Rembrandt van Rijn Self portrait with tousled hair 1629
If you ask me, this is brilliant, but I know you’re not asking me. Still, what I’m reading today is genius. That is, Donald Trump and his people have found a way to communicate with Vladimir Putin and his people while the entire crew that’s listening in to his talks with foreign leaders were doing something else, whatever that may be.
The overall impression of Trump’s order to redeploy an entire 50 US soldiers within Syria is that he opened the floodgates to mayhem and genocide, but perhaps that picture is not entirely accurate. Perhaps Trump did not act on some whiff of the moment instinct. Perhaps he’s not as shallow and stupid as the press makes him out to be. I know, big challenge and all, but let’s look at what actually happened.
Me, I’m sure Trump talked to Putin before he withdrew the 49 or 50 troops , just to make sure all-out disaster wouldn’t ensue. This is from Newsweek, not exactly a pro-Trump outlet:
The U.S. was scheduled as of Monday to officially withdraw from Manbij within 24-hours, leaving the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces behind as two rival factions—the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, and the Turkey-backed Syrian insurgents opposed to it—sought to seize control of the strategic location. A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that U.S. personnel, “having been in the area for longer, has been assisting the Russian forces to navigate through previously unsafe areas quickly.”
“It is essentially a handover,” the official said. “However, it’s a quick out, not something that will include walk-throughs, etc., everything is about making out with as much as possible of our things while destroying any sensitive equipment that cannot be moved.” Contacted by Newsweek on Monday, no reply was returned from the Pentagon before publication. Faced with a potentially imminent clash with Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces have chosen to realign themselves with the central government and its Russian backer, a partnership that would soon be put to the test.
I don’t claim to know how the two presidents manage to communicate in the face of all the scrutiny (re: Trump’s call with Ukraine president Zelensky), but communicate they did. Or we would never have arrived at the outcome we have. Trump, I’m convinced, did not leave the Kurds to die at the hand of Erdogan. He got Putin involved. And yes, that means Russia strengthening its position in Syria.
But it also means Trump being able to fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw US troops from “endless wars”. And Russia may well be the best bet to prevent further mayhem and bloodshed in the region. See, Syria, as I’ve said a million times by now, is Russia’s only stronghold in the Middle East, and they will therefore never let go of it. Not a chance.
That is the reason why the insane US policy of regime change in Iraq, Libya, etc., was never going to work in Syria. Syria = Russia. Not because Putin is a big admirer of Assad, but because without Syria Russia is gone from the Middle East. So, zero chance. A bit more from the BBC:
Russia has said it will not allow clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces, as Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria continues. “This would simply be unacceptable… and therefore we will not allow it, of course,” said Moscow’s special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev. The withdrawal of US troops from the region, announced last week, gave Turkey a “green light”, critics say. Russia is a key military ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s defence ministry said its forces, which have been deployed in Syria since 2015, were patrolling along the “line of contact” between Syrian and Turkish forces.
During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Mr Lavrentyev described Turkey’s offensive as “unacceptable”. He said that under previous agreements Turkey can only go 5-10km (3-6 miles) into Syria – far less than the 30km “safe zone” Ankara is proposing – and that Turkey has no right to permanently deploy its troops in the country. Syria is in contact with Turkey to avoid a conflict, he said. Mr Lavrentyev also confirmed that Russia had helped to broker a deal between Kurds and Damascus that saw Kurdish-led forces cede territory to Syrian government troops in return for military support.
All the talk about Erdogan genociding the Kurds is, well, greatly exaggerated. His hands are tied. By Trump, who has warned him with a threat of obliterating his economy, and far more by Putin who simply states some things are not acceptable.
The outcome of all this is going to be that Turkey will have its safe zone on the Syrian border, just smaller than Erdogan wants. The Kurds will have their territory just behind that safe zone. Millions of Syrian refugees will be able to resettle in these two territories. It is a pretty genius solution to the whole issue. US troops, gone, Russia and Assad keeping the peace, no 3.6 million refugees coming to Europe.
And you were saying Trump is an idiot who leaves the Kurds to be slaughtered? You see, I’m never sure about anything, but I’m having to doubt that judgment. That’s not what I’m seeing.
But, you know, I am big time wondering what channels Trump and Putin have found to talk to each other. It’s not phone calls, given how the Zelensky call led to an alleged impeachment inquiry, but how have they managed to do it? Shouldn’t be all that hard, perhaps, just a friend talking to a friend under the radar. But still.
An article from long term Automatic Earth contributor Alexander Aston, who feels very strongly about the topic.
Personally, I have many more questions left. It’s easy to say Trump abandoned the Kurds, and everybody says just that, but because they all do I ask myself if that is really what happened. It’s an ugly situation alright, but would it have been prefereable if US soldiers had stayed in Syria indefinitely?
I’m looking at France, UK, Germany, Holland, refusing to repatriate ‘their’ ISIS citizens, leaving the US -and the Kurds- to take care of them, of the conundrum, and of the consequences. There’s no question that leaving it up to Erdogan is a bad idea, but Putin has already taken over command.
Everyone but Capitol Hill agrees it’s a good idea to get the US out of Endless Wars, but they haven’t been doing anything about it for many years. And when Trump does, there are no intricate discussions, there’s only black or white and then there’s Orange Man Bad.
Should Trump have gone the Obama route and bombed the heebeejeebees out of the country? You know, rather than let Turkey do it, knowing full well that Putin would stop it anyway?
But this is Alexander’s piece, not mine, and I love him.
“If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”
– Murray Bookchin
Like the best of his generation, my American grandfather was a die-hard antifascist. He was shot down twice over Europe and spent the last nine months as a prisoner of war. The old man was highly decorated, earning a distinguished flying cross with three oak leaf clusters, four air medals, a silver star and a purple heart. However, the only memento of the war he ever showed me as a child was the tin mug that he ate from while in prison camp.
One of the few times that I saw him cry in my life was asking him about his experiences. He said to me, “son, I don’t know what was under those bombs I dropped; I’m going to die not knowing how many people I’ve killed.” He taught me more about sacrifice and responsibility with those words and the look in his eyes than I could express in a thousand pages. He showed me more about integrity and grit with a simple tin cup than all the honours and decorations in the world.
My grandfather was not perfect, but he was a good man. If you were wrong he would fight with you all day long, and if you were right he’d stand back to back with you until the very end. He was shot down the first time over Yugoslavia having been assigned to the mission as a replacement bombardier for another crew. After making it back to Allied lines with the aid of partisans he went back to work fighting fascism with his old crew, with whom he had promised to see out the war. It was his fourth tour of duty when he was shot down the second time.
He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross when their B-24 was strafed by a BF-109, killing one of the waist gunners and severely wounding the other as well as jamming the bomb bay doors open. Unstrapping his parachute so he could make his way to the back of the plane, he stabilised the surviving gunner, manned the 50 cal. and managed to shoot down the fighter as it came in for another sweep. The old man was fearless his whole life; he even testified against the mob after being hung by his ankles over the side of a high rise in Baltimore decades later.
These are lessons that he taught me which I will try to embody and to live up to my entire life: always keep your word, defend those weaker than yourself, and never stop fighting for what is right no matter the opponent, no matter the odds. He would have turned ninety-seven this last Friday, and I know that if he were here to see what has been done to the Syrian Kurds, his shame and anger would be boundless. He’s not here to speak up, so I will because that is what he taught me.
The Syrian Kurds and their allies in the SDF have sacrificed life and limb to stop the spread of Daesh. They confronted head on one of the most virulent and horrific ideologies in history, of an organisation bent on genocide, enslavement and unimaginable cruelty. The Kurds managed to do this at the same time that they set up a multi-ethnic, religiously tolerant, confederated democracy with equal political representation of women. It is not a perfect system, but it’s a hell of an accomplishment given the circumstances and a damn sight better than anything else going on in the Middle East.
Whether you are on the left or the right, we should all feel shame over the betrayal and dishonour shown to those that have fought Daesh. The Kurds dismantled their defensive position at the request of the US in the expectation that the Americans would maintain the security mechanism in good faith. The United States has actively impeded attempts by the SDF to come to a rapprochement with the Syrian State.
Now, these people that fought and died fighting Islamofascism are being massacred by the Turkish army and its FSA proxies, which are largely comprised of jihadists from Daesh and Al-Nusra. All of this violence is at the behest of Erdogan and the AKP, an authoritarian ethno-nationalist party which has systematically destroyed the secular democratic institutions and economy of Turkey, not to mention that it materially aided and abetted the rise of the Islamic State.
Many people, on both the left and the right, are currently justifying the current campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Turkish state. Often this justification is couched as some sort of anti-imperialist position. It is rather simplistic and naive to think that creating a sudden power vacuum and allowing the Kurds to be destroyed is going to end American imperialism or even improve the country’s foreign policy. Rather, this decision ensures further entanglement into an endless conflict in the Middle East. The announced deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia this week shows that there is no real intention to leave the region.
Furthermore, as a NATO member, the US supplies and maintains the vast majority of Turkey’s military hardware. Allowing Erdogan to destroy one of the few secular and stable regions in the area and reviving the Jihadi caliphate is hardly dismantling America’s imperial model. It is simply allowing the same folks to continue making money off the collective suffering of decent people everywhere.
Likewise, replacing the US with other imperialisms will only set the stage for further conflict, particularly in a region on which the global energy system is dependent. While the Americans are undeniably in Syria for their own imperial ambitions, the Kurds worked in good faith with the US out of a very reasonable desire to survive and secure their own freedom. Defending them from ethnic cleansing now is not an imperial act but basic human solidarity.
The other absurd argument bandied about is that this ethnic cleansing campaign is somehow the fault of the Syrian Kurds because they failed to side with Assad. This view is ignorant of the historical relationship between the Assad regime and the Kurds, who were systematically dispossessed and excluded from participation within Syrian society. The Syrian army abandoned Kurdish areas before the YPG and YPJ stepped into the power vacuum.
They were left to their own devices fighting Daesh for quite some time before the Americans began to support them tentatively. The destruction of their communities is not warranted because, caught between the SAA’s indifference and Turkey’s antagonism, they made a pragmatic alliance with the US, a government that was not directly oppressing them. Should they have allowed themselves to be slaughtered by Daesh in a quest for ideological purity?
The US repeatedly attempted to build its coalition with Turkey and its preferred network of jihadist rebels. The truth is that the Kurds were the most resilient, tenacious and effective forces fighting the Islamic State. The Pentagon backed them once it was clear that they were the only ones “getting the job done.” It should also be noted that this chain of events is distinct from the cynical roles played by the State Department and CIA in arming the jihadists (though this does reveal the many internal contradictions and competing power blocs within the US).
The reality of the situation is immensely complex with a lot of grey areas. Nonetheless, if the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria is wiped off the map, we will all live to regret it. The United States inadvertently created Daesh with its invasion of Iraq and the prisons in which it housed Baathists and Jihadists together. The catastrophe that is the contemporary Middle East is fundamentally a result of the United States’ imperial hubris and horrific foreign policy, but, as the Americans like to say, “you break it, you buy it.”
After five hard years of putting that genie back in the bottle, another strategic blunder threatens us with a resurgence of the Caliphate. Yes, the United States should leave the Middle East, but it should do so responsibly. If this lunacy is not stopped then it is only a matter of time before there are more waves of terror attacks in Europe.
The Syrian Kurds have borne the brunt of the fight against Islamofascism and made a sincere attempt at setting up a libertarian society in the heart of the Middle East. A no fly zone needs to be put in place immediately; without American F-16’s bombing their positions the SDF is perfectly capable of fighting the Turkish military in a ground war. Arms embargoes on Turkey and targeted sanctions on the leadership of the AKP, making it increasingly difficult for Turkey to carry out its ethnic cleansing campaign.
Furthermore, European countries should repatriate and try to imprison their nationals who were radicalised in their own countries before absconding to fight with Daesh in Syria instead of leaving the SDF to take care of them with their limited resources. Essentially, it is time to take some responsibility.
The American president is probably too incompetent and too narcissistic to understand what he has done. He has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and materially supported the resurgence of the Islamic State. It is the greatest historical blunder in US foreign policy since Iraq. Appeasing Erdogan will only encourage him to be more aggressive. We must boycott, divest and sanction Turkey before we find ourselves in an even more expanded conflict. Those who are willing and able to engage in non-violent direct actions outside of Northern Syria to disrupt the Turkish agenda, must do so!
In the course of writing roughly a thousand Islamic State affiliated prisoners, at least, have been freed by Turkey and its proxies. In a last ditch effort to avoid annihilation, the SDF has made a bargain with the Syrian Arab Army, with luck it will prevent the worst atrocities at present from continuing. Perhaps this will expand the conflict on international scale not yet seen. Nonetheless, the Assad regime is brutal, authoritarian and ideologically defined by a strain of Arab ethno-nationalist chauvinism.
Undoubtedly, the people of eastern Syria have given up a great deal of freedom and autonomy to avoid destruction. As the regime solidifies its control, arrests, disappearances and torturing of the political opposition are all but assured. Hopefully there is enough resilience and conviction amongst the Syrian population that they might be able to peacefully depose their leader once the war has truly ended.
What is undeniable is the American strategic position and geopolitical clout has been fundamentally shaken by its abandonment of the Kurds. I welcome the end of American empire, but make no mistake, this is not an intelligent, strategic withdrawal and deconstruction of that institution. This is a chaotic and ill-conceived implosion of the American system that will only bring suffering to her people and the rest of us.
Nonetheless, dignity demands that we try to keep our word, stand up for what is right and defend the Syrian Kurds to the best of our abilities. If we will not shoulder the burden and share in the sacrifice of those that fight for us then we do not deserve the honour of so much as a tin cup in the prisons we will have erected for ourselves.
Bijî Berxdewana Rojava!
Just a thought from Beau of the Fifth Column
Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States.
A senior administration official on an organized call with reporters appeared to contradict President Donald Trump about Syria policy late Monday, refuting interpretations of his statements from earlier in the day that prompted broad outrage from supporters and opponents alike. The U.S. is not removing its forces from Syria in the face of a Turkish incursion, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Rather, the president ordered roughly 50 special operations troops in northern Syria to relocate to a different part of the country after he learned that Turkey has planned an offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria. The official said that offensive had not yet begun.
The latest assertion, however, appears to conflict with a flurry of tweets the president issued Monday, further explaining a White House statement late Sunday that first announced the withdrawal, but offered few details. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” Trump wrote in one tweet. The idea of the U.S. withdrawing any of its roughly 1,000 troops still in Syria – even just from the front lines where they operate with Kurdish allies – prompted widespread outrage on Capitol Hill, including from some of the president’s staunchest allies like Sen. Lindsay Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They feared that the decision amounted to abandoning the Kurds, who have been instrumental in defeating the Islamic State group, but which Turkey has labeled as terrorists and vowed to attack.
In a fairly blunt warning to the NATO ally, US President Donald Trump vowed to “obliterate” the Turkish economy if he thinks it’s stepped out of line in Syria. He then told Ankara to “watch over” ISIS fighters in the US’ absence. “If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” the president threatened via tweet on Monday – an odd turn of phrase for what otherwise seemed like a dire warning to a supposed ally. Trump called for Turkey to join “Europe and others” in “watch[ing] over the captured ISIS [Islamic State] fighters and families” just hours after announcing the US would finally pull out of northern Syria on Monday.
The announcement triggered howls of fury from hawks in Congress and the media, as well as sudden experts in Middle Eastern politics who cried that leaving Syria would abandon the Kurds to be torn apart by Turkey. The Pentagon “does not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria,” a Pentagon statement issued on Monday clarified, stating “the US Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.” While Turkey considers the Kurdish YPG militia an extension of the banned terrorist group PKK, the US has been arming and protecting the Kurds for years – and, as Trump pointed out in his earlier announcement, paying them “massive amounts of money and equipment.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter could be forced to testify if the Senate ends up holding an impeachment trial of President Trump, say congressional aides who questioned whether Democrats have thought through the full implications of their impeachment drive. Not only could Mr. Biden be forced to be in D.C. at a critical moment in the presidential campaign, but so could many of his chief rivals — the half-dozen senators also vying for Democrats’ presidential nomination, impeachment experts said.
