Aug 192018
 
 August 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Ambroise Vollard 1910

 

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Strong Dollar and Disappearing Liquidity (Palisade)
Speculators Will Make Hay From Great Australian Economic Crash (Steve Keen)
Judge Rules FBI Must Address Measures Taken To Verify Steele Dossier (ZH)
White House Counsel “Cooperating Extensively” With Obstruction Probe (ZH)
Erdogan Says US Has Launched ‘Attempted Economic Coup’ (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit May Force Rethink Of Vote – Ex-Civil Service Head (PA)
Putin Urges Europe To Help Rebuild Syria So Refugees Can Return (AFP)
Ecuador Slams Door On Venezuelans (BBC)
The Un-Celebrity President (WaPo)
Britain Has One Last Chance To Save Endangered Species (G.)

 

 

When liquidity vanishes the dollar rises.

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Strong Dollar and Disappearing Liquidity (Palisade)

Since March – the dollar’s rallied over 7%. And it’s caused the Emerging Markets to implode. But the bigger problem is what lies ahead. And that’s a global dollar shortage – which the mainstream continues to ignore. . . I’ve touched on this a couple months back. Wondering when the mainstream would start to realize that the stronger the dollar gets – the more pressure global economies will feel. I wrote. . . “This is going to cause an evaporation of dollar liquidity – making the markets extremely fragile. Putting it simply – the soaring U.S. deficit requires an even greater amount dollars from foreigners to fund the U.S. Treasury. But if the Fed is shrinking their balance sheet, that means the bonds they’re selling to banks are sucking dollars out of the economy (the reverse of Quantitative Easing which was injecting dollars into the economy). This is creating a shortage of U.S. dollars – the world’s reserve currency – therefore affecting every global economy.”

Since then, things have only gotten worse. . . First: Jerome Powell – the Fed Chairman – issued a statement at the end of June that they would actually increase the amount of rate hikes over the next two years. This means they’re tightening even faster. Second: the U.S. Treasury increased their debt-borrowing needs to the highest since the financial crisis – which was over a decade ago. Therefore, they will need even more dollars to fund their spending. “The department expects to issue $329 billion in net marketable debt from July through September, the fourth-largest total for that quarter on record and higher than the $273 billion estimated in April [a 17% increase], the Treasury said in a report Monday. The department’s forecast for the October-December quarter is $440 billion, bringing the second-half borrowing estimate to $769 billion, the highest since $1.1 trillion in July-December 2008…”

And third: China’s growth is slowing down. Meanwhile the Emerging Markets are draining their U.S. dollar reserves even faster because of the strengthening dollar. So, in summary: as global dollar liquidity continues drying up, there will be a wave of ‘risky’ positions being dumped and ‘dollar disease’ (selling assets to raise dollars to pay back debts) worldwide. . . What we know is true from Economics-101 is that the lower the supply and the greater the demand equals a higher price. And as the pool of USD keeps drying up – then the price of the dollars must rise. This translates into higher offshore dollar funding (higher interest rates). Which is killing dollar indebted countries and corporations – like Turkey today.

[..] I think future financial historians will scratch their heads wondering why markets today continued discounting this serious dollar-shortage problem. The easy money years post-2008 fueled a massive debt bubble – causing asset prices all over to rise. But the market isn’t expecting the tight money years today to cause asset prices to fall. It’s like they think that drinking alcohol today will make them feel good – but don’t believe they’ll be hungover tomorrow. So, what’s next? I believe the U.S. dollar will continue rallying because of all that I mentioned above. As Hedge Funds, institutions, and investors continue unloading their Emerging Market positions – things will only get worse.

Read more …

Housing bubble vs stock market bubble. Pick your fave toxin.

Speculators Will Make Hay From Great Australian Economic Crash (Steve Keen)

For years, Australia has been seen as the goose which laid the golden egg for workers, migrants and investors. Ironically, as America’s casino closes, it will eventually end up as a speculator’s paradise.\ The performance of the Australian stock market relative to its American equivalent since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) shows the difference between a country where Quantitative Easing (QE) – the buying of bonds by the central bank to drive bond prices up and interest rates down, and thus encourage firms to invest and financial institutions to buy shares – was practiced and one where it was not. It’s both a warning about what could happen when the Fed starts to unwind QE, and a perverse opportunity to profit when Australia’s central bank, the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) inevitably starts its own QE program.

Since Australia avoided the GFC, and its rate of economic growth has been twice as fast as America’s post-crisis (an average 2.7 percent per year, versus 1.3 percent for the US), you might expect Australia’s stock market to have done better than America’s. In fact, it’s performed much worse: the main Australian index, the ASX, still hasn’t returned to its mid-2000s peak, while the US S&P500 has more than doubled its pre-crash level, and it’s almost four times as high as it was in the deepest depths of 2009. The timing of the US stock market recovery is instructive: it began in February 2009, just three months after the Federal Reserve began “QE1” (the first of three episodes of Quantitative Easing), when it promised to net buy bonds from the financial sector to the tune of $1 trillion per year ($80 billion per month).

With the Fed buying a trillion bucks worth of bonds every year, thus giving the financial sector one trillion in cash per year in place of its interest-earning bonds, the only place the financial sector could stash that dough in search of a return was the stock market. This was the intention of the policy of course: to drive share prices higher in order to stimulate the economy. Aside from the fact it’s made the wealthier even wealthier as a direct effect of government policy, and cost far more than a direct boost to the poor would have done, it’s worked a treat: according to Robert Shiller’s “Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings Ratio,” it’s driven America’s stock market to its second-highest peak in history, higher than the 1929 bubble, second only to the DotCom maximum in 2000, and more than twice its long-term average.

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Can’t hide behind declassified docs.

Judge Rules FBI Must Address Measures Taken To Verify Steele Dossier (ZH)

The FBI has been dealt a major blow after a Washington DC judge ruled that the agency must respond to a FOIA request for documents concerning the bureau’s efforts to verify the controversial Steele Dossier, before it was used as the foundation of a FISA surveillance warrant application and subsequent renewals. US District Court Judge Amit Mehta – who in January sided with the FBI’s decision to ignore the FOIA request, said that President Trump’s release of two House Intelligence Committee documents (the “Nunes” and “Schiff” memos) changed everything.

