May 182018
 
 May 18, 2018  Posted by at 1:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Leonard Misonne Waterloo Place, London 1899

 

Let me start by saying I have nothing against the English newspaper The Guardian. They publish some good things, on a wide range of topics. But they also produce some real stinkers. And lately they seem to publish quite a few of those. On Wednesday there was an entire series of hit pieces on Julian Assange, which I wrote about in I Am Julian Assange.

And apparently they’re not done. As I said on Wednesday, the relationship between Assange and the paper has cooled considerably, after The Guardian’s initial cooperation with Wikileaks on files Assange had shared with them. But does that excuse hit pieces, personal attacks, innuendo, suggestive and tendentious writing, in bulk?

There was one more article in the hit pieces series on Wednesday:

Assange ‘Split’ Ecuador And Spain Over Catalan Independence

Julian Assange’s intervention on Catalan independence created a rift between the WikiLeaks founder and the Ecuadorian government, which has hosted Assange for nearly six years in its London embassy, the Guardian has learned. Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Assange’s support for the separatists, including a meeting in November, led to a backlash from Spain, which in turn caused deep concern within Ecuador’s government. While Assange’s role in the US presidential election has been an intense focus of US prosecutors, his involvement in Spanish politics appears to have caused Ecuador the most pain.

The Ecuadorians cut Assange’s internet connection and ended his access to visitors on 28 March, saying he had breached an agreement at the end of last year not to issue messages that might interfere with other states. Quito has been looking to find a solution to what it increasingly sees as an untenable situation: hosting one of the world’s most wanted men.

In November 2017, Assange hosted two supporters of the Catalan independence movement, whose push for secession from Spain had plunged the country into its worst political crisis since returning to democracy. Assange has said he supported the right to “self-determination” and argued against “repression” from Madrid.

He was visited by Oriol Soler, a Catalan businessman and publisher, and Arnau Grinyó, an expert in online communications campaigns. Their meeting, which was reported by the Spanish press, took place a little over a month after the unilateral Catalan independence referendum, and 13 days after the Spanish government responded to the unilateral declaration of independence by sacking the administration of the then Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and assuming direct control of the region.

I think that’s we call ‘leading’. Terminology like “..Assange’s role in the US presidential election..”, “..one of the world’s most wanted men..”, “..unilateral referendum..”, “..unilateral declaration of independence..”, are suggestive, they are meant to paint a picture in the reader’s head. What’s missing is any and all mention of the brutal violence in Catalunya on referendum day. That, too, has a purpose.

Assange has been a vocal critic of Madrid’s handling of the Catalan crisis and described the independence movement as “the redefinition of the relationship between people and state”, and “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi”. A Spanish diplomat told the Guardian that Spain “conveyed a message” to Ecuadorian authorities that Assange was using social media to support the secessionist movement and sending out messages “that are at odds with reality”.

A billion people have been critics of what happened around the referendum. So why not Assange? For what reason did he need to be shut up? Everyone can speak their mind, but not him? We no longer have freedom of speech? Isn’t that something a newspaper, most of all, first of all, should stand up for? An embassy of a democratic nation? No, not a word.

[..] “Spain has, on a number of occasions, informed the Ecuadorian authorities of its concerns over the activities that Julian Assange has engaged in while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.” [..]In December, Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, reminded Assange that he should refrain from trying to intervene in Ecuadorian politics.

US intelligence agencies and Spanish authorities have separately claimed that Russia has had a hand in their domestic affairs. US agencies have accused WikiLeaks of working with Russian intelligence to try to disrupt the US election by releasing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Spanish officials have suggested that much of the messaging on social media about the Catalan crisis originated in Russia.

Obviously, Assange has never interfered in Ecuadorian politics. That’s just utter nonsense. But that last bit takes the cherry. There is no proven link between Assange and Russia. There is no proven link between Russia and US elections. There is no proven link between Russia and hacked emails. There is no proof the emails were hacked. And as for Russia interfering in the Catalan referendum: oh, please.

Is this just very very bad journalism, or is it something more? You be the judge. But beware that almost all of this stuff consists of insinuations. It’s an affront to journalism.

Glenn Greenwald interviewed Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa after the Guardian pieces came out:

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture”

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.”

Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.” The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

Maybe we should suggest that somebody may have interfered in Ecuador’s presidential elections?! You know, to get to Assange?!

Then today we read in the Guardian that in the aftermath of its hit series, Ecuador has dismissed security for Assange. Is this when MI6 and the CIA get to move in?

Ecuador To Remove Julian Assange’s Extra Security From London Embassy

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, has ordered the withdrawal of additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained for almost six years. The move was announced a day after an investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador revealed the country had bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Assange, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police.

Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected him while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin.

[..] Ecuador suspended Assange’s communication systems in March after his pointed political comments on Twitter. Assange had tweeted messages challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in Salisbury.

What? Ecuador muted Assange because he challenged Britain’s accusation -unfounded as far as we can tell- that Russia poisoned the Skripals? But wait. I thought they cut him off because of Spain? Or the US? Now it’s Britain? Everyone and their pet hamster is suspicious of that Skripal story. But again, Assange is not allowed to be?

Oh, and all the terrible, and terribly suspicious, people that came to see him. “Nationalists” and “individuals linked to the Kremlin.” Leading, suggestive, truly repugnant “journalism”.

But then, also today, that same Guardian gives the floor to Melinda Taylor, one of Assange’s lawyers. Do they think that giving her a voice makes up for all the damage they’ve done to Assange, to themselves, to freedom of speech and to journalism? One might be tempted to think so.

Julian Assange Is Suffering Needlessly. Why Not Report That?

Breaking news: a series of articles has been published by the Guardian concerning Julian Assange, splashed over the front pages. The big reveal? That after the UK threatened to invade the Ecuadorean embassy, Ecuador beefed up its security and surveillance at said embassy. And that this costs money. And there is pressure to find a solution to a situation that has been described by the United Nations as illegal and arbitrary detention.

Lost in the lede was this: that Ecuador appears to be hoping “that Assange’s already uncomfortable confinement will become intolerable”. The Oxford dictionary defines “intolerable” as “unbearable, insufferable, unsupportable, insupportable, unendurable, beyond endurance, unacceptable, impossible, more than flesh and blood can stand, too much to bear, past bearing, not to be borne, overpowering (…)”.

Isn’t the headline story that the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks remains detained without access to fundamental healthcare? And since March this year, has been cut off from the outside world, bar meetings with his lawyers, which have apparently been surveilled?

Assange has won numerous awards for publishing information that has exposed egregious violations of human rights and abuses of state power. He has also won the more dubious prize of being placed in the crosshairs of US government attempts to silence free speech by silencing the publications and publishers that dare to speak freely.

 

And if only the ongoing Julian Assange tragedy was the only affront to news gathering. But no, there’s still always the Skripals. It looks like the gag order has been lifted. Yesterday, the Sun, which at least doesn’t pretend to be a quality paper, ran this:

Sergei Skripal Still Being Questioned Over Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack

Detectives are still questioning poisoned spy Sergei Skripal as he recovers in hospital, nearly 10 weeks after being attacked with a nerve agent, Sky News has learned. They are trying to piece together the Russian former double agent’s life in retirement in Britain, as more details emerged of his recent activities. They want to know more about his regular train journeys to London, his trips abroad, and his monthly meetings with his alleged former MI6 handler in a Salisbury restaurant. It was reported this week that the 66-year-old had been briefing intelligence agencies in the Czech Republic and Estonia on Russian spies and their methods, giving one lecture as recently as 2016.

Would that activity, years after arriving in Britain in a spy swap with Moscow, have been motive enough for the murder attempt on him and his daughter Yulia? The government insists the Kremlin was responsible for the attack, in which the deadly nerve agent novichok was smeared on the front door handle of Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home. But former KGB officer and espionage historian Alexander Vassiliev said it was more likely the work of the Russian mafia, out to embarrass Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Mr Vassiliev said: “It wasn’t the reason to kill him. I’m sure when Putin released him, and pardoned him, he knew Skripal would be co-operating with British secret services and other European espionage agencies. “All defectors are doing it, they work as consultants, they give lectures, they write books – it’s a normal thing. He had to earn his living somehow – he wouldn’t have been a taxi driver. “Skripal was arrested in 2004 – that was a long time ago and he didn’t know specific details about current objectives or operatives. The Russian government had no reason to kill Skripal – he was nobody and he wasn’t a danger.

Now, that’s funny. He’s been briefing Czech intelligence. The Czech Republic, we learned recently, is one of a group of countries that have the formula for novichok AND have produced small quantities of it. The “it could only have been Russia” narrative is, based on what we know, dead as a door handle.

That was yesterday. And lo and behold, this morning the Guardian writes that Skripal has been discharged from hospital. They got all the info they wanted out of him?

Sergei Skripal Discharged From Salisbury Hospital

The Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, who was exposed to a nerve agent, has been discharged from Salisbury district hospital, health officials have said. Skripal’s release follows that of his daughter, Yulia, and DS Nick Bailey, who were also exposed to novichok in March. The hospital said: “While these patients have now been discharged, their right to patient confidentiality remains and limits us from giving detailed accounts of the treatment these individuals received. “However, treating people who are so acutely unwell, having been poisoned by nerve agents, requires stabilising them, keeping them alive until their bodies could produce more enzymes to replace those that had been poisoned.”

Yup, we’re sticking with the ‘novichok from Russia’ story. We’re not going to provide any proof, you will have to believe us. I think that’s the frame we must see this last article in, easily one of the weirdest things I’ve read in a while. And again it’s from the Guardian. “As if” to emphasize the dark and massive threat that is hanging over Britain. Create an atmosphere, paint a picture. Julian Assange and the Russians (and Trump!) against Spain, the US and Britain, those staunch defenders of human rights and ‘our values’.

Almost 100 Police Have Received Psychological Help After Salisbury Attack

Almost 100 Wiltshire police officers and staff have sought psychological support after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the Guardian can reveal. Among those who have asked for help were officers who initially responded to the collapse of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and those who were at or close to the various investigation sites in subsequent days and weeks. Some reported feeling disorientated and anxious while others were concerned about the possible long-term health effects on the public.

Wiltshire’s chief constable, Kier Pritchard, told the Guardian that officers – including himself and other police personnel continued to receive help more than two months after the attack. Pritchard took up the role of head of the force on the day of the attempted murders and said he had personally received the “best support” as he worked through the implications for him and his family of being a high-profile figure in the response to a state-sponsored attack.

One police officer, DS Nick Bailey, spent more than two weeks in hospital after being exposed to the novichok nerve agent and when he was discharged said life would never be the same again.

 

You know who might have helped us try to find out what really happened to the Skripals? Julian Assange. But he’s been silenced. Where do we turn now? How do we find the truth anymore? Have we effectively all been silenced?

