I was following the numbers all afternoon, because I knew this was going to be the day that the US would become the no. 1. The no. 1 loser, that is. Here’s some of what I wrote in the Automatic Earth Comments section as we went along:
500,000 global cases was at noon EDT. 3.5 hours later there were another 20,000. [..] At 12.38 pm the US was 6,300 cases behind China. That is now 1,200.
God’s Own Country will take the definite no. 1 position sometime this afternoon, and then run away with it. The US has many fewer fatalities so far, but there, too, it will come out on top.
All this is why America pronounced Nicolas Maduro a drug trafficker and narco-terrorist today.
The US took the topspot at about 3pm. That done and achieved, I realize I’ve been so busy lately documenting the spread of the coronavirus and -some of- its consequences that the next steps in the demise, though clearly visible, risk going unnoticed.
But then I saw that the US is charging Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with drug trafficking (narco-terrorism?!), and I was wide awake again. Why does the US, on the verge of becoming the worst hit “corona country”, charge him now, of all possible times, when they could have done it any given day for the past 7 years? Well, exactly because of the corona threat.
And I don’t think this is Trump; he may take a political hit, but he only has to do better than Joe Biden, and anybody could do that. This smells much more like some deep state thing, Mike Pompeo and his crew.
In their phone alerts, CNN had a few real howlers as the day went by.
“Health officials say the peak is yet to come”
“Stocks see third day of gains”
Meanwhile, it took them hours to clue into the fact that the US had become the no. 1. But it’s that second point that warrants scrutiny. In the expectation and the “fulfillment” of the $6 trillion “stimulus” package, stocks managed to rise. Yay! But that no. 1 position won’t leave any of that standing. No sirree.
The US is no longer capable of formulating and negotiating adequate legislation even in times of real crisis. And it’s not that it’s GOP against Dems, and one would do everything so much better than the other. It’s one set of special interests against another, and in the end both win. And there is no escape left from that.
I said earlier about the stimulus that such a package in the US today is possible only provided that the rich get 1000 times what the poor get. That’s the only way to get those $1,500 checks to people who actually need them. For every such check a million bucks goes to the rich and powerful.
And if only they were also 1000 times more likely to catch the coronavirus, at least we would have a sense of justice. But no such luck.
What the stimulus will really end up doing is it will expose the Fed. You can talk about unlimited QE all you want, but talk enough and it will lose all meaning. I’ve long said that there are no markets left because there is no price discovery, and lately I’ve seen many people saying exactly that, just much later.
The stimulus really only serves to take even more price discovery away, if that was still possible. And that’s it. The rich will be handed hundreds of billions with nowhere to go. The losses in the stock “markets” lately have been staggering, trillions were lost. But then you look at a graph and you think holy sh*t, there’s so much more to go, so much more downside before we get to anything resembling normal. This was two weeks ago:
Markets as they -used to- exist under capitalism can be an awesome instrument, because there is such a multitude of participants. However, when you start trying to control the “markets” because sometimes they fall a little and you don’t like that, you unleash formidable forces that are also part of that instrument. Like so many natural phenomena, they will tend towards a balance, and you can’t stop that. Not for long.
The process that looks like it may end soon started under Alan Greenspan and the housing bubbles he blew, and the seeds of the demise were sown right then and there. Now that $6 trillion has been thrown at the wall that won’t stick, what is next?
The Fed policies (and I include most other central banks under that moniker) worked for a while because the QE’s and the ultra low rates supported banks and other enterprises that were essentially zombies. They also “zombified” many other companies that might have been able to survive without them. Look at Boeing.
Look at Apple. They look like a great company but what are their shares worth? Nobody knows, because they bought back too many of them to make price discovery viable. So at least part of Apple looks great only because of trickery, not because of great products. Steve Jobs is turning in his grave as we speak.
And now the zombies may be killed off by a virus. Just not if the Fed can help it. But if America runs away with that top spot hard enough, if tens of thousands of new cases become a daily occurrence (we’re at 17,000 so far today), and the first ten thousand fatalities are counted, the country will be locked down and the “markets” will fall off a cliff.
Unless, and that what I’m starting to fear may happen, the powers that be see no other choice than to close the “markets”. That will mean the entire financial system is on the brink of collapse. It would be announced as temporary, but the damage would be done. Everything would turn into one giant margin call, banks would be forced to close, the works, a real depression.
Let’s hope that none of this happens, but the signs are not favorable. America appears much less prepared for a pandemic than even Lombardy was, with too little or too late of everything, ventilators, masks, protective clothing, medicine, you name it. You can’t run an economy in a setting like that.
But at least you’ll be rid of the zombies. It’s a shame, really, that there is no virus that kills only zombies, that so much else must be destroyed with them. The thing is, we did have these instruments to kill zombies, they were called central banks. Should have used them when we had the chance.
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In the waning days of the Obama administration, the U.S. intelligence community produced a report saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had tried to swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump. The January 2017 report, called an Intelligence Community Assessment, followed months of leaks to the media that had falsely suggested illicit ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while also revealing that such contacts were the subject of a federal investigation. Its release cast a pall of suspicion over Trump just days before he took office, setting the tone for the unfounded allegations of conspiracy and treason that have engulfed his first term.
The ICA’s blockbuster finding was presented to the public as the consensus view of the nation’s intelligence community. As events have unfolded, however, it now seems apparent that the report was largely the work of one agency, the CIA, and overseen by one man, then-Director John Brennan, who closely directed its drafting and publication with a small group of hand-picked analysts.
Nearly three years later, as the public awaits answers from two Justice Department inquiries into the Trump-Russia probe’s origins, and as impeachment hearings catalyzed by a Brennan-hired anti-Trump CIA analyst unfold in Congress, it is clear that Brennan’s role in propagating the collusion narrative went far beyond his work on the ICA. A close review of facts that have slowly come to light reveals that he was a central architect and promoter of the conspiracy theory from its inception.
For now, it comes down to this: the US State Department is at war with the White House. State’s allies in the Democratic majority congress want to help overthrow the occupant of the White House because he’s interfering in the department’s foreign policy. The lifers at State are the same ones who executed a coup in 2014 against Ukraine’s government and threw out the elected president Victor Yanukovych because he tilted to join a Russian-backed regional customs union rather than NATO. State’s diplomatic lifers are old hands at coups. Now they’re at it at home, right here in the USA.
Ever since the Maidan Revolution of 2014, they have worked sedulously to exert control over Ukrainian affairs. And they especially can’t stand that the recently elected president Zelensky declared that he wants to improve his country’s relationship with next-door-neighbor (and ex-sovereign) Russia. The occupant of the White House, Mr. Trump, had often expressed a similar interest to improve the USA’s relations with Russia. State would prefer to amp up a new cold war. Mr. Trump has some nerve interfering with that!
The lifers at State also have something to hide: their exertions to connive with Ukraine government officials they controlled to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election in favor of their former boss, Mrs. Clinton. The current impeachment spectacle is an attempt to pitch a smokescreen over that embarrassing mess, which includes the CIA’s and FBI’s efforts to blame Russia for their own illegal interventions in the 2016 election — the heart of the three-year impeachment narrative. The Joe-and-Hunter Biden affair is the left anterior descending artery in that heart.
The current testimony in the House Intel Committee raises another question. Whose back-channel diplomats are legitimate in US foreign policy: Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolf Giuliani, or State’s own boy, billionaire freelance international political adventurer George Soros? The president dispatched Mr. Giuliani to Ukraine because he didn’t trust the State lifers to get to the bottom of the mischief emanating from Kiev during the 2016 election, in which State lifers played an active role, along with Mr. Soros and his agents — in particular an outfit called the AntiCorruption Action Center, jointly funded by Mr. Soros and State (i.e. US taxpayers).
The facts are clear, confirmed by our witness, Ambassador Yovanovitch: defensive lethal aid was provided to Ukraine not by the Obama Administration, but by the Trump Administration. pic.twitter.com/QBOSFg1pMV
WaPo reported on it last night: “Several Democrats have stopped using the term “quid pro quo,” instead describing “bribery” as a more direct summation of Trump’s alleged conduct. The shift came after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted focus groups in key House battlegrounds in recent weeks, testing messages related to impeachment. Among the questions put to participants was whether “quid pro quo,” “extortion” or “bribery” was a more compelling description of Trump’s conduct. According to two people familiar with the results, which circulated among Democrats this week, the focus groups found “bribery” to be most damning. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the results have not been made public.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a House Intelligence Committee member, kicked off the effort to retire “quid pro quo” from the Democratic vocabulary during a Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he said “it’s probably best not to use Latin words” to explain Trump’s actions.”
It makes me laugh to think of Dems needing a focus group to explain to them that “bribery,” a concept even kindergarteners grasp as wrong, is a bit more effective than “quid pro quo” when trying to turn public opinion against the president. That’s so elementary that I assumed they switched to bribery in their messaging for legal reasons, because it’s an impeachable offense specified in the Constitution. No more hiding by the GOP behind the vagueness of the term “high crimes and misdemeanors”! Pelosi was about to put them on the spot: This is bribery, son. It’s right there in black and white in Article II. If the facts are there, you must vote to remove.
But no, turns out she and Schiff needed a group of average joes to officially confirm that bribe sounds worse than some Latin term known mainly to lawyers. I’m surprised Trump hasn’t highlighted the focus-grouping on Twitter yet. Not only does it underline that impeachment is a political process, being run by people who stand to gain electorally by investigating him, but it leaves Democrats open to the claim that they’re not just tweaking the terminology based on public opinion, they’re tweaking the actual charges. If the facts, which haven’t changed materially since this started, told a straightforward story of bribery all along then why was the less definitive “abuse of power” cited until recently as the core claim against POTUS?
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to drop $100 million on anti-Trump ads in key swing states during the 2020 election. The digital ad campaign will focus on Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and will run starting Friday through the end of the primary season, according to multiple news reports. The ads will not feature Bloomberg himself. “Mike believes that Trump is an existential threat to the country,” Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter told CNN. “He’s not waiting to take on the President, he’s starting now. This is all hands on deck.”
The announcement of the ad campaign comes as Bloomberg takes steps to plunge into the crowded 2020 Democratic primary field, a move that could potentially upheave the party’s presidential nominating contest. The former mayor filed paperwork to appear in the Alabama and Arkansas primaries, but did not file paperwork for the crucial New Hampshire primary by the Friday deadline. The $100 million investment could serve as a counterbalance to President Trump’s gargantuan war chest – the president and the Republican National Committee combined to raise $308 million so far this year, and started November with $156 million in cash reserves.
Former President Obama cautioned the crowded Democratic 2020 primary field from moving too far to the left, saying voters could be turned off by messages calling for massive societal and government transformations. “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality,” Obama said at a meeting of fundraisers, according to The New York Times, which was in attendance at the event. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.” The former president cited health care and immigration as issues where certain proposals from 2020 contenders, none of whom he mentioned by name, may be beyond the pale for many voters.
His comments could be implied as critiques of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who have called for a “political revolution” and “big structural change,” introducing policies that would eliminate private health insurance and place a moratorium on deportations. Obama, who is still widely liked among the Democratic Party faithful, recognized that 2020 candidates would have to move beyond his White House’s platforms, but that there could be a limit to how far left the contenders’ plans could go. “I don’t think we should be deluded into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven’t heard a bold enough proposal and if they hear something as bold as possible then immediately that’s going to activate them,” he said.
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump tweeted. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.” “They call it ‘serving at the pleasure of the President,'” Trump continued. “The U.S. now has a very strong and powerful foreign policy, much different than proceeding administrations. It is called, quite simply, America First!” Trump also noted that he’s done far more for Ukraine than his predecessor than Obama.
This triggered Adam Schiff. “What we saw today is it wasn’t enough that Ambassador Yovanovitch was smeared. It wasn’t enough she was attacked. It wasn’t enough that she was recalled for no reason, at least no good reason. But we saw today witness intimidation in real-time by the president of United States,” Schiff said. “Once again going after this dedicated and respected career public servant in an effort to not only chilled her but to chill others who may come forward. We take this kind of witness intimidation and obstruction of the inquiry very seriously,” he added. Really? First of all, Yovanovitch wouldn’t even had known about the tweet until after her testimony had Schiff not posted the tweets in the first place, but regardless, where’s the intimidation? I can’t see any. If Schiff was taking this seriously, he wouldn’t be lobbing absurd charges for the purpose of piling on more ridiculous charges against Trump hoping something will stick.
But what really gets me is how it’s been almost seven years since Barack Obama left one of his ambassadors to die in a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate, and the same people who defended the Obama administration endlessly over that, are feigning outrage over Trump’s tweet expressing his opinion. Democrats have been crying “impeach!” over everything for years, and now every time Trump expresses an opinion, we’re hearing “intimidation.” The same party that defended the Obama administration’s failure to protect our consulate in Libya from an attack that claimed four American lives, including that of a U.S. ambassador, are now trying to tell us that we should be outraged over a harmless tweet—a tweet that, regardless of what one thinks of the content, was written after Yovanovitch started testifying, and as far as Trump knew, she wouldn’t have even had an opportunity to see until well after her testimony concluded? A tweet that she’d have been oblivious to had Schiff not brought it up.
Indeed, Ukraine has never been a NATO ally or a “critical ally.” Three decades ago, George H.W. Bush implored Ukraine not to set out on a course of “suicidal nationalism” by declaring independence from the Russian Federation. Despite constant pressure from Sen. John McCain and our neocons to bring Ukraine into NATO, wiser heads on both sides of the Atlantic rejected the idea. Why? Because the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of Ukraine is not now and has never been a vital interest of ours that would justify a U.S. war with a nuclear-armed Russia. Instead, it was the avoidance of such a war that was the vital interest that nine U.S. presidents, from Truman to Bush I, secured, despite such provocations as the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the building of the Berlin Wall.
In February 2014, the elected pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by U.S.-backed protesters in Maidan Square, cheered on by McCain. This was direct U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine. Victoria Nuland of the State Department conceded that we had dumped billions into Ukraine to reorient its regime to the West. To Vladimir Putin, the Kyiv coup meant the loss of Russia’s historic Black Sea naval base at Sebastopol in Crimea. Rather than let that happen, Putin effected an uprising, Crimea’s secession from Ukraine, and the annexation by Russia. In eastern Ukraine, the pro-Russian Donbass rose up in rebellion against the pro-NATO regime in Kyiv. Civil war broke out. We backed the new regime. Russia backed the rebels. And five years later, the war goes on. Why is this our fight?
During the Obama years, major lethal aid was denied to Ukraine. The White House reasoned that arming Ukraine would lead to an escalation of the war in the east, greater Russian intervention, defeat for Kyiv, and calls for the U.S. to intervene militarily, risking a war with Russia. Not until Trump became president did lethal aid begin flowing to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles.
