Aug 092018
 


René Magritte The evening gown 1954

 

Julian Assange has received an letter from the US Senate asking him to testify in front of them. What to make of that is not entirely clear. Far as I know, Assange offered such testimony multiple times, under the ‘right standards’. The Senate ostensibly wants this to take place behind closed doors, and it’s hard to see how that would fit Assange’s standards. But who knows?

What struck me was that the letter was signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA). and especially the latter runs like a red thread through everything that has to do with Assange and the US. It reminded me of what John Solomon said in his June 25 piece ‘How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal’ about Assange lawyer Adam Waldman, who according to Solomon has a ‘Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue’.

Mark Warner has that, too. What made me return to this is that in his piece yesterday on the Senate request, Tyler Durden, referring to Solomon’s article, wrote: After Assange’s request was run up the flag pole, Senator Warner was issued a “stand-down” order by Comey.. And I thought: I’m not sure that’s entirely correct, and not only because Comey cannot ‘order’ a US Senator to do anything.

The stand down order was not for Warner, he just passed it on to Waldman and his counterpart acting for the DOJ, David Laufman, head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section. NOTE: we don’t even know if the stand down didn’t really come from Warner, or Comey AND Warner, or someone else altogether.

What we do know is that it was a very peculiar order at a very peculiar moment in time, because the intelligence community could have gotten something tangible and valuable out of the negotiations. Solomon: “..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.

They were well on their way to -at least potentially- save the lives of CIA operatives and assets. Negotiations had been going on for at least 2 months, and probably more like three. But then Assange offered to provide evidence that he didn’t get the DNC files from Russia. And that seems to have changed the atmosphere. Tyler has some more about this, outside of the Solomon piece:

‘Last August, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher travelled to London with journalist Charles Johnson for a meeting with Assange, after which Rohrabacher said the WikiLeaks founder offered “firsthand” information proving that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, and which would refute the Russian hacking theory.’ After Trump denied knowledge of the potential deal, Rohrabacher raged at Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, for constructing a “wall” around President Trump by “people who do not want to expose this fraud.”

NOTE: that meeting took place 4-5 months AFTER the Comey (et al?) stand down order. So Assange was still reaching out and offering to spare individual CIA assets. He has released a lot of the CIA Vault 7 files, but not all. To my knowledge he has held back on that to this day.

 

I don’t know how much you still follow from the pro-Russiagate press, which is about the entire US MSM, but Rohrabacher is habitually called a traitor, a Putin puppet and worse for talking to Russians, just like he is for going to see Assange. Once you start trying to find a way out of the ever tighter woven Russia Russia web, you’re fair game. Even if that’s simply your job as a Congressman, or at least your interpretation of what the job entails.

Back to Solomon for a bit. What he describes is not some amnesty deal, but a “Queen for a Day” proffer. Which in this case was essentially a safe passage guarantee for Assange to leave the Ecuador embassy only to go talk to US government people. We don’t know all the prospective topics of the talks, and they don’t seem to have agreed on a location (London, Washington?!) before the Comey order. Solomon:

Not included in the written proffer was an additional offer from Assange: He was willing to discuss technical evidence ruling out certain parties in the controversial leak of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. The U.S. government believes those emails were hacked by Russia; Assange insists they did not come from Moscow.

“Mr. Assange offered to provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases,” Waldman told me. “Finally, he offered his technical expertise to the U.S. government to help address what he perceived as clear flaws in security systems that led to the loss of the U.S. cyber weapons program.”

That is just funny: Assange offered to help the CIA on its security systems. That must have pissed them off mightily, because it can only mean they really needed to strengthen security (or he wouldn’t have brought it up). But then Waldman reaches out to Warner, in what may well have been a fatal mistake. The talks with the DOJ were going well, and might have been enough. Getting politics involved in it was one took over the line:

[..] Just a few days after the negotiations opened in mid-February, Waldman reached out to Sen. Warner; the lawyer wanted to see if Senate Intelligence Committee staff wanted any contact with Assange, to ask about Russia or other issues. Warner engaged with Waldman over encrypted text messages, then reached out to Comey. A few days later, Warner contacted Waldman with an unexpected plea.

