe does well, too. Looking at all the processes involved in the manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal of a range of both electrical and conventional vehicles, Norwegian researchers found that electric vehicles offer at least a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (assuming they were driven about 150,000 kilometers). To be sure, electric-vehicle batteries impose a host of other environmental costs linked to the mining of rare metals. But on carbon emissions, electric vehicles win out. The real challenge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be in developing nations – especially China, which is likely to dominate the global auto market for decades to come. Unfortunately, the structure of China’s industrial economy will make it difficult. One recent study by Chinese engineers estimated that electric vehicles generate about a 50% increase in both greenhouse gas emissions and total energy consumption over their life cycle. The manufacture of the lithium-ion battery alone accounts for 13% of the energy consumption and 20% of the emissions.

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It’s high time for a reset. The narrative is dead.

After Failure To Prove Trump-Russia Collusion, There’s Pro-Trump Websites (ZH)

Having failed miserably to produce even one single shred of tangible evidence that Trump colluded with Russia to stage a coup in 2016’s presidential election, Democrats, rather than simply admit that their entire crusade to prove a false narrative was nothing more than a charade designed to cover up their embarrassing defeat, have decided to shift the narrative to target “pro-Trump websites.” You know, because a couple of websites sharing stories over Facebook clearly overshadowed the 24/7 Hillary Clinton cheerleading sessions on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, Washington Post, New York Times… Per The Guardian, this convenient shift in the ‘Russian hacking’ narrative comes just as Trump’s former head of digital media has been summoned to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer for his alleged ‘sins:”

“The spread of Russian-made fake news stories aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton on social media is emerging as an important line of inquiry in multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Investigators are looking into whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news, including stories implicating Clinton in murder or pedophilia, or paid to boost those stories on Facebook.The head of the Trump digital camp, Brad Parscale, has reportedly been summoned to appear before the House intelligence committee looking into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee carrying out a parallel inquiry, has said that at least 1,000 “paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia” were pumping anti-Clinton fake news into social media sites during the campaign.”

Ironically, the same investigators digging into the “Trump collusion” narrative admit that similar media campaigns were used during the Democratic primaries in favor of Bernie Sanders. Oddly, however, there has been no organized effort to figure out whether or not Bernie conspired with Putin to destroy Clinton’s chances at the White House. A huge wave of fake news stories originating from eastern Europe began washing over the presidential election months earlier, at the height of the primary campaign. John Mattes, who was helping run the outline campaign for the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders from San Diego, said it really took off in March 2016. “In a 30-day period, dozens of full-blown sites appeared overnight, running full level productions posts. It screamed out to me that something strange was going on,” Mattes said. Much of the material was untraceable, but he tracked 40% of the new postings back to eastern Europe.

Four of the Facebook members posting virulent and false stories about Clinton (suggesting, for example, that she had profited personally by arming Islamic State extremists) had the same name, Oliver Mitov. They all had a very small number of Facebook friends, including one which all four had in common. When Mattes tried to friend them and contact them there was no reply.

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Does anyone still notice the lack of evidence?

Terrorists in Syria to Stage Provocations to Justify US Strikes – Moscow (Sp.)

According to information in the possession of Russian Foreign Ministry, terrorists in Syria are planning to stage chemical provocations in order to justify US strikes on government forces, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during her weekly presser on Thursday. Russia believes terrorists in Syria plan to stage chemical attacks in order to justify US airstrikes against the Syrian military, Zakharova said. “According to information available [to us], Syrian terrorist groups plan staged provocative actions with the use of chemical poison gases to justify US strikes against the positions of the Syrian government forces,” Zakharova told a weekly briefing.

Daesh has deployed chemical laboratories and special equipment for creating chemical bombs to Deir ez-Zor from Raqqa in Syria, Zakharova revealed. The relocation of the laboratories from Raqqa speaks to the US-led coalition’s “selective reluctance to see facts” and “aiding insurgents,” according to Zakharova. The spokeswoman reiterated that Russia will seek thorough probe of the April 4 incident in Khan Sheikhoun in addition to other ‘chemical’ provocations against the Syrian authorities. “We will continue to consistently seek the most professionally rigorous and politically impartial investigation into the investigation of both the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident and other persistent chemical provocations against the legitimate Syrian government,” Zakharova said.

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Setting the social mood. Robert Prechter can tell you a lot about that. But he sees it as a phenomenon that moves itself.

Hollywood Promotes War On Behalf Of The Pentagon, CIA and NSA (M.)

When we first looked at the relationship between politics, film and television at the turn of the 21st century, we accepted the consensus opinion that a small office at the Pentagon had, on request, assisted the production of around 200 movies throughout the history of modern media, with minimal input on the scripts. How ignorant we were. More appropriately, how misled we had been. We have recently acquired 4,000 new pages of documents from the Pentagon and CIA through the Freedom of Information Act. For us, these documents were the final nail in the coffin. These documents for the first time demonstrate that the US government has worked behind the scenes on over 800 major movies and more than 1,000 TV titles.

The previous best estimate, in a dry academic book way back in 2005, was that the Pentagon had worked on less than 600 films and an unspecified handful of television shows. The CIA’s role was assumed to be just a dozen or so productions, until very good books by Tricia Jenkins and Simon Willmetts were published in 2016. But even then, they missed or underplayed important cases, including Charlie Wilson’s War and Meet the Parents. Alongside the massive scale of these operations, our new book National Security Cinema details how US government involvement also includes script rewrites on some of the biggest and most popular films, including James Bond, the Transformers franchise, and movies from the Marvel and DC cinematic universes.

A similar influence is exerted over military-supported TV, which ranges from Hawaii Five-O to America’s Got Talent, Oprah and Jay Leno to Cupcake Wars, along with numerous documentaries by PBS, the History Channel and the BBC. National Security Cinema also reveals how dozens of films and TV shows have been supported and influenced by the CIA, including the James Bond adventure Thunderball, the Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games and more recent films, including Meet the Parents and Salt. The CIA even helped to make an episode of Top Chef that was hosted at Langley, featuring then-CIA director Leon Panetta who was shown as having to skip dessert to attend to vital business. Was this scene real, or was it a dramatic statement for the cameras?

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Expect Erdogan to be loud and poresent this weekend around the G20.

Report In Sweden Claims Erdogan Orchestrated July 15 Coup In Turkey (SCF)

Last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey is nothing but a false flag orchestrated by Turkey s autocratic President Recep Tayip Erdogan and his henchmen to create a pretext for a mass persecution of critics and opponents in a state of perpetual emergency, a new detailed study titled ‘July 15: Erdogan’s Coup’ by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) concluded. Based on publicly available data, the coup indictments, testimonials in court trials, private interviews, reviews of military expert opinions and other evidence collected by researchers, SCF is fairly confident that this attempt did not even qualify a coup bid in any sense of military mobilization which was unusually limited in numbers, confined in few cities, poorly managed, defied the established practices, tradition, rules of engagement and standard operating procedures in Turkish military.

This was a continuation of a series of false flags that were uncovered in the last couple of years under the authoritarian rule of Erdoan regime and it was certainly the bloodiest one, said Abdullah Bozkurt, the President of SCF. Erdogan appears to have tapped on widely circulated coup rumors in Turkish capital and staged own show to steal wind and set up his opposition for a persecution, he added. Judging from the results of the coup bid, Erdogan won big time by securing imperial presidency, consolidating his gains, stifle the opposition and even launching cross border military incursion into Syria for which he had been itching for too long. No wonder why he immediately called the attempt ‘a gift from God’. The report was originally published in Turkish. SCF plans to release an English edition soon with new changes and updated data.

