M. C. Escher Drawing hands1948
Yes, they dream of impeachment. Dozens of options. As per this New Yorker piece, even 2 years of Mueller isn’t enough, he must be replaced by a committee.
Likely to happen soon: Sessions, Mueller, maybe Rosenstein to be fired by Trump. And DNC/FBI operatives and activities investigated.
Be careful what you wish for.
• The Investigations Trump Will Face Now That Democrats Control the House (NY)
CNN projection at about 3 am EST
There are a half dozen House committees that have the power to investigate Trump—Intelligence, Oversight, Ways and Means, and Judiciary, among others. The chair of any committee—always a member of the majority party—has wide latitude to pursue investigations, issue subpoenas, and compel testimony. The news for the next year or longer seems likely to be dominated by a steady stream of coverage of the people closest to Trump as they testify before Congress under duress, or under a grant of immunity, or coverage of their refusal to speak at all for fear of incriminating themselves. At the same time, there could be regular reports about what the committee staff has found in subpoenaed records—perhaps Trump’s tax returns, his company’s internal financial documents, the records of his various oligarch partners in the former Soviet Union, and e-mails and other digital messages between Trump’s team and people in Russia.
For many Democrats—and quite a few independents and even a few Republicans—this is a gleeful prospect. After two years of feeling powerless, they will see, for the first time, a sustained, powerful check on Trump’s power and a public investigation with teeth and tools. It is hard to imagine that a serious investigation into Trump’s businesses, campaign, and Administration won’t uncover a lot of damaging information. There is, however, something of a split among Democratic Party operatives. I spoke with many of them—most wouldn’t speak on the record about an intraparty battle—and learned that there are two (or maybe three) distinct and contradictory views among influential Democrats.
Many are anxious to get going on these investigations as soon as possible. There is still a real possibility that the President colluded with the Russian government to sway an American election. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that his business and personal conduct has been so questionable that he could be compromised by multiple foreign governments. This is as serious a question as Congress could face, and needs to be investigated. Perhaps Robert Mueller will reveal all the information anyone could want, but maybe he won’t, and Congress cannot leave the investigation of the Administration to a special counsel who is, for all his hard-won independence, still a member of the administrative branch of government.
Same old same old. It’s about mitigating losses. Obama lost much more. Anywhere from 50-100 GOP Congressmen retired. That’s a huge loss. But they’re mostly moderates, and the new candidates are not.
• Paul Ryan On Midterms: ‘Tonight History Has Repeated Itself’ (Hill)
Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in his final statement as Speaker of the House said “history has repeated itself” this midterm election cycle, adding that “a party in power always faces tough odds in its first midterm election.” The Democrats took back the House on Tuesday night, flipping more than the 23 seats needed to take back control after eight years of a Republican majority. “It is always hard to see friends and good colleagues work so hard and fall short,” Ryan said in the statement. “Yet I’m proud of the campaign that our members and candidates ran in a challenging political environment.” Ryan’s statement noted that the president’s party since 1862 has lost an average of 32 House seats during the midterm elections.
The retiring Wisconsin Republican congratulated Democrats for winning the majority and the Senate Republicans for maintaining theirs. “We don’t need an election to know that we are a divided nation, and now we have a divided Washington,” Ryan added. “As a country and a government, we must find a way to come together to find common ground and build on the successes of this Congress.” Ryan announced earlier this year that he would be retiring in November. The GOP held Ryan’s vacated seat in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, as Republican Brian Steil won a closely watched-race against Democrat Randy Bryce.
“..he learned this practice from more senior traders and that his supervisors at the firm knew of his actions.”
• Ex-JP Morgan Trader Pleads Guilty To Manipulating US Metals Markets (CNBC)
An ex-J.P. Morgan Chase trader has admitted to manipulating the U.S. markets of an array of precious metals for about seven years — and he has implicated his supervisors at the bank. John Edmonds, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of commodities fraud and one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, price manipulation and spoofing, according to a Tuesday release from the U.S. Department of Justice. Edmonds spent 13 years at New York-based J.P. Morgan until leaving last year, according to his LinkedIn account. As part of his plea, Edmonds said that from 2009 through 2015 he conspired with other J.P. Morgan traders to manipulate the prices of gold, silver, platinum and palladium futures contracts on exchanges run by the CME Group.
He and others routinely placed orders that were quickly cancelled before the trades were executed, a price-distorting practice known as spoofing. “For years, John Edmonds engaged in a sophisticated scheme to manipulate the market for precious metals futures contracts for his own gain by placing orders that were never intended to be executed,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in the release. Of note for J.P. Morgan, the world’s biggest investment bank by revenue: Edmonds, a relatively junior employee with the title of vice president, said that he learned this practice from more senior traders and that his supervisors at the firm knew of his actions.
