Aug 012019
 
 August 1, 2019  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Piet Mondriaan Trees by the Gein at Moonrise 1908

 

Jerome Powell Finds Another Way To Please Nobody (R.)
The Fed’s Massive Debt for Equity Swap (RIA)
Mario Draghi Lays Out Plan For A Dangerous Round Of Stimulus (Sinn)
PBOC Keeps Powder Dry After Fed Rate Cut, But More Easing Expected (R.)
Bank of England To Lean Against Market Rate Cut Bets As Brexit Nears (R.)
Capitalism Is Part Of Solution To Climate Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)
UK’s Biggest Financial Scandal Bites Its Biggest Bank – Again (Coppola)
Jeffrey Epstein Could Spend At Least A Year In Jail Before Trial (F.)
James Comey’s Next Reckoning Is Imminent — This Time For Leaking (Solomon)
Judge’s Ruling Throws Huge Spanner Into Assange Extradition Proceedings (Can.)
Beijing Orders Arabic, Muslim Symbols Taken Down (R.)

 

 

A lot of seemingly serious people are commenting on the bad theater the Democratic debate has become. Nothing better to do with your lives?! It doesn’t matter what any of the ‘candidates’ says or does, the DNC will pull another Bernie 2016. It’s bad theater, it’s cheap, you’re being had, and everyone who watches it should watch themselves instead.

Yeah, just like the central banks. To clean up the US economy, you have to take -most of- the Fed’s powers away. To clean up US politics, you have to burn down the DNC. Or Trump will win forever.

Jerome Powell Finds Another Way To Please Nobody (R.)

The Federal Reserve has turned. The U.S. central bank on Wednesday cut its target overnight interest cost by a quarter percentage point, to a range of 2% to 2.25%. For some, like U.S. President Donald Trump, that’s surely not enough. For others – and going by most economic statistics – it’s too much. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has found another way to please nobody. The last federal-funds rate reduction was in 2008, as the financial crisis cut deep. It then bounced along near zero for seven years before Powell’s predecessor, Janet Yellen, oversaw the start of a period of gradual rate hikes in late 2015. Since a quarter-point hike last December, the Fed had held steady at 2.25%-2.5%, until now.

The proximate causes of the move are external – mainly the threat to economic activity from Trump’s confrontational stance on trade. It’s a telling irony that a president who claims the Fed is damping the benefits of his policies by holding rates too high is providing one of the few reasons for the U.S. central bank to cut them. Wednesday’s modest move by the Federal Open Market Committee surely won’t satisfy him. Yet seen through the lens of the Fed’s dual mandate – full employment and stable prices – everything is still humming as the longest expansion in U.S. history enters its second decade, with economic growth steady, unemployment at historic lows and inflation tame. Prices increased just 1.4% in the year to June by the personal consumption expenditures measure, released on Tuesday.

The Fed would prefer inflation nearer its 2% target but that’s a somewhat flimsy rationale for lower rates given the backdrop. A significant minority of traders, meanwhile, expected a half-point cut, according to CME data, so they’ll be disappointed, too – even though buoyant stock and credit markets are hardly crying for help. Two of Powell’s colleagues also dissented, preferring not to cut rates, so they’re unhappy for a different reason.

Read more …

As everyone is staring at a 25 bps cut, here’s where the action is. An economy distorted beyond recognition.

The Fed’s Massive Debt for Equity Swap (RIA)

Since QE began, nearly 30% of the new corporate debt issued was used for stock buybacks. Putting the pieces of the mosaic together, it is fair to say the most intense corporate debt-for-equity swap in recorded history was enabled by the Fed via monetary policy and the federal government through tax-cuts. This is symptomatic of a variety of issues that have been created by prolonged extraordinary monetary policy. In the same way that corporate behavior has been seriously altered as described above, every central bank in the developed world has undertaken even more extreme measures to foster growth, dictating that the behavior of market participants transform in some manner.


The chart below is a stark reminder of how the Fed has changed the natural order of the corporate debt market. Over the past 25 years, when corporate debt loads became onerous, investors required higher yields and wider spreads to compensate them for the added risks. Today, despite the extreme amount of corporate leverage and the low quality of corporate credit, junk spreads remain near all-time lows. As shown below and highlighted by the red arrow, the long-standing correlation between leverage and high yield spreads is broken.

Read more …

Making sure Lagarde must stick with the program. Draghi is the craziest of them all.

Mario Draghi Lays Out Plan For A Dangerous Round Of Stimulus (Sinn)

Expectations – and, for many economists, rather bad ones – have been confirmed: the European Central Bank has decided to inflate the eurozone. Following the ECB’s latest policy meeting on 25 July, the outgoing president Mario Draghi made it clear that the bank’s seemingly harmless inflation target of 1.9% will in fact be the basis for a new phase of expansionary monetary policy over the next few years. This will go well beyond the ECB’s stimulus measures to date and is likely to pose further risks to the European economy. We should remember that the Maastricht treaty assigned the ECB the single, non-negotiable goal of maintaining stable prices, which, if taken literally, would mean an inflation rate of zero.

This is very different from the mandate given to other central banks. The introduction of the euro, however, caused interest rates in southern Europe to fall, leading to an inflationary bubble that raised annual price growth to well over 2% in some countries. The ECB’s governing council then argued that the goal of price stability could not be achieved exactly and also pointed to several measurement errors that complicate policymaking. So, the authorities said, they would tolerate average inflation of up to 2% for the eurozone as a whole. The governing council did not fancy a restrictive monetary policy aimed at reducing inflation, as it gave only little weight to the risk of reducing competitiveness in some countries and did not want to slow down countries in stagnation such as Germany.

Then came the euro crisis. With inflation plummeting, the ECB turned the still-tolerable upper limit for the inflation rate into its target. Suddenly, it was argued, the bank would seek to achieve inflation of “close to, but below 2%”. Draghi even went before the television cameras to claim in all seriousness that this was the ECB’s mandate. And now, at the end of his term of office, Draghi is seeking to bind his successor, Christine Lagarde, to a council decision that will force her to aim for 1.9% inflation with a symmetrical concern about potential deviations. In plain language, this means the ECB will try to achieve this figure on average over time, netting out future above-average inflation rates with below-average inflation in recent years.

Read more …

Xi demands total control. Trump wants Powell to make him look good, Xi demands that tripled and cubed. And he gets no dissent.

PBOC Keeps Powder Dry After Fed Rate Cut, But More Easing Expected (R.)

China’s central bank kept its main policy rates on hold on Thursday, opting not to follow an overnight benchmark rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve as policymakers wait to see if earlier support measures start to stabilize the economy. But market watchers say continued support is still needed, and expect more modest forms of policy easing from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) in coming months if pressure on the economy persists. Amid mounting worries about risks to global growth, the Fed lowered its benchmark rate by a quarter-point on Wednesday, as expected, but the head of the U.S. central bank ruled out a long series of cuts.


Though China’s central bank does not always follow the Fed’s moves in lockstep, some analysts had thought a token PBOC cut, likely in one of its short-term rates, was a possibility. However, no move was apparent by midday on Thursday. The PBOC refrained from daily open market operations (OMOs) early in the session, saying banking system liquidity was “reasonably ample”. “The PBOC skipped OMOs and hence there was no rate adjustment,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac in Singapore. “The market may need to wait until mid-August when the next tranche of medium term lending facility (MLF) matures to see if there is any action. Arguably they can adjust policy parameters anytime, and are not constrained by any meeting schedule, but we see no pressure on OMO rates.”

Read more …

No-deal Brexit is a big headache for Carney. He still has a full three months to go after Halloween. It will be messy.

Bank of England To Lean Against Market Rate Cut Bets As Brexit Nears (R.)

The Bank of England is likely to push back on Thursday against investors who bet that it will follow other central banks and cut rates in the coming months, even as the risk of a messy Brexit darkens growth prospects. Economists polled by Reuters are almost certain that the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee will vote 9-0 to keep rates on hold at 0.75%. But it is less clear how Governor Mark Carney will tackle the challenge posed by a possible no-deal Brexit. New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 without a transition deal if Brussels does not rewrite the deal it hammered out with his predecessor Theresa May.


The risk of a disruptive no-deal Brexit that could push Britain into a recession means interest rate futures now price in an almost 90% chance of a 25 basis point rate cut before Carney steps down at the end of January. The U.S. Federal Reserve reduced its main interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, and the European Central Bank is expected to take similar action next month, as both battle a slowdown driven by the U.S.-China trade conflict. But the BoE says Britain is a special case. Chief economist Andy Haldane highlighted last week how British rates had not risen to anything like the extent they had in the United States, while Britain’s job market and inflation were much more buoyant than in the euro zone.

Read more …

Carney wrote that article with Michael Bloomberg talking about how to make a profit off of disaster. And here again: ..there will be great fortunes made along this path aligned with what society wants.” Dangerous.

Capitalism Is Part Of Solution To Climate Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)

Capitalism is “very much part of the solution” to tackling the climate crisis, according to the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Challenged in an interview by the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow over whether capitalism itself was fuelling the climate emergency, Carney gave a strident defence of the economic system predicated on private ownership and growth but said companies that ignored climate change would “go bankrupt without question”. “Capitalism is part of the solution and part of what we need to do,” he said in the interview broadcast on Wednesday.

The economist, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, said he recognised the costs of ignoring climate change were rising, but stressed there were increasing opportunities for “doing something about it”, and that capital would shift in this direction. “Now there is $120tn of capital behind that framework that is saying to companies: ‘Tell us how you are going to manage these risks’ – that’s the first thing,” Carney said.

“The second thing the capitalist system needs to do is to manage the risks around climate change, be ready for the different speeds of the adjustment. And then the most important thing is to move capital from where it is today to where it needs to be tomorrow. The system is very much part of the solution.” He added: “Companies that don’t adapt – including companies in the financial system – will go bankrupt without question. [But] there will be great fortunes made along this path aligned with what society wants.”

Read more …

Corrupt to the core.

UK’s Biggest Financial Scandal Bites Its Biggest Bank – Again (Coppola)

To the surprise of markets and the chagrin of shareholders, the U.K.’s largest lender, Lloyds Banking Group, has reported disappointing profits for the second quarter of 2019. And no, it’s not because of Boris Johnson’s antics or the prospect of no-deal Brexit. It’s the final flourish of a much older issue – the U.K.’s long-running PPI scandal. Lloyds has had to take an additional provision of £550m ($670m) to cover a flurry of new PPI claims. This reduced its half-year profit to a paltry £2.2bn ($2.7bn). The share price dropped 5% on the news. Mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) is by far the U.K.’s biggest financial scandal.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says that since January 2011, British banks and financial institutions have paid out £37.5bn ($45.73bn) in compensation to customers who were wrongly sold PPI insurance. Lloyds Banking Group alone accounts for more than half of this total. The origins of the scandal date back to the 1990s, when financial institutions in the U.K. started selling PPI on lending products including mortgages, car loans and credit cards. PPI was meant to cover loan interest and repayments if the customer became unable to pay, for example due to illness or unemployment. As it was highly profitable for lenders and insurance companies, it was, unsurprisingly, heavily promoted. By 2005, there were an estimated 20 million PPI contracts in existence with annual gross premiums of over £5bn ($6.1bn).

PPI was expensive: premiums could raise the cost of a loan by up to 50%. And it mostly didn’t work. In 2005, the U.K.’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) complained that there were so many exclusion clauses in the contracts and administrative barriers to claiming that many people couldn’t make successful claims. Furthermore, the CAB reported, people were being sold policies that they did not need or were unsuitable for them.

Read more …

Over a million pages of evidence. Ghislaine Maxwell must have bought an industrial scale shredder.

Jeffrey Epstein Could Spend At Least A Year In Jail Before Trial (F.)

A Wednesday court hearing determined that Jeffrey Epstein’s trial for two federal counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy will begin no sooner than June 8, 2020, while his lawyers requested more time to prepare “a case of this magnitude.” Prosecutors said in the hearing that bringing the case to trial quickly is in the public’s interest. Epstein’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said they expect to review more than one million pages of evidence while preparing his case. Given the large amount of evidence, Epstein’s team asked for his trial to begin in September 2020, after Labor Day.


Wednesday’s hearing was Epstein’s first court appearance after a possible suicide attempt, and a day after he was reportedly served a new lawsuit from a woman claiming he raped her as a 15-year-old. He showed no signs of injuries, specifically bruising on his neck, from the potential suicide attempt. Epstein is being held in a Manhattan jail without bail, and will likely remain there until his trial begins next year. If convicted, he could spend up to 45 years in prison.

Read more …

Horowitz was ready to go. Barr said too soon.

James Comey’s Next Reckoning Is Imminent — This Time For Leaking (Solomon)

The Justice Department’s chief watchdog is preparing a damning report on James Comey’s conduct in his final days as FBI director that likely will conclude he leaked classified information and showed a lack of candor after his own agency began looking into his feud with President Trump over the Russia probe. Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz’s team referred Comey for possible prosecution under the classified information protection laws, but Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors working for Attorney General William Barr reportedly have decided to decline prosecution — a decision that’s likely to upset Comey’s conservative critics.

Prosecutors found the IG’s findings compelling but decided not to bring charges because they did not believe they had enough evidence of Comey’s intent to violate the law, according to multiple sources. The concerns stem from the fact that one memo that Comey leaked to a friend specifically to be published by the media — as he admitted in congressional testimony — contained information classified at the lowest level of “confidential,” and that classification was made by the FBI after Comey had transmitted the information, the sources said. Although a technical violation, the DOJ did not want to “make its first case against the Russia investigators with such thin margins and look petty and vindictive,” a source told me, explaining the DOJ’s rationale.

But Comey and others inside the FBI and the DOJ during his tenure still face legal jeopardy in ongoing probes by the IG and Barr-appointed special prosecutor John Durham. Those investigations are focused on the origins of the Russia investigation that included a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign at the end of the 2016 election, the source said.

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It all hinges on Julian helping -and failing- Chelsea (Bradley) find an identity to hide behind.

Judge’s Ruling Throws Huge Spanner Into Assange Extradition Proceedings (Can.)

A US judge has ruled that WikiLeaks was fully entitled to publish the Democratic National Congress (DNC) emails, which means no law was broken. The ruling is highly significant as it could impact upon the US extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as well as the ongoing imprisonment of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. On 30 July, federal judge John G. Koeltl ruled on a case brought against WikiLeaks and other parties in regard to the alleged hacking of DNC emails and concluded that: “If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC’s political financial and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them ‘secret’ and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet.”

In other words, if WikiLeaks is subject to prosecution, then every media outlet in the world would be. The judge argued that: “[T]he First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place.” Significantly, the judge added that it’s not criminal to solicit or “welcome” stolen documents, and how: “A person is entitled to publish stolen documents that the publisher requested from a source so long as the publisher did not participate in the theft.”

[..] Greg Barns, a barrister and longtime adviser to the Assange campaign, told The Canary: “The Court, in dismissing the case, found that the First Amendment protected WikiLeaks’ right to publish illegally secured private or classified documents of public interest, applying the same First Amendment standard as was used in justifying the The New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers. That right exists, so long as a publisher does not join in any illegal acts that the source may have committed to obtain that information. But that doesn’t include common journalistic practices, such as requesting or soliciting documents or actively collaborating with a source. So this case is important in restating what is and is not protected under the First Amendment. But does it have implications for the extradition hearing? Well it certainly helps to remind the courts in the UK that the First Amendment protection is very broad.”

Read more …

Moving backward.

Beijing Orders Arabic, Muslim Symbols Taken Down (R.)

Authorities in the Chinese capital have ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signs, part of an expanding national effort to “Sinicize” its Muslim population. Employees at 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products and visited by Reuters in recent days said officials had told them to remove images associated with Islam, such as the crescent moon and the word “halal” written in Arabic, from signs. Government workers from various offices told one manager of a Beijing noodle shop to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on his shop’s sign, and then watched him do it.


“They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” said the manager, who, like all restaurant owners and employees who spoke to Reuters, declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue. The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture. The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favor of Chinese-style pagodas. China, home to 20 million Muslims, officially guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has campaigned to bring the faithful into line with Communist Party ideology.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 192019
 


Gustave Courbet The village maidens 1852

 

I intentionally start writing this mere minutes away from Fed chair Jay Powell’s latest comments. Intentionally, because the importance ascribed to those comments only means we have gotten so far removed from what capitalism and free markets are supposed to be about, that it’s pathetic. The comments mean something for rich socialists, but nothing for the man in the street. Or, rather, they mean that the man in the street will get screwed worse for longer.

And it’s not just the Fed, all central banks have it and do it. They play around with rates and definitions and semantics until the cows can never come home again. And they have such levels of control over their respective societies and economies that the mere use of the word “markets” should result in loud and unending ridicule. There are no markets, because there is no price discovery, the Fed and ECB and BOJ got it all covered. Any downside risks, that is.

But it doesn’t, because the people who pretend they’re in those markets hang on central banks’ every word for their meal tickets. These are the same people we once knew as traders and investors, but who today function only as rich socialists sucking the Fed’s teats for ever more mother’s milk.

Our economic systems have been destroyed by our central bankers. Who pretend they’re saving them. And we all eat it up hook line and sinker. Because the rich bankers and their media have no reasons to counter Fed or ECB actions and word plays, and because anyone who’s not a rich banker or investor is kept by the media from understanding those reasons.

 

What the Fed and ECB have done, and the BOJ, between Greenspan and Bernanke and Yellen and Powell and Draghi and Kuroda, is they have made it impossible for economies to let zombies go to die as they should. They have instead kept those zombies, banks, corporations, alive to the point where they are today a very big live threat to those economies, and growing. Look at Deutsche Bank.

How healthy do you think your economy can be if all the wealthy people are focused on whether Powell uses the word “patient” or not in his notes? Why would a vibrant company or entrepreneur give a flying damn about whether he does or not use a certain word? There is no reason.

But we have let our central banks take over, and that’s what they did. And it will be very hard to take back that power, but we will have to. Because central banks, while pretending to guard over the entire economy, in fact only protect the interests of commercial banks, and rich “investors”. And then tell you it’s the same difference.

There’s a case to be made that Paul Volcker was right when he raised US interest rate in the 1980s, but after Volcker it’s only been one big power and money grab for Wall Street, starting with Alan Greenspan and the housing bubble he blew. The Oracle my behind.

 

Japan is only just beginning to assess the damage Kuroda and Abenomics have done, and that’s at a point where both these men are still in power, and hell bent on doing more of the same. Something all central banks have in common; there are very few tools in their boxes, so they just repeat and repeat even as they fail. And that failure, by the way, is inevitable.

The Bank of Japan by now owns half the country, and they just want to do more. Kuroda’s plan to get rid of deflation was to force the Japanese to spend their money/savings. But the fully predictable result was that the grandmas did the exact opposite: they clued into the fact that if he wanted that, they had reason to be afraid, and so they sat on their money. And now it’s ten years later.

 

Draghi is going to leave in a few months’ time, and he’ll lower rates even more (towards 0º Kelvin), even if he knows that’s a really bad idea (it is), because at this point it’s about his legacy (after me, the flood). Same thing that Bernanke, Yellen did, clueless intellectuals who told themselves they had a grip on this. They never came near. That’s why they were elected, for being clueless. Wall Street doesn’t want Fed heads who know.

The pivotal moment was when Bernanke said they were running into “uncharted territory”, and then never looked back and started pretending he knew where he was. He didn’t and none of them ever did since. But they have academic degrees, and they’re willing to sell their souls for money, so there you are.

 

Central banks, or let’s say handing them the powers that we have, are the worst thing we have ever invented, and that’s saying something in the age of Pompeo and Bolton and Trump and the Clintons. The latter may take us into war with Iran, or any other country from a long list, but central banks are set to destroy our societies and economies from within.