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Shock doctrine. What can they do but leave?

Three In Four Recent Greek Graduates Work For Less Than €800 A Month (K.)

Almost three in every four (73%) people who graduated after 2011 in Greece collect no more than 800 euros per month, while one in six gets less than 400 euros per month, if they have a job, according to the findings of a survey the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) presented on Wednesday. That compares with just 24% of pre-2011 graduates who get less than 800 euros per month. In the years of the financial crisis graduates have found it much more difficult to find work, as the unemployment rate among degree-holders soared from 7% in 2009 to 18% in 2016.

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Report after report circles around money. Not people.

EU Calls On Members To Aid Migrants Amid Rising Mediterranean Death Toll (G.)

Brussels will urge European countries to give shelter to more refugees from Africa to ease the pressure on Italy, as record numbers of people attempt the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. The European Union executive wants all member states – including the UK – to contribute to resettling a total of 37,000 vulnerable people from five north African countries by the end of 2018. Interior ministers meeting in Tallinn on Thursday will be called on by Dmitris Avramopoulos, the EU home affairs commissioner, to make voluntary pledges by the middle of September. The appeal came as Amnesty International released a damning 31-page reportlinking “failing EU policies” to the the rising death toll in the Mediterranean, and shocking abuses faced by refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres.

The EU resettlement plan is focused on children, as well as victims of people smugglers and torture, from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Ethiopia. Most people making the perilous sea crossing from north Africa are deemed to be economic migrants not eligible for international protection. But the EU announced a relocation plan for vulnerable people as part of a package of emergency measures to help ease pressure on Italy. “It can be an important safety valve for people with vulnerabilities,” said an EU source. Frans Timmermans, European commission vice president, has made clear Brexit does not exclude the UK from the 2017-2018 programme, although pledges are voluntary. The plan, which has a strong emphasis on returning unwanted migrants, emerged as it was revealed that EU countries have paid in less than half of the funds promised to help African governments manage migration.

The Africa “trust fund” was announced with fanfare in 2015 to win African support for the deportation of unwanted migrants in Europe. Brussels has contributed €2.6bn (£2.3bn) from the EU budget, but officials are frustrated that national capitals are not digging deeper into their state coffers. Only €90bn of a promised €202bn has so far materialised. The UK has paid in €0.6bn of its promised €3bn, far less than Italy, which has paid €32bn. France, Germany and Spain have put in €3bn each, according to the latest data from the European commission.

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The EU will say: but look at all the money we gave! And then blames member states.

EU Blamed For ‘Soaring’ Migrant, Refugee Death Toll (BBC)

Amnesty International has blamed “failing EU policies” for the soaring death toll among refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean. In a report, it said “cynical deals” with Libya consigned thousands to the risk of drowning, rape and torture. It said the EU was turning a blind eye to abuses in Libyan detention centres, and was mostly leaving it up to sea rescue charities to save migrants. More than 2,000 people have died in 2017 trying to get to Europe, it said. The EU has so far made no public comments on Amnesty’s report. It comes as interior ministers from the 28-member bloc are meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, to discuss the migrant crisis. They will review a $92m (£71m) action plan unveiled by the European Commission to deal with the issue.

The commission proposes to use more than 50% of the funds to boost the Libyan coastguard’s capacity to stop traffickers launching boatloads of migrants out to sea to be rescued. The rest is to help Italy feed, house and process the migrants who get there. “Rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European ministers… are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director. “European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea in favour of one that has seen thousands drown and left desperate men, women and children trapped in Libya, exposed to horrific abuses,” he said.

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Jun 222017
 
 June 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Paul Klee Analysis of Various Perversities 1922

 

The Little Putsch That Could Beget a Great Big Coup (Stockman)
US Should Mind Its Own Business; It Shouldn’t Be In Syria (Ron Paul)
US Is A “Second Tier” Country (ZH)
America Grows Older And More Ethnically Diverse (BBG)
The Wheels Come Off Uber (Yves Smith)
Oil Prices ‘Like A Falling Knife’ (CNBC)
The Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction (BBG)
Canada’s Housing Bubble Will Burst (BBG)
Rehousing Of Grenfell Tower Families In Luxury Block Gets Mixed Response (G.)
China NPL Prices Up 30% as New Gold Rush Gets Under Way (BBG)
Strong Interest, Low Price For NPLs of Greece’s Eurobank (K.)
Greeks Skeptical About Benefits, Prospects of EU (K.)
Greek Tourism Minister Says Arrivals Will Top 30 Million This Year (K.)

 

 

Davis is getting upset. He’s offering a free copy of his Trump book to every American at the link.

The Little Putsch That Could Beget a Great Big Coup (Stockman)

Let’s start with two obvious points about the whole Russia fiasco… Namely, there is no “there, there.” First off, the president has the power to declassify secret documents at will. But in this instance he could also do that without compromising intelligence community (IC) “sources and methods” in the slightest. That’s because after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, the whole world was put on notice — and most especially Washington’s adversaries — that it collects every single electronic digit that passes through the worldwide web and related communications grids. Washington essentially has universal and omniscient SIGINT (signals intelligence). Acknowledging that fact by publishing the Russia-Trump intercepts would provide new knowledge to exactly no one. Nor would it jeopardize the lives of any American spy or agent (HUMINT).

It would just document the unconstitutional interference in the election process that had been committed by the U.S. intelligence agencies and political operatives in the Obama White House. That pales compared to whatever noise comes out of Langley (CIA) and Ft. Meade (NSA). And I do mean noise. Yes, I can hear the boxes on the CNN screen harrumphing that declassifying the “evidence” would amount to obstruction of justice! That is, since Trump’s “crime” is a given (i.e. his occupancy of the Oval Office), anything that gets in the way of his conviction and removal therefrom amounts to “obstruction.” Given that he is up against a Deep State/Democratic/Neoconservative/mainstream media prosecution, the Donald has no chance of survival short of an aggressive offensive of the type I just described. But that’s not happening because the man is clueless about what he is doing in the White House.

And he’s being advised by a cacophonous coterie of amateurs and nincompoops. So he has no action plan except to impulsively reach for his Twitter account. That became more than evident — and more than pathetic, too — when he tweeted out an attack on his own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. At least Nixon fired Elliot Richardson (his Attorney General) and Bill Ruckelshaus (Deputy AG): “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” Alone with his Twitter account, clueless advisors and pulsating rage, the Donald is instead laying the groundwork for his own demise. Were this not the White House, this would normally be the point at which they send in the men in white coats with a straight jacket.

[..] Even Senator John Thune, an ostensible Swamp-hating conservative, had nothing but praise for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that he would fairly and thoroughly get to the bottom of the matter. No he won’t! Mueller is a card-carrying member of the Deep State who was there at the founding of today’s surveillance monster as FBI Director following 9/11. Since the whole $75 billion apparatus that eventually emerged was based on an exaggerated threat of global Islamic terrorism, Russia had to be demonized into order to keep the game going — a transition that Mueller fully subscribed to.

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“One thing that I am concerned about – because I’ve seen it happen so often over the years, are false flags.”