“He told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange,” Waldman told me. Waldman offered contemporaneous documents to show he memorialized Warner’s exact words.

Waldman couldn’t believe a U.S. senator and the FBI chief were sending a different signal, so he went back to Laufman, who assured him the negotiations were still on. “What Laufman said to me after he heard I was told to ‘stand down’ by Warner and Comey was, ‘That’s bullshit. You are not standing down and neither am I,’” Waldman recalled.

A source familiar with Warner’s interactions says the senator’s contact on the Assange matter was limited and was shared with Senate Intelligence chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). But the source acknowledges that Warner consulted Comey and passed along the “stand down” instructions to Waldman: “That did happen.”

Okay, so we have Warner very much in the thick of the DOJ negotiations with Assange. Fast forward to late June 2018, when his name pops up again in a list of 10 Democratic Senators who asked Vice President Mike Pence to, on a visit to Ecuador, ask new president Lenin Moreno, to revoke Assange’s asylum on the London embassy.

 

 

Warner is there, along with such fine human beings as Dianne Feinstein, and the two Dicks Durbin and Blumenthal. Wikileaks, which posted the list, suggested: “Remember them”. Looks like an idea. Why would the Democratic party want Assange delivered to the lions? Oh, right, Russia Russia, the entirely unproven allegations which they are so desperate to tie Assange into.

They can’t prove any of the many allegations of Russian meddling, let alone their role in Hillary’s election loss, and they can’t prove any allegation against Julian Assange, at least none that he could be charged for/with, but tie Russia and WikiLeaks together and they feel they no longer have to prove anything at all, that mere allegations are strong enough.

If there is no crime Assange can be accused of, you just label him a terrorist, and all your legal problems disappear. Because terrorism can be anything, and because of national security reasons, any evidence, whether it exists or not, must be treated in secret. What reason, what grounds, do these Senators have to ask Ecuador to revoke Assange’s asylum? What legal grounds could possibly exist? We have no way of knowing, and because they label Julian a terrorist, we have no right to, either. Or so they claim.

This is called abomination of justice. In the same way that America and Britain’s treatment of him is called torture. And no, that is not too strong a term. A man who has never been charged with a crime by anyone, in any country, is being tortured. Julian has severe, painful, dental problems, he has developed a condition that makes his legs swell, and his bone density is dropping fast due to extended lack of sunlight.

These people have simply decided to wait it out, so they don’t have to go through elaborate legal procedures that they may well lose, to wait until Assange has no choice but to walk out of the embassy, or be carried out on a stretcher or in a coffin. It’s not even possible to list all the British, American, Ecuadorian and international laws his treatment violates.

Someone should give it a try, though. Just like someone should investigate Mark Warner’s role in all of this. Warner was pivotal in killing off the Assange legal teams’ talks with the DOJ, he asked Ecuador to stop Assange’s asylum (which is so illegal you don’t even want to go there), and now he requests for Assange to appear before the US Senate.

Someone investigate that guy. If I can say one last thing, it would be that Warner exemplifies all that is wrong with the US Democratic Party. He’s the Forrest Gump of all their future election losses. The Democrats should be standing up to protect people like Assange, but instead they follow the example of Hillary, who said about Assange “can’t we drone this guy?”.

Yeah, the very guy who’s never been charged with a single crime. She undoubtedly said it in the same tone of voice as her insane cackle of “We came, we saw, he died” about Gaddafi. Looked at Libya lately?

The essence of this is that we will be better people, and better societies, with Julian Assange around to help us be better. Without him, things look a whole lot darker. We need to be able to hold politicians, corporations and secret services to account. And the more they resist this, often in illegal ways, the more we must insist.

