Mar 272019
 


Pablo Picasso Mandolin and guitar 1924

 

The EU’s Censorious Copyright Directive Will Create Two Internets (CapX)
All New UK Cars To Have Speed Limiters By 2022 Under EU Plans (G.)
Brexit Extension Could Be Until 31 March 2020 (G.)
Brexiters Demand May Exit Date To Back Deal (G.)
EU Cannot Betray ‘Increasing Majority’ Who Want To Cancel Brexit – Tusk (G.)
McConnell Backs Push For Investigation Of Russia Probe Missteps (R.)
Mueller Report Details To Be Issued In ‘Weeks, Not Months’ (R.)
Ecuador Ambassador Tells Assange to ‘Shut up’ and Accept Spying (GP)
Boeing 737 MAX Software Fix: Easy To Upload, Harder To Approve (R.)
US Jury To Determine Liability, Damages In Roundup Cancer Trial (R.)
Widespread Losses Of Pollinating Insects Revealed Across Britain (G.)

 

 

Behemoth overreach. It’s like they’re trying to tell the British that leaving is a really good idea.

Sure, there are things that can be improved, but Brussels wants to do BIG.

The EU’s Censorious Copyright Directive Will Create Two Internets (CapX)

The European Parliament’s approval of the Copyright Directive today is the end of the internet as we know it. This new regulation creates substantial new controls on what we can share online which threaten freedom of expression, undermine creativity, and cement the dominance of technology giants. The Copyright Directive will create two internets. The first, a heavily censored version for European users, including filters to prevent you from uploading content. The second, a free internet where creativity is encouraged, for everyone else. The directive represents everything that’s wrong with the EU’s policymaking process. It was written at a substantial distance from Europeans, heavily influenced by lobbyists and national compromises.


There is a serious lack of accountability. The opposition to the directive was substantial, but it didn’t seem to matter. Over 200 intellectual property academics have warned that the directive serves “narrow sectional interests”. Even substantial parts of the European music industry have raised concerns about the scheme. The Change.org petition opposing the directive has reached over 5.1 million signatories, the most in the website’s history. Last weekend – while some Brits were marching to stay in the EU – thousands of Europeans took to the street in Save the Internet marches.

Read more …

More overreach.

“Safety campaigners described the move as one of the biggest leaps forward in 50 years and said it could save 25,000 lives by 2037..”

Oh yeah? How many lives could be saved by designing your infrastructure to make cars unnecessary?

All New UK Cars To Have Speed Limiters By 2022 Under EU Plans (G.)

All new cars sold in the UK and Europe are to be fitted with devices to automatically stop drivers from exceeding the speed limit under sweeping changes to vehicle safety rules provisionally agreed by the EU. Although Britain may no longer be part of the EU when the rules come into effect, the UK regulator, the Vehicle Certification Agency, has said it will mirror safety standards for vehicles in the UK. The speed limiter is one of a range of safety features to be made mandatory from 2022, along with automated emergency braking, electronic data recorders and improved visibility built into lorries for drivers to see vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians around the vehicle.


Safety campaigners described the move as one of the biggest leaps forward in 50 years and said it could save 25,000 lives by 2037. The package of measures needs to be ratified by the European parliament, which is likely by September. The speed limiter device, called intelligent speed assistance, or ISA, uses GPS data and sign recognition cameras to detect speed limits where the car is travelling, and then will sound a warning and automatically slow down the vehicle if it is exceeding the limit. However, drivers will be able to override the device simply by pushing hard on the accelerator, reassuring some motoring groups that have argued that in certain situations – such as when trying to swiftly overtake a vehicle in front – speeding up could be safer.

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A long extension appears to be the only way forward.

Brexit Extension Could Be Until 31 March 2020 (G.)

The EU has pencilled in April Fools’ Day 2020 as a leading option for Britain’s first day outside the bloc, should the UK government ask Brussels for a lengthy extension of article 50 in three weeks’ time, it can be revealed. The date was to be offered at the leaders’ summit last week if Theresa May had followed through on her promise to request a short extension in the event of passing her Brexit deal, and a longer one should it be rejected again by the House of Commons. Such was the disapproval of her cabinet, the prime minister only sought a short delay until 30 June in her formal letter. She was subsequently given an unconditional extension until 12 April, or a longer one to 22 May in the unlikely event of the withdrawal agreement being ratified this week.


Without having received a request from Downing Street for a prolonged extension, the EU’s leaders instead left open the offer of a lengthy delay should there be a new political process or event before 12 April, such as a general election or second referendum, but they did not stipulate its potential length. A one-year extension, ending on 31 March 2020, was, however, written into internal EU papers before the summit as an offer that could be made to May should she formally seek a longer extension, sources said. It will likely remain an option if May comes back to Brussels having failed to ratify her deal. Such a UK departure date would ensure the British government would not have any opportunity to meddle in the EU’s long-term plans, including its budget, sources suggested.

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The same deal they fought so hard against.

Brexiters Demand May Exit Date To Back Deal (G.)

Theresa May is under intense pressure to set out a timetable for her departure from Downing Street to seal the support of Brexit hardliners for her twice-rejected deal. The prime minister will address Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers on Wednesday as the House of Commons prepares to vote on alternatives to her Brexit deal. There are renewed signs that leavers are reluctantly preparing to back her in a third meaningful vote rather than risk seeing Brexit slip away altogether. MPs will hold a series of “indicative votes” on alternative Brexit options on Wednesday after three ministers resigned to back a motion to seize control of the parliamentary timetable from the government.


Leavers fear this could lead to what May has a called a “slow Brexit” – a lengthy delay to the article 50 process, leading to a closer future relationship with the EU. Options for MPs to consider may include revocation of article 50, a second referendum, leaving with no deal and backing a Norway-style deal that would include single market membership and a customs arrangement. Boris Johnson appeared to pave the way for a climbdown over May’s deal on Tuesday night. Asked at a Telegraph event whether he would vote for it, the leading Brexiter said: “I am not there yet.” He described it as a “terrible deal, something which I bitterly opposed for a long time”. However, he said he needed “to see that the second phase of the negotiations will be different from the first” and highlighted the “appreciable risk” that not voting for the deal could lead to no Brexit.

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“In a pantomime moment, Farage turned to those sat behind him to ask whether they really wanted him to return as an MEP.”

EU Cannot Betray ‘Increasing Majority’ Who Want To Cancel Brexit – Tusk (G.)

Donald Tusk has issued a rallying call to the “increasing majority” of British people who want to cancel Brexit and stay in the European Union. In a stirring intervention, the European council president hailed those who marched on the streets of London and the millions who are petitioning the government to revoke article 50. Speaking to the European parliament, Tusk reprimanded those who voiced concerns about a potential lengthy extension to article 50 in the event of the Commons rejecting the withdrawal agreement again this week.

Tusk said: “Let me make one personal remark to the members of this parliament. Before the European council, I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK’s participation in the European parliament elections. And then there were voices saying that this would be harmful or inconvenient to some of you. “Let me be clear: such thinking is unacceptable. You cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people’s vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the European Union”

To heckling from Ukip MEPs, Tusk went on: “They may feel that they are not sufficiently represented by the UK Parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans.” The former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, responded to Tusk by describing him as “deluded” and claiming that a second referendum would deliver a larger majority for leave. Initial suggestions that 1 million people marched last weekend in favour of remaining in the EU have been questioned in recent days. In a pantomime moment, Farage turned to those sat behind him to ask whether they really wanted him to return as an MEP. He ended his speech to the parliament by appealing to the EU’s leaders to “get the British out”.

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2nd Special Counsel.

McConnell Backs Push For Investigation Of Russia Probe Missteps (R.)

The top Republican in the U.S. Senate said on Tuesday he supported a push by a Republican colleague for an inquiry into potential law enforcement missteps in a probe of possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. “I think Senator (Lindsey) Graham has raised a legitimate question,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters. “I think it’s not inappropriate for the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, with jurisdiction over the Justice Department, to investigate possible misbehaviors.”


Graham, who heads the panel, said on Monday he wanted to see a special counsel appointed to look into the origins of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page. The warrant was based in part on information in a dossier on Trump compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who co-founded a private intelligence firm. Graham said he would use the panel’s subpoena power if necessary, whether or not a special counsel is appointed, to look into the matter.

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Barr’s on his way to becoming America’s new punchbag.

Mueller Report Details To Be Issued In ‘Weeks, Not Months’ (R.)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr plans to issue a public version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election within “weeks, not months,” a Justice Department official said on Tuesday. Barr released his own summary of the report’s central findings on Sunday, but said he needed more time to review the report to determine how much of it could be made public. He relayed his plans to release a public version of the report in the coming weeks to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham during a phone call this week, the official said.


The official said there is no plan to share an advanced copy of the report with the White House. Some portions of Mueller’s confidential report contain materials that arose during secret grand jury proceedings. Federal rules generally prohibit the government from releasing that information to the public. The report also contains information about ongoing criminal investigations that Mueller referred to other U.S. attorneys offices. Barr has not yet revealed a precise date for when the final public version might be ready.

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Cassandra Fairbanks’s intensely sad story.

Ecuador Ambassador Tells Assange to ‘Shut up’ and Accept Spying (GP)

It was meant to be a routine visit by a journalist to another journalist. Instead, I found myself locked in a cold, surveilled room for over an hour by Ecuadorian officials, as a furious argument raged between the country’s ambassador and Julian Assange on Monday. The room was inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Julian Assange currently lives under the ostensible protection of political asylum. Yet the WikiLeaks publisher was barred from entering the room, where he was supposed to join me for a pre-approved meeting, because he refused to submit to a full-body search and continuous surveillance. In the fireworks that followed, Assange accused the ambassador of being an agent of the United States government.


The crackdown on visitors was felt before I even entered the embassy. It’s the third time I’ve visited in the past year, and each time the atmosphere seems progressively worse. Just like my previous visit, since new rules for visitors were enacted, I couldn’t take my phone into the meeting without giving the Ecuadorian officials a swathe of data. If you want to take it in with you, they request its brand, model, serial number, IMEI number, and telephone number. I was also advised that Ecuador could not be trusted to hold my phone while I met with Assange, so I left it behind and walked to the embassy phoneless, several minutes early to make sure I was on time.

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This is not going to be easy.

Boeing 737 MAX Software Fix: Easy To Upload, Harder To Approve (R.)

Boeing engineers armed with laptops and thumb drives will be able to upload a crucial software fix for the 737 MAX anti-stall system in about an hour. That’s the easy part. Before Boeing’s workhorse of the future can resume flying, the upgrade must first be approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then by wary regulators around the globe who have grounded it in the wake of two deadly crashes.R egulators in China, Europe and Canada have signaled they will not rubber stamp an FAA decision to allow the planes back into the air but conduct their own reviews. With the FAA under pressure for its role in certifying the newest 737, and other regulators challenging its leadership of the airline safety system, Boeing’s money-spinning jet could remain parked for months.


“We are guessing this thing’s not going to be put to bed until the July or August time frame,” said Charlie Smith, chief investment officer at Fort Smith Capital Group, which holds shares in Boeing. The world’s largest planemaker has been working on the upgrade for its MCAS stall-prevention system since October’s Lion Air crash, when pilots are believed to have lost a tug of war with software that repeatedly pushed the nose down. Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told the U.S. Senate Tuesday in written testimony that the agency will agree to allow the 737 MAX to return to service “only when the FAA’s analysis of the facts and technical data indicate that it is appropriate.”

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“The case is only the second of more than 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States..”

US Jury To Determine Liability, Damages In Roundup Cancer Trial (R.)

A lawyer for a man who said his cancer was caused by Bayer AG’s glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup on Tuesday urged U.S. jurors to “send a message” to the company by holding it liable and awarding millions in damages. The case is only the second of more than 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States as litigation setbacks and a prior jury verdict against the company have sent Bayer shares plunging. “A responsible company would test its product. A responsible company would tell their customers if they knew it causes cancer,” Aimee Wagstaff, a lawyer for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, said during closing arguments on Tuesday. She called conduct by Bayer’s Monsanto unit reckless and offensive.


Bayer, which bought Roundup maker Monsanto in a $63 billion deal last year, denies the allegations, saying decades of studies by independent scientists have shown glyphosate and Roundup to be safe for human use. In Hardeman’s case, the jury on March 19 found Roundup to have been a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That verdict followed a first phase of the trial that focused exclusively on science. The decision allowed the trial to proceed to a second phase in which the same jury will decide if Bayer is liable. In the second phase lawyers for Hardeman were able to present previously excluded internal documents allegedly showing the company’s efforts to influence scientists and regulators about the popular product’s safety.

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These findings have become our new normal: “the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980.”

Widespread Losses Of Pollinating Insects Revealed Across Britain (G.)

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which scientists say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature. The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11. A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.


Researchers have become increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have shown plunging numbers in the last 25 to 35 years. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, is based on more than 700,000 sightings made by volunteers across Britain from 1980 to 2013. These are used to map the range of each species of bee and hoverfly over time. The data did not allow the assessment of numbers of insects, but some researchers think populations have fallen faster than range.

Read more …

Mar 212019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with ball 3 1928

 

Why The Fed Keeps Propping Up The Market (Colombo)
Fed’s New Balance Sheet Plan: Get Rid of MBS (WS)
EU Will Only Back Short Brexit Delay If May’s Deal Passes First (G.)
Remain Would Win Second Brexit Referendum Clearly, Poll Indicates (Ind.)
Theresa May: Don’t Blame Me For Brexit Crisis, Blame MPs (G.)
MPs Furious After May Blames Them For Crisis (Ind.)
New Zealand Bans All Assault Weapons Immediately (AP)
Stagnant Capitalism (Varoufakis)
Exposing the Myth of MMT (Rickards)
Australia Construction Slowdown A Major Threat To The Economy (ABC.au)
As Russia Collusion Fades, Ukrainian Plot To Help Clinton Emerges (Solomon)
Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War (William Blum)
Loneliness Estimated To Shorten A Person’s Life By 15 Years (SciAm)
Kale Is Now One Of The Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables (CNBC)

 

 

Yeah, no, more Fed crap and comments about markets and I’ve had enough. A market should be recognized as an action, a process, not as a thing or an object. And the action is price discovery. If that is not taking place you don’t have a market. Anything the Fed props up is not a market. One necessary aspect of price discovery is honesty, people must believe they’re not being tricked. With the way people talk about this now, the language they use risks losing all meaning. Enough already, and that goes for Jesse Colombo too. Who also posted this one on Twitter, which is a lot more relevant than his article. But that’s just me.

 

 

Why The Fed Keeps Propping Up The Market (Colombo)

The bull market of the past decade since the Great Recession has been an unusual one: despite all of the economic damage that occurred during the global financial crisis and rising risks (including global debt rising by $75 trillion), it has been the longest bull market in history. The explanation for this paradox is simple: it’s not an organic bull market because the Fed and other central banks keep stepping in to prop up the market every time it stumbles. Though the Fed has two official mandates (maintaining stable consumer prices and maximizing employment), it has taken on the unofficial third mandate of supporting and boosting the stock market since the Great Recession.

The chart below, which was inspired by market strategist Sven Henrich, shows how the Fed or other central banks have stepped in with more monetary stimulus (quantitative easing, promises to keep interest rates low, etc.) every time the S&P 500 has stumbled over the past decade:

An economy that is growing at 2%, inflation near zero, and Central banks globally required to continue dumping trillions of dollars into the financial system just to keep it afloat is not an economy we should be aspiring to. But despite commentary the financial system has been ‘put back together again,’ then why are Central Banks acting?

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Get rid of them or they’ll blow up America.

Fed’s New Balance Sheet Plan: Get Rid of MBS (WS)

The Fed has a new plan for what to do with its balance sheet and today announced several major components of it:

• Begin tapering the “runoff” of Treasury securities in May. • End the runoff of Treasury securities on September 30. • Continue shedding mortgage-backed securities (MBS) at the current maximum of $20 billion a month, essentially until their gone. • After September, reinvest MBS principal payments into Treasury securities. • Chair Jerome Powell said during the press conference that the balance sheet will by then be “a bit above $3.5 trillion.” • The balance sheet will remain at this level even as the economy grows, thus slowly shrinking in relationship to GDP. • The Fed may sell MBS outright to speed up the process of getting rid of them. • No decision has been made on the delicate issue of the maturity composition of the balance sheet – which would require buying short-term bills for the first time in years to replace longer-term notes and bonds.

The stated balance-sheet doctrine now is that the Fed wants to have sufficient reserves (money that banks deposit at the Fed) to conduct monetary policy efficiently. The interest it pays the banks on those reserves is one of its major tools to manage short-term interest rates.

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It’s not even the main trump card the EU has.

EU Will Only Back Short Brexit Delay If May’s Deal Passes First (G.)

Donald Tusk has put a no-deal Brexit back on the table by saying EU leaders will only agree to a short delay if MPs back Theresa May’s deal next week, on a day of high drama in Brussels and London. After belatedly receiving the prime minister’s formal letter requesting a three-month extension of article 50, and taking a late afternoon phone call with her, the European council president admitted that success appeared “frail, even illusory” on the eve of Thursday’s summit. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, tweeted: “The letter from Theresa May has not solved any problem yet. If the European council [summit of leaders] is to decide on an extension of the deadline for Britain, we would like to know what is the concrete purpose.”

But Tusk said the EU would seek until the very last moment to avoid the UK crashing out without a deal and show “patience and goodwill” despite the “Brexit fatigue” in the capitals. The EU27’s heads of state or government would be likely to agree in principle at the summit on Thursday to an extension up to 23 May or 30 June, and sign it off without needing to meet next week should May be able to find a majority in the Commons at the third time of asking, he said. The European commission is insisting that an extension beyond the date of the European elections on 23 May would require British MEPs to be elected, although others believe there is little risk as long as the UK has left by 1 July when the parliament formally convenes.

“In the light of the consultations that I have conducted over the past days I believe that a short extension will be possible but to be conditional on a positive vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons,” Tusk said. “A question remains open as to the duration of such an extension. Prime Minister May’s proposal of the 30 June, which has its merits, creates a series of questions of a legal and political nature. Leaders will discuss this tomorrow.”

The frustration and “tension”, as one senior EU diplomat described it, was made clear by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who told the French parliament on Wednesday afternoon that Paris was willing to block an extension. He said there were only two ways to leave the EU: ratify the withdrawal agreement or a no-deal exit. If parliament did not ratify the withdrawal agreement “the central scenario is a no-deal exit”, he said, adding: “We’re ready.” He stated that if May could not present “sufficient guarantees of the credibility of her strategy” that would lead to the extension being refused and a no-deal exit.

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But it would be undemocratic?!

Remain Would Win Second Brexit Referendum Clearly, Poll Indicates (Ind.)

Nearly two-thirds of people would vote to remain in the EU rather than for Theresa May’s deal if a referendum offering those options were called, a snap poll by YouGov has found. Sixty-one per cent of the population would vote to remain while 39 per cent would opt for the existing deal, However, if people were asked in a public vote whether they would prefer to remain in the EU or leave with no deal in place, Remain would still win, though by the smaller margin of 57-43 per cent. It shows a 22-point lead for Remain over Ms May’s deal, or a 14-point lead for Remain over no deal at all.