US Should Mind Its Own Business; It Shouldn’t Be In Syria (Ron Paul)

RT: Australia halted its cooperation. How significant is this development? Why did they do it? Ron Paul: I think that is good. Maybe wise enough, I wish we could do the same thing – just come home. It just makes no sense; there’s a mess over there. So many people are involved, the neighborhood ought to take care of it, and we have gone too far away from our home. It has been going on for too long, and it all started when Obama in 2011 said: “Assad has to go.” And now as the conditions deteriorate …it looks like Assad and his allies are winning, and the US don’t want them to take Raqqa. This just goes on and on. I think it is really still the same thing that Obama set up – “Get rid of Assad” and there is a lot of frustration because Assad is still around and now it is getting very dangerous, it is dangerous on both sides.

One thing that I am concerned about – because I’ve seen it happen so often over the years, are false flags. Some accidents happen. Even if it is an honest accident or it is deliberate by one side or the other to blame somebody. And before they stop and think about it, then there is more escalation. When our planes are flying over there and into airspace where we shouldn’t be, and we are setting up boundaries and say “don’t cross these lines or you will be crossing our territory.” We have no right to do this. We should mind our own business; we shouldn’t be over there, when we go over there and decide that we are going to take over, it is an act of aggression, and I am positively opposed to that. And I think most Americans are too if they get all the information they need.

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“..the US received its lowest marks in the categories of “tolerance and inclusion” and “health and wellness.“

US Is A “Second Tier” Country (ZH)

Most Americans’ idea of happiness involves lounging by the water or on a beach somewhere. But it turns out, human happiness can flourish even in freezing climates far from the equator. To wit, the Social Progress Imperative, a US-based nonprofit, released the results of its annual Social Progress Index report, which purports to rank countries based on the overall wellbeing of their citizens. Four Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway claimed the top spots, while the US placed 18th out of 128, leaving it in what the SPI defines as the “second-tier” of countries based on citizens’ wellbeing, according to Bloomberg. Luckily, being “second-tier” doesn’t seem that bad, according to a definition found in the report. “Second-tier countries demonstrate “high social progress” on core issues, such as nutrition, water, and sanitation.

However, they lag the first-tier, “very high social progress” nations when it comes to social unity and civic issues. That more or less reflects the U.S. performance. (There are six tiers in the study.)” “We want to measure a country’s health and wellness achieved, not how much effort is expended, nor how much the country spends on healthcare,” the report states. In a nod to the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well as his efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, the report noted that the US received its lowest marks in the categories of “tolerance and inclusion” and “health and wellness.” America’s “tolerance” score has been sliding since 2014, around the time that several high-profile shootings of unarmed black men ignited the “Black Lives Matter” movement, sparking a national conversation about the prevalence of racism in US society.

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Just very slowly.

America Grows Older And More Ethnically Diverse (BBG)

The United States is growing older and more ethnically diverse, a trend that could put strains on government programs from Medicare to education, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. Every ethnic and racial group grew between 2015 and 2016, but the number of whites increased at the slowest rate — less than one hundredth of 1% or 5,000 people, the Census estimate shows. That’s a fraction of the rates of growth for non-white Hispanics, Asians and people who said they are multi-racial, according to the government’s annual estimates of population. President Donald Trump’s core support in the racially divisive 2016 election came from white voters, and polls showed that it was especially strong among those who said they felt left behind in an increasingly racially diverse country.

In fact, the Census Bureau projects whites will remain in the majority in the U.S. until after 2040. “Even then, (whites) will still represent the nation’s largest plurality of people, and even then they will still inherit the structural advantages and legacies that benefit people on the basis of having white skin,” said Justin Gest, author of “The New Minority,” a book about the 2016 election. The Census Bureau reported that the median age of Americans — the age at which half are older and half are younger — rose nationally from just over 35 years to nearly 38 years in the years between 2000 and 2016, driven by the aging of the “baby boom” generation. The number of residents age 65 and older grew from 35 million to 49.2 million during those 16 years, jumping from 12% of the total population to 15%.

That’s a costly leap for taxpayers as those residents move to Medicare, government health care for seniors and younger people with disabilities, which accounted for $1 out of every $7 in federal spending last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. By 2027, it will cost $1 out of every $6 of federal money spent. Net Medicare spending is expected to nearly double over the next decade, from $592 billion to $1.2 trillion, the KFF reported.

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Excellent take-down from Yves.

The Wheels Come Off Uber (Yves Smith)

Not surprisingly, the financial press has been all ago about the drama of Travis Kalanick’s forced departure from Uber’s CEO position yesterday, and has focused on getting salacious insider details of his ouster. That means journalists largely ignored what ought to be the real story, which is whether Uber has any future. I anticipate that Hubert Horan will offer a longer-form treatment of this topic. Hubert had already documented, in considerable detail in his ten-part series, how Uber has no conceivable path to profitability. Its business model has been based on a massive internal contradiction: using a ginormous war chest to try to achieve a near-monopoly position in a low-margin, mature business that is fragmented geographically and locally.

Monopolies and oligopolies are sustainable only when certain factors are operative: the ability to attain a superior cost position through scale economies, which include network effects, or barriers to entry, such as regulations, very high skill levels, or high minimum investment requirements. Neither of these apply in the local car ride business. Even if Uber were able to drive literally every competing cab operator in the world out of business due to its ability to continue its predatory pricing, once Uber raised prices to a level where it achieved profits, new entrants (or revived old entrants) would come in. Uber will thus never be able to charge the premium prices (in excess of the level for a traditional taxi operator to be profitable) for the very long period necessary for Uber to merely be able to recoup the billions of dollars it has burned, mainly in subsidizing the cost of rides, let alone to achieve an adequate return on capital.

And that’s before you get to the fact that systematically much higher prices would mean fewer fares. The developments of the last few months mean Uber’s decay path is sure to accelerate. I’ve been following the business press for over 30 years. I can’t think of a single case where even an established, profitable business with an established franchise has had so many top level positions vacant, and for such bad reasons. As reader vidimi quipped, “With no CEO, CFO, COO, and CIO, uber is coming very close to becoming a self-driving company.” And that’s not even a full list. World-class communications expert Rachel Whetstone, who is recognized as a key force in rebuilding the Tories’ brand in the UK, quit in April.

The heads of engineering departed for failing to disclose a previous sexual investigation; the head of product and growth was forced out over a sexual impropriety at a company function. And in a scandal that will have a much longer tail, Uber’s former head of its Waymo driverless car unit, Anthony Levandowski, has had his case involving alleged theft of intellectual property from Google referred to the Department of Justice. Kalanick was deeply involved in Levandowski sudden exodus. It seems implausible that Kalanick didn’t know Levandowski was making off with Google files. If the case does lead to a criminal prosecution, it is hard to see how Kalanick could escape scrutiny as a potential criminal co-conspirator.

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Just in case you were wondering why King Salman named a new crown prince…

Oil Prices ‘Like A Falling Knife’ (CNBC)

Oil prices could be poised to fall below $40 a barrel before too long, according to an analyst at Energy Aspects, as the commodity appeared set to post its largest price slide in the first half of the year for the past two decades. “This is like a falling knife right now, I genuinely haven’t seen sentiment this bad ever,” Amrita Sen, the co-founder and chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, told CNBC on Wednesday. “We have had clients emailing saying they have been trading this for 20 or 30 years and they have never seen something like this,” she added. Oil prices have tumbled more than 20% his year, marking its worst performance for the first six months of the year since 1997 and putting the commodity in bear market territory.