The idea was never that we must answer to them. They must answer to us, and we must be able to throw them out when they cross legal and moral lines. It’s beyond the pale that that has to be explained once again. And trying to explain that, with examples, is all that Julian Assange has ever done.

 

 

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


Paul Gauguin Road in Tahiti 1891

 

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

 

 

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

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

No criminal charges.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

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

The Deep State First (Stockman)

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

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

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

Read more …

Madman,

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

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

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

Read more …

Hmmm…

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Victory.

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

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

Read more …

What do Democrats stand for?

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

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

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

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

Read more …

On Polanyi.

Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?

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

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

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

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

Read more …

More Graeber. Most jobs are bullshit.

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Apr 052017
 
 April 5, 2017  Posted by at 7:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Ramón Casas Decadence 1899

 

Reading up on the Syria ‘chemical attack’ issue (is that the right term to use?). The headlines are entirely predictable, and by now that probably won’t surprise anyone, no matter where they are or what views they adhere to. We know there’s been an attack and that some kind of chemical was used. The media talk about sarin.

They also, almost unanimously, blame the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for it. But that’s the same government that just this week saw both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN enjoy Nikki Haley point to a significant shift in American policy, towards a view that removing Assad is no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

That comes after many years of insisting that Assad must be removed. And after many years of US involvement in removing other regimes in the region, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi. It also comes on the eve of a large Syria conference, the first in a long time, due to start today. Russia and the States send only lower-level representatives, politically sensitive etc., but still.

The question arises what reason the Syrian government could possibly have to launch a chemical attack anywhere on its territory, gruesome pictures of which, with many child casualties, were posted soon after the attack supposedly too place. And that’s where logic at least seems to break down.

Syria was not supposed to have any chemical warfare arsenals left, far as I understand, there was an accord to that extent in 2013. Did they hide any (Saddam WMD style?!), or did they recently obtain them (from Russia?!). But most of all, why use them on the eve of a conference where you have everything to gain?

I’ll be the last to claim that I know, but it certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense. Being denied recognition, legitimacy even in a sense, for years, and then throw it away the day before? Not even declaring Assad -and by association Putin and Iraq- to be complete idiots would seem to explain that. And they’re not idiots.

The Russians say a ‘rebel’ chemical weapons depot may have been hit. I don’t know, and barely a soul does, but opinions have been pre-cooked, and there we go again. There are pictures of White Helmets tending to the wounded, but then if this were sarin, that might not be advisable to do with bare hands and without gas masks. And the White Helmets themselves are not beyond scrutiny either. Meanwhile, Trump has followed everyone else in the West in accusing Assad.

 

Any of this sound familiar? It does to me. When I open my -personalized, no less- Google News page, all main headlines concerning either US politics or topics like the Syria chemical attack come from a ‘select’ group of ‘media’. It’s all NYT, WaPo, CNN, BBC, all the time. Google likes The Hill too, for some reason. Since my page is ‘personalized’ I don’t know how it is for others, but I have an idea.

The same opinion-forming (leading) ‘reporting’ that happens in the case of Syria, is also applied to the US. And it’s tearing the country apart, bit by inevitable bit. The MSM’s answer to the Trump campaign- and subsequent election- has been to do more of the same ‘leading’, much more. And they have plenty of takers. Subscriptions are way up, so they think they’ve hit a gold mine, a very welcome one too given where sales numbers were heading.

Trump’s the best thing that happened to WaPo in years. But then again, they still lost, and bigly. Their preferred candidate lost. And the entire storyline they had spun over, say, the entire year leading up to November 8, had gone nowhere. None of it got Hillary elected, and none of it was ever proven.

Now, of course, it’s not the job of news organizations to choose sides in politics (their job’s the opposite), and even less to make up a storyline in order to promote whatever side they pick. It’s really weird that that aspect has been largely lost on America over the past few years; not that it’s entirely new, don’t get me wrong, but it got a lot more pronounced and ‘brazen’.

