Nov 222018
 
 November 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Study of the Head and Clasped Hands of a Young Man as Christ in Prayer 1655

 

Mortgage Rates Slide May Be Too Late For The Housing Market (MW)
A $9 Trillion Corporate Debt Bomb Is ‘Bubbling’ In The US Economy (CNBC)
Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)
May In Brussels Dash As Merkel Threatens To Pull The Plug On Brexit Summit (G.)
Salvini Ready To ‘Confront EU’ After Italy’s Budget Rejected Again (G.)
Facebook Admits Targeting George Soros After He Criticized Company (MW)
House GOP To Hold Hearing Into DOJ Probe Of Clinton Foundation (Hill)
Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)
Tyres And Synthetic Clothes ‘Biggest Causes Of Microplastic Pollution’ (G.)
Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange (Timm)

 

 

Despite Fed rate hikes, mortgage rates fall. An ominous sign. Maybe we should even say: mortgage rates fall because of Fed rate hikes. Is the pond getting smaller, or are there fewer fish?

Mortgage Rates Slide May Be Too Late For The Housing Market (MW)

Rates for home loans tumbled as turmoil rocked global financial markets, but any reprieve in rates may come too late for would-be home buyers or refinancers. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.81% in the November 21 week, down 13 basis points, mortgage liquidity provider Freddie Mac said Wednesday. That’s the biggest weekly decline since January 2015 and the lowest level for the popular product since early October. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.24%, down 12 basis points during the week. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 4.09%, down from 4.15%. Those rates don’t include fees associated with obtaining mortgage loans.

Fixed-rate mortgages follow the U.S. 10-year Treasury note, although with a slight delay. As a global stock sell-off has raged over the past week, bonds have been the best house in a bad neighborhood. The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond touched a six-week low Monday. Bond yields decline as prices rise, and vice versa. Meanwhile, this week has brought a raft of fresh information on the housing market, little of it cheery. Sales of already-owned homes perked up in October, but are still lower than the year-ago selling pace by more than 5%. Home builders broke ground on more — but not enough — homes. And one fresh data point bears watching: mortgage applications for newly-constructed houses are plunging, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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Forgive me for presuming there are several such debt bombs.

A $9 Trillion Corporate Debt Bomb Is ‘Bubbling’ In The US Economy (CNBC)

At first glance, it looks like a $9 trillion time bomb is ready to detonate, a corporate debt load that has escalated thanks to easy borrowing terms and a seemingly endless thirst from investors. On Wall Street, though, hopes are fairly high that it’s a manageable problem, at least for the next year or two. The resolution is critical for financial markets under fire. Stocks are floundering, credit spreads are blowing out and concern is building that a combination of higher interest rates on all that debt will begin to weigh meaningfully on corporate profit margins. “There is angst in the marketplace. It’s not misplaced at all,” said Michael Temple, director of credit research at asset manager Amundi Pioneer.

“But are we at that moment where this thing blows sky high? I would think that we’re not there yet. That’s not to say that we don’t get there at some point over the next 12 to 18 months as rates continue to move higher.” [..] Over the past decade, companies have taken advantage of low rates both to grow their businesses and reward shareholders. Total corporate debt has swelled from nearly $4.9 trillion in 2007 as the Great Recession was just starting to break out to nearly $9.1 trillion halfway through 2018, quietly surging 86 percent, according to Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association data. Other than a few hiccups and some fairly substantial turbulence in the energy sector in late-2015 and 2016, the market has performed well.

In fact, Fitch Ratings forecasts bond defaults for 2019 at the lowest since 2013, with leveraged loans at the lowest since 2011. Such high debt levels are “certainly something to take notice of,” said Eric Rosenthal, Fitch’s senior director of U.S. leveraged finance. “In terms of the systemic risk, at the moment it’s not there.” One reason markets worry about debt is that there’s not as much cash around to cover it. The cash-to-debt ratio for corporate borrowers fell to 12 percent in 2017, the lowest ever.

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It’s starting to feel like a siege.