The ongoing decline in prices appears to have stemmed from investors discounting evidence of robust compliance by OPEC and non-OPEC producers with a deal to curtail a global supply overhang. Prices took a fresh leg lower in the previous session – dipping 2% – as new signs of rising output from Nigeria and Libya, the two OPEC members exempt from a deal to cut production. Output from the 14-member exporter group ticked higher in May due to rising production in Nigeria, Libya and Iraq, raising concerns about OPEC’s effort to shrink global stockpiles of crude oil. OPEC and other producers have committed to keeping 1.8 million barrels a day off the market through March. Libya’s oil production rose more than 50,000 barrels per day to 885,000 bpd. Meanwhile, exports of Nigeria’s benchmark Bonny Light crude oil are set to rise by 62,000 barrels per day in August.

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Absolutely. He’s the War Prince.

The Rise of a Prince Ends Doubts Over Saudi Arabia’s Direction (BBG)

With the anointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the Saudi throne, any doubts over the continuation of policies that have shaken up the Middle East have gone. Western diplomats already referred to the 31-year-old as “Mr. Everything,” because of his control over most aspects of domestic, foreign and defense affairs. His elevation ends a behind-the-scenes struggle for power and answers the question of what would happen to his plans for Saudi Arabia when King Salman, now 81, dies or steps aside. The most ambitious of these, Vision 2030, seeks to recalibrate the economy to end the country’s near-total dependence on oil revenue. But internationally, there are also ramifications. Last month, the prince again raised the stakes in the regional rivalry with Iran, saying that dialog was “impossible” as they fight a proxy war in Yemen.

He also led a multi-nation effort to isolate neighboring Qatar, causing a rift among fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. That also looks set to turn into another long and potentially fruitless test of wills as Iran and Turkey come to Qatar’s aid. “The switch offers him the legitimacy and consensus of becoming the next king and that will validate his vision, his plans and his policies,” said Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. “There were a lot of question marks about the future of Saudi Arabia and the transition. Now this debate has ended.” Widely known as MBS, he was made crown prince just after dawn in Riyadh, displacing his older cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, who was also stripped of his post as interior minister in charge of domestic security forces and counter-terrorism policy.

The move was neither a shock nor a coup, and it means he could be running the kingdom for decades to come. What’s more, his tough approach to the intractable problems of the Middle East would appear to mesh well with U.S. President Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia last month. Trump called the new crown prince Wednesday to offer congratulations on his elevation, the White House said in a statement. Trump and the prince “committed to close cooperation to advance our shared goals of security, stability, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond,” according to the statement. The problem is what comes next. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State questioned Saudi Arabia’s justification at striking out at Qatar by cutting it off from diplomatic and transport links.

The bombing campaign in Yemen aimed at destroying the rebel Houthi forces that Saudi Arabia sees as proxies for Iran, meanwhile, appears to have no end in sight. Two years later, it has become bogged down, bloody and increasingly unpopular. “On the foreign policy side he’s also embroiled Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Qatar without an exit strategy,” said James Dorsey at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. These aren’t changes of direction for Saudi Arabia, but “what he has done is to stretch up a notch and put some very sharp edges on it, and at this point those are backfiring.”

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Any Canadian with a substantial mortgage who’s not actively trying to sell right now…..

Canada’s Housing Bubble Will Burst (BBG)

Canadian home sales fell the most in five years last month. That didn’t stop an increase in prices, which were up 18% nationwide from a year earlier. When you consider that most houses are leveraged assets, this represents huge gains for homeowners. While leverage can help boost performance on the way up, it becomes very dangerous on the way down. Leverage can turn even the best investments into poor ones when things go wrong, as losses are amplified. Equity can get wiped out pretty quickly on an overleveraged asset. Canadian real estate has been on fire for years. The housing price data there has made the U.S. real estate market during the boom of the mid-2000s look mild. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas puts out a global housing price index for more than 20 countries every quarter. Using this data, I looked at the real house price index data for Canada and compared it with the same data in the U.S. going back to 1975. Here’s this relationship from 1975 through the end of 2005:

Although there were some divergences in the early and late 1980s, both housing markets essentially ended up in the same place after 30 years. Now let’s add in the most recent data to see how things have unfolded since:

An enormous divergence occurred in 2006, when U.S. housing prices really began to soften, while Canadian price barely skipped a beat. This makes any differences in the past look like blips. The rise in Canadian real estate prices has been relentless. The U.S. housing market peaked in late 2006. Since then, based on this index, U.S. housing prices are still down almost 13% from their peak through the end of 2016. In that same time frame, Canadian housing prices are up 56%. From the 2006 peak, it took until late 2012 for real estate in the U.S. to bottom. We’ve since witnessed a 19% recovery from what was a 27% decline nationwide, on average. While the U.S. real estate downturn lasted almost six years, Canada’s housing market experienced just a 7% drawdown that lasted less than a year. And house prices in Canada reclaimed those losses in about a year and a half. Canadian housing has also outpaced its neighbors to the south since the 2012 bottom in U.S. real estate, with a 30% gain in that time.

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You can’t even blame these people. It’s the whole crazy idea of cities and governments blowing housing bubbles on purpose, that’s what’s wrong here.

Rehousing Of Grenfell Tower Families In Luxury Block Gets Mixed Response (G.)

Two miles south of the charred skeleton of Grenfell Tower is a large complex of sleek new apartments that some of those displaced by last week’s inferno will soon be able to call home. Kensington Row’s manicured lawns, clipped trees and burbling fountains are a haven from the rumbling traffic of two busy London thoroughfares, and its spacious, air-conditioned foyers a relief from June’s oppressive heatwave. Four unfinished blocks house the 68 flats purchased by the Corporation of London for families who lost their homes in Grenfell Tower. Workmen had been instructed not to talk to the media, but one said there was now a rush to complete the building work. “It’s a brilliant idea,” he said of the resettlement plan. Among those exercising dogs and small children, the views were more mixed. “It’s so unfair,” said Maria, who was reading the news in the Evening Standard with two neighbours.

She bought her flat two years ago for a sum she was unwilling to disclose. “We paid a lot of money to live here, and we worked hard for it. Now these people are going to come along, and they won’t even be paying the service charge.” Nick, who pays £2,500 a month rent for a one-bedroom flat in the complex, also expressed doubts about the plan. “Who are the real tenants of Grenfell Tower?” he asked. “It seems as though a lot of flats there were sublet. Now the people whose names are on the tenancies will get rehoused here, and then they’ll rent the flats out on the private market. And the people who were actually living unofficially in the tower at the time of the fire won’t get rehoused. “I’m very sad that people have lost their homes, but there are a lot of people here who have bought flats and will now see the values drop. It will degrade things. And it opens up a can of worms in the housing market.”

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When your bad debt is in a bubble, I guess you got it made?! Or should that be: you should be afraid?

China NPL Prices Up 30% as New Gold Rush Gets Under Way (BBG)

Bad loans are rapidly becoming the latest hot commodity in China as more domestic and foreign investors rush into the market and bid up prices. Non-performing loan prices have risen more than 30% this year, according to distressed investor Belos Capital Asia. The average selling price of NPLs has climbed to around 50 cents on the dollar in the past two years, from 30 cents, said Victor Jong, a partner in the deals and business recovery services unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Shanghai. Such a high level is “very rare” in international markets, Jong said. “There are just too many buyers grabbing a limited supply of NPLs,” said Hanson Wong, CEO of Belos Capital in Hong Kong. “At these prices, it’s pretty hard for these NPLs to be profitable.” Distressed investors are increasing as Chinese authorities encourage market-oriented ways to resolve lenders’ mounting piles of non-performing debt amid slowing economic growth.