Considering that the FBI offered Steele $50,000 to verify the Dossier’s claims yet never paid him, BuzzFeed has unsuccessfully tried to do the same to defend themselves in a dossier-related lawsuit, and a $50 million Soros-funded investigation to continue the hunt have turned up nothing that we know of – whatever documents the FBI may be forced to cough up regarding their attempts to verify the Dossier could prove highly embarrassing for the agency. “[I]f Mr. Steele could get solid corroboration of his reports, the F.B.I. would pay him $50,000 for his efforts, according to two people familiar with the offer. Ultimately, he was not paid.” -NYT

What’s more, forcing the FBI to prove they had an empty hand will likely embolden calls to disband the special counsel investigation – as the agency’s mercenary and politicized approach to “investigations” will be laid all the more bare for the world to see. Then again, who knows – maybe the FBI verified everything in the dossier and it simply hasn’t leaked. That said, while the FBI will likely be forced to acknowledge the documents thanks to the Thursday ruling, the agency will still be able to try and convince the judge that there are other grounds to withhold the records.

In January, Mehta blessed the FBI’s decision not to disclose the existence of any records containing the agency’s efforts to verify the dossier – ruling that Trump’s tweets about the dossier didn’t require the FBI and other intelligence agencies to act on records requests. “But then the ground shifted,” writes Mehta of Trump declassifying the House memos. “As a result of the Nunes and Schiff Memos, there is now in the public domain meaningful information about how the FBI acquired the Dossier and how the agency used it to investigate Russian meddling.” [..] “It remains no longer logical nor plausible for the FBI to maintain that it cannot confirm nor deny the existence of documents,” Mehta wrote.

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Doesn’t feel like McGahn has tons of dirt.

White House Counsel “Cooperating Extensively” With Obstruction Probe (ZH)

Update: Trump has commented on the story, saying he allowed McGahn “and all other requested members of the White House Staff” to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. He also notes that the White House has given over one million pages of documents adding “No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”

White House counsel Donald McGahn II, has been quietly cooperating “extensively” with special counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to an explosive New York Times report published Saturday afternoon. Sources told the Times that McGahn has had at least three voluntary interviews with Mueller’s team totaling 30 hours, in which he discussed accounts of multiple episodes at the center of Mueller’s probe into whether President Trump obstructed justice, as well as the president’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged McGahn to respond to it. For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual.

Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege. Among the episodes McGahn reprotedly discussed with investigators is Trump’s firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey and the president’s repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of the special counsel despite his recusal from Russia probes. McGahn was also centrally involved in Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, himself which investigators might not have discovered without him.

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Downgrades add to the downfall.

Erdogan Says US Has Launched ‘Attempted Economic Coup’ (Ind.)

Turkey’s president has accused America of launching an “attempted economic coup” as the country’s currency continues to reel following US economic sanctions. Recep Tayyip Erdogan told thousands of supporters in Ankara: “Today some people are trying to threaten us through the economy, through interest rates, foreign exchange, investment and inflation. “We are telling them: we’ve seen your games, and we are challenging you.” And, in a clear swipe at US president Donald Trump he added: “We did not and will not surrender to those who act like a strategic partner but make us a strategic target.”

[..] As the two countries have clashed, the lira’s value has plummeted: it has now dropped 38 per cent against the dollar since the beginning of the year. On Friday, ratings agencies Standard & Poor and Moody’s downgraded Turkey’s credit rating closer to “junk” status, pointing to currency fluctuations and concerns over central bank independence. A spokesman for Standard & Poor said: “The downgrade reflects our expectation that the extreme volatility of the Turkish lira and the resulting projected sharp balance of payments adjustment will undermine Turkey’s economy. We forecast a recession next year.” He added the agency was predicting that the country’s inflation will hit a potential 22 per cent over the next four months.

Read more …

When temperatures start dropping, reality will loom.

No-Deal Brexit May Force Rethink Of Vote – Ex-Civil Service Head (PA)

Britain may have to rethink the decision to leave the EU if the government is unable to strike a Brexit deal with Brussels, a former head of the civil service has said. Bob Kerslake said the consequences of a no-deal exit would be so serious that the UK parliament would have to consider whether it could allow it to go ahead. Lord Kerslake, who has been advising Labour on preparing for government, said that at the very least the article 50 process – under which the UK is set to leave the bloc on 29 March next year – would have to be paused. In those circumstances, the European commission would almost certainly insist on some “re-examination” of the original decision to leave, he said.

His comments came as the government prepares to publish a series of technical notes on preparations for a no-deal Brexit across dozens of areas of British life, from farming to financial services. Kerslake said the measures were “too little, too late” and that the government had not allowed itself enough time to prepare for such an outcome. He told the the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The consequences of a no deal would be so serious as I think parliament would have to seriously consider whether it could contemplate this. “The question people need to ask themselves is, is this a risk that they think we should be taking?

“If the government can negotiate a good deal, then so be it. But if they can’t and we end up in this position, then we have to reopen the question of whether we go forward with Brexit at all. It is not too late to do that. “A pause to reflect would certainly be necessary. I think that is a pretty high probability now. “But I think that pause would need to include – and I suspect this would be insisted on by the commission – some re-examination of the decision itself.”

Read more …

The only thing that makes sense.

Putin Urges Europe To Help Rebuild Syria So Refugees Can Return (AFP)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called on Europe to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria to allow millions of refugees to return home. “We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort in the Syrian conflict,” he said on Saturday, ahead of a meeting with his German counterpart Angela Merkel at the government retreat of Meseberg Palace, north of Berlin. “By that, I mean above all humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to.” There were 1 million refugees in Jordan, the same number in Lebanon, and 3 million in Turkey, Putin said.

Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 – the height of the migration crisis – which has weakened Angela Merkel politically and split the European Union. “This is potentially a huge burden for Europe,” Putin said. “That’s why we have to do everything to get these people back home,” he added, emphasising the need to restore basic services such as water supplies and healthcare.

Read more …

More refugees. Great.

Ecuador Slams Door On Venezuelans (BBC)

Ecuador has brought in new rules to stop Venezuelan migrants entering the country without a passport, leaving many stranded in neighbouring Colombia. Thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic and political crisis have been crossing into Ecuador from Colombia using only identity cards. Most are heading south to join family members in Peru and Chile. Colombia has protested against the move, saying vulnerable people will be trapped on its side of the border. In a separate incident, residents of a Brazilian town attacked a Venezuelan migrant camp on Saturday and drove the occupants back across the border. Venezuela has suffered for years from high inflation and the chronic shortage of food and medicines.

More than a million Venezuelan migrants have entered Colombia in the past 15 months, according to official estimates, and more than 4,000 have been arriving at Ecuador’s border every day. Many have been walking or hitching rides for weeks and are exhausted by the time they reach the frontier. [..] With the flow of Venezuelan migrants causing tensions across the region, Peru’s government announced immigration measures similar to Ecuador’s on Friday. Passport requirements for Venezuelans will begin on 25 August. In February, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a tightening of border controls, resulting in thousands of Venezuelans rushing to crossing points. Brazil, which neighbours Venezuela, has also expressed concerns and temporarily closed the border earlier this month. Violence has flared in the border state of Roraima where thousands of Venezuelans live in precarious accommodation.