It’s real simple: your central bank does NOT serve your interests. So get rid of it. Don’t wonder whether it’ll use the word “patient” or raise or lower rates by 25 or 50 points, get rid of the entire thing. There’s nothing there that benefits you, it only ever benefits bankers.

Now, of course, if you’re a banker…..

 

Note: I knicked the headline from something Tyler Durden said yesterday, that central banks are back to square minus zero. Too good to let go. Draghi back to square one, but then again not. Central banks should be abolished.

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 102019
 
 June 10, 2019  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Georges Seurat Bathers at Asnières 1884

 

Stupidity, Evil and the Decline of the US (Doug Casey)
The Great Depression: A Real Estate Boom Gone Bust (Vague)
Game Over (Sven Henrich)
ECB Floats Rate Cut Trial Balloon (ZH)
Boris Johnson Pledges Major Tax Cut For Wealthy (Ind.)
Boris Johnson Is ‘Poisoning Our Politics’ – Tory Leadership Rival (Ind.)
Mike Pompeo Tells Jewish Leaders He Would ‘Push Back’ Against Corbyn (G.)
Tulsi Gabbard Pushes No War Agenda – And The Media Is Out To Get Her (SCF)
One Million March In Hong Kong To Protest China Extradition Bill (R.)
Hong Kong Plunged Into Political Crisis (R.)
Boeing 737 Max Seen as ‘Airplane Non Grata’ by Wary Travelers (BBG)
Boeing Used To Getting Its Way, Grip On Congress Is Legendary (Ralph Nader)
Chris Hedges Talks To UN Special Rapporteur About Assange (RT)

 

 

“To the Romans, virtues were things like fortitude, nobility and courage. Those virtues are true to the root of the word. When people think of virtues today they think of faith, hope, charity—which are not related to the word’s root meaning. ”

Stupidity, Evil and the Decline of the US (Doug Casey)

Regrettably, the US is no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s become the land of whipped and whimpering dogs that roll over on their backs and wet themselves when confronted with authority. Now, why are Americans this way? Let me give you two reasons—though there are many more. First, there’s a simple absence of virtue. Let’s look at the word virtue. It comes from the Latin vir, which means manly, even heroic. To the Romans, virtues were things like fortitude, nobility and courage. Those virtues are true to the root of the word. When people think of virtues today they think of faith, hope, charity—which are not related to the word’s root meaning. These may pass as virtues in a religious sense.

But, outside a Sunday school, they’re actually vices. This deserves a discussion, because I know it will shock many. But I’ll save that for another time. An absence of virtues and the presence of subtle vices is insinuated throughout society. Worse, overt vices like avarice and especially envy are encouraged. Envy, in particular will become a big vice in the years to come. It’s similar to jealousy, but worse. Jealousy says “You have something I want; I’ll try to take it from you”. Envy says “You have something I want. If I can’t take it from you, I’ll destroy it, and hurt you if I can.” Jealousy and envy seem to motivate most Democratic Party presidential candidates. No wonder America is in rapid decline.

A second reason is unsound philosophy. The reigning philosophy in the US used to be based on individualism and personal freedom. It’s now statism and collectivism. But most people don’t think about philosophy—or even have a consistent worldview. More than ever, they do what seems like a good idea at the time. The average American has problems. But his rulers are something else again. Most of the people running the US are either knaves or fools. How do we know if we are dealing with a knave or a fool? In other words, are you dealing with somebody who is evil or just stupid? To give a recent, but classic, example, are you dealing with a Dick Cheney or a George W. Bush? Do you prefer the knavish Obama, or the knavish Biden? The foolish Trump, or the foolish Pence. Not much of a real choice anywhere…

Read more …

Excerpt from A Brief History of Doom by Richard Vague.

The Great Depression: A Real Estate Boom Gone Bust (Vague)

Contrary to the explanation found in many histories of the Great Depression, that calamity was a massive real estate boom gone bust. Residential construction more than tripled, and the housing boom was every bit as large as in the Great Recession on a per capita basis. In Manhattan more skyscrapers were built in the late 1920s than during any other comparable span in its history, and the skylines of most major U.S. cities are still testimony to the excesses of that era: “The Great Depression brought a level of misery rarely seen in American history. … [and] was a massive residential and commercial real estate crisis. The financial records of the 1920s, which have largely been overlooked, indelibly show this. During the 1920s, annual housing and commercial real estate construction almost tripled — and nearly all of it was financed by debt.

“This explosion in residential and commercial construction lending, aug≠mented by lending for utilities and stock purchases, created the euphoria of the Roaring Twenties, the jazz age of robust spending and celebration. Com≠panies used the new money from loans to expand and employ more people. “The acceleration in construction resulted in such extensive overbuilding that by the final years of the decade, before the stock market crash, thousands of newly erected office buildings, houses, and apartments sat empty. Office vacancy rates rose, and residential mortgage foreclosures nearly doubled in the final years of the decade.’ As in other cases, this crisis was inevitable be≠fore it was obvious. The only question, and the only area where the president and the Federal Reserve could still have a discretionary impact, was the length and severity of that correction. …

“The iconic structures of American skylines form the silhouette of the Great Depression: New York’s Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and RCA Building; Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, Wrigley Building, and Tribune Tower; Philadelphia’s PSFS Building; Los Angeles’s City Hall; Dallas’s Cotton Exchange Building; Detroit’s Fischer Building; and Houston’s Gulf Building. These are enduring architectural feats of the 1920s, vestiges of the real estate eruption that came before the fall. Many were speculative projects, unsupported by actual real estate demand; begun toward the end of the 1920s, when loans were still available; and finished after the crash, when lenders had little choice but to make funds available to complete construction or else see their entire loan go bad. None was financially successful for its original investors. They remained partly or largely empty for a decade or more after completion, as would hundreds of others.”

Read more …

“Everything every central banker has uttered last year was completely wrong. ”

Game Over (Sven Henrich)

Game over. The grand central bank experiment of the last 10 years has ended in utter and complete failure. The games of cheap money and constant intervention that have brought you record global debt to the tune of $250 trillion and record wealth inequality are about to embark on a new round of peddling blue meth again. Australia has already cut, so has India. The ECB is talking about it, markets are already pricing in multiple Fed cuts. The new global rate cutting cycle begins anew before the last one ever ended. Brace yourselves as no one, absolutely no one, can know how this will turn out. Absolutely staggering. We are witnessing a historic unraveling here. Everything every central banker has uttered last year was completely wrong.


Every projection they made over the last 10 years has been wrong. No wonder Jay Powell wants to toss the dot plot. It’s a public record of failure. Why place confidence in people who are staring at the ruins of the policies they unleashed on the world and are about to unleash again? All the distortions of 10 years of cheap money, debt, wealth inequality, zombie companies, negative debt, TINA, you name it, will all be further exacerbated by hapless and scared central bankers whose only solution to failure is to embark on the same cheap money train again. All under the banner to “extend the business cycle” at all costs. Never asking whether they should nor considering the consequences. But since they are not elected by the people and face zero consequences for failure they don’t have to consider the collateral damage they inflict.

Read more …

Take away their powers or else.

ECB Floats Rate Cut Trial Balloon (ZH)

Last week’s non-committal ECB announcement caught markets by surprise, with the Euro jumping despite Mario Draghi’s best attempts to signal further easing even as he hinted at growing “downside risks”, prompting speculation that the ECB may have lost the last shreds of its credibility and leading Rabobank to publish a piece titled “Whatever It Takes” > “Whatever”.” Not used to being spurred by markets, Mario Draghi refused to take such aggression against his legacy quietly – especially as the former Goldman partner is set to retire shortly – and on Sunday, the European Central Bank used its traditional trial balloon conduit, Reuters, which reported that ECB policymakers “are open to cutting the ECB’s policy rate again” if economic growth weakens in the rest of the year and a strong euro hurts a bloc already bearing the brunt of a global trade war, clearly hoping that this jawboning would be sufficient to slam the euro (it wasn’t with the EURUSD basically unchanged from its Friday close).

As a reminder, last Thursday the ECB said that its interest rates would stay “at their present levels” until mid-2020 but President Mario Draghi added rate setters had started a discussion about a possible cut or fresh bond purchases to stimulate inflation. This conflicting message failed to convince some investors, who saw it as too tenuous a commitment to more stimulus, sending the euro rallying to a nearly 3 month high of $1.1347 against the U.S. dollar. So in an attempt to convince the skeptics, Reuters cited its traditionally anonymous “two sources” familiar with the ECB’s policy discussions, who said a rate cut was firmly in play if the bloc’s economy was to stagnate again after expanding by 0.4% in the first quarter of the year.

“If inflation and growth slow, then a rate cut is warranted,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity because the ECB’s deliberations are confidential. The problem is that no matter what Draghi says, or “floats”, the market is concerned that the ECB is approaching the end of its credible ammo: with the ECB’s deposit rate already negative 40 bps and Germany’s yield hitting all time low. In this context, countering the euro’s strength, rather than lowering already rock-bottom borrowing costs, would be the main reason for a further cut to that deposit rate, one of the sources said.

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Because the Tory members, and they’re wealthy, decide who is the next PM.

Boris Johnson Pledges Major Tax Cut For Wealthy (Ind.)

Boris Johnson has pledged to cut income tax for three million higher earners, in a move that would cost £9.6bn a year. The current frontrunner in the Tory leadership contest said he would raise the threshold for the 40p tax band from £50,000 to £80,000 if he becomes prime minister. The move would be paid for through money currently set aside for no-deal Brexit planning and by rises in National Insurance. Mr Johnson said: “We should be raising thresholds of income tax – so that we help the huge numbers that have been captured in the higher rate by fiscal drag.” But the announcement sparked immediate criticism, including from senior Conservatives.


Nicky Morgan, the chair of the Commons Treasury committee, said: “The question for Boris is why is this a priority when you could be obviously lifting more people out of paying income tax – the lower rate taxpayers – or you could be give people receiving child benefit an extra £15 a week.” And Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, said: “If you want to badge yourself as a One Nation Conservative, you focus on tax cuts and investment in infrastructure to help the lowest paid and the people in most difficulty in all parts of this country. That’s not what he’s doing.”

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Can it be more severely poisoned yet?

Boris Johnson Is ‘Poisoning Our Politics’ – Tory Leadership Rival (Ind.)

Conservative leadership contender Rory Stewart has launched a furious broadside at rival Boris Johnson, accusing the former foreign secretary of not being honest about his Brexit plans and challenging him to rule out suspending parliament to force no deal through. Speaking to The Independent, Mr Stewart said the leadership front-runner was trying to “out-Farage Farage” with an undeliverable plan to renegotiate Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement which was designed to usher in no-deal Brexit but would instead trigger a disastrous general election. And he blasted Johnson’s “swaggering machismo” over Brexit, which he said risked poisoning the UK’s relations with Europe.

The verbal assault came ahead of the formal launch of the contest to replace Ms May at No 10, with the official line-up of candidates to be confirmed after nominations close on Monday. Previously-fancied Michael Gove found his campaign mired in controversy over his admission of past cocaine use, with the environment secretary forced to fend off allegations of hypocrisy and deny having lied on security forms when entering parliament and travelling to the US. He dismissed as “foolish” suggestions that he might be barred from going to the US as prime minister.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson – who picked up backing from cabinet ministers Chris Grayling and Alun Cairns and former Tory deputy chair James Cleverly – broke his campaign silence with a Sunday Times interview in which he said he would withhold Britain’s £39 billion Brexit divorce bill until Brussels agreed better terms for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The threat brought an immediate response from France, where a source close to President Emmanuel Macron said it would be regarded as “a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default” – something that could send the UK’s credit rating tumbling.

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Guess they couldn’t get him with sex smears.

Mike Pompeo Tells Jewish Leaders He Would ‘Push Back’ Against Corbyn (G.)

Labour has accused Donald Trump’s top official, Mike Pompeo, of trying to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister, after he was caught on tape telling Jewish leaders that he would “push back” against the party’s leadership. In a recording leaked to the Washington Post, the US secretary of state was asked what he would do if Corbyn were to be elected as prime minister, after sustained criticism over Labour’s handling of accusations of antisemitism within the party. The questioner said: “Would you be willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK?” In response, Pompeo appeared to suggest that he would seek to intervene in the debate before Corbyn had a chance to become prime minister.

“It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected,” he said on the recording. “It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.” A Labour spokesman said: “President Trump and his officials’ attempts to decide who will be Britain’s next prime minister are an entirely unacceptable interference in the UK’s democracy.” He added that the party was “fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to antisemitism in any form”.

Pompeo’s comments emerged after Trump turned down Corbyn’s request for a meeting during his state visit to the UK last week, saying the leader was “somewhat of a negative force”. Corbyn joined protests outside Trump’s press conference with Theresa May, where he pledged to oppose the US president’s drive for greater access for US health companies to NHS contracts. The comments come at a time when Corbyn’s team are nervous about the latest attempts to oust him from within the party over the issues of antisemitism and Brexit, after several senior figures came out in support of a second referendum.

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No sex smears for Tulsi either, but Russia might do.

Tulsi Gabbard Pushes No War Agenda – And The Media Is Out To Get Her (SCF)

Tulsi Gabbard could well be the only genuine antiwar candidate that might truly be electable in the past fifty years, and that is why the war party is out to get her. Two weeks ago, the Daily Beast displayed a headline: “Tulsi Gabbard’s Campaign Is Being Boosted by Putin Apologists.” The article also had a sub-headline: “The Hawaii congresswoman is quickly becoming the top candidate for Democrats who think the Russian leader is misunderstood.” The obvious smear job was picked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, television’s best known Hillary Clinton clone, who brought it up in an interview with Gabbard shortly thereafter. He asked whether Gabbard was “softer” on Putin than were some of the other candidates.


Gabbard answered: “It’s unfortunate that you’re citing that article, George, because it’s a whole lot of fake news.” Politico the reported the exchange and wrote: “’Fake news’ is a favorite phrase of President Donald Trump…,” putting the ball back in Tulsi’s court rather than criticizing Stephanopoulos’s pointless question. Soon thereafter CNN produced its own version of Tulsi the Russophile, observing that Gabbard was using a Trump expression to “attack the credibility of negative coverage.” Tulsi responded “Stephanopoulos shamelessly implied that because I oppose going to war with Russia, I’m not a loyal American, but a Putin puppet. It just shows what absurd lengths warmongers in the media will go, to try to destroy the reputation of anyone who dares oppose their warmongering.”

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Impressive crowds.

One Million March In Hong Kong To Protest China Extradition Bill (R.)

Organizers said the turnout outstripped a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 hit the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws. Those laws were later shelved and a key government official forced to resign. Sunday’s outpouring was already raising the pressure on the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her official backers in Beijing. “She has to withdraw the bill and resign,” veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To told crowds outside the city’s parliament and government headquarters on Sunday night. “The whole of Hong Kong is against her.” After To spoke, thousands were still arriving, having started the march five hours earlier, filling four lanes of a major thoroughfare.


Some sat in a nearby park singing “Hallelujah” while police increased their numbers around the area. Lam had yet to comment on the rally. The demonstration capped weeks of growing outrage in the business, diplomatic and legal communities, which fear corrosion of Hong Kong’s legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring basic judicial protections in mainland China. The protest descended into violence in the early hours of Monday as several hundred protesters clashed with a similar number of police outside the city’s parliament. Protesters charged police lines to try to force their way into the Legislative Council building, and police charged back, using pepper spray, after warning the protesters. The standoff ended in the early hours of Monday.

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What say you, Xi?

Hong Kong Plunged Into Political Crisis (R.)

Riot police surrounded Hong Kong’s parliament early on Monday after what had been a peaceful million-strong protest against an extradition bill descended into running clashes between police and protesters. Several hundred riot police armed with batons, shields, tear gas guns and pepper spray sealed off the Legislative Council as a similar number of protesters charged their lines shortly after midnight, Reuters witnesses said. Police used batons and fired pepper spray at protesters, who still managed to close off part of a nearby road. Several people on both sides appeared to be injured, and ambulances were called. Metal barriers were left twisted and torn in the clashes.


The Legislative Council is where debates will start on Wednesday to pass a new government bill that will allow suspects wanted in mainland China to be sent across the border for trial. Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of thousands had jammed Hong Kong’s streets to protest the bill in the biggest demonstration in years. Many said they feared it put the city’s vaunted legal independence at risk. The rallies — and the violence — plunge the global financial hub into a fresh political crisis, with marchers and opposition leaders demanding the bill be shelved and that the city’s Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign. After seven hours of marching, organisers estimated 1,030,000 people took part, far outstripping a demonstration in 2003 when half that number hit the streets to successfully challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.

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“Travelers aren’t merely scared of the 737 Max, they’re terrified of it..”

Boeing 737 Max Seen as ‘Airplane Non Grata’ by Wary Travelers (BBG)

U.S. airlines have their work cut out for them in trying to coax frightened travelers back onto Boeing Co.’s 737 Max once a worldwide grounding ends. At least 20% of U.S. travelers say they will definitely avoid the plane in the first six months after flights resume, according to a study led by consultant Henry Harteveldt. More than 40% said they’d be willing to take pricier or less convenient flights to stay off the Max. A separate UBS Group AG survey found that 70% would hesitate today to book a flight on Boeing’s best-selling jet. “Travelers aren’t merely scared of the 737 Max, they’re terrified of it,” Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, said in the report, which was released Tuesday.


“The 737 Max is, for now, an ‘airplane non grata’ — a plane passengers do not want to fly.” The surveys underscore the challenge looming for Boeing as it seeks to regain public trust after two deadly crashes and a global flying ban that’s nearing the three-month mark. Boeing is finalizing a software fix for a flight-control system malfunction linked to the accidents, as well as proposed new pilot training. Regulators in the U.S. and other countries say there’s no timeline for when the plane will resume flights. Only 14% of U.S. passengers would definitely fly on a 737 Max within six months of its return, according to the online study for Atmosphere of 2,000 U.S. airline passengers from April 27 to May 1.

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They have to fire the CEO and many others. Nader is not going away.

Boeing Used To Getting Its Way, Grip On Congress Is Legendary (Ralph Nader)

The Boeing-driven FAA is rushing to unground the notorious prone-to-stall Boeing 737 MAX (that killed 346 innocents in two crashes) before several official investigations are completed. Troubling revelations might keep these planes grounded worldwide. The FAA has a clearly established pro-Boeing bias and will likely allow Boeing to unground the 737 MAX. We must demand that the two top FAA officials resign or recuse themselves from taking any more steps that might endanger the flying public. The two Boeing-indentured men are Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell and Associate FAA Administrator for Aviation Safety Ali Bahrami. Immediately after the crashes, Elwell resisted grounding and echoed Boeing claims that the Boeing 737 MAX was a safe plane despite the deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Ali Bahrami is known for aggressively pushing the FAA through 2018 to further abdicate its regulatory duties by delegating more safety inspections to Boeing. Bahrami’s actions benefit Boeing and are supported by the company’s toadies in the Congress. Elwell and Bahrami have both acquired much experience by going through the well-known revolving door between the industry and the FAA. They are likely to leave the FAA once again for lucrative positions in the aerospace lobbying or business world. With such prospects, they do not have much ‘skin in the game’ for their pending decision.

[..] Boeing has about 5,000 orders for the 737 MAX. It has delivered less than 400 to the world’s airlines. From its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg to its swarms of Washington lobbyists, law firms, and public relations outfits, Boeing is used to getting its way. Its grip on Congress – where 300 members take campaign cash from Boeing – is legendary. Boeing pays little in federal and Washington state taxes. It fumbles contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense but remains the federal government’s big vendor for lack of competitive alternatives in a highly concentrated industry.

[..] Time is not on the side of the 737 MAX 8. A comprehensive review of the 737 MAX’s problems is a non-starter for Boeing. Boeing’s flawed software and instructions that have kept pilots and airlines in the dark have already been exposed. New whistleblowers and more revelations will emerge. More time may also result in the Justice Department’s operating grand jury issuing some indictments.