 

 

May 182018
 
 May 18, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Daniel Garber Lambertville holiday 1941

 

Almost Half Of US Families Can’t Afford Basics Like Rent And Food (CNN)
A Liquidity Crisis of Biblical Proportions Is Upon Us (Mauldin)
Fake News No Problem: Internet Totally Dominates Advertising in the US (WS)
Blundering Into Recession (Rickards)
Peso Crisis Highlights Fragility Of Argentina’s Economy (AFP)
China Offers Trump $200 Billion Package To Slash US Trade Deficit (R.)
Ecuador Orders Withdrawal Of Extra Assange Security From London Embassy (R.)
How Public Ownership Was Raised From The Grave (NS)
EU Dashes Membership Hopes Of Balkan States (G.)
US House Committee Approves Provision To Freeze Arms Sales To Turkey (K.)
Alabama Congressman Blames Sea Level Rise On Rocks Falling Into The Ocean (Al)
Climate Change On Track To Cause Major Insect Wipeout (G.)
EU Court Upholds Curbs On Bee-Killing Pesticides (AFP)

 

 

“California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%.”

Almost Half of US Families Can’t Afford Basics Like Rent And Food (CNN)

Nearly 51 million households don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That’s 43% of households in the United States. The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what’s needed “to survive in the modern economy.” “Despite seemingly positive economic signs, the ALICE data shows that financial hardship is still a pervasive problem,” said Stephanie Hoopes, the project’s director.

California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%. Many of these folks are the nation’s child care workers, home health aides, office assistants and store clerks, who work low-paying jobs and have little savings, the study noted. Some 66% of jobs in the US pay less than $20 an hour. [..] in Seattle’s King County, the annual household survival budget for a family of four (including one infant and one preschooler) in 2016 was nearly $85,000. This would require an hourly wage of $42.46. But in Washington State, only 14% of jobs pay more than $40 an hour.

Read more …

“For now, bond market liquidity is fine because hedge funds and other non-bank lenders have filled the gap. The problem is they are not true market makers. Nothing requires them to hold inventory or buy when you want to sell.”

A Liquidity Crisis of Biblical Proportions Is Upon Us (Mauldin)

In an old-style economic cycle, recessions triggered bear markets. Economic contraction slowed consumer spending, corporate earnings fell, and stock prices dropped. That’s not how it works when the credit cycle is in control. Lower asset prices aren’t the result of a recession. They cause the recession. That’s because access to credit drives consumer spending and business investment. Take it away and they decline. Recession follows. Corporate debt is now at a level that has not ended well in past cycles. Here’s a chart from Dave Rosenberg:

The Debt/GDP ratio could go higher still, but I think not much more. Whenever it falls, lenders (including bond fund and ETF investors) will want to sell. Then comes the hard part: to whom? You see, it’s not just borrowers who’ve become accustomed to easy credit. Many lenders assume they can exit at a moment’s notice. One reason for the Great Recession was so many borrowers had sold short-term commercial paper to buy long-term assets. Things got worse when they couldn’t roll over the debt and some are now doing exactly the same thing again, except in much riskier high-yield debt. We have two related problems here. • Corporate debt and especially high-yield debt issuance has exploded since 2009. • Tighter regulations discouraged banks from making markets in corporate and HY debt.

Both are problems but the second is worse. Experts tell me that Dodd-Frank requirements have reduced major bank market-making abilities by around 90%. For now, bond market liquidity is fine because hedge funds and other non-bank lenders have filled the gap. The problem is they are not true market makers. Nothing requires them to hold inventory or buy when you want to sell. That means all the bids can “magically” disappear just when you need them most. These “shadow banks” are not in the business of protecting your assets. They are worried about their own profits and those of their clients.

Read more …

“Internet advertising revenues in the US soared 21.4% in 2017 from a year earlier to a record of $88 billion..”

Fake News No Problem: Internet Totally Dominates Advertising in the US (WS)

You might think you never look at these ads or click on them, and you might think they’re the biggest waste of money there ever was, but reality is that internet advertising revenues in the US are surging, and are blowing all other media categories out of the water. But only two companies divvy up among themselves nearly 60% of the spoils. Internet advertising revenues in the US soared 21.4% in 2017 from a year earlier to a record of $88 billion, thus handily demolishing TV ad revenues, which declined 2.6% to $70.1 billion, according to annual ad revenue report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). It was the second year in a row that internet ad revenues beat TV. In 2016, internet ad revenues (or “ad spend”) had surpassed TV ad revenues for the first time in US history.

And 2017 was the first year in the data series going back to 2010 that TV advertising actually declined. That formerly unstoppable growth industry is now a declining industry. [..] Social Media sizzles, fake news no problem. Advertising spend on social media surged 36% from the prior year to $22.2 billion, now accounting for a quarter of all internet advertising, up from just an 8% share in 2012. But who’s getting all this internet ad manna? The report is presented at an “anonymized aggregate level,” and no company names are given. But it’s not hard to figure out. The top ten companies got 74% of the share in Q4 2017, according to the report.

For further detail, we mosey over to eMarketer, which estimates that in 2017, Google captured 38.6% of the total internet ad spend in the US and Facebook captured 19.9% in the US, for a combined total of 58.5% of total internet ad spend. Just by these two companies! For perspective, Google’s parent Alphabet reported global revenues of $111 billion in 2017, and Facebook $40 billion. Practically all of it was generated by internet advertising.

Read more …

Well, you can’t do QE forever.

Blundering Into Recession (Rickards)

Contradictions coming from the Fed’s happy talk wants us to believe that QT is not a contractionary policy, but it is. They’ve spent eight years saying that quantitative easing was stimulative. Now they want the public to believe that a change to quantitative tightening is not going to slow the economy. They continue to push that conditions are sustainable when printing money, but when they make money disappear, it will not have any impact. This approach falls down on its face — and it will have a major impact. My estimate is that every $500 billion of quantitative tightening could be equivalent to one .25 basis point rate hike. Some estimates are even higher, as much 2.0% per year. That’s not “background” noise. It’s rock music blaring in your ears.

For an economy addicted to cheap money, this is like going cold turkey. The decision by the Fed to not purchase new bonds will therefore be just as detrimental to the growth of the economy as raising interest rates. Meanwhile, retail sales, real incomes, auto sales and even labor force participation are all declining or showing weakness. Every important economic indicator shows that the U.S. economy can’t generate the growth the Fed would like. When you add in QT, we may very well be in a recession very soon. Then the Fed will have to cut rates yet again. Then it’s back to QE. You could call that QE4 or QE1 part 2. Regardless, years of massive intervention has essentially trapped the Fed in a state of perpetual manipulation. More will follow.

Read more …

You can’t resolve a crisis with 40% interest rates. That spells panic.

Peso Crisis Highlights Fragility Of Argentina’s Economy (AFP)

Argentina appears to have resolved, at least in the short term, the crisis over the peso and its depreciation by taking drastic action — but analysts warn the policy is untenable over time. To sustain the Argentinian peso, the Central Bank raised its benchmark interest rate up to 40% and injected more than $10 billion into the economy. A crisis of confidence in the peso saw it plunge nearly 20% over six weeks as investors concerned by Argentina’s high inflation yielded to the lure of a strong dollar. On Monday, the unit dipped to a historic low of 25.51 against the dollar, as talks continued with the International Monetary Fund for a stabilizing loan. Argentina’s center-right president, Mauricio Macri, has sought to be reassuring, saying Thursday that “we consider the turbulence overcome.”

But he pointed the finger at an endemic problem: the budget deficit of Latin America’s third largest economy – even though it has dropped from six to four% of gross domestic product since he took power in late 2015. “It’s a real structural problem, well identified for a long time by the IMF, difficult to resolve politically,” said Stephane Straub, an economist at the Toulouse School of Economics. “If rates remain at this level, it will pose problems in the medium-to-long term. But confidence must return in order to reduce the rates. That’s where the intervention of the IMF can be useful, to bring back confidence and halt the flight of capital and the pressure on the currency.” Annual inflation at more than 20% and a balance of trade deficit still stifle economic reform efforts in an economy whose annual growth was 2.8% in 2017.

Read more …

But how?

China Offers Trump $200 Billion Package To Slash US Trade Deficit (R.)

China is offering U.S. President Donald Trump a package of trade concessions and increased purchases of American goods aimed at cutting the U.S. trade deficit with China by up to $200 billion a year, U.S. officials familiar with the proposal said. News of the offer came during the first of two days of U.S.-China trade talks in Washington focused on resolving tariff threats between the world’s two largest economies. But it was not immediately clear how the total value was determined. One of the sources said U.S. aircraft maker Boeing would be a major beneficiary of the Chinese offer if Trump were to accept it. Boeing is the largest U.S. exporter and already sells about a quarter of its commercial aircraft to Chinese customers.

Another person familiar with the talks said the package may include some elimination of Chinese tariffs already in place on about $4 billion worth of U.S. farm products including fruit, nuts, pork, wine and sorghum. [..]The top-line number in the Chinese offer would largely match a request presented to Chinese officials two weeks ago by Trump administration officials in Beijing. But getting to a $200 billion reduction of the U.S. China trade deficit on a sustainable basis would require a massive change in the composition of trade between the two countries, as the U.S. goods deficit was $375 billion last year. The United States’ two biggest exports to China were aircraft at $16 billion last year, and soybeans, at $12 billion.

Read more …

An invitation to London and Washington?!

Ecuador Orders Withdrawal Of Extra Assange Security From London Embassy (R.)

The president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, ordered the withdrawal on Thursday of additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has remained for almost six years. The Australian took refuge in the small diplomatic headquarters in 2012 to avoid sexual abuse charges in Sweden. He rejects the charges and prosecutors have abandoned their investigation. However, British authorities are still seeking his arrest.

“The President of the Republic, Lenin Moreno, has ordered that any additional security at the Ecuadorian embassy in London be withdrawn immediately,” the government said in a statement. “ From now on, it will maintain normal security similar to that of other Ecuadorian embassies,” the statement said. Ecuador suspended Assange’s communication systems in March after his pointed political comments on Twitter. Moreno has described Assange’s situation as “a stone in his shoe.”

Read more …

Own your own basics.

How Public Ownership Was Raised From The Grave (NS)

For decades, nationalisation was a taboo subject in British politics. New Labour accepted all of Margaret Thatcher’s privatisations and even extended the market into new realms (such as air traffic control and Royal Mail). Few expected public ownership to return in any significant capacity. But the state has since risen from its slumber. Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, yesterday announced that the East Coast Mainline rail franchise would be renationalised (for the third time in 12 years) after its private operators defaulted on payments. Labour, which has called for the whole network to be restored to public ownership, can boast of changing policy from opposition. Further franchises, rail experts say (Northern Rail, South Western, Transpennine Express and Greater Anglia), may also be renationalised out of necessity.