Read more …

“Carter has been an ex-president for 37 years, longer than anyone else in history.”He used those years to redeem himself.

The Un-Celebrity President (WaPo)

Jimmy Carter finishes his Saturday night dinner, salmon and broccoli casserole on a paper plate, flashes his famous toothy grin and calls playfully to his wife of 72 years, Rosalynn: “C’mon, kid.” She laughs and takes his hand, and they walk carefully through a neighbor’s kitchen filled with 1976 campaign buttons, photos of world leaders and a couple of unopened cans of Billy Beer, then out the back door, where three Secret Service agents wait. They do this just about every weekend in this tiny town where they were born — he almost 94 years ago, she almost 91. Dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, with plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of bargain-brand chardonnay, then the half-mile walk home to the ranch house they built in 1961.

On this south Georgia summer evening, still close to 90 degrees, they dab their faces with a little plastic bottle of No Natz to repel the swirling clouds of tiny bugs. Then they catch each other’s hands again and start walking, the former president in jeans and clunky black shoes, the former first lady using a walking stick for the first time. The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth. Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents.

When Carter left the White House after one tumultuous term, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, he returned to Plains, a speck of peanut and cotton farmland that to this day has a nearly 40 percent poverty rate. The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.” Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter’s predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that “Carter did the opposite.” Since Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. “I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”

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One field where EU regulation is very harmful.

Britain Has One Last Chance To Save Endangered Species (G.)

Ministers may have only 12 months to rescue Britain’s degraded environment and to save its endangered birds and animals. That is the stark conclusion of Michael Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, who has warned that parliamentary bills – to be published over the next year – will have to make crucial changes to the way our farms and fisheries are run if the wildlife and landscape of the nation are to be rescued from their dangerously depleted condition. “We are on a cusp, and if we fail to act decisively we will pay the price in coming years,” Clarke told the Observer last week. The three forthcoming bills – on agriculture, on fisheries and on the environment – will replace the EU legislation that currently controls our farming, fishing industry and the quality of our air, water and wildlife.

The government has yet to announce what these bills will contain. However, conservationists such as Clarke now fear there is a real risk that one or all of these new pieces of legislation will fail to provide the necessary powers to restore our crisis-hit environment. “Since 1980, across Europe 420 million individual birds have disappeared from the countryside thanks to the practices of modern agriculture,” said Clarke. And that staggering drop is matched by an even more catastrophic decline in insect life over the same period of time, he added. “For years, we could see the lack of insects on our windscreens on summer evenings. It was a smoking gun but there was no hard data – until recent research in Germany showed there had been a 75% decline in its flying insects, figures since matched by Dutch and some UK data. The insects have gone – and so have 420 million birds.”

[..] As to the causes of these declines, the intensification and spread of agriculture and changes in land use take most of the blame – with the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) being considered a particularly destructive agent in this process. The CAP stresses the importance of agricultural output above all else and has helped destroy the homes and food sources of countless birds, animals and insects, said Clarke. Crucially, as Britain prepares to withdraw from the CAP and the EU, the nation has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put right this damage, said Clarke. About £3bn a year is spent on British farming through CAP, he pointed out.

Read more …

Aug 092018
 


René Magritte The evening gown 1954

 

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

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

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

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

What we do know is that it was a very peculiar order at a very peculiar moment in time, because the intelligence community could have gotten something tangible and valuable out of the negotiations. Solomon: “..officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 12:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jacques-Louis David Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus’ Disease 1774

 

One thing that’s not receiving enough attention in the respective Assange and Russia coverage is to what extent both protagonists are needed in each other’s narratives to keep each of these alive. Without explicitly linking Assange to Russia, allegations against him lose a lot, if not most, of their credibility. Likewise, if Assange is not put straight in the middle of the Russia story, it too loses much. Linking them is the gift that keeps on giving for the US intelligence community and the Democratic party.

In that light, as the shameful/shameless treatment of Julian Assange continues and is on the verge of even worse developments, I was wondering about some dates and timelines in the whole sordid affair. And about how crucial it is for those wanting to ‘capture’ him, to tie him to Russia in any form and shape they can come up with and make halfway credible.

10 days ago in The True Meaning of ‘Collusion’ I mentioned how Robert Mueller in his indictment of 12 Russians -but not Assange-, released on the eve of the Trump-Putin summit, strongly insinuated that WikiLeaks had actively sought information from Russians posing as Guccifer 2.0, that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. I also said that Assange was an easy target because, being closed off from all communication, he cannot defend himself. From the indictment:

 

a. On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

 

Now, the indictment itself has been blown to shreds by Adam Carter, while the narrative that the Russians hacked DNC servers and provided what they stole to WikiLeaks, has always categorically been denied by Assange, while the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and others have concluded that the speed at which the info was downloaded from the servers means it couldn’t have been a hack.

Oh, and Carter left little standing of Mueller et al’s portrait of Guccifer 2.0 as being of Russian origin. Plus, as several voices have pointed out, Assange had said on British TV on June 12 2016, ten days before the date the indictment indicates, that WikiLeaks was sitting on a batch of material pertaining to Hillary Clinton. An indictment full of allegations, not evidence, that in the end reads like Swiss cheese.

But it does serve to keep alive, and blow new fire into, the “The Russians Did It” narrative. And obviously, it also rekindles the allegation that Assange was working with the Russians to make Trump win and Hillary lose. Allegations, not evidence, against which neither Assange nor “the Russians” are in a position to defend themselves. Very convenient.

 

In his June 25 article How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal, The Hill’s John Solomon details how negotiations in early 2017 between legal representatives for Julian Assange and the US Justice Department were suddenly halted when James Comey, then FBI director, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) suddenly and entirely unexpectedly told Adam Waldman, Assange’s attorney, and David Laufman, then head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section, who had been picked to lead the talks, to stand down.

This happened when Waldman reached out to Warner, who informed Comey, among other things, about Assange’s offer to provide evidence that he did not get the DNC files from the Russians. That would have dealt a huge blow to the Russia-Did-It allegation, and it would also have destroyed the narrative of Assange working with Russia. And lest we forget: it would have made Mueller’s indictment worth less than the paper it’s written on.

That Comey’s order for Waldman and Laufman to stand down risked the lives and safety of CIA operatives receives surprisingly(?) little attention, but apparently it was worth it for Comey to keep the narrative(s) alive. What do the operatives themselves think about it, though?

