Sep 112019
 
 September 11, 2019  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Robert Frank White Tower, New York 1948 (Frank died yesterday, aged 94)

 

 

To everyone used to receiving Automatic Earth posts in their email, I’m sorry but since Saturday they’re suddenly bouncing again en masse. This makes me very tired by now, but I’ll look for a solution. I suspect there may be a connection between this and Google accusing me of violating their rules, without telling me what rules I’m supposed to have violated.

 

 

Trump Fires National Security Adviser John Bolton (Ind.)
‘You’re Fired!’ Trump Cuts Loose Of His Dog Of War (George Galloway)
In A Fracturing World, Central Banks Still Stuck Together (R.)
European Banks Paid ECB €23 Billion Since 2014… And Now Face Disaster (ZH)
Brexit’s Puppet Master Has More Strings To Pull (R.)
Ireland, Boris Johnson Both Eye Return To EU’s Original Brexit Backstop (Ind.)
Johnson Can’t Escape The Clutches Of May’s Zombie Brexit Deal (Behr)
Israel PM Netanyahu Vows To Annex Occupied Jordan Valley (BBC)
Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley Annexation Pledge Is a PR Stunt (RT)
California Passes Landmark Gig Economy Rights Bill (BBC)
‘One America News’ Claims Defamation In $10 Million Suit vs Rachel Maddow (ZH)

 

 

There are still people who are sad to see him go.

Trump Fires National Security Adviser John Bolton (Ind.)

Donald Trump said he fired John Bolton, writing in a tweet he “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions” and adding he would announce a replacement for his hawkish national security adviser sometime next week. “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” the president wrote on Tuesday. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning.” “I thank John very much for his service,” he added. “I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.” Mr Bolton then tweeted a statement of his own shortly after the president’s announcement, writing: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.'”


Mr Bolton also reportedly told CNN’s Robert Costa shortly after his dismissal: “Let’s be clear, I resigned, having offered to do so last night.” The reason for Mr Bolton’s departure was not immediately clear, although it has been suggested that he disagreed with the president’s aborted plan to hold peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David this week, days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mr Bolton was also an outspoken advocate of regime change in Iran. Although Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal that his predecessor Barack Obama signed with Tehran, he is known to oppose military action in the Middle East.

Read more …

“So, farewell then, John Bolton. You killed a lot of folks. Thanks to God and President Trump you will kill no more.”

‘You’re Fired!’ Trump Cuts Loose Of His Dog Of War (George Galloway)

The blowing up of Donald Trump’s attempt to end the 18-year Afghan War was the straw which broke the camel’s back for the US president, who on Tuesday fired his national security adviser John Bolton.
Trump’s attempt to bring to a close the longest war in US history – longer, in fact, than their direct involvement in WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War put together – was to be his own “Camp David moment.” It would have mimicked both Carter and Clinton’s “triumphs” there with Arafat and Begin and Arafat and Rabin (neither of which have in fact turned out to be triumphs but were wonderful photo-ops).

Bolton’s rearguard action and the Taliban’s killing of a single US soldier there in the week of the summit brought the Camp David caper crashing down, much to the president’s fury, and prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to boast that the US had killed a thousand Taliban in the previous 10 days. But it was not one damn thing, but one damned thing after another, which has caused the final forking of the “bureaucratic tape-worm” John Bolton, who has slithered through every right-wing administration in living memory.

[..] John Bolton, like so many others, was a “chicken-hawk,” always ready to fight to the last drop of somebody else’s blood. He evaded the draft during the Vietnam War because as he said himself “I didn’t want to die face down in a South East Asian rice paddy.” Nothing wrong with that, if he hadn’t continued to “support” the war and wave off to the paddy-fields the 58,000 Americans who did die, face-down, in the war he dodged. So, farewell then, John Bolton. You killed a lot of folks. Thanks to God and President Trump you will kill no more.


Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Read more …

But what if they start competing?

In A Fracturing World, Central Banks Still Stuck Together (R.)

The last time major central banks shifted gears together, it was a cooperative move to keep the financial crisis of a decade ago from becoming a full-bore, worldwide depression. Now, a new round of global ratecutting risks taking on a competitive edge as policymakers try to stay ahead of rising trade tensions, a volatile investment climate, and a shift in the political mood from shared support for globalization to a more zero-sum battle over a slower-growing world economy.

[..] If the Fed and ECB do as expected at their upcoming meetings, BOJ officials will be torn between how a stressed financial system may respond to ever lower rates, and how Japanese exporters may be damaged if the yen rises in value as a result of the actions of those other central banks. European officials, disappointed that elected leaders haven’t spent aggressively to boost economic growth, are sparring over how much lower already negative rates can go without causing problems, how expansive other ECB programs should become, and what good any of it might do. At the Fed, policymakers are split over whether to cut a lot, a little or not at all.

In each case, officials are reckoning with the fact that their economies and financial systems have become so tied together that fully independent policymaking, insofar as it ever was possible, may be a thing of the past. “We really thought monetary policy had things under control,” and would be able to offset whatever programs elected leaders chose to pursue, even a trade war, said Tara Sinclair, an economics professor at George Washington University. “Does that work in a super low interest rate world and in a very integrated world?” when central banks may have lost much of their traditional influence over the domestic economy.

Read more …

What purpose does the ECB serve?

European Banks Paid ECB €23 Billion Since 2014… And Now Face Disaster (ZH)

Earlier this morning, there was an added wobble in European bond prices after an unconfirmed MNI report said the ECB could delay the launch of QE on Thursday and make it data dependent. While skeptics quickly slammed the story, saying it was just a clickbait by MarketNews … it does highlight just how sensitive the bond market is to an announcement of aggressive easing by the ECB when it meets on Thursday, Sept 12, where consensus generally expects a significant easing package, including a -20bp rate cut (followed by -10bp cut later on), coupled with roughly €30 billion in sovereign debt QE for 9-12 months, coupled with enhanced forward guidance.

There is just one problem: while it is unclear if any further easing by the ECB will do anything to stimulate the Eurozone economy, one thing is certain – further easing will only cripple Europe’s banks. In fact, as Goldman writes in its ECB preview, “further rate cuts are a very uncomfortable prospect for the [banking] sector” and estimates that a -20bp cut could lead to an aggregate €5.6bn (-6%) profit cut for 32 €-banks under the bank’s coverage; worse, a further -10bp cut, as per GS macro forecasts, increases the hit to -10% (-€8.3 bn). Overall, 19 banks in Goldman’s coverage face a >10% EPS cut, and 8 banks face as much as a 20% EPS hit.

Then there is Europe’s head on collision with a recession: the weakening rate outlook has been accompanied by >20% fall in €-bank shares (SX7E) since 2H18 and -4% cuts to their consensus Net Interest Incomes (for 2020E). According to Goldman, so far ~40% of the share price decline could be explained by NII cuts; the rest falls into the ‘other’ domain, “where political risk features notably.” Here is the problem in one sentence, and chart: since negative rates were introduced in 2014, European Banks have paid €23BN to the ECB!

Read more …

“He is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with. He thinks several steps ahead, thrives on chaos and has sat in a bunker for three years thinking about this: so what is he going to do?”

Brexit’s Puppet Master Has More Strings To Pull (R.)

Cummings, who alongside fellow campaigner Matthew Elliott, drove Vote Leave to victory in the 2016 referendum is cast by allies as a ruthless strategist who cares little for the conventions of traditional British politics. He provoked a row inside Westminster when he sacked a 27-year-old adviser to finance minister Sajid Javid. The adviser, Sonia Khan, was escorted by armed police from Downing Street without Javid’s knowledge. Former Prime Minister John Major cast Cummings as an overmighty “political anarchist” who should be sacked as Johnson’s de-facto chief of staff before he poisoned British politics beyond repair.

Cummings’s response? “Trust the people” – a slogan used by government advisers to cast Johnson’s Brexit-supporting team as the true servants of the people fighting a London political and financial elite that wants to thwart their will. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that the United Kingdom was in dangerous territory as voters were concluding that parliament was hindering Brexit. He said the government would respect the law but that interpretations of the law can sometimes be complex. “At this point, our view is that resignation is the most likely,” U.S. investment bank JPMorgan said. “In our view, neither seeking to defy the law, nor encouraging the EU not to grant an extension, are likely to succeed.”

The Cabinet Manual, which sets out the laws, rules and conventions on the operation of government, says if the prime minister resigns on behalf of the government then Queen Elizabeth will invite the person who appears most likely to be able to command the confidence of lawmakers to serve as prime minister and form a government. A Conservative Party lawmaker said he thought Johnson would resign soon after the EU summit, ensuring that he is not blamed for any delay to Brexit. “The question is: what has Cummings got up his sleeve?” said a former Conservative adviser. “He is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with. He thinks several steps ahead, thrives on chaos and has sat in a bunker for three years thinking about this: so what is he going to do?”

Read more …

“..the Northern Ireland-only backstop..”

Ireland, Boris Johnson Both Eye Return To EU’s Original Brexit Backstop (Ind.)

The British and Irish governments are both eyeing a return to the EU’s original Brexit backstop plan, rejected by Theresa May, as a way of breaking the deadlock, reports suggest. The so-called “Northern Ireland-only” backstop was rejected by the former prime minister during talks because it put a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea – a move strongly opposed by the DUP and many Tories. It was replaced in the withdrawal agreement by the current UK-wide backstop – which was rejected by Brexiteers for another reason: because it could tie the whole UK to the EU customs union indefinitely.

[..] In an interview with the Irish Times, Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan – who is set to be put in charge of trade talks with the UK – said the direction of travel was towards the old backstop. “Yes,” he replied when asked whether it was back on the agenda. “The taoiseach has indicated in the last 24 hours that the Northern Ireland-only backstop is quite an interesting idea to revisit.” He added: “I remain hopeful that the penny is finally dropping with the UK that there are pragmatic and practical solutions can actually be introduced into the debate at this stage – albeit at the eleventh hour – that may find some common ground between the EU and the UK.” British officials in Brussels flatly deny that there is any intention to return to the original backstop. A UK spokesperson said that “any deal must involve the abolition of the anti-democratic backstop”.

[..] A return to something resembling the Northern Ireland-only backstop could ultimately make sense politically for Mr Johnson, given he may no longer have to rely on DUP votes for a majority after a general election – if he wins a majority, as polls suggest is possible. The DUP’s opposition to a border in the Irish sea would no longer be as much of an issue. The change would also technically allow Mr Johnson to claim he had ditched the current backstop, which he has put down as a red line. Whether moving back to a Northern Ireland-only situation would be accepted by Tory Brexiteers as satisfactory is another matter.

Read more …

Affable Boris vs Bullying Boris.

Johnson Can’t Escape The Clutches Of May’s Zombie Brexit Deal (Behr)

One reason to suppose that Johnson is malleable on the detail is that on 29 March he voted for May’s deal – the same one he denounces as an affront to democracy. The hypocrisy is not surprising, but it does illuminate that tension in Johnson’s self-image, between the wannabe statesman and the Trump tribute act. One enjoys the hobnobbing with world leaders at global summits, the other is an accomplice in vandalising the architecture of a rules-based international order.

The same tension is expressed in domestic politics. There is affable Boris who thought he could charm his way to an elegant Brexit solution, unify his party and woo the country with a healing message. He was barged aside by bullying Boris who purges dissent from his party and stokes division in the country. One belongs to the old Tory party that venerated stability and reached out to liberal voters. The other leads a new revolutionary leaver party, recruiting admirers of Nigel Farage for a nationalist insurgency.

The Downing Street calculation appears to be that a majority is most easily won by stripping the Conservative party down and reassembling it as something unconservative. Johnson will run as a populist tribune, the man who would rather be “dead in a ditch” than surrender to tricky continentals and their Westminster collaborators. It might work. Current polling doesn’t offer much of a guide when the vital choices have been punted to the end of October. That doesn’t leave much time for the prime minister to tweak May’s Brexit deal and, in defiance of all the odds, persuade a hostile parliament to vote for it. But that doesn’t mean he has given up on the idea.

Read more …

Election time.

Israel PM Netanyahu Vows To Annex Occupied Jordan Valley (BBC)

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex part of the occupied West Bank if he is returned to office next week. He would apply “Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea”, a policy certain to be backed by the right-wing parties whose support he would need for a coalition. Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said such annexation moves would “bury any chance of peace”. Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 but stopped short of annexation. Mr Netanyahu, who leads the right-wing Likud party, is campaigning ahead of general elections next Tuesday. Polls suggest Likud is neck-and-neck with the opposition centrist Blue and White party and may struggle to form a governing coalition.


Palestinians claim the whole of the West Bank for a future independent state. Mr Netanyahu has previously insisted that Israel would always retain a presence in the Jordan Valley for security purposes. In a televised speech the PM said: “There is one place where we can apply Israeli sovereignty immediately after the elections. “If I receive from you, citizens of Israel, a clear mandate to do so… today I announce my intention to apply with the formation of the next government Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.” Mr Netanyahu also said he would annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but this would need to wait until the publication of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited plan for a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Read more …

“..he could be indicted as early as mid-October..”

Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley Annexation Pledge Is a PR Stunt (RT)

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has been desperate to drum up voter support across various sections of the Israeli population as the September 17 election inches closer, and his most recent pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, a part of the occupied West Bank, is no more than yet another empty campaign promise, political and defense commentator Amir Oren told RT. “He cannot annex any inch of the occupied territories… the most important [reason] is that peace with Egypt and with Jordan is based upon the UN Security Council resolution 242 from November of 1967 forbidding the acquisition of territories by force.”


Netanyahu knows that risking the collapse of the entire regional security system is a “non-starter,” and his grand announcement is merely a “way to focus attention on himself,” Oren argued. The PR stunt is also aimed at helping Netanyahu to rebrand himself as a strong leader able to deal with the Iran ‘menace’ and the Palestinian issue, as most recently he has been making headlines for the allegations of corruption he faces. “He is trying to shift attention from his corruption scandals, he could be indicted as early as mid-October, he wants people to talk about himself as a world-class leader in league with Putin and Trump.”

Read more …

The gig economy is an even hollower term than the service economy.

California Passes Landmark Gig Economy Rights Bill (BBC)

Lawmakers in California have passed a law that paves the way for gig economy workers to get holiday and sick pay. Assembly Bill 5, as its known, will affect companies such as Uber and Lyft, which depend on those working in the gig economy. Some estimates suggest costs for those firms would increase by 30% if they have to treat workers as employees. But opponents of the bill say it will hurt those that want to work flexible hours. The business models of gig economy companies are already under strain – Uber lost more than $5bn in the last quarter alone.


Some estimates suggest that having to treat workers as employees, rather than independent contractors, could increase costs by as much as 30%. Uber and rival ridesharing service Lyft joined forces to push back again the bill. They suggested a guaranteed minimum wage of $21 per hour instead of the sweeping changes the bill would bring. But that pledge wasn’t enough to sway California’s Senate, and the state’s governor Gavin Newsom is expected to soon sign the bill into law.

Read more …

High time someone takes Maddow to court, but Sputnik is not a strong point.

‘One America News’ Claims Defamation In $10 Million Suit vs Rachel Maddow (ZH)

Conservative television network One America News (OAN) is suing Rachel Maddow for $10 million after she referred to the network as “paid Russian propaganda”. OAN filed the defamation suit in federal court in San Diego, according to AP. OAN is a small, family owned conservative network that is based in San Diego and has received favorable Tweets from the President. It is seen as a competitor to Fox News. OAN’s lawsuit claims that Maddow’s comments were retaliation after OAN President Charles Herring accused Comcast of censorship. The suit said that Comcast refuses to carry its channel because “counters the liberal politics of Comcast’s own news channel, MSNBC.”

It was about a week after Herring e-mailed a Comcast executive when Maddow opened her show by referring to a Daily Beast report that claimed an OAN employee also worked for Sputnik News, which has ties to the Russian government. Maddow said: “In this case, the most obsequiously pro-Trump right-wing news outlet in America really literally is paid Russian propaganda. Their on-air U.S. politics reporter is paid by the Russian government to produce propaganda for that government.” Except Maddow, likely still upset from spending 3 years trying to promulgate a Russian hoax that didn’t exist, didn’t quite get her facts straight. Big surprise.

