Aug 102020
 


Cy Twombly Fifty Days at Iliam: Like a Fire that Consumes All before It 1978

 

 

Might as well call it a social experiment. Any other name, like “coup” or “fishing expedition” or “hookers peeing on a bed” or “justice being done” would just inflame “passions” and lead away from what should be the actual topic.

Whatever you call it, the fact remains that Donald Trump has been the first US president to be under continued investigation for the entire 4 years of his first term, and for about a year before it as well. And that should be a cause for alarm for anyone who cares even a little bit about the American political system, including those who abhor Trump. Because once you do that, it’s no longer about just one president, it’s about all who will follow him, and inevitably about the integrity and validity of the system as a whole.

In principle, there should be no investigations of a sitting president, and not even of a presidential candidate, because this risks endangering 1) the entire electoral process, and 2) the Office of the President (not for once, but for ever). In principle. If there must be an investigation, it must be based on solid evidence available beforehand, it must be short, and the President must be removed. If all of these three things are not guaranteed, no investigation is warranted, and the accusing parties should be “liberated” from the positions they held when they initiated the investigation regardless. Skin in the game.

 

 

It gets increasingly harder to write about American politics, or express an opinion in any other way, without being dumped into one of two camps, never to be heard from again in the other (except for ridicule or slander). There is no such thing as a neutral or objective viewpoint anymore. You’re either with us or you’re against us – or them.

Seeing -and projecting- the world in black and white is a tempting proposal for anyone afraid of being confused; it should, however, never be an excuse for the media to not present its viewers and readers with a full color palette. But we can see every single day how that went. Black and white it is. And in that environment, too claustrophobic to be put in a box, I might as well paint the picture as I see it. Yes, in color.

 

The “social experiment” I see progressing has two parts:

1) can a political party, aided and abetted by the media and intelligence services, unseat an elected president it has just lost an election to?

2) can a presidential candidate be elected while shunning the media, debates, etc., and only appear at times and in forms that have been pre-selected by her/his handlers for maximum effect, while hiding his/her weaknesses?

 

As for no. 1, it has evidently not succeeded, but that is certainly not for lack of trying. One investigation has followed the other non-stop since 2016, in public and behind the scenes, and they have all come up empty. Of course one side would contest that and still say there was lots of evidence, but if so, it obviously wasn’t very strong, or Trump would have been gone.

People may also claim that the mandate of the Mueller investigation was too narrow, but really, go back and watch the man’s pathetic (sorry, but it was) testimony in Congress after the fact, that should be enough. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler and others have promised solid and inconvertible evidence many times, but we never saw any. Rest assured, whatever Trump may have done wrong, you would have heard about it by now.

Or to put it another way: he probably did many things wrong, but not the things he was accused of. In fact, the entire Putin puppet narrative is so idiotic it’s impossible not to ponder from time to time that it was designed from the get-go to support Trump, not hurt him.

As for no. 2, that looks even more experimental. The approach is helped along “wonderfully” by the pandemic, which provides plenty excuses to keep Biden hidden, but it goes against everything presidential campaigns have been built upon throughout American history: contact with voters. That very few people would believe Biden is his own man, and not a sock puppet, can’t help.

But there is more at stake. Presidential campaigns are one element of a much bigger process, and you can’t separate the two. Both parts of the “social experiment” seem to run afoul of the respect that bigger process, and ultimately the entire political system, necessarily demands from all participants, from an individual voter to a President. And that is much more important than either candidate. You can’t temporarily switch off that respect if and when that might suit your purpose, because you risk for it never to be switched on again.

 

You may dislike a presidential candidate, perhaps even intensely so, but that should never make you lose sight of the integrity, if not the sacredness, of the election process, of the political system, of the institutions, of the Constitution, and certainly not of the Office of the President of the United States. Because once you do that, you open the door for everyone to do the same in the future. And no, you can’t blame that on the candidate you don’t like, you do it.

When a candidate is selected through the primaries of his/her party, you must respect that, because if you don’t respect the process, you are lost, the system is lost, and there’s no telling when you’ll see it back, if ever. If that candidate is then elected President, a lot of doors that before allowed you to question and criticize him/her, should be closed. The country at that point has either a new President, or a second-term one. A different phase of the political process starts.

The House and the Senate become the critics, empowered by the system to hold the President accountable. But only the House and the Senate. Not the media, whose role it is, other than in the occasional opinion piece, to report on decisions made; not intelligence services, whose role it is to serve the country, and the new President it just elected; and not the opposition party, whose role it is to prepare for the next election, and to provide a degree of counterbalance, depending on how bad their loss was, on Capitol Hill.

The entire picture is crystal clear. So is everybody’s role in it. But now and then people -try to- refuse to accept their roles, obviously believing that they are more important than the integrity of the political system, and ignoring that in doing so they put the whole system at risk.

 

What was happening first became apparent in late 2015 – early 2016, when the New York Times began running multiple stories every day directed against Donald Trump. Mostly small bits, based on innuendo about his past, with a whiff of truth perhaps, but not more. The word “gratuitous” comes to mind. At a certain point, they did a dozen per day of the stories, it became assembly line work for the writers and editors..

The Washington Post chimed in, and so did CNN, MSNBC and others, including international press. It turned into a feeding frenzy, with all of them completely losing sight, voluntarily or not, of their roles as news providers. They all shape-shifted into opinion-only-makers, confident that their audience would not notice the difference, at least not at first. At that point it became a very Pavlovian thing.

Which is why I was initially going to name this essay “Trump vs Pavlov”. 100+ years ago, Ivan Pavlov “found” that if he rang a bell in front of a dog, and then gave her food, she would start to associate the two. When he increased the time-lapse between first, the bell, and then, the food, the dog would salivate in expectation of food at just the sound of the bell. In the end, all he had to do was ring the bell, with no food around, and the dog would salivate. So he had nothing to offer, no food, no substance, but the reaction was the same.

That is a very accurate description of what a large part of the US media have done -and become-. All they have to do at this point is mention Trump, or just show his picture, and their public will react the same every single time: Orange Man Bad. There doesn’t have to be any substance, any factual journalistic reports of wrongdoing. The “conditioned reflex” as Pavlov described it, has set in.

And their readers and viewers have become addicted to this. How could they not? They’ve been bombarded with 1000s of these bells ringing, and the substance may not be there, but the expectation of it is. If you’re a regular viewer of Rachel Maddow, what are the odds that your opinion is still your own after hearing RussiaRussia a million times? The only way it could be yours is if you switch her off.

I’ve written before that I don’t even think they really set out to do this. Initially, there were probably just some CEOs and owners and editors who didn’t like Trump and/or were affiliated in one way or another with the other party -and later candidate-. Who was counted on to win big anyway, so why not (well, because of the integrity of the political system!).

It was only later that they found out 24/7 anti-Trump “reporting” was a great business model for them. CNN was dying in early 2016, the New York Times was nor far behind, and all of a sudden numbers of viewers and readers and subscribers went through the roof.

Their problem is that if they succeed in making Trump lose in November, they will be back to where they came from before he appeared on the political scene. All of their “reporting” on US politics has devolved into a scheme based on ringing a bell, and on the scandal and anger their non-stop salivating audience have become addicted to, and mistake for substance.

If Joe Biden should win, that scheme is dead. They may hope to last a bit longer on the angry scandal of a possible persecution of Trump if he leaves office, but that would be it, and that’s not a business model. They can’t very well now turn on Biden and his puppeteers.

New York Times writer and editor Bari Weiss said it very well when she left the paper a few weeks ago, she summarized the essence of the MSM problem in just a few words:

“[..] the lessons that ought to have followed the election – lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else”.


Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world?

 

That’s the media. Second in line is US intelligence. Which, there’s no other way to put it, conspired against a presidential candidate and, when he was elected, a sitting president. The Strzok-Page “insurance policy”, the Obama Oval Office conversations where Comey, Brennan, Clapper, Susan Rice were present, plus 1,000 other things, the overall picture doesn’t exactly point to that famous seamless transition, and US Intel played a pivotal, because accommodating, role in that.

The best way to show this is perhaps that US intelligence themselves did not (could not) come up with a report on alleged links between the -prospective- president’s team and Russia, but took a dossier paid for by the president’s opposition and used it to discredit and persecute him and people in his team. The dossier was written by a two-bit MI6 hustler who hadn’t set foot in Russia in at least a decade, and whose main ‘Russian source’ wasn’t there either, but sitting in an office in the US.

That source in turn had contacts with a group of Russians whose very business model it was to make up and embellish whatever stories the highest bidder required, while failing to deal with their own severe drinking problems. That dossier was the entire foundation (or 99% of it) behind Rod Rosenstein appointing Bob Mueller as a Special Counsel. The appointment would never have been made, never have been possible, without the Steele dossier.

 

How was the dossier vetted by US intelligence, if at all? It’s very clear now what was wrong with it, but the all knowing and very clever intelligence people could not have figured that out 4 years ago, and instead cleared it for Mueller, for further FBI use, for FISA applications? How about their treatment of Michael Flynn, who they had already cleared only to resurrect the dead corpse of their investigation into his talks with Russian ambassador Kislyak? How would you, personally, spell “in good faith”?

We will see in the near future what the Durham investigation into all Russiagate players will come to. Apparently, Durham has just another three weeks to present at least something, because there is a two-month “no-go-zone” before the election, during which he would be accused of tampering with the election. And the premise for the Democrats and their sympathizers is that if Biden wins, all slates will be wiped clean.

They won’t, by the way. America still has a justice system, even if it is oftentimes crippled and grinding(ly) slow. Just watch Michael Flynn attorney Sidney Powell and her team. They have vowed to not only have their client be exonerated, but to fully clear his name, which according to their view has been besmirched by everyone up to and including Joe Biden and Barack Obama.

 

The third leg of the “creature” is the Democratic party. Who have stepped so far over their boundaries, nobody recognizes anymore that there were any. Or that the political system they are an integral part of, dictates that there are things they cannot do, lest they corrupt that system to the core.

Once you lose a presidential election, you prepare for the next one. You don’t use the next 4 years to try and frustrate the president you just lost to with all you got. The system should not allow it and can not tolerate it. There should be skin in the game for opposition politicians, who when they come with accusations of gross misconduct serious enough to remove a president, should be forced to step down when the accusations don’t lead to the intended result.

It should never be a free for all, in which you can simply try again the next morning. Because the system cannot work if that is possible. It can’t be that if you win a midterm election and get a majority in the House, you can then use that majority to make it impossible for a president to work on the agenda that made millions vote for him/her. That would cause the system to grind to a halt, and the system must always be more important than its temporary participants (even those who “sit” for 40-50 years).

When you look at the speaker’s list for the Democrat -non- convention next week where Joe Biden will be confirmed as their -virtual- candidate, you see that other than AOC, it’s just a long list of the same old people who were already there when they lost in 2016, and co-losers Hillary and Obama still have a very tight grip on the power and the purse strings.

Why they stick with Joe Biden, g-d only knows, and the same goes for whichever highly unpopular black woman they pick as VP who could soon be president. And sorry, but they all are. Kamala Harris was among the first to step down during the primaries because she didn’t get any votes. Susan Rice is not exactly “loved by the people” either, and the rest are no-names, except for Warren, but she’s both too left and much too white.

So you’re thinking: what’s going on there? That’s really the best you can do? But it does seem to be, likely because Barackillary have a small group of confidantes to choose from who they themselves are confident will be willing to cede all actual power to them once elected. And if Harris and Rice don’t get picked as VP, they’ll still exert a lot of power.

As will Pelosi, Schiff, Nadler, there’s more new blood at Madame Tussaud’s than at the upper echelons of the Democratic party. Yes, AOC can come in to represent the squad in a cynical move (no power but brings in lots of votes), but that’s it. For the rest it’s still just the broken left wing of the war party. But you’re right, they’re none of them, Trump. And that at the same time is the sole identity they possess.

 

Anti-Trumpism has become a political religion. Because Trump is the only topic that attracts clickbait and viewers. The only topic that rings a bell. Joe Biden rings no bells whatsoever. A while back Donald Trump jr tweeted:

Trump is really running against the media, Silicon Valley, the establishment, the swamp, Hollywood and maybe Joe Biden.

While investor GreekFire23 did even better:

Trump is running against himself in this election. The vote will come down to those who love him vs those who hate him. Biden is totally irrelevant and not even campaigning. Biden has no platform, no slogan, no stickers, no signs, no rallies, no followers. It’s Trump vs Trump.

What can still sink Trump is obvious: it’s the economy and the pandemic. America’s problem is that no matter who wins, those will still be its main problems by January 2021. And another problem has been added in the course of 2020: protests and violence in the streets.

 

Update: I thought I could leave it at that for now, step out for a moment, have a glass of wine, let it all sink in, and write a closing paragraph. But then I was sitting outside in gorgeous Athens and this popped up, which I very obviously can’t leave out:

Senate Chairman Subpoenas FBI Director Wray For Russiagate Records; Puts Bidens On Notice

FBI Director Christopher Wray has been subpoenaed by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to produce “all documents related to the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation,” which includes “all records provided or made available to the Inspector General” regarding the FISA probe, as well as documents regarding the 2016-2017 presidential transition..

[..] The subpoena was issued by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) as part of his investigation into the origins of Russiagate. It gives Wray until 5 p.m. on Aug. 20 to produce the documents. Johnson also released a lengthy letter on Monday in which he defended his Committee’s investigation and accused Democrats of initiating “a coordinated disinformation campaign and effort to personally attack” himself and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in order to distract from evidence his committee has gathered on Joe and Hunter Biden’s Ukraine dealings.

[..] Johnson’s committee has secured testimony from at least one State Department official who worked in Ukraine, and says the Bidens’ conduct created the appearance of a conflict of interest. “The appearance of family profiteering off of Vice President Biden’s official responsibilities is not unique to the circumstances involving Ukraine and Burisma,” wrote Johnson. “Public reporting has also shown Hunter Biden following his father into China and coincidentally landing lucrative business deals and investments there.

“Additionally, the former vice president’s brothers and sister-in-law, Frank, James and Sara Biden, also are reported to have benefited financially from his work as well.

I can’t let that go because it addresses exactly what my closing paragraph would have been about. Which is the risk of the giant divide that has developed in US society, getting even wider, and potentially leading to utter mayhem. Actually, it’s not even ‘potentially’ anymore, there already has been a lot of violence.

The Democrats think they will win easily on November 3, and then push through all of their their policies, after dumping on Trump for 4 years with their media and intelligence friends, but the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump, and most of their family and friends with them, don’t think so. That’s not a threat, it’s an observation.

They feel cheated out of their 2016 victory. They realize (or should I say “suspect”) that Russiagate and the Mueller probe and the Zelensky-linked impeachment “hearings” were empty vessels directed against the election outcome that they won fair and square, and I guarantee you they won’t take it sitting down.

Which means that no matter who wins, polarization will reach levels America has never seen, and, frankly, should never wish to. Because all of the people involved, bar just a precious few, will have to live together in the same country, and share the same society, streets, highways, stores and resources.

And sometimes I wonder: how are they going to do that? If Trump should win, how will the entire so-called left react, from the Democrats through the MSM to BLM? Will they just increase the protests and the violence in the streets?

Alternatively, if Joe Biden wins, how will the Conservative side of America react? Will they all go home and wait for what the DNC has in store for them, or will their reaction be pro-active? I know which reaction I would see them lean towards.

You have these two sides in society who appear further apart than even Moses could have hoped to bring back together again, you have the media who thrive on widening that divide even further, it’s a scary picture.

 

And in the meantime, while everyone’s busy blaming each other, who’s going to take care of the country?

 

 

 

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Jul 012020
 
 July 1, 2020  Posted by at 11:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  33 Responses »


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Portrait of Vincent van Gogh 1887

 

US Has “Way Too Much Virus” To Contain Outbreak (Axios)
Fauci Warns Of 100,000 US Cases Per Day (BBC)
US Buys Almost Entire World’s Supply Of Coronavirus Drug (Ind.)
People In Their 20s Largest Age Group Of New COVID-19 Cases In Minnesota (MPR)
The Biggest Myths About The National Deficit (Alt.)

 

 

Only yesterday I wrote “..at this point it is entirely unclear how countries like the US and Brazil will ever be able to get rid of the virus.” Dr. Fauci, also yesterday, said “We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around..”

Turn around? How? CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat said the US has “way too much virus” to contain the outbreak.” Scott Gottlieb has even more dire numbers:

 

 

Things are not looking good at all. But there’s more. The nationwide protests are perceived, presented, played as anti-Trump manifestations. By both political sides, for political gain. And by the media for financial gain. That makes them de facto election rallies. And the pro-Trump side will not accept any more restrictions on their own rallies, which they (will) argue are just as legitimate. Because they have an election to contest.

If the BLM protests can continue, despite virus warnings and limited numbers at gatherings, then the conservatives will gather too, in comparable numbers. And they don’t “believe” in distancing or face masks, they claim they don’t reduce their risks, they reduce their freedom.

“Perfect storm” is an often abused term. But it does come to mind here and now.

And you thought the first half of 2020 was hard.