It’s not fully clear from Solomon’s article when exactly the stand down order was given, and/or when the talks broke down entirely. Going through the dates, we know it’s sometime between March 28 2017, when we know talks were still ongoing, and April 7 2017, when Assange “released documents with the specifics of some of the CIA malware used for cyber attacks.” After that, then CIA director Mike Pompeo labeld WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service.”

Why is the date interesting? For one thing because present Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno was elected to his job on April 2 2017 (he took office on May 24). And it’s Moreno who now holds Assange’s fate in his hands. It was Moreno, also, who cut off Assange completely from the outside world last March.

Moreno’s about-face since becoming president is something to behold. He had been vice-president, trustee and friend to his predecessor Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2013. Moreno, who’s wheelchair bound after being shot in a burglary in 1998, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts for the disabled in Ecuador.

What made him turn? Or should we perhaps ask: when did the Americans get to him? And what do they have on him? Is it bribe or blackmail? There’s talk of new and generous IMF loans as we speak. What’s clear is that Moreno is in London this week, and it’s unlikely that Assange’s situation doesn’t come up in talks at all, even if that’s what Moreno’s people want to make us believe. It’s way more likely that discussions are happening about how to put Assange out on to the street and then in a British or even US jail.

 

But Assange’s case may not be as hopeless as we think. First, all the British have on him is a charge of jumping bail. That carries three months and a fine. It’s not labeled a serious charge, that goes for offences that carry three years and more. New UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt misspoke seriously when he said Assange faced serious charges. He doesn’t. And Britain still has a court system, and Assange still has lawyers.

More important, perhaps, is that Moreno will come under a lot of pressure, and probably already is, to not hand over Assange. The UN has been very clear about what it thinks about Assange’s treatment. It violates more international laws than we can count. But who cares about the UN anymore these days, right?

Even more outspoken has been the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I know, I had never heard of them either. But they’re a serious body, most South American nations are members, and many Caribbean ones. Here’s what the court said on July 13:

 

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on Friday the right to seek asylum in embassies and other diplomatic compounds. The ruling includes a mandatory safe process, and the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum. Without naming Julian Assange, the ruling was deemed a huge victory for the WikiLeaks founder who has been held up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.

The court released a public statement, which said that it had “interpreted the reach of the protection given under Article 22 (7) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XXVII of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which recognize the right to seek and receive asylum in a foreign territory.”

“In particular, the Court declared upon the relative issue of whether this human right protects both territorial asylum and diplomatic asylum. Similarly, the Court determined the human rights obligations of the Member States of the Organization of American States regarding the host country and, in this case, for third States, in virtue of the risk that persons seeking international protection could suffer, which was the reason for the principle of non-refoulement.

 

This court is not some hobby club. Wiki: “The Organization of American States established the Court in 1979 to enforce and interpret the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. Its two main functions are thus adjudicatory and advisory. Under the former, it hears and rules on the specific cases of human rights violations referred to it. Under the latter, it issues opinions on matters of legal interpretation brought to its attention by other OAS bodies or member states.”

The court is also very clear in its ruling. Note: “the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum”. Moreno may want to think twice before he surrenders Assange and goes against the ruling. The consequences could be far-reaching. Nobody wants to start a fight with ALL of their neighbors all at the same time. Violating the ruling would make the court obsolete.

The ideal solution would be if Australia would offer Julian Assange safe passage back home. Another country could do the same. Assange has never been charged with anything, other than the UK’s bail-skipping charge, a minor offence.

Julian Assange is a journalist, and a damn good one at that. The silence in the Anglo -and international- media about his case is shameful and deafening. So is the smear campaign that’s been going on for over a decade. How many women have been turned against the man by the false Swedish rape charges? Condemning someone to isolation without access to daylight or medical care goes way beyond shameful.

It’s time to end this horror show, not prolong or deepen it. But the power of international intelligence services is at stake, and they’re going to go to great lengths to impose that power. The US has already even claimed that freedom of speech, i.e. its entire Constitution, does not apply to non-Americans.

That’s quite the claim when you think about it. That also tells us how much is at stake for ourselves. The mainstream media are already captives to the system, lock, stock and barrel. But if Assange can be silenced this way, what are Jim Kunstler, the Automatic Earth and Zero Hedge going to do? Are we all going to shut up?

 

We need to rage against the dying of the light more than ever. Because the light, indeed, is dying. We should not go gentle into that night without ever being heard from again. We owe that to ourselves, our children, and to Julian. It’s all the same thing. Not standing up for Assange means not standing up for your children. Are you sure you’re okay with that?

 

 

Jul 222018
 
 July 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin The Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel) 1888

 

Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange (Greenwald)
In Historic First, DOJ Releases Carter Page FISA Application (ZH)
Breannan And The 2016 Spy Scandal (Strassel)
UK To Refuse To Pay Brexit Bill Without Trade Deal (AFP)
Warning On Australia’s Looming Interest-Only Crisis (SMH)
German Industry Groups Warn US On Tariffs Ahead Of EU-US Meeting (R.)
NATO: Doomed To Destruction By Its Own Growth (SCF)
Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Evacuated By Israel to Jordan (R.)
Our Vanishingly Pleasant Land (McCarthy)

 

 

This is physically sickening. Checked front web pages of BBC, Guardian and Independent today: not a word. Hence: another gag order. Yes, there are journalists who don’t like Assange, but it’s not about liking him. It’s about your own freedom to speak. Guess that’s already gone then. I feel sick to my stomach.

Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange (Greenwald)

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disabilities Summit (Moreno has been using a wheelchair since being shot in a 1998 robbery attempt). The concealed, actual purpose of the President’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012, eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities. Moreno’s itinerary also notably includes a trip to Madrid, where he will meet with Spanish officials still seething over Assange’s denunciation of human rights abuses perpetrated by Spain’s central government against protesters marching for Catalonia independence.

Almost three months ago, Ecuador blocked Assange from accessing the internet, and Assange has not been able to communicate with the outside world ever since. The primary factor in Ecuador’s decision to silence him was Spanish anger over Assange’s tweets about Catalonia. A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement.

The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.

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The only thing left on the menu is nothingburgers.

In Historic First, DOJ Releases Carter Page FISA Application (ZH)

The Department of Justice late Friday released via the FBI’s FOIA Vault a redacted copy of the Carter Page FISA warrant application and several renewals, which accuse Page of being a Russian spy, as summarized by the New York Times – which obtained a copy of the materials through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Of note, in the nearly two years since the application was filed, Page hasn’t been charged with any of the allegations contained within it. The previously top-secret document is the first such release by the DOJ in the 40 years since the surveillance law was enacted. In April, the DOJ said they were “processing for potential redaction and release certain [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] materials related to Carter Page,” after watchdog group Judicial Watch and several other organizations filed similar lawsuits.

