Pablo Picasso Sleeper with shutters 1936
Must read. Aaron Maté excellently hammers the final nails into the Mueller report. Ray McGovern commented: [Mueller} will call in sick on July 17; wanna bet?!
Mueller’s uncertainty over the theft and transfer of Democratic Party emails isn’t the only gap in his case. Another is his timeline of events – a critical component of any criminal investigation. The report’s timeline defies logic: According to its account, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced the publication of the emails not only before he received the documents, but before he even communicated with the source that provided them. As the Mueller report confirms, on June 12, 2016, Assange told an interviewer, “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great.” But Mueller reports that “WikiLeaks’s First Contact With Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks” comes two days after that announcement.
If Assange’s “First Contact” with DC Leaks came on June 14, and with Guccifer 2.0 on June 22, then what was Assange talking about on June 12? It is possible that Assange heard from another supposed Russian source before then; but if so, Mueller doesn’t know it. Instead the report offers the implausible scenario that their first contact came after Assange’s announcement. There is another issue with the report’s Guccifer 2.0-WikiLeaks timeline. Assange would have been announcing the pending release of stolen emails not just before he heard from the source, but also before he received the stolen emails. As noted earlier, Mueller suggested that WikiLeaks received the stolen material from Guccifer 2.0 “on or around” July 14 – a full month after Assange publicly announced that he had them.
Nils Melzer is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. He finally got an op-ed published, in Newsweek.
“It is about drowning his radical challenge to government secrecy, which holds the power to change world affairs forever, inspired by the truths and principles proclaimed in the 1776 Declaration.”
[..] But how do you break a political dissident, a promoter of truth and transparency? Well, first you attack his reputation and credibility, and destroy his human dignity. You maintain a constant trickle of poisonous rumors, first half-truths and then increasingly bold lies. You keep him suspected of rape without trial, of hacking and spying, and of smearing feces on Embassy walls. You portray him as an ungrateful narcissist with a cat and a skateboard, whose only aim is self-glorifying exceptionalism. By making him unlikeable in the eyes of the world, you ensure no one will feel any empathy, so once his voice is muzzled and his isolation complete, he can be burned at the stake with impunity.
Most importantly, having degraded him to a clown for the entertainment of all, you will have diverted attention from his spotlight on your own crimes. Next, you make sure that any attempt of his to expose your lies comes at the cost of extradition to a hanging judge in a land bent to see his head on a stick, where torturers enjoy impunity. You then pressure his country of refuge into submission – military and economic leverage never fail – and you turn his protectors into enemies, and his daily existence into attritive hell. The method is deliberate, concerted, and sustained, and employs isolation, hostility, and shame. Whether you call it “bullying,” “mobbing,” or “persecution” – in essence it is all the same.
It purposefully inflicts severe mental suffering and aims to coerce, punish, and intimidate. It is thus, under international law, nothing else than full-fledged psychological torture. Mind you, psychological torture is neither ‘soft’ nor ‘light’. It aims straight at the destruction of your innermost self, albeit without leaving a physical trace. It targets your emotions, your mind and your dignity, and instills chronic shame and anxiety. Through relentless over-stimulation, confusion and stress, it eventually causes total exhaustion, cardiovascular failure and nervous collapse.
Let us not be fooled, extraditing Assange was never about hacking, rape, espionage or narcissism. It is about drowning his radical challenge to government secrecy, which holds the power to change world affairs forever, inspired by the truths and principles proclaimed in the 1776 Declaration. That is why the powerful persecute Assange with ferocity, while proven war criminals are allowed to walk free.
224,000 new jobs sounds nice, but then you notice the US labor force has actually contracted by more than 600,000 workers this year…
Friday’s government report showed 224,000 added jobs, beating economists’ expectations of 140,000. The unemployment rate currently stands at 3.7%, but GDP growth has been slowly fading from a current-boom high of 4% in August 2018, and inflation has remained at around 2%. The Federal Reserve had initially planned to raise interest rates four times in 2019 — before rapidly falling economic forecasts prompted investors to sell off stocks to end 2018. Now, the Fed is considering cutting rates. When one considers a few more economic data points, the picture doesn’t necessarily get better. The S&P 500 fell 0.9% Friday, as investors worried the Fed may reconsider cutting rates.