The poll, carried out on behalf of the Put it to the People campaign, comes as second referendum expectations have risen. [..] A march in support of a Final Say second referendum takes place on in central London on Saturday and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters. Meanwhile a “Leave means Leave” protest, also known as the “Brexit betrayal march”, is underway with Brexit supporters walking for two weeks from Sunderland to London demanding the UK leaves the EU on 29 March.

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Carefully crafted utter panic.

Theresa May: Don’t Blame Me For Brexit Crisis, Blame MPs (G.)

Theresa May is facing a furious backlash from her own backbenchers and calls for her resignation after she blamed squabbling MPs for delaying Brexit. In a defiant statement on Wednesday night she told the British public: “I am on your side,” and now hopes to force her deal through parliament next week at the third time of asking. Less than an hour earlier, she had been warned in a private meeting with Conservative MPs that her bid to delay leaving could end up losing her even more votes from her own party.

“She is going into an ever narrower cul-de-sac,” said one former minister. Speaking in Downing Street in a televised address, May said the three-month Brexit delay she had earlier in the day formally requested from EU27 leaders was “a matter of great personal regret for me” – and she would not countenance a longer extension of article 50. With just nine days to go before Britain is due to leave the EU, she laid the blame for the crisis squarely at the door of parliament.

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“Of this I am absolutely sure: you the public have had enough.”

What she missed is that it’s her they’re tired of.

MPs Furious After May Blames Them For Crisis (Ind.)

MPs have called Theresa May “irresponsible”, “disgraceful” and “toxic” after she blamed them for for the UK’s impending failure to leave the EU on 29 March. Labour’s Wes Streeting accused the prime minister of putting MPs’ lives in danger with an “incendiary” address. Ms May used a Downing Street speech to criticise the very people she needs to get her Brexit deal through the Commons at the third time of asking, telling voters that she was “sure” that “you, the public, have had enough” of political games. She said: “You’re tired of the infighting, you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, knife crime. “You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side.”

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It can be done. Just not in the US, too many guns there already.

New Zealand Bans All Assault Weapons Immediately (AP)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand is immediately banning sales of military style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines like the weapons used in last Friday’s attacks on two Christchurch mosques. Ardern announced the ban Thursday and said it would be followed by legislation to be introduced next month. She said the man arrested in the attacks had purchased his weapons legally and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase.” [..] The New Zealand government is asking all owners of assault weapons or now-banned attachments to report them to the government in the next two days before turning them in.

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I think manipulation by central banks is a much bigger problem than stagnation.

Stagnant Capitalism (Varoufakis)

When the Great Depression followed the 1929 stock-market crash, almost everyone acknowledged that capitalism was unstable, unreliable, and prone to stagnation. In the decades that followed, however, that perception changed. Capitalism’s postwar revival, and especially the post-Cold War rush to financialized globalization, resurrected faith in markets’ self-regulating abilities. Today, a long decade after the 2008 global financial crisis, this touching faith once again lies in tatters as capitalism’s natural tendency toward stagnation reasserts itself. The rise of the racist right, the fragmentation of the political center, and mounting geopolitical tensions are mere symptoms of capitalism’s miasma.

A balanced capitalist economy requires a magic number, in the form of the prevailing real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate. It is magic because it must kill two very different birds, flying in two very different skies, with a single stone. First, it must balance employers’ demand for waged labor with the available labor supply. Second, it must equalize savings and investment. If the prevailing real interest rate fails to balance the labor market, we end up with unemployment, precariousness, wasted human potential, and poverty. If it fails to bring investment up to the level of savings, deflation sets in and feeds back into even lower investment.

It takes a heroic disposition to assume that this magic number exists or that, even if it does, our collective endeavors will result in an actual real interest rate close to it. How do free marketeers convince themselves that there exists a single real interest rate (say, 2%) that would inspire investors to funnel all existing savings into productive investments and spur employers to hire everyone who wishes to work at the prevailing wage?

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I’ve kept my distance from the discussion, but this is nice.

Exposing the Myth of MMT (Rickards)

When critics hear that a Green New Deal could potentially cost something like $97 trillion, or proposals for Medicare for all, free tuition, free child care or guaranteed basic income, they say, “That all sounds nice, but we just can’t afford it.” That’s their main argument — that no matter how desirable these programs might be in theory, we just can’t afford them. Most criticism of MMT falls along those lines. Even the Keynesians like those I mentioned earlier, who generally favor large amounts of government spending to stimulate the economy, have come out against MMT. Besides that claim that we can’t afford it, even the Keynesians say MMT would be highly inflationary. If you printed that much money and start handing it out to people, demand would outstrip the output capacity of the economy and you’d get high inflation.

But the MMT advocates have an answer to these objections. They’re not the least bit intimidated by critics who say we can’t afford it. They say, “Yes, we can, and Modern Monetary Theory proves it. Just print the money and monetize the debt. Japanese debt is 2.5 times the United States’ debt, and China’s is higher than ours.” They haven’t collapsed, so we can take on far more debt than we have today. Furthermore, QE did not create much inflation. In fact, the Fed would like to see more inflation than it has. It still can’t produce a sustained 2% inflation rate after all these years. You might think the argument is ridiculous. After all, do we really want to become Japan? But in important ways, the MMT crowd has the upper hand in the debate.

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After 27 years, Australia is finally hitting a recession.

Australia Construction Slowdown A Major Threat To The Economy (ABC.au)

The property market upheaval brings billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s oft-quoted piece of wisdom to mind: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” We are witnessing more naked developers as half-finished projects dot the landscape of our major cities. As the year progresses, many more operators who’ve pushed the boundaries will join them. “Areas of oversupply will see a bit more chaos in the next six to twelve months,” Scott Gray-Spencer, local head of capital markets at the global real estate firm CBRE, told ABC’s The Business. Mr Gray-Spencer sees areas more than 10 kilometres from the city centres of Sydney and Melbourne, and parts of Queensland, as the most vulnerable.

Property investors, who were major targets of the crackdown, accounted for almost 50 per cent of mortgages two to three years ago. They have largely left the market and political uncertainty may keep them on the sidelines for longer as they await the outcome of the looming federal election. Should Labor win, it’s likely investors will wait to see how its plans to curb the negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions pan out. Even though Labor’s proposed negative gearing changes will not affect new housing, investors may still be worried about price growth because the next buyer is unable to negatively gear. So it could be some time before developers see an important group of buyers return in force. If the banks don’t stop them, the less generous tax laws might.


A half-finished apartment block in Cronulla sits idle while it waits for a buyer. (ABC News: John Gunn)

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At first sight it looked like a parody.

As Russia Collusion Fades, Ukrainian Plot To Help Clinton Emerges (Solomon)

After nearly three years and millions of tax dollars, the Trump-Russia collusion probe is about to be resolved. Emerging in its place is newly unearthed evidence suggesting another foreign effort to influence the 2016 election — this time, in favor of the Democrats. Ukraine’s top prosecutor divulged in an interview aired Wednesday on Hill.TV that he has opened an investigation into whether his country’s law enforcement apparatus intentionally leaked financial records during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign about then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in an effort to sway the election in favor of Hillary Clinton.

The leak of the so-called “black ledger” files to U.S. media prompted Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign and gave rise to one of the key allegations in the Russia collusion probe that has dogged Trump for the last two and a half years. Ukraine Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko’s probe was prompted by a Ukrainian parliamentarian’s release of a tape recording purporting to quote a top law enforcement official as saying his agency leaked the Manafort financial records to help Clinton’s campaign. The parliamentarian also secured a court ruling that the leak amounted to “an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” Lutsenko told me.

Lutsenko said the tape recording is a serious enough allegation to warrant opening a probe, and one of his concerns is that the Ukrainian law enforcement agency involved had frequent contact with the Obama administration’s U.S. embassy in Kiev at the time. “Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko told me.

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A memorial service was held on Sunday in Washington for William Blum, a former State Department official whose disillusionment with the Vietnam War turned him into a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy. Blum educated a generation of Americans about the rapacious aims of the U.S. abroad, debunking the myth of Washington’s good intentions for the peoples of the world. Blum died on December 9, 2018.

Sucking Liberals into a New Cold War (William Blum)

Cold War Number One: 70 years of daily national stupidity. Cold War Number Two: Still in its youth, but just as stupid. “He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” – President Trump re Russian President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Vietnam. [Washington Post, Nov.e 12, 2017] Putin later added that he knew “absolutely nothing” about Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials. “They can do what they want, looking for some sensation. But there are no sensations.” Numerous U.S. intelligence agencies have said otherwise. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, responded to Trump’s remarks by declaring: “The president was given clear and indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the election.”

As we’ll see below, there isn’t too much of the “clear and indisputable” stuff. And this of course is the same James Clapper who made an admittedly false statement to Congress in March 2013, when he responded, “No, sir” and “not wittingly” to a question about whether the National Security Agency was collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans. Lies don’t usually come in any size larger than that. Virtually every member of Congress who has publicly stated a position on the issue has criticized Russia for interfering in the 2016 American presidential election. And it would be very difficult to find a member of the mainstream media who has questioned this thesis. What is the poor consumer of news to make of these gross contradictions?

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Time to rephrase ‘social media’. Man evolved living in groups, it’s simple.

Loneliness Estimated To Shorten A Person’s Life By 15 Years (SciAm)

Thanks to remarkable new technologies and the widespread use of social media, we are more “connected” than ever before. Yet as a nation, we are also more lonely. In fact, a recent study found that a staggering 47 percent of Americans often feel alone, left out and lacking meaningful connection with others. This is true for all ages, from teenagers to older adults. The number of people who perceive themselves to be alone, isolated or distant from others has reached epidemic levels both in the United States and in other parts of the world. Indeed, almost two decades ago, the book Bowling Alone pointed to the increasing isolation of Americans and our consequent loss of “social capital.” In Japan, for example, an estimated half million (known as hikikomori) shut themselves away for months on end.

In the United Kingdom, four in 10 citizens report feelings of chronic, profound loneliness, prompting the creation of a new cabinet-level position (the Minister for Loneliness) to combat the problem. While this “epidemic” of loneliness is increasingly recognized as a social issue, what’s less well recognized is the role loneliness plays as a critical determinant of health. Loneliness can be deadly: this according to former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, among others, who has stressed the significant health threat. Loneliness has been estimated to shorten a person’s life by 15 years, equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. A recent study revealed a surprising association between loneliness and cancer mortality risk, pointing to the role loneliness plays in cancer’s course, including responsiveness to treatments.

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Wasn’t kale supposed to not need any?

Kale Is Now One Of The Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables (CNBC)

Often touted for being highly nutritious, kale has joined the list of 11 other fruits and vegetables known to be “dirty,” according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. The watchdog group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list annually, in which it ranks the 12 produce items that contain the highest amount of pesticide residues. The group analyzes data from the Department of Agriculture’s regular produce testing to determine the list. Ranked alongside kale on the list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The last time kale was included in the USDA’s produce tests was 2009 and it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list. “We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” said EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin in a release. More than 92 percent of kale had residue from at least two pesticides after washing and peeling the appropriate vegetables, according to the report. Some had up to 18. Almost 60 percent of the kale samples showed residual Dacthal, a pesticide that is known as a possible human carcinogen. The group releases its “Clean Fifteen” list as well, highlighting the 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticide residue detected. It includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons.

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Mar 202019
 


Salvador Dali Birth of liquid desires 1932

 

Monsanto’s Roundup Substantial Factor In Man’s Cancer, Jury Finds (G.)
Miami Bans The Use Of Glyphosate In A Step To Improve Water Quality (NoC)
Off-Duty Pilot Saved Doomed 737 From Nosedive Day Before Deadly Crash (ZH)
Most People Want Higher Taxes On Rich To Support Poor – OECD (G.)
Shifting Hopes As Republicans, Democrats Wait For Mueller (AP)
Schiff: Real Question Is If Trump Is Under Influence Of A Foreign Power (NBC)
Mueller Suspected Cohen May Have Been Acting As Foreign Agent In 2017 (G.)
EU’s Barnier: UK Can’t Delay Brexit Without Clear Plan Of Action (Ind.)
Theresa May Asks Eu For Brexit Delay With Cabinet In Deadlock (G.)
Theresa May Will Not Ask EU For Long Brexit Extension (BBC)
Tory MPs Vow To Quit Party If Boris Johnson Becomes Leader (G.)
Chinese Companies Default On Their Debts At An ‘Unprecedented’ Level (CNBC)
Foreigners Buy Up Athens Real Estate For Short-Term Rentals (K.)

 

 

Underlying lesson: stop poisoning your food and the soil it grows in.

But don’t count out Monsanto’s legal department.

Monsanto’s Roundup Substantial Factor In Man’s Cancer, Jury Finds (G.)

A federal jury in San Francisco found Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was a substantial factor in causing the cancer of a California man, in a landmark verdict that could affect hundreds of other cases. Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa was the first person to challenge Monsanto’s Roundup in a federal trial and alleged that his exposure to Roundup caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that affects the immune system. In the next phase of the case, the jury will weigh liability and damages, and Hardeman’s lawyers will present arguments about Monsanto’s influence on government regulators and cancer research.

During the trial, the 70-year-old Santa Rosa man testified that he had sprayed the herbicide for nearly three decades and at one time got it on his skin before he was diagnosed with cancer. He used the chemical to control weeds and poison oak on his properties, starting in 1986. Hardeman’s case is considered a “bellwether” trial for hundreds of other plaintiffs in the US with similar claims, which means the verdict could affect future litigation and other cancer patients and families. Monsanto, now owned by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits across the US.

The unanimous ruling on Tuesday follows a historic verdict last August in which a California jury in state court ruled that Roundup caused the terminal cancer of Dewayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper. That jury said Monsanto failed to warn Johnson of Roundup’s health hazards and “acted with malice or oppression”, awarding Johnson $289m in damages. Hardeman’s trial has been more limited in scope. While Johnson’s attorneys argued that Monsanto had “bullied” scientists and fought to suppress negative studies about its product, the federal judge barred Hardeman’s lawyers from discussing Monsanto’s alleged influence on research and regulations during the hearings.

Read more …

2 weeks old, but highly relevant.

Miami Bans The Use Of Glyphosate In A Step To Improve Water Quality (NoC)

Miami, Florida voted unanimously to ban the use of glyphosate by city departments and contractors. The controversial herbicide is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s – now Bayer after an acquisition took place over a year ago – popular weed-killer, Roundup. But concerns surrounding the safety and proliferation of glyphosate continue to grow and the city of Miami took it upon themselves to effectively enact the resolution right after passage, The Miami Times reported. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell started the investigation into the city’s use of glyphosate after officials believed the runoff from the herbicide “might have contributed to the recent blue-green algae bloom and red tide that impacted the state last year,” EcoWatch reported.

“Water quality issues are so important to the city of Miami, and we can be one of the worst polluters as a municipality,” Russell told The Miami New Times. “We ask for residents to make a change in their habits and that they be conscious of what they put in their gardens, but when I realized the totality of what the city uses at any given time, we had to change our habits.” Miami Director of Resiliency and Public Works Alan Dodd determined that Miami was responsible for using 4,800 gallons of glyphosate a year on the streets and sidewalks to kill weeds. While Dodd stopped the use of the herbicide, Russell took it a step further and sponsored a city-wide ban on glyphosate to make sure it was no longer used by any departments.

According to Waterkeeper: “herbicides and fertilizers are often applied in excess to lawns and landscapes and can be lost to the environment in stormwater runoff and can degrade the water quality of streams, rivers, canals, lakes, and coastal waters. They can also contribute to the creation of harmful algal blooms and the destruction of critically important habitats like sea grass beds and coral reefs.”

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One of the big selling points for the 737MAX was that airlines didn’t have to spend a fortune to re-train their pilots. Even though the MCAS system that caused the crashes was brand new.

Off-Duty Pilot Saved Doomed 737 From Nosedive Day Before Deadly Crash (ZH)

An off-duty pilot hitching a ride in the cockpit jumpseat of a doomed 737 Max 8 last October reportedly saved the plane just one day before it crashed off the coast of Indonesia while being operated by a different crew, killing 189 onboard. According to Bloomberg, the ‘dead-head’ pilot on the earlier flight from Bali to Jakarta was able to explain to the crew how to disable a malfunctioning flight-control system by cutting power to a motor driving the nose of the plane down. The previously undisclosed detail supports the suggestion that a lack of training is may be at least partially to blame in the March 10 crash of another 727 Max 8.

“The previously undisclosed detail on the earlier Lion Air flight represents a new clue in the mystery of how some 737 Max pilots faced with the malfunction have been able to avert disaster while the others lost control of their planes and crashed. The presence of a third pilot in the cockpit wasn’t contained in Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee’s Nov. 28 report on the crash and hasn’t previously been reported.” -Bloomberg As we noted last week, several pilots had repeatedly warned federal authorities of the Max 8’s shortcomings, with one pilot describing the plane’s flight manual as “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.”

“The fact that this airplane requires such jury-rigging to fly is a red flag. Now we know the systems employed are error-prone — even if the pilots aren’t sure what those systems are, what redundancies are in place and failure modes. I am left to wonder: what else don’t I know?” wrote the captain. “After the Lion Air crash, two U.S. pilots’ unions said the potential risks of the system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, hadn’t been sufficiently spelled out in their manuals or training. None of the documentation for the Max aircraft included an explanation, the union leaders said.” -Bloomberg

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Curious coming from the OECD.

Most People Want Higher Taxes On Rich To Support Poor – OECD (G.)

A majority of people living in developed countries want their government to increase taxes on the rich in order to help the poorest in society, according to a major global study. In all 21 countries included in the OECD study, more than half of those polled said they were in favour when asked: “Should the government tax the rich more than they currently do in order to support the poor?” The OECD said the survey of 22,000 people was “deeply troubling” and revealed that nearly 60% of respondents do not think they are getting their “fair share” back for the taxes they pay.

Only one in five people thought that they would easily be able to access state benefits in the event of a crisis, with many raising concerns about healthcare. Almost six in 10 said their government ignored their views and concerns. “This is a wake-up call for policy makers,” Ángel Gurría, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development secretary-general, said. “Too many people feel they cannot count fully on their government when they need help. “A better understanding of the factors driving this perception and why people feel they are struggling is essential to making social protection more effective and efficient. We must restore trust and confidence in government and promote equality of opportunity.”

The survey comes as politicians and campaigners across the world call for higher taxes on the super-rich to fund essential services for the poor. Several of the Democratic candidates for US president in the 2020 election, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have proposed new taxes on the super-rich to address inequality. The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters in France have also demanded the wealthy shoulder a larger share of the tax burden. Almost 80% of people in Portugal and Greece said they wanted their governments to impose higher taxes on the wealthy. In the US more than half of those surveyed supported extra taxes on the wealthy. The OECD did not set an income level for what constituents wealthy.

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The end of one probe will give birth to many others.

Shifting Hopes As Republicans, Democrats Wait For Mueller (AP)

It’s a witch hunt, a vendetta, the worst presidential harassment in history. That’s what President Donald Trump has shouted for two years about the special counsel’s Russia probe. Now, barring an eleventh-hour surprise, Trump and his allies are starting to see it as something potentially very different: a political opportunity. With Robert Mueller’s findings expected any day, the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he insisted all along — no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign. And Trump and his advisers are considering how to weaponize those possible findings for the 2020 race, according to current and former White House officials and presidential confidants who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

A change is underway as well among congressional Democrats, who have long believed the report would offer damning evidence against the president. The Democrats are busy building new avenues for evidence to come out, opening a broad array of investigations of Trump’s White House and businesses that go far beyond Mueller’s focus on Russian interference to help Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton. It’s a striking role reversal. No one knows exactly what Mueller will say, but Trump, his allies and members of Congress are trying to map out the post-probe political dynamics.