It’s about overeignty.
• Italy’s Battle With Brussels Is About More Than Money (Molinari)
The traditional parties – beginning with the biggest ones, the Democratic party and Forza Italia – failed to grasp the magnitude of the discontent, so the political prize went to those politicians who could. In the south it was Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement that prevailed – thanks to its “citizenship income” proposal – a benefit of €780 (£680) a month for the unemployed. In the north it was Matteo Salvini’s League, which backed two horses at the same time: the so-called “flat tax” to help out businesses in difficulty; and a tough approach to migrants. Five Star and the League have clear dividing lines – their geographic base, their economic ideas and their social makeup. But they have one thing in common: hostility to the European Union.
Five Star accuses the EU of being the root cause of Italy’s economic woes, and the League blames it for having abandoned Italy to the migrant crisis. Which explains why, for Di Maio’s supporters as much as for Salvini’s, the current battle with the European commission over the government’s proposed budget, judged by Brussels to violate agreed eurozone spending restraint, is essentially about identity. The standoff is not just about the deficit, the outlook for growth, the failure to bring down Italy’s debt and the absence of reform: its root cause is the coalition’s belief that by revolutionising its relationship with the EU, Italy will be able to win back trust, optimism and a better future.
Hence the current short-circuit between Rome and Brussels. While the commission is trying to negotiate with Giovanni Tria, the minister for the economy, to modify the Italian budget, Salvini’s and Di Maio’s interests lie in a full-frontal confrontation with Europe.
But it’s still about money…
• EU Austerity Bias Is To Blame For Budget Standoff With Italy (Ind.)
[..] How is it that a far-right politician like Salvini, himself no enemy of big finance, can claim that he speaks for those opposing austerity, corporations and inequality? In short, because Europe’s traditional left has failed to do so. Salvini’s primary concern, of course, is not the majority of Italy’s poor. The claim that this is a budget to “abolish poverty” is pure hyperbole. In fact, the disputed budget is a mish-mash of policies aimed at pleasing both parts of the Italian coalition’s social base. For the League, this mean tax cuts on small businesses and the middle class and protection of better-off pensioners. Five Star meanwhile, the gradual introduction of universal basic income is an important, and progressive, element. There’s also some investment – though not enough.
Why does the EU care? The crux of the problem is that Italy wants to spend more than Eurozone rules allow. It’s planning to run a budget deficit equal to 2.4 per cent of GDP, too high, say EU rules, for a government with a debt as big as Italy’s (currently over 131 per cent of GDP). These are the rules of the Eurozone laid down in treaties (but always open to interpretation when it’s convenient). Any monetary union requires rules. On entering such a union, governments accept that they are giving something up – monetary policy – but gaining something else – in this case monetary stability, low interest rates, less exposure to the law of the markets. The problem in the EU is that the rules don’t work for the majority of European citizens, and they are particularly punishing to weaker economies.
After five years of 10 per cent unemployment and low or negative growth, Italy’s government says you have to spend and invest to repair a damaged economy. They compare their programme to that of the New Deal measures of President Roosevelt. This shouldn’t be controversial. But the Eurozone’s rules go in precisely the opposite direction – forcing austerity on stagnant and depressed countries in exactly the way the International Monetary Fund pushed austerity of dozens of developing countries in the 1980s and 90s. This result has been catastrophic in terms of human welfare.
Greece experienced the worst effects. It has experienced an economic collapse longer-lasting than the US’s Great Depression in the 1930s. GDP is still lower than it was in 2007. While unemployment has fallen from 30 per cent, it’s still at nearly 20 per cent, far higher in terms of young people. Wages and pensions have been slashed. Vast swathes of the economy have been sold (to the very financial sector which created the global financial crash), and debt is higher than ever, at 180 per cent of GDP, with payments due for decades into the future.
A radical who fits the existing mold. Oxymoronic.
• Wanted: Radical Economist To Boost UK Economy (G.)
One of the biggest cash prizes in world economics has been launched to find “radical ideas” to reinvigorate the British economy. Launched against a backdrop of deep public distrust in politicians to revitalise the UK economy, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank has lined up an £150,000 prize fund to uncover fresh ideas. It comes after growth figures revealed at the budget show economic growth in Britain has dropped to among the lowest levels in the G7, while inequality has risen and there are growing pressures on the environment. Believed to be the third-biggest prize in international economics, the new IPPR prize will reward policy solutions to tackle these problems, while forcing a “step change in the quality and quantity of the UK’s economic growth.”