OAN said in its lawsuit that while reporter Kristian Rouz was associated with Sputnik News, he worked solely as a freelancer for them and was not a staff employee of OAN. And the lawsuit includes a statement from Rouz stating that while he has written some 1,300 articles over the past 4 and a half years for Sputnik, he has “…never written propaganda, disinformation, or unverified information.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 062019
 
 September 6, 2019  Posted by at 2:06 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Kazemir Malevich Floor polishers 1912

 

Everything Brexit changes every 5 minutes. That makes it hard to follow. It makes it hard to write about it too, because things are certain to be different as soon as you hit Publish.

Boris wanted snap elections on October 14. That became 15 because of a Jewish holiday. but the opposition didn’t really want that election, Or they did, but not on his terms. And over the past few days it’s been said 1000 times that Boris is not to be trusted so no election at all, lest he underhandedly changes the date. Well, okay let’s have one but not before November. That way his hands are tied.

Because there is no such thing as a British -or UK, if you will- constitution, court challenges against prorogating Parliament get thrown out, since no judge feels obliged to waddle into that minefield. The Supreme Court will have to, though. And soon. The prorogation apparently still leaves room on Monday September 9 for another go in Parliament at Boris’s move for an election. It will be thrown out.

Then: 5 weeks of silence. Yeah, right. Parliament may be prorogued, but Boris won’t be, and neither will the courts. There was this judge the other day who said Parliament itself can decide when to sit, but that is simply untrue. Because it ignores prorogation, which another judge just said is perfectly legal.

Boris wants to prorogue Westminster for 5 years? Perfectly legal, it would seem. Unless some lawyer or judge delves up a law from the 16th century that says otherwise. Constitutions have their use, you know.

But it’s hard not to feel sorry for the man here and there and now and then. Ministers leave, friends leave, his brother is outta here and even his dog handed him a pink slip.

 

 

And the opposition, including a whole bunch of his own party, is ganging up on him. Maybe that has something to do with special adviser Dominic Cummings telling 21 Tory parliamentarians they’re no longer welcome in their own party, of which he himself is not even a member and never has been. Maybe that’s it.

But the strongest words came from Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster -Plaid Cymru is a a social-democratic political party in Wales advocating Welsh independence from the United Kingdom within the European Union- says Wikipedia.

Saville Roberts said that this morning the opposition party leaders agreed that guaranteeing an article 50 extension should take priority over calling an early election, via BBC News:

We need to make sure we get past the 31 October and an extension to article 50. In that respect, we were in agreement that the prime minister is on the run. Boris is broken. We have an opportunity to bring down Boris, to break Boris, and to bring down Brexit. And we must take that.

Just as this week, the vote for a general election would play into Boris Johnson’s hands. It would allow him to ignore the legislation that is currently going through the House of Lords, likely to have royal assent today. It would allow him to ignore that. It would give him the opportunity to ignore the law.


Our duty, therefore, as parliamentarians who are intent on stopping no-deal Brexit is to be here in this place, to hold him to account, and to make sure that he abides by the law.

See, my theory is that Boris doesn’t give a hoot about politics, he just wants being PM on his bucket list. And he trusts, as he always has in his life, in his particular charm to woo the -older- ladies in the country to his side. Boris looks like someone with mother issues, she’s the one he’s trying to charm.

But ganging up on him like this is not nice. The older ladies will confirm this. There’s a former PM too who’s in on it:

Pressed on a challenge by Sir John Major on Thursday night to sack Cummings, Johnson first failed to answer a direct question from one reporter, then refused to give his chief adviser explicit support when asked a second time. He answered:

“I … I … Look … Advisers, as I think someone said in the Commons the other day, advisers advise and ministers decide.”


On Thursday evening, Major made an implicit reference to Cummings in a speech to the CBI Scotland annual dinner: “We have seen over-mighty advisers before. It is a familiar script. It always ends badly. I offer the prime minister some friendly advice: get rid of these advisers before they poison the political atmosphere beyond repair. And do it quickly. There is no need for them to be led out of Downing Street by armed police, but go they should. And now.”

Boris looks to be checkmate at this point. But he’s not the leader, Dominic Cummings is. And Cummings can see a few moves ahead. So there may still be surprises coming. Then again, Boris has claimed he’d rather die in a ditch than ask the EU for another Brexit extension, and Parliament appears to have made it impossible not to ask for one.

Ergo, Boris may have to go this weekend or right after the Monday vote that will deny him his snap election in time for Halloween. And if he does, he doesn’t lose all that much face, because he can blame his failure on a vast selection of other people.

But then what? Have that election anyway? Half of Britain will be red hot angry if there still is no Brexit, and there will be a lot of Labour voters in that half. So Jeremy Corbyn is not very likely to win right now. Lib Dems then? They were salvaged from the dustbin what seems just 5 minutes ago because nobody else wanted to support the Remain option. They were gone, broken.

It’s going to take a long time to put the pieces of that broken country back together again, no matter what the outcome of all this may be. That doesn’t bode well for anyone. And make no mistake, it’s broken. Into millions of little pieces.

Boris is just one of them.

 

 

 

 

Sep 042019
 


Salvador Dali Neo-Cubist Academy (Composition with Three Figures) 1926

 

No, I’m still not taking sides in the Brexit proceedings. I have no horse in that fight. As I’ve said 1000 times, I can fully imagine that a country might want to leave the trappings of the EU. But just as often I’ve said that the way the Tories have gone about leaving appears deeply flawed. They have never seemed to take serious the amount of effort required for a smooth exit.

And after being an EU member for 40+ years, that effort could only be gigantic. But not one moment during Theresa May’s ‘reign’, let alone under Boris, have I gotten the impression that the UK is ready. They’ve spent their time fighting amongst each other about the shape and form Brexit should take, but neglected the practical implications of changing 1000s of rules and regulations and treaties and laws.

And sure, maybe a lot of work was done in secret, can’t very well do nothing at all, but none of that would matter very much; you need to show that you’re ready, not merely suggest it. And from what I can gather from the latest numbers I’ve seen, expectations are still that 50-60% of trucks (lorries) will not have the required paperwork once the UK leaves.

This may yet be brought down to 40% or even 30%, but that would still be highly disruptive. And it appears unnecessary. Three years should have been sufficient to accomplish much more and much better. Predictions of 48-hour waiting times for trucks are all over, and for an economy built on just-in-time delivery that won’t do.

But oh well, it may already be water under the bridge. Boris Johnson lost bigly yesterday in a vote over control of the Commons and chances are he’ll lose biglier in today’s vote over a no-deal Brexit bill. Unless he (or actually Dominic Cummings) plays 4-D chess and has seen it all coming from miles away.

I can see Johnson setting things up to get the election he wanted, but I have a harder time seeing why he would want Jeremy Corbyn to have the power to halt that election unless the Commons today vote down any and all odds of a no-deal. But then I’ll be the first to admit I’m not yet a grandmaster in 4-D chess.

Dominic Cummings would have to be, though, to pull this one off. Did he expect 21 Tories to side against ‘their own’ Boris? If they had voted with him, the result would have been 322-307 in favor of Boris. Did they know they wouldn’t get it? Do they know they won’t get it today either? An additional extension to January 31 2020 is also part of the whole package. Will Cummings still be around by then?

 

 

Sterling is surging as I write this, And I really must wonder why. Don’t think that’s due to my 4-D skills either. Jeremy Corbyn made it very clear last night that Labour won’t support snap elections (and without them Boris won’t have the 2/3 majority he needs) unless no-deal is off the table for real. Is the pound surging because Boris is plummeting, and Corbyn now calls the shots? Does that make sense? Man, it already hurts in 3-D…

Still, I started writing this, really, because of the title. Couldn’t let that one get away. It’s something used to describe Boris Johnson in a court case in Scotland yesterday by lawyer Aidan O’Neill QC, speaking for a group of 75 MPs and peers who brought the case (against prorogation of Parliament). Love the details here: Aidan O’Neill is a “double silk”, being Queen’s Counsel at both the Scottish and English Bars.

And love the term, obviously, especially since it’s not used in a tabloid, but in a courtroom. By a double silk, no less. In the end, it’s all about the theater. Still, what came to light was not merely a little detail.

Johnson Decided To Suspend Parliament ‘Two Weeks Before Asking Queen’

Boris Johnson had secretly decided to suspend parliament nearly two weeks before asking the Queen, according to memos from Downing Street read out in court. The court in Edinburgh heard the first memo was written by Nikki da Costa, the prime minister’s senior legal adviser, on 15 August and spelled out the plan to suspend parliament in the week beginning 9 September. Her memo was circulated to a very small circle of key figures in Downing Street, including Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, Ed Lister, the prime minister’s chief of staff, and Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s controversial chief adviser.


In public Johnson was then refusing to confirm he planned to do so but he ticked the secret memo and said “yes”, before sending Da Costa a handwritten note the following day, where he criticised the convention where MPs return for several weeks of Commons business after the summer holidays before breaking again for conference season. He told Da Costa the “whole September session [at Westminster] is a rigmarole introduced to show the public that MPs are earning their crust. I don’t see anything especially shocking about this prorogation.”.

 

It appears very clear what was ‘shocking‘, and if it had not been shocking there would have been no reason to keep it secret. C’mon, at least try.

 

[..] The documents, revealed in heavily redacted form for the first time at 10.55pm on Monday, were sent to the legal team acting for 75 MPs and peers who are challenging prorogation in the court of session in Edinburgh. Aidan O’Neill QC, acting for the MPs and peers, said he only received an unredacted version of the documents on Tuesday morning.


He told Lord Doherty, the judge hearing the case, this proved Johnson was plotting to suspend parliament at the same time that his government’s lawyers had told the court in Edinburgh the question of prorogation was “hypothetical and academic” because no such decision had been taken. The UK government had also refused to give the court any sworn affidavits setting out why prorogation was necessary and the prime minister had ignored O’Neill’s suggestion last week that he should provide one to the court.

 

Yeah, well, that’s the ‘shocking’ thing: doing one thing in secret and saying the opposite in public.

Accusing Johnson of “incontinent mendacity, O’Neill said the prime minister had shown an unwillingness to acknowledge and speak the truth. He said: “He has chosen not to be accountable to this court and seeks not to be accountable to parliament.” David Johnston QC, acting for the UK government, apologised to the court for failing to produce the papers until the night before the hearing and admitted the government had breached the deadline for submitting them.


He said they were being produced in the spirit of transparency, to allow the court to understand the process behind the decision to seek prorogation. Reading from a brief prepared by the government, Johnston insisted the legal action was academic because MPs were still being given time to sit and vote before exit day on 31 October, and set their own agenda. “We are not dealing with an executive which is out of control,” he said.

It is very obvious what Boris et al were trying to do and they can call it the Will of the People all they want, but the Will of the People is not, and should not be, secret. Here’s a bit more of what Mr. Double Silk had to say about Boris in Edinburgh, via the Press Association:

 

Mr O’Neill described Mr Johnson as having a record that was “characterised by incontinent mendacity, an unwillingness or inability to speak the truth”. He pointed to the documents as showing the suspension of parliament policy was being considered much earlier than announced and argued the court had been misled. Mr O’Neill said: “This court was told nothing of that and was told in fact that this judicial review is academic, hypothetical and premature.


“That is not true. This court and these petitioners were being actively misled.” He argued the real reason to suspend parliament was to allow a no-deal Brexit to take place by removing proper scrutiny. Mr O’Neill also said Mr Johnson was trying to govern as an “autocracy” using “one-man rule” by these attempts. He added: “Why were these specific dates chosen? It’s because they think they’re gaming the system.”

 

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh court has rejected the case against prorogation, which was probably expected. British law, especially because the country has no constitution, is pretty opaque.

 

The court of session in Edinburgh has rejected an attempt to prevent Boris Johnson’s prorogation of the House of Commons. Lord Doherty, the judge who heard the case, said the decision could not be measured against legal standards as it was matter of high policy and political judgment, and was therefore for politicians to settle. “In my opinion, there has been no contravention of the rule of law. Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation,” he said.

He told the court it was for parliament, and ultimately the electorate, to hold the government accountable for such political decisions. The case was initiated by the campaigning barrister Jolyon Maugham QC alongside a cross-party group of 75 MPs and peers, including the SNP’s Joanna Cherry. After the ruling Maugham tweeted: “The idea that if the PM suspends parliament the court can’t get involved looses some ugly demons. If he can do it for 34 days, why not 34 weeks, or 34 months? Where does this political power end?

“It’s not the law as I understand it. Yesterday’s hearing was always going to be a bit of a pre-season friendly. We’re now focused on the inner house, hopefully later this week, and then the supreme court on 17 September.”

“Parliament is the master of its own proceedings. It is for parliament to decide when it sits. Parliament can sit before and after prorogation..” There appears to be a contradiction in terms here, which is exactly why the case was brought. On the one hand, the judge says Parliament decides to sit when it wants, on the other he acknowledges it can’t sit when a PM decides to pro-rogue it.

That’s the entire case right there. The PM decides when Parliament sits, not Parliament itself. It’s obvious why a judge wouldn’t want to interfere -hot potato-, just like -and because- it’s far from obvious that (s)he can. Ergo: the PM rules the UK. Not Parliament. Parliament is decoration. Amusing at times, but then decoration might as well be, since it’s the only function it has.

I’m done, One last thing. I was reading back some things from last week and happenstanced on this Boris quote: “We asked the people to vote on whether they wanted to stay in or leave the EU; they voted to leave by a big majority.”.

The vote was 51.89%. Makes you wonder how he would define a small majority. But you know, I’m good. To see Boris accused of incontinent mendacity made my day. And I don’t even have anything against him. It’s all just theater. The entire British political system is (and do throw in the Queen, as hard as you can). Just theater, that much is obvious now, if it wasn’t already.

And all these MPs are pretending they didn’t already know. Hello! You’re on the Truman Show!

 

 

 

 

Sep 012019
 


Edouard Vuillard The two sisters 1899

 

Hong Kong Protesters Plan To Disrupt Airport After Night Of Chaos (R.)
The Sheer Scale Of The Crisis Facing Britain’s Decrepit Constitution (O.)
How A Secret Plan To Close Parliament Sparked Uproar Across Britain (O.)
British PM Johnson Challenges Lawmakers To Deliver Brexit (R.)
EU’s Barnier Not Optimistic About Avoiding A No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Lagarde Says Negative Rates Have Helped Europe More Than They’ve Hurt (MW)
Bianco Warns “Negative Rates Are Extremely Toxic” (Gisiger)
Low Interest Rates Compound The Big Problems Facing Pension Funds (MW)
Bernie Sanders Proposes Canceling $81 Billion US Medical Debt (R.)
Breaking The Media Blackout on the Imprisonment of Julian Assange (MPN)
Fifty Shades of Epstein (Hope Kesselring)

 

 

Get the parties involved around a table before people get killed.

Hong Kong Protesters Plan To Disrupt Airport After Night Of Chaos (R.)

Pro-democracy demonstrators planned on Sunday to choke travel routes to Hong Kong’s international airport after a chaotic night of running battles between police and masked protesters, the latest wave of unrest to hit the Chinese-ruled city. Protest organizers have urged the public to overwhelm road and rail links to the airport, one of the world’s busiest, on Sunday and Monday, potentially disrupting flights. People would begin gathering at 1 p.m. (0500 GMT), protest groups said. The airport closed one of its car parks and advised passengers to use public transport, without giving a reason.

A similar so-called “stress test” of the airport last weekend failed to gain momentum. Three weeks ago, some flights were delayed or canceled after protesters swarmed the airport. Late on Saturday and into the early hours, police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and protesters threw petrol bombs, escalating clashes that have plunged the Asian financial center into its worst political crisis in decades. As government helicopters hovered overhead, protesters who had been banned from demonstrating set fires in the streets and threw bricks at police near government offices and Chinese military headquarters.