Multiple Risks Are Converging on Markets (Rickards)

Warnings of economic collapse are no longer confined to the fringes of economic analysis but are now coming from major financial institutions and prominent economists, academics and wealth managers. Leading financial elites have been warning of coming collapses and dangers. These warnings range from the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, the Bank for International Settlements and many other highly regarded sources. Just when we think we’ve seen enough of these, another one arrives. This time it’s the legendary Paul Tudor Jones, who manages Tudor Investment. I’ve met Jones; he’s a cerebral yet polite and mild-mannered manager from Tennessee who has not lost his Southern accent despite decades in Connecticut and an estate on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

What gives Jones’ voice added authority is his longevity in the fund investment world. He’s managed through the 1987 stock crash, the 1994 Mexican crisis, the 1998 Long Term Capital meltdown, the 2000 dot-com crash and, of course, the 2008 financial panic. Jones knows that panics happen, but he also knows they don’t happen all the time. Panics take years to build and usually have specific triggers (even though endpoints can spin wildly out of control). Jones does not treat the possibility of a financial crisis lightly, so his warning deserves close consideration. Jones warns that the next crisis is likely to be triggered by excessive debt, specifically corporate debt, which can be more difficult to manage or bail out than sovereign debt.

At the same time, other gurus are warning that the next panic will emerge from the foreign exchange market, overvalued equities or commercial real estate. Perhaps the real message is that all of these areas are vulnerable and the next crisis will seem to come from everywhere at once. That’s the danger. We’re looking at another debt crisis and global financial panic. Only this time it won’t come from mortgages alone but from all directions at once.

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The original headline talked of 24 hours.

May In Brussels Dash As Merkel Threatens To Pull The Plug On Brexit Summit (G.)

Theresa May is to make an emergency dash to Brussels on Saturday to complete the Brexit negotiations after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, threatened to pull the plug on the Sunday leaders’ summit. As she emerged from talks in Brussels lasting nearly two hours with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the British prime minister admitted that there were some major issues to resolve. Merkel had let it be known through her diplomats in Brussels that she was unwilling to negotiate with May on Sunday at the extraordinary Brexit summit. She had demanded a finalised agreement to emerge in good time before the leaders’ meeting.

The development threatened to disrupt Downing Street’s plans for agreement among leaders this month in time for a meaningful vote in parliament in early December. After meeting the European commission president on Wednesday, May said: “We have had a very good meeting this evening. We have made further progress and as a result, we have given sufficient direction to our negotiators. “I hope for them to be able to resolve the remaining issues and that work will start immediately. I now plan to return for further meetings, including with President Junker, on Saturday to discuss how we can bring to a conclusion this process and bring it to a conclusion in the interests of all our people.”

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Salvini and Di Maio said again this morning that they won’t change a letter in their budget.

Salvini Ready To ‘Confront EU’ After Italy’s Budget Rejected Again (G.)

Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has said he is prepared to confront EU leaders after the European commission rejected his country’s draft 2019 budget for a second time, while calling on them to “respect the Italian people”. Italy is facing sanctions after the commission said in a report that the government of the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement had seriously violated fiscal rules. Both parties’ leaders have refused to succumb to pressure to change their deficit target of 2.4% of GDP as they endeavour to push through campaign promises, such as introducing a universal basic income, cutting taxes and lowering the retirement age.

Italy has about €2.3tn (£2tn) of public debt and the Bank of Italy warned this month that the cost of servicing the debt could rise to €5bn in 2019 and €9bn in 2020. The government is convinced that the budget would help the Italian economy grow by 1.5% over the next year. However, the economy stagnated in the third quarter. On Wednesday Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, revised down its growth forecast for the year to 1.1%; in May it predicted 1.4% for 2018. Salvini, who leads the League, responded sarcastically to news of the commission’s report. “A letter from the EU? I’m also waiting for one from Father Christmas,” he told reporters.

Referring to the commission president and economics commissioner, Salvini said he was ready to “confront [Jean-Claude] Juncker, [Pierre] Moscovici or whoever” over a budget he said responded to the needs of Italians.

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But Zuckerberg and Sandberg plead innocent.