Monash University aviation expert and co-author of Up in the Air Greg Bamber said that he would not feel safe flying on the 737 MAX under current circumstances. “I would not be getting on one at the moment,” Professor Bamber said. “Boeing has made several earlier forecasts of the planes being back in the air very soon which it did not keep. “I think there’s a lot of ground still to cover.” Boeing’s behaviour has created a “trust deficit”, Professor Bamber said. “They are saying that the first people that will be flying on these planes will be Boeing executives and airline executives, and they will be on a big push to try to reassure the public and on a charm offensive to convince people to trust Boeing again,” he said.
He outlined two ongoing areas of concern. The first is the technical issue of fixing the fault with the 737 MAX planes – the MCAS system, which was designed to prevent the plane stalling, but was not disclosed to pilots – and led to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Air tragedies. Boeing misled both “the airlines it was selling these planes to”, and the pilots, by not disclosing the new MCAS system and putting it in their manuals, Professor Bamber said. “Boeing did this for commercial reasons, putting profits before people. They wanted to pretend that the Boeing 737 MAX 8 was not a new aircraft on a new system, and they wanted to persuade airlines to buy it on the grounds that pilots wouldn’t need new training,” he said. “Just fixing the technical issue is one thing … but once that’s done and the regulators are convinced that has been done, it is then going to be necessary to try to fix the trust deficit and retrain the pilots and convince the travelling public that the planes are safe.”
The second issue is that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the United States allowed Boeing to act with little oversight and “almost self-regulate”, Professor Bamber said. “The FAA In the US is also to some extent at fault here,” he said. “The primary fault is with Boeing, but the American authority had been captured by Boeing. The FAA allowed Boeing to almost self-regulate.” Boeing has a “major challenge ahead”, Professor Bamber said. “Even if the FAA does reverse the grounding its likely that other regulators in Australia, Asia, and Europe, won’t necessarily follow suit any longer. “They will want to take time to do their own investigations because they now have a trust deficit with the FAA.”
WikiLeaks lawyer Jen Robinson said Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the judge presiding over Julian Assange’s extradition proceedings who is embroiled in a conflict of interest, will no longer be be sitting on the case. Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the Westminster chief magistrate enmeshed in a conflict of interest, will no longer be presiding over the extradition proceedings of imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, said WikiLeaks lawyer Jen Robinson, at an event in Sydney on Friday night. “Yes, there was some controversy about her sitting on the case,” Robinson said. “She won’t be sitting on the case going forward.” Robinson told Australian journalist Quentin Dempster at the event that she was “not sure” who would take over from Arbuthnot.
Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of the Daily Maverick reported on Friday: “The son of Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the Westminster chief magistrate overseeing the extradition proceedings of Julian Assange, is the vice-president and cyber-security adviser of a firm heavily invested in a company founded by GCHQ and MI5 which seeks to stop data leaks, it can be revealed. Alexander Arbuthnot’s employer, the private equity firm Vitruvian Partners, has a multimillion-pound investment in Darktrace, a cyber-security company which is also staffed by officials recruited directly from the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
These intelligence agencies are behind the US government’s prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secret documents. Darktrace has also had access to two former UK prime ministers and former US President Barack Obama. The revelations raise further concerns about potential conflicts of interests and appearance of bias concerning Lady Arbuthnot and the ties of her family members to the UK and US military and intelligence establishments. Lady Arbuthnot’s husband is Lord James Arbuthnot, a former UK defence minister who has extensive links to the UK military community.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains ill and effectively isolated in a high-security prison alongside inmates facing charges for violent offences and terrorism, his lawyer Jennifer Robinson told a Sydney audience on Friday night. “I was with Julian on Tuesday… and his health is obviously significantly and seriously deteriorating,” said Ms Robinson, a prominent human rights advocate and barrister who has defended Mr Assange since 2010. Ms Robinson was in Sydney as a guest of the global association of Writers, PEN International, which was marking its Day of the Imprisoned Writer in support of free speech.
She said that during his seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Mr Assange had not been able to access proper sunlight or space to exercise and the UK had refused permission to let him access outside medical care, forcing him to “choose between his right to asylum and his right to health”. Mr Assange, 48, has now completed his sentence for breaching bail as a result of that asylum. He is being held in Belmarsh Prison outside London as the British government considers an extradition application from the United States over allegations he conspired to break into a classified Pentagon computer. Should he be convicted he faces 175 years in prison. His hearing will be heard in February.
Ms Robinson said Mr Assange should be supported as a journalist and publisher for his release of millions of pages of secret US military and diplomatic cables, and criticised Australian governments of both parties for failing to intervene on his behalf. “The Australian government has not, as far as I am aware, raised any objection to the treatment of Julian Assange by the United States or an objection to his indictment under the espionage act,” she said. “One wonders, had the Australian government raised their concern about this treatment of an Australian citizen whether the Trump administration would have pursued these charges.” She said that it would have a devastating effect on free speech around the world if the US was able to successfully prosecute a journalist who was not a US citizen for actions he had not undertaken on US soil.
Roger Stone convicted on all counts. I’m reading through them and see WikiLeaks all over. And yes, he may have been lying about all sorts of things, his contacts with Randy Credico, what he knew when etc etc. But one thing must again be made clear: Stone never had any direct contact with Assange, let alone in some plot to release information that could damage Hillary Clinton.
We can be sure of that because as I’ve said multiple times, Assange has said that did not take place, and Assange couldn’t afford to lie, because the slightest little lie would have turned potential whistleblowers (the real kind, not the fake CIA agent one we see today) away from leaking anything to WikiLeaks. And WikiLeaks was Julian’s life’s work.
He would never have risked that, and he didn’t need to. Moreover, in 2016, the time the Roger Stone story plays, he was still in the Ecuador embassy in London, relatively secure and with all the equipment he wanted at his disposal. The Stone verdict reads like a verdict of WikiLeaks too, but only on the surface, and that only because Assange has been silenced.
Robert Mueller in his utterly failed investigation at the end still left two strains open which he insinuated were true, but which both were possible only because the accused were unable or unlikely to defend themselves: the “Russians”, in particular a group of 13 unnamed GRU “hackers”, and Julian Assange. As I said back then, Mueller is a coward and a liar for doing that, and for not acknowledging what a failure he is.
Other than that, today the ‘hearing’ of Marie Yovanovich, former US ambassador to Ukraine, when combined with Wednesday’s ‘testimonies’ of Bill Taylor (career diplomat and acting United States ambassador to Ukraine) and George Kent (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs), has started to paint a pretty solid picture of what is going on.
That is, the Deep State or whatever you want to call it, represented by all these people, was dead set on continuing the US policies that led to the Maidan coup against elected president Yanukovich. It involved Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pratt, plus scores of other “public servants”.
It was always directed towards antagonizing Vladimir Putin, and they expected to be able to keep doing it. When Trump came and said: wait a minute, their rear guard was mobilized. And now we have this whole Quid Pro Quo drama, which Nancy Pelosi yesterday renamed Bribery, because too many simple Americans can’t even understand one single Latin term, and because it sounds so much more ominous.
But really, I said it before, Adam Schiff opened on Wednesday with talk of Russia aggression, “In 2014, Russia invaded a United States ally, Ukraine, to reverse that nation’s embrace of the West, and to fulfill Vladimir Putin’s desire to rebuild a Russian empire.”, while Taylor followed right behind with “If we withdraw or suspend or threaten to withdraw our security assistance” to Ukraine, it sends a “message to Ukrainians, but its just as important to the Russians who are looking for any sign of weakness”.
That’s the tenor that Marie Yovanovich also operates within. It’s a wolf pack, it’s a state within a state. They all owe their status and salaries to antagonizing Russia. But it was them, representing the US, who started the Maidan mayhem in 2013/14, not Russia. Nuland herself admitted the US spent $5 billion on that coup. She just used another word.
And then Putin outsmarted them all by taking Sevastopol, and he did it without a single shot being fired. Boy, they must have hated that. But many of them still remained in place, or in similar places, and that’s exactly what Trump didn’t want any longer. As we speak, Schiff can try and present Yovanovich as some sort of brave life long “servant” to the US, but she hasn’t exactly been complimenting her new president.
Is it outrageous for a president to want to have people who represent him/her, instead of holdovers from other administrations, who don’t? Of course not, a president has full authority in firing and appointing ambassadors. I’m more asking myself: what took you so long?
Trump today has a choice of continuing the failed Obama approach in Ukraine, trying to establish the country as some stronghold vs Russia and even get it into NATO, or he can initiate peace talks with Putin and Zelensky and other leaders in the region. Which choice would you prefer? “Putin’s desire to rebuild a Russian empire”, as Schiff put it, is nonsense. Putin simply doesn’t want Ukraine, which borders Russia, to be used as threat to his country.
He doesn’t want missiles stationed there etc. And the people he supports in the Donbass region? They’re Russian nationals, who got caught up on the “wrong” side of a new border in the downfall of the Soviet Union. If he had let them down, his entire nation would have never forgiven him. Not a hard choice to make.
Of course, in the background noise to all of this, there’s the fact that Russia has far surpassed the US in arms manufacturing. For one tenth of the cost they produce weapons that are 10 times more effective. That what the Deep State and its platoons of “public servants” like Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovich hate most of all.
And they would never clamor for toning it down a little, for peace negotiations, for detente. Because that would threaten all of their paychecks.
And that is what I got from Wednesday’s and today’s ‘hearings’, that is the picture that shines through. It doesn’t mean to me that Trump is such a great president or anything, god almighty no, but that even if or when he tries to tone things down, this is the backdraft he gets. And that is mighty scary if you ask me.
Marie Yovanovich is sitting there complaining about some conspiracy against her, while A) Trump has every right to fire her and B) she’s been talking trash against him behind his back. If Trump loses in 2020 and the Dems want to restore that whole Deep State thing, by all means, and it’ll be legal too. But what’s happening now is not.
Adam Schiff and the Democrats are trying to make it look as if Trump does all these crazy and illegal things to try and influence the next election, while at the same time they have spent 2+ years and $40 million on the Mueller report that came up yawningly empty, and seamlessly went into Ukrainegate, which is also as hollow as a black hole.
Just switched on the footage again, and there’s some woman reciting how Yovanovich has 33 years of service, and it’s terrible she was fired from her job, but wouldn’t that always be, and isn’t it always, dependent on a person’s political leanings? That after 33 years you may not be able, or trusted, to properly represent a new president’s views? Should that president then step down because you did all those years or should you look for another job?
But not, Yovanovich presents herself as non-partisan. Well, opinions on that vary. And the president the American people elected doesn’t think she is. And that’s what counts today. What Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovich show us this week, is that there may not just be a Deep State, but also a Shallow State.
Moreover, there is no such a thing as a president for life in the US and for very good reason. So why all the fuss about Yovanovich not being able to be an ambassador for life? I just don’t get it.
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China on Tuesday (Jun 18) warned against opening a “Pandora’s box” in the Middle East after the United States announced the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the region amid escalating tensions with Iran. Foreign Minister Wang Yi also urged Tehran to not abandon the nuclear agreement “so easily” after Iran said it would exceed its uranium stockpile limit if world powers fail to fulfil their commitments under the agreement in 10 days. Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since last Thursday when two tankers were attacked. The United States has blamed Iran, more than a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has denied having any role in the attacks. The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang told reporters at a briefing that China was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf, and called on all sides to ease tension and not head towards a clash. “We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said. “In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods. Any unilateral behaviour has no basis in international law,” Wang said, warning that it could create “an even greater crisis”.
Is the US going to attack Iran soon? Diplomatic sources at the UN headquarters in New York revealed to Maariv that they are assessing the United States’ plans to carry out a tactical assault on Iran in response to the tanker attack in the Persian Gulf on Thursday. According to the officials, since Friday, the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders, Pentagon representatives and advisers to President Donald Trump. The military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program, the officials further claimed. “The bombing will be massive but will be limited to a specific target,” said a Western diplomat.
The decision to carry out military action against Iran was discussed in the White House before the latest report that Iran might increase the level of uranium enrichment. The officials also noted that the United States plans to reinforce its military presence in the Middle East, and in the coming days will also send additional soldiers to the area. The sources added that President Trump himself was not enthusiastic about a military move against Iran, but lost his patience on the matter and would grant Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is pushing for action, what he wants.
On Friday morning I was in a small courtroom at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London. Julian Assange, held in Belmarsh Prison and dressed in a pale-blue prison shirt, appeared on a video screen directly in front of me. Assange, his gray hair and beard neatly trimmed, slipped on heavy, dark-frame glasses at the start of the proceedings. He listened intently as Ben Brandon, the prosecutor, seated at a narrow wooden table, listed the crimes he allegedly had committed and called for his extradition to the United States to face charges that could result in a sentence of 175 years. The charges include the release of unredacted classified material that posed a “grave” threat to “human intelligence sources” and “the largest compromises of confidential information in the history of the United States.” After the prosecutor’s presentation, Assange’s attorney, Mark Summers, seated at the same table, called the charges “an outrageous and full-frontal assault on journalistic rights.”
The publication of classified documents is not a crime in the United States, but if Assange is extradited and convicted it will become one. Assange is not an American citizen. WikiLeaks, which he founded and publishes, is not a U.S.-based publication. The message the U.S. government is sending is clear: No matter who or where you are, if you expose the inner workings of empire you will be hunted down, kidnapped and brought to the United States to be tried as a spy. The extradition and trial of Assange will mean the end of public investigations by the press into the crimes of the ruling elites. It will cement into place a frightening corporate tyranny. Publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian, which devoted pages to the WikiLeaks revelations and later amplified and legitimized Washington’s carefully orchestrated character assassination of Assange, are no less panicked. This is the gravest assault on press freedom in my lifetime.
[..] We know what will be done to Assange. It has been done to thousands of those we kidnapped and then detained in black sites around the world. Sadistic and scientific techniques of torture will be used in an attempt to make him a zombie. Assange, in declining health, was transferred two weeks ago to the hospital wing of the prison. Because he was medically unable to participate when the hearing was initially to be held, May 30, the proceeding was reset. Friday’s hearing, in which he appeared frail and spoke hesitantly, although lucidly, set the timetable for his extradition trial, scheduled to take place at the end of February. All totalitarian states seek to break their political prisoners to render them compliant. This process will define Assange’s existence over the next few months.
UN Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer told US journalist Chris Hedges that Lady Arbuthnot “has a strong conflict of interest” and that “her husband had been exposed by WikiLeaks”. Hedges adds that Assange’s lawyers have asked the judge “to recuse herself”, but that “she has refused”. However, Lady Arbuthnot was forced to recuse herself in August 2018 after an investigation by the Observer into her husband’s business dealings with Uber. The judge ruled in favour of Uber but stepped down from the case when it was shown that SC Strategy’s client the QIA had taken a stake in Uber.