[..] If the report proves anticlimactic, says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a strong Trump ally, “there would no longer be any justification for what the House Dems want to do. They have their report, they had the guy they wanted writing it, and he had the full power of the federal government behind him and they still didn’t get the president. “Trump can say: Here is the report. I didn’t fire Mueller, I didn’t interfere with him. If you want to keep investigating me, it just shows that it is purely partisan.”

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What then is the real question about Adam Schiff?

Schiff: Real Question Is If Trump Is Under Influence Of A Foreign Power (NBC)

Nearly two years into his investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller has not accused any member of the Trump campaign of conspiring with the 2016 election interference effort — and it’s not clear whether he will. But legal experts, along with the congressman leading the House Russia investigation, tell NBC News that the most important question investigators must answer is one that may never have been suitable for the criminal courts: Whether President Trump or anyone around him is under the influence of a foreign government. “It’s more important to know what Trump is NOW than to know what he did in 2016,” said Martin Lederman, professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Obama administration.

“It’s more important to know whether he has been compromised as president than whether his conduct during the campaign constituted a crime.” Whether Mueller will answer that question in the absence of criminal charges is unclear. But in an interview with NBC News, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he is steering his investigation in a new direction to focus on it — and he will demand any relevant evidence compiled by the FBI or Mueller’s team. The California Democrat also expressed concern that Mueller hasn’t fully investigated Trump’s possible financial history with Russia. “From what we can see either publicly or otherwise, it’s very much an open question whether this is something the special counsel has looked at,” Schiff told NBC News.

Schiff said the public testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that in 2016 Trump stood to earn hundreds of millions of dollars from a secret Moscow real estate project is a staggering conflict of interest that must be fully explored. “I certainly agree that the counterintelligence investigation may be more important than the criminal investigation because it goes to a present threat to our national security — whether the president and anybody around him are compromised by a foreign power,” Schiff said. “That’s not necessarily an issue that can be covered in indictments.”

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Sore losers all around.

Mueller Suspected Cohen May Have Been Acting As Foreign Agent In 2017 (G.)

Robert Mueller persuaded a judge within weeks of being made special counsel in 2017 that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s legal fixer, may have been secretly working for a foreign government. Legal filings unsealed on Tuesday said investigators working for Mueller were granted access to Cohen’s personal email account on 18 July 2017 on the basis that he may have broken several laws, including those on unregistered foreign agents. Cohen’s suspected efforts were not detailed in the documents. Cohen, one of Trump’s closest advisers for a decade, was known to have been paid in 2017 for consulting work by a state-controlled South Korean aviation company and a bank in Kazakhstan.

The filings said Mueller’s investigators were looking in Cohen’s Gmail account for records on any “funds or benefits” he received from foreign governments or companies, as well as any files revealing efforts by Cohen to work on their behalf. The court documents were released by a federal judge in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance and personal financial crimes. They were originally filed by investigators in April last year to obtain additional search warrants. It was not previously known that Cohen was suspected of crimes relating to representing foreigners without registering with US authorities, and no such charges were brought against him. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and is due to be jailed in May.

The filings released on Tuesday ran to hundreds of pages. More than 19 pages, apparently relating to the campaign finance scheme, were entirely blacked out, indicating that it remains under investigation. Cohen directly implicated Trump in the scheme, which involved hush-money payments to women who alleged during the 2016 campaign that they had affairs with Trump. Some legal analysts have said Trump could be vulnerable to prosecution for the scheme once he leaves office. He denies breaking any laws.

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9 days and it gets serious.

EU’s Barnier: UK Can’t Delay Brexit Without Clear Plan Of Action (Ind.)

The EU has said Britain cannot delay Brexit without a clear plan for what happens next, indicating only an election, a new referendum or major compromise on Theresa May’s red lines will suffice. In an ultimatum, Michel Barnier said there would need to be a “new event or new political process” to secure an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period. Brussels’ intervention represents yet another blow for the prime minister, who planned to ask for a delay at this week’s European Council meeting as part of a drive to finally push through her twice-defeated Brexit deal. She is already having to grapple with the new obstacle thrown in front of her by Commons speaker John Bercow who has tried to block her from putting the deal in front of MPs for a third time.

Any move to secure a long delay to Brexit is likely to infuriate Leave-backing Tory MPs and could even lead to cabinet resignations. A meeting of her top ministers on Tuesday ended with Brexiteer ministers making grave warnings about the collapse of their party if it fails to deliver Britain’s departure. Theresa May is set to write to European Council president Donald Tusk, laying out her proposal to delay Brexit beyond March 29 – something that requires the approval of all 27 remaining member states at the summit on Thursday. The Independent understands that one approach being considered is to ask for a lengthy extension to the Article 50 period, with the option of an early break if Ms May can get her deal through parliament.

But Mr Barnier poured cold water on the idea, telling a reporter who asked him about it: “You said both short and long – well, it’s either one or the other, isn’t it?” He added: “My feeling is … a longer extension needs to be linked to something new. There needs to be a new event or a new political process.” Mr Barnier told a news conference in Brussels: “It is our duty to ask whether this extension would be useful because an extension will be something which would extend uncertainty, and uncertainty costs.” He again warned that the UK would need to propose “something new” to justify a lengthy extension. A “new event” can only really mean giving the British public a Final Say referendum or an election, while a new process is likely to refer to a push to rewrite Ms May’s strategy to include a closer relationship with the EU, possibly a permanent customs union.

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What I liked about this when I read it yesterday was May refusing to say how long an extension she was asking for.

Theresa May Asks Eu For Brexit Delay With Cabinet In Deadlock (G.)

Theresa May will be forced to write to EU leaders on Wednesday and beg them to delay Brexit, with her cabinet deadlocked over the best way out of what Downing Street now concedes is a “crisis”. The government had maintained until the last possible moment that Brexit could go ahead as planned on 29 March or after a brief “technical extension”. But after the Speaker, John Bercow, ruled the prime minister could not put her deal to parliament unchanged for a third “meaningful vote,” her spokesman conceded it was now too late to leave with a deal.

He said May would write to the European council president, Donald Tusk, to ask for an extension to article 50, before EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday. He declined to say how long a delay she would request, or for what purpose, simply insisting: “You’re going to have to wait for that letter to be published.” Asked whether May agreed with the solicitor general, Robert Buckland, who described the situation after Bercow’s ruling on Monday as a “constitutional crisis”, her spokesman said: “If you were to look back at the speech the prime minister gave, just before meaningful vote two, she said that if MPs did not support meaningful vote two we would be in a crisis. Events yesterday tell you that that situation has come to pass.”

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It doesn’t matter what she asks for, but what they are willing to give.

Theresa May Will Not Ask EU For Long Brexit Extension (BBC)

Theresa May will not be asking the EU for a long delay when she formally requests that Brexit is postponed. Number 10 said the PM shared the public’s “frustration” at Parliament’s “failure to take a decision”. EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU will not grant a delay without a “concrete plan” from the UK about what they would do with it. Under current law, the UK will leave the EU – with or without a deal – in nine days. BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said the delay would not be beyond the end of June. Any delay will have to be agreed by all 27 EU member states and Mrs May is heading to Brussels on Thursday to discuss the matter with fellow leaders.

Explaining that Mrs May “won’t be asking for a long extension” when she writes to the EU, Number 10 said: “There is a case for giving Parliament a bit more time to agree a way forward, but the people of this country have been waiting nearly three years now. “They are fed up with Parliament’s failure to take a decision and the PM shares their frustration.” It comes after MPs rejected the withdrawal deal Mrs May has negotiated with the EU for a second time last week by 149 votes. They also voted in favour of ruling out leaving the EU without a deal, and in favour of extending the Brexit process.

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All these people love the sound of their own voices.

Tory MPs Vow To Quit Party If Boris Johnson Becomes Leader (G.)

Conservative MPs are orchestrating against a potential leadership campaign by Boris Johnson, with several talking of resigning the whip if he were to become party leader. With Tories convinced that Theresa May’s days in No 10 are numbered, MPs are feverishly discussing who will seek to replace her, how organised the teams are and whether a general election would be necessary. Johnson is the current favourite of Brexit-backing Tory activists, who will pick the leader out of a final two candidates. However, the former London mayor would first have to clear the hurdle of convincing Conservative MPs to put him on the final list of two.

One minister said she would leave the party if Johnson and his supporters, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, took over the Conservatives. Another minister said he knew of five or six Conservatives who were openly saying they were so opposed to a Johnson premiership that they could not stay in the party run by him and a group of “Brexit ultras”. Anna Soubry, the former Tory minister who quit to join the new Independent Group, said she believed “people will leave” if Johnson were to become prime minister. [..] Backers of Johnson believe MPs could swing behind him if they believe an election is not far away, because he is already a household name to put up against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

“Who outside Westminster has heard of Dominic Raab?” asked one Brexit supporting MP who wants Johnson to deliver May a message that she must stand down soon regardless of whether her Brexit deal passes. “Boris still has the star quality that we would need with the electorate to beat Corbyn if there is going to be an election soon. And there is going to be an election in 2019 if you look at parliament.”

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Something’s brewing.

Chinese Companies Default On Their Debts At An ‘Unprecedented’ Level (CNBC)

An economic slowdown and extremely tight credit conditions pushed corporate debt to a record high in China last year, according to experts. Defaults for Chinese corporate bonds — issued in both U.S. dollars and the Chinese yuan — soared last year, according to numbers from two banks. Japanese bank Nomura’s estimates, provided to CNBC, were even higher, putting the size of defaults in onshore bonds — or yuan-denominated bonds — at 159.6 billion yuan ($23.8 billion) last year. That number is roughly four times more than its 2017 estimate. Offshore corporate dollar bonds, or U.S. dollar-denominated debt issued by Chinese companies, followed the same trend.

Nomura said the amount of such debt rose to $7 billion in 2018, from none the year before. “China witnessed an unprecedented wave of corporate bond defaults last year, in a fresh sign of wobbles hitting financial markets as slowdown deepens,” said DBS analysts in the report. According to DBS, the energy sector bailed on 46.4 billion yuan of payments in 2018 — making up almost 40 percent of all defaults in yuan-denominated debt. Consumer companies were the next worst hit, according to the bank’s report. “The default wave is extending into 2019 … Given the reduced risk appetite and huge maturing volume, the outlook is poor,” DBS said, adding that there are 3.5 trillion yuan in corporate bonds due this year.

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I got back to Athens a few days ago, and this is the talk of the town. Greeks being evicted from their apartments because some Chinese ‘investor’ is Airbnb-ing entire buildings. Soon there’ll be hardly any Greeks left in the city core, and it’ll turn into Disneyland.

Foreigners Buy Up Athens Real Estate For Short-Term Rentals (K.)

The Greek property market appears to have emerged from its decade-long hibernation: Bank of Greece figures showed that 1.35 billion euros flowed into the country last year for property purchases (mainly houses) by foreign investors. That figure constitutes a 172 percent annual increase, after an 86.5 percent rise in 2017, when inflows had amounted to 500 million euros. House prices increased 1.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, when there had been a 1 percent yearly decline. Realty professionals say that investments by foreign individuals and medium-sized investors in the local housing market peaked in 2018, with a focus on flats in the center of Athens, apartments in the southern suburbs of Attica and luxury holiday homes.

This huge rise was fed by the prospects for the utilization of apartments through short-term leasing platforms such as Airbnb, Booking and HomeAway, by the appeal of the Golden Visa program, which grants five-year residence permits to foreign nationals who invest at least 250,000 euros in Greek realty, and by the continued increase in tourism, which has raised demand for holiday homes. Data from the land registry of Athens concerning the first eight months of 2018 showed a 60 percent annual increase in transactions.

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Mar 152019
 


 

 

49 Dead In New Zealand Mosque Shootings (AFP)
Australian, New Zealand Students Kick Off Global Climate Change Strike (R.)
UK MPs Back Brexit Delay As Votes Lay Bare Cabinet Divisions (G.)
Tusk Pushes EU27 Leaders To Be Open To Long Brexit Delay (G.)
8 Top Ministers Refuse To Back Theresa May’s Article 50 Extension (Ind.)
Brexit Has Finally Broken The British Political System (Ind.)
The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)
House Votes 420-0 For Mueller Report To Be Made Public (AP)
FBI, DOJ Bias and Intent Prevented Trump Defensive Briefing (Sara Carter)
Boeing To Pause 737 Max Deliveries After Groundings, Crashes (MW)
Ice Ages Triggered By Massive Collisions At Earth’s Equator (Ind.)
Rural America Is Ready For Some Sort Of A New Deal, Preferably Green (G.)

 

 

In late March 2012 Nicole and I were in Christchurch on a lecture tour. It was 13 months after the Feb 2011 earthquake. The devastation was still pretty much complete. The resilience of the people was something to behold.

The entire city center was cordoned off. Strange to see it is again today; the entire city is under lockdown.

Today, all of the world press waits with baited breath for the BIG WORD to come out: and finally the PM calls it a ‘terrorist’ attack. As if that alters anything at all. Like all the ‘world leaders’ saying their hearts and prayers are with the victims. Then again, if they don’t make these asinine comments, they come under fire for not making asinine comments.

If I were New Zealand’s government, and Australia’s, I’d say this is not the time for the countries’ white populations to speak. Let the Maori do the talking instead. It’s their land.

49 Dead In New Zealand Mosque Shootings (AFP)

Attacks on two Christchurch mosques left at least 49 dead Friday, with one gunman — identified as an Australian extremist — apparently livestreaming the assault that triggered the lockdown of the New Zealand city. In what appeared to be the worst attack against Muslims in a western country, witnesses spoke of victims being shot at close range, with women and children believed to be among those killed. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, saying it marked “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.

“From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned,” she said, adding that in addition to the dead another 20 people were seriously injured. The gunman at one mosque was an Australian-born citizen, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney, describing him as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”. It was not immediately clear how many attackers were involved, but Ardern said three men had been taken into custody. Two IEDs (improvised explosive devices) were also found and neutralised by the military, police said.

Read more …

There are more positive things happening down under as well. And I say that despite the fact that I think this is not a smart thing at all. These kids just get rounded up by politicians and businesses seeking to make money and power from green initiatives. While claiming we can all get rich(er) from changing to renewables. Nonsense. Ask these kids how much GDP they are willing to sacrifice, and take it from there.

Australian, New Zealand Students Kick Off Global Climate Change Strike (R.)

“Climate change is worse than Voldemort,” read a handmade sign carried by one student in Wellington, referring to the evil wizard in the hugely popular Harry Potter books and films. “The oceans are rising, so are we,” read another in Sydney. Student protests in capitals and cities from Wellington to Melbourne and Sydney drew tens of thousands of people, with more demonstrations planned later in the day in Asia, Europe and the United States. The worldwide student strike movement started in August 2018, when 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg began protesting outside her parliament on school days. She has since been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“If we don’t do something, it’ll be our lives affected, not the 60-year-old politicians,” said Sydney student Callum Frith, 15, who was wearing his school uniform. “We need action.” Elsewhere in Asia, about 60 students protested at government house in the Thai capital of Bangkok, holding cardboard signs to campaign against plastic. Thailand is one of the world’s top marine plastic polluters. “As youths who will inherit the land, we gather here to demand that the government work with us to solve these problems,” said 17-year-old Thiti Usanakul, of student-led group Grin Green International. The group was later invited to meet officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in two weeks.

[..] New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has pledged NZ$100 million ($68 million) to cut greenhouse gas emissions, supports the strikes, saying teenagers should not wait for voting age to use their voices. That contrasts with politicians in Australia and Britain who have rebuked them for cutting class. “For action on issues that they think is important, they should do that after school or on weekends,” Dan Tehan, Australia’s education minister, told reporters ahead of protests in Melbourne.

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Nothing tells you more about the current state of Britain than the way this is reported in the UK press. The MPs CAN’T vote for a delay, they can only vote to give May PERMISSION to ASK all 27 EU nations for a delay. So there’s nothing like “..MPs voted 413 to 202 to push back Brexit to at least 30 June.” They voted to allow May to politely ask for that.

UK MPs Back Brexit Delay As Votes Lay Bare Cabinet Divisions (G.)

Brexit is set to be delayed by at least three months, after parliament opted overwhelmingly to request an extension to article 50 on another day of divisive votes that exposed the split in Theresa May’s fractured cabinet. The prime minister is now expected to bring her twice-defeated Brexit deal back to parliament on Tuesday, after she narrowly retained control of the next steps of the process. The votes, the last in a series of vital parliamentary decisions on Brexit over several days, mean that Britain’s departure from the EU should not now take place before 30 June and gave the prime minister a window to resuscitate her plan.

But May’s cabinet splintered yet again and eight cabinet ministers, including the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, and leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, voted against the government’s motion extending article 50, preferring to keep the threat of no deal in place. In total, more than half of Tory MPs voted against the motion. Barclay wound up the debate for the government, saying: “It is time for this house to act in the national interest, it’s time to put forward an extension that is realistic” – before trooping through the no lobby to reject that argument. Government sources insisted he was not intending to resign, despite his unprecedented action.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said: “This evening the Brexit secretary voted against his government’s own motion on Brexit, which earlier in the day he had defended in the House of Commons. That’s the equivalent of the chancellor voting against his own budget. This is a government that has completely lost control.” Labour’s divisions over Brexit were also clearly on display, however. The party whipped its MPs to abstain on an amendment calling for a second referendum – but 24 Labour MPs defied the whips to vote for it; and 17 rebelled to vote against, including several frontbenchers.

[..] If the deal does not pass on Tuesday, May would be likely to set out her request for a longer extension before the European council summit on Thursday. Downing Street said the blame for delay lay with parliament and was against the prime minister’s will. “The prime minister absolutely wanted and strived for the UK to be leaving the EU on 29 March. Everything she has done since entered office was intended to deliver that,” the spokesman said. “Now we have to confront the difficult decision that decisions taken by parliament have left us in.”

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So, 21 months. I said 1-2 years earlier. And $40-50 billion. Because: “When Theresa May comes asking us for an extension, our response will be: ‘For what? To what end?”

Tusk Pushes EU27 Leaders To Be Open To Long Brexit Delay (G.)

Donald Tusk is pushing the European Union’s leaders to consider a long Brexit delay to allow the UK to rethink its goals in the negotiations as the Commons voted in favour of seeking an extension of article 50. In an apparent shift in the EU’s red lines, the European council president suggested even before MPs had voted that a lengthy extension beyond 29 March could be granted simply to give Westminster time to recalibrate. Officials have until now insisted that only calling a general election or second referendum could justify delaying Brexit beyond more than a few months. “During my consultations ahead of [the EU leaders’ summit next week], I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it,” Tusk tweeted.

However, a European commission spokesman expressed the concerns in Brussels over the impact of a long extension after MPs voted 413 to 202 to push back Brexit to at least 30 June. “A request for an extension of article 50 requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states,” the spokesman said. “It will be for the European councilto consider such a request, giving priority to the need to ensure the functioning of the EU institutions and taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension.” Reacting to the vote, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, made clear his frustration. “What’s the point of whining on for months on end while we have been going around in circles for two years?” he said. “When Theresa May comes asking us for an extension, our response will be: ‘For what? To what end?”