A jump in valuations of real estate, which often act as underlying assets for secured loans, has boosted the debt’s recovery prospects. Combined with a surge in money supply, this has lifted bad-loan prices even in some less-developed regions of China, according to domestic distressed debt investor Bald Eagle Asset Management. Foreign investors including Oaktree Capital, Lone Star, Goldman Sachs and PAG have bought China NPLs in the current cycle that began in 2014, according to a March report from PwC. Non-performing loans at the country’s lenders jumped 61% in the past two years to 1.58 trillion yuan ($231 billion) at the end of March. In the previous NPL cleanup in China, between 2001 and 2008, secured debt was typically sold at 20 cents on the dollar, and unsecured creditors got back only 5 cents, said Wang Yingyi, a partner at Bald Eagle in Beijing.

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Looks like Greece should try China’s bad debt recipe.

Strong Interest, Low Price For NPLs of Greece’s Eurobank (K.)

The loans portfolio put up for sale by Eurobank is attracting strong investment interest but low offers as the lender begins the process for the transfer of nonperforming loans. This is a portfolio valued at €2.8 billion which has attracted the interest of about 20 investment funds in the data room, illustrating the strong leverage the NPL market commands, partly due to the banks’ commitment to reducing their bad loans by 40% by the end of 2019. The portfolio that Eurobank is selling includes debt from consumer loans and credit cards that have gone unpaid for years, most for at least a decade – i.e. since before the financial crisis broke.

Eurobank has made all the necessary moves for the collection of part of the €2.8 billion, without getting a great response. Therefore the prices in the market are expected to be particularly low for the portfolio, with estimates speaking of just 5% of the original value. Market professionals note that Eurobank’s effort to recover part of the dues just before the opening of the portfolio’s sale, offering debtors a haircut of up to 95% without any significant results, means that the price will likely drop below 5% too.

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Greeks are still stuck in the mindset of being proud to be deemed worthy of being a full member of the EU. So much so that they can’t see they’re not.

Greeks Skeptical About Benefits, Prospects of EU (K.)

As the European Union’s cohesion faces being sorely test by the upcoming Brexit negotiations and other challenges, Greeks appear increasingly skeptical about the benefits and prospects of the EU, according to a new study by London-based international policy institute Chatham House and research company Kantar. 74% of Greeks are worried about the outlook for the EU, according to the survey which was carried out on a sample of 1,000 people in 10 European countries: Britain, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland.

The Greek figure was almost double the research average of 38%. Greeks were also significantly more downbeat than their counterparts, with 60% declaring themselves to be pessimistic compared to a research average of 40%. An even larger proportion of Greeks, 80%, said they believed more members of the bloc would follow Britain’s lead and decide to break away from the Union in the next 10 years. Predictably, following seven years of belt-tightening imposed by foreign creditors, a significant proportion of Greeks (67%) said that austerity was the EU’s biggest failure. 73% of Greeks believe that the decision of Britain to leave the EU will weaken the Union.

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A debt colony AND a tourist colony. With most of the best assets sold off to foreigners.

BTW, both Greeks and tourists would be much better off if Greece had its own currency and could lower daily prices.

Greek Tourism Minister Says Arrivals Will Top 30 Million This Year (K.)

The tourism sector is showing genuine signs of growth this year that suggest it will be the main driver of the Greek recovery, as it will help state revenues, the private economy, the country’s current accounts and employment. The government is for the first time speaking of 30 million arrivals in 2017. Bank of Greece data show that in the first four months of the year travel receipts increased by 2.4% or 23 million euros year-on-year, reaching 997 million euros. This increase was thanks to the 3.2% rise in arrivals and not average spending per trip, which posted a 0.8% decline. This means the 4.8% drop in travel receipts during the first quarter was offset in April, when arrivals rose 12% and receipts 11.3% annually. This positive picture is expected to have continued in May.

Retail sector representatives are looking forward to cashing in on the increase in arrivals, to offset the losses resulting from Greek households’ ever shrinking disposable incomes. Based on the bookings picture, turnover in retail commerce could rise by up to 5% this year. Addressing a conference organized by the Panhellenic Exporters Federation, Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura said that the data of the first five months point to an increase in arrivals, revenues, nights stayed and occupancy rates. They also show an increase in bookings for the summer ranging between 15 and 70%, depending on area, which led to her conclusion that Greece will have more then 30 million tourists this year after welcoming 28 million in 2016 and 26 million in 2015. The growth in tourism is also reflected in employment and commerce. The number of unemployed registered last month dropped by 56,820 people from April to 913,518, mainly thanks to the rise in seasonal employment in tourism and commerce.

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May 202017
 
 May 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Minor White Windowsill Daydreaming Rochester NY 1958

 

The Housing Moment Investors Dread Is Here (DDMB)
Home Ownership Among Young UK Families Halves In 20 Years (TiM)
A Monster Eating the Nation (Jim Kunstler)
Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia (Vox)
Harvard Study Reveals Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias (HeatSt.)
Comey’s 2007 Brush With Scandal: Jim’s Loyalty Was More To Chuck Schumer (SD)
Constitutional Crisis In Washington? More Like Attempted Coup (David Goldman)
Brazil Plea-Bargain Testimony Says President Took $4.6 Million In Bribes (R.)
Maduro to Trump: ‘Get Your Dirty Hands Off Venezuela!’ (R.)
Theresa May To Create New, Government Controlled Internet in UK (Ind.)
Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts (G.)
Varoufakis Claims Tsipras Pressured Him To Accept Creditors’ Demands (K.)
‘They Stole My Money’: Greek Dreams Of Retirement Turn Sour (AP)
Teen Refugees Trapped In Greece Turn To Prostitution (Spiegel)

 

 

Cracks in the mirage.

The Housing Moment Investors Dread Is Here (DDMB)

Amid the carnage in the auto sector, economists have sought solace in the comforts of home, sweet home. A recent Census release suggests that Millennials, long sidelined, have finally started to tiptoe into the home-buying market. The reception to the data was so effusive that other reports, suggesting housing has reached a much different sort of turning point, were lost in the fray. The good news is that the trend is unequivocal, based purely on supply and demand. The bad news is in the actual message. The May University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey showed a six-year low among those who think it’s a good time to buy a house and a 12-year high among those who say it’s a good time to sell. Disparities of this breadth tend to coincide with break points and that’s just where we’ve landed in the cycle.

The beginning of May officially marked the advent of a buyers’ market, defined simply as sellers outnumbering buyers by a wide enough margin to trigger falling prices. Yes, it’s the moment buyers have been waiting for. It is also the moment private equity investors, those who’ve crowded out natural buyers, have been dreading. Three factors determine home sales: interest rates, unemployment and prices. The recent decline in interest rates has provided some semblance of relief; purchase applications have bounced off April’s levels, when they were down four% over last year. April and May are obviously critical to the spring sales season. The low unemployment rate would seem to be a huge plus if it wasn’t for the stress building around thousands of layoff announcements across the retail and auto sectors that won’t find their way into this most lagging of economic indicators for months.