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One of Melzer’s many interviews. Where is the UN suppoort for him?

Chris Hedges Talks To UN Special Rapporteur About Assange (RT)

Chris Hedges discusses with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer the conditions of Julian Assange’s detention, his psychological and physical health as well as the judicial proceedings against the WikiLeaks founder.

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Apr 142019
 


Edward Hopper The Sheridan Theatre 1937

 

Draghi Worries About Fate Of Fed’s Independence (MW)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)
UK Tories Face European Elections Drubbing (Ind.)
Corbyn Told To Promise Final Say Referendum (Ind.)
It’s The UK Political System, Not Just MPs, That Is Failing (G.)
UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception (Cook)
American Values: Embassies Are For Chopping Up Journalists (McDonald)
Assange Is In The Dock, But Investigative Journalism Is On Trial (Crikey)
The Obvious Dirty Dealings Behind Julian Assange’s Arrest (OG)
Anonymous Attacks Continue Against Ecuadorian Government Websites (Cassandra)

 

 

Independence from what? Reality?

Draghi Worries About Fate Of Fed’s Independence (MW)

Concerns about central-bank independence are on the rise.Take, for example, the cover of this week’s edition of the Economist. And while not solely a U.S. concern, a steady stream of complaints by President Donald Trump about the Federal Reserve’s earlier string of interest-rate hikes and his announcement he would nominate Stephen Moore and Herman Cain — both widely criticized as unqualified and likely to act at the behest of the White house on policy decisions — to the central bank’s governing board have sparked fears the central bank’s policy independence could be at risk. (Four Republican senators have said they would vote against Cain if he were formally put forward, likely sinking his chances.)

On Saturday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi appeared to take notice: ‘I’m certainly worried about central bank independence in other countries, especially…in the most important jurisdiction in the world.’ Draghi’s remarks, as reported by Reuters, came at a news conference at the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. They also marked a rare instance of a central banker opining about the operations of a foreign central bank. “If the central bank is not independent, then people may well think that monetary policy decisions follow political advice rather than objective assessment of the economic outlook,” said Draghi.

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Amid all the loud news, both Canada and Australia are slipping fast.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)

Canada’s housing markets barely dipped during the Financial Crisis when US housing markets ran into deep trouble, causing the Mortgage Crisis that begat all kinds of other crises. Canadian homeowners and banks watched the mess from across the border and shook their heads. But now, after an 18-year housing boom, the downturn has arrived in Vancouver and Toronto, among the formerly hottest housing bubbles in the world.


The Teranet-National Bank House Price Index tracks single-family house prices, based on “sales pairs,” similar to the S&P CoreLogic Case Shiller index for US housing markets. It compares the sales price of a house in the current month to the prior sale of the same house years earlier. Using “sales pairs” eliminates the issues that affect median-price indices. But the median-price data for Vancouver is a lot more disconcerting than the Teranet data. So let’s compare how Vancouver’s housing bubble stacks up against the legendary but now also deflating housing bubble in San Francisco.

House prices in the Greater Toronto Area fell 0.3% in March from February and are down 4.3% from the peak in July 2017, the steepest 20-month decline since May 2009. From January 2002 through the peak in July 2017, the index soared 218% — meaning that house prices more than tripled. But that pales compared to Vancouver, where house prices more than quadrupled. I converted this Teranet index for Toronto house prices to “percent-change since January 2002” and overlaid the insane mind-boggling housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it shows just how majestic the 18-year Toronto housing bubble has been:

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European elections in Britain do seem surreal.

UK Tories Face European Elections Drubbing (Ind.)

The Conservatives are facing a humiliating defeat at the European elections next month after support for the party slumped to its lowest level since 2013, according to a new poll. The survey shows the Tories on just 28 per cent when it comes to general election voting intention – a four-point fall which leaves them trailing Labour on 32. When voters were asked which party they will vote for at the European elections, Theresa May’s party languished on 16 per cent, eight points behind Labour on 24. In a clear sign support for the Conservatives is crumbling over the failure to deliver Brexit, 56 per cent of people who voted to leave at the 2016 referendum said they would back Ukip or Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party during next month’s vote.


The Brexit Party is on 15 per cent, while Ukip stands at 14 per cent when it comes to European voting intention, the YouGov poll for The Times indicated. By comparison, the Lib Dems and the Greens are both on 8 per cent, while Change UK has 7 per cent support. No 10 is still hoping to get a deal through parliament in time to avoid participation in the European elections on 23 May. But the UK is formally on track to hold the poll, having informed the EU authorities ahead of Friday’s deadline that it would be taking part. Boris Johnson’s backers have suggested he may not even campaign on behalf of his party next month in an effort to show his displeasure at the UK’s involvement. “Boris won’t campaign in European elections. He believes the prospect of the UK fielding candidates is utterly preposterous,” a source told The Times.

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Something only a small group wants. But then, that’s true of all Brexit issues and ‘solutions’.

Corbyn Told To Promise Final Say Referendum (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is under intense pressure from within his shadow cabinet to give a strong commitment to a new Brexit referendum as part of Labour’s European election campaign offer. A string of senior shadow ministers are advocating a new public vote, alongside MPs from the left and right of the party, buoyed by a groundswell of support from the membership. The Independent understands Labour is now beginning the process of drawing up its manifesto with those wanting to give the public a final say on Brexit pushing the leader to make a strong bid for the Remain vote on polling day. Mr Corbyn’s team is currently engaged in talks with the Conservatives in an effort to find a Brexit compromise deal that can enjoy majority support in the House of Commons, with a referendum having been discussed during the negotiations.


The leader’s office emphasised that decisions on the manifesto were yet to be discussed, with the party simultaneously defending its majorities against the pro-Remain Change UK party run by Labour defectors and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party. One shadow cabinet source told The Independent: “We can’t credibly agree to any deal unless there is a confirmatory referendum attached to it. “We should be telling people about that, the support is there to be had.” The European elections are set to become a rerun of the 2016 referendum campaign with parties positioning themselves along the Brexit spectrum from Leave to Remain.

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Party before country.

It’s The UK Political System, Not Just MPs, That Is Failing (G.)

Brexit has prompted a recurring nightmare among an increasingly incredulous population: our very own Groundhog Day. Two weeks after the EU granted us an 11th-hour extension to prevent us crashing out without a deal, we are back in exactly the same position. The only thing standing between us and next Friday’s cliff edge is the hope the EU gifts us another extension. Meanwhile, the political turmoil engulfing the country worsens, the two main parties increasingly consumed by division and disarray and the political leadership we so desperately need to avert crisis as elusive as ever. It’s hard to believe that the Westminster model of democracy was one prized by constitutional theorists for the stability it purportedly delivers. As the stakes get higher, our political system has proved less and less capable of delivering a resolution to the gridlock that has infected Westminster.

Brexit has been a story of the favouring of party management over the national interest. From the very beginning, Theresa May’s approach to Brexit – from her premature decision to trigger article 50 to her red lines on freedom of movement and the customs union – has been driven not by a strategy to unite the country in the wake of a divisive referendum but to keep her Brexit ultras on side. Only now it has become clear that there are MPs in her party so fanatically dogmatic that they would rather hold out for no deal than vote for her deal has she opened compromise talks with Labour. But Labour emerged from the talks on Friday complaining that no changes to the political declaration were on offer, suggesting that this move may have been more about trying to lay blame for any further delay on the opposition.

Labour’s strategy has been no less determined by party interest. Jeremy Corbyn has kept a position of barely credible ambiguity for as long as possible to avoid alienating any of its voters. Labour has maintained the charade that it could deliver a Brexit deal that delivers all the benefits of EU membership with none of costs. And Labour has failed to provide any leadership support for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, with the shadow cabinet split on the issue. Time is running out for Labour to decide once and for all whether it will properly swing its weight behind a referendum. Thanks to the mess the Tories are in, Corbyn is in a position of power, if he only chooses to use it.

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Another excellent essay from Jonathan Cook.

UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception (Cook)

[..] the public conversation in the UK, sympathetically reported by the Guardian, supposedly Britain’s only major liberal news outlet, is going to be about who has first dibs on Assange. Here’s the first paragraph of the Guardian front-page article: “Political pressure is mounting on [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape.” So the concern is not that Assange is facing rendition to the US, it is that the US claim might “overshadow” an outstanding legal case in Sweden. The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first. It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes. But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative. The Swedish claim, if it is revived, is an entirely separate matter.

[..] In another article on Assange on Friday, the Guardian – echoing a common media refrain – reported as fact a demonstrably false claim: “Assange initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.” There could be no possible reason for its reporters to make this elementary mistake other than that the Guardian is still waging its long-running campaign against Assange, the information revolution he represents and the challenge he poses to the corporate media of which the Guardian is a key part.

[..] Assange was previously wanted for questioning, and has never been charged with anything. If the Swedish extradition request is revived, it will be so that he can be questioned about those allegations. I should also point out, as almost no one else is, that Assange did not “flee” questioning. He offered Swedish prosecutors to question him at the embassy. Even though questioning overseas in extradition cases is common – Sweden has done it dozens of times – Sweden repeatedly refused in Assange’s case, leading the Swedish appeal court to criticise the prosecutors. When he was finally questioned after four years of delays, Swedish prosecutors violated his rights by refusing access to his Swedish lawyer.

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First amendment anyone?

American Values: Embassies Are For Chopping Up Journalists (McDonald)

202310Fair-minded people across the world have rightly condemned the US-ordered arrest of Julian Assange. However, few have noted how it fits part of a pattern of American hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of journalists. Only six months ago, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and hacked to pieces by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. He was a columnist at the Washington Post and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, known for his sharp criticism of the illegal US-backed Saudi war on Yemen. Despite a CIA conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the gruesome assassination, President Donald Trump stood by his ally and no meaningful sanctions or penalties were directed towards Riyadh.


Turkey itself remains a NATO member, and close US partner, despite holding more journalists behind bars than any other nation on earth. This figure stood at 68, at the end of last year, around one-quarter of the global total of 251. Now we have the indictment of Assange, which seeks to criminalize basic functions of journalism. For instance, keeping sources anonymous or deleting records of conversations. Indeed, it also appears to be a breach of America’s own First Amendment. He has been targeted by Washington for exposing evidence of appalling atrocities, carried out by the US military, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, as a result, Assange sought sanctuary in the small London embassy of Ecuador. What followed was relentless pressure on Quito to reverse the asylum it granted the Wikileaks founder and it culminated in his arrest.

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“That would forestall extradition for long enough for Jeremy Corbyn to become PM, at which point extradition would be refused. But it may be just all screaming chaos.”

Assange Is In The Dock, But Investigative Journalism Is On Trial (Crikey)

Team Assange had a defence on the jumping bail thing: “Your honour, my client had a reasonable fear that from remand he would be extradited to the US.” That was received reasonably. “Also that the previous presiding judge Lady Arbuthnot, did not recuse herself …” That was not. “You had ample time to raise this issue, and now you are traducing the reputation of a fine judge…” Snow went on. I thought of Peter Cook’s great monologue of the summing-up of the Jeremy Thorpe trial: “You have ruined the reputation of one of the most pretty defendants.” Once Assange had been found guilty of skipping bail, it got even weirder. “Your situation is a product of your narcissism,” said the magistrate clearly riled. He did not want the situation of Justice Lady Arbuthnot further explored. I am happy to do so.


Lady Arbuthnot, who ruled on the lawfulness of Assange’s continued criminalisation in the UK in 2015, is the wife of Lord Arbuthnot, a Conservative who has held multiple defence industry posts over the last two decades. This sally got short shrift, but it seemed to me intended to do so. Although when I asked a member of the legal team how it had all gone, they said “well, you saw that shit show in there”. So perhaps not. Assange is now on remand awaiting sentencing for the fleeing bail charge — the Magistrates Court having transferred it to the Crown Court, so a larger maximum sentence of 12 months instead of six, can be awarded. Is that a plan too? That would forestall extradition for long enough for Jeremy Corbyn to become PM, at which point extradition would be refused. But it may be just all screaming chaos.

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“Of course, the idea that Moreno is handling the economy brilliantly, but somehow also needs over $10 billion dollars in loans is never addressed.”

The Obvious Dirty Dealings Behind Julian Assange’s Arrest (OG)

The US has been planning to have Julian Assange handed over for a longtime, that much is obvious. Mike Pence, the Vice President, was visiting Ecuador last year, notionally to discuss the Venezuela situation, and trade. But it was fairly obvious at the time, and even more so now, that they were discussing the details of Assange being handed over to UK authorities, and eventually extradited to the US. “Trade”, indeed. In terms of quid pro quo, the situation is clear-cut – In February, Ecuador got a $4.2 BILLION loan approved by the International Monetary Fund (amongst other pay-outs). Reuters reported on February 19th of this year:

“Ecuador has reached a $4.2 billion staff-level financing deal with the IMF, President Lenin Moreno said on Wednesday, as the Andean country grapples with a large fiscal deficit and heavy external debt. The country will also receive $6 billion in loans from multilateral institutions including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the CAF Andean development bank…” So, less than 2 months ago, it was announced Ecuador was going to receive over 10 billion dollars of loans. Where all that money will eventually end up is anyone’s guess, it certainly isn’t being spent on infrastructure or state enterprise: “Moreno has begun to implement an austerity plan that includes layoffs of workers at state-owned companies and cuts to gasoline subsidies, also plans to find a private operator for state-run telecoms company CNT and other state-owned firms.”

President Moreno has already been the subject of numerous corruption accusations. So these “loans”, nominally for “[creating] work opportunities for those who have not yet found something stable”, could more realistically be described as “a pay-off”. More than just money, Lenin Moreno has been gifted something all insecure third-world leaders crave: Western approval. The Economist ran a story on April 12th, the day after Assange was arrested, praising Lenin Moreno’s economic policies, and blaming the previous administration for the “mess” that Moreno has to clear up. (Of course, the idea that Moreno is handling the economy brilliantly, but somehow also needs over $10 billion dollars in loans is never addressed. A tiny logical contradiction compared with the nonsense the MSM dish-up on a daily basis).

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Expect it to be used against Assange.

Anonymous Attacks Continue Against Ecuadorian Government Websites (Cassandra)

Over 30 websites belonging to the Ecuadorian government are now offline — some of them defaced — in protest of the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The hackers are calling their efforts #OpEcuador, and are also promoting #OpUS and #OpUK. The United States and United Kingdom have not yet been hit with any cyber attacks, that we know of. It is important to note that none of this was directed by WikiLeaks or Assange himself. Supporters are acting on their own with the attacks. A data dump from the hackers warns that “Ecuador Government websites has been taken #Offline with 1 Direct attack. There are few most important websites that’s still down at this time. If some of their servers comes up again, we will fire again to take them down!”

Websites that have been hit include the Central bank of Ecuador, their Ministry of Interior, the Ecuadorian Assembly in UK and the main website for the Government of Ecuador — mot of which had been down for over twelve hours by Saturday evening. The hackers primarily appear to be speaking and coordinating in Spanish — though one of the data dumps was in Indonesia. A Twitter account belonging to the hackers stated that if the websites come back online they will “burn their servers.” The hacking group also called for other supporters to join them.


An InfoSec expert and Assange supporter who has been monitoring the situation told the Gateway Pundit that he is concerned that the attacks will be used against Assange by the media. “My opinion is that it’s deserved karma, but it could enable the anti-Assange media to divert attention away from Julian’s value to journalism by wrongly associating him with reckless hacktivism culture.” He also expressed concern about there being collateral damage within the large data dumps that are being posted online. Other supporters expressed similar concerns, though many still agreed that the attacks are warranted.

Read more …

Mar 082019
 


Pablo Picasso Visage 1928

 

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 47 Months In Prison (ZH)
ECB’s Surprise Policy Moves Send Shivers Through Global Stock Markets (MW)
US Dollar Hits 52-Week High on New ECB Stimulus (WS)
China Exports Fall 20.7% In February; Trade Data Much Weaker (CNBC)
China’s February Trade Surplus With US Narrows Sharply To $14.72 Billion (R.)
US Households See Biggest Decline In Net Worth Since Financial Crisis (CNBC)
Fed QE Unwind Reaches $501 Billion, Balance Sheet Falls Below $4 Trillion (WS)
Germany Won’t Ban Huawei, Says Ready To Oppose US Pressure (RT)
May Urges EU To Agree Brexit Backstop Changes (BBC)
Corbyn Backtracks On Final Say Referendum (Ind.)
British Life Expectancy Falls By Six Months (G.)
Default Or Exit: A Battle Between Italy And The EU Is Inevitable (OR)
Blackout Darkens Much Of Venezuela (AFP)
This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct” (Cohen)
Chelsea Manning Risks Jail To Fight WikiLeaks Grand Jury (SP)

 

 

Shimon Prokupecz from the courtroom: “Judge tells the courtroom that Manafort is not being sentenced for anything related to the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference. Ellis said “He is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government”

So what’s the Guardian headline? “Trump-Russia figure Paul Manafort jailed”.

Paul Manafort Sentenced To 47 Months In Prison (ZH)

In a surprise decision that stands as a slap in the face to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Judge Ellis handed Paul Manafort a surprisingly light sentence of 47 months -or just under four years in prison – rejecting federal sentencing guidelines that recommended Manafort face up to 24 years in prison – a sentence that would have effectively condemned him to die in jail. Manafort was also fined $50,000 (equivalent to a few of Manafort’s bespoke suits) and ordered to pay restitution of $25 million. At this rate, Manafort might be out before Mueller finally wraps up his probe.

Early in the trial, Manafort appeared headed for a stiff sentence despite showing up in court in a wheelchair and green prison jumpsuit. Initially, after a lengthy review of Manafort’s charges, Ellis, who presided over Manafort’s August trial, said he would reject his lawyers’ request for leniency and accused the former Trump campaign executive of not being entirely forthcoming with the court about his finances. Furthermore, he refused to give him credit for accepting responsibility for his crimes, and also rejected his lawyers’ argument that the fact that Manafort hadn’t been found complicit in Russian collusion detracted from the charges for which he was convicted. When it came time for their statement, prosecutors told the judge Manafort offered little meaningful help during his 50 hours of meetings with investigators, and that the main reason he spent so much time with investigators was because he had lied.

But when it came his turn to speak, Manafort sounded genuinely contrite, telling the judge he felt “humiliated and ashamed” for what he’d done, and that the last two years had been “the most difficult years for my family and I.” “I appreciate the fairness of the trial you conducted,” he said. “My life is professionally and financially in shambles.” In the first indication that the sentence would be lighter than many had anticipated, the judge told Manafort and the court that he felt the federal sentencing guidelines were too stiff, and that Manafort had led an “otherwise blameless” life. Ellis recommended that Manafort – who is reportedly suffering from gout and other unspecified health issues – serve his sentence in a Cumberland, Maryland prison camp. He also credited him with nine months already served.

Read more …

The power of central banks is destructive in every possible sense.

ECB’s Surprise Policy Moves Send Shivers Through Global Stock Markets (MW)

Mario Draghi has been grumbling about the deleterious side effects of trade tensions and other geopolitical worries for months, but the ECB’s surprise policy moves in the face of a slowing global economy appeared to bring the danger home to investors. Stocks on Wall Street fell alongside European equities, underlining rising worries among investors that weakness in the global economy could prove to be a drag on U.S. growth. While analysts had expected the ECB president to strike a dovish tone, policy makers went much further than anticipated.

First, the ECB extended its so-called forward guidance on ultralow interest rates, saying it doesn’t expect to begin lifting them until at least early 2020. That’s compared to its earlier plan to leave them on hold at least through the end of this summer. Second, the ECB launched its third iteration of a program of cheap loans — known as targeted long-term refinancing operations, or TLTROs — to eurozone banks. It all came as ECB staff slashed their macroeconomic forecasts, including reducing the outlook for 2019 GDP growth to 1.1% from a previous 1.7% and signaling that inflation will take even longer to reach the central bank’s target of near but just below 2%. Price stability is the ECB’s sole policy mandate.