 

 

 

 

US has sixth day in a row with over 40,000 new cases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I would think it’s obvious by now.

US Has “Way Too Much Virus” To Contain Outbreak (Axios)

The novel coronavirus is spreading too widely and quickly to contain, CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat told The Journal of the American Medical Association Monday, warning she expects “this virus to continue to circulate.” Per Schuchat, “This is really the beginning, and what we hope is that we can take it seriously and slow the transmission.” Her comments are in contrast to those of senior members of the Trump administration — notably Vice President Mike Pence, who said on Friday “we have made truly remarkable progress.” COVID-19 cases are surging across the U.S., prompting states including Texas, Arizona and New Jersey to pause plans to reopen their economies in recent days.


What else she’s saying: “We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it’s very discouraging,” Schuchat said in her interview with the Journal’s Howard Bauchner. She said there was “a lot of wishful thinking around the country” that the pandemic would be over by the summer. “We are not even beginning to be over this,” Schuchat said. “There are a lot of worrisome factors about the last week or so.” “We’re not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea, where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control.”

Read more …

If this is a war, as many have labeled it, the US is losing it.

Fauci Warns Of 100,000 US Cases Per Day (BBC)

Top disease researcher Dr Anthony Fauci has told the US Senate that he “would not be surprised” if new virus cases in the country reach 100,000 per day. “Clearly we are not in control right now,” he testified, warning that not enough Americans are wearing masks or social distancing. During the hearing, he said about half of all new cases come from four states. Earlier, the New York governor said nearly half of all Americans must self-quarantine if they visit the state. On Tuesday, cases rose by more than 40,000 in one day for the fourth time in the past five days. The surge – which is occurring particularly strongly in southern and western states – has forced at least 16 states to pause or reverse their reopening plans, according to CNN.

Florida, Arizona, Texas and California are the four states referenced by Dr Fauci as being most heavily hit currently. For some the new measures come over a month after they first began to reopen their economies. [..] Testifying to a Senate committee on the effort to reopen schools and businesses, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases criticised states for “skipping over” benchmarks required for reopening, and said cases will rise as a result. “I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that,” he told Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country even though in other parts of the country they’re doing well, they are vulnerable.”

“We can’t just focus on those areas that are having the surge. It puts the entire country at risk,” he added. Dr Fauci also called on the US government to produce face masks to be distributed for free to all Americans, and condemned the “all or none phenomenon” of some people who have completely disregarded social distancing measures.

Read more …

As someone said today: late-stage capitalism. Meanwhile, the UK wants to restart its HCQ testing program.

US Buys Almost Entire World’s Supply Of Coronavirus Drug (Ind.)

The US has effectively secured the world’s supply of one of only two drugs proven to help treat coronavirus. Remdesivir, which has previously been used to fight Ebola but has now been found to reduce recovery times among Covid-19 patients, is exclusively manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) has announced it has bought up more than 500,000 doses of the drug. The figure equates to Gilead’s entire production for July, as well as 90 per cent of its production in both August and September. The US’s decision to stockpile the drug means there will likely be little supply in the rest of the world for several months.


HSS secretary Alex Azar, hailed the move, saying president Donald Trump had struck an “amazing deal”. “To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it,” Mr Azar added. “The Trump Administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for Covid-19 and secure access to these options for the American people.”

Read more …

It took about a month?!

People In Their 20s Largest Age Group Of New COVID-19 Cases In Minnesota (MPR)

More than 100 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Minnesotans in their 20s in the Mankato area who said they went to bars on June 12 and 13 — the first weekend bars and restaurants were allowed to serve indoors. Two Mankato bars — Rounders and The 507 — were the focal points of that young adult outbreak, Ehresmann said Friday. Officials were also following up on a cluster of 30 cases at two Minneapolis bars — Cowboy Jack’s and Kollege Klub. Social media from those bars shows they were crowded, with no room for social distancing, and people who were standing and not masked, so not following the state guidance, Ehresmann said.


“It’s not that you can’t socialize. It’s not that you can’t have fun,” she said. “But you need to do in a manner that’s safe for you and the people around you.” Friday’s Health Department data showed that Minnesotans in their 20s now make up the largest age group of confirmed cases in Minnesota — 7,045 people infected, with two deaths. While those young people may be less likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, officials say the concern is that they may be unknowingly spreading the disease to grandparents or other potentially vulnerable populations.The median age of confirmed cases in Minnesota has been dipping and is now just under 40 years old.

Read more …

Stephanie Kelton is on an MMT mission. It’s not an easy one. It goes against everything we think we know about economics.

The Biggest Myths About The National Deficit (Alt.)

What drives the biggest misunderstandings about government debt in our national conversation? Stephanie Kelton: Everything is wrong. The way we talk about federal government debt is, from my perspective, we say things like we’re borrowing from China and foreigners. Hillary Clinton said when she was secretary of State that it’s a national security threat. People talk about it representing a liability to all of us, so we hear people talk about “your share [of the national debt],” a burden on future generations, that it ultimately has to be paid back, that it’s going to require higher taxes in the future. I could keep going.

So what connects all these misunderstandings? Are we thinking of the government too much like a household or a business? Yes, of course. We think that the government has borrowed, and we think that this is real debt. And neither of those things is correct. I say in the book that if I walk into a bank and borrow money, I’m borrowing money because I don’t have it. Right? That’s why I got to the bank to take out a loan. The federal government is not borrowing money because it needs money. It’s not borrowing because it doesn’t have the capacity to finance whatever it wants to spend money on. It has the fiscal capacity; it can just spend. And not only that, the government sells the bonds.

And by the time the government sells the bonds, the spending has already taken place. So the bonds cannot possibly be the tool with which the government raises money in order to spend. It’s selling the bonds after the spending had already taken place. Why does it do that? It doesn’t need to borrow, it has already financed the spending. So we don’t really understand — the public and most economists get this wrong — we don’t even understand what the purpose of selling bonds is. We treat it as a borrowing operation. It’s not. The purpose of selling the bonds is to drain off the reserves, the dollars, to remove some of the dollars the government has spent into the economy and replace them with treasuries. It’s a subsidy to the rich, is what it is.

Read more …

 

 

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Apr 152020
 


Harris&Ewing National Press Club Building newssstand, Washington DC 1940

 

First, The People Die; Then, The Stories (Rusty Guinn)
Trump Announces ‘Halt’ In US Funding To WHO Amid Pandemic (USAT)
WHO Urges China To Close ‘Dangerous’ Wet Market As Stalls In Wuhan Reopen (Ind.)
COVID19 Twice As Contagious As Previously Thought – Los Alamos Lab (SCMP)
New Coronavirus Outbreak Hotspots Emerging Across US (SCMP)
Universal Screening for COVID19 in NY Women Admitted for Delivery (NEJM)
New Zealand PM, Ministers Take 20% Pay Cut For Six Months (R.)
Chinese Study Suggests Airco Helps Spread Coronavirus (SCMP)
The Next Stage Must Be To Let The Virus Spread (AFR)
California Meat Factory Workers Strike For Right To Be Tested (CN)
California Governor Newsom Says Mass Gatherings Unlikely Through Summer (R.)
South Korea Holds Parliamentary Election Under Strict Safety Measures (R.)
UK Government Loans Not Reaching Businesses (Sky)
US Military Says Coronavirus Likely Occurred Naturally But Not Certain (R.)
Iraq Suspends Reuters For Three Months Over Report On Coronavirus Cases (R.)
Trump Oil Deal Raises Question For Mexico: At What Cost? (R.)
GOP Senator Aims To Release Hunter Biden Investigation Report This Summer (NYP)

 

 

• Past day: U.S. reports 26,540 new cases of coronavirus and 2,384 new deaths.
– Yesterday it had 27,243 new cases and 1,555 new deaths.
– Total: 608,458 cases and 25,992 deaths.

• New York adds over 3,700 deaths, of people who were never tested but are now presumed to have died from corona. Similar ‘recounts’ occur in multiple countries

• Coronavirus update, Americas:
– USA: 26,540 new cases
– Brazil: 1,509 new cases
– Canada: 1,383 new cases
– Peru: 519 new cases
– Chile: 392 new cases
– Mexico: 385 new cases
– Colombia: 127 new cases
– Dom Rep: 119 new cases
– Panama: 102 new cases
– Ecuador: 74 new cases

 

 

Cases 2,014,000 (+ 79,872 from yesterday’s 1,934,128)

Deaths 127,592 (+ 7,155 from yesterday’s 120,437)

 

 

 

From Worldometer yesterday evening -before their day’s close-

 

 

From Worldometer – NOTE: mortality rate for closed cases is at 21% !-

 

 

From SCMP:

 

 

From COVID19Info.live: (Note: this indicates 6090 new US deaths, that can’t be true)

 

 

 

 

On Ben Hunt’s Epsilon Theory website, Rusty Guinn does an very extensive overview of who failed where: WHO, FDA, CDC, Universities, Media, Boards, Wall Street, Congress, Donald Trump.

There goes your afternoon.

First, The People Die; Then, The Stories (Rusty Guinn)

The first World War was bloody and vicious. By its end, it had taken the lives of more than 20 million people. That number a few times over perished in the Spanish Flu that followed in its wake. It is a story that has been retold a lot lately. There were other casualties of the Great War, too. The narratives of a protective ruling class across Europe. Fervent embrace of trade and economic models based on colonialism and imperialism. Oligarchies and monarchies, yes, but belief in the capacity of oligarchies and monarchies to act benevolently and competently in the defense of the people, too. First, the people die; then, the stories.

The human toll of COVID-19 is unlikely to approach even a mean fraction of the pain visited on humanity in the first quarter of the 20th century. But what about the stories we tell about our global institutions, our shared values, and our own orthodoxies and authorities? Those stories are dying. They are dying because the institutions built on those stories failed us all, and all at once. First, the people die; then, the stories. The failures of these institutions were not simple mistakes, evidence of wrongness of one kind or another. The failures of these institutions were failures of narrative, devastating revelations of each institution’s fundamental inability to do what they said they would do. Revelations that their purpose was something other than the story they told about themselves.

In various ways they each held power over us through those stories, told using the language of our needs and values and beliefs. In a single event, the world proved those stories false on their faces. Whether we allow the world-as-it-is that was revealed by COVID-19 to change our commitment to these institutions and ideas is up to us; this is a time in which the world may be reshaped. In the past month and for the first time in most of our lives, each of us looked around and knew that everyone else had seen the same thing. We saw the emperors of our world standing naked as the day they were born. If the ravages of war and disease are humanity’s birthright, so too is the opportunity that comes along ever so rarely to seize something different. Something better.

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I found it hard to find coverage of this that did not immediatedly and extensively point to Trump’s own failings. But whatever those may be, they say little to nothing about the WHO’s failings. Can’t we keep these issues separate anymore?

Trump Announces ‘Halt’ In US Funding To WHO Amid Pandemic (USAT)

President Donald Trump said Tuesday his administration will “halt” U.S. funding to the World Health Organization as it conducts a review of the global organization’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “We have deep concerns about whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” the president said in a Rose Garden press conference. “The reality is that the WHO failed to adequately obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion.” Trump has accused the organization of not moving quickly enough to sound the alarm over COVID-19 and of being too China friendly. He has attacked the agency for advising the U.S. against banning travel from China to other parts of the world amid the outbreak.

“And the World – WHO – World Health got it wrong,” the president told reporters at the White House last week. “I mean, they got it very wrong. In many ways, they were wrong. They also minimized the threat very strongly and – not good.” Trump has previously said he was considering cutting WHO funding, but on Tuesday he accused the organization of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the spread of the coronavirus after the initial outbreak in Wuhan,China. The U.S. paid $893 million to the WHO during its two-year budget window, according to the organization’s website. That money represents about 15% of the WHO’s budget. Established in 1948, the WHO is an autonomous organization that works with the United Nations and is considered part of the U.N. system.

During Tuesday’s briefing, the president asked whether it was appropriate to freeze WHO’s funding in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed more than 125,000 lives worldwide with over 2 million cases confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University data. “This is an evaluation period, but in the meantime, we’re putting a hold on all funds going to World Health,” Trump said. Trump said the review would last between 60 and 90 days. He said the administration would “channel” the money into other areas to combat the coronavirus outbreak, but declined to provide any specifics.

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What have they said about this since December, or in the past 10 years, for that matter?

WHO Urges China To Close ‘Dangerous’ Wet Market As Stalls In Wuhan Reopen (Ind.)

The World Health Organisation is urging countries across the world to close “dangerous” wet markets amid warnings about the risks posed by environments where humans are in close contact with animals. Wet markets in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged, have begun to reopen following the lifting of lockdown restrictions. This move comes despite the virus being linked to the city’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. But WHO, as well as other public health organisations and campaigners, have said the markets pose a “real danger” as pathogens can spread easily and quickly from animals to humans. Dr David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy on Covid-19 and special representative of the United Nations secretary general for food security and nutrition, said the world health body “pleads with governments and just about everybody” to be respectful of how viruses from the animal kingdom are rife.


Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Nabarro said while WHO is not able to tell governments what to do, their advice is to close wet markets. He replied: “You know how WHO and other parts of the international system work – we don’t have the capacity to police the world. Instead, what we have to do is offer advice and guidance, and there’s very clear advice from the Food and Agriculture Organisation and WHO that said there are real dangers in these kinds of environments. “75 per cent of emerging infections come from the animal kingdom. It’s partly the markets, but it’s also other places where humans and animals are in close contact. Just make absolutely certain that you’re not creating opportunities for viral spread,” added Dr Nabarro.

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To add to the long list of what is still not known about the virus. Epidemiology may not be very useful at this point.

COVID19 Twice As Contagious As Previously Thought – Los Alamos Lab (SCMP)

The new coronavirus could have been twice as contagious as previously thought when it spread from its initial epicentre in central China, a fresh look at the early stages of the outbreak has suggested. Epidemiologists had previously estimated that each person with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, infected two to three people on average, based on early cases in the city of Wuhan. But researchers in the United States have said that the chaos in Wuhan as infections there rose at the start of the year may have produced incomplete data and a distorted picture. The new estimation by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is that those who carried the coronavirus in Wuhan were passing it on to 5.7 people on average. The finding could help public health experts to refine their containment and vaccination strategies.

In their study, published last week in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the researchers, led by Steven Sanche and Lin Yen-ting, wrote: “Unavailability of diagnostic reagents early in the outbreak, changes in surveillance intensity and case definitions, and overwhelmed health care systems confound estimates of the growth of the outbreak based on data.” The Los Alamos research analysed about 140 early patients outside Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, to project how intensely the coronavirus was spreading from the epicentre. Most of the initial cases in other provinces had epidemiological links or exposure to Wuhan. “By the time cases were confirmed in provinces outside Hubei, all of the provinces of China had access to diagnostic kits and were engaging in active surveillance of travellers out of Wuhan,” the researchers said.

“The health care systems outside Hubei were not yet overwhelmed with cases and were actively searching for [their] first positive case, leading to much lower bias in the reporting.” Many provinces’ health commission or local Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would also release basic epidemiological information on how each patient could have been related to another, or where they had shared exposure. The US researchers also used mobile phone data to estimate the numbers of daily travellers in and out of Wuhan. Their projection was then compared back with the death rate pattern in Wuhan, which was more clearly defined and consistent than the city’s other data on the outbreak. They found that instead of taking six to seven days for the number of infected people to double, as was previously thought, it took only 2.3 to 3.3 days to do so.

[..] In late January, researchers from mainland China and Hong Kong, including China CDC chief George Gao, had estimated that a Covid-19 patient could infect an average of 2.2 people, based on studying 425 patients in Wuhan. A more recent estimate of this reproduction number, by Imperial College London last month, found the figure for 11 European countries including Britain to be 3.87 people. Also last month, research at Payame Noor University in Tehran, which was subject to peer review, found that an average of 4.86 people could be infected per patient in the first week of the outbreak in Iran.

[..] The authors of the new Los Alamos study added that a higher level of infectiousness meant that if asymptomatic carriers accounted for a substantial proportion of transmission, then quarantine and tracing of contacts of those showing symptoms would not be enough to halt the virus’ spread. “When 20 per cent of transmission is driven by unidentified infected persons, high levels of social distancing efforts will be needed to contain the virus,” they said. “The decline in newly confirmed cases in [mainland] China and South Korea in March 2020 and the stably low incidences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, strongly suggest that the spread of the virus can be contained with early and appropriate measures.”

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Reached a peak? I doubt it.

New Coronavirus Outbreak Hotspots Emerging Across US (SCMP)

As infection rates begin to level out in New York and California finds success in flattening the curve, other states across the US are starting to reel as their coronavirus numbers spike in communities large and small. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned three weeks ago that his state was “the canary in the coal mine” presaging outbreaks around the country, and some now fear the worst is only starting to come. According to The New York Times, while half of the 10 US counties with the highest amount of coronavirus infections per residents remain in New York, the second highest per capita infection rate is in Blaine County, Idaho, in the intermountain West.