That is not to say those getting pink slips don’t know their fate, which should influence home sales going forward. Price is the one bright spot, with one glaring caveat: Falling home prices tend to be associated with a negative macroeconomic backdrop, which does not bode well for any buyer of, well, anything. Dig into the Federal Reserve’s recently released first quarter Senior Loan Officer Survey and you will see nothing of note on the residential mortgage side – banks reported that both loan demand and lending standards remained unchanged in the first three months of the year. But that is the here and now. Demand and supply in the auto sector, where pricing has been under pressure for some time, looked quite similar to that for houses several months back.

According to the Fed survey, at minus 13.3%, demand for auto loans flat-lined in deeply negative territory, as was the case in last year’s fourth quarter, the worst levels of the current expansion. This data point corroborated the Michigan survey, which showed that those who said it was a good time to buy a car fell to the lowest level since August 2014. Meanwhile, demand for credit card loans slid to minus 10.2% from minus 8.3% in the last three months of last year. In the event you’re detecting a trend, households are sending out distress signals that have just begun to be picked up in housing, even as household debt levels recapture their pre-crisis highs.

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A radical change to an entire society, and one that will take decades to absorb.

Home Ownership Among Young UK Families Halves In 20 Years (TiM)

The number of young family owning their own homes has halved across large parts of the country in the space of a generation, and the struggle to get on the housing ladder is not restricted to the South East. Research by The Resolution Foundation found that 31% of 25 to 34-year-olds surveyed were home owners in 2016, compared to 58% in 1994. Regionally, 30% of those surveyed in West Yorkshire owned homes last year, compared to 61% in 1994. Similarly, in Greater Manchester, home ownership levels fell to 29% from 59% over the same 22-year period. The South West also suffered a decline, to 36% last year from 62% in 1994, while East Anglia fell to 34% from 61% in the same period. The decrease was most pronounced in outer London, where home ownership dropped to 20% in 2016 from 55% in 1994.

Big falls were also recorded in other areas of the South East including Brighton, Southampton, Reading and Milton Keynes, with home ownership in the younger age group bracket declined from to 34% last year from 64% in 1994. The Resolution Foundation argued that such a ‘seismic shift’ in home ownership puts the younger generation in a very different position from that of the older, baby boomer generation, leaving many more young families living in the private rented sector. Lindsay Judge, a senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: ‘London house prices always dominate the headlines, but with all eyes on the capital we’re missing the bigger picture. ‘From Bristol to East Anglia and up to West Yorkshire, large swathes of young families across the country simply cannot afford to buy their own home.’This has implications for their living standards in the here and now, but also in the future when their children grow up and they approach retirement without this key asset to draw upon in old age.

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“Why do you suppose nations employ foreign ministers and ambassadors, if not to conduct conversations at the highest level with other national leaders? And might these conversations include matters of great sensitivity, that is, classified information?”

A Monster Eating the Nation (Jim Kunstler)

Is there any question now that the Deep State is preparing to expel President Donald Trump from the body politic like a necrotic organ? The Golden Golem of Greatness has floundered pretty badly on the job, it’s true, but his mighty adversaries in the highly politicized federal agencies want him to fail spectacularly, and fast, and they have a lot of help from the NY Times / WashPo / CNN axis of hysteria, as well as such slippery swamp creatures as Lindsey Graham. There are more problematic layers in this matter than in a Moldavian wedding cake. America has been functionally ungovernable for quite a while, well before Trump arrived on the scene. His predecessor managed to misdirect the nation’s attention from the cumulative dysfunction with sheer charm and supernatural placidity — NoDrama Obama.

But there were a few important things he could have accomplished as chief exec, such as directing his attorney general to prosecute Wall Street crime (or fire the attorney general and replace him with someone willing to do the job). He could have broken up the giant TBTF banks. He could have aggressively sponsored legislation to overcome the Citizens United SOTUS decision (unlimited corporate money in politics) by redefining corporate “citizenship.” Stuff like that. But he let it slide, and the nation slid with him down a greasy chute of political collapse. Which we find embodied in Trump, a sort of tragicomic figure who manages to compound all of his other weaknesses of character with a childish impulsiveness that scares folks. It is debatable whether he has simply been rendered incompetent by the afflictions heaped on by his adversaries, or if he is just plain incompetent in, say, the 25th Amendment way.

I think we’ll find out soon enough, because impeachment is a very long and arduous path out of this dark place. The most curious feature of the current crisis, of course, is the idiotic Russia story that has been the fulcrum for levering Trump out of the White House. This was especially funny the past week with the episode involving Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak conferring with Trump in the White House about aviation security around the Middle East. The media and the Lindsey Graham wing of the Deep State acted as if Trump had entertained Focalor and Vepar, the Dukes of Hell, in the oval office. Why do you suppose nations employ foreign ministers and ambassadors, if not to conduct conversations at the highest level with other national leaders? And might these conversations include matters of great sensitivity, that is, classified information? If you doubt that then you have no understanding of geopolitics or history.

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The writer starts off quite right, but then veers off into this incomprehensible stuff: “There are even legitimate reasons to believe that Trump’s campaign worked with Russian hackers to undermine Hillary Clinton. That may or may not turn out to be true, but it is least plausible and somewhat supported by the available evidence.”

Legitimate reasons that may not be true? “Somewhat” supported by evidence? That’s where I stop reading.

Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia (Vox)

President Donald Trump is about to resign as a result of the Russia scandal. Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity are Russian agents. The Russians have paid off House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz to the tune of $10 million, using Trump as a go-between. Paul Ryan is a traitor for refusing to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand was a secret Russian agent charged with discrediting the American conservative movement. These are all claims you can find made on a new and growing sector of the internet that functions as a fake news bubble for liberals, something I’ve dubbed the Russiasphere. The mirror image of Breitbart and InfoWars on the right, it focuses nearly exclusively on real and imagined connections between Trump and Russia. The tone is breathless: full of unnamed intelligence sources, certainty that Trump will soon be imprisoned, and fever dream factual assertions that no reputable media outlet has managed to confirm.

Twitter is the Russiasphere’s native habitat. Louise Mensch, a former right-wing British parliamentarian and romance novelist, spreads the newest, punchiest, and often most unfounded Russia gossip to her 283,000 followers on Twitter. Mensch is backed up by a handful of allies, including former NSA spook John Schindler (226,000 followers) and DC-area photographer Claude Taylor (159,000 followers). There’s also a handful of websites, like Palmer Report, that seem devoted nearly exclusively to spreading bizarre assertions like the theory that Ryan and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell funneled Russian money to Trump — a story that spread widely among the site’s 70,000 Facebook fans. Beyond the numbers, the unfounded left-wing claims, like those on the right, are already seeping into the mainstream discourse.

In March, the New York Times published an op-ed by Mensch instructing members of Congress as to how they should proceed with the Russia investigation (“I have some relevant experience,” she wrote). Two months prior to that, Mensch had penned a lengthy letter to Vladimir Putin titled “Dear Mr. Putin, Let’s Play Chess” — in which she claims to have discovered that Edward Snowden was part of a years-in-the-making Russian plot to discredit Hillary Clinton. Last Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was forced to apologize for spreading a false claim that a New York grand jury was investigating Trump and Russia. His sources, according to the Guardian’s Jon Swaine, were Mensch and Palmer:

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First, media exposure was a main factor in winning Trump the election. Now, not so much.

Harvard Study Reveals Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias (HeatSt.)