Grayling emphasised that the East Coast move was a “temporary” and purely pragmatic one; the Conservatives usually deride nationalisation as retrogressive, redolent of the grim 1970s. But the voters back Labour’s interventionism. A poll published last year by the Legatum Institute and Populus found that they favour public ownership of the UK’s water (83%), electricity (77%), gas (77%) and railway (76%). Voters are weary of the substandard service and excessive prices that characterise many private companies. (And saw the commanding heights of the British banking system renationalised following the financial crisis.) .

Read more …

People are tired of more EU.

EU Dashes Membership Hopes Of Balkan States (G.)

Keep waiting in line, but don’t expect the door to open any time soon. That was the message delivered on Thursday to six Balkan states hoping to join the EU. The six had been invited to the EU heads of state summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, as a gesture to reaffirm their path towards EU membership. Instead, the summit was notable for divisions on whether or not the bloc could cope with further enlargement in the foreseeable future. The EU is keen to offer enticements to the six states, given worries about potential instability and the growing role of Russia in the region. Johannes Hahn, the commissioner for enlargement, has said on a number of occasions that the EU should “export stability” to the region to avoid “importing instability”.

But many member states are uneasy about giving concrete commitments. Emmanuel Macron has emerged as the leading opponent of further EU expansion. “I think we need to look at any new enlargement with a lot of prudence and rigour,” the French president told journalists in Sofia. “The last 15 years have shown a path that has weakened Europe by thinking all the time that it should be enlarged.” A declaration was adopted at the summit that offered support for the “European perspective” of the six Balkan countries but was noticeably lacking words about “accession” or “enlargement”.

Read more …

“The draft was approved with votes 60-1..”

US House Committee Approves Provision To Freeze Arms Sales To Turkey (K.)

The United States House Committee on Armed Services of the US Congress approved in principle on Thursday a draft bill on the US budget for 2019 national defense which includes a provision that would halt any sale of military equipment to Turkey until the Secretary of Defense submits a report on the US-Turkish relationship to the congressional defense committees. The draft was approved with votes 60-1 and will be followed by a debate on various amendments, while a similar procedure will take place in the Senate.

If this provision comes into force after the end of the debate, the restrictions imposed on Turkey’s military supplies will be wide-ranging, including, but not limited to, the sales of F-35 Lightning II JSF and F-16 Fighting Falcon, CH- 47 Chinook helicopters, H-60 Blackhawk, and Patriot missiles. The effort to freeze the delivery of the F-35 fighter aircraft to Ankara has formed part of an important campaign conducted by the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) in Washington. As explained by HALC’s executive director, Endy Zemenides, the fact that this provision was included in the draft law is another important step towards fulfilling the goal of the HALC campaign.

Read more …

No comment.

Alabama Congressman Blames Sea Level Rise On Rocks Falling Into The Ocean (Al)

North Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks is making headlines again for blaming sea level rise on rocks falling into the ocean and silt washing from major rivers. Brooks was one of several Republican lawmakers sparring with a climate scientist at a Wednesday hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Included in the arguing were Republicans Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee’s chairman, and California’s Dana Rohrabacher, but the websites for Science and Esquire used Brooks’ picture to illustrate their coverage. “Republican lawmaker: Rocks tumbling into ocean causing sea level rise,” read the Science site’s headline.

“Is the Human Race Too Dumb to Survive on This Planet?” asked Esquire also featuring Brooks. “Here’s how big a rock you’d have to drop into the ocean to see the rise in sea level happening now,” chimed in the Washington Post. Brooks was quoted saying, “Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up.” He referred to erosion on the California coastline and England’s White Cliffs of Dover and silt from the Mississippi and Nile rivers.

Read more …

I think chemicals are a much bigger issue.

Climate Change On Track To Cause Major Insect Wipeout (G.)

Global warming is on track to cause a major wipeout of insects, compounding already severe losses, according to a new analysis. Insects are vital to most ecosystems and a widespread collapse would cause extremely far-reaching disruption to life on Earth, the scientists warn. Their research shows that, even with all the carbon cuts already pledged by nations so far, climate change would make almost half of insect habitat unsuitable by the end of the century, with pollinators like bees particularly affected. However, if climate change could be limited to a temperature rise of 1.5C – the very ambitious goal included in the global Paris agreement – the losses of insects are far lower.

The new research is the most comprehensive to date, analysing the impact of different levels of climate change on the ranges of 115,000 species. It found plants are also heavily affected but that mammals and birds, which can more easily migrate as climate changes, suffered less. “We showed insects are the most sensitive group,” said Prof Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, who led the new work. “They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.” “The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread,” she said. “People should be concerned – humans depend on ecosystems functioning.” Pollination, fertile soils, clean water and more all depend on healthy ecosystems, Warren said.

In October, scientists warned of “ecological Armageddon” after discovering that the number of flying insects had plunged by three-quarters in the past 25 years in Germany and very likely elsewhere. “We know that many insects are in rapid decline due to factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods,” said Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, and not part of the new analysis. “This new study shows that, in the future, these declines would be hugely accelerated by the impacts of climate change, under realistic climate projections. When we add in all the other adverse factors affecting wildlife, all likely to increase as the human population grows, the future for biodiversity on planet Earth looks bleak.”

Read more …

It’s a start. But why the focus still only on bees?

EU Court Upholds Curbs On Bee-Killing Pesticides (AFP)

A top European Union court on Thursday upheld the ban on three insecticides blamed for killing off bee populations, dismissing cases brought by chemicals giants Bayer and Syngenta. The decision involves a partial ban by the European Union from 2013, but the bloc has since taken more drastic action after a major report by European food safety agency targeted the chemicals. “The General Court confirms the validity of the restrictions introduced at EU level in 2013 against the insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid because of the risks those substances pose to bees,” a statement said.

“Given the existence of new studies … the Commission was fully entitled to find that it was appropriate to review the approval of the substances in question,” it said. Bees help pollinate 90% of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides. The pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack the nervous systems of insect pests. Past studies have found neonicotinoids can cause bees to become disorientated such that they cannot find their way back to the hive, and lower their resistance to disease.

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May 162018
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)
US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)
Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)
Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)
Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)
Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)
Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)
New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)
US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)
Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)
Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)
UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)
Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

 

 

Deflation.

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)

What if the entire world of money is preparing for the wrong disaster — which would be a disaster in and of itself? Since the financial crisis, Wall Street, central-bank heads, economists, and policymakers have been waiting for the return of inflation. At the beginning of this year, they thought they had found it. It came, so they thought, in the form of a weak dollar, wage growth, economic stability in China, and steadily rising interest rates. So here in the US, the Fed started talking about the importance of preparing to fight runaway inflation. In fact, it’s obsessed with the idea. According to Deutsche Bank analyst Torsten Slok, the Fed is talking more about inflation now (in its minutes and in its reports) than it did in 2006 when the economy was actually overheating, right before the crash.

This, even though personal-consumption expenditures haven’t grown by the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since the financial crisis. There’s a lot of noise, from data revisions and Trump tweets, trade-war threats and hopes of growth from tax policy, a wobbling stock market, and rising interest rates. But when it comes down to it, the things that everyone is saying will be sources of inflation may not be sources at all. Meanwhile, the weak dollar, wage growth, and a stable China elixir that got markets high in January have since faded. That should be a warning. If we play our cards wrong and pay attention to all the wrong signs, we may still be in a world tilting dangerously closer to our old enemy, deflation.

[..] As Slok said, aging can’t fully explain why wage growth has been suppressed, but he has other ideas too. “One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed (see chart below). A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households,” he wrote in a note to clients back in March.

The deflationary impacts of economic inequality and an aging population are not going away with the flick of a wrist or the push of a button. They are long-term challenges that require imaginative, difficult policy solutions. It’s hard to see that coming from the Trump administration or an increasingly polarized, uncooperative world. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we waiting for the wrong disaster?

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That’s the end?!

US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)

A sharp sell-off in the bond market is sending mortgage rates to the highest level in seven years. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed will likely end the day as high as 4.875% for the highest creditworthy borrowers and 5% for the average borrower, according to Mortgage News Daily. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, started the year right around 4% but began rising almost immediately. They then leveled off in March and early April, only to begin rising yet again. Tuesday’s move follows positive economic data in retail sales, suggesting that newly imposed tariffs would not hit sales as hard as expected.

Rates have been widely expected to rise, as the Federal Reserve increases its lending rate and pulls back its investments in mortgage-backed bonds. But mortgage rates have reacted only in fits and starts. “The bottom line is that the writing on the wall has been telling rates to go higher since at least last September,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Rates keep looking back to see if the writing has changed, and although there have been opportunities for hope (trade wars, stock selling-sprees, spotty data at times), it hasn’t. Today is just the latest reiteration of that writing.”

Read more …

10% unemployment.

Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%. The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s. The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks. If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%. Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4percentage points. If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

[..] Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as apercentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale). From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense. But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

Read more …

Too late to get a new government?

Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)

In financial markets, memories can be short. Last year, Argentina sold 100-year bonds, joining a select club of countries with the confidence to borrow for such an extended period. Yes, the same Argentina that has defaulted on its debt eight times in the past 200 years, including the largest sovereign default in history in 2001. Not long before investors decided it was a good idea to lend to the South American nation for 100 years, it was largely shut out of international capital markets. In June 2017, Argentina sold $2.75 billion of US dollar-denominated 100-year bonds at an effective yield of 8%. The history of defaults seemed to be forgotten—nearly $10 billion in bids were placed for the bonds.

The sale came at a time when investors were hungry for high-yielding debt, but it also showed confidence in president Mauricio Macri and his program of pro-market reforms. Less than a year later, Macri has asked the IMF for a $30 billion loan to help it combat a currency crisis and limit further damage to the Argentinian economy from a dangerous outbreak of market turmoil. What went wrong?

Read more …

Not sure it’ll be all that slow. Turekey has borrowed in dollars up the wazoo.

Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)

Turkey’s economy is overheating and if the government doesn’t act then the country is in trouble, according to several analysts. “The government has no intention of tackling imbalances or overheating,” Marcus Chevenix, global political research analyst at TS Lombard, said in a research note this week. “It is this unwillingness to act that leads us to believe that we can now say that Turkey is entering a slow burning crisis.” The Turkish lira is at a record low against the dollar, and is ranked among the worst-performing currencies this year. After comments this week by Turkish President Recep Erdogan promising to lower interest rates after the country’s June election, the currency tanked to its lowest point yet against the greenback, hitting 4.4527 on Tuesday mid-afternoon.

The dollar has appreciated by around 18% against the lira so far this year. The reason? Erdogan has been sitting on interest rates, opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its double-digit inflation. Turkey’s growth rate reached an impressive 7.4% for 2017 and leads the G-20, but at the expense of inflation, which has shot up to 10.9%. Market sentiment has driven much of the lira’s sell-off, as investors worry about government intervention in monetary policy and central bank independence. Investors have been hoping for a rate rise by the bank, but that now appears unlikely.