Home to fewer than 22,000 people, the county is best known for the Sun Valley ski resort, which draw a steady stream of skiers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts and owners of second homes from across the country – and is now making headlines for a coronavirus infection rate that is one of the highest in the world. In fact, as of Tuesday one of the largest single coronavirus clusters in the country was in the sparsely populated Great Plains state of South Dakota, where more than 300 workers at a giant pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls became sick with the virus over the weekend. While the total number of cases can seem more alarming in larger cities, for smaller towns the virus can be especially devastating both to their already overtaxed health care systems and fragile local economies.

Many smaller towns are kept afloat by only a few major employers, and when they close the effects can be catastrophic. In the south, Louisiana has been especially hard-hit, with Orleans Parish, home to New Orleans, battling the eighth largest degree of infection in the nation. Three relatively rural counties in Georgia make up the rest of the top 10 counties list — a clear reminder that not only large urban areas are at risk. While there is evidence that the rate of new cases and deaths is flattening out in Louisiana, the reality on the ground remains daunting. On Tuesday, the state health department reported 884 deaths and 21,016 positive cases across the state, with the virus now present in every one of Louisiana’s 64 parishes.

New Orleans alone has had 5,718 cases, and 244 deaths — with the contagion thought to have initially spread during the city’s Mardi Gras celebration in late February. Georgia, too, is reeling, with 14,223 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 501 deaths, with most of the deaths, 71, coming from Dougherty County, which has fewer than 100,000 people.


‘Welcome to Wuhan’ is spray-painted on a bridge in Highland Park, Michigan. Photo- AP

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Infected pregnant women is a scary idea. “Maybe third trimester immunosuppression has a role to play.”

Universal Screening for COVID19 in NY Women Admitted for Delivery (NEJM)

Between March 22 and April 4, 2020, a total of 215 pregnant women delivered infants at the New York–Presbyterian Allen Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center . All the women were screened on admission for symptoms of Covid-19. Four women (1.9%) had fever or other symptoms of Covid-19 on admission, and all 4 women tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Of the 211 women without symptoms, all were afebrile on admission. Nasopharyngeal swabs were obtained from 210 of the 211 women (99.5%) who did not have symptoms of Covid-19; of these women, 29 (13.7%) were positive for SARS-CoV-2. Thus, 29 of the 33 patients who were positive for SARS-CoV-2 at admission (87.9%) had no symptoms of Covid-19 at presentation.

Of the 29 women who had been asymptomatic but who were positive for SARS-CoV-2 on admission, fever developed in 3 (10%) before postpartum discharge (median length of stay, 2 days). Two of these patients received antibiotics for presumed endomyometritis (although 1 patient did not have localizing symptoms), and 1 patient was presumed to be febrile due to Covid-19 and received supportive care. One patient with a swab that was negative for SARS-CoV-2 on admission became symptomatic postpartum; repeat SARS-CoV-2 testing 3 days after the initial test was positive.


Our use of universal SARS-CoV-2 testing in all pregnant patients presenting for delivery revealed that at this point in the pandemic in New York City, most of the patients who were positive for SARS-CoV-2 at delivery were asymptomatic, and more than one of eight asymptomatic patients who were admitted to the labor and delivery unit were positive for SARS-CoV-2. Although this prevalence has limited generalizability to geographic regions with lower rates of infection, it underscores the risk of Covid-19 among asymptomatic obstetrical patients. Moreover, the true prevalence of infection may be underreported because of false negative results of tests to detect SARS-CoV-2.

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Commendable, but in reality this is what every government should do, and 20% is not so much.

New Zealand PM, Ministers Take 20% Pay Cut For Six Months (R.)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, ministers in her government and public service chief executives will take a 20% pay cut for the next six months amid the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. New Zealand’s offices, schools and non-essential services have been closed for the last three weeks, and economic activity is at a standstill as the country undertakes one of the strictest lockdowns globally. The government has forecast joblessness to surge because of the global and domestic slowdown.


“This is where we can take action and that is why we have,” Ardern said in a news conference announcing the decision. “We acknowledge New Zealanders who are reliant on wage subsides, taking a pay cut, and losing their jobs as a result of the global pandemic,” she added. New Zealand on Wednesday recorded 20 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases to 1,386. It has recorded nine deaths so far.

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Let summer begin!

Chinese Study Suggests Airco Helps Spread Coronavirus (SCMP)

A study of 10 coronavirus cases from three families who dined at the same restaurant in southern China has suggested that air conditioning aided droplet transmission between them. “Strong airflow from the air conditioner could have propagated droplets” between three tables, according to the report of the research, based on the infections in the city of Guangzhou in late January. Droplet transmission alone could not explain the infections, it concluded. Restaurants should increase the space between tables and improve ventilation to reduce the risk of infection, according to the report of the research, led by Jianyun Lu of the Guangzhou Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The research is revealed in an early-release article for the July edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the open-access and peer-reviewed journal published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States. Family clusters of infections have helped the spread of a pandemic in which the world’s total cases are approaching 2 million and the death toll has passed 120,000. The first patient of the 10 cases studied in Guangzhou had on January 23 returned from Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first reported in December. The person had lunch with three family members the next day at a windowless restaurant with an air conditioner on each floor. Two other families sat at neighbouring tables, with about one metre between each and an overlap in dining time of about an hour, the report said.

The first patient had a fever and cough later that day and went to hospital. Within two weeks, four further members of their family, three members of the second family and two of the third family had become ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. After detailed investigation, it was found that the only known source of exposure for the second and third families was the first patient in the restaurant. “From our examination of the potential routes of transmission, we concluded that the most likely cause of this outbreak was droplet transmission,” the report said. “We conclude that in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation. The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow.”

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The idiot who wrote the next article should be quarantined without any means of communication. Whenever you read about a cost-benefit analysis of the virus, stop reading. Luckily, this tweet has the right approach to this:

The Next Stage Must Be To Let The Virus Spread (AFR)

Last week, the government released the modelling it uses to inform its pandemic response. It appeared reticent; in press conferences, the government was keen to stress its limitations, its use of overseas assumptions and so on, as if to say: “We are not relying on models to decide what to do”. It should not have been. Disease modelling is one of the best tools we have for shaping our pandemic response. The government’s modelling is sound. It aligned closely with ours (I would hope so); we predict 32,000 daily ICU admissions at the peak if we do nothing, the government predicts 35,000. It presents a coherent picture of why we are “flattening the curve” and strong justification for what is being done today.

Australia is containing COVID-19 for now but needs to move on to the next phase. That requires an understanding of the costs and benefits of different social distancing measures and how best to change them as the pandemic proceeds. Our modelling sheds light on both, pointing to faster rather than slower relaxation. I was struck by the announcement that governments are expanding ICU capacity three-fold to 7000 beds. It is worth exploring the implications. Assuming patients admitted to ICU need eight days of treatment, 25 per cent of patients admitted to ICU will die, and that the case fatality rate for COVID-19 with treatment is about 0.5 per cent, it looks like governments are preparing for a peak of around 44,000 new infections a day, much higher than the number today.

I am encouraged by this. It signals that governments are contemplating a managed increase in the spread of the disease. As I said in The Australian Financial Review last week, in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the best policy involves a managed increase in spread so that some degree of herd immunity develops, seeking to protect those most at risk while it does. How might we achieve this? One policy that is unlikely to work is to try to prevent every death. Why not? Because to do so we would need to eliminate infections entirely. That can only be done with severe and prolonged social distancing at prodigious economic cost (2 per cent of GDP per month for at least 10 months, at least $400 billion).

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What it really means to be an essential worker.

California Meat Factory Workers Strike For Right To Be Tested (CN)

Dozens of One World Beef employees lined up in front of Valley Urgent Care to get tested for coronavirus Monday. Many of them participated in a strike that led to their employer granting this test to even occur. The employees say they decided to strike after some began getting sick and sanitary precautions weren’t being taken. Karicia Aguilar’s husband works for the company and said that their main fear was that her husband would contract the virus and spread it to their family. “My husband told me about a young man, who was his neighbor at the lockers who right now is on a ventilator. And so that situation really scared them and they realized they had to do something. They thought we could be taking the virus to our home and our families could get sick,” she said.


Some employees say they were told by HR if they did test positive they would be able to keep their jobs however the time off they took would be discounted from vacation and sick days. “We’re scared for our families. Our families are quarantined in our homes and we’re here working. And we’re in and out of the house. The one thing I hope is we still have a job. We work hard and we care about our job but we’re also concerned about our health,” said one factory worker. The fear of waking up every morning for work and not knowing whether or not you will contract the virus is a reality for many essential workers.

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A new world has arrived.

California Governor Newsom Says Mass Gatherings Unlikely Through Summer (R.)

Mass gatherings of hundreds or thousands of people will likely be banned in California at least through summer, as the state plots reopening its economy and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic despite a spike in deaths, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday. Incremental steps to loosen stay-at-home orders could begin after “a few weeks” of evidence that the rates of infection and hospitalization from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are decreasing, Newsom told a news conference in the state capital, Sacramento. But he warned that socialization in the most-populous U.S. state would look very different for a long time even after the rules are eased.


“You may have dinner where the waiter is wearing gloves and maybe a face mask, where menus may be disposable, where your temperature is checked as you walk into the restaurant.” School start times may be staggered so children are not crowded together, and lunch and physical education periods may also change. Restaurants will likely have fewer tables – and forget about big celebrations for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. “The prospect of mass gatherings,” Newsom said, “is negligible at best.”

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Massive testing campaign equals 1% of people?!

South Korea Holds Parliamentary Election Under Strict Safety Measures (R.)

South Koreans began going to the polls on Wednesday to elect members of parliament under strict safety guidance in one of the first national elections held amid the coronavirus pandemic. About 14,000 polling stations were open at 6 a.m. (0900 GMT) around the country after disinfection, and voters were required to wear a mask and have a temperature check upon arrival. Anyone whose temperature was higher than 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit) was led to a special booth. All voters must use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves when casting ballots and maintain 1 meter (40 inches) distance between each other.


The election is set to decide control of parliament and shape President Moon Jae-in’s ability to push through his agenda in the final two years of his administration, including looser fiscal policy aimed at creating jobs, raising the minimum wage, and continued re-engagement with North Korea. Globally, South Korea was one of the first countries to hold a national election since the coronavirus epidemic began, while many others postponed votes. Once grappling with the first large outbreak outside China, South Korea has largely managed to bring its cases under control without major disruptions thanks to a massive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 27 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total infections to 10,564. The daily tally has hovered around 30 over the past week, most of them from overseas travelers.


Media members cover inside a polling station for upcoming parliamentary election in Seoul, South Korea, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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I’m stunned. Stunned, I tell you.

“Just 2% of the businesses questioned said they had successfully accessed the government’s loan scheme..”

UK Government Loans Not Reaching Businesses (Sky)

Around one in three British businesses have furloughed at least 75% of their workforce due to the coronavirus crisis, according to a new survey. The British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) found that two-thirds of businesses it spoke to said they had to put some staff on the furlough scheme, which covers 80% of salaries up to £2,500 a month. But just 2% of the businesses questioned said they had successfully accessed the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, and the BCC said many need cash, quickly. It comes after the chancellor’s announcement in the Downing Street briefing on Tuesday that we are in “tough times” economically and that he “can’t protect every business and every household” throughout the pandemic.


Speaking to Sky News, the BCC’s Co-Executive Director Hannah Essex said: “If businesses don’t have the money in their accounts they’re going to have to look at all of their costs and make some really difficult decisions. “One of those will be if they continue to employ people even if they have the furlough scheme or not. “It’s so important to get the money into firms accounts so that they can take the time to make the best decisions for them, looking at what the future holds and what decisions come out this week about the lockdown, whether it continues or not.” She added: “This will be a hugely worrying time for businesses in Britain and especially for the people they employ. The economy has had an extraordinary impact across the country.

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The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shoots from the hip and largely misses.

US Military Says Coronavirus Likely Occurred Naturally But Not Certain (R.)

U.S. intelligence indicates that the coronavirus likely occurred naturally, as opposed to being created in a laboratory in China, but there is no certainty either way, the top U.S. general said on Tuesday. The remarks by Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could fan speculation about the coronavirus’ origins — something China has dismissed as a conspiracy theory that is unhelpful to the fight against the pandemic. Asked whether he had any evidence that the virus began in a Chinese laboratory and was perhaps released accidentally, Milley was non-committal at a Pentagon news briefing.


“There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that,” Milley said. “And I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain.” Milley’s comments could again stoke tension with Beijing, where Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian wrote on Twitter last month that the U.S. Army might have “brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”

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“Iraqi President Barham Salih said it was a “regrettable decision” taken by a commission which is independent of the government…”

Iraq Suspends Reuters For Three Months Over Report On Coronavirus Cases (R.)

Iraq has suspended the licence of the Reuters news agency after it published a story saying the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country was higher than officially reported. Iraq’s media regulator said it was revoking Reuters’ licence for three months and fining it 25 million dinars ($21,000) for what it said was the agency’s violation of the rules of media broadcasting. In a letter to Reuters, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) said it had taken the action “because this matter is taking place during current circumstances which have serious repercussions on societal health and safety.”


Reuters said it regretted the Iraqi authorities’ decision and that it stood by the story, which it said was based on multiple, well-placed medical and political sources, and fully represented the position of the Iraqi health ministry. “We are seeking to resolve the matter and are working to ensure we continue to deliver trusted news about Iraq,” the news agency said in a statement. Asked about the Reuters suspension in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN, Iraqi President Barham Salih said it was a “regrettable decision” taken by a commission which is independent of the government. “From my vantage point you would not get me in a situation where I would defend that. I’m working with our legal team in order to revoke that and manage the situation,” Salih said.

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“There was no secret agreement,” he told reporters at a regular news conference. “Nothing.”

Trump Oil Deal Raises Question For Mexico: At What Cost? (R.)

Mexico’s president has incurred a debt with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump by accepting U.S. help to end a standoff over global oil cuts, triggering concern the American will in return make the country pay on issues like migration and security. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist oil nationalist, had balked at a demand by the OPEC+ group of oil producing nations to cut output by 400,000 barrels per day. Instead, he offered a cut of 100,000 bpd and said Trump “generously” agreed last week to help Mexico make up the rest. Trump has angered Mexicans by insisting the country will pay for a border wall he is building to keep out illegal immigrants. He has imposed a series of migration and trade-related demands on Lopez Obrador, and said Mexico would “reimburse” the United States for the oil cuts.


He has not yet said how. It could easily mean more demands on immigration and security, Sergio Alcocer, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister for North America, told Reuters. “This could become a joker, a sort of blank check,” for Trump, Alcocer said. Under U.S. coercion, Mexico has had to spend extra money on border policing, looking after asylum seekers and security. The thought of Trump having additional leverage has sown disquiet among both supporters and adversaries of Lopez Obrador. Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday he had not agreed to anything in return for Trump’s help on the oil cuts. “There was no secret agreement,” he told reporters at a regular news conference. “Nothing.”

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But! The Russians!

GOP Senator Aims To Release Hunter Biden Investigation Report This Summer (NYP)

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson says he is aiming to release a status report on his investigation into Hunter Biden’s work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings “sometime this summer,” saying that the coronavirus pandemic “hampered” the probe. “We’re in the process of writing different sections of the report that I’d like to make public sometime this summer,” Johnson (R-Wis.) told Politico in an interview Monday. “But obviously, [the coronavirus] has not been helpful and hampered our efforts,” he added. The Wisconsin Republican told the outlet that committee staffers have been going through documents provided by the State Department and National Archives.

The National Archives’ documents include information from the Obama administration. “I’ve got staff that have been devoted to that and they’re working on that stuff from home. We — and I — can walk and chew gum at the same time here. This is not taking up massive amounts of staff time,” he said. Staffers are quarantining at home as the Senate remains in recess until April 20, a deadline that appears to be in flux. During that time, the committee is unable to take multiple actions regarding the probe, including being able to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a Democratic consultancy firm that was hired by Burisma Holdings.

[..] Senate Republicans argue that Joe Biden may have acted inappropriately as vice president when his son — who had no material experience for the job — was given a high-paying seat on the board of Burisma when the elder Biden was in charge of US policy toward Ukraine. Senate Democrats, however, have argued that the investigation could aid efforts by Russians to spread disinformation and act as a smear campaign for the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

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Sep 062019
 
 September 6, 2019  Posted by at 2:06 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Kazemir Malevich Floor polishers 1912

 

Everything Brexit changes every 5 minutes. That makes it hard to follow. It makes it hard to write about it too, because things are certain to be different as soon as you hit Publish.

Boris wanted snap elections on October 14. That became 15 because of a Jewish holiday. but the opposition didn’t really want that election, Or they did, but not on his terms. And over the past few days it’s been said 1000 times that Boris is not to be trusted so no election at all, lest he underhandedly changes the date. Well, okay let’s have one but not before November. That way his hands are tied.

Because there is no such thing as a British -or UK, if you will- constitution, court challenges against prorogating Parliament get thrown out, since no judge feels obliged to waddle into that minefield. The Supreme Court will have to, though. And soon. The prorogation apparently still leaves room on Monday September 9 for another go in Parliament at Boris’s move for an election. It will be thrown out.