The labor-participation rate is the elephant in the room. For the past few years skeptics have said the low participation rate is tainting the reported unemployment percentage. Jobless statistics account only for people seeking jobs or participating. They don’t count those who are not participating. The U.S.’s current labor-participation rate is 62.9%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 66% in 2007, just before the financial crisis. “The number remains low,” Danielle DiMartino Booth, former adviser to the president of the Dallas Fed and founder and CEO of Quill Intelligence, told TheStreet. As for GDP, “There is no feasible way to reflect the labor-participation rate, and therefore you don’t get the full story when you see the GDP numbers,” she said. “The Fed’s dual mandate is to maximize employment. We’re not seeing that happen because were seeing a decline in the labor-participation rate.”
Because: “Probably half the population is living pretty close to the edge.”
American household income fell in May, even with the unemployment rate at the lowest level in almost 50 years. Median household income fell 0.6% from the prior month to $63,799, according to a report by Sentier Research on Tuesday. That’s combined gross wages plus retirement and military benefits of all people sharing a housing unit. The unemployment rate in April and May was 3.6%, the lowest since December 1969. Stagnant or even falling wages are making it tougher for Americans to get mortgages to buy homes, evan as loan rates fall, according to Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. While corporate profits and C-suite compensation have spiraled higher during the economic expansion, workers haven’t had much to celebrate, he said.
Adjusted for inflation, household income has barely budged over the last two decades, according to Sentier Research. “When you’re talking about affordability, you’re not just talking about mortgage interest rates – you’re talking about home prices and household income,” Dietz said in an interview. “Since the end of the Great Recession, while we’ve had a very good improvement in the unemployment rate, wage growth has been lackluster.” Mortgage rates are near three-year lows, according to Freddie Mac. But that hasn’t sparked the buying activity it has in the past, Dietz said. In the past year, there have been some months that showed acceleration in household income, but the numbers have remained “lackluster,” he said.
“We have seen a pretty dramatic and quick decline in mortgage interest rates, but so far we haven’t seen a very noticeable uptick in home construction and home-sale activity,” Dietz said. [..] Lackluster wage growth has kept a portion of U.S. workers living from paycheck to paycheck, said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. He pointed to a Federal Reserve report in May that said about 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency without resorting to credit cards they couldn’t pay off right away. “It’s indicative of the financial fragility of a large chunk of the population,” Zandi said in an interview. “Probably half the population is living pretty close to the edge.”
The Fed as a power tool. Be careful with that.
US President Donald Trump on Friday lobbed another attack on the Federal Reserve, accusing it of incompetence for failing to stimulate the economy. “If we had a Fed that would lower interest rates, we would be like a rocket ship,” he told reporters at the White House. “But we don’t have a Fed that knows what they’re doing.” Wall Street stocks were lower on Friday morning, with investors believing strong June jobs data could make the Fed less likely to cut interest rates this month. The Labor Department announced job creation had zoomed higher in June, with employers adding a much-higher-than-expected 224,000 net new positions for the month.
“Those were really unexpectedly good and our country continues to do really well really, really well so we’re very happy about,” Trump said Friday of the employment numbers. “We’re going to be breaking records.” Trump since last year has excoriated the central bank and its chairman, Jerome Powell, in particular, shattering recent political norms according to which presidents refrained from commenting on monetary policy. Powell has brushed off Trump’s jibes, insisting on the Fed’s political independence.
They’re not sitting still.