Erdogan plays an unusually heavy-handed role in deciding his country’s monetary policy, and many observers say he keeps the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (TCMB) hands tied. The bank finally raised its rates for the first time in several sessions in late April, moving its late liquidity window rate (which it uses to set policy) up by 75 basis points to 13.5%. The lira temporarily jumped on the news. But Erdogan aims to bring the rate back down, saying it must be done to ease pressure on Turkish households and drive the growth needed to create jobs for Turkey’s youth. “I’m seriously concerned about the Turkish lira,” Piotr Matys at Rabobank told CNBC via email. “Is Turkey the domino the market expects to fall next? It’s got all those problems — high current account deficit, government borrowing in other currencies.”

Read more …

He went to the City for this?!

Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)

“Shock and disbelief” – that’s how global money managers reacted to an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to re-assure foreign investors about his economic management as the lira went into tailspin. Fund managers who met Erdogan and his delegation in London on Monday, part of a three-day visit to Britain, were baffled about how he plans to tame rising inflation and a currency in freefall – while simultaneously seeking lower interest rates. Some said that while Erdogan has crushed his domestic enemies, he would find taking on international financial markets with policies that defy economic orthodoxy much tougher.

A resurgent dollar, rising oil prices and a jump in borrowing costs have caused havoc across emerging markets in recent weeks. However, Turkey has been among the worst affected due to its a gaping current account deficit and growing puzzlement over who exactly holds the reins of monetary policy. Erdogan’s comments that he planned to take greater control of the economy after snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month deepened investors’ worries about the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, helping to send the lira to a record low on Tuesday.

Rampant inflation dogged Turkey for decades before 2000 and has been back in double digits since the start of 2017. But Erdogan has styled himself as an enemy of high interest rates, defying orthodox monetary policy that prescribes tighter credit to keep a lid on prices. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the meetings, investors told Reuters they were flabbergasted by his stance and willingness to go into battle with world markets at such a fragile time.

Read more …

A suggestive and tendentious piece by the Guardian, which seems to prepare us for a justification of Ecuador throwing Julian out. Other articles in today’s paper have titles like “How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy” and “Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy?”

Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)

Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

[..] Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources. [..] Worried that British authorities could use force to enter the embassy and seize Assange, Ecuadorian officials came up with plans to help him escape.

They included smuggling Assange out in a diplomatic vehicle or appointing him as Ecuador’s United Nations representative so he could have diplomatic immunity in order to attend UN meetings, according to documents seen by the Guardian dated August 2012. In addition to giving Assange asylum, Correa’s government was apparently prepared to spend money on improving his image. A lawyer was asked to devise a “media strategy” to mark the “second anniversary of his diplomatic asylum”, in a leaked 2014 email exchange seen by the Guardian.

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Force them to open the books.

New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)

New York’s City Council is plotting a crackdown on Airbnb, the largest home-sharing platform in the world, as the hotel industry and its unionized workers push lawmakers in some of the nation’s biggest cities to blunt the $30 billion company’s growth. New York City’s push resembles a legislative effort underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts of short-term rental platforms register their homes with the city, leading to a decline in listings. The coastal cities are among Airbnb’s largest markets in the United States.

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York’s state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company. The New York push comes amid a well-funded advertising and lobbying campaign by the hotel industry, which has run ads supporting a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that was critical of Airbnb, and is accusing the company of reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities.

Read more …

What’s taking so long?

US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)

Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales. U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.

Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. [..] Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers. Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.

Read more …

And on and on and on…

Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)

The tug of war between the IMF and Berlin over the Greek debt issue is threatening Greece’s successful bailout program exit in August. Germany insists on granting Greece gradual debt relief under the condition that it will be approved every year by the Bundestag. For its part, the IMF disagrees with Berlin’s insistence on reviewing the measures every year and is threatening to leave the Greek program. If the IMF were to leave the program because it thinks that debt relief measures are inadequate to secure the sustainability of Greece’s debt, the country’s access to international market funding will be cast in doubt. This means that, inevitably, the government will have to resort to precautionary credit to shield itself from complications.

The chasm between Berlin and the IMF was clear during Monday’s session of the so-called Washington Group – representatives of Greece’s creditors as well as the governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the biggest eurozone economies. Poul Thomsen, the head of the IMF’s European Department, who attended Monday’s meeting, countered that Berlin’s conditions were not acceptable. Thomsen said Tuesday that the Fund wants to activate the program for Greece but warned that time is running out and asked for final decisions on the matter by the next Eurogroup on May 24.

Read more …

Speed up deportations and appeals, restrict freedom of movement. Lovely

Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)

Greece’s parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey. Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland. Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned.

More than 16,000 people are stuck there. A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights. The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece’s land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy. Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

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Have we lost the ability to frame everything in anything else than monetary terms?

UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear. This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the market, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations. Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”.

The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge”. Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth. The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract. This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns.

Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives. A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter, have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

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Make a fresh bed every day.

Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

Chimpanzees have much cleaner beds – with fewer bodily bacteria – than humans do, scientists have found. A study comparing swabs taken from chimp nests with those from human beds found that people’s sheets and mattresses harboured far more bacteria from their bodies than the animals’ beds did from theirs. The researchers say their findings suggest that our attempts to create clean environments for ourselves may actually make our surroundings “less ideal”. More than a third – 35 per cent – of the bacteria in human beds comes from our own saliva, skin and faecal particles. By contrast, chimps – humans’ closest evolutionary relatives – appear to sleep with few such bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Megan Thoemmes, lead author of the paper. The researchers collected samples from 41 chimpanzee beds – or nests – in Tanzania and tested them for microbial biodiversity. At 15 primates’ nests, researchers also used vacuums to find out whether there were arthropods, such as insects, spiders, mites and ticks. “We also expected to see a significant number of arthropod parasites, but we didn’t,” said Ms Thoemmes. In addition, the team were shocked to find very few fleas, lice and bed bugs – ectoparasites – in the chimp nests.

“There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species,” said Ms Thoemmes, a PhD student at North Carolina State University. She believes chimps’ beds are cleaner because they make them freshly in treetops each day.

Read more …

Mar 312018
 
 March 31, 2018  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giotto Lamentation 1306

 

What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency? (WS)
How Many Trillions In Debt Are Linked To Soaring LIBOR? (ZH)
Bitcoin Is On Track For Its Worst First Quarter Ever (CNBC)
Tesla’s ‘Day Of Reckoning’ Is Near (CNBC)
ECB To Buy More German Bank Bonds To Keep Stimulus Flowing (R.)
UK Must Bring Home ‘Just Over 50’ Of Its Diplomats From Russia (R.)
Jammers Stop Assange From Using Internet (PA)
China’s Social Credit System Punishes Untrustworthy Citizens (ABC.au)
China ‘Environment Census’ Reveals 50% Rise In Pollution Sources (G.)
Overfishing Turns Mediterranean Dolphins Into Thieves (Ind.)

 

 

Again: look at dollar-denominated debt in the world. And then check interest rates. The dollar will be in great demand.

What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency? (WS)

What will finally pull the rug out from under the dollar’s hegemony? The euro? The Chinese yuan? Cryptocurrencies? The Greek drachma? Whatever it will be, and however fervently the death-of-the-dollar folks might wish for it, it’s not happening at the moment, according to the most recent data. The IMF just released its report, Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) for the fourth quarter 2017. It should be said that the IMF is very economical with what it discloses. The COFER data for the individual countries – the total level of their reserve currencies and what currencies they hold – is “strictly confidential.” But we get to look at the global allocation by currency.

In Q4 2017, total global foreign exchange reserves, including all currencies, rose 6.6% year-over-year, or by $709 billion, to $11.42 trillion, right in the range of the past three years (from $10.7 trillion in Q4 2016 to $11.8 trillion in Q3, 2014). For reporting purposes, the IMF converts all currency balances into dollars. Dollar-denominated assets among foreign exchange reserves rose 14% year-over-year in Q4 to $6.28 trillion, and are up 42% from Q4 2014. There is no indication that global central banks have lost interest in the dollar; on the contrary:

Over the decades, there have been some efforts to topple the dollar’s hegemony as a global reserve currency, which it has maintained since World War II. The creation of the euro was the most successful such effort. Back in the day, the euro was supposed to reach “parity” with the dollar on the hegemony scale. And it edged up for a while until the euro debt crisis derailed those dreams. And now there’s the ballyhooed Chinese yuan. Effective October 1, 2016, the IMF added it to its currency basket, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR). This anointed the yuan as a global reserve currency. But not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their foreign exchange reserves are allocated. In Q4, the allocation of 12.3% of the reserves hadn’t been disclosed.

These “unallocated reserves” have been plunging. Back in Q4 2014, they still accounted for 41% of total reserves. They’re plunging because more central banks report to the IMF their allocation of foreign exchange reserves, and the COFER data is getting more detailed. So among the 87.7% of the “allocated” reserve currencies in Q4 2017, the pie was split up this way, with changes since 2014: Disappointingly for many folks, the Chinese yuan – the thin red sliver in the pie chart above — didn’t exactly soar since its inclusion in the SDR basket. Its share ticked up by a minuscule amount to a minuscule share of 1.2% of allocated foreign exchange reserves in Q4. In other words, central banks seem to lack a certain eagerness, if you will, to hold yuan-denominated assets.

Read more …

Nobody has a clue why LIBOR rises, including whoever wrote this. A wild guess: $200 trillion?! It’s that dollar-denominated debt problem again.

How Many Trillions In Debt Are Linked To Soaring LIBOR? (ZH)

[..] we have commented extensively on what may (or may not) be behind the Libor blow out: if as many claim, the move is a benign technicality and a temporary imbalance in money market supply and demand, largely a function of tax reform (including the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax) or alternatively of the $300BN surge in T-Bill supply in the past month, the Libor move should start fading. If it doesn’t, it will be time to get nervous. But no matter what the reason is behind the Libor move, the reality is that financial conditions are far tighter as a result of the sharp move higher in short-term rates in general, and Libor in particular, which for at least a few more years, remains the benchmark rate referenced by trillions in fixed income instruments.

Which brings us to a logical follow up question: ignoring the reasons behind the move, how does a higher Libor rate spread throughout the financial system, and related to that, how much notional debt is at risk of paying far higher interest expense, if only temporarily, resulting in even tighter financial conditions. For the answer, we look at the various ways that Libor, and short-term rates in general “channel” into the economy. Here, as JPMorgan explains, the key driver is and always has been monetary policy, which controls short-term rates, which affect the economy via various channels and pathways.

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45% feels like a lot.

Bitcoin Is On Track For Its Worst First Quarter Ever (CNBC)

Bitcoin is having a terrible first quarter, in fact the worst its ever seen. The price of the cryptocurrency has fallen from $13,412.44 on January 1 to $7,266.07 on March 30, marking a more than 45% decline, according to data from CoinDesk, a site which tracks the price of different digital coins. The quarter ends on Saturday. So far this quarter, $114.9 billion of market capitalization or value has been wiped off of bitcoin. The price decline this quarter is the biggest first quarter decline in bitcoin’s history. The previous biggest decline was a near 38% fall in the price in the first quarter of 2014, according to data from CoinDesk. It tracks the price of bitcoin back to the middle of 2010.