It will include a single main prize of £100,000, placing it among the most lucrative prizes in the economics profession after the 9m Swedish krona (£760,455) Nobel award from the Swedish central bank and the £250,000 Wolfson prize, which was launched in 2011 by the Tory peer and Next chief executive Simon Wolfson. The IPPR economics prize – supported by the prominent Labour donor and Brexit campaigner John Mills – will also have a dedicated under-25s prize worth £25,000, and a runners-up prize pot of £25,000. Mills, who is the founder of the JML electronics company, said that Britain faced a “toxic cocktail of issues that need fresh solutions,” adding that growth has recently been 60% lower than the G20 average. “We are falling further behind every year. Our productivity is poor, levels of investment are meagre, and we cannot pay our way in the world,” he added.
[..] With a deadline of 6 January 2019, entrants for the economics prize will be asked to answer the question: “What would be your radical plan to force a step change in the quality and quantity of the UK’s economic growth?”
Taxes should not be a priority. Legal issues should be. Monopolies.
• EU Stumbles In Plan To Levy 3% Digital Tax On Big Tech Firms (G.)
A European Union plan to tax Google, Facebook and other internet firms risks failure after a handful of member states announced their opposition. EU countries are studying proposals to levy a 3% tax on big internet companies that make money from user data or digital advertising, in a bid to level the playing field with bricks-and-mortar companies that pay more tax. But the idea, which must be agreed unanimously by all 28 member states, is running into serious opposition, as Ireland, Sweden and Denmark made their criticism public on Tuesday.
Germany had initially supported the idea in a joint agreement with France, but is now seeking to water down and delay the proposals, moves that are causing deep frustration in Paris. A dozen countries are moving ahead with their own national digital taxes, with Spain and the UK among the recent converts. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced last week that the UK was prepared to go it alone, with a “narrowly-targeted” digital services tax that is expected to come into force in April 2020 and raise £400m for the exchequer. Opponents to the digital tax fear the wrath of Donald Trump’s White House, which regards the EU’s efforts to ensure “fair taxation” of internet giants as an attack on American companies, a charge the EU rejects.
This year has less than two months left.
• France Demands New Digital Tax On Tech Giants Should Come This Year (CNBC)
The French government has pushed for a new levy on internet giants, such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, in order to make these firms pay what they see as a fairer tax rate in the region. This measure is likely to get some sympathy among voters ahead of next spring’s European elections. However, some technical differences among European countries have not allowed substantial progress on this front. Critics of the new tax also say that it could stifle innovation. “We want the adoption of the directive on digital taxation by the end of this year. This is a clear red line for the French government,” Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister told reporters in Brussels as he prepared to discuss the issue with his European counterparts.
“We are aware there are some technical issues and technical concerns, but these are technical concerns not political problems, so we still have three or four weeks before the next Ecofin (a regular meeting between EU finance ministers) to fix those technical issues,” Le Maire said. “And I will spend day and night with my German friends to find a compromise and to find a solution on those technical issues. But nobody could take advantage of those technical difficulties to avoid its political responsibility,” the French lawmaker added. There are different concerns across Europe regarding a new tax on the digital giants. Some member states believe that such a tax would be harmful for smaller countries, or potentially hurt some traditional industries. Both Ireland and the Netherlands believe the EU should wait for an international approach to avoid looking “anti-business.”
According to data from the European Commission, digital companies pay on average an effective tax rate of 9.5 percent — compared to 23.2 percent for traditional businesses. The EU proposals include a “common EU solution” which would allow member states to tax profits that are generated in their territory, even if these companies do not have a physical presence there.
Yeah, NGOs are a big priority for May.
• UK Accuses EU Of Brexit Bias As It Refuses To Endorse Aid Spending (G.)
The British government has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to endorse billions of pounds of EU spending on aid projects, as it accused the European commission of discriminating against UK-based organisations over Brexit. In a vote among the 28 member states on the latest allocation of the bloc’s £26.5bn development budget, the UK government declined to give its support for aid spending for the first time. It instead issued a statement accusing the commission of failing to offer the best value for money for European taxpayers by discriminating against British-based organisations that were seeking funding. The criticism was made in response to a commission decision to include clauses in its contracts with aid providers stating all funding will be terminated should there be a no-deal Brexit.
British NGOs have been further warned that unless they can commit to making good the loss of funding should the UK crash out of the EU, they should not compete for funds. A UK government statement explaining its abstention on plans for the European development fund (EDF) expressed particular frustration over the failure of the commission to respond to a letter of complaint from the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt. The statement, obtained by the Guardian, said the UK was “still waiting for a response to the concerns raised at a political level in August, including via secretary of state for international development’s letter to the commission of 23 August 2018, on the treatment of UK entities in the tendering process of EU programmes”.
From Australia. These things can no longer be stopped. But yes, privacy is gone.
• Facial Image Matching System Risks ‘Chilling Effect’ On Freedoms (G.)