Then: 5 weeks of silence. Yeah, right. Parliament may be prorogued, but Boris won’t be, and neither will the courts. There was this judge the other day who said Parliament itself can decide when to sit, but that is simply untrue. Because it ignores prorogation, which another judge just said is perfectly legal.

Boris wants to prorogue Westminster for 5 years? Perfectly legal, it would seem. Unless some lawyer or judge delves up a law from the 16th century that says otherwise. Constitutions have their use, you know.

But it’s hard not to feel sorry for the man here and there and now and then. Ministers leave, friends leave, his brother is outta here and even his dog handed him a pink slip.

 

 

And the opposition, including a whole bunch of his own party, is ganging up on him. Maybe that has something to do with special adviser Dominic Cummings telling 21 Tory parliamentarians they’re no longer welcome in their own party, of which he himself is not even a member and never has been. Maybe that’s it.

But the strongest words came from Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster -Plaid Cymru is a a social-democratic political party in Wales advocating Welsh independence from the United Kingdom within the European Union- says Wikipedia.

Saville Roberts said that this morning the opposition party leaders agreed that guaranteeing an article 50 extension should take priority over calling an early election, via BBC News:

We need to make sure we get past the 31 October and an extension to article 50. In that respect, we were in agreement that the prime minister is on the run. Boris is broken. We have an opportunity to bring down Boris, to break Boris, and to bring down Brexit. And we must take that.

Just as this week, the vote for a general election would play into Boris Johnson’s hands. It would allow him to ignore the legislation that is currently going through the House of Lords, likely to have royal assent today. It would allow him to ignore that. It would give him the opportunity to ignore the law.


Our duty, therefore, as parliamentarians who are intent on stopping no-deal Brexit is to be here in this place, to hold him to account, and to make sure that he abides by the law.

See, my theory is that Boris doesn’t give a hoot about politics, he just wants being PM on his bucket list. And he trusts, as he always has in his life, in his particular charm to woo the -older- ladies in the country to his side. Boris looks like someone with mother issues, she’s the one he’s trying to charm.

But ganging up on him like this is not nice. The older ladies will confirm this. There’s a former PM too who’s in on it:

Pressed on a challenge by Sir John Major on Thursday night to sack Cummings, Johnson first failed to answer a direct question from one reporter, then refused to give his chief adviser explicit support when asked a second time. He answered:

“I … I … Look … Advisers, as I think someone said in the Commons the other day, advisers advise and ministers decide.”


On Thursday evening, Major made an implicit reference to Cummings in a speech to the CBI Scotland annual dinner: “We have seen over-mighty advisers before. It is a familiar script. It always ends badly. I offer the prime minister some friendly advice: get rid of these advisers before they poison the political atmosphere beyond repair. And do it quickly. There is no need for them to be led out of Downing Street by armed police, but go they should. And now.”

Boris looks to be checkmate at this point. But he’s not the leader, Dominic Cummings is. And Cummings can see a few moves ahead. So there may still be surprises coming. Then again, Boris has claimed he’d rather die in a ditch than ask the EU for another Brexit extension, and Parliament appears to have made it impossible not to ask for one.

Ergo, Boris may have to go this weekend or right after the Monday vote that will deny him his snap election in time for Halloween. And if he does, he doesn’t lose all that much face, because he can blame his failure on a vast selection of other people.

But then what? Have that election anyway? Half of Britain will be red hot angry if there still is no Brexit, and there will be a lot of Labour voters in that half. So Jeremy Corbyn is not very likely to win right now. Lib Dems then? They were salvaged from the dustbin what seems just 5 minutes ago because nobody else wanted to support the Remain option. They were gone, broken.

It’s going to take a long time to put the pieces of that broken country back together again, no matter what the outcome of all this may be. That doesn’t bode well for anyone. And make no mistake, it’s broken. Into millions of little pieces.

Boris is just one of them.

 

 

 

 

Jul 072019
 


Johannes Vermeer The geographer 1668-69

 

July 7 2019, just another tequila Sunday. There are elections here in Greece, and the right wing will take over. Bad idea, because it will bring out the left wing resistance that have remained subdued while Syriza reneged on all their promises, but they were left wing, and how does left protesting left work exactly? They didn’t know. Better lay low. No more.

From now on in, it’s women and children first. And there are so many pent up grievances. Youth unemployment is still at 40%. While ever more Greeks are evicted from their homes through Airbnb alone. This ain’t gonna go well. That strong economy the right promises will be there exclusively for their own richer supporters, at the ever-increasing cost of the poor.

 

The US women’s soccer team just became World Champions again. That’s the last time in a very long time. Because traditional soccer countries now also have women’s teams. There’s a very peculiar division at the bottom of this. In Europe and South America and Africa, soccer is a men’s game.

In the US, baseball, hockey, basketball and American football have spent millions making sure soccer was turned into, and perceived as, a girly sport. Just so the best male athletes would not turn there. So the US, colleges, universities, have this decades-long tradition of women’s soccer. But they have no such tradition for men, while almost the entire rest of the world does.

That’s why the US women’s soccer team will never win again, and it’s also why the men’s team never will. No culture, no tradition, even as they easily could have them. This was very obvious to me in my Montreal days. In summer, in just about every city park, there were community and family gatherings of South- and Central Americans, and they were all playing soccer.

Still, Canada stinks at the game on an international level. Why? Because the hockey people don’t want the competition for male athletes. They cut it down wherever they can. All they would have to do is take the most promising 100 10-year old kids just playing in the parks in one city, and get them into a program. Within 10 years they’d have a national team that’s an international contender. Kids from Peru, Chili, Brazil, 100 different countries, and throw in the European kids that are there anyway. But no.

 

Still, I was going to talk about Trump again. Just to piss off the people some more who -stupidly- accuse me of supporting Trump. Though it is sort of the same thing: Greek PM Tsipras is set to lose (no results yet as I write this) because he never did what he promised. US soccer is set to lose because other domestic sports don’t want it to be successful. People are -mostly- blind.

First I saw this UK ambassador to Washington, one Sir Kim Darroch, has sent “secret” cables (memos) to his government about how Trump’s administration is supposedly “inept, insecure and incompetent”, as well as “uniquely dysfunctional” and “divided”. “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction-riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

“Differences between the US and the UK on climate change, media freedoms and the death penalty might come to the fore as the countries seek to improve trading relations after Brexit, the memos said.” Oh, fcuking yeah, the UK is such a shining light on climate change and press freedom, right?! Who’s holding a certain journalist, one Julian Assange, in a maximum security prison again?

“Mr Trump’s publicly stated reason for calling off an airstrike against Tehran with 10 minutes to go – that it would cause 150 casualties – “doesn’t stand up”, Sir Kim said. Instead, he suggested the president was “never fully on board”. When I read that line, I thought Sir Kim was not-even-so secretly in favor of attacking Iran. Was that just me?

Oh, and earlier today I was wondering if they ever hand out these Sir and Dame titles to people who are poor or even destitute but who work 25 hours a day for the people around them, to make sure they can alleviate the suffering in their communities as much as they can. Or does that mummified “Queen” of theirs only bestow that “honor” on the upper classes? No, I do not care, I think I know the answer. Inglan is a bitch.

And if I’ve ever seen a dysfunctional, “inept, insecure and incompetent” government, it’s the one that these secret memos were sent to. From Cameron to May to soon Boris Johnson, let get real.

 

Then also today there were all these news reports about Jeffrey Epstein on how he’s finally being charged with abusing dozens of underage on his planes and his estates. This has been going on for decades (who was in charge during those years). What is the media focus? Trump, of course. But Epstein was thrown out of Mar-A-Lago I think 12 years ago for hitting on an underage girl. Does that mean we know for sure Trump was never involved? Nope.

But we do know that Bill Clinton flew 26 times in a few years on Epstein’s ‘Lolita Express’ bringing helpss girls so faraway places. So maybe he should be the main focus here, not Trump. Then again, it’s too late in the game now, isn’t it? US -and UK- media have bet all their money on the anti-Trump game. They have lost everything so far, and then they double down, everything on red style.

I’m thinking: guys, you lost, time to find a new game plan. But they don’t have the flexibility nor the intelligence required. Aaron Maté wrote another scathing -must read- essay on the Mueller Report , putting its credibiltiy at the same level as the Steele dossier, but one half of America doesn’t even want to see that. It only wants to see more damning reports, damn evidence, about their favorite orange piñata.

And no, talking about that does not make me a Trump supporter. Let’s say I’m looking at that like it were a game of soccer, and I point out to you that the other team has absolutely nothing while they’re already 10-0 down (that’s a very big score in soccer).

 

But a third thing i saw today really made me think Trump can’t lose in 2020. The Guardian of all places had a review of a book entitled American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War by Politico writer Tim Alberta, in which Trump effusively praises Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among other things by comparing her to Evita Peron.

“Trump says he first saw Ocasio-Cortez during her primary against Crowley, while watching TV with political advisers. “I see a young woman,” he says, “ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner, and I said: ‘That’s interesting, go back.’” Alberta then says Trump “became enamored” and “starstruck” by Ocasio-Cortez. “I called her Eva Perón,” Trump says. “I said, ‘That’s Eva Perón. That’s Evita.”


[..] Trump does row back on his praise, telling Alberta: “She’s got talent. Now, that’s the good news. The bad news: she doesn’t know anything. She’s got a good sense, an ‘it’ factor, which is pretty good, but she knows nothing. But with time, she has real potential.”

 

I still remain convinced that the one dimensional Trump haters, the same people who would accuse me of supporting him, don’t understand how or why that means he will win easily in 2020. Well, that, and they have nobody to put up against him. Joe Biden is not just a joke, he’s an old and stale joke. Kamala Harris is an attempt to cross Obama with Hillary. Bernie Sanders is a wonderful man, but he should be the campaign manager for a younger prospect, but who isn’t there.

And Tulsi Gabbard is being actively suppressed by the DNC, like Bernie Sanders four years ago. All the rest of the field are mere bystanders. It’s the exact same feeling of the GOP ‘contestants’ standing against Trump in 2016. They’re there to fill up space, and to create the illusion there’s an actual conversation or dialogue or contest happening.

 

Personally, I think it would be great if the Democrats have a valid candidate next year, at the level of Trump or better. The Donald should have stayed in real estate. But instead he’s the President, and now everybody has to deal with that. And you don’t do that by continuing to blame him for everything that happens under the sun. That ‘tactic’ has failed for three years.

Those past 3 years of media bias against him, plus the Mueller report debacle, should have made this clear. But what we see today is that neither the Democrats nor the press that supports them have anything to fight Trump with. While he compliments their main future asset for her talent, and for her likeness to a world-famous tragic actress-turned-politician and Broadway darling.

That’s why he’ll win.

 

 

Mar 312019
 


Banksy Devolved Parliament 2009

 

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Under Fire On Vote Leave’s Law-Breaking (G.)
EU Will Delay Brexit To Allow Another Referendum (Ind.)
May Risks ‘Total Collapse’ Of Government In Brexit Impasse – Sunday Times (R.)
Furious Tory MPs Tell May: We’ll Block Snap Brexit Election (G.)
Corbyn Accuses Government Of ‘Bullying’ MPs (G.)
The Insanity of Global Trade (Roar)
Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers File An Appeal Against Her Detention (Canary)
Who Is Paying For Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are (G.)
$80 Million Roundup Verdict Is Only $2.5M After Taxes, New IRS Math (F.)
EU Bans UK’s Most-Used Pesticide Over Health And Environment Fears (G.)
How The Lion Lost Its Strength (G.)
Chicxulub: Stunning Fossils Record Dinosaurs’ Demise (BBC)

 

 

For anyone who wanted to stop Brexit, this seemed the way out: show illegal activity. Plenty appears to be there, but it’s been swept under the carpet. Why hasn’t it been investigated much more?

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Under Fire On Vote Leave’s Law-Breaking (G.)

Conservative leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are facing growing calls to account for illegal behaviour by the official Vote Leave Brexit campaign. The group has dropped its appeal against the Electoral Commission’s ruling that it broke the law by channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of donations to an ostensibly independent campaign group, BeLeave. When the Observer revealed evidence a year ago that Vote Leave had broken spending rules, Johnson attacked the report on Twitter as “utterly ludicrous” and said it had “won … legally”. A Johnson adviser said on Saturday that the former foreign secretary would not comment on the end of the appeal.

There has been no government response to the appeal being dropped and little media coverage. And while national broadcasters and newspapers gave prime coverage to Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliot when he launched an aggressive media campaign against the watchdog’s initial findings, few covered the decision to to end the appeals process in any depth. After the announcement, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, who was outed by a member of Theresa May’s team, lost his job and was vilified as a fantasist after his revelations about Vote Leave’s spending, said: “The [end of the appeal] feels extremely vindicating, but the way the media has responded to it has been extremely disappointing. The only excuse they had is that they were appealing. Now we know they broke the law, they need to be held to account.”


Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said the confirmation that Vote Leave had broken the law underlined the need for a second referendum. “It is now incumbent on the government to act. We have heard minister after minister say the referendum is valid. This is proof it was not,” she said. “Going ahead with Brexit in these circumstances would be the biggest betrayal of our democracy of all.”

Read more …

Britain can only do what the EU will allow.

EU Will Delay Brexit To Allow Another Referendum (Ind.)

EU leaders are prepared to let Britain delay Brexit again to allow time for a second referendum, The Independent understands. After parliament rejected Theresa May’s deal for a third time, the bloc called a summit on 10 April – two days before the UK is on course to leave without a deal. And senior Brussels officials familiar with leaders’ thinking say that barring a credible plan to get a majority for the withdrawal agreement, the UK would be given more time only if it was for another clear option such as a general election or a referendum. The EU has already warned that a further extension, which could run until at least the end of the year, would also require the UK to take part in European parliament elections scheduled for the end of May.


As reported by The Independent, the prime minister is considering a general election as a way out of the Brexit chaos in Westminster, where MPs have rejected all options – including a no-deal Brexit. Senior officials in Brussels have made clear that an extension would also be justified if it was to make time for a referendum. Indicative votes in the Commons this week showed relatively strong support for a confirmatory referendum among MPs, with numbers such that only around a dozen more would need to be convinced to back one to pass it. One senior EU official said there were “three possible justifications” for a long extension emerging in member states’ thinking following their summit last week.

Read more …

Obviously. But a lot more could collapse.

May Risks ‘Total Collapse’ Of Government In Brexit Impasse – Sunday Times (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May risks the “total collapse” of her government if she fails to get her battered Brexit deal through parliament, the Sunday Times newspaper said, amid growing speculation that she might call an early election. Underscoring the tough choices facing May to break the Brexit impasse, the newspaper said at least six pro-European Union senior ministers will resign if she opts for a potentially damaging no-deal departure from the EU. But at the same time, rival ministers who support Brexit were threatening to quit if May decides to stay close to the EU with a customs union or if she sought a long delay to Brexit, the Sunday Times said.

May’s Brexit strategy is in tatters after the exit deal she hammered out with other EU leaders was rejected for a third time by the House of Commons on Friday, the day that Britain was supposed to leave the bloc. [..] The Mail on Sunday newspaper said May’s advisors were divided over whether she should call an early election if she fails to win support for her Brexit deal from parliament in the coming week. The newspaper said a possible “run-off” vote could take place on Tuesday in parliament between May’s deal and whatever alternative emerges as the most popular from voting by lawmakers on Monday. That meant an election could be called as early as Wednesday, the newspaper said …


The Sunday Telegraph said senior members of the Conservative Party did not want May to lead them into a snap election, fearing the party would be “annihilated” at the polls if she faced down parliament over Brexit in the coming months. An opinion poll in the Mail on Sunday gave the opposition Labour Party a lead of five percentage points over the Conservatives. That lead fell to three points if voters were offered the chance to vote for a new group of independent lawmakers who have not yet created an official party.

Read more …

“The threat of an election immediately angered both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs. May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one..”

Furious Tory MPs Tell May: We’ll Block Snap Brexit Election (G.)

Conservative MPs from across the party are threatening to vote down any attempt by Theresa May to lead them into a snap election, warning it would split the Tories and exacerbate the Brexit crisis. In a sign of the collapse in authority suffered by the prime minister, cabinet ministers are among those warning that there will be a serious campaign by Conservative MPs to vote against an election headed by May, a move she hinted at last week to break the Brexit deadlock. The threat of an election immediately angered both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs. May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one, meaning a serious rebellion by Tories could block it. May would then be forced to secure an election by backing a no-confidence vote in her own government, which only requires a simple majority of MPs.


Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan said: “If we have a general election before Brexit is resolved, it will only make things worse.” Antoinette Sandbach, a Tory MP who backs another referendum being held on any deal agreed by parliament, said she would vote against calling an election. “The answer is not a general election, and I would vote against that. We need to find a way forward in parliament and then put that to the people in a confirmatory referendum.” Mark Francois, a member of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs, said there was “not a chance” that Conservative MPs would back an election under May. “‘Of course they wouldn’t – not after last time. And remember, she needs a super majority to do it.”

Read more …

Then call for a national government, you twit.

Corbyn Accuses Government Of ‘Bullying’ MPs (G.)