Draghi’s comments on the economy were getting the blame from analysts and investors for a decline in European and, in part, U.S. stocks. The pan-European Stoxx Europe index ended 0.4% lower, while on Wall Street, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended with a loss of more than 200 points, or 0.8%, after declining 320 points at its session low. European government bonds rallied and the euro extended a decline versus the U.S. dollar.

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Draghi just scared friend and foe. Get rid of him, and his job. The damage is unthinkable.

US Dollar Hits 52-Week High on New ECB Stimulus (WS)

The Dollar Index (DXY), which tracks the dollar against the euro, yen, pound sterling, Canadian dollar, Swedish krona, and Swiss franc, and which is dominated by the euro, jumped 0.83% to 97.71 at the moment, hitting at least briefly its 52-week high, as the euro slumped 1.1% against the dollar, following the ECB’s announcement earlier today. But it wasn’t just a one-day event for the dollar, but an eight-day rally in an uptrend that started in early February. The real worry is the economy in the Eurozone – despite the fabulous stimulus the ECB has heaped on it for years, including a brutal negative-interest-rate policy and massive QE that has inflated the ECB’s balance sheet to over 40% of Eurozone GDP (by comparison, the Fed’s balance sheet is down to 19.5% of US GDP).

The Eurozone economy is deteriorating rapidly. In the post-meeting press conference today, ECB president Mario Draghi announced that the ECB had slashed its economic growth forecast for the Eurozone to 1.1% for 2019, a sharp cut from its forecast of 1.7% growth at the December meeting, and down from its 1.9% growth forecast last summer. “Incoming data have continued to be weak, in particular in the manufacturing sector, reflecting the slowdown in external demand compounded by some country and sector-specific factors,” the statement says.

Instead of admitting that its radical experimental monetary policies were a colossal error as the economic growth is now dwindling despite or because of the stimulus, and instead of gradually raising its policy rates above the rate of inflation to end its brutal “financial repression,” and instead of shedding the bonds on its balance sheet to push up long-term interest rates and force a restructuring of the bogged-down European economy so that it would liquidate or restructure the debts of zombie companies and lighten the load of restructured companies to allow them to have a fresh start – all of it at investors expense – the ECB does the opposite.

It promises new bank liquidity programs in the Eurozone which is already drowning in central-bank liquidity, to get banks to lend more to these zombie companies and keep them from restructuring their debts.

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When did that big Party meeting end?

China Exports Fall 20.7% In February; Trade Data Much Weaker (CNBC)

China on Friday reported worse than expected trade data for the month of February, customs data showed amid Beijing’s trade dispute with the U.S. Dollar-denominated exports plunged 20.7 percent for the month of February from a year ago, missing economists’ expectations of a 4.8 percent decline, according to a Reuters poll. January exports had risen 9.1 percent from a year ago. Dollar-denominated imports fell 5.2 percent in February from a year ago, missing economists’ forecast of a 1.4 percent fall. January imports had fallen 1.5 percent on-year. China’s February trade balance was also significantly weaker than expected at $4.12 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the overall trade balance to come in at $26.38 billion.

The country’s trade balance in January had been $39.16 billion. China’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. narrowed sharply to $14.72 billion in February from $27.3 billion in January. Although the 20.7 percent decline in Chinese exports for the month of February was a “big number” and the market will be “clearly disappointed,” the negative number should not come as a surprise as investors have been expecting a slowdown both globally and in China, said Sarah Lien, director and client portfolio manager at Eastspring Investments. “There are a lot of headwinds; there’s a lot of moving parts in market,” Lien told CNBC.

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So no currency manipulation needed?

China’s February Trade Surplus With US Narrows Sharply To $14.72 Billion (R.)

China’s trade surplus with the United States narrowed to $14.72 billion in February, from $27.3 billion in January, customs data showed on Friday. For January-February combined, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. stood at $42.1 billion. China’s large trade surplus with the United States has long been a sore point with Washington, and is at the center of a bitter dispute between the two countries. In 2018, the two governments imposed tit-for-tariffs on goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Do note: what wealth there is, or is measured, sits in real estate and stocks, the very two biggest bubbles blown by the Fed. Net worth my donkey.

US Households See Biggest Decline In Net Worth Since Financial Crisis (CNBC)

Americans’ net worth fell at the highest level since the financial crisis in the fourth quarter of 2018 as sliding stock market prices ate into the household balance sheet. Net worth dropped to $104.3 trillion as the year came to an end, a decrease of $3.73 trillion from the third quarter, according to figures released Thursday by the Federal Reserve. The fall amounted to a drop of 3.4 percent. Much of the slide came due to Wall Street’s woes, as the stock market suffered a precipitous decline that started in October and briefly reached bear market status. Equities skidded as investors began to fear that the Fed would keep raising interest rates even as economic conditions began to deteriorate. By the time the market drop ended in late December, households saw $4.6 trillion worth of equity value deteriorate.

The decline was offset somewhat by a $300 billion increase in real estate value. The overall move was the second-highest quarterly dollar drop since the Fed began tracking the statistic. Overall, financial assets totaled just more than $85 trillion at the end of the year, while real estate value was $29.2 trillion. Household net worth has been rising strongly since the crisis and is up 73 percent since 2009. After suffering their worst Christmas Eve in history, stocks staged a turnaround and ultimately saw their best two-month start to a year since at least 1991. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is off about 1.6 percent in March though still up more than 9 percent year to date.

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Cui bono.

Fed QE Unwind Reaches $501 Billion, Balance Sheet Falls Below $4 Trillion (WS)

Over the next few months, the Fed is expected to announce its new plan for its balance sheet. Meanwhile, as we’re riveted to the edge of our seat, the old plan continues on autopilot, and February was one of the few months when the Treasury “roll-off,” as Chairman Jerome Powell likes to call it, hit the “caps.” In February, the Fed shed $57 billion in assets, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended March 6, released this afternoon. This slashed the assets on its balance sheet to $3,969 billion, the lowest since December 2013. Via its “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $501 billion. And since peak-balance-sheet at the end of 2014, the Fed has shed $547 billion:

During peak-balance-sheet at the end of 2014, total assets ($4.52 trillion) amounted to 26% of GDP. Today’s assets amount to 19.4% of GDP. In the years before QE started, the balance sheet ran around 6% of GDP. By comparison, the ECB’s balance sheet assets now exceed 40% of GDP, and the Bank of Japan’s assets amount to 101% of GDP. February’s drop of $57 billion is larger than the scheduled QE unwind that is capped at $50 billion. But the Fed has other activities that impact the balance sheet. QE revolved around Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). And so does the QE unwind.

[..] On February 15, three issues of Treasury securities on the Fed’s balance sheet totaling $43.5 billion matured. On February 28, three issues totaling $12.5 billion matured. This brought the total for the month to $56 billion – above the cap of $30 billion. So the Fed reinvested $26 billion in new Treasury securities and allowed $30 billion of Treasuries to “rolled off” the balance sheet without replacement. This reduced the total balance of Treasury securities by $30 billion, to $2,175 billion, the lowest since December 2013 – and down by $290 billion since the QE unwind began. This has whittled down the Treasuries acquired during the infamous “QE Infinity” by about one-third:

Read more …

When it comes to things like 5G networks, which cross borders, the rest of Europe has little choice but to follow Germany.

Germany Won’t Ban Huawei, Says Ready To Oppose US Pressure (RT)

Germany does not intend to prevent Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing 5G networks, the country’s economy minister said, adding that the EU stands ready to defend its interests, should a trade war with Washington escalate. Berlin will not pre-emptively ban any specific companies from bidding for contracts to develop the country’s next generation 5G mobile network, despite immense pressure from the United States to ostracize Huawei, Peter Altmaier said on Thursday evening, during a debate on ZDF television. “No, we will not want to exclude any company,” he stressed, explaining that the government is capable of implementing enough safeguards to protect Germany’s future networks.

Ignoring Washington’s earnest ‘concerns’ that, through Huawei systems, the Chinese government is planning to spy on the entire world, German authorities produced a list of telecom security requirements on Wednesday. Part of the new German rules requires certifying any security-related components with Germany’s IT security agency. The 5G network “may only be sourced from trustworthy suppliers whose compliance with national security regulations and provisions for the secrecy of telecommunications and for data protection is assured,” Germany’s Economic Ministry and the Federal Network Agency said in their guidelines. Thus Huawei, which has recently sued the US government demanding to see any proof behind their claims, can participate in the tendering process if it meets the requirements set out by Berlin.

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3 weeks to D-Day. Cue blame game.

May Urges EU To Agree Brexit Backstop Changes (BBC)

Theresa May will urge the EU to help get her Brexit deal through the Commons by agreeing legally binding changes to the controversial backstop. On Friday, she will say the EU’s actions will “have a big impact on the outcome” when MPs vote on it next week. But Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said it was now “clear” the PM “will not be able to deliver the changes she promised to her failed Brexit deal”. The EU says the UK must come forward with new ideas to break the deadlock. The UK is due to leave on 29 March.

Mrs May will visit workers in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, on Friday, days before the second “meaningful vote” in the Commons on the withdrawal deal she has negotiated with the EU. She will tell them: “Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too. “We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. “We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.”

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Has Corbyn done anything not wrong?

Corbyn Backtracks On Final Say Referendum (Ind.)

Labour has admitted it will not support a new referendum on Brexit in all circumstances, in a major blow to those in the party campaigning for one. Sources close to the Labour leadership confirmed that the party is not advocating a referendum on anything other than a “damaging Tory Brexit” and will not support one if Britain leaves the EU on terms that Labour backs. The Independent has learnt that the issue was the subject of a row between Mr Corbyn’s shadow ministers that pitted Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry against Brexit-backing frontbenchers led by Jon Trickett. As it dawned on Labour Remainers today, a prominent MP who backs the People’s Vote campaign warned that a failure of the party to follow through on the pledge to back a new referendum would be seen as a “betrayal”.

It comes as deputy leader Tom Watson is in the process of forming a new “social democrat” group within the party, while eight MPs have quit the party, in large part over Brexit policy, to form the new Independent Group. Labour said last week that it would support a vote on any “credible” exit plan passed by parliament, and shadow ministers took to the airwaves to promise to demand a “confirmatory referendum” on “whatever deal may or may not pass through parliament”. However, sources have now told The Independent that the party will only support a referendum on a “damaging Tory Brexit” deal. Crucially, it is understood that Labour does not consider this to include the type of arrangement being proposed by former Conservative ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles, who Mr Corbyn held talks with yesterday. Their plan would keep the UK in the single market and a customs union with the EU.

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This should panic the country like nothing else. But instead all the talk is Brexit and they’re signaling the advantages for pension schemes of people dying younger.

British Life Expectancy Falls By Six Months (G.)

British adults’ life expectancy has been cut by six months in the biggest reduction in official longevity forecasts. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, which calculates life expectancy on behalf of the UK pension industry, declined to speculate on why longevity is deteriorating for men and women in England and Wales. Some analysts, however, blame austerity and cuts in NHS spending, others point to worsening obesity, dementia and diabetes. The institute said it now expects men aged 65 to die at 86.9 years, down from its previous estimate of 87.4 years, while women who reach 65 are likely to die at 89.2 years, down from 89.7 years. The actuaries said the evidence of slowing life expectancy that first emerged around 2010-11 is “a trend as opposed to a blip”. Falling longevity has accelerated.

Last year’s analysis cut forecasted life expectancy by two months. This year it took off another six months. Compared with 2015, projections for life expectancy are now down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women. Flat or falling longevity has major implications for health, finance and government policy. The state pension age is planned to rise to 68 in 2037, and the government has floated the idea of increasing it to 70 but will come under pressure to backtrack if longevity drops. [..] Pension companies have already begun to cash in on falling expectations. This week Legal & General said it was releasing £433m of the reserves it holds to pay future pensions because of the reductions in longevity expectations.

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European parliament elections in May. That will bring a lot into the open.

Default Or Exit: A Battle Between Italy And The EU Is Inevitable (OR)

There is a dual Italian crisis brewing in the European Union. On the one hand, it is a political, or even geopolitical, crisis. Italy is undermining the unity of the European Union; blocking the EU’s recognition of those behind the coup in Venezuela as the legitimate authority; preventing the expansion of sanctions against Russia; and even supporting the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France, which is arousing the anger of the French government. On the other hand, the crisis is economic in nature. Italy is once more sliding into a recession (economic growth was negative in the country); Italian banks are again facing financial problems; and the business media has already estimated that the Italian economic crisis could blow up the entire European banking system.

There is a strong possibility that the EU’s leaders will soon be faced with a choice: try to save Italy (and the whole of Europe) from yet another crisis or set an example by punishing the Italian government for the country’s independent economic and foreign policies. In turn, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government will most likely have its own dilemma to deal with: bow down and sell its principles to get help from Brussels or go all out and regain Italian independence. The choice will not be easy and either decision will be painful. Neither ending to this Italian drama could really be called happy. As this headline in The Telegraph quite rightly notes: “Crisis brewing in Italy will lead to default, exit from the euro, or both.”

[..] To really understand the Italian problem, it should be borne in mind that, as a member of the European Union and the eurozone, Italy does not have full national sovereignty, especially when it comes to economic matters. It does not control the monetary policy of the European Central Bank and cannot even prepare a budget in line with the wishes of its own government or parliament without the risk of running into sanctions or fines from the European Commission. What’s more, Italian eurosceptic politicians suspect that the European Commission (in which the main roles belong to people hand-picked by Germany, France and the US) is punishing Italy and literally strangling its economy because of a political dislike of the Italian government’s geopolitical actions.

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If this happens more often it won’t be a coincidence.

Blackout Darkens Much Of Venezuela (AFP)

Most of Venezuela plunged into darkness on Thursday evening as a blackout served up more misery for people enduring an economic crisis that has fueled a potent challenge to President Nicolas Maduro’s rule. The socialist government quickly blamed the outage affecting 23 of the country’s 24 states on what it called sabotage of a major hydroelectric dam. In Caracas, traffic lights went out and the subway system ground to a halt, triggering gridlock in the streets and huge streams of angry people trekking long distances to get home from work. The blackout in the capital was total and hit at 4:50 pm (2050 GMT), just before nightfall. Caracas is one of the world’s most crime-ridden cities so people set out for home early, well before the sun went down.

Commerce was shut down because most transactions are done with debit or credit cards. Hyperinflation has rendered the local currency, the bolivar, almost worthless. Telephone services and access to the internet were also knocked out. The capital’s international airport was hit, according to social media posts from would-be travelers. A Copa Libertadores football game in the city of Barquisimeto was postponed. As night set in, the nationwide outage dragged on and some people in Caracas banged pots and pans – a traditional Latin American method of letting off steam. About seven hours after the mess started, the lights did come back on in some buildings in eastern Caracas.

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But campaign finance!

This Jew Tells Speaker Pelosi: “You May Well Prove Ilhan Omar Correct” (Cohen)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reportedly still considering a symbolic “show vote” in Congress on an anti-Semitism and “hate” resolution – which would offer all the authenticity and honesty of a Soviet show trial. If Pelosi proceeds, it will prove Rep. Ilhan Omar’s point about the inordinate influence wielded over Congress by the “Israel-right or-wrong”/AIPAC lobby and its power to stifle criticism of Israel. The anti-Omar resolution, whether mentioning Omar or not, was originated by two Democrats who are among Congress’s most longstanding pro-Israel diehards: Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey. Both endorsed Bush’s Iraq invasion. Both opposed Obama’s Iran nuke deal. Both supported Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

I’m a proud Jew raised in a liberal family that supported civil rights and human rights. My experience growing up during the 1950s and 1960s was typical of many Jewish Americans. Like many Jews with this background, I’ve grown increasingly ashamed of Israel. For 40 years, Israel has been ruled mostly by a series of right-wing governments – more and more openly racist and abusive of Palestinian rights. It’s not the land of tree-planting, kibbutzim and “a country treating its Arab minority nicely” that we were sold as youngsters. That’s why a large number of proud Jewish Americans – raised to believe in civil liberties and open discussion – are appalled by the campaign to muzzle Rep. Ilhan Omar, as well as Speaker Pelosi’s role in it. We’re also appalled that human-rights-abusing Israel is virtually off-limits to debate.

[..] Rep. Omar has made a simple and undeniable point – that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the funding it [receives] influences exert extraordinary power over Congress. Disputing that point is flat-earther terrain. The Capitol Hill farce of an “anti-hate” resolution would provide still more evidence on behalf of her argument.

Read more …

We lock up our best, brightest and bravest. It’s the only way we can continue on our present paths. But there should be a big Hollywood movie in the works about Chelsea Manning as a role model for all young Americans.

Chelsea Manning Risks Jail To Fight WikiLeaks Grand Jury (SP)

Chelsea Manning will face a closed contempt hearing after she refused to answer questions during proceedings held by a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that is investigating WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks grand jury investigation has been ongoing in some form or another in Alexandria since at least December 2010. It was convened by the Justice Department in response to disclosures Manning made to WikiLeaks in 2010, when she was an intelligence analyst for the United States Army. What Manning disclosed exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable conduct by U.S. government officials. But she arrested, subject to a court-martial, and convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other related offenses.

She received a 35-year sentence and was released after six years in military prisons because a grassroots campaign successfully pressured President Barack Obama to commute her sentence. “A judge will consider the legal grounds for my refusal to answer questions in front of a grand jury. The court may find me in contempt and order me to jail,” Manning stated. On March 6, Manning appeared before the grand jury after she was granted immunity for her testimony. “All of the substantive questions pertained to my disclosures of information to the public in 2010—answers I provided in extensive testimony during my court-martial in 2013. I responded to each question with the following statement: ‘I object to the question and refuse to answer on the grounds that the question is in violation of my First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendment, and other statutory rights.’”

Manning added, “In solidarity with many activists facing the odds, I will stand by my principles. I will exhaust every legal remedy available. My legal team continues to challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.” She could face up to 18 months in jail if she is found “in contempt” of court. A legal attempt to quash the subpoena prior to her appearance before the grand jury was rejected by a federal judge on March 5. Grand juries can be empaneled for 18 months, or if they are “special” grand juries, they may last up to 36 months. Over the past eight years, the grand jury has presumably gone through multiple iterations, either being renewed or relaunched.

According to a report from the Washington Post, the grand jury is interested in whether WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange solicited Manning to disclose documents. Manning testified during her court-martial about accounts linked to WikiLeaks, or WLO, that she communicated with. It is possible she communicated with Assange, but they never exchanged identifying information. “No one associated with the WLO pressured me into giving more information. The decisions that I made to send documents and information to the WLO and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions,” Manning asserted. The grand jury would like to try and poke holes in Manning’s testimony to try and build a case against Assange and possibly other staff members of WikiLeaks.

Read more …

Dec 182018
 


Titian The rape of Europe 1560-62

 

It took me a while to decide which word(s) best define the past year and the next one, but I think this is pretty much it. 2018 was chaotic more than anything else, and that chaos will give rise to mayhem in 2019.

What I think is striking is that this is true across the board, in all walks of life so to speak. In finance, in politics, in energy markets, in ecological matters, and perhaps most of all in the ways all these topics are being covered by what once were trusted media.

I’m going to have to come back to all these topics separately, so it’s promising to be a very busy holiday season, but it’s also good to try and put them together in one place, if only to show how interconnected everything is. And how futile it is to look at the economy without seeing its connection to energy flows and ecosystems. And vice versa.

 

In finance and economics, we’ve seen an avalanche of falling numbers recently, in stock prices, bond prices, housing, across the globe, and obviously that evokes a lot of comments in the financial press. But that press, and bankers investors on their own, still talk about markets.