Civil rights groups have warned a vast, powerful system allowing the near real-time matching of citizens’ facial images risks a “profound chilling effect” on protest and dissent. The technology – known in shorthand as “the capability” – collects and pools facial imagery from various state and federal government sources, including driver’s licences, passports and visas. The biometric information can then rapidly – almost in real time – be compared with other sources, such as CCTV footage, to match identities. The system, chiefly controlled by the federal Department of Home Affairs, is designed to give intelligence and security agencies a powerful tool to deter identity crime, and quickly identify terror and crime suspects.
But it has prompted serious concern among academics, human rights groups and privacy experts. The system sweeps up and processes citizens’ sensitive biometric information regardless of whether they have committed or are suspected of an offence. Critics have warned of a “very substantial erosion of privacy”, function creep and the system’s potential use for mass general surveillance. There are also fears about the level of access given to private corporations and the legislation’s loose wording, which could allow it to be used for purposes other than related to terrorism or serious crime. States agreed to the concept at a Council of Australian Governments meeting last year, though it is yet to be legislated by federal parliament.
Stefania Maurizi is an Italian journalist. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents, and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden files about Italy.
• The West is Failing Julian Assange (Maurizi)
Documents reveal that the UK authorities referred to the Assange case as not an ordinary one from the very beginning. “Please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request,” they wrote on January 13, 2011 to the Swedish prosecutors. A few months later, a UK official added: “I do not believe anything like this has ever happened, either in terms of speed or in the informal nature of the procedures. I suppose this case never ceases to amaze.” What is special about this case? And why did the UK authorities keep insisting on extradition at all costs?
At some point even the Swedish prosecutors seemed to express doubts about the legal strategy advocated by their UK counterpart. Emails between UK and Swedish authorities I have obtained under FOIA show that in 2013 Sweden was ready to withdraw the European Arrest Warrant in light of the judicial and diplomatic paralysis the request for extradition had created. But the UK did not agree with lifting the arrest warrant: the legal case dragged on for another four years, when finally on the May 19, 2017, Sweden dropped its investigation after Swedish prosecutors had questioned Assange in London, as he had always asked.
Although the Swedish probe was ultimately terminated, Assange remains confined. No matter that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention established that the WikiLeaks founder has been arbitrarily detained since 2010, and that he should be freed and compensated. The UK, which encourages other states to respect international law, doesn’t care about the decision by this UN body whose opinions are respected by the European Court of Human Rights. After trying to appeal the UN decision and losing the appeal, Britain is simply ignoring it. There is no end in sight to Assange’s arbitrary detention.
We’ll kill ’em off yet.
• Recovery Of Endangered Whales Hampered By Humans Long After Hunting (AFP)
When an endangered female North Atlantic right whale spends months, even years, disentangling itself from cast-off fishing nets, there’s not much energy left over for mating and nursing calves. Coping with such debris, along with ship collisions and other forms of human encroachment, have severely stymied recovery of the majestic sea mammals long after explosive harpoons and factory ships nearly wiped them out, according to a study published Wednesday. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, the northern whale’s population — hovering around 450 today — climbed slowly from 1990, but began to drop again around 2010.
Had the Canadian and US waters they plied during that quarter of a century been pristine and uncluttered by human traffic, “the species’ numbers would be almost double what they are now, and their current emergency wouldn’t be so dire,” scientists led by Peter Corkeron of the NOAA Northeastern Fisheries Science Center in Massachusetts reported. More to the point, there would be twice as many female whales: “The general slope of the recovery trajectory is driven by female mortality,” they added. From 1970 to 2009, 80 percent of 122 known North Atlantic right whale deaths were caused by human objects or activity. The species has not been hunted for more than half a century.
Modern man is fat, depressed and blind.
• Children Urged To Play Outdoors To Cut Risk Of Shortsightedness (G.)
Children should be encouraged to spend time outdoors to reduce their risk of becoming shortsighted, experts have said. Shortsightedness is rising around the world, with the condition said to have reached epidemic proportions in east Asia: estimates suggest about 90% of teenagers and young adults in China have the condition. While genetics are thought to play a large role in who ends up shortsighted – a condition that is down to having an overly long eyeball – research also suggests environmental factors are important. Several studies have found children who spend more time outdoors have a lower risk of myopia.
While some report that looking into the distance could be important, others say exposure to outdoor light is key. Experts say they have found new factors, and confirmed others, which could affect a child’s risk of becoming shortsighted. These include playing computer games, being born in the summer and having a more highly educated mother. “There is not much you can do about when your child is born … but periods indoors doing indoor activities does increase your risk of myopia,” said Katie Williams, an author of the study by King’s College London. “A healthy balance of time outdoors and a balance during early education is important.”