And there are other precedents. For example, retired high court judge Lady Butler-Sloss was forced to resign as chair of the panel tasked with examining allegations of child abuse within institutions. This was after she admitted to a family conflict of interest (Sir Michael Havers, her brother, was attorney-general during the period when most of the alleged abuse occurred). Given the evidence relating to her family background, it may be time for Lady Arbuthnot to recuse herself once more, and for the extradition proceedings to be halted.
Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, is certain that the Wikileaks publisher will suffer grave mistreatment if extradited to the United States. “The British government must not accede to the US extradition request for Julian Assange as he faces a real risk of serious human right violations if sent there.” This will further add substance to the potential breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, a point reiterated by Agnes Callamard, Special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions. Ecuador, she argues, permitted Assange to be expelled and arrested by the UK, taking him a step closer to extradition to the US which would expose him to “serious human rights violations.” The UK had “arbitrary [sic] detained Mr Assange possibly endangering his life for the last 7 years.”
On May 31, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, concluded after visiting Assange in detention that the publisher’s isolation and repeated belittling constituted “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.” The issue of Assange’s failing health is critical. An important feature of his legal team’s argument is the role played by the UK authorities in ensuring his decline in physical and mental terms. The argument in rebuttal, disingenuous as it was, never deviated: you will get treatment as long as you step out of the Ecuadorean embassy.
There is also another dimension which the distracted Javid failed to articulate: the sheer political character of the offences Assange is being accused of. Espionage is a political offence par excellence, and the UK-US extradition treaty, for all its faults, retains under Article 4 the prohibition against extraditing someone accused of political offences, including espionage, sedition, and treason. As John T. Nelson notes in Just Security, “Each of Assange’s possible defences are strengthened by the 17 counts of espionage”.
CrowdStrike, the controversial cybersecurity firm that the Democratic National Committee chose over the FBI in 2016 to examine its compromised computer servers, never produced an un-redacted or final forensic report for the government because the FBI never required it to, the Justice Department has admitted. The revelation came in a court filing by the government in the pre-trial phase of Roger Stone, a long-time Republican operative who had an unofficial role in the campaign of candidate Donald Trump. Stone has been charged with misleading Congress, obstructing justice and intimidating a witness. The filing was in response to a motion by Stone’s lawyers asking for “unredacted reports” from CrowdStrike in an effort to get the government to prove that Russia hacked the DNC server.
“The government … does not possess the information the defandant seeks,” the filing says. In his motion, Stone’s lawyers said he had only been given three redacted drafts. In a startling footnote in the government’s response, the DOJ admits the drafts are all that exist. “Although the reports produced to the defendant are marked ‘draft,’ counsel for the DNC and DCCC informed the government that they are the last version of the report produced,” the footnote says. In other words CrowdStrike, upon which the FBI relied to conclude that Russia hacked the DNC, never completed a final report and only turned over three redacted drafts to the government. These drafts were “voluntarily” given to the FBI by DNC lawyers, the filing says.
“No redacted information concerned the attribution of the attack to Russian actors,” the filing quotes DNC lawyers as saying. In Stone’s motion his lawyers argued: “If the Russian state did not hack the DNC, DCCC, or [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta’s servers, then Roger Stone was prosecuted for obstructing a congressional investigation into an unproven Russian state hacking conspiracy … The issue of whether or not the DNC was hacked is central to the Defendant’s defense.” The DOJ responded: “The government does not need to prove at the defendant’s trial that the Russians hacked the DNC in order to prove the defendant made false statements, tampered with a witness, and obstructed justice into a congressional investigation regarding election interference.”
At a time of high tension in the 2016 presidential campaign, when the late Sen. John McCain and others were calling Russian “hacking” an “act of war,” the FBI settled for three redacted “draft reports” from CrowdStrike rather than investigate the alleged hacking itself, the court document shows. Then FBI Director James Comey admitted in congressional testimony that he chose not to take control of the DNC’s “hacked” computers, and did not dispatch FBI computer experts to inspect them, but has had trouble explaining why. In his testimony, he conceded that “best practices” would have dictated that forensic experts gain physical access to the computers. Nevertheless, the FBI decided to rely on forensics performed by a firm being paid for by the DNC.
When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether his son, Donald Trump Jr., should have contacted the FBI after being invited in 2016 to meet with a Russian national who allegedly offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, the president answered, “Give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.” The ensuing exchange led Stephanopoulos to ask the president: “Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?” Trump responded that, perhaps, the person in question should do both; look at the information being offered and notify the FBI. Stephanopoulos suggested this amounts to foreign interference in an American election, to which Trump responded: “It’s not an interference [sic]. They have information – I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI – if I thought there was something wrong.”
The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed this interview prompted the anti-Trump cable networks to bring in two men who were embroiled in the Russia collusion hoax. One of these men, Andrew McCabe, was fired from the FBI and is fortunate not to have yet been charged with multiple counts of lying to federal investigators. The other is hysterical Trump critic Brennan, who is almost certainly a subject of the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the genesis of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory. McCabe feigned horror at the idea that the president would be open to receiving information on a potential election opponent from a foreign source.
At the same time, however, he dismissed the idea that the Hillary Clinton campaign had done anything wrong in 2016 when it paid for Russian-sourced and unverified information to use against Trump. When asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo about a possible analogy between the two situations, the former FBI official said: “There’s no equivalence between those two examples … For a campaign to hire a law firm, an American law firm who then turns around and hires an American research company that then contracts out with a foreign individual, that is not illegal.”
Surging U.S. business debt, already at historic levels, is posing a potentially huge risk for the global financial system and the world economy, raising concerns among market players and policymakers. Experts are growing increasingly uneasy about both the quality and quantity of debt in the U.S. corporate sector as the amount of loans to borrowers with lower credit ratings and already high levels of debt is increasing. A newly created index shows corporate debt levels are now even higher than before the dot-com bubble or the global financial crisis triggered by the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.
Some experts warn that the ticking debt bomb in the U.S. corporate sector could eventually explode, triggering a new global financial meltdown. In a speech delivered on May 20, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sounded the alarm about rising levels of business debt, although he dismissed comparisons between the current situation and the conditions in U.S. mortgage markets before the financial crisis. Views about the risks from rising corporate borrowing “range from ‘This is a return to the subprime-mortgage crisis’ to ‘Nothing to worry about here,'” Powell said. “At the moment, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.”
One important concept for understanding the implications of corporate America’s borrowing binge for the financial system and the world economy is the credit cycle — the cyclical expansion and contraction of access to credit over time. Many policymakers and market players are beginning to fear that the U.S. corporate credit cycle is approaching its peak and will soon enter a phase of contraction.
The US gross national debt soared by $960 billion over the 12-month period through April. Over the same period, all foreign investors combined increased their holdings by $253 billion. This leaves $707 billion that someone else must have bought. Who? Nope, not the Fed. It shed $271 billion in Treasury securities over the 12 months as part of its QE unwind, bringing its holdings down to $2.12 trillion by the end of April. US government entities piled on $102 billion in Treasury securities over the 12 months, bringing their total to $5.83 trillion. This “debt held internally” is held by government pension and disability funds, the Social Security Trust Fund, etc., that have invested their beneficiaries’ money in Treasury securities, rather than stocks or other instruments.
This “debt held internally” is owed the beneficiaries of those funds and is a real debt of the US government. To summarize: Over the 12 months, foreign investors added $253 billion; the Fed got rid of $271 billion; and US government funds acquired $102 billion. All three combined, accounted for a net increase of Treasury holdings of $84 billion. But the total gross national debt soared by $960 billion over the same period. Someone must have bought the remaining $876 billion. But who? The only one left… American institutions and individuals added $876 billion of Treasuries to their holdings, bringing them to $7.64 trillion.
US banks held nearly $500 billion of them, according to the FDIC. Other US institutional holders include pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, corporations such as Apple, and others. Individuals also hold a portion of these Treasury securities, either indirectly via bond funds or pension funds, or directly via their brokers or at Treasury. All combined, American institutions and individuals held 34.7% of the US gross national debt. Ironically, there is no shortage of demand for this debt – despite the charade of the debt-ceiling-default threat hanging over it. On the contrary. Investors, mostly US institutional and individual investors but also some foreign investors, have gone nuts over it, bidding up prices and thereby pushing down yields, with the 10-year yield today settling at 2.09%.
Convincing skeptics on the board to embrace negative rates wasn’t easy, according to previously unreported accounts of the events on that fateful night. The policy had been studied for years in Japan but shunned as too controversial. On the brown-carpeted eighth floor of the BOJ building, bank bureaucrats visited the offices of swing voters on the board to make the case. A dashboard on the eighth floor lights up in red to show whenever a board member has visitors. That night, the lights stayed on “for hours and hours for some of them,” one person said. “You could see there was heavy lobbying going on.”
The shift to negative rates carried by a narrow 5-4 vote. Almost immediately, it was clear within the BOJ that the move was a mistake. It crushed long-term interest rates, didn’t weaken the yen as hoped and angered commercial bankers, who felt blindsided by a policy that crimped their profits. In retrospect, the move marked the death knell of “Kuroda-nomics,” as the governor’s plan for reflating the Japanese economy became known. In the most detailed account of these efforts, reported here, BOJ technocrats went to work tip-toeing back Kuroda’s radical program.
Three years on, there is a broad consensus that Japan’s experiment in shock-and-awe monetary policy has failed. An intense debate is under way within the BOJ over why Kuroda’s assumptions about how he could fundamentally change the trajectory of the economy proved wrong and what the bank’s next steps should be. The picture that emerges is of a central bank under pressure and at a moment of reckoning.
Boeing doesn’t have any immediate plans to rename its embattled 737 MAX aircraft despite CFO Greg Smith saying he was open to the idea earlier Monday. In an interview with Bloomberg at the Paris airshow, Smith said, “We’re committed to doing what we need to do to restore it. If that means changing the brand to restore it, then we’ll address that.” After the interview, the company told Reuters it isn’t currently working on a name change at the moment. “Our immediate focus is the safe return of the Max to service and re-earning the trust of airlines and the traveling public. We remain open minded to all input from customers and other stakeholders, but have no plans at this time to change the name of the 737 MAX,” said Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman.
The idea for a name change comes from President Donald Trump, who weighed in on Boeing’s myriad safety and public relations issues in March. “What do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!), but if I were Boeing, I would FIX the Boeing 737 MAX, add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name,” he tweeted. All 737s are still grounded: All 371 Boeing 737 MAX planes were grounded worldwide in March following two deadly crashes that claimed 346 lives. Investigators are focusing on design flaws in a component of the plane’s automated flight controls called the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS. Boeing said last month that it has completed the software update necessary to address the aircraft’s safety issues, but the Federal Aviation Administration still has to approve the change.
Investors in Australian mortgage bonds are demanding higher premiums to buy the riskiest tranches of new debt, as a slowing economy stokes concerns a property downturn could get worse and increase home loan defaults. High-yield investors are receiving up to 40 basis points more than they were last year to buy the lower-rated and unrated portions, according to an analysis of recent deals by large lenders including AMP, National Australia Bank and Members Equity Bank. That marks an important shift from a near decade-long run of relatively stable spreads for the lower-rated residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), as the previously red-hot property prices have turned sharply lower, particularly in the major Sydney and Melbourne markets.
“When you are looking at those lower unrated tranches, they are deteriorating as one would expect at the late stage of the [property] cycle,” said George Boubouras, chief investment officer at Atlas Capital. “We see them as a leading indicator of risk, and they have been getting riskier.” Home prices in Australia’s heavily populated eastern states have fallen rapidly since late-2017 due to souring economic conditions, pushing problem home loans to their highest level since the aftermath of the global financial crisis, according to Standard & Poor’s.
It’s a curious feeling to watch your plan being deployed to do the opposite of what you intended. And that’s the feeling I’ve had since learning that Italy’s government is planning a variant of the fiscal money that I proposed for Greece in 2015. My idea was to establish a tax-backed digital payment system to create fiscal space in eurozone countries that needed it, like Greece and Italy. The Italian plan, by contrast, would use a parallel payment system to break up the eurozone. Under my proposal, each tax file number, belonging to individuals or firms, would be automatically provided with a Treasury Account (TA) and a PIN number with which to transfer funds from one TA to another, or back to the state.
One way TAs would be credited was by paying arrears into them. Taxpayers owed money by the state could opt for part or all of those arrears to be paid into their TA immediately, instead of waiting for months to be paid normally. That way, multiple arrears could be eliminated at once, thus liberating liquidity across the economy. For example, suppose Company A is owed €1 million ($1.1 million) by the state, while owing €30,000 to an employee and another €500,000 to Company B. Suppose also that the employee and Company B owe, respectively, €10,000 and €200,000 in taxes to the state. If the €1 million is credited by the state to Company A’s TA, and Company A pays the employee and Company B via the system, the latter will be able to settle their tax arrears. At least €740,000 in arrears will have been eliminated in one fell swoop.
Individuals or firms could also acquire TA credits by purchasing them directly, via web-banking, from the state. The state would make it worth their while by offering buyers significant tax discounts (a €1 credit purchased today could extinguish taxes of, say, €1.10 a year from now). In essence, a new dis-intermediated (middlemen-free) public debt market would emerge, allowing the state to borrow small, medium, and large sums from the private sector in exchange for tax discounts. When I first discussed the idea, staunch defenders of the status quo immediately challenged the legality of the proposed system, arguing that it violated the treaties establishing the euro as the sole legal tender. Expert advice that I had received, however, indicated that the system passed legal muster. A eurozone member state’s treasury has the authority to issue debt instruments at will, and to accept them in lieu of taxes.
Theresa May is set to enrage her critics within the Conservative party after setting herself up to stay on as prime minister until the winter while presiding over a long delay to Brexit. She told MPs just weeks ago that she was “not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June” as prime minister and said she would resign once this stage of talks was complete – prompting her rivals to gear up for a summer leadership contest. But as EU leaders met on Wednesday night to decide on another lengthy Article 50 extension, a Conservative source said the prime minister’s promised departure was tied to passing the withdrawal agreement rather than a specific date.
After six hours of talks late into the night leaders agreed to extend the new Brexit deadline until 31 October, with a potential summit in June to review the situation. Ms May tried to play down the consequences of the expected long extension as she arrived at the meeting on Wednesday evening, telling reporters that “what is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point we ratify the withdrawal agreement” rather than the length. Asked whether the 30 June date was still a red line for the prime minister, the Tory source said: “She understands that the Conservative Party feels a sense that new leadership is required for the second phase of negotiations. That was the commitment she gave to her parliamentary colleagues and that’s one she stands by.”
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, enraged fellow leaders after standing alone against a long extension to Britain’s membership of the EU. Macron insisted on speaking last during a working dinner in Brussels on Wednesday night during which he set his stall against a longer extension up to 31 December backed by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Over a dinner of scallop salad, cod loin and macadamia nut parfait, it soon emerged that France was nearly isolated, with only a handful of member states, such as Belgium, sounding sympathetic to his arguments. The French president angered some EU leaders with his attempt to block a long extension of nine to 12 months that was favoured by the majority.