For that matter, if the House chooses to impeach Mr. Trump on charges stemming from the special counsel’s Russia investigation, aides said it could open the door to witnesses such as fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok or even major figures from the Obama administration. Mr. Trump could even be present for the entire spectacle. Experts said the Senate would have a hard time refusing him if he demanded to confront the witnesses against him.
A lot of readers (some of them former readers now) have been angrily twanging me by email for writing about the three-year Resistance effort to un-do the 2016 election. I did not vote for Mr. Trump (or Mrs. Clinton) but I resent the coup mounted to overthrow him. I object to the bad faith and dishonesty of the Resistance. I object to the criminal misconduct among the federal bureaucracy, and the mendacity of its partners in the news media, and the hysteria they continue to generate — at the expense of other matters that concern our future. The political disorder spooling out is the political expression of the long emergency that the nation faces as it finally encounters the limits to growth we were warned about decades ago.
The techno-industrial phase of history is ending, and we are left only with inadequate fantasies for coming to terms with it and moving forward. The dynamic relationship between affordable energy supplies and the operations of money roils at the core of this predicament. They are undoing each other and the result will be a contraction of human activity. The big question we refuse to face is how to cope with contraction. Beyond the ongoing orchestrated coup stands a reality-optional political Left consumed by serial hysterias, uninterested in truth, steeped in social despotism, and apparently willing to do anything to gain power. We should be very concerned with what they intend to do with that power.
As they attempt to redistribute wealth, they will make the unhappy discovery that the wealth itself is subject to the wholesale contraction underway. The overvalued “assets” representing “money” hoarded by the “wealthy” will turn out to be figments of a runaway debt crisis. We have already debased the operations of banking, and the tokens that banks issue — currencies and securities — levitate over an abyss. We already have plenty of evidence for what the Left will do to the principle of political liberty. Their shibboleths of “diversity” and “inclusion” really mean shutting down free speech and telling everybody how to think. They are less interested in “social justice” than in plain coercion, the pleasure they take in pushing people around. What’s worse is that they want to use government as the instrument for enforcing their will.
The federal budget deficit for 2019 is estimated at $984 billion, a hefty 4.7 percent of GDP and the highest since 2012, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said on Monday. The difference between federal spending and revenue has only ever exceeded $1 trillion four times, in the period immediately following the global financial crisis. The deficit, which has grown every year since 2015, is $205 billion higher than it was in 2018, a jump of 26 percent. The CBO has warned that the nation’s debt is on an unsustainable path. Higher levels of debt increase borrowing costs, make it harder for the government to battle economic downturns and increase the share of future spending devoted to paying off interest costs.
Since President Trump took office, the GOP has passed a massive tax cut package that reduced revenue, while Democrats and Republicans have agreed to increase spending year after year. Budget watchers note that the main drivers of the deficit, however, come from automatic spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “Democrats and Republicans must be held responsible for the outrageous deficit reported today by the CBO,” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks. “This unsustainable situation is only going to get worse,” he added.
The US has blacklisted 28 Chinese organisations for their alleged involvement in abuses against ethnic Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province. The organisations are now on the so-called Entity List, which bars them from buying products from US companies without approval from Washington. The 28 targets include both government agencies and technology companies specialising in surveillance equipment. It is not the first time the US has put Chinese groups under a trade ban. In May, the Trump administration added telecommunications giant Huawei to the Entity List because of security fears over its products.
A Commerce Department filing said the organisations are “implicated in human rights violations and abuses”. Rights groups say Beijing is severely persecuting the mostly Muslim Uighurs in detention camps. China calls these “vocational training centres” to combat extremism. The Commerce Department said in its decision on Monday that these 28 entities are implicated in “China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.” Xinjiang province’s Public Security Bureau is on the list, along with 19 other smaller government agencies.
Anti-Brexit campaigners have failed in an attempt to force Boris Johnson to ask for an extension to article 50 if he is unable to get a Brexit deal through parliament. Lord Pentland, sitting in the court of session in Edinburgh, rejected their request for a court order instructing the prime minister to seek an extension if he cannot get a deal passed by the Commons this month. Pentland said he had to take at face value pledges made by the UK government on Friday that Johnson would write the letter seeking an extension on 19 October as required under the so-called Benn act. Pentland said those assurances were unequivocal.
“I approach matters on the basis that it would be destructive of one of the core principles of constitutional propriety and of the mutual trust that is the bedrock of the relationship between the court and the crown for the prime minister or the government to renege on what they have assured the court that the prime minister intends to do,” the judge ruled. [..] Anti-Brexit campaigners are expected to appeal against the decision on Tuesday, when they will ask another Scottish court to write the article 50 extension letter if Johnson fails to do so. The campaigners – Dale Vince, a green energy entrepreneur, Jolyon Maugham QC, an anti-Brexit campaigner, and Joanna Cherry QC, a Scottish National party MP – want the inner house of the court of session to use its unique nobile officium powers to act on Johnson’s behalf. Those powers allow the court of session to take action in a situation where a remedy is needed, but this case is seen as highly unusual.
Spaff some money on some geeks.” According to Chris Cook’s excellent account of Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations with Brussels, that was the instruction issued to the civil service by May’s enforcer Fiona Hill in late 2016. It had finally dawned on the British government that it had committed itself to two incompatible things. One was that under no circumstances would there be a return to a hard border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The other was that all of the UK was going to leave the EU’s customs union. May faced exactly the same problem that her successor Boris Johnson is struggling with: you can do one or other of these things but you cannot do both. If Northern Ireland leaves the customs union, there will be border controls.
And so May tried to do what Johnson is still proposing: throw money at nerds and hope that they can somehow transform a political problem into a technical issue. The old (superbly condescending) joke was that whenever the Irish question was about to be solved, the Irish would change the question. But the British government has been trying to solve the riddle of Brexit’s Irish question not just by changing the question, but by changing the entire conceptual framework. It has to be removed from a discourse of history and geography and memory and translated into the languages of technology and managerialism. That is how Johnson sought to define the problem in his speech to the Tory party conference last week: “Essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks.”
Previously, of course, he suggested that crossing the Irish border was similar to going from one borough of London to another, and that any problem it creates could be solved with the same technology used to operate the city’s congestion charge. This is a way of minimising and dismissing an inconvenient truth. But it also goes to the heart of the complete failure of Johnson’s proposals for a replacement of the backstop designed to keep the border invisible. Everybody in Ireland, north and south, knows that there are many technical questions thrown up by Brexit. But nobody – not even Johnson’s DUP allies – really believes that what Brexit does to John Bull’s Other Island is a matter for a “technical discussion”. In Ireland, it’s about lives – and deaths.
The contentious inclusion of a song by convicted pedophile Gary Glitter in “Joker” has sparked a wave of criticism from moviegoers, with many concerned the disgraced former glam rock singer will be entitled to lucrative music royalties. The R-rated comic book movie smashed box office records over the weekend, with Warner Bros. hauling in $93.5 million in the U.S. alone. That marked the highest debut for a film released in October in cinematic history. “Joker” also garnered $140.5 million internationally, bringing the film’s total ticket sales to $234 million, Warner Bros. said Sunday. But, despite the film’s opening weekend success, the makers of the movie have stoked controversy for featuring Glitter’s 1972 hit “Rock and Roll Part 2” in a lengthy scene.
The song plays for approximately two minutes as Joaquin Phoenix, who has received rave reviews for his portrayal of the eponymous villain, dances down a long flight of steps outside his Gotham City apartment. Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, is reportedly expected to receive a lump sum for allowing the recording to be used in “Joker.” He is also thought to be in line for music royalties depending on the success of movie theater ticket sales, DVD sales and film soundtrack sales. The 75-year-old was jailed for a total of 16 years in 2015 for attempted rape, four counts of indecent assault and one count of having sex with a girl under 13. All six offenses were committed in the 1970s and 1980s. He was first jailed in 1999 when he admitted to possessing images of child abuse.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has concluded investigations into Facebook’s WhatsApp and Twitter over possible breaches of EU data privacy rules, a spokesperson for the agency revealed to CNBC Monday. The investigations will now move into the decision-making phase, according to Graham Doyle, head of communications for Ireland’s DPC. During this next phase, Ireland’s chief data regulator, Helen Dixon, will issue draft decisions, which are expected to come toward the end of the year. These would mark Ireland’s first decisions related to U.S. multinational companies since Europe’s privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect on May 2018.
In her draft decisions, Dixon will determine the penalty, if any, that either company faces for breaching data privacy rules. Companies can be fined up to 4% of global annual revenues for breaching Europe’s data privacy law called GDPR. For Facebook, that could mean a fine of more than $2 billion based on its fiscal year 2018 revenue. Because many big tech companies have their EU headquarters in Ireland, the Irish DPC supervises the firms under GDPR. Ireland’s DPC has opened more than a dozen investigations into big tech companies including Facebook, Apple, Google and Twitter.
“Se acabó la zanganería” — “The zanganería is over.” With these words, uttered on October 4, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno proclaimed the end of a 40-year policy of fuel and petrol subsidies, which had traditionally benefited his country’s working-class population. [..] The decision to cut the government’s decades-old fuel subsidies was just one element in a package of neoliberal economic reforms presented by the Moreno government on October 1. The program was part of a bid to satisfy the demands of the IMF. This October, the reform package set off an explosion of mass protests across the nation. Moreno claimed the drastic new economic measures were necessary to reduce “wasteful” public spending and balance the government’s budget.
The most controversial measure of all has been the elimination of the petrol subsidies that had been in place since the 1970s. This removal led to a staggering 123 percent rise in the price of diesel, with similar increases in the price of other fuels. The package also introduced a 20 percent decrease in the salary of public employees, and initiated plans to privatize pensions and removed workplace security and job security safeguards. When he announced the wildly unpopular austerity package, President Lenin Moreno sensed that large protests against his government were inevitable. So he declared a national “state of emergency,” and immediately deployed both the police and the military against protesters in the capital of Quito and other areas around the country.
David Morales, the director and owner of Undercover Global S. L., the Spanish defense and security company in charge of protecting the Ecuadorian embassy in London during Julian Assange’s long stay there, called on his team to catalogue “the Russian and American citizens” who visited the cyberactivist as a maximum priority, according to testimonies and documents to which EL PAÍS has had access. The company allegedly spied on the WikiLeaks founder for the US intelligence services, and in the wake of revelations published by this newspaper is being investigated by the Spanish High Court, the Audiencia Nacional. Morales gave written instructions to his employees in London for them to give advance warning of the priority targets from both countries.
All of the information collected about these and other visitors was sent to an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server in Jerez de la Frontera, the headquarters of UCE Global S. L., in southern Spain. This kind of “big brother” was the place were all of the information collected was stored in an orderly fashion, including files from cellphones, profiles by nationality (Russians, North Americans, Germans, etc.), professions, and documents from attorneys, diplomats, journalists, doctors, and so on. Employees who worked for UCE Global S. L. have told this newspaper that the CIA had access to this server, and that Morales did not want to reveal the identity of “his American friends” when there were technical problems and there was a request for contact with the client.
The IP numbers registered come from the US and one of them corresponds to a company that provides security services for the FBI. A study of the reports that were created over a period of years by this company reveals that international current affairs and events surrounding the cyberactivist defined and modified the objectives of the company and its “North American clients.” [..] The monitoring of the dozens of people who visited Assange during the seven years he was in the embassy was comprehensive. But in the case of the priority targets – North Americans, Russians, attorneys and journalists – it was intensified as much as possible. Employees of UCE Global took apart and photographed the cellphones of North American journalists who visited the founder of WikiLeaks, according to testimony and graphic documents to which EL PAÍS has had access.
Start with the initial headline, in the story the Washington Post “broke” on September 18th: “TRUMP’S COMMUNICATIONS WITH FOREIGN LEADER ARE PART OF WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT THAT SPURRED STANDOFF BETWEEN SPY CHIEF AND CONGRESS, FORMER OFFICIALS SAY”. The unnamed person at the center of this story sure didn’t sound like a whistleblower. Our intelligence community wouldn’t wipe its ass with a real whistleblower. Americans who’ve blown the whistle over serious offenses by the federal government either spend the rest of their lives overseas, like Edward Snowden, end up in jail, like Chelsea Manning, get arrested and ruined financially, like former NSA official Thomas Drake, have their homes raided by FBI like disabled NSA vet William Binney, or get charged with espionage like ex-CIA exposer-of-torture John Kiriakou.
It’s an insult to all of these people, and the suffering they’ve weathered, to frame the ballcarrier in the Beltway’s latest partisan power contest as a whistleblower. I’ve met a lot of whistleblowers, in both the public and private sector. Many end up broke, living in hotels, defamed, (often) divorced, and lucky if they have any kind of job. One I knew got turned down for a waitressing job because her previous employer wouldn’t vouch for her. She had little kids. The common thread in whistleblower stories is loneliness. Typically the employer has direct control over their ability to pursue another job in their profession. Many end up reviled as traitors, thieves, and liars. They often discover after going public that their loved ones have a limited appetite for sharing the ignominy. In virtually all cases, they end up having to start over, both personally and professionally.
When will the MSM start publishing about the “DNC-UKRAINE SCANDAL”? The Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine was convicted in Ukraine for interfering in the U.S. presidential election in 2016…
The Blaze has released an audio recording that they recently obtained that appears to show Artem Sytnyk, Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, admitting that he tried to boost the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton by sabotaging then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign. The connection between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Ukrainian government was veteran Democratic operative Alexandra Chalupa, “who had worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Clinton administration” and then “went on to work as a staffer, then as a consultant, for Democratic National Committee,” Politico reported.
Chalupa was working directly with the Ukrainian embassy in the United States to raise concerns about Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and, according to Politico, she indicated that the Embassy was working “directly with reporters researching Trump, Manafort and Russia to point them in the right directions.” The Ukrainian embassy political officer who worked at the embassy at the time, Andrii Telizhenko, stated that the Ukrainians “were coordinating an investigation with the Hillary team on Paul Manafort with Alexandra Chalupa” and that “the embassy worked very closely with” Chalupa. The Blaze highlighted an email from WikiLeaks from Chalupa to Louise Miranda at the DNC:
“Hey, a lot coming down the pipe. I spoke to a delegation of 68 investigative journalists from Ukraine last night at the Library of Congress, the Open World Society forum. They put me on the program to speak specifically about Paul Manafort. I invited Michael Isikoff, who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks, and connected him to the Ukrainians. More offline tomorrow, since there was a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in the next few weeks. Something I’m working on that you should be aware of.” The Blaze then reported that Sytnyk, who eventually “was tried and convicted in Ukraine for interfering in the U.S. presidential election in 2016,” released a “black ledger” on Manafort during the 2016 presidential election that eventually led to Manafort’s downfall.
Veteran journalist Bob Woodward said Republican senators are “choking” on President Trump’s Ukraine scandal. At his second appearance in Spokane, Washington, in as many days, the famed Watergate sleuth discussed the precarious situation GOP lawmakers find themselves in as Trump faces controversy for encouraging foreign countries to investigate Joe Biden, a political rival, and his son Hunter. “I know Republican senators, and they are choking on this,” Woodward said on Friday, according to the Spokesman-Review. “Whether they say that’s too much, I don’t know.” Some Republicans in the upper chamber have begun to break ranks after Trump openly encouraged Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens on Thursday.