However, delays of between a few weeks to as long as 21 months have been mooted in recent weeks, with the Irish deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, being the latest on Thursday to suggest that a lengthy delay could be helpful despite the complications. “If you have a long extension of article 50, that opens up the debate in a much broader way to the overall approach that the United Kingdom takes to Brexit. That may facilitate a fundamental rethink, it may not, we just don’t know,” Coveney said. “If you have a long extension of, say 21 months to the end of 2020 – whatever the period would be – then Britain has a legal entitlement to have representation in the European parliament.”

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And still she’s there. Bad advisors.

8 Top Ministers Refuse To Back Theresa May’s Article 50 Extension (Ind.)

The unity of Theresa May’s cabinet has publicly crumbled after eight of her most senior ministers refused to back her plan to delay Brexit by three months. Those who failed to support it included the prime minister’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, who was joined by 187 other Conservative MPs and frontbenchers in voting against her approach. None of the ministers opposing Ms May’s ultimately successful move to delay Brexit will be sacked, because she allowed a “free vote” on the issue in the face of a mass rebellion. It followed a rowdy cabinet meeting in the morning where tempers frayed over a separate rebellion the night before in which remainer cabinet ministers refused to vote with the government on a motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

As a result of Thursday night’s votes, however, the path is cleared for Ms May to put her twice-rejected Brexit deal to a third vote of MPs, and if it is passed she will request a Brexit delay until 30 June to push through necessary legislation. Discussions between Conservative ministers and the party’s Northern Irish DUP allies in government continued as Ms May hunts for a majority for her agreement. After losing on previous occasions in the Commons, the prime minister was forced to let MPs vote on extending Article 50 on Thursday. The motion put in front of the house said she would go to the European Council at the end of next week and ask for a short delay to the end of June if MPs backed her deal, and a longer one if they did not.

But with Conservative ranks full of MPs who baulk at the idea of delaying the UK’s departure at all, and the prospect of having to sack dozens of minsters, she allowed a free vote. As well as Mr Barclay, top ministers who voted against her approach included defence secretary Gavin Williamson, trade secretary Liam Fox, commons leader Andrea Leadsom, Treasury secretary Liz Truss, transport secretary Chris Grayling and development secretary Penny Mordaunt. Welsh secretary Alun Cairns abstained. A further 27 junior ministers and 11 whips also voted against the approach Ms May is taking, including the outspoken Conservative deputy chairman James Cleverly and other Brexit ministers Kwasi Kwarteng and Chris Heaton-Harris. Three other whips, including chief Julian Smith, declined to vote.

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It’s been broken for a long time. Their venue belongs in the middle ages, and so does their behavior. It’s become a freak show.

Brexit Has Finally Broken The British Political System (Ind.)

The British political system has existed, in a relatively similar form, for hundreds of years. Periodically, an issue will arise which causes a shock to the system, reform follows and then life returns to normal. Even the parliamentary buildings are a throwback to an earlier era, failing to have even enough seats for all 650 MPs now elected to the chamber. It is a parliamentary system which prides itself on its ability to be bomb-proof, immune to the temporary ebb and flows of popularism, providing strong and stable majority governments for generations. No longer. The old certainties feel far less permanent in the wake of Brexit.

The spectacle of the House of Commons has become a regular fixture on our television sets, with the commons becoming the scene of passionate speeches and rousing argument. As the physical structure of the Houses of Parliament are repaired and saved from the ravages of old age, how can the political system it houses be saved? Has Brexit exposed cracks in the system, which signal its demise? In the immediate future, the House of Commons is focused on finding some consensus on what to do next. Undoubtedly, Theresa May will try and use this as an opportunity to give her Withdrawal Bill a third chance, and with the threat of no Brexit at all becoming more of a realistic possibility, she might even drag the legislation across the line.

Whether she will get that chance largely lies with the Commons speaker, John Bercow; he may refuse to allow identical legislation to be reintroduced again, depending on his interpretation of the rules. While numerous amendments have been introduced by members on both sides of the House, covering all options from a no deal to a second referendum, it is still so hard to see which of these solutions, if any, will gather majority support.

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My old stomping grounds of Montréal finally gets its due too.

The Most Splendid Housing Bubbles in Canada Deflate (WS)

Canadian housing markets are in a category of their own. No housing market in the US – no matter how crazy Housing Bubble 1 was, which began to implode in 2006, or how crazy Housing Bubble 2 is or was – can hold a candle to the most splendid housing bubbles in Canada. Instead of a Financial Crisis and a mortgage crisis and Housing Bust 1, the bubbliest Canadian markets only had a little-bitty dip, and within months were back on track to what would be an 18-year housing boom that is now coming undone.

I converted the index data of price changes into “percent change from January 2002.” So this tracks the same data, but is denominated in “%-change,” and the chart looks the same. I did this for Vancouver and the San Francisco Bay Area, which allows me to put both indices on the same %-change scale on the same chart. Vancouver house prices soared 316% since January 2002 through the peak (July 2018); San Francisco Bay Area house prices soared 121% through the peak (November 2018). And what we get is a chart that shows how the majestically splendid housing bubble in Vancouver (black) totally crushes, annihilates, and ridicules the crazy insane mind-blowing house price increases in San Francisco (red):

Staying on the same scale to show how housing markets in Canada vary, with less bubbly markets showing more white space, we move on to Toronto. House prices fell 0.2% in February and are down 4.0% from the peak in July 2017. Mild as it seems, it was the steepest 19-month decline since May 2009. From January 2002 through the peak in August 2017, the index skyrocketed 218%. That’s huge. It means house prices more than tripled. But it’s not even in the same ballpark as Vancouver, where house prices more than quadrupled. So in the chart below, there is a little more white space above the index. Note the utterly nutty spike from January 2016 through July 2018, peaking with a 40% year-over-year gain. I converted this Toronto index to “percent-change since January 2002” and compared it to the crazy insane mind-blowing housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay Area. And Toronto just blows away the Bay Area for another holy-cow moment:

In Montreal, home prices ticked up to a new record in February, the only city in the 11-city index to see a month-to-month gain and a new record. The index is now up 158% from January 2002, and even this gain, which seems rather lousy compared to Vancouver’s 316% gain, beats San Francisco’s gain (121%) by a big margin. But the white space is beginning to get ample:

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Sensitive info excluded. So Mueller can run with his empty Guccifer 2.0 and Julian Assange accusations. Who’s going to call him on that crap? No-one.

House Votes 420-0 For Mueller Report To Be Made Public (AP)

The House has unanimously voted for a resolution calling for any final report in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to be made public. The symbolic action designed to pressure the attorney general, William Barr, to release as much information as possible when the inquiry ends. The Democratic-backed resolution, which passed 420-0, comes as Mueller appears to be nearing an end to his investigation. Lawmakers in both parties have maintained there will have to be some sort of public discussion when the report is done – and privately hope that a report shows conclusions that are favorable to their own side.

The resolution is unlikely to be passed in the Senate, where the Democratic Leader, Chuck Schumer, tried to bring it up hours after House passage. He was rebuffed when the Senate judiciary committee chairman, Lindsey Graham, objected. But the House vote shows that lawmakers from both parties are eager to view Mueller’s findings after almost two years of speculation about what they might reveal. Though Mueller’s office has said nothing publicly about the timing of a report, several prosecutors detailed to Mueller’s team have left in recent months, suggesting that the investigation is winding down. The nonbinding House resolution calls for the public release of any report Mueller provides to Barr, with an exception for classified material.

The resolution also calls for the full report to be released to Congress. “This resolution is critical because of the many questions and criticisms of the investigation raised by the president and his administration,” said the House judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler. Donald Trump has repeatedly called the inquiry a “hoax” and a “witch-hunt”. [..] The top Republican on the House judiciary panel, Georgia congressman Doug Collins, voted for the resolution but said it was unnecessary. Collins also had a warning for Democrats: “What happens when it comes back and none of this is true, the president did not do anything wrong? Then the meltdown will occur.”

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Sara’s article, which concerns Loretta Lynch’s -still not public- testimony confirms a few things: 1) FBI et al thought and hoped Trump was bound to lose to Hillary, and 2) they never supplied a defensive briefing to Trump, though it is a core task of the FBI to warn candidates of potential foreign involvement.

FBI, DOJ Bias and Intent Prevented Trump Defensive Briefing (Sara Carter)

President Donald Trump’s campaign was never given a defensive briefing by the FBI, despite mounting concerns that Russians were allegedly trying to penetrate the campaign during the 2016 presidential election. In testimony provided by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, along with others, it is the key finding that won’t bode well for the FBI and DOJ. [..] The defensive briefing, after all, is a procedure that is often given to presidential candidates, elected officials and even U.S. businesses that have either been unwittingly approached by foreign actors attempting to gain trust and befriend those in position of influence.

The briefing allows the government to protect the candidates, specifically if there is substantial information or knowledge to suggest that someone has targeted an unwitting American for information. If the FBI or intelligence agencies suspect foreign adversaries may be trying to penetrate a presidential campaign, as those FBI and DOJ sources suggested in testimony to lawmakers, it would then be required to warn those affected. [..] In the case of Trump, the FBI gave only a general counterintelligence briefing but did not provide information to the campaign that the FBI believed there were specific counterintelligence threats. For example, the FBI’s concern over campaign advisors George Papadopolous, Carter Page and then concerns over former national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

“It is an essential task of the FBI and the intelligence community to give a defensive briefing to a presidential candidate when a foreign adversary is attempting to penetrate or make contact with someone in the campaign,” said a former senior intelligence official. “If the FBI and DOJ were so concerned about Carter Page and (George) Papadopolous why didn’t they brief Trump when he became a candidate? The fact that they didn’t is very revealing. If they gave defensive briefing to the Clinton campaign then I think we have the answer.”

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They keep on making them though, at a rate of 52 a month. The grounding could last 3-4-5 months. Where’s the parking space?

Boeing To Pause 737 Max Deliveries After Groundings, Crashes (MW)

Boeing said late Thursday it has paused deliveries of the 737 Max planes. The aircraft has been grounded worldwide after one of its models was in two deadly crashes in less than five months. Boeing said it will continue to make the 737 Max planes and the delivery halt does not impact its production rate of 52 aircraft a month. Shares of Boeing fell less than 0.1% in the extended session after ending the regular trading day down 1%. U.S. aviation authorities were the last to ground the plane on Wednesday. Wall Street had feared a delivery halt for the commercial jets, although some analysts had said that was likely factored in the share price. Boeing stock has lost 11% this week, and is up 13% in the past 12 months, compared with gains around 2% for the S&P 500 index and 4% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Boeing is a Dow component.

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That appears to be just what we need: “..rocks sucking massive volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere.”

Ice Ages Triggered By Massive Collisions At Earth’s Equator (Ind.)

Enormous seismic events that took place at the equator are responsible for the plummeting global temperatures that have marked each of Earth’s ice ages, according to a new study. As the plates of the planet’s crust smashed into each other, they left vast areas of oceanic rock exposed. Scientists think the high temperatures of the tropics triggered a chemical reaction that led to these rocks sucking massive volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere. Just as the rising CO2 from human industry is causing global temperatures to rise, removing it has had the opposite effect, bringing temperatures down and triggering ice ages.

Over the course of Earth’s history, the planet has experienced three enormous ice ages – in which glaciers and frozen regions extend far beyond the polar caps – each lasting several million years. The most recent ice age began 35 million years ago and is still technically on-going, marked by the spread of ice sheets across Greenland and Antarctica. At the point where two plates collide, they create mountain ranges containing “sutures” – clear fault lines containing newly exposed rock. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology realised the emergence of sutures over the course of millennia coincided with the onset of each major ice age.

They also found that while some sutures, such as the one located in the Himalayas, had over time moved away from the equator, each one had its origins in the tropics. “We found that every time there was a peak in the suture zone in the tropics, there was a glaciation event,” said Dr Oliver Jagoutz, a geologist at MIT who led the study. “So every time you get, say, 10,000km of sutures in the tropics, you get an ice age.” While the reaction of substances like calcium and magnesium in the rocks with CO2 was the starting point for global cooling, it has also had a role in ending each ice age.

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The Midwest may not seem the ideal breeding ground for a Green New Deal, but perhaps looks deceive.

Rural America Is Ready For Some Sort Of A New Deal, Preferably Green (G.)

Rural America needs a new deal, or at least a better deal, and if it’s green all the better. Farm loan delinquencies are rising to levels not seen since the Farm Debt Crisis of the 1980s, from which the rural midwest never really recovered. Nearly a third of Iowa farmers growing corn and soybeans caught up in a trade war with China are said to be under extreme stress, according to Iowa State University. They’re the younger ones. Rural communities are draining young people. Two-thirds of Iowa’s 99 counties are losing population and prospects as manufacturing jobs leach out of the midwest. The Information Age jobs are not in those county seat towns of 5,000 people — they’re in Minneapolis or Des Moines.

Meanwhile, we’re losing our precious topsoil and polluting our rivers – killing the Gulf of Mexico in the process – as we chase ever-higher corn yields in a vain bid to cut a profit on thin commodity markets. Iowa is losing soil four to five times faster than it can be regrown – already yields and crop quality are declining because of it, which ultimately leads to higher food prices with less nutrition. The midwest would welcome a new deal, and this is where it must start. The Great Plains from Iowa down through Kansas and Texas lead the world in wind energy production. Yet the wind energy production tax credit is set to wane and expire over the next five years.

Those wind turbine royalties are increasingly important in western Kansas where you can barely raise a corn crop even with irrigation because of soil degradation and warmer nights wrought by climate change. Wind energy technicians who keep the blades whirring are paid good union wages and are welcome residents in tiny Iowa villages. They could ply their trade in West Virginia as well. Yet they are fought at every turn. Astroturf groups spring up to clamor against new wind farm developments, citing phony “science” of human and fowl health threats, and funded by unknown interests. They have been able to slow or block development of new production and transmission capacity while new oil pipelines are laid near sacred Native ground and under the Missouri river without a problem.

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Mar 132019
 


Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907

 

Global Debt Up 50% Over Past Decade, But S&P Says Next Crisis Not As Bad (CNBC)
Theresa May’s Heart Was Never In It – And Now She Is Done And Dusted (Galloway)
UK Business Leaders: It’s Time To Stop This Circus (PA)
Corbyn Calls For General Election After May’s Brexit Defeat (G.)
Donald Tusk: UK Must Have A Credible Reason To Delay Brexit (G.)
UK In Fresh Attempt To Curb Power Of Tech Giants (G.)
Facebook Lifts Ban On Zero Hedge Articles After ‘Mistake’ (MW)
The Propaganda Multiplier (Off Guardian)
A Skeptic’s Guide to the Russiagate Fixation (Aaron Maté)
Resource Extraction Causes Half Of CO2 Emissions, 80% Of Biodiversity Loss (G.)
Air Pollution Kills 800,000 People A Year In Europe (G.)
Bayer Roundup Cancer Trial Goes To Jury After Closing Arguments (R.)
Pathogens Hitchhiking On Plastics ‘Could Carry Cholera From India To US’ (G.)
More Than 1,200 Species Globally Face Almost Certain Extinction (G.)

 

 

The last graph is not from the article, not BIS, but from Holger Zschaepitz on Twitter.

Global Debt Up 50% Over Past Decade, But S&P Says Next Crisis Not As Bad (CNBC)

Global debt has jumped since the financial crisis, though one ratings agency thinks that it poses significantly less danger than the last time around. Corporate, government and household indebtedness rose to $178 trillion as of June 2018, a 50 percent increase from a decade ago, according to figures S&P Global Ratings released Tuesday. The expansion was especially acute at the government level, which stood at $62.4 trillion, or 77 percent higher than it did before the public borrowing binge began. “Global debt is certainly higher and riskier today than it was a decade ago, with households, corporates, and governments all ramping up indebtedness,” S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Terry Chan said in a statement. “Although another credit downturn may be inevitable, we don’t believe it will be as bad as the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.”

The lower danger level is due largely to the nature of the debt — primarily driven by government borrowing in sovereign countries rather than the private sector surge that led to the housing market collapse and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In addition, much of the gain on the corporate side came from Chinese companies that borrowed from domestic institutions, lowering the probability that defaults would cause global contagion.

[..] while the level of debt has amped up considerably, the amount of leverage, or debt to GDP, is up less dramatically, from 208 percent in June 2008 to 231 percent in June 2018. Households also have been more conservative. That’s particularly true in the U.S., which showed a gain of just more than $1 trillion during the decade to $15.3 trillion, just a 7 percent increase, or less than 1 percent a year. In China, that level has risen to $6.6 trillion, or 716 percent. The euro zone also is notable for restraint, with total debt in all categories rising just 4 percent in the period to $34.7 trillion.

One of the areas of particular worry that S&P cited was corporate debt, especially on the lower end of the scale. On a global basis, companies have racked up $23.8 trillion since the crisis, an increase of 51 percent. However, the triple-B category of near-junk debt showed a 170 percent gain since 2008, with analysts worried that “Fallen Angels,” or companies that go from lower investment-grade to high-yield debt, could cause default problems if they aren’t able to refinance.

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May suffers record losses in Parliament, but here’s the latest poll:

Westminster Voting Intention:
CON: 41% (+1)
LAB: 31% (-4)
LDM: 8% (-2)
UKIP: 6% (+3)
GRN: 6% (+2)

Theresa May’s Heart Was Never In It – And Now She Is Done And Dusted (Galloway)

What happens next in the short term is easy to predict. A “No deal” Brexit will be rejected Wednesday evening but only thanks to opposition votes. She released her own MPs from party discipline by announcing a “free-vote” because she could not countenance at least half of her own side voting for No Deal (not least because they were all elected on precisely that platform). But the government’s own members – the so-called “payroll vote” of a hundred plus, together with almost all of the opposition members will comfortably (for now) bury the “zero-option” of No-Deal. The next night the House will vote again comfortably in favour of seeking an extension of Article 50 thereby abandoning the pledge repeated like a mantra so often that Britain would leave the EU on March 29th. Assuming the EU agrees Britain then sails not just into uncharted waters but an uncharted raging torrent of bitterness, confusion, currency tumult, uncertainty and certain political change.

[..] Not only did Leave win the referendum, parliament overwhelmingly voted to trigger the implementation of withdrawal in Article 50, and then 80% of the voters in the general election of 2017 voted for the two main parties which BOTH promised to honour and implement the referendum result. And they haven’t. If that’s not a recipe for cooked geese its hard to imagine what would be. And then there’s the practical problems which now face the government. How long will be the extension they will now seek? And what can be done during that time to change this paradigm? An extension of a couple of months will change nothing. The EU have no intention of making further meaningful concessions – certainly not to this prime minister – and so further votes in parliament on the current package are the very definition of pointless.

A longer extension as long as this current parliament is in place will achieve nothing either. Except this. Both Nigel Farage and myself – both of us heavily involved in the referendum victory in 2016 – have announced that we will field lists of candidates to “Tell them Again” in the European Parliament elections which Britain will unexpectedly participate in should the extension take us past the deadline for those elections in the third week of May. With the state of confusion in the mainstream parties – and the large number of “Remainer” options to vote for it is likely that a focused Real Brexit electoral challenge will reap handsome political rewards. A disproportionate turn-out by angry Leave voters with a cause will change politics in Britain and in a likely Euro-sceptic new European Parliament too.