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, told the room that Macron’s opposition meant that “we are now only solving French domestic problems”. German officials were said to be “very irritated” with Macron. France argued that a long delay risked serious damage to the EU, an outcome Paris said was worse than no-deal. “We do not want to import Britain’s political crisis into the EU,” said an Élysée official. Theresa May’s talks with Jeremy Corbyn were not a justification “that we have a long extension without guarantees for the functioning of the European Union”. The French source said no-deal could not be ruled out, arguing that damaging the running of the EU was the worst possible outcome. “The default position is no deal. Endangering the functioning of the EU is not preferable to no-deal.”
After the new deadline was announced, Macron said leaders had found “the best possible compromise” because the 31 October date preserved EU unity, allowed the British more time and preserved “the good functioning of the European Union”.
We’re in Brussels reminding Europe’s leaders of the donkeys responsible for this Brexit shambles. SOUND ON.
Car production in Britain could collapse by almost half by the mid-2020s in a no-deal Brexit scenario, with plant closures triggering job losses across the country, according to an Oxford University study. Matthias Holweg, an automotive expert at Oxford, said Britain leaving the EU without a deal and trading on World Trade Organization terms would trigger a big fall in output. According to the study, car production has already slipped by about 9% since the EU referendum in 2016. Production volumes have fallen from more than 1.7m cars per year to less than 1.5m, but could drop further to about 900,000 a year in 2026 if Britain leaves without a deal.
Holweg said the UK’s current volumes of production could not be sustained under a WTO trading regime with the EU, as higher levels of border friction and tariffs would render UK car manufacturing less competitive. Car plants across the country would at first be starved of investment before their owners eventually closed them. The study found that investment has already dropped by about 80% over the past three years. “This would invariably lead to a hollowing-out of the UK’s component supply chain, effectively condemning the automotive industry to a slow ‘death by a thousand cuts’,” said Holweg, professor of operations management at Oxford University’s Saïd business school. “The great and present danger is that the decisions on where to produce new models will continue to go against the UK.”
Former FBI Agent Peter Strzok could face ‘serious’ charges for his involvement and actions in the bureau’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to send classified emails, as well as the FBI’s investigation into President Trump’s campaign, multiple sources with knowledge of Strzok’s actions told SaraACarter.com. Further, sources contend that the nearly year long investigation by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, will reveal explosive information and shed light on alleged malfeasance by FBI and DOJ officials directly involved in the Russia investigation. The Inspector General’s report may be completed as early as May or June, according to testimony provided this week by Attorney General William Barr.
Strzok who has already been investigated by Horowitz for his role in the FBI’s Clinton investigation is also expected to be named in the IG’s upcoming report on how the Russia investigation was handled by the FBI. He was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017 and then fired from the FBI in August, 2018. He was fired by the FBI after an extensive review by Horowitz’s office into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation and was removed from Mueller’s team after the IG discovered his anti-Trump text messages to his paramour former FBI Attorney Lisa Page.
“There are a number of individuals who are looking at Peter Strzok’s actions and inactions and how those actions affected both of the investigations he was involved in,” said a U.S. official, with knowledge. “Further evaluation of what Peter Strzok did or did not do needs to be evaluated thoroughly.” The official did not reveal what Strzok’s “actions or inactions” may have been but said “obstruction, is a serious concern.” Strzok “is in hot water,” said another government official, with knowledge. “I’m certain he’s not the only one.”
Attorney General William Barr told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that spying did occur during the 2016 presidential election, but he needs to “explore” whether or not it was “predicated.” “News just broke today that you have a special team looking into why the FBI opened an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections? I wonder if you can share with this committee who’s on that team, why you felt the need to form that kind of a team and what you intend to be the scope of their investigation,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked Barr. “As I said in my confirmation hearing, I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.”
“A lot of this has already been investigated, and a substantial portion of it has been investigated and is being investigated by the Office of Inspector General at the department, but one of the things I want to do is pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the department and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed,” Barr said. Shaheen asked Barr why he felt “a need to do that.” “For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections,” Barr said.
Readers of The Washington Post on Monday were treated to more of the same from editorial page chief Fred Hiatt. Hiatt, who won his spurs by promoting misleading “intelligence” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and suffered no consequences, is at it again. This time he is trying to adjust to the fading prospect of a Deus ex Mueller to lessen Hiatt’s disgrace for being among the most shameless in promoting the Trump-Russia collusion narrative. He is not giving up. When you are confident you will not lose your job so long as you adhere to the agenda of the growing Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex (MICIMATT if you will), you need not worry about being a vanguard for the corporate media. It is almost as though Hiatt is a tenured professor in an endowed chair honoring Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who perhaps did most to bring us Iraqi WMD.
In his Monday column Hiatt warned: “Trump was elected with the assistance of Russian spies and trolls, which he openly sought and celebrated. But he did not (or so we are told) secretly conspire with them.” In effect, Hiatt is saying, soto voce: “Fie on former (now-de-canonized) Saint Robert of Mueller; we at the Post and our colleagues at The New York Times, CNN et al. know better, just because we’ve been saying so for more than two years.” Times executive editor Dean Baquet said, about the backlash to the Times‘ “collusion” coverage: “I have no regrets. It’s not our job to determine whether or not there was illegality.” CNN President Jeff Zucker said: “We are not investigators. We are journalists.” (One wonders what investigative journalist Bob Parry, who uncovered much of Iran-Contra and founded this site, would have thought of that last one.)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been the subject of a sophisticated spying operation in the Ecuadorean embassy where he has been holed up since 2012, the group said on Wednesday. “Wikileaks has uncovered an extensive spying operation against Julian Assange within the Ecuadorean embassy,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief said, adding that Assange’s “eviction” from the embassy could happen at any time. Hrafnsson did not immediately give evidence for his claims. Reuters was unable to independently verify the allegations. Assange’s relations with his hosts have chilled since Ecuador accused him of leaking information about President Lenin Moreno’s personal life. Moreno has said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.
To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined the security of the United States. “We know that there was a request to hand over visitors’ logs from the embassy and video recordings from within the security cameras in the embassy,” Hrafnsson told reporters, adding that he assumed the information had been handed over to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
WikiLeaks has said it has uncovered a surveillance operation against Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy and that images, documents and videos gathered have been offered for sale. Spanish police were said to have mounted a sting operation against unnamed individuals in Madrid who offered the material for sale in what lawyers and colleagues of Assange said on Wednesday was an attempt at extortion. Some of the material came from video cameras with a capacity to record audio and which had been installed last year, a press conference organised by WikiLeaks was told. WikiLeaks said material including video, audio, copies of private legal documents and a medical report had turned up in Spain, where a group was said to have threatened to start publishing unless they were paid €3m.
The Guardian reported last year that Ecuador had bankrolled a multimillion-dollar surveillance operation to protect and support Assange at the embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police. Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said he had met four individuals, one of whom he was told was a ringleader and who had prior convictions. There was a possibility that at least one was not a Spanish national, he added. The matter is now in the hands of an investigating Spanish magistrate, according to the whistleblowing website.
Hrafnsson said the surveillance at the embassy – which had led to Assange living a “Truman Show existence” – was part of an escalation designed to result in Assange being extradited to the US. “If you connect the dots it’s easy to draw that picture,” said Hrafnsson, who was appearing with the barrister Jennifer Robinson and Fidel Narváez, a former consul of Ecuador in London. It remained unclear whether Assange was planning to leave the embassy of his own accord at any point soon. His legal team said they would still need assurances from the UK government that Assange would not face onward extradition to the US. WikiLeaks said the surveillance had constituted a total invasion of privacy, which had included recordings of Assange’s meetings with his lawyers and doctor.
Ecuador caught in espionage operation against its refugee Julian Assange which:
1. Spied on his legal, medical visits
2. Stole legal notes during the middle of a court hearing against them
3. Secretly cooperated with US
4. Tried to extort him for 3M Euro
A Spanish judge is investigating an alleged extortion scheme in which suspects in Madrid offered video and audio surveillance to the editor of WikiLeaks in exchange for €3 million, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday. The surveillance was taken over the past year inside the Ecuador embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has legally been granted political asylum since 2012, said Kristinn Hrafnsson, the WikiLeaks editor, at a press conference in the British capital. Included in the “trove” of material was a copy of a legal document regarding Assange’s defense strategy that was briefly left behind in a conference room in the embassy, Hrafnsson said. “It is a grave and serious concern when legal meetings are being spied upon and legal documents are stolen,” he said. “That is something that not even prisoners have to endure.”
Assange was also filmed being examined by his doctor in the embassy, Hrafnsson said. “Nobody expected that this was recorded and stored and found its way to some dubious individuals in Spain,” he said. Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, called it a breach of attorney-client privilege. “The documents you have seen [presented at the press conference] demonstrates just how much surveillance he has been under and it is a breach of confidence for us, his lawyers, and his doctors to provide medical care in the embassy,” Robinson said. “This is a severe breach of attorney-client privilege and fundamentally undermines our ability to defend and provide defense to Julian Assange.”
Hrafnsson communicated with the alleged extortioners and was given samples of what they possessed, the WikiLeaks editor said. He then traveled to Spain and secretly videotaped a meeting with “four individuals” in which Hrafnsson learned the extent of the material that they possessed. They told them him that €3 million was “a good deal” as they had had offers of €9 million for the material. Hrafnsson then went to the Spanish police who opened an investigation. He said he knew the identity of one of the four who had a prior conviction on similar charges and was seen as the “ringleader.”
Aitor Martinez, the Assange lawyer who said he’d briefly left the legal document in the embassy conference room that was copied, then took part in a sting operation with the police. He wore a wire as he met with the alleged extortioners in Madrid, Hrafnsson said. A full investigation by a special extortion team was then opened and the case is now in the hands of an investigative judge, he said. “Extortion is a serious matter,” Hrafnsson said, “but of greater concern to me is that this is material gathered by spying by the government of Lenin Moreno and officials who work on his behalf against an individual who was granted diplomatic protection by the Ecuadorian government.”
Central banks are running the risk of a severe financial crisis through policies aimed at boosting short-term economic growth, the International Monetary Fund has warned. In its half-yearly global financial stability report, the IMF said the removal of the threat of higher interest rates had prompted a rapid recovery in financial markets after last autumn’s turbulence but would lead to a fresh buildup in already high levels of debt. The report expressed concern about a sharp increase in lower quality corporate bonds, the vulnerability of European banks to falling government bond prices, debt levels in China, flows of hot money in and out of developing countries, and the risk of house price crashes.
The report said the tightening in financial conditions during the final three months of 2018 – when markets were unnerved by the possibility of the US Federal Reserve tightening policy throughout 2019 – had been too short-lived to have a material impact on the buildup of vulnerabilities. Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci, two IMF officials, said in a blogpost released alongside the report that policymakers faced a dilemma as they sought to counter a slowdown in the global economy that has seen the IMF cut its growth forecast to 3.3% this year.
“In the United States, the ratio of corporate debt to GDP is at record-high levels. In several European countries, banks are overloaded with government bonds. In China, bank profitability is declining, and capital levels remain low at small and medium-size lenders,” Adrian and Natalucci said. “By taking a patient approach to monetary policy, central banks can accommodate growing downside risks to the economy. But if financial conditions remain easy for too long, vulnerabilities will continue to build, and the odds of a sharp drop in economic growth at some later point will be higher.”
My fancy-schmancy Fed Hawk-o-Meter jumped 18% from 22 to 26, after having been on a downtrend for four Fed meetings in a row. Something’s up. The Fed Hawk-o-Meter checks the minutes of the FOMC meetings for signs that the Fed sees the economy as strong and that rates should rise; or that the economy is OK but not strong enough to raise rates further; or that the economy is spiraling down to where rates need to be cut. It quantifies and visualizes what the Fed wishes to communicate to the markets by counting how often “strong,” “strongly,” and “stronger” appear in the minutes to describe the economy. In the minutes of the March 19-20 meeting, released this afternoon, those words appear 26 times, up 18% from 22 times in the prior minutes:
The average frequency per meeting minutes of “strong,” “strongly,” and “stronger” between January 2013 and December 2017 was 8.7 times. The 26 mentions in the March-meeting minutes were 226% the pre-redline average. The 18% jump in the March minutes from the January minutes is particularly striking because the Fed had spent the prior four meetings backing off ever so gingerly its bullish assessment of the economy. But in March, the direction changed. Yet the reading still hasn’t jumped back to the peak levels of last August, when the Fed, with the economy running red hot, was telling the markets that it would raise rates four times in the year.
The current reading of 26 is just above the average over the past 11 meetings minutes of 25.2, starting with the December 2017 meeting, when the Hawk-o-Meter started redlining.
Edwin Hardeman and his wife, Mary, never expected that they would become de facto leaders of the federal court fight against the world’s most widely used weedkiller. They just wanted Monsanto to acknowledge the dangers – and potentially save other families from the horror they endured. “This is something that was egregious to me. It was my personal battle and I wanted to take it full circle,” said Edwin, whose cancer is now in remission. “It’s been a long journey.” Mary bristled when she thought about Monsanto’s continued defense of its chemical: “They should have been with us when we were in the chemo ward … not knowing what to do to relieve the pain.“ I get angry,” she added. “Very angry.”
Monsanto first put Roundup on the market in 1974, presenting the herbicide, which uses a chemical called glyphosate, as a breakthrough that was effective at killing weeds and safe. The product has earned the corporation billions in revenue a year, and glyphosate is now ubiquitous in the environment – with traces in water, food and farmers’ urine. But research has repeatedly challenged Monsanto’s assertions that Roundup is safe, culminating in a key 2015 ruling by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (Iarc), which said glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The Iarc classification opened the floodgates to litigation alleging that Roundup exposure caused their NHL, a cancer that affects the immune system.
Human intelligence is one of evolution’s most consequential inventions. It is the result of a sprint that started millions of years ago, leading to ever bigger brains and new abilities. Eventually, humans stood upright, took up the plow, and created civilization, while our primate cousins stayed in the trees. Now scientists in southern China report that they’ve tried to narrow the evolutionary gap, creating several transgenic macaque monkeys with extra copies of a human gene suspected of playing a role in shaping human intelligence. “This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model,” says Bing Su, the geneticist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology who led the effort.
According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size. The experiments, described on March 27 in a Beijing journal, National Science Review, and first reported by Chinese media, remain far from pinpointing the secrets of the human mind or leading to an uprising of brainy primates. Instead, several Western scientists, including one who collaborated on the effort, called the experiments reckless and said they questioned the ethics of genetically modifying primates, an area where China has seized a technological edge. “The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take,” says James Sikela, a geneticist who carries out comparative studies among primates at the University of Colorado.