Among those who have vented publicly are Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, as well as Texas Rep. Will Hurd in the House. Trump, who claims his overtures were about corruption and not crippling a political opponent in the 2020 election, repeatedly castigated Romney on Saturday, even calling for his impeachment. In a discussion with college students on Thursday, Woodward said the situation for Trump is getting “more serious each day” and predicted that impeachment in the House “is almost certainly going to happen to Trump.” He added, “But then there’s a trial in the Senate.”
On Friday, Woodward acknowledged that Trump encouraging foreign countries to investigate the Biden family is “probably not criminal,” but he nonetheless referred to the controversy as being wide in scope. Speaking of the House impeachment inquiry, Woodward said, “They’re looking through a keyhole, and it’s a panorama.” Woodward also noted how some Republicans in the Senate are seeing an advantage from the Democrats’ impeachment venture. He mentioned that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former Trump critic who has become one of his most vociferous defenders, is seeing an influx of donations. Woodward said the South Carolina Republican told him he “couldn’t count the money fast enough.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan again threatened this weekend to initiate a military incursion into northeast Syria, where US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are based (and bolstered locally by small American bases), saying an offensive “both on land and air” would come “as soon as today or tomorrow.” Like many threats of an “imminent” invasion, it appears this proverbial can will be kicked further down the road, as presidents Trump and Erdogan held a “last minute” phone call on Sunday, where it appears the two leaders came to some level of an understanding. They discussed Turkey’s proposed “safe zone” east of the Euphrates in Syria — which Erdogan has long urged a resistant Washington to cooperate militarily on — and though exact details of the exchange weren’t published, they agreed to meet in Washington next month upon Trump’s invitation.
“Erdogan expressed Turkey’s unease with U.S. military and security bureaucracies not doing what is required by the agreement between the two countries, the presidency said, adding that the two men agreed to meet,” Reuters reported of the call. As we reported previously, Turkey’s military is reportedly on high alert, ready to carry out the Turkish president’s orders on short notice, after a longtime military build-up along the border. “We will carry out this operation both on land and air as soon as today or tomorrow,” Erdogan said on Saturday. “We gave all warnings to our interlocutors regarding the east of Euphrates and we have acted with sufficient patience,” the Turkish president added.
He further slammed the prospect of cooperating with the US on a US-Turkey administered safe zone “a fairytale” given Washington’s recalcitrance regarding Syria’s Kurds, the ethnic group’s militias of which Turkey considers “terrorists”. The Kurdish dominated and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has vowed it will treat any invading Turkish soldiers as an act of war. In a statement the SDF said it would “not hesitate to turn any unprovoked (Turkish) attack into an all-out war” to defend its region in northeast Syria, according to Reuters.
London may not be planning to nominate a commissioner to Brussels but if it does, some say there’s only one option: Nigel Farage. Conservative MP Steve Baker told the Telegraph’s Chopper Brexit Podcast that the Brexit Party member of the European Parliament would be the obvious choice to be the U.K.’s European commissioner, if Brexit is delayed and the country is able to nominate one. “I think we should appoint somebody with about twenty years experience … we should appoint somebody who’s incredibly well-known throughout the institutions, somebody who can be absolutely relied upon at all times to support our exit from the European Union,” he said.
“And therefore I unashamedly back Nigel Farage to be our next European commissioner in the event, in the unfortunate event, should it transpire, though I think it unlikely, that we have to remain in.” Baker, who leads the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs in the U.K. parliament, said the idea would be “inspired by the film Armageddon,” referring to a 1998 science fiction movie. There is a scene where “they’re trying to save the world, and so what they do is they land on the asteroid, and they put a nuclear weapon in the heart of the asteroid, and Nigel Farage is that nuclear weapon,” Baker said. “I’ve reason to think he might say that he would accept such an offer,” Baker added, while noting that “my sympathy for Nigel Farage, which has not always been at very high levels, has dramatically increased the more that I am demonized.”
Remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo unleashed wind and rain from the Atlantic across the area, a rural pocket of County Fermanagh that marks Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic. “Stay back, stay high, stay dry,” advised the authorities, and residents duly hunkered down. Lorenzo passed without major damage. [..] Around Gortmullan, businesses and ordinary people were left wondering if – and where – to seek cover, a dilemma dating from the 2016 referendum result that now thrummed with urgency. “We’re setting up new companies on both sides of the border,” said Liam McCaffrey, CEO of Quinn Industrial Holdings, which supplies building materials.
Customs checks would be bad enough, but Johnson’s apparent plan to give the Stormont assembly a veto over trading arrangements verged on surreal, said McCaffrey. Power sharing in Northern Ireland collapsed in January 2017 and shows little sign of reviving. “The future of how we trade is to be decided every four years by an assembly that hasn’t sat in three years? Bizarre.” Such was the challenge of Storm Boris. Perhaps it was hot air, a plan destined for oblivion to be superseded by who knows what. Or perhaps it was a blast of what is to come in a no-deal crash-out, or a deal negotiated in the next few weeks or after a general election. The uncertainty was head spinning.
[..] The 310-mile border, drawn in 1922 during the partition of Ireland, bristled with military patrols and fortifications during the Troubles. The 1998 Good Friday agreement and the EU’s single market rendered it invisible, helping to seal the peace. [..] A complex web connects the economies on both sides of the border. Trade in goods is worth about £5.2bn. About a third of Northern Ireland’s goods and services exports are sold to the Republic, while about a quarter of its imports come from the south. Downing Street says electronic paperwork and a “very small number” of physical inspections at traders’ premises would limit disruption. Farmers and business leaders dispute that. Some warn of disaster. Diageo, which makes Guinness and Baileys, estimates a hard border could cost it £1.3m, based on an estimate of an hour’s delay for each of the 18,000 beer trucks that traverse the border each year. Smaller businesses with tight margins could face ruin.
How could this ever happen? “The parties anticipate that this agreement will not be made part of any public record. If the United States receives a Freedom of Information Act request or any compulsory process commanding the disclosure of the agreement, it will provide notice to Epstein before making that disclosure.”
But not limited to: It was just a four-word phrase, a bit of plain contractual verbiage, but even now, more than a decade later, Spencer Kuvin has a hard time expressing just how bizarre it was. “It’s incredibly odd language,” said Kuvin, an attorney in Florida. “I’ve never seen it before in a non-prosecution agreement.” Kuvin and I were talking about the infamous and inexplicable 2007 plea deal offered by then–US Attorney Alexander Acosta, last seen slinking out of the Labor Department’s back door. Kuvin had represented three of Epstein’s victims at the time of the agreement, and Kuvin is still exercised about the deal, in particular its brief immunity clause that continues to protect Epstein’s co-conspirators.
According to a ruling by US District Judge Kenneth Marra in February 2019, “from between about 1999 and 2007, Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused more than 30 minor girls…at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, and elsewhere in the United States and overseas.” The ruling goes on to describe a child sex ring: “In addition to his own sexual abuse of the victims, Epstein directed other persons to abuse the girls sexually. Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him. Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.”
But back in 2007, Epstein was charged only with procuring an underage girl for prostitution, having struck an unbelievable sweetheart deal with Acosta. Epstein served 13 months in a Palm Beach County jail, of which six days a week were spent on work release in his high-rise office, a limo chauffeuring him to and from jail. He was also required to register as a sex offender. The deal on its face is incredibly favorable to Epstein. If you look closer, things get even better for him:
“The United States also agrees that it will not institute any criminal charges against any potential co-conspirators of Epstein, including but not limited to Sarah Kellen, Adriana Ross, Lesley Groff, or Nadia Marcinkova.” The four women named had allegedly helped recruit underage girls for Epstein at his direction. But that four-word phrase “but not limited to” gave a free pass to anybody who would have helped Epstein acquire or traffic underage girls for sex. How could the government agree to immunize “any potential co-conspirators” of an alleged serial child rapist? The question is at the center of so many conspiracy theories surrounding Epstein’s life and death.
Amid one of the worst food crises in recent memory, Chinese farmers are reportedly trying to breed larger pigs as the African swine fever – less affectionately known as ‘pig ebola’ – has destroyed over 100 million pigs, between one-third and a half of China’s supply of pigs by various estimates, causing pork prices to explode to levels never seen before. As Beijing scrambles to make up for the lost domestic supply with imports, even desperately waiving tariffs on American pork products in what China’s politicians tried to sell to their population (and Washington) as a “gesture of goodwill”, farmers in southern China have raised a pig that’s as heavy as a polar bear.
Once slaughtered, these giant mutant pigs can fetch a, well, giant price on the market. Here’s more from Bloomberg: “The 500 kilogram, or 1,102 pound, animal is part of a herd that’s being bred to become giant swine. At slaughter, some of the pigs can sell for more than 10,000 yuan ($1,399), over three times higher than the average monthly disposable income in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province where Pang Cong, the farm’s owner, lives.” Soaring pork prices have encouraged small and large farms to experiment with DIY genetic experimentation, in the name of raising pigs that are about 40% heavier than the ‘normal’ weight of 125 kilos.
“High pork prices in the northeastern province of Jilin is prompting farmers to raise pigs to reach an average weight of 175 kilograms to 200 kilograms, higher than the normal weight of 125 kilograms. They want to raise them “as big as possible,” said Zhao Hailin, a hog farmer in the region.”
The same Brazilian prosecutors who for years exhibited a single-minded fixation on jailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are now seeking his release from prison, requesting that a court allow him to serve the remainder of his 11-year sentence for corruption at home. But Lula — who believes the request is motivated by fear that prosecutorial and judicial improprieties in his case, which were revealed by The Intercept, will lead to the nullification of his conviction — is opposing these efforts, insisting that he will not leave prison until he receives full exoneration. In seeking his release, Lula’s prosecutors are almost certainly not motivated by humanitarian concerns. Quite the contrary: Those prosecutors have often displayed a near-pathological hatred for the two-term former president.
Last month, The Intercept, jointly with its reporting partner UOL, published previously secret Telegram messages in which the Operation Car Wash prosecutors responsible for prosecuting Lula cruelly mocked the tragic death of his 7-year-old grandson from meningitis earlier this year, as well as the 2017 death of his wife of 43 years from a stroke at the age of 66. One of the prosecutors who participated publicly apologized, but none of the others have. Far more likely is that the prosecutors are motivated by desperation to salvage their legacy after a series of defeats suffered by their once-untouchable, widely revered Car Wash investigation, ever since The Intercept, on June 9, began publishing reports based on a massive archive of secret chats between the prosecutors and Sergio Moro, the judge who oversaw most of the convictions, including Lula’s, and who now serves as President Jair Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice and Public Security.
The prosecutors’ cynical gambit, it appears, is that the country’s Supreme Court — which two weeks ago nullified one of Moro’s anti-corruption convictions for the first time on the ground that he violated core rights of defendants — will feel less pressure to nullify Moro’s guilty verdict in Lula’s case if the ex-president is comfortably at home in São Paulo (albeit under house arrest) rather than lingering in a Curitiba prison. But this strategy ran into a massive roadblock when Lula demanded that he not be released from prison unless and until he is fully exonerated.
Cummings is no longer in the shadows, operating behind the scenes — this Svengali is out in the open. Indeed, he seems to relish being seen in public, striding ostentatiously into Downing Street every morning. Now, we are all familiar with his shaven head, scruffy T-shirts, crumpled appearance and contemptuous and appraising eyes, his newspapers and bundles of documents carried in a Vote Leave bag. According to some papers, and many ministers and civil servants I have spoken to recently, this is the man who is truly running Britain. It’s Cummings who oversees the No 10 grid which controls the timing of announcements and public events. It’s in this capacity that he dispatches the PM up and down Britain, photographed in hospitals, sharing selfies with nurses, and on construction sites wearing a hard hat.
It is also Cummings, not Johnson, who determines political strategy — hence the huge public spending announcements on health, extra police and other issues. Indeed, it looks very much as if Johnson has become the public face of Cummings. And this, I am afraid, is profoundly disturbing. No one ever voted for Cummings, he has little experience of life outside politicking yet he has been given unprecedented power at a moment of immense crisis in the national fortunes. Within hours of Johnson becoming Tory leader two weeks ago, newly anointed special adviser Cummings called ‘his’ staff together in the magnificent Downing Street first-floor state room. He told them that he plans to deliver Brexit ‘by any means necessary’.
Consider this: we now have a prime minister and a government, buttressed by a not inconsiderable rump of the Conservative party, who have made it clear that there is not a convention they are not willing to break, an institution they are not willing to smash, a precedent they are not willing to burn, in the pursuit of their goal. The PM and his coterie have said that they would prorogue parliament because it might stand in their way; that they are willing to schedule an election far in excess of the usual time limits because it would ensure our exit on the 31 October. In so doing they would therefore go against yet more precedent in pursuing a highly tendentious policy during an election period (where normally a caretaker administration would do little of controversy).
And now, we have news that the prime minister would squat in Number 10 after he loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons. He is even willing to do so, apparently, if the Commons coalesces around an alternative prime minister, despite the fact the Cabinet Manual (the closest we have to a constitution) makes it clear that this is quite unacceptable and that it would risk the neutrality of the Queen. All of this would be constitutional vandalism. Brexit then, “whatever the cost”, as Dominic Cummings has said. It is a nihilistic vision of politics and indeed, a most unusual one for self-described “Conservatives” but it is, relentless and clear-sighted. Indeed, its recklessness has imbued this administration with a strange purpose and energy.
The former US treasury secretary Larry Summers has said he does not believe that a “desperate” UK would manage to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington, as Dominic Raab, the new foreign secretary, heads to the US to scope out the potential for such an agreement. Summers, who was a senior official under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said the UK was in a weak position when it came to negotiating with trade partners. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “Britain has no leverage, Britain is desperate … it needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that’s when you strike the hardest bargain.”
Despite warm words from Donald Trump about a trade deal, Summers said: “We have economic conflict with China and, even on top of that, the deterioration of the pound is going to further complicate the negotiating picture. “We will see it as giving Britain an artificial comparative advantage and make us think about the need to retaliate against Britain, not to welcome Britain with new trade agreements.” Even if the two countries could come to an agreement, Summers said, the UK was in a weak negotiating position. “Britain has much less to give than Europe as a whole did, therefore less reason for the United States to make concessions,” he said. “You make more concessions dealing with a wealthy man than you do dealing with a poor man.”
Michael Gove has accused the European Union of intransigence over Brexit talks, calling it “wrong and sad”, as divisions between the UK and Brussels became further entrenched with the government seemingly intent on a no-deal departure. Gove, who is in charge of no-deal preparations, reiterated Boris Johnson’s position that the only route to progress would be the EU starting again with withdrawal negotiations, something Brussels has repeatedly and consistently ruled out. Adding to the impression of Johnson’s hardening position, newly released government read-outs of the prime minister’s phone calls with a series of EU leaders over recent days showed he delivered the same uncompromising message to them.
While the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, insisted on Tuesday that a no-deal departure was not inevitable, both he and the country’s finance minister, Paschal Donohoe, warned of a significant and long-term change to relations between the countries if it did happen. Downing Street has increasingly pushed the message that Brexit will happen on 31 October under any circumstances – even intimating that No 10 believes the mandate of the 2016 Brexit referendum would overrule even a blocking vote in parliament.
There is increasing worry among some MPs that Johnson could try to force through a no-deal Brexit against the will of the Commons, with his de facto chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, reportedly threatening No 10 staff with the sack if they dissent. The government’s official position is still that it is seeking a formalised departure, albeit only if Brussels ditches the Irish backstop border insurance policy and reopens the withdrawal agreement.
Scotland Yard has examined the role of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in the novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury, it has been revealed. Putin is assessed by UK intelligence agencies as having been “likely” to have approved of the attack in March 2018 on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer, and his daughter, both of whom were left seriously ill but survived. Dawn Sturgess later died after coming across a discarded perfume bottle used by two Russian intelligence agents to carry the military grade nerve agent. Two Russian agents have been charged over the attack, and Britain wants them extradited and has issued a European arrest warrant (EAW) and Interpol red notice for their detention.