However, as I wrote in April 2018, if there is no price discovery, and there isn’t, there ARE NO markets, and it would be good and beneficial if many more people absorb that simple reality. Many more so-called traders and investors would be a start, but by no means enough. Lots more people who have nothing to do with the ‘markets’ should understand why there is no such thing anymore.

As long as you limit it to stock and bond markets, it may appear fine that people don’t understand. But as soon as you acknowledge there are no housing markets either for the exact same reasons, the story changes considerably. Because then it becomes clear that all -former- markets, bar none, have been eviscerated by central bank policies that sought to prop up banks, often highly successfully so, which they knew could only happen at the expense of communities and societies.

We’ve ended up with scores of mom and pop ‘investors’ who own hugely overpriced stocks and homes, while their pensions funds hold zillions ‘worth’ of bonds and also increasingly stocks. The link between pensions and AAA-rate assets was pulverized in the process. That looks set to continue, and worsen, in 2019. But that may be just the look of things. Because there really are no markets, there is no price discovery.

What is still there is a lot of talk about whether the Fed -and other central banks- will raise rates further or not, or will stop or continue their asset buying schemes. Central banks are the only game in town, there are no markets, nobody knows what anything is really worth because the Fed etc. took the discovery process beyond their reach.

And now all those financial ‘subjects’ are sitting on all this stuff that only appears to have value, and that value hinges exclusively on what Draghi, Kuroda, Yellen and now Jay Powell have decided things are worth. And yes, it does make matters appear okay, but because they can’t do QE forever, all of those values will need to be re-assessed by actual markets once Powell et al. are either thrown out or decide for themselves to leave the arena.

It won’t be pretty, it will be devastating. It’s impossible to say if it will come to a head in 2019, because the Fed can lower rates a bit again after its recent rate hikes and prop up the zombie for longer. Then again Draghi can’t do that anymore since he’s already in negative rate territory, and while the euro could fall to parity with the USD as a consequence, there’s a limit to that too.

Anyway, more on that later.

 

Energy and ecology seem to become more intertwined as we go along, though that may well be a trompe oeil, trick of the eye. Still, if you see and read what people have to say about things like the big COP24 event in Katowice last week, it’s obvious that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is a hard one to internalize. Because that law seems to say that the use of energy, period, produces waste, while all these mostly well-meaning folk are merely focusing on shifting between energy sources.

There is surprisingly little attention for not using energy in the first place, which the 2nd Law appears to stipulate is the only way to stop the rot. And it’s entirely feasible to build homes that use 70-80% less power to heat and cool, or to design a transport system in a city that saves that much energy.

But the ‘leaders’, politicians and business people, prefer to address solar panels and wind turbines that allow for the amount of energy used to fall only moderately, which when combined with the economic growth that nobody questions, will lead to the use of ever more energy.

And I get that, you need to shrink your present economies, and the models they’re based on, in order to save the planet. I’m not so much talking about climate change, since the earth is a system so complex we should really be very cautious about deriving any conclusions about it from simplified models, but the species extinction reported in 2018 is another, and more immediately convincing, story.

Still, conferences like COP24, or its predecessor COP21 which I wrote about 3 years ago in CON21, are not just entirely useless, they move everything backward that all the worried boys and girls are so worried about.

The movers and shakers of the world all owe their positions to the economies, and therefore the levels of energy use, that the worried people now want to move away from. And then they turn to the same movers and shakers to make that happen. Sorry, no can do. All you’ll get is lip service from people looking for money and power, who are not interested in being proved wrong if they are.

Today’s climate discussion is a road to nowhere where down the line there’ll be nobody left to talk to and no birds singing. You yourself probably won’t be there either. There is not one politician who will volunteer to give up their power if that could save the world their children will have to live in. They’ll come up with a story where their position is save and so is that world, and they’re more than likely to believe it.

 

As for the media, the tale gets darker fast. It didn’t start in 2018, but it did become a lot more outspoken. As I’ve said before, there are three targets for the former trusted sources of impartial news, even as those sources rapidly become more partial as we move forward. And that of course has to do with their new business model I wrote about a lot: writing negative stories about Donald Trump became an obvious source of revenue well before he was president.

Once he was elected, the media doubled down. They wrote against Trump at first thinking he would be beaten in the GOP primaries, then some more when he faced Hillary, then because they didn’t like him in the White House, and finally because he turned out to be the business proposition that quite literally kept them alive. What was it, over 100,000 new subscribers for the NYT a MONTH at a certain point?! Would CNN and Rachel Maddow even exist anymore without the Donald?

But that also means that the MSM cannot report anything positive about the man, with the exception of a bombing campaign in a faraway sandbox, and that is pretty crazy. No matter where you stand politically, not even Trump can do everything wrong, but CNN, MSNBC, WaPo,NYT et al can’t say it out loud, because their new readers and viewers want negative stories.

I’m not at all a Trump fan, I find it insane that America can’t find a single person among its 320 million inhabitants who could better represent it, but I also saw well over two years ago that the reporting on Trump was so biased someone had to restore at least some balance. And if that was to be me, so be it.

It’s like the entire US -and UK- press has become the National Enquirer, where the questions of truth or accuracy have become, and/or always was, a complete afterthought, irrelevant to whatever is actually published. And the readers and viewers caught inside the echo chamber will never know any better than that that is what the world really looks like.

It’s the ‘old’ media’s response to the threat of social media, a fight they cannot possibly win in the end, but not one they will relinquish easily; it will be the end of them. So there’s Trump, and then there’s Russia and Julian Assange. And there’s a live shooting practice going on in which all three are fair game.

According to two reports published just yesterday in the NY Times and the BBC, African Americans and French Yellow Vests were targeted by Russian bots, trolls, give them a name. What these once trusted media no longer understand, or don’t care about, is that they are effectively saying that African Americans and Yellow Vests are all so stupid and so unconvinced and unconvincing in their political convictions that a bunch of poorly defined Russians made them throw their votes away from Hillary Clinton and towards Trump.

Like African Americans have no opinions and therefore in the end no functioning brains. Like their f*king robots, some inferior lifeform. Is there anything you can say that is more racist than that? I come up empty. And I understand Kanye.

And that the ‘Russians’ caused tens of thousands of Frenchmen and -women to put on a yellow vest and protest Macron’s dismantling of -very- long-standing labor rights and taxation ‘reforms’ that benefit the rich French elite. You cannot insult two such vast yet diverse groups of people, who seem to have little if anything in common, African Americans and Yellow Vests, you cannot insult them more or worse than such reports do.

And they simply don’t see it. In their view, and which they -rightly by now- trust their public will eat up like hot cakes, their 24/7 anti-Trump and anti-Russia campaigns have been so convincing that they can basically say anything at all by now. If Trump or the Russians deny, that’s just what they would do if they were guilty. Assange can’t deny anything at all, they’ve totally silenced him. They being the US deep state in liaison with the MSM.

 

That’s how we’re about to enter 2019, how we’re about to move from chaos to mayhem. It is scary not just because of what we see happening today, but even more because we’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Sure, US media, any country’s media, have always supported government strategic lies in times of warfare or other tensions.

But an overall campaign against a sitting president, comprised of dozens of articles a day consisting of mere allegations and rumors, let alone the same against a state nuclear power arguably mightier than the US itself, and a journalist who’s the only one in his profession who’s actually done what journalists should do, not the well-paid follow the party line thing going on at the MSM, all this is unprecedented.

And given what we’ve seen in 2018 in the realm of banned social media accounts, in a wider sense of the word, we can only wonder how much worse the censorship can get in the mayhem year of 2019.

Can the Automatic Earth, and for instance our friends at Zero Hedge, only continue to exist next year if we agree to increasingly become the poodles of the ruling political classes, intelligence services, and their press masters and lackeys?

It’s starting to look that way. So in closing, I want to call on you to support us by donating a Christmas gift, and preferably a recurring one all through the 2019 mayhem year, so we know we can continue to present you with an alternative to the ‘appropriate’ information you’re ‘supposed’ to be receiving.

It’s later than you think.

 

 

Dec 152018
 
 December 15, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Road menders at Saint-Remy 1889

 

US Banks See Biggest Unrealized Losses On Securities Since Q1 2009 (WS)
European Banks’ €300 Billion Race To The Bottom (BBG)
Global Debt Hits All-Time High Of $184,000,000,000,000 (RT)
Act V: Yellow Vests Prepare For Massive ‘Macron Resign’ Protest (RT)
Senior Tories Tell May To Work With Corbyn To Save Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Strategy Left Brutally Exposed By Brussels Failure (G.)
Affordable Care Act Is Ruled Unconstitutional By A Federal Judge (CNBC)
Clinton Foundation Oversight Panel Hears Explosive Testimony (RT)
The War Against Globalism (Giraldi)
Yanis Varoufakis’s Internationalist Odyssey (Nation)

 

 

EU banks are disasters. US banks are too.

US Banks See Biggest Unrealized Losses On Securities Since Q1 2009 (WS)

The FDIC just released the aggregated third-quarter performance metrics of the 5,477 banks and thrifts it insures. The amount of their combined assets ticked up to $17.7 trillion. These assets – mostly loans but also investments of all kinds – include $3.6 trillion in securities (not including the securities in their trading accounts). And banks got hit by the biggest quarterly losses on those securities since the first quarter of 2009. Banks designate these securities either as “held-to-maturity” securities (valued at “amortized cost” or book value) and “available-for-sale” securities (valued at “fair value,” such as market value). For Q3, these were their unrealized losses – meaning, banks have not yet sold the securities:

• Available-for-sale securities: $51.5 billion in unrealized losses, or 2% of their amortized cost, as the FDIC said, “the highest loss level since first quarter 2009.” • Held-to-maturity securities: $32.8 billion in unrealized losses. • Both combined: $84.3 billion in unrealized losses. Note the damage done in 2018, after years of big gains: $83.4 billion in Q3; $66.4 billion in Q2; and about $55 billion in Q1; for a total so far this year about $200 billion in unrealized losses.

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And Draghi went for negative rates. One for the history books.

European Banks’ €300 Billion Race To The Bottom (BBG)

As we approach the end of a dismal year for European stocks, the question is: which sector had the worst year of them all? With a few trading sessions left before the end of 2018, banks and autos are in a tight race to the bottom. As of Thursday’s close, lenders are the biggest losers, with a quarter of their market value down the drain, a wipeout of roughly 300 billion euros in shareholders’ money. Banks haven’t seen such a bad year since the heat of the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis in 2011. As the final ECB meeting of the year confirmed, the central bank will keep rates unchanged at least until next summer and the grim outlook for the sector highlighted in one of our earlier Taking Stock columns remains valid.

Any attempt by the sector to break out from its downward trend in 2018 has so far failed. Perhaps it’s not a surprise as banks face a wall of worry from investors and nothing seems to be able to help them move forward. Repeated calls from some analysts that the sector is cheap hasn’t triggered any significant buying. A good example is Credit Suisse’s buyback and dividend announcement on Wednesday. That didn’t even raise investors’ interest with the stock hovering near its low. While any return of capital to shareholders is welcome, the dark clouds over its investment banking outlook seemed to weigh more.

Here’s the grim silver lining: …it doesn’t matter much to the rest of the market: Since the financial crisis a decade ago, the influence of banks over the broader European gauge has fallen dramatically, to a point where they now barely move the Stoxx 600. So what could help the shares regain their vigor? Although merger talk seems to find fruitful (speculative) ground, large cross-border deals remain a fantasy. But domestic love stories might be one theme to keep an eye on next year. Most prominent is the ongoing chatter about Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, the worst and third-worst performing stocks in the Stoxx 600 Banks index. While any merger is far from certain, market reaction shows that investors, or at least algos and punters, are betting on any consolidation as the last resort to improve bottom-lines.

And if you are gloating at the “fortress balance sheet” US banks, as BMO’s Brad Wishak notes, price and time are playing a familair hand in US bank stocks… Finally, BofAML strategists summed it all up very succinctly this week: “What we learned in 2018: That central banks trump everything, when global liquidity peaked in Q1, markets peaked; that we remain in a deflationary world which cannot handle a 10-year Treasury yield above 3%; That investors have no satisfactory answers to the existential questions of ‘If not stocks, what?’, ‘If not tech, what?’ ‘If not the U.S. dollar, what?'”…

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Sometimes you wonder if even a grand jubilee could change this.

Global Debt Hits All-Time High Of $184,000,000,000,000 (RT)

The world’s debt currently exceeds $86,000 per person on average, according to the IMF. The US, China, and Japan are the top three global borrowers, accounting for more than half of the global debt. The IMF has calculated that their share of debt exceeds that of output. It stated that the emergence of China among the top ranking is, however, a relatively new development. Since the beginning of the millennium, China’s share in global debt surged from less than three percent to over 15 percent, underscoring the rapid credit surge in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. According to the IMF, global debt has reached a record high of $184 trillion in nominal terms.

That’s the equivalent of 225 percent of the world GDP in 2017. The debt figure is $2 trillion higher than the estimated number released by the fund in October, because it includes the debts of several countries who had not previously reported their updated data. “By including both the sovereign and private sides of borrowing for the entire world, the GDD (Global Debt Database) offers an unprecedented picture of global debt in the post-World War II era,” said the IMF. GDD is a comprehensive dataset covering public and private debt for 190 countries dating back to the 1950s.

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As I write this, things seem to be quiet still.

Act V: Yellow Vests Prepare For Massive ‘Macron Resign’ Protest (RT)

Paris is bracing for yet another round of Yellow Vest protests, with demonstrators planning to take to the streets on Saturday. More than 10,000 people have already RSVP’d on Facebook to the ‘Acte 5: Macron Démission’ march. The demonstration is scheduled to take place in the French capital on the Champs-Élysées. The organizers, consisting of some 15 groups, have outlined their list of demands on Facebook, saying they will continue their action against Macron until all their demands are met. “Our organizations support the demands of tax and social justice brought by the movement of yellow vests.

They call for demonstrations Saturday, December 15, for social justice and tax, for a real democracy, for equal rights, for a true ecological transition…” the planners said in a statement, as quoted by Le Parisien. Similar demonstrations are also expected to take place in other cities across the country. Security officials are gearing up for the protests, with Paris Police Chief Michel Delpuech stating that tens of thousands of cops will be deployed across France, and some 8,000 in Paris. “We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” he said. Delpuech told RTL that authorities are aiming to be in “better control” of the situation than they were last weekend, when more than 125,000 people hit the streets of France, 10,000 of whom protested in Paris.

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But why should he?

Senior Tories Tell May To Work With Corbyn To Save Her Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Senior Tories have told Theresa May to open talks with Labour as her only hope of salvaging a Brexit deal, after the EU’s outright refusal to renegotiate left her strategy in tatters. A badly bruised prime minister was urged to stop trying to “go it alone”, accept her proposed agreement is dead and that she needs the help of other parties to push through softer exit terms. Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, told The Independent that “cross-party support and proper discussions” were now essential, while Nick Boles, another former minister, said Ms May “must open cross-party discussions”.

The calls came after EU leaders dealt a devastating blow by scrapping written commitments, designed to help Ms May pass her deal through parliament, after disastrous talks failed to achieve a breakthrough. Brussels’ frustration at the prime minister’s inability to set out clearly what she wanted was laid bare when Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, branded the UK approach “nebulous”. At a press conference, Ms May put a brave face on, insisting her Brexit deal remained on track and that talks in the next few days would achieve “further clarification”.

[..] Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister had “utterly failed in her attempts to deliver any meaningful changes to her botched deal”, calling for a Commons vote to kill it off without delay “Rather than ploughing ahead and dangerously running down the clock, the prime minister needs to put her deal to a vote next week so parliament can take back control,” he said. Nevertheless, Mr Boles said the route to success for Ms May was cross-party talks to “deliver their support for the deal”.

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She fled to Europe because she could, not to get anything done. The result is no Commons vote until after Christmas.

Theresa May’s Brexit Strategy Left Brutally Exposed By Brussels Failure (G.)

Theresa May has come home from Brussels empty-handed and without hope of further negotiations over the Irish backstop, with the failure to achieve any kind of breakthrough leaving her brutally exposed. Plans to work over Christmas on a legal guarantee over the temporary nature of the backstop had run into a brick wall, EU officials said, despite May’s claim that she would be holding further talks “in the coming days”. Brussels sources claimed May was just keeping up a pretence that the legal guarantee she had promised rebellious Tory MPs during this week’s leadership challenge was still on the cards.

Without clear evidence that she has made progress, May faces mounting jeopardy in Westminster, with Labour seriously considering tabling a vote of no confidence before Christmas, if it believes the prime minister’s DUP partners might support it. Jeremy Corbyn accused May on Friday of “dangerously running down the clock”. “The last 24 hours have confirmed that Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water. The prime minister has utterly failed in her attempts to deliver any meaningful changes to her botched deal,” he said. One shadow cabinet member said the moment at which Labour would table a no-confidence vote was getting “much, much closer”, but said it would depend on the stance of the DUP. “We are watching like hawks,” he added.

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Set up a bipartisan commission and get this solved. The US is a tragic laughing stock.

Affordable Care Act Is Ruled Unconstitutional By A Federal Judge (CNBC)

A federal judge in Texas ruled on Friday the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, potentially threatening health-care coverage for millions of Americans and setting up a new legal showdown over former President Barack Obama’s signature policy initiative. U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas issued the decision, declaring that key portions of the legislation were inconsistent with the Constitution. O’Connor’s ruling argued that the health-care law can not stand on its own since Congress last December repealed the individual mandate, which imposed a tax penalty on consumers who went uninsured. The mandate, which remains in effect for 2018, was a key part of ACA legislation, otherwise known as Obamacare. The mandate is the greater of $695 person per adult, or 2.5% of household income.

The lawsuit was backed by the Trump administration, and is likely to be appealed — which could mean the legislation will heard anew by the Supreme Court, which upheld Obamacare in a narrowly divided 2012 ruling. Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma told reporters earlier this month that CMS has a plan to protect pre-existing conditions if the law is struck down. A CMS spokesperson late Friday told CNBC, “The recent federal court decision is still moving through the courts, and the exchanges are still open for business and we will continue with open enrollment. There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan.”

Read more …

Government investigators who refuse to share documents with the House. Not just insane, but by now years of insanity.

Clinton Foundation Oversight Panel Hears Explosive Testimony (RT)

Fraud investigators have exposed the Clinton Foundation’s alleged misdeeds in a Congressional hearing, describing it as a de facto “foreign agent” devoted not to charity but to “advancing the personal interests of its principals.” The Clinton Foundation acted as an agent of foreign governments “early in its life and throughout its existence,” according to testimony by former government forensic investigator John Moynihan, which, if true, would not only render it in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act but also would violate its nonprofit charter, putting it on the hook for a massive quantity of unpaid taxes. Moynihan and fellow ex-government investigator Lawrence Doyle shared 6,000 pages of evidence with the IRS over 18 months ago, only to be met with silence.

They shared them with the FBI multiple times – ditto. Yet when the pair testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, they refused to turn over the documents, stating they did not want to interfere with any ongoing investigations. The committee chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said witnesses’ reluctance to share all the documents was hardly a “good foundation for truth and transparency,” while Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) said he felt the duo was “using” the panel for their own benefit. “These are not our facts. They are not your facts. They are the facts of the Clinton Foundation,” said Moynihan, maintaining his interest in the case is purely financial – not political.

Testifying on their findings, Doyle highlighted the Foundation’s alleged “misuse of donated public funds,” explaining that it “falsely attested that it received funds and used them for charitable purposes which was, in fact, not the case. Rather the foundation pursued in an array of activities both domestically and abroad,” which included activities “properly characterized as profit-oriented and taxable undertakings of private enterprise, again failing the operational tests of philanthropy referenced above,” referring to the equally non-charitable pursuit of funding the Clinton Presidential Library. John Huber, appointed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the Clinton Foundation after Sessions recused himself from doing so, was conspicuously absent from the hearing, even though his job is to probe Clinton’s approval of the sale of US uranium assets to Russia.