The application reads in part: “Identity of the target The target of this application is Carter W. Page, a U.S. person, and an agent of a foreign power, described in detail below.” “The F.B.I. believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government,” the warrant application continues. A line was then redacted, and then it picked up with “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law. Mr. Page is a former foreign policy adviser to a candidate for U.S. president.” -NYT. The document then concludes that Page was allegedly “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” which they viewed as probably cause to spy on him – and again, which Page has never been charged with.

Page – who has repeatedly denied being a Russian spy, said in April that the FISA application was “beyond words,” and a “Joke,” while claiming that he has never served as an agent for a foreign government. We would also note that he hasn’t been charged as one. Page was targeted months earlier by FBI informant Stefan Halper, who formed a relationship with Page and several other Trump aides as part of the Obama administration’s active counterintelligence operation on the Trump campaign. While President Trump has characterized the entire counterintelligence operation as a “witch hunt,” an increasing chorus of frustrated GOP lawmakers have begun to echo his sentiment, as we are now in month 18 of post-inaugural investigation by the Department of Justice.

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When intelligence becomes partisan political, that’s a big problem.

Breannan And The 2016 Spy Scandal (Strassel)

Mr. Comey stands accused of flouting the rules, breaking the chain of command, abusing investigatory powers. Yet it seems far likelier that the FBI’s Trump investigation was a function of arrogance and overconfidence than some partisan plot. No such case can be made for Mr. Brennan. Before his nomination as CIA director, he served as a close Obama adviser. And the record shows he went on to use his position—as head of the most powerful spy agency in the world—to assist Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and keep his job).

Mr. Brennan has taken credit for launching the Trump investigation. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in May 2017, he explained that he became “aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons.” The CIA can’t investigate U.S. citizens, but he made sure that “every information and bit of intelligence” was “shared with the bureau,” meaning the FBI. This information, he said, “served as the basis for the FBI investigation.” My sources suggest Mr. Brennan was overstating his initial role, but either way, by his own testimony, he was an Obama-Clinton partisan was pushing information to the FBI and pressuring it to act.

More notable, Mr. Brennan then took the lead on shaping the narrative that Russia was interfering in the election specifically to help Mr. Trump – which quickly evolved into the Trump-collusion narrative. Team Clinton was eager to make the claim, especially in light of the Democratic National Committee server hack. Numerous reports show Mr. Brennan aggressively pushing the same line internally. Their problem was that as of July 2016 even then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn’t buy it. He publicly refused to say who was responsible for the hack, or ascribe motivation. Mr. Brennan also couldn’t get the FBI to sign on to the view; the bureau continued to believe Russian cyberattacks were aimed at disrupting the U.S. political system generally, not aiding Mr. Trump.

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The UK already agreed to pay it.

UK To Refuse To Pay Brexit Bill Without Trade Deal (AFP)

Britain will only pay its EU divorce bill if the bloc agrees the framework for a future trade deal, the new Brexit Secretary warned in an interview published Sunday. Dominic Raab, who replaced David Davis after he quit the role earlier this month in protest over the government’s Brexit strategy, said “some conditionality between the two” was needed. He added that the Article 50 mechanism used to trigger Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union provided for new deal details. “Article 50 requires, as we negotiate the withdrawal agreement, that there’s a future framework for our new relationship going forward, so the two are linked,” Raab told the Sunday Telegraph.

“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side. “So I think we do need to make sure that there’s some conditionality between the two.” The British government has sent mixed signals so far on the divorce bill. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in December to a financial settlement totalling £35 to £39 billion ($46-51 billion, 39-44 billion euros) that ministers said depended on agreeing future trade ties. But cabinet members have since cast doubt on the position. Finance minister Philip Hammond said shortly afterwards he found it “inconceivable” Britain would not pay its bill, which he described as “not a credible scenario”.

The country is set to leave the bloc on March 30, but the two sides want to strike a divorce agreement by late October in order to give parliament enough time to endorse a deal. Raab met the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier for the first time on Friday, where he heard doubts over May’s new Brexit blueprint for the future relationship. But Barnier noted the priority in talks should be on finalising the initial divorce deal. A hardline stance by the British government on the financial settlement could complicate progress, with Raab insisting on the link with the bill and a future agreement. “Certainly it needs to go into the arrangements we have at international level with our EU partners,” he told the Telegraph. “We need to make it clear that the two are linked.”

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Australia’s bad, but not the only country with an interest-only problem.

Warning On Australia’s Looming Interest-Only Crisis (SMH)

Australia’s version of the sub-prime crisis that ushered in the global financial crisis could be looming, with a significant number of the 1.5 million households with interest-only loans likely to struggle with higher repayments, experts warn. Martin North, the principal at consultancy Digital Finance Analytics, said interest-only loans account for about $700 billion of the $1.7 trillion in Australian mortgage lending and it was “our version of the GFC”. “My view is we’re in somewhat similar territory to where the US was in 2006 before the GFC,” Mr North said.

Craig Morgan, managing director of Independent Mortgage Planners, said one in five people who took a loan two or three years ago would not qualify for the same loan now, because of the crackdown on lending by the regulator and ongoing fallout from the Royal Commission into financial services. “In the last six months lenders have had this lightbulb moment of what ‘responsible lending’ means,” Mr Morgan said. One of the triggers for the GFC was rising defaults from over-leveraged borrowers who were unable to refinance when their honeymoon rates ended. However, the sub-prime lending in the United States before the GFC included large mortgages being given to people without jobs or on minimum wage.

“This is absolutely not ‘sub-prime’ in the US definition but there were people [in Australia] who were being encouraged to get very big loans on the fact that principal & interest was impossible to service but they could service interest-only,” Mr North said. “We also know that some interest-only loans were not investors but they are actually first-home buyers encouraged to go in at the top of the market.” The Reserve Bank has previously warned $500 billion in interest-only loans are set to expire in the next four years, causing a significant jump in repayments of 30-40 per cent when borrowers are forced to start paying back the principal.

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The car industry may be too complex for simple tariffs.

German Industry Groups Warn US On Tariffs Ahead Of EU-US Meeting (R.)

German industry groups warned on Sunday, ahead of a meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, that tariffs the United States has recently imposed or threatened risk harming the U.S. itself. The U.S. imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum on June 1 and Trump is threatening to extend them to EU cars and car parts. Juncker will discuss trade with Trump at a meeting on Wednesday. Dieter Kempf, head of Germany’s BDI industry association, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper it was wise for the European Union and United States to continue their discussions.