CNBC looked at bitcoin’s price performance in the first quarters of each year beginning in 2011. Bitcoin has recorded a decline in 5 of the 8 first quarters tracked, which includes the current 2018 Q1. The biggest price rise was a 599% surge in the price of bitcoin in the first quarter of 2013. Bitcoin saw a huge run up in price in 2017 and hit a record high above $19,000 towards the end of last year. But it has faced tougher regulatory scrutiny in 2018 and some of the air has come out of the market. At a G-20 meeting this month, Argentina’s central bank governor outlined a summer deadline for members to have “specific recommendations on what to do” and said task forces are working to submit proposals by July. Italy’s central bank leader told reporters after the meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that cryptocurrencies pose risks but should not be banned, according to Reuters.

Read more …

What’s the recall of 123,000 cars going to cost?

Tesla’s ‘Day Of Reckoning’ Is Near (CNBC)

Tesla’s big stock drop this month will have negative implications for its ability to raise critically-needed funds, according to Wall Street analysts. The company’s shares declined 22% in March on concerns over a fatal car crash in California last week and worries over its Model 3 production rate. Tesla’s 5.3% bond, issued last August and maturing in 2025, also fell 4% to 87.25 cents Wednesday with a yield of 7.6%, according to FactSet. The bond’s price declined 8% this month. Morgan Stanley on Wednesday warned Tesla shareholders the stock’s fall could be a “self-fulfilling” prophecy for further declines.

“A lower share price begets a lower share price … For a company widely expected to continue to fund its strategy through external capital raises, a fall in the share price can take on a self-fulfilling nature that further exacerbates the volatility of the share price,” analyst Adam Jonas wrote. Jonas said the company needs to accelerate its rate of Model 3 production if it wants to raise funds at an attractive price for the company. “The precise timing of when Tesla can achieve a 2,500/week and then a 5,000/week production run-rate for its mass market sedan can make the difference between whether Tesla is potentially raising capital from a position of weakness at a price near our $175 bear case or whether it can access capital from a position of strength with a stock price near our $561 bull case,” he wrote.

Another financial firm is already pessimistic over Telsa’s Model 3 manufacturing capability. Moody’s downgraded Tesla’s credit ratings after the close Tuesday and changed the outlook to negative from stable, citing the “significant shortfall” in the Model 3 production rate and its tight financial situation. Tesla had $3.4 billion in cash or cash equivalents at year end 2017. The company lost nearly $2 billion last year and burned about $3.4 billion in cash after capital investments. Given the company’s cash burn rate and how it has $230 million of debt due in Nov. 2018 and another $920 million in Mar. 2019, Moody’s believes the company has to raise new capital soon.

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This is a week old, but we can’t repeat often enough how insane this is. Germany’s economy is supposedly soaring, but Draghi keeps saving its banks. “To boost inflation..” Bigger nonsense was never heard. Those banks are simply not doing well. But even then, let Germany solve the mess.

ECB To Buy More German Bank Bonds To Keep Stimulus Flowing (R.)

The European Central Bank will start buying bonds from a further seven state-owned German banks under its stimulus program, it said on Thursday, in a bid to avoid running out of debt to buy after three years of massive purchases. The seven regional banks, which include the Investitionsbank Berlin and Bavaria’s LFA Förderbank Bayern, join a small group of German development lenders whose debt the ECB has already been buying as part of its efforts to boost inflation. The move slightly enlarges the pool of German debt which the ECB can tap as part of its 2.55 trillion euro ($3.14 trillion) quantitative easing scheme, thereby pushing back a looming cap on owning more than a third of any one country’s public debt.

With euro zone inflation now comfortably above 1%, the ECB is widely expected to wind down its bond purchases this year and even start raising interest rates towards the middle of 2019. With Germany running a fiscal surplus, however, finding enough German bonds to buy has already become harder for the ECB, which has reduced its purchases of debt from Europe’s largest economy more than for other large countries in recent months. The ECB has set out to buy government bonds in proportion to the amount of capital that each country has paid into the central bank, which in turn depends on the size of its economy. Deviations from this so called “capital key”, however, have been substantial, with France, Italy and Spain enjoying oversized purchases while smaller countries such as Estonia and Portugal have fallen behind.

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And the whole time I’m thinking: why do they have so many people out there? What do they do all day long?

UK Must Bring Home ‘Just Over 50’ Of Its Diplomats From Russia (R.)

Russia has told Britain it must send home “just over 50” more of its diplomats in a worsening standoff with the West over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Russia has already retaliated in kind against Britain and ejected 23 British diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. London says Moscow stood behind the attack, something Russia denies. British Ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned again on Friday and told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

On Saturday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters that meant Britain would have to cut “a little over 50” of its diplomats in Russia. “We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians,” said Zakharova. When asked if that meant London would have to bring home exactly 50 diplomats, she said: “A little over 50.”

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It doesn’t feel as if demanding internet access for Julian quite cuts it. He could be in much bigger trouble.

Jammers Stop Assange From Using Internet (PA)

Electronic jammers have been placed inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to prevent WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange having access to the internet or social media, sources say. The Ecuadorian government took the measure on Tuesday evening, stopping Assange from tweeting, using the internet or phone. He has also been refused any visitors to the embassy, where he has been living since June 2012, believing he will be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. The measures follow the publication of an article in the Ecuadorian press concerning Assange’s tweets about the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany earlier this week.

In a phone call to Assange’s lawyer on Tuesday, an adviser to Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said the WikiLeaks founder must stop tweeting about the Catalan issue. He was also asked to erase a tweet which said: “In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia, Lluis Companys, was captured by the Gestapo, at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed. Today, German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, at the request of Spain, to be extradited.” Assange did not erase the tweet. His lawyer was told that a decision had been taken to isolate Assange by preventing him from communicating with the outside world and that this was “by order of the president”, say sources.

The serving Ecuadorian ambassador to Washington DC Francisco Carrion tweeted on Thursday: “The decision of the government of Ecuador to prevent Assange from tweeting is correct.” The Ecuador government said in a statement: “The government of Ecuador has suspended the systems that allow Julian Assange to communicate to the outside of the Ecuador embassy in London. “The measure was adopted due to Assange not complying with a written promise which he made with the government in late 2017, by which he was obliged not to send messages which entailed interference in relation to other states.” WikiLeaks sources said there was no such agreement.

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Who needs Orwell? Or Facebook, for that matter?! Only difference is China does it openly.

China’s Social Credit System Punishes Untrustworthy Citizens (ABC.au)

Chinese authorities claim they have banned more than 7 million people deemed “untrustworthy” from boarding flights, and nearly 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains, according to a report by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission. The announcements offer a glimpse into Beijing’s ambitious attempt to create a Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020 — that is, a proposed national system designed to value and engineer better individual behaviour by establishing the scores of 1.4 billion citizens and “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”.

Liu Hu, a 43-year-old journalist who lives in China’s Chongqing municipality, told the ABC he was “dumbstruck” to find himself caught up in the system and banned by airlines when he tried to book a flight last year. Mr Liu is on a “dishonest personnel” list — a pilot scheme of the SCS — because he lost a defamation lawsuit in 2015 and was asked by the court to pay a fine that is still outstanding according to the court record. “No one ever notified me,” Mr Liu, who claims he paid the fine, said. Like the other 7 million citizens deemed to be “dishonest” and mired in the blacklist, Mr Liu has also been banned from staying in a star-rated hotel, buying a house, taking a holiday, and even sending his nine-year-old daughter to a private school. And just last Monday, Chinese authorities announced they would also seek to freeze the assets of those deemed “dishonest people”.

As the national system is still being fully realised, dozens of pilot social credit systems have already been tested by local governments at provincial and city levels. For example, Suzhou, a city in eastern China, uses a point system where every resident is rated on a scale between 0 and 200 points — every resident starts from the baseline of 100 points. One can earn bonus points for benevolent acts and lose points for disobeying laws, regulations, and social norms. According to a 2016 report by local police, the top-rated Suzhou citizen had 134 points for donating more than one litre of blood and doing more than 500 hours of volunteer work. The city said the next step was to use the credit system to punish people for transgressions such as dodging transport fares, cheating in video games, and restaurant no-shows.

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Tried to make sense of this, several times. Still sounds entirely hollow.

China ‘Environment Census’ Reveals 50% Rise In Pollution Sources (G.)

China’s environment ministry has said the number of sources of pollution in the country has increased by more than half in less than a decade. Releasing preliminary results of an ongoing “environmental census”, China’s ministry of ecology and environment said the number of sources of pollution in the country stands at about 9m, compared to 5.9m in its first census, in 2010. “The objectives and scope of the second census is different from those of the first one,” said Hong Yaxiong, head of the pollution survey at the ministry, Thursday. “But overall, there are more pollution sources.” The census did not say whether pollution had increased but declines in airborne pollution in major cities have been recorded in other studies.

Hong said factories flouting emissions standards were the main problem. The ministry found 7.4m sources of industrial pollution, compared to a million in rural areas and 500,000 in urban locations. Five years ago, China declared a “war against pollution.” Since then, new coal plants have been barred from opening and existing ones have been ordered to cut emissions. Major cities restrict the number of cars allowed on the roads. This past winter, residents in Beijing were left without heat after their coal boilers were removed. As part of the campaign, officials this month expanded the powers of the country’s 10-year-old ministry of environmental protection to include water management, emissions reductions, agricultural pollution, and other duties previously managed by half a dozen other ministries.

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No, it’s not just the birds and the bees. Fish are gone too.

Overfishing Turns Mediterranean Dolphins Into Thieves (Ind.)

Dolphins short on prey are resorting to underhand tactics to find a meal – tearing into nets to access the fish inside. Researchers studying interactions between dolphins and fishermen in northern Cyprus found nets were six times more prone to damage when dolphins were in the vicinity. They concluded that the marauding marine mammals were therefore the most likely culprits. “It seems that some dolphins may be actively seeking nets as a way to get food,” said Dr Robin Snape, an ecologist at the University of Exeter, who led the study. Net damage is irritating for the fishermen themselves, and can cost individuals thousands of euros every year. This is particularly problematic as most operations in the region are small scale.

However, the scientists suggested the fishermen must take some share of the blame, as overfishing in the region is a likely driver for the dolphins’ unusual behaviour. Dr Snape highlighted a “vicious cycle” that is “probably driven by falling fish stocks, which also result in low catches – meaning more nets are needed and higher costs for fishers”. “Effective management of fish stocks is urgently needed to address the overexploitation that is causing this vicious cycle,” he said.

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Jan 232018
 
 January 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


William Claxton John Coltrane at the Guggenheim Museum, New York 1960

 

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)
The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)
Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)
IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)
IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)
Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)
UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)
Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)
Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)
Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)
Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

 

 

Make your own solar panels. What’s wrong with that?