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They thought the Tories would make them richer. And only now do they wake up.

UK Business Leaders: It’s Time To Stop This Circus (PA)

Business leaders reacted with frustration to the continued uncertainty caused by MPs rejecting the Brexit deal. The Commons defeated Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 149, with further votes expected this week on whether to back a no-deal Brexit or delay the UK’s departure beyond 29 March. Industry leaders urged the Commons to reject the possibility of a no-deal Brexit this month, but stressed the need to find a way out of the impasse. Confederation of British Industry director general Carolyn Fairbairn called on MPs to “stop this circus” and said people’s jobs depended on a new approach. “Enough is enough. This must be the last day of failed politics,” she said.

“A new approach is needed by all parties. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it. Extending Article 50 to close the door on a March no-deal is now urgent. It should be as short as realistically possible and backed by a clear plan. “Conservatives must consign their red lines to history, while Labour must come to the table with a genuine commitment to solutions. It’s time for Parliament to stop this circus.”Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is profoundly obvious that neither Government nor many businesses are ready for a disorderly exit – and this must not be allowed to happen on 29 March, whether by default or by design. Businesses have been failed over and over again by Westminster in recent months, but allowing a messy and disorderly exit on March 29 would take political negligence to new extremes.”

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A powerless voice.

Corbyn Calls For General Election After May’s Brexit Defeat (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has demanded a general election in response to Theresa May’s 149-vote Brexit deal defeat – but made no mention of a second referendum. The Labour leader also pledged that his party would vote against a no-deal Brexit outcome in Wednesday’s vote and signalled that he would continue to press for a customs union with the EU. “The prime minister has run down the clock and the clock has been run out on her,” he said in the House of Commons. “It’s time that we have a general election and the people can choose who their government should be.” But despite Corbyn’s call for another poll, the party is understood to not have immediate plans to call for a vote of no confidence that could precipitate what would be the third general election in four years.

The opposition will initially focus on opposing no deal – which is expected to be defeated on Wednesday – and believes that an extension to the 29 March deadline is inevitable because more time is needed to negotiate an alternative. [..] Corbyn made no mention of a second referendum – which the party is theoretically committed to supporting if it cannot secure a general election – in his remarks after the vote, and hardly referred to it in his earlier speech in the Commons debate. “If this deal narrowly scrapes through tonight – I don’t think it will – we believe the option should be to go back to the people for a confirmatory vote on it,” Corbyn said, suggesting there is little sign that Labour will reactivate the idea soon.

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I don’t think people realize that this is the main next step in the circus. May won’t simply get any extension she wants. She can’t make Brussels part of her groundhog schemes, or not more than she already has. They’re going to ask billions, and tell her to accept a 1 or 2 year extension. Or leave.

Donald Tusk: UK Must Have A Credible Reason To Delay Brexit (G.)

Donald Tusk has warned after the second big defeat of Theresa May’s deal that he expects a credible reason for any delay to Brexit. Moments after the prime minister announced that the House of Commons would vote on an extension to the article 50 negotiating period beyond 29 March, the European council president issued an EU red line. “Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity,” a spokesman for Tusk said. “The EU27 will expect a credible justification for a possible extension and its duration. The smooth functioning of the EU institutions will need to be ensured.” There is frustration in Brussels at the failure by Downing Street to lay down any groundwork over a potential extension, raising the risk that leaders could reject any request.

At an EU-Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh last month, the prime minister had broached the issue of an extension of a few weeks during a meeting with Tusk to allow legislation to go through the Commons should her deal be ratified. But she declined to engage in any further discussion of the options if the deal failed again in the Commons. After losing by 149 votes, the fourth largest defeat ever on a government motion, May nevertheless told the Commons she would allow a free vote in her party on an article 50 extension. She said such an extension would be short, and that it risked a new cliff-edge in June, suggesting the British government is looking at a three-month delay. The EU’s 27 heads of state and government are set to discuss any request next Thursday afternoon at a leaders’ summit on 21 March in Brussels.

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Maybe the UK should focus on survival right now.

UK In Fresh Attempt To Curb Power Of Tech Giants (G.)

A fresh bid to curb the market power of US tech giants will be signalled by Philip Hammond on Wednesday when he welcomes the findings of an independent review calling for government action to ensure companies including Google, Facebook and Apple face stiffer competition. The chancellor will use his annual spring statement to promise action after a review conducted for the Treasury by Jason Furman, Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, concluded that the dominance of the big digital players was curbing innovation and reducing consumer choice. Furman, now a Harvard professor, said a new digital markets unit should be set up in Whitehall staffed by people with technological expertise and equipped with the powers to set and enforce greater competition.

The review says individuals should be given more control over their personal data to enable them to switch between platforms more easily, that the biggest tech companies – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple – should have to sign up to an enforceable code of conduct, and that merger policy should be toughened up. “Over the last 10 years the five largest firms have made over 400 acquisitions globally. None has been blocked and very few have had conditions attached to approval, in the UK or elsewhere, or even been scrutinised by competition authorities,” the review said.

“Ensuring that competition is vibrant requires ensuring that there are competitors. Merger control has long had this role and in the context of the digital economy it needs to become more active with an approach that is more forward-looking and more focused on innovation and the overall economic impact of mergers.”

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If anyone needed more proof that Facebook has far too much power….

Facebook Lifts Ban On Zero Hedge Articles After ‘Mistake’ (MW)

The popular financial blog Zero Hedge emerged from a three-day Facebook ban Tuesday, which the social network reportedly called “a mistake.” The bearish, markets-focused blog apparently noticed its content was being blocked Monday, two days into it. The blog does not have a Facebook page, but its articles were unable to be shared by Facebook users. The decision “surprised us,” Zero Hedge said in a blog post Tuesday night. “Not only do we not have an official Facebook account, but Facebook did not approach us even once with a warning or even notification.” Zero Hedge has a right-leaning, anti-establishment bent, and is a frequent Facebook critic. Some had speculated it had been caught up in Facebook’s ongoing efforts to root out “fake news” and misinformation, or to silence a critical, conservative voice.

Donald Trump Jr., Infowars writer Paul Joseph Watson and Brexit backer Nigel Farange were among those who condemned Facebook for the ban. But the site’s articles were available to share once again Tuesday morning. Zero Hedge said Facebook had not offered an explanation directly, but a Facebook spokesperson told Breitbart News on Tuesday: “This was a mistake with our automation to detect spam and we worked to fix it yesterday. . . . We use a combination of human review and automation to enforce our policies around spam and in this case, our automation incorrectly blocked this link. As soon as we identified the issue, we worked quickly to fix it.” In a blog post, Zero Hedge welcomed the news, saying Facebook users will “be presented with contrasting opinions, which even if wrong, will allow countless readers to make more informed opinions than if served with preapproved, uniform, and ideologically palatable content.”

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A 2016 Swiss study only now first translated into English. Missed this when it came out last Friday. But everyone should read it, or at least leaf through (it’s long). It makes you realize once more how important independent voices are. Yes, like the Automatic Earth.

The Propaganda Multiplier (Off Guardian)

It is one of the most important aspects of our media system – and yet hardly known to the public: most of the international news coverage in Western media is provided by only three global news agencies based in New York, London and Paris. The key role played by these agencies means that Western media often report on the same topics, even using the same wording. In addition, governments, military and intelligence services use these global news agencies as multipliers to spread their messages around the world. A study of the Syria war coverage by nine leading European newspapers clearly illustrates these issues: 78% of all articles were based in whole or in part on agency reports, yet 0% on investigative research. Moreover, 82% of all opinion pieces and interviews were in favor of the US and NATO intervention, while propaganda was attributed exclusively to the opposite side.


The Propaganda Multiplier: Governments, military and intelligence services using global news agencies to disseminate their messages to a worldwide audience.

“The Invisible Nerve Center Of The Media System”. So what are the names of these news agencies that are “always at the source of the story”? There are now only three global agencies left:
• The American Associated Press (AP) with over 4000 employees worldwide. The AP belongs to US media companies and has its main editorial office in New York. AP news is used by around 12,000 international media outlets, reaching more than half of the world’s population every day.
• The quasi-governmental French Agence France-Presse (AFP) based in Paris and with around 4000 employees. The AFP sends over 3000 stories and photos every day to media all over the world.
• The British agency Reuters in London, which is privately owned and employs just over 3000 people. Reuters was acquired in 2008 by Canadian media entrepreneur Thomson – one of the 25 richest people in the world – and merged into Thomson Reuters, headquartered in New York.


The three global news agencies Reuters, AFP and AP, and the three national agencies of the German-speaking countries of Austria (APA), Germany (DPA) and Switzerland (SDA).

In this case study, the geopolitical coverage in nine leading daily newspapers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland was examined for diversity and journalistic performance using the example of the Syrian war. The results confirm the high dependence on the global news agencies (63 to 90%, excluding commentaries and interviews) and the lack of own investigative research, as well as the rather biased commenting on events in favor of the US/NATO side (82% positive; 2% negative), whose stories were not checked by the newspapers for any propaganda.

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Aaron is one of the few sane voices on this out there. I have written about it too many times to count, and it’s good there are others too.

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Russiagate Fixation (Aaron Maté)

Robert Mueller has yet to allege collusion, and Democrats who accuse Trump of being a Kremlin conspirator are silent when his policies escalate tensions with Russia. As we await the rumored delivery of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, it is looking increasingly unlikely that the document will allege a Trump-Russia conspiracy. To date, Mueller’s numerous indictments and voluminous court filings have not accused a single American of collusion with Russia. And, tellingly, prominent media and political voices, who have spent two years raising expectations that Mueller will find collusion, are now quietly moving the goalposts.

A significant hurdle in the hunt for collusion is that every close associate to “flip” on President Donald Trump has stated that they did not witness it. In his recent congressional testimony, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen said that he has seen no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and knocked down several pillars of the conjecture surrounding it. In re-avowing that he has never been to Prague, Cohen rebuked a central claim of the Steele dossier that he traveled there to pay off Russian hackers. Cohen’s denial deals a serious blow to the credibility of the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele. It also underscores the credulousness of FBI officials, members of Congress, and the many news outlets that relied on and amplified Steele’s material. Cohen also poured cold water on suspicions fueled by Steele that Russians have compromising material on Trump.

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As the low hanging fruit is gone, this will get worse.

In 2015, the global fossil fuel industry received $5.3 trillion in subsidies, which amounts to 6.5% of global GDP – IMF.

Resource Extraction Causes Half Of CO2 Emissions, 80% Of Biodiversity Loss (G.)

Extraction industries are responsible for half of the world’s carbon emissions and more than 80% of biodiversity loss, according to the most comprehensive environmental tally undertaken of mining and farming. While this is crucial for food, fuel and minerals, the study by UN Environment warns the increasing material weight of the world’s economies is putting a more dangerous level of stress on the climate and natural life-support systems than previously thought. Resources are being extracted from the planet three times faster than in 1970, even though the population has only doubled in that time, according to the Global Resources Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Tuesday. Each year, the world consumes more than 92b tonnes of materials – biomass (mostly food), metals, fossil fuels and minerals – and this figure is growing at the rate of 3.2% per year.

Since 1970, extraction of of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has increased from 6bn tonnes to 15bn tonnes, metals have risen by 2.7% a year, other minerals (particularly sand and gravel for concrete) have surged nearly fivefold from 9bn to 44bn tonnes, and biomass harvests have gone up from 9bn to 24bn tonnes. Up until 2000, this was a huge boost to the global economy, but since then there has been a diminishing rate of return as resources become more expensive to extract and the environmental costs become harder to ignore. “The global economy has focused on improvements in labour productivity at the cost of material and energy productivity. This was justifiable in a world where labour was the limiting factor of production. We have moved into a world where natural resources and environmental impacts have become the limiting factor of production and shifts are required to focus on resource productivity,” says the study.

The economic benefits and environmental costs are broken down by sector. Land use change – mostly for agriculture – accounts for over 80% of biodiversity loss and 85% of water stress as forests and swamps are cleared for cropland that needs irrigation. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The biggest surprise to the authors was the huge climate impact of pulling materials out of the ground and preparing them for use. All the sectors combined together accounted for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions – even before accounting for any fuel that is burned.

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“The EU is lagging a long way behind..”

Air Pollution Kills 800,000 People A Year In Europe (G.)

The number of early deaths caused by air pollution is double previous estimates, according to research, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking. The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world. The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases.

The analysis builds on research published in September and confirms that calculation of 8.8m early deaths a year from outdoor air pollution around the world, double previous estimates. “To put this into perspective, this means that air pollution causes more extra deaths a year than tobacco smoking,” said Prof Thomas Münzel at the University Medical Centre Mainz in Germany and one of the scientists behind the new study. “Smoking is avoidable but air pollution is not.” Prof Jos Lelieveld of the Max-Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and also part of the team, said: “Since most air pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels, we need to switch to other sources of energy urgently. When we use clean, renewable energy, we are not just fulfilling the Paris agreement to mitigate the effects of climate change, we could also reduce air pollution-related death rates by up to 55%.”

[..] The estimates of early deaths varied significantly between countries. In Germany, there were 154 early deaths per 100,000 people, with an average reduction of 2.4 years in life expectancy. In the UK, there were 98 deaths per 100,000 and a cut in lifespan of 1.5 years. Lelieveld said the UK’s lower number may be because Atlantic winds help to disperse pollution. Münzel said small particles, less than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5), are not paid sufficient attention when tackling cardiovascular disease. “The prevention guidelines for CVD must adopt air pollution as an important risk factor,” he said. The EU’s PM2.5 limit is more than double the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline used by Canada and Australia. “The EU is lagging a long way behind,” Münzel said.

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What happens when the burden of proof is put on its head. The US justice system doesn’t appear to offer any relief. Monsanto should be trying to prove glyphosate is safe, not the other way around.

Note: the Monsanto name is vanishing.

Bayer Roundup Cancer Trial Goes To Jury After Closing Arguments (R.)

A trial in which a California man alleged his use of Bayer’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused his cancer went to a federal U.S. jury after lawyers for both sides delivered their closing arguments on Tuesday. The closely-watched case brought by plaintiff Edward Hardeman is only the second of some 11,200 Roundup lawsuits to go to trial in the United States. Another California man was awarded $289 million in August after a state court jury in August found Roundup caused his cancer, sending Bayer shares plunging. Hardeman’s case has proceeded differently from the earlier trial, with an initial phase exclusively focused on scientific facts while omitting evidence of alleged corporate misconduct by company representatives.

Following the first phase, the six jurors in San Francisco federal court were asked by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria to decide whether Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing Hardeman’s cancer. If the jury finds Roundup to have caused Hardeman’s cancer, the trial will proceed into a second stage, where his lawyers can present evidence allegedly showing the company’s efforts to influence scientists, regulators and the public about the safety of its products. Hardeman’s lawyer, Aimee Wagstaff, during her closing arguments on Tuesday said Hardeman had “extreme” exposure to Roundup, spraying the chemical more than 300 times over 26 years. “The dose makes the poison. The more you use, the higher the risk,” Wagstaff said. She urged jurors to consider all studies, including of rodents and cells, which she said showed an elevated cancer risk.

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Washing up on the beaches where your children play: 100 billion tiny petri dishes with harmful and potentially deadly bacterial cultures. Mermaid’s tears. Lovely.

Pathogens Hitchhiking On Plastics ‘Could Carry Cholera From India To US’ (G.)

Dangerous sewage pathogens have been found “hitch-hiking” on plastic litter washed up on some of Scotland’s finest bathing beaches, raising concerns from scientists the phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for human health worldwide. The findings, by the University of Stirling, have confirmed environmentalists’ fears that ubiquitous, persistent and tiny plastic beads, or “nurdles”, found on beaches and in rivers and seas around the world, act as rafts for harmful bacteria, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds. The findings raise the potential for “cholera in India to be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator.

“The danger is that pathogens could be transported over large distances and survive for much longer than normal,” Quilliam said. “When a pathogen is bound to a piece of plastic it’s going to be protected, as it can hide from things that normally kill it, like UV light. “And once you are sitting on a piece of plastic that is designed to be persistent for hundreds of years, and you are floating in the ocean currents, you have the opportunity to move great distances.” The scientists found 45% of nurdles, the size and shape of a lentil, collected from five EU-designated beaches in East Lothian were polluted with E coli, a bacteria that causes diarrhoea and severe cramps. Up to 90% of them were contaminated with Vibrio, which causes gastroenteritis. While harmful in itself, E coli is also an indicator of sewage pollution. On a bathing beach, the contaminated nurdles, also known as “mermaids’ tears”, are a risk to children in particular, the researchers said.

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Something tells me the actual number is much higher. Nice maps though.

More Than 1,200 Species Globally Face Almost Certain Extinction (G.)

More than 1,200 species globally face threats to their survival in more than 90% of their habitat and “will almost certainly face extinction” without conservation intervention, according to new research. Scientists working with Australia’s University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have mapped threats faced by 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians to determine which parts of a species’ habitat range are most affected by known drivers of biodiversity loss. The project is from the same team of researchers that found just five countries are responsible for 70% of the world’s remaining wilderness.


The most affected biomes were in southern Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Thailand. Photograph: PLOS Biology

The new research, published in PLOS Biology, maps “hotspots” where species are most affected by threats such as agriculture, urbanisation, night lighting, roads, rail, waterways and population density, and “coolspots” that provide refuge from these threats. The team looked only at threats that were known to affect a species within its habitat range and found that for the majority of wildlife studied, intrusions were “extensive” across most habitat, “severely limiting the area within which species can survive”. They said most concerning was their finding that 1,237 species – nearly a quarter of the animals assessed – were affected by threats across more than 90% of their distribution. The situation was worse for 395 species, or 7%, which were found to be affected by at least one relevant threat across their entire habitat range.


The countries with the greatest areas of coolspots were also in south-east Asia, as well as the Amazon rainforest, parts of the Andes and Liberia. Photograph: PLOS Biology

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Feb 192015
 
 February 19, 2015  Posted by at 1:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Russell Lee “Yreka, California, seat of a county rich in mineral deposits” 1942

The US Will Have To Bail Out Greece (MarketWatch)
Greece – It’s a Revolution, Stupid! (Mathew D. Rose)
Germany Rejects Greece’s Application To Extend Its Loan Agreement (CNBC)
Europe and Greece Are at War Over Nothing (Bloomberg ed.)
How I Became An Erratic Marxist (Yanis Varoufakis)
For Greece And Many Others, Economic Reform Kills Economic Health (Steve Keen)
February 24 To Be The First Crunch Day For Greek State Coffers (Kathimerini)
Greek Debt Payment Plan Offers Huge Haircut (Kathimerini)
Greek Philosophy: Conflict Of Ideas Driving The Crisis (CNBC)
Greece Runs Up The Austerity White Flag In Brussels (Guardian)
Besieged Ukraine Town Debaltseve Falls (Reuters)
‘Guantanamo of the East’: Ukraine Locks Up Refugees at EU’s Behest (Spiegel)
Ukraine Finance Minister’s American ‘Values’ (Robert Parry)
Are the World’s Biggest Banks Moving Money for Terrorists? (Bloomberg)

“The IMF looks to have abdicated all responsibility for fixing the mess.”