“The tariffs under the guise of national security should be abolished,” Kempf said, adding that Juncker needed to make clear to Trump that the United States would harm itself with tariffs on cars and car parts. He added that the German auto industry employed more than 118,000 people in the United States and 60 percent of what they produced was exported to other countries from the U.S. “Europe should not let itself be blackmailed and should put in a confident appearance in the United States,” he added. EU officials have sought to lower expectations about what Juncker can achieve, and downplayed suggestions that he will arrive in Washington with a novel plan to restore good relations.

Eric Schweitzer, president of the DIHK Chambers of Commerce, told Welt am Sonntag he welcomed Juncker’s attempt to persuade the U.S. government not to impose tariffs on cars. “All arguments in favor of such tariffs are … ultimately far-fetched,” he said.

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Pentagon just delivered $200 million in deadly weapons to Ukraine. Madness.

NATO: Doomed To Destruction By Its Own Growth (SCF)

In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby in the United States created a superhero with a novel twist. He was called Giant-Man, and the bigger he got, the weaker he became. Today that character is a prophetic parable about the future of the post- Cold War “super-NATO” that has expanded to include 29 nations compromising more than 880 million people. First it absorbed all the former Warsaw Pact member states in Central Europe. Then it absorbed the three tiny and virulently anti-Russian Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia. Now NATO is looking to embrace former Soviet Georgia and Ukraine.

As if all this was not enough, some genius at NATO Supreme Headquarters in Brussels came up with the idea of calling the alliance’s June 2016 military exercises in Eastern Europe ANACONDA. An anaconda is a gigantic carnivorous snake in the Amazon rain forest that first encircles its victims, crushes them to death and then devours them. What message was Russia meant to take from such tasteless nomenclature? However, it will not happen. Far from burying Russia, the US-led NATO alliance has been burying itself instead through its reckless, unending and remorseless growth. The curse of Giant Man is upon it. When the comic book hero Giant Man grew to 50 or 60 feet tall, he collapsed under his own weight. Such a fate is already happening to NATO.

The fundamental problem of the NATO alliance is that it is simultaneously too big and too diverse. The bigger it gets, the weaker it gets. This is because, with every state that joins the Alliance, the only militarily significant power within it, the United States, takes on an additional commitment to defend it. What does the United States get in return for its reckless bestowal of such earth shaking commitments? It gets nothing at all. When a tiny nation like Lithuania or Estonia boasts about meeting the 2 percent of GDP defense spending requirement of NATO this is ludicrous. The armed forces and GDP’s of such countries are so small as to be nonexistent. The much larger nations in the Alliance in Western Europe make no pretense of coming remotely close to their two percent defense spending pledge.

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No, not a daring escape, as I read somewhere. Negotiated by Russia.

Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Evacuated By Israel to Jordan (R.)

About 800 members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defense group and their families were evacuated via Israel to Jordan on Sunday from southwest Syria, where a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive is under way, media said. In a statement, the Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families … due to an immediate threat to their lives”. It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify, and that the evacuation came at the request of the United States and several European countries.

Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organization. Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria. Jordan’s official Petra news agency said on its website the kingdom “authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of about 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan for resettlement in Western countries”. The agency identified the Syrians as civil defense workers who fled areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after attacks there by the Syrian army. Petra said they would remain in a closed area in Jordan and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.

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Poison to feed ourselves.

Our Vanishingly Pleasant Land (McCarthy)

It’s bizarre: in what seems like a display of obtuseness on a nationwide scale, it is still not generally realised or admitted that across huge swathes of the land, the biodiversity that at the end of the second world war was giving animation and vibrant life to the countryside as it had always done has simply vanished. By the government’s own admission, farmland birds have declined by 56% just since 1970; and the wild flowers have gone, and the butterflies have disappeared in their turn. Farewell to the spotted flycatcher, adios to the corncockle, goodbye to the high brown fritillary: what remains may be green, at least in spring, but that is mainly the pesticide-saturated crops; in wildlife terms, the landscape is now grossly impoverished, beyond any other one in Europe.

In his important new book, Cocker, one of our leading Nature writers, tackles head-on this remarkable twin phenomenon of destruction and ignorance, and he does so on an ambitious scale, seeking to explain and understand it by looking back in detail over a century of growing conservation efforts by individuals, charities, quangos and governments. How have they failed? In particular he is preoccupied with a paradox: how can our Nature have been so devastated, when there are more people who are members of green organisations in Britain than anywhere else? How can it have happened at the very moment in history that saw the rise of a new popular philosophy, environmentalism?

The simple answer is that this moment in history also saw the rise of intensive farming, a juggernaut beyond the power of green groups to control – and indeed beyond the power of individual governments once the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union was fixed in place. It is modern industrial agriculture, above all by its immense reliance on poisons to boost crop yields, that has wiped out the wildlife of our countryside on a scarcely believable scale.

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Jul 212018
 
 July 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roy Lichtenstein Hopeless 1963

 

Ecuador President Arrives In UK; Assange’s Fate Hangs In The Balance (Cogan)
Be Prepared To Shake The Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested (CJ)
One FBI Text Message In Russia Probe That Should Alarm Every American (Hill)
Anatomy of a Displacement-Projection Syndrome (Kunstler)
Trump ‘Ready’ To Put Tariffs On All $505 Billion Of Chinese Imports (CNBC)
EU Rips Up Theresa May’s Chequers Plan (Ind.)
May’s Brexit Proposals Died In Brussels In Eight Short Minutes (Ind.)
Australia’s Property Boom Is Well and Truly Over (MM)
US Loses Bid To End Children’s Climate Change Lawsuit (R.)
Judge Praises US Efforts In Reuniting Migrant Families (R.)

 

 

New UK Foreign minister says Assange faces ‘serious charges’. But “Under UK law any theoretical future bail charge would be a textbook minor charge (under three months). UK law defines “serious charge” one carrying over three years of imprisonment.”

Ecuador President Arrives In UK; Assange’s Fate Hangs In The Balance (Cogan)

Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno arrives in London today, with his administration seeking to force WikiLeaks editor and Australian citizen Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy there, where he sought and was granted political asylum in 2012. If Assange leaves the embassy he will be imprisoned by Britain for breaching bail and almost certainly face an application to extradite him to the United States to stand trial on manufactured charges of espionage. On the Moreno government’s orders, the Ecuadorian embassy in London has deprived Assange of all external communication, and all visitors apart from his lawyers, since March 28.