Officers fired two warning shots in the air to scare off a group of protesters who had them surrounded and were trying to steal their pistols, the police said, only the second time live rounds have been used in more than three months of unrest. Police sprayed demonstrators with blue-dyed water to make it easier to identify them later. Parts of the metro system ground to a halt as skirmishes spread to the subway, with television showing images of people being beaten as they cowered on the floor behind umbrellas. Police said they arrested 40 people inside Prince Edward metro station on suspicion of obstructing officers, unlawful assembly and criminal damage. Three stations stayed shut on Sunday.

Read more …

“..the eight-word British constitution established in 1689 – What The Crown Assents In Parliament Is Law – is a decaying, time-worn construct on which to protect and advance today’s democracy..”

The Sheer Scale Of The Crisis Facing Britain’s Decrepit Constitution (O.)

To prorogue parliament for no better reason than to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of a no-deal Brexit may have been an intolerable abuse of power, and an affront to democracy, but in Britain it is constitutionally possible. As a result, for all the threats of judicial review and court actions, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to challenge. For the prime minister controls everything, from the business of the House of Commons to the ability to prorogue it. He or she is lent monarchial sovereignty, the same sovereignty that Charles 1 tried to justify because the monarch was supposedly God’s representative on Earth: the divine right of kings, now transmuted into the divine right of Boris.

Part of the-then cleverness of the 17th-century deal was that it co-opted the crown into being the above-the-fray, holder-of-the-ring of proper parliamentary procedure and process. But today, that capacity has evaporated. So when Jacob Rees-Mogg travelled to Balmoral last week to ask the Queen to prorogue parliament, there was virtually no prospect of her refusing – as an elected head of state might have done. She did have the option of saying that on such a controversial use of prerogative power she wanted to go beyond the minimum quorate of three for a privy council meeting (the chief whip and leader of the House of Lords accompanied Rees-Mogg on a separate plane to Balmoral to avoid suspicion) and call for a full meeting including former ministers from other parties, purportedly the constitutional forum to advise her on use of the royal prerogative.

But that would have been seen as a political act. She folded. Exposed as a constitutional cipher, the case for an elected head of state has suddenly become unanswerable. It is but one of the many constitutional earthquakes triggered by Brexit whose aftershocks will be felt for decades. Even the character of the referendum itself is testament to our lack of a constitution. No super-majority was required for this fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Europe, any more than it was for the Scottish referendum: amazingly, a 42-year and a 300-year union could be ripped apart by a majority of one citizen’s vote.

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It is a peculiar chain of events no matter what you think of it.

How A Secret Plan To Close Parliament Sparked Uproar Across Britain (O.)

For much of August the plan to shut down parliament for five weeks was kept a very tight secret at the heart of government. For the few Whitehall officials who were made aware of it early on, however, it was not difficult to decipher whose fingerprints were all over it. It was clear to that small group that the bombshell idea had been hatched by Boris Johnson’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, and No 10’s director of legislative affairs, Nikki da Costa. Cummings has long been known at Westminster for his disdain for Whitehall and the way the entire system of British government works. He doesn’t mince his words or tolerate those he regards as fools. “If he meets resistance from ministers or officials he will just tell them to fuck off, whoever they are,” said one Whitehall source, who has worked with him.

[..] Last Friday an email between a Whitehall official and No 10 was leaked to this newspaper. It made clear that Johnson had approached Cox for advice on a five-week suspension from around 9 September to 14 October. Cox’s initial view, the correspondence made clear, was that it would probably be legal, unless various court actions being planned by Remainers to block prorogation were successful. Downing Street’s official response when asked about the leak was, at first, muted. “No 10 officials ask for legal and policy advice every day,” said a government source.

But when the Observer story broke last Saturday evening, as Johnson and his team were in Biarritz for the G7 summit preparing for meetings with US president Donald Trump and EU council president Donald Tusk the next day, Downing Street changed tack and tried to dismiss the story in a way that was to backfire spectacularly. Johnson’s press team issued a statement saying that “the claim that the government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false”. It did not deny that the attorney general had been consulted about prorogation but its intent was clear: to create the impression that shutting down parliament was not going to happen.

But less than 72 hours later more leaks were to follow from people inside the government machine to media organisations saying that the prime minister was to make an announcement about prorogation on Wednesday morning. After the BBC got wind of the new leaks, some senior staff were initially dubious that they were genuine, given No 10’s previous denials. When Johnson announced the exact same plan on which his team had poured buckets of cold water four days earlier, large sections of the media, as well as MPs and much of the country, were understandably furious.

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Johnson is just a figurehead.

British PM Johnson Challenges Lawmakers To Deliver Brexit (R.)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged lawmakers to deliver on the Brexit vote and not thwart his plans to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31. Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit with or without a deal, but opposition lawmakers – and several lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservatives – want to act to rule out a no deal Brexit when parliament returns from recess on Tuesday. Previous votes have indicated a majority in parliament opposing a no-deal Brexit, but in a newspaper interview, Johnson said that backing opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn risked there being no Brexit at all.


“The fundamental choice is this: are you going to side with Jeremy Corbyn and those who want to cancel the referendum? Are you going to side with those who want to scrub the democratic verdict of the people — and plunge this country into chaos?,” Johnson told the Sunday Times. “Or are you going to side with those of us who want to get on, deliver on the mandate of the people and focus with absolute, laser-like precision on the domestic agenda? That’s the choice.”

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He’s seen enough.

EU’s Barnier Not Optimistic About Avoiding A No-Deal Brexit (R.)

The European Union’s top Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario as the EU could not meet Britain’s demands that the backstop for the Irish border is removed from the withdrawal agreement. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Barnier said that the so-called “backstop” had to stay to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market while ensuring an open border on the island of Ireland. “I am not optimistic about avoiding a no-deal scenario, but we should all continue to work with determination,” Barnier said, according to extracts of his article on the newspaper’s front page.


“The backstop is the maximum amount of flexibility that the EU can offer to a non-member state.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31. Opposition lawmakers plan to act next week to stop no-deal in parliament. Writing in the same newspaper, Johnson’s de facto deputy Michael Gove said that to remove the option of a no-deal Brexit on Oct 31 would “diminish” the “chances of securing changes” to the Brexit deal that could get it passed through parliament.

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Translation: the new ECB head does not have confidence in free markets. She thinks central bankers can do a better job.

Lagarde Says Negative Rates Have Helped Europe More Than They’ve Hurt (MW)

The next head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, appears to be as much of a fan of negative interest rates as the current chief, Mario Draghi. In written answers provided to the European Parliament that were released on Thursday, Lagarde said negative interest rates have helped Europe. The ECB’s deposit rate is negative 0.4%. “On the one hand, banks may decide to pass the negative deposit rate on to depositors, lowering the interest rates the latter get on their savings,” she wrote. “On the other hand, the same depositors are also consumers, workers, and borrowers. As such they benefit from stronger economic momentum, lower unemployment and lower borrowing costs.


“All things considered, in the absence of the unconventional monetary policy adopted by the ECB – including the introduction of negative interest rates – euro area citizens would be, overall, worse off.” European banks have complained about the impact on profitability, but even there the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund defended the move. “With regard to the impact of negative rates on banks’ profitability, empirical analysis suggests that the negative effects on banks’ net interest income have been so far more than offset by the benefits from more bank lending and lower costs for provisions and impairments due to the better macroeconomic environment, which to a significant extent is a result of accommodative monetary policy,” she wrote.

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“..Trump is “going to eleven” on trade: He’s going to turn it up so high that there is going to have to be a deal. That’s the way he wants to do this. He will just make it intolerable so everybody has to sit down and cut a deal.”

Bianco Warns “Negative Rates Are Extremely Toxic” (Gisiger)

Jim Bianco, President of Bianco Research, cautions against evermore unconventional monetary policy interventions. He fears that the global slowdown is going to get worse and he spots opportunities in long-term bonds and gold. The global economy is on the brink: Europe is headed for recession, Japan as well and China’s growth rate is the slowest in almost thirty years. Only the economy in the United States seems to hold up. But for how long? «We live in a global world and if Japan and Europe are struggling and the world has a problem it’s going to come to the US eventually», says Jim Bianco. According to the internationally renowned macro strategist, the biggest threat to the US economy is the inverted yield curve.

«This is the market’s way of saying the Federal Funds Rate is too high and must come down», Mr. Bianco is convinced. Against this backdrop, the founder and President of Chicago based Bianco Research argues that the Federal Reserve should cut its target rate by 50 basis points at the next FOMC meeting. He also cautions against introducing negative interest rates in the United States during the next recession because in his view that would cripple the global financial system.

[..] First, the trade and currency wars where the situation reminds me somewhat of «This Is Spinal Tap». It’s a cult satire movie from the eighties about a rock band and they coined the phrase «up to eleven» because that’s how high their amplifier went. So the expression «turning it up to eleven» refers to the act of taking something to an extreme. I’m saying this because I think Trump is “going to eleven” on trade: He’s going to turn it up so high that there is going to have to be a deal. That’s the way he wants to do this. He will just make it intolerable so everybody has to sit down and cut a deal.

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Pension funds are dead.

Low Interest Rates Compound The Big Problems Facing Pension Funds (MW)

The largest public pension funds have over $1 trillion in aggregate unfunded liabilities. Low interest rates are going to make it harder for these and other pension plans to rely on investment returns alone to meet their obligations to retirees. Interest rates in the U.S. have been declining for over 20 years, and short-term rates have been hovering close to zero over the last decade. Negative interest rates in Japan and Europe and mounting expectations of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve have expanded the pool of bonds with negative yields to more than $16 trillion, or around 27% of the global bond market. Initially, low interest rates are good for asset prices.

Simplistically, this is because investors seeking similar returns as before are now forced to take capital that they would have otherwise invested in safe government bonds and deploy it into riskier assets (equities, high yield bonds, etc.), thereby driving up prices of these assets. In addition to stronger economic growth coming out of the 2008 financial crisis, this is one of the factors leading to strong performance of equities over the past decade. However, going forward it is unlikely that asset returns are going to be similar to what we witnessed over the last decade. One of the reasons is that risky asset returns are generally priced as a spread over risk-free real returns (i.e. inflation-adjusted returns). This makes intuitive sense, as investors would demand additional return for taking on risk.

If the risk-free rate is low, and there is high demand for risky assets, then the total investment return (risk free rate + risk premia/spread) will likely be lower than in a scenario with higher interest rates, all else being equal. According to Voya Investment Management’s capital market assumptions, expected returns for equities over the next 10 years is likely to be around 1.50 percentage points to 3.3 percentage points lower than assumptions in 2013.

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Like with student debt, helping only some people appears counter-productive.

Bernie Sanders Proposes Canceling $81 Billion US Medical Debt (R.)

U.S. presidential contender Bernie Sanders proposed a plan on Saturday to cancel $81 billion in existing past-due medical debt for Americans, but offered no details on how it would be financed. Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, said in a statement that under his plan, the government would negotiate and pay off past-due medical bills that have been reported to credit agencies. The proposal, he said, would also repeal some elements of the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill and allow other existing and future medical debt to be discharged. “In the United States of America, your financial life and future should not be destroyed because you or a member of your family gets sick,” said Sanders.


“That is unacceptable. I am sick and tired of seeing over 500,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because they cannot pay off the outrageous cost of a medical emergency or a hospital stay.” According to Sanders, medical debt is the leading cause of consumer bankruptcy, with more than half a million Americans filing due to medical expenses each year. He said the 2005 Bankruptcy reform bill made it difficult to discharge medical debt by imposing strict means tests and eliminated fundamental consumer protections for Americans. “It also trapped families with medical debt in long-term poverty, mandated that they pay for credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy, and increased the need for expensive legal services when filing a case for medical bankruptcy,” the senator said.

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“..the strategy of the powerful appears to be to know as much as possible about the rest of us while ensuring that we know as little as possible about them and how they operate..”

Breaking The Media Blackout on the Imprisonment of Julian Assange (MPN)

The role of journalism in a democracy is publishing information that holds the powerful to account — the kind of information that empowers the public to become more engaged citizens in their communities so that we can vote in representatives that work in the interest of “we the people.” There is perhaps no better example of watchdog journalism that holds the powerful to account and exposes their corruption than that of WikiLeaks, which exposed to the world evidence of widespread war crimes the U.S. military was committing in Iraq, including the killing of two Reuters journalists; showed that the U.S. government and large corporations were using private intelligence agencies to spy on activists and protesters; and revealed how the military hid tortured Guantanamo Bay prisoners from Red Cross inspectors.

It’s this kind of real journalism that our First Amendment was meant to protect but engaging in it has instead made WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange the target of a massive smear campaign for the last several years — including false claims that Assange is working with Vladimir Putin and the Russians and hackers, as well as open calls by corporate media pundits for him to be assassinated. The allegations that Assange conspired with Putin to undermine the 2016 election and American democracy as a whole fell completely flat earlier this month when a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed this case as “factually implausible,” with the judge noting that at no point does the prosecution’s “threadbare” argument show “any facts” at all, and concluding that the idea that Assange conspired with Russia against the Democratic Party or America is “entirely divorced from the facts.”


[..] It is important to ask ourselves what Julian Assange’s real crime is. In an era, dubbed the Information Age, where the strategy of the powerful appears to be to know as much as possible about the rest of us while ensuring that we know as little as possible about them and how they operate, Assange worked to prevent that imbalance from becoming a rout, and stuck like a bone in the throat of the mighty.

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Interesting take for sure.

Fifty Shades of Epstein (Hope Kesselring)

A few weeks ago, half the top ten Amazon best sellers in romantic erotica were based around the trope of the BDSM billionaire, with Grey by E. L. James holding firm in the top ten. In the world of erotic romance, the 50 Shades of Grey series has been a continuous presence for over seven years. Thousands of riffs on the sexy and sadistic billionaire exist: Russian billionaire, billionaire blackmailer, billionaire stepbrother. I’m not trying to kink shame, but it would take a lot of money to convince me to write detailed descriptions of torture sessions in a gilded dungeon. This is especially true in the shadow of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death. Mental and sexual abuse by an obscenely wealthy man now just seems, well, obscene.


I should point out that James’ character, Christian Grey, strikes me as more a domestic abuser than a real BDSM enthusiast. He is a billionaire in the tech industry who fixates on Ana, a 21-year old virgin. He puts surveillance software on her phone. He harasses her to sign a submissive’s contract, and even though she never signs it, he still treats her like a sex slave. He manipulates Ana into doing sex acts for which she doesn’t give consent. Blatant consumerism sits on the page in stark contrast to real life. 50 Shades of Grey eroticizes money and abuse. The writing is universally panned and mocked by critics, yet it’s sold 125 million copies. How in the world of publishing did it even come to be? Let’s go back to 2008. That year the economy was melting down, Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to a felony sex offense, and the Twilight series of vampire romance novels for teen girls were bestsellers.

Twilight was a young adult twist on the long-popular vampire romance, which had flourished in that market since Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire appeared. Probably some of Epstein’s victims read the Twilight books. 50 Shades of Grey marks a shift in the erotic romance genre from vampires to billionaires. In 2009, E. L. James started publishing her version of Twilight on fanfiction websites, churning out a chapter every couple of days. Master of the Universe, as it was called then, was popular but criticized for being too racy, so she moved it to her own website and renamed the characters. James didn’t know it yet, but she was about to be catapulted to international fame by some upper middle class moms in the suburbs of New York City.


[..] In the autumn of 2011, news about Occupy Wall Street, a movement that began in reaction to the deeds of the predatory class, dominated headlines. Posters portrayed the 1% as greedy Monopoly men, far from sexy. Occupy protesters had the media’s attention for a short time before the idea was squashed. That November, Jeffrey Epstein registered as a sex offender in New York after completing his jail term and moving back into his Manhattan mansion, free to continue abusing girls. 2012 was E. L. James’ year. A prominent lifestyle blog (started by an NYU communications graduate married to a talent manager) promoted James’ fanfiction novel as sexually liberating to fashion-conscious moms in upscale suburban New York. James got a book deal and “mommy porn” was born. Paperbacks with necktie covers appeared on bookshelves and in beach bags everywhere.