The US Will Have To Bail Out Greece (MarketWatch)

Fighting has flared up again in the Ukraine. The Egyptians are sending soldiers into Libya as another North African state collapses into chaos. The militants of Islamic State are spreading their influence across the region. You’d think Barack Obama might have bigger foreign policy issues to worry about than a small state of 10 million people on the eastern edges of the Mediterranean. But Greece may be about to turn from a European into an American problem. As the game of brinkmanship between the radical Syriza government elected last month and the European Union gets played out, it has become increasingly clear that both sides may have a strong interest in the talks failing. The IMF looks to have abdicated all responsibility for fixing the mess.

The worrying point is this: Both sides have an increasing interest in a catastrophic failure. But the U.S., with the U.K. perhaps in a subsidiary role, has an equally strong interest in a stable Greece. If a crunch comes, America will have no choice but to bail Greece out. How? It may well need to extend emergency loans, prop up its banks, and if necessary help it establish a new currency as well. On Monday, talks between Greece and the finance ministers of the eurozone ended chaotically. The Syriza government, led by the charismatic young Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is committed to ending the austerity regime imposed on Athens by the EU and the IMF and is refusing to borrow any more money under the terms of the bailout agreement.

The rest of the EU, led by Germany, is standing firm. It may be willing to make some minor concessions, such as rebranding the loans or extending their duration. But it does not look willing to compromise on the core issue — that Greece has to stick to the austerity plan, and keep tight controls on public spending. There may still be a deal to be struck. Greece after all only accounts for a small percentage of the total eurozone economy. Its debts amount to just 315 billion euros, hardly a massive sum in the context of an economic bloc with a total gross domestic product of €9.5 trillion. But the worrying point is this: Both sides have an increasing interest in a catastrophic failure.

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“The German government has never wanted democratic reform in Greece..”

Greece – It’s a Revolution, Stupid! (Mathew D. Rose)

I fear most people have become so fixated on the Greek debt and the fate of the Euro, that they have completely ignored the political dimensions of the current conflict in Europe, shich are no less dramatic. The ongoing dispute between the German and Greek governments is nothing less than a democratic revolution against German hegemony and the attempt of the Germans and their paladins in the EU to dictate Greek domestic policy. It is a struggle by the Greeks to re-establish national sovereignty. What is more, this is the first time in the history of the EU that a political party with true leftist credentials has led a member nation. For reactionary Germany, with its neoliberal agenda, that is intolerable. This conflict is profound, if not existential, and thus could well be intractable.

The Greek people have made a decision to liberate themselves from a repressive regime of austerity and its incumbent humanitarian disaster. The Germans on the other hand refer to the developments of the past five years in Greece as a success. Yes, it has been a success in the sense that the Germans and French were able to rescue their banks and leave the Greek people to foot the bill. It was even more successful in that Greece was stripped of its political and economic autonomy – with the assistance of the quislings Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos. The German government has never wanted democratic reform in Greece, leaving the perpetrators of the Greek financial crisis, the political and financial elites, unscathed.

Success has meant Greece being reduced to a vassal state, raising the market above all other values, where multinational corporations, including German companies, could take over profitable state assets cheaply and German tourists could enjoy cut-rate holidays or buy holiday homes at bargain prices. What occurred in Greece with the bailout is an occupation, not with troops and panzers, but by financial means. Following the recent elections in Greece, Germany and its EU compradors are making it clear who is in charge. The Germans are currently not offering any compromise, but iterate the same blunt demand: Greece has to accept what is being dictated; in other words, capitulate or be annihilated. This time it will not be the Wehrmacht und Luftwaffe that are to force the Greek nation into submission, but a weapon just as lethal: national bankruptcy.

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“The letter does not meet the criteria agreed by the Eurogroup on Monday..”

Germany Rejects Greece’s Application To Extend Its Loan Agreement (CNBC)

Germany has rejected Greece’s application to extend its loan agreement and renegotiate the terms of its bailout, raising the very real threat of Athens running out of money in the coming weeks. The Berlin government Thursday said Greece’s application for a six-month extension of its loan and a renegotiation of some its terms was “no substantial solution.” “In truth it goes in the direction of a bridge financing, without fulfilling the demands of the program. The letter does not meet the criteria agreed by the Eurogroup on Monday,” German finance ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said in a statement.

Earlier Thursday Athens had formally placed a request to prolong its “master financial assistance facility agreement.” In the proposal the left-leaning Syriza Party had offered a series of concessions to the previous hardline stance that it would unilaterally scrap the austerity measures imposed as part of the country’s €240 billion bailout. However, the Greek proposal Thursday had pledged to work with the EU and the IMF in reworking the terms of the bailout and to not make any unilateral decisions when it came to the terms of the austerity package.

The Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the single currency is due to meet on Friday to discuss the Greek plan. There has to be unanimous agreement among the group for any policy decision to go ahea.d The current program – which included the EU and IMF as creditors – was due to expire in little more than a week. Without further funds, Greece would soon run out of money rasing the prospect of a default on its bonds and a possible exit from the euro zone.

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“The EU is staking the future of its monetary union not on principles but on semantics.”

Europe and Greece Are at War Over Nothing (Bloomberg ed.)

Even by the demanding standards of European dysfunction, the continuing standoff between Greece and the other euro countries is impressive. On substance, the distance between the two sides has narrowed almost to nothing — yet the stalemate and the risk of a new financial crisis drag on as if it were vast. The EU is staking the future of its monetary union not on principles but on semantics. Initially, the new Greek government was at fault for making reckless election promises and presenting these to its European Union partners as non-negotiable. It has since climbed down a long way – in particular, dropping its demand for big debt write-downs. Now it wants a new bailout with softer terms and a temporary arrangement to bridge the financing gap between the present deal and the new one.

Reportedly, it’s even willing to call this bridge an “extension.” With Germany’s government leading the demand for strict propriety, Europe’s response has been to say that the current program must be successfully concluded, perhaps with some flexibility, before anything else can be discussed. So here’s the puzzle. What’s the difference between an extension that’s a bridge to a new program and an extension with flexibility pending agreement on a new program? To the sane observer, too little to care. Yet because of this difference, whatever it may be, the euro system threatens to break apart. Funny, isn’t it, that Europe’s voters express growing disenchantment with the whole project?

The situation is all the more absurd because the details of any transitional provisions don’t much matter anyway. What’s crucial are the terms of the new longer-term agreement — which the EU is refusing to discuss until Greece capitulates. The need for a new deal isn’t seriously disputed. The existing bailout imposed too tight a fiscal squeeze, which held back growth. The country’s debt burden therefore failed to shrink as intended in relation to gross domestic product. The error has been widely acknowledged, including by the International Monetary Fund (one of the plan’s architects) and by other EU governments.

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“Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces..”Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces

How I Became An Erratic Marxist (Yanis Varoufakis)

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it. If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth. I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession.

And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system. Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

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“I want you to bear this empirical reality in mind when you consider the pressure that is being applied to Greece to get it to “stick with the program..”

For Greece And Many Others, Economic Reform Kills Economic Health (Steve Keen)

A quick quiz: which four countries do you think have done the most to reform their economies over the last seven years? OK, who said Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain? No one? Actually, someone did: the OECD. Yes, I kid you not, according to the OECD, the country that has done the most to reform its economy over the last seven years—that is, from before the 2008 economic crisis until well after it—is Greece. Followed at some distance by Portugal, Ireland and Spain. I saw this in a tweet, and even though I am a total sceptic on the value of what conventional economists call “economic reform”, I still couldn’t believe this graphic: surely it was an Onion spoof? I simply had to go searching to see for myself.

And there it was, on page 111 of the OECD’s publication Going For Growth 2015, released on February 9 (in a slightly different form, and with New Zealand pipping in between Ireland and Spain—maybe this graphic was revised later). The top economic reformers were the basket cases of Europe and the world in general. Unemployment in Greece is 27%; in Portugal it’s 15%, Ireland 12%, and Spain 25%. Those are very, very sick economies. And yet they are also the OECD’s top reformers. You are, I hope, wondering “how come? Isn’t reform supposed to be good for you?” Well, that’s the fairy story—sorry, theory—purveyed and fervently believed in by mainstream economists: reform your economies according to our recommendations, and—whatever else happens—your economy will grow more rapidly and be more stable to boot.

Unfortunately for those purveying this fairytale, they also developed metrics by which the degree of reform could be measured, so that a decade later, we can compare the fairy story to the reality. And one quick look shows that we’ve been had. We were told to expect the beautiful Cinderella at the economic ball; instead we got one of her ugly step-sisters. I’ll cover at length someday soon why economic reform as recommended by mainstream economists will normally make your economy more dysfunctional and unstable. For now, I want you to bear this empirical reality in mind when you consider the pressure that is being applied to Greece to get it to “stick with the program” invented for it by the EU.

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“Finance Ministry officials assure they have identified resources they could tap if a small extension on Greece’s bailout obligations, up to the first week of March, is granted from the eurozone.”

February 24 To Be The First Crunch Day For Greek State Coffers (Kathimerini)

February 24 is expected to be the first crucial day for state finances, as projections of cash flows see state coffers starting to run dry on that date. Finance Ministry officials, however, assure they have identified resources they could tap if a small extension on Greece’s bailout obligations, up to the first week of March, is granted from the eurozone. The state of cash reserves – not robust before – has deteriorated further in recent days due to a shortfall in revenues, as a €1 billion hole in January revenues is putting the execution of the state budget in jeopardy and hampering the management of cash reserves. According to figures released yesterday by the Bank of Greece, in January the net cash result of the central administration posted a deficit of €217 million, against a surplus of €603 million in January 2014.

Budget revenues reached €3.1 billion, against 4.4 billion in January 2014, while expenditure dropped to €3.2 billion from €3.6 billion last year. Given these figures, the Finance Ministry estimates that cash reserves will run out next Tuesday. It has the option, however, of using the reserves of general government entities kept in commercial banks in order to cover short-term needs next week. However, the problem that cannot be addressed as things stand concerns needs for the first week of March. Unless something changes drastically to the country’s funding, Greece will not be able to fulfill all of its March obligations. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had called on the ECB to increase the limit of treasury bills to €23 billion from the current 15 billion in a bid to address this shortfall.

The additional funds would have covered the state’s short-term obligations while also providing a cushion until the Greek government is able to strike a deal with its eurozone partners. The request, however, was rejected, as the ECB deemed it an act of direct monetary funding: In practical terms the European Central Bank would have been financing the obligations of a state, which contravenes its regulations.

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“Depending on the number of installments, there will be a reduction to penalties and fines ranging from 30% to 90%..”

Greek Debt Payment Plan Offers Huge Haircut (Kathimerini)

A new repayment plan for expired debts to the state and social security funds announced by the government on Wednesday provides for a reduction to the fines and penalties levied against debtors as well as for a writedown of the original debt, reaching as much as 50% rate in some cases. The new scheme, which has already generated concern among Greece’s international creditors but also among consistent taxpayers, foresees the repayment of debts in up to 100 monthly installments regardless of their size. The minimum installment will be set at €20, while for debts up to €5,000 there will be no interest attached. Depending on the number of installments, there will be a reduction to penalties and fines ranging from 30% to 90%, and in cases of repayment in a lump sum the penalties will be written off entirely.

Crucially, for debts generated up until December 31, 2013, a part of the original debt can be written off, by as much as 50% in certain cases. The plan further waives the limit of 1 million euros for debts that can be negotiated for settlement, making repayment easier for major state debtors. In presenting the new scheme yesterday, Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani stressed that this will be the very last opportunity given to taxpayers to settle their debts to the state. She added that at a later stage there will be another, more favorable plan, concerning only those who find themselves in financial hardship. Ministry calculations show that out of the €76 billion of outstanding debts by taxpayers and corporations to the state, no more than €9 billion can actually be collected.

Social security funds are anticipating a total of €1.2 billion from debt repayments this year thanks to the new plan, from total arrears of €20 billion. The bill in Parliament, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday would be put before Parliament on Thursday, has been postponed until next week. The official explanation cites a need for technical changes to be made to draft, though it has been suggested that the postponement of the process was decided in order to prevent a reaction from the country’s creditors in this week’s crucial negotiations.

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“Whether “doing what is right” in this case means “doing what Varoufakis wants” is, of course, open to debate.”

Greek Philosophy: Conflict Of Ideas Driving The Crisis (CNBC)

As European politicians ponder how to solve the current impasse over Greece’s debts to international creditors, some of the key players seem to be digging out their philosophy books.The country’s erudite Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, cited German philosopher Immanuel Kant in a New York Times editorial published Tuesday – a nice reminder of Europe’s shared cultural history – as he pled with those reading to help the Greek people escape the bonds of austerity. Kant “taught us that the rational and the free escape the empire of expediency by doing what is right,” he argued.

Whether “doing what is right” in this case means “doing what Varoufakis wants” is, of course, open to debate. Wolfgang Schaueble, the German finance minister, seemed to be adopting a rather dogmatic philosophy, by contrast. When asked about the potential for changes to the existing programme by German state television channel ZDF Tuesday night, he said: “It’s not about extending a credit programme but about whether this bailout programme will be fulfilled, yes or no.”

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I don’t think so.

Greece Runs Up The Austerity White Flag In Brussels (Guardian)

The white flag has been raised over Athens. Greece has bowed to the intense pressure of its eurozone partners and will stick to austerity. After defiantly saying for the past three weeks that it will end the country’s fiscal waterboarding, the Syriza-led government is suing for peace. That, bluntly, is the only way to interpret news that Greece has formally asked for a six-month extension to its bailout agreement. There is no longer the pretence that the bailout is to be replaced by a loan agreement with no strings attached. The hated troika of the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund will be monitoring Greece’s economy for the next six months, something that has been anathema to Syriza until now.

The Greek government has some demands of its own. It wants to negotiate a new growth deal for the four years until 2019. It is asking for debt relief under the terms of the bailout agreement signed in November 2012. And it wants to be able to take steps to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the 25% collapse in the size of the economy over the past five years. None of these demands are unreasonable. Indeed, they are all entirely sensible. As Dhaval Joshi of BCA Research has noted, for every euro the Greek government has saved through spending cuts or tax increases the economy has contracted by €1.2. Austerity has resulted in Greece’s debt to GDP ratio going up, not down. A change of tack is overdue. It is unlikely, though, that Syriza will get much of what it wants. The rest of Europe does not really want to negotiate with Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis; it wants capitulation.

What’s more, it is in a position to get it. Tsipras has two big weaknesses. Firstly, Greece is suffering from capital flight and is dependent on emergency support from the ECB for its banks. This funding has just been increased by the ECB but not by as much as Greece would have liked. The life support could be cut off at any time. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Greece has failed to deploy its most potent weapon: a threat to leave the euro. For all the talk in Brussels and Berlin that the single currency could withstand a Greek departure from the single currency, the threat of withdrawal would have put the frighteners on. Would the euro group really want to risk chaos given the shaky state of the economy? Would Angela Merkel want to go down in history as the German chancellor responsible for rolling back more than half a century of European integration?

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Curiously left out of the ceasefire deal.

Besieged Ukraine Town Debaltseve Falls (Reuters)

Ukraine pulled thousands of troops out of an encircled town on Wednesday after a massive assault by pro-Russian rebels, who ignored a new ceasefire to seize the strategic railway junction. The fall of the besieged town of Debaltseve was one of the worst defeats of the war for Ukraine’s troops, who proved unable to stop an advance by Moscow-backed rebels fighting for territory the Kremlin calls “New Russia”. President Petro Poroshenko told security chiefs on Wednesday night that six Ukrainian soldiers had been killed during the pullout from Debaltseve. “According to preliminary data, six Ukrainian heroes were killed during the withdrawal, more than 100 were wounded,” he said, according to Interfax news agency.

Twenty-two Ukrainian soldiers had earlier been killed in the town in the past few days, the Ukrainian military high command said, with more than 150 wounded. Poroshenko, who flew to the frontline, nevertheless tried to cast the battle in a positive light, saying that by holding out as long as they had, Ukraine’s troops had exposed “the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia”. The Ukrainian troops had held out for three days beyond the start of a Europe-brokered ceasefire, forcing the rebels to disavow the truce to pursue their advance on the town. Ukrainian troops, their faces blackened, some in columns, some in cars, arrived in Artemivsk, about 30 km (20 miles) north of Debaltseve in government-held territory.

Fighting did not halt with the retreat. A Reuters correspondent near Debaltseve saw black smoke rising over the town and heard loud blasts hours after the withdrawal began. “One hundred and sixty-seven wounded have been taken to Artemivsk. They did not pick up a lot of bodies. I don’t know the total figure,” Semen Semenchenko, who heads the Donbass paramilitary battalion, said on Facebook.

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Bet you never knew.

‘Guantanamo of the East’: Ukraine Locks Up Refugees at EU’s Behest (Spiegel)

Hasan Hirsi has been learning German for the last year and a half, and recently even enrolled in a class that meets for five hours a day, from 1 to 6 p.m. Nevertheless, he still has no words to describe what happened to him before his arrival in Germany. Hirsi, a 21-year-old refugee from Somalia, is huddled on a worn sofa in an apartment in Landau, a small town in southwestern Germany, which he shares with three other Somalian asylum-seekers. He is wearing a gray hoodie and has short, black hair. A retiree from Landau who has volunteered to assist the refugees is sitting next to him. He wants to help Hirsi adjust to his new life in Europe.

But Hirsi is finding it difficult to forget the past. Indeed, he still has nightmares about Ukraine, a place where he became stranded for a lengthy stay on his way to Europe. He now refers to the country as “hell.” Staring at the floor, Hirsi says: “It is difficult.” He repeats the same word, “difficult,” in different languages. After fleeing from Somalia in the summer of 2008, Hirsi tried several times to reach Europe through Ukraine. He was detained once each by Ukrainian and Hungarian border patrols, and twice by police in Slovakia. Ukrainian security forces robbed, beat and tortured him, he says. After being apprehended, he spent almost three years in four different Ukrainian prisons – for committing no crime other thanseeking shelter and protection in Europe.

Most migrants reach Europe through Italy or Greece and many of them die on the way. A broad coalition, ranging from Pope Francis to German President Joachim Gauck, is demanding better protection for refugees on Europe’s southern border and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, describes the route across the Mediterranean as the world’s deadliest. But when it comes to the eastern route, and the fate of migrants like Hasan Hirsi, interest has thus far been limited. SPIEGEL and “Report Mainz,” a program on Germany’s ARD public television network, have now taken a closer look at the stories of refugees who were locked up in Ukrainian prisons for months during their journeys to Europe.

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Bad smell.

Ukraine Finance Minister’s American ‘Values’ (Robert Parry)

Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who has become the face of reform for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev and will be a key figure handling billions of dollars in Western financial aid, was at the center of insider deals and other questionable activities when she ran a $150 million U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund. Prior to taking Ukrainian citizenship and becoming Finance Minister last December, Jaresko was a former U.S. diplomat who served as chief executive officer of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by Congress in the 1990s and overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine.

But Jaresko, who was limited to making $150,000 a year at WNISEF under the U.S. AID grant agreement, managed to earn more than that amount, reporting in 2004 that she was paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF’s public filing with the Internal Revenue Service. Later, Jaresko’s compensation was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two entities in 2006: Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF’s investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF) to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals. Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny. They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which “serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA,” according to WNISEF’s IRS filing for 2006.