After six years of confinement due to the British threat of immediate arrest if he sets foot outside the small building, Assange’s health has been seriously compromised. The deprivation of communication is a vindictive attempt to add immense psychological pressure on him to leave the embassy, as well as to silence him while lurid accusations permeate the American and international media that WikiLeaks was part of a nefarious Russian conspiracy to “interfere” in the 2016 US presidential election. Ahead of Moreno’s visit to London, his national secretary of political management, Paul Granda, asserted on July 19 that “there is no specific meeting planned on Assange.” The same day, acting Ecuadorian foreign minister, Andres Teran, claimed that Moreno’s government is “not in talks with the United States” over the WikiLeaks editor.

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The silence remains eery.

Be Prepared To Shake The Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested (CJ)

“The above report that UK and Ecuador are preparing to turn Assange over to UK appears to be true,” commented journalist Glenn Greenwald on Simonyan’s statement. “Big question is whether the US will indict him and seek his extradition, the way Sessions and Pompeo vowed they would. Can’t wait to see how many fake press freedom defenders support that.” How many indeed? For all the viral, click-friendly wailing and rending of garments about Donald Trump’s “war on the press” because he says “fake news” and picks on Jim Acosta, does anyone expect the so-called free press to rush to the defense of a journalist who is being actively and aggressively persecuted with the full might of the western empire for publishing authentic documents about that very same empire?

We are about to find out if this is the part of the movie where the empire rips off the mask of freedom and democracy and reveals its true tyranny. Assange is a soft target, a controversial figure who has been on the receiving end of wildly successful smear campaigns marketed to every major political faction across the western world. He is the logical place to begin a crackdown on press freedoms and make a public example of what happens to those who shine the light of truth upon Big Brother. If we allow them to imprison Julian Assange for practicing journalism, that’s it. It’s over. We might as well all stop caring what happens to the world and sit on our hands while the oligarchs drive us to ecological disaster, nuclear annihilation or Orwellian dystopia.

If we, the many, don’t have the spine to stand up against the few and say “No, we get to find out facts about you bastards and use it to inform our worldview, you don’t get to criminalize that,” then we certainly don’t have the spine it will take to wrest control of this world away from the hands of sociopathic plutocrats and take our fate into our own hands. The arrest of Julian Assange would be the fork in the road. It would be where we collectively decide as a species whether we want to survive into the future, and if we deserve to.

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“A few minutes later Strzok texted his own handicap of the Russia evidence: “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.

One FBI Text Message In Russia Probe That Should Alarm Every American (Hill)

Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the reported FBI lovebirds, are the poster children for the next “Don’t Text and Investigate” public service ads airing soon at an FBI office near you. Their extraordinary texting affair on their government phones has given the FBI a black eye, laying bare a raw political bias brought into the workplace that agents are supposed to check at the door when they strap on their guns and badges. It is no longer in dispute that they held animus for Donald Trump, who was a subject of their Russia probe, or that they openly discussed using the powers of their office to “stop” Trump from becoming president. The only question is whether any official acts they took in the Russia collusion probe were driven by those sentiments.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is endeavoring to answer that question. For any American who wants an answer sooner, there are just five words, among the thousands of suggestive texts Page and Strzok exchanged, that you should read. That passage was transmitted on May 19, 2017. “There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted. The date of the text long has intrigued investigators: It is two days after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump and the Russia campaign. Since the text was turned over to Congress, investigators wondered whether it referred to the evidence against the Trump campaign.

This month, they finally got the chance to ask. Strzok declined to say — but Page, during a closed-door interview with lawmakers, confirmed in the most pained and contorted way that the message in fact referred to the quality of the Russia case, according to multiple eyewitnesses. The admission is deeply consequential. It means Rosenstein unleashed the most awesome powers of a special counsel to investigate an allegation that the key FBI officials, driving the investigation for 10 months beforehand, did not think was “there.”

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The US meddles more than anyone else.

Anatomy of a Displacement-Projection Syndrome (Kunstler)

“For more than a decade, Russia has meddled in elections around the world, supported brutal dictators and invaded sovereign nations — all to the detriment of United States interests.” — The New York Times

The Resistance sure got a case of the vapors this week over Mr. Trump’s failure to throttle America’s arch-enemy, the murderous thug V. Putin of Russia, onstage in Helsinki, as any genuine Marvel Comix hero is expected to do when facing consummate evil. Instead, the Golden Golem of Greatness voiced some doubts about the veracity of our “intelligence community” — as the shape-shifting Moloch of black ops likes to call itself, as if it were a kindly service organization in Mr. Rogers neighborhood, collecting dimes for victims of childhood cancer. If I may be frank, the US Intel community looks like a much bigger threat to American life and values than anything Mr. Putin is doing, for instance his alleged “meddling” in US elections.

This word, meddling, absolutely pervades the captive Resistance news outlets these days. It has a thrilling vagueness about it, intimating all kinds of dark deeds without specifying anything, as consorting with Satan once did in our history. The reason: the only specific acts associated with this meddling include the disclosure of incriminating emails among the Democratic National Committee leadership, and a tiny gang of Facebook trolls making sport of profoundly idiotic and dysfunctional American electoral politics. The brief against Russia also contains vague accusations of “aggression.” It is hard to discern what is meant by that — though it apparently warms the heart of American war hawks and their paymasters in the warfare industries.

They allege that Russia “stole” Crimea from Ukraine. Consider: Crimea had been a province of Russia since the 1700s. Ukraine itself was a province of the USSR when Nikita Khrushchev put Crimea under Ukraine’s administrative control in 1956, a relationship which became obviously problematic after the breakup of the soviet mega-state in 1990 — and became even more of a problem when the US State Department and our CIA stage-managed a coup against the Russia-leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Crimea is the site of Russia’s only warm water naval bases. Do you suppose that even an experience American CIA analyst might understand that Russia would under no circumstances give up those assets? Please, grow up.

Read more …

China will have to move.

Trump ‘Ready’ To Put Tariffs On All $505 Billion Of Chinese Imports (CNBC)

President Donald Trump has indicated that he is willing to slap tariffs on every Chinese good imported to the U.S. should the need arise. “I’m ready to go to 500,” the president told CNBC’s Joe Kernen in a “Squawk Box” interview aired Friday. The reference is to the dollar amount of Chinese imports the U.S. accepted in 2017 — $505.5 billion to be exact, compared with the $129.9 billion the U.S. exported to China, according to Census Bureau data. Thus far in the burgeoning trade war, the U.S. has slapped tariffs on just $34 billion of Chinese products, which China met with retaliatory duties. By sheer dollar volume, the Chinese won’t be able to come close to the U.S. in a tit-for-tat battle.

Trump’s comments point to a willingness to push the envelope as far as the U.S. needs to get Chinese tariff concessions, along with a pledge to stop allegedly stealing American technology. “I’m not doing this for politics, I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country,” Trump said. “We have been ripped off by China for a long time.” Trump said the U.S. is “being taken advantage of” on a number of fronts, including trade and monetary policy. Yet he said he has not pushed the tariffs out of any ill will toward China. “I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to do well,” he said. “I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair.”