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Aug 112019
 
 August 11, 2019  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Man with straw hat and ice cream cone 1938

 

JPMorgan: The Fed Will Need To Restart QE Soon
How Jeffrey Epstein Got His Hooks Into Les Wexner (William D. Cohan)
These Are The Dying Days Of A Rancid Old Order (Hutton)
The Very Idea Of A United Kingdom Is Being Torn Apart By Toxic Nationalism (G.)
Cross-Party Schemes Drawn Up To Prevent A Johnson No-Deal Brexit (O.)
No 10 Cancels Staff Leave, Hinting At Likelihood Of Snap Election (G.)
Brexit Enforcer Cummings’ Farm Took €235,000 In EU Handouts (O.)
British Government’s Hong Kong Intervention Riles China (O.)
Trump’s Financial Carelessness Could Cost His Kids $1.3 Billion In Taxes
Squawkzilla (F.)

 

 

The Fed must drink all the poison it brewed.

JPMorgan: The Fed Will Need To Restart QE Soon

In the latest Flows and Liquidity report from JPMorgan’s Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou published late on Friday, the strategist analyzes various components of market liquidity and concludes that “liquidity will likely continue to tighten gradually in the US banking system even after the Fed has stopped its balance sheet shrinkage.” Specifically, the JPM analysis looks at the bank’s model of US excess money supply, which derives a medium-term money demand target based on 1) the transaction motive, which relates money to nominal incomes and 2) the portfolio motive, which relates money to the nominal values of other assets such as bonds and equities, and 3) the precautionary motive, proxied by US policy uncertainty, whereby agents wish to hold more cash during periods of elevated risk perceptions. This model suggests that this broad US excess liquidity evaporated during the course of 2018 and shifted further into negative or contractionary territory this year.

The last time this measure of US excess money supply had shifted into negative territory was during the euro debt crisis years of 2010- 2012, which prompted the Fed to launch QE2 (as well as Operation Twist and QE3) and also eventually resulted in the ECB violating Article 123 of the Maastricht treat, prohibiting monetary financing of states, and led to Draghi launching his own QE. As Panigirtzoglou further explains, the contraction in JPM’s measure of broad liquidity this year has been mostly more driven by a rise in demand and less by a fall in money supply (relative to US GDP). In particular the main drivers have been the rise in uncertainty and the rise in the stock of US financial assets, both of which depress excess money supply via boosting demand.

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Excellent from Cohan for Vanity Fair. Obviously written before the ‘apparent suicide’. About which there are a million articles, but let’s wait and see if we can get beyond speculation.

How Jeffrey Epstein Got His Hooks Into Les Wexner (William D. Cohan)

Lewis remembered that Wexner didn’t care about the numbers, which is more relevant than ever after Wexner released a letter on August 7 asserting that Jeffrey Epstein had “misappropriated vast sums of money” —at least $46 million—from him, and casting himself as just another of Epstein’s victims. “He didn’t understand the numbers,” Lewis said. “He’s never understood numbers. This is not his strength. This man is a genius at dressing women. This is a guy who feels what they feel. That’s his strength. And I figured that out when I first met him and I don’t know how he got that set up in his brain but in his soul, he has a sense of how people feel when they wear his clothing. And that’s a gift. That’s just what it is. Some guys write music, this guy knows how to dress women. He’s very, very talented.”

[..] Around the same time, Lewis became aware that Jeffrey Epstein had entered Wexner’s life, presumably to manage some of Wexner’s money, as has been widely reported. Lewis couldn’t figure out why Wexner had turned to Epstein to manage his money when Lewis already had an unparalleled track record managing some of Wexner’s money—returning more than 30% a year to his partners for 10 years. (Later, Lewis would find trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission; he pleaded guilty to stock manipulation in 1989, and was barred from the securities industry. President Bill Clinton pardoned Lewis, and a federal court judge later said Mr. Lewis acted for all the right reasons. He was vindicated.)

Lewis says he thinks Epstein was a “con artist” who took advantage of Wexner’s personal weaknesses. “I can’t imagine, frankly, why a man of his intelligence would simply hand the controls over to another guy.” He said Wexner was always a lonely guy. “And this con artist, this fucking idiot, comes into his life,” he continued. “…My feeling is that he had been seduced. And I don’t mean seduced in a physical sense, I mean emotionally seduced out of his loneliness to trust this guy and he figures, he’s so fucking smart he can trust anybody.” Wexner, he said, was “a shy man who got taken” by Epstein.

Wexner was “so bright and so capable,” Lewis continued, “but the talents that he had, those kinds of talents are not financial talents. These are not numbers. He does not look at numbers. He doesn’t want to. What he’s thinking about is the art form of dressing a woman. That’s what he’s good at. That’s what he’s done.” Les Wexner, he said, “would not know a stock from a bond. He does not look at the markets. He does not look at futures or anything like that. That’s not what he does.” Lewis said that Wexner was looking for a friend. “I really believe that,” he said. “And I think that when you see a man who is as bright as he is and he is looking for a friend and he picks the wrong friend, then there’s all hell to pay.”

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Brits are waxing philosophical. Here’s one saying Woodstock led straight to Reagan/Thatcher and then to white supremacy. Fukcing hippies!

These Are The Dying Days Of A Rancid Old Order (Hutton)

Don’t despair. We may be living through an attempted rightwing revolution, but its foundations are rotten. There may be a counter-revolution, as there is after every revolution, and it will be built on much firmer ground. The charlatans may be in control in both Britain and the US, but their time is limited. Their programmes are self-defeating and destructive and they do not speak to the dynamic and increasingly ascendant forces in both our societies. What has happened in the US after the atrocities in El Paso and Dayton is instructive. It is a tipping point. The National Rifle Association may tell Donald Trump repeatedly that any attempt at gun control will not fly with his political base, but Trump can read the runes.

For the Republicans to become the party in de facto defence of what has suddenly become crystallised as white supremacist terrorism would be electoral suicide. The president has to move, not least because, faced with this reality, even his base is shifting. Too many Americans now fear becoming the victims of random murder. Few can dispute that, astonishingly, while the US has 5% of the world’s population, it has 35%-50% of civilian gun ownership, a trend that simply has to be reversed. Within a decade, I am sure, the debate will move on, as white supremacists continue their killing spree, from hardening background checks to debating the constitutional right to bear arms. This must and will happen and it will highlight the marginalisation of rightwing republicanism. And when the political wind changes in the US, it also changes in Britain.

Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK are the extreme culmination of what Reagan and Thatcher began 40 years ago. It started as a legitimate if contestable desire to reframe the postwar settlement, limit the state, promote business and individual self-reliance. But as the great political scientist Samuel Beer famously argued, it was, paradoxically, supported culturally by the individualism, anti-state instincts and nonconformism of the Woodstock generation. Forty years on, continued rightwing political ascendancy has morphed into today’s menacing rightwing ideologies.

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“As the Second World War ended, George Orwell made a distinction between patriots who instinctively love their country and the opposite, a political nationalism that he defined as “power hunger tempered by self-deception..“

The Very Idea Of A United Kingdom Is Being Torn Apart By Toxic Nationalism (G.)

Boris Johnson’s government is hell-bent on conjuring up the absurd and mendacious image of the patriotic British valiantly defying an intransigent Europe determined to turn us into a vassal state. His soundbites, pledging token sums for the NHS and 20,000 more police on the street at some future date, cannot disguise a government driven not by the national interest but by a destructive, populist, nationalist ideology. And with Scottish nationalists pushing a more extreme form of separation and Northern Ireland’s unionists becoming, paradoxically, Northern Irish nationalists – digging in, even if it means, against all economic logic, a hard border with the Irish Republic – we are, at best, only a precariously united kingdom.

Johnson’s flying visits to all corners of the UK have done nothing to dispel the impression that under him the world’s most successful multinational state is devoid of a unifying purpose powerful enough to hold it together and to keep four nationalisms – Scottish, Irish, English and also a rising Welsh nationalism – at bay. Recent polling shows a majority of Scots support Scottish independence. In a new Hope Not Hate poll, many more – 60% – agree a no-deal Brexit will accelerate the demand for independence. Only 15% disagree. What is most worrying is not just that so many think the union will end but how at least for now so few appear to care. Only 30% of British Conservatives (and only 14% of Brexit party voters) would oppose Brexit if it meant the break-up of the union: 56% of Tories (and 78% of Brexit party voters) – in total 70% of Leavers – would go ahead regardless, even if the union collapsed.

[..] As the Second World War ended, George Orwell made a distinction between patriots who instinctively love their country and the opposite, a political nationalism that he defined as “power hunger tempered by self-deception”. He noted its defining features: unreality about the country’s prospects; introversion bordering on the xenophobic; and hate-filled obsessiveness that treats people solely in terms of their loyalty and utility. Orwell argued passionately that the descent into a narrow, chauvinistic nationalism could be halted only by what he called “moral effort”.

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The plotters. Cheap cigars, smoky backrooms and bad scotch.

Cross-Party Schemes Drawn Up To Prevent A Johnson No-Deal Brexit (O.)

Most MPs may now be on the beach, but for those worried about the chances of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal it has not been the normal break in the sun. For a start, the holiday reading list has been less entertaining than normal. Standing order 24, paragraph 2.7 of the cabinet manual and section 2(3) of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act have become the must-reads of the summer. Family outings have been interrupted by battles to find phone reception at various beauty spots to talk to opposition MPs. After a week that saw Boris Johnson and his key adviser Dominic Cummings make clear threats about leaving the EU whatever the cost at the end of October, concerned MPs have already begun to plan.

New governments, emergency legislation, breaches of convention and court cases are already being proposed by what several described as the “rebel alliance”. Many anti-no deal MPs are also concerned about the lack of coherence so far. All those who spoke to the Observer had doubts that no-deal Brexit could be avoided. “Everyone has to pull together, and that is never a guarantee,” said one former Tory minister trying to coordinate efforts. “We are trying to hold together an unholy coalition of moderate Labour, Labour frontbench, Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, minor parties, independents and moderate Tories. It’s difficult.” However, details of some of the plans are already emerging.

Senior figures within both the Labour and Conservative parties believe that the simplest way to stop no deal is through a new law, forcing the prime minister to ask for an extension to Britain’s EU membership. This is the focus of early efforts. The rebels see two possible routes. The easiest move is to hijack any legislation that the government proposes in the autumn. Yet the plotters know that the government may simply refuse to propose any new laws to avoid such an ambush. “The moment there is legislation, we can amend away,” said one plotter. “But their strategy is clearly not to legislate about anything and have endless debates in parliament about the colour green instead.”

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As the MPS are on the beach, the special advisers are not.

No 10 Cancels Staff Leave, Hinting At Likelihood Of Snap Election (G.)

Boris Johnson’s chief of staff cancelled all leave for government advisers until 31 October in a missive on Thursday night, raising further speculation the government is planning for a forced snap election in the aftermath of the UK leaving the EU with no deal. Special advisers were emailed by Johnson’s senior adviser Edward Lister on Thursday night, saying there was “some confusion about taking holiday”. They were told none should be booked until 31 October, with compensation considered “on a case by case basis” for those who had already booked leave, though the email said advisers were free to spend their weekends “as you wish”. “There is serious work to be done between now and October 31st and we should be focused on the job,” the email said.

The directive angered many recipients, who say staff are exhausted and are facing an unprecedented workload in September and October. One recipient described the email as “posturing” and said special advisers, known as “spads”, are being used as part of the PR war to convince the public the government is serious about no deal. Johnson himself also wrote to all members of the civil service telling them the government’s main focus was now to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. In the letter, Johnson said he wanted to underline that the UK would be leaving on 31 October “whatever the circumstances” and that the civil service must prepare “urgently and rapidly” as its top priority.

“I know many of you have already done a great deal of hard work in mobilising to prepare for a no deal scenario, so that we can leave on 31 October come what may,” the letter said. “Between now and then we must engage and communicate clearly with the British people about what our plans for taking back control mean, what people and businesses need to do, and the support we will provide.”

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“His blog clarified the claim, explaining “the Treasury gross figure is slightly more than £350m of which we get back roughly half, though some of this is spent in absurd ways like subsidies for very rich landowners to do stupid things”.

Brexit Enforcer Cummings’ Farm Took €235,000 In EU Handouts (O.)

Boris Johnson’s controversial enforcer, Dominic Cummings, an architect of Brexit and a fierce critic of Brussels, is co-owner of a farm that has received €250,000 (£235,000) in EU farming subsidies, the Observer can reveal. The revelation is a potential embarrassment for the mastermind behind Johnson’s push to leave the EU by 31 October. Since being appointed as Johnson’s chief adviser, Cummings has presented the battle to leave the EU as one between the people and the politicians. He positions himself as an outsider who wants to demolish elites, end the “absurd subsidies” paid out by the EU and liberate the UK from its arcane rules and regulations.

But his critics say the revelation that Cummings has benefited from the system he intends to smash underscores how many British farmers are reliant on EU money that would evaporate if the UK leaves. An Observer analysis of Land Registry documents and EU subsidy databases reveals that a farm in Durham, which Cummings jointly owns with his parents and another person, has received roughly €20,000 a year for most of the last two decades. The revelation opens Cummings up to charges of hypocrisy, as writing on his blog, he has attacked the use of agricultural subsidies “dreamed up in the 1950s and 1960s” because they “raise prices for the poor to subsidise rich farmers while damaging agriculture in Africa”.

He notoriously came up with the claim that leaving the EU would allow the UK to spend an extra £350m a week on the NHS. His blog clarified the claim, explaining “the Treasury gross figure is slightly more than £350m of which we get back roughly half, though some of this is spent in absurd ways like subsidies for very rich landowners to do stupid things”.

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The ‘one country, two systems’ deal runs untiil 2047.

British Government’s Hong Kong Intervention Riles China (O.)

China has lashed out at the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, after he spoke to Hong Kong’s leader about protests that have morphed from a campaign against a controversial extradition bill into rolling street demonstrations demanding electoral reforms. Raab spoke to Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and stressed the need for “meaningful political dialogue and a fully independent investigation into recent events as a way to build trust” in the territory, the UK Foreign Office said. The former British colony has seen widespread protests in recent months which began with a campaign against a controversial extradition bill and has gone on to include a push for electoral reforms in the Chinese territory.


Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said the days where Britain ruled Hong Kong were “long gone … The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of supervision over Hong Kong. Affairs of Hong Kong brook no foreign interference. It is simply wrong for the British government to directly call Hong Kong’s chief executive to exert pressure.” A UK foreign office spokesperson said: “The foreign secretary underlined the strength of the relationship between the UK and Hong Kong, noting our support for Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy as provided for in the joint declaration and our commitment to the principle of ‘one country, two systems’.

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Humor.

Trump’s Financial Carelessness Could Cost His Kids $1.3 Billion In Taxes

Forbes estimates that Trump has paid each of his three eldest children—Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump—some $35 million in salary, commissions and bonuses for their work as executives at the Trump Organization, and he has given them modest stakes in a handful of relatively insignificant ventures. The rest of the first family—daughter Tiffany, son Barron and wife Melania—don’t seem to have received much at all. That leaves 73-year-old Donald Trump firmly in control of a $3.1 billion tax time bomb. Simply put, it’s bad planning. The president of the United States, one of the wealthiest people in America, appears to have one of the worst tax strategies in the country.


“It’s puzzling,” says Bruce Steiner, a New York estate lawyer who advises high-net-worth clients. “At death if he’s given away nothing, half of it disappears.” Then again, Donald Trump is also in position to relieve his family of much of the burden by simply repealing the federal estate tax altogether. It’s something he has already tried and failed to do once. Now, two years after the Trump tax cuts tweaked the estate tax rules, but not enough to impact the super-wealthy, Trump’s allies in Congress are trying to kill the tax once more. If they prove successful, it would likely save the Trump family more than $1 billion—enough to make it the most lucrative deal of Donald Trump’s life.

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A 40-inch parrot. Hey, the moa was 10 feet!

Squawkzilla (F.)