Trump Makes First Big Trade Move With Tariffs Aimed At Asia (BBG)

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, in his first major move to level a global playing field he says is tilted against American companies. The U.S. will impose new duties of as much as 30 percent on foreign-made solar equipment, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Monday. The president also approved tariffs starting as high as 50 percent on imported washing machines. Chinese and South Korean officials condemned the move, analysts said it could backfire, while markets largely shrugged it off. The tariffs were announced as Trump prepares to travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the international business and political elite gather to mull the current state of the global order.

While the measures may sharpen the president’s “America First” policy after months of rhetoric and herald a hotter trade conflict with China, in Asia manufacturers and investors said the reality wasn’t as bad as they had feared. Investors “are used to bluff from Trump, which often turns out to be a non-event,” said Qiu Zhicheng at ICBC International Research in Hong Kong. “As long as the situation doesn’t escalate into a full-scale trade war, the market impact will be limited. We believe the two economies will stay rational, as a trade war would hurt both.” LG Electronics, a maker of domestic appliances, and South Korean solar panel makers fell initially in Seoul trading on the news before recovering. Samsung said the tariff on washing machines is a “great loss” for U.S. workers and consumers.

South Korea’s trade minister said Tuesday that his nation will file a petition with the World Trade Organization against the U.S. for imposing anti-dumping duties on Korean washing machine and solar panel makers. The U.S. decision is “excessive,” Kim Hyun-chong said. China exported more than 21 million washing machines worth just under 19 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) globally from January through November 2017, according to customs data. China is also the world’s largest exporter of solar panels.

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David knows his shutdowns.

The Shutdown Scam: The GOP Is Now The Second “Government Party” (Stockman)

Nowadays, government “shutdowns” are obviously not all that, and we do claim some expertise on the topic. Since 1975 there have been 14 shutdowns and we have had the privilege of being on-hand up close and personnel during 11 of these. Five shutdowns occurred while your editor was a member of the US House (1977-1981) and another six during his stint as director of OMB. The idea back then, needless to say, was that shutdowns came about mainly when anti-spenders refused to capitulate to the incessant demands of the swamp creatures for more appropriations, pork and graft.

[..] What is really happening, of course, is that the Trumpite/GOP is proving in spades that America is now saddled with two pro-government parties. This means a good shutdown is going to waste and that there is no stopping the fiscal doomsday machine that is now racing toward a national calamity, unimpeded. After all, the reason Washington is operating on its 3rd CR of the fiscal year and struggled a whole weekend to get a fourth one lasting a mere 16 days, lies in the utter irresponsibility of the Trump GOP approach to fiscal policy.

These clowns want to spend $120 billion on disaster relief without a single dime of off-setting cuts; raise defense by $80 billion when the Pentagon is already a $620 billion swamp of waste; appropriate $33 billion for an utterly idiotic Wall on the Mexican border when the problem could be solved by cancelling the $32 billion per year “War on Drugs” and putting up guest worker sign-up booths along the border; and authorizing tens of billions on top of that to pay for the backroom “deals” that were made in order to get the votes for a massive tax bill that not a single Senators or House member had read before it was ram-rodded into law by desperate GOP leaders on Christmas Eve.

So this shutdown is indeed different. Unlike the case back in the day, there is no fiscal red line whatsoever at issue; only a prospective eruption of more red ink and an interim game of political chicken about 700,000 Dreamers, who at the end of the day will not be deported and who will eventually get a path to citizenship. That’s because they, and millions of more immigrants to come, comprise the only available “growth” margin for the US work force in the decades ahead; and therefore constitute the next generation of Tax Mules which will be absolutely necessary to support today’s 50 million retirees. That is, as their population inexorably swells toward 100 million during the next four decades.

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Pressure on the FBI is set to increase tenfold.

Blow Back (Jim Kunstler)

On Sunday, the FBI revealed that it had lost five months of text messages between Trump antagonists Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The agency offered a lame explanation that “software upgrades” and “misconfiguration issues” interfered with the app that is supposed to automatically save and archive communications between officials on FBI phones. This was the couple who chattered about an FBI-generated “insurance policy” for the outcome of the 2016 election with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When will these three be invited to testify before a house or senate committee to inform the nation exactly what the “insurance policy” was?

The bad odor at the FBI seeps into several other areas of misbehavior involving Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and members of the permanent Washington bureaucracy. Did the Obama White House use the Christopher Steele dossier, paid for by the Clinton Campaign, to obtain FISA warrants against her opponent in the election for the purpose of conducting electronic surveillance on him? Was the FBI abetting a Democratic Party coup to get rid of Trump by any means necessary once he got into office?

Did the FBI conduct a stupendously half-assed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server by dismissing the charges before interviewing any of the principal characters involved, granting blanket immunities to Obama White House officials, and failing to secure computers that contained evidence? Does the FBI actually know what then Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed with Bill Clinton in the parked airplane on the Phoenix tarmac? Did the FBI fail to investigate enormous contributions (roughly $150 million) to the Clinton Foundation after the Uranium One deal was signed? Did they look into any of the improprieties surrounding the DNC’s effort to nullify Bernie Sander’s primary campaign?

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Growth is God.

IMF Raises Global Growth Forecast, Sees Trump Tax Boost (R.)

The IMF on Monday revised up its forecast for world economic growth in 2018 and 2019, saying sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners. However, the IMF, in an update of its World Economic Outlook, also added that U.S. growth would likely start weakening after 2022 as temporary spending incentives brought about by the tax cuts began to expire.\ The tax cuts would likely widen the U.S. current account deficit, strengthen the U.S. dollar and affect international investment flows, IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said. “Political leaders and policymakers must stay mindful that the current economic momentum reflects a confluence of factors that is unlikely to last for long,” Obstfeld told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said economic gains from the tax cuts would be partially paid back later in the form of lower growth as temporary spending incentives, notably for investment, expired and as rising federal debt took a toll. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde pointed to a “troubling” increase in debt levels across many countries and warned policymakers against complacency, saying now was the time to address structural deficiencies in their economies. Obstfeld said a sudden rise in interest rates could lead to questions about the debt sustainability of some countries and lead to a disruptive correction in “elevated” equity prices.

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IMF wants their cake and eat it. They warn against the failure of their own policy recommendations.

IMF: Next Recession Will Come Sooner And Will Be Harder To Fight (EuA)

The global economy is growing faster than expected, fuelling CEO optimism as they arrive this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. But the IMFhas warned that the next crisis will hit sooner and harder that we thought. “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, issuing a warning by quoting British poet William Blake to describe the state of mind of businessmen and politicians in the world. The global economy continues to beat previous forecasts. The Fund revised upward by 0.2% the growth expected for this year and next. In Europe, the IMF increased further its outlook by 0.3% in 2018 (2.2%) and in 2019 (2%). But “complacency is one of the risks we should go against”, Lagarde told reporters in Davos hours before the official opening of the WEF.

The economy is growing but not because countries have lifted their growth potential via investment in human capital or technology. Instead, reforms have been elusive and growth has benefited just the few that are on top of the pile. “We are not satisfied,” Lagarde insisted, because “too many people have been left out of the acceleration of growth”. Against the backdrop of fragile growth and outstanding challenges, including a high level of debt, the Fund’s chief economist, Maurice Obstfeld, stressed that “the next recession will come sooner and will be harder to fight”. He warned political leaders that the economic momentum is due to factors that are “unlikely to last for long”, including the monetary stimulus and supportive fiscal stance. For that reason, he urged countries to adopt measures aimed at improving the resilience of their societies in the fast-changing digital revolution and to improve the inclusiveness of their societies.

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Another huge surge in debt. Insane. But the only way to keep the zombie from dying.

Rising Interest Payments Matter (NMT)

Is anyone paying attention? I don’t know, but the cost of carrying debt has been rising and it’s already showing measurable impacts despite the Fed Funds rate still being very low. My concern of course is that the global debt construct will bring global growth to a screeching halt (see also The Debt Beneath). As the 10 year is already piercing above the 2.6% area now I want to pay attention to the data coming in as the Fed is dot plotting more rate hikes to come. After all the Fed has hiked 5 times off the bottom floor in the past 2 years:

Can we see any measurable impact? You bet we can. Here are personal interest payments for consumers:

Mind you we are still near the lows of the previous cycle and already total interest payments are near record highs. The driver of course is record consumer debt and credit card debt. But despite rates still being historically low this rise in interest rates has an impact on the consumer. Already we see this: “The big four US retail banks sustained a near 20 per cent jump in losses from credit cards in 2017, raising doubts about the ability of consumers to fuel economic expansion. “People are using their cards to get from pay cheque to pay cheque,” said Charles Peabody, managing director at the Washington-based investment group Compass Point. “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” Recently disclosed results showed Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo took a combined $12.5bn hit from soured card loans last year, about $2bn more than a year ago.”

I repeat: “There’s an underlying deterioration in the ability of the consumer to keep up with their debt service burden.” [..] “Economists with Deutsche Bank expect the extra debt the Treasury must issue to fund President Donald Trump’s tax package and the amount of debt the Federal Reserve plans to redeem at maturity this year will bloat issuance to about $1tn in 2018. That’s up more than 50 per cent from a year earlier and, when coupled with a 30 per cent rise in the amount of corporate debt that’s due to mature, leaves questions of who the eventual buyer will be.“ A good question indeed. That’s a lot of debt issuance:

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2018 will be the year of the Brexit reversal.

UK Business Leaders Push For New Campaign To Reverse Brexit (G.)

Business leaders are privately pushing for a new campaign to reverse Brexit as concerns mount about the viability of government plans to prevent a collapse in exports to Europe. On Monday, the CBI launched its most sustained attack yet on the government’s Brexit strategy by calling for full customs union with the EU and single market participation, even if it means abandoning the pursuit of separate trade deals with the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, senior figures on the CBI policy council are urging the lobby group to toughen its message still further and spell out their belief that this logic should ultimately lead to a national rethink of the decision to leave the EU, perhaps through a second referendum or an election.

While this is not the CBI’s official position, the group says it has decided to speak out about the problems of the government’s approach to Brexit after “thousands of conversations” and workshops with its members over the past two to three months. “It’s not for us to say [whether to reverse Brexit], we are simply pointing out that you need single market access and you need a customs union,” said a spokesman. “If someone concludes that we therefore need to retest this, that’s a political decision, we are just being very practical about it.”

Government ministers reacted furiously to previews of the CBI’s evolving position over the weekend, which now directly challenges the British strategy of leaving the customs union so that new trade deals can be pursued outside a common tariff area. The CBI director general, Carolyn Fairbairn, told an audience at Warwick University on Monday: “There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU; a day when investing in fast-growing economies elsewhere eclipses the value of frictionless trade in Europe. But that day hasn’t yet arrived.”

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The former government, to be exact.