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has accused the government of running down the clock and “bullying and threatening” MPs as it tried to force through Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Speaking in Newport, south Wales, before a byelection on Thursday, Corbyn also refused to say what his party’s parliamentary tactics would be during a second round of indicative votes due to take place on Monday. He said that the option of giving the public a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal “is the Labour position so far, but there hasn’t been enough support for that across the floor in the House of Commons”. During this week’s indicative votes, the option for a public vote was whipped by Labour but was defeated by 295 to 268 votes, with 27 of the party’s MPs rebelling.


Corbyn said: “The absolute priority at the moment is to end this chaos the government has brought us to by their endlessly running down the clock and basically bullying and threatening people. The bullying hasn’t worked, the threats haven’t worked. It’s time now for the sensible people to take over.” He cautioned: “This is a very dangerous period, because if we crash out without a deal then the supply chains get interrupted, jobs are at stake, and also the sense of security of many EU nationals living in Britain, and of course British people living across Europe.” [..] “However people voted in the referendum, no one voted to lose their jobs, no one voted to be worse off, and no one voted to deregulate our society.”

Read more …

Maximizing waste production is our economic model. Lovely video.

The Insanity of Global Trade (Roar)

The way trade works in the global economy is often absurd. Food routinely gets shipped halfway across the world to be processed, then shipped back to be sold right where it started. Mexican calves — fed imported American corn — are exported to the United States to be butchered, and then the meat is exported back to Mexico for sale. More than half of the seafood caught in Alaska gets processed in China, and much of it is sent right back to American grocery store shelves. Compounding the insanity of this “re-importation” is the equally head-scratching phenomenon of “redundant trade”. This is a common practice whereby countries both import and export identical quantities of identical products in a given year.

For instance, in 2007, Britain imported 15,000 tons of chocolate-covered waffles, while exporting 14,000 tons. In 2017, the US both imported and exported nearly 1.5 million tons of beef and nearly half a million tons of potatoes. On the face of it, this kind of trade makes no economic sense. Why would it be worth the immense cost — in money as well as fuel — of sending perfectly good food abroad only to bring it right back again? The answer lies in the way the global economy is structured. Direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuels, on the order of $5 trillion per year worldwide, allow the costs of shipping to be largely borne by taxpayers and the environment instead of the businesses that actually engage in it. This allows transnational corporations to take advantage of differences in labor and environmental laws between countries, not to mention tax loopholes, in service of making a bigger profit.


The consequences of this bad behavior are already severe, and set to become worse in the coming decades. Small farmers, particularly in the Global South, have seen their livelihoods undermined by influxes of cheap food from abroad. Trade agreements have made it impossible for companies to compete in the global economy unless they base their operations in places with the weakest protections for workers and the environment. And all the while, the share of global carbon emissions produced by commercial shipping is set to rise to 17 percent by 2050, if action isn’t taken to curb our addiction to trade.

Read more …

So far, the law has not been on Chelsea’s side. Or actually, it has. It just doesn’t count for much anymore.

Chelsea Manning’s Lawyers File An Appeal Against Her Detention (Canary)

Chelsea’s Manning’s legal team have filed an appeal on her behalf. They’ve asked that the fourth circuit court order her release from detention. On 8 March, Manning refused to testify in front of a grand jury about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Judge Claude Hilton found that Manning was in contempt of court and ordered her jailed. Manning will walk free when she either chooses to testify or the grand jury finishes its work. As a result, Manning could be held in jail for a further 18 months. Her support group Chelsea Resists! published a statement about the appeal. It said that her legal team are basing the appeal on three issues. Firstly, it said: “Judge Hilton denied Chelsea’s motion asking the government to disclose the existence of any unlawful surveillance without actually considering the evidence.”

This is important, it argued, because “evidence derived from unlawful surveillance may not be used in a grand jury”. Secondly, it claimed judge Hilton did not get assurances that the government’s subpoenaing of Manning was “properly motivated”. Chelsea Resists! said: “Prosecutors may not use the grand jury for the primary purpose of preparing for trial of an already-secured indictment. Chelsea raised concerns that the government did not need her testimony to further their investigation, and that rather they intended to use the subpoena to preview and perhaps undermine any testimony she might give at trial for an already-pending indictment.” It said this is “an abuse of process” which would void the initial subpoena. It argued that the judge “did not consider the facts or the law on this motion”.


For now, the US government is still holding Manning in detention. As The Canary previously reported, her support group has also accused the government of torturing her. According to Chelsea Resists!, prison authorities confine Manning to her cell for 22 hours a day. It says that “this treatment qualifies as Solitary Confinement” which “amounts to torture” when maintained for over 15 days. In its latest statement, it also said that this confinement: “..is especially egregious given that Chelsea has not been charged with or convicted of a crime.” The US government previously held Manning in solitary confinement from May 2010 to April 2011.

Read more …

“..US district judge Vince Chhabria [..] said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product..”

Who Is Paying For Monsanto’s Crimes? We Are (G.)

The chickens are coming home to roost, as they say in farm country. For the second time in less than eight months a US jury has found that decades of scientific evidence demonstrates a clear cancer connection to Monsanto’s line of top-selling Roundup herbicides, which are used widely by consumers and farmers. Twice now jurors have additionally determined that the company’s own internal records show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks. Both juries found punitive damages were warranted because the company’s cover-up of cancer risks was so egregious.


The juries saw evidence that Monsanto has ghost-written scientific papers, tried to silence scientists, scuttled independent government testing, and cozied up to regulators for favorable safety reviews of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Even the US district judge Vince Chhabria, who oversaw the San Francisco trial that concluded Wednesday with an $80.2m damage award, had harsh words for Monsanto. Chhabria said there were “large swaths of evidence” showing that the company’s herbicides could cause cancer. He also said there was “a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product… and does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”

Read more …

Oh dear…

$80 Million Roundup Verdict Is Only $2.5M After Taxes, New IRS Math (F.)

Another Roundup verdict is in. This time, jurors found that Monsanto failed to warn users its product was dangerous and awarded Edwin Hardeman $200,000 for economic losses, $5 million for past and future pain and suffering, and $75 million in punitive damages. Last year, jurors gave $289 million to a man they say got cancer from Monsanto’s Roundup. That verdict was later reduced, and is on appeal. But the latest case is federal, and suggests that others could be headed for big numbers. The jury had already concluded that the weedkiller was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Hardeman’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Monsanto faces over 10,000 claims, and can be expected to continue fighting hard. But even if Monsanto pays up, new tax rules could swallow up many of the verdicts plaintiffs might be hoping to collect. Wait until you see the new tax math.

Under President Trump’s tax bill passed in late 2017, there is a new tax on litigation settlements: no deduction for legal fees. Amazingly, many legal fees can no longer be deducted. That means many plaintiffs must pay taxes even on monies their attorneys collect. Of course, the attorneys must also pay tax on the same money. Here’s the new math. Hardeman was awarded a bit over $5 million in compensatory damages, and $75M in punitive damages. The combined contingent fees and costs Mr. Hardeman pays his attorneys might total as much as 50%. If so, the plaintiff would get to keep half, or $2.5 million of the $5 million compensatory award. Since it is for his claimed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that part for physical injuries should not be taxed.


Then, of the $75 million punitive award, $37.5 million goes to legal fees and costs, and $37.5 million to Hardeman. So before taxes, the plaintiff’s take home is $40 million. What about after taxes? The $75 million in punitive damages are fully taxable, with no deduction for the fees to his lawyer. Between federal taxes of 37% and California taxes of up to 13.3%, Hardeman could lose about 50% to the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board. That makes his after-tax (and after legal fee) haul from an $80 million verdict only $2.5 million.

Read more …

Everything dies baby that’s a fact. We live in a death culture.

EU Bans UK’s Most-Used Pesticide Over Health And Environment Fears (G.)

One of the world’s most common pesticides will soon be banned by the European Union after safety officials reported human health and environmental concerns. Chlorothalonil, a fungicide that prevents mildew and mould on crops, is the most used pesticide in the UK, applied to millions of hectares of fields, and is the most popular fungicide in the US. Farmers called the ban “overly precautionary”. But EU states voted for a ban after a review by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) was unable to exclude the possibility that breakdown products of the chemical cause damage to DNA. Efsa also said “a high risk to amphibians and fish was identified for all representative uses”.

Recent research further identified chlorothalonil and other fungicides as the strongest factor linked to steep declines in bumblebees. Regulators around the world have falsely assumed it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes, according to a chief scientific adviser to the UK government. Other research in 2017 showed farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses, while a UN report denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.


A European commission spokeswoman said: “The [chlorothalonil ban] is based on Efsa’s scientific assessment which concluded that the approval criteria do not seem to be satisfied for a wide range of reasons. Great concerns are raised in relation to contamination of groundwater by metabolites of the substance.” Chlorothalonil has been used across the world since 1964 on barley and wheat, as well as potatoes, peas and beans. The ban will be passed formally in late April or early May and then enter into force three weeks later, the commission spokeswoman said.

Read more …

Inbreeding.

How The Lion Lost Its Strength (G.)

For more than a century, explorers and settlers have warned about the likely impact of the hunting of lions and other wild animals in Africa. One of the most prescient, Frederick Selous, the inspiration for the character Allan Quatermain in the novels of H Rider Haggard, wrote in 1908 that “since my first arrival in 1871, I had seen game of all kinds gradually decrease and dwindle in numbers to such an extent that I thought that nowhere south of the Great Lakes could there be a corner of Africa left where the wild animals had not been very much thinned out”.

Now researchers have uncovered the impact of that predation on the lion. Lion numbers and range have plunged – but it appears their genetic fitness has also declined. An alarming new study has revealed that lions shot by colonial hunters more than 100 years ago were more genetically diverse than the ones that now populate Africa. The discovery is worrying because it indicates that the species’ fight to survive may be even more difficult than had been previously thought. “Loss of genetic diversity means that lions are now less able to withstand new diseases or environmental problems, such as heatwaves or droughts,” said lead author Simon Dures, of the Zoological Society of London. “It means that we will have to be even more careful about how we try to protect them.”


In the late 19th century there were about 200,000 members of Panthera leo roaming the savannahs of Africa. Then European colonialists arrived and began shooting lions – the most social of all cats – in their thousands, first as sport and later to protect the cattle that the newcomers had begun to farm. With fewer than 20,000 of these majestic predators left on the continent, the species has now been designated as “vulnerable”.


Lions have lost some of their ability to cope with diseases, environmental changes or other threats. Photograph: Heinrich van den Berg/Getty Images

Read more …

Always fascinating.

Chicxulub: Stunning Fossils Record Dinosaurs’ Demise (BBC)

Scientists have found an extraordinary snapshot of the fallout from the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Excavations in North Dakota reveal fossils of fish and trees that were sprayed with rocky, glassy fragments that fell from the sky. The deposits show evidence also of having been swamped with water – the consequence of the colossal sea surge that was generated by the impact. Robert DePalma, from the University of Kansas, and colleagues say the dig site, at a place called Tanis, gives an amazing glimpse into events that probably occurred perhaps only tens of minutes to a couple of hours after the giant asteroid hit the Earth.


Fossilised fish piled one atop another as they were flung ashore by the seiche

When this 12km-wide object slammed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, it would have hurled billions of tonnes of molten and vaporised rock into the sky in all directions – and across thousands of kilometres. And at Tanis, the fossils record the moment this bead-sized material fell back down and strafed everything in its path. Fish are found with the impact-induced debris embedded in their gills. They would have breathed in the fragments that filled the water around them. There are also particles caught in amber, which is the preserved remnant of tree resin. It is even possible to discern the wake left by these tiny, glassy tektites, to use the technical term, as they entered the resin.


Dating the tektites gives an age for the impact – 65.76 million years ago

Geochemists have managed to link the fallout material directly to the so-called Chicxulub impact site in the Gulf. They have also dated the debris to 65.76 million years ago, which is in very good agreement with the timing for the event worked out from evidence at other sites around the world. From the way the Tanis deposits are arranged, the scientists can see that the area was hit by a massive surge of water. Although the impact is understood to have generated a huge tsunami, it would have taken many hours for this wave to travel the 3,000km from the Gulf to North Dakota, despite the likely presence back then of a seaway cutting directly across the American landmass.


The outer rim (white arc) of the crater lies partly under Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

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Sep 232018
 
 September 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Swimming 1908

 

Trump To Investigate Google, Facebook Under New Executive Order (ZH)
Theresa May Said To Be Preparing For Snap Election To Save Brexit (R.)
Labour To Trigger Early Election If May Defeated In Parliament (Ind.)
Crashing Out Of EU May Hasten Breakup Of UK – Ministers (G.)
Corbyn Will Back Fresh Referendum If Labour Conference Wants It (Ind.)
Kavanaugh Accuser Has No-One Left To Corroborate Her Story (ZH)
Pompeo Hints Rosenstein Should Resign (G.)
The New York Times as Judge and Jury (Lauria)
Iran Summons UK, Dutch, Danish Envoys Over Attack On Military Parade (G.)
Greek Journalists Detained After Reporting Mishandling Of Migrant Funds (K.)
Mysterious Great White Shark Lair Discovered In Pacific Ocean (SFC)

 

 

Almost 3/4 of Americans say Big Tech is biased.

Trump To Investigate Google, Facebook Under New Executive Order (ZH)

According to a an early draft of an Executive Order (EO), the White House will instruct federal law enforcement and antitrust agencies to launch investigations into the business practices of Facebook, Google and other social media companies, according to Bloomberg which says it has seen the draft. While not specifically calling out companies by name, the document orders US antitrust officials to “thoroughly investigate whether any online platform has acted in violation of the antitrust laws,” while instructing other agencies to return recommendations within a month of Trump signing the EO which could potentially “protect competition among online platforms and address online platform bias.”

“The document doesn’t name any specific companies. If signed, the order would represent a significant escalation of Trump’s antipathy toward Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies, whom he has publicly accused of silencing conservative voices and news sources online. … The draft order directs that any actions federal agencies take should be “consistent with other laws” — an apparent nod to concerns that it could threaten the traditional independence of U.S. law enforcement or conflict with the First Amendment, which protects political views from government regulation.” -Bloomberg

[..] According to Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans, and in particular 85% of Republicans and right-leaning independents think social media companies purposefully censor political viewpoints which run counter to their internal culture. “The belief that technology companies are politically biased and/or engaged in suppression of political speech is especially widespread among Republicans. Fully 85% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think it likely that social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints, with 54% saying this is very likely. And a majority of Republicans (64%) think major technology companies as a whole support the views of liberals over conservatives.” – Pew

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Trying to take the wind out of Corbyn’s’ sails? Or does she think she can win? Lost the last one badly.

Theresa May Said To Be Preparing For Snap Election To Save Brexit (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s aides have begun contingency planning for a snap election in November to save both Brexit and her job, the Sunday Times reported. The newspaper said that two senior members of May’s Downing Street political team began “wargaming” an autumn vote to win public backing for a new plan, after her Brexit proposals were criticised at a summit in Salzburg last week.

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With May’s election plan, this is a dud.

Labour To Trigger Early Election If May Defeated In Parliament (Ind.)

Labour will launch a plan to force an election by seeking a motion of no confidence in the government within days if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is defeated in parliament, The Independent has learnt. Jeremy Corbyn and his top team will launch an attempt to force the Conservative administration to go to the people at what they believe will be a moment of maximum weakness for the prime minister. Multiple sources confirmed party chiefs have game-planned their approach if Ms May’s beleaguered proposals are vetoed in a crucial commons vote or if she fails to get a deal in Europe, which looks increasingly likely after EU leaders torpedoed them earlier this week.

A motion of no confidence would need some support from Conservative MPs to pass, but either way would act to severely destabilise the prime minister as internal pressure for her to quit peaked. The moment could also prove critical for Labour’s own approach to Brexit, with the party having stated its preference for an election while signalling that if one is not possible it could back a new referendum. It comes as Labour starts its 2018 conference in Liverpool, with Brexit and the party’s approach to holding a fresh public vote on the outcome of negotiations set to dominate the agenda.

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Irish border. The EU has to protect Ireland. That’s not optional.

Crashing Out Of EU May Hasten Breakup Of UK – Ministers (G.)

Theresa May is being warned by cabinet colleagues that a shift towards a harder Brexit will hasten the break-up of the UK, amid a renewed attempt by Brexiters to secure a clean split from the European Union. With senior Tories warning that the prime minister now risks a diplomatic calamity on the scale of the Suez crisis, following her disastrous Salzburg summit, she is facing a renewed campaign among ministers and influential backbenchers to ditch her current plans and back a looser free trade deal with the EU. However, some cabinet ministers are concerned such a shift will effectively place a border between Northern Ireland and Britain and put it “in the departure lounge from the UK”.

Cabinet sources are also warning that such a move would reignite the debate about Scotland’s place in the UK and further unravel the union. “Nobody voted Brexit to break up the UK,” one minister said. Another said: “Those advocating [the free trade deal] approach need to face up to the consequences for the union.” Some Tory aides are said to be so worried about the lack of support for May’s current Brexit plans that they fear another snap election will be needed before the end of the year. Downing Street sources categorically denied that such an option was being considered in No 10.