Palaeontologists announced they’ve discovered the largest parrot that ever lived, which they named after the Greek demi-god Heracles in reference to its enormous size and strength Islands are natural laboratories for a variety of fascinating avian evolutionary experiments, particularly islands that lack mammalian predators. New Zealand, for example, is home to a variety of peculiar parrots. There’s the mischievous Kea, the world’s only mountain-dwelling parrot who specializes in dismantling automobiles and re-arranging traffic cones, and the kakapo, a flightless nocturnal parrot that looks like a big green owl, and is the only living parrot that shags free-roaming zoologists.

Now there’s a weird new parrot in town, according to an international team of scientists from New Zealand and Australia. The researchers announced the discovery of the fossilized remains of the largest parrot yet identified, standing half as tall as a human adult with a massive beak that could bite through anything it liked. The researchers estimated the giant parrot was 1 meter (39 inches) tall, and weighed roughly 7 kilograms (15.5 pounds). This is approximately the size of the extinct dodo, and twice the size of New Zealand’s critically endangered kakapo, which is the largest and heaviest parrot alive today.

The researchers named the new parrot Heracles inexpectatus — Hercules the unexpected — in recognition of its Herculean size and strength and because its discovery was completely unexpected. Considering how destructive kea are, just imagine what this giant parrot could have chewed up.


Artist’s reconstruction of the giant parrot Heracles, dwarfing a bevy of 8cm high Kuiornis – small prehistoric wrens that lived 9–16 million years ago on New Zealand – scuttling about on the forest floor. Heracles may have eaten other, smaller, parrot species. (Credit: Brian Choo / Flinders University)

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Aug 082019
 


Piet Mondriaan New York City I 1942

 

Globalization As We Know It Will Not Survive Trump (G.)
The Technological Revolution Devours its Children (Dmitry Orlov)
Donald Trump More Popular Today Than In 2016 (Raw)
New York Times Stock Price Has Soared During Trump’s Presidency (R.)
MMT May Be Democrats’ Economic Cure, But Only Trump Got The Memo (R.)
New Rebel Bid To Halt No-Deal Brexit Amid Fury At PM’s Enforcer (G.)
Deal Or No Deal? It’s Not Really Up To Dominic Cummings (G.)
The Super-Rich Have Made Britain Into A Nation Of Losers (G.)
Airlines Complain Boeing’s Production Standards ‘Way Below Acceptable’ (BI)
An Open Invitation to Tyranny (PCR)
Chelsea Manning Jailed For a YEAR For Refusing To Testify Against Assange (RT)
Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom (SH)
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (G.)
Explosion of Toxic Pesticide Use Causes Insect Apocalypse in US (CD)

 

 

“And That’s A Good Thing..”

Globalization As We Know It Will Not Survive Trump (G.)

The significance of the trade war between China and the US goes well beyond the impact of tit-for-tat tariffs, or which of two self-styled strongmen wins the bragging rights. As was the case in the 1930s, the seemingly inexorable drift towards protectionism is part of a deeper crisis of the international status quo. When Beijing this week accused the US of “deliberately destroying the international order”, it was really saying that US hegemony will no longer go unchallenged. Globalisation as we have known it is coming to an end and that’s by no means unwelcome.

Hailed as the ultimate in human progress, a model based on loosening the controls on capital and the construction of global supply chains has spawned recurrent financial crises, fostered corrosive inequality and worsened the climate emergency. True, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the past 25 years, but most of them live in a country – China – that has kept the market at arm’s-length. The world’s stock markets see things differently. They tremble every time Donald Trump tweets a paean to protectionism. Likewise, multinational corporations fret about the possible damage that trade barriers might cause to global supply chains. It is clear that those who have done best out of globalisation tend to be the rich and powerful, and they are not going to give up their privileges without a fight. Nothing in this is new.

Throughout history there have been successive waves of globalisation followed by a backlash when the model over-reached itself. This is one of those occasions and all the ingredients are in place for a struggle between the defenders of the status quo and those who say that recent trends in politics, technology and the climate point to the need for a new world order focused more on local solutions, stronger nation states and a reformed international system. It’s quite a stretch to imagine that Trump has this in mind when he is bashing China, but the economic crisis of the 1930s – of which protectionism was one part – led eventually, albeit after the war, to reforms that made the world a sounder and safer place.


Illustration: Thomas Pullin

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“..once your savings are depleted and your debts are maxed out, you are cast out into the howling wilderness roamed by various troglodytes—those the information revolution has already eaten as well as those who were never on the menu.”

The Technological Revolution Devours its Children (Dmitry Orlov)

As the famous movie quote goes, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker” (From John Dahl’s 1988 film Rounders). Another famous quote, all the way back from the French Revolution, is “The revolution, like Saturn, devours its own children” (said by Danton at his trial). If you can’t spot the resource for your next technological revolution, then you are the resource. Look at all the previous technological revolutions. In each case, a new technology opened up for exploitation a new, superabundant resource: agriculture—arable land; mechanical spinning and weaving—water power; steam engine and steelmaking—coal; internal combustion engine—oil; artificial intelligence-based robonanobiotronics—still oil?

Sorry, that’s no longer overabundant by any stretch of the imagination. (If you said “renewable energy” then think again: wind turbines, solar panels and battery banks can’t be made or maintained without oil and natural gas.) Technology without a superabundant resource it can tap into is as useful as a spoon if your bowl is empty. The logic is simple: spot the resource; if you can’t, it’s probably you. Let’s focus on what’s supposed to be the main pillar of the next technological revolution: information technology. Most of us have smartphones, laptops, store our data in the cloud and make use of abundant and free information resources—all the free apps you want, free blogging, free Youtube videos, etc. But what new resource has all this technology opened up for you, the user?

The hardware costs you money (the average iPhone now costs around 800 USD) and the time you spend fiddling around with it is subtracted from all the other, potentially useful and gainful activities. You could try arguing that having an iPhone makes you more efficient because you have all the information and communications technology you could possibly need right at your fingertips. That point is hard to deny. I recently recorded a radio interview for a radio station in upstate New York while strolling about among the potato blossoms on my field in the Novgorod region of Russia via the internet and a 4G connection via a tower in the neighboring village. That’s nothing short of miraculous, and it’s certainly efficient (my smartphone is 7 years old, fully amortized a long time ago and still as good as new now that I’ve replaced every single mechanical component, sometimes twice). But is it effective?

The smartphones are generally effective in making their users spend money that they may or may not have on things they may or may not need. All of the free access to information is paid for by collecting data on users (spying, basically) and using it to create targeted ads that turn users into online shoppers. Everything is highly customized: women look at pictures of shoes; men look at pictures of power tools. Both the shoes and the power tools, if purchased, will be used a few times a year at most, but the money will be gone forever. The limiting factor here, of course, is the resource, which is you: once your savings are depleted and your debts are maxed out, you are cast out into the howling wilderness roamed by various troglodytes—those the information revolution has already eaten as well as those who were never on the menu.

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Depends on who you ask.

Donald Trump More Popular Today Than In 2016 (Raw)

President Donald Trump’s administration has been mired in controversy after controversy, from his racist remarks to the Mueller report–which stopped short of clearing him of obstruction of justice. His policies, such as child separation at the border and his trade wars with China, are divisive. Yet, new numbers seem to show that he’s actually more popular today than he was in 2016, according to polling expert Nate Cohn. “The share of Americans who say they have a favorable view of him has increased significantly since the 2016 election,” Cohn writes. “And over the last few months, some of the highest-quality public opinion polls, though not all, showed the president’s job approval rating — a different measure from personal favorability — had inched up to essentially match the highest level of his term.”

This doesn’t guarantee Trump re-election. “The increase in his support since 2016, and the possibility that it continues to move higher, does not necessarily make him a favorite to win re-election. His job approval ratings remain well beneath 50 percent, and have never eclipsed it.” It should be noted that Cohn is relying on two polls, Gallup and YouGov, which show that he is more popular today than in 2016. And according to the website fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregates polling data, only 42.2 percent of Americans polled approve of Donald Trump, while 53.1 disapprove.

But, Trump’s surge in popularity since 2016 is clearly something his democratic challengers need to keep in mind. Of course, Democrats might benefit from a more popular candidate than they had in 2016,” Cohn writes. “Hillary Clinton was an unusually unpopular candidate, surpassed only by Mr. Trump in this regard in the modern era of polling. But an analysis that freezes the president’s standing in 2016 but assumes an improvement for the Democratic nominee would be misleading.”

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Cui bono. Inventing Russiagate out of thin air has paid off handsomely.

New York Times Stock Price Has Soared During Trump’s Presidency (R.)

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore concludes his “Apocalypse Now” soliloquy about the smell of napalm in the morning wistfully: “Someday this war’s gonna end.” The remark suggests the officer played by Robert Duvall is enjoying the conflict in Vietnam. Despite some recent friendly fire, New York Times commander-in-chief Mark Thompson could be forgiven for feeling similarly about his newspaper’s combat with U.S. President Donald Trump. Few companies have so directly benefitted from Trump’s tumultuous first term in office as the Times. Thanks to a boom in digital-subscription sales linked to the paper’s aggressive coverage of the administration’s many foibles, its shares have outperformed those of nearly every company investors pegged as those likely to suffer or benefit from a Trump presidency.

From around $11 at the time of his election, Times stock has soared to more than $35. That trumped the runup in Wall Street firms, such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, whose bottom lines were fattened by tax cuts. Times shares even dusted those of Facebook, the bête noire of all traditional publishers. As of Tuesday, the Manhattan-based company’s $5 billion market value was greater than the combined worth of America’s two biggest for-profit prison operators, whose fortunes were meant to soar under a law-and-order presidency. This background helps in interpreting a set of lousy second-quarter results, and a kerfuffle this week over a poorly conceived front-page headline. The Times added 197,000 net new digital-only subscriptions – bringing total subscribers to 4.7 million, nearly halfway to its 2025 goal of 10 million.

A shortfall in revenue, though, and a warning of greater challenges ahead, took nearly 20% off the Times share price on Wednesday. That came days after amending a headline related to the president’s response to two mass shootings over the weekend failed to stop a barrage of criticism, much of it from Trump’s Democratic opponents, and calls on social media to cancel subscriptions. The top-line miss had nothing to do with the headline skirmish, whose impact would appear in this quarter. But they are not unrelated. The risk for the Times is that any whiff of normalizing its coverage of the president might damage the brand that has fueled its subscription drive since 2016. One dopey headline is survivable, so long as the war shows no sign of ending.

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MMT is not going to go away.

MMT May Be Democrats’ Economic Cure, But Only Trump Got The Memo (R.)

From her home overlooking Setauket Harbor on Long Island’s North Shore, a motorboat bobbing at the dock, Stephanie Kelton hopes to revolutionize how the U.S. government manages the economy. It isn’t always a pleasant task. A key figure in the “Modern Monetary Theory” economic camp, her assertions that the federal government could spend freely for things like a jobs guarantee or Green New Deal without risking runaway inflation, a debt default or a clubbing by global creditors have been Twitter-bombed by mainstream economists as left-wing free lunchism. Proponents of MMT have been called fanciful for the notion that the U.S. Congress, which typically struggles to pass an annual budget, could with smart budgeting and regulation take over the Federal Reserve’s job of controlling inflation.


And even Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University in New York and an adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is a bit thrown by the fact that the person who appears closest to accepting her argument is President Donald Trump, whose Republican Party has traditionally touted an adherence to fiscal discipline. Trump and Republicans in Congress, she said, “did not allow perceived budget constraints to stand in their way” of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package which was passed in late 2017 and pushed the federal debt beyond $22 trillion. Democrats now seem ready to get in the game. Lawmakers from both parties recently reached a federal spending deal that is expected to raise the federal deficit by $2 trillion over the next two years, and Democrats lining up to run against Trump in 2020 have largely avoided talk of fiscal restraint so far in the campaign.

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Told ya: “One Conservative insider said that Cummings had in effect demanded control over Johnson’s operation as his price for entering government..”

New Rebel Bid To Halt No-Deal Brexit Amid Fury At PM’s Enforcer (G.)

Rebel MPs are working on a plan to thwart Boris Johnson pursuing a no-deal Brexit on 31 October that involves forcing parliament to sit through the autumn recess, amid growing outrage about the power and influence of his controversial aide, Dominic Cummings. The cross-party group of MPs is looking at legislative options with mounting urgency because of the hardline tactics of Cummings, who one Conservative insider described as running a “reign of terror” in No 10 aimed at achieving Brexit on 31 October at any cost. Three MPs have told the Guardian that one method under discussion is for members to amend the motion needed for parliament to break for party conferences in mid-September.

This could give MPs another three weeks of sitting time to stop a no-deal and potentially open the door for days to be set aside for rebels to control parliamentary business. The ultimate aim would be to pass a bill forcing the government to request an extension to article 50 from Brussels. Since joining Johnson’s administration, Cummings has told government advisers that No 10 stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring about Brexit on 31 October – deal or no deal. This could include proroguing parliament, or ignoring the result of any no-confidence vote in Johnson and calling a “people v politicians” general election – to be held after the UK had left the EU.

However, it is understood that alarm is mounting within No 10, among some special advisers and Tory MPs about the scale of Cummings’ influence and willingness to defy parliament. One Conservative insider said that Cummings had in effect demanded control over Johnson’s operation as his price for entering government and proceeded to sideline more moderate advisers, such as ex-City Hall stalwart Sir Eddie Lister, while installing a team of “true believers” in hard Brexit largely from the former Vote Leave campaign.

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Are you sure?

Deal Or No Deal? It’s Not Really Up To Dominic Cummings (G.)

Yet it would be as much of a mistake to dismiss Cummings as to exaggerate his mastery. He has certainly brought two weeks of focus to the Johnson government by making the Halloween deadline a non-negotiable centrepiece. He has changed the political conversation from Brexit or people’s vote to deal or no deal. Depending on events in the early autumn, he is clearly gearing up for a possible general election shortly afterwards. But Cummings does not control events. He is not Prospero, able to conjure up a tempest that delivers his enemies into his hands. He is having a good run, but he is helped by the most irresponsible parliamentary summer recess of modern times.

Even now MPs should be aiming to get back to Westminster and hold the government to account before the planned return on 3 September. They should scrap this year’s party conferences too. Cummings is also only one player. The idea that he pulls all the strings is lazy and wrong. The Brexit outcome depends on a tangled web of interests and influences beyond his control. These include everything from the role of the Queen to the hoarding of toilet rolls. In particular, it depends on events in the real economy, in parliament, in the courts, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Irish Republic, in the EU and in Johnson’s own head.

Those who take a Cummings-fixated view of the options find it is easier to forget this. They say the government’s aim is to crash out with no deal on 31 October and nothing will stand in the way. But that is not quite what Johnson and some of his ministers say. They say, still, that a deal is one possibility, perhaps a remote one, and that the UK government is even now looking for a deal with the EU in the next 12 weeks.

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“..people whose incomes sit a few zeroes above their value to society.”

The Super-Rich Have Made Britain Into A Nation Of Losers (G.)

Think of a football stadium. Not one of the vast caverns like Old Trafford or Wembley, but somewhere rather smaller and more bijou. Somewhere like Fulham’s Craven Cottage, which, once its new stand is completed, will pack in only about 30,000 fans. Now imagine this stadium of 30,000 souls rising up into the air and hovering unnoticed over central London. Thirty thousand men in late middle-age living the high life with the capital at their feet – and there, stuck way below on terra firma are their 66 million fellow Britons, tearing lumps out of each other. Congratulations: you’ve just pictured the central problem stalking the UK today. Not Brexit. Not the breakdown in civil debate. Not the dark money contaminating Westminster.

These are urgent and vitally important, but there is one big factor that forms a large part of the backdrop to all of them. It can be summed up by that gulf between a mid-sized football stadium of super-rich men in their 50s, and the rest of us spread out across our suburbs, our towns, our unpretty stretches of urban sprawl. That football stadium represents the top 0.1% of earners in the UK. To join their ranks, numbering just 31,000, you’d need a taxable income of at least £650,000 a year – £12,500 per week. In less than a fortnight, you would easily pull in more than the average Briton makes as taxable income over a whole year. But then, those drudges are the earthbound while you, as the old song out of Mary Poppins puts it, live in an entirely different realm: “Up to the highest height! … Up through the atmosphere! / Up where the air is clear!”