Facebook Admits Targeting George Soros After He Criticized Company (MW)

Facebook Inc. admitted Wednesday that it asked an opposition-research company to investigate billionaire George Soros over his criticism of the social network. In an internal memo released publicly late Wednesday, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s outgoing head of communications and policy, said he was responsible for hiring the company, Definers Public Affairs, to investigate who was behind the “Freedom From Facebook” campaign. “In January 2018, investor and philanthropist George Soros attacked Facebook in a speech at Davos, calling us a ‘menace to society,’” Schrage wrote in the memo. “We had not heard such criticism from him before and wanted to determine if he had any financial motivation. Definers researched this using public information.

“Later, when the ‘Freedom from Facebook’ campaign emerged as a so-called grassroots coalition, the team asked Definers to help understand the groups behind them. They learned that George Soros was funding several of the coalition members. They prepared documents and distributed these to the press to show that this was not simply a spontaneous grassroots movement.” Definers later distributed a document suggesting Soros, a major donor to liberal causes, bankrolled the anti-Facebook campaign, playing into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Soros. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have denied knowledge of the Definers efforts until after it was revealed by a New York Times report last week. Facebook has since cut ties with Definers.

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A long running but secretive investigation, running concurrently with Mueller’s.

House GOP To Hold Hearing Into DOJ Probe Of Clinton Foundation (Hill)

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that House Republicans plan to hear testimony on Dec. 5 from the prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to probe alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation. [..] Meadows, who is also the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the committee plans to delve into a number of Republicans concerns surrounding the foundation, including whether any tax-exempt proceeds were used for personal gain and whether the foundation complied with IRS laws. Sessions appointed Huber last year to work in tandem with the Justice Department to look into conservative claims of misconduct at the FBI and review several issues surrounding the Clintons.

This includes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ties to a Russian nuclear agency and concerns about the Clinton Foundation. Huber’s work has remained shrouded in mystery. The White House has released little information about Huber’s assignment other than Sessions’s address to Congress saying his appointed successor should address concerns raised by Republicans. But Meadows said the committee thinks it’s time Huber gives an update to Congress about his findings and expects him to be one of the witnesses at the hearing. Meadows also added that his committee is also trying to secure testimonies from whistleblowers who could have more information about potential improprieties surrounding the Clinton Foundation. “We’re just now starting to work with a couple of whistleblowers that would indicate that there is a great probability of significant improper activity that’s happening in and around the Clinton Foundation,” he said.

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They must have thought for quite a while that there would never be any scrutiny.

Clinton Foundation Donations Plummet 90% (ZH)

The Clinton Foundation saw contributions dry up approximately 90% over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017, according to financial statements. The global charity is currently under investigation by the DOJ, FBI and IRS for a variety of allegations – including whether favors were handed out while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, also known as “pay for play.” The Clinton-led State Department authorized $151 billion in Pentagon-brokered deals to 16 countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation – a 145% increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration, according to IBTimes.

2014

2017

“American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012.” -IBTimes. Then there was that $1 million check Qatar reportedly gave Bill Clinton for his birthday in 2012, which the charity confirmed it accepted. Coincidentally, we’re sure, Qatar was one of the countries which gained State Department clearance to buy US weapons while Clinton was Secretary of State, “even as the department signaled them out ofr a range of alleged ills,” according to IBTimes.

Then there was the surely unrelated $145 million donated to the Foundation from parties linked to the Uranium One deal prior to its approval through a rubber-stamp committee. “The committee almost never met, and when it deliberated it was usually at a fairly low bureaucratic level,” Richard Perle said. Perle, who has worked for the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations added, “I think it’s a bit of a joke.” –CBS. Meanwhile, according to a November 2016 report by the Dallas Observer, the Clinton Foundation has been under investigation by the IRS since July, 2016, while the Arkansas FBI field office has been investigating allegations of pay-for-play and tax code violations, according to The Hill.

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Like that fleece sweater?

Tyres And Synthetic Clothes ‘Biggest Causes Of Microplastic Pollution’ (G.)