The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu, the head of UK counter-terrorism policing, said the investigation into the attack was continuing. Basu said the issues involved in bringing charges over the attack were complex. “You’d have to prove he [Putin] was directly involved,” he said. “In order to get an EAW, you have to have a case capable of being charged in this country. We haven’t got a case capable of being charged. “We’re police officers, so we have to go for evidence. There has been a huge amount of speculation about who is responsible, who gave the orders, all based on people’s expert knowledge of Russia. I have to go with evidence.”
China’s state banks have been active in the onshore yuan forwards market this week, using swaps to tighten dollar supply and support the Chinese currency, four sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. The spot value of the yuan has fallen sharply this week against the dollar as tensions between China and the United States escalated and prompted fears that their trade war could shift into a currency war. The sources said banks had conducted significant amounts of buy-sell swaps in the onshore market on Tuesday. Buy-sell swaps help to reduce the supply of dollars that the market can access to short-sell the yuan. “Yesterday big banks were all selling one-year onshore forward swaps, then in the afternoon the spot dollar-yuan fell,” said a trader at a foreign bank in Shanghai.
One state bank also was seen active in offshore forward swaps, two traders at foreign banks with knowledge of the matter said. On Wednesday, one-year onshore dollar-yuan forwards were at 175 points, down from 321 points on Monday, according to Refinitiv data. One-year offshore dollar-yuan forwards were at 459 points, down from 640 points on Monday. “The movement in forward points may reflect a tightening in USD (dollar) liquidity when some market participants need to buy spot dollars and sell them back in forwards. Meanwhile, the spot and outright moves were also partly due to a stabilization in RMB (yuan) sentiment on Tuesday,” said Frances Cheung, head of macro strategy for Asia at Westpac in Singapore.
The Fed may have launched its first easing cycle since 2007 and liquidity-sapping quantitative tightening may finally be over, but Powell may have a much bigger problem on his hands – one which has nothing to do with China, and everything to do with a dramatic drain of liquidity in the market over the next two months.
We first hinted at this last week when we noted that as part of the recently completed debt ceiling deal, instead of taking its time in replenishing the cash balance (green line in the chart below), the US Treasury will scramble to rebuild its cash balance up to $350 billion, from today’s level of $133 billion (gray line), a process which as we said last Wednesday will “significantly tighten up liquidity in the banking system and potentially result in turmoil in funding and money markets as the world is flooded with an issuance of T-Bills” as the Treasury seeks to fill the $217 billion cash hole, which will lead to a substantial liquidity withdrawal from the broader financial system as shown in the following Nordea chart.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that traditionally such a rapid liquidity withdrawal leads to weaker risk appetite, a far stronger USD and lower treasury yields, while widening the LIBOR/OIS spread and further depressing the already negative EURUSD cross-currency basis. While we cautioned about all this last week (even before the FOMC announcement), it appears that our appreciation of just how severe this problem may be for the Fed and capital markets was overly optimistic, because according to a new analysis by Bank of America’s Mark Cabana, the Fed may have no choice but to resume Quantitative Easing and start expanding its balance sheet again – potentially as early as 4Q – in order to ease funding pressures expected during the coming wave of Treasury supply.
Papua New Guinea has asked China to refinance its entire government debt in a blow to Australia’s attempts to counter China’s influence in the region. The request marks a “significant shift” in regional politics and PNG’s allegiances, according to Pacific experts. Australia has traditionally been the largest aid donor and most important ally of PNG, but in recent years ties between China and PNG have strengthened. PNG’s prime minister, James Marape, visited Australia two weeks ago at the invitation of his counterpart, Scott Morrison, in his first international visit since becoming the Pacific nation’s leader at the end of May.
In a speech during his visit, Marape said he wanted PNG to move away from an “aid-donor” relationship with Australia within 10 years, and step up alongside its neighbour as a leader in the Pacific region. However, on Tuesday, after a meeting with Xue Bing, the Chinese ambassador in Port Moresby, Marape requested that China refinance its debts of A$11.8bn (27bn kina, or US$7.95bn). PNG’s debt sits at around 32.8% of its GDP. “[The prime minister] requested the ambassador to inform Beijing on a bid to assist the government of PNG refinance its existing country’s K27bn debt,” said Marape’s office in a statement seen by the Guardian.
“He suggested that both the Bank of PNG and [China’s] People’s Bank will take the lead with the department of treasury in ensuring that consultations are under way,” the statement continued. “It suggest a significant shift in the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea and Papua New Guinea and China,” says Matthew Clarke, professor of international development at Deakin University. “In the past Australia would have been the natural country to turn to for this sort of refinancing, but now we see China’s place in the region shift and it becomes potentially a much more dominant player in the donor relationship.”
Early in the morning, before sunrise, low tide on the Samoan island of Savai’i reveals the remnants of an old American airstrip, washed away by decades of erosion, cyclones and tsunamis. The World War II site in Asau, which also hosts a 1960s-era concrete wharf in its well-protected natural harbor, is being considered for a new port to be developed by China, according to the Samoan government and the area’s highest ranking chief, Masoe Serota Tufaga. The proposed construction of a facility that could be turned into a military asset in hostile times has worried the United States and its regional allies, which have dominated international influence in the vast waters of the South Pacific since 1945.
Sitting at his coconut and cocoa plantation on the hills above the port site, Tufaga told Reuters he would abide by any government deal for a Chinese-developed port even though he was concerned about Beijing’s growing influence. “The government and China came here to look at it – they offered it,” said 71-year-old Tufaga, who has the final say over land-use agreements affecting Asau. “If China wants to operate this, it’s too hard for us to say to the government, no, we can not allow China here. The people are looking for some jobs. “That’s right – it’s money. It’s money.”
The United States, and allies including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, are actively expanding their diplomatic postings in the Pacific to counter China’s influence, and warning island nations that Beijing-funded projects needed to make financial sense. China is using “predatory economics” to destabilize the Indo-Pacific and the United States is working with its partners to address the region’s pressing security needs, U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in Sydney on Sunday.
Turkey has for days been poised to unilaterally invade northern Syria over US objections, which Ankara officials say is to establish a 32 kilometer (20 mile) zone inside the war torn country, giving Turkey complete control of a region where the Syrian Kurdish YPG operates (People’s Protection Units). Turkey has long considered the US-backed group, which forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to be a terrorist extension of the outlawed PKK. The Pentagon has condemned the impending Turkish unilateral move, with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper telling reporters early Tuesday that it would be unacceptable and thwarted by Washington, though it’s unclear how far the Pentagon would be willing to go.
“What we’re going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests that the United States, Turkey and the SDF share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper said. Crucially, according to ABC News, US officials “have made clear that an invasion is an extremely risky venture that could threaten the safety of U.S. forces working with the SDF…”. On Sunday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his forces would launch an operation in Syria east of the Euphrates River at an unspecified start date, and noted that the US and Russia had been notified. In ongoing negotiations this summer the US and Turkey have clashed over just such a “safe zone,” given Turkey wants the area completely clear of Kurdish armed groups, which the Pentagon simultaneously backs.
Turkish defense officials have lately threatened their “patience is limited” as the army builds up its forces along the border. The Foreign Ministry on Friday warned, “We won’t let this process be dragged out. If our expectations aren’t met, we are fully capable of taking whatever measures [are needed] to ensure our national security.”
John Solomon of The Hill is reporting that an audiotape containing professor Joseph Mifsud’s deposition has been given to both U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigators and to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I can report absolutely that the Durham investigators have now obtained an audiotape deposition of Joseph Mifsud, where he describes his work, why he targeted George Papadopoulos, who directed him to do that, what directions he was given, and why he set that entire process of introducing Papadopoulos to Russia in motion in March of 2016, which is really the flashpoint the starting point of this whole Russia collusion narrative,” Solomon told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
“I can also confirm that the Senate Judiciary Committee has also obtained the same deposition,” he said. Mifsud, who I have written about extensively in previous columns, is the key that turns the lock to the lid of this Pandora’s box that we refer to as “Spygate.” So I’m wondering why Solomon appears to be the only mainstream reporter pursuing this Mifsud story. I suspect it’s because many DNC Media outlets, after having fallen deeply and passionately in love with the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, are reluctant to call attention to something that would be the final nail in its coffin. The last thing the mainstream media wants right now would be for Mifsud to go on the record with both Durham’s investigative team and with Congress to say he was working for the FBI and was only pretending to be a Russian agent.
If Mifsud was an FBI asset sent to entrap Papadopoulos, then there are no real Russian agents anywhere in this entire Trump-Russia collusion story. Ponder what that means for a minute. You can’t save the Russian collusion narrative, if you can’t find any real Russians anywhere in the story. The FBI under James Comey will then be seen as having engaged in an operation to entrap people, and “Russian agents” turn out to be fakes working for the FBI and who were making fake offers of Russian help to the Trump campaign.
Before his extended stay in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center began in July, disgraced sex offender Jeffrey Epstein dwelled in some of the city’s most exclusive real estate, laying his head in a palatial Upper East Side townhouse and conducting his mysterious business out of a landmarked mansion on Madison Avenue. But it hasn’t been all private islands and 7,000-acre ranches for the half-billionaire. For decades Epstein has run some of his operations quietly out of a squat Second Avenue residential building owned by his brother, Mark Epstein, and frequently visited by the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. According to property records and court filings, Jeffrey Epstein has long housed girlfriends, associates, employees, and businesses in a handful of units at 301 East 66th St.
There are 200 units at the address, and the majority of them are owned on paper by his brother’s development firm, Ossa Properties. While Ossa nominally owns the units connected to Jeffrey Epstein, the aforementioned records and filings show that Epstein effectively controls them. The postwar white-brick high-rise sits atop a nail salon, a coffee shop, and an Italian restaurant along a traffic-choked stretch of Second Avenue. Topped by a green canopy, the front door opens to a doorman guarding a hallway that leads to a light-filled lobby decorated with two couches and an armchair. Though the building shares a ZIP code with Epstein’s townhouse, its share of the neighborhood east of Park Avenue is less upscale, catering more to families and young professionals than foreign heads of state.
They can’t agree on anything. But they will keep trying, until they find something that can be accepted, by a narrow margin. And that narrow margin will be used to push through Brexit, which was voted for by narrow margin. A recipe for disaster. This can only end well if they put it off and talk first.
A first attempt by MPs to find a consensus route forward for Brexit has ended in deadlock and confusion after the Commons rejected every option put forward, albeit with a near-even split on the idea of joining a customs union. Oliver Letwin, the veteran Conservative MP who led the process which allowed backbenchers to seize control of the order paper to hold a series of indicative votes, said the results were “disappointing” but he hoped a new round of votes would be held on Monday. The Speaker, John Bercow, said he would allow this to take place, prompting shouts of protests from many MPs. The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, said the results strengthened the government’s view that Theresa May’s Brexit deal was the best and only way forward.
On the lack of a majority for any of the eight alternatives put to the vote on Wednesday, he said: “It demonstrates that there is not easy option here, that there is no easy way forward.” Groups of MPs had suggested 15 ideas, of which eight were selected by Bercow for votes. The closest result was a commitment for the government to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” in any Brexit deal. Put forward by the pro-EU Tory veteran Ken Clarke and others, it was voted down by 272 votes to 264. The only other relatively close vote was on a plan drawn up by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, and tabled by the former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, to require a referendum to confirm any Brexit deal. This was lost by 268 votes to 295.
Theresa May’s hopes of putting her Brexit deal to a third meaningful vote have hit another obstacle after John Bercow said parliamentary procedures could not be used to present it unchanged, even as more senior Eurosceptics seem to be getting behind the agreement. Amid speculation the prime minister is making a private pact to set a date to stand down when the deal goes through, more than 20 Conservative Eurosceptics have publicly suggested they will change their minds because they do not want a softer Brexit. Even if this many MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) switched, the vote would be extremely tight, but there was mounting speculation the government could table it on Thursday or Friday. This plan, however, could be scuppered after the Speaker told ministers he stood by his ruling that the twice-defeated motion could not be put to MPs again without significant change.
Bercow said he had instructed officials to block any attempts to put forward the same or similar plan using procedural rule changes, for example, by using a vote by MPs to instruct the Commons to overlook the rule behind his block. “I understand that the government may be thinking of bringing meaningful vote three before the house either tomorrow or even on Friday, if the house opts to sit that day,” Bercow told the Commons before the start of a debate on indicative votes on Brexit. “Therefore, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the government to meet the test of change. They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a notwithstanding motion or a tabling motion.
Theresa May has played her final desperate card to tame the Brexit rebels in her warring party, by promising to sacrifice her premiership if they back her twice-rejected Brexit deal. The beleaguered prime minister, whose authority has been shattered by the double rejection of her deal and the humiliation of a delay to Brexit day, made the offer to Tory backbenchers at a packed meeting in parliament. It came as MPs held backbench-led “indicative votes” on eight alternative Brexit options, including no deal, a referendum, a customs union and a Norway-style deal – none of which secured a majority.
May told her party’s backbench 1922 Committee: “I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.” She added: “I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.” [..] The prime minister had hoped to remain in No 10 after exit day, and build a legacy that extended beyond the humiliations of the Brexit talks to domestic policy. But if the withdrawal agreement is passed and Britain leaves the EU in eight weeks’ time, she could now be gone before the summer – after just three years in the top job.
Theresa May’s plan to secure Tory MPs’ backing for her Brexit deal by promising to resign has been blown apart after her DUP partners in government vowed to block it in a new vote. Ms May announced she will resign within weeks if Tory rebels desperate to see the back of her, allow the Brexit deal she struck with Brussels to pass through the House of Commons. The move did see Boris Johnson and other rebels finally fall into line, but within hours the boost was wiped out when DUP leader Arlene Foster branded the prime minister’s Brexit plan an “unacceptable threat” to the UK’s integrity.
With the success of Ms May’s final gambit now heavily in doubt, MPs held a series of votes to determine if any compromise can be found to break the parliamentary deadlock – but none of the eight options tested gained a majority. Earlier in the day cabinet ministers went on the airwaves to show support after Ms May’s pledge and to urge MPs to get behind her Brexit deal, but several will now ramp up preparations for a leadership contest with the PM looking fatally weakened. Several Conservatives told The Independent that with her Brexit plan on its last legs and parliament having so far failed to find an alternative, a new election now appears a very real possibility.
Erdogan is in full scale war with financial markets, even going up against JP Morgan. The classic failure of fighting against the shorts, which is like fighting windmills. But he thinks he has a right to be god in his own country.
This week, Turkey further roiled markets by preventing foreign banks from accessing the liras they need to close out their swap positions. That’s made it almost impossible for bankers to short the lira or exit carry trades, and forced the overnight lira rate up to about 1,000 percent from 23 percent.
Turkey’s shocking intervention this week – which sought to punish speculators who were betting against the lira – is more confirmation that the country’s financial and economic situation is spiraling out of control. The primary reason for this turmoil is the bursting of Turkey’s 15 year old credit bubble. To summarize, a credit bubble formed in Turkey starting in the early-2000s, which led to an artificial economic boom. Private sector credit grew from roughly 15% of GDP in 2003 to 70% of GDP in 2016. Surging interest rates are now bursting the credit bubble and putting an end to the artificial economic boom.
Unfortunately, Turkey’s situation is only going to get worse – a 15 year-old credit bubble doesn’t resolve in a mere six months. This week’s currency intervention will only serve to scare away foreign investors, which will contribute to the downward spiral. Turkey is just one of many emerging economies that have experienced credit bubbles in the past decade due to the stimulative actions of global central banks. Bubbles – including the one in Turkey – have caused global debt to explode by $150 trillion in 15 years and $70 trillion in 10 years. Even if you do not invest directly in Turkey, you are still likely exposed to contagion risk – welcome to the downside of globalization.