Astronomers have finally glimpsed the blackness of a black hole. By stringing together a global network of radio telescopes, they have for the first time produced a picture of an event horizon — a black hole’s perilous edge — against a backdrop of swirling light. “We have seen the gates of hell at the end of space and time,” said astrophysicist Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, at a press conference in Brussels. “What you’re looking at is a ring of fire created by the deformation of space-time. Light goes around, and looks like a circle.” The images — of a glowing, ring-like structure — show the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy M87, which is around 16 megaparsecs (55 million light years) away and 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun.
They reveal, in greater detail than ever before, the event horizon — the surface beyond which gravity is so strong that nothing that crosses it, even light, can ever climb back out. The highly anticipated results, comparable to recognizing a doughnut on the Moon’s surface, were unveiled today by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration in six simultaneous press conferences on four continents. The findings were also published in a suite of papers in Astrophysical Journal Letters on 10 April. [..] Nearly a century ago, physicists first deduced that black holes should exist from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but most of the evidence so far has been indirect. The EHT has now made a new, spectacular confirmation of those predictions.
The team observed two supermassive black holes — M87’s and Sagittarius A*, the void at the Milky Way’s centre — over five nights in April 2017. They mustered enough resolution to capture the distant objects by linking up eight radio observatories across the globe — from Hawaii to the South Pole — and each collected more data than the Large Hadron Collider does in a year. It took two years of work to piece the pictures together.
It is sad that so many people still look at the Fed to save the “markets”. Sad and blind. Like nobody has any interest in having functioning markets and societies, and it’s all only about a quick buck.
In March 2009 markets bottomed on the expansion of QE1 (quantitative easing, part one), which was introduced following the initial announcement in November 2008. Every major correction since then has been met with major central-bank interventions: QE2, Twist, QE3 and so on. When market tumbled in 2015 and 2016, global central banks embarked on the largest combined intervention effort in history. The sum: More than $5 trillion between 2016 and 2017, giving us a grand total of over $15 trillion, courtesy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan:
When did global central-bank balance sheets peak? Early 2018. When did global markets peak? January 2018. And don’t think the Fed was not still active in the jawboning business despite QE3 ending. After all, their official language remained “accommodative” and their interest-rate increase schedule was the slowest in history, cautious and tinkering so as not to upset the markets. With tax cuts coming into the U.S. economy in early 2018, along with record buybacks, the markets at first ignored the beginning of QT (quantitative tightening), but then it all changed. And guess what changed? Two things. In September 2018, for the first time in 10 years, the U.S. central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) removed one little word from its policy stance: “accommodative.” And the Fed increased its QT program. When did U.S. markets peak? September 2018.
[..] Global central banks did the dirty work for the Fed between 2016 and 2017, adding ever more artificial liquidity. But then the ECB slowed its QE program and finally ended it in late 2018. How did the DAX (German stock index) handle all that removal in artificial liquidity? Not well.
[..] don’t mistake this rally for anything but for what it really is: Central banks again coming to the rescue of stressed markets. Their action and words matter in heavily oversold markets. But the reality remains, artificial liquidity is coming out of these markets. [..] What’s the larger message here? Free-market price discovery would require a full accounting of market bubbles and the realities of structural problems, which remain unresolved. Central banks exist to prevent the consequences of excess to come to fruition and give license to politicians to avoid addressing structural problems.
The yellow vest protesters who have entered their eighth week of street rallies are trying to topple President Macron and his administration, according to a French government spokesman. The movement made up largely of working and lower middle-class citizens has won widespread public approval as it is seen by many as a means of making the voices of ordinary men and women heard. But after months of unrest in Paris and other French cities, Benjamin Griveaux said the gilets jaunes are not interested in the three-month debate on the reforms promised by Mr Macron, but instead want to overthrow the young president. Speaking at a press conference on Friday after the weekly cabinet meeting, Mr Griveaux said members of the movement “seek insurrection and basically want to overthrow the government”.
He added: “They are henceforth involved in a political struggle to contest the legitimacy of the government and of the president of the republic. “Those who called for a debate don’t want to participate in a big national debate.” Mr Macron said he intends to write a letter to the French people this month outlining how he will deliver his ambitious plans. [..] ‘Angry France’, one of the group which makes up the yellow vests, rejected the president’s offer of a national debate. A statement issued by the group read: “Mr President, this movement that you don’t recognise is nevertheless spreading and strengthening itself even as your fellow citizens are cudgelled, gassed and detained for hours in an unbelievable lack of respect for citizens’ rights.”
I have seldom seen a poll on a subject dividing the nation for which the lessons are so clear. The biggest survey yet conducted on Brexit shows that Remain would comfortably win a referendum held today – and that Labour would crash to a landslide election defeat if it helped Brexit go ahead. YouGov questioned more than 25,000 people between 21 December and last Friday. It tested two referendum scenarios. If the choice is Remain versus the government’s withdrawal agreement, Remain leads by 26 points: 63% to 37%. If the choice is Remain versus leaving the EU without a deal, Remain wins by 16 points: 58% to 42%. The difference is explained by the views of those who voted Leave in 2016.
Many of them want a clean break with Brussels, but back away from an agreement that fails to redeem the promise in 2016 to “take back control”. Among all voters, only 22% support the government’s deal. Among Leave voters the figure is not much higher: 28%. The larger point is that the nature of the choice has changed since 2016 – 52% voted Leave when it was a general aspiration with little apparent downside. Today support for Brexit is significantly lower when Leave is more clearly defined. This pattern is familiar to referendums in different countries: many people support the broad idea of change, but back away when the details are laid out. They want “change”, but not “this change”. That is clearly the case today: 80% of people who voted Leave two years ago still say they want Brexit to go ahead; but the figure falls to 69% if the choice is a “no deal” Brexit, and only 55% if the referendum offers the withdrawal agreement.
The rest say they don’t know, or switch to Remain. (The respective loyalty rates on the other side – Remain voters in 2016 who would stick with Remain today – are significantly higher.) [..] The conventional voting intention question produces a six-point Conservative lead (40% to 34%). This is bad enough for an opposition that ought to be reaping electoral dividends at a time when the government is in crisis. However, when voters are asked how they would vote if Labour failed to resist Brexit, the Conservatives open up a 17-point lead (43% to 26%). That would be an even worse result than in Margaret Thatcher’s landslide victory in 1983, when Labour slumped to 209 seats, its worst result since the 1930s.
The prime minister has urged MPs to back her Brexit deal, saying it is the only way to honour the referendum result and protect the economy. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Theresa May said her critics – both Remainers and Brexiteers – risk damaging democracy if they oppose her plan. But a poll carried out for the People’s Vote campaign suggests fewer than one in four voters support her Brexit deal. MPs are due to vote on whether to back Mrs May’s Brexit plan next week. The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 – regardless of whether there is a deal with the EU or not. A deal on the terms of the UK’s divorce and the framework of future relations has been agreed between the prime minister and the EU – but it needs to pass a vote by MPs in Parliament before it is accepted.
The House of Commons vote had been scheduled to take place in December but Mrs May called it off after it became clear that not enough MPs would vote for her deal. The debate on the deal will restart on Wednesday, with the crucial vote now expected to take place on 15 January. Writing in the Mail, Mrs May said: “The only way to both honour the result of the referendum and protect jobs and security is by backing the deal that is on the table.” She said “no one else has an alternative plan” that delivers on the EU referendum result, protects jobs and provides certainty to businesses.
“There are some in Parliament who, despite voting in favour of holding the referendum, voting in favour of triggering Article 50 and standing on manifestos committed to delivering Brexit, now want to stop us leaving by holding another referendum,” she said. “Others across the House of Commons are so focused on their particular vision of Brexit that they risk making a perfect ideal the enemy of a good deal. “Both groups are motivated by what they think is best for the country, but both must realise the risks they are running with our democracy and the livelihoods of our constituents.”
Theresa May’s hopes of securing the legally binding changes needed to win support for her Brexit deal are fading, after EU sources said it was unlikely there would be a new European summit to approve them. An emergency council like the one held in November would be needed to sanction any changes that would have legal force. But diplomats have told The Independent that any concessions offered would be unlikely to require a meeting. It means any alterations or new language secured by the prime minister will probably not satisfy enough rebel Tories or her DUP partners in government to win the Commons vote expected in the coming weeks. Only this week the DUP warned the prime minister that unless Brussels gave significant ground on the hated Irish backstop it would not support her plans.
MPs return to Westminster next week and begin several days of debate on Ms May’s deal before it is put to a vote that most people expect the prime minister to lose. Downing Street has been trying to play down expectations that Ms May will secure a major change before the vote due on 15 or 16 January, but there had been talk that European officials are holding back one concession that they could make to the UK later in the year. But even for those changes to have legal force, a new summit would need to be called as currently there is only one scheduled for the end of March – far too late to do anything meaningful before the UK drops out of the EU on 29 March. European insiders told The Independent that the idea of a summit had been considered, but this was now looking less likely.
The Dark Overlord hacker group has released decryption keys for 650 documents it says are related to 9/11. Unless a ransom is paid, it threatened with more leaks that will have devastating consequences for the US ‘deep state’. The document dump is just a fraction of the 18,000 secret documents related to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks believed to have been stolen from insurers, law firms, and government agencies. The Dark Overlord initially threatened to release the 10GB of data unless the hacked firms paid an unspecified bitcoin ransom. However, on Wednesday, the group announced a “tiered compensation plan” in which the public could make bitcoin payments to unlock the troves of documents.
A day later, the Dark Overlord said that it had received more than $12,000 in bitcoin – enough to unlock “layer 1” and several “checkpoints,” comprised of 650 documents in total. There are four more layers that remain encrypted and, according to the group, “each layer contains more secrets, more damaging materials… and generally just more truth.” The hackers are asking for $2 million in bitcoin for the public release of its “megaleak,” which it has dubbed “the 9/11 Papers.” [..] By design, the “layer 1” documents – if authentic – do not appear to contain any explosive revelations. The publications focus mostly on testimonies from airport security and details concerning insurance pay-outs to parties affected by the 9/11 attacks. However, the data dump suggests that the group is not bluffing.
The Integrity Initiative, a UK-funded group exposed in leaked files as psyop network, played a key role in monitoring and molding media narratives after the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal, newly-dumped documents reveal. Created by the NATO-affiliated, UK-funded Institute for Statecraft in 2015, the Integrity Initiative was unmasked in November after hackers released documents detailing a web of politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics involved in purportedly fighting “Russian disinformation.” The secretive, government-bankrolled “network of networks” has found itself under scrutiny for smearing UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge – ostensibly as part of its noble crusade against anti-Russian disinformation.
Now, new leaks show that the organization played a central role in shaping media narratives after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were mysteriously poisoned in Salisbury last March. It’s notable that many of the draconian anti-Russia measures that the group advocated as far back as 2015 were swiftly implemented following the Skripal affair – even as London refused to back up its finger-pointing with evidence. Days after the Skripals were poisoned, the Institute solicited its services to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, offering to “study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread, and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in a number of countries. After receiving the government’s blessing, the Integrity Initiative (II) launched ‘Operation Iris,’ enlisting “global investigative solutions” firm Harod Associates to analyze social media activity related to Skripal.
Concerns over Chinese growth could spell problems for Africa and other parts of the developing world. Beijing funded an overseas investment boom in the past few decades as it strove to become the world’s second largest economic superpower, while also buying vast amounts of the natural resources produced by emerging nations. The scale of the expansion forms part of China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road” Initiative, a state-backed campaign to promote its influence around the world, while providing stimulus for its own slowing economy. The transcontinental development project launched by China’s president, Xi Jinping, in 2013 aims to improve infrastructure links between Asia, Europe and Africa, with the aim for China to reap the benefits from increasing levels of global trade.
Mounting tensions between China and the US, however, have acted as a handbrake on rising levels of world trade. The IMF forecasts Chinese growth will slow to 6.2% this year from about 6.6% in 2018, due to escalations in the trade dispute that erupted last year. There are also rising fears over the rapid growth of debt in China used to fuel its expansion over the past decade. With Chinese investment in some African nations worth more than some of those states’ own domestic spending, analysts fear the prospect of weaker investment in future and fading demand for commodity exports. Figures from the United Nations’ development agency, Unctad, show that weakness in global commodity prices in 2014 and 2015 caused foreign direct investment flows into Africa to fall from $55bn in 2015 to $42bn in 2017, showing how Africa might be hit by a Chinese slowdown.
It’s Nancy Pelosi’s smile that gets me…oh, and not in a good way. It’s a smile that is actually the opposite of what a smile is supposed to do: signal good will and good faith. Nancy’s smile is full of malice and bad faith, like the smiles on representations of Shiva-the-Destroyer and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god who demanded thousands of human hearts to eat, lest he bring on the end of the world. It’s not exactly the end of the world in Washington D.C., but as the old saying goes: you can see it from there! It’s out on the edge of town like one of those sinister, broken-down circuses from the Ray Bradbury story-bag, with its ragtag cast of motheaten lions, crippled acrobats, a crooked wagon full of heartbroken freaks, and a shadowy ringmaster on a mission from the heart of darkness.
The new Democratic majority congress has convened in the spirit of a religious movement devoted to a single apocalyptic objective: toppling the Golden Golem of Greatness who rules in the House of White Privilege. They’re all revved up for inquisition, looking to apply as many thumbscrews, cattle prods, electrodes, waterboards, and bamboo splinters as necessary in pursuit of rectifying the heresy of the 2016 election. The simpleton California congressman Brad Sherman (D-30th dist.) couldn’t contain his glee, like a seven-year-old boy about to pull the wings off a fly. As soon as the Democratic majority was sworn in, he filed his articles of impeachment to impress his Wokester San Fernando Valley constituents out for deplorable blood.
That was even a bit too much for Madam Speaker who reminded Sherman that some scintilla of a predicate crime was required — but surely would be available when Special Counsel Robert Mueller hurls down his tablets of accusation from on high.
Jill Abramson, the former editor of the New York Times, said Fox News took her criticism of the newspaper’s Trump coverage in her upcoming book “totally out of context” for a story that appeared this week. The Fox News story, headlined “Former NY Times editor rips Trump coverage as biased,” quotes from Abramson’s book, “Merchants of Truth.” She wrote that although current Times executive editor Dean Baquet publicly said he didn’t want the newspaper to be the opposition party, “his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump.” With an audience perceived to be mostly liberal, “there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative,” she wrote in the book.
In a Saturday tweet, Trump commended Abramson as “100% correct” about the paper’s “[h]orrible and totally dishonest reporting on almost everything they write” and suggested it justified his calling the Times “fake news”. [..] Abramson was executive editor of the New York Times Co. flagship from 2011 to 2014 before being fired following a dispute with Baquet, then one of her deputies. She said in an email interview with the Associated Press that the Fox article’s author, “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz, had ignored compliments that she had for the Times and the Washington Post. “His article is an attempt to Foxify my book,” she wrote in the email, saying her book was “full of praise” for the New York Times and the Washington Post “and their coverage of Trump.”