Last night, May again attempted to calm the warring factions in her party, calling for “cool heads”. “It is time to hold our nerve,” she said. “I have said many times that these negotiations would be tough, and they were always bound to be toughest in the final straight.” She also accused Labour, Lib Dem and SNP figures of “actively undermining the UK’s negotiating position” in their talks with the EU.

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They will want it. But with an election coming, what use is it?

Corbyn Will Back Fresh Referendum If Labour Conference Wants It (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has said he will back giving the British people a final say on Brexit in a new referendum if party members vote for it at Labour’s conference this week. The Labour leader said that while he had not called for it up to now he had been elected to “empower” members and would not “walk away from it” if they demanded a new vote. Mr Corbyn also said he would join forces with rebel Tories to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit plans in parliament if they did not meet Labour’s tests, with The Independent reporting on Saturday that the party would then maximise pressure on the prime minister by seeking a motion of no confidence in the government if her proposals fell.

The Labour leader’s new comments on a People’s Vote Brexit referendum come as a new YouGov poll showed his party’s members overwhelmingly back one, while more than 100 motions relating to a new vote have been proposed for the conference in Liverpool. He said: “What comes out of conference I will adhere to. But I’m not calling for a second referendum. I hope we will agree that the best way of resolving this is a general election. “But I was elected to empower the members of the party.

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Too many people getting ahead of themselves already. Not me. But the story keeps getting weirder. You now have Blasey Ford who can’t remember where and when, and 4 others who say it never happened.

Kavanaugh Accuser Has No-One Left To Corroborate Her Story (ZH)

A woman believed to have been one of five people at a party some 35 years ago where Christine Blasey Ford claims she was sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh has become the fourth person to deny any recollection of the event. In a Saturday night email to the Senate Judiciary Committee also received by several news outlets, Leland Ingham Keyser – a “longtime friend” of Blasey Ford’s said through her attorney: “Simply put, Ms. Keyser does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford,” said Keyser’s attorney Howard Walsh, who has been “engaged in the limited capacity” of corresponding with the committee on behalf of Keyser, according to Politico.

Kavanaugh and Mark Judge – the other teenager allegedly in the room during the alleged sexual assault – have both stated that they have no recollection of the incident, while a third man who Ford claims was at the party – Patrick J. Smyth, also denied any recollection of the event, telling the Judiciary Committee last week in a statement: “I understand that I have been identified by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the person she remembers as ‘PJ’ who supposedly was present at the party she described in her statements to the Washington Post,” Smyth wrote in his statement. “I am issuing this statement today to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.”

[..] On Saturday night, a tentative deal was reached for Ford to testify publicly on Thursday, according to the New York Times. “After a brief call late on Saturday, the woman’s lawyers and aides to Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, planned to talk again Sunday morning to continue the halting negotiations over the conditions of the testimony, according to three people familiar with the call. Aides to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, were also involved.” -NY Times The Times notes, however, that Leland Keyser’s statement “seemed to eliminate any chance of corroboration of Dr. Blasey’s account by anyone who attended the high school party where she says she was assaulted.”

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New theory: Trump is being tricked into firing Rosenstein.

Sean Hannity said: “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody … I have multiple sources confirming this … it is all a set-up.”

Pompeo Hints Rosenstein Should Resign (G.)

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has hinted that Rod Rosenstein could be in jeopardy, after reports on Friday said the deputy attorney general discussed wearing a wire to record conversations with Donald Trump and the possibility of invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president. In excerpts of an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pompeo said: “If you can’t be on the team, if you’re not supporting this mission, then maybe you just ought to find something else to do.” Asked by the host Chris Wallace if Rosenstein’s reported behaviour would constitute “being on the team”, Pompeo said: “Not remotely.”

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference, links between Trump aides and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice by the president. The deputy attorney general’s remarks were reported by the New York Times and confirmed by other outlets. Speculation that Trump might fire Rosenstein, as a way to neutralise Mueller, increased to fever pitch. Such a move from the president, which would carry strong echoes of the Watergate affair which brought down Richard Nixon, would likely push the US to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

[..] Pompeo’s remarks to Fox were released after Trump told a rally in Springfield, Missouri on Friday night he would act to rid the Department of Justice and the FBI of “a lingering stench” of disloyalty. Also on Friday night, the Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and Gregg Jarrett advocated firing Rosenstein. However Sean Hannity, who has perhaps even more influence with the president than Ingraham or Pirro, said Trump should not do that. In what he called “a message for the president”, Hannity said: “Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody … I have multiple sources confirming this … it is all a set-up.”

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In a very long Russiagate piece, the NYT confesses at the very end that there is no proof.

The New York Times as Judge and Jury (Lauria)

In a massive Times‘ article published on Thursday, entitled, “‘A Plot to Subvert an Election: Unravelling the Russia Story So Far,” it seems that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have succumbed to the same thinking that doubled down on Iraq. They claim to have a “mountain of evidence” but what they offer would be invisible on the Great Plains. With the mid-terms looming and Special Counsel Robert Mueller unable to so far come up with any proof of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to steal the 2016 election—the central Russia-gate charge—the Times does it for him, regurgitating a Russia-gate Round-Up of every unsubstantiated allegation that has been made—deceptively presented as though it’s all been proven.

This is a reaffirmation of the faith, a recitation of what the Russia-gate faithful want to believe is true. But mere repetition will not make it so. The Times’ unsteady conviction is summed up in this paragraph, which the paper itself then contradicts only a few paragraphs later: “What we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.” But this schizoid approach leads to the admission that “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

The Times also adds: “There is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved.” This is an extraordinary statement. If it cannot be “proved or disproved” what is the point of this entire exercise: of the Mueller probe, the House and Senate investigations and even of this very New York Times article? Attempting to prove this constructed story without proof is the very point of this piece.

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See that coming?

Iran Summons UK, Dutch, Danish Envoys Over Attack On Military Parade (G.)

Iran has summoned envoys from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark over Saturday’s deadly shooting of 29 people at a military parade in the south of the country, state media has reported. The British charge d’affaires, along with the Dutch and Danish ambassadors, were “informed of Iran’s strong protests over their respective countries’ hosting of some members of the terrorist group” which carried out the attack, the official news agency Irna said. Gunmen sprayed a crowd with bullets in the south-western city of Ahvaz, at a military parade in the in oil-rich Khuzestan province. Members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and soldiers from the country’s army, as well as civilians, including children, were among the victims.

Islamic State and an Arab nationalist separatist group, called the Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz, both claimed responsibility for the attack. Islamic State said via Amaq, the news outlet linked to the group, that “Islamic State fighters attacked a gathering of Iranian forces” in Ahvaz. Isis wrongly suggested the Iranian president was speaking at the parade. Hassan Rouhani was speaking at a parade in the capital, Tehran, instead. Iran called on Denmark and the Netherlands to extradite the attack’s “perpetrators and their accomplices” to stand trial, Irna said, citing foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi. “It is not acceptable that the European Union does not blacklist members of these terrorist groups as long as they do not perpetrate a crime on … European soil,” Qasemi was quoted as saying.

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Dumb. Going after reporters is something from other cultures, not Greece.

Greek Journalists Detained After Reporting Mishandling Of Migrant Funds (K.)

The publisher and editor in chief of a Greek newspaper have been detained over an article that alleges mishandling of European Union funds meant to improve conditions in migrant hotspots across the country. The journalists were detained following a complaint by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose ministry is handling the EU funding. The article published Friday alleged some of the recipients of EU funding were businessmen connected to Kammenos. Panayiotis Lampsias, editor-in-chief of daily “Fileleftheros” (Liberal) told AP that “we are at the Exarchia police precinct, where we will spend the night and probably be sent to a prosecutor” on Sunday.

Opposition parties have condemned the detention. Conservative New Democracy party accused the defense minister of “thuggery” and said the real issue was the mishandling of funds. “Whether he wants it or not, [Kammenos] will be held accountable for the national shame that is Moria,” ND said in a statement. “The same goes for his ostensibly left-wing sensitive fellow ministers who on a daily basis humiliate human existence and tarnish Greece’s image across the world,” it said.

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Wonderful. The White Shark Cafe: “..it takes a month for the sharks to get there..”

Mysterious Great White Shark Lair Discovered In Pacific Ocean (SFC)

A scientific mission into the secret ocean lair of California’s great white sharks has provided tantalizing clues into a vexing mystery — why the fearsome predators spend winter and spring in what has long appeared to be an empty void in the deep sea. A boatload of researchers from five scientific institutions visited the middle-of-nowhere spot between Baja California and Hawaii this past spring on a quest to learn more about what draws the big sharks to what has become known as the White Shark Cafe, almost as if they were pulled by some astrological stimulus.

The sharks’ annual pilgrimage to the mid-Pacific region from the coasts of California and Mexico has baffled scientists for years, not just because it is so far away — it takes a month for the sharks to get there — but because it seemed, on the surface, to be lacking the kind of prey or habitat that the toothy carnivores prefer. But the researchers made a remarkable discovery. Instead of blank, barren sea, the expedition, led by scientists with Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, found a vast community of tiny light-sensitive creatures so tantalizing that the sharks cross the sea en masse to reach them. The primary lure, scientists believe, is an extraordinary abundance of squid and small fish that migrate up and down in a little understood deep-water portion of ocean known as the “mid-water,” a region skirting the edge of complete darkness that could provide an immeasurably valuable trove of information about the ocean ecosystem and climate change.

What’s clear so far is that, like the hidden community of specialized wildlife in the Sahara, the shark cafe is a swirling mass of tiny phytoplankton, fish, squid and jellies. They move up and down in a soupy layer deep under water, a kind of twilight zone just below where sunlight stops penetrating the ocean depths. “It’s the largest migration of animals on Earth — a vertical migration that’s timed with the light cycle,” Jorgensen said. “During the day they go just below where there is light and at night they come up nearer the surface to warmer, more productive waters under the cover of darkness.” It’s a surreal deep water world populated by bioluminescent lantern fish and other species that have evolved amazing adaptations to darkness, Jorgensen said.

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Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 6:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Robert Frank London 1952-53

 

‘Tis the jolly time of elections, referendums, flags and other democracy-related issues. They are all linked in some way or another, even if that’s not always obvious. Elections, in New Zealand and Germany this weekend, referendums in Catalonia and Kurdistan the coming week, a looming Party Congress in China, quarrels about a flag in the US and then there’s always Brexit.

About China: the Congress is only in October, Xi Jinping looks sure to broaden his powers even more, and it ain’t all that democratic, but we should still follow it, if only because party officials will be either demoted or promoted, and some of them govern more people than most kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but in China everything really is. Including debt.

New Zealand: the election very early this morning didn’t bring a much hoped for win for Labour, or any clear winner at all, so don’t expect any grand changes in policy. New Zealand won’t wake up till its economy dives and the housing bubble pops.

Germany: Angela Merkel has set up today’s election so that she has no competition. Though she will see the ultra-right AfD enter parliament. Still, her main ‘rival’, alleged left wing Martin Schulz, is a carbon copy of Merkel when it comes to the main issues, i.e. immigration and the EU. An election that is as dull as Angela herself, even though she’ll lose 10% or so. The next one won’t be, guaranteed.

As for the US, no elections there, but another round of big words about nationalism, patriotism and the flag. Donald Trump is well aware that 75% or so of Americans say the flag must be respected, so criticizing people for kneeling instead of standing when the anthem gets played is an easy win for him. No amount of famous athletes is going to change that.

It all doesn’t seem very smart or sophisticated. But then, the US is the only western country I know of that plays the anthem at domestic sports games and has children vow a Pledge of Allegiance to it every single day. Other countries can’t even imagine doing that. They keep their anthems for special occasions. And even then only a few people stand up when it’s played. For most, it’s much ado about nothing but a strip of cotton.

What is perhaps interesting is that a whole list of NFL team owners donated a million dollars to Trump, and now speak out against him and ‘side with their players’, even though not one of them has offered Colin Kaepernick a job since he got fired for going down on one knee. Should I add ‘allegedly’? The only right way to handle the issue would seem to be to talk about why Kaepernick and others do what they do, not that they do it. There’s more than enough division in the country to warrant such talks.

Let Trump invite Kaepernick and Stephen Curry, maybe even Lebron and Stevie Wonder, to the White House with the very intention to talk about that. In the current hostile climate that is not going to happen though, even if Da Donald might want to. There’s a group of people who after 30 years of a deteriorating economy said ‘this is not my country anymore’, and voted for the only -apparent- alternative available, Trump, and another group who then said ‘this is not my president’.

And never the twain shall have a conversation. Somebody better find a way to get them to talk about it, or worse is to come. Far too many Americans identify themselves solely as not being someone else. Yeah, Trump too, but he’s been under constant siege from all sides, and of course he’ll fight back. No, that does not make me a Trump cheerleader, as some have suggested, but what’s happening today threatens to blow up the entire nation, after first having eroded the whole political system. This is a serious risk.

Now spymaster James Clapper is saying again that the whole Russia thing, for which there still is zero proof, could make the election invalid. Well, not without proof, Jimbo. And until you do have that proof, shut up, it’s poisonous (he knows). Instead, go help the 3.5 million literally powerless Americans in Puerto Rico. There are plenty issues to deal with that don’t involve bashing your president. Keep that for later.

 

(Proposed) referendums (referenda?) in Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ raise interesting questions about sovereignty and self determination. We’ll see a lot more of that going forward. I’ve repeatedly mentioned the issue of sovereignty when it comes to Greece, which cannot really be called sovereign anymore because others, foreigners, make all main decisions about its economy.

There may be plenty different definitions of sovereignty, but there can be no doubt it means that a domestic authority has control over a country. That also means that possible changes to that authority can only be made domestically. To come back to Greece briefly, I’m surprised that no constitutional lawyers or scholars have questioned respective governments handing de facto control to ‘outsiders’.

But that can be both deepened and broadened to the decision to join both first the EU, and later the euro. Have all 27 EU countries run these decisions by their constitutional lawyers and highest courts? I’ve never seen an opinion like that from any country. Does a country’s ruling authority have the power to sign away its sovereignty? I would bet in most cases it does not, or the constitution involved was/is either shoddily written or not worth much to begin with.

That any elected US president -or Congress, Senate- would have the power to sell the country to the highest bidder -or any part of it- sounds preposterous, even if I’m no constitutional lawyer or scholar. What countries CAN do, of course, is sign treaties and other agreements concerning defence or trade, among others. But any possible sovereignty violations would always need to be scrutinized at the highest domestically available level of judicial power.

Moreover, I would argue that sovereignty is not something that can be divided, split up or broken into separate parts. You’re either sovereign or you’re not. One country, indivisible, as the US Pledge of Allegiance states (but that doesn’t mean a group of people inside a country can’t seek its own sovereignty).

 

The ‘composition’ of the EU raises a lot of questions. Many countries have given up their rights to control over their currencies, and therefore their entire economic policies, and though the euro is undoubtedly beneficial in some areas, it has turned out to be a straight-jacket in others, when less sunny economic times arrived.

So what happens if those less sunny times are here to stay? Will countries like Greece continue to bend over for Germany, and for the ECB it controls, or will some of these countries (re-)examine their rights to sovereignty? How is this defined in the EU charter anyway? It has to be there, or many constitutions were violated to begin with when countries signed up. Sovereignty that is not properly defined is meaningless.

Another, non-economic, example concerns the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. It’s wonderfully ironic that Wikipedia says the Visegrad alliance (est. in 1991) was formed “for the purposes of furthering their European integration”, ironic because one might be tempted to think it does the opposite. The Visegrad countries refuse to be part of the EU’s scheme to resettle refugees.

And Brussels tries to force them to comply with that scheme, with threat after threat. But that too, no matter how one views the issue or where one’s sympathies lie, is in the end a sovereignty issue. And what use is it to force refugees upon a country that doesn’t want them? The bigger question is of course: why were they ever invited into the EU when they think that way, and that way is fundamentally different from that prevalent in Brussels and other member countries?

Or perhaps the even bigger question should be: how do you combine a country’s sovereignty with a political and economic union of nations that must sign away parts of their sovereignty -and therefore all of it, as argued before-. If you ask me, it’s not nearly as easy -let alone legal- as they try to make it look.

 

Catalunya and ‘Kurdistan’ are good examples – albeit from a different angle- of that same conundrum. A topic closely linked to sovereignty is self-determination. Wikipedia:

The right of people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law (commonly regarded as a jus cogens rule), binding, as such, on the United Nations as authoritative interpretation of the {UN] Charter’s norms. It states that a people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no interference.

[..] on 11 February 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson stated: “National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.

‘Self determination’ is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action.

The Kurds have been denied that right for a very long time. For reasons related to divide and rule policies in a whole slew of different global powers both in the region and outside of it, and reasons related to oil. After being a major force in the fight against ISIS, and after seeing Turkey get ever more agressive against them -again-, the Kurds have -not for the first time- planned a referendum for a sovereign state. As the UN charter unequivocally says is their right.