The stratospherically rich are among the subjects of a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. An analysis of the tax returns of the highest earning Britons, it shows in uncompromising detail just how our money has ended up in fewer and fewer hands based in less and less of the country. Almost half the super-rich live in London and nearly 90% of them are men. What’s more, they often end up paying a lower tax rate than the pay-as-you-earn mugs like you and me. The generous breaks given by politicians to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and risk-taking are instead exploited by partners in City law firms and big accountancies and at hedge funds – people whose incomes sit a few zeroes above their value to society.

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It’s not just the 737 MAX. It’s Boeing itself.

Airlines Complain Boeing’s Production Standards ‘Way Below Acceptable’ (BI)

Airlines flying Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliner have complained to the plane maker about “unacceptable” production mistakes and inconsistent quality. The problems center around Dreamliners built at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, factory, according to a report from The Post and Courier. Issues at the North Charleston plant were reported in April in a comprehensive New York Times investigation, which found evidence of shoddy production, poor oversight, and a culture that “made speed a priority over safety.” The report came a month after Boeing’s 737 Max jet was grounded worldwide after the second fatal crash in five months. The Department of Justice expanded an inquiry into the 737 Max to include issues at the North Charleston factory in June.


The new report surfaced complaints from a global cadre of airlines that fly the jet and have received orders from the South Carolina plant, one of two locations where the Dreamliner is assembled — other orders are built at Boeing’s Everett, Washington, factory. While the issues are not limited to either the South Carolina plant or the 787 — similar problems have been raised in Everett with both 787s and military tankers — the complaints surfaced by The Post and Courier focus on recent deliveries of Boeing’s newest and largest variant of the Dreamliner, the 787-10. It was not immediately clear whether the airlines made similar complaints about other variants of the plane, including the 787-8 and 787-9.

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Paul Craig Roberts on an FBI document that talks about “official” and “prevailing” explanations of events.

“What the FBI report does, intentionally or unintentionally, is to define a conspiracist as a person who doubts official explanations.”

An Open Invitation to Tyranny (PCR)

The FBI document says that conspiracy theories “are usually at odds with official or prevailing explanations of events.” Note the use of “official” and “prevailing.” Official explanations are explanations provided by governments. Prevailing explanations are the explanations that the media repeats. Examples of official and prevailing explanations are: Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Iranian nukes, Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the official explanation by the US government for the destruction of Libya. If a person doubts official explanations such as these, that person is a “conspiracy theorist.”

Official and prevailing explanations do not have to be consistent with facts. It is enough that they are official and prevailing. Whether or not they are true is irrelevant. Therefore, a person who stands up for the truth can be labeled a conspiracy theorist, monitored, and perhaps pre-emptively arrested. [..] Consider Russiagate. Here we have an alleged conspiracy between Trump and Russia that was the official prevailing explanation. Yet, to believe in the Russiagate conspiracy did not make one a conspiracy theorist as this conspiracy was the official prevailing explanation. But to doubt the Russiagate conspiracy did make one a conspiracy theorist.

What the FBI report does, intentionally or unintentionally, is to define a conspiracist as a person who doubts official explanations. In other words, it is a way of preventing any accountability of government. Whatever the government says, no matter how obvious a lie, will have to be accepted as fact or we will be put on a list to be monitored for preemptive arrest. In effect, the FBI’s document reduces the First Amendment, that is, free speech, to the right to repeat official and prevailing explanations. Any other speech is a conspiratorial belief that can lead to the commission of a crime.

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The judge says she can pay the fines, but he’s the only one who thinks that.

Chelsea Manning Jailed For a YEAR For Refusing To Testify Against Assange (RT)

Refusal to testify against WikiLeaks is costing whistleblower Chelsea Manning over $400,000 in fines and another year in jail, after a federal judge ruled that she must pay for what he called contempt of court. Manning was jailed for refusing the subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury seeking additional charges against WikiLeaks and its co-founder Julian Assange, currently imprisoned in the UK. To compel testimony, the government also fined the whistleblower $500 a day, going up to $1000 after 60 days. Judge Anthony Trenga of the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia shot down Manning’s motion to reconsider sanctions on Monday, the final chance to contest the steep fines.

After a review of “a substantial number of financial records documenting her assets, liabilities, and current and future earnings,” the court found “that Ms. Manning has the ability to comply with the Court’s financial sanctions,” Trenga wrote in his ruling. Though Manning is now deeply in debt and unable to work while in jail, the judge nonetheless concluded the fines were payable and therefore amounted to “coercive” sanctions allowed to compel cooperation or testimony, rather than being a purely punitive measure. “I am disappointed but not at all surprised. The government and the judge must know by now that this doesn’t change my position one bit,” Manning said in response.

She insisted that the fines were in fact punitive, because her inability and unwillingness to pay rendered any “coercive” aspect moot. She has already spent 147 days behind bars and owes $38,000 in fines as of August 7. If she remains jailed for another year, Manning could end up owing $441,000 to the government.

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Not everything scales up.

Tightening Nickel Supply Threatens Electric Vehicle Boom (SH)

For Tesla and its chief competitors in the race for global domination of electric vehicle sales, it ain’t all about lithium ion. There are other valuable metals needed to make the battery packs do what’s asked of them, with nickel being essential. Tesla and its battery producer partners, and other automakers and their suppliers, are worried about the longer-term supply of nickel according to a new study by BloombergNEF. The study predicts that EV makers will be driving demand for nickel about 16 times to 1.8 million tons in the next years. Class-one nickel, a high-purity material used in batteries, is expected to see demand greatly outstrip supply in the next few years. That will be fueled by meeting the large Chinese EV market, and other global markets where demand is expected to grow.


That need for class-one nickel will outstrip supply within five years, according to the study. One problem has been a lack of real investment in new mines for materials including nickel, Tesla’s global supply manager of battery metals, Sarah Maryssael, said at a Washington meeting in May. That could drive up prices as battery demand increases greatly. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is concerned about having enough economically viable — and available — metal to continue meeting its growing electric car demand. That will take off even more as the company taps into China’s booming markets. “They are getting ready to have the new factory in China, and are at full capacity in North America,’’ Peter Bradford, chief executive officer of nickel producer Independence Group NL, said. “They recognize the biggest risk from a strategic supply point of view is nickel.’’

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Kind of mad that this didn’t stop America from sending its young people to be killed and maimed in more jungles and deserts.

Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (G.)

‘Someday this war’s gonna end,” is the sage comment from surf-crazed Wagner enthusiast Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, brusquely played by Robert Duvall. In fact, when Francis Ford Coppola’s grandiose epic masterpiece Apocalypse Now was first unveiled in 1979, the Vietnam war had only ended four years previously, and the succeeding Cambodian-Vietnamese war (where the film’s climax is set) was in full swing. Coppola’s bad trip into south-east Asia was co-written by John Milius with narration written by Michael Herr. It was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Herr’s own Vietnam reportage-memoir Dispatches and maybe at one further remove by Rudyard Kipling’s lines about the US taking up the white man’s imperial burden.


It was famously an ordeal for all concerned. The production involved a filming expedition in the Philippines that felt hardly less colossal and traumatic to the participants than the actual war, though it became commonplace in Hollywood’s Vietnam for the anguish of American soldiers, not that of the Vietnamese people themselves, to be seen as important. (The nearest that Vietnamese people get to actual importance in Apocalypse Now is the four South Vietnamese intelligence officers, executed by ColKurtz as Communist spies, whose ID cards we briefly see.) Like Lawrence of Arabia, moreover, this is a film without women – or mostly.


Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists

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“The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids..”

Explosion of Toxic Pesticide Use Causes Insect Apocalypse in US (CD)

The rapid and dangerous decline of the insect population in the United States—often called an “insect apocalypse” by scientists—has largely been driven by an increase in the toxicity of U.S. agriculture caused by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS One. The study found that American agriculture has become 48 times more toxic to insects over the past 25 years and pinned 92 percent of the toxicity increase on neonicotinoids, which were banned by the European Union last year due to the threat they pose to bees and other pollinators. Kendra Klein, Ph.D., study co-author and senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth, said the United States must follow Europe’s lead and ban the toxic pesticides before it is too late.


“It is alarming that U.S. agriculture has become so much more toxic to insect life in the past two decades,” Klein said in a statement. “We need to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides to protect bees and other insects that are critical to biodiversity and the farms that feed us.” “Congress must pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act to ban neonicotinoids,” Klein added. “In addition, we need to rapidly shift our food system away from dependence on harmful pesticides and toward organic farming methods that work with nature rather than against it.” According to National Geographic, neonics “are used on over 140 different agricultural crops in more than 120 countries. They attack the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis, and death.” With insect populations declining due to neonic use, “the numbers of insect-eating birds have plummeted in recent decades,” National Geographic reported. “There’s also been a widespread decline in nearly all bird species.”

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Amazon: ~2,700,000 sq mi (7,000,000 km2)

Contiguous US: ~3,100,000 sq mi (8,000,000 km2)

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 072019
 
 August 7, 2019  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora with bun 1937

 

The Future Of Britain Is In The Hands Of Unelected Svengali Cummings (Oborne)
No-Deal Brexiteers Are Winning Because They Want It More (Sky)
UK Too Desperate To Secure US Trade Deal – Larry Summers (G.)
Brexit: Michael Gove Accuses ‘Wrong And Sad’ EU Of Intransigence (G.)
Met Police Examine Vladimir Putin’s Role In Salisbury Attack (G.)
China State Banks Seen Supporting Yuan In Forwards Market (R.)
Forget China, The Fed Has A Much Bigger Problem On Its Hands (ZH)
Papua New Guinea Asks China To Refinance Its National Debt (G.)
Chinese Port Plans Put Pacific Back In Play (R.)
Pentagon Set to Prevent “Unacceptable” Turkish Invasion Of Northern Syria (ZH)
The Mainstream Media Wants the Mifsud Story to Just Go Away (ET)
Epstein’s Mysterious Manhattan Apartment Building On East 66th Street (BI)

 

 

Conservative journalist/editor Peter Oborne says the exact same thing I said a few days ago in A Tale of Two Cummings. Boris Johnson is just a figurehead.

Nigel Farage is complaining that the Tories want him and his Brexit party to step aside, but that’s Cummings and his polls that show Farage is too unpopular.

The Future Of Britain Is In The Hands Of Unelected Svengali Cummings (Oborne)

Cummings is no longer in the shadows, operating behind the scenes — this Svengali is out in the open. Indeed, he seems to relish being seen in public, striding ostentatiously into Downing Street every morning. Now, we are all familiar with his shaven head, scruffy T-shirts, crumpled appearance and contemptuous and appraising eyes, his newspapers and bundles of documents carried in a Vote Leave bag. According to some papers, and many ministers and civil servants I have spoken to recently, this is the man who is truly running Britain. It’s Cummings who oversees the No 10 grid which controls the timing of announcements and public events. It’s in this capacity that he dispatches the PM up and down Britain, photographed in hospitals, sharing selfies with nurses, and on construction sites wearing a hard hat.


It is also Cummings, not Johnson, who determines political strategy — hence the huge public spending announcements on health, extra police and other issues. Indeed, it looks very much as if Johnson has become the public face of Cummings. And this, I am afraid, is profoundly disturbing. No one ever voted for Cummings, he has little experience of life outside politicking yet he has been given unprecedented power at a moment of immense crisis in the national fortunes. Within hours of Johnson becoming Tory leader two weeks ago, newly anointed special adviser Cummings called ‘his’ staff together in the magnificent Downing Street first-floor state room. He told them that he plans to deliver Brexit ‘by any means necessary’.

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Quoting Michael Jordan: “Some people want it to happen. Some wish it to happen. Others make it happen.”

No-Deal Brexiteers Are Winning Because They Want It More (Sky)

Consider this: we now have a prime minister and a government, buttressed by a not inconsiderable rump of the Conservative party, who have made it clear that there is not a convention they are not willing to break, an institution they are not willing to smash, a precedent they are not willing to burn, in the pursuit of their goal. The PM and his coterie have said that they would prorogue parliament because it might stand in their way; that they are willing to schedule an election far in excess of the usual time limits because it would ensure our exit on the 31 October. In so doing they would therefore go against yet more precedent in pursuing a highly tendentious policy during an election period (where normally a caretaker administration would do little of controversy).


And now, we have news that the prime minister would squat in Number 10 after he loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons. He is even willing to do so, apparently, if the Commons coalesces around an alternative prime minister, despite the fact the Cabinet Manual (the closest we have to a constitution) makes it clear that this is quite unacceptable and that it would risk the neutrality of the Queen. All of this would be constitutional vandalism. Brexit then, “whatever the cost”, as Dominic Cummings has said. It is a nihilistic vision of politics and indeed, a most unusual one for self-described “Conservatives” but it is, relentless and clear-sighted. Indeed, its recklessness has imbued this administration with a strange purpose and energy.

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Larry craves attention.

UK Too Desperate To Secure US Trade Deal – Larry Summers (G.)

The former US treasury secretary Larry Summers has said he does not believe that a “desperate” UK would manage to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington, as Dominic Raab, the new foreign secretary, heads to the US to scope out the potential for such an agreement. Summers, who was a senior official under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said the UK was in a weak position when it came to negotiating with trade partners. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “Britain has no leverage, Britain is desperate … it needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that’s when you strike the hardest bargain.”


Despite warm words from Donald Trump about a trade deal, Summers said: “We have economic conflict with China and, even on top of that, the deterioration of the pound is going to further complicate the negotiating picture. “We will see it as giving Britain an artificial comparative advantage and make us think about the need to retaliate against Britain, not to welcome Britain with new trade agreements.” Even if the two countries could come to an agreement, Summers said, the UK was in a weak negotiating position. “Britain has much less to give than Europe as a whole did, therefore less reason for the United States to make concessions,” he said. “You make more concessions dealing with a wealthy man than you do dealing with a poor man.”

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The UK says the EU doesn’t want to talk, and vice versa. The demand to take the backstop out is a perfect dealbreaker. It can only lead to a no-deal Brexit. Re: Cummings.

Brexit: Michael Gove Accuses ‘Wrong And Sad’ EU Of Intransigence (G.)

Michael Gove has accused the European Union of intransigence over Brexit talks, calling it “wrong and sad”, as divisions between the UK and Brussels became further entrenched with the government seemingly intent on a no-deal departure. Gove, who is in charge of no-deal preparations, reiterated Boris Johnson’s position that the only route to progress would be the EU starting again with withdrawal negotiations, something Brussels has repeatedly and consistently ruled out. Adding to the impression of Johnson’s hardening position, newly released government read-outs of the prime minister’s phone calls with a series of EU leaders over recent days showed he delivered the same uncompromising message to them.

While the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, insisted on Tuesday that a no-deal departure was not inevitable, both he and the country’s finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, warned of a significant and long-term change to relations between the countries if it did happen. Downing Street has increasingly pushed the message that Brexit will happen on 31 October under any circumstances – even intimating that No 10 believes the mandate of the 2016 Brexit referendum would overrule even a blocking vote in parliament.

There is increasing worry among some MPs that Johnson could try to force through a no-deal Brexit against the will of the Commons, with his de facto chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, reportedly threatening No 10 staff with the sack if they dissent. The government’s official position is still that it is seeking a formalised departure, albeit only if Brussels ditches the Irish backstop border insurance policy and reopens the withdrawal agreement.

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And of course Britain is anxious to keep the Skripal narrative going. In reality, all it would take is to present the man.

Met Police Examine Vladimir Putin’s Role In Salisbury Attack (G.)

Scotland Yard has examined the role of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury, it has been revealed. Putin is assessed by UK intelligence agencies as having been “likely” to have approved of the attack in March 2018 on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer, and his daughter, both of whom were left seriously ill but survived. Dawn Sturgess later died after coming across a discarded perfume bottle used by two Russian intelligence agents to carry the military grade nerve agent. Two Russian agents have been charged over the attack, and Britain wants them extradited and has issued a European arrest warrant (EAW) and Interpol red notice for their detention.