It’s as if people have all of a sudden started to find it normal that their news sources tell them what to think. The echo chamber has become both much larger and a whole lot more cramped at the same time. And got for too comfy with 1984.

 

What makes it even weirder is that it should be obvious to us all that there has been a large shift in politics as well, albeit over a longer period of time. There is no left in the system anymore, there is no left left; workers and the poor in general have nobody left who represents them.

This is true in the US as it is in Europe. Britain’s Labor party is all but dead, Holland’s Labor equivalent went from 38 to 9 seats in the recent election, the list goes on. The US democrats? Are you kidding? Left? Left of what?

The media have followed this development as much as they have led the way. There’s a lot of synergy there; it’s just that there’s none left with the people they’re either supposed to represent or inform. But that in turn means you might as well say that the whole thing is dead. What left there still is left will have to re-invent itself.

The political system and the media may cross-pollinate as much as they want, and they obviously seem to want that a lot, but they still depend for their survival on a connection with people, voters, readers. Only, they appear to have concluded Groucho stye that “Hey, if you can fake that, you can fake anything..”

Problem is, this did cost the US media’s candidate the election. So now they’re echo-chambering to less than half of the population. Who are so receptive that they may be temporarily fooled into thinking they’re doing fine. But the other -more than- half already thinks they’re full of it, and that’s not going to change back (my humble prediction).

 

If the US MSM would go back to impartial reporting, they would be fine. The same is true for the Democratic party -and its link to the poorer part of America. But both have made their beds (and bets) and must now lie on them.

For the media, this means being forced to turn over ever more readers and viewers to ‘new media’. It’s not even a technology thing, it’s just that they themselves have chosen to become irrelevant. And yes, it is ironic that the soon-so-be richest man on the planet, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, controls the bigliest web success and destroys the WaPo at the same time. It’s an awful shame too. But the paper for him is financial pocket change, not a legacy of hard work.

Bezos et al do this by trying to dictate what people think, by becoming Edward Bernays and Joe Goebbels. The idea might have worked without the Interwebs, but I must retract that: it would have been sacrificed on the altar of economic mayhem. Lots of irony in there, though.

The New York Times and Washington Post owe their reputation to America’s times of plenty, and those are gone, long gone. These papers are no longer capable of Woodward and Bernstein, because there’s nothing left that’s objective, the entire focus is partisan now, and that means you’re going to miss out on the big, the real stories, if they’re your news sources.

And it’s not even that they’re papers, and they may or may not get digital; it’s their owners’ choices for certain political directions that’s doing them in. Maybe that’s an inevitbale process; that news organizations must perish one sources change, or processes, or range. I’m not sure of that, though; I think they’re squandering a 100 year -or so- legacy on an altar of political megalomania.

 

And that gets me to what got me thinking about the reporting on Syria’s chemical attack to begin with, and the way it’s presented. That is, I read a lot of things, it’s what I do, but instead of the journalists asking the questions, I know it’s up to -people like- me to do that. That goes for Syria, and just as much for US domestic issues. There’s nobody left I can rely on. Again I aks of you: any of this sound familiar?

I’m by no means ready to go with everything Fox says, or any -formerly- right-wing source. But I can no longer trust the left wing either, let alone the formerly neutral ones. I’m on my own. And so are you.

Now, Russia spying on America is a done deal, of course they do. Everyone spies on every other one, if they have the technology they will do it. But Susan Rice ‘unmasking’ people in the Republican campaign is a step or two further. It may be technically legal, but it skirts far too close for comfort to potential political interference.

Since the entire Russia story was never proven, after a year and change of investigation by the entire media AND intelligence machine, I think perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that it was always merely a convenient front for spying on Trump and the other Republicans. I don’t know that, it’s deduction that leads me there.