Kurtz said in a phone interview with the AP that he was “sorry to see Jill back away from her own words” and that his report was accurate. “I would have written this story the same way if I were working for any news organization,” said Kurtz, a former Washington Post media columnist. “Her sometimes harsh criticism of her former paper’s Trump coverage leaps off the page and is clearly the most newsworthy element in the book because of her standing as a former executive editor.” [..] Abramson wrote that the more anti-Trump the Times was perceived to be, the more it was mistrusted for being biased. The late publisher Adolph Ochs’s promise to cover the news without fear or favor “sounded like an impossible promise in such a polarized environment, where the very definition of ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ was under constant assault,” she wrote in the book.
Yes it is. And so of course the UK talked about one thing only. Did Corbyn call Theresa May a ‘stupid woman’ or did he say ‘stupid people’ about a group of Tories, as a whole contingent of lipreaders claimed?
The vote of the House of Commons on the Brexit deal will now be in the week beginning 14 January, the prime minister confirmed on Monday. She hopes that her MPs are slowly coming round to the deal as the least worst option. She may also hope that Jeremy Corbyn gives his MPs a free vote, in which case enough of them may vote for her deal as a way of avoiding another referendum. It still seems more likely that Theresa May will lose, in which case the Brexit timetable will slip further. She would probably then ask the Commons to vote again after it had rejected the other options.
The one that is easiest to eliminate would be that of leaving the EU without a deal, even if it were dressed up as a “managed no deal” – at least, it ought to be easy to eliminate this option, but, until all the hoops have been jumped through, a no-deal Brexit remains the default, which is why there was such a fuss about no-deal planning at yesterday’s cabinet. The more difficult course for parliament to rule out is that of postponing Brexit and holding a referendum. If Corbyn backs a final say referendum, a Commons vote could be close, but, if May can defeat that option, she could then ask MPs to vote again on her deal. That seems to be her plan: to wear parliament down. That way she might finally win the vote at a second attempt a week later, in the week beginning 21 January – or even after that.
By then, the country would be running out of time to complete Brexit by 29 March. The problem is that a vote to approve the deal, important though it is, is only one of the things that need to be done to take us out of the EU. Once the deal has been approved, parliament also has to pass legislation to give effect to the withdrawal agreement in UK law. This will be called the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – yet another bill that sounds similar to all the others. It will be a complex and contentious bill that will be tricky to get through a hung parliament. In particular, it will contain a mechanism to entrench parts of the withdrawal agreement in UK law and make it hard for future parliaments to change them.
“Everything was awesome” and then Jay Powell said… Some years ago, we took away the lesson that the markets were very sensitive to news about the balance sheet, so we thought carefully about how to normalize it and thought to have it on automatic pilot, and use rates to adjust to incoming data. That has been a good decision, I think, I don’t see us changing that…. we don’t see balance sheet runoff as creating problems” And everything broke…
Overnight futures show hopeful buying – “surely The Fed will deliver and capitulate… for goodness sake, someone has to rescue my FANG portfolio!!??” – But The Fed did not – cutting their rate outlook by a mere one hike, with plenty still seeing 3 hikes ahead in 2019…
The market now expects 18bps of RATE CUTS in 2020!!!
The much-anticipated December Fed meeting has finally come and gone, and the stock market did not like what it heard. The Fed raised rates by 0.25% and cut its expectation for 2019 rate hikes from three to two. Because the Fed didn’t sound as dovish as many investors would have liked, the S&P 500 promptly fell 1.54% to a fresh 2018 low. From a technical perspective, today’s action is extremely concerning because the S&P 500 broke the key 2,550 to 2,600 support zone that I’ve been showing for the past couple months. Today’s breakdown increases the probability of further bearish action unless the index somehow manages to close back above that zone.
The longer-term S&P 500 chart shows how critical today’s breakdown is. Today’s breakdown is the second important technical breakdown in recent months (the first one being the break below the trendline that formed in early-2016, which I said was a bad omen). Assuming today’s breakdown remains intact, 2,100 (the 2015 and 2016 highs) is the next price target and support level to watch.
Where in the world is Peter Schiff, as the stock market entered an apparent unraveling phase? Find the chief executive of Euro Pacific Capital, a longtime gold bug and market pundit, on a beach in Puerto Rico, where he’s taken up residence as he watches the equity market get rocked. “I’m watching the U.S. economy implode from the beach,” Schiff told MarketWatch during a recent phone interview. “We’re in a lot of trouble,” he said. “This isn’t a bear market, we’re in a house of cards that the Fed built,” he said. Indeed, despite recent attempts to rebound, the Dow Jones is on track for its worst year since 2008 — down by about 3.5% — when the financial crisis brought global markets to their knees, according to Dow Jones Market Data.
The same goes for the S&P 500 which would also notch its worst year in a decade, if its roughly 4% decline thus far this year hold. Schiff is a polarizing figure on Wall Street, a man that critics say has harbored a persistent and unrealized post-crisis narrative for the Fed’s monetary policy, with predictions of soaring inflation and a dollar collapse. However, the prominent investor should be worthy of investors’ attention, on the back of his prescient calls ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, which earned him plaudits as one of the few able to spot a global economic crisis emanating from the housing market.
Asian stock markets have taken a battering after the US Federal Reserve voted to raise borrowing costs for the fourth time this year, signalling a further squeeze on liquidity around the world. In Tokyo, the Nikkei closed down nearly 3% to its lowest point for 14 months as the Fed’s pledge to continue with “gradual” rate hikes next year sent shivers through financial markets. Shares in Hong Kong and Seoul were both down more than 1% while stocks in Sydney finished at a two-year low. Futures trading pointed to a drop of 2% in the FTSE100 index in London and the Dax in Frankfurt when when the markets open on Thursday morning.
Investors’ confidence that the global economy is headed for a significant slowdown was further weakened when China’s central bank introduced a new lending facility for small private businesses, which was seen as a targeted rate cut designed to kickstart the spluttering economy. The move by the People’s Bank of China shows the two biggest economies are out of step with Beijing responding to a rate hike in the US with a de facto cut. The Shanghai Composite share index was down nearly 1% in afternoon trade while the yuan wad fixed 0.22% lower against the US dollar. [..] “The Fed’s been a huge friend of the stock market and they are now a little bit of an enemy and will probably become worse of an enemy before this is all over,” Bob Doll, Nuveen chief equity strategist and senior portfolio manager, told Bloomberg.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has introduced a short-term spending bill to finance the US government and avoid a shutdown at the end of the week Mr McConnell, the leading Republican in the Senate, said that the funding bill known as a continuing resolution “will ensure continuous funding for the federal government” until 8 February. The short-term bill needs to be approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives before it can proceed to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law. Mr McConnell’s bill comes as Congress races against time before funding for the government runs out on Friday at midnight, amid a contentious push by Mr Trump to make $5bn worth in funding for his controversial border wall a requirement for any spending agreement.
But, while Mr Trump had indicated that he would take responsibility for a shutdown in order to make a point about the wall, the White House has since stepped back from that threat. We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion”, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday. On the Senate floor, Mr McConnell lashed out at Democrats, who will reclaim their House majority in January, for failing to give Mr Trump any of the $5bn he has asked for. “This seems to be the reality of our political moment,” Mr McConnell said. “It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy.”
The United States will withdraw its troops from Syria, a US official told AFP on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump said America has “defeated ISIS” in the war-ravaged country. The stunning move will have extraordinary geopolitical ramifications and throws into question the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the Republican president tweeted. The US official told AFP that Trump’s decision was finalized Tuesday. “Full withdrawal, all means all,” the official said when asked if the troops would be pulled from all of Syria.
Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in Syria, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS. The official would not provide a timeline for a withdrawal, saying only: “We will ensure force protection is adequately maintained, but as quickly as possible.” Echoing Trump, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said IS has been defeated territorially, noting the US-led coalition that includes dozens of nations would continue fighting IS. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said in a statement. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.”
[..] Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the president’s decision was shortsighted. “President @realDonaldTrump is right to want to contain Iranian expansion,” Graham said on Twitter. “However, withdrawal of our forces in Syria mightily undercuts that effort and put our allies, the Kurds at risk.” Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, called the decision “extraordinarily short-sighted and naive.” “This move will look like a ‘withdrawal,’ not a ‘victory,’ and yet more evidence of the dangerous unpredictability of the US president,” Lister said. “This is not just a dream scenario for ISIS, but also for Russia, Iran and the Assad regime, all of whom stand to benefit substantially from a US withdrawal.”
It is quite possible that the deep state will eventually swallow Trump’s announcement whole. However, if he had gone through the usual channels to make his announcement, they would have caught it before it became public. That’s why he has Twitter.
The announcement on Wednesday that the U.S. will withdraw all remaining troops from Syria within the next month looked at first like a rare victory for Donald Trump in his admittedly erratic opposition to senseless wars of adventure. “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there,” the president tweeted with an unmistakable air of triumph. Don’t get your hopes up. Just about everything in these initial reports is either wrong or misleading. One, the U.S. did not defeat the Islamic State: The Syrian Arab Army, aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah militias did. Two, hardly was ISIS the only reason the U.S. has maintained a presence in Syria. The intent for years was to support a coup against the Assad government in Damascus—in part by training and equipping jihadists often allied with ISIS.
For at least the past six months, the U.S. military’s intent in Syria has been to counter Iranian influence. Last and hardly least, the U.S. is not closing down its military presence in Syria. It is digging in for an indefinite period, making Raqqa the equivalent of the Green Zone in Baghdad. By the official count, there are 503 U.S. troops stationed in the Islamic State’s former capital. Unofficially, according to The Washington Post and other press reports, the figure is closer to 4,000—twice the number that is supposed to represent a “full withdrawal” from Syrian soil. It would be nice to think Washington has at last accepted defeat in Syria, given it is preposterous to pretend otherwise any longer.
Damascus is now well into its consolidation phase. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are currently working with Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, to form a committee in January to begin drafting a new Syrian constitution. It would also be nice to think the president and commander-in-chief has the final say in his administration’s policies overseas, given the constitution by which we are supposed to be governed. But the misleading announcement on the withdrawal of troops, followed by Trump’s boastful tweet, suggest something close to exactly the opposite. As Trump finishes his second year in office, the pattern is plain: This president can have all the foreign policy ideas he wants, but the Pentagon, State, the intelligence apparatus, and the rest of what some call “the deep state” will either reverse, delay, or never implement any policy not to its liking.
Even the neo-con warmongers’ house journal The Guardian, furious at Trump’s attempts to pull US troops out of Syria, in producing a map to illustrate its point, could only produce one single, uncertain, very short pen stroke to describe the minute strip of territory it claims ISIS still control on the Iraqi border. Of course, the Guardian produces the argument that continued US military presence is necessary to ensure that ISIS does not spring back to life in Syria. The fallacy of that argument can be easily demonstrated. In Afghanistan, the USA has managed to drag out the long process of humiliating defeat in war even further than it did in Vietnam.
It is plain as a pikestaff that the presence of US occupation troops is itself the best recruiting sergeant for resistance. In Sikunder Burnes I trace how the battle lines of tribal alliances there today are precisely the same ones the British faced in 1841. We just attach labels like Taliban to hide the fact that invaders face national resistance. The secret to ending the strength of ISIS in Syria is not the continued presence of American troops. It is for America’s ever closer allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to cut off the major artery of money and arms, which we should never forget in origin and for a long time had a strong US component. The US/Saudi/Israeli alliance against Iran is the most important geo-political factor in the region today.
It is high time this alliance stopped both funding ISIS and pretending to fight it; schizophrenia is not a foreign policy stance. There has been no significant Shia Islamic terrorist or other threat against the West in recent years. 9/11 was carried out by Saudi Sunni militants. Al Qaida, ISIS, Al Nusra, Boko Haram, these are all Sunni groups, and all Saudi sponsored. It is a matter of lunacy that the West has adopted the posture that it is Iran – which has sponsored not one attack on the West in recent memory – which is the threat in the Middle East.
Novartis and Bayer are among nearly 30 drugmakers that have taken steps to raise the U.S. prices of their medicines in January, ending a self-declared halt to increases made by a pharma industry under pressure from the Trump administration, according to documents seen by Reuters.The hikes will pose a new challenge to President Donald Trump’s pledge to lower the costs of prescription medications in the world’s most expensive pharmaceutical market. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a slew of policies aimed at lowering prices and passing more of the discounts negotiated by health insurers on to patients.
Those measures are not expected to provide relief to consumers in the short-term, however, and fall short of giving government health agencies direct authority to negotiate or regulate drug prices. 28 drugmakers filed notifications with California agencies in early November disclosing that they planned to raise prices in 60 days or longer. Under a state law passed last year, companies are required to notify payers in California if they intend to raise the U.S. list price on any drug by more than 16 percent over a two-year period. [..] “Requests and public shaming haven’t worked” to lower drug prices, said Michael Rea, chief executive of RX Savings Solutions, which helps health plans and employers seek lower cost prescription medicines. “We expect the number of 2019 increases to be even greater than in past years.”
Italy has managed to avert EU sanctions after reaching a compromise with the European commission over its 2019 budget. The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said the government had managed to reach an agreement to reduce the deficit target to 2.04% of GDP from 2.4%. This has been achieved without making drastic changes to key budget proposals such as the promise of a universal basic income and lowering the pension age. “Over the last few weeks we worked to bring the positions closer without ever moving backwards with respect to the objectives the Italian people set us in the 4 March election,” Conte said.
“The economic-financial estimates about the measures that attracted the most attention of our European partners revealed that the resources [needed] were less than forecast.” The yield, or effective interest rate, on Italian 10-year government bonds fell to 2.79%, the lowest level since September. Less than two months ago the yield, the price the Italian government has to pay to borrow, rose to 3.8%. However, Valdis Dombrovskis, a European commission vice-president, described the agreement with Italy as a “borderline compromise” that fails to provide long-term solutions to the country’s economic problems. “But it enables us, for now, to avoid opening a debt procedure, as long as the negotiated measures are fully applied,” he said at a press conference in Brussels.
The French government is desperately trying to keep its exhausted police force onside following weeks of violent protests demanding economic reforms, improved living standards and the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron. On Wednesday, French officials met with police trade union leaders to work out a deal to soothe anger in law enforcement ranks regarding overwork, unpaid overtime and difficult working conditions, Le Monde reported. But some activists are calling on police to walk out on government negotiations, close down police stations and join the “gilets jaunes”—or yellow vest—protesters with whom they have been facing off since November 17. Negotiations between three unions—Alliance, UNSA-Police and Unity-SGP-FO—and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Tuesday failed to reach a settlement.