Vehicle tyres and synthetic clothing are the two leading contributors to microplastic pollution from UK households, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth. The report estimates that between 9,000 and 32,000 tonnes of microplastic pollution enter British waterways each year from just four sources. The two leading sources are tyre abrasion, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters each year, and clothing. In the UK an estimated two-thirds of clothing is made from synthetic plastic material, according to analysts from Eunomia, who wrote the report for FoE.

Up to 2,900 tonnes of microplastics from the washing of synthetic clothing such as fleeces could be passing through wastewater treatment into our rivers and estuaries. The scale of plastic pollution from household plastics is of the same magnitude as that from large plastic waste such as bottles and takeaway containers – about 26,000 tonnes of which enters UK waterways each year. The environmental campaign group is calling on the government’s resources and waste strategy – expected next month – to include measures for tackling microplastics as part of a comprehensive action plan. The four key contributors to microplastic pollution in the oceans from UK sources, according to the report, are:

• Vehicle tyres: 68,000 tonnes of microplastics from tyre tread abrasion are generated in the UK every year, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters;

• Clothing: the washing of synthetic clothing could result in the generation of 2,300-5,900 tonnes of fibres annually in the UK – up to 2,900 tonnes of this could be passing through wastewater treatment into our rivers and estuaries;

• Plastic pellets used to manufacture plastic items. Up to 5,900 tonnes are lost to surface waters in the UK every year;

• Paints on buildings and road markings – weather and flake-off results in between 1,400 and 3,700 tonnes ending up in surface water every year.

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There’s a disturbing trend emerging that people are fully blind to. In this piece, and I’ve seen it a lot more recently, the topic is the 1st amendment. To make their well-meaning arguments, writers then pose questions like “What if Assange DID get his info from Russia?” or “What if Assange really DOES hate America?” The response of course is that this would make no difference as far as the 1st amendment is concerned.

But in the meantime the possibility that Assange is indeed a Russian agent who hates all Americans has been introduced into the narrative. That makes these articles effectively part of the smear campaign. There is no indication that either allegation is true, but they are posited by those ostensibly defending him. They don’t help. Or rather, they help smear.

Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange (Timm)

I recently spoke to James Goodale, the famed First Amendment lawyer and former general counsel the New York Times, who led the paper’s legal team in the famed Pentagon Papers case about the dire impact the Justice Department’s move may have on press freedom, regardless of whether people consider Assange himself a “journalist”.

There’s speculation on what Assange could be charged with. There’s a possibility that he could be outright charged under the Espionage Act for the act of publishing classified information. Then there’s the “conspiracy theory” that Assange was engaged in a conspiracy with his sources by asking them or soliciting more information from them that the sources may have gathered illegally. Do you find that type of charge would be just as dangerous as a charge for publishing information?

I do find that that charge would be just as dangerous. As a matter of fact, a charge against Assange for “conspiring” with a source is the most dangerous charge that I can think of with respect to the First Amendment in almost all my years representing media organizations. The reason is that one who is gathering/writing/distributing the news, as the law stands now, is free and clear under the First Amendment. If the government is able to say a person who is exempt under the First Amendment then loses that exemption because that person has “conspired” with a source who is subject to the Espionage Act or other law, then the government has succeeded in applying the standard to all news-gathering.

That will mean that the press ability to get newsworthy classified information from government sources will be severely curtailed, because every story that is based on leaked info will theoretically be subject to legal action by the government. It will be up to the person with the information to prove that they got it without violating the Espionage Act. This would be, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the First Amendment-almost ever.

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May 102018
 
 May 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Road in Tahiti 1891

 

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)
Argentina Looks To Be Headed For Another Economic Storm (CNBC)
At Last, A Reason To Celebrate: House Prices Are Falling (G.)
RBS Reaches $4.9 Billion Deal To Settle US Mortgage Bond Probe (R.)
The Deep State First (Stockman)
Turkey Detains Dozens Of Air Force Personnel Over Gulen Links (R.)
Did Putin Green-Light Tonight’s Massive Israeli Strikes On Syria? (ZH)
Trump Welcomes Home Three Americans Released By North Korea (G.)
Democrats’ Lead Is Slipping In Generic Ballot Poll (Hill)
Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?
Bullshit Jobs: Why They Exist And Why You Might Have One (Vox)

 

 

“..over half of all personal income taxes will be required just to service the national debt.”