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Globalism has been extremely destructive. Hard to defend.

The War Against Globalism (Giraldi)

The idea that republican or democratic government will eventually deteriorate into some form of tyranny is not exactly new. Thomas Jefferson advocated a new revolution every generation to keep the spirit of government accountable to the people alive. Call it what you will – neoliberalism, neoconservatism or globalism – the new world order, as recently deceased President George H.W. Bush once labeled it, characteristically embraces a world community in which there is free trade, free movement of workers and democracy. They all sound like good things but they are authoritarian in nature, destructive of existing communities and social systems while at the same time enriching those who promote the changes.

They have also been the root cause of most of the wars fought since the Second World War, wars to “liberate” people who never asked to be invaded or bombed as part of the process. And there are, of course, major differences between neoliberals and neoconservatives in terms of how one brings about the universal nirvana, with the liberals embracing some kind of process whereby the transformation takes place because it represents what they see, perhaps cynically, as the moral high ground and is recognized as being the right thing to do. The neocons, however, seek to enforce what they define as international standards because the United States has the power to do so in a process that makes it and its allies impossible to challenge.

The latter view is promoted under the phony slogan that “Democracies do not fight other democracies.” The fact that globalists of every type consider nationalism a threat to their broader ambitions has meant that parochial or domestic interests are often disregarded or even rejected. With that in mind, and focusing on two issues – wholesale unwelcome immigration and corrupt government run by oligarchs – one might reasonably argue that large numbers of ordinary citizens now believe themselves to be both effectively disenfranchised and demonstrably poorer as rewarding work becomes harder to find and communities are destroyed through waves of both legal and illegal immigration.

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I can still hope he succeeds, but it’s getting hard to see how.

Yanis Varoufakis’s Internationalist Odyssey (Nation)

Flanked by a dozen members of DiEM25, the pan-European movement launched in 2016 to “democratize” the continent’s institutions, Varoufakis announced that he would run for a seat representing Germany in the European Parliament. He would make his bid as a Greek, a European, and, you might even say, a Berliner—all to drive home a larger point about the necessity of thinking beyond borders. “No European people can be prosperous and free when other European countries are condemned to the permanent depression that eternal austerity creates,” he said. Persistent unemployment, cuts to welfare, and other suffocating economic policies across the continent help explain why Varoufakis chose Germany—a country he’s best known for antagonizing, precisely over its leaders’ support for austerity, in the fraught negotiations over Greece’s debt in 2015.

These circumstances are also the motivating force behind the Progressive International, an initiative that Varoufakis launched five days later in Burlington, Vermont, with DiEM25 and the Sanders Institute. Building broad-based coalitions takes time, and for now, the Progressive International is just a website with some inspiring language and a video. Its membership is also very Eurocentric. But Varoufakis hopes it will blossom into a global movement that helps leftists create coherent platforms, policies, and parties to defeat the “nationalist international” masterminded by Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. The logic is simple. Financiers have long had global networks; now, right-wing authoritarians do too, with coordinated social-media strategies and deep pools of dark money funding campaigns and disrupting elections around the globe.

It’s time for the left to go on the offensive and reclaim its tradition of internationalism: in Varoufakis’s words, to “mobilize workers, women, and the disenfranchised around the world” to prevent outright fascism from taking hold. This means local action, but it also means dreaming big. It’s a fuzzy plan, of course, and one that Varoufakis’s critics deem implausible. Aren’t ideas like “democratizing” the European Union and making global finance more “progressive” oxymorons? How will a ragtag group of leftists dream up a new monetary system and an ecological New Deal for the whole world when Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil call the shots?

Read more …

Dec 142018
 
 December 14, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Paul Signac Boulevard de Clichy under snow 1886

 

ECB To Halt €2.6 Trillion Stimulus Despite Eurozone Slowdown Concerns (G.)
Shipping Costs From China To The US More Than Doubled In 2018 (CNBC)
China Reports ‘Ugly’ Industrial Output And Retail Sales Growth (CNBC)
Average UK Worker Earns A Third Less Than In 2008 (PA)
EU Leaders Scrap Plans To Help Theresa May Pass Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Labour Plans To ‘Throw Kitchen Sink’ To Force May’s Hand On Brexit (G.)
There Should Be No Exit from Brexit (Spiegel)
My Plan To Revive Europe Can Succeed Where Macron, Piketty Failed (Varoufakis)
A World That Is the Property of the 1% (Nomi Prins)
Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation (CNBC)
US ‘Miscarriage Of Justice’ In Butina Case Denounced (RT)
US Senate Passes Resolution Saying MbS Responsible For Khashoggi Murder (Ind.)

 

 

No. 1 victim will be Italy. ECB was the only buyer of their bonds. And bit by bit Europe will realize Draghi has been spending them into a blind alley. 2019 promises to be a crazy year in Europe.

ECB To Halt €2.6 Trillion Stimulus Despite Eurozone Slowdown Concerns (G.)

The European Central Bank will halt its €2.6tn stimulus programme in January despite concerns that the eurozone is poised to slow down over the next couple of years. Mario Draghi, the ECB boss, warned that rising uncertainty had forced the bank to downgrade its outlook for the currency bloc next year and the effects would continue to be felt in 2020. Draghi, without mentioning the US-China trade war, Brexit or the Italian government’s dispute with Brussels, said: “The balance of risk is moving to the downside.” He said growth would be limited to 1.7% in 2019, “owing to the persistence of uncertainties related to geopolitical factors, the threat of protectionism, vulnerabilities in emerging markets and financial market volatility”.

The worse-than-expected outlook sent the euro tumbling on international exchanges as investors cut back their expectations for growth across the continent. Figures showing that the German economy contracted in the last quarter were a clear signal that the eurozone had come under pressure from weakening global trade, while the slowing of the bloc’s other two major economies – France and Italy – only added to the worsening outlook. However, the ECB said the recovery was strong enough that it could stop expanding its QE programme that has seen it pump €2.6tn into the eurozone economy to stoke growth and inflation from January.

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Fear of tariffs and trade wars cause US importers to front-load their orders, causing shipping to get much busier. The US imported much more, not less after Trump’s tariffs rhetoric.

Shipping Costs From China To The US More Than Doubled In 2018 (CNBC)

The price of shipping a container from China to the United States has risen dramatically in the last year due to uncertainty surrounding trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. That’s because Chinese exporters have been rushing to get goods to U.S. ports before new tariffs kick in, but data are suggesting that trend may soon run out of steam. China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff fight over the last year, levying duties on each other’s imports worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the last few months. Increasingly strong fears of an all-out trade war have inspired exporters to push forward shipment dates — a phenomenon called front-loading.

In fact, freight prices for containers going from China to the U.S. have surged more than 100 percent from a year ago as of the beginning of December, according to data from Freightos, an online freight marketplace, “Transpacific ocean freight peak season has been a bonanza, with prices still more than double last year,” said a report on the most recent Freightos data published on the Baltic Exchange’s news website. That was as freight rates for China to the U.S. West Coast jumped 128 percent while those from China to the U.S. East Coast surged 123 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In contrast, China to North Europe freight rates were up just 11 percent in the same period due to pre-Christmas cargoes.

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And that is after exports to the US were frontloaded because of tariffs. What’s going to happen after January 1?

China Reports ‘Ugly’ Industrial Output And Retail Sales Growth (CNBC)

China on Friday reported industrial output and retail sales growth for the month of November that missed expectations, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, as the world’s second-largest economy started to show signs of slowing amid a bitter trade dispute with the U.S. Industrial output in November grew 5.4 percent from a year ago — the slowest pace in almost three years as it matched the rate of growth seen in January to February 2016, according to Reuters records. The growth in industrial production was lower than the 5.9 percent analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted.

Retail sales rose 8.1 percent in November — the weakest pace since 2003, according to Reuters’ records — lower than the 8.8 percent the analysts expected. November retail sales growth was down from 8.6 percent in October. Fixed asset investment rose 5.9 percent from January to November, marginally higher than the 5.8 percent the economists had forecast. FAI rose 5.7 percent from January to October. [..] The weaker Chinese data in November shows that the positive impact of front-loading had begun to taper off and that downward pressure on the Chinese economy was increasing, wrote Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign exchange strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. The industrial output and retail sales data released on Friday were “ugly,” she added in a Friday note.

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Why Brexit, you asked?

Average UK Worker Earns A Third Less Than In 2008 (PA)

Wages are still worth a third less in some parts of the country than a decade ago, according to a report. Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that the average worker has lost £11,800 in real earnings since 2008. The UK has suffered the worst real wage slump among leading economies, said the union organisation. The biggest losses have been in areas including the London borough of Redbridge, Epsom and Waverley in Surrey, Selby in North Yorkshire and Anglesey in north Wales, the studyfound.

Workers have suffered real wage losses ranging from just under £5,000 in the north-east to more than £20,000 in London, said the report. The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government has failed to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. As a result, millions of families will be worse off this Christmas than a decade ago. “While pay packets have recovered in most leading economies, wage growth in the UK is stuck in the slow lane. “Ministers need to wake up and get wages rising faster. This means cranking up the pressure on businesses to pay staff more, especially at a time when many companies are sitting on large profits.”

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“..European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas…”

EU Leaders Scrap Plans To Help Theresa May Pass Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May‘s Brexit plan was dealt another major blow at a meeting with EU leaders on Thursday night in a disastrous turn of events that resulted in them scrapping written commitments to help her pass her deal through parliament. After arriving in Brussels with promises to help the prime minister, European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas. The 27 heads of state and government subsequently decided to delete lines from their council conclusions saying the EU “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” and that “the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the union”.

The key paragraphs appeared in leaked earlier drafts on the conclusions and their absence leaves a barebones statement that does the bare minimum to help the prime minister. The limited assurances provided in the statement are extremely unlikely to placate Ms May’s MPs, who have said they want major changes to the agreement. Accounts of the meeting suggest the prime minister’s speech, in which she called for help to get the agreement “over the line”, was repeatedly interrupted by Angela Merkel asking her what she actually wanted from them. Senior UK government officials admitted that the prime minister did not bring any documented proposals with her to the meeting. The approach puzzled EU diplomats, who for days before the conference had said they needed to see what proposals Ms May had come up with before they could respond to her request for aid.

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Labour lacks all strength. What have they been doing in the past 2 years?

Labour Plans To ‘Throw Kitchen Sink’ To Force May’s Hand On Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will seek to increase pressure on Theresa May in parliament next week in a bid to prevent the Tories running down the clock on Brexit. As the prime minister urged EU leaders to offer fresh concessions in Brussels on Thursday, senior Labour sources stressed the party was determined to “turn up the heat” at home. May’s spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that “there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas”, while the prime minister negotiates with her EU counterparts. But Labour fears May will only be able to win cosmetic changes to the backstop – and that she will use the ongoing talks as an excuse to avoid testing the will of parliament.

“There must be no more dither and delay, or attempts to run down the clock in an attempt to deny parliament alternative options,” Corbyn said on Thursday. “People and businesses need certainty. The prime minister should put her deal before parliament next week in our country’s interest,” he said, adding that there was “no time to waste”. The Labour leader has held meetings with the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who has been pressing for the party to table a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament rises for a Christmas break next Thursday. That option has not been ruled out – depending on the reaction of Conservative backbenchers and the DUP when May reports back to MPs from the European council meeting on Monday.

But the party is also studying alternative, less drastic options, including tabling an urgent question on the government’s no-deal preparations; and demanding a three-hour emergency debate to allow parliament to set out its expectations for the latest negotiations over the backstop. It could also demand a full parliamentary debate of regulations readying the financial services sector for a no-deal Brexit, which are currently due to be considered in a committee. “Essentially we can throw the parliamentary kitchen sink at them,” said another senior Labour source, “with all the trimmings”. Some shadow ministers are more sceptical about calling a no-confidence vote early, fearing it would only unite the Conservatives behind May. One told the Guardian: “We’ve got to wait until January now.”

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Germans that don’t want a way back for Britain. But that’s not their decision.

There Should Be No Exit from Brexit (Spiegel)

For two years, the British government has been negotiating the terms of its withdrawal with the European Commission, and now Prime Minister Theresa May is unable to secure a majority for that deal in parliament. The more chaotic things get in London, the more tempting it will become for the country to exit from Brexit through the emergency door the European Court of Justice unlocked on Monday when it declared that the British government could unilaterally move to revoke Article 50. A second referendum that would provide democratic legitimacy to that step seems increasingly likely. But such a move could potentially have graver consequences than an orderly Brexit — both for Britain and the EU.

There’s a good and perhaps even compelling argument for a second referendum: Now that a deal with the EU is on the table, voters would at least finally know what it is they were voting on. In the first referendum in June 2016, that wasn’t even remotely the case. But the campaign ahead of a second referendum would in all likelihood be even more xenophobic and hate-filled than the first. That could in turn produce a British society that is even more divided than it already is today, particularly given that recent polls show the pro-EU camp winning a second referendum by a narrow margin. This time, however, it is likely that the losers would be even angrier and more disappointed than the losers of the first vote.

Many would feel that their long-desired Brexit had been stolen from them and would turn away from democracy in frustration. It would provide a significant boost to anti-European right-wing populists. And this would lead to problem No. 2: Such an outcome would also be uncomfortable for the rest of the EU. The European bloc is currently desperately seeking to find common ground on important policy areas including economic and monetary union, defense and immigration. A Britain that is hopelessly divided on domestic policy could cause significant damage were it still an EU member state.

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I’m wondering how much of any Green New Deal -there are quite a few- depends on investing billions in allowing energy consumption to stay at equal levels, just with a shift from fossil to something else. How many people propose a 10-20-50% cut in overall energy consumption?

My Plan To Revive Europe Can Succeed Where Macron, Piketty Failed (Varoufakis)

[..] the latest Piketty manifesto retains a hybrid parliamentary chamber, but forfeits any Europeanist ambition – all proposals for debt pooling, risk sharing and fiscal transfers have been dropped. Instead, it suggests that national governments agree to raise €800bn (or 4% of eurozone GDP) through a harmonised corporate tax rate of 37%, an increased income tax rate for the top 1%, a new wealth tax for those with more than €1m in assets, and a C02 emissions tax of €30 per tonne. This money would then be spent within each nation-state that collected it – with next to no transfers across countries. But, if national money is to be raised and spent domestically, what is the point of another supranational parliamentary chamber?

Europe is weighed down by overgrown, quasi-insolvent banks, fiscally stressed states, irate German savers crushed by negative interest rates, and whole populations immersed in permanent depression: these are all symptoms of a decade-long financial crisis that has produced a mountain of savings sitting alongside a mountain of debts. The intention of taxing the rich and the polluters to fund innovation, migrants and the green transition is admirable. But it is insufficient to tackle Europe’s particular crisis. What Europe needs is a Green New Deal – this is what Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – which I co-founded – and our European Spring alliance will be taking to voters in the European parliament elections next summer.

The great advantage of our Green New Deal is that we are taking a leaf out of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s: our idea is to create €500bn every year in the green transition across Europe, without a euro in new taxes. Here’s how it would work: the European Investment Bank (EIB) issues bonds of that value with the ECB standing by, ready to purchase as many of them as necessary in the secondary markets. The EIB bonds will undoubtedly sell like hot cakes in a market desperate for a safe asset. Thus, the excess liquidity that keeps interest rates negative, crushing German pension funds, is soaked up and the Green New Deal is fully funded. Once hope in a Europe of shared, green prosperity is restored, it will be possible to have the necessary debate on new pan-European taxes on C02, the rich, big tech and so on – as well as settling the democratic constitution Europe deserves.

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From 2009 to 2017, the number of billionaires that own as much as the poorest 50% of world population went from 380 to 8. At that rate, pretty soon the world’s richest individual will own that much.

A World That Is the Property of the 1% (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened. Though the media hasn’t been paying much attention to the resulting inequality, the statistics (when you see them) on that ever-widening wealth gap are mind-boggling. According to Inequality.org, for instance, those with at least $30 million in wealth globally had the fastest growth rate of any group between 2016 and 2017. The size of that club rose by 25.5% during those years, to 174,800 members.

Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the U.S. leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.” That, in part, is due to an institution many in the U.S. normally pay little attention to: the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve. It helped spark that increase in wealth disparity domestically and globally by adopting a post-crisis monetary policy in which electronically fabricated money (via a program called quantitative easing, or QE) was offered to banks and corporations at significantly cheaper rates than to ordinary Americans.

[..] In our post-2008 era, people have witnessed trillions of dollars flowing into bank bailouts and other financial subsidies, not just from governments but from the world’s major central banks. Theoretically, private banks, as a result, would have more money and pay less interest to get it. They would then lend that money to Main Street. Businesses, big and small, would tap into those funds and, in turn, produce real economic growth through expansion, hiring sprees, and wage increases. People would then have more dollars in their pockets and, feeling more financially secure, would spend that money driving the economy to new heights — and all, of course, would then be well.

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It should not be possible to have this kind of investigation into one side and not the other, simultaneously.

Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation (CNBC)

Manhattan-based federal prosecutors are investigating whether some of the $107 million in donations to then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee were misspent, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said the investigation arose in part from the slew of materials seized in April raids on Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, by federal prosecutors. Cohen on Wednesday was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that came in part from those April raids on his office and residence. The criminal probe is also looking into whether some of the committee’s top spenders traded money for access to the incoming Trump administration, as well as “policy concessions or to influence official administration positions,” sources told the Journal.

“Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws,” the newspaper explained. “Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.” Federal prosecutors have reportedly also questioned Richard Gates — the ex-partner of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller. Gates, who has cooperated with investigators in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. election, served as deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.

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Exactly what I said about the case a few days ago. It’s become accepted in the US to coerce guilty pleas with vile threats and ugly treatment.

US ‘Miscarriage Of Justice’ In Butina Case Denounced (RT)

Maria Butina’s only crime is that she is Russian, legal analysts told RT, attacking the US justice system for keeping her in solitary confinement until she admitted guilt to at least one of the many charges brought against her. “This is an utter and total miscarriage of justice,” retired CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou told RT after Butina pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to register with the Justice Department as an agent of the Russian government. “You can see clearly, this is not about justice, this is not about criminal activity. This is about making a political point. This is about identifying Russia and Russians as the enemy of the United States, and punishing them.”

“We arrested this young woman because we need dirt on Trump and Russia. And she is Russian, political and pro-Trump,” US legal analyst Jennifer Breedon explained. “We are seeing [the Foreign Agents Registration Act – FARA] being used specifically as it relates to undermining the Donald Trump administration or conservatives really with anybody involved in Russia, friends with Russia or contacts.” The Russian gun activist was subjected to “unbearable pressure” from US authorities, by being kept in solitary confinement in the Alexandria detention center outside Washington, and only allowed to take an hour-long break from her “cage” per day. John Kiriakou believes this borderline “torture” could have forced her to admit to a crime she might never even have committed.

“This woman is not an enemy combatant. So, unless news surfaces that there was some kind of skirmish or issue within the jail… it seems to go against US policy and laws as to who is forced into solitary confinement, just based solely on the charges that were lodged against her,” Breedon said. “You are kept in a steel cage 23 hours a day. And for what? Because she failed to fill out a form to send to the Justice Department?” Kiriakou pondered. “It is no wonder people in solitary confinement in the United States commit suicide every day.”

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Nothing to do with defying Trump, he wants this. Imagine he would say this, and then be held responsible for $400 oil. It’s much easier to speak as senator than as president. And many of these senators have politically supported Saudi for decades. They’re merely cleaning up their own mess.

US Senate Passes Resolution Saying MbS Responsible For Khashoggi Murder (Ind.)