In June, the Fed shed Treasury securities at the slower pace announced in its new plan for QT, but it dumped Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) at the fastest rate since the QE unwind started, breaching its “up to” cap for the first time. And it is experimenting with the opposite of its QE-era “Operation Twist” – Operation Untwist? Total assets at the Fed fell by $34 billion in June, as of the balance sheet for the week ended July 3, released Friday afternoon. This includes $15 billion in Treasury securities and a record $23 billion in MBS, for a total of $38 billion, less some other balance-sheet activities unrelated to the QE unwind. This trimmed its total assets to $3.813 trillion, the lowest since September 2013. Since the beginning of the “balance sheet normalization” era, the Fed has shed $648 billion. Since peak-QE in January 2015, it has shed $687 billion:
The Fed doesn’t sell its Treasury holdings outright. But when securities mature, the US Treasury Department pays them off, and the Fed then doesn’t reinvest this money in new securities. Instead, it destroys this money in the reverse manner in which it created it during QE. But the Fed has announced caps — the “up to” amounts. If the amount of Treasuries that mature in a given month exceed the cap, the Fed reinvests the overage in new Treasuries. Under the Fed’s new regime, the maximum amount of Treasury securities allowed to roll off when they mature was $15 billion in June. And that’s what happened.
In June, three issues matured, for a total of about $21 billion. The Treasury Department redeemed them and paid the Fed for them. The Fed reinvested $6 billion of this money into new Treasury securities but allowed $15 billion to roll off without replacement. So the balance of Treasuries dropped by $15 billion, to $2.095 trillion, the lowest since September 2013:
Hey, if Erdogan can do it…
Turkey has sacked the governor of its central bank and replaced him with his deputy, a presidential decree published in the official gazette said on Saturday. Murat Cetinkaya, who was appointed to the role in April 2016, had been replaced by Murat Uysal, the decree said, but gave no official reason for the change. There had been recent speculation that Cetinkaya could be replaced amid disagreements with the government on cutting interest rates. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly railed against high interest rates and called for them to be lowered in a bid to stimulate growth. Erdogan once called high rates the “mother and father of all evil”.
Turkey’s main interest rate is 24 percent after the bank under Cetinkaya made an aggressive rate hike of 625 basis points last September following a currency crisis in August. Uysal said he would continue to use monetary policy tools “independently” while remaining focused on ensuring price stability as his “main aim”, according to a central bank statement. Uysal, who had served as deputy governor since June 2016, will hold a press conference in the coming days, the bank said. Turkish inflation fell to 15.72 percent in June from 18.71 percent in May, official statistics showed on Wednesday, the lowest rate in nearly a year.
“Today, we remain hostages to the automobile, with its geography-negating banality, but you can see the end of that road from here, too, and it is already subject to a very public nostalgia.”
We heard there was a good parade up in Salem, NY, ten miles northeast of here. Salem was a railroad town after 1852. It changed everything for a while. Farmers could send their potatoes and milk all the way to Boston. Slate was abundant nearby and there was a lively commerce in it for roofing and other things. Marble came over from Vermont and was dressed into tombstone blanks, which were sent as far as the Midwest. The railroad itself employed scores of hands in the roundhouse where its locomotives were repaired. This rail connection to distant places and markets must have seemed wondrous. The system held together for less than 100 years and now it, too, is a ghost presence, along with the factories.
History has treated this corner of the country with something that feels like swift injustice. Today, we remain hostages to the automobile, with its geography-negating banality, but you can see the end of that road from here, too, and it is already subject to a very public nostalgia. The Fourth of July parade up in Salem was mostly a parade of motor vehicles: fire engines, EMT trucks, tractors, vintage 1920s flivvers, 1960s muscle cars, one classic hot-rod, and one weird Avanti, a mid-60s product of the then-floundering Studebaker Company — which, ironically, had run a wagon and carriage assembly factory in Salem around 1910, just as cars were being introduced.
The economic history of this place looks like a sequence of great works performed at enormous capital investment, and then quickly trashed for the next new thing. It must have been intoxicating at the time. I’d put the high-tide of it all at about 1900, when all the systems of manufacturing and transport were humming in synchrony. Turns out it was an economy with a surprising purpose: to get rid of itself! And it’s stunning how gone it all is now. What replaced it is not only happening far, far away, but many items made far, far away can’t even be bought within a twenty-mile journey of any town in the county.
Tomorrow Greece will elect a right wing government. Life will get even harder.