The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK counter-terrorism policing, said the investigation into the attack was continuing. Basu said the issues involved in bringing charges over the attack were complex. “You’d have to prove he [Putin] was directly involved,” he said. “In order to get an EAW, you have to have a case capable of being charged in this country. We haven’t got a case capable of being charged. “We’re police officers, so we have to go for evidence. There has been a huge amount of speculation about who is responsible, who gave the orders, all based on people’s expert knowledge of Russia. I have to go with evidence.”

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“The movement in forward points may reflect a tightening in USD (dollar) liquidity..”

China State Banks Seen Supporting Yuan In Forwards Market (R.)

China’s state banks have been active in the onshore yuan forwards market this week, using swaps to tighten dollar supply and support the Chinese currency, four sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. The spot value of the yuan has fallen sharply this week against the dollar as tensions between China and the United States escalated and prompted fears that their trade war could shift into a currency war. The sources said banks had conducted significant amounts of buy-sell swaps in the onshore market on Tuesday. Buy-sell swaps help to reduce the supply of dollars that the market can access to short-sell the yuan. “Yesterday big banks were all selling one-year onshore forward swaps, then in the afternoon the spot dollar-yuan fell,” said a trader at a foreign bank in Shanghai.


One state bank also was seen active in offshore forward swaps, two traders at foreign banks with knowledge of the matter said. On Wednesday, one-year onshore dollar-yuan forwards were at 175 points, down from 321 points on Monday, according to Refinitiv data. One-year offshore dollar-yuan forwards were at 459 points, down from 640 points on Monday. “The movement in forward points may reflect a tightening in USD (dollar) liquidity when some market participants need to buy spot dollars and sell them back in forwards. Meanwhile, the spot and outright moves were also partly due to a stabilization in RMB (yuan) sentiment on Tuesday,” said Frances Cheung, head of macro strategy for Asia at Westpac in Singapore.

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Liquidity.

Forget China, The Fed Has A Much Bigger Problem On Its Hands (ZH)

The Fed may have launched its first easing cycle since 2007 and liquidity-sapping quantitative tightening may finally be over, but Powell may have a much bigger problem on his hands – one which has nothing to do with China, and everything to do with a dramatic drain of liquidity in the market over the next two months.

We first hinted at this last week when we noted that as part of the recently completed debt ceiling deal, instead of taking its time in replenishing the cash balance (green line in the chart below), the US Treasury will scramble to rebuild its cash balance up to $350 billion, from today’s level of $133 billion (gray line), a process which as we said last Wednesday will “significantly tighten up liquidity in the banking system and potentially result in turmoil in funding and money markets as the world is flooded with an issuance of T-Bills” as the Treasury seeks to fill the $217 billion cash hole, which will lead to a substantial liquidity withdrawal from the broader financial system as shown in the following Nordea chart.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that traditionally such a rapid liquidity withdrawal leads to weaker risk appetite, a far stronger USD and lower treasury yields, while widening the LIBOR/OIS spread and further depressing the already negative EURUSD cross-currency basis. While we cautioned about all this last week (even before the FOMC announcement), it appears that our appreciation of just how severe this problem may be for the Fed and capital markets was overly optimistic, because according to a new analysis by Bank of America’s Mark Cabana, the Fed may have no choice but to resume Quantitative Easing and start expanding its balance sheet again – potentially as early as 4Q – in order to ease funding pressures expected during the coming wave of Treasury supply.

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Debt denominated in dollars by any chance?

Papua New Guinea Asks China To Refinance Its National Debt (G.)

Papua New Guinea has asked China to refinance its entire government debt in a blow to Australia’s attempts to counter China’s influence in the region. The request marks a “significant shift” in regional politics and PNG’s allegiances, according to Pacific experts. Australia has traditionally been the largest aid donor and most important ally of PNG, but in recent years ties between China and PNG have strengthened. PNG’s prime minister, James Marape, visited Australia two weeks ago at the invitation of his counterpart, Scott Morrison, in his first international visit since becoming the Pacific nation’s leader at the end of May.

In a speech during his visit, Marape said he wanted PNG to move away from an “aid-donor” relationship with Australia within 10 years, and step up alongside its neighbour as a leader in the Pacific region. However, on Tuesday, after a meeting with Xue Bing, the Chinese ambassador in Port Moresby, Marape requested that China refinance its debts of A$11.8bn (27bn kina, or US$7.95bn). PNG’s debt sits at around 32.8% of its GDP. “[The prime minister] requested the ambassador to inform Beijing on a bid to assist the government of PNG refinance its existing country’s K27bn debt,” said Marape’s office in a statement seen by the Guardian.

“He suggested that both the Bank of PNG and [China’s] People’s Bank will take the lead with the department of treasury in ensuring that consultations are under way,” the statement continued. “It suggest a significant shift in the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea and Papua New Guinea and China,” says Matthew Clarke, professor of international development at Deakin University. “In the past Australia would have been the natural country to turn to for this sort of refinancing, but now we see China’s place in the region shift and it becomes potentially a much more dominant player in the donor relationship.”

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“The United States, and allies including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, are actively expanding their diplomatic postings in the Pacific to counter China’s influence..”

Chinese Port Plans Put Pacific Back In Play (R.)

Early in the morning, before sunrise, low tide on the Samoan island of Savai’i reveals the remnants of an old American airstrip, washed away by decades of erosion, cyclones and tsunamis. The World War II site in Asau, which also hosts a 1960s-era concrete wharf in its well-protected natural harbor, is being considered for a new port to be developed by China, according to the Samoan government and the area’s highest ranking chief, Masoe Serota Tufaga. The proposed construction of a facility that could be turned into a military asset in hostile times has worried the United States and its regional allies, which have dominated international influence in the vast waters of the South Pacific since 1945.

Sitting at his coconut and cocoa plantation on the hills above the port site, Tufaga told Reuters he would abide by any government deal for a Chinese-developed port even though he was concerned about Beijing’s growing influence. “The government and China came here to look at it – they offered it,” said 71-year-old Tufaga, who has the final say over land-use agreements affecting Asau. “If China wants to operate this, it’s too hard for us to say to the government, no, we can not allow China here. The people are looking for some jobs. “That’s right – it’s money. It’s money.”

The United States, and allies including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, are actively expanding their diplomatic postings in the Pacific to counter China’s influence, and warning island nations that Beijing-funded projects needed to make financial sense. China is using “predatory economics” to destabilize the Indo-Pacific and the United States is working with its partners to address the region’s pressing security needs, U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in Sydney on Sunday.

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Erdogan bluff. I hope.

Pentagon Set to Prevent “Unacceptable” Turkish Invasion Of Northern Syria (ZH)

Turkey has for days been poised to unilaterally invade northern Syria over US objections, which Ankara officials say is to establish a 32 kilometer (20 mile) zone inside the war torn country, giving Turkey complete control of a region where the Syrian Kurdish YPG operates (People’s Protection Units). Turkey has long considered the US-backed group, which forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to be a terrorist extension of the outlawed PKK. The Pentagon has condemned the impending Turkish unilateral move, with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper telling reporters early Tuesday that it would be unacceptable and thwarted by Washington, though it’s unclear how far the Pentagon would be willing to go.

“What we’re going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests that the United States, Turkey and the SDF share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper said. Crucially, according to ABC News, US officials “have made clear that an invasion is an extremely risky venture that could threaten the safety of U.S. forces working with the SDF…”. On Sunday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his forces would launch an operation in Syria east of the Euphrates River at an unspecified start date, and noted that the US and Russia had been notified. In ongoing negotiations this summer the US and Turkey have clashed over just such a “safe zone,” given Turkey wants the area completely clear of Kurdish armed groups, which the Pentagon simultaneously backs.

Turkish defense officials have lately threatened their “patience is limited” as the army builds up its forces along the border. The Foreign Ministry on Friday warned, “We won’t let this process be dragged out. If our expectations aren’t met, we are fully capable of taking whatever measures [are needed] to ensure our national security.”

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If Mifsud is an FBI asset, there are zero Russians left in the story.

The Mainstream Media Wants the Mifsud Story to Just Go Away (ET)

John Solomon of The Hill is reporting that an audiotape containing professor Joseph Mifsud’s deposition has been given to both U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigators and to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I can report absolutely that the Durham investigators have now obtained an audiotape deposition of Joseph Mifsud, where he describes his work, why he targeted George Papadopoulos, who directed him to do that, what directions he was given, and why he set that entire process of introducing Papadopoulos to Russia in motion in March of 2016, which is really the flashpoint the starting point of this whole Russia collusion narrative,” Solomon told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

“I can also confirm that the Senate Judiciary Committee has also obtained the same deposition,” he said. Mifsud, who I have written about extensively in previous columns, is the key that turns the lock to the lid of this Pandora’s box that we refer to as “Spygate.” So I’m wondering why Solomon appears to be the only mainstream reporter pursuing this Mifsud story. I suspect it’s because many DNC Media outlets, after having fallen deeply and passionately in love with the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, are reluctant to call attention to something that would be the final nail in its coffin. The last thing the mainstream media wants right now would be for Mifsud to go on the record with both Durham’s investigative team and with Congress to say he was working for the FBI and was only pretending to be a Russian agent.

If Mifsud was an FBI asset sent to entrap Papadopoulos, then there are no real Russian agents anywhere in this entire Trump-Russia collusion story. Ponder what that means for a minute. You can’t save the Russian collusion narrative, if you can’t find any real Russians anywhere in the story. The FBI under James Comey will then be seen as having engaged in an operation to entrap people, and “Russian agents” turn out to be fakes working for the FBI and who were making fake offers of Russian help to the Trump campaign.

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But nobody knew a thing.

Epstein’s Mysterious Manhattan Apartment Building On East 66th Street (BI)

Before his extended stay in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center began in July, disgraced sex offender Jeffrey Epstein dwelled in some of the city’s most exclusive real estate, laying his head in a palatial Upper East Side townhouse and conducting his mysterious business out of a landmarked mansion on Madison Avenue. But it hasn’t been all private islands and 7,000-acre ranches for the half-billionaire. For decades Epstein has run some of his operations quietly out of a squat Second Avenue residential building owned by his brother, Mark Epstein, and frequently visited by the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. According to property records and court filings, Jeffrey Epstein has long housed girlfriends, associates, employees, and businesses in a handful of units at 301 East 66th St.

There are 200 units at the address, and the majority of them are owned on paper by his brother’s development firm, Ossa Properties. While Ossa nominally owns the units connected to Jeffrey Epstein, the aforementioned records and filings show that Epstein effectively controls them. The postwar white-brick high-rise sits atop a nail salon, a coffee shop, and an Italian restaurant along a traffic-choked stretch of Second Avenue. Topped by a green canopy, the front door opens to a doorman guarding a hallway that leads to a light-filled lobby decorated with two couches and an armchair. Though the building shares a ZIP code with Epstein’s townhouse, its share of the neighborhood east of Park Avenue is less upscale, catering more to families and young professionals than foreign heads of state.

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Aug 042019
 


Julie Edgley Immature white tailed eagle.

 

An Economy Based on Plunder (PCR)
Economics Is A Failing Discipline Doing Great Harm (Simms)
Joe Biden To Millennials: Stop Complaining (HPo)
Dominic Cummings: UK Lawmakers Can’t Stop No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Justice Dept Bill Comes Due For Russiagate Costs (RT)
Celebrities, Royals, Politicians Fear Release Of Jeffrey Epstein Files (Tel.)
California Scrubs Controversial Kamala Harris-Era Arrest Reports
America’s Elites: Fractured and At Odds with Each Other (Crooke)
We Must Change Food Production To Save The World (G.)
The Sea Eagle Has Landed – Centuries After It Disappeared (G.)

 

 

Two mass shootings in the US, Iran seizes another tanker and police in France and Hogn Kong chase protesters. Must be Sunday.

Well, yes, it’s been about plunder for as long as our ‘civilization’ exists. We prefer to use other terms, that’s all.

An Economy Based on Plunder (PCR)

Capitalists have claimed responsibility for America’s past economic success. Let’s begin by setting the record straight. American success had little to do with capitalism. This is not to say that the US would have had more success with something like Soviet central planning. Prior to 1900 when the frontier was closed, America’s success was a multi-century long success based on the plunder of a pristine environment and abundant natural resources. Individuals and companies were capitalized simply by occupying the land and using the resources present. As the population grew and resources were depleted, the per capita resource endowment declined.

America got a second wind from World War I, which devastated European powers and permitted the emergence of the US as a budding world power. World War II finished off Europe and put economic and financial supremacy in Washington’s hands. The US dollar seized the world reserve currency role from the British pound, enabling the US to pay its bills by printing money. The world currency role of the dollar, more than nuclear weapons, has been the source of American power. Russia has equal or greater nuclear weapons power, but it is the dollar not the ruble that is the currency in which international payments are settled. The world currency role made the US the financial hegemon.

This power together with the IMF and World Bank enabled the US to plunder foreign resources the way vanishing American resources had been plundered. We can conclude that plunder of natural resources and the ability to externalize much of the cost have been major contributors right through the present day to the success of American capitalism. [..] Essentially, capitalism is a plunder mechanism that generates short-run profits by externalizing long-run costs. It exhausts natural resources, including air, land, and water, for temporary profits while imposing most of its costs, such as pollution, on the environment.

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And economics is designed to justify the plunder.

Economics Is A Failing Discipline Doing Great Harm (Simms)

[..] neoclassical economics has so deeply entrenched the notion that markets are better than all other ways of organising life, that decisions escape rational scrutiny. Academic economists will tell you that their discipline offers a far more complex picture of the world. But, at the policy level, what tilts a spending decision one way or the other is the simple power of the seeming “folk wisdom” that markets are best. It becomes the rule of thumb. They might look less good if the assumptions on which the equilibrium models that got us here were more widely known. The idea of perfect markets under perfect competition, for example, asks us to believe in a world where everybody knows everything, there are an infinite number of companies, no barriers to setting up a business, where any product can stand in for any other (say, a banana for a tractor) and, crucially, there are no “externalities” (economic speak for “consequences”) from production or consumption.


All models use a few simplifying assumptions, but those underpinning mainstream economics more often distort and detach from reality. It’s one of the reasons why students have rebelled, forming groups to demand that universities take a more pluralistic approach to teaching economics. Katie Kedward left a banking job in the City for ethical reasons and sought a degree that would make sense of economics. Despairing at the unreality of mainstream courses, she found a rare exception: a master’s in ecological economics at the University of Leeds. The course, though, isn’t even taught in the economics department but the School of Earth and Environment. That’s why new groups are emerging to promote heterodox economics, which draws on the insights of the study of complexity, neuro and behavioural science, ecology, feminism and the core economy of family, mutualism and community.

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Yeah, don’t just sit there, do something instead. Like seize Joe’s wealth.

Joe Biden To Millennials: Stop Complaining (HPo)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a message for the millennial generation: Stop complaining if you aren’t going to engage with politics. The 2020 Democratic presidential contender stood by the skepticism he expressed last year when asked about young adults’ belief that they face outsize hurdles to secure housing and pay off debt. “I have no empathy for it. Give me a break,” Biden said in January 2018. Asked to explain what he meant, Biden began talking about his personal experience growing up with “very modest means” and how he felt upon learning about a study that found relatively few young people today would consider running for political office.

“We have an obligation to get engaged,” Biden said at Saturday’s AFSCME forum, co-moderated by HuffPost. “You all have an obligation to get engaged.” “Don’t tell me how bad it is. Change it. Change it. Change it,” he said. He added: “My generation did it.” = Biden drew some criticism the first time he went after millennials, more than a year before he announced his candidacy. Conservative New York Times opinion writer and climate denier Bret Stephens later sided with Biden in a column criticizing the millennial generation, which Stephens said specializes in “histrionic self-pity and moral self-righteousness.”

As HuffPost’s Michael Hobbes reported in 2017, there is a large amount of research and data that paints a bleak financial future for young people, many of whom are already reporting that they’re finding themselves priced out of the housing market. Although Biden has consistently polled highest among the wide field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, his supporters skew older and more moderate. At the forum, he went on to say, “I just don’t want people telling me on a college campus, ‘Oh, woe is me, I’ve got it so bad.’ … Come on.”