 

Still, of course the Russia-Trump connection probe just keeps on going. They haven’t found a thing, no shred, after all this time, but maybe, maybe… Look, I always said that a Trump presidency would be ugly and stupid -just still preferable to Hillary- but this ‘Putin is the devil’ meme is a lot uglier than that.

If and when you lose, as the Dems and their media have, doubling down is not the way to go, not if you want to win the next one. You have to look at what mistakes you’ve made and learn from them, not focus even more on what is or was wrong with the other side. That makes no sense. Losers must lose with grace, as much as winners win with it.

It’s not just in the US that people have completely lost sight of this most basic of principles; in the UK the post-Brexit bickering just won’t stop, and everything gets worse in the process. But it’s all about blaming the others, not your own side. How that can be helpful when you’ve lost is not clear to me at all.

 

Susan Rice will be before a Senate or Congress committee soon, and it will be interesting to see what she has to say. I’m sure her legal counsel have previously assured her that it was all perfectly within her job prescription. But she, what can I say, she doesn’t look good in her press appearances.

And you can complain all you want about the photos with only males in Trump’s office, but the entire glass ceiling female crew, Donna Brazile, Huma Abedin, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, they all look to have broken that ceiling but from the wrong side, (lost in gravity?!), and in the wrong way. They’ve all either cheated to get where they are (were), or cheated while they were there.

What a loss that is. That ceiling must be broken, badly, but not by women who are part of it. It fits the overall picture, though. If and when nothing is what it seems, it’s a lot easier to get people to believe what you tell them, certainly when you can put a NYT or WaPo stamp on what you’re saying. The problem is, by now you’ll only be talking to less than half of the people. And that’s on a good day.

The whole thing is broken, and you don’t heal that by pointing out to what extent the other side is broken. You heal it by looking at your own f*ck-ups, and then correct them. And until you do that, the risk of chemicals raining down on kids in Syria will just continue to be the same as Obama ordering drone strikes. Or the US and UK and France and Germany selling weapons to the Saudis that allow them to obliterate an entire nation and people in Yemen.

This is not about Assad, it’s about you, and Theresa May and Trump and Obama and Hillary and W. and Merkel and Tony Blair and scores of French and German politicians who’ve kept the death racket alive all these years. It’s where the money is.

 

 

Sep 132016
 
 September 13, 2016  Posted by at 1:36 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


The Statue of Liberty in Paris, outside Bartholdi’s workshop 1884

 

 

Whenever I bring up something Hillary Clinton has done or failed to do, there are always people who react with a “Yes, but Trump did so and so…!” reflex. I’d like to get that out of the way first of all, because it distorts the conversation to no end. Criticism of Hillary does not equal support for Trump. Suggesting that it does is insulting.

I do not think it’s a good idea for Trump to become president. But that does not mean it’s a better idea for Hillary to be inaugurated. In fact, there’s something to be said for the argument that if you have to choose between two really bad options, pick the worst in order get it over with faster. The problem with that, in turn, is that in this case it’s hard to determine which of the two is worse.

 

 

I’ve had an article in progress on my desktop for weeks, with the (work-)title “Hillary Is Not Electable”. Never finished it until now because there was always 1) lots of work on other things, and 2) a daily stream of new Hillary files that looked like they should be included (I have dozens of them open in a browser).

But then over the weekend, just after I had asked readers of the Automatic Earth Facebook page what they thought the odds were that Hillary would drop out of the presidential race citing health factors, I saw Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, tweet: “Hillary Clinton just became unelectable”, in reaction to the statement by her campaign that she had become ‘overheated’ during the 9/11 service in NY, where multiple sources report it was about 75ºF (24ºC) with a 40-45% humidity.

Scott didn’t yet know when he wrote his tweet and subsequent blogpost, The Race for President is (Probably) Over, that the ‘official’ message would be changed from overheating to pneumonia mere hours later.