The Senate has passed a resolution saying Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Defying Donald Trump’s desire to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia including lucrative weapons deals, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker proposed the legislation, which has been backed by at least 10 of his fellow Republicans. The CIA is reported to have assessed with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed was involved in the order to kill Mr Khashoggi, partly based on the judgement that as the country’s de facto ruler he would have had to have known. Saudi authorities have blamed a “rogue” team of operatives for the killing and have repeatedly denied any involvement by the crown prince.

Mr Trump and a number of administration officials have sought to play down the CIA assessment, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying this week that it has been reported “inaccurately”. The joint resolution calls for the Saudi government to ensure “appropriate accountability” for all those responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s death, calls on Riyadh to release Saudi women’s rights activists and encourages the kingdom to increase efforts to enact economic and social reforms. However, it is unclear if the House of Representatives will consider voting on the measure.

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Dec 132018
 
 December 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


René Magritte After the water, the clouds 1926

 

‘Her Goose Is Cooked’ (G.)
Tory Resentment Of Irish Power Within EU (BBC)
Cohen Gets 3 Years, Says He Will Reveal All He Knows About Trump (Ind.)
Yellen, Fed Fear Corporate Debt Bubble, Investors Don’t (CNBC)
US Bank Stocks Spiral Down (WS)
ECB Worries Multiply Even As Money-Printing Presses Stop (R.)
ECB Caught Between Economic Risks And QE Exit (CNBC)
French Government To Face A No-Confidence Vote (CNBC)
Japan Picks The Character For ‘Disaster’ To Define 2018 (Tel.)
Wikileaks’ Assange Undergoes Medical Tests At Ecuador’s Urging (R.)
Assange Complains Of ‘More Subtle’ Silencing Than Khashoggi (RT)
Fentanyl Surpasses Heroin As Deadliest Drug In US (AFP)
Time Magazine Says The US ‘Remains A Free And Fair Press’ (CNBC)

 

 

Might as well do it this way. May survives confidence vote and can now prepare to defend the deal whose certain defeat made her delay Tuesday’s Parliament vote, a delay which led to the confidence vote in the first place. She still can’t win that one. It’s not so much May who is cooked, it’s the country.

‘Her Goose Is Cooked’ (G.)

No 10 will not be happy with today’s front pages, which are all about Theresa May’s survival in the no-confidence vote, but paint the win as less of a triumph for May than a pyrrhic victory. Let’s start with the good news for the prime minister. Two papers have come out in support of the her, with the Express featuring a picture of a smiling May and the headline: “Now just let her get on with it”.


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

EXPRESS: Now just let her get on with it #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/jBhPRSqbAc

The Mail is similarly supportive: “Now let her get on with the job!”, saying that “despite two months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents, and deadlock over Brexit, almost two-thirds of Tory MPs backed her”.


Neil Henderson
(@hendopolis)

DAILY MAIL: Now let her get on with the job! #tomorrowspaperstoday pic.twitter.com/oaEihTtsOv

Others were less sympathetic. “Time to call it a May”, says the Sun, never one to miss the chance of putting a pun in a headline. The Sun says the prime minister was “left wounded last night after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels”.

The Sun
(@TheSun)

Tomorrow’s front page: Theresa May was left wounded after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels in a make-or-break confidence vote https://t.co/SZTSNZoCZq pic.twitter.com/3OO11Qrm85

The Mirror has: “It’s lame duck for Christmas”, saying May’s “goose is cooked”. The paper describes her as “wounded” and “battered” and says she only managed to survive the no-confidence vote “by promising not to fight the next election”.


Daily Mirror
(@DailyMirror)

Tomorrow’s front page: It’s lame duck for Christmas#tomorrowspaperstoday https://t.co/fFIeHwiekz pic.twitter.com/xL0ijW0Qzv

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Britain’s -Tory- elites still see Ireland as some backward place way beneath them. “The Irish really should know their place.”

Tory Resentment Of Irish Power Within EU (BBC)

A Tory grandee recently sidled up to me to express grave reservations about the Brexit process. “We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this,” the former minister said about the negotiating tactics of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. The Conservative MP was exasperated that the Republic of Ireland (population: 4.8m) has been able to shape the EU negotiating stance that has put such pressure on the UK (population: 66m). “This simply cannot stand,” the one-time moderniser told me. “The Irish really should know their place.” The remarks explained why Conservatives from both sides of the Brexit divide are so troubled by the negotiations. They also explain why Theresa May might find that any concessions from the EU over the Northern Ireland backstop may fall short of the demands of Tory MPs.

Over the last few months Tory MPs have asked in private how the Irish Republic can believe its relationship with the EU trumps its relationship with the UK. They cite economic reasons (the Irish Republic’s strong trading links with the UK) and the historical relationship. The MPs do of course acknowledge that left a troubled legacy. One minister familiar with Anglo-Irish relations points out that these Tories should bear in mind one date and one word to explain both the Irish and the EU’s approach. The date is 1973: when the Irish Republic joined the EEC at the same time as the UK and Denmark. That was the moment when Ireland took a giant political leap at the same time as the UK.

But it turned out to be arguably the biggest unilateral strategic move since Partition in the 1920s – a move that defined the modern Irish Republic as an independent state within Europe, with a wholly different approach to its larger neighbour.

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I’m afraid I missed something along the way. If you run for office in the US and someone tries to blackmail you, you can’t get rid of them, you need to have lawsuits, court cases etc., interfere with your campaign. Not doing so is illegal. But, as Candace Owens said today,

“Congress has a slush fund, made up of tax dollars, that is used to pay off & silence their alleged sexual assaults and affairs. To date, over 200 million dollars in 200 settlements have been paid since 1998. But tell us more about Trump’s possible campaign finance violations…”

Moreover, a US judge just sentenced Stormy Daniels to paying Trump’s legal costs. But he was still in the wrong? How is that possible?

Cohen Gets 3 Years, Says He Will Reveal All He Knows About Trump (Ind.)

Michael Cohen has warned that he has more to say about what he called the ”dirty deeds” of Donald Trump as the president’s former lawyer and fixer was sentenced to three years in prison for facilitating payments to two women who have had alleged affairs with Mr Trump. Cohen was sentenced to 36 months for tax fraud and for his role in the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had affairs with Mr Trump before the 2016 presidential election. The judge in a district court in New York also handed Cohen an extra two months for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

The payments have implicated Mr Trump directly in criminal conduct according to a court filing from prosecutors last week, which said that Cohen was working in coordination with the president. Cohen’s adviser Lanny Davis, who was his attorney for the case, said after the sentencing that Cohen will disclose more information concerning Mr Trump, once Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials. “At the appropriate time, after Mr Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr Trump – and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies,” Mr Davis said in a statement.

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Why is anyone still listening to Yellen?

Yellen, Fed Fear Corporate Debt Bubble, Investors Don’t (CNBC)

The corporate debt scaring policy experts like former Fed Chair Janet Yellen isn’t throwing too much of a fright into market participants. In fact, some of them are continuing to load up on lower-grade corporate debt because it’s managed to be a better performer than some of the investments considered to be safer. “Offense is the best defense,” Hans Mikkelsen, credit strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told clients in a note pointing out that BBB-rated companies are outperforming their A-rated counterparts. BBB is the last rung before junk, and the increasing level of company bonds going to that level is causing concern.

Some investors worry that the companies whose debt is in danger of slipping into high-yield territory will have trouble meeting their obligations during the next economic downturn. But Mikkelsen thinks those concerns are misplaced. The S&P 500 Triple-B investment-grade corporate bond index is down 2.9 percent year to date, which is not good. However, the group is outperforming the broader S&P 500/MarketAxess Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index, which is off 3.5 percent in 2018. The outperformance grows when isolating for risk-adjusted excess returns and runs counter to history when credit spreads are widening. Higher-quality bonds usually outperform in those cases, Mikkelsen noted.

“This outperformance of BBBs is noteworthy as one of [the] key investor concerns this year remains the possibility that large BBB-rated capital structures get downgraded to high yield during the next downturn,” Mikkelsen wrote. “We think this outperformance reflects in part a low recession probability being priced into credit spreads, as well as the fact that most large BBBs are unlikely to get downgraded to [high-yield] anytime soon as they tend to have stable cash flows and significant financial flexibility.”

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When do we start talking bailouts?

US Bank Stocks Spiral Down (WS)

On Tuesday, the US KBW Bank index, which tracks the largest 24 US banks and serves as a benchmark for the banking sector, dropped 1.2%, the fifth day in a row of declines, to the lowest close since September 7, 2017. The index is now back where it had been on December 1, 2016. Two years of big gains gone up in smoke. [..] But no, the index doesn’t include Goldman Sachs – which is big in other ways but not as a bank, and which has skidded 35% from its all-time peak in February. The index has now dropped 22.5% since the post-financial crisis peak on January 26:

So far in Q4, the index has dropped 14%. Unless a miraculous banking-Santa-Claus rally pulls banks out of their dive by the end of the quarter, a 14% decline would make it the worst quarterly decline since Q3 2011. If tax selling kicks in, given the losses bank-stock investors have taken so far this year, it could get worse in the coming days. Not even in Q3 2015, during the oil bust, when investors were fearing that banks would take steep losses on their loans to the oil industry, did shares drop this much.

The index is now back where it had first been a couple of years before its crazy peak in February 2007. Said peak occurred about a year before Bear Stearns toppled. During the subsequent collapse of banks stocks, it looked like the index would hit zero. After the bottom in March 2009, the Fed’s strategies to benefit the banks and those that owned them took hold, at the expense of depositors and other classes of US stake holders, such as renters or future home buyers. And it worked. But that era is now over. And the tax cut too has been baked in, and banks are left to fend for themselves:

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Those negative rates will come back to haunt Draghi. But when their damage becomes obvious, he’ll be living quietly in some splendid villa on Lake Como.

ECB Worries Multiply Even As Money-Printing Presses Stop (R.)

The European Central Bank is all but certain to formally end its lavish bond purchase scheme on Thursday but will take an increasingly dim view on growth, raising the odds that its next step in removing stimulus will be delayed. The long-flagged end of bond buys must be irreversible for the sake of credibility, but with France and Italy in political turmoil, a global trade war still looming large and growth slowing, ECB chief Mario Draghi will be keen to emphasize that other forms of support will remain. This leaves Draghi with yet another delicate balancing act: appear confident enough to justify the end of the 2.6 trillion euro ($2.95 trillion), four-year-long bond buying program, but also sound sufficiently concerned to keep investors expectations about further policy tightening relatively cool.

“Ending quantitative easing now looks more like the ammunition is running out rather than (being) based on a convincing economic outlook,” Societe Generale economist Anatoli Annenkov said. The ECB’s problem is that growth is weaker than policymakers thought even just weeks ago while the predicted rise in underlying inflation has failed to materialize, putting in doubt some of the bank’s assumptions about the broader economy. Overall inflation, the ECB’s primary objective, may be near the target now but falling oil prices suggest a dip in the months ahead and a solid rise in wages is not feeding through to prices, leaving the bank with an unexplained disconnect.

Highlighting this complication, the ECB is likely to cut growth and underlying inflation projections and may take a dimmer view on risks, all while Draghi argues that growth is merely falling back to normal after a recent run.

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What a failure Draghi has been. Same goes for all central bank heads in the past decades. They make sure banks are fine at the expense of citizens.

ECB Caught Between Economic Risks And QE Exit (CNBC)

ECB President Mario Draghi has to tread a fine line once again as he gives his latest update on euro area monetary policy on Thursday. While steering the bank out of its QE program and stressing interest rates and reinvestments going forward, Draghi is faced with an economy that may be slowing and a dreary inflation outlook. “We expect the ECB to announce at its meeting next Thursday an end to net-purchases under the APP programme,” said Natixis’ Dirk Schumacher in a note. “While there has been a clear weakening in the economic environment, the ECB will argue that the reinvestment of the stock of bond holdings will ensure a continuing accommodative policy stance justifying an end of the program,” he added.

On Thursday, the ECB also will publish its newest staff projections for economic growth and inflation for the next three years. While it is expected that the central bank will lower its outlook for growth for the next two years, the numbers are also expected to remain just punchy enough to underline the case to exit their purchase program. Another big topic for Thursday will be the design of the ECB’s reinvestments. “The ECB will likely maintain its guidance that it will fully reinvest the proceeds and thus keep its bond holdings constant ‘for an extended period of time’ and ‘for as long as necessary’ to put inflation on track towards its target,” said Florian Hense, Economist with Berenberg.

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Might work if Le Pen joins the left.

French Government To Face A No-Confidence Vote (CNBC)

Left-of-center lawmakers in France have tabled a motion of no confidence in the French government following repeated protests and scenes of violence. The “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) crisis started as a demonstration against a carbon tax policy and planned fuel tax increases, but have morphed into wider discontent at the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron. Now representatives from the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the far-left populist movement France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) have come together to table the motion against Macron’s government.

The government of Georges Pompidou in 1962 was successfully toppled by such a motion but few believe this one will pass as Macron’s centrist La République En Marche! party enjoys a strong majority in the 577-seat house. “The French political system makes it extremely difficult to remove a President from office,” said the Deputy Director of Research at Teneo Intelligence in a note Wednesday. “The only political tool available to the opposition to expel Macron is the constitution’s impeachment procedure, which no one is currently considering,” he added.

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Seems appropriate, but what symbols are left for the much worse years to come?

Japan Picks The Character For ‘Disaster’ To Define 2018 (Tel.)

Japan has chosen the character for ‘disaster’ to symbolise 2018. The public chose the symbol following a series of natural disasters. In July, 200 people died in floods and millions were evacuated from their homes, and mere days later 65 people died in a heatwave that hospitalised more than 20,000 people. The country was also hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 and was rocked by its strongest typhoon for 25 years. These numerous natural disasters have had an adverse effect on the Japanese economy, and the country’s GDP has gradually shrunk over the last three months, by 1.2 per cent.

The country also experienced societal problems this year, as stories of sexual harassment in the workplace and suicide rates came to light. The master of the ancient temple in Kyoto, Seihan Mori, wrote the symbol for ‘disaster’ in dark ink on traditional white washi paper to mark the vote. The competition has been run by the Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation since 1995. In the annual poll, 21,000 of the 190,000 people who voted picked the character to summarise the years events, but the symbol for peace was a close runner-up.

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What kind of headline is this, Reuters? The UK has refused Assange medical care for years, and now you make it look like Ecuador, not Assange himself. makes it happen?

Wikileaks’ Assange Undergoes Medical Tests At Ecuador’s Urging (R.)

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received a series of medical exams, Ecuador’s top attorney said on Wednesday, in line with a new set of rules for his asylum at the Andean country’s London embassy that prompted him to sue the government. Assange first took asylum in the embassy in 2012, but his relationship with Ecuador has grown increasingly tense, with President Lenin Moreno saying he does not like his presence in the embassy. The government in October imposed new rules requiring him to receive routine medical exams, following concerns he was not getting the medical attention he needed. The rules also ordered Assange to pay his medical and phone bills and clean up after his pet cat.

Inigo Salvador told reporters Ecuador did not have access to results of the tests, which were conducted by doctors Assange trusted, out of respect for his privacy. But he said Assange, who has sued Ecuador arguing that the new rules violate his rights, appeared coherent and lucid to him. On Wednesday, Assange appeared via videoconference in an Ecuadorean court to appeal a previous ruling that had upheld the new rules. Assange is concerned that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and extradite him to the United States, but Ecuador has said the United Kingdom told it he would not be extradited.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors have been conducting a lengthy criminal probe into Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation. A lawyer for Assange said he did not know the results of the medical tests, and called on Ecuador to produce documentation proving that the UK would not extradite him to any country where his life was at risk.

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“..accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities..”

Assange Complains Of ‘More Subtle’ Silencing Than Khashoggi (RT)

Julian Assange has accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities, and slammed attempts to block his journalistic work as a more subtle way of silencing than the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Suggesting there were “facts of espionage” inside the embassy, the WikiLeaks co-founder expressed concern during a hearing in Quito on Wednesday that Ecuadorean intelligence is not only spying on him, but sharing the data it has harvested with the FBI. Ecuadorean intelligence clearly spent a sizable amount of money equipping the embassy for surveillance, Assange added.

He accused Ecuadorean authorities of “comments of a threatening nature” relating to his journalistic work and compared attempts to silence him to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured and cut up in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October, but “more subtle.” The comparison elicited a harsh reaction from Ecuadorean Prosecutor General Inigo Salvador, who accused Assange of biting the hand that feeds him. Assange told the Ecuadorean court that the living conditions in the embassy were so detrimental to his health that they may put him in the hospital – and suggested that may be the point, because once he leaves the building, he’s fair game for UK and US authorities.

[..] Assange was in court appealing a strict set of rules handed down in October governing his conduct, which he has called a violation of human rights. He submitted 15 “facts of evidence” along with letters from individuals and groups barred from visiting him at the embassy. An earlier attempt to sue his hosts over the restrictive measures was ultimately dismissed by a judge last month, while Assange rejected E

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That stuff is very bad news.

Fentanyl Surpasses Heroin As Deadliest Drug In US (AFP)

The synthetic drug, fentanyl, has surpassed heroin as the deadliest drug in the United States, taking more than 18,000 lives in 2016, federal health officials said Wednesday. In 2016, the latest year for which full data is available, “29 percent of all drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of fentanyl,” said the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic narcotic that has been blamed for the deaths of rock stars including Prince and Tom Petty. It works on the brain like morphine or heroin, but is 50 to 100 times more potent, and can easily lead to overdose.

The rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States has tripled from 1999 through 2016, as the nation grapples with a persistent opioid epidemic. Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths have doubled each year from 2013 through 2016, “from 0.6 per 100,000 in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014, 2.6 in 2015, and 5.9 in 2016,” said the report. Meanwhile, deaths from heroin and methamphetamine more than tripled from 2011 to 2016. Heroin was the top cause of drug overdose death from 2012 to 2015, said the report. The prescription painkiller Oxycodone ranked highest in 2011.

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Every word of this is broken. Time defends the MSM against Trump, but he didn’t create fake news. I like the term ‘abuse of truth’, that verges on doublespeak, as does ‘..the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news”. And c’mon, free and fair press? Who believes that?

Time Magazine Says The US ‘Remains A Free And Fair Press’ (CNBC)

Despite the White House ramping up its rhetoric, the United States remains a free and fair press, Ben Goldberger the assistant managing editor of Time magazine told CNBC on Wednesday. The year 2018 has been marked by manipulation, abuse of truth, along with efforts by governments to instigate mistrust of the facts, the magazine said in an essay when it named killed and imprisoned journalists as Person of the Year for 2018 on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt that the rhetoric from the White House about the demonization of the media as ‘the enemy of the people,’ or the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news, is incredibly worrisome and chilling,” Goldberger said. “But that said, I return to what I said about the United States — this remains a free and fair press.” “Journalists here enjoy legal protections that are the envy of those in virtually every other country,” he added.

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Oct 142018
 


René Magritte The song of love 1948

 

Companies Buying Their Own Shares Could Fuel The Next Market Rally (CNBC)
Market Crash? Another ‘Red Card’ For The Economy (Lacalle)
4 Lessons From Iceland On Dealing With A Financial Crisis (WEF)
‘Crazy’ That Current Account Deficits Are ‘A Sin:’ Singapore Deputy PM (CNBC)
Draghi to Rome: Don’t Expect An ECB Rescue If Budget Talks Fail (CNBC)
Canada ‘Concerned’ About Khashoggi But Will Sell Arms To Saudis – Trudeau (RT)
David Davis Calls For Cabinet Rebellion Over Brexit Plan (BBC)
Brexit Negotiators Poised To Miss Deal Deadline As UK Hardliners Rebel (ZH)
Internet Censorship Just Took An Unprecedented Leap Forward (CJ)
Professor Exposes Rigged Markets One Academic Paper At A Time (ZH)
Hammer Time (Jim Kunstler)
Who The Hell Cares What Old People Think About Climate Change? (Ol.)
What’s Another Way to Say ‘We’re F-cked’? (Goodell)
‘Not Everything Was Looted’: British Museum To Fight Critics (G.)