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)

In 2009, the year President Obama took office, the national debt held by the public was $7.27 trillion. At the end of fiscal 2016, that had soared to approximately $14 trillion. Given that our marketable debt doubled from 2009 to 2016, it’s remarkable that the annual cost of the interest on the debt rose far less, from $185 billion to $223 billion. The long march of rising rates that began recently is a dramatic reversal after nearly 40-years of declining interest rates. The new trend portends a return to more historic rates. You may be asking: what are the historic rates? We calculate that the average rate paid on the federal debt over the last 30 years was close to 5%. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just raised its estimate that debt held by the public will rise to $17.8 trillion in 2020.

Some economists believe that the figure will be much higher. For our exercise though, let’s stick with the CBO estimate. We are postulating that the interest rate on our national debt may return to the long-term, 30-year average of 5%. Note, too, that Treasury debt rolls over every 3 to 4 years so the maturing bonds at low interest rates will be refinanced at the then current higher rates. Let’s do the math together. Take the CBO estimate of debt held by the public of $17.8 trillion in 2020, a 5% average interest on that amount comes to annual debt service of $891 billion, an unfathomable amount. (In 2017, interest on the debt held by the public was $458.5 billion, itself a scary number.)

In its current report, the CBO added: “It also reflects significant growth in interest costs, which are projected to grow more quickly than any other major component of the budget.” Here’s the danger: • According to CBO, individual income taxes produced $1.6 trillion in revenue in fiscal year 2017. • Under this 2020 scenario, over half of all personal income taxes will be required just to service the national debt. • Annual debt service in 2020 will exceed our newly increased defense budget of $700 billion in FY 2018. • Annual debt service would exceed our Social Security obligations.

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[The IMF] “..admitted shortly after the intervention that its support to keep the peso’s peg against the dollar prolonged the crisis in the country.”

Argentina Looks To Be Headed For Another Economic Storm (CNBC)

Argentina has started talks with the IMF seeking financial rescue once again, as inflation soars and the currency sinks. Buenos Aires looks to be going through another economic nightmare, with prices rising rapidly while the Argentine peso drops. The central bank announced last week another increase in rates to 40% — as the 12-month inflation rate hit 25.4%, above its 15% target. At the same time, since the start of the year, the peso is down by more than 20% against the U.S. dollar. [..] Asking for help from the Fund is a contentious issue for the country. Back in 2001, Argentina defaulted on $132 billion of foreign debt. The Washington-based institution, which was helping the country at the time, admitted shortly after the intervention that its support to keep the peso’s peg against the dollar prolonged the crisis in the country.

Following Macri’s announcement Tuesday, several people protested against a new IMF intervention, still traumatized by the economic collapse at the start of the century, Reuters reported. “The IMF has a terrible reputation among Argentinians, and so this is a big political gamble for the government,” Fiona Mackie, regional director for Latin America at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via email. “At present, though, (the government) clearly sees the need to regain the confidence of markets as more pressing, and is hoping that its program of adjustment gets back on track in time for the presidential election late next year,” she added.

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“The Germans are right. Ever-rising house prices are a curse. They are bad for social mobility. They are bad for young people. And they are bad for the economy. ”

At Last, A Reason To Celebrate: House Prices Are Falling (G.)

The housing market is dead. Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax, says that prices fell in April by 3.1%, the biggest monthly drop in almost eight years. Newspapers bury this disastrous news way back in their editions for fear that it will spread gloom and despondency. We need to wean ourselves off this way of thinking. Falling house prices are not disastrous, and only in a country with such a perverted relationship with bricks and mortar could they be seen as such. In Germany, they scratch their heads in bemusement when they hear Britons boast of how the value of their house has soared. The Germans are right. Ever-rising house prices are a curse. They are bad for social mobility. They are bad for young people. And they are bad for the economy.