A major new study out of Harvard University has revealed the true extent of the mainstream media’s bias against Donald Trump. Academics at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed coverage from Trump’s first 100 days in office across 10 major TV and print outlets. They found that the tone of some outlets was negative in as many as 98% of reports, significantly more hostile than the first 100 days of the three previous administrations:

The academics based their study on seven US outlets and three European ones. In America they analyzed CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. They also took into account the BBC, the UK’s Financial Times and the German public broadcaster ARD. Every outlet was negative more often than positive. Only Fox News, which features some of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters and is often given special access to the President, even came close to positivity. Fox was ranked 52% negative and 48% positive. The study also divided news items across topics. On immigration, healthcare, and Russia, more than 85% of reports were negative. On the economy, the proportion was more balanced – 54% negative to 46% positive:

The study highlighted one exception: Trump got overwhelmingly positive coverage for launching a cruise missile attack on Syria. Around 80% of all reports were positive about that.

The picture was very different for other recent administrations. The study found that President Obama’s first 100 days got a good write-up overall – with 59% of reports positive. Bill Clinton and George W Bush got overall negative coverage, it found, but to a much lesser extent than Trump. Clinton’s first 100 days got 40% positivity, while Bush’s got 43%. Trump has repeatedly claimed that his treatment by the media is unprecedented in its hostility. This study suggests that, at least when it comes to recent history, he’s right.

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Comey has a past.

Comey’s 2007 Brush With Scandal: Jim’s Loyalty Was More To Chuck Schumer (SD)

[..] the current episode is not the first time Comey and his associates plotted to oust a sitting Republican official through highly orchestrated political theater and carefully crafted narratives in which Comey is the courageous hero bravely fighting to preserve the rule of law. To understand how Comey came to be FBI director in the first place, and how he operates in the political arena, it is important to review the last scandal in which Comey had a front-row seat: the 2007 U.S. attorney firings and the fight over the 2004 reauthorization of Stellar Wind, a mass National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program designed to mitigate terrorist threats in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The pivotal scene in the Comey-crafted narrative, a drama that made Comey famous and likely paved the road to his 2013 appointment by President Barack Obama to run the FBI, occurred in a Beltway hospital room in early 2004.

In Comey’s view, Comey was the last honest man in Washington, the only person standing between a White House that rejected any restraints on its power, and the rule of law protecting Americans from illegal mass surveillance. A former White House counsel and attorney general with extensive first-hand experience dealing with Comey, however, paints a very different picture of what happened in that hospital room, and disputes numerous key details. In this account, Comey’s actions showcase a duplicitous, secretive schemer whose true loyalties were not to the officials to whom he reported, but to partisan Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). To fully understand and appreciate Jim Comey’s approach to politics, the writings and testimony of Alberto Gonzales, who served as both White House counsel and attorney general during the events in question and is intimately aware of Comey’s history of political maneuvering, is absolutely essential.

Gonzales’s descriptions of his interactions with Comey, included in his 2016 book “True Faith And Allegiance,” are detailed and extensive. While his tone is measured, the language he uses to describe Comey’s actions in 2004 and 2007 leaves little doubt about the former top Bush official’s views on Comey’s character. Gonzales’s opinion is clearly colored by the fact that Comey cravenly used him to jumpstart his own political career by going public with surprise (and questionable) testimony that Gonzales had attempted to take advantage of a deathly ill man in order to ram through authorization of an illegal surveillance program. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft had taken ill and was in the hospital at a pivotal time. The legal authorization of a surveillance program meant to find and root out terrorist threats was days from expiring.

What happened in Ashcroft’s hospital room in March of 2004 later became political fodder for a hearing in which Senate Democrats used Comey to dredge up the 2004 hospital meeting to tar Gonzales’ credibility and suggest he was unfit to continue serving as attorney general. As the 2004 and 2007 sagas show, Comey is clearly no stranger to using the unarguably legal dismissal of government employees as the backdrop for casting himself as the story’s protaganist standing up to the forces of corruption. “[I] told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital,” Comey testified. “I got out of the car and ran up — literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.” “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey said.

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It’s a politics and media crisis.

Constitutional Crisis In Washington? More Like Attempted Coup (David Goldman)

This is NOT a Constitutional crisis, contrary to press hype, but an attempted coup, as a senior Republican statesman told a private briefing this week. As Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University wrote yesterday at TheHill.Com, the much-ballyhooed Comey memo is “pretty thin soup” as far as obstruction of justice is concerned. “Encouraging leniency or advocating for an associate may be improper,” Prof. Turley added, but it doesn’t come close to the legal threshold for impeachment, especially because no criminal proceedings were underway or even contemplated against Gen. Flynn. What exactly is going on? The Democrats never accepted the Trump election victory, and neither did the McCain wing of the Republican Party, which was humiliated and sidelined by Trump. The Wall Street Journal editorial page published a signed op-ed yesterday claiming that Trump’s alleged leak of covert intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov showed his unfitness for office.

Presidents and Cabinet members leak secret intelligence frequently, but whether they are held to account for it is a political matter. Obama and his then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta leaked the fact that Seal Team 6 had killed Osama bin Laden as well as the fact that a Pakistani physician had tipped the US off to his whereabouts, life-threatening leaks for which Obama was given a free pass. The object of all of this, said the Republican statesman, is to persuade a sufficient number of Republican congressman and senators to abandon Trump and declare him “unfit” for office. Nothing quite like this ever has happened in American politics. Trump will NOT be caught in an impeachable offense, but his detractors will NOT give up–so a prolonged “cold civil war” (Prof. Angelo Codevilla’s phrase) is likely to paralyze policy-making in Washington for some time. That can’t be good for the stock market.

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He shouldn’t last the weekend.

Brazil Plea-Bargain Testimony Says President Took $4.6 Million In Bribes (R.)

Brazil’s top court released plea-bargain testimony on Friday accusing President Michel Temer and his two predecessors of receiving millions of dollars in bribes, the most damaging development yet in a historic political corruption probe. The testimony made public by the Supreme Court is from executives of the world’s largest meatpacking company, and raises serious doubts about whether Temer can maintain his grip on the presidency. The scandals that have engulfed Brazil’s political class and many business elites reduce the chances that Temer, a conservative who took office after leftist former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year, can push through economic reforms crucial for Latin America’s biggest country to recover from its worst recession on record.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it approved an investigation of Temer for corruption and obstruction of justice. Calls for his resignation intensified, including an editorial in the O Globo newspaper, which is normally criticized by leftists for backing conservative politicians. “This is easily the worst moment in Brazil since we returned to democracy,” said Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a top university, calling the claims “the mother of all plea bargains.” “This testimony is hitting everyone, all the major political players and, most importantly, a sitting president,” he added.

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How is it possible that in no western media reports on Venezuela the CIA is ever mentioned? Think they left when Chavez died? Think the country implodes like this all by itself?

Maduro to Trump: ‘Get Your Dirty Hands Off Venezuela!’ (R.)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blasted Donald Trump on Friday after a fresh round of U.S. sanctions and strong condemnation of his socialist government from the U.S. leader. “Enough meddling … Go home, Donald Trump. Get out of Venezuela,” Maduro thundered in a speech carried on live TV. “Get your dirty hands out of here.” The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the chief judge and seven other members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Thursday as punishment for annulling the opposition-led Congress in a series of rulings this year. The new sanctions package was aimed at stepping up pressure on Maduro and his loyalists following a crackdown on street protests and efforts to consolidate his rule of the South American oil-producing country. At the White House on Thursday, Trump expressed dismay at how once-booming Venezuela was now mired in poverty, saying “it’s been unbelievably poorly run” and calling the humanitarian situation “a disgrace to humanity.”