 

 

“.. in the last 12 months, the companies in the S&P 500 have purchased $646 billion of their own stock, 29 percent more than the previous 12 months..”

“..at least $350 billion of buybacks that have been planned for the year and are just waiting to be put to work.”

Companies Buying Their Own Shares Could Fuel The Next Market Rally (CNBC)

With stocks down significantly, corporate buybacks could help stabilize the market. Buybacks have been one of the big stories supporting the market this year. DataTrek estimates that in the last 12 months, the companies in the S&P 500 have purchased $646 billion of their own stock, 29 percent more than the previous 12 months. And there’s plenty of “dry powder” left. One firm estimates at least $350 billion of buybacks that have been planned for the year and are just waiting to be put to work. And no, it is not just Apple that is buying its own stock. More than 300 large-cap companies have active buyback programs.

Unfortunately, some traders are resurrecting an old chestnut to help explain the current market weakness. They say we are entering a “blackout” period, when corporations cannot buy their stock because they are about to report quarterly earnings. It’s a neat explanation, except there’s not a lot to it. “Buybacks do occur during blackout periods,” Ben Silverman at InsiderScore told me. “Buyback volume does often decline in the first month of the quarter due to some buyback blackouts,” but companies can, and do, continue to buy back stock, he told me. Another trader (who declined to be identified) confirmed Silverman’s point. Corporate buybacks decline in the month before earnings, but only marginally. He estimated the decline is 30 percent or less.

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“..disproportionate valuations…”

$20 trillion worth of them.

Market Crash? Another ‘Red Card’ For The Economy (Lacalle)

The first thing we must understand is that we are not facing a panic created by a black swan, that is, an unexpected event, but by three factors that few could deny were evident: 1) Excessive valuations after $20 trillion of monetary expansion inflated most financial assets. 2) Bond yields rising as the US 10-year reaches 3.2%. 3) The evidence of the Yuan devaluation, which is on its way to surpass 7 Yuan per US dollar. 4) Global growth estimates trimmed for the sixth time in as many months. Therefore, the US rate hikes – announced repeatedly and incessantly for years – are not the cause, nor the alleged trade war. These are just symptoms, excuses to disguise a much more worrying illness.

What we are experiencing is the evidence of the saturation of excesses built around central banks’ loose policies and the famous “bubble of everything”. And therein lies the problem. After twenty trillion dollars of reckless monetary expansion, risk assets, from the safest to the most volatile, from the most liquid to the unquoted, have skyrocketed with disproportionate valuations.

The cracks in the building always appear first with currencies. Countries that have become accustomed to the idea that “this time is different” and that debt does not matter, started to multiply their indebtedness in foreign currency. Debt in dollars from emerging countries soared to 41% of their total debt. In the first three months of 2018, global debt rose 11% to a record of 247 trillion dollars (according to the IIF), and that of emerging markets soared by 2.5 trillion to an all-time high of 58.5 trillion. . When the lowest risk bond, the United States 10-year, went to 3.1%, the synchronized growth and complacent veil lifted, and many assets showed how risky they truly are.

Markets woke up to a reality that we had decided to ignore. That rates do rise. And if the safest bond gives a return of 3.2% … Am I willing to buy bonds from much riskier countries with negligible spreads? Add to that “sobriety” effect, another one. The inevitable devaluation of the yuan , which soared to almost 7 against the dollar. Am I willing to buy emerging markets and commodities when China exports its imbalances sending disinflationary pressure to the rest of the world?

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Iceland took it serious. No-one else did.

4 Lessons From Iceland On Dealing With A Financial Crisis (WEF)

Days after the collapse of 97% of its banking industry, Icelandic authorities designed a comprehensive policy of accountability, based on two overlapping objectives: establishing the truth and punishing those responsible. An independent truth commission was mandated to document the causes of the meltdown, and the newly established Office of the Special Prosecutor was tasked to thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for any crimes committed in the run up to the crisis. Both mechanisms have been remarkably successful.

Published in 2010, the truth commission’s 2,200-page report not only documented the manifold failings of the financial system in Iceland but also offered specific recommendations to protect state institutions from a future crisis. The report instantly became a bestseller, with copies sold in supermarkets. It was a popular gift – parents even gave it to their children to help them avoid making the same mistakes. The Office of the Special Prosecutor successfully prosecuted 40 bank executives. This is remarkable, especially given the small population of the island and the comparative experience of other European countries affected by the recession, such as Ireland, Cyprus, or the UK (table below).

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Not many people see is that way.

‘Crazy’ That Current Account Deficits Are ‘A Sin:’ Singapore Deputy PM (CNBC)

For decades, developing countries have relied on outside investments to boost their growth despite trade imbalances. But running a current account deficit has come to be regarded as “a sin,” according to Singapore’s deputy prime minister. Such a development is just “crazy,” Tharman Shanmugaratnam told CNBC on Friday during the annual meeting of the Institute of International Finance on the Indonesian island of Bali. Shanmugaratnam was referring to the widely held outlook that nations should seek to avoid current account deficits — which indicate they’re operating on borrowed means because the value of incoming goods, services and investments exceeds the amount leaving the country.

“How did the Singapores and Koreas of the world grow?” he said. “We grew by running current account deficits at an early stage of development so we could invest ahead for growth while our savings were being built up.” Singapore was able to rely on financing through foreign direct investments and long-term investors during its early years of growth, as the international financial system at that time had capital flowing to developing economies, Shanmugaratnam said. “Today, it’s a sin to run a current account deficit and that’s crazy,” said the minister, who is also the chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank and financial regulator. “I mean, it’s bad in economics, it’s bad in policy sense, and the whole world is going to suffer.”

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But Draghi’s still an Italian.

Draghi to Rome: Don’t Expect An ECB Rescue If Budget Talks Fail (CNBC)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi is sending a warning to Rome ahead of its formal budget submission: Don’t expect the ECB to save the day. In a Saturday press conference at the IMF and World Bank meetings in Bali, Indonesia, Draghi said he was confident that a budget agreement would be reached and urged all parties to “calm down with the tone.” He also voiced relief that there has not been evidence of a wider spillover effect in European bond markets, even as Italian yields hit multi-year highs. “Everything that happened today is local to Italy.”

When asked whether an eventual realization of contagion or a further rise in Italian yields would force the ECB to scrap tightening plans by year end, Draghi told CNBC: “I don’t want to speculate on this. I just don’t want to conceive such a hypothesis. I’m confident that the authorities — and by the way all parties, not only Italy — all parties will in the end find a compromise solution, an agreement.” He went on to suggest that the situation had been “dramatized,” and that was “not the first time there are deviations from established rules in Europe.” But investors are worried that the Italian government may seize on that precedent and take a gamble that running foul of EU budget rules won’t incur serious penalties, and that, if things do turn worse for Italian financial markets, they”ll be able to lean on the ECB for support. Draghi, for his part, told CNBC that would not be a possibility.

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“..Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian envoy. It then froze trade talks, cut academic ties, and suspended flights to Canada.”

But arms sales trump everything.

Canada ‘Concerned’ About Khashoggi But Will Sell Arms To Saudis – Trudeau (RT)

Ottawa will keep its $15bn arms deal with Riyadh despite concerns over Saudi involvement in the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the diplomatic row over human rights, Prime Minister Trudeau said. “We respected that contract,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Friday, adding that his cabinet has put forward measures to make the arms sales more transparent. “We are making sure Canadians’ expectations and laws are always being followed,” he said. The contract was signed in 2014 by the previous conservative government, and has since been upheld by Trudeau. The specifics of the sales were originally not disclosed by the parties.

According to documents obtained by CBC News last month, a Canadian company is to ship 742 LAV-6 light armored vehicles to Riyadh. The same outlet revealed in March that hundreds of the LAV-6s will be outfitted as “heavy assault” and “anti-tank” types. [..] Human rights campaigners and journalists have criticized Canada’s approach to Saudi Arabia as inconsistent. They point out that the government doesn’t mince words when attacking the kingdom’s human rights record, but at the same time never waivers in its willingness to ship military hardware to Riyadh. Media reports have also strongly suggested that the Saudis might be using Canadian-made LAVs against civilians in Yemen.

[..] Canada stuck to the arms deal even after becoming embroiled in a diplomatic spat with Riyadh in August. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called on the kingdom to release two high-profile dissidents. In response, Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian envoy. It then froze trade talks, cut academic ties, and suspended flights to Canada.

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She won’t have a cabinet left soon.

David Davis Calls For Cabinet Rebellion Over Brexit Plan (BBC)

Cabinet ministers should “exert their collective authority” and rebel against Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal, ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis has said. The PM has suggested a temporary customs arrangement for the whole UK to remain in the customs union while the Irish border issue is resolved. Brexiteers suspect this could turn into a permanent situation, restricting the freedom to strike trade deals. Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Davis said the plan was unacceptable. “This is one of the most fundamental decisions that government has taken in modern times,” he added.

The issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic Ireland is one of the last remaining obstacles to achieving a divorce deal with Brussels, with wrangling continuing over the nature of a “backstop” to keep the frontier open if a wider UK-EU trade arrangement cannot resolve it. The EU’s version, which would see just Northern Ireland remain aligned with Brussels’ rules, has been called unacceptable by Mrs May and the DUP. Mr Davis said the government’s negotiating strategy had “fundamental flaws”, arising from the “unwise decision in December to accept the EU’s language on dealing with the Northern Ireland border”.

On Saturday evening, German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung reported a deal had already been reached between Mrs May and the EU, and would be announced on Monday. But a No 10 source told the BBC the report was “100%, categorically untrue” and negotiations were ongoing. The paper said it had seen a leaked memo from EU negotiators to EU ambassadors stating: “Deal made.”

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Too many people want too many too different things.

Brexit Negotiators Poised To Miss Deal Deadline As UK Hardliners Rebel (ZH)

[..] early Sunday in London, the Brexiteer hardliners published an open letter signed by 63 Conservative MPs, including David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic backbenchers and former Brexit minister Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister. At the same time, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a pro-leave MP, published an editorial in the Sunday Telegraph demanding that any possibility that the UK could remain in a “temporary customs arrangement” after the Brexit transition period ends in December 2020 be stricken from the final agreement – because leaving open the possibility would be tantamount to ignoring the political will of the 17.4 million Britons who voted for Brexit.

Meanwhile, Davis demanded in an editorial in the Sunday Times that Cabinet ministers should “exert their collective authority” and rebel against Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal. All of this is happening amid even more conflicting reports, citing sources from the EU and sources from No. 10 Downing Street, affirming and denying that a deal had been reached. Underscoring the hostility to a deal, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party said Sunday that she would prefer a “no deal” Brexit to a “backstop” transition agreement that would require any borders between Northern Ireland and the UK, arguing that this would amount to the “annexation” of Northern Ireland by the EU, per CNBC.

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The Atlantic Council got going. Social media have become too big a threat to the narrative.

Internet Censorship Just Took An Unprecedented Leap Forward (CJ)

While most indie media was focused on debating the way people talk about Kanye West and the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an unprecedented escalation in internet censorship took place which threatens everything we all care about. It received frighteningly little attention. After a massive purge of hundreds of politically oriented pages and personal accounts for “inauthentic behavior”, Facebook rightly received a fair amount of criticism for the nebulous and hotly disputed basis for that action. What received relatively little attention was the far more ominous step which was taken next: within hours of being purged from Facebook, multiple anti-establishment alternative media sites had their accounts completely removed from Twitter as well.

As of this writing I am aware of three large alternative media outlets which were expelled from both platforms at almost the same time: Anti-Media, the Free Thought Project, and Police the Police, all of whom had millions of followers on Facebook. Both the Editor-in-Chief of Anti-Media and its Chief Creative Officer were also banned by Twitter, and are being kept from having any new accounts on that site as well.

“I unfortunately always felt the day would come when alternative media would be scrubbed from major social media sites,” Anti-Media’s Chief Creative Officer S.M. Gibson said in a statement to me. “Because of that I prepared by having backup accounts years ago. The fact that those accounts, as well as 3 accounts from individuals associated with Anti-Media were banned without warning and without any reason offered by either platform makes me believe this purge was certainly orchestrated by someone. Who that is I have no idea, but this attack on information was much more concise and methodical in silencing truth than most realize or is being reported.”

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Interesting man.

Professor Exposes Rigged Markets One Academic Paper At A Time (ZH)

Finance professor John Griffin, along with his doctoral student companion, Amin Shams, were the two academics that drew market-moving conclusions about bitcoin last year, while the digital currency was trading around $20,000. After sifting through 2 terabytes of trading data, they alleged that bitcoin was being manipulated by someone using the cryptocurrency Tether to purchase it. Tether remains a relatively little-known crypto, which is pegged to one US dollar. Part of its appeal is that it can “stand in” for dollars when necessary, according to Bloomberg. Griffin and Shams authored a paper in June, with the results of their findings ultimately catalyzing many digital assets to move lower, despite the fact that the CEO of Tether publicly denied that its currency was used to prop up bitcoin.

Griffin works at the University of Texas at Austin, and has become quite an unpopular figure on Wall Street for similar work he has done in the past on ratings companies, the VIX and investment banks. In most of his findings, he claims that these well-known financial instruments and players are, in one way or another, rigged. And the professor seems to enjoy exposing precisely that: rigged, manipulated markets and shady players. “I not only want to understand the world, but make it better,” he told Bloomberg. Griffin’s work has become popular reading within the DOJ and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, according to Bloomberg.

These regulators – many of them low on resources, time and staff – welcome any additional help they can get (the SEC’s budget has forced it into a hiring freeze and the CFTC budget was cut by Congress in March of this year). John Reed Stark, a former attorney in the SEC’s enforcement division, stated: “It’s incredibly helpful to have an expert of Griffin’s caliber.”

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“..the threat to order might be so great that an unprecedented “emergency” has to be declared, with soldiers in the streets of Washington..”

Hammer Time (Jim Kunstler)

If I were President, I’d declare Oct 12 Greater Fool Day. (Nobody likes Christopher Columbus anymore, that genocidal monster of dead white male privilege.) The futures are zooming as I write, a last roundup for suckers at the OD corral, begging the question: who will show up on Monday. Nobody, I predict. And then what? The great false front of the financial markets resumes falling over into the November election. The rubble from all that buries whatever is left of the automobile business and the housing market. The smoldering aftermath will be described as the start of a long-overdue recession — but it will actually be something a lot worse, with no end in sight.

The Democratic Party might not be nimble enough to capitalize on the sudden disappearance of capital. Their only hope to date has been to capture the vote of every female in America, to otherwise augment their constituency of inflamed and aggrieved victims of unsubstantiated injustices. It’s been fun playing those cards, and the Party might not even know how to play a different game at this point. Democratic politicians may also be among the one-percenters who watch their net worth go up in a vapor in a market collapse, leaving them too numb to act. The last time something like this happened, in the fall of 2008, candidate Barack Obama barely knew what to say about the fall of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing cascade of misery — though unbeknownst to the voters, he was already a hostage of Wall Street.

Complicating matters this time will be the chaos unleashed in politics and governing when the long-running “Russia collusion” melodrama boomerangs into a raft of indictments against the cast of characters in the Intel Community and Department of Justice AND the Democratic National Committee, and perhaps even including the Party’s last standard bearer, HRC, for ginning up the Russia Collusion matter in the first place as an exercise in sedition. The wheels of the law turn slowly, but they’ll turn even while financial markets tumble. And the threat to order might be so great that an unprecedented “emergency” has to be declared, with soldiers in the streets of Washington, as was sadly the case in 1861, the first time the country turned itself upside down.

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Good angle.

Who The Hell Cares What Old People Think About Climate Change? (Ol.)

The loudest and most powerful voices when it comes to the future of the planet — the ones with their hands on the levers of power — have a strong tactical advantage: they will be dead before the shit really hits the fan. This fact curiously goes unspoken, for the most part. Popular arguments tend to be framed around a rosy vision preserving the planet for future generations, which gives our boomer aristocracy the most effective cover story imaginable. They don’t need to care about that, as nice as it sounds. Why would they? It’s all completely hypothetical to them. You may as well be talking about climate patterns in Narnia. Make no mistake: older generations living in the developed world are part of history’s most under-appreciated death cult.

This isn’t abstract psychoanalysis. There is a brutal calculus going on in the minds of everyone from your skeptic uncle to the bankrollers of squillion dollar think tanks whenever they think or talk about climate change. They know that they will never have to really answer for their opinions on this matter, because they’ll be six feet under (and loving it!) when the world’s arable land is rendered infertile and its coastal cities flooded by rising oceans. In some dark and venal corner of their minds, they’re thinking about that fact all the damn time. Despite the frightening predictions of the new IPCC report, they’ve still got plenty of wiggle room to keep denying until they’re dead – which will be sooner rather than later. With any luck they’ll even avoid being held accountable in any concrete way, which for the conservative commentariat is an even worse fate than the Mad Max hellworld towards which we are hurtling.

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One scary dude.

What’s Another Way to Say ‘We’re F-cked’? (Goodell)

[..] a scientist named Richard Alley in a Skype discussion with students at Bard College, as well as with Eban Goodstein, director of the Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard. It would be just another nerdy Skype chat except Alley is talking frankly about something that few scientists have the courage to say in public: As bad as you think climate change might be in the coming decades, reality could be far worse. Within the lifetime of the students he’s talking with, Alley says, there’s some risk — small but not as small as you might hope — that the seas could rise as much as 15-to-20 feet.

[..] Richard Alley is not a fringe character in the world of climate change. In fact, he is widely viewed as one of the greatest climate scientists of our time. If there is anyone who understands the full complexity of the risks we face from climate change, it’s Alley. And far from being alarmist, Alley is known for his careful, rigorous science. He has spent most of his adult life deconstructing past Earth climates from the information in ice cores and rocks and ocean sediments. And what he has learned about the past, he has used to better understand the future. For a scientist of Alley’s stature to say that he can’t rule out 15 or 20 feet of sea-level rise in the coming decades is mind-blowing.

And it is one of the clearest statements I’ve ever heard of just how much trouble we are in on our rapidly warming planet (and I’ve heard a lot — I wrote a book about sea-level rise). To judge how radical this is, compare Alley’s numbers to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released on Monday. That report basically argued that if we don’t get to zero carbon emissions by 2050, we have very little chance of avoiding 1.5 Celsius of warming, the threshold that would allow us to maintain a stable climate. The report projected that with 2 Celsius of warming, which is the target of the Paris Climate Agreement, the range of sea level rise we might see by the end of the century is between about one and three feet.

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Sure. But start giving back what was. Problem is, so much of it WAS looted that the museum would become a pretty empty place.

‘Not Everything Was Looted’: British Museum To Fight Critics (G.)

The British Museum is launching an initiative intended to counter the perception that its collections derive only from looted treasures. The monthly Collected Histories talks, which begin on Friday, will provide information on how certain artefacts entered the collection, with the museum saying it will offer a more nuanced take on these stories than is available elsewhere. The museum has long faced criticism for displaying – and refusing to return – looted treasures, including the Parthenon Marbles, Rosetta Stone, and the Gweagal shield.

Earlier this year, the art historian Alice Procter’s Uncomfortable Art Tours around London institutions, including the British Museum, made headlines for their attempts to expose the role of colonialism, with those on the tour given “Display It Like You Stole It” badges. Dr Sushma Jansari, the curator of the Asian ethnographic and South Asia collections at the British Museum, said she had devised Collected Histories in response to Procter’s tours. “There are a lot of partial histories and they tend to focus on the colonial aspect of the collecting so you have a bunch of people who tend to be quite angry and upset,” she said. “We’re trying to reset the balance a little bit. A lot of our collections are not from a colonial context; not everything here was acquired by Europeans by looting.”

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