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Checkmate?

Dominic Cummings: UK Lawmakers Can’t Stop No-Deal Brexit (R.)

Lawmakers will be unable to stop a no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31 by bringing down Britain’s government in a vote of no confidence next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide has advised, according to the Sunday Telegraph. Dominic Cummings, one of architects of the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union, told ministers that Johnson could schedule a general election after the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if he loses a vote of no confidence in parliament, the newspaper said, citing sources. Johnson has promised to lead Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal but has a working majority of just one after his Conservative Party lost a parliamentary seat on Friday.


Some of his lawmakers have hinted they would vote against him to prevent a no-deal Brexit — a rising prospect that has sent the pound tumbling to 30-month lows against the dollar over the last few days. Lawmakers are unable to table a motion of no confidence before next month because the House of Commons is in recess until Sept. 3. “(Lawmakers) don’t realise that if there is a no-confidence vote in September or October, we’ll call an election for after the 31st and leave anyway,” Cummings was quoted by one of the Sunday Telegraph’s sources as saying. Johnson has said he would prefer to the leave the EU with a deal but has rejected the Irish backstop — an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland — which the EU says is key to any agreement.

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“..the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.”

Justice Dept Bill Comes Due For Russiagate Costs (RT)

Nearly two years of fruitlessly hunting for collusion between US President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government cost the country $31.7 million, the Justice Department has revealed. The cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month probe was released in a Justice Department accounting report on Friday. While the last six months of the investigation, which concluded in May with Mueller’s resignation, cost “only” $6.5 million as he began sending prosecutors home and writing up the 448-page report, turning the full force of the country’s investigative apparatus against a president and his campaign isn’t cheap. From May 2017 to September 2018, the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.

Some $2.4 million of the last phase’s expenses would have been spent anyway on Department salaries, according to the report, but the itemized breakdown provides an interesting window into the bureaucratic swamp that produced the pricey nothingburger. “Transportation of Things” may have cost just $229, but Justice Department employees billed the government for $235,812 to work out of the special counsel’s office instead of their own offices (filed under “Travel and Transportation of Persons”). While the special counsel investigation infamously turned up no proof of the promised Russian collusion, that did not stop Trump’s political opponents from attempting to reframe the expensive endeavor as a victory – based on the handful of process crimes levied against Trump associates – or a “roadmap to impeachment,” since Mueller did not explicitly say Trump should not be prosecuted and outlined 10 potential scenarios of obstruction of justice.

Adding insult to injury, several key “facts” in the report have already been proven wrong or misleading, such as the identity of Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller described as having links to Russian intelligence but who was actually a US State Department asset. And last month, a federal judge found that Mueller had utterly failed to prove that the company running the “troll farm” that supposedly committed “sweeping and systematic” interference in US elections on behalf of the Russian government had any government connections at all.

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Who’s powerful enough to remain hidden?

Celebrities, Royals, Politicians Fear Release Of Jeffrey Epstein Files (Tel.)

In Room 270, the records management unit, on the second floor of an imposing granite and marble courthouse in lower Manhattan, 167 documents totaling more than 2,000 pages are being kept under lock and key. But they are about to be unsealed and made public – making a host of important people around the world, including celebrities, politicians and royals, very nervous. The files contain explosive allegations in the case of Giuffre v Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, a woman who claims to have been Jeffrey Epstein’s teenage “sex slave”, sued Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and the billionaire’s former girlfriend, for defamation.

The case was settled in May 2017 on the eve of the trial but the details were not disclosed and the final judgment and supporting documents were sealed, with the court noting the “highly sensitive nature of the underlying allegations.” According to other court documents that have been published, Ms Giuffre has made allegations of sexual abuse against “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well known Prime Minister, and other world leaders.” An appeal to unseal the rest of the documents was launched by the Miami Herald newspaper, which has spearheaded media investigations into Epstein. It was rejected three times. But last month the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered their release, ruling that the public’s right to know outweighed the privacy rights of the high-profile individuals named.

It what may be an indication of the fame of those individuals, the judges made a striking plea to the media to “exercise restraint” in reporting the allegations about to come to light. They also allowed parties involved to apply for minor redactions, delaying the release. Another delay is possible as Miss Maxwell has launched an appeal to keep the documents sealed, her lawyers arguing that a full release would trigger a “furious feeding frenzy.” They wrote: “Plaintiff Giuffre made numerous allegations of sexual, if not criminal, conduct against a wide range of third parties. Because of the media no reference to anyone in this case is benign: a reference to any person is toxic and lethal to that person’s reputation. Facts and truth are all but irrelevant.”


Prince Andrew, Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2001

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Have you no shame?

California Scrubs Controversial Kamala Harris-Era Arrest Reports (ZH)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has scrubbed arrest records from Sen. Kamala Harris’s controversial tenure as the state’s top law enforcement official, according to the Washington Free Beacon. The purge was conducted during a ‘routine website redesign,’ removing public access to several key incarceration reports. Twice a year, the CDCR releases information about the number of new individuals incarcerated in the California prison system as part of its “Offender Data Points” series. These reports provide important information on demographics, sentence length, offense type, and other figures relevant to criminal justice and incarceration.

Until recently, these reports were publicly available at the CDCR’s website. A search using archive.org’s Wayback Machine reveals that as of April 25, 2019—the most recent indexed date—ODP reports were available dating back to the spring of 2009. As of August 2019, the same web page now serves only a single ODP report, the one for Spring 2019. The pre-2019 reports have been removed. -Washington Free Beacon During the Democratic debates on Wednesday night, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) excoriated Harris’s record as California Attorney General, rattling off a laundry list of ‘inconvenient’ facts – such as the 1,500-plus Californians Harris sent to prison for marijuana-related offenses, blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until forced to do so by the courts, and using prison inmates as cheap labor. Harris did not refute any of Gabbard’s statements.

The now-scrubbed records were used by the Free Beacon in prior reporting – “specifically the finding that more than 120,000 black and Latino Californians were sent to prison while she was in the State A.G.’s office.” A CDCR employee claims that the changes have nothing to do with Harris’s campaign, and were instead prompted by California law AB 434 which ‘sets standards for web accessibility.’

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Reeks too much of fear-mongering to me. Alastair Crooke can theorize all he wants.

America’s Elites: Fractured and At Odds with Each Other (Crooke)

Something is ‘up’. When two Financial Times columnists – pillars of the western Establishment – raise a warning flag, we must take note: Martin Wolf was first off, with a piece dramatically headlined: The looming 100-year, US-China Conflict. No ‘mere’ trade war, he implied, but a full-spectrum struggle. Then his FT colleague Edward Luce, pointed out that Wolf’s “argument is more nuanced than the headline. Having spent part of this week among leading policymakers and thinkers at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado,” Luce writes, “I am inclined to think Martin was not exaggerating. The speed with which US political leaders of all stripes have united behind the idea of a ‘new cold war’ is something that takes my breath away. Eighteen months ago the phrase was dismissed as fringe scaremongering. Today it is consensus.”

A significant shift is underway in US policy circles, it seems. Luce’s final ‘take’ is that “it is very hard to see what, or who, is going to prevent this great power rivalry from dominating the 21st century”. It is clear that there is indeed now a clear bi-partisan consensus in the US on China. Luce is surely right. But that is far from being the end of it. A collective psychology of belligerence seems to be taking shape, and, as one commentator noted, it has become not just a great-power rivalry, but a rivalry amongst ‘Beltway’ policy wonks to show “who has the bigger dick”.

And quick to demonstrate this, at Aspen (after others had unveiled their masculinity on China and Iran), was the US envoy for Syria (and deputy US National Security Adviser), James Jeffrey: A US policy boiled down to one overriding component: ‘hammering Russia’. “Hammering Russia” (he insisted repeatedly), will continue until President Putin understands there is no military solution in Syria (he said with heightened verbal emphasis). Russia falsely assumes that Assad has ‘won’ war: “He hasn’t”, Jeffrey said. And the US is committed to demonstrating this fundamental ‘truth’.

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We must change it to preserve our own mental health.

We Must Change Food Production To Save The World (G.)

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week. A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground. In future these problems are likely to get worse. “Climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action,” the report states. It is a bleak analysis of the dangers ahead and comes when rising greenhouse gas emissions have made news after triggering a range of severe meteorological events.

[..] The new IPCC report emphasises that land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes; meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced. Among the measures put forward by the report is the proposal of a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

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First since 1780.

The Sea Eagle Has Landed – Centuries After It Disappeared (G.)

Sea eagles have returned to the Isle of Wight 239 years after they were last seen there. Six chicks brought from Scotland were taken to the island last month as part of a programme to reintroduce the birds to England’s south coast. Also known as white-tailed eagles, the birds will be released into the wild in the next few weeks. Over the next five years 60 young sea eagles – which grow to have a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres (8ft) and are Britain’s largest bird of prey – will be released on the island in a programme approved by Nature England. It is hoped the birds will begin breeding there by 2024.


“Sea eagles were once a common sight in England and southern Europe but were lost centuries ago,” said Roy Dennis, who has pioneered the reintroduction of the birds to Britain. “This project aims to reverse that situation by restoring them to their ancestral nesting places.” Dennis added that the last pair of sea eagles in England bred on Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780. A spokesperson for Forestry England said the new chicks had been doing well since their arrival and that once their health had been checked they would be released into the wild at several different locations in the next few weeks.


White tailed eagle. Photo:Arturo de Frias Marques

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Assange: The persecution

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 262019
 


Edward Hopper Sailing 1911

 

It’s a development that has long been evident in continental Europe, and that has now arrived on the shores of the US and UK. It is the somewhat slow but very certain dissolution of long-existing political parties, organizations and groups. That’s what I was seeing during the Robert Mueller clown horror show on Wednesday.

Mueller was not just the Democratic Party’s last hope, he was their identity. He was the anti-Trump. Well, he no longer is, he is not fit to play that role anymore. And there is nobody to take it over who is not going to be highly contested by at least some parts of the party. In other words: it’s falling apart.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a natural process, parties change as conditions do and if they don’t do it fast enough they disappear. Look at the candidates the Dems have. Can anyone imagine the party, post-Mueller, uniting behind Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris? And then for one of them to beat Donald Trump in 2020?

I was just watching a little clip from Sean Hannity, doing what Trump did last week, which is going after the Squad. Who he said are anti-Israel socialists and, most importantly, the de facto leaders of the party, not Nancy Pelosi. That is a follow-up consequence of Mueller’s tragic defeat, the right can now go on the chase. The Squad is the face of the Dems because Trump and Hannity have made them that.

The upcoming Horowitz and Durham reports on their respective probes into “meddling into the meddling” will target many people in the Democratic Party, US intelligence services, and the media. In that order. Can the Dems survive such a thing? It’s hard to see.

 

There’s Bernie and the Squad, the declared socialists, who will never be accepted as leaders by a party so evidently predicated upon support for the arms industry. And they in turn can’t credibly support candidates who do. The Democratic Party will never be socialist, they will have to leave the label behind in order to share that message and remain believable.

But without them, what will be left? Joe Biden, or perhaps Hillary silently waiting in the wings? I don’t see it. Not after Mueller, not after two-three years of gambling all on red anti-Trump. At least the Squad have an identity, got to give them that. Whether it will sell in 2019 America is another thing altogether.

I personally think the term socialist is too tainted, on top of being too misinterpreted, for it to be “electable”, but I also understand there are large swaths of the US population who are in dire straits already with a recession on the horizon, but 2020 seems too soon. And I would ditch the term regardless. It’s like painting a target on your back for Trump and Hannity to aim at.

If you remember the 2016 campaign and the clown parade on stage with the likes of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush glaring at the headlights, you know that the GOP has issues that are very similar to those of the Dems. But Trump came along.

The Dems have no Trump. They do have a DNC that will stifle any candidate they don’t like (Bernie!), though. Just think what they would have done if Trump had run as a Democrat (crazy, but not that crazy).

 

The UK’s issues are remarkably similar to those of the US. Only, in their case, the socialists have already taken over the left-wing party (if you can call the Dems left-wing). This has led to absolute stagnation. Tony Blair had moved Labour so far to the right (which he and his Blairites call center, because it sounds so much better), that injecting Jeremy Corbyn as leader was just too fast and furious.

So they labeled Corbyn an anti-semite, the most successful and equally empty smear campaign since Julian Assange was called a rapist. Corbyn never adequately responded, so he couldn’t profile himself and now the Blairites are again calling on him to leave. Oh, and he never gave a direct answer to the question of Brexit yes or no either. Pity. Corbyn’s support among the people is massive, but not in the party.

Which is why it’s now up to Boris Johnson to ‘deliver the will of the people’. And apparently the first thing the people want is 20,000 more policemen. Which were fired by the very party he at the time represented first as first mayor of London and then foreign minister, for goodness sake. His very own Tories closed 600 police stations since 2010 and will have to re-open many now.

Some survey must have told him it polled well. Just like polling was an essential part of pushing through Brexit. There’s a very revealing TV movie that came out 6 months ago called Brexit: The Uncivil War, that makes this very clear. The extent to which campaigns these days rely on data gathering and voter targeting will take a while yet to be understood, but they’re a future that is already here. Wikipedia in its description of the film puts it quite well:

 

After the opening credits, [Dominic] Cummings rejects an offer in 2015 by UKIP MP Douglas Carswell and political strategist Matthew Elliott to lead the Vote Leave campaign due to his contempt for “Westminister politics”, but accepts when Carswell promises Cummings full control.

The next sequences show Cummings outlining the core strategy on a whiteboard of narrow disciplined messaging delivered via algorithmic database-driven micro-targeting tools. Cummings rejects an approach by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks of Leave.EU to merge their campaigns, as his data shows Farage is an obstacle to winning an overall majority.

[..] In a eureka moment, Cummings refines the core message to “Take Back Control”, thus positioning Vote Leave as the historical status quo, and Remain as the “change” option. Cummings meets and hires Canadian Zack Massingham, co-founder of AggregateIQ, who offers to build a database using social media tools of [3 million] voters who are not on the UK electoral register but are inclined to vote to leave.

[..] In the final stages, high-profile senior Tory MPs Michael Gove and Boris Johnson join the Vote Leave campaign emphasising the need to “Take Back Control”, while Penny Mordaunt is shown on BBC raising concerns over the accession of Turkey. Gove and Johnson are shown as having some reticence over specific Vote Leave claims (e.g. £350 million for NHS, and 70 million potential Turkish emigrants) but are seen to overcome them.

 

Dominic Cummings, played in the movie by Benedict Cumberbatch, is an independent political adviser who belongs to no party. But guess what? He was the first adviser Boris Johnson hired after his nomination Wednesday. Cummings didn’t want Nigel Farage as the face of Brexit, because he polled poorly. He wanted Boris, because his numbers were better. Not because he didn’t think Boris was a bumbling fool, he did.

And now Cummings is back to finish the job. Far as I can see, that can only mean one thing: elections, and soon (it’s what Cummings does). A no-deal Brexit was voted down, in the same Parliament Boris Johnson now faces, 3 times, or was it 4? There is going to be a lot of opposition. Boris wants Brexit on October 31, and has practically bet his career on it. But there is going to be a lot of opposition.

He can’t have elections before September, because of the summer recess. So perhaps end of September?! But he has Dominic Cummings and his “algorithmic database-driven micro-targeting tools”. Without which Brexit would never have been voted in. So if you don’t want Brexit, you better come prepared.

Cummings and his techies weren’t -just- sending out mass mails or that kind of stuff. That’s already arcane. They were sending targeted personalized messages to individual voters, by the millions. Algorithms. AI. Tailor made. If you’re the opposition, and you don’t have those tools, then what do you have exactly?

Already thought before it all happened that it was funny that Boris Johnson’s ascension and Robert Mueller’s downfall were scheduled for the same day. There must be a pattern somewhere.

You can find the movie at HBO or Channel 4, I’m sure. Try this link for Channel 4. Seeing that movie, and thinking about the implications of the technology, the whole notion of Russian meddling becomes arcane as well. We just have no idea.