The crater is the size of a football pitch, dug 50 metres (165ft) deep into the earth. Mounds of rock line the surface. The only life here is the seagulls drinking from pools of stagnant water. It was supposed to be the site of Istanbul’s gleaming new development: a grandiose mix of apartments, malls and spas in the district of Fikirtepe. The promotional video from 2010 showed a symbol of Turkey’s newfound wealth. The houses of at least 15,000 people were demolished to make way for it. Many paid deposits to buy into the project. But as financial problems hit, investors pulled out – and most of the planned buildings never materialised. All that’s left is a gaping hole of bankrupt companies and broken promises.
It is symptomatic of a wider economic slump that poses the gravest threat to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his 16 years in power. Polls before this weekend’s local elections suggest his governing AK Party could lose control of the capital, Ankara – and perhaps even Istanbul. Over the past 16 years, Mr Erdogan has championed construction as the engine of Turkey’s growth. His so-called “mega projects” – from airports to bridges to tunnels – have transformed the country’s infrastructure. And high-rise housing developments have changed city skylines, often to the horror of architects. Construction moguls close to the president have won state tenders through political support. The industry is mired in claims of corruption and cronyism.
But with inflation now at 20% and the Turkish lira having plunged by around a third, the cost of importing raw materials and servicing foreign loans has soared – and construction companies are failing. Pana Yapi, the conglomerate running the Fikirtepe project, told the BBC “the whole country is going through an economic crisis”, arguing that it too is a victim. Cranes suspended in mid-air and half-built skyscrapers that now dot Istanbul are a sign of that crisis. Turkey entered recession last year, shrinking 3% in the final quarter. Many fear there is worse to come. “Turkey is heavily dependent on foreign-denominated debt and when that’s harder to service, that’s when you see the problems we’re in”, said Can Selcuki, general manager at Istanbul Economics Research.
The most controversial “meme ban” part of new EU copyright law was voted through by MEPs by mistake, it has emerged. This week, the European Parliament voted to pass the new copyright regulations, which critics claim could fundamentally alter how the internet works. And one vote on those specifics of those rules appears to have been decided on the basis of MEPs who approved them by accident. During deliberations on the new regulations, MEPs were offered the chance to specifically debate the two most controversial pieces of the law: Article 11, which would stop search engines from showing snippets of text from other websites, and the renamed Article 13, which requires that tech companies ensure their users are not violating copyright and has been accused of leading to a “meme ban”.
The MEPs turned down an amendment that would have allowed them to specifically reject those parts of the law, by a very thin margin, in advance of the main vote. But now some of those politicians say they mistakenly voted the wrong way – and enough of them that it would have swung the vote. That amendment was rejected by just five votes. But at least ten MEPs said they had accidentally cast their vote the wrong way, and if they had voted it would have fallen the other way. Video taken during the vote shows the confusion among the politicians as they attempt to quickly vote on the amendments, which could have fundamentally changed the regulations that were eventually passed.
The voting records have now been fixed to show that a number of MEPs had cast the wrong votes, and registers the names of those who had intended to approve the amendment. But despte the fact that the voting records now show the corrected results, the original ones will still stand. There is no way for those MEPs to change the official vote, even though the records can be corrected.
After putting all its eggs in the Russiagate conspiracy-theory ‘basket’ only to be let down by the contents (or lack thereof) of the Mueller report, MSNBC – and its top attraction, Rachel Maddow – are hemorrhaging viewers.
Russian-collusion high priestess Rachel Maddow’s nightly news show has slipped from number one in cable news to number six since Special Counsel Robert Mueller turned in his report on Friday, hemorrhaging half a million viewers in the space of a week. An MSNBC insider spilled the beans to the Daily Beast, assuring them that no one at the network was panicking.
“It was obviously a big couple of nights for Fox,” they said. MSNBC’s second-top-rated program, ‘The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,’ was also down half a million pairs of eyes. #Resistance media reactions to Mueller’s “no more indictments” recommendation have varied wildly, from desperate pleas to “wait and see” what’s in the full report to claims that Mueller himself was compromised, or asking the wrong questions, all along. Maddow herself seems to have chosen the “denial” route:
“Can we expect President Trump and the Trump White House to finally accept the underlying factual record that Russia did in fact attack us?” she asked on Monday, interpreting the report summary of Attorney General William Barr, which found no evidence to suggest Russian collusion, as proof that the Russian menace was even more menacing than previously believed.
Maddow’s privileged status as Queen of the Russiagaters has largely insulated her from the standard journalistic responsibilities of telling the truth, fact-checking, and otherwise maintaining a reality-based narrative, but the Beast cited “many producers” at MSNBC who had noticeably backed away from other fiery preachers of the Russiagate gospel, like Malcolm “Russia has been plotting to invade the US for 20 years! Also memes are cruise missiles” Nance.
The chief executive of eternally troubled Too-Big-To-Fail Deutsche Bank, Christian Sewing, believes the time is ripe for a merger with its national rival, Commerzbank, combing Germany’s two biggest, most dangerous lenders. So, too does his counterpart at Commerzbank, as does US private equity firm Cerberus, which owns 3% of Deutsche Bank and 5% of Commerzbank. Germany’s Finance Minister and card-carrying social democrat Olaf Scholz is also firmly on board. Indeed, many say that he’s the one leading the charge despite the tens of thousands of job losses a merger between the two banks is guaranteed to produce. Scholz’s deputy, Joerg Kukies, has courted controversy for his previous role as co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs, which is reportedly advising Commerzbank on the proposed $28 billion tie-up.
But Kukies insists there are no conflicts of interest, which is a relief. For some time now, the German government has been exploring ways to lever a merger between the top two banks to add scale and slash expenses. As things currently stand, Deutsche Bank shows little sign of halting, let alone reversing, the “vicious cycle of declining revenues, sticky expenses, lowered ratings and rising funding costs” that the group’s CFO James von Motke says has been plaguing it. Whether lumping it together with a bank that has already been bailed out once in “a merger of weakquals,” as London-based brokerage Olivetree calls it, will help right the ship is highly debatable.
But right now, the big concern is that time is fast running out for one of Europe’s biggest and most hyper-connected lenders. Unless something drastic is done soon, the next downturn could prove fatal for an already gravely weakened Deutsche Bank whose stock has been in a death-spiral since 2007, having lost over 90% of its value, and whose price-to-book ratio — the equation often used to reflect the value that market participants attach to a company’s equity — is currently below 0.25%. Normally, when a company’s P/B ratio falls below 1, it means the market is either undervaluing it and thus it could be good value, or the company is in trouble. When the ratio slumps as low as 0.22%, as is the case with Deutsche Bank, it’s far more likely to be the latter than the former.
Syria’s UN ambassador has suggested the US hand “a couple” of its own states over to Israel instead of flaunting international law and selling others’ land for favors with the Israeli lobby, like it did with the Golan Heights.
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari offered a stark rebuke to the US-backed Israeli claim to the occupied Golan Heights at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday. Jaafari said the Trump administration does the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN to curry favor with the powerful Israeli lobby in the US. In a remark that elicited a chuckle and a head-shake from his Israeli counterpart, Jaafari suggested that Washington bargain away land that is actually its to give.
Trump’s decision to back the Israeli claim to the Golan Heights comes just ahead of the Israeli general elections on April, 6 and has been widely considered as an electoral boost for Netanyahu, who is facing charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust at home. “Don’t be misguided by thinking that one day this land will be yours due to hypocrisy or due to being a pawn in the electoral game where you bring each other support, so the Israeli can succeed in their elections and the Americans can also get support from Israeli lobbying groups in the US,” Jaafari said. The Golan Heights, seized by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day war and formally annexed in 1981, will ultimately “come back” to Syria, the Syrian diplomat said.
The Trump administration should make good on its own promise to pull troops out of Syria before telling others where they should or shouldn’t be, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in reply to Washington’s threat over Venezuela. “Before they have their say in the lawful interests of other nations, I would advise the US administration to fulfill the promises that it had given to the international community,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s pledge to get American troops out of Syria. The US is behaving like a “cowboy in the Louvre,” undermining international order with its “chaotic moves and unpredictable behavior,” Zakharova said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that two of its military planes arrived in Venezuela as part of a 2001 military cooperation deal that does not require further approval by the Venezuelan National Assembly, which has been taken over by the opposition and the self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido. The planes carrying up to 100 Russian military specialists and cargo landed outside Caracas on Saturday, prompting wild guesses in the media. Washington was incensed over the arrival of the Russian troops and denounced it as “unnecessary provocation.” Trump upped the ante by warning Russia that “all options are open” when it comes to kicking Russia out.
A federal jury ruled that Monsanto was liable for a California man’s cancer and ordered the Roundup manufacturer to pay $80m in damages. The ruling on Wednesday, which holds the company responsible for the cancer risks of its popular weedkiller, is the first of its kind in US federal court and a major blow to Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer. A spokesperson said Bayer would appeal. In a verdict during an earlier phase of the trial, the jury in San Francisco unanimously ruled that the herbicide was a “substantial factor” in causing the cancer of Edwin Hardeman. Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man, was the first person to challenge Monsanto’s herbicide in a federal trial, alleging that his exposure to the glyphosate weedkiller caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that affects the immune system.
The case has attracted international attention and raised new questions about the potential health hazards of Roundup. It also challenged the conduct of Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer. The corporation is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits across the US that allege Roundup has caused cancer. The jury ruled that Roundup’s design was “defective”, that the product lacked sufficient cancer warnings, and that Monsanto was negligent in its failure to warn Hardeman of the NHL risk. The jurors ordered the company to pay Hardeman $75m in punitive damages, $200,000 for past economic losses and $5.6m in non-economic losses.
The world’s northernmost settlement and home to what is known as the “Doomsday vault” – the subterranean Svalbard global seed vault which stores specimens of almost all the world’s seeds – is now believed to be the fastest-warming location on Earth, according to a new report. Longyearbyen, on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, had an average temperature in Svalbard was -7.8C in 1900 but since then, it has risen by 3.7C – more than three times the global average rise of about 1°C. Not only has it become significantly warmer, but wetter too, spelling trouble for the Doomsday vault as the seeds’ preservation depends on stable temperatures and bone-dry conditions.
“Svalbard is the ultimate failsafe for biodiversity of crops,” Marie Haga, the executive director of the Crop Trust told CNN. The vault was opened in 2008. Its construction was funded by the Norwegian government and built in partnership with the country’s Crop Trust and is now a secure storage unit for around a million seed samples, representing over 13,000 years of agricultural history. [..] Set deep within a mountain in a geologically inert area, there is a very low risk of earthquakes or volcanoes and similarly, Norway’s political system is also “very stable”, Ms Haga said. The seeds are stored at -18C. But the increasing likelihood of wet weather has already seen major upheaval at the site. Following heavy rainfall in October 2016, the entrance to the seed vault became half-flooded and ended up freezing into huge blocks of ice.
The actual headline of this Guardian piece is “Stop Biodiversity Loss Or We Could Face Our Own Extinction”. Mine is better, because it illustrates, providing it’s accurate, how hopeless the situation is. If only because of what’s already in the pipeline. The prospect of 2 more years of meetings doesn’t change a thing.
The world has two years to secure a deal for nature to halt a ‘silent killer’ as dangerous as climate change, says biodiversity chief
The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief. Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pasca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.” Pasca Palmer is executive director of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends. Its 196 member states will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife. This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has received miserably little attention even though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity. The last two major biodiversity agreements – in 2002 and 2010 – have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs. Eight years ago, under the Aichi Protocol, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.
Wages in the US grew at their fastest pace for nine years last month, the latest official figures show. The US Labor Department said wages grew at an annual rate of 3.1% in October, accelerating from a rate of 2.8% the month before. The economy also added 250,000 jobs last month, beating expectations, while the jobless rate remained at 3.7%. The report quickly became fodder for political debate ahead of next week’s high stakes congressional election. President Donald Trump celebrated the figures on Twitter as “incredible” and urged his followers to “Vote Republican”. In an unusual move, the White House also organised a briefing call for reporters to promote the gains.
The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, issued a statement of his own, aiming to redirect voter attention. The latest numbers “may look good” but should be considered alongside other economic policies, he said. “When the average family sees their health care costs go up because of Republican actions, these numbers will mean little,” he said. Among economists, there was wider agreement that the jobs report pointed to strength in the US economy, despite recent worries that weakness may be emerging in some sectors such as housing and trade.
ZeroHedge posted an interesting chart a few days ago showing how affluent Americans (those making over $50,000 a year) have not been more confident since the dot com bubble. While strong consumer confidence may seem like a good thing when taken at face value, the contrarian in me sees it as a warning of the kind of over-exuberance seen during bubbles like the dot-com bubble and housing bubble.
Unfortunately, I believe that the U.S. is experiencing an unsustainable, artificial household wealth bubble that is causing affluent consumers to be over-optimistic despite the fact that our economic boom is largely driven by cheap credit and is going to end in a painful bust. As I explained in a recent presentation, U.S. household wealth has surged by approximately $46 trillion or 83% since 2009 to an all-time high of $100.8 trillion. Since 1951, household wealth has averaged 379% of the GDP, while the Dot-com bubble peaked at 429%, the housing bubble topped out at 473%, and the current bubble has inflated household wealth to a record 505% of GDP (see the chart below):
Zucker was on the phone talking about why Trump sucks up so much of CNN’s oxygen. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, I don’t want to talk about Trump. I’ve had too much Trump,’ ” he told me. “And yet at the end of the day, all they want to do is talk about Trump. We’ve seen that, anytime you break away from the Trump story and cover other events in this era, the audience goes away. So we know that, right now, Donald Trump dominates.” Zucker, the guy who first brought our president to the small screen when he green-lighted The Apprentice in 2004 while running NBC, had arguably schooled Trump in the art of reality television.
Halfway through Trump’s first term, his instincts remain just as acute. If Fox News represents Trump’s base and MSNBC has become a friendly platform for the resistance, CNN is the arena where both sides show up for cantankerous battle. “On Fox, you rarely hear from people who don’t support Trump,” Zucker told me. “On MSNBC, you rarely hear from people who do support Trump. We want to be home to both those points of view.” He continued, as if rebuking a common critique of the network. “It is true some of these folks are not very good with the facts, but that’s O.K. in the sense that it’s our job then to call them out.”
[..] Even though CNN still trails Fox News and MSNBC in prime-time audience size, its ratings have never been better. The average number of people watching on a given day has been above 700,000 each year since 2016, compared to around 400,000 in the pre-Trump news cycle. That’s also considerably larger than any other time over the past 25 years, an astonishing feat given the ubiquity of news and the decline of cable.
Even though still unproven, charges that the Kremlin put Trump in the White House have cast a large shadow of illegitimacy over his presidency and thus over the institution of the presidency itself. This is unlikely to end entirely with Trump. If the Kremlin had the power to affect the outcome of one presidential election, why not another one, whether won by a Republican or a Democrat? The 2016 presidential election was the first time such an allegation became widespread in American political history, but it may not be the last. Now the same shadow looms over the November 6 elections and thus over the next Congress. If so, in barely two years, the legitimacy of two fundamental institutions of American representative democracy will have been challenged, also for the first time in history.
And if US elections are really so vulnerable to Russian “meddling,” what does this say about faith in American elections more generally? How many losing candidates on November 6 will resist blaming the Kremlin? Two years after the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton and her adamant supporters still have not been able to do so. We know from critical reporting and from recent opinion surveys that the origins and continuing fixation on the Russiagate scandal since 2016 have been primarily a product of US political-intelligence-media elites. It did not spring from the American people – from voters themselves. Thus a Gallup poll recently showed that 58 percent of those surveyed wanted improved relations with Russia. And other surveys have shown that Russiagate is scarcely an issue at all for likely voters on November 6. Nonetheless, it remains a front-page issue for US elites.