And even though it’s a valid question to ask why she would venture among the public with a potentially -highly- contagious disease that she was diagnosed with two days earlier, and even though I saw my headline used by someone else, these things are not what shapes the issue as I see it. Because I think Hillary became unelectable long ago. Still, then this morning I read the following in the NY Post:

“Clinton’s spokesman said that in addition to her illness, “several of the senior staff have been afflicted with something or other for the last few days.” “I was sick for a couple of days. I had the mild form of it,” Fallon said. The stricken staffers included campaign manager Robby Mook, and two top aides who needed emergency medical treatment – one of whom was taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room after collapsing from severe dehydration, People magazine reported. Fallon told CNN that Clinton’s pneumonia, which she is treating with antibiotics, was “not contagious.”

So her staff is sick enough to require emergency medical treatment, but not for Clinton’s pneumonia, which is “not contagious”. What do they have then (it’s obviously contagious), and does Hillary have it too, in addition to her pneumonia? Were the staff coughing? The NY Times claimed yesterday that most of the staff were not told about the pneumonia diagnosis. Apparently not even after some of them fell ill around the time of that diagnosis?! What a curious story.

One additional thing I think must be mentioned, which I picked up yesterday through Mish, is a timeline of Hillary’s 2016 coughing fits that consists of 7 examples – with videos- dating back to January 25. We can only guess what’s going on here; the campaign certainly hasn’t been very forthcoming with information.

It’s her very campaign leaders, and the way they deal with information, that have now become Hillary’s Achilles heel. Not that I see how they could have done much else, or much different; whenever someone suggests that Hillary should be fully transparent from now on in, I think 1) you haven’t been paying attention, and 2) transparency is her worst enemy.

Transparency is the very thing she and her crew sought to prevent when setting up her email servers the way they did (in 2009). She recently said it was done at the suggestion of Colin Powell, who promptly denied it, and added that the server set-up had been running for a year before she ever asked him anything about it.

I don’t have a clue why she had the whole thing set up the way she did, it all looks really clumsy, but I do know her initial goal was to expressly be non-transparent. This is obvious from the lack of communication with the State Department. It’s obvious because she deleted 10s of 1000s of emails, many after having received subpoenas (one in August 2013, the other (actually 2 separate ones) in March 2015, forbidding her to do just that.

She did hand over some emails to the FBI and the Benghazi Committee, but thousands more were discovered or handed over at later points in time. Thousands of others were “BleachBit-ted” by an employee of her server host because they allegedly only contained yoga and/or wedding related topics. Not that we can check that; that’s were BleachBit comes in.

The narrative that a lowly employee decided on his own to make these mails unrecoverable is one of the worst points in the entire story. But even more important is that deleting the mails was against US law. And that Hillary and/or her staff are not the people who decide what is important or not. Not when it comes to State business. That is a gross and illegal overreach.

And it’s also what the whole ‘unelectable’ thing hinges on. After 8 years as First Lady and 4 as Secretary of State, it’s fully unbelievable that Hillary would not have known why the State Department has its own servers (though they may not always have functioned in ideal ways), or what classified markers are on mail or email. That reeks of desperation, pre-conceived or not, and it’s ludicrous that the FBI takes her word for it. Moreover, she’s on record saying she’s aware of classification requirements:

 

 

The very moment a high-ranking government official with daily access to classified material sets up a poorly protected email server, in order to bypass government systems, then runs classifies government mail over that server, and subsequently denies having knowledge of what makes material classified, that official is no longer electable. That person is not even employable anymore by the government.

Hillary’s private mail system was vulnerable to hackers. And it did get hacked by Guccifer, albeit, far as we know right now, via a workaround, through the mail of friend of the family Sidney Blumenthal. The irony about that is that Obama and Rahm Emanuel’s refusal to bring Blumenthal into Hillary’s team at State may well be the very reason she set up the private server to begin with (history will tell). Hillary loves Sidney. He’s her guru.