Read more …

As we all knew they would.

EU Rips Up Theresa May’s Chequers Plan (Ind.)

Prospects for a Brexit deal have been dealt a severe blow after the European Union’s chief negotiator took apart Theresa May’s latest proposals – just hours after she ruled out further compromise on her side. Speaking in Brussels after a meeting with EU national ministers, Michel Barnier raised a wide variety of serious concerns about the Chequers white paper plan for customs control and single market regulation for goods. Mr Barnier said Ms May’s complicated proposal for customs would likely create huge amounts of new paperwork, warning: “Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy.” The chief negotiator, who said he had told member states to prepare for a no-deal scenario, also raised concerns about the PM’s plan to keep the UK following a “common rulebook” of single market regulations for goods.

The intervention emphasises the deadlock between the two sides, with Tory eurosceptics not allowing the embattled prime minister much room for manoeuvre in Westminster in order to meet Mr Barnier’s concerns. The PM had hoped her white paper proposals would allow frictionless trade with the EU, but Mr Barnier said a plan to exclude UK services from following EU rules could give a “significant competitive advantage” to Britain and that agreeing to such a policy might not be in the EU’s own best interests. Mr Barnier also suggested it would be unreasonable to exempt some goods such as animal feed from having to follow the rules, as proposed by Ms May, stating: “We have a duty of care to protect consumers in the single market, and on which basis could we accept the free circulation of goods?”

Read more …

How will history look back on this incredible mess?

May’s Brexit Proposals Died In Brussels In Eight Short Minutes (Ind.)

The Brexit “negotiations” have always been best understood as the kind of negotiations that occur between a particularly irritating toddler and its wearied parent. So it came as a surprise to no one when on Friday morning Britain, having stood around doing not very much for two years, the car now almost fully loaded, finally decided that actually it did want to go to the toilet after all, it was met with a firm “no”. You will know, traditionally, what happens next in such matters. The Brexit journey will not smell nice for anyone, but it will be Britain that suffers the most.

That, via a speech in Belfast, just over two years on from the referendum and with six meaningful weeks of negotiating time left, Theresa May finally put some concrete proposals to the EU and Michel Barnier immediately came out of his office in Brussels to reject them is, of course, laughable. Not least as the proposals that have taken two years for her government to “agree” on have only been “agreed” in the sense that her brexit secretary and foreign secretary didn’t agree with them, and so left the government – from which point on the “agreement” has disintegrated in plain sight.

Read more …

Said it before: the Aussie houding bubble is so big it threatens the entire economy.

Australia’s Property Boom Is Well and Truly Over (MM)

House prices in Australian capital cities have been booming for the better half of the last two decades. With our capital cities expanding at lightning rates thanks to international and state migration, it seemed like the boom would never end. The extent of our booming economy has been so incredible, it has become the norm for us in Australia. Australians aren’t really conditioned to expect stock market or real estate falls or depressions. But like all things, what goes up must come down. As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week: ‘Only half the properties that went to auction in Sydney and Melbourne on the weekend found buyers. ‘Australian property owners are waking up to the mother of all housing debt hangovers. That’s what happens, you see, when you go on an unprecedented credit binge, fuelled by cheap credit and loose lending standards.’

The Australian Financial Review also confirmed that our debt-fuelled housing boom was coming to an end: ‘Generally the wider market [in Sydney] has cooled with transaction numbers falling, selling periods extending and prices declining.’ ‘Melbourne has eclipsed Sydney as the nation’s worst-performing capital with prices falling by about 5 per cent in recent months, according to recent analysis by investment bank Morgan Stanley.’ For years your Money Morning editors have been warning that Australia’s real estate has been looking more and more like a bubble. Only recently have mainstream economists and newspapers started to agree.

[..] This is a controversial view as it has the potential to undermine the stability of our whole nation’s economy. Our banking sector is built on a foundation of housing mortgages, and the banks make up a massive proportion of our stock market (around 30% of the ASX). However, with Australian property prices having boomed for so many years, it’s no surprise a correction is on the horizon. Now, if the housing boom is actually over, that doesn’t mean your house is suddenly worthless. If you own your home, you can still live in it just as happily as before. But investors with too much debt, overly dependent on rising prices, may be in trouble. The trouble is, with so much debt in the system, it could be difficult to correct or even slow down the housing bubble without triggering a full-on crash. One that could have disastrous effects for the wider economy.

Read more …

Case originated in 2015.

US Loses Bid To End Children’s Climate Change Lawsuit (R.)

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Trump administration’s renewed bid to dismiss a lawsuit by young activists who say the U.S. government is ignoring the perils of climate change. By a 3-0 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government fell short of the “high bar” needed to dismiss the Oregon case, originally brought in 2015 against the administration of President Barack Obama. Twenty-one children and young adults, ages 11 to 22, accused federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it.

The government contended that letting the case proceed would be too burdensome, unconstitutionally pit the courts against the executive branch, and require improper “agency decision-making” by forcing officials to answer questions about climate change. But the appeals court said the issues raised “are better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.” A trial is scheduled for Oct. 29 in the federal court in Eugene, Oregon. President Donald Trump’s administration also has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit or put it on hold, and is awaiting a ruling. Its earlier bid to end the lawsuit failed in March.

Read more …

And bars deportation of reunified families.

Judge Praises US Efforts In Reuniting Migrant Families (R.)

A federal judge said on Friday the U.S. government had made “very promising” progress toward reuniting some 2,500 immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. The government has six days left to comply with the reunification order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who summoned government attorneys to appear in his San Diego courtroom to update him on efforts made in bringing families back together. “I’m very impressed with the effort being made,” said Sabraw at the end of the brief hearing. Lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported in a court filing late Thursday that 364 children aged 5 and older had been reunited since Sabraw’s order was issued more than three weeks ago.

The number was updated to 450 today, an ACLU spokesperson said. Younger children were reunited last week. In Thursday’s status report, filed as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging parent-child separations at the border, the government did not say how many reunifications were likely before the July 26 deadline. Nearly 850 parents had been interviewed and cleared for reunification as of Thursday and another 229 parents had been deemed ineligible because of criminal records, or because they “waived” reunification or for other reasons, the report said. The rest are pending review.

More than 850 parents are facing final deportation orders, government lawyers told the court on Friday. The ACLU has asked Sabraw to give those parents at least a week after being reunited with their children before deportation so they have adequate time to obtain legal counsel and consider options. Sabraw has temporarily barred deportations of reunified families pending a final decision.

Read more …

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.) .

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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”.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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