As talks resumed on Wednesday, France 24 reported that activists were calling on forces across the country to commit to a “slowdown” and only respond to emergencies until the dispute had been settled. Police have accumulated some 23 million hours of overtime that is yet to be paid. According to The Local France, police union leader Frédéric Lagache explained, “Faced with this irresponsibility [of the government], we are forced to be irresponsible in our actions.” The Alliance and Unity-SGP-FO unions called for a “black day for the police” on Wednesday. The Alliance is using Twitter and Facebook to rally support for what it calls “Act 1” of the police protests, using the name given to the ongoing demonstrations held by the gilets jaunes. The group has also threatened to hold “Act II” and “Act III” if required.
London’s Gatwick Airport shut down late Wednesday while officials urgently investigated reports that two drones were flying above the airfield. The airport suspended all flights, causing severe disruptions just days before Christmas during one of the heaviest travel times of the year. Police and aviation authorities were still investigating early Thursday as incoming flights were diverted to other locations in Britain and nearby countries. Passengers complained on Twitter that their flights had landed at London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. Other flights were sent to France and the Netherlands. One traveler whose flight was diverted tweeted that passengers were not being told when they could continue to their destination.
Gatwick advised travelers via Twitter to check flights scheduled for Thursday before heading to the airport. It also advised anyone planning to pick up arriving passengers to check first. Any problem at Gatwick causes a ripple effect throughout Britain and continental Europe, particularly during a holiday period when the air traffic control system is under strain. It is a busy airport 27 miles south of London, hosting a variety of short- and long-haul flights and serving as a major hub for the budget carrier easyJet. Gatwick normally operates throughout the night but the number of flights is restricted because of noise limitations. The airport website says it usually handles 18 to 20 flights overnight during the winter months.
Yes, it’s priceless to read the Guardian on fake news.
Craig Murray tweets: ..The Guardian today published a story about a German journalist who invented stories, but still has never apologised for its own 100% fabricated Luke Harding piece about Manafort’s “visits to Assange in the Embassy”, and Harding and Viner are still employed..
The German news magazine Der Spiegel has been plunged into chaos after revealing that one of its top reporters had falsified stories over several years. The media world was stunned by the revelations that the award-winning journalist Claas Relotius had, according to the weekly, “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 out of 60 articles that appeared in its print and online editions, warning that other outlets could also be affected. Relotius, 33, resigned after admitting to the scam. He had written for the magazine for seven years and won numerous awards for his investigative journalism, including CNN Journalist of the Year in 2014.
Earlier this month, he won Germany’s Reporterpreis (Reporter of the Year) for his story about a young Syrian boy, which the jurors praised for its “lightness, poetry and relevance”. It has since emerged that all the sources for his reportage were at best hazy, and much of what he wrote was made up. The falsification came to light after a colleague who worked with him on a story along the US-Mexican border raised suspicions about some of the details in Relotius’s reporting, having harboured doubts about him for some time.
The colleague, Juan Moreno, eventually tracked down two alleged sources quoted extensively by Relotius in the article, which was published in November. Both said they had never met Relotius. Relotius had also lied about seeing a hand-painted sign that read “Mexicans keep out”, a subsequent investigation found. Other fraudulent stories included one about a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, and one about the American football star Colin Kaepernick.
In an oxbow lake along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, a breathy sigh pierces the surface stillness as one of China’s most endangered animals comes up for a gulp of hazy air. A slick black back with no dorsal fin arches briefly above the water line before plunging back down. Such glimpses of the shy Yangtze finless porpoise, the only aquatic mammal left in China’s longest river and known in Chinese as the “smiling angel” for its perma-grin, are increasingly rare. Pollution, overfishing, hydroelectric dams and shipping traffic have rendered them critically endangered, worse off even than China’s best-known symbol of animal conservation, the panda.
AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE
China’s government estimates there were 1,012 wild Yangtze finless porpoises in 2017, compared to more than 1,800 giant pandas, which is no longer endangered. But researchers see signs of hope. Porpoise numbers fell by nearly half from 2006-2012 to an estimated 1,040. But the rate of decline has slowed markedly since then, suggesting that conservation may be making a dent. A central component of the rescue effort is the introduction of porpoises to several conservation areas off the busy river, where researchers say numbers have been actually increasing. [..] Chinese officials are keen to avoid a repeat of the “baiji”, or Yangtze dolphin, the river’s only other aquatic mammal, which since 2006 has been considered extinct in a huge conservation setback for China. Losing the “smiling angel” would be a further tragedy, conservationists say.
It’s a nasty day to be long Wall Street’s “synchronized global recovery.” Chinese stocks are down -20% from their January highs. Emerging Market equities, like Argentina and the Philippines, have been rocked by the one-two punch of a stronger dollar and slowing growth. Italian equities are down -12% since early May. Our read on global stagflation remains firmly intact. In other words, it’s not the threat of President Trump’s trade wars that continue to weigh on global equity markets, it’s slowing economic data. We don’t expect these trends to reverse anytime soon. The evidence of global growth slowing is everywhere.
The latest news out of China is that the PBoC lowered the reserve requirements for some Chinese banks, thereby releasing $108 billion in liquidity. The media quickly blamed President Trump’s “trade wars” for the move. However, the economic tea leaves suggest China’s ongoing growth slowdown is the culprit. The ripple effects of #ChinaSlowing are already being felt in Emerging Asia, like Philippine equities. (China is one of the Philippines’ primary trading partners. #ChinaSlowing = Not good.) We continue to forecast #EuropeSlowing, despite ECB head Mario Draghi’s claim that European “growth momentum” is alive and well. If the data is so good, why did Eurozone Industrial Production get more-or-less cut in half in April (1.7% YoY i! from 3.2%)?
The Federal Reserve’s effort earlier this month to tamp down the rise of its benchmark interest rate already isn’t running as smoothly as officials might have anticipated. At its June 12-13 meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee hiked its target overnight funds rate 0.25 points to a range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent. At the same time, it raised the interest on excess reserves 0.2 points to 1.95 percent. The move was meant to contain the rise of the funds rate, which historically trails the IOER. In the weeks running up to the meeting, the funds rate closed within 5 basis points, or 0.05 percent, of the IOER, instead of staying within the midpoint of the target range as it has done since the Fed began hiking the funds rate in December 2015.
However, in the days since, the funds rate has moved even closer to the IOER. As of Friday trading, the funds rate has edged up to 1.92 percent — now just 3 basis points away from the IOER, though still 8 points away from the top of the trading range set at this month’s meeting. For the Fed, it’s a potential headache as the central bank sees to unwind the programs it initiated the pull the economy out of the financial crisis. The Fed kept interest rates at historically low levels and bought up nearly $4 trillion worth of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities in an effort to keep rates anchored and maintain liquidity flow through the financial system. For investors, it means that continued upward pressure on the funds rate as the Fed unwinds the bonds on its balance sheet could keep the FOMC at bay in its stated intention to continue hiking interest rates.
“Here we are, and I think they will be lucky to get one more done this year, because whenever the curve flattens the market’s going to look at the Fed and say, ‘Really?’ and the Fed will have to blink,” said Christopher Whalen, head of Whalen Global Advisors, an investment bank consultancy. “They’re telling everyone there’s going to be a couple more rate increases, and that’s fanciful.”
Egon von Greyerz: “While the US government worries about the military threat of Russia, and the trade deficit with China, they show no concern for the real problems. To understand what is really happening, all we need to do is to ‘Follow the Money.’ The flows of real money reveal where global economic power is moving. “The US has not had a real budget surplus for almost 60 years and has run balance of payment deficits every year since 1975. A country that lives above its means for over half a century is technically and economically bankrupt. Its debt should have zero value and so should its currency. But the US has skillfully avoided bankruptcy, so far, by having the reserve currency of the world and being the biggest military power.
Both Russia and China can see the writing on the wall. They understand that the world’s most indebted country cannot solve its debt problem by issuing more debt. That is why Russia and China, together with India, are buying most of the global gold production every year. In May Russia added another 600,000 oz or almost 20 tonnes to its gold reserves. Since January 2018, when Trump became president, US debt has increased by 6% or $1.1 trillion to $21.1 trillion, while Russia has added another 9 million oz of gold, and are now holding $80 billion of gold reserves. So while the US economy is taking the road to perdition, Russia knows that the only money that will survive is gold — just like it always has! For years the world has financed the US debt by buying US treasuries. But we are now seeing a marked change.
Many countries are currently liquidating US Treasuries. They know what will happen to US debt and are trying to get rid of their holdings in an orderly manner in order to avoid US Treasuries crashing together with the dollar. This is what will happen at some point in the next 1-3 years. Global investors will panic out of dollar denominated bonds, leading to a crash of both the US currency and dollar debt. The Chinese know this but their US Treasury holdings are so large that they need to sell slowly in order not to shoot themselves in the foot. In the end, China is likely to take a major loss on its dollar Treasury holdings but that is the price they have been willing to pay in order to build up their economy and manufacturing sector through financing US deficit spending.
From global manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson to small tech startups, companies are scrambling to rework supply chains built for an era of stable, open trade policy that is now under threat. As U.S. President Donald Trump pushes to upend the status quo of global trade, companies that initially took a wait-and-see stance are starting to take action to shield their businesses from shifting trade policy. On Monday, U.S. motorcycle maker Harley warned of higher costs because of retaliatory EU tariffs, and said it would shift production of bikes destined for the European Union out of the United States to factories it has built in India, Brazil and Thailand.
The decision of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company, which Trump vowed to make great again when he took office, came less than a week after Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler cut its 2018 profit forecast, citing growing trade tensions. Its German rival BMW said it was considering “possible strategic options” in view of the rising trade tensions between China and the United States. Harley is the latest example of how companies are finding themselves in the crosshairs following “tit-for-tat” retaliations over Trump’s bid to rewrite global trade rules as part of his “America First” agenda. Office furniture maker Steelcase last week reported a 230 basis-point fall in the gross margins of its American business in the first quarter due to higher raw materials costs following Trump’s metal import tariffs.
Conflicting signals from the Trump administration over proposed restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. technology companies, along with news that recently imposed import tariffs are starting to disrupt supply chains, sent global stock markets tumbling on Monday. Proposed restrictions on foreign investment in U.S. technology would not just be confined to China, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The forthcoming restrictions would apply “to all countries that are trying to steal our technology,” he said. The U.S. Treasury is due to issue its recommendations on Chinese investment restrictions on Friday.
Late Monday White House trade and manufacturing adviser Peter Navarro sought to downplay Mnuchin’s remarks, telling CNBC television that the restrictions on investments in U.S. technology companies would just target China. Benchmark Wall Street stock indexes suffered their worst losses in two months on Monday, while safe haven Treasury debt yields fell. U.S. technology stocks were worst hit. Alphabet, the parent of Google, fell 2.6 percent, Apple lost 2.75 percent, and Amazon dropped 3.0 percent. The recent imposition of import tariffs by the U.S., and counter-measures by other countries, are also starting to affect global production and supply chains. Some U.S. steel and aluminium tariffs went into effect in April and additional tariffs begin in July.
Trump, Escobar explains, wasn’t born into the Manhattan aristocracy. And though the “Masters of the Universe” – a group that includes the country’s top bankers along with the leaders of the military and intelligence communities – were initially reluctant to embrace him (as were many factions within the Republican Party), they eventually changed their minds once they understood that he would advocate for their interests. “He’s not born in lower Manhattan…and he’s not part of the New York aristocracy, the establishment that’s been there for some 150 to 200 years…he’s still regarded in New York as a wealthy outsider. But in the end, he was accepted by some sectors of the Republican Party – even though they initially didn’t want to accept him – Washington, some sectors of the Republican Party.”
He was the candidate of the establishment from the beginning, or he was a genuine candidate whose regime has now been disturbed by the Deep State. He was vetoed by the establishment – this is something that people who know how the Deep State works in DC they will tell you always the same thing: You don’t become a candidate for a President of the United States if you are not vetted…by the people who actually run the US.” Trump was vulnerable to this manipulation because he doesn’t have a nuanced enough understanding of geopolitics…which has forced him to rely on advisors whispering in his ear…advisors whose intentions aren’t always working in the best interest of the president, or the American people, for that matter.
One example is Trump’s insistence on instigating a trade war between China and the US. While China has many ways to retaliate against the US, as least when it comes to finding markets for their goods, US companies have more options than their Chinese peers. “Trump still doesn’t understand that the retaliation is going to be really huge from the Chinese and they have ways of hurting badly – they even have ways of ratcheting up taxes on products made in the Midwest. But they’re going to lose much more than we do. We have other markets. We export more to Asia, we export more to South America and we export more to Europe.”
Melvyn Bragg has said Britain is becoming a stupid country, in part because its university system is being destroyed. The broadcaster and Labour peer criticised the state of British higher education in an interview with the magazine Radio Times. “We have, per capita, the best university system in the world, but it’s being – carelessly and utterly stupidly – destroyed very slowly,” he said. “We used to be the clever country and now we’re clearly the stupid country. Except for certain highlights.”
The car industry has warned Theresa May there is “no Brexit dividend” for the business, with 860,000 jobs being put at risk unless the government “rethinks” its red lines in negotiations. In the starkest warning yet from a single business sector, the car lobby has told the government that it needs “as a minimum” to remain in the customs union and a deal that delivers “single market benefits”. “There is no Brexit dividend for our industry,” Michael Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said. It said Brexit uncertainty was thwarting investment and repeated calls for the UK to stay in the customs partnership until the government came up with a “credible plan B”.
With investment slowing and time running out, negotiators must get on with the job of agreeing a deal that will put an end to uncertainty and prioritise the needs of the automotive sector, the SMMT said. The sector had grown for the eighth successive year with turnover at a record £82bn in 2017. However it said 2018 has showed a slowdown in output with investment earmarked for new models, equipments and facilities in the UK halving to around £347m. [..] “With decisions on new vehicle models in the UK due soon, government must take steps to boost investor confidence and safeguard the thousands of jobs that depend on the sector,” it said ahead of a key conference for the automotive industry.
The government had “no credible Plan B” for customs arrangements post-Brexit, it said, that would keep the Port of Dover flowing freely. Car manufacturers rely on what is known as “just in time” production whereby components, mostly from the EU, cross the channel just hours before they are needed on the assembly line. More than 1,000 trucks a day cross the channel with these components.
Bears and bulls alike following Tesla’s gripping nailbiter of a story – the company has until the end of the month to pumpt out 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week – both agree on one thing: the output of the company’s new “tent” structure which Musk erected recently to produce Model 3 vehicles is going to decide whether or not the company hits its production goal that it has touted over the last couple of months. The tent was erected in just a matter of weeks, and came online in early June, to help the company produce more vehicles at a time when they are under the microscope. Until recently, we didn’t know the details as to when it was erected, what the timing looked like and what it is expected to produce.