Indeed, Russiagate has revealed the low esteem that many US political-media elites have for American voters – for their ability to make discerning, rational electoral decisions, which is the bedrock assumption of representative democracy. It is worth noting that this disdain for rank-and-file citizens echoes a longstanding attitude of the Russian political intelligentsia, as recently expressed in the argument by a prominent Moscow policy intellectual that Russian authoritarianism springs not from the nation’s elites but from the “genetic code” of its people.
Back in the last century, when this was a different country, the Democrats were the “smart” party and the Republicans were the “stupid” party. How did that work? Well, back then the Democrats represented a broad middle class, with a base of factory workers, many of them unionized, and the party had to be smart, especially in the courts, to overcome the natural advantages of the owner class. In contrast, the Republicans looked like a claque of country club drunks who staggered home at night to sleep on their moneybags. Bad optics, as we say nowadays. [..] The Republican Party has, at least, sobered up some after getting blindsided by Trump and Trumpism. Like a drunk out of rehab, it’s attempting to get a life.
Two years in, the party marvels at Mr. Trump’s audacity, despite his obvious lack of savoir faire. And despite a longstanding lack of political will to face the country’s problems, the Republicans are being forced to engage on some real issues, such as the need for a coherent and effective immigration policy and the need to redefine formal trade relations. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has become the party of bad ideas and bad faith, starting with the position that “diversity and inclusion” means shutting down free speech, an unforgivable transgression against common sense and common decency. It’s a party that lies even more systematically than Mr. Trump, and does so knowingly (as when Google execs say they “Do no Evil”).
[..] I hope that Democrats lose as many congressional and senate seats as possible. I hope that the party is shoved into an existential crisis and is forced to confront its astounding dishonesty. I hope that the process prompts them to purge their leadership across the board. If there is anything to salvage in this organization, I hope it discovers aims and principles that are unrecognizable from its current agenda of perpetual hysteria.
The Trump administration will grant eight jurisdictions special exceptions to continue importing oil from Iran after U.S. sanctions on the country snap back into place on Monday, according to cabinet members. President Donald Trump gave oil buyers 180 days to wind down purchases of Iranian crude when he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May. The eight waivers will allow the jurisdictions to more gradually reduce their purchases after the Nov. 4 deadline. Oil market watchers have been closely monitoring the situation to determine how forcefully the Trump administration will enforce the sanctions.
State Department officials initially said importers must cut their purchases to zero by November, but administration officials subsequently telegraphed that some exceptions would be made. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday declined to name the eight jurisdictions during a conference call with reporters. The officials said all of the countries or territories have significantly reduced their purchases and will be given more time to further reduce their imports. [..] Japan, India and South Korea are among the countries, and China is still negotiating a waiver, Bloomberg News reported earlier on Friday, citing a senior administration official. Pompeo confirmed on Friday that the EU is not one of the jurisdictions that will receive a waiver.
European countries have vowed to maintain “effective financial channels” and to keep trading with Tehran after the US announced that the EU is not among those spared from its sweeping sanctions against Iran. European countries suddenly discovered that they were not on the list of the ‘lucky ones’ that their ally, the US, decided to exempt from the new wave of all-encompassing sanctions it plans to unleash on Iran. The sanctions, targeting Iran’s shipping, finance and energy sectors, which come into force on November 5, are also designed to punish those countries that dared to do business with the Islamic Republic in defiance of the US pressure.
Only eight nations were graciously granted exemptions by the US, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, Pompeo made it clear that the EU as a single entity is not on the list, sparking an angry reaction from the US’ western allies. Washington also specifically mentioned that it plans to target the special mechanism the EU has been creating to circumvent the restrictions, prompting its allies to fight back.
In response, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, together with the foreign and finance ministers of Germany, France and the UK, vowed to maintain “effective financial channels with Iran” and in particular to continue buying the Islamic Republic’s oil and gas. They also said that despite Washington’s pressure the EU is still committed to establishing a “Special Purpose Vehicle” for Iran-EU trade. The European nations will seek to protect its companies engaged in “legitimate business with Iran,” the statement said, adding that the EU will cooperate with Russia and China in particular to achieve these goals.
Results of the stress test of Europe’s bigger banks released Friday revealed that all of the financial institutions in the EU wide examination passed the European Central Bank’s “adverse scenario”. The stress tests were carried out by the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) to gauge the health of the European banking system. The EBA said in findings published on their website that all 48 banks beat the common tier ratio of 5.5 percent under adverse stress. British bank Barclays ranked lowest in the test, scoring a common tier ratio of just 6.37 percent in the adverse scenario. Fellow U.K. bank Lloyds also performed poorly with a score of 6.8 percent.
Commenting after the results, the Bank Of England said the results showed that U.K. banks could absorb the effect of the EBA’s worst scenario. Europe’s biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, performed better than some forecasters had predicted, registering a core tier of 8.14 percent, again in an adverse scenario. EBA said under their adverse scenario, the capital depletion across the banks at the end of 2020 was 236 billion euros ($268 billion) and 226 billion euros on a “transitional and fully loaded basis respectively.” The ECB added that the EBA test showed that banks in Europe were now “more resilient to financial shocks.”
Italian banks were also under scrutiny but managed to record satisfactory scores according to banking regulators. Unicredit, Italy’s largest lender, scored a common tier ratio of 9.34 while UBI Banca scored 7.42 percent. The lowest score among Italian banks was for Banco BPM which registered 6.67 percent.
The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was sanctioned at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, trying to play kingmaker in Riyadh and bolster his credentials in the West. “We know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government,” the Turkish leader wrote in a surprise contribution to Friday’s Washington Post, vowing to “reveal the identities of the puppet masters” behind the murder. “No one should dare to commit such acts on the soil of a NATO ally again,” Erdogan wrote dramatically. “Had this atrocity taken place in the United States or elsewhere, authorities in those countries would have gotten to the bottom of what happened.”
“It would be out of the question for us to act any other way,” he added, noting that Ankara has already “moved heaven and earth to shed light on all aspects of this case.” The Turkish leader also used the opportunity to burnish his credentials in the West, saying that as a responsible NATO member, Turkey will not just leave this case uninvestigated and will act in exactly the same way as the US or any of its allies would in its place. Erdogan openly accused Riyadh of “trying to cover up the murder” by stalling the investigation and refusing to cooperate with the Turkish authorities, singling out the Saudi chief prosecutor Saud Al Mojeb, who visited Turkey earlier this week. “The refusal of the Saudi public prosecutor… to cooperate with the investigation and answer even simple questions is very frustrating,” he wrote, adding that Al Mojeb’s “invitation for Turkish investigators to Saudi Arabia … felt like a desperate and deliberate stalling tactic.”
The public prosecution on Friday morning filed its written accusation against Catalan secessionist leaders who are in pretrial detention for their role in the unauthorized referendum of October 1, 2017 and the unilateral independence declaration that followed. As expected, prosecutors are seeking a 25-year prison term for ex-deputy premier Oriol Junqueras for rebellion and misuse of public funds, and they also want the Catalan Republican Party (ERC) leader barred from holding public office for the next 25 years. Prosecutors are also seeking 17-year jail terms for Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, the former heads of civic associations that campaigned actively for independence, and for Carme Forcadell, the former speaker of the Catalan parliament.
Other defendants in the upcoming trial face penalties ranging from economic fines to prison terms of 16 years. Meanwhile, Spain’s Solicitor General, who represents the Spanish state in the courts, has not accused Catalan secessionist leaders of rebellion. Instead, the written accusation focuses on the crimes of sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with the referendum and unilateral independence declaration. In its written accusation, the Solicitor General’s Office has called for Junqueras to be sentenced to 12 years in prison and a 12-year ban on holding public office.
The United States called Tuesday for a ceasefire and peace talks in Yemen, as the Saudi-led military coalition sent more than 10,000 new troops toward a vital rebel-held port city ahead of a new assault. Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said the US had been watching the conflict “for long enough,” adding that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are in a US-backed coalition fighting Shiite Huthi rebels, are ready for talks. “We have got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can’t say we are going to do it some time in the future,” Mattis said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. “We need to be doing this in the next 30 days.”
He said the US is calling for all warring parties to meet with United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths in Sweden in November and “come to a solution.” US-Saudi ties have cooled in recent weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the conservative kingdom, that has also tarnished the image of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the conflict between embattled Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government is recognized by the United Nations, and the Huthis in 2015. Nearly 10,000 people have since been killed and the country now stands at the brink of famine, with more than 22 million Yemenis — three quarters of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance.
[..] US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an end to all coalition air strikes in Yemen’s populated areas. “The time is now for the cessation of hostilities, including missile and UAV (drone) strikes from Huthi-controlled areas into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Subsequently, coalition air strikes must cease in all populated areas in Yemen.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on Saudi Arabia’s chief prosecutor to find out who ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and not spare “certain people” in his investigation. “Who sent these 15 people? As Saudi public prosecutor, you have to ask that question, so you can reveal it,” Erdogan said, referring to the 15-man team suspected of being behind the hit. “Now we have to solve this case. No need to prevaricate, it makes no sense to try to save certain people,” he told reporters in Ankara. Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain paperwork ahead of his upcoming wedding. His body has not yet been found.
[..] Erdogan said that during the talks Fidan requested the 18 suspects be sent to Turkey for trial, as the killing took place in Istanbul. The Istanbul prosecutor’s office last week prepared a written request for the extradition of the 18 suspects “involved in the premeditated murder”, the justice ministry said, but Riyadh rejected Ankara’s request. Erdogan also urged Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to explain who the “local co-conspirators” were that were reportedly given Khashoggi’s body after his death. “Again either the Saudi foreign minister or the 18 suspects must explain who the local co-conspirators are. Let’s know who this co-conspirator is, we can shed further light. We cannot let this subject end mid-way.”
Famed housing-watcher Robert Shiller said Tuesday that the weakening housing market reminded him of the last market top, just before the subprime housing bubble burst, slashing prices by nearly a third and costing millions of Americans their homes. Home price gains moderated again in the most recent version of the closely-watched housing index that bears his name, which was released Tuesday, and Shiller, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, told Yahoo Finance that such data shows “a sign of weakness.” Housing pivots take more time than those in the stock market, Shiller said. Still, “the housing market does have a momentum component and we’re seeing a clipping of momentum at this time.”
When a startled reporter reminded Shiller that 2006 predated the greatest financial crisis in a lifetime, the Yale economist acknowledged that any correction would likely be far less severe. “The drop in home prices in the financial crisis was the most severe drop in the U.S. market since my data begin in 1890,” Shiller said. “It could be that we’re primed to repeat it because it’s in our memory and we’re thinking about it but still I wouldn’t expect something as severe as the Great Financial Crisis coming on right now. There could be a significant correction or bear market, but I’m waiting and seeing now.”
The great Chinese growth slowdown has been proceeding in stages for the past two years. The reason is simple. Much of China’s “growth” (about 25% of the total) has consisted of wasted infrastructure investment in ghost cities and white elephant transportation infrastructure. That investment was financed with debt that now cannot be repaid. This was fine for creating short-term jobs and providing business to cement, glass and steel vendors, but it was not a sustainable model since the infrastructure either was not used at all or did not generate sufficient revenue. China’s future success depends on high-value-added technology and increased consumption. But shifting to intellectual property and the consumer means slowing down on infrastructure, which will slow the economy.
In turn, that means exposing the bad debt for what it is, which risks a financial and liquidity crisis. China started to do this last year but quickly turned tail when the economy slowed. Now the economy has slowed so much that markets are collapsing. But doesn’t China have over $1 trillion of reserves to prop up its financial system? On paper, that’s true. But in reality, China is “short” U.S. dollars. The Chinese may have $1.4 trillion of U.S. Treasury securities in its reserve position, but they need those assets possibly to bail out their banking system or defend the yuan. Meanwhile, the Chinese banking sector, which in many ways is an extension of the state, owes $318 billion in U.S. dollar-denominated deposits of commercial paper.
From a bank’s perspective, borrowing in dollars is going short dollars because you need dollar assets to back up those liabilities if the original lenders want their money back. For the most part, the banks don’t have those assets because they converted the dollar to yuan to prop up local real estate Ponzis and local corporations. There’s not much left over to bail out the corporate, individual and real estate sectors. This is all part of a global “dollar shortage” attributable to Fed tightening, both in the forms of higher rates but also a reduction in base money. A dollar shortage seems implausible in a world where the Fed printed $4.4 trillion. But while the Fed was printing, the world borrowed over $70 trillion (on top of prior loans), so the dollar shortage is real. The math is inescapable.
China’s manufacturing sector in October expanded at its weakest pace in over two years, hurt by slowing domestic and external demand, in a sign of deepening cracks in the economy from an intensifying trade war with the United States. Anxiety about China’s cooling growth and its likely drag on the global economy have vexed financial markets recently, and Wednesday’s official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) indicates more stress for investors through coming months. The official PMI – which gives global investors their first look at business conditions in China at the start of the last quarter of the year – fell to 50.2 in October, the lowest since July 2016 and down from 50.8 in September.
It was a touch above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction for a 27th straight month, but undershot the 50.6 forecast in a Reuters poll. The latest reading suggests a further loss of momentum in the world’s second-biggest economy, and the deteriorating environment for businesses could prompt more policy support from Beijing on top of a raft of recent initiatives. “All the numbers from China’s PMI release today confirm a broad-based decline in economic activity,” said Raymond Yeung, chief economist for China at ANZ in a client note, adding that conditions for the private sector is “much worse” than headline data suggested. “Besides an expected reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cut next January, we expect future supportive policy actions to be measured. The government’s priority is to avoid a financial blow-up.”
Those weighty words of praise were tweeted out Tuesday by Ray Dalio, founder of hedge-fund behemoth Bridgewater Associates. Dalio’s social-media nod to the former Fed chair coincides with the release of Volcker’s memoir, “Keeping at It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government.”
In his new book, Volcker says he’s worried about the impact of money in politics and argues that the U.S. is devolving into a plutocracy. “We face a huge challenge in this country to restore a sense of public purpose and of trust in government,” he wrote in the book. “It will require critically needed reforms in our political processes and leaders who can restore and preserve a consensus upon which our great democracy can depend.” Volcker, 91, served as Fed chair from 1979 until 1987, and he’s widely credited for stopping runaway inflation during that time. He was also chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board under Obama from 2009 to 2011.
Dalio wasn’t the only one to give Volcker some love in light of his memoir. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times is also a big fan, saying that he’s “the greatest man I have known,” because “he is endowed to the highest degree with what the Romans called virtus (virtue): moral courage, integrity, sagacity, prudence and devotion to the service of country.” Wolf said “the pinnacle of Volcker’s career” was when he achieved something many thought impossible: he slew inflation. “Great credit is due to Jimmy Carter, who appointed him, and Ronald Reagan, who supported him. But Volcker did it, despite great criticism,” Wolf explained. “The costs were huge. But he was right: it had to be done.”
The Democratic Party war on white people and their dastardly privilege has been the theme all year long, with its flanking movement against white men especially and super-especially the hetero-normative white male villains who rape and oppress everybody else. Anyway, that’s the strategy du jour. I’m not persuaded that it’s going to work so well in the coming election. The party could not have issued a clearer message than “white men not welcome here.” Very well, then, they’ll vote somewhere else for somebody else. And if it happens that the Dems don’t prevail, and don’t manage to get their hands on the machinery of congress — then what?