Kim Dotcom Sues New Zealand Government For Billions in Damages (BBC)

Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the US to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Mr Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. He is seeking damages for destruction to his business and loss of reputation. Accountants calculate that the Megaupload group of companies would be worth $10bn (£7.2bn) today, had it not been shut down during the raid. As he was a 68% shareholder in the business, Mr Dotcom has asked for damages going up to $6.8bn. He is also considering taking similar action against the Hong Kong government.

As stated in documents filed with the High Court, Mr Dotcom is also seeking damages for: • all lost business opportunities since 2012 • his legal costs • loss of investments he made to the mansion he was renting • his lost opportunity to purchase the mansion • loss of reputation. “I cannot be expected to accept all the losses to myself and my family as a result of the action of the New Zealand government,” he told the BBC. “This should never have happened and they should have known better. And because they made a malicious mistake, there is now a damages case to be answered.” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Radio New Zealand: “This has obviously been an ongoing matter, so no it doesn’t surprise me.”

Mr Dotcom’s key argument over his extradition is the warrants used for the raid on his mansion and arrest in January 2012 were based on Section 131 of the 1994 Copyright Act of New Zealand. “Under the NZ copyright act, online copyright infringement is not a crime,” said Mr Dotcom. “92B of Section 131 – an amendment created by parliament in 2012 – prohibits any criminal sanction against an internet service provider in New Zealand. “In order for the US to be successful with an extradition, the allegation of the crimes that they are charging someone with also have to be a crime in the country from which they request the extradition.”

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We must find ways to protect Assange et al.

Ecuador’s Correa ‘Afraid for Julian Assange’s Safety’ (TeleSur)

Former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa has warned that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s days are numbered at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Correa, who gave Assange asylum back in 2012, said that he’s “afraid for Julian Assange’s safety” due to the new government´s actions with regards to his case. He said that he believes President Lenin Moreno is likely “take away the support” previously afforded to the anti-secrecy activist. “It will only take pressure from the United States to” withdraw protection for Assange and “surely it’s already being done, and maybe they await the results of the Feb. 4 (referendum) to make a decision,” said Correa, in an article published by AFP.

When asked does he have evidence to support his claim, Correa said it’s clear that Moreno “has no convictions, it’s clear that he has yielded to the usual powerbrokers” and will “soon enough yield regarding the question of Assange.” The 54-year old economist added that the ambassador for the United States was shamelessly interfering in Ecuador’s internal affairs, something “hadn’t occurred during ten years” of his government. Earlier this week Correa officially left the ruling PAIS Alliance, the leftist political movement he founded in 2006 and which he first rose to political prominence. Having referred to Moreno as a “traitor,” someone who has called for an “unconstitutional” referendum that could spell an end to “democracy,” Correa went on to say that “they can rob us of Alianza Pais, but never our will and convictions. Despite the pain, this only strengthens us.”

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In the future, Manus will be compared to Birkenau.

Australia Sends Dozens Of Refugees From Pacific Camps To US (AFP)

Dozens of refugees held for years in Australia’s remote Pacific detention camps departed for resettlement in the United States on Tuesday, asylum-seeker advocates said. The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said 40 men flew out from Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby under a deal struck by Australia with former US president Barack Obama but bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump. “It was a bitter-sweet moment for the refugees — who on the one hand, are happy to be gaining the freedom that Australia denied them more than four years ago; but on the other, they remain extremely concerned for those that are being left behind,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

The refugees, from camps on Manus Island, flew to Manila from where they will fly on to the US in different groups in the coming weeks before being resettled across the country, it said. The group released photos showing the refugees lining up before dawn to get on buses for the airport, then waiting at the gate to board their flight to Manila. Another 18 men were due to leave Port Moresby in the coming weeks, it said. [..] Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Manus and the Pacific island of Nauru under a tough policy designed to choke off the flow of refugees to the country. More than 1,000 still remain in limbo in the remote locations.

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States. But until now only about 50 refugees have been sent to the US, under an agreement President Trump attacked after taking office as a “dumb deal”. The Refugee Action Coalition said a further 130 people on Nauru have been accepted by the US and are expected to depart next month.

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Merkel can’t take that she’s yesterday’s news.

Angela Merkel Has Completely Reversed Her Refugee Policies (Spiegel)

It’s no longer about people, it’s about a number. It’s about the number of refugees who come to Germany, not about the refugees themselves. The most recent number is 223,000: That’s how many asylum applications were submitted last year, a far cry from the 746,000 applications received in 2016. The new number is rather convenient for Angela Merkel in that it is extremely close to the upper limit of 220,000 that has found its way into the German chancellor’s preliminary coalition outline agreed to by Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). This number is the expression of a political policy that has never been clearly verbalized and never been adequately explained. It is the expression of an about-face on refugee policy, away from open borders and toward harsh rejection.

Late in the summer of 2015, Merkel said that if Germany cannot show “a friendly face” in an emergency, “then it is not my county.” She kept the borders open to the incoming refugees, and much of the world was inspired by her humanitarian approach. Now, however, Germany is presenting a much less friendly face to the world. And the German chancellor has no country anymore. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Indeed, her views would seem to have completely changed. In 2016, Merkel engineered a deal with Turkey on behalf of the European Union which essentially shut down the refugee route across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. She also agreed to demands from the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to her own Christian Democrats (CDU), that an annual upper limit be established, though it isn’t allowed to be called an “upper limit.”

In the future, there is also to be a 1,000-per-month upper limit applied to family reunifications for most refugees. That is too low. The CDU and CSU are fond of emphasizing family values, yet they have joined forces to limit family reunification — even though it should be clear to everyone that men have the best chances at integration if they live here together with their families. But none of that matters anymore. The parties only care that the number is low. And SPD leaders are going along without complaint. That, too, is a disappointment.

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Oct 182016
 
 October 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)
US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)
China’s Bad Credit (Balding)
Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)
The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)
Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)
Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)
State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)
RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)
The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)
Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)
We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

 

 

As Gilts sell off… Very reassuring.

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)

First they came for the yield, then they came for the duration. A Goldman Sachs analysis says investors could be mired in a world of pain if yields on long-dated assets snap higher. Just a modest backup in rates could inflict outsized losses on bond portfolios — a sobering prospect in light of the recent jump in longer-dated bond yields that’s already eating into bondholders’ capital returns. A 1% increase in interest rates could inflict a $1.1 trillion loss to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index, analysts at Goldman calculate, representing a larger loss for bondholders than at any other point in history. With the bank predicting the selloff in bonds has further to run, that remains “far from a tail scenario,” its analysts write.

Bets on longer-maturity obligations had paid off handsomely for most of the year amid a global bond rally triggered by expectations that weak economic activity will persuade central banks in advanced economies to postpone tightening monetary policy. Asset purchases by the BOJ, BOE and the ECB helped the average maturity of new U.S. corporate bonds climb to a peak of 11.3 years in August. With average bond maturities worldwide now more than double the inflation-adjusted level of 2009, and three times that of 1994, Goldman says there’s an elevated risk of losses if rates spike higher. “We see potential for the rates market to continue to sell off, and the notional amount of duration dollars at risk is unprecedentedly large,” Goldman fixed-income analysts, led by Marty Young, wrote in the report on Monday.

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“..lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball..”

US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)

Ever since the shock of the financial crisis ebbed and buyers began to return to the housing market, one truth has dominated: mortgage lending is tight. But is it? It’s true that only the borrowers with the highest credit scores get home loans now. So much lending to people with higher credit scores and so little to those on the lower end of the spectrum has shifted the average FICO score up about 40 points since before the bubble burst. But measured in another way, lending is shockingly loose. And, according to one economist, that tells us a lot not just about the housing market, but about the economy as a whole. The 20% down payment may linger in Americans’ imagination, but it’s even less real today than Jimmy Stewart’s small-town banker from 1946.

American homeowners, particularly those at the lower end of the market, are increasingly leveraged to pay for their houses, says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at data provider CoreLogic. In fact, owners of entry-level homes, those in the $150,000 to $300,000 range — have more debt and less equity now than they did in 2005, at the height of mortgage mania. For Khater, that says less about credit markets and more about another defining feature of the post-recession housing market — its lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball,” he told MarketWatch. “What I worry about is the leverage not from a default perspective but from an affordability perspective. Demand for credit has been weak. But the much bigger issue is the supply of housing, not supply of credit.”

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Swaps won’t rescue China’s bad debt. It’s just multiple state-owned firms selling each other the things.

China’s Bad Credit (Balding)

There is good news when it comes to China’s scary and still-growing pile of debt: At least the government recognizes the problem. Its attempts to mitigate those risks, however, seem doomed to fall short. The government’s recent decision to create a market for credit default swaps is a case in point. The idea, as elsewhere, is to give banks and investors a means of pricing and trading the risk of Chinese companies defaulting on their debts. The need is obvious: Official measures of non-performing loans are worsening, while unofficial estimates say their share may have reached anywhere from 8% to 20%. Anything that spreads that risk should improve financial stability. Yet, as envisioned, this new CDS market is unlikely to do much to improve the situation.

For one thing, all but the largest companies already have to purchase credit insurance when taking out loans from giant state banks. There’s no pricing differential on this insurance, of course. But for the new system to function effectively, the government would have to let markets freely set the price of credit risk. China doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of allowing markets to set prices in any field, whether in stocks, real estate or currencies. If credit default swaps started to indicate a rising risk of default at a major state-owned company, it’s hard to imagine officials wouldn’t intervene to reverse that impression. This is dangerous on multiple levels. Already, several Chinese credit insurance firms have collapsed because they underestimated credit risk, forcing government bailouts. Continuing to underprice risk will only encourage the over-allocation of credit that’s gotten China into trouble thus far.

There’s also little reason to think that creating a CDS market would shift risk away from the most vulnerable banks. In a heavily concentrated banking and lending market such as China, where major financial institutions all trade with each other, swaps are likely to produce no net change to risk levels. Think of a simple example. Assume that Bank A has loans totaling 100 billion yuan but wants to protect itself against the risk of default by buying a CDS from Bank B that covers these companies. Now assume that Bank B does the same to cover its 100 billion yuan of loans, with A as the counter-party. If we assume these are similar baskets of loans – a reasonable assumption for major banks within a single country – then there’s been no net change in credit risk for either bank.

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It doesn’t get much more serious than this: “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis..”

Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)

The bond vigilantes are sharpening their knives. The last five trading sessions have seen a sudden and potentially ominous shift in the reflexes of the Gilts market, a sign that ‘hard Brexit’ rhetoric has rattled global debt managers. “For the first time, foreign investors are beginning to question the credit-worthiness of the United Kingdom,“ said Vatsala Datta, UK rates strategist at RBC. We will find out how serious it is on October 31 – Hallowe’en day – when the UK Debt Management Office publishes its monthly data on foreign holdings of Gilts. Central banks, sovereign wealth funds, and the like, currently hold £503bn of British public debt or 27pc of the total, a bigger share than UK pension funds and insurance companies.