U.S. AID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships – and even allowed WNISEF to spend millions of dollars helping EEGF become a follow-on private investment firm – despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies. For instance, WNISEF’s 2012 annual report devoted two pages to “related party transactions,” including the management fees to Jaresko’s Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF’s co-investments in projects with the EEGF, where Jaresko was founding partner and chief executive officer. Jaresko’s Horizon Capital managed the investments of both WNISEF and EEGF.

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Interesting lawsuit.

Are the World’s Biggest Banks Moving Money for Terrorists? (Bloomberg)

Steven Vincent had just left a money exchange in the southern Iraqi city of Basra when a group of men in police uniforms drove up in a white truck and grabbed him and his translator. It was Aug. 2, 2005. Vincent, a freelance American journalist, had reported on the war for two-and-a-half years. British troops occupied Basra, but he operated without an embed arrangement. British and Iraqi authorities later found Vincent on the outskirts of the city shot dead. The Iraqi translator survived. Three days earlier the New York Times had published an op-ed article by Vincent, Switched Off in Basra, in which he described the infiltration of the local police by Iranian-backed Islamic extremists. Steven was executed for what he wrote, says his widow, Lisa Ramaci.

She’s set up a foundation in his name that donates money to the families of Iraqis injured or killed because of their work with U.S. journalists. And Ramaci did something else. In November she joined a lawsuit on behalf of relatives of U.S. soldiers and civilians who’ve died in Iraq as a result of violence linked to Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups. The suit, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, seeks hundreds of millions of dollars not from death squads, whose members aren t likely to show up with lawyers in tow. Instead, it targets five of the largest banks in the world: HSBC, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Standard Chartered, and Royal Bank of Scotland. Defendants, the suit declares, committed acts of international terrorism. The suit, known as Freeman v. HSBC, takes its name from lead plaintiff Charlotte Freeman, whose husband, Brian, an Army captain, died in a Jan. 20, 2007, attack by Iranian-trained militants in Karbala, Iraq.

This far-fetched-seeming attempt to pin culpability for violent deaths on bankers relies on an intricate theory of causation: The European-based banks have handled hundreds of billions of dollars in international transfers for Iranian financial institutions. The Iranian financial institutions, in turn, have moved money for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite Iranian paramilitary organization, and for Hezbollah, the militant Shia movement based in Lebanon and backed by Iran. The Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have trained and armed Shia groups in Iraq that have kidnapped, shot, and blown up Americans, including Vincent and Freeman. Can the global banking industry be held liable for the detonation of improvised explosive devices and destruction of lives? It may sound wild-eyed or quixotic, but that s what we re trying to do, says Gary Osen, the New Jersey lawyer who recruited the 230 plaintiffs for Freeman v. HSBC.

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Feb 122015
 
 February 12, 2015  Posted by at 11:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Byron In Chinatown, Pell Street, New York 1900

Eurogroup Fails to Agree to Next Greek Bailout Steps (Bloomberg)
Rejected Eurogroup Draft Spoke Of “Extending” Greek Bailout (Reuters)
Greece And Eurozone In Stalemate Over Debt Burden (Guardian)
Greece Said to Offer Euro Area Four Principles for Talks (Bloomberg)
Germany Faces Impossible Choice As Greek Austerity Revolt Spreads (AEP)
Eurozone Leaders Believe Syriza Must Fail And Be Seen To Fail (Telegraph)
If The Greek Olive Branch Is Rejected, Europe May Fall (Pablo Iglesias)
86 Names Missing from Greek ‘Lagarde List’ (Greek Reporter)
Ukraine Gets IMF-Led $40 Billion Aid Accord to Avert Default (Bloomberg)
Ukrainian Cease-Fire Sealed After All-Night Minsk Peace Summit (Bloomberg)
Putin Top Advisor: US Eyes Ukraine for Regime Change in Russia (Zero Hedge)
Oil Firms ‘Need Fresh Strategies’ To Operate in Future of $50 Oil (BBC)
Global Oil Layoffs Exceed 100,000 (Bloomberg)
Goldman: Why Oil Crashed—and Why Lower Prices Are Here to Stay (Bloomberg)
Have Banks Overplayed Their Hand Fighting Wall Street Regulation? (Bloomberg)
Audit The Fed – And Shackle It, Too (David Stockman)
‘No Solution To Brazil’s Crisis’ (CNBC)
Sweden’s Riksbank Cuts Key Rate to Negative (Bloomberg)
Mediterranean Sinking ‘Kills 300 Migrants Bound For Europe (BBC)
New Ebola Cases Rise For Second Week In A Row (BBC)
Australia On Brink Of ‘Extinction Calamity’ (BBC)

The idea was always to stretch the meeting till Monday.

Eurogroup Fails to Agree to Next Greek Bailout Steps (Bloomberg)

Euro-area governments left tough decisions on the future of Greece’s bailout for next week, after talks failed to bridge differences over the aid program that the Greek government blames for economic hardship. With Greece’s current bailout expiring at the end of February, finance ministers met for six hours in Brussels without signing off on any conclusions on the way forward for the region’s most-indebted nation. That leaves open how Greece can avoid running out of cash and avert a possible exit from the 19-nation currency union. Attention now shifts to a summit of European Union leaders on Thursday in Brussels, a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande traveled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Merkel had left bargaining with Greece to the finance ministers. “We understand each other much, much better now than we did this morning,” Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told reporters after the finance chiefs broke up without a deal early Thursday in Brussels. “Europe manages to find agreements even if it’s at the last moment.” The euro fell as much as 0.3% to $1.1303 after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the euro group’s talks, said ministers couldn’t agree on a common approach. The euro briefly spiked to as high as 1.1352 earlier, when officials suggested an accord on steps forward was within reach.

“We covered a lot of ground but didn’t actually reach a joint conclusion on how to take the next steps,” Dijsselbloem said at a press conference. “There has to be a political agreement on the way forward.” Finance chiefs will return to Brussels on Feb. 16 to try to break the deadlock after Greek negotiators were said to have wavered on a commitment to extending the country’s existing bailout from the Troika. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s campaign pledge to end the bailout — and its austerity mandates — hung over the talks. Agreed language on a bailout extension was within reach, only to be rejected later by Greek negotiators who said they had to consult with superiors in Athens, German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said.

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There will be no extension. Syriza has said that 1000 times.

Rejected Eurogroup Draft Spoke Of “Extending” Greek Bailout (Reuters)

A draft statement by euro zone finance ministers on how to handle Greece’s finances spoke of “extending” its current bailout deal as a “bridge” to a new package, according to a copy of the draft that was rejected by Athens. The new Greek government, elected on a mandate to end deeply unpopular international bailout terms, has insisted there can be no “extension” once that deal expires at the end of the month. But EU partners fear financial chaos without such an accord. A draft of the planned Eurogroup statement, seen by Reuters, read: “Today the Eurogroup took stock of the current situation in Greece and the state of the current adjustment programme. In this context, the Eurogroup has engaged in an intensive dialogue with the new Greek authorities.

“The Greek authorities have expressed their commitment to a broader and stronger reform process aimed at durably improving growth prospects”. At the same time, the Greek authorities reiterated their unequivocal commitment to the financial obligations to all their creditors. “On this basis, we will now start technical work on the further assessment of Greece’s reform plans. The Greek authorities have agreed to work closely and constructively with the institutions to explore the possibilities for extending and successfully concluding the present programme taking into account the new government’s plans. If this is successful this will bridge the time for the Greek authorities and the Eurogroup to work on possible new contractual arrangements. We will continue our discussions at our next meeting on Monday 16 February.”

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Mexican standoff.

Greece And Eurozone In Stalemate Over Debt Burden (Guardian)

The Greek government’s confrontation with its eurozone creditors over its campaign to relieve its staggering debt burden while relaxing the terms of five years of austerity resulted in stalemate late on Wednesday. The first proper negotiations between Greece and eurozone finance ministers failed to make any progress or result in a joint statement. While no immediate agreement had been expected, the emergency meeting had been tipped to produce a framework for talks to be finessed over the next few days before another meeting next Monday. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the Brussels meeting, announced that this aim was not met. It appeared that the new leftwing government in Athens was isolated in seeking to extract better terms from Europe.

Alexis Tsipras, the new Greek prime minister, seems to have ordered his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to stand firm against the pressure to make any concessions. Tsipras is due in Brussels on Thursday for his debut on the European stage at an EU summit. Following 10 days of touring Europe in a failed attempt to woo Berlin, Frankfurt and other key capitals to alter the terms of trade between Athens and the eurozone, Varoufakis went into negotiations with the other finance ministers at a specially convened session in Brussels. Entering and leaving the meeting, he was uncharacteristically taciturn.

The stalemate could see Greece running out of cash next month, unilaterally defaulting on the bailout programme with the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF, and being forced to leave the single currency. That prospect is viewed as a disaster fraught with risks in Brussels, Paris and Rome. But Berlin, whose voice matters more than most in the negotiations, is reliably said to be “extremely relaxed” about the Greek crisis and opposed to tearing up the agreements that Greece is formally bound to under the bailout terms.

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“..popular protests “across Greece and Europe” are “the source of our strength.”

Greece Said to Offer Euro Area Four Principles for Talks (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis presented his European counterparts with four principles for a new financing deal, according to two euro-area officials, as Greece battles to stave off a cash crunch and stay in the currency bloc. Greece wants a deal that provides for financial stability, financial sustainability and debt restructuring, while addressing Greece’s humanitarian crisis, Varoufakis said during talks Wednesday in Brussels without offering details, according to the officials, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Finance ministers of the 19 euro nations met on Wednesday after Germany and Greece took clashing positions heading into negotiations that will continue Feb. 16 in the Belgian capital.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the meetings, said the ministers wanted to hear Greece’s proposals. “I don’t expect an outcome today,” Dijsselbloem told reporters in Brussels before the talks. Extra money “is not on the table right now” and Greece needs to stick to its reform path, he said. Greece’s bailout package will expire this month if the euro area’s most-indebted nation can’t reach a deal with its creditors. Asked by a reporter before the meeting whether Greece’s exit from the euro area is on the table, Varoufakis said: “Of course not.” In Athens, thousands rallied in front of the Greek parliament in support of the government’s anti-austerity stance. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras posted a photo of the rally on his Twitter account, saying popular protests “across Greece and Europe” are “the source of our strength.”

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“You can defend EMU policies, or you can defend your political base, but you cannot do both.”

Germany Faces Impossible Choice As Greek Austerity Revolt Spreads (AEP)

The political centre across southern Europe is disintegrating. Establishment parties of centre-left and centre-right – La Casta, as they say in Spain – have successively immolated themselves enforcing EMU debt-deflation. Spain’s neo-Bolivarian Podemos party refuses to fade. It has endured crippling internal rifts. It has shrugged off hostile press coverage over financial ties to Venezuela. Nothing sticks. The insurrectionists who came from nowhere last year – with Trotskyist roots and more radical views than those of Syriza in Greece – are pulling further ahead in the polls. The latest Metroscopia survey gave Podemos 28pc. The ruling conservatives have dropped to 21pc. The once-great PSOE – Spanish Workers Socialist Party – has fallen to 18pc and risks fading away like the Dutch Labour Party, or the French Socialists, or Greece’s Pasok.

You can defend EMU policies, or you can defend your political base, but you cannot do both. As matters stand, Podemos is on track to win the Spanish elections in November on a platform calling for the cancellation of “unjust debt”, a reversal of labour reforms, public control over energy, the banks, and the commanding heights of the economy, and withdrawal from Nato. Europe’s policy elites can rail angrily at the folly of these plans if they wish, but they must answer why ex-Trotskyists threatening to dismantle market capitalism are taking a major EMU state by storm. It is what happens when 5.46m people lack jobs, when 2m households still have no earned income, and when youth unemployment is still running at 51.4pc, and home prices are down 42pc, six years into a depression.

It is pointless protesting that Spain’s economy is turning the corner, a contested claim in any case. There comes a point when a society breaks and stops believing anything its leaders say. The EU elites themselves have run their currency experiment into the ground by imposing synchronized monetary, fiscal, and banking contraction on the southern half of EMU, in defiance of known economic science and the lessons of the 1930s. It is they who pushed the eurozone into deflation, and thereby pushed the debtor states into accelerating compound-interest traps. It is they who deployed the EMU policy machinery to uphold the interest of creditors, refusing to acknowledge that the root cause of Europe’s crisis was a flood excess capital flows into vulnerable economies.

It is they who prevented a US-style recovery from the financial crisis, and they should not be surprised that such historic errors are coming back to haunt. The revolt in Italy has different contours but is just as dangerous for Brussels. Italians may not wish to leave the euro but political consent for the project but broken down. All three opposition parties are now anti-euro in one way or another. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement – with 108 seats in parliament – is openly calling for a return to the lira. Mr Grillo proclaims that Syriza is carrying the torch for all the long-suffering peoples of southern Europe, as it is in a sense. “What’s happening to Greece today, will be happening to Italy tomorrow. Sooner or later, default is coming,” he said.

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How the right wing sees things.

Eurozone Leaders Believe Syriza Must Fail And Be Seen To Fail (Telegraph)

In current discussions of what Greece might or might not get in the way of concessions from the Eurozone, there has so far been relatively little appreciation of one basic political reality: as far as the governments of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, probably Italy and perhaps even France are concerned, Syriza must fail and must be seen to fail. Why? The reasons differ slightly between countries. The easiest case to see is perhaps Spain. In Spain, the governing party is the centre-right Partido Popular led by Mariano Rajoy. It is currently facing pressure from a far-left party, Podemos, allied to Syriza. Indeed the Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias even campaigned in partnership with Syriza and, following Syriza’s victory, at his own party’s rally he proclaimed: “Syriza, Podemos – we will win [venceremos]!”

Podemos is currently leading in the polls, ahead of an election later this year. The very last thing Rajoy can afford is for Syriza’s approach to be seen to succeed, emboldening and vindicating Podemos. As for Portugal and Ireland, where the governments stuck to bailout conditions despite the domestic pain, how would they sell concessions to Syriza to their own voters? Suppose they go back and say: “We were suckers. We shouldn’t have made all those cuts. Instead, what we really should have done was to raise the minimum wage, hire back the public sector staff that had been fired, say we weren’t going to pay our debts to our eurozone partners, cosy up to the Russians and tell the Germans they didn’t feel nearly guilty enough about World War II. Then everyone would have said we were ‘rock stars’ and and forgiven our debts.” Do you reckon that would go down well?

As for the Italians, the Syriza leaders are terribly keen to claim that Greece and Italy are in much the same position and that there should therefore be a general debt amnesty across the eurozone. The Italians, on the other hand, are less keen on this comparison. Over the weekend, the Greek finance minister stated: “Let’s face it, Italy’s debt situation is unsustainable”. The Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan replied on Twitter that his Greek counterpart’s remarks were “out of place” and that Italy’s debt is “solid and sustainable”. If the Italians, at any point, seek any relaxation of the fiscal strictures their eurozone partners have placed upon them, you can rest assured they will not be claiming that they are just like Greece or that anything that happens in Greece sets a precedent for them.

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Letter from Spain’s oppostion leader: “..the diktats of those who still appear to be running things in Europe have failed, and the victims of this inefficiency and irresponsibility are Europe’s citizens.”

If The Greek Olive Branch Is Rejected, Europe May Fall (Pablo Iglesias)

During his swearing-in speech as Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras was clear: “Our aim is to achieve a solution that is mutually beneficial for both Greece and our partners. Greece wants to pay its debt.” The European Central Bank’s (ECB) response to the Greek government’s desire to be conciliatory and responsible, was also very clear: negative. Either the Greek government abandons the programme on which it was elected, and continues to do the very thing that has been disastrous for Greece, or the ECB will stop supporting Greek debt. The ECB’s calculation is not only arrogant, it is incoherent. The same central bank that recognised its mistakes a few weeks ago and began to buy government debt is now denying financing to the very states that have been arguing for years that the role of a central bank should be to back up governments in protecting their citizens rather than to rescue the financial bodies that caused the crisis.

Now, instead of acknowledging that Greece deserves at least the same treatment as any other EU member state, the ECB has decided to shoot the messenger. Excesses of arrogance and political short-sightedness cost dear. The new despots who are trying to persuade us that Europe’s problem is Greece are putting the European project itself at risk. Europe’s problem is not that the Greeks voted for a different option from the one that led them to disaster; that is simply democratic normality. Europe’s threefold problem is inequality, unemployment and debt – and this is neither new nor exclusively Greek. Nobody can deny that austerity has not solved this problem, but rather has exacerbated the crisis.

Let’s spell it out: the diktats of those who still appear to be running things in Europe have failed, and the victims of this inefficiency and irresponsibility are Europe’s citizens. It is for this precise reason that trust in the old political elites has collapsed; it is why Syriza won in Greece and why Podemos – the party I lead – can win in Spain. But not all the alternatives to these failed policies are as committed as Syriza and Podemos are to Europe and to European democracy and values. The Greeks have been pushed to the point of disaster, yet the Greek government has reached out and shown great willingness to cooperate. It has requested a bridge agreement that would give both sides until June to deal with what is little short of a national emergency for the majority of the Greek population.

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Interesting to see how hard Syriza will go after these guys.

86 Names Missing from Greek ‘Lagarde List’ (Greek Reporter)

The notorious “Lagarde List” should include a total of 2,148 names and not the 2,062 that are listed so far, according to a report in Ta Nea newspaper. The Lagarde List is a spreadsheet containing over 2,000 names of possible Greek tax evaders with undeclared deposits at Swiss HSBC bank’s Geneva branch. It is named after former French finance minister Christine Lagarde who passed it to the Greek government in October 2010 to help them tackle tax evasion. Lagarde is now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. The list was hidden by Greek officials and it became known two years later when it was exposed by investigative journalist Costas Vaxevanis.

The newspaper report says that after research by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, there are 86 new names of Greeks who have undeclared deposits in the Swiss bank. They are all natives of Greece, but have declared residency in other countries, thereby not listed on the original list. Also, the investigation shows that there are another 41 names who are linked to the accounts of potential tax evaders already on the list. So far, very few names on the list have been audited. Former finance minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou is accused of distorting the spreadsheet and erasing names of his relatives on the list and will be referred to the Special Court.

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Even deeper into debt slavery.

Ukraine Gets IMF-Led $40 Billion Aid Accord to Avert Default (Bloomberg)

Ukraine reached a preliminary accord to expand an International Monetary Fund-led bailout to $40 billion to avert a default as the 10-month conflict in the nation’s east damages the economy and drains resources. An IMF team, which has been in the Ukrainian capital since Jan. 8, will recommend the Washington-based lender’s board sign off on the package, Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Thursday in Brussels. The package includes contributions from other sources, including the EU, Lagarde told reporters. Ukraine, rocked by a pro-Russia insurgency in its industrial heartland, is struggling with the deepest recession since 2009, foreign reserves at an 11-year low and the world’s worst-performing currency.