The billions that are spent pushing up property prices could be more productively invested elsewhere. Imagine for a second that the next time you went to the train station the rail operating company had unexpectedly cut fares by 5%. Or that when doing your weekly shop you discovered that the supermarket had slashed your normal bill by £10. Would you think this was an unwelcome development? Daft question. Of course you would be happy, because your money would go further. Conversely, you would be less than chuffed to find more of your pay being spent on getting to work or putting food on the table. That’s why there are no headlines in the papers screaming “Boom-boom Britain: joy for commuters as rail fares rise by 10% for third year in a row”, or “Good news for families as supermarkets add £10 a week to the average shop”.

The papers stand up for their readers when they think they are being gouged by train companies and supermarkets. They stick up for buyers rather than sellers. But different rules apply to property. If the average house price had risen rather than fallen by £7,000 in April, that would have been front-page news and hailed as a sign that all was well with the economy. The papers tend to side with owner-occupiers rather than the buyers of property getting the rough end of the deal. This fetishisation of rising house prices is relatively recent. For the first 25 years after the second world war, a combination of mass housebuilding and strict controls on credit meant that the cost of property rose only modestly.

But since 1970, financial deregulation, much lower levels of housebuilding and a tax system heavily weighted in favour of owner-occupation have meant demand for housing in parts of the country has tended to outstrip supply. There have been four big house-price booms – the early 1970s, the late 80s, the mid 00s and the mid 10s. None of them have ended well.

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No criminal charges.

RBS Reaches $4.9 Billion Deal To Settle US Mortgage Bond Probe (R.)

The British state-backed bank said that $3.46 billion of the proposed civil settlement will be covered by existing provisions and the bank will take a $1.44 billion incremental charge in 2018’s second quarter to cover the rest. The accord would resolve a major issue that has weighed on the company’s share price and complicated the UK government’s plan to sell down its more than 70 percent stake in the bank. RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan called the deal a “milestone.” “Removing the uncertainty over the scale of this settlement means that the investment case for this bank is much clearer,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, which led the probe, confirmed it had reached an agreement in principle with RBS that would resolve potential civil claims related to mortgage-backed securities that were issued from 2005 to 2008. “Further details remain to be negotiated, however, before a formal agreement can be reached,” the office said. The implosion of markets for risky residential mortgage-backed securities and related derivatives contributed to the 2008 global financial crisis and prompted a series of investigations by authorities including the Justice Department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts had also been conducting a criminal investigation into RBS and former employees who were involved in structuring and selling the securities.

But the settlement that RBS and the office disclosed on Thursday was only civil in nature, signaling no criminal charges were likely to result. RBS previously agreed in July 2017 to pay $5.5 billion to resolve a lawsuit by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming it misled the U.S. mortgage giants into buying mortgage-backed securities. It resolved similar claims by the National Credit Union Administration related to mortgage-backed securities RBS sold to credit unions that later failed for $1.1 billion in 2016.

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“The mere threat of a military attack from the White House is madness because it arises from blatant lies that have absolutely nothing to do with US national security..”

The Deep State First (Stockman)

At his so-called Cabinet meeting this morning, the Donald basically threatened Iran with annihilation if it does what 15 other signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) do every day: Namely, increase production of industrial grade nuclear fuel (3.5%-5.0% purity) at its enrichment plant at Natanz—which, in any event, is crawling with IAEA inspectors. Moreover, it really doesn’t matter whether Trump was play-acting in the style of Art of the Deal or that the JPAOC could be improved. The mere threat of a military attack from the White House is madness because it arises from blatant lies that have absolutely nothing to do with US national security. Nor, for that matter, the security of any other country in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The real purpose of the Donald’s missile-rattling is nothing more than helping Bibi Netanyahu keep his coalition of right wing religious and settler parties (Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu and the Jewish Home) together, thereby maintaining his slim 61-vote majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu’s malefic political glue is the utterly false claim that Iran is an “existential threat” to Israel because it is hell-bent on getting the bomb. But that’s where the whopper comes in. It amounts to the ridiculous postulate that Iran is so fiendishly evil that if it is involved in the nuclear fuel cycle in any way, shape or form – presumably even just operating a uranium mine – it is only a matter of months before it will have a bomb.

As a matter of record, of course, Netanyahu has been saying this since the early 1990s and he has always been wrong because there were never any facts or logic to support his blatant fear-mongering.