Maduro had initially urged the world to give Trump a chance after he was elected in November but his government unleashed its strongest condemnation to date of the Republican president. “President Trump’s aggressions against the Venezuelan people, its government and its institutions have surpassed all limits,” said a government statement that accused Washington of seeking to destabilize Venezuela and foment foreign intervention. The statement also accused Washington of financing the Venezuelan opposition while ignoring problems at home like income inequality and rights violations. “The extreme positions of a government just starting off only confirmed the discriminatory, racist, xenophobic, and genocidal nature of U.S. elites against humanity and its own people, which has now been heightened by this new administration which asserts white Anglo-Saxon supremacy,” the statement said.

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Classic. Using fear, of terrorism, of pornography, etc., to clamp down on everyone’s freedom, according to a certain party’s views. No privacy for you, guys. Use your votes wisely.

Theresa May To Create New, Government Controlled Internet in UK (Ind.)

Theresa May is planning to introduce huge regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Particular focus has been drawn to the end of the manifesto, which makes clear that the Tories want to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works. “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet,” it states. “We disagree.” Senior Tories confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online. The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

It comes just soon after the Investigatory Powers Act came into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read. The manifesto makes reference to those increased powers, saying that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The government now appears to be launching a similarly radical change in the way that social networks and internet companies work. While much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto suggests.

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They never thought about this?

Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts (G.)

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”. But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling.

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault. “A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C. But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

The vault’s managers are now waiting to see if the extreme heat of this winter was a one-off or will be repeated or even exceeded as climate change heats the planet. The end of 2016 saw average temperatures over 7C above normal on Spitsbergen, pushing the permafrost above melting point. “The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute. “The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

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I don’t know if they still talk.

Varoufakis Claims Tsipras Pressured Him To Accept Creditors’ Demands (K.)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Friday hit out at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, claiming that the premier had tried to scare him into yielding to creditors’ demands. “In the summer of 2015 Alexis Tsipras told me that I should fear a new Goudi,” Varoufakis told VICE magazine, referring to a military coup that took place in Greece in 1909 amid simmering social tensions. The former minister, who has launched his own party, DiEM25, said the alleged statement struck him as a threat aimed at forcing him to agree with Tsipras’s decision to give in to creditors. In a Skai TV interview last week, Varoufakis said Greece “will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Greece’s problem is public debt, not private debt. The people did not cause the crisis, they only pay for it.

‘They Stole My Money’: Greek Dreams Of Retirement Turn Sour (AP)

It was supposed to be a time to look forward to. After decades of work, retirement was for many meant to provide a chance to slow down and enjoy life. A holiday, an evening out with old friends, the odd fishing trip. Instead, many Greek pensioners say they are struggling to get by. The government has repeatedly cuts old age benefits as part of the country’s three international bailouts and many retirees now say they are at breaking point financially. Some have unemployed children they try to help on shrinking pensions, others are seeing rising taxes eat into lifetime savings. A new austerity bill approved in parliament early Friday cuts their pensions even further, putting their plight in focus.

Greece once had a generous pension system – too generous to be sustainable, especially with an aging population. Retirement was possible from as early as the age of 55 after 30 years of work. Many had extra perks: public sector employees could retire as early as 52. Some women with young children could retire with a reduced pension at 50. But the financial crisis left Greece reliant on international creditors, who pushed for economic change – not least to pensions. The standard retirement age is now 67. Many early retirement provisions have been abolished. Including pensions, incomes have dropped 40% over the last seven years of crisis. Here is a look at the problem through the stories of four pensioners.

Mina Griva, 78, widow and former factory worker Griva’s husband, who worked in a steel plant in Greece, died eight years ago. Her initial widow’s pension of €998 ($1,110) and a €300 supplementary pension have been cut to €560 and €150 respectively. “They’ve destroyed us,” said Griva, who now helps out daily at a municipal care center for the elderly. “Pensioners are crying.” A mother of five, she uses her pension to help her son, who’s been unemployed for five years. She moved out of her small Athens apartment to give it to him, and lives in a single room on the last floor of the building. Now, she avidly watches political talk shows on TV to figure out how much further her pension will drop.

Griva left Greece in 1964 and worked for 15 years in Germany, initially as a cleaner in a cheese factory and later working an ironing press in a clothing factory. Times were tough in Greece then, and she worked double eight-hour shifts to send money home to her family. She saved, and eventually had enough to secure homes for her children, and a small apartment for herself. She thought she was securing her family’s future. “We left here to build something,” said Griva. Instead, the austerity measures ate into their lives, with new property taxes, layoffs and income cuts. “Now you can’t even buy a bread ring for your grandchildren,” she said. “I don’t know where this will go. Things are very, very hard.”

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Damn you, Brussels. Damn you, Merkel, Rutte, Hollande, Cameron, Renzi. You created this.

Teen Refugees Trapped In Greece Turn To Prostitution (Spiegel)

Mohammed is approached by a middle-aged man wearing greasy beige pants, a blue shirt and a blue baseball cap. Although the man speaks Greek, the 17-year-old boy from Afghanistan knows exactly what he wants. “No,” Mohammad repeatedly says in English, his voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears. But the man keeps pushing. “Come with me. I will give you food, pay you.” The man only stops when he realizes he is being watched. He then grudgingly walks away and sits down on a nearby bench. From there, he starts scouring the field again, searching for another boy. It was broad daylight on a sunny Tuesday morning on Victoria Square in the heart of Athens. The square has been a meeting place and a makeshift home for thousands of migrants since the refugee crisis hit Greece two years ago – and now it is increasingly becoming a prostitution hub for underage refugees.

Mohammad hasn’t gone that far yet, but he says it is only a matter of time until he goes home with a man. He has just 30 euros left in his pocket, and he is quickly losing hope. “When this money runs out, I fear I will have no other choice but do what the others are doing. Have sex with these older men. What should I do? I have no place to stay, nothing to eat. Should I just die in the park?” he says, finally bursting into tears. Mohammed says he lost his parents in an attack in Afghanistan. He has been in Athens for a month, he says, after fleeing his home alone and reaching the Greek island of Lesbos last February, where he registered as a minor. He then claimed to be an adult to escape the violence in the island’s notorious Moria camp. Since then, despite looking very much like a teenager, with pimples, a small stature and thin voice, he has been turned away from shelters for minors.

When night comes, Mohammad rolls himself up in a blanket on a corner of the square. His only possession is a yellow envelope that he guards closely. Inside, he keeps his refugee registration papers and a single-page CV. According to Mohammad’s papers, he applied for asylum in Lesbos in November 2016. The date set for his interview is January 4, 2018. It is mostly boys from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria – who either came alone or were separated from their families along their perilous journey to Europe – who are now waiting for their refugee claims to be processed in Greece. In the meantime, the authorities are supposed to look after them, but there are only 53 shelters with 1,272 spots. Of the approximately 2,000 registered minors, about 800 are housed in large camps, are in police custody or are homeless.

[..] Everyone – the authorities, the NGO workers, the police – know what is going on. But nobody seems willing or able to do anything about it. And this despite the fact that the adult clients are breaking the law, despite the fact that various institutions have devoted themselves to protecting young refugees. But prostitution is booming because the system is failing. Because Greece doesn’t have the resources to take care of underage refugees. Because the processing of asylum applications is chaotic and authorities from one agency don’t know what authorities from other agencies are doing. And because the boys need to file criminal complaints before their clients can be prosecuted.

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