When she last week repeated that her system had not been hacked, that was at best half-true. And half-true is not nearly good enough when it comes to classified state secrets, of which the State Department handles possibly even more than the Oval Office. What we know is that her correspondence with Blumenthal was hacked, what we are not sure of is whether her server itself was hacked. But given that servers around her, DNC et al, were hacked, it would be naive to presume offhand hers was not.

And naive is not good enough, not on our part but even much less on Hillary’s. She’s unelectable because she’s far too much of a liability. That didn’t only become apparent when her knees buckled on Sunday, it became apparent when ‘we’ first found out she used a private server to conduct government business. Or, rather, it became apparent before we found out, it became apparent when she established the system, in January 2009.

There have been too many ‘instances’ and ‘incidents’ to mention, or even to remember. One paragraph I wrote down 10 days or so ago after yet another FBI ‘interview’ came out, summarizes a few:

According to Hillary, she doesn’t remember security briefings due to a concussion and a blood clot after a fall in 2012, she didn’t know what email classification details mean (what’s that ‘C’ for?), she lost 13 Blackberry’s – many with sensitive info on them- (aides took sledgehammers to some they did manage to locate), a MacBook and a thumb drive, she left her email systems open to hackers, she didn’t think communications on drones were -or needed to be- classified, she had her server wiped AFTER receiving a subpoena that expressly said she couldn’t, etc etc.

And that is without mentioning the questionable roles she played in Libya, Honduras and many other places. It’s without acknowledging how her campaign took over the DNC to the extent that they threw out Bernie Sanders. It’s without mentioning the shady goings-on at the Clinton Foundation and between this Foundation and the State Department. It’s also without mentioning what will yet come out of the many 1000s of mails that are due to be released by FBI, State and WikiLeaks, either before or after Nov. 8.

Hillary became a liability to the US, its government and its military- and secret service personnel, a long time ago. And people in the highest offices can and must be held to higher moral standards than others. Because they are responsible for the well-being, the survival and the very lives of so many others.

Step 1 in living up to those standards is to NOT bypass government laws and regulations and systems, without asking explicit permission and being fully transparent about it. Subsequent steps are easy for everyone to think of. Or else, an individual would explicitly declare themselves bigger than the government, and the nation. And that’s what Hillary did: she went rogue.

Ironically, Hillary’s health only became a real issue when she told the FBI she couldn’t remember lots of things, something that was echoed, by the way, in earlier revelations from campaign team staffers that said she tended to forget all sorts of stuff.

The relevance of yesterday’s health episode is not that it made her unelectable, but rather that it might have finally convinced enough of her financial backers that they risk losing the capital invested in ‘their’ candidates’ campaign. She’s their liability now too. I’ve seen people suggest that Trump is throwing his campaign as a way to help Hillary, but I sometimes think it may well be the other way around.

It’s kind of hard to imagine, looking back, for someone to run a worse campaign than Hillary has, but then that’s obvious when you look at how many things had to be kept hidden, how many lies had to be told, how many narratives had to be spun. It just got to be too much, for her, and for the staff. The outcome was always predictable, but they figured they could get away with it.

Thing is, even if she does manage to be elected, someone somewhere sometime will sue her or write about her or blackmail her. That’s a sure thing, and that makes her a massive risk and liability for the Democratic Party, and for the US government as a whole, and for all those multi-million dollar donors to the Clinton Foundation and to her campaign.

As of today, there are exactly 8 weeks left till the election. The money guys better come up with an alternative, because Hillary can’t be president. Whether they will come with Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or some outsider I don’t know, but they better start making up their minds.

It all looked so promising before the details started leaking out, didn’t it? Destiny, first woman president, all of that. But not this woman. One thing that speaks for Hillary is she screwed it up all by herself. Trump had nothing to do with it. Let alone Putin. In that sense, she’s an independent woman.

In the end, Hillary got stuck in her own web of sheer hubris.