However, a Bloomberg article out today helped shed some light on the details of what is arguably the most important – if archaic – structure that Tesla has built yet. Not surprisingly, opinions extend the whole gamut, with some manufacturing experts claiming the tent is “basically nuts”: “Elon Musk has six days to make good on his pledge that Tesla will be pumping out 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of the month. If he succeeds, it may be thanks to the curious structure outside the company’s factory. It’s a tent the size of two football fields that Musk calls “pretty sweet” and that manufacturing experts deride as, basically, nuts. [..] Inside the tent in Fremont, California, is an assembly line Musk hastily pulled together for the Model 3. That’s the electric car that is supposed to vault Tesla from niche player for the wealthy to high-volume automaker, bringing a more affordable electric vehicle to the masses.”
Analysts at Bernstein are equally unimpressed. Here is a quote from Max Warburton who benchmarked auto assembly plants before his job as a financial analyst: “Words fail me. It’s insanity,” said Max Warburton, who benchmarked auto-assembly plants around the world before becoming a financial analyst. [..] What gives manufacturing experts pause about Tesla’s tent is that it was pitched to shelter an assembly line cobbled together with scraps lying around the brick-and-mortar plant. It smacks of a Hail Mary move after months of stopping and starting production to make on-the-fly fixes to automated equipment, which Musk himself has said was a mistake. “The existing line isn’t functional, it can’t build cars as planned and there isn’t room to get people into work stations to replace the non-functioning robots,” Warburton said. “So here we have it—build cars manually in the parking lot.”
A Russian company accused of helping fund a propaganda operation to sway the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor asked a federal judge on Monday to dismiss charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, saying Mueller was unlawfully appointed and lacks prosecutorial authority. Concord Management and Consulting LLC, a firm that prosecutors say is controlled by a businessman dubbed by Russian media as “Putin’s cook,” argued in a filing in U.S. district court in Washington that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution when he hired Mueller in May 2017.
Concord is one of three entities, along with 13 Russian individuals, indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in February in an alleged criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper with the U.S. race, boost Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The indictment said Concord is controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia’s military and political establishment. In it, Concord is alleged to have controlled funding, recommended personnel and overseen the activities of the propaganda campaign. Concord is the only one of the defendants in the case to have formally responded to the charges in federal court. Earlier this year, it hired American lawyers to fight the indictment.
Under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, principal officers such as cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate while “inferior officers” may be appointed by courts or department heads if permitted by Congress. Concord’s lawyers say that Mueller qualifies as an “officer” under the clause and not a routine federal employee under the law because of his vast prosecutorial authority. They say that no matter whether Mueller is deemed an “inferior” or “principal” officer, his appointment still violates the Constitution. As a principal officer, they say, he should have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
One of the more devastating intelligence leaks in American history — the unmasking of the CIA’s arsenal of cyber warfare weapons last year — has an untold prelude worthy of a spy novel. Some of the characters are household names, thanks to the Russia scandal: James Comey, fired FBI director. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Julian Assange, grand master of WikiLeaks. And American attorney Adam Waldman, who has a Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue. Each played a role in the early days of the Trump administration to try to get Assange to agree to “risk mitigation” — essentially, limiting some classified CIA information he might release in the future.
The effort resulted in the drafting of a limited immunity deal that might have temporarily freed the WikiLeaks founder from a London embassy where he has been exiled for years, according to interviews and a trove of internal DOJ documents turned over to Senate investigators. But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come. This yarn begins in January 2017 when Assange’s legal team approached Waldman — known for his government connections — to see if the new Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder, holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy.
[..] Ohr consulted his chain of command and the intelligence community about what appeared to be an extraordinary overture that raised hopes the government could negotiate what Assange would release and what he might redact, to protect the names of exposed U.S. officials. Assange made clear through the lawyer that he would never compromise his sources, or stop publishing information, but was willing to consider concessions like redactions. Although the intelligence community reviled Assange for the damage his past releases caused, officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time.
Assamaka, Niger — From this isolated frontier post deep in the sands of the Sahara, the expelled migrants can be seen coming over the horizon by the hundreds. They look like specks in the distance, trudging miserably across some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain in the blistering sun. They are the ones who made it out alive. Here in the desert, Algeria has abandoned more than 13,000 people in the past 14 months, including pregnant women and children, stranding them without food or water and forcing them to walk, sometimes at gunpoint, under temperatures of up to 48ºC (118ºF). In Niger, where the majority head, the lucky ones limp across a desolate 15-kilometer (9-mile) no man’s land to Assamaka, less a town than a collection of unsteady buildings sinking into drifts of sand.
Others, disoriented and dehydrated, wander for days before a U.N. rescue squad can find them. Untold numbers perish along the way; nearly all the more than two dozen survivors interviewed by The Associated Press told of people in their groups who simply could not go on and vanished into the Sahara. [..] Algeria’s mass expulsions have picked up since October 2017, as the European Union renewed pressure on North African countries to head off migrants going north to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or the barrier fences with Spain. These migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa — Mali, the Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger and more — are part of the mass migration toward Europe, some fleeing violence, others just hoping to make a living.
A European Union spokesperson said the EU was aware of what Algeria was doing, but that “sovereign countries” can expel migrants as long as they comply with international law. Unlike Niger, Algeria takes none of the EU money intended to help with the migration crisis, although it did receive $111.3 million in aid from Europe between 2014 and 2017. Algeria provides no figures for the expulsions. But the number of people crossing on foot to Niger has been rising steadily since the International Organization for Migration started counting in May 2017, when 135 people were dropped at the crossing, to as high as 2,888 in April 2018. In all, according to the IOM, a total of 11,276 men, women and children survived the march.
A Brazilian Congress commission has approved a controversial bill to lift restrictions on pesticides despite fierce opposition from environmentalists, prosecutors, health and environment ministry bodies, and even United Nations special rapporteurs. Driven by a powerful agribusiness lobby, the bill now needs to be voted on in both houses of Congress and sanctioned by President Michel Temer before becoming law. Its proponents say it will free up bureaucracy and modernise dated legislation. But the bill has generated fierce opposition in Brazil, one of the world’s biggest food producers and biggest consumers of pesticides, even those banned in other countries.
Opponents dubbed it the “poison package” and said it would lead to the indiscriminate use of dangerous pesticides, while 250,000 signed an online petition against it. “The law will make us more permissive than we already are,” said Larissa Bombardi, a professor of geography and pesticides specialist at the University of São Paulo. “The economic interest will prevail over human and environmental health.” Of 121 pesticides permitted in Brazil for coffee production, 30 are already banned in the European Union, including the toxic herbicide paraquat, Bombardi reported in an extensive 2017 study. The bill overhauls existing legislation, allowing for pesticides to be given temporary register if the approval process has taken over two years and three countries in the OECD have already approved it.
[..] Under Brazil’s current legislation, pesticides with elements considered teratogenic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disruptive, or posing risks to the reproductive system can’t be registered, they said. But under the bill, hazardous pesticides will only be prohibited when there is a “scientifically established unacceptable risk” – a definition too vague to be effective. Greenpeace attacked lawmakers for approving the bill in the face of such wide opposition. “They want a toxic product to look less threatening,” said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator. “The toxic garbage being banned in the rest of the planet will be sold here.”
David Lynch on Trump: “He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.” While Trump may not be doing a good job himself, Lynch thinks, he is opening up a space where other outsiders might. “Our so-called leaders can’t take the country forward, can’t get anything done. Like children, they are. Trump has shown all this.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
Dr. D feels his own golden age coming on. It’s just a bit dark gold. Nothing a good polish can’t help, I’m sure. In the end, the spirit is familiar:
A man only begins to grasp the true meaning of life when he plants a tree under whose shade he knows he will never sit.
That is literally how he finishes this:
It’s going where it’s going, as I grow plants and make the bees happy, let the trees rest in the forests, as best I’m able when devoid of any help. They will survive. We are as perennial as grass, and will diminish someday. When we do, I will have left the trees, the seeds, the order, the patterns that will feed the generations that follow, as true men, not infants, should.
Would rather work on a more positive article, something about life, nature, spring, gardens; however I find that they are so complicated as to be inexpressible. So many, from Thoreau to Sand County Almanac spend entire books and barely scratch an overview of the complexity of nature. It’s at once so obvious and, lacking personal experience, so inexplicable. So I haven’t done that, but it’s been chilly and till the asparagus, start the plants (too early) and wait for the leaves.
Maybe it’s the case that once we understand how much there is, no thoughts can be put into a 1,000 word article. Certainly that’s to the detriment of modern thinking and persuasion. Maybe I just always use too many words to say things and draw in sidelines that are better neglected, however interesting and connected; for all things are really equally connected in mind just as in nature, and because of our linear minds we can’t look at them at once, but only one by one.
John Day is correct of the gestalt, however seldom that happens to humankind. And what is it? Does that not mean we partake of Jung’s mass consciousness, that we are in fact telepathic, like schools of fish and flocks of birds gyring in the sky? The nation has gone insane, truly mad, I could not describe it to you. 80% of people believe whatever they think that minute is reality. When CNN tells them the opposite of yesterday, or the beginning of the sentence is the opposite of the ending, it causes no distress.
It’s truly Robespierre, cultural revolution, and it doesn’t end well, for the expression of all of it is Crowley’s “Do what thou will” with Ayn Rand’s “What’s best for me is best for all” so you have a system of plundering by power, whether by force or victimhood, where the reality – actually, earnestly, incontrovertibly believed – is whatever will get me the most in this moment. Is it easier to fake medical paperwork, not check patients, and let them die rather than get out of a chair once an hour? We do it.
Call them on it and they’ll deny it, believing even to themselves. Steal from your own work, your family, banish them on Facebook if they call you on it, then expect a minute later there should be no ill will, no consequences? Certainly. Look around and call on public opinion for the callous, selfish, murdering behavior, and 80% of them support you, they think it’s normal and fine, punishing the 20% who still have order, consequences, cause and effect, logos.
I have no explanation for it, nor is there an end, but I greatly fear the only cure for it is for the good people to withdraw and leave the bad people starving in a ditch, their children and dogs included, for as adults, it is nearly impossible for them to change, and impossible for any good people to trust that change. And how are you supposed to run a justice system, a society, in a world of truly pathological, lying, self-serving sociopaths? How even will their children not end up the same, with only 20% left to throw a lifeline? A lifeboat cannot save the ship, you know. It can hardly save itself.
I was surprised at the comments today, for this open, transparent, appalling, illogical lies are still completely internalized, completely believed at the meta level. Trump has an open war on the CIA and Deep State – I don’t know how it could possibly be more obvious or advertised – and any common level would tell you we have been antagonizing North Korea to justify keeping country-sized bases in Japan and SoKo because the men needed to contain China wouldn’t fit in Pearl Harbor and are too far away. And yet when Trump’s team openly undercuts the CIA and peace breaks out everywhere, it’s suddenly not him.
It’s Kim Jong actually, I read yesterday, he beat the U.S., Trump lost (when Trump also wasn’t trying anything) and…I don’t know, NoKo is going to invade us and SoKo, after they nuke Miami and the moon with the CNN missiles that can hit anywhere on earth? After Pompeo (and allegedly Trump) met with Kim Jong in the Forbidden City? Earlier, however, he WAS completely responsible for war and the 12M dead Wolf Blitzer and Rachel Maddow longed for. So let me translate: all bad things forever in time and space are Trump, all good things forever in time and space, not Trump. And that’s logic now.
Maybe it’s inappropriate to give the Nobel to a man when it’s often a team, maybe we shouldn’t give prizes for doing a normal, decent thing and simply not killing each other, but that’s not the tradition. Personally, I wouldn’t give it to him because in my estimation all he did was STOP the CIA from holding Kim and NoKo hostage to his own Deep State Generals. Kim is a Swiss-raised trust fund playboy: he doesn’t want war unless forced to it. I can’t give a medal for simply stopping a war that never should have existed, and one they even now lie about and won’t admit.
But that’s not the point. The point is, our own readers, who are very smart and should be more than up to speed, seem to completely fall for CNN, Brian Williams, and an endless list of exposed, transparent liars for 20+ years, instead of you, for example, who’s been calling it out and they read every day. My God, what will it take? It’s disheartening. I believe that is part of the same Jungean mass-mind they have somehow hacked and it’s a struggle for even smart people to break through.
So apparently Kanye, following Professor Griff and a wide number of other immediately ignored and sidelined black artists, has woken up before our own readers. Not that Trump is great or anything, because he’s a jerk, but that they’ve arranged the same system from 100 years ago where darkie has to think and vote the way master says, or else. That’s the worst system of slavery ever devised. You think your color, vote your color, dress your color, watch your color, apply for jobs according to your color, and not your free thinking, your talents, your politics, your soul.
Yet again, that’s normal: that’s not racism to tell groups how they better vote, yet it IS racism to tell them to think for themselves. All overwhelmingly racist countries easily elect and accept Black Presidents with Muslim names, have black leaders in both parties, black billionaires, black megastars. That’s how we know they’re racist, right? Reality doesn’t matter, evidence doesn’t matter, logic doesn’t matter, it hasn’t mattered my whole life, it will never matter ever again.
It strikes me that although pretty poor, whose mascot should be the rhino, Republicans are the party AGAINST slavery, AGAINST the southern Democrats, born AGAINST the KKK, who have black cabinet members, black presidential candidates going back decades as still today.
Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t have the slightest effect. Then they are so racist, so bigoted, that when any member of a subgroup, be they Kanye, Milo, Janda, Diamond and Silk should cross the aisle, they are easily welcomed as party members and people, as thinkers, and not as races, skin colors, or issues – no backlash, no contention in the party. Doesn’t matter. Hasn’t mattered in 100 years, doesn’t matter now. It’s truly astonishing.
Like I said, I once thought, “if only people knew”, if only there were events that would remove the mask of lies, corruption, and abuse, but there are dozens daily, and as Churchill said, they pick themselves up and brush it off, continuing with the lie, no matter how continually debunked, for example, daily for two hysterical years.
So what are we supposed to do when that lie — which everyone knows is a lie, but they lie and claim it’s not a lie — can get us into a war ending life on earth? I do not know. I say stop lying, as Trump plays along, for all the good that does us. People tell the truth constantly: big, high-profile journalists, stars, senators…doesn’t have the slightest effect. They’re still crazy, and the Assad-gassed-his-people-because-he-likes-to-lose-although-we-sniffed-the-backpack-and-door-handle-and-found-nothing are still credible and rational.
Nor do I trust the gestalt. They have a bad habit of going where they’re going, and when driven by what are essentially insane people have a bad habit of going astray, meeting their karma, with all the bad consequences therein. I can’t stop that, but I am an American, and it’s my duty to survive this madness and this civil conflict as did my ancestors before me. And I’m sure I will, or well enough. Where would I go to escape this karma anyway? Britain? Belgium? China? I don’t think so.
It’s going where it’s going, as I grow plants and make the bees happy, let the trees rest in the forests, as best I’m able when devoid of any help. They will survive. We are as perennial as grass, and will diminish someday. When we do, I will have left the trees, the seeds, the order, the patterns that will feed the generations that follow, as true men, not infants, should.