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Madman,

Turkey Detains Dozens Of Air Force Personnel Over Gulen Links (R.)

Turkish police detained 65 suspects on Thursday in an operation targeting air force personnel accused of links to the U.S.-based preacher whom Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency said. Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for a total 96 people, of which 91 were from the air force, and police were still seeking the remaining suspects in an operation focused on the western city of Izmir and spread across 15 provinces, it said. The suspects were said to have ties to the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network is accused of being behind the failed putsch in July 2016, during which 250 people were killed. Gulen has denied involvement.

In a separate operation, an Ankara prosecutor on Thursday issued detention warrants for 93 employees of a private tutoring center that was previously closed down on suspicion of links to Gulen’s network, Anadolu said. Turkish authorities have detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since the failed military intervention, the U.N. human rights office said in March. Among those detained, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail during their trials.

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Hmmm…

Did Putin Green-Light Tonight’s Massive Israeli Strikes On Syria? (ZH)

Just off a 10-hour visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and less than a day after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he doesn’t expect Russia to act against Israeli forces as they continue exchanging fire with Syria. It appears the meeting wrapped up at the very moments a major escalation began along the Golan Heights, with both Syria and Israel trading blame for an initial attack which quickly escalated into Israeli cruise missile launches and shelling on targets in southern Syria and notably, on Damascus itself. The question remains, did Putin give Netanyahu the green light for tonight’s events?

If it wasn’t clear over the past weeks and months of unprovoked Israeli strikes on Syria—ostensibly to roll back Iranian troop presence—then it should be very clear by now that Syria, Israel, and Iran are now in a state of war and all signs point to a continued intensification of the conflict. And crucially, there’s currently no sign that Russia came to the aid of its close ally as rockets rained down on Damascus overnight. Russia has routinely looked the other way while Israel has conducted, by its own admission, over one hundred major strikes on Syria—most of which have come after Russian intervention on behalf of Assad in 2015. As Reuters reported late in the day Wednesday, Netanyahu told reporters just before departing Moscow: “Given what is happening in Syria at this very moment, there is a need to ensure the continuation of military coordination between the Russian military and the Israel Defence Forces.”

The Russians and Israelis coordinate their actions through a direct military hotline intended to avoid accidental clashes which could lead to escalation between the two countries. A reportedly “upbeat” Netanyahu further said, “”In previous meetings, given statements that were putatively attributed to – or were made by – the Russian side, it was meant to have limited our freedom of action or harm other interests and that didn’t happen, and I have no basis to think that this time will be different.” Thus it appears Israel may have been given a green light by Putin to engage targets in Syria, however, at this point it is unclear what limitations or restrictions Putin may have issued, if any at all.

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Victory.

Trump Welcomes Home Three Americans Released By North Korea (G.)

Three Americans released by North Korea have landed in the US under cover of darkness, with Donald Trump waiting on the tarmac to greet their plane. The three men emerged from a US government plane, flashing peace signs high above their heads. A huge US flag hung between two fire trucks served as a backdrop against the night sky. “I want to thank Kim Jong-un,” Trump said. “I think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.” “We didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did. It was very important to all of us,” he said, referring to the prisoner release. “The true honour will be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.” The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, flew to Pyongyang for a surprise one-day visit on Wednesday, when he met the North Korean leader and secured the release of the three men.

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What do Democrats stand for?

Democrats’ Lead Is Slipping In Generic Ballot Poll (Hill)

The lead held by Democrats over Republicans on generic ballot polls ahead of the 2018 midterm elections is beginning to slip, a new CNN poll suggests. Overall, 31% of respondents in a poll released Wednesday told CNN that they believe the country would be better off with Democrats in control of Congress, while 30% said Republicans should hold the reins. However, the largest proportion of respondents, at 34%, said it makes no difference to them who is in charge. Among registered voters asked whether they would vote Democratic or Republican in their congressional district if the elections were held today, Democrats had a three-point advantage, at 44% to 41%, which is within the poll’s margin of error.