Yields on 10-year Gilts have spiked by 62 basis points to 1.14pc from their trough in August. Until last week this was pure a ‘reflation trade’, a turbo-charged variant of what has been happening in the US and other parts of the world as markets price in accelerating global growth and a commodity rebound. Britain got a double-dose because the sharp fall in sterling automatically pushed up the likelihood of future inflation, and that is what bondholders hate most. It is easy to measure the inflation component of moves by tracking how the ‘break-even inflation rate’ rises in tandem with the headline bond yield. “The correlation was exact. It has now broken down,” said Ms Datta. Break-even rates stopped rising last week, yet this time Gilt yields spiked higher, a divergence of 18 basis points.

RBC said the pattern in the interlocking currency and debt markets is clear: sterling is no longer trading like a bona fide reserve currency. “The parallel sell-off in gilts and sterling is potentially a worrying development, consistent with the UK’s having growing difficulty funding its internal and external deficits,” it said. What typically happens when a blue chip currency like the US dollar or the Swiss franc falls is that central banks and fund managers buy more of that country’s bonds to keep a constant weighting. This is a mechanical practice. It happens unless managers take a conscious decision to override their model. It is why foreign holdings of UK Gilts have risen by 20pc over the last year, and why they surged at an even faster rate after the referendum.

This foreign rush into Gilts happened not in spite of the falling pound, but because of it. All of a sudden this has stopped. Loose proxies such as ‘swap spreads’ suggest an outright exodus from Gilts even as the pound weakens. It is symptomatic that the Japanese bank Nomura has issued a string of tough reports about what could happen if the British government opts to leave the EU single market, warning that an erratic UK can no longer count on the “kindness of strangers” to fund its current account deficit. “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis,” it says, menacingly.

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“..if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.”

The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)

It’s fun to imagine a world without cash. Liberated from the burden of physical currency, consumers could make purchases from the convenience of a mobile device. Every transaction would come equipped with fraud protection, reward points and a digital record of its time and location. Comprehensive tracking could help the Internal Revenue Service reclaim billions of tax dollars lost to unreported income, like the $80 I made selling a used refrigerator on Craigslist. Drug dealers, helpless without an anonymous medium of exchange, would acquire wholesome professions. El Chapo might become a claims adjuster. Such is the utopia recently described by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker and by a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, in a new book, “The Curse of Cash.”

But this universe is missing one of the fundamental aspects of human civilization. A world without cash is a world without money. Money belongs to its current holder. It doesn’t matter if a banknote was lost or stolen at some point in the past. Money is current; that’s why it’s called currency! A bank deposit, however, grants custody of money to the bank. An account balance is not actually money, but a claim on money. This is an important distinction. A claim is only as good as its enforceability, and in a cashless society every transaction must pass through a financial gatekeeper. Banks, being private institutions, have the right to refuse transactions at their discretion. We can’t expect every payment to be given due process.

This means that politically unpopular organizations could easily be deprived of economic access. Past attempts to curb money laundering have already inadvertently cut off financial services for legitimate individuals, businesses, and charities. The removal of paper currency would undoubtedly leave similar collateral damage. The crime-fighting case against cash is overstated. Last year, a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing conducted by the U.K. government found that regulated institutions such as banks (like HSBC) and accountancy service providers (like the Panamanian tax-shelter specialist Mossack Fonseca) posed the highest risk of facilitating the illicit storage or movement of funds. Cash came in a close third, but if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.

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Extrapolating trends is a pretty much useless exercise.

Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)

By 2050, Greece’s population is expected to shrink by 800,000 to 2.5 million people to between 8.3 and 10 million, and one in three of its residents will be over the age of 65 (30-33% compared to the present 21% and 7% in 1951), while under-14s will represent just 12-14.8% from 15% today and 28% in 1951. This dystopian view of the country – with empty schools and offices – emerges from a recent study on Greece’s demographic prospects, presented by the Athens-based Dianeosis research organization. The study explored eight different scenarios, all of which calculated a significant drop in the population by 2050. The most optimistic saw a reduction of 800,000 people and the rapid aging of society. The median age is seen reaching 49-52 years from 44 today and 26 in 1951.

By then, the study says, 50-year-olds will be the young ’uns. The number of school-age children (3-17) will drop from 1.6 million today to 1.4 million in the optimistic scenario and 1 million in the pessimistic one and the economically active population will shrink from 4.7 million people today to between 3 and 3.7 million, meaning that a much lower number of people will be able to work to cover the country’s needs. The study by Dianeosis reflects trends that are already being noted: On January 1, 2015, Greece’s population came to 10.8 million from 11.1 million in 2011, marking the first time since 1951 that the number of the country’s residents has gone down.

There are three factors that affect population fluctuations – births, deaths and migration – which can be separated into two categories, the natural process of births and deaths, and the migration factor, which includes both inflows and outflows. Today, births are decreasing and deaths going up due to sliding standards of living and a crumbling public healthcare system. Meanwhile, the outflow of mainly young Greeks and foreigners from the country is on the rise, while, despite the arrival of thousands of migrants, the crisis is preventing their numbers from being made up by fresh inflows.

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It helps when politicians actually know the law.

Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)

A North Dakota judge rejected prosecutors’ “riot” charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for her reporting on the oil pipeline protests, a decision that advocates hailed as a major victory for freedom of the press. After the award-winning broadcast journalist filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters, authorities issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest and alleged that she participated in a “riot”, a serious offense that could result in months in jail. On Monday, judge John Grinsteiner ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.

“I feel vindicated. Most importantly, journalism is vindicated,” Goodman told reporters and supporters on a live Facebook video Monday afternoon. “We have a right to report. It’s also critical that we are on the front lines. Today, the judge sided with … freedom of the press.” The case stems from a 3 September report when Goodman traveled to the Native American-led protest against a controversial $3.8bn oil pipeline that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is threatening its water supply and cultural heritage. Goodman’s dispatch on the use of dogs went viral and has since garnered 14m views on Facebook and also prompted coverage from many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.

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I picked the Reuters take on this. There are many others, some much more negative. The crux: This is getting way out of hand. Trying to interfere with classified material is crazy and desperate. And very illegal.

State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)

A senior State Department official sought to shield Hillary Clinton last year by pressuring the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on the private server she used while secretary of state contained classified information, according to records of interviews with FBI officials released on Monday. The accusation against Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s year-long investigation into Clinton’s sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.

Although the FBI decided against declassifying the email’s contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans’ belief that officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have sought to protect Clinton, a Democrat, from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama in the Nov. 8 election. The FBI recommended against bringing any charges in July and has defended the integrity of its investigation. Clinton has said her decision to use a private server in her home for her work as the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was a mistake and has apologized. One FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Kennedy repeatedly “pressured” the various officials at the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton’s emails.

The email was about the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and included information that originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had final say on whether it would remain classified. The dispute began in the summer of 2015 as officials were busy reviewing the roughly 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the State Department ahead of their court-ordered public release in batches in 2015 and 2016. The official said the State Department’s office of legal counsel called him to question the FBI’s ruling that the information was classified, but the FBI stood by its decision. Soon after that call, one of the official’s FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy “asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo.'”

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From the Times (behind paywall): “The state-owned bank withdrew its planned punitive action after Moscow claimed it would freeze the BBC’s finances in Russia and report Britain to international watchdogs for breaching commitments to freedom of speech.”

RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) appears to have backtracked from its earlier statement that the looming closure of RT accounts is not up for discussion. In a letter to RT, the bank said the situation is being reviewed and the bank is contacting the customer. The e-mailed response began with apologies for the delay in the reply. These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative,” Sarah Hinton-Smith, Head of Corporate & Institutional, Commercial & Private Media at RBS Communications, wrote. However, the response by Hinton-Smith contradicted an earlier statement by RBS, which said that the decision to suspend banking services to RT was final and not up for discussion.

The broadcaster addressed the Royal Bank of Scotland representative over the contradiction, pointing out that “your statement seems to suggest that the bank will contact RT and that there will be a review and further discussion.” “There’s not much more of a steer I can give other than what is in the statement,” Hinton-Smith replied via email. Earlier Monday, the National Westminster Bank (NatWest), which is part of RBS Group, informed RT UK’s office in London that it will no longer have the broadcaster among its customers, without providing any explanation for the decision.

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“..the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.”

The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)

It must be obvious even to nine-year-old casual observers of the scene that the US national election is hacking itself. It doesn’t require hacking assistance from any other entity. The two major parties could not have found worse candidates for president, and the struggle between them has turned into the most sordid public spectacle in US electoral history. Of course, the Russian hacking blame-game story emanates from the security apparatus controlled by a Democratic Party executive establishment desperate to preserve its perks and privileges . (I write as a still-registered-but-disaffected Democrat).

The reams of released emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and other figures in HRC’s employ, depict a record of tactical mendacity, a gleeful eagerness to lie to the public, and a disregard for the world’s opinion that are plenty bad enough on their own. And Trump’s own fantastic gift for blunder could hardly be improved on by a meddling foreign power. The US political system is blowing itself to pieces. I say this with the understanding that political systems are emergent phenomena with the primary goal of maintaining their control on the agencies of power at all costs. That is, it’s natural for a polity to fight for its own survival. But the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.

It wouldn’t take much to shove it off a precipice into a new kind of civil war much more confusing and irresolvable than the one we went through in the 1860s. Events and circumstances are driving the US insane literally. We can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and therefore we can’t form a set of coherent plans for doing anything about it. The main event is that our debt has far exceeded our ability to produce enough new wealth to service the debt, and our attempts to work around it with Federal Reserve accounting fraud only make the problem worse day by day and hour by hour. All of it tends to undermine both national morale and living standards, while it shoves us into the crisis I call the long emergency.

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If anything ever smelled like a flase flag, it was this. Mere days after the world turned on the US and its Saudi friends for bombing a funeral procession, the Houthis supposedly shot at a US destroyer, missed by a mile and a half, and next thing you knew all of a sudden the US was itself involved in the so-called war, which is really just slaughter.

Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)

The Pentagon declined to say on Monday whether the USS Mason destroyer was targeted by multiple inbound missiles fired from Yemen on Saturday, as initially thought, saying a review was under way to determine what happened. Any determination that the USS Mason guided-missile destroyer was targeted on Saturday could have military repercussions, since the United States has threatened to retaliate again should its ships come under fire from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. The United States carried out cruise missile strikes against radar sites in Yemen on Thursday after two confirmed attempts last week to hit the USS Mason with coastal cruise missiles. “We are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects to this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves given the threat – the potential threat – to our people,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.

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Unfortunately, Curtis’ film Hypernormalization is for now still only available in Britain. Far as I know.

We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

Power is all around us. It’s just that it has shifted and mutated into a massive system of management and control, whose tentacles reach into all parts of our lives. But we can’t see it because we still think of power in the old terms – of politicians telling us what to do. The aim of the film I have made – HyperNormalisation – is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7% of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be – in their weight and in their feelings and moods.

What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that – so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes – and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power. What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change.

But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it. But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events – the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees – that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe. The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in.

So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail. It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there…

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