For one thing, a lot of people get indicted, especially former top officers from various glades of the Intel swamp. It shouldn’t be a surprise, given the numbers of them already called before grand juries and fingered by inspectors general. But it may be shocking how high up the indictments go, and how serious the charges may be: sedition… treason…? These midterm election may bring the moment when the Democratic Party finally blows up, at least enough to sweep away the current coterie of desperate idiots running it. It’s time to shove the crybabies offstage and allow a few clear-eyed adults to take the room, including men, yes even white men. And let all the shrieking, clamoring, marginal freaks return to the margins, where they belong.
Britain’s economy will suffer rising unemployment and falling household incomes that would trigger a recession should Theresa May fail to secure a deal to prevent the UK crashing out of the European Union next year, according to analysis by the global rating agency Standard & Poor’s. Property prices would slump and inflation would spike to more than 5% in a scenario that S&P said had become more likely in recent months following deadlock with Brussels over a post-Brexit deal. In a warning that included a possible downgrade to the UK’s credit rating, which would bring with it an increase in the Treasury’s borrowing costs, S&P said it still expected both sides in the Brexit talks to come to an agreement before next March, when the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union.
But it warned that the chance of a “no-deal” Brexit had risen in recent months to such an extent that it needed to warn international investors about the potential challenges ahead. [..] S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Paul Watters, said: “Our base-case scenario is that the UK and the EU will agree and ratify a Brexit deal, leading to a transition phase lasting through 2020, followed by a free trade agreement. “But we believe the risk of no deal has increased sufficiently to become a relevant rating consideration. This reflects the inability thus far of the UK and EU to reach agreement on the Northern Irish border issue, the critical outstanding component of the proposed withdrawal treaty.”
Coming only a day after the chancellor said the failure to secure a deal would force him to hold an emergency budget, S&P’s analysis joins a welter of independent reports that forecast that a split from the EU without a deal will deal a serious blow to the prospects of the UK economy. Last month rival agency Moody’s said the risks to the British economy had “risen materially” in recent months.
It’s darkness at the break of (tropical) high noon. Jean Baudrillard once defined Brazil as “the chlorophyll of our planet”. And yet a land vastly associated worldwide with the soft power of creative joie de vivre has elected a fascist for president. Brazil is a land torn apart. Former paratrooper Jair Bolsonaro was elected with 55.63 percent of votes. Yet a record 31 million votes were ruled absent or null and void. No less than 46 million Brazilians voted for the Workers’ Party’s candidate, Fernando Haddad; a professor and former mayor of Sao Paulo, one of the crucial megalopolises of the Global South. The key startling fact is that over 76 million Brazilians did not vote for Bolsonaro. His first speech as president exuded the feeling of a trashy jihad by a fundamentalist sect laced with omnipresent vulgarity and the exhortation of a God-given dictatorship as the path towards a new Brazilian Golden Age.
French-Brazilian sociologist Michael Lowy has described the Bolsonaro phenomenon as “pathological politics on a large scale”. His ascension was facilitated by an unprecedented conjunction of toxic factors such as the massive social impact of crime in Brazil, leading to a widespread belief in violent repression as the only solution; the concerted rejection of the Workers’ Party, catalyzed by financial capital, rentiers, agribusiness and oligarchic interests; an evangelical tsunami; a “justice” system historically favoring the upper classes and embedded in State Department-funded “training” of judges and prosecutors, including the notorious Sergio Moro, whose single-minded goal during the alleged anti-corruption Car Wash investigation was to send Lula to prison; and the absolute aversion to democracy by vast sectors of the Brazilian ruling classes.
That is about to coalesce into a radically anti-popular, God-given, rolling neoliberal shock; paraphrasing Lenin, a case of fascism as the highest stage of neoliberalism. After all, when a fascist sells a “free market” agenda, all his sins are forgiven.
After a long, initially-successful run promoting European integration and mass immigration, German Chancellor Angela Merkel saw the bottom fall out of her political fortunes this year. This week she stepped down as leader of the formerly-dominant Christian Democrat party and promised not run again when her term as Chancellor ends in 2021. What happens next is almost certain to be chaotic, as the following chart (courtesy of this morning’s Wall Street Journal) makes clear. Note that in August of 2017 the two least popular parties were the far right Alternative for Germany (blue line) and the far left Greens (green line). In the ensuing 14 or so months AfG’s support rose from single digits to around 17% while the Greens rocketed from the bottom of the pack to 20%.
If you didn’t know what these two parties stood for you might think, “Fine, they’re new and interesting, so let them form a coalition and govern for a while.” Unfortunately they’re more likely to kill each other in street fights than work together, since the former want closed borders and free markets while the latter want increased regulation and unlimited immigration. The alternative to an AfG/Green coalition then becomes some combination of the remaining, more centrist (by European standards at least) parties. But the biggest of those parties – Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their coalition partner Social Democrats – are in freefall, precisely because of what they’ve done while in power. So there appears to be no way to put these puzzle pieces together to produce a stable government.
And – here’s where things get truly scary – a stable Germany under Merkel’s bland but firm hand has been the only thing holding the European Union and eurozone together. If Germany descends into internal turmoil without a coherent government to push the Italys and Hungarys around, European populists/nationalists will fill the resulting vacuum. Borders will be re-imposed within and without the EU, national government budgets – already above EU deficit limits in many cases – will explode. Already-debilitating debts will keep rising, and the ECB will be forced to bail out Italy for sure and probably several other member states after that.
To stand at the edge of an ocean is to face an eternity of waves and water, a shroud covering seven-tenths of the Earth. Hidden below are mountain ranges and canyons that rival anything on land. There you will find the Earth’s largest habitat, home to billions of plants and animals – the vast majority of the living things on the planet. In this little-seen world, swirling super-highway currents move warm water thousands of miles north and south from the tropics to cooler latitudes, while cold water pumps from the poles to warmer climes. It is a system that we take for granted as much as we do the circulation of our own blood. It substantially regulates the Earth’s temperature, and it has been mitigating the recent spike in atmospheric temperatures, soaking up much of human-generated heat and carbon dioxide.
Without these ocean gyres to moderate temperatures, the Earth would be uninhabitable. In the last few decades, however, the oceans have undergone unprecedented warming. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible from land, but this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life – in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis. Reuters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the coasts of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing disruption as a result. As waters warm, fish and other sea life are migrating poleward, seeking to maintain the even temperatures they need to thrive and breed.
The number of creatures involved in this massive diaspora may well dwarf any climate impacts yet seen on land. In the U.S. North Atlantic, for example, fisheries data show that in recent years, at least 85 percent of the nearly 70 federally tracked species have shifted north or deeper, or both, when compared to the norm over the past half-century. And the most dramatic of species shifts have occurred in the last 10 or 15 years. Fish have always followed changing conditions, sometimes with devastating effects for people, as the starvation that beset Norwegian fishing villages in past centuries when the herring failed to appear one season will attest. But what is happening today is different: The accelerating rise in sea temperatures, which scientists primarily attribute to the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a lasting shift in fisheries.
Timing’s a bit weird. As Erdogan prepares his speech fior noon local time (5am EDT), I’m doing this with what may soon be old news. Trump flew CIA head Gina Haspel to Ankara overnight, did she convince Erdogan not to talk?
Turkey has not yet shared any information with any country from its probe into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, hours before President Tayyip Erdogan was due to reveal what he has said were details in the case. Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comment in a televised interview with the state-run Anadolu news agency. Cavusoglu also said that Turkey is ready cooperate with any international investigation into Khashoggi’s killing. Authorities have been investigating Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the consulate on Oct. 2. After weeks of denial, Saudi Arabia at the weekend said the journalist had been killed at the consulate. Erdogan has said that he would share the information of the investigation in a speech on Tuesday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears primed to assemble two weeks of leaks, insinuation and police evidence in an explosive speech in the Turkish parliament on Tuesday alleging that the Saudi Arabian government murdered the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Turkish soil. After weeks of leaks by Turkish police implying that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must have known of a premeditated murder, there was no last-minute sign that the Turkish president would hold back from revealing what he has described as the “naked truth” about Khashoggi’s death. On Monday an aide vowed: “Nothing will remain secret.” Erdogan’s statement to members of his AK party coincides with the opening by the crown prince himself of an investment conference in Riyadh. Aides say Erdogan will address Saudi Arabia’s belated admission that Khashoggi died inside the Saudi consulate, where he was last seen on 2 October.
[..] Erdogan also has the chance in his speech to reveal details of an audio recording that purportedly exists of the moments of Khashoggi’s death and dismemberment. Reports on Monday suggested Saud al-Qahtani, an influential adviser to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, participated in a Skype call to the room in the consulate where Khashoggi was held. A Turkish intelligence source told Reuters that at one point Qahtani told his men to dispose of Khashoggi. “Bring me the head of the dog,” he said. If true, the allegations would confirm reporting in the Guardian on Sunday that Turkey had intercepted the hit squad’s communications.
Turkish authorities believe part of Jamal Khashoggi’s body was transported out of Turkey by one of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s bodyguards, sources have told Middle East Eye. Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, an intelligence officer implicated in the killing of the Saudi journalist, is thought to have taken the body part out in a large bag, the sources said. Mutrib, who is often seen travelling with the heir to the Saudi throne, left Istanbul on 2 October, the day of Khashoggi’s death, on a private jet that departed at 18:20 local time. His bags were not checked as he passed through the VIP lounge at Ataturk airport and neither was the plane, with tail registration HZ-SK1.
This was because the plane left before the alarm was raised. A second plane was searched from top to bottom and nothing was found, according to the sources. Mutrib, who carried a diplomatic passport, appeared to be in a hurry, they said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Sunday to reveal the “naked truth” over the killing of Khashoggi, saying that he would make a new statement on the case on Tuesday. “We are looking for justice here and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth,” Erdogan told a rally in Istanbul.
Erdogan held a phone call with US President Donald Trump on Sunday where the two leaders agreed the Khashoggi case needed to be clarified “in all its aspects,” a Turkish presidential source said. Saudi Arabia, which on Friday finally admitted after 17 days that its officials had killed Khashoggi, says it does not know the body’s whereabouts. Anonymous Saudi officials have told media that the body was rolled into a carpet and handed to a “local collaborator” to be disposed of. However, on Sunday a Turkish source told MEE that Khashoggi’s body was cut into 15 pieces. “They did not roll anything up in anything,” the source said.
At about noon on Tuesday two regional leaders are due to make landmark addresses. In Riyadh, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, will open an investment showpiece declaring the kingdom open for business. In Ankara, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to make a speech that may well shut down the beleaguered kingdom. Such are the stakes when Erdogan takes to a podium to discuss the death of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi that the region may not be the same when he’s finished. Three weeks to the day since Khashoggi vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Erdogan has pledged to table the “naked truth” about what happened to the columnist and critic, whose fate continues to grip both countries and polarise the Middle East.
If he stays true to his pledge, much of the evidence that Turkey has gathered, incriminating Saudi Arabia in a plot to kill Khashoggi, will be revealed: in pictures, video and even bloodcurdling audio said to document his torture and death. Setting the scene on Monday, a spokesman for the ruling party for the first time described Khashoggi’s death as a “complicated murder” that was “monstrously planned”. [..] Erdogan has the Saudis – in particular, the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (AKA MbS) – right where he wants him. Out of crisis has come opportunity for the veteran Turkish leader, who has never warmed to the brash 33-year-old, and thinks even less of his regional allies.
The two men have vastly different visions for the future of the region: Erdogan has been a champion of political Islam both at home and abroad, particularly since the rise and fall of Mohamed Morsi, the ill-fated former president of Egypt who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Turkish president has partnered with Qatar, Riyadh’s regional foe, given shelter to those exiled after Morsi fell, and remained a bulwark for a movement that Riyadh and its ally the United Arab Emirates see as existential threats. But he has remained on the losing end of the struggle for regional power and influence.
He’s the average American in exaggerated form—blunt, simple, willing to fight, mistrustful of intellectuals. Every big U.S. election is interesting, but the coming midterms are fascinating for a reason most commentators forget to mention: The Democrats have no issues. The economy is booming and America’s international position is strong. In foreign affairs, the U.S. has remembered in the nick of time what Machiavelli advised princes five centuries ago: Don’t seek to be loved, seek to be feared. The contrast with the Obama years must be painful for any honest leftist. For future generations, the Kavanaugh fight will stand as a marker of the Democratic Party’s intellectual bankruptcy, the flashing red light on the dashboard that says “Empty.” The left is beaten.
This has happened before, in the 1980s and ’90s and early 2000s, but then the financial crisis arrived to save liberalism from certain destruction. Today leftists pray that Robert Mueller will put on his Superman outfit and save them again. For now, though, the left’s only issue is “We hate Trump.” This is an instructive hatred, because what the left hates about Donald Trump is precisely what it hates about America. The implications are important, and painful. Not that every leftist hates America. But the leftists I know do hate Mr. Trump’s vulgarity, his unwillingness to walk away from a fight, his bluntness, his certainty that America is exceptional, his mistrust of intellectuals, his love of simple ideas that work, and his refusal to believe that men and women are interchangeable.
Worst of all, he has no ideology except getting the job done. His goals are to do the task before him, not be pushed around, and otherwise to enjoy life. In short, he is a typical American—except exaggerated, because he has no constraints to cramp his style except the ones he himself invents. Mr. Trump lacks constraints because he is filthy rich and always has been and, unlike other rich men, he revels in wealth and feels no need to apologize—ever. He never learned to keep his real opinions to himself because he never had to. He never learned to be embarrassed that he is male, with ordinary male proclivities. Sometimes he has treated women disgracefully, for which Americans, left and right, are ashamed of him—as they are of JFK and Bill Clinton.
Twitter Inc confirmed on Monday it has removed more accounts affiliated with Infowars, the website of U.S. conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The company confirmed a CNN report, which said Twitter permanently suspended 18 accounts, partly because of their attempts to help Infowars and Jones circumvent the ban placed on them by Twitter in September. Last month, Twitter permanently banned Jones and Infowars from its platform, saying in a tweet that the accounts had violated its behavior policies. Twitter had said back then that it would evaluate any reports regarding other accounts potentially associated with Jones and Infowars. Tech companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook have also recently banned Infowars and content produced by Jones while payments processor PayPal had ended its business relationship with the website in September.
If Tom Wolfe were still alive, he might be turning his critical pen towards people like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or the Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, playfully describing the disruption that their companies bring to our lives on a daily basis. Just as Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities focused on the financiers whose greed defined the economy of the 1980s, the writer might today focus on the behaviour of these entrepreneurs whose technological innovations are overthrowing the old economy, creating entirely new digital marketplaces. And rather than the greed of the 1980s, ethics might be the focus of Wolfe’s attention. Not the ethics of the algorithms running these businesses, for algorithms don’t have ethics. Even smart algorithms don’t have ethics.
Algorithms are just bits of mathematics. Algorithms do, however, capture the ethics of the people behind them. And there is so much material Wolfe could write about this in 2018. Wind back the clock nearly two years. In October 2016, the investigative nonprofit newsroom ProPublica discovered that Facebook let advertisers exclude black, Hispanic and other “ethnic affinities” from seeing adverts. In the United States, housing and job adverts that exclude people based on race, gender and similar factors are prohibited by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Facebook admitted this was “a failure” and promised to prevent such discrimination in the future. More than a year later, in November 2017, ProPublica found Facebook was still allowing such adverts to be placed.
[..] This isn’t the first time we’ve faced such problems. In the first industrial revolution, some of the first to benefit were so rapacious they became known as the “Robber Barons”. Chief among them was the industrialist John D Rockefeller, arguably the wealthiest man to live in modern times. Rockefeller was notorious for the unethical and illegal business practices that helped his company Standard Oil control up to 90% of the world’s oil refineries. The History of the Standard Oil Company, published by Ida Tarbell in 1904, described the espionage, price wars and courtroom antics that allowed the company to dominate the oil business. Eventually Standard Oil became so powerful it had to be broken up into 34 new companies.