In January 2015, progressives the world over hailed Syriza’s general election victory as a rejection of EU-imposed austerity and the dawn of a new era for Greece. Four years on, Alexis Tsipras’s once radical party goes to the polls on Sunday as a dead man walking – it’s now a confused political mishmash of leftists, social democrats, conservatives and rightwing populists that defends the very neoliberal policies Syriza once threatened to destroy the eurozone over. The party’s main difference from its rightwing rival, New Democracy, is a laughable persistence in claiming to be a party of the left. Its government record shows greater zeal in implementing the neoliberal programme of the European troika – the consortium of the European commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF – in the years since the 2008 financial crisis than any of its conservative predecessors.
Tsipras goes to the polls on Sunday having already suffered a major setback in the European elections in May. In its first contest since the national election of September 2015, Syriza saw its share of the vote plummet, confirming the party’s slump since its peak four years ago. The party’s own ministers attributed its defeat in May to the unpopularity of austerity and the controversial Prespa agreement, resolving the decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name. Centre-right opponents, however, portray the result as a rejection of what they call Syriza’s populism. Both explanations, however, are inadequate. The painful truth about Syriza is that it has ruled Greece for four years as a party suffering from identity loss and diminishing credibility.
Its record in government has been so full of compromises and retreats that it now hovers across the political spectrum like an amorphous haze – a phantom of its old self, without much shape or substance. Tsipras’s cabinet includes ministers who have defected from almost every other party in parliament, even several hard-right populists from the Independent Greeks. Much of this goes back to the summer of 2015, when Tsipras made an astonishing U-turn, accepting the troika’s bailout deal with many strings attached, including austerity until 2060 and revenue from privatisations going to an international fund until 2114. What Syriza fails to grasp, is that, besides the toxic deal itself, the deceitful manner in which it accepted and implemented it caused a deep political and cultural trauma among Greek progressives.
Exit polls from the European elections show that “desire to punish Syriza for its unfulfilled promises” was a key voter sentiment as the pain of austerity lingers. [..] Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “I can tell you how to fail: try to please everybody.” On Sunday Syriza will be crushed because it broke this cardinal rule.
“When Trump and the Republicans deny climate change, when Pelosi, Pallone, Perez, Biden and Obama join with Trump in sabotaging the Green New Deal or dismissing climate action as too expensive, too dreamy, not practical or too pure — they are all bold-faced liars and frauds.”
The ruling class may be an utter failure but that is not stopping them taking aggressive action on climate change. Their chief concern: maintaining power, control and profits at all costs. The plan is well underway and it sure ain’t the Green New Deal. Just imagine a more extreme version of the world that already exists: where healthcare is rationed; where wealth inequality strangles democracy; where austerity is a weapon of class warfare; where millions die prematurely from toxins in air and water; where war and incarceration is the solution of choice; where people are rounded up in concentration camps; where corporations rule unchallenged; where extreme weather wrecks havoc in an expanding circle of misery. The only new thing about their solution is the stench of fascism that grows ever stronger and more odious.
When Trump and the Republicans deny climate change, when Pelosi, Pallone, Perez, Biden and Obama join with Trump in sabotaging the Green New Deal or dismissing climate action as too expensive, too dreamy, not practical or too pure — they are all bold-faced liars and frauds. The Republicans know full well that their partners in crime — oil companies, bankers and the military brass have known about climate change for decades. And, the corporate Democrats know that these same powerful players they too represent already have a risky plan to deal with climate change. From their shared perspective, even the Democrat’s Green New Deal, despite its weaknesses, must be marginalized since it competes with the establishment’s plans for our future.
To maintain power they need to limit our thinking. The two most important narratives imposed on us are climate change as a “threat to national security” and as a “business opportunity” — the twin rationales for military and corporate power. They want to focus us on how to manage the crisis, profit from it, or adapt to it, instead of opposing it. Once framed in this way the very institutions responsible for climate change can benefit from disaster while hiding their responsibility for creating the crisis. But the military-corporate management of the crisis will undoubtedly follow the same principles that created the crisis: the costs of pollution, adaptation, endless growth and war won’t appear in the corporate ledger.
UNESCO lists Iraq’s Babylon as World Heritage Site