The country’s fiscal and economic condition will help determine whether it remains oriented toward the U.S. and EU or is drawn into Russia’s orbit amid the worst standoff since the end of the Cold War. “It’s an ambitious program, it’s a tough program and it’s not without risk,” Lagarde told reporters. “But it’s also realistic.” Ukraine’s April 2023 Eurobond was little changed at 53.19 cents on the dollar at 10:23 a.m. in Kiev, lowering the yield two basis points to 19%. The government of Ukraine faces debt repayments of $11 billion this year and has said it will approach foreign bondholders over easier terms once IMF financing is in place. The accord still needs IMF board approval. Ukraine’s allies stepped in with funding pledges in the run-up to the IMF talks being completed.

The U.S. promised as much as $2 billion in loan guarantees, while the European Union said it would disburse €1.8 billion euros. Leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting in Minsk, Belarus on Thursday to reach a peace deal in the conflict that has killed at least 5,400 people, the United Nation estimates. The U.S., EU and Ukraine blame Russia for aiding the rebels. President Vladimir Putin denies the charges. “The hope will be to send a signal to Putin and to Ukrainians that the West stands behind Ukraine and will not let it fail financially,” Timothy Ash at Standard Bank said.

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Meaningless?!

Ukrainian Cease-Fire Sealed After All-Night Minsk Peace Summit (Bloomberg)

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France agreed on a cease-fire to stem the conflict that’s devastated eastern Ukraine and triggered the worst crisis in more than 20 years between Russia and its former Cold War foes. The deal envisages a truce starting Feb. 15 and reaffirms some commitments from a failed September bid to end the conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. The accord was struck early Thursday after all-night talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

The collapse of previous cease-fires has stoked skepticism as to whether this one will hold. Ten months of fighting have killed more than 5,000 people, ravaged Ukraine’s economy and propelled Russia toward recession through U.S. and European sanctions. Raising pressure to deliver a settlement, the run-up to the summit was accompanied by escalating violence and calls for the U.S. to supply weapons to Ukraine’s struggling army. “The conflict will continue, even with this agreement,” Joerg Forbrig, a senior program director at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, said by phone. “Eastern Ukraine is now basically lost to central government control.”

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“The situation in Ukraine is being used as a pretext for the active ‘repression’ of our country..”

Putin Top Advisor: US Uses Ukraine To Get Regime Change in Russia (Zero Hedge)

Following the humiliation of tonight’s much anticipated Eurogroup meeting in which for the first time ever the ensuing disarray was so profound the panicked European finance ministers couldn’t even find a quorum consensus to produce even the tersest of official statements, there was some hope that the second round of negotiations currently taking place in Minsk to find a solution to the Ukraine civil war would at least partially redeem Europe’s faltering negotiating reputation. Alas, as of this moment, that does not appear to be the case, and as Reuters reports citing a Kiev presidential aide, that Minsk talks on Ukraine crisis could last six more hours. “We’ve got another 5-6 hours of work. At least. But we should not leave here without an agreement on an unconditional ceasefire. There’s a battle of nerves underway,” aide Valeriy Chaly said in a Facebook post.

Well, if it is indeed a “battle of nerves”, something tells who the victor will be, considering all his peers are just a little more preoccupied with the potential collapse of their artificial monetary and political union. Yet, just like the previous Minsk “agreement”, even if by some miracle there is a solution this time around, the probability peace will be maintained is slim to none. The reason is not simply because the Ukraine civil war will go on until there is a terminal partition between the pro-western West part of the country, and the pro-Russian eastern regions. The real reason may be what one of Vladimir Putin’s top security advisors, the secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev said earlier today, when he told a Russian state newspaper that the U.S. was orchestrating events in Ukraine in a bid to overthrow Mr. Putin’s government.

He also expressed certainty that the West’s financial aid for Kiev would only bring the Ukrainian economy to a “dead end.” “The situation in Ukraine is being used as a pretext for the active ‘repression’ of our country,” Mr. Patrushev, who ran Russia’s Federal Security Service during Mr. Putin’s first eight years as president, said in an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published Wednesday. And, if accurate, Patrushev’s assessment is that the US will not stop short of what effectively will be world war: “The Americans are trying to involve the Russian Federation in an interstate military conflict, cause regime change [in Russia] and ultimately dismember our country via events in Ukraine,” he said.

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Most won’t be able to.

Oil Firms ‘Need Fresh Strategies’ To Operate in Future of $50 Oil (BBC)

Many oil and gas firms will need to transform the way they operate in order to grasp future opportunities in the sector, according to a report. PwC said companies should be looking to deploy fresh strategies, following a sustained fall in the price of oil. It suggested they should look to reduce costs “in a sustainable manner” and find efficiencies by keeping tax costs in control. Other suggestions included divesting non-core parts of their business. PwC argued that firms might also want to identify and invest in strategic acquisitions to secure market position in key areas. The report’s authors said the UK oil and gas sector would have been in a much better place “to weather the oil price maelstrom”, had it heeded 30%-40% cost reduction warnings which surfaced 12-18 months ago.

The report said there was still time for firms to “learn the harsh lessons of past languor” by adopting fresh strategies. But it also warned that to achieve that, they needed to get away from “short term knee-jerk reactions” seen in previous downturns – or risk damaging the long term future of the industry. PwC cited significant downsizing undertaken during the downturn of 1999-2000, arguing that the industry had struggled since then with talent retention. It said “aggressive price negotiation” and contract revisions with the oil services sector would also do little to create a collaborative environment. The report argued that companies must answer “hard questions” about whether they can continue to invest in the sector, or if they should instead “move on”.

But it stressed the need for the industry to take a long-term view, adding that “intelligent and strategic cost-cutting” could “position players well through this turmoil”. Brian Campbell, oil and gas capital projects director at PwC and co-author of the report, said: “With economists predicting low oil prices throughout 2015, UK oil and gas firms are not out of the woods by any means. “They are still at risk of an economic triple-whammy: as the falling oil price reduces income, incremental investment may no longer be economic with a risk that field life diminishes and decommissioning is accelerated. “The stark reality is that firms need to be able to operate in an environment where oil averages at $50 per barrel – only then can it be truly fit for the future.”

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Just starting.

Global Oil Layoffs Exceed 100,000 (Bloomberg)

The promise of plentiful jobs and salaries as high as a quarter-million dollars a year lured Colombia native Clara Correa Zappa and her British husband to Perth, Australia, at the height of the continent’s oil and gas frenzy. Engineers were in high demand in 2012, when oil prices exceeded $100 a barrel, making the move across the world a no-brainer. Within two years, though, oil plunged to less than half the 2012 price and Zappa lost her job as a safety analyst. Now she’s worried her husband, who also works in the commodities industry, could also lose his job. Such anxieties are rising at a time when the number of energy jobs cut globally have climbed well above 100,000 as once-bustling oil hubs in Scotland, Australia and Brazil, among other countries, empty out, according to Swift Worldwide Resources, a staffing firm with offices across the world.

“It’s shocking,” Zappa, 29, said in a telephone interview. There is “so much pressure for him to keep his job and even work extra.” Her concerns mirror those of tens of thousands of workers who migrated to oil and gas boomtowns worldwide in the years of $100-a-barrel crude, according to Tobias Read, Swift’s chief executive officer. While much of the focus on layoffs has centered on the U.S., where the shale fields that created the glut have seen the steepest cutbacks, workers in oil-related businesses across the globe are suffering, he said. “The issue is one of uncertainty, of whether there’s a job out there,” Read said in a phone interview. “For seven years, there was a shortage of staff. Now for the first time, there’s a surplus. Currently almost no one is hiring.”

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“The idea is that the stock market is a pretty good indicator of economic demand.” Really? Nothing to do with QE?

Goldman: Why Oil Crashed—and Why Lower Prices Are Here to Stay (Bloomberg)

Oil prices have gotten crushed for the last six months. The extent to which that was caused by an excess of supply or by a slowdown in demand has big implications for where prices will head next. People wishing for a big rebound may not want to read farther. Goldman Sachs released an intriguing analysis on Wednesday that shows what many already suspected: The big culprit in the oil crash has been an abundance of oil flooding the market. A massive supply shock in the second half of last year accounted for most of the decline. In December and January, slowing demand contributed to the continued sell-off. Goldman was able to quantify these effects.

Goldman’s model is simple on its face, looking at just two variables over time: the price of oil and the value of U.S. stocks (as measured by the S&P 500). The idea is that the stock market is a pretty good indicator of economic demand. So when stocks move in tandem with oil prices, demand is in the driver’s seat. When the price of oil moves in the opposite direction of stocks, the shock is coming from supply.

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“The message is clear that Warren’s attacks on the industry have made even moderate Democrats skittish to stand up for banks..”

Have Banks Overplayed Their Hand Fighting Wall Street Regulation? (Bloomberg)

The financial industry is finding that winning in Washington comes at a cost. Wall Street lobbied aggressively and succeeded late last year in persuading lawmakers to roll back rules for the $700 trillion derivatives market. Instead of generating momentum for further changes to the Dodd-Frank Act, the victory sparked a populist uprising among Democrats that’s had wide-ranging consequences, including stymieing less controversial requests from regional banks like Capital One Financial Corp. “A short while ago there was bipartisan agreement on a number of common sense improvements,” said Rob Nichols, president of the Financial Services Forum that represents the chief executives of Wall Street’s biggest banks. “Unfortunately, that bipartisan agreement is gone.”

Financial companies and their employees spent $169 million on the November elections and had expectations that their bid to loosen regulations would get easier with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate. Now, there is second-guessing that banks overplayed their hand, according to lobbyists. The December win on swaps rules has become a rallying cry for Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of Wall Street, and spurred repeated White House vows to defend Dodd-Frank. The fallout has frustrated banks, which hope it’s temporary. Democrats who previously said they wanted to revise the law now won’t even discuss it. Republicans are altering their strategy for attacking Dodd-Frank. And lobbyists have been hindered in their efforts to persuade Senate Democrats to champion changes to financial rules.

A sign of the political headwinds has been regional banks’ difficulty winning bipartisan support for a bill that would free them from stringent oversight imposed on lenders with at least $50 billion of assets. Capital One considers getting the threshold increased a top legislative goal this year, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company’s inability to persuade Democrats to lead the charge in the Senate, particularly home state Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, has reverberated through the ranks of financial lobbyists, according to two people involved in the talks. The message is clear that Warren’s attacks on the industry have made even moderate Democrats skittish to stand up for banks, the people said. Capital One’s discussions with Warner aren’t unique, said company spokeswoman Tatiana Stead. “We have had identical and multiple discussions with his Senate colleagues and other elected officials,” she said.

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“..this whole chorus of Fed governors – yesterday’s lineup included Richard Fisher and Charles Plossner – defending the sacred “independence” of the Federal Reserve is downright Kafkaesque.”

Audit The Fed – And Shackle It, Too (David Stockman)

The reason to be fearful about the economic and financial future is that we are in the thrall of a mainstream consensus that is downright meretricious. In attacking Rand Paul’s audit legislation, for instance, one of the time-servers on the Fed Board of Governors, Jerome H. Powell, let loose the following gem: “As recent U.S. history has shown, elected officials have often pushed for easier policies that serve short-term political interests…..” Perhaps Mr. Powell is a descendent of Rip Van Winkle – and missed the last 20 years of history while doing LBOs at the Carlyle Group and helping Congress improve upon its enviable record of fiscal management while at the Bipartisan Policy Center. But whatever he was doing—snoozing or otherwise distracted – it most assuredly was not gathering evidence that “elected officials” were putting undue pressure on the Fed for “easier policies”.

For crying out loud there is exactly zero evidence that “politicians” had anything to do with zero interest rates. And ZIRP defines the ultimate level of “ease” according to Bernanke himself, who famously described his policies as positioned at the “zero bound”. Indeed, given the very earliest expected date for “lift-off” in June, the Fed will have pinned the money market rate at zero for 80 months running. This unprecedented tsunami of “easy money”, of course, happened with nary a Congressman or Senator darkening the door at the Eccles Building. Folks, this whole chorus of Fed governors – yesterday’s lineup included Richard Fisher and Charles Plossner – defending the sacred “independence” of the Federal Reserve is downright Kafkaesque.

Rather than protecting the Fed from meddling politicians, it is the American public that desperately needs protection from the depredations of an unelected monetary politburo that runs the entire financial system. Let’s say you have saved a quarter million bucks over a lifetime of working and scrimping, but wish to keep it safe and liquid in your retirement years. Well thank you “independent” governors of the Fed for the privilege of owning a bank CD that generates 40 bps or the grand sum $2.75 per day. That’s one visit to Starbucks each morning, but forget the cappuccino. It’s just black coffee for you!

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When will this bomb burst?

‘No Solution To Brazil’s Crisis’ (CNBC)

Brazil’s central bank won’t be able to save the country with monetary policy, economists warned, after downgrading their 2015 growth outlook to zero as stagflation drags the once vibrant economy. “There is no near-term solution to deepening stagflation,” said Dev Ashish, Latin America economist at Societe Generale in a note on Wednesday. “Fiscal and monetary orthodoxy is not expected to yield any fruit in the near to medium term.” Annual inflation shot up to a twelve-year high of 7.1% in January, according to official data on Friday, well above the central bank’s 4.5% target range. With inflation widely expected to remain elevated, analysts in Brazil revised their 2015 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast to zero, according to a central bank survey this week.

South America’s largest nation is estimated to have grown less than 1% last year. Brazil’s central bank – the Banco Central do Brasil (BCP) – engaged in an aggressive tightening cycle last year to combat inflation. It pushed the benchmark short-term interest rate, the Selic, to its current multi-year high of 12.25%. Markets widely expect more rate hikes in the coming months. Analysts don’t have faith in the central bank’s toolbox. Rate hikes dampen economic growth, so the success of additional monetary tightening depends on how effectively the government manages its finances, but that depends on economic growth, SocGen said. The bank expects public debt to rise nearly 70% over the next two years on the back of weak GDP.

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Panic.

Sweden’s Riksbank Cuts Key Rate to Negative (Bloomberg)

Sweden’s central bank cut its main interest rate below zero and unexpectedly unveiled plans to start buying government bonds to jolt the largest Nordic economy out of a deflationary spiral. The Riksbank lowered its repo rate to minus 0.10% from zero. A cut had been predicted by six of the 18 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, while the remainder forecast no change. Policy will “soon” be made “more expansionary” by buying 10 billion kronor ($1.2 billion) in government bonds with maturities of one to five years, the Stockholm-based bank said. It pledged to keep the repo rate negative until underlying inflation is close to 2%, which the bank predicts will happen in the second half of 2016. Policy makers will take further steps if necessary, the bank said.

“To ensure that inflation rises toward the target, the Riksbank is prepared to quickly make monetary policy more expansionary, even between the ordinary monetary policy meetings, should the need arise,” it said. Policy makers are delving deeper into their toolbox, joining the European Central Bank in unleashing unconventional measures as deflation risks becoming entrenched. The bank, led by Governor Stefan Ingves, last year reversed course and scrapped a policy of keeping rates up to guard against a build-up in household debt. The reluctance to ease in the face of slowing inflation and high unemployment was characterized as “sadomonetarist” by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.

The krona slumped as much as 2.1%, and was down 1.4% at 9.62 per euro as of 10:33 a.m. in Stockholm. The yield on Sweden’s benchmark five-year note fell 10 basis points to 0.8%. Two-year yields slid to minus 0.24%. “We didn’t expect the Riksbank to buy government bonds as early as now, but rather that they would wait and see if this would be needed,” said Olle Holmgren, an analyst at SEB. “They are also maybe even clearer in signaling willingness to do even more if needed. This is softer than we thought.”

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Europe’s biggest disgrace is still not being tackled.

Mediterranean Sinking ‘Kills 300 Migrants Bound For Europe (BBC)

At least 300 migrants are feared dead after the boats carrying them from the North African coast sank in the Mediterranean Sea, the UN says. UNHCR regional director Vincent Cochetel called the incident a “tragedy on an enormous scale”. Nine survivors who were brought to Lampedusa by the Italian coast guard are believed to be from West Africa. Initial reports on Monday suggested that at least 29 migrants had died after their dinghy overturned. The UNHCR said the migrants had departed from Libya on Saturday in four dinghies. Mr Cochetel said, “Europe cannot afford to do too little too late”, and called the tragedy, “a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea.” In November, Italy ended a year-long operation aimed at rescuing seaborne migrants.

Known as Mare Nostrum, it was launched in October 2013 in response to a tragedy off Lampedusa in which 366 people died. The aim of the mission was to look for ships carrying migrants that may have run into trouble off the Libyan coast. There is no way of knowing for sure whether these men, women, and children would have been saved if the former Italian search-and-rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum was still running. But having spent a week on board an Italian navy frigate, I can be sure they would have done their utmost to save as many lives as possible. The EU’s Triton border patrol is not designed to do that. It cannot pre-empt trouble in international waters – it can only act when lives are immediately at risk. The Italian operation was set up differently. The naval crews knew they had one single purpose – to prevent death.

Some time back, EU leaders pledged that not a single life would again be lost as a result of these large scale tragedies at sea. The EU now runs a border control operation, called Triton, with fewer ships and a much smaller area of operations. The UNHCR says almost 3,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2014, making it the world’s most dangerous sea crossing for migrants. More than 200,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean during the same period, many under the Mare Nostrum mission prior to its abolition, and the UNHCR expects the figure to remain high in 2015. In a speech before the European Parliament in November, Pope Francis called for a “united response to the question of migration”, warning that the Mediterranean could not be allowed to become a “vast cemetery”.

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“In another development, US President Barack Obama has said he will withdraw nearly all US troops helping to combat the disease in Liberia.”

New Ebola Cases Rise For Second Week In A Row (BBC)

The number of new cases of Ebola has risen in all of West Africa’s worst-hit countries for the second week in a row, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. This is the second weekly increase in confirmed cases in 2015, ending a series of encouraging declines. The WHO said on Wednesday that Sierra Leone had registered 76 of the 144 new cases, Guinea 65 and Liberia three. More than 9,000 people have died from Ebola since December 2013. The WHO said that the increase highlights the “considerable challenges” that must still be overcome to end the outbreak. “Despite improvements in case finding and management, burial practices, and community engagement, the decline in case incidence has stalled,” the UN health agency said in a statement. In another development, US President Barack Obama has said he will withdraw nearly all US troops helping to combat the disease in Liberia.

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“No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates..”

Australia On Brink Of ‘Extinction Calamity’ (BBC)

Australia has lost one in ten of its native mammals species over the last 200 years in what conservationists describe as an “extinction calamity”. No other nation has had such a high rate of loss of land mammals over this time period, according to scientists at Charles Darwin University, Australia. The decline is mainly due to predation by the feral cat and the red fox, which were introduced from Europe, they say. Large scale fires to manage land are also having an impact. As an affluent nation with a small population, Australia’s wildlife should be relatively secure from threats such as habitat loss. But a new survey of Australia’s native mammals, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the scale of the problem is more serious than anticipated.

Since 1788, 11% of 273 native mammals living on land have died out, 21% are threatened and 15% are near threatened, the study found. Marine mammals are faring better. “No other country has had such a high rate and number of mammal extinctions over this period, and the number we report for Australia is substantially higher than previous estimates,” said conservation biologist John Woinarski, who led the research. “A further 56 Australian land mammals are now threatened, indicating that this extremely high rate of biodiversity loss is likely to continue unless substantial changes are made. “The extent of the problem has been largely unappreciated until recently because much of the loss involves small, nocturnal, shy species with [little] public profile – few Australians know of these species, let alone have seen them, so their loss has been largely unappreciated by the community.”

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