John D Rockefeller (left). Photograph: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
The EU doesn’t understand what the internet is, how it has changed news and info dissemination. They don’t understand the amount of information, and how it necessitates changes. They’re handing the internet to America and taking it away from their own citizens.
YouTube’s CEO has urged creators on the popular video site to organize against a proposed EU internet regulation, reinforcing fears that the infamous Article 13 could lead to content-killing, meme-maiming restrictions on the web. The proposed amendments to the EU Copyright Directive would require the automatic removal of any user-created content suspected of violating intellectual property law – with platforms being liable for any alleged copyright infringement. If enacted, the legislation would threaten “both your livelihood and your ability to share your voice with the world,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki warned the site’s content creators in a blog post on Monday.
The regulation would endanger “hundreds of thousands of job,” Wojcicki said, predicting that it would likely force platforms such as YouTube to allow only content from a hand-picked group of companies. “It would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content,” Wojcicki wrote. While acknowledging that it was important to properly compensate all rights holders, the YouTube chief lamented that the “unintended consequences of Article 13 will put this ecosystem at risk.” She encouraged YouTubers to use the #SaveYourInternet hashtag to tell the world how the proposed legislation would impact them personally.
[..] The proposal has stirred considerable controversy in Europe and abroad, with critics claiming that the legislation would essentially ban any kind of creative content, ranging from memes to parody videos, that would normally fall under fair use. Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, has opposed Article 13 for months. The measure was advanced in June by the European Parliament. A final vote on the proposed regulation is expected to take place sometime next year. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have also spoken out against Article 13.
Former Dutch Minister of Finance and former President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, went on CNBC on Friday to declare all-out financial war on Italy. That’s the way Zerohedge put it. As a ‘former’ big wig it was his job to go out and state the position of those currently in power who can safely hide behind his words. And if you watch the clip from CNBC in the linked article you’ll note that CNBC excised the most important quotes, where Dijsselbloem threatened the Italians that no exit from the euro is on the table. But, why would he say this when Italy hasn’t brought it up at all? In fact, Italy’s leadership has been nothing but supportive of the European Project while standing firm on it adopting fairer rules for member countries.
[..] As always, the heavy-handed Djisselbloem has his thumb on the pulse of the EU’s problems, opening his mouth and making things worse, just like he did with Greece. In Greek negotiations, the EU was calm. It told Greece over and over, “No.” Greece threatened the nuclear option, leaving the euro and its bluff was called. So, Dijesselbloem’s warning is just like Greece’s threats and they are going nuclear on Italy. They have to. The EU has zero leverage over Italy. The so-called populists in charge in Italy know exactly what they are doing. They are killing the EU with kindness. Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio reiterated over the weekend that there is “no Plan B” for leaving the EU. The goal is to reform it from within.
A U.S. judge on Monday affirmed a verdict against Bayer unit Monsanto that found its glyphosate-based weed-killers responsible for a man’s terminal cancer, but said the $250 million punitive damages portion of the award had to be reduced. According to a ruling in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California, Judge Suzanne Bolanos said she would slash the punitive damages award to $39 million if lawyers for school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson agreed. Monsanto, which denies the allegations, had asked the judge to throw out the entire original $289 million verdict or order a new trial on the punitive damages portion. A jury on Aug. 10 found the company’s glyphosate-based weed-killers, including RoundUp and Ranger Pro, had caused Johnson’s cancer and that the company failed to warn consumers about the risks.
The verdict wiped 10 percent off the value of the company and marked the first such decision against Monsanto, which faces more than 8,000 similar lawsuits in the United States. “The court’s decision to reduce the punitive damage award by more than $200 million is a step in the right direction, but we continue to believe that the liability verdict and damage awards are not supported by the evidence at trial or the law and plan to file an appeal with the California Court of Appeal,” Bayer said in a statement. [..] Lawyers for Johnson in a statement on Monday said they were still reviewing whether to accept the reduced award or retry the punitive damages portion. “The evidence presented to this jury was, quite frankly, overwhelming,” the lawyers said.
Cutting out pesticides by eating only organic food could slash your cancer risk by up to 86 percent, a new study claims. The biggest impact was seen on non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma risk, which plummeted among those who shunned chemical-sprayed food, according to the survey of nearly 70,000 French adults. Overall, organic eaters were 25 percent less likely to develop any cancer, and their risks of skin and breast cancers dropped by a third. The finding comes amid a flurry of interest in the cancer risks of pesticides, spurred by this summer’s Monsanto trial, when a jury awarded a cancer-suffering groundsman $250 million after concluding that Roundup weedkiller caused his cancer. The health benefit was far greater for obese people, they found.
However, the diet had no significant effect on bowel cancer – which is soaring in numbers globally – or prostate cancer. ‘Our results indicate that higher organic food consumption is associated with a reduction in the risk of overall cancer,’ lead author Dr Julia Baudry of the Centre of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne, Paris said. ‘We observed reduced risks for specific cancer sites – postmenopausal breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and all lymphomas – among individuals with a higher frequency of organic food consumption. ‘Although our findings need to be confirmed, promoting organic food consumption in the general population could be a promising preventive strategy against cancer.’
Scientists have discovered up to nine different types of plastic in the faeces of every person who took part in a Europe-wide study. On average, researchers found 20 microplastic particles in every 10 grams of stool, suggesting humans are swallowing them in food. Particles between 50 and 500 micrometres across were found, the most common being polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Diaries kept by each participant in the week before the stool tests showed that they were all exposed to plastic by consuming plastic-wrapped food or drinking from plastic bottles. Plastic in the gut could suppress the immune system and aid transmission of toxins and harmful bugs or viruses, experts believe.
Lead researcher Dr Philipp Schwabi, from the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, said: “Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases. “While the highest plastic concentrations in animal studies have been found in the gut, the smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the blood stream, lymphatic system and may even reach the liver. “Now that we have first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.” The pilot study recruited eight participants from the UK, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Austria. None were vegetarians, and six ate sea fish. It is estimated up to 5 per cent of all plastics produced end up in the sea.
Even as corporate executives engage in a spree of share buybacks to spur stock prices higher, many have eschewed adding to their employee’s pension pots. That’s according to Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence who picked out a few of the more standout firms whose “enthusiasm for funding pensions was subpar compared to buybacks.” She lined up five of the worst offenders to illustrate that in the pursuit of higher stock prices and shareholder value corporations often left other pressing needs to languish. They include the likes of Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin. In the chart below, the amount of buybacks and pension contributions between 2009 and 2017 for the five companies is compared alongside their respective pension funding ratio, which represents how much the company can deliver on its future pension obligations as a percentage of the plan’s total assets.
One case Booth highlights in the chart is American Airlines. Though, the airline carried around $18.3 billion of pension obligations, its pension system was only 62% funded even after a nine-year bull market. Market participants have cited the prevalence of share repurchases to the stock market’s searing rise in the past few years, even as equities retreated from their record highs in October. A report by Goldman Sachs said share buybacks could hit a record $1 trillion this year, nearly doubling last year’s haul.
Since Donald Trump won the presidency, he has presided over both one the most tumultuous political times in recent memory, as well as the best economy the country has seen since well before the financial crisis. Consumer and small business confidence is up — but so are both the national debt and budget deficit. The chart below, using mostly data compiled by Goldman Sachs, quantifies just how much things changed from the days just before the election in November 2016 through September 2018. Of course, the stock market has weakened in October, which has been its historically most volatile month. The chart doesn’t include GDP, which has averaged 2.72 percent since Trump took over, compared to the 1.6 percent gain in 2016. But the numbers provide a solid overview of how conditions have evolved during the 45th president’s time in office.
Radio host Dr. Dave Janda says everybody in Washington knows the next big crash is right around the corner. It’s been 10 years since the Fed reflated the last meltdown, and Dr. Janda says President Trump is already blaming the Federal Reserve for killing the economy that his policies revived. Dr. Janda explains, “President Trump has been pointing the finger at the Fed. He’s been pointing the finger at the Fed, and that is exactly where he should be pointing. The globalist syndicate’s tentacle is the central banking system, and, in particular, in the United States, the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is one of the entities that is directly responsible for this financial mess our country is currently in.
You would never see Obama or the Bushes, or Bill Clinton, point at the Fed and say what Trump has said. Trump said, ‘I think the Fed has gone crazy. I think the Fed is making a mistake. They’re so tight with interest rates. I think the Fed has gone crazy.’ Just the other day, Trump said, ‘My biggest threat is the Fed. . . . The Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s too independent.’ Now, wait a minute, listen to that. It’s too independent. When was the last time a president of the United States said the Fed was too independent? . . . . Banking groups, that is their priority. So, when the President says the Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s my biggest enemy, and too independent, what he is saying is they are looking out for their own interests.
They are not looking out for the interests of our country or for you or for me or for any American, and he’s right. I don’t know of any other president that has had the guts to say this.” So, what happens next? Dr. Janda says, “Trump knew this thing was rigged to blow, the economy, the financial system, and when the right time came, he would start pointing the finger at the globalists, the Fed. I believe that’s where we are right now.”
The battle for control of the Senate is looking worse and worse for Democrats, who just a month ago saw a path to the majority but now increasingly look like they could lose more seats and have a smaller minority next year. Republicans have seen a bump in the polls in several key races since Labor Day. They believe momentum has flipped to their party since the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President Trump is popular. Two states where Democrats had hopes of pulling major upsets — Texas and Tennessee — have moved in favor of Republicans.
Races in Nevada and Arizona, two other states where Democrats had hoped to make gains, remain tight, but Republicans feel more confident about their candidates. Meanwhile, the tide has moved against Democratic candidates in a couple of states that Trump won by double digits in 2016. In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D), who seemed poised for victory a month ago, has seen his race tighten amid attacks by the president. There is some good news for Democrats in the polls. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has maintained a healthy average lead of 9 points in the polls, despite running in a state that Trump won by a whopping 42 points in 2016.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that he will make important statements on Tuesday at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting regarding the investigation on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, who was admittedly killed by Saudi authorities. “We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth. This is not an ordinary case. I will make statements on Tuesday at the AK Party parliamentary group meeting. The incident will be revealed entirely,” said Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul.
His comments are likely to heighten speculation that Turkey may be about to reveal some of the results of its investigations into the killing of the dissident journalist [..] Turkish newspapers have released information detailing a 15-member team that purportedly arrived in Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate. “Why did these 15 people come here (to Istanbul), why were 18 people arrested (in Saudi Arabia)? These need to be explained in detail,” Erdogan said. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Saturday said 18 people were arrested in connection with the incident. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate.
“If the incident transpired as it has been told across the world, there is no way Saudi officials can cover this up by saying a team from Saudi Arabia came and two or three men among them murdered him,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AK Party, told broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview. “A crime committed in a consulate cannot be carried out without the knowledge of the senior state officials of that country. If this crime was really carried out as has been said, if the evidence really leads to that conclusion, the situation will be dire and this must have very serious legal consequences.”
Germany will not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi persists, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday. Campaigning for her party in a regional election, Merkel repeated to a news conference her earlier condemnation of Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi Arabia admitted had taken place inside its consulate in Istanbul. “First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she said. “Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened – we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account … As far as arms exports are concerned, those can’t take place in the current circumstances.”
Germany wants other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as uncertainty remains over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. Riyadh has given multiple and conflicting accounts on what led to Khashoggi’s death on Oct. 2 at its consulate in Istanbul. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the killing a “huge and grave mistake” but sought to shield Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as the uncertainty around Khashoggi’s death persisted.
Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel, said Riyadh’s explanations on the case so far had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Altmaier told ZDF broadcaster. So far this year the German government had approved weapons exports worth more than 400 million euros ($462 million) to Saudi Arabia, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria. [..] Altmaier said other EU states should stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia in order to increase pressure on Riyadh over the Khashoggi case. “For me it would be important that we come to a joint European stance,” Altmaier said.
Bavaria’s state election last weekend proved painful for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In yet another election next week, Ms. Merkel is expected to see further discomfiture. The German leader could resign from her post at the December CDU party conference in December in order to take another senior European position. “Rumours are swirling in Brussels that Merkel could run for the European Commission next year”, Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen tells the BBC. As Jean-Claude Juncker gets ready to retire as European Commission President next year, there have been suggestions that French President Emanuel Macron is considering a run, Italy’s fierce and most popular politician in Italy’s history Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has also been asked to run, and now Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel could potentially be throwing her hat into the ring.
Fears that Italy’s banks face a black hole in their finances are expected to grow this week following a debt downgrade that could send the value of bank reserves plummeting. Despite efforts to shore up Italian banks’ reserves, a downgrade by the ratings agency Moody’s on Friday following a row between Rome and Brussels over the government’s budget could send them into freefall again. A senior government official added to the tension on Sunday by issuing a warning that Italy should not ignore the deteriorating financial situation and its effect on the country’s banks, including possible capital needs. Giancarlo Giorgetti said in a newspaper interview that a fire sale of Italian government bonds over the last five months had put huge pressure on bank reserves and could trigger a second crisis in two years.
The budget plans of Italy‘s populist government, which breach EU borrowing rules, have prompted investors to shed €67bn ($77bn) of Italian government bonds since May. The effect has been to push values down and the interest rate on government bonds, referred to as the yield, to more than three percentage points higher than safer German bonds. “The increase in the [bond yield] spread, the amount of public debt banks hold and new European Union banking rules put the industry under pressure and may generate the need to recapitalise the most fragile lenders,” said Giorgetti, who is an influential member of the far-right League, one of the two parties in Italy’s ruling coalition.
Theresa May will tell the Commons on Monday that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its protocols are settled as she seeks to demonstrate to anxious MPs in her own party that she is making headway in the increasingly fraught divorce talks. The prime minister is expected to confirm she has resolved with the EU the future status of Gibraltar, developed a protocol around the UK’s military base in Cyprus and agreed a mechanism for resolving any future disputes with the EU.
Taking the unusual step of briefing planned remarks to the Commons in advance, May will conclude that “taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled” in talks that she has until now largely insisted on keeping secret. The prime minister is scheduled to make a statement on Monday afternoon, after intense criticism from the Tory right for appearing to have made no progress other than indicating at last week’s European summit that she was open to extending the post-Brexit transition period, prompting renewed speculation about a leadership challenge.
A clearly rattled Downing Street held two conference calls with cabinet ministers over the weekend to update them on the European summit before a cabinet discussion on Brexit on Tuesday. Concerns were raised about the transition period and time-limiting the Irish backstop. “No one is in the mood to be bounced,” said one cabinet source. May intends to show the progress made by highlighting all the specific areas of agreement already reached, including settling the divorce bill at £39bn, having an implementation period until at least the end of 2020 and recognising the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa.
Sydney’s housing market is facing the toughest conditions since the global financial crisis after auction rates slumped again at the weekend, with analysts predicting that the slowdown could get much worse in the months ahead. Australia’s biggest city saw only 44% of 567 listed properties sold at the weekend, according to Domain, the lowest preliminary clearance rate for a decade. The figure is likely to be revised down below 40%, a level of downturn not seen for a decade. The last time rates were in the 30% range was November 2008, at the peak of the global financial crisis. The two instances before that were May 2004, when New South Wales introduced vendor stamp duty, and July 1989, when interest rates were 17%.
Equally striking is the collapse in the total amount changing hands at auctions across the city, which sank to $160m at the weekend compared with $484m on the same weekend a year ago – a drop of about two-thirds. The decline in the property market, which AMP’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, thinks could fall 20% before bottoming out in 2020, has been most marked in Sydney where prices are down around 6.3% from the peak in 2017 as buyers drop out owing to tougher credit standards and falling confidence. The clearance rate in Melbourne at the weekend was below 50% on a much greater number of properties (nearly 1,000). But the dollar volume of auction sales shows a similar decline across the country, where buyers spent $453m at the weekend compared with $1.3bn the same weekend last year.