The problem is, they want to establish their state on land that other countries claim is theirs. Even if the Kurds have lived there for a long time. And that’s a common theme in most of these ‘events’. Catalunya, Palestina, ‘Kurdistan’, they’re told they can perhaps have independence and sovereignty, but not on land where their people have lived for 1000s of years, because that land ‘belongs to us’.

And holding a referendum is therefore unconstitutional, says Spain, or whatever legal term is thrown out. But if the UN charter makes the international community’s position as clear as it does, how can it contradict a member nation’s constitution? Was that member not paying attention when it signed up to the Charter, or did the UN itself let that one slip?

 

 

Catalunya (Catalonia) is the northeast tip of Spain. Its people have long wanted independence and never gotten it. When present day Spain was formed, it was made part of Spain. And now the people want their own nation. It is not hard. But then again it is. We are now one week before October 1, the date the referendum was planned, and the Spanish government has done everything it could and then some to frustrate the referendum, and therefore the will of the people of Catalunya.

As the politicians who inhabit the EU and UN sit by idly, scared silly of burning their fingers. After arresting Catalan politicians and confiscating anything that could be used to hold the referendum, Spain has sent cruise ships full of police to Catalan harbors, and tried to take over control of the Catalan police force. But Catalan politicians and harbor crew have refused to let the ships dock, and Catalan police won’t obey Spanish orders.

It’s starting to look like Spain PM Rajoy wants to provoke a violent Catalan reaction, so he can send in his army and blame Barcelona and environs. What he doesn’t want to understand is that this will be the end of his government, his career, and of any chance Catalunya will remain part of Spain other than in the short term. It feels like Franco’s military, who, don’t forget, only relinquished control some 40 years ago, are still there in spirit if not physically.

For everybody’s sake, we can only hope someone does something to stop Rajoy and whoever’s behind his decisions, because if anyone ever wondered why the Catalans wanted to be independent, after those decisions there can be no question anymore. If he sends in the army, Spain as a whole will be something of the past. But first the referendum result, which was very doubtful all along, has now been settled: nearly all Catalans stand united against Rajoy today.

And Catalans are a mixed people. Many do not have their roots there, or even speak the language. But they will not turn on their friends and neighbors.

 

Kurdistan’s situation is even a lot more convoluted than Catalunya’s. Borders in the Middle East were drawn more or less at random by the French and British after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly 100 years ago. And the Kurds never got their independence, or their country. But now they want it. However, they live spread over 4 different countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. And some of the land they live on has oil. Lots of it. And the cradle of civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

 

 

Just about everyone, including the US, all countries in the region, and the old colonial powers, have declared their resistance to the Kurdish referendum. Getting back to the UN charter et al, isn’t that a curious position? Politicians sign lofty declarations, but when their successors are called upon to uphold them, nobody’s home. And it’s not as if self-determination is such a difficult topic to understand.

The referendum will be held on September 25 in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, so not in other Kurdish regions. Therefore only 900,000 people, out of some 35 million Kurds, get to vote. But the question on the ballot will be:

“Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”

And that of course means something much more, and much bigger. There’s a ‘Kurdistan’ in Iran, Syria and Turkey as well. Kurds there don’t get to vote, though.

Quoting Bloomberg: “The vote will be held in the three governorates officially ruled by the KRG, as well as in disputed areas currently controlled by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga. The Kurds expanded their domain in 2014 when, faced with Islamic State attacks, the Iraqi army deserted the oil-rich city Kirkuk.”

Here’s where the Kurds were living according to the 2014 CIA World Factbook:

 

 

As is the case in Catalunya, Iraq’s parliament and top court have declared the vote unconstitutional. That again raises the question: how can a vote violate a country’s constitution if and when that country has signed the UN charter which explicitly defines every people’s right to self-determination? Who’s been asleep when both documents were signed?

How could the UN let countries sign its charter whose constitutions violated that same charter? Have we all just been playing fast and loose all along? Or, more interestingly, what are we all going to do now that we know about this? Are we going to take self-determination away from people, and sign that into a whole new UN charter? Or are we going to make sure the charter is upheld and make countries change their constitutions to comply with it?

 

There is a third option (very much in favor): to not do anything. But that gets more dangerous all the time. The days that people could just be ignored are gone. Social media have probably played a large role in that. And so have changing power relationships.

The EU is blowing itself up through increasing calls for more Europe just as people want less. I’ve said it often before: centralization stops when and where economic growth does. And despite all the creative accounting we see, economic growth is definitely gone in Europe. Just ask Greece, Spain. Ask the people, not the politicians. People will only accept their decisions being made by far away ‘leaders’ if they perceive them as beneficial to their lives, the lives of their children.

Those days are gone, no matter the propaganda. That’s true all over Europe, and it’s true all across the US. The refusal by incumbent powers to recognize this, admit to it, is what gives us the likes of Trump and Brexit and countless other challengers. That Marine Le Pen and others have failed to date doesn’t mean the status quo wins; others will follow. In that vein I was surprised to see Yanis Varoufakis, whom I hold in very great esteem, declare in name of his DiEM 25 movement that:

“I am not taking sides on whether Catalonia should be independent or not” and “What we’re promoting in DiEM25 would solve the problem. We want a real European Union that becomes a single jurisdiction, a country if you want to call it that. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter if Catalonia is part of Spain!”

Europe will not be one country. Nor should it want to be. Europe has 1000 different ways to work together, and the EU has been an utter failure at that. While it has done a ton of good, it is being -predictably- destroyed by the power politics at its top levels. Nobody ever told Europeans that they would wind up living as German provinces. But that is what they are.

As Varoufakis himself makes abundantly clear is his book Adults in the Room. That’s why Germans have no real choice in today’s election: they have such utter control of the EU they would be crazy to vote against it. But at the same time, the rest of the ‘Union’ would be crazy to let them hold that power.

And I know that DiEM25 wants to change and reform the EU, but how will they do that knowing they need Germany, more than all other countries, to accomplish it, as Germany is sitting so pretty? Calls for a one-country Europe seem at the very least irresponsibly premature. That’s very far from reality. First things first. No cheating. You can’t say it doesn’t matter what happen to the Catalans today because ‘we’ have bigger plans for tomorrow. That means abandoning them. That’s not a new Europe: that’s what they already have today.

 

As for ‘Kurdistan’, what can we do but hope and pray? Hope that the old European colonial powers, as well as Turkey, Iraq and Iran, plus Russia and China, live up to the UN Charter they signed, and let the Kurds show they can be a force for peace in the region, which needs one so badly?! They have shown in no uncertain terms they can defend themselves, and their land, against anyone who threatens them. The Kurdish women army, YPJ, is all you need to know when it comes to that. They are the bravest amongst us.

If they had their own country, they would continue to do just that, and better. Which just goes to show that nationalism and patriotism are not of necessity negative emotions. It gives people an identity. Which is exactly why brighter heads than the present ones put the right to self-determination in the UN Charter, at a time, 1945, when the world had seen indescribable destruction.

There’s a lesson there. That we seem to have forgotten already. And now have to learn all over again. Through Colin Kaepernick, through the unbelievable Kurdish women’s YPG army, though the streets of Barcelona. Our world is screwed up, and we need to unscrew it.

 

 

Jun 072017
 


Olivier Drot Morning in Downtown Athens June 7 2017

 

Spring Rally in Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Bitcoin Unnerves Investors (WSJ)
Trump’s America Is Facing a $13 Trillion Consumer Debt Hangover (BBG)
Bars Open Early Tomorrow So People Can Drink While Watching Comey Testify (BI)
Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well (WSJ)
UK’s May Says She’d Rip Up Human Rights Law to Beat Terrorists (BBG)
Corbyn: UK Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism Risk. Most Britons Agree (Ind.)
Australia’s Economy Marks Record 26 Years Without Recession (AFP)
Australians Curb Spending As Household Debt Balloons (R.)
Is There A Magic Money Tree? Yes Children, But That’s The Wrong Question (G.)
Santander Buys Struggling Spanish Banco Popular For €1 (BBG)
Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader (WSJ)
Gimme Shelter (Jim Kunstler)
98% Of Greeks Downbeat About Their Current Economic Situation (K.)

 

 

The inevitable result of no price discovery for years on end. Do note that no price discovery also means there are no investors.

Spring Rally in Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Bitcoin Unnerves Investors (WSJ)

Stocks, bonds, gold and bitcoin—assets that rarely move in unison—have all been surging this spring, an everything rally that leaves investors confounded about how to play the plodding U.S. expansion and vulnerable to sharp reversals in fortune. Major U.S. stock indexes have soared to records this month, reflecting some investors’ confidence in the continued U.S. economic recovery along with expectations that large technology firms will accrue further market-share gains. At the same time prices of bonds, which often decline when stocks are rising, have risen lately, as U.S. inflation readings cooled off alongside a slowdown in some key industries. Gold has gained following terror attacks in the U.K., and turmoil in U.S. politics centering on the administration’s legislative prospects and a key congressional hearing this week featuring former FBI director James Comey.

The simultaneous gains have begun to concern some investors. Many point to a wave of money that is driving up asset prices, tied in part to lower bond yields and a lower dollar—a confluence of events they say feels good while it lasts but can’t go on forever. “We do think there are distortions” in the markets, said Iman Brivanlou, who oversees high-income equities at asset manager TCW. The Dow Industrials this month have posted two record closes, their first since March, and the 30-stock index remains just 0.33% below its all-time high despite a decline Tuesday of 47.81 points to 21136.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index has hit more than three dozen new highs this year, reflecting the surge of red-hot tech stocks such as Alphabet and Amazon.com , both of which this month have surpassed $1,000 a share. Bitcoin has tripled this year, hitting a record high Tuesday.

At the same time, U.S. bond yields on Tuesday sank to their 2017 low at 2.147% and the price of gold, long viewed as a barometer of market concern about potential risks ahead, settled at $1,294.40, its highest in seven months. A Goldman Sachs Group index of financial conditions that takes into account credit spreads, equity prices and other market gauges, this month suggested the easiest conditions since early 2015, before the Federal Reserve began lifting rates. Another measure of stress in U.S. money markets fell to near its lowest in seven years, while measures of expected stock-market swings have been at the lowest in a decade.

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A global issue.

Trump’s America Is Facing a $13 Trillion Consumer Debt Hangover (BBG)

After bingeing on credit for a half decade, U.S. consumers may finally be feeling the hangover. Americans faced with lackluster income growth have been financing more of their spending with debt instead. There are early signs that loan burdens are growing unsustainably large for borrowers with lower incomes. Household borrowings have surged to a record $12.73 trillion, and the%age of debt that is overdue has risen for two consecutive quarters. And with economic optimism having lifted borrowing rates since the election and the Federal Reserve expected to hike further, it’s getting more expensive for borrowers to refinance. Some companies are growing worried about their customers. Public Storage said in April that more of its self-storage customers now seem to be under stress.

Credit card lenders including Synchrony Financial and Capital One Financial are setting aside more money to cover bad loans. Consumer product makers including Nestle posted slower sales growth last quarter, particularly in the U.S. Companies may have reason to be concerned. Consumer spending notched its weakest gain in the first quarter since the end of 2009, a problem in an economy where consumers account for 70% of spending, though analysts expect the dip to be transitory. And debt delinquencies are rising even as the job market shows signs of strength. “There are pockets of consumers that are going to be sorely tested,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial. “We’ve conditioned American consumers to use debt to close the gap between their wages and their spending. When the Fed hikes, riskier borrowers are going to get pinched first.”

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed has kept rates low to encourage companies and consumers to borrow more and spur economic growth. Much of the gains in household debt since 2012 have come from student loans, auto debt and credit cards. Over that time, wage growth has averaged around 2.2% a year, and the pace has been slowing for much of this year. Even if economists forecast that income growth will accelerate, those pickups have remained elusive. Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in part by convincing voters that he understood their economic pain. Keeping up with household debt payments is still broadly manageable for consumers. As of the end of last year, the ratio of principal and interest payments to disposable income for Americans was just shy of 10%, less than the average going back to 1980 of 11.33%.

And it’s too soon to say whether growing signs of pain among borrowers are just a return to more normal levels of delinquencies or evidence of a more serious credit downturn. Loan delinquencies are creeping higher after plunging from 2010 until the middle of 2016, but are still below historical averages.

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This can only disappoint. The echo chamber is overcrowded.

Bars Open Early Tomorrow So People Can Drink While Watching Comey Testify (BI)

If you want to have a drink while watching former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, you’re in luck. Bars in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Houston, Texas, are opening early on Thursday to screen Comey’s testimony, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST. “Come on… you know you want to watch the drama unfold this Thursday,” Shaw’s Tavern, which will be serving $5 Stoli vodka and “FBI” sandwiches, wrote on Facebook. “Grab your friends, grab a drink and let’s COVFEFE!”

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Oh boy, you can’t win, can you?

Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well (WSJ)

There have been only three fleeting periods in the past half-century when the U.S. unemployment rate was as low as it is today. This would be cause for celebration but for one disturbing fact: in hindsight, each period was associated with boiling excesses that led to serious economic trouble. Low unemployment of the late 1960s preceded an inflation spiral in the 1970s. The late 1990s bred the Dot-com bubble and bust. The mid-2000s saw the buildup and collapse of U.S. housing. While there is reason to believe today’s economy isn’t boiling over as in the past, those episodes call for caution. “It’s not a matter of superstition, it’s a matter of being mindful of the history of what such a low unemployment rate usually is followed by,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist of J.P. Morgan Chase.

While initially a welcome development, low unemployment in the 1960s laid the groundwork for a buildup of wage and price pressures, spurred on by low interest rates and aggressive government spending programs. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.3% in September 1965 and then below 4%. Today’s unemployment rate, also at 4.3%, could drop below 4% in the next year if it maintains its present trajectory. Unemployment returned again to 4.3% in January 1999. This time the inflation rate remained below 2% and it seemed that, unlike the late 1960s, the economy wasn’t overheating. But asset prices—the stock market in particular—soared after what had already been a long climb. The DJIA shot above 10000 for the first time in March 1998. Highflying tech companies commanded billion-dollar valuations with no profits to report. In hindsight, an internet bubble grew out of control.

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Hoping to get the nazi vote?

UK’s May Says She’d Rip Up Human Rights Law to Beat Terrorists (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May said she’d be willing to tear up human rights legislation in the battle against terrorists, as security continued to dominate the final days of the U.K. election campaign. Speaking to supporters at a campaign event in Slough, west of London, the premier said she wanted to make it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects and to limit the freedoms of individuals who pose a threat but who can’t be prosecuted in court. “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it,” May said. “If I am elected as prime minister on Thursday, that work begins on Friday.” May is facing criticism over her record overseeing U.K. homeland security in the wake of two terrorist attacks in two weeks ahead of Thursday’s national vote.

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Those arms sales will be under heavy pressure no matter who wins.

Corbyn: UK Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism Risk. Most Britons Agree (Ind.)

An overwhelming majority of people agree with Jeremy Corbyn that British involvement in foreign wars has put the public at greater risk of terrorism, according to a new poll. The exclusive ORB survey for The Independent found 75% of people believe interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have made atrocities on UK soil more likely. The poll – conducted before Saturday night’s devastating attack – comes after Mr Corbyn was lambasted for suggesting foreign policy decisions were linked to terrorism in the UK and that the “war on terror” had failed. The deadly strike at London Bridge and Borough Market, the third attack in Britain in as many months, has seen security dominate the final days of the election campaign, with cabinet ministers squabbling over whether it could have been stopped.

Theresa May’s record as Home Secretary has been questioned and she has faced a call to resign over the matter from Mr Corbyn, not to mention a former aide to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron. In the wake of the Manchester attack, which killed 22 people last month, the Labour leader highlighted the potential role foreign military interventions play in increasing the likelihood of atrocities in the UK. Despite experts like Baroness Eliza Manningham-Bullerformer, a former MI5 chief, and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, ex-chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, expressing similar views, he was accused by Conservatives of making excuses for terrorism.

But the ORB survey for The Independent found three-quarters of people – taking in all age groups, political persuasions and social classes – agreed Britain’s military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya had increased the risk of terrorist acts. Within that, some 68% of Tory voters agreed foreign wars have enhanced the risks of terrorism at home. So did 80% of Labour supporters and 79% of people that voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2015.

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This is hilarious in combination with the next article.

Australia’s Economy Marks Record 26 Years Without Recession (AFP)

Australia marked a world-record 26 years without a recession Wednesday, as the economy grew 0.3% in the first-quarter, official data showed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics put the annual rate of growth at 1.7%, down from 2.4% in the previous three months. The soft quarterly reading was widely expected by analysts amid the impact of category four Cyclone Debbie on eastern Australia in late March, weaker trade figures and tepid wages growth. “The results today demonstrate the continued resilience of the Australian economy,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters. The Australian dollar rallied by a quarter of a US cent to 75.27 cents just after the data was released, as some analysts had predicted a negative first-quarter reading.