Democrats have seen a steady decline in their advantage over Republicans in recent months, according to CNN polling, falling from a 16-point advantage in February to a 6-point one in March, to just a 3-point lead this week, roughly six months away from the midterm elections. An ABC News/Washington Post poll similarly found last month that Democrats’ lead over Republicans among registered voters was only 4 points, at 47% to 43%, down from a 12-point lead the poll found Democrats held in January. Democrats still have an edge in enthusiasm, according to CNN. Among respondents who said they are excited to vote in November, more plan to vote Democratic than Republican, at 53% to 41%.

But enthusiasm does seem to be growing among GOP voters. According to the CNN poll, 44% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting, which is a jump from 36% in March. [..] President Trump’s own job approval has increased recently, with his approval rating at 41% in the CNN poll and his approval over his handling of the economy at 52%.

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On Polanyi.

Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?

In a sweeping, angry new book, “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” (Norton), the journalist, editor, and Brandeis professor Robert Kuttner champions Polanyi as a neglected prophet. Like Polanyi, he believes that free markets can be crueller than citizens will tolerate, inflicting a distress that he thinks is making us newly vulnerable to the fascist solution. In Kuttner’s description, however, today’s political impasse is different from that of the nineteen-thirties. It is being caused not by a stalemate between leftist governments and a reactionary business sector but by leftists in government who have reneged on their principles.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Kuttner contends, America’s Democrats, Britain’s Labour Party, and many of Europe’s social democrats have consistently tacked rightward, relinquishing concern for ordinary workers and embracing the power of markets; they have sided with corporations and investors so many times that, by now, workers no longer feel represented by them. When strongmen arrived promising jobs and a shared sense of purpose, working-class voters were ready for the message.

[..] Polanyi starts “The Great Transformation” by giving capitalism its due. For all but eighteen months of the century prior to the First World War, he writes, a web of international trade and investment kept peace among Europe’s great powers. Money crossed borders easily, thanks to the gold standard, a promise by each nation’s central bank to sell gold at a fixed price in its own currency. This both harmonized trade between countries and stabilized relative currency values. If a nation started to sell more goods than it bought, gold streamed in, expanding the money supply, heating up the economy, and raising prices high enough to discourage foreign buyers—at which point, in a correction so smooth it almost seemed natural, exports sank back down to pre-boom levels.

The trouble was that the system could be gratuitously cruel. If a country went into a recession or its currency weakened, the only remedy was to attract foreign money by forcing prices down, cutting government spending, or raising interest rates—which, in effect, meant throwing people out of work. “No private suffering, no restriction of sovereignty, was deemed too great a sacrifice for the recovery of monetary integrity,” Polanyi wrote. The system was sustainable politically only as long as those whose lives it ruined didn’t have a say. But, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the right to vote spread. In the twenties and thirties, governments began trying to protect citizens’ jobs from shifts in international prices by raising tariffs, so that, in the system’s final years, it hardened national borders instead of opening them, and engendered what Polanyi called a “new crustacean type of nation,” which turned away from international trade, making first one world war, and then another, inevitable.

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More Graeber. Most jobs are bullshit.

Bullshit Jobs: Why They Exist And Why You Might Have One (Vox)

Corporate lawyers. Most corporate lawyers secretly believe that if there were no longer any corporate lawyers, the world would probably be a better place. The same is true of public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful. A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all. And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence.

But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off. [..] We’re all taught that people want something for nothing, which makes it easy to shame poor people and denigrate the welfare system, because everyone is lazy at heart and just wants to mooch off other people. But the truth is that a lot of people are being handed a lot of money to do nothing. This is true for most of these middle-management positions I’m talking about, and the people doing these jobs are completely unhappy because they know their work is bullshit. I think most people really do want to believe that they’re contributing to the world in some way, and if you deny that to them, they go crazy or become quietly miserable.

[..] You expect this outcome with a Soviet-style system, where you have to have full employment so you make up jobs whether a need exists or not. But this shouldn’t happen in a free market system. I think one of the reasons is there’s huge political pressure to create jobs coming from all directions. We accept the idea that rich people are job creators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do something useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what. We’ve created a whole class of flunkies that essentially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the perspective of the executive class.

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