Australia last recorded two negative quarters of economic growth in March and June 1991, before enjoying 103 quarters without a recession to equal the record set by the Netherlands. Economists said the resources-rich nation’s long stretch of expansion was supported by economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the floating of the local currency, a flexible labour market, financial sector and capital markets deregulation and lower tariffs. Australia has also benefited from China’s economic growth and hunger for natural resources, which led to an unprecedented mining investment boom and record commodity prices. But economists have warned that economic growth in the next few years may not be as rosy. “In the context of the past few years, it is still a fairly weak outcome,” JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy told AFP of the latest figures.

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A record run without a recession entirly paid for with leveraged private debt: “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.”

Australians Curb Spending As Household Debt Balloons (R.)

Australia’s economy may have achieved a remarkable winning streak, avoiding a recession for 25 years, but there are now clear signs that the consumers who have driven much of the growth are running out of puff. With cash interest rates at a record low and house prices near record highs, the nation’s household debt-to-income ratio has climbed to an all-time peak of 189%, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). That means there are an increasing number of people who have little cash for discretionary spending – on everything from cars to electrical appliances and new clothes – as their pay packets get consumed by large mortgages and high rental payments in the country’s red-hot property market.

And it’s not as if a sudden plunge in home prices would help – it might well expose and exacerbate the problem, at least in the short run, squeezing many who have bought into the frothy market with high mortgage repayments and little equity in their homes. “We are seeing a considerable spike in stress even in more affluent households. Large mortgages, big commitments but no income growth,” said Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) Principal Martin North. “Stressed households are less likely to spend at the shops, which acts as a drag anchor on future growth.” North estimates a record 52,000 households risk default in the next 12 months and that 23.4% of Australian families are under mortgage stress, meaning their income does not cover ongoing costs. That compares with about 19% a year ago.

“People are up to their ears in mortgages,” said Brad Smith, a car sales consultant at MotorPoint Sydney which has seen a stark slowdown in sales in the past six months. “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.” Australians are also facing a cash crunch because price inflation in essential items such as food, electricity and insurance is accelerating at a 3.4% annual rate at a time when Australian wages are rising at their slowest pace on record, just 1.9% in the year to March. Meanwhile, growth in retail sales, personal loans and luxury car sales are all at multi-year lows, suggesting the household sector – nearly 60% of Australia’s A$1.7 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy – is under severe strain.

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Steve Keen’s efforts are having an effect.

Is There A Magic Money Tree? Yes Children, But That’s The Wrong Question (G.)

Does anyone who has witnessed the pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s Jubilee, the funnelling of public money into Syrian airstrikes, or the systematic cutting of taxes for the rich really think we’re not paying nurses properly because we simply don’t have the money? Absolutely not: we don’t pay nurses properly because the government makes a choice not to. This fact calls to mind the words of the Texan minister Robert Fulghum: “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber”. But the magic money tree is not a just daft expression in terms of how governments spend public money, it’s also misleading in terms of how the economy works as a whole.

Since 2008, we’ve been encouraged to see the economy like a household budget: if households spend too much money, they need to cut down on living costs so they don’t get into too much debt. To that end, the magic money tree says that if we spend too much money, we can’t just simply grow more. But actually, a country’s whole economy can grow more money if it needs to. Since 2009 the Bank of England has created £453bn of new electronic money to buy debt from the private sector using a mechanism called quantitative easing. Yes, you read that right: the Bank of England has created £453,000,000,000 of new money in the last eight years. Turns out the magic money tree is pretty big. Growing money is possible because an economy is nothing like a household budget. In a household, money comes in via people’s wages and goes out via living costs.

But in an economy, we all pay each other’s wages. Money doesn’t just travel in one direction in the economy, it circulates around. It’s the difference between one car driving in one end of a tunnel and out of the other, and lots of cars zigzagging around Spaghetti Junction. The issue isn’t whether we can grow money or not (we can – that’s just a fact), it’s where the money goes once it’s been grown. And the problem is that it doesn’t go to nurses, teachers or the public services they work for. It goes to institutions such as banks. The nurse in the BBC debate was highlighting a problem that exists across the whole economy: real wages haven’t increased for more than a decade, and this has meant more people have been relying on credit cards, with personal debt now higher than it was before the 2008 crash.

In other words, the fact that the nurse hasn’t had a pay rise is not just bad for her, it’s bad for all of us – because if that nurse is not earning enough, she won’t be spending money. And if she does spend money, she’ll do it by getting into unsustainable debt – which is itself outrageous considering the important, skilled work nurses do.

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Raise €7 billion to buy a bank for €1.

Santander Buys Struggling Spanish Banco Popular For €1 (BBG)

Banco Popular Espanol has been taken over by Santander after European regulators deemed that the bank was likely to fail. Popular will continue to operate under “normal business conditions” after all the bank’s shares and capital instruments were transferred to Santander, said the EU’s Single Resolution Board. The purchase price was €1, according to a statement. Santander plans to raise about €7bn (£6.1bn) of capital as part of the transaction. Popular had been looking for a buyer or a possible share sale after its balance sheet was battered by soured real estate loans that eroded its capital.

Its shares have dropped 53pc since the beginning of last week. In a statement, the ECB, which oversees the largest banks in the eurozone, said: “The significant deterioration of the liquidity situation of the bank in recent days led to a determination that the entity would have, in the near future, been unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fell due. “Consequently, the ECB determined that the bank was failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which adopted a resolution scheme entailing the sale of Banco Popular Espanol to Banco Santander.”

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That Paris accord is a hoax.

Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader (WSJ)

For years, a wide spectrum of groups in the U.S. lectured, cajoled and entreated China to go green. Multinationals and nonprofits teamed up with Chinese environmental groups to promote eco-friendly causes; Coca-Cola restored forests in the upper Yangtze. U.S. labs offered scientific support. Academics collaborated on research. The former Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, championed China’s disappearing wetlands, a haven for migratory birds. The well-funded effort amplified voices within China demanding the government take action. It was, says Orville Schell, a longtime China watcher and environmentalist, “the most effective missionary work in the past couple hundred years.” So it’s an irony of historic proportions how the roles have reversed: China, the world’s worst polluter by far, is now a convert on climate change while the White House under Donald Trump has turned apostate.

In pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate-change agreement, Mr. Trump has repudiated a signal accomplishment of the Obama presidency: persuading Beijing to become a partner in the effort to prevent the planet from heating up to the point of no return. Without China’s support, the Paris deal might have fallen apart. Mr. Paulson issued a statement saying he was dismayed and disappointed. “We have left a void for others to fill,” he said. When it comes to the environment, China is still torn by conflicting priorities. It has installed more solar and wind capacity than any other nation—and plans to invest another $360 billion in renewable energy between now and 2020. The economy is rebalancing away from heavy industry and manufacturing toward much cleaner services and consumption.

Coal consumption has declined for three straight years. On current trends, many scientists expect that China will reach peak carbon emissions well before its target date of 2030 under the Paris accord. Yet Beijing remains committed to rapid growth. And coal is still king. Just ask the residents of Beijing. Whenever economic policy makers set out to boost growth, spending flows to new real-estate and infrastructure projects, the steel mills around the capital fire up their coal furnaces—and commuters reach for their face masks. This winter was particularly hard on the lungs. A spending splurge meant that Beijing’s average pollution levels last year were double the national standard set by the State Council.

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“How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya?”

Gimme Shelter (Jim Kunstler)

“Have you all lost your mind?” Vladimir Putin replied to one of Megyn Kelly’s thrusts about alleged Russian perfidy toward the US in the gala interview that debuted her new Sunday Night star-chamber on NBC. Old Vlad put his finger on something there. His view of the late goings-on in America is like that of the proverbial detached Martian observer of strange Earthly doings, rattling his antennae and clicking his mouth-parts in mirth. To which retort, by the way, one would have to answer, ”Yes, absolutely.” The toils of slow economic collapse, accompanied by the ceaseless effort by various arms of the Deep State to spin “the narrative” around the voting public’s collective head, has driven the polity insane. And this, of course, is on view in the bedlam that US politics has become, Trump and all.

I’m waiting for The New York Times to run the three-column headline that says Russia Racist, Misogynist, and Islamophobic to finally bring together the programmed paranoia of NeoCon / DemProg alliance with the esprit de corp of the new collegiate Red Guard. Mr. Putin does not have to lift a finger to detonate the groaning garbage barge of US domestic affairs. It’s already ignited and is faring toward a very peculiar species of civil war. You can be sure that the NeoCon/DemProg axis is determined to get rid of Trump at all costs. Impeachment requires some sort of high crime or misdeamenor. So far, going on a year, they haven’t come up with any evidence that the Golden Golem of Greatness acted as a Russian agent in some fashion, and that itself has got to be a little suspicious, considering the thousands of clerks in the spinning mills of those legendary seventeen Intel outfits the government runs.

How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya? Five TV sitcom writers could surely come up with an angle — as long as it was a plausible entertainment. In the meantime, Trump prevails, the mad bull elephant of the Republican herd, majestically swinging his trunk against everything breakable in the political china shop while trumpeting “Covfefe! Covfefe!” Last week it was the Paris Climate Accords. The op-ed writers in the usual places bounced off the walls of their virtual rubber room in response. Paul Krugman had to be dragged down to hydrotherapy at the NYT after he set his hair on fire. And Rachel Maddow practically popped a carotid artery in her muscular neck from all that shrieking.

I’m a bit more sanguine about the US withdrawal. To me, the Paris Accords were just another feel-good PR stunt enabling politicians to pretend that they could control forces that are already way out-of-hand, an international vanity project of ass-covering. The coming economic collapse will depress global industrial activity whether anybody likes it or not, and despite anyone’s pretense of good intentions — and then we will have a range of much more practical problems of everyday life to contend with.

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It’s getting time to rise up.

98% Of Greeks Downbeat About Their Current Economic Situation (K.)

Greeks are among the most pessimistic people in the world, according to the findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center which found that many Europeans as well as Japanese and Americans feel better about their national economies now than before the global financial crisis nearly a decade ago. Questioned about their national economy, only 2% of Greeks were upbeat, the lowest rate among the 32 countries polled. The Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Indians see their national economies in the most positive light, with more than 80% expressing optimism. The Pew survey also detected widespread concern about the future. A median of just 41% said they believed that a child in their country today would grow up to be better off financially than their parents. The most pessimistic about prospects for the next generation are the French (9%), the Japanese (19%) and the Greeks (21%).

Read more …

Jun 062017
 
 June 6, 2017  Posted by at 6:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Joseph Mallord William Turner Wreckers, Coast of Northumberland 1834

 

Is it sheer hubris, or is it just incompetence? It’s a question often asked when it comes to politics. And regularly, the answer is both. Still, what the ruling British political class has put on display recently seems to exist in a category all its own. Less than a year go, then-PM David Cameron lost the Brexit referendum that he called himself and was dead sure he would win by a landslide.

His successor Theresa May, Cameron’s Home Secretary and a staunch Remain advocate, lost the Brexit vote as much as her PM did, but stayed on, was promoted, and acted for 11 months like Downing Street 10 was hers by Divine Decree. Then she did the exact same thing Cameron did: she looked at polling numbers and decided to go for the jugular: more power through a snap vote.

In the process, May has succeeded in accomplishing the remarkable feat of rejuvenating her main opponent Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party, who had been left for infighting dead until she called the election, while at the same time dividing her own Tories so much they now resemble Labour from just weeks ago.

The thing that sort of irks is that the speed and intensity with which it all came down would have been way more impressive if she had meant to do it. Oh, and what also irks is that despite a performance worthy of the Comedy Capers, May may still win, since there was always little time, there’s so little time left till Thursday and there have been terror attacks.

A nice addition to the comedy sphere, and I mean no disrespect to any of the terror victims, they’ve gotten enough of that from May et al, is the story behind the PM’s refusal to appear in public debates with Corbyn and perhaps others. When I first saw a few weeks ago that she had announced that refusal, I immediately thought she did not make that decision. She doesn’t have the savvy for that kind of thing.

Someone did it for her. I presumed there had been American advisers added to her team, but I didn’t read anything about that. Until a few days ago, when I saw that political -presumed- heavyweights like Australian Lynton Crosby and American Jim Messina had joined around the time of the snap election announcement on April 18.

And now of course I can’t help thinking that these guys are responsible for the epic failure that May has been over the past six weeks. But that might be giving them too much honor, she’s quite capable of screwing up the way she has all on her own.

And yes, it’s hard to escape a comparison with Hillary here. It’s not about gender, it’s about competence. And if you manage to -almost or entirely- lose to the likes of Trump and Corbyn, despite having a huge lead in the polls, as both ladies had, you’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not that Corbyn has won yet, at least not in the election.

Guys like Crosby and Messina get paid the big bucks for their expertise in both clean and dirty tricks. They have plenty experience in both. They don’t have opinions, but they make up voters’ opinions for them. Messina was Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign leader, Crosby did elections in Australia, New Zealand, Canada. Funny thing is if you check their records, they have lost quite a few of these campaigns. Even funnier would be if they lose this one too.

 

But you’re right, it’s not right to be laughing. This past weekend saw another attack on Britain, and another -to put it mildly- far below par performance by Theresa May in its wake. If after this the Britons still hand her a win in Thursday’s general election, give up the country for lost. Stick a fork in it.

May was the one who as Home Secretary was responsible for an investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups in the UK that was set to be released a year ago. Instead, we saw last week, she’s actively suppressing its release now that she’s PM, ostensibly because the report mentions Saudi Arabia as a source of such funding, and May recently used her position to help UK arms manufacturers sell billions worth of additional weapons to the Saudi’s.

She’s even on record as saying that arms sales to the House of Saud make Britain more safe, though the report apparently fingers that same House of Saud as funding the very terrorism her country was hit by, three times in a row now, during her stint as PM.

Where does terrorism originate? May won’t admit it’s Saudi Arabia, so she tried, in her first post-attack speech, to deflect the obvious by blaming ‘the internet’. But the internet doesn’t sell arms to countries that support terrorism. Theresa May does.

 

 

As people understandably call for more protection after three hits in a row, May has another thing to suppress: as Home Secretary she has been responsible for cutting some 22,000 jobs in the police force, 20,000 in the army, and 60,000 in the healthcare system. And if she would win on Thursday, more of all that is in the offing. At least, that was what was planned; she may make yet another U-turn on that one.

It’s really quite amusing to see a candidate trying to hide from the very elections she herself called, but -again-, given the short time-frame this hide-and-seek tactic might actually work. Moreover, if the British media and his own Labour MPs had not turned against Jeremy Corbyn the way they did until very recently, would May be anywhere near having a shot at victory? It looks unlikely.

There are already bets going that even if she wins the election, which if it happens is sure to be a very narrow win, she’ll be replaced as PM by Boris Johnson before July 1. But he’s as much of a clown as all other major Tory figureheads are today.

 

 

The problem of course is that the problems for Britain won’t stop on Thursday, no matter who wins. The problems haven’t even started blooming yet, let alone flowering.

If Corbyn might win, he’s have the entire Conservative entitlement class on his back, and that would turn ugly fast. If May wins, she’ll be ousted in no time, she did far too bad of a job. And then in just a few weeks’ time the Brexit negotiations begin. But with what? With a country that’s been divided to the bone, that’s what.

As things are, Corbyn may yet succeed where Bernie Sanders was rejected and suppressed by his own party. The world today needs people like them, not because it needs ‘socialism’ that much, but because the political landscape has been thrown too far out of balance. If the left gets co-opted by neo-liberalism as much as the right is, there is no left left.

And a sound political system needs representation for the people, the poor(er), as much as representation for the richer ruling classes. It’s not about ideology, but about balance. If you allow either one side or the other of the political equation to run rampant, you will inevitably end up with a dysfunctional society.

 

And that is what Britain is today. There are plenty slogans out there after yet another terror attack that say things like ‘Britain Stands United’, “London is United” , but it doesn’t and they are not. It’s not terrorism that has divided the country, it’s the political class. It’s not terrorism that has ‘crippled democracy’, it’s the sense of entitlement that many -on both sides of the aisle- have brought to Whitehall.

You would think that at least Jeremy Corbyn could do something about that if he wins. But he would then face an EU negotiating team that operates with a very similar sense of entitlement. And they’re going to come after the British people the same way they have in Greece. Not exactly an enviable position.

And that’s just Brussels. Then there are the terrorist attacks, and there’s little reason to think they will stop. What Britain refuses to recognize until now, and has for hundreds of years as I said before, is that these attacks in London and Manchester are not where it has all started. They don’t come out of the blue, and they don’t come from people who ‘hate us for our freedom’.

The first step is the UK et al spreading terror in Libya and Syria and Iraq, bombing away and selling weapons to ‘friendly’ regimes, creating utter chaos as a political power tool. If you don’t stop that you don’t stop terrorism. The only way to stop terror directed at you is to stop directing it at others.

Stop bombing these countires with impunity, and use the money you save with that to rebuild what you’ve destroyed. That will take away the main reason why there is terrorism in our streets. It will likely go a long way towards solving the refugee problems as well.

All this seems a long way away. It’ll recede further if the entitlement-laden establishment win on Thursday. But whichever way the vote goes, Britain will face a decade or more of deepening hardship, don’t underestimate that; there is no easy way out, not for the people.

Oh wait, I totally forgot to mention that the housing bubble is going to burst too. Oh, well, when it rains…